That hairdo, and other bad decisions

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The cat I live with has taken to scratching and licking himself to the point where he accidentally yanks all his fur out. He has bald patches everywhere, and now closely resembles a bowling ball due to the three bald patches on top of his head (where the holes would be on said bowling ball). He has looked better, bless him – much better – but he’s still our gorgeous boy. And don’t worry, we are working on the obsessive scratching problem and he’s been much better the last few days. The cat himself, lovely as he is, is not the point of this blog post.

I’ve mentioned before that characters usually aren’t perfect. They have negative traits and habits as well as positive ones. But even if your character is usually the most level-headed businesswoman or the most sensitive of boyfriends, it’s entirely possible that she’ll decide to buy a failing company in a last-ditch attempt to hold onto a precious childhood memory and bankrupt herself in the process, or that he’ll say something horribly callous in the heat of the moment and spend the next month sleeping in the shed.

The cat, bless him, is usually the most dapper of elderly cat gentlemen, but right now he’s itchy and lacking in self-control so he looks like a bowling ball. Or a coconut. A few days ago, it was more like a lop-sided monk ‘do. We’ve all made bad hair decisions, or done something that seemed like a totally great – or even just insignificant – idea at the time and went on to mess things up. Let your characters do likewise.

The same, of course, goes in reverse – a character who refuses to open up to anyone may spill their heart out to a stranger in a stressful moment and find that they feel a lot better about something – and honestly, whichever way you play it, it can turn your whole story around.

That’s all from me today – I’m off to mock the cat a bit more before his fur grows back and ruins my fun – but I’ll be back tomorrow!

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Perspective is everything

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Another quick one, I’m afraid, as I’ve got a lot to do before tomorrow. I just wanted to share a few thoughts about different people’s perspectives and priorities.

For example, today I got offered the first job interview I’ve been offered in five years (I’ve had jobs in the interim, but neither of them formally interviewed me). For me, that was the big news of the day. For my sisters, the most exciting thing was that they’ve reached the seven-days-to-go mark in their personal countdown to their holiday. My mum got home from work chuckling about something ridiculous she and her friend had got up to during lunch. When we look back on today, we probably won’t remember the specifics of the date, but if we did I’m sure we’d all see completely different plot points, as it were.

If you’ve got multiple characters in a story, they all have different priorities and ideas. One character might be completely stressing out about developing romantic feelings for their best friend, while other characters may be less interested in the topic or even completely oblivious to it. For the others, an upcoming driving test, a letter from a friend, or the general cuteness of a pet might take priority in their minds. It’s fun to play with that, and it can lead to some interesting moments when priorities change or clash.

You probably also have different priorities to your characters, and it’s important to remember that when you’re writing them. My first reaction to being suddenly caught in the rain would probably be to find somewhere to duck into and put my hood up before going on my way. The Wicked Witch of the West would probably dive into the deepest cover she could find and stay there until the sun came out. A particularly dedicated computer hacker might well not even notice the weather, committed to finding the best possible Wi-Fi signal. You get the idea. Knowing a character’s priorities makes it easier for you – as reader or author – to know the character.

Anyway, that’s my thought for today. See you tomorrow!

A glimpse of November

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As you may remember, yesterday I was talking about using The Sims to get character appearances sussed out in your head, and the corresponding danger of spending hours playing with said characters rather than writing them.

Well, once I’d published that post, I headed over to try out the The Sims 4 Create-A-Sim Demo. In the demo version, you can only make young adults, and it’s a bit limiting compared to the freedom of The Sims 3 in terms of clothing etc. (especially when you’re used to a couple of expansion packs) and you can’t actually play with the characters (also, exporting pictures of them is a bit hit-and-miss).

That’s actually really handy, because you can fine-tune your characters’ appearances and not be distracted by building them houses and getting them jobs – I don’t have The Sims 4 itself, and will have to save up for a while.

Unfortunately, though, there’s not a lot more planning for me to do on this year’s NaNo novel – I rarely plan at all, so this is a real unprecedented event for me – so when I ran out of characters to create (at least from the present-day portion of the story) I found myself making a couple of promotional images for a novel I haven’t even started writing yet…

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Yes, it’s deliberately hard to read – it’s only a very early teaser, after all.

So the plan for October – which I’d set aside as planning month – is to tweak The Perfect Garden a bit more while I’m waiting for the beta readers to get back to me, and then write some short stories. I’m between jobs at the moment, so with a lot of free time I get bored quite easily and write a lot. The catch is that, due to a lot of NaNo experience, I’ve taken to writing very fast (about 1000 words per half hour is by no means unheard of for me) so despite time for editing, I end up churning out a lot of material very quickly. I’d be tempted to write a novel in October and then another in November, but I don’t want to burn myself out.

I’m going to try a collection of short stories instead, and probably a few will make their way to this blog. I might also have a go at finishing the ridiculous sci-fi I started in NaNo 2011, because I’ve abandoned that for far too long.

So, those are my plans… and then bring on NaNo 2014!

A Quick Character-Building Tip…

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…Alright, I’ve had a long and somewhat frustrating day, so I’m kind of phoning this one in and then off to do some NaNo planning (for once in my life). I do apologise. Please forgive me, and have a flick through some old posts once you get bored with this one…

Anyway, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what your characters look like, or to get a grip on the core elements of their personalities. For this, I find The Sims games to be really handy (not to mention a fun way to lose three or four hours of your life in the name of ‘being productive, honest’).

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For example, these are a couple of characters from my The Perfect Garden series, as I initially imagined them. The one on the right was created before the first book – the first word, even – was written, and I therefore based the foundations of his literary counterpart on the appearance and traits of the relevant sim. The chap on the left appeared first in the book, and then I introduced him into the same town on The Sims because it didn’t feel right not to have him and his family there.

They’ve changed a bit in my mind since then – for one thing, I’m currently working on the first book, which is set when they’d both be a little younger than they are in the picture – but it’s great to have a visual reference when I’m stuck, and a few core things that define the characters. For example, both of these sims have the Bookworm trait, and when I’m stuck on what to write for either of them I often turn my mind to what they might be reading at the time.

Any character creation programme can be handy for your writing – and if you happen to spend eight hours playing with the characters afterwards, well, you’re just seeing if any fun ideas or interactions crop up.

…That planning I was going to do? I’ll admit it; it involves The Sims. Enjoy your evenings!

Past Projects: Lupus Animus

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My first ever publication in a proper book is a story called One Night in the Lupus Animus charity anthology. As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, it can be bought for Kindle or in paperback, but why should you pick up a copy?

There’s a huge range of short fiction and poetry between the covers of this wolf-themed anthology. One Night follows a wolf on a single, ordinary night, introducing the reader to packs old and new. That’s my story, but here are a few others I particularly enjoy, in a nutshell:

  • How Raven Gave Little Wolf A New Voice by Jess Owen. 
    This story has the sort of feel of a fable or a long-established myth, and I love that about it. Raven and Little Wolf are beautifully-developed characters and their distinctive voices are enough in themselves to make this a beautiful read.
  • Where Does the Moon Go? by Jessica Kuilan Gonzalez.
    A poem exploring the relationship between wolves and the moon, through the experience of one young pup. It’s gorgeous in its simplicity and will give you something to think about.
  • The Last Pack by Phillip Tolhurst.
    A story of family and a desperate struggle to survive, this story touches on a very real plight facing wolves and takes you inside a wolf pack to see it all through their eyes.

There are loads of other great stories and poems in there, but if I went through them all I’d be here forever. I can only recommend that you pick up a copy (the paperback is 333 pages long, so there’s plenty in there to choose from) and see what takes your fancy. I really do think there’s something in there to appeal to anyone.

One thing that should really appeal to you, though, is that all proceeds from the anthology go to Artisan Rarebreeds, a charity dedicated to looking after the various creatures in its care. They also hope to open an educational centre to help people take better care of their animals. It’s a great cause!

So, yes – that’s my pitch. It would be great if you could take a look at it, as this anthology is very important to me. Normal, non-sales blog posts will resume tomorrow!

(Oh, and on the subject of sales, I do actually offer a selection of stickers and bookplates that are just perfect for your copy of Lupus Animus.)

Great writers read…

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I’m by no means counting myself among the number of those great writers, but I do aspire to reach as close as I can to that level of skill. One thing great writers do a lot is to read. It improves technique, gives you a feel for different styles – whether they work or not – and broadens your knowledge beyond what you have personally experienced. More importantly, it’s a lot of fun.

I’ve recently moved house, so I decided today that I would sign up to the local library. Of course, then I realised that the bigger one in a town I visit at least weekly is run by a different council… so of course I signed up for that, too. I’ve also finally got around to replacing my loyalty card for my favourite chain bookshop.

Of course, November is coming up, so I should be getting all these things sorted just in time to not get chance to read for a month, but I regret nothing. Libraries, especially, offer a great service – all those books, and nothing to pay! – and I can’t wait to find out what’s on all those shelves.

From tiny seeds…

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As you may remember, on Monday I did myself a bit of a mischief hauling some compost and a flowerpot back from the garden centre. Obviously, I had plans to do some gardening at some point. And today was indeed planting day.

At the risk of boring some of you, I have planted:
– some 2-year-old anemone bulbs (I have no idea if those will grow but I have ’em so I’ll plant ’em)
– some love-in-a-mist seeds
– some forget-me-not seeds.

I don’t know how they’ll come up, if they come up at all, and since they’re all just seeds and bulbs at the moment, I won’t know until Spring when they really grow. Which brings me to today’s writing-related thought.

Yesterday’s post was all about living in the now and taking action to follow your dreams; today’s is about waiting. Sometimes, things take time to come to fruition. You can start learning a language tomorrow, but you won’t be fluent right away – you may not understand a word for some time. Becoming a virtuoso or a top athlete takes time, too – and so does crafting a good story, and becoming a better writer.

Like the seeds I’ve just sown, it’s important to get things in motion before it’s too late, but it might be a while before you actually see any progress. Of course, that doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made – those seeds may be putting roots out, even over the next few hours, and you might be getting better and more comfortable with the new skills without even realising it. It’s not until those first shoots begin to emerge that you can actually see that anything’s working at all, never mind begin to gauge your progress.

What I’m getting at, I suppose, is that good things don’t always come all at once – you have to wait, and keep working, and hope for the best.

…Also, apparently I’ve spent too much time with Anne in The Perfect Garden, because I’m suddenly full of garden metaphors and the urge to get soil under my fingernails. Author hazard!