Writing the seasons: Autumn

Autumn is the slow decline of the year toward the winter, a slow lingering death from the height of summer into the cold and dark. Yet autumn is far from miserable. I love the unexpected warm days. I love the colours of the season and the wind and rain feels quite energetic and powerful. It has always felt like a season of portents and omens, birds are flocking, deer are rutting, autumnal colour is everywhere.

So how do we write what autumn feels like?

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Writing the seasons: Summer

Picnics – what summers are for!telegraph.co.uk

Summer is the pinnacle of the life of the seasons. I love the warmth that (should) be everywhere. In southern England the sun rises something like 4am and by 5am it is usually already warm. If you are ever awake at this time, I can recommend going for a walk and listening to the silence. Similarly at night, gone 10pm it is usually still quite light and the warmth is everywhere. It is a happy season, birds sing all day and night. Sit in the garden in the evenings and you can hear the fluttering of bats as they feast on the veritable banquest of midges and other insects. In England, we have become used to having mixed weather. Typically, summer rain is warm and disperses a very pleasant smell.

Have you noticed the atmosphere of summer? Everything glows. Everything is full of life. Optimism is everywhere. So how do we write what summer feels like? Continue reading

Sex scenes quiz – guess the gender

I did a feature on bad sex scenes (centring around the Bad Sex Awards) last year and when I eventually get around to writing one I intend to discuss the subject in greater detail. But for now, The Guardian has a fun quiz here where it provides a list of sex scenes and asks you to guess the gender of each writer.

Let’s have a little fun with this one, I’m inviting my subscribers to take the test and post their results!

Why you should never throw writing away

This sort of comes from the discussion on this post a day. I’ve not mined the blog for ideas in a while and I know I should return to it from time to time.

I’m sure we’ve all done it; I know I have. When you get to the point that something you have written is both out of steam as it stands and too awful to see the light of day on its own it is all too tempting to delete it from your hard disk, or if you are Jonathan Franzen, lament the day you ever put quill to that parchment. Continue reading

Site of the Week: Creativity Portal

Another general writing community website here at Creativity Portal but this one claims to be an award winner with millions of visitors annually. It is a very comprehensive site with writing prompts, links to coaching and details on their affiliated coaches. You can also book training sessions to help you develop all manner of writing skills.

There are hundreds of articles from book reviews, tips on arts and crafts (not just fiction writing), advice on how to and how not to write and an large directory of writing prompts to combat that writers block. I particularly like the Imaginiation Generator and the photographic prompts.

My only complaint is I feel that the site looks a bit too busy. In this day and age, ease of exploration is king and this site is not particularly easy to navigate. Still, there is so much there you will undoubtedly stumble on something particularly useful.

On the importance of plotting

Fantasy writer Kate Mosse has written a defence on the importance of plotting for The Guardian here (or the mobile version if you prefer). It is a good, solid piece.

Personally I don’t see what all the fuss is about and why writers and those who instruct creative writing are so anti-plot. Plot drives story. Plot is story otherwise you just have “a day in the life” without direction. As a rule I find character-driven-with-no-plot works of literature pretentious and most importantly – dispassionate – with the writer looking to win awards and seem intelligent rather than wishing to give people pleasure through their art. On the flip side, a story that is only about the plot comes across as cheap and nasty and gives the impression of being knocked up in six weeks without edit, full of clichés and characters that are merely vessels for transporting dialogue.

Most of all I don’t like the implication that emphasis on plot means that character and dialogue are sacrificed. Some of the best books I’ve read accomplish all three and those are the works that stay with me the longest. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for example has so many layers, such a wonderful plot and depth to the characters. It is one of those novels that requires a re-read every couple of years so that it is never out of your mind.

Most bizarrely is that Stephen King has such a harsh criticism of plot. Aren’t his works almost completely about story? There is rarely a great amount of character development or profound dialogue in his work. He himself has written an example of good plotting and strong characters working together: The Stand. Mother Abigail aside (whom Spike Lee might refer to as a “Magic Negro)”, Randall Flagg is one of the most menacing villains in modern fiction. It is easy to see why some people might side with him. Many of the heroes are well-developed, flawed yet good people; in some cases the villains are sympathetic and sometimes they are good people.

Thoughts anyone?

The end of the headline experiment

You may remember at the end of August that I posted an article about misleading headlines and I said I would analyse the results at the end of the year to see if I got an increased hit rate. I have now removed the names of the actresses involved and changed the title (to Effective Use of Post Titles) so that I no longer get hits from people searching for such a non-existent video.

In the space of around six weeks, the post in question acquired four times as many hits as its nearest rival, a book review of John Wyndham’s Web I posted at the end of March. Obviously, I do not count the home page.

This is the print screen as at time of posting:

Top posts

Top posts for procrastin8or's blog as at 15/10/11

Next, the most common search terms to reach my blog:

Search terms used to reach this blog

Not quite as overwhelming as I thought it would be but my point is proven quite clearly. Titles are designed to draw in attention from as wide and as far as possible. Minimum effort for maximum results. Yet, and this is a point that must be noted, quantity does not equal quality. Bloggers who use this to lure people in may get a lot of hits but won’t get much in the way of quality feedback. Mislead your potential market at your peril!

Oops! When typos turn deadly

I’m sure we all make typos and I know I’ve made my fair share on this blog. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without spotting them.

Imagine, then, the horror of romance writer Susan Andersen when she discovered this unfortunate typo in an ebook edition of her novel Baby, I’m Yours (mobile version).

A mistake like that can really change how you view a character. I don’t read romance but if I did and if I were a fan of her work, I’d never be able to see that character in the same light again.

Avoid these clichés if you want to enter this competition

Fresh on the heels of entering the L. Ron Hubbard Award this week, I have decided to enter into another that I submitted to a few years ago. The James White Award is a British competition with publication in Interzone for the winner and a small cash prize.

Reading through the guidance and rules last night I was amused to find a link to this extensive list of clichés from on-line magazine Strange Horizons. I have to admit… that is a long list of annoyances right there.

I’m thinking of entering my story about the teenage boy having the vivid dreams about a boat journey. Ok, I have one already… dreams. I have a vague idea of where it is going having already written about 2000 words. Word limit is 6000.