What I Learned From Finishing The First Draft Of My Novel

Manilla Church Title

So I did it. Yeah yeah, it’s finished. It was painful, hilarious, testing, stressful, simple, complicated, disastrous and most importantly; fun!

Regardless of whether it goes on to be published or not, there’s a lot of lessons to take from the experience (some of them expected, some of them surprising).

It’s Easier Than I Thought

So when I started out on this journey, I didn’t know whether I’d actually be able to get to the end. I’ve started many a story before, and normally one of three things happens:

1. I didn’t have a large enough idea, and it turns into a short story / novella.

2. I have another idea half way through, and then switch all my attention to that one.

3. I lose interest / grow intimidated by my own idea, and give up.

The struggle is real. And yet, with this little nasty, I managed to keep going and finish it. I started it on the 5th of March, and it was finished by the 2nd of June. It sits at 102,508 words, so it needs work. But getting there was a lot easier than I had anticipated. How I got there was simple.

"It's not rocket science, honestly"

“It’s not rocket science, honestly”

Setting Targets Pushed Through My Procrastination

I started out small, forcing myself to write 500 words a day. Easy peasy, lemons are squeezy. Then, once my brain and fingers were on side, tricked by my awesome scheme into seeing how easy 500 words was, I upped the count to 700. ‘You call that a challenge’ they cried, drunk on word counts and punctuation.

I ended up banging out 1,000 words a day, averaging 1,150 words a day in April and May. I know this, because I made a spreadsheet that I could log my totals into every night. This seems geeky, I know. But hear me out. I’m a child of sandbox computer games, so my brain responds to simple stimuli like upgrades, xp, and stats. If I can develop this real world data to reflect the effort I’m putting into myself and one of my hobbies, it gives me personally, an extra level of satisfaction. Gone are the wasted days of thinking about wanting to write. In their place, a tangible, real-time record of every word I’ve written.

It might not be everyone’s flavour, but it certainly worked for me.

Nerd Alert

Nerd Alert

Write It, Warts and All

The only way I could realistically squeeze a thousand words into my day (taking me anywhere from 30-60 minutes) was to just write them out, knowing I’d be back at a later date to edit. Unrestricted word slamming, churning word-chunder onto the page without stopping to wipe it up. Groovy.

For the purists out there, I know this might sound like a nightmare. A friend of mine prefers to write the detail now, rather than know it will need to be returned to later. For me, this was too much of a start / stop approach, and I’d quickly be demotivated as the mammoth task facing me would seem like an overbearing mountain. Hence by doing it my way, each day felt like a tangible step in the right direction, even if I knew what I’d written might be dogshit.

Also, this gives you the chance to rant out key facts, feelings, scene setting or monologue and know it will be returned to and tidied up later.

Sure, if a single scene feels like it needs attention, or the desire to edit is so strong you can’t fight it, then there’s nothing to say you can’t do that. It’s flexible.

Just remember, a thousand words a day gets you to a novel in about three months. That’s decent. Then you’ve got three months to edit. At that pace, you could write 20 novels in your twenties alone!

It also helps break the story down into sections, instead of one long road. First draft done? OK. Now, on to draft two. Instead of stopping every few paces to check your laces are tied, you’re sprinting to the end and worrying about it then. Sure, you might have more blisters, and the laces will probably be frayed, but you got there. You did it.

"Wooo"

“Wooo”

Fail to Prepare and Prepare to Fail

I read a post recently on the wonderful Terrible Minds (Chuck Wendig’s personal writing blog) about the need to plan your story. The post is actually by another writer named Rob Hart, and he uses the analogy of building a house when talking about constructing a story. In his own words:

It was like if you’re building a house, but the blueprints are constantly getting changed, and the builders aren’t communicating, and suddenly there’s a toilet next to the fridge. And you have to figure out how to move it, but once you do, it screws with the plumbing lines… (read the original post here)

I can’t think of a more lovely way to put it; once you’ve set stuff up, moving characters, threads, plots, pivots, all of it can be disastrous if not thought about and juggled with sense and purpose. And both of these things come from a solid plan. Though it’s tempting to plan as you go, and write on the coat-tails of inspiration, you’ll hit trouble if you haven’t set out in advance, clearly, the threads and pathways your story will take.

When I started out writing the story, I had a brief idea, and a few characters in mind. I wrote these out in a notebook, then left them there. I then took a long train ride and pondered the greater story (with no writing) – my thinking being that I’d work through the gunk in the filter and get to the good stuff.

Then I slept on it, and thought over it some more. The gutsy stuff I’d come up with didn’t seem so necessary in the cold of the following morning. So I erased a few random details, and looked to string together the rest in a different way. Then again. And again.

I tried to explain the story to a friend, and realised it had no purpose, and no overall meaning. Ultimately, you should be able to sum up your story in one sentence. I went away again and pondered this, simplifying and removing and adding until I had it.

I ended up with a story that had a start, a middle, and an end. I planned this out by hand, then on my PC.

Finally, I was ready to start writing, and the rest took care of itself. It changed (a lot), but having a base, and an idea of what was going to happen, when, and why, meant I had the minerals to concoct and adapt. The elements were the story components, and once identified, it made this particular method of word alchemy that much easier. And crucially, the toilet never ended up in the kitchen!

There were other complications though...

There were other complications though…

90,000 Isn’t So Big

In fact, it’ll creep up on you in no time. I planned the story to fall into three clearly identified sections of 30,000 words each. Each of these sections was divided further into three 10,000 word portions. This really helped with the planning and staging, and mean’t I had clear signposts to measure my progress, and make sure I didn’t waffle on in certain parts.

In the end, this total disappeared into the rear-view mirror, and I know for sure I’ll need to cut it down once the editing begins.

Still, it’s nice to have too much and not enough.

"OK, no need to show off"

“OK, no need to show off”

It Came to Life

It really did. I’d sleep and dream about the characters, and wake up in the middle of the night with great ideas. I’d scramble through my bedside table finding my pens and paper to jot down these ideas, only to wake in the morning and realise it didn’t fit, or that I’d already written it out like that.

The ideas grew, and the story started to tell me what was happening. Ideas came to me seemingly from nowhere, ideas that slotted in perfectly and tied up loose ends I didn’t realise I had.

Once the ball was rolling, and I was regularly checking in with my characters, everything just seemed to gather its own head of steam.

Once you get going, you won't be able to stop

Once you get going, you won’t be able to stop

It’s Possible to Hate a Wordfile

By the end, I was dog tired, and completely and utterly ready to finish. It took more will power than at any other moment to finally finish it. I knew the ending, and knew exactly how I wanted it to end. So creativity wasn’t the issue. It was the effort. The effort of knowing that it needed finishing, even after all the energy and time I’d put into it. Like it was a spoiled child or something. I was just desperate to be able to say the words; I’ve finished. It’s done. It’s over.

The funny thing is, now it is over, I realise in reality it is actually only just beginning. Following the advice of Stephen King, it sits in a desk drawer at the moment, maturing and hopefully not stagnating and fermenting. My hope is I’ll open the draw in August and find a novel waiting for me that I can be proud of, and one I can work on through the next few months and finish.

I guess we’ll wait and see…

surasakiStock

I’d love to hear about your experiences writing, and the struggles, stories, or surprises you have encountered. Please comment below.

Special thanks to Anamwong, Marco Torresin, Marin, Stockimages, surasakiStock, and tiverylucky @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

The End Is NighTier Than The Words: A Few Ways To End Your Story

Sunset Title

All good things must come to an end. We learn that as kids. Whether it was your Summer Holidays, a massive bucket of ice cream, or living in a house and not having to pay rent; all of these wonderful things, at some point, have to finish.

Stories are no different. How many times have you been getting lost in a book, turning each page in desperate anticipation, only to find yourself die a little inside as you feel the pages in your right hand get thinner and thinner. It creeps up on you, and eventually you’ll start to ask yourself “how’s it going to end? It can’t end like that! Not to them! I must know. I muuust!”

Equally, how frustrating is it to get to the end of a story you’ve really enjoyed, and invested hard earned money and time into, only to find out that ‘it was all a dream’ or that the hero never actually went to the moon after all.

Bloody Off Pissing. That’s what!

And yet as writers, so many of us don’t give our stories the endings they deserve. This could be from ‘writer’s fatigue’, where we’re so desperate to just be finished with the damn thing that we’ll write any old dot-connector if it will mean we can go back to procrastinating. It might also be down to a feeling that the story only really needs to be finished, not completed. And that is another missed opportunity!

The ending is the grand finale, and as such is the culmination of everything that’s happened. Imagine if Lord of the Rings stopped when Frodo throws the ring in the lava of Mordor. OK, fine, he’s finished the quest. But where’s the sense of finality? Where’s the closure?

So what can be done about it? Fear not! There are myriad ways, and they’re all outside your window, trying to help you…

graur codrin

“Come Eeeeeen”

The Ol’ Switchemaroo

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading – Lao Tzu

Some stories make use of tropes and cliches to make a story easy to follow. Though these will achieve that (a real selling point for casual readers who may want to read and unwind, not face confusing or non-conforming alternative texts) it can also make them predictable or repetitive. So why not confound your genre and throw a twist or two in ther?

Books to check out for inspiration: The Other Hand by Chris Cleave or The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez (we hope you like crying, ‘cos this book’ll give you a bout of the ol’ face leaks). I’d love to recommend Fight Club too but, by this point if you haven’t already heard about this one, then chances are you’ve been frozen at the North Pole since the end of WW2. And in that case, welcome back Captain America. I’m still team Stark, but whatevs…

artur84

We don’t have a budget for pictures of Hollywood films. So instead, enjoy this postbox. It’s made of iron, man! (and it’s red)

The Sequel Setter-Upper

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end – Seneca

Of course, closure isn’t for everyone (we’re looking at you Hollywood), and sometimes it’s nice to leave a story open, at a point we can always revisit later on; whether this be done as a cliffhanger, or more of the feeling of the end of a chapter setting us up with a taster of what’s coming next.

Maybe you’ve already thought about the next installment in your head, and want to establish a story but haven’t got the time / word count left to put it all into this story. No problemo! It may end up spawning a multi-book story (such as Harry Potter) or even a whole universe of linked stories (such as the Discworld series).

Books to check out for inspiration: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, or A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin are all a good start. For our younger readers, I recommend the Hunger Games trilogy.

photostock

Not those kinds of hunger games you pervert!

The Character Piece

Some people like you, some people don’t. In the end you just have to be yourself – Andres Iniesta

Often we’ll read a story where we just fall in love with the character. Perhaps we see ourselves in them, or perhaps we admire that they do what we wish we could do ourselves. Whatever the reason for our adoration or enjoyment, we connect with these characters. And more times than not, seeing them reach a conclusion that befits their personality or personal growth feels like the only way to end.

Books to check out for inspiration: Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Fancy something a little deeper? Give Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig a go.

vectorolie

Like your own children, some characters are easier to love than others…

The ‘Giving the Reader What They Want’

I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end – Margaret Thatcher

Like Ramsey Bolton (formerly Snow) getting his face chewed off by his own hunting dogs (oh wait, umm, I meant to say SPOILERS there but, if we’re honest, anyone who cared about that GoT fact would already have seen it, right?), sometimes getting what we want from our books and stories is that much more delicious because we’ve had to wait for it, even if we saw it coming a mile off. This covers the ‘classic stories’ such as The Odyssey, but also more contemporary tales too.

Books to check out for inspiration: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. For something from the canon, the subtlety of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë has stood the test of time.

Graphics Mouse

How readers probably want to feel after a book. Or something…

The Journey

I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be – Douglas Adams

Concluding a story isn’t always about the characters, or even the plot, but sometimes it’s about the journey; both spiritual and physical. Whether it be from boy to man, border to border, or escaping Samsara, there’s plenty of places for our characters to end up.

Books to check out for inspiration: On The Road by Jack Kerouac is a classic for a reason, or The Alchemist gives you a taste of both the body and the mind’s journey through life.

For something a little different try Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Written in 1922, this books was ahead of it’s time and still rings true to this day. It’s a book I’ve read over and over when travelling through South East Asia.

khunaspix

Lead the way little man…

The Darkness

A real failure does not need an excuse. It is an end in itself – Gertrude Stein

All this talk of happy endings and completion has averted from the elephant in the room; the sad or at least the unhappy ending. Sometimes the emotional weight we carry through a story can overwhelm us when we reach its completion. And like life, it won’t always end with rainbows and butterflies, no matter how much we want it to.

I have a secret hunch that some people enjoy this feeling of loss and or emotional dejection. Me? Hell no. I’ve dated enough banshees to get my fill of emotional heaves and hos from the real world. But if this is your flavour, fill yourself up. There’s plenty of these particular barracuda in the literary sea…

Books to check out for inspiration: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next by Ken Kesey, or A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Theeradech Sanin

Lip up Fatty. It’s only a story (about real life. The long, painful, lonely, depressing march from the freedom of youth to the painful, aching loss of death). *sigh*

The Payoff

The end crowneth the work – Elizabeth I

This is no depressing novel, so let’s end on something a little more upbeat. That’s the stories that finish with a main character getting their just desserts! Whether it’s all the pieces of their plan falling into place at the right time, them figuring everything out and seeing the results, or just them getting what they’ve spent the whole story working so hard to achieve, these stories tend to leave a long lasting glow in the reader.

Books to check out for inspiration: Any of the Philip Marlowe books by Raymond Chandler (or a lot of other detective / private eye novels, for that matter). Alternatively, give Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts a look. Though this book falls into many of the categories mentioned above, I feel it’s ultimately seeing the main character get to a point where it all pays off that is one of my favourite things about the story.

 

kittijaroon

“Who’s a good boy?”

 

Something missing from this list? Let me know your favourite type of ending in the comments below. Got a story to recommend too? I’m all ears!

 

Special thanks to artur 84, Graphics Mouse, graur codrin, khunaspix, kittijaroon, photostock, Theeradich Sanin and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog. Also, an extra special thanks to PC Chen for her photo too.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

The Myth of the Alpha Wolf

Alpha Title

Wolves. They’re so badass, right? Solo warriors. They answer to nobody but the pack. Like furry soldiers.

I’ve recently started working out regularly. Like anything that’s interesting to me, I’ve started reading about it almost constantly. Articles, updates, posts, blogs, magazines, tweets, books, you name it. Through all this research, there’s one image that comes up time and time again; the alpha wolf.

You know the drill. The idea that the world is there for the taking, so take what’s yours. Grab life by the balls. Dominate every space. Yadda yadda.

Now I’m not really a fan, I’ve got to be honest. I hate the phrase ‘spirit animal’, but if you stuck a gun in my mouth and asked me, I’d say (after the gun was removed, obviously) that it’s a fox, or maybe an owl. Foxes are cunning, and they always outsmart the bigger, better resourced farmer. Owls read. Well, they do in my world. And they’ve got night vision. And they can turn their heads an exorcistic 270 degrees. And they swallow prey whole, then barf up the carcass. Seriously, google that shit. I’ll wait…

Anyway. Wolves. They’ve become a huge totem for macho, alpha male culture. They’re right up there in this exclusive club along with the lion, gorilla, tiger, and bear. Yet putting wolves in this category is erroneous.

Wolves are actually familial creatures, who live in semi-nuclear family packs. Sadly for Johnny Big Guns and his Lifting Crew, they’ll need to move to another mascot. Wolves may actually better suited to the ideals of Taylor Swift.

 

Haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate

Where does this notion come from?

In the 1940s a gentleman named Rudolph Schenkel published a groundbreaking paper titled Expressions Studies on Wolves. It detailed his ideas about “the sociology of the wolf” (find it for free here) based on his observations of a group of wolves in Switzerland’s Basel zoo during the 1930s and 1940s. He saw that a pack of wolves tended to have a dominant male and female at the top of the group. As he said:

“Its core comprises the bitch wolf, presumably the only mature one of the pack, and the male “lead wolf.” ”

Researchers that came after him tended to follow suit with regards to observing wolves in zoos, and concluding the presence of an alpha based on domination and taking control. One such man, a wildlife biologist named L. David Mech, released his own book in 1970 titled The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviour of an Endangered Species. His findings were based on what he observed from wolves in Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park in the 1960s.

So both these studies helped to create and then perpetuate the idea of the alpha wolf. And yet both studies (and studies like them) only focused on wolves in captivity.

That’s the equivalent of studying a group of children in an Amish household, then using this evidence to talk about all of humanity’s children. Everywhere. Africa? Amish. Australia? Amish. Bhutan? Amish. This doesn’t take into account the variables, which are legion.

Variables, I tell you. Bloody everywhere!

 

"Vaariiiaaabllleeeessss"

“Vaariiiaaabllleeeessss”

How did this end?

Since this time, many different types of observations and studies have taken place, including some by Mech himself (who has since gone back on what he stated in his original findings). These have all concluded wildly contradicting information about wild wolves, mainly drawing the conclusion that the ‘alphas’ in a group tend to actually be the parents.

It turns out that wolves tend to pair off and mate for life. Consequently, the hierarchical order is pretty well established. Male wolves don’t need to batter any rivals and go for the jugular on any upcoming males. That would be crazy. They’d be killing their kids. Won’t these kids want to one day inherit the family group? Well, no. No they won’t. Instead, the youngsters will one day pair off with their own mates and start their own lives.

And the cycle continues…

 

"Woooooolf"

“Woooooolf”

So what is an alpha wolf then?

Alpha wolves are family men, pure and simple. They aren’t violent to their own kids. They don’t beat around their pups, far from it. They have been observed letting their pups win during play-fighting as a way of helping their pups grow and learn. They care for the pack, leading by example, and hunting for their family.

That’s not to say that wolves are cuddly fathers only. The vicious and deadly side of the wolf we know is very much based on fact. They can take down prey bigger than them, such as caribou or bison. They will passionately defend their territory if threatened, even going so far as putting their life in harms way to save their little ones or loved one.

They’re the 1950s fathers that time forgot. Putting a roof on the table and bread over their head. Wait, that doesn’t sound right…

 

"Working stiffs"

“Working stiffs – blue collar even”

So they’re still badass?

Yes, they’re still badass. But badass like a dad is badass. Not lone wolf, out for themselves badass. Not Terminator badass. Not Wolverine badass. But Atticus Finch, Mufasa, Bryan Mills (Taken) badass.

A wolf should stand for the ultimate alpha male; the father. Standing at the head of a family with a mother (or another father) and doing the best he can to provide for, protect, and nurture his pups, and love his mate.

What could be more alpha than that?

 

Special thanks to happykanppy, imagerymajestic, nixxphotography and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

Don’t Give Up; Lessons From Chernobyl

Chernobyl Title

So before we go any further, let’s clarify something; ItchyQuill is not currently writing from Chernobyl.

We aren’t that mad.

But we are intrigued by this place.

For those not aware or who’ve forgotten, Chernobyl was the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in the history of the world. This year it will be thirty years since it happened, and various scientists have released findings about what has happened to the creatures there. Some of it is very surprising, and I think it has a lot to teach us about life.

In my epic quest to segue seemlessly between largely unrelated topics, lets see what conclusion we can reach from looking at how some of the animals of Chernobyl have fared in the past few decades. What lessons can they teach us?

 

"Avoid humans"

“Avoid humans”

 

Boaring

Boars are fascinating . Incredibly versatile creatures, they survive on a diet that largely consists of what they can forage. They rummage and search for things in the earth that they can eat, such as mushrooms and truffles (not the kind of chocolate, but the pungent fungus that serves as middle class crack and a fancy pants Pizza Express topping).

The problem is, truffles and mushrooms also tend to be pretty fantastic absorbers of radiation. They act like sponges, picking up as much of the radioactivity as possible, and then holding onto it and contaminating anything that eats them.

Enter the Boars.

In Germany, this has started causing a problem. See, boars are pretty regular features on the menu, especially in the region of Saxony. A recent study of boar meat showed that around 1 in every 3 boars is so contaminated, it’s not fit for human consumption.

Don’t worry, all meat is thoroughly tested to make sure none of this gets into the food chain. That also means around 33% of the boars that are killed with the specific intention of being eaten end up as nothing more than kindling.

This has caused a problem for hunters in the region, who are now asking the government to compensate them for the money they’ve lost by not being able to sell their game. Poor, poor hunters.

 

Wouldn't want to take the fun out of killing defenseless animals...

Wouldn’t want to take the financial incentive out of killing defenseless animals…

 

Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground

And so, we shouldn’t be eating the boars. OK, I can do that. I can cut them out. My doctor said I should cut down on red meat anyway. Big woop.

But what about the other animals. No, no, not the ones you want to shoot and / or ride. What about the little ones? The funguys and gals?

Apart from evidence of a few bugs, there seemed to be a general absence of the typical critters. Bear in mind, ants already survived a mass extinction some 65 million years ago. So, when it comes to being tough, ants practically wrote the book.

Not only this, but it turned out that leaves and trees that fell decades ago were still not decomposing in the contaminated areas. Over all, floor coverage was thicker here.

This originally baffled scientists who, in their Sciencey way, decided enough was enough, and started sciencing ways to figure this out. In their wisdom, they left out two types of mesh bag filled with leaves; bags with a normal mesh, and bags with a slightly finer mesh. After a year, they measured to see how much the contents of each bag decomposed. Surprisingly, neither showed anywhere near the level that was expected. In fact, in the most contaminated areas, they found the rate to be 40 times less than normal. But there was a difference between the two types of bag too. It turns out that the leaves in the bags with a finer mesh were actually decomposing slower, but not a lot slower.

‘What does this mean?’ I hear you cry. Well, it was taken to be evidence that though the presence of larger insects such as ants is important in decomposition, a much larger role is played by fungus and microorganisms. Why?

 

"It's science"

“It’s science, that’s why”

 

Bark at the Moon

So what does this all mean? Why would you title the post as ‘Don’t Give Up’?

Do I look like a bloody fungus to you, huh, punk?

Well, let’s look at the population of animals in the areas where humans have been forced to flee. Radiation levels are ridiculously high. So high, in fact, that it is anticipated the regions affected will not be suitable for humans again for millenia.

But how about the animals? The fuzzy foxes and mussy mooses?

There is no escaping the ionisation of flesh and matter that takes place when radioactivity is high. Yet, some scientists claim, the advantage of having no human interaction has actually out-weighed the negatives of radiation.

Let me say that again:

It is preferable to be in a radioactive wasteland so long as humans are not present.

The reason being that we mess with the eco-system so badly, we are actually more destructive than radiation.

Several species of animals, from wolves to bison, have found a new lease of life now that the anthropoid virus has abandoned them. But they’re not the only ones.

As a conservation experiment in the 1990s, several Przewalski’s horses (who at that point were all but extinct in the wild) were introduced to the area to see how they fared. Turns out, it went pretty darn well, and now there are dozens.

Of course, the true extent of the damage the radioactivity is having may not be apparant yet. Cancer, for example, can be a slow burner. And effects from it can take time to show their face, making it hard to relate it to a single cause. There could be other symptoms too that we are decades away from seeing.

 

"I can't be the only one who thought Zombie?"

“Zombies?”

 

The Lesson

So, what can you learn from all this?

Never give up.

That’s right.

Some of these animals were driven to the point of near extinction. Then a bloomin’ nuclear reactor went and exploded and they must have thought ‘well call me Susan, looks like my time’s up’.

And yet it wasn’t. It was just beginning.

In fact, it was right there waiting, all along.

One tragedy, one terrible event, and yet in the aftermath we have the chance to start again.

As they say:

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Well, I’ve followed this mantra all my life, thought with a little twist. I’ve actively sought to push myself to my own personal limits, and never shied away from a challenge. If anything, I’ve tried to see what can destroy me, and have so far not succeeded.

The big stuff can seem epic and tragic, and whitewash you into believing that all is lost. Hold on. In our darkest times, we are still capable of getting back to the better times, the best of times. Where there is light, there must be darkness. That symbiosis is part of the beauty of life.

Relish it. Cherish it. Never let it stop you. Just push on and look forward to what’s waiting for you round the corner. The longer you live, the longer your chance to see wonder.

Therefore, I’ve got a different quote for you. This one’s from Graucho Marx.

“I intend to live forever. Or die trying.”

Why would you want to miss out on the chance to do that?

 

For more info, visit some of these websites. The statistics and research, as well as the inspiration for this post, come from the following websites:

Radioactive Boar in Germany: IFLScience.com

Radioactive Boar in Germany: Telegraph.co.uk

Chernobyl Anniversary: NBCnews.com

Dead Leaves Not Decaying Near Chernobyl: IFLscience.com

10 Facts About Ants: i09.gizmodo.com

30 Years After Chernobyl, Wildlife Returns: LiveScience.com

 

Special thanks to cooldesign, Rosemary Ratcliff, sakhorn38 and Victor Habbick @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

1,2,3,Go! The Keys to Writing a Good Story Beginning

Beginning Title

Starting a new story is one of the best feelings you can have. It’s that wonderful moment before your insecurities and paranoia kick in and tear your creativity apart from within.

It’s also exciting not knowing where your characters are headed – at least, not finally. You may have some idea. But it’s not set in stone.

The scene is being set, the characters introduce themselves, and the world you have crafted launches into the imaginations of the reader on it’s maiden voyage. You cast them off into the abyss of your mind, the rough seas of your passions and noticings, and the wonderment you’ve constructed out of your skills with craft and narrative.

However, a poorly written introduction can quickly alienate a reader. It’s much easier to quit a book on page 1 than it is on page 100. As Kurt Vonnegut famously said:

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.“

No siree. This is very important. Reading is a commitment. It could take a few hours to read, or a few months. Either way, it’s going to be valuable time to someone. Cherish it, and respect it.

So, below are some tips to help craft a strong story introduction.

Of course, these should be taken as a guide, as you can’t use all of them at once. There is no definitive way to craft a perfect introduction, as you can’t please everyone. But, with a bit of thought and a lot for practice, utilising some of these will help push your story to the next level.

"Go on..."

“Go on…”

Get Straight To It

“As my cab pulled off FDR Drive, somewhere in the early Hundreds, a low-slung Tomahawk full of black guys came sharking out of lane and sloped in fast right across our bows.”

Money by Martin Amis

Get stuck in. Right away. Don’t worry about building up to something. If anything, get to the thing then build backwards. The mystery of being thrust into the action is much more compelling than “so he woke up and stretched. ‘Yawn’ he said, then made his way to the bathroom to blah, and blah, and blaaaahhh”.

Much better: “The gun went off. That sound of metal exploding, cracking the air like lightning, shook him. He’d never imagined he’d be shot.”

The longer you linger, the more of your precious words are wasted away and lost forever. Trust your reader, and reward them for taking the time to check you out. Jump in two footed, and go from there…

Chop them in the face if you have to

Chop them in the face if you have to

That Said, Don’t Rush Ahead

Obviously you don’t want to chuck them into a situation that will need certain aspects established. If you start off with something too confusing, it will be a struggle for the reader to invest in the story. If it’s too confusing, you may lose your reader.

That’s not to say you can’t leave breadcrumbs in your opening that will make more sense upon reading further, but a good opening will contain both elements for now, and elements for later.

"So that's why the dinosaur had the painting. He's Da Vinci's grandad. Of course!"

“So that’s why the famous dinosaur had the painting hidden on his spaceship. Now I get it!”

Draw the Reader In

“If you’re reading this on a screen, f**k off. I’ll only talk if I’m gripped with both hands.” Joshua Cohen, Book of Numbers.

Yeah, so you don’t have to be as aggressive as the above example, but the point I’m trying to get across is that you want your reader to stand up and pay attention. One way of doing that is to engage with them directly, so long as it fits with the theme of your story.

For example, if you choose the above style of introduction, don’t then segue into a world of daisies and polka dots. It will feel forced and inappropriate, and the reader will likely feel alienated and confused. But if your character, or the tone of your story warrants it, there is no problem at all with using a little bit of fire and fury.

Of course, you don’t have to be rude. you could relate to the reader, or buddy up to them, or even flirt with them. Let the narrator’s voice gudie you.

"This narrator would like some tuna. Lot's of tuna."

“This narrator would like some tuna. Lot’s of tuna.”

 

Introduce Your Hero

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” — J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The above intro is a great example of a hero introducing themselves, and giving you plenty of evidence of their character. We all know that Holden Caulfield is a sour lad. We know this because from the very first sentence he utters, he sets himself up as thus.

Your audience want to know who to root for, and know why. If you introduce a character who isn’t very compelling, or don’t give them someone to cheer for, chances are you’ll lose the interest of a reader.

"Oh yeah, they loved your story"

“Oh yeah, they loved your story”

Create a Mini-Mystery

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, 1984.

Unless you live under a rock (and apologies if you do), you should be well aware of the dystopian bleakness portrayed in George Orwell’s (arguably) most famous work, 1984. This opening line establishes right from the get go just how surreal this alternative future is, and the mystery of something we know so well being changed in this way creates all kinds of questions: Why not o’clock? Thirteen, like, bad luck thirteen? What time is thirteen? Is the day still the same length? How would this work with the Gregorian calendar? Does it? Why is there an extra hour in the day?

And it is these kinds of questions, often raised by a sense of unease, that can keep us reading on.

"What does it all mean!?"

“What does it all mean!?”

Set the Scene

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” — Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

This is one of my favourite opening paragraphs in all of literature. Raymond Chandler has a very distinct style, and was well regarded for his gritty tomes set in a crime-riddled LA. This establishes that world perfectly, giving you not only the place but the mood, the people, the atmosphere, and even the opinion of the narrator about all of these things.

See, a setting can be just as important as a character. Some would even argue that the setting is a kind of glorified character in its own right.

 

"Yeah, don't forget about me!"

“Yeah, don’t forget about me!”

Murder Mundanity

All this happened, more or less.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five.

In the above quote from Mr Vonnegut, we are confronted with the fact the upcoming narrative is probably going to be unreliable. Those that have read the story will know that as the story progresses, this unreliability is what lends so much charm to the overall tale, and this in itself represents Vonnegut’s own ideas about the ridiculous and unreliable nature of wars, and the men who fight in them.

Many authors would be tempted to write an account of what they saw in a war with a solemn and powerfully intense manner. By not starting his story in this way, we already know we are in for something different, and this intrigue alone makes us want to read on.

By subverting convention, Vonnegut captivates the reader from the very first sentence.

If you haven’t read this classic, I absolutely recommend it. It was one of the first ‘adult books’ I read as a young boy, and it is still one of my favourites.

"It's great!"

“It’s great!”

 

Consider Forking

Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

There are a lot of different options above, so using this technique will help you figure out which work and which don’t work with your story.

There is more than one way to cross the ocean, and forking is the process of writing out several different ideas that all lead to the same point. So, you may choose to write three different story beginnings which all lead to the same ending, then show these to people who have opinions you trust, and ask them to choose their favourite.

This way, you can know that what you’ve written is something that has appeal, and that captured another person’s imagination (and didn’t just reflect your own). Obviously, make sure you choose people who will give you constructive and useful feedback. Not just flat criticism.

"I don't like any of your s**t"

“I don’t like any of your s**t”

A Word to the Wise

Of course, it’s not always as easy as what you should do. Sometimes, it’s as much about what to avoid. So, here are some quotes from industry insiders about things they don’t like to see in story beginnings:

I dislike opening scenes that you think are real, then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking.”
Dan Lazar, Writers House

I hate reading purple prose – describing something so beautifully that has nothing to do with the actual story.”
Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary

A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue.”
Daniel Lazar, Writers House

Many writers express the character’s backstory before they get to the plot. Good writers will go back and cut that stuff out and get right to the plot. The character’s backstory stays with them — it’s in their DNA.”
Adam Chromy, Movable Type Management

One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary

 

All above quotes were taken from the article The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice From Literary Agents on thewriterslife.com

 

Of course, there are many different opinions on this argument, and (once again) as Kurt Vonnegut said:

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

Learn how to use these tools to your advantage, but don’t let yourself be restricted by them.
Be different. Be brave. Be you.

 

ID-10092796

 

So what’s your favourite opening line in a story? Get the conversation going in the comments below.

 

Special thanks to Ambro, Carlos Porto, imagerymajestic, kanate, patrisyu, Photokanok, photostock and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

Napping is our Nature; Reasons Why You Should Take Time to Nap

Celebrating a year of Itchy Quill! Here’s one of our favourites from 2015! Please enjoy!

Itchy Quill

napping logo copy

Do you remember your first job? I worked in a fish and chip shop in Southern England. I was 14 years old, and my responsibilities consisted of peeling potatoes, chipping them and then blanching them ready to be deep fried by the owner Mr Fukiyama later. He was a Japanese immigrant who had lived in the UK and owned his fish and chip shop for nearly twenty years. I have never tasted fish and chips as good as he made them since.

I worked six days a week, 1.5 hours Monday to Friday, then 2 hours on Saturday morning; they were the cruellest. I would be so tired, dragging myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to make sure there was someone there with the owner to collect the fish delivery that would be shipped fresh in a freezer van from the South Coast.

There was one particular…

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What’s Your Writing Fuel? Part II; It’s All in the Mind!

Title Banner

We already went into a great amount of detail about the lifestyle choices you can make about what you put in, or do to your body, and how this can fuel your writing in Part 1.

But they aren’t the only ways to fuel yourself.

What’s that I hear you cry? ‘What about how I choose to live my life? What can I do to help fuel my mind?’

The brain is a muscle, and like any other muscle it gets better the more you use it, and it needs to be properly fed and watered to grow.

Practice makes perfect. The early bird catches the worm. And every little helps.

This will of course have an affect on how the writing comes out the other side. So, what can we do to help here?

Let’s have a looksie, shall we?

 

"Ooh, a piece of candy"

“Ooh, a piece of candy”

 

ANGER!

Don’t worry, this won’t end up being a concise list of the seven deadly sins, brought to you by writers helping writers. Au contraire, this may be the most passionate of all human emotions (feel free to argue, this is by no means a claim to be fact). As the saying goes, get that rage on the page! Muster your gusto! Channel your mammal! Write your fight!

Yeah! (Woo).

Ahem. It’s about using that fury to propel you into creativity. You know, from destruction comes creation. Death breeds life. The cycle of emotive response, from ugly comes beauty and so on.

Go ahead, think about it. What gets you mad? Now time yourself. Take ten minutes to write non-stop and see what happens. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad, illegible or nonsense. It’s fuel. It got the words flowing.

 

"Fuuuuuuuuuuudge!"

“Fuuuuuuuuuuudge!”

 

Pain: Therapy for the Soul

Of course with anger, there could be pain. The crushing vertigo of the soul, ripped and damaged by the experiences of life. So sad.

Yet meet your new therapist! The pen (or quill, or keyboard. Whatever).

Scream out what’s getting to you from the rooftops of your novel. Create a city and fill it with people feeling your pain. Use the page as a sounding board to express yourself, and try to connect the dots on what is often the unfair nature of life to cast pain upon us from time to time.

It’s like talking through it with someone, but not having to worry about being judged or categorised. It’s only you listening (unless you want to share it). Some of us express ourselves better in written form too. Embrace that.

Or just write stories about smashy smashy stuff avenging hurty hurty moments. Grr.

Go for it.

 

"Hurty hurty, smashy smashy"

“Hurty hurty, smashy smashy”

 

The ‘Four Energies’ – Blissed, Blessed, Dissed, and Pissed

I read about this on Writers Digest in their article The Four Energies of Writing; What’s Your Fuel?

As they say in the article: “It’s a bad idea to write a book just to write it.” And I completely agree.

Your motivation for writing needs to come from somewhere. A lot of us feel we have a novel inside of us, waiting to be birthed. So what’s yours? We’re not talking about emotive fuels here, but fuels of character and motivation for writing in the first place.

They are split into two positive and two negative energies:

Blissed: The first of the two ‘positive’ emotions, this covers things like “excited, passionate love or fascination for some activity or subject.” You write because you love what you’re writing about.

Blessed: This is literally “the energy released when someone encourages you in your writing life or believes in your promise.” Call it luck, call it right place right time, but it’s opportunity knocking for your writing at just the right moment.

Dissed: This negative fuel covers things such as “the experiences of being wounded emotionally, cursed or put down by others, or disrespected or rejected.”

Pissed: Finally, this other negative energy is similar to dissed, but “it manifests more as anger and righteous indignation than hurt.”

Which corner are you coming from? Do you agree with the writer’s assessment?

 

"You don't like it? No? OK well you're not my target demographic so you wouldn't get it anyway" *folds arms*

“You don’t like it? No? OK well you’re not my target demographic so you wouldn’t get it anyway” *folds arms*

 

Awe and Wonder

The world can be truly fascinating, can’t it? But it’s a lot to make sense of in one lifetime. Many try, and some specialise. But it’s an uphill struggle. From the day you’re born to the day you die, there’s so much to learn. So much to explore.

Write about it.

Write the things that captivate you, and the things that repel and disgust you. Come to terms with them. Analyse them. Play with them and manipulate them. Re-imagine them.

Mess around with perception. With time and space. With social labels, and human constructs.

Ponder it all.

It might not be a best seller, but it will be quite a unique read. And it’ll give you the chance to see what matters to you, and where your thoughts and beliefs come from.

 

"Life. Not always fair"

“Life. Not always fair”

 

Facing Fears

Spiders? Heights? Barbara Streisand? We all have fears. Some of us have more than one. I’ve got plenty. But facing them enriches your life, trust me.

Not ready to take the leap just yet? That’s cool. Start with writing about it.

Scared of dogs? No problemo. Write a story about a dog pound, and how the guy working there used to be scared of dogs but now he works there killing them when they can’t be homed. He loves it. He does this for years, until one day there is one puppy who changes his life, and makes him realise these creatures aren’t dangerous. They are just like me and you! Cue lights, and Disney music and the happy ending as he rides the puppy off into the sunset. And, scene!

Go ahead. Think of your biggest fear now, then think up a story about someone dealing with that fear, or a scenario that having that fear would be very unhelpful. Now imagine how your hero will get through it. Easy, right!

Now you try…

 

"My story is called Meerkat mafia, and it brings together two of my biggest fears..."

“My story is called Meerkat mafia, and it brings together two of my biggest fears…”

 

Gobbledegook

If all else fails, write garbage. Seriously. Scribble down the first words that come into your head. Better yet, just put pen to paper and write for five minutes non-stop, just writing whatever comes into your head. Don’t think about it, just let the words flow.

Now, chances are what you’ll write will be nonsense. Don’t kid yourself, you’re no James Joyce. But, it got you writing, and the surrealist aspect of this form of writing could then spawn into a novella, or a great little abstract short story.

 

"You can do anything if you go for it"

“You can do anything if you go for it”

 

There’s fuel, and there’s fuel. I’d love to hear what gets you fired up and writing. Maybe it’s injustice, or religion? I know some people who write purely protest works, attacking anything they feel deserves to be in their cross hairs.

I know others who only write about hobbies and interests; woodwork, sailing, rare African drums, magic. There are many.

So what’s yours?

 

Don’t forget to check out Part I of this post Juice on the Loose! What’s Your Writing Fuel?

 

Special thanks to AKARAKINGDOMS, criminalatt, imagerymajestic, patrisyu, Prawny, stockimages and Toa55 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016