Monthly Archives: January 2013

Why I keep failing

Recently I created a catalogue of stories I’ve written in Excel to find out approximately how many words of fiction I have written. In one column I put the title, in the next the approximate number of words I’d written on that story, including all drafts, alternate scenes and so on. I split this by original fiction and fanfic and used formulae to show total number of words written – not far shy of half a million words.

But that’s a half a million words of unfinished stories. Half a million words of stories which, at the most, never got further than a wide margin, double-spaced print out with some notes in my handwriting in red biro. A handful of stories that topped 30,000 words and a little over a dozen more under that figure. And I had to ask: why did none of them (except Ailith’s Gift at 3,300 words long) reach completion? What was wrong with them?

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Amazon’s approach to book reviews

Writerly types and those with interest in publishing (or even just reading) may have come across a tweet that was posted yesterday by author and TV producer Daisy Goodwin, reading:

‘We don’t require people to have read the product before reviewing’ amazon spokesperson #sockpuppets

This quote was published in the Guardian, in an article called Why Amazon Just Can’t Win yesterday morning and refers also, with the #sockpuppet hashtag, to the events of last September, when author R J Ellroy was found using a sockpuppet account to give other authors bad reviews and his own books good reviews. In response to this Amazon deleted thousands of reviews on books simply because they were written by other authors – widely condemned as an overreaction.

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Know When to Show ’em, Know When to Tell ’em…

A brilliantly put discussion demonstrating the validity of telling in writing instead of showing.

Brian W. Foster

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday. Apparently, tis the season for me to get knocked on my butt by random bugs.

Let’s take a look at two passages:

A. She was hungry.
B. Her stomach growled as emptiness gnawed at her. She clutched her belly and stared at the bread through the bakery window as if it were her very salvation.

Which is better?

A year ago, determining the answer to that question would have been quite simple to me. I would have said, “(A) is telling. (B) is showing. Showing is better than telling. Thus, (B) is better than (A).”

The more I learn, the more I disagree with my old self. There are so many more considerations, and I grow less sure of my original assertation every day. Let’s look at it more in depth:

Showing > Telling

Is this statement true in all cases? The…

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Adaptation Review: The Last Airbender


The Last Airbender, directed by M Night Shyamalan, is a live-action adaptation of the western animated series Avatar: the Last Airbender. It tells the story of Aang, a young boy who was trapped in ice for a hundred years. Aang is the fabled Avatar – capable of learning to manipulate all four elements, air, water, earth and fire, in a world where other “benders” can manipulate one element each. It is his quest to correct the imbalance in the world created by the Fire Nation’s invasion of the EarthKingdom and Water Tribes and destruction of Aang’s people, the Air Nomads.

The movie covers the first series of the animation, in which Aang and his new friends, Katara and Sokka, travel from the Southern Water Tribe where Katara and Sokka live to the Northern Water Tribe so Aang can learn Waterbending, dodging Fire Nation forces including the exiled Prince Zuko who wants to capture Aang to restore his lost honour, and General Zhao, who seeks to destroy the moon spirit in the Northern Water Tribe’s city in order to destroy Waterbending, which draws its powers from the moon. The first series, and the movie, end with a battle in the Northern Water Tribe city between the Waterbending defenders and the Fire Nation fleet.

Time constraints and cuts

The film condenses a lot of story into a short period of time. The first TV series consists of 20 episodes of 22 minutes each – for a total run time of over 7 hours. The movie, by comparison, is 103 minutes, less than a quarter of the length. As such a lot was cut. With some episodes in the series that cutting is entirely welcome. But the harshness of the cuts meant that some of the character of the world – in particular the Earth Kingdom through which the characters travel – is lost.

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Some fantasy films worth avoiding

I have previously looked at some fantasy films which are well worth viewing. They are classics, films which, while not perfect, are full of good qualities – humour, good acting, compelling plot and so on. But there are plenty of fantasy films which are not quite up to snuff, films which lack those good qualities – films which you don’t want to watch. And in order to warn you about them and hopefully save you the time, money and pain it will cost you to watch them, three of them are presented below.


10,000BC tells the story of a young man from a mammoth-hunting, tundra-dwelling tribe of hunter gatherers who, after some bad guys attack his tribe’s settlement and carry off some pretty girl he likes, decides to chase after them to rescue said girl. He travels through a rainforest, makes friends with a sabre-tooth tiger whose life he saves, then eventually reaches what presumably is meant to be Egypt, since there’s pyramid building going on and an obsession with the constellation of Orion (a real Egyptian thing). Anyway, there’s some sneaking around, a bit of fighting, some mystical hoo-ha and the protagonist rescues his girlfriend and everything is happy again.

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Review: Theft of Swords book 1, the Crown Conspiracy, by Michael J Sullivan

The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J Sullivan is the story of two accomplished thieves-for-hire, Hadrian and Royce, who, after accepting the wrong job, find themselves caught up in political machinations and framed for murder. They are propelled into an adventure which leaves the reader guessing who’s behind it all and wondering how the story will be resolved.

It is an enjoyable story with some fun, interesting characters and a plot which, while familiar in themes, feels fresh. There are some cool high-fantasy elements – doors that can only be opened by people wearing magical jewellery, an ancient war against elves, a mechanical-genius dwarf and an ancient, unaging wizard – but the story still felt down-to-earth, very real and solid.

Continue reading Review: Theft of Swords book 1, the Crown Conspiracy, by Michael J Sullivan

Commentary: Write your novel in 30 days – a 10 step guide (Part 2)

Yesterday I talked about the first five steps of Garda Parker’s advice post, Write your novel in 30 days – a 10 ten guide. Today I’ll look at steps 6 to 10:

6. Write a quick-and-dirty draft

7. Keep your novel to yourself to maintain your excitement and momentum

8. Identify your best time to write

9. Don’t stop to research

10. Understand—and use—manuscript format, even at the draft stage

6. Write a quick-and-dirty draft

Parker certainly offers some good advice here. When you’re writing your first draft, it doesn’t have to be good, you don’t need chapters of equal length and you don’t need to show your eventual publisher what it looks like. I read somewhere a piece of wisdom about a first draft that I think bears repeating:

The only thing a first draft needs to do is exist.

There you go. Because without a first draft, how can you have something to rewrite, to create a second draft from, to edit and pummel into shape? Just focus on creating that first draft.

Continue reading Commentary: Write your novel in 30 days – a 10 step guide (Part 2)

Commentary: Write your novel in 30 days – a 10 step guide (Part 1)

Today I came across a blog post by Garda Parker called Write your novel in 30 days – a 10 step guide. While I agree with some advice here, a lot of it is not useful. In this article, I’ll be looking at the concept and the first five points. In the one that follows I’ll look at points 6 to 10.

For those who don’t want to click that link and read the post, the ten steps are summarised as follows:

1. Know the kind of book you want to write (know your genre)

2. Know your lead character(s)

3. Keep a project notebook

4. Plunge in! (open with a strong scene)

5. Write a set number of pages daily

Continue reading Commentary: Write your novel in 30 days – a 10 step guide (Part 1)

Planning or procrastinating?

There comes a point, it suddenly seems evident to me, that the line is crossed – these notes I am writing are no longer planning notes, but procrastinating notes. They are a means for me to say “I am writing” without actually writing. They are rehashing, adding depth to the world I am creating when the layers are already there.

I am planning a story at the moment. It is not a complex story and I don’t expect it to be a long one. But during this whole planning process only the first week was really productive. The second week has been window dressing. In the first week I created a character, I gave her motivations and a personality, flaws which are human and normal and quite possibly at the core of quite a lot of decisions made my people the world over. I created a world for her to live in, a unique town for her to live and run a business in and a city far away for her to journey to in search of her long lost daughter.

In the second week mostly what I created was fluff. A history for this city she travels to, and as a consequence a landmark along the way. The culture’s attitude to death and the soul and how this impacts on one very small part of the quest. A superfluous plot outline that fails to cover the ending.

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2013: New Year’s Resolutions

At the tail end of last month I wrote a post looking back at 2012 and to a certain extent looking forward to 2013. I established some of my goals for the year, but after reading Brian W Foster’s New Years Resolution post on his blog, I thought it might be a good idea to imitate him in order to set out clear measurable goals.

My writing-related New Years Resolutions are as follows:

Complete, edit and publish the untitled story I am currently working on

I like this story. I like the way it and the world it is set in are taking shape around and alongside one another. I like the simplicity of the story and the humanity in it. It is the story of a woman who is a successful shop owner, a woman with a large extended family including a husband and children, who had a daughter when she was a teenager, before she got married, and gave this daughter away to the child’s father, a wealthy married man with a barren wife who wanted a child to inherit his legacy. She leaves her successful business in her husband’s hands and sets off with her eldest son in search of that daughter.

Continue reading 2013: New Year’s Resolutions