A chance collaboration between myself and one of my favourite artists, the winner of multiple Sir Julius Vogel Awards, Emma Weakley, which I shall try to introduce as briefly as possible:
I released this a little while ago but what with one thing (repeated terrorism) and another (general election) and another (massive fire in my city), my job-that-pays-the-rent of “reading all the national newspapers” has been rather all-consuming and my time off has been filled with trying to forget all about it, so this post is late.
A while back I published an odd little short story called The Renaka Device, a post-Revolutionary fantasy story about propaganda and truth. I also have novel I’m currently editing which is, in the main, about the mutability of memory, gaslighting, and truth.
Since the latter isn’t ready yet, I ended up writing another short story set in the same post-Revolutionary fantasy land as The Renaka Device, about the different sizes of commitment, the expendability of the individual, and fanaticism, and how the latter can be picked up and used by whoever wants to, not just one position in the political spectrum.
Available on Amazon Kindle UK (and also on most other Amazon regional sites).
Twenty years after the Revolution, the journalist Shukach Istynyya is permitted to speak with the Revolutionary Republic’s number one enemy, in a once-in-a-lifetime interview. “It might be any man within the cell that I am brought to face, but the Party is honest, and the Party is just, and the man in the cell is called Lubach Zahradnik, and he is The Traitor.”
Future announcements regarding more short stories are on their way but have to been reined in for the time being! Thank you for reading.
For Reasons of Research, I’ve been reading Downriver by Iain Sinclair recently (aside from the normal heave-ho of life, visiting the Making Nature and Electricity: The Spark of Life exhibitions at the Wellcome Institute; drinking All The Wine in the company of a skittish cat; re-acquainting myself with old drawing habits and new gym ones – and novel heave-hos in life, such as “dealing with a blood-soaked stranger”; and my personal favourite “being evacuated from the office for a bomb scare”, which was nowhere near as much fun as you’d hope).
I have a lot of Ian Sinclair books to read, because Delightful Boyfriend has inherited psychogeographical scholarship from his Colin-Wilson-reading father, and my globe-trotting book patron/occasional whip hand (Amy Parker, who has recently published a short story in Bourbon Penn magazine, which rather unusually for any short fiction written after about 1901, I’ve read and loved – please sit down and have a go yourself! It’s a good one) also deluged me in copies before I had a chance to remove them from my research wishlist and plead exhaustion (there is a reason I don’t link to that on my blog).
In reading, I encountered this intriguing quote:
There is, I assure you, a measure of safety in being the one who holds the pen. ‘I’ is the man in possession, but he is also possessed, untouchable. ‘I’ is immortal. The title of the survivor. There always has to be one witness to legitimize a massacre. [etc]
Downriver, Iain Sinclair.
Long-term readers may be aware that I have a tattoo reading “ha bloody fucking ha” prominently on my writing wrist.
It is the abbreviated form of this quote:
Why? you have to ask yourself. I think it’s a way of claiming immunity. First-person narrators can’t die, so long as we keep telling the story of our own lives we’re safe. Ha bloody fucking Ha.
The Ghost Road, Pat Barker
From a firmly-formative trilogy (one of the more respectable formative texts of my adolescence, which featured more heavily the lurid gay erotic horror of Poppy Z Brite in the vampire years and innumerable interchangeable Hardy Boys Casefiles), that of prize-draped Pat Barker: The Regeneration Trilogy.
It is a conceptual echo that concerns me greatly: I’ve been keeping a regular, if occasionally sparse or incoherent and evasive diary, since September 1997. If I am still doing it in September this year (if global rise of fascism hasn’t dispensed with my gay, trans self by then – always proviso these days), it will be a solid 20 years of diarism.
Leaving aside the horror of a diary that can legally vote, marry, drink, drive, and star in extremely depressing pornography in the country in which it is written, what have I done to my longevity with this? All of my life choices so far – dabbling in alcoholism, obesity, cocaine, transitioning even – all of them should calculatedly have shaved off decades from my genetically accursed lengthy lifespan (no bloody cancer or coronary here, alas), at least according to the bastion of scientific rigour and life-extension that is the Daily Mail. I live in a society that can’t afford my pension and soon won’t be able to feed itself. Have I unthinkingly undermined my sensible exit strategy with ego-centric nonsense?
Well, I shan’t be the first or the last. If I am still committing my life to language in another 20 years we shall know something has gone horribly, horribly right.
Readers already horrified by the above will be thrilled to learn I’ve taken up time-travel, and have transmitted a novel from the Edwardian period.
Step right this way, step inside, and see the greatest show ever to amaze your senses and baffle your mind. Watch! As a budding friendship is slowly but completely transformed before your very eyes! Marvel! At how stupid four very intelligent young people can actually be when confronted with life’s mysteries! Gasp! With indignation at the skullduggery and bad manners brought in the pursuits of love, fame, wealth, and let’s be honest, a lot more wealth. Blush! At some of the language! Laugh! Primarily at some of those waistcoats! Tremble! At the revelation of worlds beyond worlds and compacts most rare and Faustian!
Buy! This! Book!
What’s it about? What’s it about? You’ve heard all this and you still need to know more? Allow me:
The year is 1900. An Earl, an engineer, a suburban philosopher, and an enigma meet at University and make a pact to learn the art of conjuring.
But nothing among the friends is quite as it seems, and soon the happy four are plunged into worlds of political activism, crime, despair, sordid trysts, and a Faustian compact which seems set to threaten their very lives, one by one…
The time has come for another book to be released into the wild, to flourish where it can, like a weed, and hopefully sow fertile seeds in the imagination. Or at least take up some prime real estate on someone’s bookshelf, which is of course identical to becoming an important part of their inner life.
The year is 1900. An Earl, anengineer, a suburban philosopher,and an enigma meet at Universityand make a pact to learn the artof conjuring…
Consider yourself warned: the rabbit is out of the hat and the cat is out of the bag.
Hello, internet land. I’ve been very busy which is one of the many reasons I haven’t been updating here much, that and the overwhelming horror of the world and a complete lack of motivation…
What have I been doing?
Since the start of 2017, which I ushered in using the “start as you mean to go on” method of dancing drunkenly on a stage in West London, half-naked, covered in gold glitter, with at least one Radio Four comedian (how and why? Who knows), I’ve been engaged in a determined battle against middle-aged spread using the NHS Couch to 5k plan and various other gym-like things, having finally succumbed to Modern Life and begrudgingly forked out for a gym membership. This is partially mitigated by my workplace paying me some of the cost back (part of their attempt to encourage us into healthier habits than spending all night necking coffee and attempting to fight each other, which… we’re still doing), and partially by the fact that I’m very definitely getting my money’s worth.
Owing to a spectacular wobble in which I managed to get a wretch cold, bugger my Achilles’ tendon and inflict a fetching chest haematoma on myself, I’ve been stuck on Week 6 for what feels like eternity, but progress has been made on this front.
I’ve attended one (1) dance class, and learnt some of the basics of the Charleston, which I like to practice at the bus stop after work at around 5am, to the amusement and occasional horror of anyone else travelling at the time; my place of work has moved from the cosy hipster environs of Shoreditch to the alarming identikit irrational platform-borne archipelago of Canary Wharf, which is full of people I would ordinarily cross several roads to avoid and who, judging by the restaurants available, have the blandest and most middle-of-the-road tastes my snotty hipster palate can imagine.
I’ve been to a tribute club night for the late, great George Michael, seen two Oscar-nominated movies, both excellent (The Eagle Huntress was sweet and uplifting; Moonlight was emotional torture, both were An Experience), had a sushi-and-matcha afternoon tea at Tombo in South Kensington, and taken a a Finnish friend to Chinese New Year celebrations and an accidental drag queen pub quiz over dinner in Soho. So far, Mission: Try To Live A Full Life Before I Am Inevitably Murdered By Nazis is a success.
That doesn’t mean I’ve been entirely slack on the creative front, although due to the constraints of employment, physical needs, and the linear nature of time I haven’t been as awesomely productive as my hallucinogenically ambitious 4am self thinks I ought to be: the year to date (and indeed the majority of December) has involved laborious attempts at editing 2015’s NaNoWriMo project Heavy (a semi post-nuclear apocalypse military espionage novel about the unreliability of memory, mutability of truth, and the intersection between loyalty and gaslighting, which seems horribly prescient now); what the late Terry Pratchett cheerfully refers to in his nonfiction collection A Slip of the Keyboard as “blind research” for the next project (working title: Tourist’s Guide to the Ideal London) and outlining and brainstorming thereof; two short stories under my queer-romance-writing pseudonym Melissa Snowdon, one commissioned but not-yet-published blog essay under an entirely different (anonymous) pseudonym which ended up running to around 3,000 words…
Let’s just say I’ve been keeping busy, and intend to remain that way. Exciting news may shortly be arriving on your blog feed. Eyes peeled!
Here are some facts about London: it is old, and it is new. It is disgusting, and it is powerful. These truths are interlinked; foul industries, dirty water, a shambling stream of corpses and fire-halted epidemics give rich foundation to the quasi-religious veneration of our one true God, the golden god, and our old and all-conquering vice: Avarice. Bawd and ideal may be plentiful but the muddy, bloody swamp of a city sinks or swims on its venal lawlessness and nearly two millennia of proof can be dredged up for it.
London creates cultures like a loaf of damp bread. It generates saints. In Camden Town the long, sorrowful face of Amy Winehouse appears in smeared black on buildings like the Madonna on American toast; sheer will supersedes finger-wagging press to create her a modern, Jewish saint; “Don’t venerate an addict” and dire warnings of her moral character fall short and miss the point – Amy is an icon because of her flaws, not in spite of them or in their ignorance. Like Marilyn and Billie Holiday before her, the locality bears witness to struggle and pain paired with eloquence and skill, and raises a broken woman to the status of a divinity. It is a black paint backlash against the madonna/whore dichotomy; let her be both, let her be both.
We have hopes for George Michael, but it’s early days yet.
London makes saints of the ordinary, too; not far from my home there is a shrine. A man, 22, whose name I know but won’t share, died violently in the street in November. In a turbulent time these things go unremarked, but the shop across the street remembers, and his loved ones replenish flowers, candles, photographs, empty whisky bottles. Offerings to somewhere or something, to keep him from fraying in their minds. Devoured by the city, he becomes part of it.
Do the rules of urban sainthood cover the man I saw die this week, his vast white belly unthinkingly exposed as he lay surrounded by green-clad paramedics
and stony-faced on-lookers, spread-eagled by an unsuccessful defibrillator on a cold station floor? If he is canonised by the fleck-marks among the grey, how long for?
But it is a morbid time; it is Dead Winter. The time of year when I am quite grateful to find mould growing on my sandwiches because it proves that something can still grow in this hellish twilight. Past the dimple of midwinter and the instinctive bonfires, this frozen endless coda between the solstice and spring equinox is the time I give real and visceral consideration to the possibility of human sacrifice. At 3pm, already dark, on a night-shift week, I drag myself to he gym to treadmill the black despair into aches via the media of glowing orange numbers and participation in a nationwide detoxification – purificiation – fast-and-atonement ritual as we try to apologise the spring into happening. And I think, yeah, I’d kill a child to bring the sun back right now. Why not? Shit, let’s kill ten and have a nice summer this year.
London is a ritual city. It has no pomp nor splendour, no matter how much gilt we pour on the remaining high traditions or crenellated and NeoGothic excesses we defer to – the rituals are modern in age and pre-Enlightenment in character, private or primal: the weird, carved fish of Guild processions, the prescient and personal libations to a Bacchus tossed in the Fleet in the fourth Century, the roadkill funerals, the furtive wishing coins, knuckles to the window of the London Stone and prayers to the known monsters travelling in the eternal dark beneath the city. From the dank earth we came and shall return; we are filth, stains lapping at the feet of our unsecured glass skyscrapers – we are ugly, and let us remain pox-disfigured grasping mollies, roaring over newsprint…
One could weep for all the histories lost in the foundations of raw progress – the temples destroyed by railways, the birthplaces by bombs, the memories by meretricious, mercantile greed, but London does not stand still and it does not stop – a fossil city is a dead city. Better to build on top of our own sinking rooftops, lay roads over
rivers, and let future archaeologists marvel at our litter as we now paw over the plague-pits Pepys and Defoe’s peers did their best to cover.
Buddleia reaches for the sky, whole trees hanging out of brick cracks the size of a thumb; black mould marches over my bedroom ceiling; five mice quarrel in hypersonic territorial fury between the rails of the train to Cockfosters and somewhere in those miles of 19°C subterranean veins, rippling through clay like bands of a new composite mineral, we are evolving a new species of mosquito at light speed. The Tube Parasite. Our very own blood-sucker —
— London is a ritual city. We revisit our haunts. We pay our respects. We set our habits like heartbeats, not clockwork. Environment rules apply: the same man who moved me gently out of his path in a crowded, convivial nightclub in Vauxhall by placing the tips of his fingers on the angel tattooed on my neck kept to the etiquette of the Night Tube afterward, hunched up at the far end of a carriage with his eyes locked to his phone, a dozen empty, newspapered seats between us. Courtesy in both worlds: in the sweat and strobes the pressure of his cock on the waistband of my jeans is simple and unimpeachable neutral manners, too.
Condensed, London is a highly-charged space. Widely-spread souls mistake this hyperreal interaction for hostility instead of the hallucinogenic endgame of compressed human interaction. In the countryside I grew up in, friendliness is a two-hour chat with a grinning death’s head stranger; in this hive it is the quick smile to a bus driver from a passenger who has been on this route a decade. It is the small rituals with speed-ravaged 4am shopkeepers. It is catching the eye of the tired passenger who is watching the same pigeon fight that you are. In each of these seconds a week of intimacies unfolds in its own sweet time.
Do not be so quick to hate the ‘bubbles’ in which we dwell. They are beautiful and we have chosen them for a good reason.
Hello, I hope we all had a productive NaNoWriMo this year. I certainly did: I wrote 195,000 words, which is almost certainly my new record, and while part of me wants to try for the nice round 200,000 next year, a largely part of me is reminding me of how few of those 195,000 from this year have really pleased me in terms of quality. 195,000 words, and about 5 of them worth reading!
In addition to writing another novel, my “shamefully not updating my blog at all” time has been spent attending a variety of parties, including my own 34th birthday: I also went to the Last Ever White Mischief Halloween Ball (I went to the first: it seems appropriate that I attend the last, too) and met some lizards; attended a ghost walk on Halloween which ended in the prison cells below the Viaduct Tavern in Holborn; I went to the last Hunterian Museum Late before refurbishment, which featured the opportunity to drink gin while pickling a plasticine penis (not a sentence easily uttered after the gin), and cheerfully ghoulish lecture on the anatomical effects of hanging; visited an absolutely splendid bar in an air raid shelter, called Cahoots, which sells incredible cocktails and contains a converted Tube carriage; went to the stunning Museum of Last Parties for cocktails, a Cockney knees-up, a 1920s disco, a Morris dancing demonstration, a conga line featuring a guru with light-up shoes, and the opportunity to cover myself in so much glitter that my dry cleaner complained about it later; shot down to Brighton for a half-remembered night of dancing which has left me covered in mystery bruises; had brunch at Dishoom with the latest Ben Aaronovitch book, and tried, on the whole, to ignore the fact that the world is burning down around my ears.
As a recent dining companion said, if we’re going to have the last days of the Weimar Republic, we shall have to have the parties, too.
In addition to all this riotous behaviour I have been recovering from surgery, but that really does require its own post.
In the meanwhile, as a placeholder, please feel free to watch me and m’companion Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool reviewing Dr Strange back in October, sitting outside Balans Cafe in Soho and occasionally making new friends while I slag off Marvel’s most recent movie offering and Rich tries to be slightly more positive about a film neither of us paid to see.
I’ll be honest, this year’s NaNoWriMo outline is kicking my ass. I am feeling the deadline somewhat. And in that confession I’m pretty sure I’m scared a few people who are already nervous of the whole concept of NaNo, so I kind of considered maybe letting anyone who doesn’t feel confident enough to do the whole “write An Book in a month” thing or who remains flummoxed by writing original fiction have a go at basically whipping up an outline over the course of that month instead, with this Helpful Selection of 30 exercises (one per day).
Days 1-10 are for exploration. This is when you begin to discover who you’re writing about. It might not stick, but that’s okay. You can always do it again if you need to.
1. Make your protagonist.
Or the person you think is going to be your protagonist. This can always change! Write about three paragraphs giving a vague idea of what they’re like – how they look, sort of, what they want, what they fear, where they’re from, what kind of person they are, really. This can and will be added to later.
2. Make a place.
Chuck down three paragraphs about a location, making it up as you go. Where is it, what kind of function does it have? How does it relate to the world? Is it a room, is it a business, is it a place in the wilderness? How do people get there?
3. Put your protagonist in the place.
Get them to explore. Maybe four paragraphs this time, or as much as you need; what emotions does the place arouse for them – have they been there before? What does it remind them of? What does it smell like? Feel like? Are they comfortable there or ill-at-ease? How do they move around the space?
4. Make a second character.
Same process as 1.
5. Put that character in the space, and have the two characters interact.
Give yourself a side of A4, and write their interaction. Pick whose point of view you want to represent, and try to consider how they’re going to convey the interaction – how do they perceive it in their own head, how much attention do they pay to what they’re doing vs what the other character is doing.
6. Write the same interaction from the perspective of the other character.
What is different? What is the same? How clear is it that their experience of the situation differs? What is suggested about their relationship as people? How does the other character’s narrative voice – their way of conveying themselves and the situation to the reader – differ?
Write a few paragraphs outlining the additional things you have learnt about the space, and each of the characters, based on their interactions with each other. Is there some hint of a struggle, quest, or unresolved issue that needs exploring? What is missing? What are they avoiding?
8. Create another location
You will want to write more than the first time you did this. This location is to be explored in the context of how it differs and relates to the first, and to your two characters. You will want to people it, and think about its use and function in a narrative: what kind of things might happen here? How would they effect your nascent characters?
9. One more character.
This character is hiding something from one or both of your characters, and wants something from one or both of them. When you write your description of this character you need to consider all of the previous days of writing: how do they relate to the two locations, and to the two characters, especially? What deeds have they committed in those locations, and how were the other characters – including the people you placed in the second location – involved?
Today is for answering any questions that you have found arising in the Reflection section or any of the previous days of writing. Can you answer questions about your characters and locations that you couldn’t answer before?
Days 11-20 are for interlocking narrative and planning. Some people find it easier to write if they know where they are going; others find it easier to work out where they are going by writing. The following exercises should give you the opportunity to work out which you are by alternating between both.
Feel free to loop back round and do days 1-10 again if you were unsatisfied with the characters, before moving on. Strictly speaking, there isn’t actually a time limit on any of this.
11. Blind writing.
Take your two locations, your three characters, and all that you have learned about them in the ten days so far. Pick an object at random from the room you are writing in, and write a short scene – no more than 400 words, no less than 200 – with dialogue and descriptions of action/place, in which the item is a source of conflict or tension between the characters. This can be as silly or as trivial or as deep and meaningful as you like; trivial conflict can often be mined for much more profound plot and character development than you first realise.
Today, draw a flow diagram or similar chart – whichever you find works best with your way of thinking – showing how the conflict over the random object evolved from the past interactions of the characters, however minor, and how you think it is likely to affect their future interactions and behaviour.
Referring to your scene, and to your flow diagram, write three paragraphs about how the conflict might be resolved favourably, unfavourably, and to whom, and how likely you think each outcome is based on what you know of these characters.
Pick the most likely outcome and write a scene describing how it comes about. If the outcome is complex or takes a while to reach fruition, resist the temptation to try a different outcome or return to the drawing-board. Instead, write a series of one-to-two sentence snapshots of how you think the progression takes place. These will constitute an outline. You do not have to write these sentences in order if you get stuck. If you know where you think the scene is going but not how to get there, start at the end and work backwards.
And congratulations, you’ve made it a fortnight. You’re doing well!
Look at the conflict and potential resolutions you’ve just described, and the one you chose to follow as most likely. What could happen next? Think about the situation as it has come about, and the world you’ve created (it’s often a good idea to do this thinking while you’re engaged in something else, like exercise or chores, sometimes that helps the brain tick over things differently), then write a list of the following circumstances:
A. Something that could realistically happen which would improve the situation for the protagonist.
B. Something that could realistically happen which would improve the situation for the antagonist.
C. Something that could realistically happen which would cause a temporary collaboration between the antagonist and protagonist, or the foundations of a more lasting one.
16. Twists and turns.
Pick one of the circumstances above and, without a set limit on how long the piece should be, write it out as prose narrative. If this becomes unwieldy, or threatens to take up more of the day than you can reasonably afford, remember the outlining technique from Day 14.
17. Return to the start.
By now you have a reasonable understanding of your protagonist and antagonist, and a decent selection of characters who surround their conflict, interact with them. With this in mind, make a list of reasons that their opposition might have begun, and what formed the relationship between the protagonist and one of the other characters. Try to bear in mind that it’s rare in reality for a single, defining event to create a strong opposition without some kind of underlying pressure, be that pressure social (prejudice, disparity), historic (prior interactions, family feud), or psychological (own past, suppressed attraction).
18. Deprive your protagonist
This should reasonably form the beginning of a narrative. Bearing in mind what you know about your protagonist as a person and how they respond, prior to any developments you have explored following on from your introduction of the objective they are in conflict over, write at most one page of an outline, using the short, linked sentences approach, in which the protagonist has something taken away from them (this can be an item, a person, a state of being, social status, certainty…) which leads to their pursuit and conflict as previously described.
19. Map the power balance swings.
Look back over all the narrative and outlines you have of character interactions so far, including those between secondary and side characters. Make a list of all the characters who are present or mentioned in the story and outlines. Next to each character, write down a short summary of all the moments when things appear to be in their favour. You may also wish to write down what action of theirs or inaction of their led to them gaining or losing the upper hand.
This will help you to visualise the shift in power balance throughout the narrative; it is usually good for a story to take the protagonist through losing and gaining the upper hand in a situation, no matter how trivial, in order to keep the reader interested, and traditionally a protagonist (or indeed any character) should cause at least some of these power exchanges through their own actions.
Write a short scene in which the balance of power between the protagonist and an antagonist – it doesn’t have to be the antagonist – starts out in favour of the antagonist and shifts to the protagonist. Read over it: how does the power shift occur? What does the protagonist do to make it happen? Remember that in a good story, the protagonist is active, and causes – if not always directly – the plot to progress through their behaviour and responses. Things can’t just keep happening to them.
Rewrite the scene to show the balance of power shifting through a different action of the protagonist. Can either version of the scene be placed within the narrative you are building?
Congratulations, you’re two-thirds of the way through this list!
Days 21 to 30 – the last stretch of these exercises – will be about refining your ideas and introducing subplots. Always remember, please, it’s okay to change your mind at any point, or decide to pursue a different part of the story. You’re exploring, all the way through this, and no “false start” is a waste of your time – it’s a valuable decision made, because you find out what it is you want to be writing.
At this point it’s worth making an overall note: share your ideas with people. Don’t get locked into the idea of the ivory-tower creator or feel that you must remain aloof until the finished work is available and perfect; that makes the business of writing unnecessarily difficult. Instead, describe your story and lament your blind spots to those willing to listen – even if they have no solution, you may find often that explaining it to other people helps you to straighten things out in your own head. Often, someone will ask a question you haven’t considered, and set the story off on a new course. Talk to people. Remember that writing is a communicative art!
21. Reflection: What unanswered questions and new characters and places have you acquired?
You don’t need to answer them! Just make a note of them when you think you’ve come up with all of them. If the answers and profiles for these new characters come up while you’re making a note of them, though, feel free to note them down. This would be a good time to talk about what you’re doing with someone else, to see if they have any questions you might not have considered before, too.
22. Take a side character for a walk.
Get the protagonist and antagonist to stop hogging the limelight. Take one of the side characters in any given scene you have so far, and write the interaction from their point of view. What are they thinking? How are they responding? How do they see what is going down? Is their interpretation radically different to those of the main actors? How important is it to them? What else is on their mind? Where did they come from? Where are they going?
23. Follow the thread
Review what you’ve written on day 22. Make a list, or mind-map, or whatever other method you like, of how you think this character’s story touches on the main story, and where it diverges. What are they likely to do in the same timespan as the main story which has an effect on the main story? What else are they doing? What questions about their life and their goals do you want to see answered?
24. Take another side character for a walk.
This character should be someone who both appears in a scene you have written previously, with the main characters (the protagonist and antagonist) and also someone who has a connection – personal, or professional, but quite strong – with the character you wrote about on day 22. In addition to sketching out how they see the scene they appear in, write about their prior/future interactions with Character From Day 22. How does this progress/impede either of their agendas?
25. Map your threads
Time to draw or write out how you think the two (or even three) plots you now have relate to each other. Pay special attention to how they drive each other: what would happen if one of the people involved wanted something different, or behaved differently? If it alters the entire way the story is going, do you prefer that direction? Is it still in keeping with what you would expect of that character?
26. Alright in the end.
Taking as long as you want and as many words as it needs, write the climatic scene. This is not the same as the final scene, as many stories close with a coda, or a rebalancing – a tying up of the remaining loose ends, a series of scenes dealing with some of the remaining consequences, or cementing what has already been hinted at. Quite frequently in a story with a romantic subplot, the conclusion of the romance occurs after the conclusion of the main plot. It’s up to you to decide (And re-decide) when the subplot will come to its conclusion, or whether its conclusion is bound up in the main plot’s end.
Today, though, take into account everything you have so far, everything you know about the story so far, and write the flashpoint, the part of the story in which evil is finally defeated/good finally defeated, or the goal achieved/irretrievably lost/judged to be not worth achieving.
27. How did we end up here?
Today, write the two short scenes immediately preceding that ending. It’s possible one may be part of the subplot; it’s also possible they may both be from the main plot, but whatever happens in them should see the characters and the narrative progress from the state they were in, driven by the events and their own actions, to the state in which the story reaches its climax, which you wrote on day 26. Remember that even if they are reacting to external events, the characters have to drive some part of the story themselves. Even people trying to survive an inevitable extinction-event-causing meteor impact still have other obstacles that can be altered or exacerbated aside from the incoming space rock, for example.
Take today out to look over all of your work so far. Arrange what you have, narratively, in a chronological order (when you come to write the story it needn’t be presented in that order, but it can help to get a grip on what’s going on). Read through it. Does anything leap out at you as unanswered? Is there a nagging question which has arisen as a result of what you’ve come up with? Are there conflicts which haven’t been resolved? Make notes of them. Don’t attempt to answer or resolve them, just note what they are.
29. Loose Ends #1
You saw this coming: pick one of the loose ends, and write about how it can be resolved. This can be done either exploratively – by jumping into the scene and following it to its conclusion – or descriptively – by sitting down and making notes on what a likely or desirable course of events within the narrative would be to see this thing resolved one way or another.
30. Loose Ends #2
What you wrote yesterday will almost certainly have created a cascade of new possibilities. As we are at the end! THE END! Of our planning, all you need to do now is make a note of these possibilities. Diagram out how you think they’re most likely to connect into what you have already, what you think they’re likely to change, and then put your pen down.
31. Put this in a drawer for six months and think about something else!
None of these techniques will magic a book into being. You still have to write it (yes, I know, how annoying). But hopefully these will provide you with an adequate selection of tools to get to grips with your own imagination and wrestle the narrative to the ground. Even if you’re tremendously experienced, there’s always some new method or problem left to tussle with.
If there’s an overall piece of advice I have, based on the questions I get asked a lot and the tension I see in people, it’s release your fear of fucking up.
You’re going to fuck up. It’s a necessary part of getting it right. You have to write wrongs before you can write right. That’s part of the process, and needs to be embraced that way. Charge in demanding to know which piece you’re going to end up throwing out the window. Produce too much. Fill the garden of words with gibberish and weed it until you’re left with glory.
When I was learning to stilt-walk – there are less weird examples from dancing and so on but it was stilt-walking that I learnt it in so I am giving you the advice from there – the first, first thing we learnt, after “how to put stilts on”, was how to fall. Not how to avoid falling, but how to fall safely. How to land on your padded knees, not your painful and underpadded butt. You had to unlearn putting your hands down to save yourself (this leads to fractured wrists); we practiced falling all day. Fall, fall, and fall again.
Artists fill sketchbook after sketchbook with pictures that aren’t quite right. Musicians play ten thousand scales, bum notes, and god alone knows what else. Imperfections, wrong directions, and a draft where you lob everything out of the window barring the secondary main villain and an interesting question about the role of animal passion in shaping fear or something are part of the process.
Henceforth address it as “whee, fucked that up” not “oh god this is terrible I have ruined this story and now the story can never be told properly”. They’re adaptable fuckers, and every story has a thousand iterations; you just have to find the one that works for you. Knock it back, pick a different cast, and try again.
Exclusively on Amazon Kindle, on every Amazon Kindle site (I will link to UK | US but trust me: every site), a short story rather unlike any of my others in content and in style, The Renaka Device is fairly strongly-influenced by Ray Bradbury, I think.
My name is Potsve Revolution Renaka.
I was born a month after the fall of the old order. In celebration, my parents named me Potsve Revolution.
I can’t say much more without spoiling the story for you; feel free to pick up your copy (UK | US); Text-to-speech is available on this book for anyone who has difficulty reading from screens or is simply too busy to read but can listen.
Currently I’m plugging away at another sci-fi short story, The Grandmother Virus (which is giving me a headache, I won’t lie); other short fiction of mine you can treat yourself to in the meantime includes: Hannah Matchmaker’s New Skates (a rollerderby fable), Vessel 151-B (classic sci-fic take on the Pygmalion story), and Saint Grimbald’s Men (bodyhorror bildungsroman. Possibly).
Stay tuned this November for regular updates on how awful it is trying to pull an entire manuscript out of your face in one sitting.