What to do when you’re burnt out from writing?

am writing

Sooo I did plan to do a few *very* different pieces back in November. After finishing most of my editing goals for the year in August, I hoped I would have something new to work on by now. Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), this year, seemed like a promising time to start drafting my first new project in *years*… but as you might have guessed from the title of this piece, that’s not what happened. Not only is my WIP currently off slumbering in the Chamber of Secrets, but I couldn’t seem to look any new project in the eye without getting petrified. So not much writing happened in Nanowrimo. It turns out, I’m experiencing a little thing called burn out.

candle burning down

I shouldn’t really be surprised- it’s kinda the natural ebb and flow of creativity- but at the same time I often find myself at a loss when I find a loose hour here or there that I’d normally love to fill with some writing. Which is why, I thought I’d put together a fun list of what you can do when you’re burnt out from writing (or anything else for that matter):

See friends– yes, they might have forgotten what you looked like. You might have to remind them who you are- but I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you now you’ve emerged from your writing cave and can say something more than *grunt* *edit* *grunt* *must. write. now*

friends hug

Watch *all the TV*- granted I haven’t tried this yet- but I think a good binge could solve all most of my problems.

watch tv

READ– I mean, obviously. And it’s probably nothing new, since you may have used this to procrastinate from working on your WIP. But at least now you won’t have any pesky writing-goblin perched on your shoulder making you feel guilty about it!

matilda books

Do something else that’s creative– for me that often involves drawing (mostly monkeys 😉)- but it could be anything from crocheting, knitting or building a bird house… whatever floats your boat.

painting

Blog about how you’re burnt out– (ooh meta). You could also blog in general, catch up on comments and hop around the blogosphere 😀

writing

Stare into space

stare into space

Dream of doing something with your WIP (but also not just yet cos you need to breathe and that ish is scary)

daydream.gif

Dust off an old project– *stare at it intently*, promise to plan it soon, maybe start planning it, scrap plans, *stare some more* like you’re in a Twilight movie, lather, rinse, repeat.

stare

And finally…

*Give it some time*- yes, my final piece of advice (to myself and everyone else going through this) is that it’ll come! You can try and force it, but the best thing I’ve always found is to take a breather and just let it come.

breathe

So, have you experienced burn out before? What did you do to get over the hump? 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!

More Writing Advice I Don’t (entirely) Agree With

am writing

Tis the season where writers crack open their notepads and crank out words on their keyboards- because Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is upon us! Well, not for me in any capacity this year, but that’s a story for another time… Either way, in solidarity, I’ve been doing some thinking about writing that I thought I’d share. There’s a helluva lot of writing advice out there- much of which I agree with- and some which I’ve vocally disagreed with in the past (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B). Today, I’m not just going for the advice that I vehemently oppose (like the time when I responded to the *shudder-inducing* advice that “there are writers and then there are readers”). Still, I do think there’s some advice which could be a bit more nuanced. Without further ado, here’s the writing advice I don’t entirely agree with and why:

moneyBooks are not art- they’re purely commercial. This is the piece of advice I’ve seen more of lately and it cuts right through my soul. Don’t get me wrong, there is a commercial aspect to every art form. And my saying books are art doesn’t mean writing can’t be improved or criticised or anything like that. But wow. I dare say if you actually believe this, you’re in the writing game for the wrong reasons. Feel free to spare the world whatever cash grab fic you’ve been writing on your phone and are hoping to foist on us unsuspecting readers- PLEASE! On that topic…

money2If you want to be a writer, write erotica because it sells– this is the only piece of advice on this list I’ve ever personally received (more than once!) and I had to include it because it’s the worst advice in the world. And also, it’s hilarious. No shade at erotica writers, you do you, but do it cos you actually want to, not cos you think you’re gonna make bank.

thinking monkeyWrite what you know– which, hello, fantasy writers can’t exactly do- unless you happen to know a dragon personally, in which case I’m very jealous, can you introduce me? 😉 The other problem is that stories shouldn’t just be purely autobiographical, as I mentioned the other day. And, as Rebecca Alasdair mentioned in her amazing post on writing advice she doesn’t follow, it really limits creativity. We can’t just be stuck in our own heads when writing, we have to explore the world a little. Sometimes that means going places in your imagination that you’ve never been before. And yes, that can mean writing things you’ve never experienced. Personally, I’ve found more sensitive writers are totally capable of doing this! (for instance, Terry Pratchett did an amazing job of getting in the head of a great ape 😉 ) All of which leads me onto…

popeyeYou need to toughen up to be a writer– generally speaking, I think it’s a good idea to toughen up and grow a spine. But… the problem I have with this advice is that you kinda need to be sensitive to be an artist. So, my version of this tough love advice would be to say: don’t be so tough that you can’t write something emotionally compelling. Similarly, I disagree with…

bad writing gigIf you’re insecure, this is not the field for you. Writers and artists are insecure (there’s that sensitivity issue again 😉). Personally, I think this makes writers more open to criticism, because if you think too highly of yourself, you won’t want to improve. More importantly, *everyone* has insecurities and I hate to think of brilliant people never sharing their work just out of fear. That’s a really sad thought, cos we’re all missing out. Bringing me onto…

shoot for the moonIt’s not possible to be the next *insert genius writer here* and no one can write like *insert famous writer here*. Okay, I agree in the sense that you should never be so derivative that you sound like another writer. HOWEVER, you never know who could be the next famous/genius writer in their own right. I mean, genius writers are evidence of this 😉 I’ve said this before, but I truly believe there’s real talent out there, striving for greatness. The implication here is you shouldn’t even bother to try. My thought is that it’s awful to put people like that off (even if we do have to deal with a bunch of pretentious wannabes searching for them 😉)

peter pan robin williams flyingWriting is hard– well I’m actually being cheeky with this one because I actually agree in the sense that it is definitely work. BUT every time I hear it I half-nod, half-shake my head, cos I feel like this one should come with a disclaimer (hey, I did say this list would be more nitpicky!). Truth is, there are days when it feels like all the gears are grinding and still nothing’s moving forward, yet there are other days when the words are gliding and new worlds are spinning on the page and I swear there’s no closer feeling to flying. Nothing compares to being in that zone. Granted it’s the soaring joy of Icarus- but I’ll take it, if only for a moment. So yeah, I would just rephrase this to writing is work, yet it’s the best kind of work, because no other work can give you superpowers! 😉

winners podiumWriting is competitive– now, this is something that could be more of a personality thing, so no judgement if you’re motivated by competition. That said, logically speaking, it’s hard to make this into a competitive sport. As much as traditionally published authors are subject to the whims of the market, for example, the fact is there’s always room for good writing and good ideas. Someone else getting published doesn’t mean you won’t be. Each writer is running to their own finish line- independent of everyone else. And I know some people will point out that you can be beaten to an idea, but *whispers* all ideas have been done before anyway, so that race is kinda run. The uniqueness you bring is usually in the telling.

writingWrite every day– well for one thing, I have a day job (and this blog), so that just isn’t possible. I do completely understand and think this is a great practice… it’s just completely impractical for most of us. I think scheduling it into your week is so important, but for some writers, who write in intense bursts, this won’t work. Plus, if you’re anything like me, you’ll get burn out (which is a bummer, but it happens). Sometimes, it’s okay to take breaks.

chill slothWrite in order that one day you won’t have to write so much– kinda coming full circle, but this attitude seems to come back to the people who are in it for the BIG PAYOUT (I feel like there are better fields than this for that, but whatever, some people really believe publishing is a giant money tree). I’m gonna be real, I don’t write to relax. That’s never been the point of it for me. And I feel like even if your ambition is to be a full-time writer, the whole point of that isn’t so that you get time off… it’s actually about aspiring to write MORE. So, yeah, if you have visions of chilling out by the pool with famous authors (as Matthew Wright wrote in a hilarious piece on this recently), maybe this isn’t the write field for you…

Oof- that was a little harsh there at times- but we got through it. What writing advice do you disagree with? Or maybe just aren’t entirely on board with? Let me know in the comments!

Plotting Vs Pantsing – Differences in Style #9

 

style orangutan logo

“Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.” – Stephen King

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” – Terry Pratchett

“If you do enough planning before you start to write, there’s no way you can have writer’s block.” – R L Stein

Well, if the title plotting vs pantsing hasn’t stoked a few fires, those quotes surely will have. For those of you unfamiliar with the terms, plotting is planning your books before you write them and pantsing is “flying by the seat of your pants” aka winging it. However, whether you’ve been in the writing community long or only had a casual glance at authortube, the first thing you’ll notice whenever this discussion comes up is the (unnecessary) divisiveness of the debate. Many writers often feel attacked by the other side and can get super defensive… which is why I’d like to have a chill discussion about what the differences are and why both processes are equally cool. Now, I usually talk about outcomes rather than the actual process- which is why this is such a unique topic for me. Because I don’t think you can tell the difference just from observation. Let’s have a look at some famous examples of both and you’ll see why…

(NB I had a great deal of fun researching this, but a lot of these came from various sources/interviews/quotes, so forgive me if I’ve got any wrong- I’ve tried to include as many of these as possible at the bottom of the page so you can check for yourself)

Famous plotters:

J K Rowling

John Grisham

Sylvia Plath

Arthur Miller

Leigh Bardugo

R L Stein

Rainbow Rowell (semi-plotter)

Hilary Mantel (likes to storyboard)

Kazuo Ishiguro (hardcore plotter)

Ken Follett

Virginia Woolf

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Vladimir Nabokov

Joseph Heller

William Faulkner (go figure- you can’t achieve that level of obscurity without planning)

Marcel Proust

Famous pantsers:

George R R Martin (though famously coined the term gardener)

Laini Taylor

Stephen King

Tim Bowler

Margaret Atwood

Ray Bradbury

Pierce Brown

Neil Gaiman (prefers the gardener term)

Maas (natural pantser, but has had to plot)

James Joyce

Mark Twain

Ernest Hemmingway

If you can tell the difference at a glance, you must be a savant. Personally, I found a few surprises (some plot-light authors are on the planning side and there are most certainly complexly plotted stories on the pantser side).

Really though, the thing that came up a lot of the time during my research was “eh I kinda plan” or “eh I sorta wing it”. Schwab, for instance, referred to herself as a “connect-the-dots-er”. George R R Martin, one of the world’s leading “gardeners” famously gave the notes for his ending to showrunners. Joyce was a self-proclaimed pantser and yet he too did extensive research. And I read a fantastic post about all the ways plotting and pantsing overlap. This makes the most sense to me. I for one consider myself a hardcore plotter… and yet this is only true up to a point. Beat sheets are a joy-killer for me, I’ve pantsed a novella and I usually leave subplots/romances unplanned (which helps keep some parts a bit more dynamic). That’s why I think drawing a clear-cut line between the two is a little rigid. Especially as there are pros and cons to both…

Plotting upsides

One of the best things for me about knowing an ending is that it gives a clear goal for you to write towards. Personally, I find it keeps characters consistent, whilst also allowing for growth. If you know where a character has to end up and how it’s different from where they came from, you can chart a clear course. This also may allow for a smoother plot and maybe even a cleaner drafter (maybe). The genres I’d say this is ideal for is thrillers, mysteries and epics- because a pre-planned plot can help you weave interesting setups and even red herrings organically into the narrative. Though foreshadowing in tragedy doesn’t go amiss 😉 I’d also say, as Stein pointed out, it’s a great way to prevent writer’s block and can sooth any nervous starters. 

One of the misconceptions of plotting is that it doesn’t allow for deviation- therefore sucking all the creativity out of the project. Now, this obviously isn’t true in the sense that creativity and imagination has to happen at some stage in order for the story to work- it may just happen in the planning stage. However, I’d say for me (and many other plotters) I tend to think about it more as adding complexity- you haven’t taken anything away by putting a plan in place- you’ve just laid the foundations for you to build on (we’re back to that awesome architect metaphor!) Also, frankly, I’m pretty sure even the most diehard plotters deviate at some point. I don’t think anyone can get away without some aspect of discovery writing.

Plotting downsides

Unfortunately, though, there is the danger of pre-plotted stories becoming predictable. There is also the argument that it doesn’t leave room for inspiration (which I’d disagree with as a plotter- having a roadmap doesn’t ruin my enjoyment, especially since the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and you never really know where you’ll end up. Plus, creating plans can be a lot of fun in its own right). The most serious argument I have heard is that planned endings give you the danger of veering into propaganda- since you know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it (though, looking at the authors above, I think it’s fairly safe to say the danger is no stronger whichever path you choose). I’d say the biggest cause for concern is that sticking to a planned ending may not always be in the story’s best interest, as a narrative might shift organically over time (the best example of this being HIMYM’s forced ending).

Pantsing upsides

I do definitely see the upsides of pantsing (even if it fills me with utter dread). Because countless pantsers will tell you how thrilling this method is, how much fun they have and how it helps them keep their ideas fresh. It’s known for being open to the imagination and giving the writer as much of a wild ride as the reader. And the results are telling- there are some stellar authors who swear by pantsing. For some people, this invigorating process is certainly the way to go, which can give raw and powerful results.

Pantsing downsides

Not knowing what’s going to happen can certainly have its issues though. The fear would be that after a stellar opening, the story can fizzle out (I know I’ve read a few of those). I also think there is the potential for plots to come out of nowhere or feel random (the upside of this being that the universe is pretty random- so that gives it something of an edge in terms of realism over a heavily constructed story). There is a potential to come unstuck as well (although many plotters will tell you they have the same issue- *raises hand*- and there is always the option to plot/feel/stab your way out of any writing corner you’ve backed yourself into). I think the same final issue of forced endings comes into play- because this seems to be a pitfall for pantsers as well.

Ultimately, it’s not so important which method you choose, because the process doesn’t mark out the end result for greatness. These discussions always allow for the basic truth: all creatives have a different process. No two writers work the same. And, even more importantly, we must take stock of this simple fact:

all men must edit.png

Sources:

https://themillions.com/2016/07/planners-pantsers-write-novel.html

http://www.amreading.com/2016/09/18/what-are-plotters-and-pantsers-hint-j-k-rowling-is-one-and-stephen-king-is-the-other/

https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/549-plotters-vs-pantsers-can-you-guess-which-side-stephen-king-and-j-k-ro

https://thethousandlives.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/fierce-reads-san-diego-stop-leigh-bardugo-ava-dellaira-emmy-laybourne-and-jennifer-mathieu/

http://bookandlatte.com/2012/11/sarah-j-maas-how-i-write.html

http://www.lainitaylor.com/2013/07/

https://yawednesdays.com/2015/11/16/10-things-we-learned-about-rainbow-rowell-and-david-levithan/

Other posts in the 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

The Art of Fragmentation – Difference in Style #7

Subverting Expectations vs Wish Fulfilment – Differences in Style #8

What do you think? Do you think there are any upsides/downsides that I’ve missed? If you’re a writer, do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? Let me know in the comments!

Subverting Expectations vs Wish Fulfilment – Differences in Style #8

 

style orangutan logo

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

 

style orangutan logo

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!

Unreliable Narrators – Differences in Style #6

style orangutan logo

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts (literally 4 months guys!) so some of you might have forgotten what they’re about or maybe they’re completely new to you. Basically, I love to chat about different writing styles and encourage people to view alternative styles as something that may appeal to different tastes (instead of seeing them as inherently “good” or “bad”). If you’d like to see more of my posts in this series, feel free to check these out:

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

All that said, today’s post is going to be a little different. Because, given how prominent this technique is in certain genres, I thought that this was a perfect opportunity to get in some good recs for Halloween. So for a change, this post is going to (mostly) focus on creepy characters and unsettling reads. Tis the season for some spookiness, after all 😉

Unreliable Narrators Defined

the-odysseyUnreliable narrators are those that can’t (or won’t) tell story objectively. The term is a relatively new one, as it was coined by Booth in 1961, however the use of such a character actually extends back to the dawn of Western literature. The lord of lies himself, Odysseus, is a great example of a character whose overinflated ego causes him to exaggerate and expand upon his exploits. Little character flaws can be used to manipulate the narrative and distance the reader from the truth of the tale.

gone-girl-PBSince the evolution of the term, much work has been done in the literary criticism world to explore this technique. This is why unreliable narration works so well. Types of unreliable narrators have been classified by the likes of William Riggan ie in his work: Pícaros, madmen, naïfs, and clowns (Picaros = boasters, naifs = immature narratures). One way I like to divide it up is into the fault of the narrator and the narrator merely being a victim of circumstance. If we look at a book like Gone Girl, we have two unreliable narrators creating a toxic environment for themselves and consequently causing the drama in their lives (which becomes the plot). On the other end of the spectrum, there are narrators like Pi in The Life of Pi, who, through no fault of their own, experience a severely traumatic event and slant the narrative through that perspective.

stolenNow, for the most part, this centres on first person narration- though there are rare occasions when it could be used for second or third person. The best example of a second person narration where the story is told through an unreliable lens is Stolen, where the narrator addresses her kidnapper and it’s increasingly clear has some form of Stockholm syndrome. Otherwise, unreliable narrators can incorporate some second person to break the fourth wall, such as in Notes from the Underground. Unreliable third person narration is a little trickier to pull off- because the author really has to pull a fast one on their readership. a_monster_callsThis would be something like a twist akin to a Sixth Sense where spoiler alert Bruce Willis’ character is a ghost all along. I rarely see this sort of thing in books, but one example I’ve seen lately was in Safe Haven where, again spoiler alert, her friend was a ghost all along. This part of the book didn’t actually work so well for me, because frankly it felt like too much of a curveball. Yet arguably books like A Monster Calls, though more ambiguous in whether they’re unreliable or not, could be a more positive example of how third person unreliable narration in action.

Like I said, there’s been a lot of research into this area, so there’s more I could say on this definitions-wise, yet I think some of those subject fit more into the…

Pros:

(and what you’re here for- the examples! No spoilers except to say that there are unreliable narrators present)

EnglebyMost obviously, unreliable narration is perfect for creating bold plot twists. There’s a reason why it’s very popular in thrillers, for example. A favourite of mine will always be Engleby (a book that’s seriously underrated nowadays) where the clever characterisation of the main character drives the story forward.

 

name of the windOf course, one of the best things about unreliable narration is its power to create amazing characters. And not just the psychos of storyville, like Humbert Humbert. As previously mentioned, boasters also make up a huge number of unreliable narrators. Perfect for this time of year, I’d suggest the very atmospheric Name of the Wind. Kvothe, in my opinion, seems to warp some of the narrative to appear larger than life. Strong characterisation, in turn, is a powerful way to create voice.

woman in the windowIt can also be used to create another dimension to the story. This is exemplified in Woman in the Window, where it’s evident from the start that the main character has secrets and is slowly revealed through her backstory. We then come to see how parts of the narration were unreliable.

 

rebeccaStructurally, this also creates other sides to the story. Books with unreliable narration can often incorporate flashbacks for instance. Or unreliable clues might be given through suspicious characters in the story- such as Mrs Danvers in Rebecca. This can create a fantastic Russian Doll effect of hiding clues within the story. Which leads me onto my main pro…

confessionsIt turns the reader into a detective. It can be brilliant fun trying to figure out where the truth lies and piecing together that oh, hang on a minute, this narrator has been taking me for a ride. Dodgy actions (it dawning on the reader that a character that commits murder isn’t to be trusted), unclear accounts (what’s not included can be a massive hint that something’s up) and the reactions of other characters can all help us figure this out (critic Nunning also explores the signs of unreliable narration in more depth). We can also find ourselves to be victims of a savagely dishonest narrator- which lends to a scary feel- such as in Confessions of a Justified Sinner or even Yellow Wallpaper. Yet, what’s great about both of those, is that we can’t be sure that in either of those everything we’ve been told was untrue. Which brings me to the fact that…

turn of the screw 2Unreliable narrators can create a sense of ambiguity. A lot of the time, we may be left wondering if they were reliable at all, and if they were, how unreliable were they? This can lead to a great deal of uncertainty- which lends to an uncanny feel and can be an excellent way to create mood. The Turn of the Screw is one of the best examples of this technique in action- we never get an answer to whether the book is supernatural or not. Being on uneven ground can be one of the most potent devices for scary stories. Nonetheless, there are some drawbacks to this.

Cons:

Atonement_(novel)On the flipside, placing the reader on unsure footing can put some readers off. Some people might want clear answers and be dissatisfied if the story is left open-ended. And while it can make some standout characters, it can also make for some truly detestable mcs, like Briony in Atonement. Naturally, unreliable narrators don’t belong in every story or genre- readers might dislike being taken advantage of by a peculiar twist. In fact, if it does feel out of place, it can feel cheap.

Accounting for Different Tastes

As you might be able to tell, I struggled with the cons section. Obviously, this technique isn’t great if misused and I know some people aren’t keen on some specific books that use this technique- but I find it hard to see why anyone would be wholly against it. Personally, I see it as a way of showing how complex people are. It doesn’t help that I’m often overly suspicious and *always* suspect first person narrators of something- after all, didn’t House teach us:

everybody lies house

That’s why I can be dissatisfied with books where I expect there to be an unreliable narrator and they aren’t (which may or may not be a teaser for my next review 😉 ). So while I understand that people don’t necessarily like reading from the perspective of shitty people or might be scared off the genres they’re in, I’m curious to hear why some people might not like this at all and would love to hear some reasons why people hate it.

So I’ll pass the question off to you- do you like or dislike unreliable narrators? And if you’re a fan, who are some of your favourite unreliable narrators? Let me know in the comments!

Telling VS Showing – Differences in Style #5

“Show don’t tell” is squawked from pretty much every writerly parapet. I’ve even seen it used as a criticism in descriptive paragraphs or simply when a character thinks “I don’t like pickles” for example- which seems like an odd criticism, cos, believe it or not there are times when stating a fact is a-okay and long-winded ways of saying “I don’t like pickles” are not. Now fortunately there are some people finally waking up and realising that sometimes you need to tell and sometimes you need to show (hello Jenna Moreci). Yet since it’s such a hot topic, I thought it would be fun to address for my style series!

style orangutan logo

Showing vs Telling Defined

Well, I thought about all the ways I could explain it and realised I could demonstrate both techniques in just two sentences from one of my favourite authors, Laini Taylor:

“Zuzana arched an eyebrow. She was a master of the eyebrow arch, and Karou envied her for it.”

The first sentence is showing, the latter is telling. What’s magnificent about this is you have a visual image to latch onto and at the same time get an emotional response. It also demonstrates a fantastic use of contrast from one sentence to the next. But if you want an even better example of showing, you’ll have to read on…

Showing Pros and Cons

Pros: showing can create some beautiful, descriptive language. It’s a fantastic method to transport the reader, allows for some emotional insight for the reader and creates tangible relationships within the story. Without any showing, the story quickly becomes very flat. With it, writing comes alive. I mean, again, look at Taylor’s description of Prague:

daughter of smoke and bone“Fairy-tale city. From the air, red rooftops hug a kink in a dark river, and by night the forested hills appear as spans of black nothing against the dazzle of the lit castle, the spiking Gothic towers, the domes great and small. The river captures all the lights and teases them out, long and wavering, and the side-slashing rain blurs it all to a dream”

Cons: still, it can be unnecessary. I’m pretty sure we’ve all read those melodramatic passages that were wayyy OTT! One piece of advice when it comes to any art form is know when to stop. I know how tempting it can be to add that one last brushstroke but step away from the canvass a moment, leave it to dry, and maybe consider you might be done.

Telling Pros and Cons

Pros: It can be used to create a very strong narrative voice and can be an interesting technique for authorial intrusion- but since this is such a contentious issue, I’ve decided to show you some classic examples:

northanger abbeyAusten: “The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity”- this is used for humour at the end of Northanger Abbey  and shows self-awareness of the novel’s construct, poking fun at the fact that you can expect a happy ending and actually breaking the fourth wall to tell the reader this.

jane eyreCharlotte Bronte: “Reader I married him”- I mean, do I even have to tell you why this is good? It’s a statement as romantic and striking as “I love you”- there’s no need to leave it up to ambiguity, especially after all the torment that has gone before.

 

eastofedenSteinbeck: “I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies. . . . And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?”- Steinbeck, in my opinion, is one of the masters of authorial intrusion. This moment is the introduction of his villain Cathy in East of Eden and provides a brilliantly stark moment of characterisation and ruminates over what it means. The author’s own struggle to find common ground with this character and actually by confessing this confusion shows the reader just how bad she is.

And there are many more reasons to use telling, such as dropping a *bombshell* and even introducing a moral. To my mind, the absolutism of the rule “show don’t tell” is pretty ludicrous when you think how well this technique can be employed. That said, there are obvious reasons to curb this impulse at times.

Cons: Obviously this can get dull if overused. And if you’re using it for shock value, *newsflash*, this will lose its power very quickly. There’s a reason it should be used sparingly.

Accounting for Differences in Taste

As always I want to draw attention to the fact there are lots of styles and techniques. Like I said earlier, the most important thing is to know when to stop, because, there are times when any technique can be too much. But the reason why I was eager to do this post is that, frankly, whenever I see one of these blanket rules, it grates on me a little. Especially if there’s plenty of evidence that this can work.

Other posts 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

My only preference for this is “everything in moderation”- but I wonder, what do you think? Are you a stickler for the “show don’t tell” rule? Or do you prefer telling? Let me know in the comments!

*ALL the Viewpoints* – Differences in Style Series #3

Annnd I’m back *finally* with another of my “differences in style” pieces. The point of this series is largely to talk about different techniques/styles, while acknowledging a lot of these choices come down to different tastes. Since this is such a common topic, I’m going to be specifically talking about my personal views on viewpoints, some of the ways it can work well and some of the pitfalls of each POV. Let’s get into it!

style orangutan logo

First Person Point of View

Kinda what it says on the tin. The benefit of First Person is you get to see the inner workings of one character (usually the mc). There is also “first person peripheral”, which means it’s not the narrator is not the protagonist, instead forcing the reader to view the story through a prism of someone else’s experience. As with The Great Gatsby, it can be used to great effect.

gatsby

Second Person Point of View

stolenThis can be interesting. Okay, I can’t lie, I don’t much like the use of second person for an entire book. Still, I will admit it can be intriguing for certain concepts, like Stolen, where it’s used to address a kidnapper. And I know a lot of people love how unique that is- so again, yay for personal taste!

However, there are lots of pitfalls. It can feel quite gimmicky, especially if there’s no clear reason for it. Also, one mistake I’ve seen is making it unclear who is being addressed. Also, unless it is a “choose your own adventure” book, it doesn’t really make sense to address the protagonist, who is a particular character, as “you” (I saw this in Half Bad and wasn’t a fan).

night circusOn the other hand, I love occasional uses, like the effect it has in Night Circus to make readers feel like the audience. Even better is when it’s used by a narrator to break the forth wall (gotta love Deadpool!)

 

 

deadpool.gif

Third Person Limited

This is basically narration limited to one character (and largely encompasses the “deep pov” perspective as well). It’s great for writing more intense close ups of a single character.

Third Person Multiple

Basically as above, just with more than one character. Usually this switch is between chapters. The part where this can get tricky is when it comes to *DANGER UP AHEAD* head hopping territory. I’m going to say something controversial now: I don’t think it’s guaranteed to be bad. I think even this can be done well, in a way that’s not noticeable or makes sense. The biggest issue that can arise is that it can be confusing. Throne_of_Glass_UKHowever, I’ve seen people critique authors like Maas for this, and personally I think she sometimes uses it to great effect or for a reason (like a very intense romantic scene). Obviously I can’t argue with individuals who didn’t like it or found it disorientating, but I have to point out, since this is the whole point of this series, that this is a personal taste thing and I don’t always see it as a problem. Unless it’s unclear to me who is thinking what, or someone has knowledge of thoughts they can’t possibly know, then chances are I won’t bat an eye. I mean, there are exceptions to every rule (even when it comes to “not being able to read minds”, you can have a telepathic character in fantasy, so…)

On this POV, the only question that remains to be asked is: can a book have too many POVs? The answer is, well, yeah. Apart from the issue of character soup, if there’s no real differentiation between characters, all of them can blur together and become feast for crowsdisorientating. Not to mention how unnecessary it can be. Even with books I like, there can be additions that feel superfluous to the plot (*coughs* the later GOT books #sorrynotsorry). That said, the question of “how many is too many?” is entirely personal- what may not work for me, may work for someone else and so on. The only thing I’d advise is to make sure all the characters are relevant/add something to the story and it’s easy to tell them apart.

Third Person Omniscient

tess of the d'urbervillesThe *I SEE EVERYTHING* narrator. I’ve seen people argue that this cannot be mixed with Third Person Limited- I personally view this as poppycock, given a blend of the two types of point of view make up the likes of many a-great novel (I’m thinking of Hardy as a fantastic example, though there would be far too many for me to list). Yes, sometimes an omniscient narrator can see inside a character’s head- they’re all-knowing, it’s not implausible!

Accounting for Personal Taste

When it comes to my own choices, I’ve used most of these at different times- so I really don’t have a strong preference. I think the most important choice is what kind of story do you want to tell? When the focus is on “coming of age” for instance, I prefer first person. And when it’s an epic, I feel like it’s got to be omniscient to have that extra *oomph this shit’s important*. But that’s just me, everyone makes different choices, and they all work in their own way.

Other posts in this series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

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

And that’s all for now! Do you have a personal preference? Disagree or agree with anything I’ve said here? Let me know in the comments!