Writing Writ #3: Kill Your Darlings

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Writing Writ #3: Kill Your Darlings

“Kill your darlings” is a time old piece of writing advice, that’s been attributed to Stephen King, William Falkner and Oscar Wilde. It’s also one that I think gets up the nose of most writers, after all, none of us like to be told to get rid of that bit of writing that we absolutely love.

However, the point of “kill your darlings” is not to tear out every sparkly new metaphor and destroy all your precious similes. It’s about reminding you to find a place of objectivity, so that you can become a writer that other people will want to read.

Step 1:

First things first, I want you to take off your ego and leave it at the door. Whether you’re a sufferer of crippling self-doubt, or one of those rare writers who’s cursed with arrogance, your ego has no place in the editing room. It’ll only serve to trip you up and send you sprawling. So, when you’re reading your own writing put yourself to one side and step into the shoes of a reader. I’ve extended this clothing analogy too far, haven’t I?

Step 2:

Now you need to be brutal with your work. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it won’t sound right to a reader, so question it! You’ve said her eyes were the blue of a stormy ocean, but do you also need to say her lips are the plush pink of an orchid and her hair hung like gilded satin around her shoulders all in the same paragraph? Or maybe you’ve described how the kitchen counters are dense black marble, but your floors are shimmering laminate and your cupboards are beautifully antiqued oak? Here’s the thing, these are all reasonable images and descriptions to conjure up. But stick them all in one breath and you’re likely to give your reader a headache. Pick your favourite children, then suck it up and kill the rest.

Step 3:

Now, learn when to resurrect. What am I saying? Well, let’s pretend you’re now two chapters down the line and you’re staring at the same woman. Previously your hero was looking into her eyes while she was angry, so the stormy ocean imagery made sense, but it didn’t make sense to talk about her plush pout and glistening golden locks. However, now your hero has realised he has feelings for this woman, and they’re having a blink off over a cup of coffee. You can now sneak one of those murdered babies back in to your text. And if your description is looking particularly sparse, you can resurrect both.

Step 4:

However, learn when to bury it deep. While there will be occasions when an image is so good, it’s worth sticking back in somewhere else…there will also be darlings that just need to stay dead. For instance, the Writeryjig Clubamabob crew recently called me out for using an image in dialogue that seemed far too rehearsed. Arguably, Olivia (The End of Atlas) is the type to rehearse conversations over and over, so the line almost made sense, but given the scene it was over the top. As it was, I ended up editing the whole scene because Olivia was a huge drama queen at a point in the story where it was completely inappropriate, and my image died with the dialogue. And dead it will stay because it was too contrived. (FYI, I would tell you what the line was, but it’s a major spoiler.)

Step 5:

Finally, start applying “kill your darlings” to the bigger picture. This advice isn’t just about imagery, or even shoddily disguised polemics. It can also be used to look at the broader picture of your novel to pick out what’s not working. In my time, I have personally written characters with voices ten years too old for them, loveable assholes that have just been straight up assholes, and have essentially embedded the opening to a fanfiction of my own characters into more than one novel. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you love a character or scene (or indeed how much you chuckled when you wrote it), it’s just got to go!

 

Anyway, I hope this helps those of you who really struggle with the idea of “kill your darlings”. Cutting out things we love can be incredibly difficult, but if it’s going to irritate the reader or just seem plain silly in the greater scheme of things then better to kill a phrase than wipe out a novel.

Now, I’m off to get back to hacking my other love apart (my dissertation). Let me know down in the below if you have any tips for killing your darlings, or what your thoughts are on this tip.

Catch y’all next week!

Best,

EM.

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Comic Books: Reading for the Crazy Busy

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Comic Books: Reading for the Crazy Busy

You’ll have to forgive me if I my grammar’s a little groggy this week. I woke up yesterday with a nasty cold, which has now shifted and set up camp in my tonsils. Thinking is fun, I got out of breath just walking across the room to get my laptop, and let’s not talk about what’s coming out of my nose right now. I am gross.

Anyway, I thought today would be a good day to talk about my new found love for comic books. My hope is that my enthusiasm will shine through the ill.

As most of you will know, I’ve always been a bit of a nerd. As a kid, I was the one who sat in the corner writing (when I wasn’t busy being a Kidiot). As a teen, I used Star Trek and Stargate Atlantis as my security blanket to calm me down before school. As an adult…well, I’ve finally discovered joy in comic books.

That’s not to say I hated them before. I just never really got on with them. I’ve always found comfort in words on a page, but there was never enough text in comic books for my liking. Not to mention, I really struggled to process images and words at the same time, so I’d often miss a joke or plot point and would have to read whole sections again.

However, in the last year or so, I’ve found myself building a collection. It started with the Harbinger series, which I came across on Amazon. A friend bought me the collected Blacksad for my birthday, and then the wonderful Chloe Dungate (aka Scarfdemon) put up a video of comic book recommendations. Suddenly, I’m up to my eyeballs in clever storytelling and gorgeous artwork. It’s great.

So, what caused this change of heart? Well, two things:

  1. My understanding of how comic books work has greatly improved since I was a kid.
  2. My life got ridiculous.

When you’re an English student, people make the assumption that you spend every waking moment of everyday having a good old read of a nice book. But, the last time I managed to read a standard prose novel of my choosing was over the summer, before my course started. Even then, I was reading Supernatural books because I thought I’d end up covering Supernatural fanfiction for my dissertation. Turns out, I should have been reading the collected work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The best laid plans, hey?

The fact is, I’ve been so swamped with reading heavy linguistics papers that the last thing I want to do in order to chill out is read more dense text. Hell, I’ve been struggling to get myself to write because I know I need to make edits to The End of Atlas before I can continue, and ow, my brain.

But in comic books, I’ve found something rather wonderful. A place I can enjoy the quiet comfort of words without having to summon an image of the whole world. Instead, it’s right there – on the page – drawn for me. Not to mention, a number of comic books are so quick to read that I can sneak one into the hour before bed, or into that awkward period after breakfast, but before I have to trek to see my dissertation tutor. They are the perfect reading material for someone whose life has become crazy busy.

Somehow, I’ve grown to love comic books so much, that I’ve even found ways to incorporate them into my MA work this year. In my first semester, I wrote a paper outlining how Harbinger uses non-textual elements to tell its story, and then used that as evidence to support myself as I ripped into two of the main theorists on the topic of “visual grammar” (possibly a little too much). For the semester just gone, I proposed my own question, analysed the use of gesture in Princess Princess Ever After, and provided a comparison between those gestures and the gestures we use in real life. I showed, amongst other things, that gesture in comic books can be used to replace language in order to avoid cluttering cells with lots of texts. So a cheering crowd can be represented by characters waving and punching the air.

Basically, what I’m saying is, comic books are super cool. They’re short and sweet, but they’re also this incredibly complex communicative tool. They frequently get put in the box of “kid stuff” or “nerd stuff” (as if that’s a bad thing), and are ignored for no good reason. There’s such a variety of comic books out there now, beyond the traditional superhero stories, that it’s just impossibly frustrating to hear people dismiss them as “not my thing” without ever having read one (as happened to me the other day whilst perusing the comic book section in Waterstone’s).

So next time you’re busy, but you really want that joyous feeling of reading a whole book in one sitting, try a comic book. Or two. I mean, no pressure, but you might be pleasantly surprised.

 

Best,

Em.

Writing Writ #2: Writing believable characters of the opposite gender.

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Writing Writ #2: Writing believable characters of the opposite gender.

For some reason, writing believable characters of the opposite gender has become this elusive thing that many writers seem to struggle with. So much so, that when I submitted a section of my undergraduate dissertation to a seminar group, the PhD student who was running it asked me, “What research have you done to write such a good male character?”

She was not pleased to learn I hadn’t done any.

Weirdly, I’ve never really struggled with writing characters of the opposite gender, beyond the odd biological query that comes from not having lived with the most common male particulars.

If you’re here, I’m not judging. Honestly, if it’s something you struggle with, then better you look up some guidance than write the next Belinda Blinked (although…actually, I do need something to tide me over until My Dad Wrote a Porno returns in August).

So the following are some tips and activities to help you with writing believable characters of the opposite gender. I hope they prove useful.

Disclaimer: When I talk about the opposite gender in this article, I am talking cis folks (folks who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth). While I do have some experience writing trans characters, I feel like that topic is a separate blog post, with its own array of issues that cis folks do not have to deal with. It certainly needs more time and thought than I can spare today. I might tackle it at a later date…when The End of Atlas is finished.

 

Step 1:

Start with character, not gender. – This may be harder for some than it is for others, but writing good characters of the opposite gender basically boils down to writing good characters. Full stop.  This doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to make your women girly or you men macho. It does, however, mean that that character trait has to be realistic. For instance, a business woman might like jewellery a lot, but how often have you seen one squeal like a little girl on opening a gift box? And an army man might seem stoic most of the time, but chances are his eyes are going to water if someone bends his arm backwards. Build your characters as real human beings who react to things like a human, not like their stereotype.

Step 2:

Gender swap.  – Take a character that you’re struggling with, and swap their gender. Write just a short scene, perhaps with them interacting with some of your stronger characters. Once you’re done, read it through. What have you changed about the character, and why have you changed it? Are those changes necessary biological differences, or have you made them purely based on your preconceptions of how a man or woman should be? For example, if you have a woman changed to a man who now speaks with a low baritone instead of a soft tenor, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye lid. If the same swap causes your character to suddenly start flirting with everything in a skirt, when previously they were very shy, you have a problem.

Step 3:

Question yourself. – There was a passage floating around the internet recently about a woman who wakes up having had very little sleep. She saunters to the mirror, and thinks about how demure her black bags make her look. Then she goes about sliding things over her various body parts. The kicker? This woman’s sister had just been murdered (hence the lack of sleep). Now look, I get it. We’ve all fallen in love with a fiction character from time to time. But when it comes to grief over a loved one, nobody’s thinking about how cute their raccoon eyes look. And I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t take my time to slide on clothes in a seductive manner for my unseen narrator. Do you? Look at what you’ve written, and ask yourself would you write that if your character was a different gender? If you wouldn’t, then it’s time to re-write.

Step 4:

Get the biology right. – There are some very basic things that we don’t necessarily understand about the bodies of the opposite sex (note sex, not gender). But if you have access to Google, you have access to the resources you need to get the biology down. Wondering how women deal with their time of the month? Google. Want to know what really happens if a bloke crosses his legs to fast? Google.  And if for some reason you can’t use Google, ask someone in the real world. There are plenty of men and plenty of women on this planet. However, remember that the life of the opposite gender is not entirely driven by the body parts they were given. I, for one, do not spend every waking minute wondering when my period will start, and I’d be very confused if you started writing a female character who did this and wasn’t concerned about accidental pregnancy or suffering from some form of mental illness. Get the biology right, but only use it when you need it.

Step 5:

If in doubt, read. – Find yourself a novel that you know is likely to be badly written. Think Twilight, Women in Love or even a John Grisham novel. Then try to pick apart why the representation of a particular gender is poor. Make a list of five things they could improve on, and then make sure you’re not doing those things in your writing.

 

At the end of the day, anything you struggle with will take practice to perfect. Personally, I only discovered how to use commas in dialogue properly last year, and I’m still slip up when I’m not paying attention. Work hard, and you’ll get there. Also, if you’re not already in a writing group, or have a beta reader who gives decent criticism, GET GOING. I cannot stress enough how important a second pair of eyes can be for a writing project, so I’m just going to keep saying this.

Now, I apologise if there are any errors in this, but I’m going to have to sprint out of the door to meet a friend (I planned to finish this last night…but then I went into a short story trance and never came up for air.) Hope you’re having a lovely weekend!

Best,

EM.

P.S. Feature image is a page from the My Dad Wrote a Porno book. Not for the prudish of heart, but a good laugh if you’re into bad writing and ridiculously unsexy sex scenes. Sorry Rocky, we love you!

Fiction: Moth Child

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Fiction: Moth Child

The moth rain falls when the moon is at its fullest. We shut our windows, lay thick coats along the outer doors. We fill the house with enough food to last a week, just in case.

They used to call it moth snow, but the name was too appealing to children. They didn’t understand. Snow was the fun, white fluff that melted on their tongues in winter. It formed sculptures, playful weapons, cosy hideouts. It was a source of entertainment and joy. Moth snow was a sinister, grey flake that arrived in summer. It broke down into an invisible toxin, which lingered in the air. Children ran out to play, and their bodies came home three days later, after the ploughs had removed the worst of the fall. It took a year for the government to implement a total rebrand.

It’s a full moon tonight, so Mum shakes out Dad’s old coat. The smell of naphthalene fills the air. I cover my mouth and nose. The chemical we use to protect ourselves is almost as poisonous as the rain itself. It stores up in your fat cells, and waits to take you when food is short. Mum places the coat over the extractor fan in the kitchen. Dad used to cook a lot. He died when I was seven, when the rain first started, but I can just about remember him standing over the hob.

“Have you taken your pill?” Mum asks.

“Not yet.”

“Can you get me one too?”

I retrieve the bottle from the cabinet upstairs, then together we knock back a dose of activated charcoal with a single of whiskey. The combination is hot and wet like dog’s breath. Mum winces and lets out a hiss as the burn works down her throat. She hates it. I mimic her as I have for thirteen years now. I try to capture distaste; the flare of the nostrils, the slight kick of the head. She watches my performance, then knocks back another. I think I have missed something. She once told me that practice makes perfect, but I’m not entirely sure what perfection is. I cannot judge, because I cannot feel.

***

Uncle Pete is late bringing my brother home from football. Mum is angry. Her anger looks much like her distaste, but it takes over her whole body. When I was younger I thought anger was a being that could inhabit multiple bodies at a time. I thought that fear was an appropriate response to this. When Mum realised what I was trying to display she broke down in tears. She explained to me that anger was just another emotion, and one that I should be glad not to have. I told her I could not be glad. She said that was okay.

It is half-past seven when my brother and uncle arrive home. Mum drags Uncle Pete into the kitchen. My brother slinks into the living room. His name is Daniel, but Mum says I must call him Danny because it sounds more affectionate. I follow him into the living room, where he is already sprawled across the sofa, watching TV.

“Alright, moth girl?” he snipes.

“Shut up, Danny.”

I pull his legs off the sofa and sit down. He shuffles right to the end of the furniture. I make him uncomfortable. I was already five when he was born. By the time he was old enough to have memories, I was quite a good actor. If it weren’t for his friends, and their parents, he would not know the difference. People talk about me – the moth child – the girl who survived standing outside in the moth rain. It is generally thought that only part of me survived, and that that part is not enough. It is Uncle Pete who told me this. As far as I could tell he was not being malicious. He spoke as someone reading the news, “You are not considered human. You are considered a simulation of a human. You must be careful.”

I can hear Uncle Pete now. His voice is loud, but I cannot make out the words over the sound of the TV. Danny picks up the remote and turns up the volume, drowning Uncle Pete out completely.

“Why were you late?” I ask.

“What’s it to you?”

“I was just wondering.”

“You’re not capable of wondering.”

“Answer the question, Danny,” I snarl.

That does it. Fear sparks his eyes wide. For some reason, anger is the one emotion everyone thinks I’m capable of.

“Sam’s mum’s car packed in, and we had to give them a lift home. We couldn’t leave them there.”

“Sensible. Recovery vehicles don’t come out past five on rain day, and public transport stops at four. You would be sad if they died.”

I squeeze his shoulder. It is meant to be reassuring, to suggest he did the right thing. He stiffens as if I have punched him.

“Sorry,” I say.

“No, you’re not.”

I sigh and roll my eyes. He has not believed in my expressions since he turned thirteen, but I have to keep them up. It is a matter of stretching my stamina, training my mind to make continuous decisions about how to look, and sound, and what to say. For most people this is an involuntary function. For me it is exhausting. Danny is watching a cartoon. I decide to leave because cartoons are not useful. The emotions are all over the place, the reactions are not accurate; there is nothing I can learn from them. I once tried to get my eyes to pop out in order to indicate that I thought my mother must be aesthetically pleasing.

I wander into the hall. Mum is shouting now. I stand outside the kitchen door and listen.

“I couldn’t care less what might have happened to them! Do you understand? I will not lose another member of my family to that bloody rain!”

“Kate, I couldn’t just leave them there. Be reasonable!”

“Reasonable? Reasonable! I tell you what, Pete, next time I’m sheltered at your house, we’ll throw dearest Eleanor and one of my sweet nephews out in it. Then we’ll see how reasonable you can be.”

“Kate-”

“Don’t ‘Kate’ me. You have no idea what it’s like. I’ve lost a husband and a daughter. I will not lose a son.” She pauses. “Or my brother.”

I know I should be hurt. I push my eyebrows up and together, open my mouth a little. I breathe like someone has booted me in the chest. If they were to open the door now, they would be taken aback by how accurate my portrayal is. They would feel the pain reflected in my features.

“She’s not dead, Kate.”

“No, but she’s not alive either. It’s like living with a ghost.”

I think perhaps this may be true. I remember vaguely what I was like before; laughing as Dad swung me round and round by the arms; howling in pain, tears burning my nose and throat, as my right arm clunked out of the socket. Now, I would be able to pop it back in myself without much fuss. I still feel the pain, but I don’t react. For Mum, it must be as if I am dead, but my image still lingers around the house and eats her food.

“It’ll be dark soon. You should stay here. Go and call Ellie,” Mum says.

The door opens and I step to one side. Uncle Pete stalls in the doorway for what is a fraction of a second, then walks past me. He knows I have been listening. He gives me a shy smile. I think that if I could like anyone, I would certainly like Uncle Pete. He is the only person who has never appeared scared of me and who has always answered every question with a straight answer.

He picks up the phone in the hall and dials.

“Hello, Ellie? – Yes, don’t worry I’m safe – I’m at Kate’s – I’m sorry, Hon’ – Danny’s friend needed a lift – I didn’t mean to worry you – We’re all set -Yeah, give my love to the boys – I’ll see you in a few days – Make sure to duct tape the letterbox – I love you – Bye.”

He turns and sees that I am still standing in the same spot. “Do you have a question?”

I think for a moment. “Yes. Can you say ‘I love you’ again, and pretend that you are saying it to someone you love, like Aunt Eleanor?”

He smiles. “I love you, and I don’t need to pretend, kiddo.”

He gives me enough time to assess and memorise his facial expression and tone, before he puts an arm around my neck, and ruffles my hair with his hand. I do my best to look disgruntled, which makes him laugh.

“You really are magnificent, Nessie.”

“Thank you.”

***

At eight o’clock we eat a balanced dinner that is well-cooked and non-toxic. Danny doesn’t like it. He pokes at it until it is too cold to eat, argues with Mum about wasting food, and then storms upstairs to his room. We finish in silence.

I help Uncle Pete make up the guest bed. I am good at this. It is a mechanical kind of team work that does not involve debate or opinion. Uncle Pete is a poor partner, though. He ends up inside the duvet cover, pushing the duvet up into the corners.

“You should laugh now,” he tells me, so I do.

Mum looks in and sees what’s happening. She laughs too, calls Uncle Pete a fool, and kisses me goodnight. Uncle Pete waves through the cover. I take this as a cue to laugh again. Mum squeezes me tightly.

***

It starts at nine o’clock, roughly twenty-seven minutes after sunset. It is soundless. Tattered bodies fall from the sky and all I can hear is the air filtering in and out of my own lungs. I sit in the window seat of my room, and watch the moth rain fall.

***

                They told me it would kill me if I breathed it in, so I held my breath. That’s the only reason I survived. I filled my lungs as much as I could and pressed my lips together tight. Stepping out into it was like pressing your face into a feather duster. The wings fluttered against your skin, tickling every hair to the point that I almost exploded with laughter.

 Don’t breathe, don’t breathe, don’t breathe, I told myself.

I closed the patio door, and took a couple of steps forward. I was only a metre in, but I could barely see the glass. The initial fall is incredibly dense. I began to twirl, feeling the wings flutter past my arms and through my hair. I tilted my head right back. My nose began to itch.

A desperate roar came from somewhere in the grey. I looked around, but could not get my bearings. I believe I began to panic. My lungs were suddenly aching for air.

All at once, I sneezed, gasped, and was swept off my feet. A large dark coat, reeking of mothballs fell over my head. I passed out just as I heard the door close again.

***

The fall lasts just fifteen minutes today. After that, only a few lazy flakes are left to fall to the ground. The sky clears, and the moon shines brightly. This is Pompeii after the eruption of Vesuvius. This is London after the Great Fire. I sit and I watch the stillness settle in.

***

I am tired, and begin to think about sleeping. I believe everyone else in the house went to sleep a while ago, but as I creep across the landing I hear muttering coming from Danny’s room. I stand perfectly still, straining to hear the words.

“No! No! No! – Don’t say that! -No, you know what it’s like for me – Please – I can’t tell her – I can’t! – She already has one freak child, I can’t tell her that I’m- No I’m not saying that you’re a freak – You know what I meant – Sam, I love you, you know that I love you – Please, don’t make me tell her – Sam!”

There is a long silence, and he begins sobbing. There is an occasional sniff, a croak of air being sucked back into lungs too quickly, a moan muted by a pillow. I push open his door, and sink onto the edge of his bed. He flicks on his bedside lamp, and the moment he sees that it is me, he shrinks into the corner, pressing himself into the wall like a trapped animal.

“Oh stop it,” I hiss, but he doesn’t.

“What do you want?”

“I would say to comfort you, but you wouldn’t believe me.”

He braves a smirk.

“I just thought that I would tell you, Mum doesn’t see me as a freak. She believes I died, age seven. I heard her say as much to Uncle Pete, during their argument. She also said that she couldn’t cope with losing another member of her family, and I believe there was a particular emphasis on not losing you.”

“So?”

“I don’t think she’d give a flying fuck if you turned out to be gay.”

He snorts, actual genuine laughter. He covers his mouth in surprise. I squeeze his shoulder again, and this time he places his hand over mine.

“Would you care if I was gay?” he asks.

“I’m a moth child, Danny. I could catch you in the front garden, mid-coitus, waving a pride flag in the air, and the only thing I’d be thinking about is how to replicate your facial expression in the unlikely event that I should ever have sex.”

He laughs again and, for the first time since he reached adolescence, he hugs me. When he is finished, I leave and go to the bathroom. I relieve myself, wash my hands and face, then brush my teeth. I arrive back in my room, prepared for sleep, but Uncle Pete is sitting in my window.

“That was a nice thing you said to your brother,” he remarks.

“Was it?”

“Yes.” He nods. “Nessie, are you sure you don’t feel anything?”

“I have not felt an emotion since I went out into the moth rain.”

“Then why did you help your brother?”

I think for a moment. “His information was wrong. He needed correct information in order to make his decision.”

“But he didn’t have to ask for it?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Someone who feels would tell him without being asked. I acted as if I felt, as I always do.”

Uncle Pete sighs. He stands up and walks toward me. “You remind me so much of my gramps, your great-grandfather.”

“Why?”

“He was mechanical and apathetic about everything, just like you. My mother told me he was a soldier. One of the many who lost their spirit in the last great war.”

“Did he breathe in a toxin too?”

“No, but the things he saw were poisonous. They ate away at who he was.”

“Did he recover?”

“A little. I once saw him shed a tear at a memorial service.”

“How do you know it was not fake?”

“Because not even you’re that good, Ness.”

True. The only reason I have to cry is when there is something in my eye, or when I am in physical pain. Tears are impossible to summon without emotion.  A thought occurs. “Is my great-grandfather why you have never treated me as the others have?”

“I suppose so. Your mother’s too young to remember him, but I always liked him. He used to give me Murray Mints from a tin under the stairs.”

“Murray Mints?”

He laughs quietly. “I’ll get you some when the fall’s lifted.”

***

I am sitting at the window again. I am tired, but I cannot sleep. It has been two hours since I prepared for bed. No flakes fall now. The sky is empty, except for the moon and the stars.

I like the stars. They are like me. We are both ghosts of a light that once burned bright.

As I sit there, my eyes begin to swim with salt-water. I am thinking of spinning in the moth rain. I am thinking of the large coat thrown over me. I am remembering that I was not allowed into my parents’ bedroom until the day after the fall was lifted. On that day some men came and took a long and heavy object from their room. I didn’t know what it was because it was covered with a sheet. I asked Mum, but she wouldn’t tell me. Then I told her I would ask Dad. She wept uncontrollably for an hour, then drove me to the hospital.

Now I am crying. I am holding a cushion to my chest and I am rocking gently back and forth. My heart is aching. My stomach is clenched so tightly I think I might be sick. I cry, until the pain is so enormous that it no longer feels like a part of me. It is an angry god that swamps the room.

The moth rain comes when I need it most. I put the cushion down, and reach for the window. The handle is well oiled and makes no noise. I crack open the seal a couple of millimetres, press my lips to the gap, and breathe.

The Graham Greene Affair: Week 2

The Grahame Green Affair
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The Graham Greene Affair: Week 2

The Graham Greene Affair continues to work well for me. Despite feeling like I have a head full of cotton wool, I’m somehow managing to keep pace, and am actually finding it more and more difficult to stop at 500 words. Last night I found myself awake at 1 am, Googling the name meaning of a new character, debating what superpower I would give them, and how it would affect the story if I did. Then I drifted off in a haze of, “I should definitely move that scene”, “Something else needs to go in between that and that”, “Maybe I should cut that in half and whack something in the middle.” Yes, this challenge is keeping me up at night, but honestly I’ve never been more pleased by a bout of insomnia. It’s the kind of sleeplessness you have as a kid the night before Christmas, or your birthday. It’s exciting.

Part of what has triggered this excitement is talking about Rimjhim in a pseudo-academic style again. I spent the better part of yesterday swapping notes with my friend Jo, who is joining me on this epic quest to finish a novel. I’ve got to say, I greatly appreciated the input, and it was good to hear that my writing was having the desired effect. As always, there were things that I loved that she didn’t, and there were things that I hated that she loved. In particular, there was a scene in which my protagonist, Alec, and his best friend sit down to catch-up. Personally it drives me crazy. I think it drags on, and I don’t like the way the Alec dithers over what to say. But Jo liked it, and thought it worked well. Obviously, I will probably still edit the scene to a point where I’m satisfied with it, but I don’t feel the need to hack half the scene away, as I was planning to do.

I would highly recommend finding a writing buddy if you’re thinking about trying this challenge, or even if you just want to get serious about your writing in general. While I’m a fairly solitary writer, I find that having a second set of eyes for redrafting is crucial, and it never hurts to have a sounding board to bounce ideas off. Yesterday, 90% of the questions we asked each other were about plot. Mine were mostly about the age of the characters, and whether I needed to age them up or down to fix the storyline. Jo’s were about character arcs, personality changes and possible relationships. I think we both came out of there with a better idea of where we were going.

Of course the best thing about having a writing buddy, is that, unlike your other friends (or family members), who are likely to tell you that your writing is amazing and they love it and that they can’t wait to read more, your writing buddy will know when to get a bit ruthless. They know the importance of brutal honesty, and what to look for. Jo pointed out that in one scene I had given Alec a phone with a battery life of over a month, and I had crammed about three major plot developments into another. The first was a mistake that I had completely missed, the second, a reoccurring issue (I get over excited sometimes, okay?) that I have picked up on in some places but not in others.

Discussing work like this can be difficult at first – believe me, if you’d asked me 4 years ago if I wanted someone to thoroughly critique my writing, I would have told you where to go – but the fact is, a novel is never just yours, not if you actually want it read. At some point you are going to receive negative criticism, and the sooner you learn to separate the constructive from the pure opinion, the better. You learn to take what’s useful, and disregard the rest, and so you improve. Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without you, Jo!

Love,

Mort.

P.S. If anyone else would like to join us, you are still more than welcome. I’m sure I will be editing and discussing long after I’ve finished my first draft, so seriously, come on, my friend! Let’s do this!

Personal Post: Thoughts on the Paper Towns Movie

Thoughts on the paper towns movie
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Thoughts on the Paper Towns Movie

I should preface this by making it clear that I love John Green. I think he’s an amazing Youtuber, and no-one has done more for the nerd community that him and his brother, Hank. The VlogBrothers played a big part in how comfortable I’ve become with my intelligence, and my passion, and for that I’ll always love them.

But I don’t like John Green’s writing. Particularly, Paper Towns.

For me, John’s voice is just too strong. When I’m reading his books, I can hear his voice; the fast pace, stopping only to take a breath; the emphasis on multi-syllabic words; the jovial tone. For example:

Your twenties are not destiny, your thirties are not destiny. Destiny is not something that happens all at once, it’s something that happens only in retrospect.

Compared to:

I’m starting to realize that people lack good mirrors. It’s so hard for anyone to show us how we look, and so hard for us to show anyone how we feel.

Can you tell which is John, and which is Quentin? (The protagonist of Paper Towns.) I couldn’t. Of course, to a certain degree this is expected. A writer without a voice of their own, is a sales assistant. But there’s a limit to how much a writer’s own voice, should affect that of the character. I got particularly irritated by the fact that Quentin – who struggles to interpret the meaning of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, and who worries that he might fail an English test – can somehow quote obscure T.S. Eliot lines like pop lyrics;

Light, the visible reminder of Invisible Light.

I studied Eliot with enthusiasm at university, but I never got round to reading ‘Choruses from the Rock’. How Quentin – a boy who apparently struggles with basic English Lit analysis – is supposed to know this line is beyond me.

My qualms with Green’s writing style aside, I thought perhaps the story would translate better on screen. After all, who doesn’t like a good teen romcom? Then I made the mistake of watching the trailer, and ruined it for myself.

The trailer is ridiculously spoiler heavy. It covers almost the entire plot, from Margo and Quentin’s night of revenge, through to Quentin getting out of the van at the end of the road trip he takes with his friends. The only thing that’s missing is the story wrap up, which (unless they’ve changed it) is incredibly disappointing. For a book that supposedly subverts the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, it sure turns Margo into a complete ass.

As for the casting, well, Cara Delevingne was a bit out of nowhere, and I can live with it. But seriously;

  1. They could have left her tattoos uncovered – Margo is supposed to be a bit of a rebel, and they had already picked a girl that looks nothing like the original description. Why not let her have her own flair? Go big, or go home.
  2. That poster (see above) – Whoever chose the photo needs their head checked. Having her hair in front of her face does not make her look “mysterious”. If anything, it sort of makes her look like Zack Efron in drag (see below). I mean no offense to Cara – she’s a beautiful woman – but that photo is just bad, bad, bad, and the marketing team should know better.

thoughts on the paper towns movieUltimately, I know it will do well. Fans of the book, and those who just like a good romantic comedy, will be all over it. Hell, I might even give it a try when it inevitably ends up on Netflix.

I suppose my conclusion is this; for the love of God, Green, get a decent marketing team. One that is not going to give away the entire plot of the movie in a two minute trailer.

If you haven’t seen it, the trailer is below. However, if you intend on watching the movie when it comes out in July, I’d recommend skipping it. Otherwise you’ll just be spending £8 to watch the end, and the end is not worth £8.

Now starting ‘ Welcome to Sharonville’ by Sharon Zink over on Twitter!

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Join me in washing away the memories of Fifty Shades @EMLetsRead 😀