Sunday, 24 March 2019

The stars brought life to the planet, and the stars destroyed it.

Siblings Calix and Annora have spent their entire lives within Sanctum, the domed town that protects them from the dangerous sands that storm against the curved wall. But they are orphans, with questions about their heritage. With a childhood that prepares them to become scavengers. With a father figure in Kirillion who has an agenda all of his own - just what are they searching for when the scavenger crews depart?

All grown up, they join Walker's crew, scouring the sand in giant Crawlers, ready to dig. When an accident unlocks childhood memories and murder, questions arise within the crew about where their allegiances lie, and what their true purpose is. And then their search hits the big time.

A sci-fi dystopian adventure in an inhospitable landscape, Neon Sands is the opening book in an epic series that will explore Man’s technological and innate potential, and the search for hope when all looks bleak.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Writing a Novel: Day Fourteen

Day One 

It's day fourteen and I'm sitting at around 15k words. This is usually the point where I wrap up act one of my previous novels; perhaps I've built a hook into the narrative and I've either presented it to the reader, temptingly close, or I've caught them. Neon City is playing a little differently - it's more of a character driven plot with little authoritarian interference. The reader currently has all the information they need. Hopefully, it will engaging enough to stick with.

“No Yu this morning?”
“She probably caught the early car,” answered Xi.
“She was complaining again last night.”
“What’s new?” He faced the window and the faint outline of their reflections like underwater creatures in a tank. No air. He watched Fei’s fish-like lips move, at once gasping and speaking.
“If you’d turn up she wouldn’t have anything to complain about.”
There was no intonation of malice, or emotion in general, as they spoke. Brothers passing yet another morning, talking through the mirror.
“She says the same thing when you don’t turn up.”
“Well she’s twigged that we’re never there at the same time.”
“What are we going to do about it?”
“Nothing. It won’t be forever.”
“Do you ever feel bad?”
 I previously mentioned my plotting Excel sheet. There's various digital tools out there like Writers' Cafe and Scrivener, allowing you to move pixel-cards about on a virtual cork board, but it's all just ways to manipulate information. It comes down to how you want it presented to you. How you want to input the data. For me, opening Excel and jotting down the plot points I want to aim for, and being able to move them up and down as necessary, does the job. Making a line GREEN is more satisfying than it should be. When it's ALL GREEN - amazing!

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Writing a novel: Day ten

Day One 

Part of my own critical analysis is trying to judge how predictable my story is. I'm constantly asking myself this question, and equally I constantly remind myself that just because I may know where my story is going, and that it may seem obvious to me, a reader likely has no idea.

In the early stages I like to set the scene for what could be, offering the reader a myriad of possibilities. Hopefully these may form into small hooks, and in turn barbs, from which I've caught the reader. In reeling 'him' in I have to ensure that I keep teasing, not revealing my hand too soon.

Because at some point, the land becomes visible. The reader will know the landscape. By that time the reader needs to be invested and interested in my characters. Our characters. I've done something perhaps a little differently this time, inspired by recent readings of King and Hill, which is to inflect my characters with more of the mundane. Perhaps off-script remarks that give back story to item purchases, or reminiscences to past events - never too long or distracting, but something that adds flesh. It's not necessarily important to the story, but it makes the character more real.

Adds context to the landscape.

Brightens the darker areas.

I've become conscious of being too wordy - just that. Over-complicated description. Too dense sentences. Saying too much. For fear of losing track or focus, of there being too many pages for the reader. Then I'm reminded (thanks Twitter) that readers want to get lost in a story. They want a good book to be long. The important bit of 'long' though must be story, and contextual characterisation. Not dense and complicated language for the sake of that, for it pulls a reader out.

Story, story, story.

10 days: 9k words. I need to pick up the pace.

Day fourteen

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Review: London

London London by Frank Tayell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very detailed exposition of the end of the world from the journal of a witness. Set in London, the zombie apocalypse erupts - unfortunately for Bill, or perhaps fortunately, he has a broken leg and has to watch from the safety of his top floor apartment as everything around falls apart.

We are fortunate that Bill is a political adviser, and as the story unfolds, so does more and more backstory, showing how Bill perhaps knows more than he lets on at the beginning. Befriending a hack that sends him underground videos and information is also helpful for us; the reader. Rather than being an anonymous survivor, and completely clueless about the realities of this infection, as the story unfolds we garner more info, making for a rounded story.

These snippets are fed us between the grounded reality of life in the apocalypse: stabbing zombies in the head and searching for loot - mostly food and water. There's some good research here, indicating what would happen - and when - to the various utilities, and the difficulty of attaining water. Clean water, at least. I'm not sure about boiling pasta in orange juice any time soon.

It's very much foundational in its setup and premise, being book one, but it's a solid base. Unless you forward planned on reading the rest I perhaps wouldn't read this one, unless you just love zombies. Enjoyed the London setting!

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Monday, 11 March 2019

Writing a novel: Day six

Day One 

Is it six days already? I'm a bit behind schedule, as pacemaker shows:

It was a weekend, and they tend to be slower as I want to unwind and there's constant maitenance and other things going on. I'm quite pleased with what I've written so far. It's genre writing so will never win awards for prose, but so long as I keep engaged with it myself, then it should be engaging for readers too. At least that's the idea. The refinement can come in the edit.
A thousand hands pressing down kept him from rising. He couldn’t even reach the glass of water on the bedside. Nails dug into his brain and thankfully, eventually, the little death drew him back into its dark embrace. 

Do other writers struggle with the early stages? In exposition? For me, the earliest stages are the easiest to write, as I probably have many walls and doors to the floorplan. And where there are gaps, these can be explored with a creative freedom, all while the character becomes fleshed out with back story and tics. The middle section (and these novels are written with a traditional three act style) is the toughest; I've found that the prose becomes more 'plodding' as it tries to hit more and more story beats, with so much of location and character already set up.

One trick, I suppose, would be to add more characters later on - at least side characters - or move the story to new locations. Or perhaps just looking at something from a different perspective. Hmm, something for me to ponder there. It's good, if you're a writer, to acknowledge where you may have flaws, and if you can see them yourself, with a critical eye, than all the better. I've seen flaws which no-one has picked up on in my own work; someone else perhaps didn't think they were flaws, but they were to me, and something to consider refining or fixing. After all, it will guide me - or you if you write - to a more rounded, accomplished, consistent writing style.

As a reader, it's inconsistency that grates me. It almost doesn't matter how the book is written (if legible) so long as it's consistent throughout. A non-genre piece of fiction may try to bend this rule, but it's probably best not to stray too far for story driven narratives.

Day ten

Friday, 8 March 2019

Writing a Novel: Day three

Day One 

By day three the fingers are flying, and hopefully the ideas too. There's a quiet magic in conjuring worlds bit by bit - does anyone know where the little puzzle pieces appear from? The best feeling is when the brick walls don't appear and every sentence leads into the next, into the next, and so on, and you begin seeing a few sentences ahead. I guess this is called the zone. A curious state of solitude and focus.
The dome cracks may have been metaphorical, but the splintering society; the graffiti-daubed concrete fascias and crumbling brick walls, smashed glass and crime-darkened alleys, were the real deal. A man will do anything for money. A boy will lash out if there’s no future and no food in his belly. A mother will bleed for her children. It was a thousand stories played out in exactly the same way by actors who didn’t realise that just a generation or two earlier, this wouldn’t have mattered to them.

Just where and how do I reach this mythical 'zone'? Well, practically speaking, I am able to work flexibly in the office, doing my weekly hours however I want, taking whatever breaks I want. So I tend to take an hour every day and use that either to read or write. At the moment, I'm writing, and can squeeze in 750-1000 words in that time. Drink of choice: tea.

In the evening, after the children are in bed, I'll generally write another 1000 words or so before retiring to relaxation: Netflix or the PS4. Drink of choice: still tea. I used to procrastinate over my writing space, and when I think back about all the time I've wasted because I didn't think it would work - that the 'space' was somehow 'wrong'. Using that as an excuse to not write that novel I'd always wanted to write - it's annoying. Now here I am: a desk in the children's playroom, surrounded by toys, and a desk piled with books and god knows what. Either that or a canteen table at work. Both work, because it's what's inside the head that matters. Like Stephen King notes in his On Writing, he wrote better beneath the stairs staring at a wall.

No distractions.

There's something to be said for public spaces though. I wrote almost the entirety of The Risen in the library, on the third floor overlooking a traintrack, a main road, and a river in the distance. That white noise of clicking keyboards and quiet murmuring, and using a computer that isn't yours and has none of your distractions on it, perhaps with headphones in listening to music, can be a lullaby to the imagination.

Day six

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Writing a novel: Day two

Day One

It's day two! I won't be blogging each and every day, FYI - there's writing to get done! However, it was a solid start today - a nice round 1,000 words. For those of you interested, pacemaker is a nice little online app that you can use to keep track of writing goals.

I'll take some screenshots as I go. I use it with a pinch of salt - I may want 60,000 words, but it could easily be more or less depending on where the story goes. This is not set in stone. At the moment pacemaker tells me 1200 words a day are needed. Well we'll see about that!

In the last post I mentioned my starting notes, well here they are:

Don't read too closely if you want to avoid spoilers! I'm sure many will be horrified at the scarcity, especially considering the second page is the entire trilogy. This to me is just the skeleton - the meat of the planning gets added beneath all my text as I go along. I make notes of character traits and points I want to hit, which will get translated into the spreadsheet if they are major moments.

For fun, here's a paragraph from the opening section, raw:

Overpopulated and overstretched, Neon’s dome was splintering; district after district within bearing the brunt of an over-stimulated citizenry too eager and too bored to do anything other than reproduce. It was in their genes. It wasn’t their fault. There was space – the authority evicted whole families from top-side districts and relocated them to empty apartments beneath, to the sub-districts of pale lights and ever-night. It was a lottery. One day Joe and Jane Citizen were happily raising their family in the relative sunshine filtering through the dome’s skin, administering insurance accounts for the rich or wealthy or famous, or all three – and the next it was goodbye sun, goodbye rooftop barbecues, goodbye friends and family – unless they chose to move south too – and hello Negative Zero’s immigration barrier. Hello new home. Sure, the apartment might be twice the size as topside, but damn; the air was dank and sweaty and breathing it in made you feel as though you were filling your lungs with soup, all while looking out of tall, wide windows into blinking darkness and neon-punctuated misery.

A lot will likely change. The challenge is getting it all down to begin with. The fun part is the editing. (I'm serious!)

Day Three

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Writing a novel: Day one

So, I thought it might be interesting to document my writing process for Neon City. I'm not sure how this will go, but it may highlight the highs and lows and triumphs and failures that pretty much every writer, I'm sure, will go through. Perhaps you're a reader, interested to see how an author plans and sets about achieving that mountain of a goal: writing circa 60,000 words (or more). Or maybe you're a fellow writer, looking for ways to avoid slipping up, giving up or otherwise WRITE!

I know I do that a lot.

Yet when I knuckle down, it does flow. I've now written - pinch skin - four novels. Would I give any of them 5 stars? No. But I'm hoping I would to the next one: Neon City. And if not that one, then the one after that.

All that is to say: I've been here before and just want each book to be better than the previous one. What I like about that is the formatted document is already done - sitting here with a title and spaces for copyright and chapter listings, and the oh-so-friendly About the Author at the end. I just need to fill the massive gap between.

I'm an indie author doing rapid release, so this book needs to be written in just a few weeks. I've given myself six. Other indies write more quickly, and slowly, have editors, don't have editors - whatever works for them. I write to this scale and have done since Nanowrimo a couple years ago, because it worked for me. I was inside the story every day. I believe that helped continuity of character.

I also write and copyedit in my full-time job, so I'm skilled at editing on the go. An editor colleague also reads and offers a proof. It would be great to afford a third edit on my novels in the future!

So that's 60,000 words in ~6 weeks, give or take. 10,000 words a week. My best day is 5,500 words - so it's easily achievable. I have a vague outline in place of where I want the plot to be, and 3 main characters pencilled out, and that's enough for me. So far, for each of the Neon series, I've set the first act up as an intro to location, mixed with mystery and a sense of foreboding. It will be no different here.

Time to get to know Xi Chen - my MC #1! I use an excel spreadsheet to outline the plot, but I rely on my characters to tell me where to go. As I get to know them, I often find myself cutting and pasting sections out or in, moving them around, or just shutting it down and letting the plot flow. Something I'm taking from the first three Neon books is complexity of character. Complexity of morality. Nothing, and no one, is black-and-white. And that's sci-fi at its core. I'm looking forward to mixing in a bit of cyberpunk.

Day Two

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Review: The Game

The Game The Game by Terry Schott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did, as it had a nice, communal development story (uploaded to Facebook in parts for friends) and had themes I like exploring. In the end, I finished it just to squeeze out the ideas that the author had, as there were so many it ended up incoherent with little focus.

The Game is a pre-adult virtual reality life system designed to educate the children of Tygon. The Game is E. A. R. T. H. The idea is that the children come out of this system having lived full lives, and can then take that experience into their real life.

Sounds good. Except that you have to earn credits to be a part of the game (from having a ‘good game’), after your initial free runs. (Children play multiple times during their ‘childhood’). Logical inconsistency #1: the Tygon rulers therefore don’t actually care that much about maxing out a child’s potential. Logical inconsistency #2: kids that fail end up in labour camps. Where are the parents? Who are the parents? The Game has been around for 30 years – where is the supposed societal enlightenment that would come about from the communal wisdom of a generation?

These aren’t answered. They are compounded by the idea that The Game is viewed for pleasure by the adults – the very same adults who have been through the process themselves in order to become ‘better adults’. It’s masochistic, and given the dwindling popularity of Big Brother type shows in our reality: unrealistic. There’s also no explanation as to how The Game is viewed, as an entire lifetime inside The Game can take around 7 weeks in real-time (assuming someone ‘lives’ to be 70). It’s stated that recording and rewatching an event in The Game is impossible. There are ‘big’ events that happen in-game that in reality, for someone watching, would flash by in an instant. It makes no sense.

It also makes no sense that so much time and dedication is placed by ‘Patrons’ – people on Tygon who ‘sponsor’ single individuals (out of millions/billions) with the goal of trying to influence the outcome of in-game activities, when they cannot communicate directly in-game, and events would happen so fast that it would be impossible, in reality, to react quick enough even if they could.

Despite massive holes such as these, there were some good ideas, such as the explanations for Angels and Demons, and religion as a whole. The idea that the Pyramids and other ancient structures were BETA testers. It had some innovation, but all this was just not enough to paper the cracks. Add to this one-dimensional characters and an unrealistic, narcissistic MC; and a writing style that lacks variety, ‘style’, ambition – that does nothing but ‘tell’ instead of ‘show’ – and you get your two-stars.

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