Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Buddhism and “laying the smack down”

Buddhism and “laying the smack down”

Buddhism, ‘a science of mind’
Buddhism, ‘a science of mind’ (Photo credit: zensquared)

Work has been annoying of late. We have deadlines for handing things in a whole bunch of events that are crisscrossing each other on the run up to the holidays, not to mention idiotic systems of information organisation that has left people copying stuff from paper into the computer, printing it out, and then putting it back into the computer (on a different program) and printing it out again. Needless to say I’ve found myself getting a bit miffed.

I think part of the problem is that I did a reasonable amount of Analysis at university and then went into a job where I had to analysis systems for problems. So when I’m working on a job now I can’t really turn it off. This combined with my borderline OCD when it comes to time and communication, have not been the best of mixes.

It has left me wondering about the relationship between Buddhism and getting stuff done. Is it wrong for me to try and fix the problems that I come up against? Should I just accept that things are the way they are and move on? It seems to be summed up by pseudo-Buddhist a saying that it common in our work place:
You can do it willingly or you can do it unwillingly”

Ie you’re going to have to do it so just get on with it. I’ve seen a lot of this kind of thing recently and I have wondered if it is in fact a perversion of the true meaning of being Buddhist (if there is such a thing.)Needless to say, I hate the saying, as first of all it suggests that things cannot be changed and secondly because it’s a false choice. For me the saying would be better as:

“You can do it willingly or you can do it unwillingly, or you can just not do it at all.”

This would seem the most “Buddhist” version, although it would probably end up in you getting sacked.
The picture of Buddhism seems to have been painted in many ways as passive religion where the world happens and we should not fight to make it better. This seems wrong to me. If you look at what the Buddha did in his life, then one of the first things he did after enlightenment was make a choice to bring about change. He saw it would be hard and troublesome and made the choice to teach others. He chose to engage the world and to try and help with people’s problems.

There is an example of a sick member of the community (dysentery I think) where the poor monk has been abandoned by all the other monks on the excuse of “worldly problems”, and the Buddha corrects then and tells them it’s their responsibility to care for each other. There are numerous other examples. This is just the first one that came to mind where the Buddha tells people to engage and try to make people’s lives better.
Likewise there is case of the Dali Lama. While I could not answer to whether or not he is enlightened, he is clearly further along the path than I am. But when it comes to the issue of China and Tibet, he doesn’t simply say, “well the Chinese are our masters now. Let’s just do what they say.”

There is also Thich Nhat Hanh a monk whose writing I very much admire. He does not limit his teaching to spirituality, but also talks about poverty. I remember in a book I read on Anger that he wrote where he was trying to help people who were having trouble in their marriages due to a lack of communication.

Now I have to admit that the problems I’m talking about here are minor compared the above examples. But I think it does show that it is not the place of a Buddhist to be passive. We should fight for change and improvement with both the little things and the big things in life. Anything that makes people life a little easier is a good thing.

Saying that, I should also point out the place where I have been going wrong this week. Fighting for change is one thing. Getting annoyed and frustrated about it is a different thing. I do need to learn to fight without getting so caught up in it. If I fight for change and get some result it should be the same for me as if I fight and get a result.

Part of the problem for me is that anger has been effective in the past. If I’m nice and say to people “it would be nice if…,” or “is there any chance you could not…” or “This is not effective, maybe we could do it a better way.”  I am ignored and nothing is done. Yet, the times that I’ve lost it, change has often happened. I’m not sure what to do about that. Some would say pretend to be angry, but that tends to lead to me just being angry. It’s something I do need to work on, but I’ll keep fighting for change.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A book lovers library - interview

Recently did an interview with Rebecca Sweeney Graf @ a book lovers library. You can find it here:

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Where do good stories come from?

Enchantments (4)
Enchantments (4) (Photo credit: laffertyryan)

This may be a very short post as in short I have no idea. I think when I read Steven King’s book he said something to the same effect. Ideas are just there. I don’t think it is possible to consciously make them.

Don’t get me wrong, after I have a story idea, I’m often able to follow back my train experience to see how some thing that were in my mind at the time were able to come together (and sometimes I can’t), but I have never be able to reproduce the effect. I can’t say that if I do an activity of type A and combine it with a thought of type B, I will result in C: a story. It just doesn’t work that way.

That said there are some things that I have found conducive to coming up with stories that may or may not work for other people.

1. Be open to stories.

Some one told me once that psychologists studying dreams can have trouble with patients who say that they are unable to dream. The advice that they give, I am told, is to just give it a try. The psychologist will tell them to put a pad and paper next their bed. Low and behold, the next week the patient will come with their own book of dreams.

I think writing is much the same. The more I write and the more that I am thinking about writing the more ideas come to me. I don’t think these ideas are unique to me, or to writers in general. The difference is that writer, or any artist, will be receptive to the idea. While someone else will barely pay attention to it and get back on with what ever that thought happened to interrupt.

That’s why I say be open, and be ready. Listen to yourself carefully, so that when the time comes you’re ready to catch that idea.

2. Experience new things.

I think I get some of my best ideas from new experiences. Personally I like to travel, but even if that’s not possible, I do like to try things locally. If you’ve ever seen the message “yes man” then that should be your template. Go out try things that you’ve never done before and see what happens. It might inspire you to write something, if not at least you are living.

I think writing has a lot to do with perspective. If you get out there and do things, not just things the things you like. You come to understand people a bit better. This really helps with writing and really helps to inspire some interesting ideas.

3. Read, watch and listen

If you want to write in a certain genre then it really helps if you know about the genre. Often the best ideas are combinations of things that came before with a new twist. So to be able to do that you have to know what’s out there already. You don’t want to be plagiarising someone else’s work, but moving it on or giving it an extra dimension or perspective is fine.

A good example would be the Asimov stories. He is described as the found of modern android novels. Now if you look at the work that he did and say Data from Star Trek, you can see quite a few similarities, but the writers have moved things on and brought new aspects and new perspective to the original idea.
So reading all this I think it can be summed up in a single sentence:

Look for inspiration, don’t wait for it to come to you.

The Simplicity of Running.

56/365 morning run
56/365 morning run (Photo credit: kharied)
I went a nice run today and really enjoyed it. Over the past seven years I’ve I’ve been running on and off and I wish that I had got into earlier.

Today, as I ran, I was thinking though about why I like running. Yes there are all the health benefits and you get nice dose of natural chemicals as a reward. But I think for me the thing I like most is its simplicity.

Running is about me. Unlike other things like teaching and writing, the my success and failure is totally up to me. I am in complete control. There are not bosses, no students, no publishers, no readers. Just me and I succeed it’s down to me, if I fail it’s down to me.

In world where everything is so interconnected and success is dependant on the hand you are dealt, it’s nice just to have something simple. 

Friday, 7 December 2012

O father where art thou

Father & Son
Father & Son (Photo credit: jeroenadema)
I was going to call this post “man on man action”, but decided against it.

Anyways it may have been the father‘s day stuff that I seen on the net, but I’ve been thinking about my relationship with my Dad recently. My parents split up when I was young and while I seen my Dad for a while after I ended up not seeing him any more. It was complicated, he had a new family and I felt a certain amount of miss placed duty to my wronged mother to stop seeing him. Anyways long story short, I haven’t seen my Dad for almost twenty years now.

It’s something I wouldn’t mind changing. I mean I don’t hold it against him any more. I’m old enough to know that relationships don’t always work out and that there’s a certain amount of madness surrounding the whole thing. I did try googling him and had a quick look on facebook, but nothing came up.

The thing is I’ve always thought that it hadn’t really effected me that much. I mean I know it changed me, of course it did, but I’ve never considered myself to have anypsychological hang-ups about it, but recently I’ve started to wonder.

You see when I was thinking about psychological issues I guess I was thinking about in my relationships with women. Now I admit I’m not exactly Mr commitment and not wanting a family is maybe a bit odd, but it’s hardly unusual these days and I know plenty of people from “normal” upbringings that feel the same way. What I’m starting to wonder about is how did my parents break up effect my relationships with othermen?

We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.” – Fight Club.

I hadn’t really thought about it much, but I am far more comfortable around women than I am around men. Even the male friends I have, and no offence here guys, are not exactly the most macho of people. I seem to have a certain amount of distrust towards other people of my own sex, especially the more butch kind and I usually assume the worst when I think of the male motives. Likewise I’m often not sure how I’m supposed to act around other men, especially in larger groups.

So I’m wondering, is that something to do with my family history?

Thing is there are plenty of other factors that could contribute to it. High school was fine for me, but I was on the fringes of things generally and knew who to avoid. Maybe I’m just continuing on the same way. Also most of my home life was dominated by female figures and I was rarely part of a group made exclusively of men. I’ve also wondered if it could be natural. Is this some genetic animistic thing about male dominance?

In truth it’s probably a combination of all of the above. Either way it’s interesting to think about where our ability to form relationships comes from. Does anyone have any great psychological insights?

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Where next?

English: Not to be confused with Clapham London
English: Not to be confused with Clapham London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well I’m going to be 30 next month, so I guess it’s time to figure out what I want to do for the next decade or so. I’ve got a few ideas, but really not sure which to go with so some advice would be appreciated.

The biggest problem is cash. I’ve been thinking about investing in some further education, but it’s expensive and I’m not sure if it’s going to be worth it or not. That’s doubly so since I don’t want to do it part time. If I’m spending thousands of dollars I want to be able to focus on the course, not do it at night after a day of working.

Anyway here are some idea I have. I’m leaning towards option one or two but others are still possible.

Option 1 : Keep on writing.
I think no matter what I do I’ll probably still write, but if I save up enough it might be worth working then taking time off to write until I’m out of cash and then finding a job again. I could also use this time for meditation and other things like that.

The problem with this one is that I’m just not sure I am good enough to do it as a career and the chances of being picked up seem slim. It would be a long shot, but it might pay off.

Option 2: The Delta
The delta is a diploma for teaching English as second language. I have the basic certificate, but this is a step up and it would open a few door to such things as being doing IELTS exams and things like that. The course itself is not too expensive, at least I could probably afford it after my current contract, but paying for hotels and food while getting no income for two months, would pretty much burn most of my savings.

My problem is that I don’t know how much of a difference having the certificate is going to make. Would it pay for itself in the long term or would I still be doing the same job on the same pay but with another piece of expensive paper? If I knew it would pay off I would be tempted to go for this option as it would allow me to do option one more effectively.

I think the other thing that’s holding me back a bit is that I would like to move into something else. I have no idea what, but there might be something down the road.

Finally, I hear the course is tough and I’m worried that I wouldn’t pass, wasting my savings in the process.

Option 3: Masters
The masters is out of my price range at the moment for doing the in person course. There is the option of the distance course for a masters in TESOL, but it would cost around double the cost of the DELTA and I would have to work at the same time as doing the course. It would take two years to do and I’d think I would have to stay in one place while I do it. Again I’m not sure what, if any, doors it would open for me. I know there are some university jobs where a masters is needed, but from what I seen in Japan most of those places are over subscribed already. I’m not sure about other countries though.

I think I’d rather do a PGCE, or another teaching qualification, but it would mean doing two years full time back in the UK, which I couldn’t afford yet either. I’m wondering though if I could get certified in another country?

Option 4Chinese
I’ve not looked into the prices, but my Chinese is not bad, although my writing needs some work. I’m tempted to see if I can get a place at a Chinese university for a year to study Chinese full time and see where that leads me. I think it would mean going back home to find a job though and I’m not sure if I’m ready for another year in China. I doubt my lungs could handle it.

Option 5: Stay still
I could just keep doing what I’m doing now and see if something comes up that interests me. I’ve thought about moving out the south America for a bit and teaching there. That, or maybe it would be good if I learned to stay still for a bit and stayed in the job I have now.

Option 7: Something else
I’m hoping that something will present itself that’s a bit different. Maybe I’ll be lucky and some opportunity will fall into my lap. Who knows.

Any advice? If anyone has any information on courses or had any experience with any of the above I would love to hear from you. Suggestions for alternative plans are also very welcome. 

Penwinnard Story

A friend of mine has released some books. Worth checking them out:

Penwinnard Storybooks

A boy is discovered walking on a country road. He is injured, exhausted, lost and alone. He refuses to tell what happened to him, and the name he gives matches no records. But he tells a story, a story of routine kidnaps, murders, and abuse. It wasn't him, though - he was never there. ‘Someone’ had told him about it. This is the story of Bob, who would never again be called Angel. Ian Mackender is the manager of Penwinnard Boys' Home. He knows his boys, he knows the good and bad of them. He understands them better than they understand themselves. But this new one? He doesn’t understand Bob. When the story finally breaks, the ramifications will be felt worldwide.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Our own worlds

Recently an acquaintance of mine who lives in Israel has been posting some rather unsavory things on facebook. I don’t take sides on the issue. It just seems such a mess of violence that I can’t see either as being “right” or “wrong”, but I don’t like the violent rhetoric coming from either side of the divide. There’s been more than once the my mouse has hovered over the remove from my timeline section before relenting.
It did make me realise how easy it has become today to remove things that we are uncomfortable with from our world and how it’s even easier to surround ourselves with ideas that we agree with. If you don’t like what someone is saying then just unfriend them. You think the television is too liberal then turn on Fox news, not Liberal enough then Jon Stewart is there. Even here on blog sites we can follow people who we on some level agree with and not follow those we don’t. It’s a dangerous situation, because it means there is no more dialogue. People can sit behind their respective walls and only allow in information that agrees with their current paradigm. They can paint the other side as a demonic or idiot enemy, that just doesn’t understand the true way. In the end, it will only lead to violence and division in society.
I’m a big fan of the “I love @#$%ing science”, posts that appear on facebook. But now and again there is a post that gives insight into the fundamentalist nature of some of the posters. It seems some would like to instate some type of Scientoracy on the world – and idea that admit I feel draw towards in some ways, but know to be absurd. But once you surround yourself with only people like yourself, these ideas start to seem normal. Likewise I’m sure there is a creationist site where they sit around tutting at people who believe only in science and want to bring in a theocracy and can’t understand for a second why anyone would think otherwise. After all everyone else that they know thinks it’s a fantastic idea. It’s the same for Labour and conservatives, democrats and republicans, Israel and Palestine. Both sides can only see insane charactures of the others. I’ve met some creationist, while I find there view on that one subject to be… well... rather strange. In other ways they seemed to normal intelligent people. And that’s the danger: if we don’t have dialogue, then we start to dehumanise people and that’s lead to all kinds of trouble in the past.
While I might be wrong, it seems that there is risk of the problem being ten fold for younger generations who have never lived without the ability to wall of others beliefs.
While I don’t agree with what she’s saying, I’m going to keep my pro-Israel acquaintance on facebook and try to understand her point of view. Likewise I hope I can expand my interaction with other people outside of my normal way of thinking. It seems one of the best ways to grow.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Simpsons did it

Butters Stotch (Photo credit: Yuxuan.fishy.Wang)
I’ve been working on a little generic sci-fi story recently. It’s been fun. But I do keep worrying that I’m going to cross to far into one or the other of the major sci-fi series’ zones.
It reminded me of a good South Park episode. Where Butters keeps coming up with plans that have already been done in the Simpsons:

In my case though it’s not Simpsons did it, but Star Trek did it. It’s really hard not to be similar to any Star Trek stories. I mean there are how many episodes? Over how many series?
I’m not going to care too much about it. I’m just writing it for fun. But it is something that I do keep thinking about and try to avoid.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Running and Writing

56/365 morning run (Photo credit: kharied)
I wont have been the first person to use the running writing metaphor. Murakami, Steven King and John Irving are just a few of the heavy hitters I can think of that have made the comparison. But anyway:
I had a hard time with my running recently. I think with work, writing and whole bunch of other things going on I’m just a bit tired. To then go to the gym and push myself is tough. I’m sure I’m not alone in this problem. But the other day I had a break through: stop pushing myself.
I used to be running at around 10kph with sprints at 16 kph and it would fairly take it out of me, so much so that the next day I didn’t want to do it again. But the other day I went on the treadmill and just sauntered along at a nice 8kph with a few sprints near the end. Normally I would be quite hard on myself for being lazy like this, but this time it was so much more enjoyable and not only did the time past quicker. Moreover, the next day I didn’t have to same negative feelings about going to the gym.
I think the thing is that I’ve reached a plateau with running. Either I want to put a lot more time into it or I can just stay doing as much as I am now. Without giving something up, like work or writing or martial arts, then there’s just not enough time for me to get better. The break through I’ve had with is: that’s okay.
It might be something that’s just me or it might be everybody, but I really have a problem doing something if I don’t feel I’m getting better at it. If I can’t see the improvement then I tend to give up. I’ve had the same thing with writing. While I think the quality of my writing has got better, I’ve not seen much improvement in sales. Likewise the new job I’m in has really left me little time for writing and while I’m putting in the effort, I’m still getting less done. But do you know what, that’s okay as well.
I think for me to be happy with both running and writing I have to learn accept my limits and shouldn’t give up when I reach them. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.      

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Truth about Faeries - Free!

The Truth about Faeries is free on Amazon this weekend. (Yes it was free before but you can get it on Amazon this time.)




Someone that read Paradigms sent me an updated cover. Looks quite nice, what do you think?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Forcing it

So I tried to write, or in this case rewrite, a little today despite not having a real feeling for it. It worked out surprisingly well. It kind of reminded me of pushing myself to go a run on days when I'm not really into. At the start it was hard, but as I went on it got easier. Not as fun as an inspirational day, but it was fine. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

What to write?

I can't decide what to write. I have a few ideas, but they would be full novels and I'm not sure I committed enough to them yet to work on them. Short story wise I have a few ideas but they don't feel maturated enough yet. I don't have that “oh yeah” this is a good one feeling about them yet.

Any suggestions on what to do? Force out a story or just wait?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Creative writing. Lesson 3: Characters.

Third part in the series is now up. This week, characters. (The front image is really bad.)

Sunrise over Shonan - Review

The story is about an English teacher living in Japan who is trying to decide if he should move on with his life or not. I would describe the book as a sort of snap shot of a person's life.

Sunrise over Shonan is an excellent novel with some well thought out and deep characters. As someone who has spent a lot of time living abroad I felt that I could really identify with the main character and his problems. The story flows naturally and events are believable. There are also a few touching moments that really stand out in the book.

On the negative side I found it hard to keep up with a few of the place names and stations and it reminded me of talking to people who live in London and assume that everyone know lives outside of London is familiar with all the tube stations. Maybe it’s the same in all big cities. But this is just a minor point. And despite the problem with places, you do end up getting a good feel for the main locations in the story.
For me the strength of the book is it’s light melancholic feel that the author keeps up throughout the book and it’s in depth characters that stand out as real people living real lives.

I wouldn’t recommend it for the action orient as it’s more of a drift than story, But for people who like life snap shots (think early John Irving or E. Annie Proulx) it would be great. I’d also highly recommend it for people who are not sure what they are doing with their lives and, oddly enough, for people who like dogs.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Why do we do it?

Got a a bad review on my first book. Despite knowing that it’s just from one person who “didn’t get it”. It does bring me down quite a bit. It makes me wonder why I bother writing, or at least why I don’t just burn everything I write and keep it as a personal hobby. What is it that I’m hoping to get out of sharing the work with other people?
On one level, yes, I would like to make my hobby into a job. So cash would be nice. But I think it’s more than that. Is it an ego trip? If it is then it’s certainly not working. Why waste my time? Maybe it would be better just to focus my energy on getting drunk and staring mindlessly at the TV.

Character Creation

What makes a good character?

It’s not an easy question. My first thought is that characters have to be realistic. But considering some of the fantasy characters out there this does not seem to fit. Some of the most popular characters out there are larger than life and in many cases do the things that people wish they could do. Classic characters like Spiderman, Gandalf and Dracula are, for obvious reasons, far from realistic.

So is that what it takes to be a good character, to be larger than life? Again it doesn’t hold true. Characters like Quoyle in “The shipping news” are obviously well written, but they’re not larger than life. In many ways they seem to conform more to the first idea of being realistic.

What I really think is important for good character is that they have to be believable. They have to have three dimensions. It doesn’t matter if the character is a spell casting sorceress or a fat baker, there has to be more to their life than just those simple points. No one on this earth can be summed up in a simple stereotype. No one is not in the middle of their own story. So why should it be any different in writing?
I was watching a TV show recently called “Firefly” and the writer, Joss Whedon, seemed to understand this perfectly. There was not a character in the series without their own plans, motivations and agenda. They were not characters centred on the life of another person, but rather they were people who were centred on themselves who happened to be colliding with other people. The science fiction setting just seemed to be a back drop for the human interaction.

If I was going to make my own list of rules for character creation, “Everyone is the hero of their own stories,” would probably be top of the list. The second rule would be, “There are no ‘bad’ guys.”
So what does this mean? There are antagonists most books right? There are antagonists in “Paradigms” and “Bardo” for sure. But when you think about it, is there a single person in the world that honestly thinks they are the bad guy? Of course not. Oh they might know they are doing some things that are not right, but they’ll have their excuses. They’ll have their own paradigms. I think in psychology it’s called cognitive dissonance. People have their own ways of seeing the world, so the terrorist is doing it for his people. In his eyes he is a hero. I think once you start seeing this and start trying to understand your villains they become a whole lot more interesting. The best stories I’ve read are the ones where I’m tempted by the villain’s way of thinking.
What about the main character? Well in many ways the protagonist is the easy one for most people. They are the centre of the story and it’s easier to explore the different facets of their personality. But there is a common problem that comes up and that is the hero issue. In short, if your character is too perfect then they are boring and unrealistic.

For me there is no bigger pet hate than the perfect hero that can do everything and has no flaws. I download a sci-fi story a few months back and it was exactly that, the captain was fighter, an engineer, a diplomat, a pilot and was the best of the best at everything he did. I didn’t download the later parts.
Flaws in many ways are what make the character real. You need the dark side to show up the light. If your character can do everything, knows everything and is loved by everyone, then there’s no real point in the story. People can relate to flaws and it’s a much more satisfying story when a hero can with great effort overcome those flaws or learn to live with them.

In addition, while slightly off track. Don’t be too nice to your character in the story either. If he always succeeds in everything he does then story is dull. The failures highlight the successes and keep up the suspense.

So where do good characters come from? I once attended a little workshop on character creation when I was in Japan. The teacher was saying you should take certain things about a typical character and then change one of them to the opposite. For example, what six things do you think about a female truck driver? Most people would say ugly or fat in there and the suggestion was that you could change this to the opposite to make it more interesting. Some people seem to like this idea, for me it creates too many characters that are all a bit quirky and it feels forced. But other people find it helpful.

I would say that in my own writing, the best character ideas I get, come from watching other people. I don’t do in a stalker kind of way – at least I hope not. But I think that many of the characters I create have some basis in reality. Often they are a merging of several people into one. At other times they are based on a person I know but the characteristics of the personality are turned up or down. I think the character I have come up with that I liked most was Judas in “Paradigms”. He was based, not on a friend, but on the image that a friend of mine often tries to project (he’s really a nice guy deep down).

Like coming up with a story, I don’t think there is one magic way to deal with your characters. But one thing I would suggest is that no matter how you come up with your characters make sure you have a fairly good idea about who they are before you start writing. Sit with them and ask questions about them – some people like to do a “one hundred everyday questions” list that asks things like “What do you usually eat for breakfast,” that they run though. Some people use a diagram to map out their personality. Others try out characters in short stories first before plugging them at the main event.

Good characters are the key to writing a good novel. Get it right and much of the story will write itself.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Thursday, 25 October 2012


 This will be included on my friend Marj's Blog. Have a look and see what she's writing about:http://mamcrae-author.blogspot.com.au/

I've been thinking a lot about planning recently, as I'm going to be doing it as part of my on-line writing course. It's one of those things that seems to divide writers along with ,“show don't tell” and the use of semicolons.

The real argument seems to be that the non-planners say that the story is driven by their characters. They put them in a place and the story naturally unfolds. The other side seems to say that this is fine for a simple story, but that for a story to have real have depth its got to been seen as a whole picture first.

I think I tend towards the last group. I've experimented with both forms of writing and while I find the first is good, and even more enjoyable for adventure stories, there have been too many times where I've been led to a dead end or even worse, an unsatisfactory ending in a story. There have also been loads of Indy books that I have read where the author is obviously doing this and you can spend several meaningless chapters waiting for something story wise to really happen. Although that might just be poor editing as well.

On the other side I think there is a danger of over planning. I think when you hold characters too tightly and try to force them in a certain direction they can become wooden. If you are too focused on the final destination and not going with what feels natural for the characters, the reader can tell. There is nothing worse in a story the when the nice kid who's never done anything bad in his life suddenly decides for no reason to steal something or break in somewhere. It's cringe worthy and I want, and sometimes do, throw the book across the room shouting “why!” This is really bad for me as I now use a Kindle.

So I think the argument is not really a matter of right a wrong, but much more a matter of degrees. When I've spoke to people who say they “don't plan” their stories. It seems what they mean is that they don't formally plan their stories. Likewise I've never met a writer who makes a time-line for each paragraph of their book. That's why I go for the middle ground.

When I plan I usually make mind maps for the main characters as way of finding out who they are. Likewise there will be another mind map for story itself. Every couple of chapters I'll also tend to do a mind map for the next section of the story in which I'll include a few more details.

The thing is, these are just way points for me. They are vague mountains in the distance and don't go in to very specific detail. It's something that I could do in my head, but for me putting in on paper helps. I think that non-planning writers do the same thing. They just don't need to put it on paper.

Also, as I write, the mind maps change. In fact most of my diagrams grow more during the story than at the start. For me it's a way of keeping track of characters and ideas along with giving me time to examine smaller facets of the story in detail. That said, there have been plenty chapters where the map just got lost – or burned. Things came up as I was writing and so the story changed. In my first book Paradigms there was one chapter which I stared writing that ended up adding another five unplanned chapters to the book. It was a long and productive diversion that really added to the story, but the final destination still stayed the same.

So what I'm really saying here is that there is no right or wrong. There is just what is right or wrong for you. Use short stories. Play around. Experiment. Find what you are comfortable with and what works for you, then go for it.


Chris McKenna is the author of the books Bardo, Paradigms and the Truth about Faeries.

You can follow his blogs and find out more about his books and writing courses at:

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Experimenting with new styles

I’ve been trying to do some work on a new novel. I really would like to do something more serious rather than action oriented, but the switch is not easy. The story often feels slow and bland compared to what came before. It’s like simmering a pot of water over a long time rather than boiling then cooling boiling then cooling. It’s going to take some time to get used to.

I had started on the first chapter of the novel, but trying to go from where I left off has been tough for the second chapter and I’m questioning if I’ve told too much of the story rather than letting people see it in the first. It might be that I’m rushing the story to try and keep it busy in the way my fantasy stories are.
I think I’m going to experiment with some short story writing in different style that I can use to figure out how I want to write.

Has anyone else had much experience changing styles? Can anyone give me some advice?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Writing and relationships.

I had a guest over from Japan for the weekend and it was nice having someone in the house for a while. However, I did find myself feeling conscious of the amount of time I was on the computer trying to do some stuff. I couldn't have imagined starting to write at the that point, it simply would have been rude .

There was also another time once when I wanted to spend time with a girl friend, but was also trying to finish the first novel. I suggested we could take our respective work to a cafĂ©. That way we could still spend time together while getting our work done. It did not go well. After about an hour and a half she had her first out bust, which went something along the lines of, “It’s like I'm not even here!” Needless to say I've never tried that again.

So how do people get around it in full time relationships? In Steven King's writing book he talks about how his wife is his great support, but he’s raking in millions, so it might be easy to be understanding at that point. Is it the same when your an Indy writer, that also has to do some “real” work to pay the rent?

Can relationships and writing really go together?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Going Low-Tech

I've been doing a bit of game shopping recently and interesting to see all the big titles out there and how impressive they look, but most of them really don't interest me. Mainly because I'm sure I've played the same game before in another guise. Now I don't think gaming industry is going to give up its big sellers any times soon. High graphic games are still going to be with us for ages to come. In fact I'm sure they're only going to get more realistic. What has been interesting me recently is the sudden up surge in low graphic gaming. The ones I think of straight away a FTL and Minecraft. But  they seem to be a vanguard of a whole bunch of other games fuelled by the rise of mobile computing.

Personally I think it's great. Ask anyone who grew up in the 1980's about the games they played then and they wont be able to shut up about them. UFO, Master of Orion, Ultima and Dizzy. These games were fantastic and they were fantastic because they had to be. You couldn't just throw out a game with super amazing graphics you had to focus on game play.

Sadly, as games developed people simply just mimicked what came before. Innovation – expect on the graphic side – seemed to be dying. But the new rise in games has led to game designers having to think again: Limited memory, limited inferences, limited processing power. How do we make up for it? Better game play! It seems like it having a great effect on the industry and I can't wait to see what they come up with.

Like I said, I doubt the old way of gaming is going to disappear, but hopefully the new innovation wont just be limited to mobile gaming but will extend to traditional games as well.