How do you fix a tangled mess?

I have a story I’m working on. (Actually there’s about four, but this one is on the shortest deadline.) I started it about two years ago, but stuff happened and I forgot all about it. At that point it was basically an outline and the first paragraph.

A few weeks ago I was going through some of my old files, looking for another story that I felt needed to be re-written, and I found this outline. I read what I had done and loved it. It’s actually the perfect plot for a competition I had on my list, so I dug it out and started writing.

Here’s my problem. My original plan involves flash-backs, or maybe it’s a story within a story. Anyway…I’m happy with both of the past and present parts on their own, but I’m having real trouble making the two of them mesh together. When is the best time to throw in the tragic twist for the maximum emotional punch? How do I hide the clues that lead to the surprise ending without them sticking out like a sore thumb?

In order for this story to be considered for the competition, it needs to be postmarked by Friday. I have a lot of work to do to get it in shape by then!

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Back To The Classics (Again)

BackToTheClassics2016Once again, Karen at Books and Chocolate is running the ‘Back to the Classics’ challenge. This year (2015) I crashed and burned in this challenge, and only finished one book. This was mostly due to poor book choices, and the fact that most of them were on my kindle (which I broke). I tried to pick it up on the kindle app on my tablet, but I’d lost my place, and couldn’t be bothered finding it again…that particular book is not on my list this year!

So which books are on my list this year? I present the list below. I’m so excited about some of them that I’m sort of disappointed I can’t start reading until January 1st!

1.  A 19th Century Classic – Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina (1878)

2.  A 20th Century Classic – Franz Kafka – The Trial (1925)

3.  A classic by a woman author – Louisa May Alcott – An Old-Fashioned Girl (1869)

4.  A classic in translationNaguib Mahfouz – The Mirage (1948)

5.  A classic by a non-white author – Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

6.  An adventure classic – Rudyard Kipling – Kim (1901)

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classicJules Verne – Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864)

8.  A classic detective novel Ngaio Marsh – A Man Lay Dead (1934)

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title – E. M. Forster – A Passage to India (1924)

10. A classic which has been banned or censored – Aldous Huxley – Brave New World (1932)

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college) Charles Dickens – Great Expectations (1861)

12. A volume of classic short stories Andrew Lang (Editor) – The Pink Fairy Book (1897)

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Book Review: The Martian

Can I just say…wow.

I read Andy Weir’s The Martian in one sitting. It was that engaging, I just couldn’t put it down. For those of you who’ve been living under a rock the past few months, and haven’t seen the trailer for the new movie adaption of this book starring Matt Damon, the story is pretty simple:

Mark Watney is part of the Ares 3 mission, doing experiments on the surface of Mars, when the astronauts are ordered to evacuate due to dangerous winds approaching their base. As the crew race to their shuttle, Mark is hit by a flying piece of unsecured equipment. The bio-monitor in his space-suit shows no life signs, and the rest of the crew make the difficult choice to leave the body behind and save themselves. Hours later, Mark wakes up alone on an inhospitable planet, facing the prospect of surviving for four years with only the supplies that have been abandoned with him, until the next scheduled mission to Mars arrives.

I’ll be honest, there’s a lot of science in this, and sometimes the explanations of the things that Mark does to survive were a bit technical. On the other hand, the story was so compelling that I kept on reading, because I was so invested in finding out how he could possibly survive.

This is realistic science fiction. There are no aliens, no time machines… we are a long, long way from Doctor Who here. That said, it was fascinating and I’d definitely recommend it – just make sure you clear the rest of your day before you start (and don’t be surprised if you close the book and find it’s morning already like I did!)

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The many faces of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – a comparison

Pride and Prejudice is one of the best-known and best-loved English novels of all time. More than 200 years after it was first published, it is still eminently readable, even for modern audiences. (My sister did say that she  thought the sisters were nuts for sitting around waiting around for a man to propose…)

Pride and Prejudice is so popular (and also so far past the expiration of its copyright) that many modern authors have put their own stamp on this classic romance. For many years I resented this – Pride and Prejudice has been one of my favourite stories since I was about 12 years old, and the story is so special to me that I take a very dim view of people messing with it.

Even now I am very picky about reading adaptions and retellings. Here’s my thoughts on the ones I have read. Note: The following refers only to novels based on Pride and Prejudice, and does not include any film or television adaptions (although the BBC miniseries from the mid-nineties is, I believe, the best and most faithful to the original novel).

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The original and the best. As Mary Poppins would say, it’s ‘practically perfect in every way.’ If you don’t know the story…where have you been? Go read it, right now, then come back and read the rest of this post (you can download the e-book for free, or if your local library doesn’t have it, you need to find a new library to go to!) There are spoilers in the following mini-reviews, so don’t read any further if you haven’t read this one!!!

Darcy’s Passions: Pride and Prejudice through his eyes by Regina Jeffers

I was skeptical when I first saw this on the shelf at my local library, but I decided to give it a go. I’m really glad I did. A large proportion of the novel is devoted to scenes from the original, written from Darcy’s point of view, but it also explores his relationships with Bingley and Georgiana, and continues on from the wedding to the family’s first New Year’s Eve celebrations at Pemberley. It really tugs on the feels, and I was a little disappointed when it ended.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

There was a lot of hype about this one when it first came out, but personally, it’s one of the books in this post I liked least. It’s set in the same time period as Pride and Prejudice, but focuses on the lives of the servants at Longbourn. The events upstairs only appear when they affect the servants. (For example, at one point Sarah – the housemaid – consults Mr Collins for spiritual advice during his stay.) Like Darcy’s Passions, the story continues into the first few months of Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage.

While the depiction of regency life, particularly life below stairs, is (to the best of my knowledge) fantastically accurate, I felt like some of the plot lines stripped the story of its innocence. Elizabeth Bennet was also depicted as a little more selfish and thoughtless in her treatment of servants than in the original.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James

Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy are living happily ever after on their estate at Pemberley – until Lydia Wickham decides that she wants to attend an upcoming ball on the estate and insists that her husband should bring her to visit. I had to like this one, because it’s written by one of my favourite mystery writers.

You can read my full review here

Being Elizabeth Bennet by Emma Campbell Webster

A choose your own adventure story, where your goal is to marry both for love and money. Based on Pride and Prejudice, it also includes elements from Jane Austen’s other novels, and her real life. I really wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I read this the first time. I wasn’t in the mood for the complicated scoring system (your character gains and loses skills and abilities in a similar way to Dungeons and Dragons – a notebook and pen need to be your constant companions while you’re reading this). I was also horrified by the liberties taken with the storyline.

A little older and wiser now, I recently read this again. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered, but I did find a contradiction: In order to ‘win’ you need to be thoroughly familiar with the Jane Austen canon and the society in which the books were set, and yet the text is often over-simplified (in my opinion) perhaps to avoid alienating readers who don’t know the books as well. All of the major plot points are there, but very little of the detail. On the plus side, it can be read in an afternoon, and the multiple potential endings mean that you could have a different experience each time you read it.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I was excited to read this, because I loved Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters (by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters). As I mentioned before, I am quite nit-picky about adaptions of Pride and Prejudice, and sadly, in this one there were nits to be picked. Some of my favourite pieces of dialogue were cut or altered – either to accommodate the ‘unmentionables’ or to make their meaning clearer for modern audiences. The depiction of Elizabeth and her sisters as ass-kicking warriors was a step towards female emancipation that I think Austen would probably have approved of, but the dirty jokes? Seriously? I think perhaps that was a step too far.

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Post NaNoWriMo 2015: what next?

This time last year, NaNoWriMo ended, and I kind of burned out. I read a fair bit, and wrote a few book reviews, but writing fiction just didn’t happen. I missed a couple of short story competitions I really wanted to enter, because I had nothing ready.

I’m determined not to let that happen again. Last year, I decided that after writing 50,000 words in a month, I was entitled to a few days off from fiction. Those few days (with the exception of one aborted attempt at a short story inspired by my nephew) turned into almost 11 months. When I got down to NaNo prep at the beginning of October, I was excited, but out of practice… I started November with only half an outline – a beginning, and an ending, but no idea how the two were going to meet!

This year, I have a plan:

  • Last year my sister gave me a book of writing prompts for Christmas. I intend to pick one a day, every day, and write something (even if it’s only a couple of hundred words). I started doing this on December 1st, and I think it’s going to be a nice habit to get into.
  • I have a long list of upcoming writing competitions on a whiteboard in my room. I’ve been thinking about potential story ideas since half-way through November (some have themes or words/phrases that must be included in the story, some don’t). I’d like to enter at least one every two months in 2016, but there are more than that on my list.
  • Once I have a few of those out of the way – some of the deadlines are going to be quite a challenge – I’m planning to rewrite my 2014 NaNovel. I’ve had a few thoughts about some of the things that I know are wrong with it, and I think I’m ready to revisit it.

Does anyone else have any hints? How do you keep the momentum going once November is over?

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Serendipity

There’s a local writing competition that I’ve entered a couple of times in the past. It’s part of a small town festival that has been running for many years, and I’ve entered it twice before, so I knew to look out for it when I was drawing up my list of deadlines for the next few months.

Usually, this is an open themed competition. Write about whatever you like, as long as you meet the word count and other submission conditions. This year, one of the conditions is that the name of the town must appear in bold print, somewhere in the text.

Now, when I say this town is local, I mean that it’s part of the same local government area I live in, but it’s not a place I visit often. Apart from the existence of this festival, and a couple of the local amenities, I really didn’t know much about it.

It’s been driving me mad. I’m not keen on the idea of just slipping the name into the story as an afterthought… for example, ‘John was born in [town]’. I’d much rather write something inspired by the place, but my research wasn’t turning up any gems – until yesterday…

Yesterday (Wednesday) I went to one of the many ‘Centenary of WW1’ exhibitions which have been popping up over the past two years. Most of the items on display were fairly generic; objects from both sides of the conflict, pictures of famous soldiers and politicians, maps showing where famous battles took place… I think you get the picture. This was a touring exhibit, and at the end of the display was a section on ‘your local community’. Every one of the soldiers featured in this section was from the town whose name needs to appear in my competition entry!

By a startling coincidence, on Tuesday I opened a book of writing prompts at random, and the prompt was something along the lines of: ‘You are the person who is responsible for telling families that their loved one has been captured, wounded, or killed in action. Describe one of these scenes.’ Put the two together, and I think I have something I can work with.

 

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NaNoWriMo 2015: Wrap-up

I did it! 50,000 words in 30 days. You’d think it would be easier the second time around, but there were times there when I wasn’t sure I’d make it.

I’m officially a two-time NaNoWriMo winner now, but I’m not actually finished… well… either novel actually. I still have a few loose ends to tie up in this year’s plot, and then I think it’s finally time to go back and edit last year’s novel.

I’ve learned something really important about my writing this November. I suck at conflict. I’m too quick to resolve fights, rescue damsels and plant clues (which aren’t nearly cryptic enough). The struggles that make plots suspenseful might appear in my writing, but they don’t last. I plan to work on this in the next year…

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a whole lot of old writing I need to go fix!

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NaNoWriMo 2015: Day 27

I’m going to be without internet for the next two days, but I just wanted to check in and let you all know that with any luck, the next post you will see from me will be one announcing my triumphant NaNoWriMo victory. I have only 3,790 words to go, and a bit over three days to write them.

My protagonist is in peril, she’s thinking on her feet to give herself the best chance of being rescued, and the man who loves her is going to be in the right place to find the clue she is planning to leave. Spoiler alert – there’s going to be a happy ending in their near future!

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NaNoWriMo 2015: Day 26

I’m finally on a roll. I’ve already written over 2,000 words today, and by the end of the day, I plan to have fewer than 5,000 words to go to reach the magic 50,000 target.

I may not even have finished the story by then. I have a very dramatic incident coming up, that could well take up 10,000 words on its own (by the time it’s all resolved). So far the plot has taken a few unforeseen twists and turns in the middle, but I’ve managed to bring it around so that the ending will work out more or less the way I had intended when I started writing almost 4 weeks ago.

Back to it then…

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NaNoWriMo 2015: Day 24 & 25

Remember that slump I was in the other day? Day 23… I was in such a bad way. Then I knuckled down and got on with it. 2,300 words later, I was back on track.

Day 24 began with the funeral of an old family friend. It was someone I hadn’t really seen much in recent years, but other members of my family are still close to members of his family, so I went along.

Then I came home, attempted to stop the dog from licking my lunch, and wrote. At the end of the day, I had another 2,000 words down. It could have been more, but my laptop overheated and I ended up having a little nap while I waited for it to cool down…

So here we are, day 25. I start today with 8,985 words left before the end of the month, and 6 days to get them done. That’s a bit under 1,500 words a day. I’m hoping to write closer to 2,000 words a day, so that I have a buffer if I run into unforeseen speed bumps between now and Monday. Right now it feels like a case of ‘so near, and yet so far’, but I’m feeling much more certain that I will be wearing a winner’s t-shirt again in the near future.

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