Sunday, April 28, 2013

Characters -Now in 3D

People are complicated. The characters in novels ought to be complicated as well. There’s nothing worse than a hero who is so shiny and good that you just want to punch him in the face, or a villain who is tiresomely evil just for the sake of it.

Grey areas. Why are they so hard to find in fiction, when we negotiate them in real life all the time?

I get that sometimes characters are archetypes. I get that fiction can be an escape. That’s fine, but those aren’t the stories I want to read. I prefer my characters to use the plot as a vehicle, not the other way around. And while there is always some comfort in the brave hero slaying the dragon, there’s also a reason we grow out of fairy tales.

I like stories that ask questions, not deliver sermons. 

So show me your hypocrites. You know, those of us who disagree with the government's funding cuts to arts and their policies on social issues, but every fortnight open the payslip with Queensland Government on the top. 

Show me your failures. You know, those of us who know we could do better, but don't always fight for it. 

Show me your characters who've had the edges knocked off their passion. Those of us who still believe things, but don't wear the slogans on their t-shirts. 

Show me normal people, who have doubts and fears about everyday things. 

Will I pay all my bills this month? 

If I quit my job, will I find another one? 

If I do wrong, will anyone find out? 

How can I be sure that this is what I want

And this counts for villains as much as heroes because, in the grey areas, sometimes there isn't that much to distinguish them. 

People change. We are changed by both internal and external forces. Sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse. Show me that. 

Show me that if life had a Facebook status it would be, "It's complicated". 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

ANZAC Day - Return to me

It's ANZAC Day on the 25th, and time to look across the Tasman for one of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear -- Pokarekare Ana

Pokarekare Ana was written by Maori troops in the First World War. It is based on the story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, which starts as a Romeo and Juliet story, but ends happily. Here is a translation of the lyrics: 

They are agitated the waters of Waiapu,
But when you cross over girl, they will be calm.
Oh girl 
Return to me, 
I could die of love for you.

I have written my letter, I have sent my ring, 
So that your people can see that I am troubled.
My pen is shattered, I have no more paper 
But my love is still steadfast.

My love will never be dried by the sun, 
It will be forever moistened by my tears.

There are so many versions of this song, that I spent ages looking for "the" one. In the end I gave up, because I love them all. 

Here is the traditional version: 

Here is a choir singing it: 

And here is a truly beautiful version for the classical music lover: 

Which is probably nothing like it was first sung by those troops, almost a century ago. 

Sidenote: Pokarekare Ana is sometimes referred to as NZ's unofficial national anthem. It's a beautiful, heartfelt love song. Australia's unofficial national anthem is about a guy who steals a sheep, evades arrest, then kills himself. We need to step up our game. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dogs make everything more fun: A random story

Did I ever tell you guys about the time a dog came to work?

It's happened before. Sometimes people get arrested, and they have dogs with them. Mostly this means that the dog is chained up in the shade outside with a bucket of water until someone can take it to the RSPCA, but sometimes it means they get brought upstairs to us on the sly and we all pet the dog and ooh and ahh and generally forget what we're being paid to do.

Anyway, once it was a dog that we didn't even have to sneak in, because it was a work dog. And not a normal scary look-at-me-sideways-and-I'll-bite-your-arm-off work dog. Or, my personal favourite, the I'm-just-sitting-quietly-in-the-back-of-this-van-until-you-come-past-and-then-I'll-bark-and-you'll-shit-yourself kind of dog.

It happened like this.

So there was a siege. We sent heaps of crews. And I think from the moment the dog squad officer said "I'll go, but I'm supposed to be picking up a new dog off the plane" we all kind of knew what would happen. Hello, spare traffic crew. Yes, you will go to the airport. You will collect the dog, and you will bring it immediately to comms so that we can "watch" it until the dog squad officer is free.

There's a reason you shouldn't have dogs in the workplace.

This is the reason:

I'm pretty sure everyone had already finished reading that newspaper anyway. And what's more fun than reading the newspaper? PLAYING WITH A DOG. 

Best. Day. Ever. 

Apart from the guy holding the siege of course. Pretty sure his day sucked. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

When something isn't working in a story...

Sometimes in a story, something just doesn't work and suddenly you can't write anymore. 

As a pantser, this happens to me a lot. A lot. And usually it ends in a period of agonising writer's block and angry self-recrimination. Because that's what writer's block is. You hit the block, you stall, and you're stuck. 


So here are a few tips that sometimes work for me, and might work for you: 

POV: Are you telling this scene from the right point of view? Are you telling the whole story from the right point of view? Pick another character, spin out a scene or two, and see if that flows better. If anything, it will get the words coming again. 

Is This Scene Necessary? Do you need this scene, or are you only using it as a filler between action scenes? Is it full of telling instead of showing? Does every scene advance the plot in some way? If not, kill it. 

Your Character's Motivation: Does it make sense? Does it change? Even if it does, your character has to retain some consistency. Your character isn't there to get buffeted around by all those crazy plot twists. Your character is there to drive the plot. 

Don't lock yourself into your story. Be prepared to rip it to shreds and put it back together again, just to see if it looks better that way. 

And here's the biggest tip of all, and one that I've only recently learned: 

Write your query first. Those few sparse paragraphs are the heart of the thing, and if you write them down first, you won't lose sight of them. 

Happy writing! 


Any tips or tricks you care to share? 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Author Rule Number 1: Don't be a dick

Okay, so I've been hanging out on Goodreads as my pseudonym lately, and one thing has become increasingly clear. There is a lot of love over there for indy authors, but there is also a lot of wariness as well. And you know why? 

Nutjobs. Crazy nutjob people who've self-published something on Amazon Kindle Direct, and now think they're authors. And guys, whether you self-pub or whether you try to go the traditional route, let's get one thing clear: there is more to being an author than writing a book. 

And while this isn't entirely an indy author issue, it seems to be more prevalent there. I don't know. Maybe an agent helps keeps the crazy bottled up. Or, probably, those authors who have done the hard slog to get an agent have actually picked up some professionalism along the way. But there are a lot of people who call themselves authors who haven't. 

Spend any time in the GR groups or the Amazon Kindle message boards, and you'll spot them. The ones with egos bigger than their vocabularies. The ones who genuinely can't understand when they aren't hailed as literary geniuses. The ones who, having thrown themselves in the big pond, are floundering.  

Which brings me to the only rule you will ever need when it comes to interacting with your readers online: Don't be a dick. 

If someone doesn't like your book and writes a review saying that, this is not bullying. Bullying is a sustained pattern of negative behaviour, not a book review. 

If you then stalk this reviewer, repeatedly insulting them every time they make some unrelated comment on the site, then this is bullying. Oh, also, you should not be surprised at the shit-storm you have created. And when you are facing the full force of the aforesaid shit-storm, don't be surprised when people blame you for bringing it all on yourself. Because, guess what? You brought it all on yourself. 

Don't argue with reviewers about reviews of your book. That's a fight you can't win. If someone asks a question, answer it, and you're done. Easy, isn't it? Don't go off on a rant about how the reviewer doesn't understand how hard it is to write a book. Don't tell them that their opinion is worthless, because they obviously don't understand literary genius when it punches them in the face. And -- this one's been cropping up a lot lately -- when someone (even after you've repeatedly told them that you're a genius) still stands by their negative review, don't suggest they seek psychiatric help. Because I promise you, by that stage in the argument the only one giving off crazy vibes is you. Yes, you. 

So put the crazy down, back away from the keyboard, and don't be that guy. Just don't. 

If you're better than that, prove it. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

And...we're back!

I am back from holidays, and my cousin's wedding, in Brisbane. And I learned a few things while I was away. 

I learned that my shoes are trying to kill me. I learned that I can't stop buying books even though we have the same bookshops at home. I learned that there are only so many places you can hide Easter eggs in a hotel room. I learned that Jetstar will always be delayed. 

And I learned that you can't write erotica when you're sharing a holiday unit with your eight-year-old nephew. It went something like this: 

"Aunty Jen, are you a writer?" 


"Have you had books published?" 


"Can I read them?"


"Why not?" 

"Because they're for adults." 

"When can I read them?" 

"When you're eighteen." 

"Can I sit beside you when you write?" 

"Why don't you go and play with Meg?" 

"I'm going to sit here. Is that a rude word? AUNTY JEN, DID YOU WRITE THE F-WORD?" 

"Omigod, Tom, go away!" 

"I'm telling on you to Nana!" 

Luckily I'm too old to get grounded. 

Meg and Tom. Don't be fooled by how well they scrub up. Tom knows the f-word, you know. 

What did everyone else get up to over Easter? 


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