Tuesday, 29 April 2014

To Swear Or Not To Swear? That Is The Effing Question

Swearing is a part of everyday life. While some people may begrudge this fact it is one all the same. Our job as writers is to portray characters realistically and, as such, create an interesting and compelling story. Keeping this in mind, we have to decide on what language is appropriate to our writing and as such how expletive we should be (if we choose to be) to create the right balance.

Before we continue there are various things to consider such as the audience and genre. If you were to write a book aimed at young children, swearing would be considered completely inappropriate yet if you were writing an adult thriller it would be less of an issue.

Image from www.wikihow.com
I personally believe that including swearing for the sake of swearing does nothing but distract from the story and lessen the overall message of the story.

While the decision to include swearing or not is down to each individual writer, I do have some key points which I think it is important to consider.
  • Firstly, swearing can be used to build tension in a situation if the swearing first emerges during a heated argument or during a major event in your story or screenplay. Alternatively, the lack of swearing at a particular point can make a scene stand out and create a solemn tone.
  • Swearing can also break the tension. If you build the tension and tension higher and higher by adding a swear at the end of the scene can help to add comic relief. The shock of the swear can change the tone, allowing the reader to relax slightly and be more susceptible to the changing moods of the plot.
  • Using expletives can help to illustrate a character's personality. If the character is particularly aggressive or bad tempered they are a likely to swear a lot more than someone who is quiet and reserved.
  • It is also important to note that if you have constant swearing throughout your storyline it can make it more difficult to show sharp emotions. For example, if your sentences throughout are made up of "You ****, who do you ******* think you are?" Your audience is less likely to notice when your character is feeling a particularly strong emotion.
On the other hand, if you avoid swearing all together, especially if you are writing a plot in a particularly hostile environment, it can stand out. If you are writing a situation where a dangerous criminal is threatening someone they are less likely to say. "Don't you speak to me like that." in a polite, respectable manner. To make the setting more realistic, swearing is going to be necessary.

It's all about finding the balance. It is important to find the meeting point between making the plot realistic and yet not distracting from the story.

What's your take on it? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Don't Be A Negative Nancy

We all know this kind of person, for them life isn't something to be cheerful about. For them, life is a drag and they spend each day willing the clock to move faster so that it's over. Each day consists of the same question: what is the point?

Sound familiar? Say hello to Negative Nancy.

For her there's no light at the end of the tunnel, life couldn't be worse and the entire universe is against her.

Now let's compare Negative Nancy to Positive Penny.

Penny is optimistic about the future, her life isn't perfect but she's doing alright, for her things can only get better.

Now ask yourself this, which one would you prefer to be?

Image from Google

It sounds obvious doesn't it? You'd be surprised.

With life, our attitude can have a major influence on our happiness. If we spend everyday listing all of the things that are wrong with our life and focus on the chaos and disappointments that we are faced with, life is nothing short of miserable. Each day becomes a chore and any hopes we have of a better future seem far away if not impossible.

However, if we choose to think differently, if we choose to be optimistic to make the best out of the situation and strive for something better, if we keep our chins up and savour everyday- despite the challenges that come our way- we are in for a lot happier outlook and a much healthier way of living.

Let me give you an example. Say that you wake up and get ready only to come across a heavy traffic jam making you late to wherever you're going. What's more, the car breaks down and you have to call someone to come and pick you up who arrives half an hour late.

After the initial irritation, you can approach this problem in one of two ways. One, you can swear... a lot, blame the entire thing on the universe and let it put you in a foul mood for the rest of the day or, two, you can take a deep breath, have a silent scream and focus on getting through it. You don't take it personally (it happens to most people) and you get back to what you were going to do with the rest of your day having accepted that it's just one of those things.

I know which one I would prefer.

It's your call- you can choose how you go about life, the question is which one would you rather be: a Negative Nancy or a Positive Penny?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Why It's OK To Take Things One Day At A Time

Life is unpredictable. It throws obstacles at us at a common occurrence and we have to take the time to learn how to overcome them and move past them.

It is down to these obstacles that we often question ourselves and the choices that we make in life. We sometimes find our self wondering if we've taken the right path, if we have somehow made a wrong turn and are now facing the consequences. The obstacles can knock our confidence.

If we think of our entire future in one great big sweep it can be daunting, so we need to tackle the obstacles in our way one day at a time. If we try to fight them all off in one go, they can crush us.

Image From Google
Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and deal with each problem as they face us. Think of it like driving at night. We know where we are generally going (whether that be marriage, goals) yet we can only see the road ahead of us. We can make the journey that way and, although it may scare us and we feel as though there is danger at every turn, we can reach the end.

We are all just taking things one day at a time. When we get up in the morning, get ready, go to work, we are taking each step one after the other and in a lot of ways, life is a lot like that.

Now, I'm not saying that it is wise to have this approach throughout your entire life, you are going to have to make some decisions but it's OK to just take things day by day sometimes- especially while we try to work things out.

The thing is to remember that you're not alone and that many people have, and probably still are, going through the same thing as you.

Take one day at a time, tackle each challenge as it comes and remember that all of the troubles that you have faced before you have gotten through.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Why Making Mistakes Is Just Important As Making The Right Decisions

A lot of emphasis is placed on making important decisions in life and making sure that the choice you make is the right one. We are constantly reminded that we have to live with the consequences and so need to take care in choosing a path that we want to follow.

While it is important to be cautious and think things through, it is also important to know that it's OK to make a mistake.

Image from Google
Without mistakes we don't learn.

Think back to when you were in school. Say that you were in Maths and you were doing some calculations when you realise that you'd done it wrong. What happened? If you had a decent teacher they would have sat down with you and helped you work it out and you would have learnt from that mistake.

The majority of the time, when faced with a crossroads in your life, if you choose a path and it doesn't work out, you can go back and try again. The difference is that you go back to that crossroads a lot wiser then you were before.

Mistakes are good for us, they help us to grow as people and to re-evaluate our lives, they teach us how to take responsibility as well as to prioritise what we want from life.

As I've mentioned before, life is one great big risk. There are no guarantees, no retakes, all you have is one shot at it. You are bound to mess up once in a while! The important thing is that you learn from those times to prepare yourself for the next decision you may have to make.

Mistakes do not mean the end of the world, sometimes making a 'mistake' can be one of the best things that you ever do. Did you know that Penicillin was created by mistake? How about the pacemaker? You can see more examples here.

So the next time you make a mistake, don't beat yourself up over it- learn from it and take the lesson you learnt to the next decision that you have to make.

What was the best mistake you ever made? What did it teach you? Think about it and let me know!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Feeling Helpless?

My routine was dragging me down the other day. I was sat on the bus waiting to get off at the familiar bus stop when I thought of something. Why didn't I change the routine? Why didn't I walk a different way home?

Yeah, OK, so I admit it: making the decision to change my journey slightly has barely any significance to my routine- I thought the same at first until I thought about it further.

By changing that one little thing, that one little part of my journey, I was making a conscious effort to do something different- I was making a conscious effort to take hold of the situation and change it.

Image from www.emotionalcompetency.com
Helplessness like any other emotion can overwhelm us if we don't recognise it for what it is and take steps to protect itself against it. Whilst it is important to recognise that it is impossible to not feel helpless at all we can adopt an attitude or plan of action to help us take steps to overcoming it.

When we feel helpless we forget that, the majority of the time, we are there by our own omission or by making a conscious decision to be in a situation.

The truth is, the majority of the time, we can take control again.

How? Remember that you are in control of your own life and, therefore, in control of your own decisions.
  • When you applied for a job, did you select the job?
  • When you cooked yourself a meal, did you decide what you were having? How you were going to prepare it?
  • When you got dressed this morning, did you choose what you were going to wear for yourself?
Each of these is a decision that you have made by yourself. Each of these are an instance where you have made a conscious effort to take action, even if it's something as seemingly insignificant as choosing what to have for breakfast.

You have taken control and navigated all of these situations in the way in which you wanted.

So how do you take the power back? How do you find a way to feel less helpless and take matters back into your own hands?

Here's a few tips:
  1. Try and take a step back and think about it logically. Now, this isn't always easy to do- especially when you're in an emotionally charged situation and there seems to be a lot at stake- but sometimes the best way to find a solution to something is to look at the problem at a new angle. If you're in a job that you don't particularly like but need to stick with for the moment, is there something you can do to make it more enjoyable such as starting a project or learning a new skill from it? If you have a hobby you enjoy to do outside of work, can you introduce it to your job or find ways to bring it into your day?
  2. Bring something new into your day. Why don't you treat yourself to something different on your dinner break and have a favourite meal or, if you're on a budget, how about just going to the park or reading part of your favourite book?
  3. Shake it up. If you start the day doing one thing, see if you can do something different instead. Say the first thing you do is check your emails, why don't you finish a document or piece of work first and then check it? Or if you have a shower first thing in the morning, why don't you have a long hot bath at night?
Don't forget, it is all about you taking control of the situation. You can take charge, you can make changes- you are in control of your own life. You are the most powerful person in your life as it is down to you where you go with your life and what you do with it- not your boss, not your partner- you!

Do you have any other ideas on how to feel less helpless, leave your suggestions in the comments!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Struggling With Self- Discipline?

I am very easily distracted. I admit to it. I am a scatterbrain. If I don't get into my 'writing zone' my mind tends to drift and before I know it hours have slipped out of my grasp. Don't get me wrong- it's not that I don't want to write or that I don't enjoy it, it's more of case that my attention can wander when I'm trying to concentrate. There is just so much noise and technology around us that sometimes it can drag us away from what we want to be doing.

Image from Google

I once read an interesting analogy about concentration being a lot like a dog on a lead. We are trying to go in one direction but the dog is pulling us another way and, if we don't have enough control over it, we end up letting it lead us down the wrong route.

So how do we solve this? It's impossible not to get distracted at all- in fact some of the best writing ideas I've had have come from being distracted- but it's important to not let distractions stop you from doing the things that need to be done.

One of the best ways to overcome distractions is to observe yourself and to take note of what things tend to pull you away from your task. I did this myself yesterday and ended up with the following:

  • Youtube- At first I just went on to play a bit of background music while I looked over the plan of the ebook I'm writing but, before I knew it, I had watched over eight music videos and however other many pointless things... Not a good start...
  • Facebook and Email- It was meant to be a quick check, honest! I just wanted to have a glance and see if I was missing anything important... so what if it was five times?
  • The internet in general, really- The internet is the enemy!
  • TV- A movie sucked me in.
  • Kindle- Books, right there, right next to me- how can I resist, right? Right?
Any of these sound familiar? The thing is, they're all pretty easy to access- especially if you're working on a computer, laptop etc. where so many things are available at the click of a mouse.

After feeling pretty disappointed and disgruntled at my lack of progress yesterday, I decided to have a good think about when I did my best writing and when I could really sit down and focus. It turned out to be in the evenings. Why? Because in the evenings, after I've eaten and had a rest after work, I know that it's time to write. It's a routine that's been in place since my last year of sixth form but I hadn't really considered how I did this before yesterday.

So how do I introduce this 'writing time' into my weekends? I cut out the distractions.

While it's important to still give myself some free time to relax and enjoy the break from work, it's also important to make the most of the time available and to use it to it's advantage. So, here are my new top tips for getting rid of distractions and learning how to get your head down- whether that be in regards to writing, designing or anything else you need to do.
  1. Get up early. I can almost hear the groans! Yes, it may be the last thing that you want to do on your days off but, after comparing my attitude this morning to my attitude yesterday morning, I can easily say that getting up earlier does help! I feel less groggy and could enjoy my morning a lot more. Did I mention that I got a lot more done too?
  2. If you know you're in the same room as something that is going to distract you either move it (or yourself) out of reach or out of the room. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough! While it may be difficult to do this with things such as the internet (unless you're willing to shut off the Wi-Fi), having anything that may drag you away from the task at hand needs to go. Now.
  3. Give yourself time limits. If you're doing something or just relaxing but know that you need to do a particular task, set a number of minutes that you will allow yourself to take time out or set a time that you want to start this task. Do not deviate from this time! It takes real determination to use this method. The obvious disadvantage to this is that if you start giving yourself 'five more minutes' it will soon morph into half an hour then an hour then an hour and a half...
  4. Set yourself a target for the task. Whether that be a word count or having a section of something done- give yourself a main focus. What's more if time is starting to run away from you and you realise that you still haven't done the target for that day, it may just give you the kick up the bum you need!
  5. Reward yourself. You're meant to be enjoying what you're doing and if you aren't then think of the end goal. Treat yourself for the little victories- for example, as soon as I finish this post I'm going to grab a biscuit and a drink. If you complete your word count, go and blast out your favourite song or go and watch an episode of your favourite show. If you complete a design or finish organising something, go and run yourself a hot bath or phone a friend. Recognise that you have done what you've set out to do and that you should be commended for that! Likewise, if you've finished doing something that you really didn't want to do- give yourself a giant pat on the back, you got through it!
I'm going to try these out myself and I hope that you'll join me in whatever the task is that you do- whether that be decorating, unpacking, whatever! Try it for a couple of weeks and see if they make any difference- you never know, you may get a lot more done!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Trick To Point of View

After the success of my last post on writing backstory (find it here) I thought that I would write another one with a few quick tips on point of view.

Alright, comfortable? Here we go:

Tip 1: Remember that it is from the character's point of view, not the readers

Confused? Let me elaborate. Say that you are telling the story through the eyes of a middle aged man who isn't very compassionate and struggles to understand human emotion, he may be very factual and observant in his narration. Take this as an example:

He stared thoughtfully out of the window at the metropolis below. Cars streamed past making up a metallic river of colour between him and the towering buildings in the distance. A gentle knock drew his attention away. "Enter."
His secretary shuffled into the room, her hands wrangling with her long navy skirt. "Sir, your ex- wife is on the phone."
He sighed heavily before dropping into his desk chair. "Tell her that I'll call her back."
"She says that it's urgent."
He frowned, taking a moment to glance at the message that had just popped up on his computer. "Fine, put her through." When he failed to hear her leave, he glanced up to see her still hovering, her eyes appearing to be fixed on the photo on the wall nearby. "What?"
Jumping at his tone, she blushed heavily before continuing to fiddle with her skirt. "Nothing, sorry sir. I'll put her through now."
She left the room quickly, the door quietly clicking behind her.

We don't know what was wrong with his secretary. She clearly seemed anxious but, due to the narrator's point of view, we don't know why. What's more, we couldn't even tell that there was anything wrong with her by his version of events- it's through our perception that we notice her unease.

Tip 2: If you have more then one point of view make the difference obvious

There are various ways to do this, whether that be by showing a difference in character's personalities or the characters that surround the narrator. The author Trudi Canavan shows this brilliantly- especially in her 'Black Magician' trilogy (a series I highly recommend to any fantasy lovers!). She shows the contrast of characters by using different settings and by the different slang around them.

If you read the previous example and then the following, you'll see what I mean:

Her heart was pounding. That man- no it couldn't be. Pulling herself away from the office she stumbled over to her desk and gripped onto the wood tightly. It wasn't possible- there was no way...
A door slamming on the other side of the office made her flinch. Her heart was racing as she forced herself into her chair, her eyes roving about the room and her legs trembling.
She had managed to go all of these years without seeing that face- without having to deal with that part of her life- but it had once again come back to haunt her.
James Gardner, the man she had spent the last five years running from, seemed to be best friends
with her new boss and she had no idea what she was going to do about it.

From this we can clearly see the difference in narration as well as character's personalities. Also, as mentioned in my last post, this supplies a nice way to show backstory.

Tip 3: Be consistent

It sounds obvious, right? But you would be amazed by how easy it is to lose sense of the character's personality as you go on through the story (or screenplay, of course!)
Sometimes you won't have this problem at all- especially if you have a very strong willed characters- but if their personalities are more subtle or less outspoken you can slip out of character.
So, here are some quick tips (for my tip) on how to keep your narration consistent.
  1. Read how their narration starts. Unless the character has had a big revelation or a life changing event, they shouldn't have changed too much from where they started.
  2. Sneak in phrases during their internal thoughts that seem to summarise them. If your character is a pessimist they may have the occasion thoughts on how they "can't say they're surprised" over bad news or if they're sarcastic they may have thoughts about a character they clash with such as, "naturally" or "why am I not surprised?"
  3. Like the above tip, if they have a nervous gesture or particular habit make sure that it stays. Not only does it help to keep the narration consistent but it also can give the reader more insight into how the narrator feels or, if the perception is from another narrator's point of view who is speaking to the other character, it may give the reader an idea of what the character is thinking.
I hope these help and if you have any more suggestions or ideas that you want to add, let me know!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Getting The Balance Right With Backstory

Backstory can be a hard thing to get right. Use too much and the reader is suffocated with irrelevant information. Use too little and the reader knows next to nothing about your character.

So how do you find the balance? There are various methods.

Method One: Imagine the character as someone that has just entered your life.

Imagine that you're at a bus stop and have started up a conversation with a stranger. It turns out that you have a lot of things in common and chances are that you will see each other a lot more in the future. At first you might learn a little bit about their family, where they're from and what they work as. It isn't until some time passes and you get closer that you start to learn what makes them tick and what they've experienced to get them to that point in their lives.

Now think of this in terms of your character and their relationship with the reader. At first you start to get to know them and, gradually, you start to learn their history and the reasons they act the way they do.

Method Two: Use the backstory as a way to build mystery

Tease the reader by giving them snippets. Maybe the character has a particularly strong reaction to something that seems inconsequential or they close up when another character tries to discuss a certain topic with them. Here's a quick example:

His fingers tapped a quick staccato on the old oak table as he tried to hold back his agitation. She was still talking about the anniversary. Breathing deeply, his drumming sped up. His attention was wavering as she continued to ramble, his thoughts becoming dark as he thought of the last time he'd seen the couple- of the last time he's seen them without their terrible secret weighing heavily on his shoulders...
"Rick, are you even listening to me? I said that they're expecting us in half an hour- we need to get going."
His hand stopped abruptly, causing her to flinch slightly at the harsh sound of his palm slapping against the table. "We're not going."
"What do you mean we're not going- of course we're,"
His tone was sharp, his voice low. "I said we're not going. There's nothing else to discuss, Kelsa!"
Without another word, he left. The door slammed behind him with a resounding bang.

We don't know why he refuses to go, we don't know what their 'secret' is but by giving the reader that information we are giving them just a enough backstory to know that something is happening 'behind the scenes' and to keep their interest.

Method Three: Conversation

Now, this is quite a difficult one to get right. It is easy to make conversations sound unrealistic and difficult to process by trying to stuff it with as much information as possible. Often, in this case, less is more. Here's an example:

"What's gotten into you lately?"
"What do you mean?"
She sighed loudly as she crossed her legs, placing the magazine on the arm of the sofa next to her. "I mean that every time I try to talk to you about Jake, you close up."
Donna stiffened before forcing a tense shoulder to shrug. "There's nothing to say."
"Funnily enough, I don't believe you."
Feeling the sharp gaze of the other woman on the back of her head, she swallowed thickly and forced herself to concentrate on the CD collection in front of her. "You're imagining things."
"Damn it, Donna- will you just tell me! He's been asking after you everyday for the past two weeks and, quite frankly, I'm running out of reasons why you won't get back in touch. I think that after all of the lying and covering up I've been doing for you I have the right to know why you haven't spoken to this guy in the last five years."
Memories of a distant yell and blood stained carpets flickered through her mind as she tried to focus on the albums on the shelf in front of her. The reality of what they did, of what she did still echoed through her mind. Her voice was no higher than a whisper. "I never meant for him to get hurt."
Clearing her throat, she spoke louder. "No... I mean his uncle."
"What are you talking about? What's his uncle got to do with anything?"
Biting her lip, she risked a glance over her shoulder at the red head. "Five years ago, there was this... accident. A lot of people got hurt because of what we did."
A furrow emerged between her brows as she pulled herself up on the sofa. "Wait, accident? What kind of accident?"
"We got involved in something that we shouldn't have." Her hand moved to the back of her neck, rubbing it absentmindedly as she tried to find the right words. "We were so damn na├»ve. I swear, we never meant for people to get hurt..."
"Donna," Her flatmate's voice was steady but her body was tense. Her fingers were clutching to the material of the sofa so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. "What did you do?"
Donna's eyes slowly lifted to meet the other woman's stare, her breath leaving her in a rush as she forced the words out that she hadn't uttered in  years. "That night, we killed a man- we killed Jake's uncle."

Give them all a go and see which works best for you! Have another suggestion? Make sure to let me know!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

When Life Won't Give You Lemonade, Go And Look For Lemons

Unfortunately, life isn't always smooth sailing. We all have time where our lack of success or lack of results after all of the hard work  that we put in can get us down. We feel undervalued, we feel taken for granted.

We start to wonder what's the point. We start to wonder if all of our effect is for nothing. We wonder when things are going to start going our way.

From vimeo.com
When life won't give you lemonade, go and look for some lemons.

If life won't give you the results you're after- go and get them.

I have a good example of this. Lately, my lack of progress in regards to getting my writing 'out there' has been getting to me and I decided to do something. I sent a piece of flash fiction to an online magazine.

I didn't think much of it, to be honest. I soon found myself distracted by other things and it had completely slipped my mind until I checked my emails this evening. The guy who I had sent the piece to had gotten back to me to tell me that they'd liked the piece and that they were going to publish it. (I'll post a link when it's been published!)

When life won't give you lemonade, go and look for some lemons.

If you want someone to give you a chance, sometimes you've got to go and search for one.

Sometimes if you want something, you have to go out and get it. If you're waiting for results and they're not happening, sometimes you have to go out and get them yourself.

So now, right now, plan to do something proactive- plan to get those results. And, you know what?Even if you don't get the response you're after at least you've taken a positive step towards what you were after all along.