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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Hello all.
Just a quick note to say the SYP reading at the Adelphi Hotel in Leeds is on tomorrow at 7.30pm. As well as a reading by me, there will also be a discussion about Digital vs. Print media, and free food and wine.

So, in all, totally worth it.

It’s free to come so do pop on down. I’ll try and get a video so we can share it on the blog.

Another note: the 50th person to ‘like’ my FB page gets a free book, so pass that on too!

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Okay, okay, I’ll admit it – I’m a massive nerd. As we speak, I’m listening to Viridian City from the Pokemon soundtrack, and I have about six different graphic novels open on the floor. True story.

As a nerd, I enjoy computer games probably ten times more than everyone else. This is not a fatal flaw. Oh no. It’s a good chance to do some of that research you were about to do on your novel.

People find this concept endlessly strange. ‘Why play a game?’ they say. ‘Just watch TV, or read another book.’

Ah, but no! The best thing about computer games? Your involvement. I don’t play those silly shoot everyone dead games. I play those wander around, do quests, slice your sword around, complicated plot, save the world sorts of games. I find this helps me no end without me even realising.

The unwary writer uses computer games to unwind. This, in itself, is also fine. But the unwary writer does not realise what else is happening while she’s pressing X and O and casting spells. She is learning about choices within plots. Example: run into a room full of things about to kill you. You enter abysmally unprepared, and as a result, get a butt whooping. So what do you do? Go back to your last saved game and take your character to the shop, get some armour, some new spells, and go back in. This could take hours, or one simple selection – but what it’s teaching the writer is that the simple things matter. How many times have gamers cursed themselves because you need to go all the way back through the temple to pick up that stupid key in the chest halfway across the room you thought you didn’t need?

Your involvement, the cerebral processes, the tactical decisions you make during these sorts of games, are exactly the same thing you employ when writing. You need to make your fight scene realistic without it being dull. You need to figure out some sort of complex plot point without it being obvious. The skills required are the same. You need logic, puzzle solving, rational and lateral thinking, and patience.

The other thing I quite enjoy is the pretty pictures. You can see some armour in-game and think ‘something like that might work for my novel’ (of course, I’m not advocating copying or plagiarism, because that’s wrong.) and you can incorporate it. Recently, for Son of Songs, Joe brought round a copy of Starship Titanic, because he saw some similarities with that and one of the chapters in the comic, in terms of artwork. I’d never played Starship TitanicĀ before (you should – it’s written by Douglas Adams and Terry Jones, and has a novel to accompany it) so we sat down and did it – and the artwork is precisely what I wanted, pre-visualised. And, the game was really good too. Pretty artwork gets me thinking. I’m a very visual learner, so put some pictures in front of me and basically I’m happy; all of my stories come into my mind as little movies, so as to make me write better.

Thirdly, I think computer games can teach you quite a lot about character and dialogue. Good dialogue is difficult to do (something I’ll blog about later), and a lot of computer games require endless lines of dialogue to complete them. Studying this, and how the characters’ conversations flow, can help those in need. Character is an important point here too, because we have heroes, villains, anti-heroes and all else besides, in different shapes and sizes. Again, don’t copy, but pull bits here and there together to make what you want. Often, you start with a character you know little about but ultimately must come to like if you want to complete the game – a vital lesson in character development.

Finally: plot. What I think games are doing very well in at the moment is the ranger of diverse, complex and intriguing plots. Games have the best writers right now. Think Assassin’s Creed (who KNOWS what’s going on there?!), think Dead Space (for creepiness) – even, going old-school, Metal Gear Solid (one of the most complicated and well-rounded universes ever made) and Prince of Persia (solid, compelling games with great traditional plots). All of these games have us hooked start to end. Why? Good plot. If you’re struggling at world-building, grab yourself all 4 Metal Gear Solid games and have a crack at those bad boys.

And, consistently, you’re involved. You are the person pushing the buttons and running and jumping. You’re responsible for a pixelated life. And, really, that’s writing all over.

So, next time the writer in your life sits down in front of their console, don’t go, ‘Shouldn’t you be writing?’ because chances are their answer will be, ‘In a way, I already am.’

I am famous in my circle of friends and writers for the horrendous lack of research I do when I’m writing a novel. It goes hand-in-hand with my hatred for planning. Some things in life I believe have to sort themselves out – writing is one of them. That’s what editing is for, as far as I’m concerned (another task which I am famous for hating).

However, this hatred has been tackled by one Joseph John Clark, artist of Son of Songs.

I was very happy, writing away, creating chapter after chapter of dialogue and description, palming it off to poor Joe, who has to draw the thing. I think this is why finally I’ve got my head down and started doing some research – to help my artist. When it’s just me, I don’t see any point in confusing myself or limiting myself in terms of what can and can’t happen and what my imagination can overcome. A lot of my visuals and intertext, however, Joe has never seen before. I got all the way to Chapter Ten before I actually considered that I might need to do some research, and even then, Joe had got there before me.

There is this wonderful website called Dropbox which allows you to share files between two different computers. Joe set on up, and put pile upon pile of pictures in there that he’d found that he thought might be in line with what I’d written. To my utter surprise, a lot of things were very close to. There were some images I knew well that he hadn’t found, so I popped them in the file and sent them off.

This is probably the nicest way of researching I have ever found. It’s collaborative, and it’s helpful. I think I don’t like research because I feel it slows me down – I’m a sprint-writer, not a long distance. But looking back on a lot of the chapters, I can see how this is helping. I also fixed some info files about some of the famous authors featured in the graphic novel and sent them along to give Joe a feel for the literature I was working with.

We will talk about planning later. Research is a similar but very different beast. My main problem is not knowing where to start, then starting on the internet and getting bogged down with a lot of useless things. The internet is great when you know what you’re looking for, but there’s a lot of rubbish out there too, and I get bored with the sifting and sorting. Sometimes you have a particular thing in mind and can’t pinpoint it, and therefore can’t find it; other times you’re learning something new and getting jargoned into submission.

Libraries can be helpful, but again, only if you know what you’re looking for exactly. If you have a vague notion of something, it’s hard to find it without hours of painstaking reading.

I just want to write! Research is tedious. I can see the point and I understand its importance, but I think it’s better to get the ideas down first and add the detail later. That way, you already know how your research is relevant to your plot, but also you can put it in where it’s most needed.

I don’t know. What do you guys think?

Okay, so the blog has fallen by the wayside, but not for good reason. I’ve been really busy organising, travelling, researching and generally doing lots of things, but there’s lots of news.

Firstly, some not so good news. The event ‘The Going Back and Forth’ on 6th August has been cancelled due to problems on the organiser’s end. It’s a shame and I’m gutted, but don’t forget there’s still the SYP event on 30th. Details on the events page.

In other unrelated news, the publishing company IFWG Publishing launched their short story contest, Story Quest, this morning. It’s a themed spec-fic contest with a cash prize and publication, and it’s worth a go to all who try it! Details on the website: www.ifwgpublishing.com

And, last but not least, Against the Elements is now on Kobo reader! You can get it on Amazon. I’m also giving away a free copy for the 50th person who likes the Facebook page. Spread the word!

Research for Son of Songs is going steady – we’re hoping to get some pages up this summer, so keep it here for news.