Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to tell a story, or not. With Barbie.

Once, when I was about seven or eight, my Dad invited a mate over. I think it was possibly an old army mate, but I’m not sure on the specifics. It was probably explained to me at the time, but I was busy thinking about protecting my bedroom from vampires (thanks to an older sister who swore they were coming for me), protecting my toes from gnomes (they hack them off if you sleep with your feet untucked, you know), and protecting my Playmo men from the dog.

Playmo Vikings. I seriously want these from Amazon
Anyway, Dad’s mate was coming to visit and he was bringing his daughter, and my sister Kath and I had to play with her. When she turned up with all her pristine Barbie dolls in her massive Barbie Camper Van, we knew it wouldn't end well. I mean, they all still had their original high heels.

Our Barbie dolls did not do Barbie doll things. Ours went to alien planets to hold back the invasion, or time-travelled, or busted open international crime syndicates, and they did all those things in high heels and sparkly halter-tops. Now that’s girl power. We suspected that the Interloper would want to play Barbies how most girls did: by using the pictures on the box as a strict instruction manual.

We were right.

The Interloper (Bronwyn, was it Browyn?) didn’t play like we did. It was excruciating. When I was seven or eight I probably didn’t know the word excruciating, but I sure as hell felt it every time Bronwyn began every sentence with “Let’s pretend!”

Let’s pretend Barbie is going to a fashion show.
Let’s pretend she has to drive the camper van there.
Let’s pretend Barbie meets her friend Barbie at the shop
Let’s pretend Barbie and Barbie go to the beauty salon where Barbie works.

(All of them were called Barbie. Every single one. Except the three Kens.)

Let’s pretend Barbie and Barbie are at the fashion show.
Let’s pretend Barbie and Barbie and Barbie and Barbie are in the audience.

Do you feel it yet? Your muscles clenching? Your skin crawling? That tic in your eyelid? That’s excruciating, and that’s not how you tell a story.

Lesson of the day: I don’t care how flash your Barbie Camper Van is. If I hate the way you tell your story  I won’t play with you. I may even hit you over the head with one of your vaccuous, bimbo skank Barbies and my dad will smack me and send me to my room.

And it will totally be worth it.

What are your pet peeves when it comes to storytelling?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I am Kreativ!

Krista at I Take The Pen has given me the Kreativ Blogger Award. Here it is:

So pretty! The rules are that I have to tell you 10 things about myself, and then pass the award on to 6 bloggers. 

So now I get to tell you 10 exciting things about myself.

1. When I was four I got stuck in the middle of a dog fight. I still have the scars from where a neighbourhood dog called Oplika Spot bit me. The scars used to be on my thigh, now they are on my knee. How weird is that?

2. I wrote my first poem at about the same age. It went “I think mice are nice.” It was also illustrated.

3. I hate cucumber. There, I’ve said it. Except, weirdly, I love tzatziki. 

4. I panic when I can’t remember the difference between amiable, amicable and amenable.  I’ve just reread that sentence, and I’m panicking.

5. I once accidentally handcuffed myself to a chair at work. It was surprisingly easy to do.

6. I am addicted to Historic LOLs. Cos of stuff like this: 

7. Some days I spend more time thinking about writing than actually writing. This is a pattern I hope to break sometime this year.

8. I am hopeless with maths. This is because I used to work in a bank, and I hated it so much that when I quit I jettisoned the part of my brain that could count.

9. In the back of my cupboard I have a pair of knee high purple Doc Marten boots. One day they will be cool again.

10. Once, in Italy, I accepted a ride off a total stranger. You know, sometimes your parents are wrong. Sometimes you won’t get abducted and murdered. Thanks, Francesco! 

And now to pass this on to 6 bloggers: 

1. Charlotte from La Scrittura Vita
2. Guilie from Quiet Laughter
3. Debbie at - Debbie's got a giveaway going on at the moment! :) 
4. T.B. McKenzie at Magickless - he's got a giveaway going on as well! :) 
5. Caitlin at Logically
6. Caroline at Caroline Wilson Writes.

Now get off the internet and get back to writing that novel. No, seriously, I mean it. 
Well, okay, you can check your email, and Twitter, but that had better be it. 
And you should probably leave a comment on that blog.
Ooh, what's everyone saying on Goodreads? 
Omigod, I saw the funniest thing on Youtube, just let me show you...

When did midnight happen? 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Do you read aloud?

When I read, the words in my head are filled with expression and emotion and nuance and all that other stuff that I’m sure actors learn so they can deliver Oscar-worthy performances. It’s all there, and, without bragging, it would give Sir Lawrence Olivier as Hamlet a run for his money. It would bring tears to your eyes, I swear.

Sadly, my actual speaking voice was provided by the Monotone3000.

This is how I imagine the Monotone3000.

I’m not fond of reading aloud. Never have been, and never will be. When I read, I’m racing ahead to find out what happens, not savouring every syllable like a fine wine. Or a cheap wine. Or any wine. 

Hmm, I think I might have a wine.

But reading aloud is good for your WIP. When you slow down, when you listen, you might pick up some things.

Like that gap where you left out a word that your brain auto-filled but your mouth didn’t.

Like that tongue-twister that shouldn’t be there.

Like how come your eyes know the word stymied but your mouth always mispronounces it?  And don't get me started on cacophony

Like the rhythm that falters, and the beat that skips.

(And especially like how every second word is like.)  

But, most importantly, using your actual voice helps you to refine your literary voice. 


Do you read your WIP aloud? 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Does Stephen King Have Nightmares?

There is a point to that question, I promise, and I’m getting there.

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know that I have a secret identity as a writer of erotica. (This still makes me APML - a new acronym I’ve just invented that stands for Absolutely Piss Myself Laughing.)


Book 2 got published a few days ago. I like it a lot more than Book 1, so that’s something, right? The thing is though, when Book 1 came out, I didn’t really know about Goodreads. Now I know, and with Book 2 I’m doing that thing that you should never do — obsessively watching the comments by people who are currently reading it.

This might be weird, but you know what else I find a bit weird? Stopping reading a book in the middle and then going online and talking about it. Maybe that’s just me, but once I’m reading, I’ve committed to it. Although it does give you an interesting insight into what people think.

Some background: Apart from being the story where I proudly retain the Aussie spelling of the word “arse”, Book 2 is kind of suspensy/espionagey. Well, as espionagey as I could make it after doing research by watching Spooks. Long story short, some pretty awful things happen to one of the characters along the way, the wouldn’t-wish-it-on-my-worst-enemy kind of things, there’s a twist I’m quite proud of, and it’s all resolved happily in the end. Because that’s what a story is, right? Conflict —> resolution.

What surprised me was the emotional investment evident in some of the comments on Goodreads. I mean, some readers were really worried about this character. One of them had to take a break between chapters because it was “so intense.”

My first instinct: For serious, you guys, it’s not real. It’s all made up. Never happened.

My second instinct: I am an evil puppet master, sadistically manipulating your emotions. Dance for me! DANCE!


Which brings me back to my question: Does Stephen King have nightmares? Or is there a weird author/reader divide? Despite creating the whole situation, are authors strangely immune from its effects? Are authors immune because we created these characters and this world from scratch? Do we know it doesn’t really matter if we kill our darlings, because we’ve got another hundred clambering for attention in our heads?

Or am I just a sociopath?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kind of a bike story, but mostly an analogy

Once, when I was about ten, I was riding my bike home from school. We lived in Bundaberg at the time. No hills, so there wasn’t a lot of pedalling involved. Anyway, at the time I didn’t tie my shoelaces. This was cool for some reason. Very devil-may-care. Bitches, check my dangly laces, Danger is my middle name. Or something.

Lunacy, sheer lunacy.

I was riding along Avenell Street when a strange grating noise told me something wasn't right. I looked down to discover both of my shoe laces were caught in my bike chain. Now I’m not an engineer, but it didn’t take long to see the problem: every time I pedalled, the laces wound tighter. Very soon I wouldn’t be able to pedal at all.

I’m not a physicist either, but I did understand that if I stopped moving forward I would fall over.

I was two blocks from home. This would go down to the wire.

I pedalled, and my laces were pulled further into the chain.

I turned into Harvey Street. My heart was thumping wildly.

I coasted as far as I could, and then pedalled again.

(Allow me to up the tension here by saying this occurred in the days before it was compulsory to wear bike helmets, and I was not wearing one.)

I’d just hit the corner of McLachlan Drive when it happened -- the chain jammed and I couldn’t shift the pedals.

I don’t know if all of the neighbours heard me screaming for my mother as I coasted down the street, but I had a decent audience by the time I wobbled onto our pebbled driveway -- Pebbles, I ask in my best Indiana Jones impression, why did it have to be pebbles? -- still screaming, desperately hoping my mother would hear me.

She did hear me, as it happens, and appeared out the front door just in time to see me topple over like a hysterical skittle. I don’t remember a lot about what happened next. I know it took a pair of scissors to cut me free from my bike chain, and more than a few Band-Aids to patch me up, and I remember my mother’s astute observation, delivered in a slightly sarcastic tone once she made sure I wasn't bleeding to death, that there is a good reason most people tie their shoelaces.

And now for the analogy bit. Because I promised it wasn’t a bike story, right? No, this is a writing story. It is how I’m feeling about my current WIP, and it might be how you’re feeling about yours as well:

1. Sometimes you’ll struggle like hell and get nowhere.

2. Sometimes, the harder you work the worse things get.

3. Sometimes you’ll reach the end only to collapse in a screaming heap.

4. Sometimes your Mum will have to patch you up.

5. Despite the grazes, the bruises and the laughter of your neighbours, you’ll get back on the bike tomorrow.

So let’s do this until we get it right. Helmet on, shoelaces tied -- because don’t say we don’t learn from our mistakes -- and we’re off. And you know what? We’ll get there in the end!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Emotional Blackmail

In real life, this is a bad thing. In fiction, bring it on.

Unleash the crazy.
Take me on a guilt trip.
Manipulate me. 


Whatever's on the next page, I don't want to see it coming.  

Do you like to ride an emotional roller coaster when you read?
Or did you stop at the gift shop on the way in to the emotional theme park and get a map? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

There is no such thing as obsolete...

I collect strange old books. For some reason, medical books. These can be difficult to find, particularly in a small regional city. I think, unfortunately, that a lot of old medical books are destroyed because the information in them is either obsolete, or incredibly dangerous. My British Pharmacopoeia 1932 might not be up to date with the latest gimmicks, paracetamol, it does tell me how to mix up a medicinal tincture of cocaine. Mmm, sparkly goodness.

I am in love with Embalming, Theoretical and Practical by E. F. Scudamore F.B.I.E. I would love it slightly more if it was called Embalming for Fun and Profit, but you can’t have everything. This is the book that taught me that eyeballs liquefy three to five days after death. Invaluable stuff!

The oldest book I own is called Elijah the Tishbite. It is from the 1860s, and has been handed down in the family for ages. First, I guess, because someone was religious, then from habit, and now because you can’t throw out a book that old. I’ve tried to read Elijah the Tishbite a few times, if only to see what a Tishbite is, but I can’t do it. This book has defeated me. I get a few pages in, and am suddenly overcome by the urge to do harm to myself and others. Nobody can veer from dull religious pomposity into casual racist bigotry like the Victorians. 

But that’s what I love about old books. The “facts” might be laughable, but in a century or two ours will be as well. Old books are a snapshot in time, part of the zeitgeist, and a window into a very different world.

Mum once said those old encyclopaedias were just collecting dust. But, really, how can we get rid of them? Where else are you going to see a cliffhanger like this:

What's the most impractical, wonderful book you own? 


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