Jonathon Dean

Writer. Human. Nerd.

Tag: Writing (page 2 of 4)

Genre Tax

With taxes being big news on both sides of the Atlantic, from the Tories’ major u-turn on their proposed raise in NI contributions for self-employed people, to the continued questions over Donald Trump’s refusal to release  his tax returns, we should take a look at taxes.

Tax forms a major part of the proper functioning of a modern society. As the saying goes, nothing is certain but death and taxes, and the same is true in your fictional world. As we’ve already looked at death (twice), it’s time to take a look at tax. Continue reading

My Productivity is Fractured.

So, here’s the latest hiccough in my productivity:

Can you, uh, can you see the problem here? I can type, but it is one of the world’s slowest things trying to type with only my left hand. Not to mention how astonishingly uncomfortable it is to sit at a keyboard with the strange angle my right arm has to be (and don’t even get me started on trying to capitalise or use punctuation!).

So why is my entire arm bandaged up and near unusable? Would you believe a minor fracture in my little finger? No? Neither would I, but that’s what it is. Unfortunately, the fracture is so close to the joint that my wrist needs to be immobilised too.

Apparently, the unofficial name is a “boxer’s fracture”, since the usual way that part of the hand gets broken is by punching something damn hard with improper technique.

But that makes me sound a lot cooler than I am, because I just tripped over a cycle path kerb.

Fracture clinic appointment in just over a week. Let’s hope I can take this bloody thing off by then and get back to work.

Redrafting and Querying – Story of a Writer’s Life

The last two months since I finished Draft Zero (and then Draft One) of Airborne Empire have been a flurry of nothing.

 

There’s something soul-destroying about months spent redrafting and writing queries, then redrafting the queries, redrafting the manuscript and everything else. I think it’s the perceived lack of forward momentum involved. Don’t get me wrong, redrafting is important, and it absolutely improves the work, but there never seems to be an end-goal in sight. When you hit the George Lucas style of tinkering around the edges, you can drive yourself mad with it, but it’s still work that never seems like it’s done. At least with writing a first (or zero-th) draft, there’s a definite point when you’re finished.

 

As a result, months of rewriting and working on queries just feel like busy work; you’re pouring time and effort in, and getting no sense of accomplishment in return.

 

To make matters worse, the other writing project I started in the meantime needs more development work than I had imagined. Which, naturally, means I’m not doing the bits of that that I enjoy either.

 

Still, at least the news hasn’t been uniformly depressing so that I don’t really want to write Stories Behind Stories posts at the moment and… Oh, yeah, that one’s happened too.

Never mind.

The Long In-Between Times

I finished “draft zero” of Airborne Empire just before Christmas. I call it draft zero, because it’s not yet polished, fixed and adjusted enough that I am happy enough to call it “draft one”, yet. Yes, that is exactly how my numbering scheme works.

But now comes the difficult part; conventional wisdom says to let the manuscript sit for a while before you revisit. This is, of course, sensible. There’s no point in going back through your work the second you finish typing out the bare bones. You’re too close to it, the things you accidentally left unsaid are still in your brain. The characterisation is in your brain but might not necessarily be on the page. You need some distance, and to come to it with a fresh mind.

Which requires a break, and some in-between time, and a palate cleanser. And, if you’re me, at least, a palate cleanser includes a dozen ideas for new projects welding themselves onto my brain, and not letting go. Which can be difficult if your goal is to go back and redraft something else, because you simply don’t have time for a new writing project on top of your old one. I’m still not sure I’m happy enough that the Twist and its associated queries, are good enough to send off yet. In fact, Airborne Empire started as my palate cleanser for the Twist, and look at how that worked out.

At this rate I’ll reach a point where I have a dozen novels at various stages in the redrafting process that never get sent anywhere, while I continually write new projects and send them to join the old ones in their very own pre-query hell.

All we can do is push ahead, and try not to drown in a stack of unpublished manuscripts.

The Afterlife

With even more celebrity deaths in the news since I wrote my last piece claiming that 2016 was the year of death, the year seems determined to prove me right with the deaths of Muhammad Ali, Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Ron Glass, Andrew Sachs, John Glenn, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael and sanity. That being the case, it’s time to look at another aspect of death that has a profound effect on the fictional society that you’re creating: the afterlife.

Every society has some view of  what happens after death – whether that includes some kind of afterlife, or simply a nothingness – and that belief can have a profound effect on how people behave. A well-defined belief in an afterlife can add depth to your world, and define the shape that your society takes. Continue reading

Cursed Child and Accursed Adult

I’ve had a rather exciting week.

Partially because it’s been my birthday (yes, I know, I age and everything. Isn’t that just a peek behind the curtain?), but also because by total coincidence it was the date on my Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets.

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For the past few months, I’ve been obsessively avoiding anything even slightly resembling a spoiler for Cursed Child. Ever since the script was released to the world, the internet has become a minefield of spoilers and commentary about it – and for those of us who were waiting to see the show unspoiled, it’s been a dangerous place indeed. Particularly since certain former newspapers seem to consist solely of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones spoilers these days, instead of doing any actual journalism (I’m looking at you, The Independent).

The good news? I survived unscathed; not a single spoiler reached me before seeing the show.  Which was great, because that cliffhanger at the end of Part One is spectacular, and I’d have hated to know it was coming in advance.

Having worked backstage in a theatre off and on for the past few years, I’ve become a bit of a geek about theatre tricks, and the use of virtually every trick in the book for Cursed Child is absolute genius. The magic is amazingly well portrayed – and I still can’t work out how some of it was done!

One thing that I have seen in the meantime has been how many people have expressed their disappointment with the script. I can’t help but wonder how much of this simply boils down to the fact that it is a script, rather than a book. By their very nature, books and scripts have to work differently. Scripts have to be more obvious, more on the nose, for the simple fact that you’re spending a fraction of the time with the characters and the story when compared to a novel (and particularly when compared to the length of the later Potter novels!), so character quirks and personalities have to be telegraphed more overtly. A subtle whisper and facial expression doesn’t do the job for the person sat up at the back of the second balcony; it has to be announced. It has to be loud and flashy and obvious. It has to be, in other words, exactly the opposite of how good characterisation in a book works.

And I can see how that is jarring. I can see how it looks like bad writing for people who are trying to read a script as if it’s a book. I can see how difficult it is to understand and get used to for people who have never read a script before.

But honestly, when you see it on the stage, when you see the incredible effort put into every effect, every set-piece and every character portrayal…

It works. And it’s fantastic. And it made me feel like a little kid again.

 

Political Opposition

In the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, increasingly extreme views have appeared in the UK’s mainstream political sphere. From increased racist attacks on migrants, to more and more openly xenophobic policies being put forward by the Conservative government under Theresa May. This week, one Conservative councillor has even gone so far as to start a petition demanding that continued support of the UK’s membership of the EU be considered an act of treason.

This raises an interesting question for your fictional world: How are the people who openly oppose the majority’s beliefs or the government’s policies treated within your society? We have looked at violent dissent before, but not everyone in your society must think the same way, or agree with the same things, without it being an issue of extremism. Real-life societies tend to comprise a broad spectrum of views and opinions which may not necessarily be compatible with one another. So how does your society deal with these differing views? Continue reading

Who Invented Query Letters, Anyway?

I think if I had to go back in time and pick one thing to just never exist, it’d probably be ironing.

Alright, and the concept of social class.

And bananas.

In any case, query letters would be somewhere up there as well. Near-ish the top.

Because at this point I think I’ve spent almost as long writing, rewriting, redrafting, researching and junking the query letter for The Twist than I spent writing the novel in the first place. I know there’s some arcane formula for the perfect query letter out there (that may actually be what the Voynich Manuscript is), but there’s just no straightforward way to twist my brain around that formula.

The difficulty, clearly, is that there’s very little to actually go on, and to judge your own query letter against. I know what a good book reads like, because I’ve read (almost certainly) thousands of books in my lifetime. By contrast, I’ve read maybe a few hundred query letters – and those are mostly drafts or rejects over on QueryShark. While QueryShark does a great job of pointing out flaws and going over what to do and not to do, it’s still not even close to wiring my brain up in the right way to be able to see what does and doesn’t work, and to instinctively know what a good query letter looks like.

Which is all, of course, compounded by the fact that there are limited chances to actually submit it once it’s been agonised over.

Still, we keep at it.

 

Pollution

This week brings news that China and the USA have both formally joined the Paris climate agreement, committing themselves to a drastic reduction in emissions in order to keep the global average rise in temperatures under 2°C. Between them, the two nations are responsible for around 40% of global CO2 emissions, and their ratifying of this agreement is a significant step forward for the agreement and its goals.

Pollution and environmental effects can have a profound effect on the way that people live their lives, and the shape that a society takes. How might pollution affect your society, and what steps might your society have taken to deal with it? Continue reading

Strangers in Strange Lands

With the Olympic Games comes travel. A lot of travel. Athletes and spectators from all over the world descending on a country to which they otherwise would never have gone – and in many cases, to one which they know nothing about. Foreign customs and conventions, strange foods and diseases, and many opportunities for misunderstandings and misadventure.

The Olympics is often also an interesting time for authoritarian regimes like Eritrea, with a number of athletes and officials taking the opportunity to defect (and in related news, this week sees the defection of North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the UK). With travel and exploration such a big part of much genre fiction, this is a great opportunity to examine what happens when people from one culture go to visit another. Continue reading

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