Archive for the ‘writing habits’ Tag

Monday’s Friend: Jeff Chapman

Today I am pleased to welcome Jeff Chapman to the blog, revealing some of his plotting secrets. Take it away, Jeff.

Visualising your Plot
By Jeff Chapman

Jeff_chapman-headshot-small-221x300 (2)I spent a month this spring editing a thriller novella, fleshing out the characters, getting into their heads more, and tweaking the scenes to make the story more … thrilling. Not sure if I succeeded. I’m still waiting to hear back from the publisher, but I did develop a technique that helped me to target my revisions.

Stories typically have scenes of low tension that build to high tension. You can imagine these as waves. A longer story will have more of these waves. I defined a high-tension scene as one involving violence or a dramatic change to a character’s status, either good or bad. Winning the lottery, being arrested, or a gun battle would be high-tension scenes. In low-tension scenes, characters might be planning their next move or discussing or contemplating what has happened. A medium-tension is somewhere in between. This is not an exact science by any means, so you’ll have to measure your scenes against each other.

I’ve never written a thriller before so I was worried the plot wouldn’t be exciting enough. I needed a way to see how the different parts of the story were working together. That’s when the idea came to create a graph. I listed the thirteen scenes on a piece of paper and wrote a few words to remind myself what happened in each scene. I then ranked the scenes as low, medium, or high. The story is about the kidnapping of the President’s daughter and how this event intersects the lives of an adviser and his family.

Here are the scenes and their ratings. (I’m being a bit vague in some of the descriptions so as not to give the whole plot away.)

M Scene 1: late night in oval office, introduction to problem
H Scene 2: kidnapper’s house, violence between hostage and kidnapper
L Scene 3: adviser’s house, he and wife discuss situation and their own daughter
M Scene 4: cabinet room, president receives call from kidnapper
M Scene 5: FBI raids a house
H Scene 6: oval office, adviser learns that the kidnapper requested his daughter’s involvement
L Scene 7: kidnapper contemplating past while watching the hostage sleep
M Scene 8: adviser’s house, the president has contacted the advisor’s daughter directly
H Scene 9: oval office, the adviser confronts the president, ends when the advisor throws a punch
L Scene 10: kidnapper’s house, feeding the hostage and tending her wounds
M Scene 11: adviser and wife plan to remove daughter; attempt fails
H Scene 12: someone dies violently
H Scene 13: months later, kidnapper confronts adviser in a bar
plot-graph (2)

 Note that low-tension scenes always follow a high-tension scene and there are never multiple low-tension scenes in a row. Initially, I ranked scene 9 as medium. When I saw how it related to the neighboring scenes, I revised it to raise the tension. The visual representation clearly paid off in that case.

Author bio:

Jeff Chapman writes software by day and speculative fiction when he should be sleeping. His tales range from fantasy to horror and they don’t all end badly. He lives with his wife, children, and cats in a house with more books than bookshelf space. His latest title is Last Request: A Victorian Gothic, available on Amazon.

LastRequestCover300x186 (2)

Find him online at the following links:

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Plotting

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

On the crime panel at Sci Fi Weekender, I found myself – quite literally – between two opposing views on plotting.  At one end of the table was a writer who was evangelical about the importance of plotting.  At the other end of the table was a writer who says she never plots and believes she would lose interest in writing about her characters if she knew what was going to happen to them next.  I was sitting in the middle.

I was struck by how neatly this set up demonstrated opposing views on plotting.  Some writers are plotters, some are ‘seat of pantsers’, but rarely have I seen two extremes demonstrated so neatly on the same panel.   And it inspired me to come up with this post.

I am on the side of the plotters, I have to say.  But it hasn’t always been that way, and it has been my own experience that has brought me to this way of thinking.

When I started writing SUFFER THE CHILDREN, it was based on a short story called “Kiddiwinks”.  The story was basically about a group of children telling scary stories to each other about the witch that allegedly lives in the haunted house.  They dare each other to go in and discover that it is, indeed, occupied by a sinister old woman.  Who, they learn too late, eats children.  The writing group encouraged me to turn this short story into a novel, and the premise behind SUFFER THE CHILDREN was born.

When I began the novel I knew the monster was to be a mythological creature, and that the main characters would have to defeat the creature.  What I didn’t know at the time was how they were going to do that.  I began the first draft, thinking that ideas would come to me as I went along.  I ended up writing half the novel, and then got stuck.  I went back to the beginning, and re-wrote the first half, but I was still stuck at the same point.  My characters were floundering around saying that they had to defeat this evil creature, but they had no idea how to do it, and neither did I.  I put the novel away, for a good five years – writing short stories in the mean time.  I dreaded going back to it.  I had no idea how I was going to write myself out of the hole I’d dug for myself.

But I wanted to finish the novel, and eventually I bit the bullet and realised I had to work out how it was going to end.  So I went back to the beginning and wrote a three-page summary of the whole novel.  From there I took that summary and broke it down into a chapter by chapter plan, from beginning to end.

At that point, I went back and started the novel over.  And lo and behold I got to the end of the first draft.

I have used this technique for writing ever since.  I write the plot summary first – usually it runs to three pages.  I break that down into a chapter by chapter outline.  Only then do I start writing the first draft.

Some people baulk at such a regimented plan, but this is now the only way I can write a novel.  It means that every time I sit down for a writing session, I review what I wrote last time, and I look at my chapter plan and I know what’s going to happen next.  Sometimes my chapter plan is quite brief – it might say, for instance, that in chapter 10 my amateur sleuth has to discover X about this character, which turns out to be a vital clue.  But how she’s going to discover this piece of information I still have to think about when I sit down to write the chapter.

This doesn’t mean that things always go to plan.  Writing the first draft of DEAD COOL I was surprised to discover about three quarters of the way through the first draft that the killer was not who I initially thought it was.  But knowing the identity of the real killer suddenly made a lot of things in the plot that hadn’t been making sense click into place, and all I actually had to do to correct the second draft was to plant a couple of extra clues and rewrite a few scenes with different characters.  And of course it did change the ending a bit.

If you’re a pantser and not a plotter, I am not disrespecting the way you work.  Everyone has to find the system that works for them.  But I will say, as a reader, I can tell when a book has not been plotted.  Generally the book will start off with the characters heading in a certain direction, and suddenly they’ll lurch off and head in a completely different direction. Some people might say that they enjoy unexpected twists like this, but I tend to find them a bit off-putting.  But this is just me.  On the whole, I don’t like surprises.

Perhaps we can liken writing a novel to taking a journey.  A plotter takes the GPS, and the map.  They’ve studied the route beforehand, they know where they are going and how they are going to get there.  There are no surprises.  This is the way I work.  Occasionally I might take a slightly different road than the GPS suggests, because instinct suggests there’s a better way, but only if I’m confident that I’m still going to end up in the same place.

A pantser, on the other hand, will get in the car and start driving.  For them, it’s about the journey, not the destination.  They will get lost, they will arrive very late, they might end up someplace completely unexpected, but they enjoy the journey and not knowing what’s around the next corner.

Plotting and pantsing is reflected in reading preferences, too.  I much prefer to read books that are plot driven, with a clear beginning, middle and end.  Readers who are more fond of character-driven books and ‘surprises’ are going to be more fond of writers who don’t plot.  And I suspect such readers may not get on very well with my books – they might consider them too predictable.

This is one of those issues that always causes lively debate – there’s no right or wrong answer, it’s entirely down to personal preference.  Whether you’re a reader, or a writer, where do you stand?

Writing Processes – Part 18: Starbucks and Inspiration

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It’s been a while since I blogged in this series of posts, but I’d like to pick it up again.

In the last post (some time ago now so here’s a reminder) I talked about the importance of routine.  Part of my writing routine is a couple of early-morning sessions in Starbucks with the NetBook, before I go to work.  It seems to work for me.

The strange thing is, this is now so much a part of my routine that I actually get more done in that hour before work than I do when I have the day off and I endeavour to spend the day writing.  On average, I get 1,000 words written in that hour.  On a really good day, it might be 1,800.

But it has to be Starbucks.  I am never quite as productive if I sit in some other coffee shop.  I can’t really explain why.  Part of it might be that I generally don’t like coffee, unless it’s Starbucks.  And even then it has to be a single shot, with sweetener (or syrup) or I can’t drink it.  Here in the UK, we have Continental coffee chains as well as American ones.  Europeans generally like their coffee far stronger than Americans do.  I can’t drink coffee from other coffee shop chains – I find it too strong and bitter.  But Starbucks soya lattes, I like.  I also like their muffins.  My favourite ones were the ginger ones, which sadly are no longer available here.  But I’ve recently developed a fondness for their new chocolate hazelnut muffins.

So I sit there at 7:30am with my NetBook, my soya latte and a muffin, and as I eat the muffin and wait for the NetBook to boot up, I start thinking about where my characters are and what comes next.  By the time I finish eating, I’m generally ready to start.  Maybe it’s the sugar rush from the muffin, combined with unaccustomed caffeine (I’m generally a tea drinker).  Maybe the fatigue has something to do with it.  Because I have to get out of bed at 5:30am for my writing mornings, I generally start them somewhat sleep-deprived.  I have discovered that this seems to be fairly good for my creativity, particularly when I’m working on a first draft – because I’m writing before the ‘internal editor’ has woken up.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m a creature of habit.  Because these early-morning writing sessions are now an integral part of my routine, when I sit down in Starbucks with my NetBook and my coffee, I expect to write, and I do.

Whatever the reason, it seems to be working for me.  So I shall carry on crawling out of bed in what feels like the middle of the night in order to keep up my early morning Starbucks writing sessions.  The word count is testament to their effectiveness.

Not Enough Words?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I have finished my new horror novel!  This is a cause for celebration, and time to start submitting it.

The novel is about a group of LRP-ers who unwittingly unleash an undead magic user onto the world whilst performing a ritual during a game, which proceeds to wreak death and destruction on those involved in the game.  The finished draft has come out at 69,000 words.  I’m aware that this is a very short novel.  In fact, to some it’s only half of a novel.  The majority of people in the T Party Writers’ Group are fantasy writers.  Most of their first drafts start off with over 150,000 words.

I’ve never really ‘got’ how you can stuff so much into one novel to make it so long.  I am the opposite.  I end up with 50,000 word first drafts and then I have to pad them.  Only that’s what it looks like – padding.  I used a fair amount of padding in the version of DEATH SCENE that got submitted to Lyrical Press.  My editor promptly stripped out all the padding, saying – quite correctly – it was superfluous to the plot.

I remember that lesson when I write novels now.  Is this scene moving the plot forward in some way?  Is it revealing something about a character, or a plot point that becomes important later on?  If the answer to all of these is ‘no’, the scene has no place in the book.  So this is a very short novel.  But it doesn’t have much padding, and I think I’m going to keep it that way.

I am a voracious reader, as anyone who follows this blog will know.  I read quickly, and I like strong plots, but I read so many books I don’t retain plots of books I’ve read for very long.  I like clear beginnings, middles, and ends.  I don’t like subtle hints, I don’t like ambiguity (my attitude to this is if the author couldn’t be arsed to work out what was really going on, why should I?), and I like satisfactory endings.  If it’s a horror novel, the horror should be resolved.  I don’t mind if all the main characters die – that’s acceptable in horror.  But if it’s a crime novel the killer must be caught.  If he or she gets away with it, that’s an unsatisfactory ending.

I do most of my reading on the train, going in and out of London to the day job.  I have about 40 minutes at each stretch.  On my journey home I want to be able to pick the story up again from where I left off that morning.  I don’t want the plot to be so complex that I have to re-read the last 10 pages to remember what’s going on.  I don’t want to be re-introduced to a character who had a brief appearance 100 pages ago and I’m supposed to remember that, because I won’t.  And I like chapters to be short.  When I get to the end of a chapter at Clapham Junction I will be checking to see how long the next chapter is, and if I have time to read it in the few minutes I’ve got left until the train gets in to Victoria station.  If it’s only five pages, I will keep reading.  If it’s 20, or worse,  I will put the book away at that point and put some music on instead – because I hate finishing a reading session mid-chapter.

I am aware that my writing style reflects my reading preferences.  I write plot-driven stories, I focus on a few main characters and the peripheral ones are never really fleshed out, I don’t complicate the story with lots of sub-plots, and I write very short chapters.  The vast majority of them are between 1,000 and 2,000 words, and I have been known to chapters less than 1,000 words long.

Consequently I tend to write very short novels.  But you know what?  Maybe that’s just the way it is.  I’m never going to win any literary prizes for fiction, and maybe I’ll never write the kind of doorstopper that hits the best sellers list.

But that’s OK.  I write what I write.  It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, and I get that.  But I know there’s a few people out there that like what I write, and the way I write it.

And so this new novel is for you.  It’s short, but it’s finished, and it’s about to go out into the big wide world to find a publisher.

New Routines

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

There are many stressful things about moving house, not least of which is the complete disruption to your daily routines. Everything’s in a different place, you don’t know where to find things for a long time, you have to get used to doing everything slightly differently.

Even my writing routines got disrupted. I did no writing at all for about a month after moving – I felt I really couldn’t get back to normal life while there were still boxes to unpack. But now the boxes are mostly unpacked, most things that we use every day have a place, and I have got back into writing.

My journey to work is longer now. The train route I’m on is a slower trek into London, and I have a longer walk to the station. This has put a bit of dent in my early morning writing routine. From the old place, I would leave the house at 6:30 am, to get into the West End for 7:30, and I would sit in Starbucks for an hour writing before going to work. Now, in order to get to the West End for 7:30, I have to leave the house at 6:00 am. That means a 5:30 start if I skip the shower and other morning customs – generally I prefer to have an hour.

However, in the new house I have a bigger writing space – in fact I have a study, a whole room to myself to write in – in the other house I only had a writing corner. This morning I decided to try out a new routine – getting up early to write at home before work.

So I set the alarm for 5:30 am. I spent an hour writing, in my pyjamas (with cup of tea, of course). I then had an hour to get ready for work, and although I had to catch a later train than usual, I was still at my desk for the day job by 9:00 am. By the time I got there, I’d been awake for three and a half hours and felt that I’d already done something productive with my day.

I think I’m going to stick with this routine. It means I will spend a bit more time in our new house, I’ll save a bit of money by not buying quite so many Starbucks breakfasts, and it means I get the writing time in before I even leave home in the morning. It did take me a while to get going this morning, and I’d had two cups of tea before I even left the house. but it’s just a matter of getting used to a new routine. It’s good for me to get out of the rut sometimes.

I’m not planning on giving up the Starbucks mornings completely. This is just a way of cutting back, without cutting back on the writing. After all, once upon a time I thought I could never write away from my little writing corner, and my Starbucks mornings proved that one wrong.

And there is something gloriously decadent about writing in one’s pyjamas.

WIP Woes

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

When I first started writing, I used to scribble in the back of school exercise books, in pencil. Towards the end of the 1980s I got my first computer – an Amstrad PCW. It was one of the machines with green fonts on a black background. It didn’t have a hard drive, so files had to be saved on floppy disks.

I tell this story because the influence that machine had on my writing is still with me today. Because the floppy disks didn’t have much memory, files had to be small. I used to save each chapter as a separate file, because it would take several disks to hold an entire novel. I still use this system of saving each chapter as a separate document. Only when the manuscript is nearing completion do I compile it all into a single document – and only then do I really know how many pages I’ve got.

Currently, I’m working on draft 2 of the horror WIP. Up to now this has largely been minor amendments to each of the early chapters, though as I go through it I start thinking about any major changes that might need to be made.  Things were going quite well until I got to chapter 12. And then I realised chapter 12 was missing from my ‘Draft 1’ folder.

An extensive search failed to unearth the missing chapter, but because I keep meticulous logs of when I write each chapter, I have worked out what has happened. The early chapters of the first draft of this WIP were written from October to December last year. At that point, I was still on my clunky old laptop, and my old NetBook. My writing routine has always been fairly rigid. If I was writing the chapters in Starbucks during my early-morning writing session, they were written on my NetBook. When I got home I would boot up both machines and copy the files from one machine to the other, so that there was a back-up. If I was writing at home, then I would transfer them the other way.

However, the old laptop was very slow, and sometimes waiting for it to boot up to transfer files was a frustrating process. What clearly happened is that when I was copying over my new chapters from the NetBook to the laptop, I somehow overlooked chapter 12 and didn’t copy it.

I got my new laptop for Christmas, and copied the files from my old laptop to the new one. Then the hard drive on my NetBook died – suddenly, and without warning. All files were lost. That was OK, I thought, I had everything backed up. Or mostly everything. Only now have I realised I had failed to back up chapter 12, and the only copy of that chapter is now lost forever on the dead hard drive.

What I am left with is a log of how many words were in that chapter (1,330) and a summary of what it contained. But the file is gone. I have to rewrite it. And that realisation was a depressing thought.

So the next day, I got up early for a writing session, took the NetBook into London and sat in Starbucks staring at chapters 11 and 13 or quite a long time. I did not get hit with any inspiration to re-write chapter 12.  What did occur to me, though, is that there are a lot of problems with this section of the novel, and there’s a lot of rewriting that needs to be done. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t write chapter 12 again. There are a lot of ‘talking heads’ – people talking about things instead of doing things. Too much ‘telling’, not enough ‘showing’, as the T Party writing group would probably say.

What I am attempting to demonstrate in this section of the novel is the changing personality of a character who is being possessed by a demonic creature, in the way he interacts with his friends, and how he’s becoming more violent to his girlfriend. At present, the girlfriend tearfully relays to her friends how her boyfriend raped her. I haven’t actually got a scene showing the rape. But I think I’m going to have to write it. The action will have a lot more impact than the telling.

I haven’t been able to face writing this scene in this week’s writing sessions. It’s going to be a very difficult and harrowing scene, and writing such scenes can be emotionally draining. But it needs to be done. Sometimes your WIP takes you to places you really don’t want to go to. But you have to go there anyway, in order to grow as a writer.

The ironic thing is, if chapter 12 had not disappeared, I would not have scrutinised that section of the novel quite so hard. Some times these things happen for a reason…

Finishing

(Cross-posted on WriteClub)

I was inspired to write this post by a friend who mentioned she has trouble finishing the stories she starts.

There are probably many reasons why many novels are started and not finished. My experience has led me to suspect there are two main culprits, which are the ones I’m going to deal with here.

1. You don’t know how it ends.
2. You spend so much time going back and editing the first draft, you never get to the second draft.

It took me 10 years to write SUFFER THE CHILDREN. I was citing life stuff getting in the way, but that was just an excuse, since I found time to write plenty of short stories during that 10 years. The real reason was the fact I got halfway through the book and didn’t know what was going to happen next, so I shoved it into a drawer. When I finally decided I wanted to finish this book, I knew I had to have a plan. I started by making a chapter-by-chapter outline of what I had so far. From there I worked on an outline of the whole story arc, all the way to the end. I ended up with three pages. I was then able to finish my chapter-by-chapter plan, because the story outline guided me as to what was going to happen in the chapters I hadn’t written yet. And from there, I was able to finish the novel.

It took me a while longer to learn this lesson fully. I’ve got a couple of other novels that were started and never finished, simply because I didn’t know how they were going to end. So now I don’t start a new novel without meticulous planning. I start with my three-page story summary. From there I do a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. This isn’t set in stone, and it might deviate a bit – I might, as I write, realise there’s another crucial event that has to happen between the events of chapter 11 and chapter 12, for instance, which might add a couple of extra chapters. But that’s OK. The system works for me, because every time I sit down to write, I know what’s going to happen next. My chapter plan is my guide.

Some writers are averse to too much planning, and swear by the ‘seat of the pants’ method. If this works for you, then I’m not criticising it. However, sometimes you can tell when a book has been written this way. If a novel starts off a certain way, and then suddenly, without notice, veers off in a completely different direction halfway through, it’s likely to have been written without a lot of forward planning.

If you are the sort of writer that has half-finished manuscripts gathering dust in your desk drawers, then maybe you should give the ‘planning’ method a try. It might help you finish one of them.

The second reason for not finishing, as cited above, is ‘over-editing’ the first draft. Again, this is largely down to writing technique. Some writers say they prefer to edit as they go, so by the time they get to the end of the first draft, there isn’t a need for a second draft. The problem with this method is, if you keep insisting on going over and polishing chapter 1 until it shines, you may never actually get to chapter 2.

Remember that old adage: Fix it in the rewrite. Remember also the words of Ernest Hemingway: the first draft is always shit ( well, I think it was Hemingway).

The point of the first draft is to erect the scaffolding on which the story is built. Who cares if it’s rubbish? No one’s going to read it. In fact, another successful writer, Stephen King, positively discourages writers from letting anyone see the first draft. In his marvellous how-to book ON WRITING (in my opinion the best ‘how to write’ book ever), he calls it ‘the closed door draft’. You write it without letting anyone in. When you get to draft 2 or 3, that’s when you can open the door and invite people to view it.

The first draft lets you get a feel for your characters and your plot. It lets you see where you still need to do the most work. But it should and will be flawed. Allow it to be so. Your secondary character Sue, petite and brunette, becomes blonde Alison halfway through? Don’t worry. Fix it in draft 2. You decide at chapter 20 there needs to be another character, but they ought to have been introduced in chapter 5? That’s OK. Just dump them in the story, and when you work on the next draft you can make a point of introducing this character earlier.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to turn off the internal editor and just write, which is what I’m suggesting you do. I get up at 5:30am twice a week for my early-morning writing sessions, before work. I am not an early riser by nature. I find it a struggle to get up that early, and I stagger into London and sit in Starbucks for an hour, before going to the office. But that hour is very productive. I don’t think much about what I write. I just write. Maybe what I’m writing is rubbish, but it is first draft. And crucially, at that time in the morning, the part of my brain where my internal editor resides is still asleep, so she doesn’t interfere. And I think perhaps that’s why my early-morning writing sessions are so successful. It might be a different story if I was editing, but at the moment I’m just writing draft 1, and it’s working.

So these, in summary, are my two tips to get to the end. More planning, less editing. You can always fix it in the rewrite.

Writing Processes – Part 17: A Matter of Routine

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’ve talked before about my dislike of exercise. I’m not one of those people who enthusiastically embraces her gym sessions because she enjoys the adrenaline buzz. I go because I feel it’s a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. I really don’t enjoy it, and I enjoy less the fact that I struggle to climb stairs for three days afterwards.

But because exercise is good for me, I endeavour to make time for it. And the only way it works for me is if I schedule it into my calendar. I have to set recurring appointments, so I get a reminder coming up on my calendar telling me about my commitment. Somehow this makes me more inclined to go. If I delete exercise sessions from my calendar, I feel guilty.

The same can be said about making time to write. This topic is much blogged about, both here and elsewhere. None of us have enough time to do everything we want to do, and when you’re trying to fit writing in around the day job, it does feel like you’re working two full time jobs.

I now schedule my writing time into my calendar the same way I schedule in my exercise classes. Monday evening is the ‘Million Monkeys’ initiative, where writers are invited to gather at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank, sit down with their laptops and start writing. It’s all very informal and very much a ‘drop-in session’, but I find that when I do go, I get quite a lot done. Maybe it’s the collective creative vibe. Maybe it’s the fact that when I am sitting amongst a group of others who are all furiously typing away, progressing on their WIPs, I feel more inclined to get on with mine. So I now schedule this event into my week as often as possible.

I also schedule two ‘writing mornings’. Generally Wednesdays and Fridays, I will get up at 5:30am and get the extra early train into London. This gets me to the Starbucks round the corner from work by 7:30am. I sit there with a soya latte and a ginger muffin, in my usual seat, and I will write for an hour before going to the office. My breakfast there rarely changes, and neither does where I sit. But this is all part of the routine. For me, the routine works. If I expect to be doing something at a particular time, on a particular day, I’m more likely to do it. And if someone’s in my usual seat at Starbucks and I have to sit somewhere else, I don’t get nearly as many words written.

I think for writers, routine works. But it’s equally important to find a routine that works for you. Don’t like getting up early? Neither do I, but strangely I’ve found that now I’m the wrong side of 40, getting up early to write is actually preferable to staying up late. You might be the sort of writer that finds you’re at your most productive at 2 in the morning. That’s fine, but if you’ve got a day job as well, that might be hard to manage unless you can cope without much sleep, or you can negotiate with your boss to start a bit later some days. Some people write during their lunch hour. I find the whole business of trying to eat my lunch and write at the same time a bit distracting, and I’m not a person that can go without lunch, so I don’t that myself. But if it works for you, then great.

Some people maintain that if you want to be a serious writer, you should write every day. Sound advice, if you can manage it, but I was only getting myself very stressed trying to fit in writing every day. My writing mornings are now recurring events in my calendar. In general, I will only delete them if I’m having a day off work and am not going into London, but if that’s the case then I will try and schedule another writing session later in the week – or I will endeavour to fit in some writing at home. If I manage to get extra writing time in then that’s a bonus, but at least I know that if I follow my usual routine, then I will have at least three writing sessions in a week.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the ‘best’ times for writing. You must make time, no doubt about that – a lot of people will talk airily about wanting to write a novel, but “never having the time”. You can talk about it, or you can do it. There might be a lot of trial and error before you find what works for you. But once you do find something that works, make it part of your routine.

Most writers I know are creatures of habit. So work on developing the habits that make you a better and more productive writer.

What I Learned From My Editor #2 – “Show, Don’t Tell”

(cross-posted from the WriteClub blog)

If you’ve ever watched “Star Trek – Next Generation”, you will be familiar with their writers’ technique of using the ‘personal log’ voice-over to set a scene. But although this might work on “Star Trek”, you can’t get away with it when writing a novel. When the voiceover says, ‘Worf’s personal log. I have discovered what ship my brother Kern is serving on. I have arranged to meet him’, it smacks rather too much of “telling, not showing”.

This is a cardinal sin in the writing group and I am well aware of this. That doesn’t mean I never do it myself. I’m a linear sort of person. I like beginnings, middles and endings, and I like narratives to follow a chronological line. I have a bad habit of indulging in the urge to over-explain things to my reader, especially when I’m writing in first person.

One aspect of this is the “Too Much Information”, syndrome I talked about in the first post in this series. But I’ve also had to learn to “show, not tell”. If my character is angry, I shouldn’t need to say so. She should be stomping around slamming doors or throwing things.

Writing about emotion can be difficult. A character who slams doors is one thing, but how do you show your character falling in love? Well, I’m still struggling with this – at least on paper – so I’m not the best qualified person to offer advice here. But it seems that what a character does and says in the presence of another character, if written well, can make it very evident that these two people are falling in love, without anyone having to directly refer to it.

I think as far as characters are concerned I’m better at doing “angry” than “love”. But working on the edits of DEATH SCENE, my editor advised me to to work a bit more on the relationship between my MC and her love interest, so I was obliged to get in a bit of practice. And judging by the direction my character’s been taking in the second book in the series, I suspect future books about my amateur sleuth are going to offer plenty more opportunities for further practice….

Somebody’s Sitting In My Chair

I’ve mentioned that when I have my writing mornings at Starbucks, I always sit in the same chair. Writers are creatures of habit. I also mentioned, in my last post, the madness of writers.

I arrived at Starbucks yesterday morning for my writing session, to find someone else sitting in my chair. This annoying fact was exacerbated by the fact that apart from this interloper, the place was empty – of all the chairs to sit in, he happened to choose mine.

Feeling rather put out, I bumbled around for a while trying to decide on an alternative chair. And sitting elsewhere clearly affected my productivity. Usually I manage at least 900 words in my morning writing sessions. I did less than 700 yesterday.

I channelled my murderous intentions inwards and started to imagine what would happen if I took vengeance on this unsuspecting Starbucks customer. I don’t carry much on my daily commute that could be used as a weapon. I could hit him over the head with the NetBook, but that would probably do more damage to the NetBook.

I could smash a chair into his face, while explaining why it’s a bad idea to sit in a writer’s seat. Once he’d finished picking his teeth up off the floor, he would apologise and beat a hasty retreat. More likely, though, he’d call the police, having been subject to an unprovoked attack by a mad woman. Trying to justify this action to the police would be difficult. It’s a public place. There are plenty of empty chairs. What’s so special about this one? Somehow, I don’t think my explanation of, “I write better in this one” was going to wash.

Happily, though, since all this played out in my imagination, the unsuspecting Starbucks customer left unmolested, and none the wiser. I do hope he’s a passing tourist and isn’t going to make a habit of occupying my seat in Starbucks on Friday mornings. Then I might be obliged to explain to him for real why it’s a bad idea to sit in a writer’s “writing spot.” And then, things might get ugly.