Thursday, 29 November 2012

The last line


I finished Terry Pratchett’s Dodger the other night.  It wasn’t the best ending.  It should have finished quite a few pages before.  This resulted in the end being farcical.  Despite that, the last few lines still had a bit of punch to them, which shows what a good writer Pratchett is.

This is proof that the lead up to the final line of a novel is just as important as the first and last line.  If the book trails at the end the last line will lose the spark that it may have had otherwise.

In fact, it actually tells us that every part of the novel is important.  The first line needs to hook the reader and the last line needs to give closure, satisfaction or a lasting memory (or all three) but every word between those two lines needs to make the reader want to go on.  There’s no point in making that snappy, magical last line if no one wants to get there.

A few days ago I shared with you my favourite first lines as I sought to find the right first line for my current work in progress.  I’m happy to say that my novel, Matter Of Time (working title), now has a new first line.  And, get this, it was there all this time!  It didn’t need rewriting, it just needed finding.


So following on from my previous post about endings, here are my favourite last lines.

Let’s start with my all time favourite book, The Body by Stephen King;

‘The trestle upstream is gone now, but the river is still around.  So am I.’

 A poignant last line that sums up the theme of the novel; the loss of time and friendships.

‘Then she made cheese... the diary, on the farm, and the fields unrolling, and becoming the downlands sleeping under the hot midsummer sun, where the flocks of sheep, moving slowly, drift over the short turf like clouds on a green sky, and here and there sheepdogs speed over the grass like shooting stars.  For ever and ever, wold without end.’  
- Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

A beautiful, poetic ending.  This book ends as it starts – looking at the bigger picture.  But I think the book would have had just as satisfying an ending with simply ‘Then she made cheese.’

‘They were happy, and free, and the endless sky awaited them.
It was enough.’
– Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding


‘Nothing else remains.  I shall never see him again.
Except, perhaps, if I’m human enough.  Except, perhaps, if there’s world enough and time.’
– I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan

 I’ve never been entirely sure about this ending but I do like the last lines.  It echoes the messages in the book and gives the reader a nice little spark.

‘That same question came into his head, over and over, and he still had no answer.
Why do I do this?
– The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Again this book ends pretty much how it started and, in a book jam packed with characters, it ends on one of the best ones.

‘Yes, thought Montag, that’s the one I’ll save for noon.  For noon...
When we reach the city.’
 – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

This wasn’t in my favourite first liners but the ending has got a lovely gentleness to it while at the same time promising something more, allowing the reader to continue the story for themselves if they wish.

‘With a firm grip, the two men clasp hands, and in that single gesture a new order begins to take shape.’
– The Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga.

Now, this might just be me.  I read this before season 3 of The Walking Dead started and this ending had me salivating, waiting for that first episode where I would meet the Governor played by David Morrissey.  This ending is good because it’s a conclusion while leaving the way open for the next story.  It also delivers on its promise.  This book is about the Governor coming to power, and in that hand shake, the Governor is born.

What endings do you like?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The end.

As my last post was about beginnings, so this one is about ends.

Don’t worry – this isn’t the end!

Through my lunch break at work today I sat in a fog of thought about my novel Previously-Known-As-Silver.  I’m actually working on a different novel at the moment but I know where I’m going with that so the problem-solving part of my grey matter is fixated on Silver-That-Was.

There are major plot issues, or maybe there aren’t.  That’s part of my problem.  Which actually all leads to how I would like the book to end.  Should it have a nice simple plot with closure or should it run on?

I’m very close to finishing Terry Pratchett’s Dodger.  It’s a very interesting novel and I do like it but I don’t feel as passionate about it as I have with other Pratchett novels.  So much so, that I’m now waiting for it to end.  I thought Monday night would be it.  It felt that I was only a chapter away from closing the book but it turns out that last chapter is a long one.  
So I picked it up again last night but still it goes on.

I can now say that in my opinion, Dodger should have ended a few pages ago.  The main action is over, a climax has already been reached and I’m ready to close the book.  Worse, I’m beginning to not care anymore.  This is exacerbated by the fact that the plot seems to be going to extremes, maybe even approaching the territory of silly.  

While I twisted and turned on my plot problems, I discovered this article about novel endings suggesting that ambiguous endings can be very powerful and truer to life.  The writer is speaking from a literary viewpoint, which does not necessarily affect me, but it is an interesting point; can a story only lack closure if it is for an artistic reason?

Obviously everything in a book needs to be there.  Every character, scene and action is there for a purpose, as is the ending.  But if the message is about ambiguity then the ending has the freedom to be the same.

So what about the general consensus that every reader wants closure?  Take my Dodger experience, for example.  Or perhaps the end of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King that just went on and on.  Maybe these stories are giving the reader too much closure.

In between finding our filter words (something else I learned only this week), weeding out needless adjectives, maintaining a pace and plot, removing all info dumping and developing likeable but interesting characters, we also need to give a satisfying and punctual ending.  

How does a writer strike the right balance in an ending?  I’m actually asking you, because right now I have no idea!

To calm myself down (I can feel my digital voice getting higher and higher), in my next post I will look at my favourite endings and by that point I might actually know how Dodger ends…

Friday, 23 November 2012

Let's begin

**WARNING - Bad language ahead!!**

So, the blog serial is finalised and complete (by the way, I changed my mind about the POV today – hahaha!).  What’s next?

Well, I’m glad you asked.  Next is to edit and finish a second draft of my second novel, Matter Of Time (working title).  This should have been finished about four months ago...or next Friday (not going to happen), so now I’m hoping to complete by the end of January at the latest.  Fingers crossed...

Quite a lot needs doing.  I wrote the first half of the novel a long time ago, paused to write The-Novel-Formerly-Known-As-Silver and then returned to it having learnt a lot and with new ideas.  So now I need to work on the join and update the beginning.  Not to mention all of the ideas I’ve had since finishing the first draft which now need incorporating.

After marking out on my trusty Word document the paragraphs that needed work and where new bits could be inserted, I then zoomed out of the document and noticed that I may, possibly, be head hopping.

As Bobby Singer would say, balls.

The other day I opened up the document with new vigour and stared at the first sentence.  I immediately closed the document and haven’t opened it since.

The first line is; It was raining.

Not the best first line...

A first line should grip the reader, get them asking questions and force them to read on.

So today I decided to face the music and reopen the novel.  It’s in desperate need of a new beginning.
I’ve been having a ‘down’ week and so the creative juices are not exactly flowing so I thought a little research would help.

I was looking for great first lines but ended up just looking at the first lines from my favourite books;

‘Logen plunged through the trees, bare feet slipping and sliding on the wet earth, the slush, the wet pine needles, breath rasping in his chest, blood thumping in his head.’ 
– The Blade Itself by Joe Abercombie (the first chapter is also brilliantly called The End.  Oh, and I love Logen!)

‘I, Lucifer, Fallen Angel, Prince of Darkness, Bringer of Light, Ruler of Hell, Lord of the Flies, Father of Lies, Apostate Supreme, Tempter of Mankind, Old Serpent, Prince of This World, Seducer, Accuser, Tormentor, Blasphemer, and without doubt the Best Fuck in the Seen and Unseen Universe (ask Eve, that minx) have decided – oo-la-la! – to tell all.’ 
– I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan

‘”Too old for this shit,” muttered Craw, wincing at the pain in his dodgy knee with every other step.’ 
 – The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie (not one of my favourite books but a very engaging first line).

‘The smuggler held the bullet between thumb and  forefinger, studying it in the weak light of the store room.’ 
 – Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

‘Hello.  My name is Anubis.  I like long walks on the beach, carrying departed souls into the underworld, and the cinema of Mr. Woody Allen.’ 
– Divine Misfortune by A Lee Martinez (again, not one of my favourites but these first lines made me buy the book).

‘The most important things are the hardest things to say.’ 
– The Body by Stephen King (and my favourite book ever, in the whole world).

‘First the colours.
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try.’ 
– The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

‘It occurs to Brian Blake as he huddles in the musty darkness, the terror constricting his chest, the pain throbbing in his knees: If only he possessed a second pair of hands, he could cover his own ears, and maybe block out the noise of human heads being demolished.’ 
 – Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

‘Some things start before other things.’ 
 – Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (read this book!).

‘One of the luckiest accidents in my wife’s life is that she happened to marry a man who was born on the 26th of September.’ 
– The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

What are your favourite first lines?

Monday, 19 November 2012

Geek and proud

I was perusing (good word) the BBC website at lunch time again today and came across this article in the magazine section about the evolution of the words nerd and geek.

It’s true that the social meaning behind these words has changed a lot in a short space of time.  In this article, this is credited to the boom in technology.  People like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have definitely helped to change the definitions.  In fact, a lot of what is written in this article rings true.

I am a geek.  More than that, I’m a female geek.  Why am I a geek?

Because I spent my adolescence building websites instead of getting drunk with my friends?  Because I’m not good at/willing to play sport?  Because I get incredibly obsessed about things?

I remember when I was doing my A levels.  Two year groups sat together in the common room and we automatically divided ourselves into groups.  The ‘popular’ kids had the pool table in their area (annoying).  The ‘pretty/rich’ kids had the kitchen – I’m not sure why.  I was part of the biggest group, we dominated the common room and we owned the vending machines (the power!).   We were the ‘rejects’. 

Some of us wanted to be popular but never quite made it.  We all wanted to be rich, let’s face it.  We fancied people in the other groups but daren’t talk to them.  We still crossed over, friends and friends of friends belonged in other groups, but whenever we moved to play a game of pool or chat to an outsider friend you could always feel those burning eyes on you.
‘You don’t belong here’.

I have a vivid memory of sitting in the common room, trying my hardest to look cool, and suddenly seeing the proportions of the groups.  We were in the top year and the year below us had joined the common room and mingled with our group.  We were overflowing.  There had been ructions as we spilled into other groups’ territories.  Tables being thieved from here, someone being ‘accidently’ kicked there, quarrelling, bitching but we always came out on top.  Why?  Because we vastly outnumbered every group there.

Now, back in the day, the geeks (I don’t like the word nerd, it feels too American) were the rejects.  We, as the rejects, were the geeks.  So what about that little group in the corner?  The hyper intelligent, OxBridge candidates who were the possible potential millionaires lurking amongst us.  Surely they were the geeks.

Of course they were, but we were different kinds.  The BBC article mentions sub categories of geeks as being the literature geek, the computer geek, the gaming geek, basically anyone who specialises in something.  We didn’t have that.  We had the so-intelligent-we-don’t-know-how-to-talk-to-them geeks and us.

We were made up of a variety of people.  The sci-fi/fantasy geeks, the TV/film geeks, the gothic geeks, the grunge geeks, the anime geeks, the ever so slightly (and not so slightly) random geeks, the technical geeks…the list goes on.  Everyone fitted into more than type of geekdom and everyone relished it.  

The god that is Joss Whedon
My geekness followed me out of school, into university and adulthood.  All of my friends are geeks and I love them for that.  I have the ‘random’ friends, the anime fan friends, the’ drooling over fantasy and sci-fi’ friends, the ‘I heart films’ friends and of course the technically gifted friends.  

It’s true that it seems like everyone wants to be a geek these days.  I think programmes like Big Bang Theory has definitely helped to populate this (ironic when you consider that none of the actors involved are actually geeks – they didn’t know what a tardis is!).  To be a geek is still to be socially awkward, obsessive, specialising in specific passions and yes, often sitting in front of a computer for hours on end.  But the geeks are now speaking out.  We’re finding our own, realising our numbers.

Geeks outnumber the other factions and this world is ours for the taking.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Nocturnal Lovin'

My weekend of being abandoned by my other half is over.  He's home and I'm already trying hard not to think my early Monday start tomorrow morning.

It's been a successful weekend.  The house is clean and tidy, the guinea pigs are clean (well, their home is), I've had a lovely lunch with my parents and I even had a walk to the shops (because the hubby took the car).

I reorganised myself and now have a writing spreadsheet with dates and deadlines on.  Let's hope I can stick to it this time.  I really hope I can - it'll mean having at least one novel published by the end of 2013!

I watched a film - I Don't Know How She Does It - which wasn't great but wasn't bad.  I didn't manage to watch much else because I was working hard on my blog serial.

You remember my blog serial - Twilight Zone, all about Emily May, werewolf hunter, investigating the disappearance of a single mother and a little girl from a zoo nocturnal house.  Ok, so it's been a while and I really do apologise about that.  But it is now fully edited, formatted and in one document.

There are two major changes.  Firstly, I have changed the title.  Secondly, it is now written in the third person.  I'm not entirely convinced if this works yet.  I've been thinking about rewriting my first Emily May novel in the third person for a while now and, as I'm working on a different novel for the time being, thought this blog serial would be a good way of trying this out.

I would love to know what you think!

The newly retitled Nocturnal Lovin' can be downloaded as a PDF from here.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Lost the plot

I was on track in August, I’m sure, but I seem to have gotten lost.  I’ve stopped writing as much, all of my deadlines have gone out of the window and I’m left feeling down hearted and frustrated.

So what am I going to do about it?  Get back on the horse!

I spent a lot of September and the whole of October being ill while everything happened around me – terrible things, busy things, social things.  Well I’m feeling a lot better now and I doubt work is going to become less busy, so I need to get into a new rhythm.  I need a new routine.

You read it here first!  I’m going to get organised, set new deadlines and get moving.

How do you get organised?  I use a calendar and a spreadsheet.  I write down all of my writing projects in the left column and the months along the top and then I work out what I will be doing for each project in each month.  The deadlines are put in bold.  This is then printed out and pinned above my desk where there is also a calendar.  On this calendar I scribble the main deadlines.  Then I watch as the deadlines go flying past when I’m no closer to nearing them.

Some people might say that I’m not a writer because of this (I actually read someone telling another person they weren’t a writer because they wrote ideas in various notebooks instead of one.  I don’t even use one notebook!).  Those people risk having their noses broken.

I am actually incredibly organised (you should see my day job workload) but, due to lack of time, I have a little difficulty organising my writing.

There are a number of software packages available these days for writers.  Ways of helping them to get organised.  Inevitably, they cost money.  I’ve had a look at a couple; -

I’ve come to the conclusion that they are a waste of money.  Take for example, this seems to be a piece of software that allows you to type ideas.  I have a much cheaper version of this, it’s called a notepad.  I actually have difficulty planning and plotting on a screen.  I need paper and a pen.

Scrivener might come in handy for editing, but for now I’m trusting in Microsoft Word and my brain to do this.  This might be incredibly foolish but time will tell. 

Organising a writing life becomes even more complicated when you introduce a bit of freelance writing into the mix.  I decided at the beginning of 2012 that I wanted to get to grips with the short story.  I’ve since also been looking into article writing and I’m determined to become a published writer of novels, short stories and non-fiction.

This weekend I have been abandoned by the hubby.  I’m going to take advantage of this; this weekend I will become organised (I will not lie on the sofa and watch TV.  I will not).

Organisation is the key.  Procrastination is the enemy.  My mission, which I do choose to accept, is to become a successful writer, one way or another.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Are you seeing anyone?

During my lunch break today I read an article on the BBC Magazine website about being single;

What I found interesting about this article was a) reading it from a non-single point of view and b) the variety of responses.  All of them are happy being single but for different reasons.

The bit that really struck a cord was Sylvia Saunders comment;
“The essence of my objection to marriage is that I hold no interest in effectively adopting an adult male in order to play the mother role, which defines what many men expect from a marriage. If a man were to - without coaching - bring a coffee and croissant to me in bed on a Sunday morning, I might consider giving up my independence but no luck so far.”
She has a point.

My first reaction to reading this article was to defend my own coupling, my second was to wonder how I act around my own single friends, my third was to do a double take at my relationship, and then there was the fourth.

Many of the people in this article chose to be single.  Well, I chose to be in a relationship.  I have always relished the idea of relationships and marriage.  I can’t say why, but other people have suggested reasons.  Maybe it is because of my parents stable marriage that made me want that for myself.  It has been suggested that it is my generation, but this just isn’t true.  A large proportion of my old school friends are not married, they’re not even in relationships.  I haven’t just jumped into marriage because I want to be married, either.  I was swept into this relationship with an intelligent, attractive, funny, kind man who I think I’ve secretly been in love with since I was 16.  Going by the responses in this article, some of these people are waiting for what I have found.  Good luck to them in finding it.  Just because you reach a certain age doesn't mean that you won’t find it.

So onto the next thought; my single friends.  Interestingly, I have noticed that I can do the tiresome ‘are you seeing anybody’ with the male single friends but I don’t with my female friends.  What’s that about?  Perhaps, as Sylvia Saunders suggests, men require mothering and I am mothering the males around me who don’t have the girlfriend or wife.  I admit that I do sometimes worry about single males – their state of happiness, their state of clothes – in a way that I don’t with females.  I have been a single female, I have faith that women can thrive when single.  Of course men can too, I’ve seen it with my own eyes, but this doesn’t seem to have reached that particular part of my brain.

I do sometimes wonder if my single girlfriends miss the sex and warm comfort of a man that a relationship can bring.  I never ask them.  They all seem to be so busy with their work and social lives, I wonder if they get a chance to miss it.

I’m not particularly conscious of how I act around single people.  I am more aware of how I act with my husband around friends who are effectively on their own (either their partner is at home or they are single).  I am always careful to act as if my husband is my friend and nothing more.  Other than the odd dig, there is no cuddling, giggling or smooching.  Everyone else in the group is included in conversation and the only time I will cling to my hubby is if we are out and about and it’s cold.  After all, that’s what he’s there for.

John Hardy’s comments made me quickly do a relationship MOT;
“I don't have to be part of a double act all the time. I say what I think instead of the sickening "We like x, don't we Sweetie?'', with the mandatory affirmation. Shudder. I do what I want to do, when I want to do it, and how I want to do it. If I want company, I go out and get it. If I want to slam the door on the outside world, watch any old TV I like, eat pizza, drink beer, and just chill out - hey, what's to stop me? And when I see those poor little men rushing around pandering to their "better halves" and scampering home by curfew…”

I can’t think of one instance where me and my hubby have done that double act example.  It’s always ‘I like x, but he doesn’t’ or vice versa.  He doesn’t have to pander to me, there’s certainly no curfew.  All I ask is that he helps with the housework (which he does) and that he lets me know when he’ll be home and that’s only because I want to know when I can eat (food is important!).

Being able to watch any old TV I like sounds good though.  I do miss that.  On the other hand, we are always careful to give each other space.  He does what he enjoys and I do what I enjoy, which usually means he goes out and I get the TV all to myself on a regular basis.  Win-win.
I’ve realised that I’m making it sound like ours isn’t a good relationship.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of together time, a lot of cuddles, a lot of laughter and love but we also keep our own identities which I think is part of what makes our relationship so strong.

So, the fourth and final reaction; so what?  What can be learnt from this.  Is your main character single or in a relationship?  How do they feel about it?  How does it affect their lives?  
I didn't make the decision which characters in my two current novels-in-progress were in relationships and which weren't.  It just happened. One ended up with two men in her life but not in a relationship, one ended up dismissing the character I created just for her and prefers to be single, another fell in love with an older man (which completely threw me).
The comments in this article will prove very helpful in reminding myself what it means to be single as well as giving an insight into single experiences I have never had. 

Do I miss being single?  Sometimes.  But I wouldn’t be without my husband.  Just like there are people out there in the world who sometimes yearn for the comforting warmth of a partner but wouldn’t be without their constant freedom.  We’re all different; humans are just magic like that.