To Plot or To Pants [Writing]

plot or pantsFor a long time, writers have referred to themselves in one of two ways. As a plotter, or a pantser. The discussion around both appears in interviews, articles, on social media…anywhere you get writers talking, the question comes up.

Are you a plotter, or are you a pantser?

Personally, I’ve always been more of a pantser (the term comes from ‘flying by the seat of your pants’). I rarely plan things out, though I do ruminate on a current WIP, picture scenes and work through the story in my mind (usually before going to sleep). But as for fully plotting it? Nah, not for me.

See, I tried plotting. A long time ago, when I was still in secondary (high) school. It was coming up to NaNoWriMo, and I had an amazing fantasy idea that was going to blow everyone’s minds. Because I was 17 and of course it was. I plotted and planned and wrote up character sketches and when November hit I just…lost…interest.

It was like, because I knew the story, I no longer wanted to discover it. That was the excuse I told myself at 17, anyway, and ever since. I don’t plot. I just write. And sometimes it works. But more recently, I’ve started plotting a little more. I still pants, for short stories mainly, but even then, I at least have some idea of how I want it to start and end.

But the ideas I’ve had recently require more. They require more research, more careful consideration, more solid ideas of where and when A, B, C and D are going to happen.

In doing this, however, I will also give the story – and characters – room to breathe. I might have a particular scene planned for a certain chapter, but I know sometimes the story takes a turn even I might not expect. Ideas arrive in the shower, characters whispering in your ear, and sometimes, you just have to go with the flow.

So maybe I’m moving away from pantsing? At least a little. The WIP is currently in research stages, so we’ll see how it goes, but I’m interested in how this turns out, if plotting will work properly, or if it’ll end up in the air, and I’ll return to pantsing. Though maybe for me, the trick is to find the sweet spot between the two. We’ll see.

What about you? Are you a plotter, a pantser, or a bit of both?

 

Images

Rose & Book -Image by Daria Głodowska from Pixabay

Pencil & Notebook – Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Post It Notes -Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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On The Come Up – Angie Thomas [Books]

on the come upWhen I read Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, I knew this was an author I was going to follow for a long, long time. I was super excited when I heard about her next book, On The Come Up, and honestly, I almost squealed in excitement when I spotted it in my local bookshop.

On The Come Up is the story of Bri, who wants to be the greatest rapper the world has ever seen. To try to get her start, she competes in rap battles in the ring, and from there, the story moves forward, showing us this young, strong, argumentative, passionate girl with a powerful voice, who the world wants to silence.

There are certain elements similar to The Hate U Give, a couple of similar themes and elements, and the books are set in the same area, but they are still vastly different. I’ve seen some people say Bri was harder to like than Starr, but I didn’t find that to be the case. I adored Bri. Like Starr, she felt completely and utterly real. A teenage girl, just trying to get along in life, juggling school, social life, her passion, and boys. There were a number of times I wanted to reach through the page and hug her, and there’s little about her personality I didn’t relate to.

When it comes to character voices, Angie Thomas has an amazing gift. Bri practically sings off the page (well, raps…) and it’s so easy to imagine her talking, rapping, thinking. Small touches emphasise her character, as we see the world through her eyes, as we witness the world around her, through her.

Overall, On The Come Up is a brilliant, fantastic novel, about ambition and voice and power (and being powerless), and once again Angie Thomas had me completely hooked right from the very first page until the last. I will be eagerly awaiting her third novel. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest reading both The Hate U Give and On The Come Up. You really won’t be disappointed.

The Fever King – Victoria Lee [Books]

 

the fever king

Before I get into this, I just want to mention I received this book from Ashleigh (@edwardanddamon on Twitter), after winning it in one of her monthly giveaways. You should definitely go check her out because she’s awesome.

In a future version of the USA, Noam, the bisexual son of undocumented immigrants, survives an outbreak of a disease that leaves some survivors with the ability to do magic, although what kind of magic varies from one person to another. He is taken to a training centre, and put under the watchful eye of the charismatic, mysterious Calix Lehrer, former king, alongside Calix’s ‘son’, Dara.

I wanted to like this. Maybe my expectations were a little bit too high, but the premise sounded brilliant, and the writing itself is good – certain sentences were a joy to read, and some scenes were really gripping. But by the end, it just felt like there was too much crammed in, too much going on. The cast of characters is a little too big, filtering in and out, the other students a little flat compared to the actually well done characterisation of Noam and Dara.

Calix himself just read as untrustworthy, and it was hard to see why Noam trusted him so much, why he felt so willing to go along with everything.

Plot-wise, again, there were some really good elements here, but a lot got crammed in, and the moment one thing picked up, the plot seemed to take a sharp left turn into something else. There were some confusing moments, some really ‘huh?’ moments, and the ending…the ending to me just felt a little contrived, a touch rushed, with everything being a little too coincidental at certain points, and confusing at others. More than once, I found myself going back to reread a paragraph or two.

This is definitely not a bad book, nor is it badly written. The fault – to me – lays in too many ideas jammed into a fast paced scenes, with slower, meandering interruptions throughout where the students do nothing but sit around, repeated quite often, when it feels like the pace should be faster, coupled with too many characters. I really would have liked to have seen more of their training, maybe an example or two of their classes, and what life was really like for the students in this school, rather than just skipping over the interesting parts to show them in the same room or in Calix’s study.

Now, the important question. The Fever King is the first in the series, named Feverwake, and at the end I had to ask myself – will I read the next one?

The honest answer is… (drum roll please) probably yes, actually. Like I said, Lee isn’t a bad writer, and I think the next book will likely show lots of improvement, plus, by this point, I do feel invested in the story. So maybe, despite the things I disliked about it, the book has done its job, after all.

The Near Witch – V.E. Schwab [Books]

the near witchI only recently started reading Victoria Schwab’s novels. I started with City of Ghosts, then read A Darker Shade of Magic, shortly before going to an author event in Waterstones, Cardiff, where I picked up the next two Shades of Magic books and The Near Witch, money being the only thing stopping me from picking up everything else.

From the moment I started City of Ghosts, I absolutely fell in love with the writing. All the books I’ve read are vastly different, but carrying the same talent.

For anyone not aware, The Near Witch was Schwab’s first novel, which went out of print, and has recently been re-released.  Which is honestly a brilliant, great thing, because this book is an absolute delight.

For any fans who have read later books, it is well worth reading The Near Witch. There are some elements sprinkled throughout which feel like they have taken root, and branched out into other books, such as the Shades of Magic series.

The Near Witch takes place in the town of Near, where Lexi lives with her sister and mother. The people are afraid of anything unusual, including the witches who live on the town’s edge. A stranger appears one night, and shortly after, children start disappearing.

Near is described so well, it’s easy to imagine the town, and it really comes to life with the various characters dotted here and there, as Lexi explores and tries to discover exactly what happened to the children. Atmosphere plays a key role, and even the weather itself feels like an additional character, helping or hindering the characters as they move along their journeys.

The characters all feel real and fully realised, including Lexi’s family and Cole, the stranger. And as to the disappearance of the children, the reader is kept as on their toes as Lexi, trying to work through the puzzle and figure out if a fairy-tale really has come to life.

Overall, I loved The Near Witch for the same reasons I loved City of Ghosts and the Shades of Magic trilogy. For the atmospheric settings, the colourful characters, and the intriguing plot. Highly recommend this book for anyone who loves a good, haunting novel.

The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School – Kim Newman [Books]

drearcliffAfter Amy Thomsett’s mother finds her floating on the ceiling, Amy is shipped off to Drearcliff Grange, but rather than squash this strange ability out of her, Amy learns more about her abilities, while her and her new found friends are tested in various ways.

They face off against The Hooded Conspiracy, before a new girl arrives at the school, bringing with her a strange new way of doing things.

I thoroughly enjoyed Kim Newman’s novel, about strange, powerful girls who can do strange, wonderful things in a strange, creepy school. The book reads very much like the old pulp novels, mixed with the great British boarding school novel tradition. The characters are likeable, though a bit numerous, and it was fun to read the clever ways the girls came up with to get themselves out of dire situations.

Newman has a gift for immersing the reader in the time period, as evident in Anno Dracula and Drearcliff, and a solid love for whatever literature he is using as a base for his work. Drearcliff isn’t Hogwarts, Miss Peregrine’s or Xavier’s School. These girls aren’t witches, Peculiars or mutants. Some of them don’t have abilities, but may have other skills. Some just have interesting family backgrounds, but a few, like Amy, are Unusual. In the girls of Drearcliff, Newman has created a brand new batch of teens with abilities, with his own twists. The main core all feel fully fleshed out, though when it came to some of the more background characters, I did find myself losing track of who was who, now and then, especially as a couple of the girls had similar sounding names.

But overall, I really did enjoy this, including the more Lovecraftian aspects filtering in throughout the novel. The novel is set in the 1920s, with the girls using exclamations such as, “Crumpets!” and with that time period in mind, there’s an interesting parallel as the Black Skirts slowly infiltrating the school, mirroring the rise of fascism in Europe.

Some things aren’t as clear as they could be, and some of the characters can get a touch grating, but the clarity feels like a purposeful choice, and Amy Thomsett is enjoyable enough to counter the others.

The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School is a fun, creepy, enjoyable read, with masterful use of language and a solid sense of place and time. Definitely one for fans of more subtle but fantastical horror, and a good twist on the British school literary novel.

Margate

MargateI’ve been to Margate a few times now, visiting my brother, but every time I go, there seems to be something new for me to discover. Last time, I took my first trip to Dreamland, a lovely pleasure park opposite the beach, with one of the world’s oldest roller coasters. And, currently, Dreamland have free entry (though you have to pay if you want to go on any of the rides), so we popped in there for a drink and a wander, and even if you have no interest in rides, it’s well worth a look. There’s usually something going on, and there’s lovely spots to just sit and have a drink, enjoying the atmosphere.

This visit, we also went to Whitstable, a lovely seaside town with plenty of food for any seafood lovers to enjoy, and a brilliant market with a variety of crafts for sale.

But mainly, we visited bookshops. As it turns out, Margate has a brilliant selection of second-hand bookshops and considering the amount of times I’ve been, I’m actually upset I didn’t realise this earlier.

20190422_170843Firstly, Pilgrim’s Hospice, a charity bookshop in an old bank. The building is lovely, and they have a huge selection of books, mostly for under £2 (including some excellent hardbacks selling for £1.50!). The layout is wonderful, bright, and very well organised, making it easy to find something to your taste.

Not far from here is a small comic book shop (should have noted the name down!) with a mix of second-hand and new graphic novels., comics, and merch From here, I picked up Sandman and Spider-Man/Deadpool. So eager to get stuck into both of them.

We also visited Hooked by Books, again a really nice, well-laid out second-hand bookshop, with a range of true crime, history and fiction books. It was hard to just pick out a few to buy here.

And, lastly for book shops, that evening we visited Broadstairs. Broadstairs is a small area not far from Margate, with a variety of bars and restaurants. Perfect for a night out. We were hoping to visit Houdini’s, but after food and a few drinks we were all exhausted, so decided to call it a night. But not before one very particular pub my future sister-in-law was very keen on me seeing.

My love of books is no secret in my family, and although my brother does enjoy reading,20190420_120830 he doesn’t do it as much due to lack of time, whereas I will always make time for it (he always makes a point of reading my stories). So, my brother and future SIL – who have also seen the books spilling down the stairs leading to my attic bedroom – knew how much I’d love the bar.

The Chapel is, well, a former chapel, but after it finished being a place of worship, it became a bookshop. Then, eventually, a bar, owned by Brewdog. But rather than stripping the place of all those lovely books, they simply sell the books. They’re reasonable prices, and even if not buying one, you’re welcome to sit and browse, read them, as long as you put them back in the correct places. All books are for sale. My only complaint was that, in the evening, it was too dark to see some titles on the shelves, and I couldn’t exactly start climbing over people to get a closer look at certain books.

We will definitely have to visit again during a quieter time – maybe daytime, so there’s more light!

Overall, I came home with the books pictured above, as well as picking up a present for Dad (a book about Tommy Cooper) and a lovely stories and rhymes for every day for a friend’s little girl. So far, I’ve only managed to read one book (The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School), and I cannot wait to get stuck into the rest, some of which have been sitting on my virtual to be read for ages.

So, if you’re looking for a picturesque seaside town, with plenty to do and various choices for picking up books, I really do recommend Margate. It’s a brilliant place for book lovers (and dog lovers, too!), as well as having a lovely beach and plenty of places to sit, talk, drink, read, or ride a roller coaster! And if you are planning a trip, I also recommend my brother’s cabin, which includes a pool table and hot tub, and allows plenty of room to enjoy your own space, as well as the best shower I’ve ever been in! Details on Airbnb.

caban cwtch 2

No Killer, No Filler

writing doesn't need fillers or killers

Ah, writing. It comes so easily, doesn’t it? The words just flowing from your fingertips, the wonderful sound of keyboard keys clanking, being hit, one after the other, over and over until you have a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter…a book…

Full of the same words.

Just. Very. That.

Suddenly. Started. Then.

There are certain words, known as filler and killer words, likely to drag your writing to a grinding halt. Not to say they should be avoided entirely, but if you have the word ‘that’ multiple times in the same sentence, it’s going to make the reader cringe. Writing flows much more smoothly without filler and killer words.

Consider the following sentences –

Just then, the doorbell rang suddenly. She started to walk towards the door, her heart beating so hard that it felt like it would burst from her chest. In order to collect herself, she paused, staring through the obscure glass and picking out the tell-tale blue uniform of a policeman. Then, she opened the door.

Clunky, isn’t it? The prose reads stilted and too lengthy, words jammed in and draining the paragraph of any tension it could create. So, amending it –

The doorbell rang. She walked towards the door, heart about to burst from her chest. Pausing, she collected herself. On the other side of the obscure glass stood a man, in the tell-tale blue uniform of a policeman. She opened the door.

Filler words tend to be exactly that, words which fill the prose without actually contributing anything. Killer words slow it down, make it seem stilted. The best rule of thumb, if you find yourself using them, is to read the sentence with and without a particular word. If it makes sense without, drop it.

Filler words: Just. Quite. Rather. Very. perhaps. Stuff. Really. In order. Had. Literally. Actually. That.

Killer words: Suddenly. In order to. Started. Sort of. Used to. So. Kind of. As. A lot. Out of. You. Then.

Remember, these words can be used, and can, on occasion, prove to be useful. But make sure if they are used, they’re not over-used, and they’re put in sentences only when necessary.

 

Images Used 

Serial Killer – Image by Republica from Pixabay

Notepad – Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

Books – Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

Twisted Tales: Mirror, Mirror – Jen Calonita [Books]

mirror mirrorTwisted Tales is a series of books presenting different twists on various well-known Disney stories, and Mirror, Mirror is the sixth in the series, following on from novels about Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Mulan. Five of the previous novels were written by Liz Braswell, with Reflection, the Mulan story, written by Elizabeth Lim.

Both authors are tough acts to follow, bringing fresh new perspectives on beloved classics. With this being the second book penned by a different author, I think Disney are taking a great approach, rather than just leaving it all down to one writer.

The combination of different authors, plus taking different characters, means a vast difference in the books, and I think from what I’ve seen online and conversations IRL, various people have different favourites from the series. I see this as a really good thing – people are responding in different ways to the same series, and I feel it’s working well for Twisted Tales.

However, I do think Mirror, Mirror might be the weakest book of the series (so far). This, despite the fact Jen Calonita is clearly a talented writer, and I would definitely pick up mirror mirror2one of her other books. So, the writing is good, the characters actually read really well, but the plot itself is a little weak.

One of the things I like most about previous books in the series is the fact the twist actually changes everything for the characters. It forms the crux of the plot, and prevents the characters reaching the happily ever after point we know from the films. In some instances, by the end things are right with the world and we know the characters are going to continue as they would from the films, but they are still changed from their animated counterparts.

The difference with Mirror, Mirror is that the twist – printed plainly on the cover – doesn’t actually affect much of the story. Instead, the changes made don’t feel like they fit into the world of Snow White, and it doesn’t make sense why these changes happen in the context of the animated film. If this was just a retelling, it would work well, but as it is, it doesn’t have the same feel as the previous books.

Sections of the book just simply take us through what happens in the film, but do allow us – as books do – to get deeper into the head of Snow White, as well as the Evil Queen, named Ingrid in the novel. The Ingrid chapters are where the book really comes alive, as we see her transform into the sort of woman who can order a child’s killing.

The plot, in places, feels rushed, and especially the ending. But despite this, the characters themselves give off that feel of real, living breathing people. Snow White is definitely a far cry from the passive princess in the film, given a stronger, more prominent role, as she realises what her people have been through. We also get a better idea of why she cleans so much. The prince, as well – Henri – is more of a character, rather than just the guy who rides in and out. We see the relationship between them blossom, and can feel why they fall for each other. Those aspects of the book work really well.

Overall, although I did have a few niggles with the book, and although it maybe wasn’t up to the same standard as previous books in this series, I did enjoy it. And the additions to the characters worked nicely, giving more depth to Snow White, the prince, the Evil Queen, and even the dwarves. I would definitely recommend this, and although it might not have been my favourite in the series, it’s bound to be someone else’s.

Publication Updates

So seeing as this blog is supposed to be as much about my writing as it is about other’s, I thought I’d just drop a quick note to confirm my latest publication updates. Details of my short stories can always be found on the About & Publications page, but I know maybe not everyone visits that when they come to the site.

So, since the start of the year, I’ve had three short stories published. Two in anthologies, and one as a digital standalone in Alban Lake’s Infinite Realms bookstore.

January saw the publication of the final Seven Deadly Sins YA anthology, LUST.  The fact this anthology has come to an end makes me feel sad – the WRATH volume was my first ever in print story, Dying of the Light, and I feel really proud of the story itself. Ashworth Manor was in the AVARICE volume, and actually got me the number one spot in the competition run on Scrib to find stories for the anthology. And, finally, in LUST, there’s Nina and the Raging Hormone Buffet. The fact I found a place among a group of talented writers is always a reason to smile, even if there won’t be any more of the series. You can check out LUST on Amazon US here, and the UK site here. The profits for SDS do go to First Book, so please check out any of the seven volumes!

Also realised in January was CURSE OF THE GODS, from Fantasia Divinity. My short story The Most Valuable Possession appeared in their previous anthology, OUT OF YOUR SHADOW, and will be my first paid story. Worshipped, appearing in this anthology, will be my first contributor’s copy. Worshipped shows Aphrodite, trying to navigate a modern world, and the perils that come with it. The Fantasia Divinity site (linked above) is worth checking if you want to get a copy, as they often have discounts.

And lastly, through Alban Lake’s wonderful Infinite Realms bookstore, there’s Night of the Loving Dead, published in February. I had so much fun writing this story, and hopefully that comes through in the fiction. It’s flash, coming in at little under 1000 words, and follows a zombie as he tries to navigate his new living deadness. It’s also a zombie love story. Another great publisher definitely worth checking out, and there’s plenty in the bookstore to keep you entertained.

HEX – Thomas Olde Heuvelt [Books – SPOILERS!]

hexAs indicated by the title of this post, this post will contain spoilers. If you haven’t yet read the book (and if you have, I would love your thoughts on this!) then I suggest getting a copy, reading it, then coming back.

FINAL SPOILER WARNING PUPPY!

close up of dog on grass
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Glancing over reviews on Goodreads, this book seems to provoke a love/hate reaction. Some feel the book might have sexist tones, and an ‘obsession’ with certain aspects of the female form. But to me, the book was less sexist in itself, than portraying the attitudes of the townsfolk. Grim seems to take a very dim view of women. He goes out of his way to protect the town, to try to make things right, and has clear views of what is right and what is wrong – but he still obsesses over the appearance of women. Personally I don’t think that’s reflective of the author, but of the character. Grim might be good at his job, but clearly living in the same town, unable to leave for any extended period of time, and being forced to watch over the same people day in, day out, with actually very little power, has taken its toll on him. And he’s as dismissive of the men, too.

One argument is that there’s no ‘positive’ female characters, but I think Jocelyn is quite positive. And even if she weren’t, personally, I don’t see any particularly positive male characters, either. Jocelyn definitely comes out much better than Steve who, after Tyler’s death, is so obsessed with it he doesn’t really seem to care about Matt, and thinks bitterly about ‘her son’ still being alive.

Of course, one of the amazing things about books is that everyone takes away something different from different pieces of writing. The actions and thoughts of the characters can be seen as sexist and misogynistic, but I personally feel this was the characters, not the author, though without further works to read, it’s a hard judgement to make.

The book definitely carries a Pet Semetary vibe for me, and a complete Stephen King feel, from the strange small town where odd things happen, to the absolute humanity of the characters. They feel real, and they do things – good and bad – that make sense. They try to protect loved ones, and hurt when they fail.

It’s easy to see early on that Katherine isn’t the real evil in the town. She’s creepy, yes, but that feels like it’s because of the interference by the townsfolk. She’s creepy because they made her creepy. And in a trope any horror fan will recognise (*cough* Mama *cough*), at the end of the day she is a lost mother mourning her children, who ends up – not in the best way – replacing them. The attacks are her self-defence mechanism, and when the town becomes a nightmarish hell hole, it’s less because of Katherine and more mass hysteria.

Overall, if I haven’t made it clear already, Heuvelt has written something which has quickly become one of my favourite horror novels. This is the first English translation of one of his novels, and I really hope it’s the first of many.