THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Super-Hero Pantser or Super-Hero Plotter?

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I often see posts and comments on social media about what kind of writer we all are.

Pantsing or plotting? Planning right down to the finest detail or winging it while sipping vodka, crying into your notebook and generally wondering what the Hell you are doing?

I mean, sure, I’m probably the latter most of the time (apart from the vodka bit, as I never drink when I’m writing, although it might explain a lot if I did), but I couldn’t help but be in awe when I saw author, Rachel Scarlet, post a video of an amazing story bible that she creates for all her WIP’s. Each page carefully stored in plastic dividers, from research notes, to character profiles (including how they dress and style of voice) to chapter plans, this was probably the most detailed story planning I had ever seen.

On retweeting her post, with a note of my own to say how story bibles are a beautiful magic I’d like to learn (because the aspiring Marie Condo in me just LOVES how organised it was), I found it so interesting to see how many writers expressed how intimidated this made them feel. There was a general consensus that this kind of super-hero story-planning made other writers think that maybe they were not planning their stories in the correct way and that whatever they were doing was inferior to Rachel’s method.

And then, there was this gem of a comment from K.B Mallion:

‘We are all so wonderfully different.’ 

And that, I think, is the key and one definitely worth remembering.

It’s very easy to feel intimidated by other writers, particularly when we are inundated on social media every day with successes and wins, news of signing with agents and publishing deals, book releases and writers hitting best seller lists. It can even be intimidating for newbie Wattpadders who are just trying to work out how to get a few reads on their stories, when others are like veritable powerhouses with millions of reads and hundreds of thousands of followers. But, while it’s important to remember that the writers achieving those amazing milestones all had to start from the beginning at some point in their career, it’s also vital to remember that one size does not fit all and however one writer works, does not mean that’s the Ten Commandments of Writing we all have to live by.

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The same goes for story planning. Whether you compile story bibles, use apps like OneNote or Scrivener, scribble down random ideas in notebooks or write notes on the back of a till receipt, it’s ALL TOTALLY FINE. Whether you makes notes on each chapter just before you write it, or make no notes at all and just wing it through the whole story, it’s ALL TOTALLY FINE. Whether you plot everything like a military operation, or are a pantser-extraordinaire, it’s ALL TOTALLY FINE.

I completely agree with K.B Mallion’s take on this. I LOVE that we are all different. I love that we all have different tales to tell on how we write. I love seeing the processes that everyone goes through – from what inspires us, to the programs or apps we use (and yes, even the fonts, I’m looking at you COMIC SANS army!), from whether we are Prologue lovers or just like to dive straight in with Chapter One, to how we celebrate writing ‘The End on our completed works.

It’s completely natural to feel a level of intimidation, but as writers, we mustn’t let these fears and feelings weigh us down because ultimately, it’s unhealthy to compare ourselves to others. We can, of course, experiment with ways of working that we think might aid us and use the experience of others to add to our own experiences and progress, but we each must find out what works best for ourselves. Pantser or plotter; it just does NOT matter as long as it works for you.

What kind of super-hero writer are you? Pantser or plotter? Have you learned anything from what another writer does that has helped you with your writing or with how you approach a story? Do you swear by writing guides or avoid them like the plague? Add a comment and share your super-hero writing powers!

 

 

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sci-fi · THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Genre-Hopping & Close Encounters

I wrote a blog post back in February about how I was experiencing a bad case of writer’s block which seemed something more akin to a weird apathy towards writing that I didn’t really understand. That apathy has haunted me so much this year, to the point where despite doing a good job of making it look like I’m working on new projects, all I’ve really been doing is creating aesthetics for each new idea in the hope that it might inspire me to write. Because every story must have an aesthetic before you start, right?

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The reality is that I haven’t really been working on new stories at all. Every time I’ve opened a new WIP or notebook, I haven’t been able to think straight to even start writing, let along manage a single paragraph. The longer this has gone on, the more I think I’ve allowed myself to make excuses about why I can’t write eg. okay, maybe I’m done with it, maybe it’s done with me, maybe I’m not really a writer, blah blah blah – you know, all the woe-is-me shite that gets to us all at some point.

At the weekend, however, I had one of those rare epiphanies (I don’t get them that often, trust me): I realised that I’d convinced myself so much that I couldn’t write that I had started to believe it and that, in essence, I was failing myself. What if instead of not being able to write, I had just made myself think I couldn’t do it, thereby allowing myself to give up before I’d even tried?

So, I went back over all my new story ideas and decided I would just pick one and start writing something. Anything. It really didn’t matter what to be honest.

The result? The one I ended up choosing was by no means the story that I ever thought I would write.

Why? Because it’s a genre I’ve never written before.

Now, I know many writers who hop genres. I know writers who hop genres to jump onto an emerging trend or because it’s a more lucrative and popular option. I know writers who hop genres because they’re just bloody good at writing anything they choose to write. I know writers who hop genres because they want to experiment with something different and end up finding they’re in love with writing that new genre. I’ve always looked at those writers with something close to awe, because I’ve tended to stick to the same genre – urban fantasy with a touch of horror or just horror.

I read far more genres than I write, and the older I get, the more genres I discover I like. There are definitely genres I’ve always wished I could write in based on my reading choices. Fantasy is one, thrillers and domestic noir are also genres I love. However, I never thought I would be drawn to writing sci-fi and yet, that’s the one I picked. It was definitely a late-runner in the new story idea stakes and came about mostly from my love for sci-fi films. I’ll be honest here, I don’t read a ton of sci-fi, but I love sci-fi movies, particularly anything alien-related. The Alien movies are some of my all-time faves. I was obsessed with the TV series, Taken. I grew up on a diet of Spielberg and stories of little grey men. I loved anything remotely linked to alien abductions and yes, I loved that cute little alien and his best mate Elliott. DO NOT JUDGE ME!

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Of course, I’m not writing about cute little aliens, but I am strangely excited about this new project despite it not being the one I ever thought I would opt for. I started writing at the weekend, making brief starter notes, then managing to get one very short chapter down that I surprisingly felt really good about. I have no idea whether this one will work out and whether it’s the next big project, but, right now, it feels right and it’s given me the kick start I needed to not only write something, but to also feel inspired about writing again.

Are you a writer that swaps genres? Are you a writer that wishes they could write in a different genre? If so, what genre would you like to write in? Are you a reader who’s recently discovered a new genre that you really love?

Drop me a comment and let me know!

 

THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

The Guinevere Beck Problem

*Note: Contains spoilers about the Netflix series You, Wattpad books Playing Dead, Dark Sanctuary, A Dark Fall, Into the Dark*

My lovely work assistant and I recently binge watched You on Netflix (not while we were at work, I might add, just in case my boss or associated people ever read this) and were having daily convo updates on what we thought of the latest episodes we had both watched the night before.

Now, I’m not going to regale you with a step by step of our convos, but, her reaction to Beck really caught my attention.

‘Oh my goodness, that Beck girl!’ she said, ‘How annoying is she? That girl deserves for Joe to kill her.’

I found myself nodding my head.

WAIT. WHAT? I nodded my head in agreement? Why did I do that??

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I mean, sure, I’ll admit I did find her annoying at times, but what was Beck doing that was so wrong that the girl deserved to be killed? And why did I find myself agreeing with my assistant?

Of course, anyone who has seen the show will know that it’s mostly skewed in Joe’s favour. We get most of the story from his POV. We get his thoughts, his feelings, we laugh along at the funny things he says and we root for him when it’s looking like he might get caught. And to top it off, let’s face it ladies, Joe is very easy on the eye. We’re given a guy who is clearly creepy to the max, but good-looking, and Hell, all logical thought goes out the window. Suddenly we’re praying for the next girl to be his victim… because, well, quite frankly, that woman is just NOT good enough for our much-loved obsessive stalker-killer! 

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I’m poking fun at all this, of course, but REALLY, ladies? Is this what we have been reduced to? Do characters, and specifically female characters, deserve to get killed just because they’re cheats or flaky or because you just don’t like them?

What the writers and producers of You did was very clever. We need to be intrigued by Joe and need to somehow become attached to him to keep things going (and get to that all important second series before Netflix hit the cancel button), and while I don’t assume to know what kind of discourse they were looking for, it has reminded me a little bit of the furore involving the Ted Bundy Tapes and the subsequent Zac Efron biopic of America’s favourite hot serial killer. We had the same thing with Jamie Dornan’s character in The Fall. More examples of this fascination with good-looking killers who, and I will shout this loudly, WILL KILL YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN.

Okay, I’ve gone a little off tangent in a way, because this post isn’t about Joe or Ted or even Jamie Dornan (more’s the pity, eh), but it is about female characters and how we react to them. You might be wondering why I’m even discussing You here, because I primarily post about books and writing and the Wattpad experience and you would be right. As it happens, watching You came at the same time as I received a tirade of comments on two of my Wattpad books where readers were berating my female characters for their actions and decisions, so it seemed like perfect timing to bring up what I’m now calling The Guinevere Beck Problem, or The Art of Hating on a Female Character for Not Being Perfect.

One of the very first female characters I ever wrote in my incredibly amateurish Wattpad book, Dark Sanctuary, makes ALL the bad decisions. In hindsight, I know I made huge mistakes with that character, but I still maintain that because she had experienced so much horror and loss in her life, she had developed an innate ability to not trust people, even those who were obviously trying to help her. That distrust often found her ultimately taking the wrong route in life and putting herself in more danger, much to my readers’ frustration, and often anger.

Years down the line from posting this on Wattpad, I’ve become slightly numb to the negative comments, and I definitely don’t take them personally, but a couple of recent comments did make me stop and think ‘What? Really?

It went a little something like this:

‘I hate her now.  I hope something bad happens to her.’

And…

I hate her, I hate her, I hate her.

Sarah’s crime? Daring to put her trust in, and kiss a man that she connected with through similar life-experiences (and in the readers’ eyes, betray the vampire she was meant to love, even though he had bitten her and left her unconscious and then, deserted her, without consulting with her first to discuss the reasons why he had to leave…. damn, take a f-ing breath Lindsey).

Isn’t interesting that because she kissed another guy (and, I might add, only the 3rd guy she had ever kissed in her whole entire life) a reader can hate her enough to want her to suffer? What happens to us as readers when we turn against female characters so much because we don’t like  their decisions, that we wish harm on them, whether emotional or physical?

Likewise, in Playing Dead: Book One of The Whitechapel Chronicles, the kickback my main character, Megan, receives when she cheats on her husband, is markedly different to the reaction her husband receives when readers realise he has done just the same (and actually, far far worse than just committing adultery).

Why do we admonish female characters so much, when we are far less vocal about a male character’s misdemeanours and crimes? In Dark Sanctuary, the male MC was a vampire who had garnered a small personal fortune by charming and then killing rich women. In Playing Dead, Megan’s husband is an adulterer and killer, and even signs away the life of his wife to pay for his own crimes. Neither of these characters earn anywhere near the kind of reaction that my female characters do. How is it we overlook a male character’s faults and errors, and yet we hold our female characters to such high standards?

Of course, now I completely understand that this is fiction and fictional characters we are talking about, so I’m no way suggesting I have a bunch of sociopathic readers on my hands who wish harm on others (at least I hope not haha). Also, I am always aware that as readers we do get passionate about stories and this passion can play out in many ways – adoration, frustration, love, happiness, grief, anger – and what are books without passion?! But, this compulsion we have as readers to go that extra mile with our disapproval and sometimes, hatred of female characters is something that constantly intrigues me.

Fellow Wattpad writer, Scarlett Drake, author of The Persistence of Memory, A Dark Fall and Into the Dark (amongst others), has talked recently of also receiving negative commentary against her female MC’s, Alex and Eloise. Interestingly here, It’s Alex, the middle-class Doctor who gets most negativity out of the two (even though Eloise does have an affair). She’s wrong for being indecisive, she’s wrong for over-thinking things, she’s wrong for not staying with the male MC after discovering he’s a drug dealer (and of course, directly implicit in whatever happens to those people who take the drugs, the very people that Alex could end up treating as a Doctor), she’s wrong for taking a sip of wine when she didn’t know she was pregnant, and wrong for keeping her lover in the dark about that pregnancy (even though he has a ton of shady secrets himself). I’ve even read some of the comments myself and it’s pretty shocking that, from mostly female readers, so many are willing to condemn Alex for her actions, when it’s quite clear that Jake has done far worse. Why do we expect perfection from female characters, but not from the male characters?

In the case of You, Beck wasn’t perfect, but so what? Delve a little deeper and by the end of the series we saw many of the reasons why she surrounded herself with fake friends, why she struggled to hold down relationships with men, why she cheated. But what did she do that was so bad that we might want her to get killed? By the time the series had finished, I found myself feeling very guilty that I had so easily let myself be manipulated into disliking her and not having empathy for her. Even without getting a better understanding of who Beck was until the end, why did I so quickly assume the role of judge, jury and executioner?

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As authors, are we guilty of raising up our male characters onto a golden pedestal, to the detriment of our female MC’s? What role are we playing in creating the ensuing negativity? Of course, as I’ve said above, authors (and in the case of TV, screenwriter, directors, producers etc) do at times intentionally manipulate readers to love a character so much that they can seemingly do no wrong, even if we are quite clear about their flaws. But, in many cases, as readers – and I class myself as one of the guilty ones here – we are highly critical of female characters to the point where we wish they would do a Thelma and Louise off the edge of a cliff.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this, whether reader or writer. Have you experienced The Guinevere Beck Problem? Did you intentionally set out to create this kind of reaction on your readers, or do you think the reaction was unjustified? As a reader, have you ever reacted in a way (like I did) where you found yourself wanting the female MC to take a walk alone down a dark alley in the hope she’d meet a nasty end? Or do you see beyond a character’s flaws and try to find empathy with them, even if you don’t agree with their decisions?

 

 

 

THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Scaling Writer’s Block Mountain and How to Get Back to Basecamp

I’m talking this week about the mountainous challenge that is writer’s block.

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Most writers I know have experienced this at some point in their lives, some far more often than others (yours truly included) and some perhaps on specific projects where the finish line seemed to move farther and farther away each time they looked. Of course, there are some writers who don’t believe writer’s block is even a thing, but let’s not discuss those wily wizards here, because they clearly have magical powers and we should avoid them at all costs for fear of feeling even more useless than we already do (I’m joking of course, because they might just have a point, but we’ll leave that for another post).

I’ve experienced writer’s block (the curse, the plague, or whatever fancy name you wish to call it) throughout practically all of my writing life. I’m not sure there’s one project where this hasn’t been an issue, apart from maybe some naff short stories I wrote way back in the day. All the full-length works I’ve produced on Wattpad have been affected by writer’s block at some time or the other, sometimes for fairly short periods that I’ve managed to get over with a bit of perseverance, and sometimes for lengthy periods of time when I was left panicking that I was never going to write again and that I should probably just give up.

Now, this has always been partly due to my writing schedule, or lack of it, because sometimes when life just gets a bit huge and horrible and hectic, finding the time to write and focusing my mind on it, becomes something I can only dream about in some Disney-inspired fantasy where small tweeting birds and cute woodland animals clean my house, run all my errands, look after my family and do my day-job for me, leaving me time and peace to be able to write. Once life gets in the way, I can find it difficult to find my flow again and get back on track. I’m sure this is the same for other people, or maybe you do have time to write, but the words just won’t come. Maybe you write full-time (you lucky bastards) or maybe you have a set routine every day where you allocate time for writing, but no matter how hard you stare at your laptop screen, you come away with nothing but frustration and a desire to fire the afore-mentioned laptop out of a cannon (don’t do that, it won’t help you).

So, what do we do when writer’s block hits? How do we climb the mountain?

There’s many different ways to overcome it, and as with everything, one size definitely does NOT fit all. Often it takes trial and error, what works for one, will not work for another, and also, what works once for you, might not work again, but here’s a few methods that seem to be the most popular when I asked fellow writers on Twitter last week.

  1. Music – this proved to be a real tried and tested method of combatting writer’s block and it’s definitely one I use myself. Making a playlist inspired by your story is a great way to find your way back to your WIP. Whether you have chosen songs that are specific to your characters, or whether you prefer to listen to mood music that sums up the ‘feel’ of your story, making a playlist can really help give you a sense of what you’re writing about. I play my lists on the commute to work and when I’m doing mundane shit, like the household chores or walking around the supermarket. Listening to music while you write can also help kick-start the inspiration. I listened to classical (Eric Whitacre’s Deep Field) when I was writing the final scenes of Hedoschism, because it made me feel like I was watching a movie adaptation of my story, something I find always works for me when writing action scenes in particular (I need to see it, hear it, smell it). Whether it’s Little Mix, Nirvana, or Cliff Richard (okay, maybe not Cliff), music can definitely fuel the writing fire.
  2. Read – okay, now this one intrigues me, because quite often in the past, when I’ve really been struggling to write, reading something else – particularly when it was a good book – only served to make me more miserable and compound this idea that I lacked any talent whatsoever and should probably fire the laptop out of the cannon again. It took me a long time to get over this fear that reading somebody else’s work when writing would lead to nothing but certain doom. These days if I’m not reading when I’m working on a story, it’s usually because I’m crazy busy and want to remain focused, however I do know writers who won’t read the same genre as the story they’re writing because it encourages the same feeling of inferiority and leads ultimately to pointless comparisons where they only come off the loser. Reading figured highly on the list of things to help beat writer’s block when I put the question out there to others. Some said the emotions other books inspired in them, helped in turn to inspire them to write. Reading something completely different to what you’re writing can also help, or even reading through your entire WIP from the start can help pull you back into the story and work out where to go next.
  3. Write something – anything! – Okay, now this I LOVE. Love love love. It seems a weird idea, doesn’t it? Writing when you can’t write? However, often writer’s block doesn’t stop you from writing altogether, it just prevents you from writing the story you’re currently working on. Switching to something else can help you find your way over the mountain because it brings back that sense of self-belief and motivation that you were missing. Quite often I combat writer’s block by starting a completely new project or messing around with a new idea (weirdly enough, Playing Dead came about because I was stuck while writing the last of the Dark Sanctuary series and Hedoschism came about because I was stuck writing the last of The Whitechapel Chronicles). Write just three words. Or ten. Or fifty. Write poetry. Write a blog post. Write that YA paranormal romance you’ve secretly been harbouring a desire to write. Quite a few writers I spoke to mentioned flicking back and forth between multiple existing projects to help inspire them (and to those people I’m in awe, as it’s rare that I have more than two on the go and the second will be barely anything substantial at all). If you are one of those magicians able to have multiple projects on the go, it’s great to be able to move to another one every time one becomes particularly difficult. It keeps your words flowing and your mind moving. Others have said just write something, no matter how irrelevant it seems, or indeed, no matter how bloody hard it seems – sometimes a dogged perseverance is the only way to get through the wall.
  4. Research – now this was an interesting one that never occurred to me as a way to combat writer’s block, but was something that I did without even realising it was helping me find my way back to writing again. Researching can take you on all sorts of weird and wonderful journeys. One minute you’re reading about Archangels, the next, you’re writing copious notes about the Library of Alexandria or drug abuse (yes, I did this). I’ve got notebooks full of research notes and it has, at times, inspired me to write again, whether that be for a new story idea or using the research to write a new chapter of an existing story.
  5. Plotting – I’ve never been one to plot out an entire story before writing, instead choosing to plot maybe 4-5 chapters at a time, write them, plot again, and so on. If you’re not a pre-plotter and you are experiencing difficulties with how to take your WIP forward, taking some time to plan out the next block of chapters, or indeed the rest of your story, can be a great way to help you keep the words flowing. Not knowing where your next chapters are heading can fuel writer’s block and sometimes, just writing a few plot notes (it doesn’t even have to be extensive planning) can help you visualise the next steps for your characters.
  6. Watch a movie/TV – surely this is just pure procrastination, I hear you cry! And yes, you’re probably right if it only serves to take you farther away from your WIP, but one of my Twiter contributors mentioned this was something she does – watching a cheesy romcom, while writing at the same time. Now, I have a tendency to believe she might just be one of those wily wizards I spoke about earlier, because I do usually get more distracted when the TV is on, but, like I said, one size does not fit all and if it works, it works. Personally, I would use the procrastination time watching TV, to help give me a bit of a break from the pressure of stressing over my writing, in the hope that it will take my mind off it and give me a chance to breathe a little before I come back to my WIP, so however you do it, I happen to think there could be something in this suggestion that works.
  7. Brainstorm with friends! – because what’s a writer without their writing community? This is one I get behind whole-heartedly and I use this often to get over writer’s block, particularly if I’m struggling to see a way forward or untangle a plot thread that seems destined only for the deepest, darkest oubliette. Bouncing ideas off your friends (whether writers or readers) is a fantastic way of shining a light on the path ahead. When writing Hedoschism, I often called upon my nearest and dearest writers and betas to help me unravel the mess I’d made of things, to suggest alternatives, kick me in the shins when I came up with something stupid, or to just bolster the better ideas and tell me I’d done good. Writing can be a solitary and lonely artform when hibernating in your writing caves and internalising all your stresses and anxieties about your story – but it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a wealth of help and support out there that can give you the kick up the butt you need to climb the mountainous hurdle of writer’s block and I know I couldn’t have finished most of my stories without my invaluable friends.

What do you think about the above suggestions? Do you have any tips and hints I haven’t covered above? How do you overcome writer’s block mountain?

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I’ll leave you with this little precious nugget of gold sent to me by Gerard Smith:

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Huge thanks to my amazing contributors on Twitter for all their tips and advice on how they combat writer’s block: 

Morgana D. James @MorganaDJames www.morganas-bookbox.com

Rodney V. Smith @RodneyVSmith www.wattpad.com/user/RodneyVSmith

Zeena Gosrani @zeenagos www.wattpad.com/user/NeverTrustADuck

Gerard Smith @francisxyzk www.wattpad.com/user/francisxyzk

Alison Archer @AlisonJArcher

Vee Lozada @BecauseItsVee www.wattpad.com/user/LittleVee

Thord D. Hedengren @tdh www.tdh.se

Madhurima Sappati @MSappatti www.thatbroketraveller.com

Shaun Allan @singularityspnt www.wattpad.com/user/shaunallan

Rebecca Robertson @rebeccajade_ www.rebeccarobertsonbooks.com

Jenny G. Rankin, PHD @JennyGRankin www.jennyrankin.com

Gary Jarvis @garyjarvis1976 www.wattpad.com/user/garyjarvis1976

Kate Y @kateBYac www.wattpad.com/user/MissKatey