Story structure

I’ve been thinking a lot about story construction for months and months. I’ve tried various structures – 3-Act; 8-Part; 12 pillars; multi-layer 10 key scene; snowflake. All of them sort of work, in that they help me keep focussed on the story, what the key, underlying theme is, and help me keep an even pace throughout the story. But is this good for my writing? Is it taking the creativity out of it?

I’m an engineer. I was born into an engineering family, my father was an engineer, both of my older brothers were engineers. We rode cycles we built from parts that we rescued from a tip; we all worked on our own cars, fixing them when they went wrong; we all went into engineering as soon as we left school at sixteen. And, although I moved from mechanical engineering into electronics and industrial computer control, engineering has stayed with me all of my life.

And it influences me, even now, at just over 60 years old. I prefer function to form: that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate form. I love art, I love photography, and, of course, I love writing. But when you have a ‘thing’, an item, that needs to perform a function, it’s that which takes priority with me, and form comes second.

So let’s look at writing. A piece of writing, especially a novel, has both function and form. It needs to function for the reader, give them entertainment or enlightenment. It needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. It needs to have proper characters, a plot that makes sense and draws the reader in. Also it needs to have sentences, have proper grammatical construction, and needs words to be spelled (spelt?) properly.

However, a novel isn’t a paint-by-numbers kit. It needs to have form, and art, it needs to communicate ideas, through the authors use of words. It should convey feelings, it should paint a picture for the reader, just by using words. If you can weave theme into it and voice and style, so much the better. Above all, it should be a compelling story, taking the reader on a journey.

I love C.S. Lakin’s book, The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction because it likens the novel structure to that of a house – having four main corner pillars, with another eight pillars to keep up the roof. There are lots more building / writing analogies, but the whole idea is one I can get behind.

So, for me, there needs to be a strong, logical structure (the FUNCTION) underpinning the complete story, onto which your artistic creative techniques can weave the FORM, the characters, the plot, and the themes.

Happy New Year!

As you may or may not know, I don’t do New Year Resolutions. I don’t like the binary, succeed / fail result that they cause. Most of life isn’t digital – it’s analog, so in that way, my 2017 targets will be just that – targets. Things to aim for, ideals.

First of all, let’s look back at last years’s targets, and see which have been smart targets and have been achieved, and which were ludicrous (in hindsight).

2016 TARGETS

1) Write one short story a week for the Bradbury Challenge – SUCCESS!

2) Complete the 100kwords100days challenge – FAIL! Err … not quite a success. 64,000 words is pretty good, though. I failed the second one, too – massively.

3) Complete edits on previously-written novels – FAIL! Hahaha – obviously a stupid thing to attempt. Who would edit some old stuff when you can write a whole load of new rubbish? My pile of pre-written ‘stuff’ approaches a million and a half words.

4) Self-publish two collections of shorts – for halloween and Christmas – FAIL! I didn’t get enough content written for that.

5) Write one blog post a week – FAIL! I’m just useless, aren’t I?

6) Write book and story reviews on the blog – FAIL! I wrote some reviews, but didn’t bother to post them. Even more useless.

7) Be more active on Goodreads – FAIL! I didn’t quite get into the habit of checking in there.

So, one success and 6 failures. Not bad, for me. But in the summary of last year’s targets, I said I wanted it to be the most productive year yet, and I think I achieved that.

2017 TARGETS

1) Write one short story a week for the Bradbury Challenge 2017. I can definitely do this. I have far too many ideas for me to stop writing them now.

2) Complete the 100kwords100days challenge. I can do this, too. I’ve already started in practice mode, and I’m currently at 1,044 words a day for the past 12 days. I want to use the challenge to finish off book one of the cozy series, complete book 2, and write book 3. And then to move onto the bigger novel ideas I have.

3) Novels. Yes, well, I don’t have a good record of success completing and editing novels. I’ve written about five or six, but not been satisfied by them, and have moved onto other stories I want to tell. I need to look at this habit, and decide if it’s something I want to continue, or do something about. I have a high-concept political conspiracy idea. I’m at the early stages of planning, but it’s something I really want to do – using fiction to help encourage social change. High-minded? Maybe.

Apart from that, and keeping up to date with the podcasts, the writing groups and the book clubs, I want 2017 to be a year of PUBLISHING! Yes, I’m driven to actually get stuff out there this year. I know I’ve said this before, but this time, I mean it. Probably. And Maya Goode (from the podcasts) is determined to get me to submit a short story to a literary publication. I’m fighting shy, because that would mean someone judging my work, which as we all know, is not a good thing. But I don’t think I’m going to get away without doing this. Maya can be very persuasive.

End of year 2016

It’s strange, looking back. 2016 was an interesting year, away from writing – we had the EU referendum, and the USA elections, both of which returned surprising, not to say, unexpected, results. Both results could see huge changes in what happens in both the UK and the USA in the coming months and years The binary voting system (voting for just one option or another) had created a huge fallout, with a lot of animosity on both sides toward the other. Strange times.

2016 also saw the passing of a number of heroes, including David Bowie, Prince, Mohamed Ali, Robert Vaughn and Alan Rickman. Just before the end of the year, Carrie Fisher died after a heart attack, and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died a day later. Very sad.  2016 was a year of change.

Looking back on last New Year, it’s interesting to read my review of 2015 and my look ahead to 2016.

http://gerald-hornsby.com/blog/2015/12/29/2015-what-was-that-all-about-then/

http://gerald-hornsby.com/blog/2015/12/31/welcome-2016/

1) NaNoWriMo

Yes, I ‘won’ it again, my 12th win in 13 attempts. For this year, I wrote one-and-a-bit short novels in the Cozy Mystery genre. I fancied trying something different for a change. I was pleased with how it came out, writing without much of a plan but trying to keep to my “Eight Part Novel Structure” (stolen from various other sources). After NaNo, I continued with book 2 and want to get book 3 well underway, if not drafted, before I go back and edit the others.

2) Literary Roadhouse  http://www.literaryroadhouse.com/

I continued my podcasting with the LRH gang. That’s the weekly literary short story podcast, the monthly book club, and new for 2016, the weekly Bradbury Challenge, where we committed to write at least one short story a week. Some of us (ahem) managed to do it, while others didn’t, but it was, nonetheless, a good challenge with plenty of accountability on a week-by-week basis. I’m not sure if we’ll repeat it for 2017, but I’d like to, maybe with a monthly podcast.

3) Word count

Over 200,000 words on novels, short stories, blog posts and writing-related non-fiction. Pretty good for one year. There were over 50,000 words in the rewrite (still, as yet, incomplete) of Death In Print. There were over 50,000 words in the Coffee Shop Mystery series. Nearly 50,000 words on short stories of one form or another. 15,000 on a collection of short stories called Archetypes. Over 6,000 on something called Dark Money, which I can’t remember now 😉

4) Writing groups

In supporting a local writer, I unwittingly joined another local writing group. So that’s one in St. Osyth, one in Harwich and one in Frinton. I like writing groups, me. They are each very unique, and I get something different from each of them.

5) Reading groups

Apart from the Literary Roadhouse monthly book club and the Pub Book Club, there were no additions to my reading accountability anxiety. Thank goodness. Too much pressure.

SUMMARY

It’s been a good year. I’ve read a lot of books, most of them pretty good, a couple that were brilliant – the Man Booker prize-winning The Sellout by Paul Beatty and the surprisingly no-prize-winning-yet White Light by Vanessa Garcia. Both stunning books in their own way. I’ve written a lot of short fiction (over 60 pieces). I’ve rewritten a previous novel and written getting on for two small novels. That’s a pretty good year.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

No, I don’t know what it means, either. And I don’t like the term “winning” when it relates to NaNoWriMo. It’s very binary, and I think we’ve had enough binary decisions this year. If there is a winner, then there must be a loser, and losing has such bad connotations for those who can’t deal with it.

But, the bottom line is, I completed the NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words in a month challenge. What did I write?

Well, one of the things I advocate about NaNoWriMo is to use it to experiment with your writing. At the end of November, even if you write 50,000 words, it’s unlikely that the so-called ‘novel’ will be in any fit state to progress. More than likely, it will be a very rough draft, a collection of half-finished ideas, loosely held together by crossed fingers and prayers. This year, I decided to try and write a cozy mystery. In my ‘day writing’, I write crime fiction, and cozies are hot, apparently, so I thought I’d give it a go.

In short, I failed to finish one story. I knew who the culprit was, and how they exposed him, but my story had veered off the (very rough) plan I had produced, and as I approached the end of the book, I could see where I was, and where I wanted to be (the proposed ending) were miles apart. Should I rewrite the ending, or bludgeon through, fighting my way back from where I was, to where I wanted to be?

In the end, I did neither. In the interests of writing lots of words, I paused the first book, and started the second, where the words flew from my fingers, with over 4,000 words on the last day, finishing on a total of 51,204 words. Some might say that starting a second novel was cheating, or that it would make me a NaNo Rebel. IHowever,  would have had to write those words on Book 2 sometime anyway. Why not write them in November and get them counted into the NaNoWriMo total? Which is what I did.

So, now we’re already at the 12th of December, what is my roundup on my NaNoWriMo writing?

I love my stories, and I love my characters. They’re not deep enough yet, but on the surface, they’re interesting enough. Things have moved on since the days of Miss Marple, and these days, us writers are expected to write fully rounded characters.

In the short term, I have podcasts to record, books to read for book clubs, a minor health issue to sort, and Christmas meals and parties to attend. But I shall be returning to my cozies, and I shall finish Draft Zero of Book 2, before returning to Draft Zero of Book 1, with updated character information, smoother plot, and a general redrafting of the story. These will be published during 2017. I’m making that commitment.

Comment spam

The good thing about not visiting your blog for a while is all the comment spam that suddenly appears, usually within half an hour of each other.

And so it happened today. All have been marked as spam, of course, but some of them are too hilarious to not share:

Thank you so much for this artecli, it saved me time!

That’s a subtle way of thnnkiig about it.

You write so holsteny about this. Thanks for sharing!

That’s a clever answer to a tricky quteoisn

You get a lot of respect from me for writing these helpful arteslic.

The voice of ratltnaiioy! Good to hear from you.

I’m shoekcd that I found this info so easily.

Knocked my socks off with knlweodge!

A wonderful job. Super helpful innaomotirf.

Well done to think of somiehtng like that

I bow down humbly in the presence of such grnsteeas.

That’s really thniking at a high level

That’s not even 10 mitenus well spent!

Now, I must admit to not really understanding all this. What do they get out of it? Are they hoping I’ll reply to their email address 2765a6ht@mail.com, or click on their website nsh846hsh.com? Silly people.

Angry Gerald

How long is it since I posted to this blog? Oops. I’ll never be considered an authorpreneur.

Aaaaaggghhhh!

Perhaps I should explain. I don’t like the term “authorpreneur”. Yuck. Especially when it’s pronounced author prenewer. Double yuck.

To me, it starts to push our noble profession towards, and maybe even over the border of, internet marketing. How to sell more books. How to build your tribe. Use social media to drive your sales. Why you need an email list. And other marketing nonsense.

Yes, all this stuff is of some importance, but to me, writing is the number one thing here. Telling stories is what it’s about. Money will come when people like your stories enough to keep buying them and recommending and reviewing them. And if the money doesn’t come, write better (and more) stories. One of the first rules of sales is that you don’t try to convince someone to buy a product they don’t want. When you’re marketing, there is a saturation point, after which prospective readers (note I didn’t say “buyers”) get turned off by your constant BUY ME BUY ME BUY ME Tweets.

(Takes a deep breath).

Now, I’m calm again. I subscribe to a number of author newsletters, and over lunch today, I was idly clicking through my emails and came across one which related to self-publishing. It was from someone who calls themselves an *gulp* authorpreneur. And, like all good blog posts (apparently) it had a list of questions one should ask oneself. Amongst one of the questions was:

The most important things to pay for things such as cover design and editing.

I kid you not. That is a copy and paste from the website. This person offers editing and copywriting services, as do a lot of self-published authors who found that self-publishing isn’t the golden goose they were led to believe it was.

Grrr.

(Takes a deep breath again).

I shall return again soon, with a Happy Gerald post. But there is a moral here.

If you’re going to offer editing and copywriting services, make damned sure everything you put on your own website is 100% correct.

End of lecture.

Look at me, blogging an’ that

I seem to be doing better on my interaction with people lately. Which is not very secret code for hanging around on social media a lot.

Anyway, last night I brought my wordcount spreadsheet up to date. I keep my own Excel spreadsheet, recording my daily wordcounts on various projects. It’s a good idea, so I can try to keep myself on track, and give myself motivation. It also allows me to track my endeavours on various writing challenges (I love a good challenge, me).

So, after adding up the blog posts I’ve written (few of which have seen the light of day), and the short and flash fiction I’ve written (none of which have seen the light of day), and my faltering, stumbling steps on Death In Print, my Danni Monroe crime novel, I added a whopping 19,257 words to my word count, and my 2016 total now stands at 62,907.

One of the challenges I enjoy is the #100kwords100days project, which has been running twice a year for several years now. To achieve my goal (100,000 words in 100 days, of course) I need to write just over 3,000 words a day for the next 12 days.

So I’m off to write.

Pip pip!

Final, final update

And with this, I really do promise to move on.

Ros Barber was written a blog post. You can (and should) read it here: http://rosbarber.com/you-one-me/

In it, she tells the story of how she came to write *that* article, and of some of the ‘feedback’ she’s received from it. I have written a reply, but I don’t know if it will get approved. I hope so. I shall put it here as well, just in case (for some reason, I can’t copy and paste it from there, so here’s a screencap) (and it’s not particularly well-written, and unedited)

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 23.41.11I didn’t agree with the original article. I felt that it demeaned self-published authors, and much worse, could harm the reputation of someone who does use an alternative method of publishing to the traditional one. I was angry and disappointed.

But I would never, ever, abuse someone online for something they’d written. As someone I once worked under (for literary short story writing – hi, Alex) said: critique the writing, don’t criticise the author. We may take issue with the words, dislike those words intensely, but we should always try to maintain a courteous relationship with the real person that wrote them.

And there is never a good reason for abusing someone online, and using foul and abusive language against them just because they wrote something you disagree with.

UPDATE: My comment has been approved on Ros’s blog.

Update on the Guardian self-publishing article

Not that I’m obsessed about this nonsense in any way whatsoever.

But …

I was wandering around Facebook spending 90% of my time telling people to BUY MY BOOK because, well, that’s what all us self-publishers do, isn’t it? Anyway, someone appeared who I thought was Ros Barber, but wasn’t, so I decided to have a shufty at her page.

Of course, a few people (who almost certainly haven’t a clue what they’re talking about) agree on what an absolutely awful idea self-publishing is, and up pops the following comment:

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 19.36.29So there we have it. Controversial article = lots of “engagement”. Which, by the way, equals lots of page views which equals lots of advertising revenue for a newspaper that’s shedding journalists and property.

http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/guardian-cutbacks-250-staff-go-30000-square-feet-shed-events-space-kings-cross-scrapped