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
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:
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?
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 café. 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?
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.
Let me start by saying that I’m not into China
bashing. I think that in many cases China has become a scapegoat for western
governments for problems that we have created ourselves through greed, jingoism
and whole bunch of other things that are not really the point in this post.
However, one thing that has annoyed me a bit about
China is the lack of copyright enforcement. For me it’s one of the biggest
examples of China’s supposed “cheating” when it comes to international trade.
Now I’m not talking about home software or downloading
films here. I personally don’t mind if a person who doesn’t have the money downloads
an illegal copy of my book. Besides, most Chinese would not be able to afford a
real copy of windows and would not buy a full price DVD (or my book) if it was available
to them; the relative costs are just too much. And on that side of the argument
publishers and producers only have themselves to blame.
For me the unfair part comes once we starting getting
into companies, schools and other institutions. I’ve worked in four or five
different schools, both public and private and not once have I seen a legal
copy of software. In fact, once, when I was at the computer science department,
I found an illegal copy of “XMLspy”. This is a product I was involved in
developing when I lived in Austria. From what I’ve read and seen such piracy is
common place throughout China. The book we had in the computer science
department quoted the illegal software figure at over 90% of all software used.
Now I think China could have been forgiven for this
ten years ago. But in the current state of things where China is rich and there
are massive trade imbalances, it seems pretty unfair.
If you think about Altova, the middle/small company that
I worked for in Austria. They’re spending a lot of money to develop that
product, but getting nothing back from it. Yet some people in China are using
it to make money from Austrian companies – possibly even Altova - through the
products they manufacture. It’s a one way flow of cash for a two way flow of
goods and services.
Moreover China has started moving in on creative
industries as well, not just manufacturing. So who can create a cheaper application?
The Austrian company that has to pay thousands for software licenses or the
company that’s getting them for free? In this case the Austrian company is effectively
subsidising the Chinese company by paying towards the development costs of the
software. Without the one company paying, there would be no software for
And it’s the
same for all industries. The light bulb factory in Scotland has to pay its
share of fees for software licensing, while the Chinese light bulb factory can
use the products for free. It’s small part of the reason China can make cheaper
bulbs. It’s especially hard for start up businesses where technology costs are
can be a large part of the start up fees. It’s not a fair contest.
So what can we do about it? Well for a start
governments have to start raising this issue with China more. In my admittedly
limited experience with Chinese people is that if you stand up to them in a
firm but polite way then you will get results. Not taking action seems to be
seen as a green light to do something even when saying not to. Although I do wonder how much control over ground
level issues like this the government of China really has.
What’s really needed is a change in the mindset of the
Chinese people – no easy task. And the only way of doing this is education, which
is something that the Chinese government has to be on board for. But why wouldn’t
The thing is, it’s not just in the West’s interests to
improve the copyright law. It’s in China’s interests as well. If the reports I’ve
read are true, China is trying to move away from its manufacturing focus and
trying to develop its creative and service industries instead (or possibly as
well as). But is anyone going to open a software company in place where they
know that they will make no money for their products? Is anyone going to spend millions
of investment in new technology only to have it stolen and sold for a fraction
of the price?
Moreover, I think of my students in the computer
science department. What jobs are there going to be for them in the future?
Sure there will be some large scale developments and governments or military jobs,
but that’s a small number of positions compared to the number of graduates. Most,
with their high education, will probably end up doing menial jobs in factories
far away from their homes to pay the rent.
Frankly I don’t think there is a simple solution to
this problem. But inaction is certainly not the way to go. Raising the issue
with China is a start, but it means little without reciprocal financial
punishments. On the other side, software companies have to start charging reasonable
prices, based on an international mean for their products, so as not to keep
pricing companies in low wage countries out of buying. Maybe with these and
some other changes we can come to an agreement on a fair way to deal with
Been working today on part of a new book. It's been pretty intense to write. First of all I'm out of practice but more than that I'm used to writing light fiction and this is a lot more personal.
My big worry so far is that it's too angst
sy. It's not going to be like that the whole book. But I'm worried it will be put people off. Any thoughts?( NB: grammar and spelling are still going to be a mess, so just ignore those for now. It's early days)
It seems to
happen for different people, at different times, for different
reasons. A death in the family; an ageing face in the mirror one
morning; a close call in a traffic accident. But for me it was simple
boredom. At least that's where it started.
I don't know
when, but at some point in my life I just started getting tired of it
all. When you're young everything seems so bright an so new and then
one Monday morning you're old and you wake up knowing that the day is
going to be exactly the same as the past ten years. Then its every
Monday, then everyday. The days of the week becoming the bars of your
But by then it's no
longer just boredom. It's become something else, something beyond the
simple words. Something insatiable. The punishment of Tantalus.
Frustration. Frustration becoming anger. Anger at life. Anger at the
world for offering no chance of change. Anger at ourselves for not
finding a way.
mind is invaded by a question:
this really be all there is?”
that devil has a thousand guises:
I nothing more that work, sex and caffeine?”
did my life go wrong?”
the purpose in it all?”
it's all the same lingering unanswerable question. And facing the
void of unknowing we do what hundreds of generations of humans have
done before us: we start to pray.
On our knees we ask for
revelation, we beg that something more will be revealed to us. But we
abandoned god long ago and now his church sits empty. We bit into the
apple too many times and knowledge and the sciences have become our
gods and so our prayers fall on deaf ears. And we know, however much
we fight it, we know that we are alone.
We're just solitary
chemicals, blips of insignificant energy strewn around in the
randomness of the cosmos. We are pitiable machines that deserve no
salvation – because there is no salvation for the likes of us. We,
the cursed, that have evolved so far that we can see what we really
are. We that can see the pointlessness of our own existence with no
way to act upon it.
But I did act. I don't
know what series of events conspired on my behalf. Which supernova
erupted billions of miles away? Which comet pass through our solar
system? Which storm battered the shores? Which blade of grass grew? I
Life for me had been
simple. Simple and meaningless. I'd been raised by loving parents yet
never learned to love. I'd gone to school, studied and gained all
manner of papers and accreditations, yet learnt nothing. At the end
of more than two decades in the education system, I found myself
behind a desk watching as another two passed me by.
I could write pages about
that job. I could expound on the products we bought and sold.
Chemical supplies for the most part. I could rhyme of our client
lists and suppliers. I could lecture on out company philosophy. But
it would be like the job itself: pointless.
It was a simple position
and one that I cared nothing about, but for the monthly pay checks
debited to my account. Silver handcuff. I lived for weekends.
Grinding though Monday to Friday so that I could earn enough, to get
drunk enough, to forget that I had another five waiting for me on the
other side. Like so many others, I was funnelled like cattle to be
milked for my profit to the company. No life but for that which would
benefit our market share.
But don't misunderstand,
my owners were nice. My boss Lisa was a benign little woman who came
up to my chest and I am not the tallest of people. She was always
cheerful and pleasant as she piled up the work for the coming week.
Lisa had come from the
Philippines and married to a local businessman who probably worked in
an identical but slightly better paying company at the far end of the
industrial estate. She lived only for her family. Whether that was
her two children that she went home to every night or the network of
family that she posted cash to every month. Either way she was far
from tyrannical. I would better describe her as motherly, even with
those below her at work. She was the sort of person you would feel
strange swearing in front of.
Despite all this I
despised the woman. As the mouth piece of the company I looked on her
as a captive looks on his jailer. But more than that, I hated her
contentment with her normal little life. Why did she not feel the way
so many others did? Why was she content when we were not? I have
since wondered if it was the children. I never had children of my
own. Would I have cared more if I had? Would I have been more willing
to pretend to care for their sake?
It matters not. For as it
stood I shovelled the shit she put on my desk will all due care and
diligence, while watching the clock with one eye. Before returning
home to my two bedroom house in the suburbs where I would spend my
evenings in a comma of internet and film induced numbness. That was
except for Fridays. Friday was the night for Eliza.
Eliza was not my girl
friend, but far more than a friend. She looked after me. We looked
after each other. On Friday nights we would bar the door to her five
year old son and bar her mind to her ex that had had ran off and left
her with him. Then we would sit drinking together while watching a
film. We would chat and laugh about the stupidity of our respective
offices or complaining about the cards that life had dealt us.
Eliza's life was much
like mine, but with the added insult of her wayward ex. She was
condemned to her days in the call centre most weeks. Cold calling
people who had no interest in upgrading their gas supplies. She's
been a pretty girl at school, with a touch of something foreign in
her blood that made her dark and more seductive than most others. She
had attracted many and chose the wrong one.
I never found out his
name, she never used it, but I heard that he was in the army. A good
looking fellow I guess. The kind that would be popular in school and
then not amount to much after. I'm not sure if he waited until the
kid was born until he disappeared, or not. But he was good enough to
leave the house and some cash before vanishing into the sunset.
I don't think Eliza hated
the guy. I think she missed him. Always hoping that some day he would
come home. She never chased after him, nor tried to get him for child
support. She wanted him willingly or not at all. She had her pride
and she had his son.
We'd talk about him and
work until we were both drunk enough to find ourselves wrapped around
each other. Her most passionate times were always after she'd spoke
about him. Sometimes she would cry as we had sex, but most of the
time it was fun and playful. I don't think we ever seen the end of a
It was an escape for both
of us and although not without it's affection, it was not love. It
was something between lust and love. A in-between shade where they
both existed and did not. An agreement of two lonely people, to be a
little less lonley for at time.
I do think that even with
science fiction and fantasy a lot of the stories play into idea that
are active in our world today. I was thinking a bit about some of the
most common themes that have been about in films, books and games
recently. Here's my thought on what some of them could be:
There seems to be more and more of this around recently, I'm thinking
of things like the Road, the Book of Eli, Hunger games, Fallout and
even my first book Paradigms.
For me the symbolizes a
fear that a lot of people have in the west about the current state of
affairs. In many ways it seems we've already peaked and are now on
the way out to be replaced by something else from the East with very
different values from our own. Is it the end of of our would as we
know it? Maybe not quite in the way that some people are portraying
it, but it certainly feels sometimes that we are at the end of one
“section” of history and at the start of another.
The return of
Dragons/Elder Gods/Insert other thing here:
There have also been plenty of stories around recently about the
return of some former ruler race that come back to enslave mankind
and put it back in it's place. Most recent things that come to mind
are:Prometheus, Skyrim, Risen maybe to some extent the Avengers.
These types of stories
for me make me think about a certain fear about religions – in the
old style. A lot of people in the world have become secular and have
given up on the old ways or at least have become accepting of other
culture and beliefs. But there's been revivals in certain parts of
the world and signs that religion is not as gone as many of us
thought it was. In fact in some places it's coming back and taking
over again, finding it's way in to politics and race relations. Maybe
some of us are afraid of being put in our place again.
We've had loads of zombie stuff of late. The walking dead would be
the vanguard for sure, but there's been plenty of other things in
other places. I used Zombies in Bardo as a way or portraying the
hungry ghosts and it seems to be something that become a minor theme
in many books and films. Think of what Loki does in the Avengers, or
the zombie type things in Fallout.
are classic and I think they're still the same deal as what they were
when they first came out, but in the generation of the Iphone, they
seem even more pertinent than they were in certain shopping malls.
You only have to see a bunch of kids shambling down the street with
their smart phones to know what's going on there. Never before have
we been so connected and yet disconnected at the same time. Have we
lost our brains and been reduced to comments in certain number of
characters? Can we no longer think for ourselves, but simply consume
RSS feeds, podcasts and youtube videos (well not if you have an
Iphone but you get the point.)
Another classic that's been revived thanks to Twilight, True Blood,
Underworld and the amazing number of Vamptasic ebooks that have been
as it ever was, seems to be the name of the game here with vampires.
Although it seems to have taken on the form of angsty teen
development in modern cases. Are we worried that our kids are growing
up too fast? Are we worried about the not so modern, but much more
out spoken obsession with sex? To be honest I'm a bit old for this
one, so better to ask a teenager, but there something going on with
blood suckers for sure.
I'm sure there are load of interpretations as to what all these
things could mean and there are a lot more recurring themes than the
ones I'm pointing out. In fact, the ones that I've picked probably
say a lot more about me than anything else. Still I always think it's
interesting to look at what's possibly going on in our collective
cultures/consciousness/media – however you want to look at it.
The debate with Mitt Romney made me
rather surprised. I had this image of this guy in my head – a
typical Republican, big business and burning down the ecosystem, and
what not. In truth I ended up agreeing with a lot of what the guy
said – though not all for sure, but he seemed normal, even
In addition I've been watching the
Daily show and while it is comedy focused with some international
issues they've really been going into some depth. Again it's totally
counter to what I've heard about the American media. It's supposed to
be vapid and only skimming the surface. What's going on here?
It is funny how you end up making these
pictures of people in your head. People who you've never even heard
talk, all based on propaganda, hearsay and jingoism. I guess this is
the biggest problem on both sides of the left right debate – on the
sides of all debates. Is that we have this set image of what the
other person is like. “All Christians are right wing … bla bla ”,
“All gays are camp cavorting fellows who.... etc”. It makes it
really hard to listen to what people are actually saying, because
we've already decided what they are going to say.
I've seen a lot of the same in books and films. Two dimensional characters that we instantly know who they are: the geek with no social skills, the burly hero who stands against authority, the sasy love interest. I wonder how much I've done this with my own work - I hope not too much. I don't think I've done it with main characters, but maybe with "extras", but then I had hoped the same with politics and see how well that turned out.
It's something I'm really going to pay attention to in future stories - assuming there are any. I'm going to try and avoid using template characters and makes sure there is a back story to everyone. Likewise I'm going to try and do the same thing in real life and try and see the people that are really there and not just the image that I've been told to see.