Tag Archives: words

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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Regional accents on the page. A good idea?

Leprechauns of IrelandPhil: Allroit bab?

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted an interesting story on the Birmingham Mail website. The 50 top words and phrases that say you’re from Birmingham or the Black Country. I tweeted this to Candice with the tag #poshbrummie – because she was born and brought up in the Midlands.

“oy I am not a brummie!however I did used to go to the outdoor…but not the back of rackhams” was the repost, followed by sharing the article to her friends on Facebook.

Reading through the list shows just how rich Brummie lingo is. Those in the south might need subtitles but for those living in the middle of the country, there’s a lot of fun in recognising certain words and phrases. Saying someone is going round the “Back of Rackhams” for example tells you that they are probably a “lady of the night” or at least  a customer of same. And no, you don’t get points on your store card. In fact when they say “Love being recognised?” then answer is probably, “No”.

Anyway, I am reading Meet Me in Manhattan by Claudia Carroll at the moment. Holly Johnson (no, not the Frankie goes to Hollywood one) lives in Dublin (bonus points for a non-London setting) and is Irish.

Or should I say Oirish.

The trouble is the Carroll has given her a regional accent on the page, and it’s bugging me. Every “Feck” brings to mind either Father Jack or Mrs Brown as played by Brendon O’Carroll. I’m expecting a “Top O’the mornin’ ” at some point followed by discussion of the little people.

In Kate vs The Dirtboffins (Buy it now!), it never occurred to us to give anyone much of an accent. All the main characters are accent-free because we wrote how we spoke and neither of us has an accent. Not even the one is definitely NOT a Brummie.

Should commercial fiction be like this or are regional dialects on the page a good thing? Would a soft southern shandy drinker Londoner or worsem an American, be put off if we included some Midlands colloquialisms? When was the last time you read a book with an accent?

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Your search history

Candice: You know you are having a bad week when you start to type in your search into Google and when you put in d the word “diarrhea” comes up.

Luckily it’s not me being ill but another, smaller member of the household.  She’s fine in herself but not so well in other areas.  This means, of course, that she can’t go to nursery.  We are now a week in and I’ve used up all my grandparent passes so the other half and I are stepping in to the breach and having to take some time off to look after her.

But I am always harping on about time and the issues with having a child so I will shut up!

I did manage to squeeze in some book time the other day as we have  new typeset version of our book, courtesy of Clink Street. However, in the transfer from Word to Indesign a lot of the formatting has changed, and we have spotted some typos.

I’ve also had a colleague at work read the book and give me some good feedback on it (its a bloke so that’s even better) but also give me a list of things he spotted.

Between the two we now have a long list of things to change to make the printed version even  better!  However, by the end of the two hour proofing session my eyes were going a little screwy.

I have a recommendation to anyone who needs to proof read their work.  Read it from the end.  You don’t get distracted by the meaning and the story, you literally just spot the mistakes.

After many missed speech marks and full stops, it definitely worked for me.

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200 words

200Phil: A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that at the Writing West Midlands networking event, Liam Brown had given the best bit of writing advice ever. However, before passing it on, I wanted to test it.

The advice is: Write every day. Even 200 words is enough.

Simple, and brilliant.

Truth is, “write every day” is good solid advice for any writer. To get the book finished, you have to put in the time at the keyboard.

Like any journey, the hardest part is the first step and so it is with writing. But 200 words doesn’t seem that much. I can knock those out in a few minutes (I haven’t timed myself but for the purposes of motivation, I’ll retain the fantasy) and feel good about myself.

Of course, you don’t stop at 200, or at least I haven’t. Which means several chunks of our second book are fuller than they were. Meeting Candice for lunch yesterday, I checked through the work and while there’s lots to do, there’s quite a lot done too. Not finished, but blocked in 1st draft style. Every 200 words is a step in the right direction.

This post is 200 words long.

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Faster fingers, FASTER!

How to type diagram

Phil: Last week, Candice and I sat down and talked out way through one of the main chapters in Book 2.

When we started, it was nothing more than a single line in the plan. Allocated to me, I’d a fairly simple outline in my head where I set up the story with a quick tour for our heroes.

An hour and some cake later, we both had several pages of notes and the single line expanded to a multi-layered chunk of story with an awful lot happening – a million miles away from the realitcly simple chunk of text I’d expected to churn out.

Buzzing with ideas, Candice has already written a couple of pieces where she abuses our characters a bit. My job is to weave these in to the main set-up text I’m supposed to be working on. The one chapter set-up now looks more like three with many subtle twists and turns along the way. It’s a lot better than the initial idea.

Trouble is, I’m also buzzing with ideas and here’s the frustration – I can’t get the ideas out of my head fast enough. There’s loads going on in my brain and now I need to get them on to the page.

Years ago, I learned to touch type but never progressed to the stage where it was faster than my two fingers and thumb (for the space bar – get me) technique. Even if I did, I still couldn’t keep up and find the letters tripping over each other as I try to put them in some sort of order.

One day there will be a faster way. A Johnny Mnemonic plug in system where ideas can flow straight in to the computer perhaps. Or we’ll get rich enough to employ a bank of assistants who can take dictation.

Can’t happen fast enough.

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Michael Rosen talks English

Phil: It’s Stratford Literary Festival time again and I’m off on a solo trip to see an event because someone else is away on holiday (also why I’m writing the Tuesday blog post but I don’t mind). Looking at the listing I decided it would be interesting to see Michael Rosen.

Many will know Rosen from his role as Children’s laureate, a post he held from 2007 to 2009. Parents will probably know We’re Going On A Bear Hunt as it’s a notorious bedtime story book that children love to hear time and again until the reader can recite the story from memory. After this, it’s told through gritted teeth.

I’ve only read one book he has authored, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book , in which he describes how his son, Eddie, died of meningitis aged 19. It’s a book for children that talks about loss, sadness and the feelings around grief. I’ll be honest, I spotted the book displayed in the foyer of my local library and read it sat inside. It’s not a long book and as befits something written with children in mind there are lots of illustrations by Quentin Blake. Despite all this, it is a fascinating read, one of the reasons I thought the evening would be interesting.

All started well with a pun:

Q – Which are the most jealous letters in the alphabet?

A – NV (Audience laughs)

You see, it wasn’t Rosen the author we had on stage. It was Rosen the presenter of Radio 4’s Word of Mouth, a programme devoted to words, where they come from and how we use them.

You might think this sounds a bit dull. I’m not sure if all of the audience were ready for this as book festival crowds can be a bit star struck, but there were certainly loads of erudite members who thoroughly enjoyed themselves. To be honest, if you have an interest in language or writing, you couldn’t fail to be. It was a very entertaining show.

Nothing illustrates this better than the move from talk to Q&A half an hour in. This is a brave move, especially with a slightly academic subject. Needless to say the crowd were up for it. Most were so excited they couldn’t even wait for the roving microphone before bellowing their question. We over-ran too. The “final” quick question was, “When did the vowel shift take place and why?” – the questioner obviously being unaware of the meaning of “quick”. It wasn’t even the last as someone yelled out another final question, which our host couldn’t answer. In the end the organiser had to leap on stage and wrestle Rosen off so they could clear the hall in time for the next event.

If I’m honest, this wasn’t what I was expecting. If I’d realised, my enthusiasm would have been dampened by memories of Bill Bryson’s books covering similar ground which are the only ones in his repertoire I’ve never been able to wade through. Here though, we had a topic covered amusingly by an author who can communicate brilliantly. Rosen has strong views on education, Mikey Gove’s name popped up a couple of times and he deliberately declined to take the talk in that direction, on this evidence he probably has much to say. If my English teachers had been half as interesting when I was at school, perhaps I’d be a great writer now.

Oh. Hold on…

Visit Michael Rosen’s Website.

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The Uxbridge English Dictionary

Phil: It’s Christmas and I’m not going to pretend that much writing work is taking place or that you are really in a state to make the best of any carefully crafted words dear reader. Instead, fill your glass, grab another mince pie from the plate and enjoy a few definitions from the Uxbridge English Dictionary.

For those who are wondering what I’m on about, this is a round from the popular Radio 4 panel game, “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue.”. Contestants have to provide new definitions for existing words. To be honest, most of these are bad puns but as writers, we love a bit of wordplay don’t we?

Abandon – Pub entertainment.

Abundance – Similar to Morris Dancing but with cakes instead of sticks.

Academy – School for Cads.

Adultery – What happens after puberty.

Apogee – How you describe yourself after too much Christmas dinner.

Beware – Clothing for bees.

Boycott – A bed for a young male child.

Busking – An owner of many buses.

Camiknickers – Camera thieves.

Canopy – Tin of urine

Cavendish – A bit like a cavern.

Constrain – A railway service for prisoners.

Descant – An ant with an office job.

Faculty – Cockney for running out of PG Tips

Fielding – To find a bell in the dark.

Forebears – Bad day for Goldilocks.

Gangster – A criminal pasty.

Mutant – An ant with no voice.

Offend – To circumcise.

Phantom – To waft air over a male cat.

Polygon – A deceased parrot.

Torture – Like a torch but more so.

Whisky – A bit like a whisk.

Wrench – A female spanner.

Zulu – A toilet at an animal park.

(If you enjoyed these, I pinched some of them from the Online Uxbridge English Dictionary or just listen to the programme and jot them down like I did)

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Berlin

While we have been a bit slack on the writing front and don’t have a festive story as a present for you this year, we have a couple of pieces in the nolanparker archive that haven’t been given an airing. This effort was destined for a short story writing competition which we assume we didn’t win. Despite this, we don’t think it’s bad, so hope you enjoy our non-Christmassy tale.

Berlin

The house was uninviting but her future lay inside.

Grey paint peeled from weather beaten walls. A few straggly plants clinging to life drooped over the edges of a rotten window box. Peering through the filthy glass, all she could see were threadbare and stained curtains. A tiny, barely glimpsed movement revealed there was someone in there.

She stood in front of the front door and reached for the knocker. A moments pause. Just as she had paused before. Each time something had made her turn and walk away. Now it might be too late.

A final furtive look around to see if there was anyone watching her. All she could see was the clouds of her own breath. The gathering gloom made it feel even colder. Every breath felt like someone was stabbing the inside of her lungs.

A few months ago, it had all been so different. The summer sun was shining. The flowers were in full bloom. She was studying at Berlin University to become a doctor and in a few months planned to be back home working in the same Dresden hospital she had been born in.

Best of all Bernhard would be with her. They had met at a concert five months earlier and had been inseparable ever since. The day he asked her to marry him was the best of her  life. There had been no hesitation in her answer or any restraint in the kiss that had followed it. For a month she hadn’t been able to take her eyes off the ring he had bought her. The ring she could now feel under her glove.

After the best day came the worst.

Bernhard was an engineering student. He was lucky enough to be chosen to take part in a conference had at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg.

A trip to decadent West”, he joked proudly showed off the papers that would allow him to travel, “I will try my best to avoid being corrupted by their degenerate ideals”.

They laughed. Like other students, they enjoyed what little Western music they could find of and sometimes gazed at the other side of the city wondering what it was really like. Surely not everyone was an evil Nazi as the political officers told them.

Bernhard even got into a fight with a drunken party member in a bar who berated them with stories of what he said was the evils being perpetrated just a few miles away and demanded to know why anyone should want to expose themselves to them. She dabbed his eye with a cold flannel to stop the swelling and soothed his temper. He would soon see it all with his own eyes. If they weren’t black that is.

A couple of days later, she chocked back tears as he climbed the steps of the coach that would take the group to the conference. Bernhard waved and blew a kiss from through the window. She watched the street until the vehicle was out of sight. Then it was back to her rooms while repeating that he would only be away for four days. She went to bed staring at the calendar where the date was ringed in red and drifted off to sleep.

Then the wall arrived.

In the university canteen everyone was talking about it. Overnight soldiers had started stringing barbed wire along the streets. People said that they had heard gunshots and someone claimed to have seen a man trying to cross the line being killed. Her heart froze as she realised what this meant. Bernhard was on the wrong side of the divide.

Weeks seemed like years  but she heard nothing. Concentration on daily tasks became impossible. Nights were filled with dreams of her love calling over the barbed wire.

Suddenly there was a letter. It took a few moments before she recognised the writing as his. People said it was hardly readable but it didn’t matter. His fingers had touched the envelope. His pen had caressed the page.

Not just his hand though. The letter had been opened, probably by the Stasi. Everyone knew about them of course but until that moment her life had never knowingly been touched by the secret police. Now they had pried into her private world. Defiled it. Dirtied it. Tears welled up. How dare they ? In a flash of anger she nearly threw the envelope away.

But she didn’t.

She unfolded the letter and read it. Quickly at first and then again and again. Each time absorbing the words as though trying to soak the ink itself into her fingers. His ink. The only connection they had.

Bernhard was safe. He had been found a room in the house of one of a fellow student from the conference. When news of the division of the city reached them, many had decided this was their chance to stay in the West. He said he had wanted to come back to her but had been worried that if he tried, the authorities might wonder why only a few of the party returned. The Western authorities had been only too happy to help these poor refuges from Communism.

Should she reply ? How could she ignore it ? Not knowing if her letter would ever arrive she hurriedly scrawled on some writing paper. At the post office the teller looked at her oddly but took the envelope and said it would be delivered. As she left there was a feeling that someone was watching her.

The wait for a reply seemed interminable but at last it arrived. Again, the envelope had been clumsily opened and re-sealed. For a while she just stared at the paper without reading the words.

Another letter posted. And another. And another. The teller was starting to recognise her so she started using different post offices around the city. After a few months she had been into nearly every one within walking distance and then had to start taking the tram to new districts.

Bernhard even remembered her birthday. He mentioned he might be travelling East on the day to meet Charlie. There was a point he wanted to check at noon. The code was crude but she in a flash she knew what he meant. Everyone knew that Checkpoint Charlie was what the Americans called the crossing.

On the day she stood at one side of the crossing and stared hard at the other side of the wall. He was there. A little fatter than before but unmistakable. He saw her and waved. She waved back. He tried to shout but the distance and noise was too great. In the end they just stood and stared at each other. She tried not to cry but eventually a tear ran down her cheek. A guard spotted her and shouted. Then he pointed his gun and she had to move away.

Back in her room she howled into her pillow. How could she bear to be apart ? Enquiries to see if there was a chance to visit the West had been sharply turned down. Far too many students had managed to escape already. The man she had talked to described it as a “brain drain”. He advised her not to try anything “silly” either in a way that made her shiver.

Her friends tried to console her. They said that the wall couldn’t last forever. Maybe Bernhard might come back. After all, he loved her and maybe the West wasn’t all it was cracked up to be anyway.

She hoped and dreamed they were right. Then she scolded herself for thinking that way. If Bernhard came back to her, his first few days would be spent being “de-briefed” in some  Stasi basement. Who knows what the bastards would do to him. They’d say he was a spy. She was sure that someone had been watching when they saw each other. They weren’t stupid, evil maybe but not stupid, they would have worked out Berhard’s code.

A week passed. Her friends were concerned. They kept telling her she needed to eat but her appetite had gone. Gone west. As she sat in the refectory toying with some awful slops pretending to be goulash, a blond man approached. He asked if the seat opposite her was taken. She grunted a response which he took to be negative and sat down.

Her companion seemed more interested in his food than she was. He was wolfing down the nauseating stew like he hadn’t eaten for a week. She tried to ignore the noise he made. Despite her best efforts he kept looking at her. Suddenly he spoke. Her face tried to express complete disinterest but there was something about his eyes that drew her in.

For a few minutes she resisted conversation but eventually he wore her down. He seemed to know a lot about her. For a moment she wondered if he was a plant. They said that there were spies at the university to check on disloyal feelings. He seemed to know about Bernhard. One of her friends had told him he said. Suddenly the tone of his voice dropped. He drew closer to her. She thought for a minute he was going to try and kiss her. There was still a bit of cabbage leaf in his beard. Seeing her recoil he looked slightly hurt and then lent in again.

Checking that no one was listening in he revealed that he asked if she had ever heard  about something called the Girrmann Group.

She thought and then shook her head. Even if she had known anything it wasn’t wise to admit it. You never really knew who you were talking to.

He smiled. The Girrmann Group might be able to help her he said. If she wanted to know more then she should meet him again the next day.

Suddenly her mind was a ball of confusion. Why was he telling her this? Was is a Stasi test? Had he thought her fiancée was out of the picture and was trying it on? How could she be sure? She twisted the ring on her finger again and thought  of Bernhard. What could the authorities do that was worse than separating her from him ?

More meetings in the refectory took place. Apparently discussing things in plan sight was the best way to avoid suspicion. That’s what he said anyway. She was glad of this. If he couldn’t try anything in a public place and she made sure he saw that she still wore her ring. Just in case

A week later and contacts were made, instructions given. No luggage. This was a one-way trip.

When it was whispered that escape was via the sewer system she had only a moments pause. All of a sudden it was serious. Until then, everything had seemed a bit like a game. Unreal. At the back of her mind a little voice said it could be a trap or even a cruel joke but she couldn’t bear the thought of that.

Her friends had become distant. Some had spotted her regular rendezvous and thought that she was “moving on” as one put it. Others felt she was just pining for Bernhard. She knew that if this worked, they would be questioned. Everyone would. The less they knew the better. Was it fair to them? Should she just wait for a bit to see if everything blew over?

In front of the house she pulled the bit of paper out of her pocket and looked at it for the hundredth time. This was the right address. The one she’d been at before and turned away at the last minute. This time she had to go through with it. Her friend had said that the route the group had used was likely to be closed. It was now or never. She turned at took a last look at the overcast October sky and knocked on the door.

Her future lay ahead. Whatever it was. At least there would be answers.

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Puntastic

Marvin - the proper one from the TV series.Candice: Phil, being Phil, fancies the Pun Run,  ”the only pun and wordplay-based comedy club in the UK”

Phil: M’writing friend is not wrong. I love a good pun. In fact, like most writers, I really enjoy wordplay.

Next week I’m heading off to see “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show” which means an evening spent enjoying the wonderful writing of the late Douglas Adams. He was a man who enjoyed messing with the language to amuse the reader. Who else could have described a space ship thus?

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

or the exchange

“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”

“Ask a glass of water!”

These aren’t jokes, but they are funny. Or at least I think they are.

Enjoying langauge is vital for writers and playing with it is an excellent way to get better at using it. In one corner of my life I spend my time trying to communicate to people the methods for making models. The problem with this is avoiding repetition. Sometimes you desperately strive to avoid repeating a word. In my head, using the same one twice in a sentence is a crime I’ll do my best not to commit. For this reason, I chose a thesaurus over a dictionary when offered the choice some time ago. I need more words!

I guess this might also explain my predilection for the Quick Crossword rather than the more elegant cryptic version. I can’t solve the later but really wish I could. As it is, the idea that I need to find a word that can replace the quick clue is irresistible, although I need practise to become any good and stand a chance of completing the grid.

Writers seem drawn to crosswords and other word puzzles. Maybe we have a larger vocabulary than mere mortals, I prefer to think it’s like muscle memory. If you exercise it, you gain strength and writing a book is hard work.

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