Category Archives: Writing

How to plot

I have been sharing a series of pictures on Instagram over the past couple of weeks that outline the process I go through to plot out a story for the Novel-in-a-Day events each year. If you’re a ‘pantser’ who likes to just wing that thing, then the rest of this post will probably give you a bit of a chuckle. It might also give you an interesting framework to retrospectively apply after you’ve done that first draft to test how strong / focused your tale is. For the rest of us, it’s a helpful way to develop a story from scratch. Continue reading

Lessons on writing from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air

For those that don’t know, Save the Cat is a book (and a computer application, an iOS and Android app, a set of workshops, and two other books) by screenwriter Blake Snyder. It’s aimed very firmly at other screenwriters looking for a bit of script-doctor type feedback on structuring their stories. Whilst it’s been criticised by some[citation needed] for its formulaic approach, and I wouldn’t advocate using it religiously to structure your work, I do recommend it (and the sequel, Save the Cat Strikes Back) both for a fun read and for providing a great vocabulary to use when talking about story structure… even if you’re only using it to talk to the nagging voices inside your own head.

What’s this got to do with Will Smith? Well aside from the fact that he literally saves some cats in his movies (the above shot is from 1998’s Enemy of the State, and the Internet[citation needed] pointed out that he saved the Scientist’s cat “from the demo-bot” in I, Robot), the theme tune to his 1990s sit-com, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, declares itself to be a story (“Now this is a story all about how, My life got flipped, turned upside down…”). So, I wondered whether the rousing ballad that Will wrote with Jazzy Jeff followed the “optimum” structure set out in Save the Cat.

In short, would Blake Snyder have thought the theme tune from the Fresh Prince was a “good” story…? Continue reading

The mouse exclusion

About this time last year I wrote a post making fabulous (and ridiculously amusing) predictions about the state of publishing for the next fifty years. One of those predictions was a dramatic increase in the quality and variety of books available for free as a result of expired copyright.

Copyright law is one of those topics that I find it hard to stay away from when I hear it discussed. It’s often misunderstood, incorrectly interpreted, and / or taken for granted, but one part of the debate more likely to prompt me to get my trolling hat on than any other is expiry. Every now and again I’ll hear of creators and consumers complaining about the duration that copyright subsists after the death of the author, typically citing a certain American purveyor of theme parks and animated features as aggressively lobbying to get further extensions to protect their commercial interests (ie, their exclusive rights to use the Mouse and his friends). Those people are wrong.

And not “in my opinion they are wrong,” or “I can see where they’re coming from, but I personally don’t agree”. They’re just wrong. Continue reading

The devil and the dictionary

In the play by Christopher Marlowe, Faust sells his soul to the devil [Spoiler, sorry]. But like any sensible commercial operative, Faust does have the sense to do a little bit of due diligence before completing the transaction.

The exchange, if memory and Google serve me correctly, goes something like:

FAUST: So, Mephy-baby. I thought you were supposed to be in hell? They, like, let you out and stuff?
MEPHISTOPHELES THE DEVIL: Why this is hell, nor am I out of it. Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God and tasted the eternal joys of Heaven, am not tormented with ten thousand hells in being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?
FAUST: Huh?
MEPHISTOPHELES THE DEVIL: O Faustus! Leave these frivolous demands, which strike a terror to my fainting soul.
FAUST: Man up, dude.

Continue reading

Any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental

At the start of each of the Novel-in-a-Day books there is a disclaimer, not dissimilar to the one you see boilerplate to the credits at the end of (nearly) every movie you see: “All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

I’ve been having a minor disagreement (all done very politely and respectfully, I might add!) with someone on the internet for a little while now about the value of first hand research in writing. The other person was advocating piggybacking on research done by other writers and, this being the internet, sensible points were made by several people on both side of the viewpoint. But a recent revival of the discussion got me thinking about that disclaimer. And when it comes down to it, I’m a little ashamed to have used it. After all, can there be any worse insult to someone’s writing to say that their characters and events bear no resemblance at all to reality? Or if it does, it must be a coincidence? Continue reading

The Colour Of Magic

There was a  management fad a while ago that I’m sure is still alive and well in some corner of Corporateville to provide new recruits to grad schemes with fashion advice. No doubt this was designed to curb the wave of bright young things coming into the office in un-ironed shirts or the kind of body-con dresses that can play havoc with the blood pressure of the senior partners. The good consultants went beyond the condescending (“Wear a suit. No, not one from Topshop”) and started to provide advice on what colours best matched your skin tone… although I distinctly remember seeing pretty much everyone from one intake rush out and by purple shirts and ties after one session so I guess even fashion consultants get lazy? Continue reading

What is a genre?

The first decision I have to make when starting the preparations for a Novel In A Day event(A) is about what kind of story I want to tell: The original NiaD (2011’s The Dark) was a cross between a horror and a detective novel; The one after that (2012’s Lunar520) was a science fiction thriller; Last year’s effort (2013’s Made Man) was a mafia tale set in 1962 Las Vegas(B). I’m a big believer that the story comes first and everything else follows from that, but I’m equally conscious that there is a moral obligation on me to make sure each successive NiaD does something different; another gangster tale is (sadly) not an option(C).

Which got me thinking: Do I know what different genres there are out there? Do I even know what a genre is?  Continue reading