Tag Archives: words

If you want to write, never mind a laptop, get an iPod…

Phil: As Candice mentioned last week, we have made good progress on Book 3.

Working in the library inspired us to crack on and get some words down. Sadly, as libraries are also popular with students, table space is at a premium. We ended up on a balcony – good view, but the stools weren’t comfortable for shorter people like my freind. Her feet didn’t touch the bar, whereas I fitted perfectly.

Anyway, after a delicious tapas lunch, we went our seperate ways. Arriving at the station, I spotted the next train was to Dorridge, one of our regular haunts. With inspiration still upon me, I decided another half hour or so in Costa would be good and headed that way.

Arghhh!

School holidays mean that the coffee shop, popular with the “yummy mummy” crowd, had turned into a crèche. OK, there were only 3 or 4 children in there, but they ran around unconstrained by their parents.

Luckily, I can’t work in silence. Years of sitting in noisy offices mean I can “tune out” noise and if I’m honest, I prefer it this way. Ignoring the spawns of satan though was harder, my iPod did the job though. The best efforts of Arabella and Constance were blocked out and another 1000 words appeared on the screen. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without music, that’s all.

 

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Working while walking

Phil: I need to get more writing done. And, as mentioned last week, I need more exercise.

Now I think I’ve found a solution to the two problems.

Listening to the radio a few weeks ago, there was an interview with a children’s author who dictates the first draft of all his books to his phone while out for a walk. This sounded like a good idea, so I downloaded a suitable app and gave it a go.

First job – Dictate a 14-page article provided in handwritten form. 25 minutes later, I had a file. An hour after this, I’d been through, edited it for typos and sent it off to my editor to start on the process of subbing it to fit on the pages available. Results were pretty good, certainly no worse than my typing when I’m trying to work quickly and copying someone else’s text.

Next – Killing time waiting for an MOT test to finish, I headed to a local park to try and write a chunk of novel. 2,500 words laid down in an hour or so (I was interrupted by a couple of phone calls) but if I’m honest, when I looked at the file, it was a bit rubbish. OK, so turning it into an acceptable first draft didn’t take quite as long as starting with a blank page, but not far off.

I think the trick is to dictate properly. Reading someone else’s words was fine. Making up my own, the speaking is less regular and worse, I can’t stop myself doing the character voices. Slow down and the results are much better.

Despite this, I have a feeling that with practice, using my phone this way might work. It’s perfect for transcribing articles from others, and since I have half a dozen of those lined up this is A Good Thing. For novels, work in progress.

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I dream of NaNoWriMo

Phil: This time next month, hundreds of eager writers will be beavering away on their latest novel as part of National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo.

Since finding out about this event, I’ve dreamed of taking part. The idea of hammering out the first draft of a book in a month sounds great to me. Needing a deadline to get anything done, I can imagine the joy of racing the calendar to reach the glorious conclusion of your story.

Not this year though. Sadly, there are far too many deadlines in my work life to allow me to enjoy some creative writing. I know that if you want to write, everyone says you will find the time but even if I could, I’m not sure a few hours extra screen time in the evening or early morning is what I need on top of the day gawping at the thing.

What I need is NaGoFoAWa month – National Going for a walk month. Fresh air and exercise will do me more good. Perhaps I should start a movement?

Never mind. Maybe next year. If you are feeling inspired however, visit the NaNoWriMo website.

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Beriberi doesn’t cause diarrhoea. Try dysentery.

Phil: We’re hard at work on the Kate vs the Navy’s edits thanks to some really superb work from proofreader Catherine Fitzsimons.

All the way through the manuscript, Catherine has annotated changes and made suggestions. Working on these is a little like the days of handing your work in to a teacher and seeing what they have written at the bottom of the page.

We’d expected little more than a tidy up for the grammar and spelling plus some useful text formatting. What we have is far better. Catherine has read the book and provided all sorts of plotline advice. There are notes about references that appear later in the book, the sort of the things you only know when you have fully grasped the structure of the narrative. To be honest, I think she knows our book better than we do!

Along the way there are also technical points such as the sort of illness one of the characters could have suffered in the past, although Candice was glad to have read this AFTER eating her Warwickshire Rarebit lunch (It’s like Welsh, but with local ingredients since you ask).

Once you get over the idea that someone has criticised your work, then the process of applying many of the suggestions is great fun. For a start, we have to really think about sections of text, some of which require a bit of head-scratching. However, the result will be far better than we’d have managed on our own and makes the service well worth every penny.

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Can grammar be glamourous?

Phil: Grammar. It’s dull, boring and essential.

Worse, it’s endlessly argued over by very dull and boring people who really need to get out more and take up and exciting hobby, like bus spotting.

You find them haunting on-line discussions, pouncing on minor infractions in someones posting, promptly dragging themselves up to their full height to denounce the criminal. Never mind the subject under discussion, they have nothing to add to this, no, all they want to do is show their superiority handling a preposition.

Sadly, grammar does matter when you are writing, which is why I pitched up to see David Crystal : Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar a couple of weeks ago.

David is described as ” the most famous name in English linguistics” although I’m not sure how much competition there is for that particular accolade. What I do know is he is marvelously entertaining.

Basically, grammar is all about ensuring your audience can understand you. And English is an evolving language. Things change over time and some of the rules laid down many years ago were arbitrary.

A good case is the Oxford comma.

Were I to be described by Cambridge University Press, I would be tall, dark and handsome.

Oxford University Press would say, tall, dark, and handsome.

See the extra comma before the and? Should it be there or not? I’m in the Cambridge camp here having been taught that you don’t comma before an and in a list. It’s the sort of thing that keeps grammar Nazis entertained for hours.

And what about starting a sentence with a proposition (e.g And)?

This rule dates back to the 19th Century when teachers decided children were doing it too often – so banned them from doing it at all. Sorry, who voted them in for the job? Perhaps they should be asked if it’s wrong, does that mean children should be exposed to Shakespeare, who writes, “And then it started like a guilty thing.in Hamlet. Yes Hamlet, that dreary play where everyone ends up dead. Basically, if starting sentences with And is A. Bad. Thing. Then the Bard can come off the syllabus.

For a potentially dull topic, this was a fun hour.  The Q&A at the end was especially entertaining as David punctured the balloons of some questioners who obviously had specific grammar crimes that really bothered them. A quick explanation of how each came about soon explained why this stuff isn’t life and death.

Me, I took away the knowledge that there are very few hard and fast rules. If the reader understands what you are saying, that’s all that matters. We’re writing a story, not a university text. Even if we were, would it be for Oxford or Cambridge? FIGHT!

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Word counting

wordcountPhil: There has been a lot of writing going on over the last couple of weeks. We’re back in the zone with new scenes full of laughs (me) or luurve (her).

I can’t help but keep looking at the word count though. When we started this writing malarkey, I found something on the web that said the  benchmark is 80,000 for a sensible length novel. Kate vs the Dirtboffins made it there and the current project shouldn’t be any shorter.

Reading through our work so far the main structure is in place, but quite sketchy sometimes. New scenes are required as well as plenty of smoothing out of the ones already in. Experience has brought us to this point far quicker than we managed first time around. At this stage we still had the story in the wrong order!

Now numbers aren’t everything, the story will be as long as it needs to be, but I don’t suppose I’m the only author to fixate a little bit on the count. Many famous storytellers aim to produce a minimum number of words each day. Not because this matters especially, but because without it, you don’t have a goal to aim at. At least knocking out the text makes you do something, even if it all ends up in the bin after the first edit.

This caused me a bit of pain recently. A couple of hours hammering the keys, and I’d not quite made the magic 1000 words. I was 50 short.

Then I realised that I’d been working on the opening scenes for part of the time. I’d not added words, I’d taken some out and changed others. Result – tighter and better reading, but a lower overall count!

I guess that proves that numbers aren’t everything. Not that I’ll convince Candice that I’ve been working hard if the count keeps going in that direction!

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Writers can learn from Star Trek

sptsPhil: Warwick Words literary festival has re-invented itself this year as a literary history festival. I went along to a few sessions and was fascinated by the life of Warwick Castle’s housekeeper and the local hiring fairs. I’m told that many of the other talks were brilliant, but some of us have to work.

One session that didn’t seem to fit the pattern was Marcus Berkman talking about Star Trek. This didn’t matter, I beamed in anyway. Only the day before did I realise that the TV show was 50 years old. That counts as history to me.

Marcus is a lifelong fan of the series, both in original and spin-off forms. The talk was based on his enjoyable book Set Phasers to Stun, both a history of the show and it’s production as well as a critique of many of the episodes.

This is proper nerd stuff. I loved it but then I can just about place most of the original series episodes from the descriptions thanks to repeated showings on TV. In Marcus’s book, there’s interesting trivia from behind the scenes, not a happy place to be it seems a lot of the time. Characters came and went as the series settled down and all the familiar elements.

As the book progresses through the various incarnations, Berkman identifies a huge problem faced by the writers – running out of storylines.

Even within the 79 original Trek episodes, there were plenty of very similar plots. Some blame Gene Rodenbury’s obsession that the cast had to be in terrible jeopardy every week, and he liked them to come up against god-like foes (this is one reason why the first film bears more than passing resemblance to the TV episode The Changeling). Berkman describes it as the “plant of the week” plotting style.

The followup Next Generation enjoys 178 shows which really did give the writers a problem. Basically, even with a team working on the series, you can’t avoid duplication, or at least your obsessive fan base spotting parallels.

It must be really tempting for TV and film executives to stick with succesful series. Witness the current trend for re-boots of both films (how many Spidermen do we need?) and re-hashing TV comedies.

We’ve had to consider this for our novels. There is a story arc, and the original plan involved 7 books. We’ve loped this back to 5 as sketching the basic plots out, we reckoned this was just enough to do the job. Any more and we’d be stretching the plot or repeating ourselves. It’s hard enough to avoid doing this and we’re only working on book 2!

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