The Phonecall – an Absurdist Short Story

She had every expectation of a phone call that morning. Mouth still singed with coffee, she barely missed a beat when the buzz came and put on her best dressed smile to pick up.

“Good morning,” her boss said, without missing a beat, “I’ve been looking over your work for the last year and it made me think of promoting you.”

This was not what she had expected. “Oh that’s great news Mr Willoughby!”

“Yes- well I don’t like the way this is progressing so I’m terminating your contract.”

“Wait- what?”

Mr Willoughby sighed down the phone line.

“I can’t breathe,” she gasped.

“Let me explain,” Mr Willoughby replied coldly. “You see our company has all the power.”

“I see,” she stuttered, trying to regain her composure “so would it have helped if I asserted myself more?”

“No if you hadn’t been so polite and amenable and the model employee, we’d have fired you sooner.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I’m sorry it doesn’t make sense to you,” Mr Willoughby harrumphed.

“But I thought I was doing well- I passed my appraisal with flying colours- I don’t understand.”

“You don’t understand the company values.”

“How so?”

Silence.

“That’s just something we like to say when we fire people.” There was a pause down the line. “Look why would you think you had a place at this company?”

“Well… there was a contract? But I suppose that doesn’t mean anything.”

The rage was quick and swift. “How could you say that! Are you calling this company into disrepute?”

“No, no, I didn’t mean that. I suppose you were serious after all.”

“No, we always had our doubts about you. We think we can do better.”

“Oh. So, you have someone else lined up for the position?”

“No,” Mr Willoughby replied too sharply. “There is no one else.”

“But you have an idea of someone you’d prefer?”

Another beat of silence passed. “Look, we’ve said everything we needed to say. Your work was not good enough.”

“Oh god I’m not good enough!”

“I don’t understand why you’re taking this so badly- this should galvanise you to go and seek other employment. We could advise you about career opportunities if you’d like?”

“Oh no, please don’t!”

“There are lots of opportunities at our company- a position has just opened up in fact- would you like to apply?”

“This is insane- I’m hanging up now.”

Now it was Mr Willoughby’s turn to gasp.

“But I thought we could continue to share business contacts! I don’t see how that’s possible now!”

“No,” she agreed, calmer than she felt, “that’s not possible.”

Willoughby hiccupped, breathing heavily down the line.

“Are you… crying right now Mr Willoughby?”

“You were a wonderful employee,” he said, the sobbing intensifying.

“Okay, well I’m sorry it had to end this way, I’m going to go now.”

“Aren’t you going to tell me I was a good boss?”

She hung up.

The Town with No Name – Flash Fiction

Towns do not simply vanish overnight- at least not usually. Yet that is exactly what happened to the town of ——. Its buildings, its residents, its very name disappeared into the aether one yuletide evening.

Of course, for the neighbouring townsfolk of Runcold this was a massive inconvenience. Especially coming at such an auspicious time of year. Think of all the trading opportunities that were lost forever! Think of all the planned deliveries that would not be made! Think of the inconvenience! Everyone had their celebrations all planned out- and now who knew where to get that extra-special speciality that the town of —– was known for (and was now forgotten forever).

When the desperate nature of their plight was realised, the townsfolk tried all manner of remedies. With the guidance of the mayor, they held a candlelit vigil. When that didn’t work, they lynched the town idiot. And when that didn’t work, they went to bed early, as they often implored their children, waking up more refreshed than they had in years. But none of it seemed to do any good! The town of —— remained gone!

Grumbling at their hard luck, they all decided to go about their business and forget about the unfortunate affair. Until one day, as spring began to creak its way over the town border, a ragged traveller appeared at the gates.

He stood for three days, stench wafting into the town square, before the mayor decided to ward him off for disturbing the peace.

“Who goes there?” he said softly to the stranger, not wanting to cause any violent outbursts.

The stranger merely pointed to his throat, indicating that he had been robbed of words.

“Well, I’m sorry that you’ve been inconvenienced, sir,” the mayor went on, “but I don’t see how I can help you if you can’t tell us what you want.”

The traveller held a letter aloft, but when he slotted it through the gates and the mayor picked it up, the words on the pages disappeared.

Air rushed from his lungs.

“You’re- you’re from that town —— that town —–“

A collective gasp rose up from the crowd. Remembering what had happened to their neighbours, the townsfolk were suddenly very afraid.

“We don’t want none of your trouble here!”

“Go! Go before you do us in too!”

But the traveller refused to be turned away. He rattled the gates and he mouthed wordless pleas. Naturally, the townsfolk knew they could not ignore him forever. Unlocking the gates, they pulled him inside and strung him up next to the village idiot. Then they decided to move on with their lives. The town of —— may have been gone, but there wasn’t a lot they could do about it and they had no real reason to be concerned. Things would go on much as they always had. Sadly, the residents of Runcold never did get their much longed for presents.

Being a “Bad Art Friend” – An Unpleasant New Writing Trend or a Tale as Old as Time?

Recently, I went to a writing group, where a fellow writer told me how she got her inspiration. She was writing the story of a friend of a friend losing her virginity at 28. “When my friend told me the story, I just found it so funny, I had to write it into a novel,” she told me. And I cringed. The idea of such a personal story being relayed to the world is a lot of people’s worst nightmare. And the fact that the person poaching the plot was a complete stranger (thereby obviously not having permission to tell it) didn’t make me feel better about it.  

But it did get me thinking… how bad is it to pinch parts of someone else’s life story? Is it ever okay?

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the “Bad Art Friend”- a complicated tale of a personal story being plagiarised (and consequent law suits). A lot of people cannot decide who exactly the “Bad Art Friend” was in that situation (since this certainly seems to be a case of writers behaving badly). Nonetheless- whichever side I am on- there’s something deeply uncomfortable about taking someone else’s story in order to mock them. I cannot help but be reminded of Music and Lyrics, where Drew Barrimore’s character has been traumatised by such an event. Naturally, as the audience it is impossible not to empathise- for who would want to be the laughing stock of the world?

Which makes this seem like a cut and dry case- except it’s clearly not. Because isn’t this just something writers and artists do? Drawing from real life is quite possibly the oldest tradition in writing. We all have poets and singers we admire who openly write about real life people. And while artists like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran may have been criticised in recent years for this practice… it’s not like it’s a new phenomenon. People scour Shakespeare’s sonnets for evidence of the real people they were about. Thomas Hardy knowingly took details from real life cases he read about in newspapers to add realism to his stories. And what of historical fiction, cannibalising the lives of real figures in history and reproducing them for our entertainment. Indeed, even I am engaging in this practice by sharing my anecdote at the start of this piece!

Sadly, I don’t think there is an easy answer here. If you argue that you should obscure the references, keeping identities secret like Carly Simons did with “You’re So Vain”, you underestimate the innumerable fan sites dedicated to decoding songwriter’s every word. And if you suggest only writing nice things your victims subjects, then you ignore the likes of Christopher Robin, the star of Winnie the Pooh, who famously complained about being foisted into the spotlight against his will. And retribution for those whose stories are stolen seems out of the question- lawsuits don’t help you win allies and plotting murder like in the (hopefully entirely fictional) Plot seems a bit extreme 😉

It seems to me that there is no way around absorbing parts of our lives into our stories and art. There is no obvious dividing line where truth becomes fiction after all. But perhaps we can still endeavour to treat people with basic dignity and respect. Perhaps there are some stories that we ought to leave well enough alone. Perhaps the only conclusive advice I can offer is this: don’t be a dick. Which is sound advice in general 😉

For more on this discussion (and somewhat different takes) check out these videos:

All of this leaves me in quite the conundrum- so I’d like to hear what you think! Is it ever okay to fictionalise someone else’s story? Can you entirely avoid drawing from real life? Let me know in the comments!

How to (Try to) Plan a Book

am writing

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a massive plotter and I’m at the stage of planning a new project, so I thought it might be fun to explore how my brain works in the planning process (spoiler alert: I’m stuck at step 16). I’m going off what I’m doing right now and what I’ve done for various projects in the past… some of which even turned into full length manuscripts… though some did not 😉 So, obviously, this is completely fool proof and there’s no way it could go wrong 😉 Without further ado, here is my definitive guide on how to (try to) plan a book:

lightbulb moment

Step 1: Have an idea *POP* into your head like magic- which seems makes it seem like all the hard work is over, right? WRONG!

dr-evil

Step 2: Decide that you are going to do the unthinkable and turn this idea into a book…

brainstorming ideas

Step 3: Time for some *brainstorming* to see if this idea has legs (NB step 3 can be step 1 for some people, because creative people are different, and not all ideas throw themselves in your face 😉)

hopscotch

Step 4: Keep repeating steps 1-3, jumping through the steps in any given order like you’re playing hopscotch.

simpsons ideas

Step 5: Spend a while (years) writing and compiling notes, adding characters, potentially world building and plenty of contradictory ideas. Make sure your notes aren’t logical at this point- you don’t want to make things easy for your future self!

gotta go to work

Step 6: Get on with your life for a bit, work on other creative projects and generally forget about this vaguely fleshed out idea.

grave robbing

Step 7: Dig up/stumble across whatever you’ve been working on (whether it’s in a notebook or some random files on your computer). Have the sudden dawning realisation that you actually want to write this book and decide it will be your *next project*. And that means taking said idea seriously from here on out! So at this stage, do you a) make a schedule for when you can fit in writing time and/or b) rough draft an outline to get the ball rolling…?

trick question

Step 8: Neither! That was a trick question! You print out the notes, making a BIG DEAL out of that and promising to be proactive about it from now on! (all the while not really breaking any new ground)

stare into space

Step 9: Stare at pages, trying to figure out how to write out a basic synopsis out of this contradictory mess (see, I told you it’d be helpful not to make it too logical!) Ah great- now you can either continue on with optional steps 10-11, or skip right ahead to 12…

aha

Step 10: Discover that you did in fact write a helpful synopsis you entirely forgot about…

this isnt right

Step 11: Read it and realise how different it is from the notes

bad writing gig

Step 12: *Weep*

highlighters

Step 13: Devise a complex strategy, involving highlighters, where you colour code notes to match up all the existing ideas. Perhaps even pick up a stack of post its! Maybe get funky with an excel spreadsheet! Whatever you do, make sure it looks organised, but has no functional purpose.

thinking monkey

Step 14: Try to make head or tail of your new notes

muses

Step 15: Wait around for the Muses to strike…

monkey typewriter

Step 16: Give up and write a blog post about planning a novel (…ooh getting meta…)

let's go to work

Step 17: Get your shit together and decide just to write out all your ideas in a new synopsis.

writing

Step 18: Type up into one great big messy document.

think pen write

Step 19: Pause to give chapter titles (this is a great step because while it is entirely unnecessary, it’ll make you feel like you’ve been super clever and productive).

read satisfied

 

Step 20: Readthrough it with satisfaction (ignoring the inner voice that tells you that this may have to be revised later) and shove it in a drawer to be ignored until you can carve out some time to actually write the damn thing.

congratulations

*Congratulations you have planned a novel*

(at least that’s the dream anyway 😉)

Things I Learned Writing My First Book – My Writing Mistakes (and Some Successes!)

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Sooo a lot of us wannabe writers/aspiring authors/*insert other title* types, like to talk about all the great things we’re writing and how we’re having a whale of a time. And that’s fine- but I’ve never been all that good at having a “fake it till you make it” mentality. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not perfect 😉 Inspired by a video I saw ages ago about things I learned writing my first book, I thought it would be fun if I talked about what it was actually like being (more of) a baby writer- especially now that I’ve moved on from a lot of these projects. Now, I have included a couple positive things I learnt, so it’s not all me flinging banana peels at myself, buuuut it’s mostly gonna be about having a laugh at my expense 😉 And as you can imagine, this is by no means a complete list- I’m sure I’ll come up with plenty more in years to come! For the time being, here’s some of the things I learnt as a newbie writer:

that's all folksFinishing! Let’s start with a BIG FAT positive. One thing I’ve been lucky with when it comes to my writing is that I’ve never had a problem finishing. To be fair, I put a lot of this down to being bored in biology (turns out that’s a great time to draft something as a teen… not that I would ever advise doing this 😉)

not a great planPoor research and planning– I don’t know if I ever mentioned this, but I started out as more of a pantser and less of a planner. Way back when, I got asked to write a serialised story for a school newspaper (I know, so professional 😉). I just went for it and didn’t plan much of what I was doing. The result was… interesting. And even when I decided to finish the story, I just had a bunch of bullet points to go off. Many things suffered from this- but especially the world building. I went with the well known technique of make-it-up-as-I-go and the it-doesn’t-matter-it’s-all-magic method- with mixed results. Hopefully, this is something I’ve improved on, at least a little (though, given I prefer soft magic systems, I’ll never say it’s a strong suit).

think pen writeEpisodic writing– as I mentioned, the first thing I ever completed started out as a serialised story, so this makes sense. What I learnt as well is this is a nigh on impossible problem to fix in revision… but ah well, you win some, you lose some!

are we there yetBook wandering syndrome– yeah, I’m resurrecting this term I made up– the way I defined it was: the art of getting so lost in your own story that plot, character and everything else is forgotten in favour of random adventures. And I definitely did this first time round (in fact, I managed to do it again in a much later book- oops!)

 

actionToo much action– I feel like newbie writers fall into two categories: too little plot and too much. I was in the latter camp. Because in case the episodic nature of the story didn’t make the story jolty enough for my poor guinea pig readers, this definitely did the trick! There was A LOT going on. I just jammed in all the action I could think of (which, to be fair, at least made it a fun experience 😉). Thankfully, I’ve moved away from the OTT adventure story and (hopefully) have learned to tone it down!

dramaSo. much. drama. Another newbie mistake, my first couple of books were VERY melodramatic. I think (hope) I’ve toned that down as well, but *wow* those first books were rough going and angsty.

 

 

funny-facepalm-gifBad dialogue– you know how mums are supposed to be all schmoozy and tell you your work is perfect? Yeahhh mine told me on the first draft of my first book that my dialogue was stilted and terrible 😂 Which may give you the complete wrong impression of my lovely mum… but seriously, I’m so grateful to her for *not* being the kind of person that tells me work is perfect when it’s not. Because she was completely right!! (I don’t want to give an example of the kind of stiff, horrible dialogue we all think belong in fantasy as teens… but I’m sure you can imagine it!) And though admittedly this may never be my strong suit, I’ve become better at making my characters sound less like they’ve got a stick rammed up their butt.

whoopsFilter words and repeated words– oh man, I was reminded of this for the millionth time recently when I watched Alexa Donne’s video (seriously love that channel!) Not a great thing to admit, but I was watching and thinking *oh yeah that’s me*. As much as I would like to say I’m immune, like a lot of people, I have my crutch words. Funnily enough, this is something that has gotten worse, not better! Truth be told, while blogging has made me write a helluva lot more (and made me less precious about what I put on the page) the downside is I’ve gotten lax about catching those weasel words!

thumbs upEditing– I want to add something a little more positive towards the end of this list and that’s the fact I’m not afraid to brutally edit my work. Sure, I may have difficulty killing off the odd darling sentence or unnecessary character, but I usually come around- especially if I’ve executed a whole chunk of that story anyway!

writingPerfectionism– of course, the downside to this willingness to edit is that I can get stuck on a perfectionist train of thought. I can easily work and rework something to death… literally in the case of some books I’ve shelved! But ultimately, I think that’s a positive anyway, because you learn along the way to be less sentimental about keeping ideas alive that have gone stale. Better to move onto something else, I say! (just provided I don’t do this forever! 😉 )

And that’s all for now! Do you share any of these bad writing habits? What were your first writing mistakes? Or successes? Let me know in the comments!

Dusting Off Old Projects

thoughts orangutan

This time last year, I talked about shelving old projects and letting dead projects lie. Now I’m resurrecting the topic… to turn it on its head. Because, unexpectedly, one thing I came away thinking is that maybe sometimes it’s a good idea to step back into bad old writing.

it's aliveBurnt out from editing and not ready to start a new project, I decided to go back to an abandoned story. I knew that there were parts I liked and parts I didn’t. To put it simply, I took a duology, cut, hacked and stitched it together to make one Frankenstein MONSTER BOOK. Now, this isn’t a fairy tale (after all, we’re talking about some serious necromancy here!) I doubt me and the book will wind up happily ever after 😉 I may end up having rewritten it just to shelve it again.

monster book of monstersHowever, what I am happy to say is I had fun with my little fling. Playing around with it reminded me why I wrote it in the first place and made me want to write more. I realised I could take time out to work on something just for me (just as long as it doesn’t devour all my time 😉 ).

grave robbingMost surprisingly of all, it was a learning curve. Not only could I see the massive development in my writing, I realised I could still learn new tricks from old projects. I ended up thinking how much I could ransack from the project for future stories and where I could improve elsewhere. Sure, this may seem like graverobbing (cos it is a bit), but I also saw this as an opportunity to create a whole new life aka more stories! 😉

I’m not completely turning my back on my previous post. Not every story is meant to see the light of day buuut maybe it doesn’t have to be shut up in the dark either. So, I guess the message here is that you don’t write anything off…

What do you think about dusting off old projects and old ideas? Do you like to resurrect bits here and there? Or do you think you should let dead things lie? Let me know in the comments!

How to Deal with DOUBT

We all know how doubt can be debilitating. Well, maybe not all- narcissists and less sophisticated primates are never plagued with doubt… so I’ll try again: we all should have some idea how deadly doubt can be… but equally how much we need it in writing. Because we need doubt to propel us to ruthlessly edit our messy manuscripts; we need to pick out our flaws and correct them. I for one like to take all my doubts out the drawer periodically and hold them in my hand until they grow so heavy that I feel like I’m sinking into a quicksand of doom and despair… or maybe that’s just me?

Okay, maybe that’s not the healthiest way to deal with doubt. There are better, tried and tested ways of dealing with doubt, like…

Crying.

crying orangutan

Singing super cheesy anthems at the top of your lungs.

Power through- just hope those little voices inside your head go. away.

writing

POWER THROUGH EVEN MORE- this means ruthlessly editing a gazillion times, writing more and more and more…

bad writing gig

Read books by professionals and feel bad about it (aka chewing yourself out by convincing yourself you will never live up to those insane standards you set yourself)

pretending to read

Well, that wasn’t so bad. But we can do better than that…

Note that *CONGRATS* feeling doubt is a totally normal part of the process for any creative person.

thumbs up

Note that books on the shelves have been edited by professionals and it’s okay if you’re not up to that standard (yet).

choose books

Note that it’s a process and you’re getting there (just think about how crap you were when you started and you’ll feel better, I promise 😉).

think happy thoughts.gif

Note that there’s always more room for more books in the world. Think of all those libraries and bookshops that need stocking with new stories!

book love belle

Note that it’s okay to take breaks- you don’t have to power through all the time- seriously, it’s okay to take breaks!

orangutan on a beach relaxing0003

And if none of this has helped, then…

Eat ice cream (and bananas) because this will always help. Always.

banana split

Actually, go do that anyway! Do you think any of these will be helpful? How do you deal with doubt? Let me know in the comments!

Subverting Expectations vs Wish Fulfilment – Differences in Style #8

 

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Normally, I do these posts because I’ve read a cool book recently or been writing something related or seen a craft video- not this day! For a change, I was inspired (and challenged) to do this because of my recent TV watching habits. Thanks to the shocker of an ending for Game of Thrones and the contrastingly amazing finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’ve been thinking a lot about how story may (or may not) stick the landing.

So what do I mean by wish fulfilment? Well, in the case of a comedy, this is when characters get exactly what they want/deserve. The baddies are punished, the goodies are rewarded. In a tragedy, the heroes suffer too, but we’re okay with that cos readers are masochists it’s *cathartic*. Basically, if a book does what it says on the tin, chances are it fits into this.

The only rare cases when this fails is in satire or if there’s been an implied twist on the tropes. A good example of this for me was in Shadow and Bone, which I felt held promise as being a fresh take on the fantasy genre, but ended up being conformist. That said, a lot of people loved that very traditional ending, so you can see how that gets subjective pretty fast 😉 There is also the issue of predictability- which I find a lot of readers are forgiving of- even in the thriller genre. What I will say is when this veers off into really dodgy territory is when a choice is made for “fanservice”- where the creator makes a decision purely to please fans- which ultimately backfires spectacularly. I often imagine misguided producers shrieking: “I was doing this to please you! I thought it was what you wanted! LOVE ME!” Let’s just say, I’m not a fan.

Moving on, I think we’ve heard a lot about subverting expectations lately because of Game of Thrones royally screwing up its ending. However, it might surprise non-fans to hear that Game of Thrones actually used to be the *BOMB* at this (back when the show was following GRRM’s books, that is). Spoilers if you plan to watch/read it, the Red Wedding in particular is my favourite example: yes, there was misdirection upto this point, but when you looked back you could see exactly how this was set up and how it was secretly the logical outcome for Robb’s story arc. Sure, it was a shock, because the characters involved didn’t see it coming, but a clever reader could’ve seen the writing on the wall. And yes, plotlines were abandoned because of it, but it not only made logical sense, it left you with an even greater sense of longing for what might have been AND managed to create dramatic consequences for the other players in the story. Essentially, subverting expectations enhanced the story in every way!

Sadly, subverting expectations won’t always work and the final season of Game of Thrones proved this unequivocally. There was very little setup in order for there to be payoff, often plotlines came out of nowhere, and there appeared to be times when the writers pivoted direction mid-story.

D and D we hope to avoid the expected.png

But of course, as George R R Martin says:

george r r martin plan.png

One of the biggest components for this failure is that the building blocks of character and story have to be in place in order for this to work. Sometimes you can get away with this in terms of tone, as with Carry On, indicating through jokes that this is a parody of Harry Potter; sometimes you have write hundreds of thousands of words before you can twist the story on its head. Point is, readers/viewers will be unhappy if a plot thread comes out of nowhere. Plus, there has to be a reason for doing this: humour is a good reason, challenging convention is another, entertaining the viewer also works… to an extent. Because if the audience suspects this is purely for shock value, they’ll ultimately be dissatisfied. Again, it all comes down to delivering that longed for catharsis.

Most of the time, things fall in the messy middle though. Endings that are bittersweet- like the emotionally charged victory of Lord of the Rings– can be equally as satisfying. Even things we think of as classic tragedies, like Romeo and Juliet, play into comedic tropes in order to subvert them (and ultimately ends up conforming to tragic conventions). Narrative arcs will generally allow for characters to rise and fall (in tragedy allowing for a moment of bliss and in comedy giving a time for despair). Very few books “flatline” (a distinct example being City of Dreadful Night– where the narrative remains bleak throughout). For instance, this is a useful source showing the rise and falls in six basic plots. And here’s my (entirely subjective and unscientific) graph of where a story might fall in terms of subverting or fulfilling expectations:

(where tragedies end in death and comedies end in marriage)

subvert expectations graph.png

Whether you entirely agree or disagree with where I’ve placed certain stories, hopefully you can see the difference in endings. And even after we’ve considered all of this, sometimes an ending can deliver for some fans and not others (as is the case with Harry Potter). Chances are there will be dissatisfied parties and I will say that there’s no pleasing everyone- and that’s not a bad thing! Really, there is no one way to stick the landing and we always have to consider that taste plays a part. And I haven’t even covered the difference plotting vs pantsing makes when it comes to endings… that’s a discussion for another time.

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

Coherence Vs Incoherence – Differences in Style #4

Telling Vs Showing – Differences in Style #5

Unreliable Narrators – Differences in Style #6

The Art of Fragmentation – Difference in Style #7

So what are your thoughts on the differences? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said here? Let me know in the comments!

The Art of Fragmentation – Differences in Style #7

 

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Wow it really has been forever since I’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? To be precise, it’s been 6 months. I feel like this is becoming a biannual thing at this point- but ho hum, this was only ever supposed to be a casual sort of series, talking about how all different writing styles are valid, so I don’t suppose there needs to be a time limit on that. And since the idea of this series has always been to talk about how writing styles are rarely “good” or “bad”, I reckon it’s appropriate that I’m returning today with one of the most divisive topics of all: the art of fragmentation.

Because technically speaking using fragments in writing is not grammatically correct. Quickly defined, a fragment is a verbless sentence. But I also like to think of it as when a sentence is literally fragmented on a page, in a sort of image poem style, the words dissolving into nothing. Such as…

“Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,

then from my eyes,

my ears, 

my mouth.” 

We Were Liars, e lockhart

If you use a fragment, chances are your Word Doc (or whatever you’re using) will put a glaring red line under it telling you CHANGE IT NOW OR WE’LL LEAVE A DEMONIC CROSS ON YOUR SPELLCHECK. See, there’s a reason your English teacher told you not to use them, they were only trying to help you 😉

But *controversial opinion time*- this argument doesn’t wash with me. Now, I am hardly telling you to throw out the grammar rule book (quelle horreur!); what I am saying is that there may be reasons you can bend them a little. Observe:

van gogh cafe

Here, Van Gogh does something very interesting with perspective. He takes the overhang and moves the line where it falls so that the viewer feels like they are inside the painting. Of course, this is a completely inaccurate and impossible angle, and by rights shouldn’t work at all AND YET it is part of this artistry that makes the painting so compelling. Even better, there is evidence that Van Gogh knew EXACTLY what he was doing here- in his letters to his brother, he drew many of the subjects of his paintings (including the café) often with the correct perspective.

van gogh letter
Not my favourite example (cos I can’t get all the images I want from an exhibition I saw a decade ago) but it does show that Van Gogh did in fact know how to draw houses correctly – *surprise surprise*

Point is, Van Gogh understood precisely how perspective was supposed to work… altering it to suit the effect he was trying to achieve. Thus, this is a prime example of knowing the rule in order to break it.

My point is not just that rules are made to be broken- it’s that without pushing the boundaries art wouldn’t be the same. I’m not saying we’re all Van Goghs, but that if we always shout down innovation there won’t be any Van Goghs (ooh look at me being all self-referential to my old Difference in Style post about innovation 😉 )

So, I hear you ask, what makes fragmentation an interesting artistic choice? Well, quite simply because it can create a compelling voice, mood or tone. It’s particularly useful in first person povs and writing dialogue. Here’s some of the reasons why (and when) it works well:

–          Fragmentation can break up standard speech and make it seem more natural. I’ve heard some people saying dialogue should be written as if there’s an eavesdropper- but here’s the thing, even if you’ve seen the most adept speaker interviewed, chances are at some point they’ve given short, snippy answers. Simply put, we don’t speak grammatically all the time.

–          It can be used to denote trauma or characterise someone as unstable. This is often a huge element in YA and writing authentic teen voices (cos if you’ve ever met/seen/been a teen, you’ll know they don’t speak perfectly). Also, fragmentation frequently appears if you choose to mix things up with an unreliable narrator. Not to get into my whole *unreliable narrators are awesome* view again, the reason fragmentation is a good choice here is that it literally reflects the incoherent or untrustworthy voice of the narrator. To put it simply, if you see lots of fragmentation, you know something’s up with the narrator. It can be the first clue that the mc has unresolved issues.

For me personally, I’ve found many wonderful books that use extensive fragmentation in an artistic and original way. My take is this can feel like narrative poetry. I have found a few beautiful pieces of work that employ this technique, some of my favourite examples being:

While that’s my view, there is plenty of arguments out there to use it sparingly, and that’s more than fair enough. Obviously, there’s a lot like that, so here’s just a handful that spring to mind:

Of course, it’s perfectly okay to not like it at all- you’re on the right side of grammar history 😉 Frankly, the point of this series has always been that it’s a-okay to have different tastes and embrace whatever style suits you best. For more posts like this, feel free to check out the other articles in this series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

Coherence Vs Incoherence – Differences in Style #4

Telling Vs Showing – Differences in Style #5

Unreliable Narrators – Differences in Style #6

So where do you fall on the fragmentation debate: sparingly, lots-of-it-please or not at all? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Shelving Projects

 

am writing

So, this year I was *supposed* to be using April’s Camp Nano to keep on top of my editing plans… and despite my workload doubling (haha what even is life anymore) I’ve somehow been edging closer to the end. Which has made me pretty reflective. Most notably, I’ve been thinking about the *terrifying prospect of shelving projects*.

No, I’m not shelving my current #overlyambitiousWIP, though I might put it on pause to deal with life stuff- but I figured as I’m in one of those typical writerly moods of what-am-I-even-doing? it was as good a time as any to get this off my chest. Frankly my thoughts on #overlyambitiousWIP often range from “I hope it’s okay?” to “arghhh what have I just done?!!?” (and that’s with censoring some of the *darker* “throw it on a bonfire” thoughts… although I guess I just told you 😉) Yet, even though 99% of the time I want to hide under my bed from that wicked writing beast, I do think there is a massive difference between general my-writing-sucks-anxiety and deciding to shelve a project.

Let’s go back in time, to when I was a wee monkey teen, and wrote my first novel… and then I wrote another… completing what I thought was going to be my #dreadedduology debut… E-x-c-e-p-t  that is a very misleading way to put it- cos I was never happy with that work and consequently didn’t think I’d ever be ready to send it off into the world (I just like the alliteration now 😉 ). I mean I edited them over and over and over again… yet something didn’t sit quite right. There were flaws *obviously*- because I was young and inexperienced (but also cos a lot of first books suck tbh and if they don’t I am in AWE).

And I’d like to say it was this that led me to put it aside. My perfectionist brain certainly wasn’t satisfied with what I’d produced- however ultimately there was another glaring issue that made me finally give up on ever feeling ready to query it or self-pub or beg friends to give it a go… it was that I lost the passion I had for it. And if I was no longer excited by it, how could I sell it to someone else? As painful as that realisation was, it was freeing to admit I’d fallen out of love with it and I felt like I had permission to let go of a project I just wasn’t feeling anymore.

Now, years on, I’m actually happy I didn’t share my earlier work. Because here’s the thing- even though a lot of us fret about the rush to publication before we reach adulthood, the reality is super young authors are outliers and there’s nothing wrong or strange or unusual about being a bit older in this space. And sometimes you’ll look back on your old work and think *phew, thank goodness that’s not floating out in the world*.

What I like to take away from all this is that it’s never a waste. Of course, there’s the fact that shelving a project isn’t necessarily forever, but more importantly, I learnt so much from the process. I feel like I should have figured this out earlier, cos I wrote a fairy telling just for practice/fun/to stretch my brain. Knowing I was never gonna share this novella not only made it easier to write in a slump, I also felt I had the freedom to make mistakes and get feedback on something I didn’t feel was my-heart-and-soul (let’s be real, we see most of our book babies that way). But somehow, it took shelving something to really take the pressure off. I realised there was a huge difference between my work then and my work now- and that the decision to abandon my old work marked a greater shift. It meant acknowledging a need to work harder, a desire to get better and at least enough self-awareness to admit when something is not *there* yet (which hopefully will help me improve!)

And thanks to that, I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to my writing. I know I can fail and try again; I see the difference between trying to push for something I don’t love and persevering with something I believe in. After all, when it comes to those moments of self-doubt, I like to think of something Stan Lee said:

stan lee quote.png

For that reason, no matter how long it takes, no matter how often I’m derailed, no matter how much I sometimes question it, I’ll keep striving to finish my #overlyambitiousWIP… until the next time I have a freakout and worry it’s not good enough 😉

Hope you didn’t mind a slightly more rambly post! Now I’m wondering have you ever shelved a project? Do you agree or disagree with me here? Let me know in the comments!