Tag Archives: garage band

Characters – an endless parade of bastards.

Prior warning: Today’s blog entry is brought to you by a tired, irrational and somewhat exhausted Alec. He may bite if startled.

Ever heard of a Mary-Sue character? If you have, well, tough. Go on, smart ass, fuck off to Wikipedia and read about Latvian Gorilla-Llamas for a few minutes while the adults are talking.

Basically a Mary-Sue character is an idealised version of the writer, with all the strengths they lack and without their weaknesses, or something. There’s some debate about precisely what makes a character a Mary-Sue as opposed to a boring, overpowered cretin of some other creed, but frankly this is the definition that suits my current aims. If there was a door, I’d be directing the disgruntled towards it at this moment. Just poke yourself in the eye and kick yourself firmly up the arse and we’ll pretend I’ve just evicted you from the blog, ok?

The point is, don’t write a Mary-Sue. Unless you’re including one for a good reason other than polishing your own cock (or lady cock) they’re a dull, lazy way to write a character that smacks far more of self-indulgence than it does of creativity. Filling the pages of a book with a Mary-Sue is almost rude, it’s almost a form of masturbation and frankly I don’t want you flopping your wedding tackle out where I am forced to look at it.

What we need, or at least what I need, are flaws. That doesn’t mean Kryptonite, before any rabid Superman fan-boys approach, flapping their limp-wristed, clammy little hands in my general direction. Look to the mundane and go from there. Is your character unspeakably badass? Are they the sort of person who could kick the asses of 90% of the population unarmed? Fine! That’s cool, just hamper them enough to make them interesting.

For example:

Meet Jimmerz. Jimmerz is a boxing champion, billionaire, super-genius philanthropist who is capable of anything. Sound interesting? Maybe, at first, but now imagine meeting him. He’s tougher than you, better looking than you, smarter and funnier than you. Though your wife would swear different if she’d had to choose her partner from what’s on paper, she’d be doing him now and not you. And yeah, he’s bigger than you too. In that way.

You would HATE him. Or become his Igor or something, if you swing that way. Loser.

Add any flaw, any flaw at all to the above, and it will make him more interesting. Again, for example;

Meet Jimmerz. Jimmerz is a boxing champion, billionaire, super-genius philanthropist who is capable of anything. Sound interesting? Maybe, at first, but now imagine meeting him. He’s tougher than you, better looking than you, smarter and funnier than you. Though your wife would swear different if she’d had to choose her partner from what’s on paper, she’d be doing him now and not you. And yeah, he’s bigger than you too. In that way. But his left nut is haunted by a former chancellor of the exchequer who constantly screams his latest budget ideas at the top of his lungs.

Or he’s got a radioactive nipple. Or no elbows. Or an ostrich growing out of his ass.

ANYTHING is more interesting than a god made flesh, so for the love of crap don’t make one. There’s no need to just write someone incredible and insert a dark past or something obvious, but remember that characters are people, and people suck. We’ve all got something wrong with us, from the mundane to the harrowingly dreadful, and it is often what is wrong with us that makes us interesting. Sometimes, like it or not, it’s the presence of flaws that make people comfortable in our presence. They equalise us and provide us with opportunities to improve and to learn. They inform and direct us as people and they are essential to your stories.

Without flaws, what are your characters overcoming? Nothing. What are they learning? Very little. Why should we care? We shouldn’t, not even for a moment.

Now, bugger off and write something. I’m going back to sleep.


The curse of the expansive slush pile; a self published blog by Alec McQuay.

It’s a frustrating time to be a writer, no doubt. Whether dedicating every waking moment to the putting of words onto paper or chipping occasionally away at that manuscript between feeding a baby and juggling a forty hour working week, the world and his/her wife seems to be writing that novel we’ve all supposedly got inside us.

This has a variety of consequences, not all of them good. Editors have slush piles at risk of avalanche, small publishers are springing up and publishing works that lie anywhere from the incredibly good to the absolutely pants-shittingly awful both in writing ability and editorial quality and, thanks to the dubious wonder that is the shopping and porn-drenched wasteland of the internet, we also have the phenomenon of the self published writer. People have been self publishing for years of course, but never before has it been so simple. Within moments even the dullest of semi-literate fuckwits can have their name on Amazon as a “published” author, complete with or without any form of editorial process and in return for a small quantity of your money should you wish to buy.

Cool, huh? Well… it really depends on how you look at it.

Becoming a professional, semi-professional or at least published author in the traditional sense can be incredibly daunting and it really isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be easy. Self publishing is fantastic as it can provide an audience for those who are starting out, can provide the truly great writer with a larger return on their time and effort in the form of considerably larger royalties and it has that awesome indie vibe, like unsigned bands playing in dismal bars in return for free beer for the evening and perhaps a kebab if they’re not totally shit. It’s fun, it’s a bit cool and feels a little edgy to me and all of those points are great, but in self publishing you really do have a “diamonds in shite” situation. The cream will rise to the top and the muck will sink to the bottom, as will those who publish but fail to promote and don’t maintain their presence. Getting it out there and getting it sold are two different things, and doing it for a living is something else altogether, but it can be done. This all, of course, alters the state of the competition.

Slush piles are growing larger, inboxes are crammed to the gunwales and the signal to noise ratio is not necessarily favourable. In a world where word processors and spellcheckers do a fair amount of turd-polishing on our behalf for a sincere and hard working writer on the up-and-up, it can all be a tiring, long winded and unrewarding experience to get their beautifully honed manuscript through the massive wall of crap and get it onto the desk of the person best placed to get it published. Jumping up and down at the back of the crowd is not a pleasant experience for anyone, particularly when we know that a large percentage of our competition is utter dross (a bit of literary X-Factor I suppose) and has no business in being submitted in its current amateurish, poorly planned, badly executed and almost totally unedited form.

My point? It’s a bit of a ramble of course because this is a complex issue that isn’t going away any time soon, but the whole thing makes me smile. Sure the playing field has changed and we have to shout above the noise to be heard, but we also have to makes sure that our manuscript really jumps out at the poor bastard tasked with reading through the tottering heap in the inbox. It presents a greater challenge to overcome and yes, it lengthens the process considerably, but frankly I am so, so pleased to live in a world where so many people are writing, whatever the quality of it may be.

All I ever heard as a child was that children were rude, ill mannered, dirty, lazy little wastrels. As a teenager we were all stoned, violent, barely literate, sexually charged thieves and compulsive masturbators. As a young adult my kind were lethally poor drivers, scrounging dole money from the government and popping out children at a rate that would alarm any self-respecting rabbit. I was looking on to my thirties as an overweight, football shirt wearing, heavy drinking, chain smoking, thuggish moron. In my mid-life I would be glued to my sofa while my teenage children picked up where I left off and I could focus my efforts on becoming older, more and more miserable and complaining that things were not “like they were in my day.” All to the constant glow and throbbing background noise of the television.

But do you know what? Children are reading. So are teenagers, young adults, adults, middle aged people and the elderly, of both sexes. A great many of them are so inspired by the world around them, the world that they see on TV, the music they hear and the books that they read that they are writing about it. Reading and writing have positively exploded in the last few years and I, for one, could not be happier about it.

So yes, it makes it harder for the writer to get published, but as far as I’m concerned the best of us will be the ones that get the good deals, the best pay days and the greatest exposure.

Cream floats and shit sinks, for the most part. Of course you’ll get the odd floater from time to time, but you can’t please everyone.

Apologies for the numerous comparisons between dairy products and faeces. I’ll adjust them during the editorial process…

Here’s to the future.

Well, my novella is basically finished from a writing point of view. Sure it needs further editing and this may or may not require a certain degree of rewriting once it’s back from the beta readers, but the story is there. It needs tweaking and finishing but it’s back onto the back-burner for a while as I await the judgement of my fellows, and that means that I have to get on with some other projects.

Now with regards the novella, I do have a comment and a slight retraction to make. I’m not going to be giving it away. I’ve listened to a great deal of feedback from people who think it’s a good idea and those who hate the idea, and given the time to mull it over I’ve sided with those who believe that you shouldn’t give your work away. I place a fairly high value on my own work, possibly through a certain degree of artistic arrogance, and I believe that the story is worth a small amount of your hard earned money. If this annoys, upsets or pisses anyone off (which I doubt, I’ve got a blog readership of about six people) then I apologise, but them’s the breaks I’m afraid. I could have just deleted the post where I discussed this, but at least I’m being honest with you.

Right, and on to the projects.

First of these is a novel set in a less futuristic setting, one that I’ve had bubbling away in the back of my head for some time. It’s a quest based story (groooooan) but one with a little potential I think, and it feels a bit like a process that I need to go through in order to improve my writing. There are many, many linear quest based novels out there and that style is perhaps a little over done in the genre, but as with anything else the real test is to do it and to do it well. Yes it involves a small group out to journey across the world, uncover secrets and some horrible truths and ultimately take down a powerful witch. Yeah yeah, yawn yawn fucking yawn, but you’ll just have to trust me on this, it will not suck and you will enjoy it.

After this will come the novel length sequel to the novella “Spares” which will take the concept, setting and characters and go large scale with it, hopefully with the view to be pimped out to publishers as soon as it’s reached an acceptable level of quality.

I have other plans beyond this, including but not limited to a vampire story (by the time it’s done people will be receptive to a genre faithful tale rather than one that tears up the rulebook for kicks and crowd pleasing) and one that I started and put back down, featuring the angelic hosts and the Grim Reaper.

Throw into the mix my potential (but unconfirmed) attempts to gain access to the Black Library’s open submissions window and I’ve got a busy few years ahead of me. I’m still not decided on whether or not I want to continue the pursuit of writing in the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K universes, but I’m not ruling it out. This isn’t to sound arrogant or dismissive but success with them would mean a greatly increased workload, which would by necessity mean pushing my other projects into the background in the meanwhile. Now obviously success is far from assured and is indeed quite unlikely for a huge number of reasons, but only a complete dickhead would approach something like that without attempting to succeed and consideration as to what that would actually mean.

I have a lot to think about it would seem, not least of which being finishing this blog post and doing something more productive.



Everybody’s got one, or so they tell me…

What I would like, kind sirs and siresses, is an opinion. Not just any old opinion though, before you give me your views on Miliband’s leadership, Kim Kardashian’s arse to brain ratio or the loaded flight capabilities of various breeds of swallow. What I would like to know is your view on naughty language and how it applies to the novella I have in the pipeline.

Now make no mistake, this is not a children’s book. The themes are adult, it contains violence and “scenes which the viewer really bloody well should find disturbing,” including but certainly not limited to dismemberment, physical violence and at least one scene that would put Hannibal Lector off his Chianti. Now I would personally deem foul and often abusive language to be well suited to the environment that I am attempting to portray, but in such discussions in the past it has to be said that I have often found myself in the minority. People seem to have a high tolerance for gore, sex, violence and even gory sexual violence and yet, somewhat oddly I think, not for naughty language.

Now I am certainly, definitely not going to hack the novella apart for the sake of it but I have started to wonder if a slightly “abridged” version might be warranted so as not to alienate some of my potential readership. What I am quite willing to do however is to concurrently release an edited, curse-free version alongside the full novella for those who feel differently to me about what is and is not acceptable. I won’t do this if no-one thinks it is justified and so there, I am asking for your opinion.

Whether via the comments feed, my Facebook account (for those who know me in that twisted vista that we call “real life”) or via @Vampiricchicken over on Twitter, please let me know what you think I should do. Should I stick to my gut feeling and release it as I see it, should I be sensitive and release two versions or should I take my Encyclopaedia Profanica and throw myself into the nearest wood chipper?

Answers on a postcard, please. Or, you know, practically anything BUT a postcard.

The vital first edit/second draft.

A huge thanks to Jonathan Ward this week, that’s him down there on the blogroll if you were wondering, who has returned some absolutely spot-on advice to me about my novella “Spares.” It’s fair to say that there was a fair amount wrong with it, what with it being a rough first draft, written stream of consciousness style and all, but I’m pleased to say that there seems to be a great deal right with it too!

So now I’m onto the first editing process, which I can largely compare to that picture at the top of this post. The majority of what I am doing is cutting out sections and pasting them into a “cutting room floor” document of ideas, quips, dialogue and other bumf that, while not dreadful, simply either doesn’t fit, doesn’t work or interrupts the smooth flow of the story. Now, flow is something that I personally hold to be vital to a story. I like a story to grab you and drag you along for the ride, occasionally dumping you on your arse when there’s something to learn or listen to. I like snappy dialogue, insults that cut to the bone and people that are as real as I can possibly make them. Now in order to maintain a pace that accelerates you towards the finish and then dumps you hard on the other side, gasping for breath and reeling from what you’ve just witnessed, a story needs kicking, chopping, hammering and generally pummelling until it’s in the right shape. At the moment, I don’t have that. It’s tangential, overly introspective at points and a little prone to waffle. Now that’s ok some of the time, but at the moment it simply doesn’t have the clout that I want it to have and I want this story to be the literary equivalent of a haymaker to the temple.


Besides that there are points where I got stuck, didn’t have the right idea and so ploughed on regardless, leaping forward in order to keep going until I reached the end. Now of course I have to go back and sort this out, inserting chunks of story that fit and can be welded in place to strengthen the narrative arc that I’m going for. I have a sub-plot to weave through the story, a whole new scene that I’m writing whenever I’m not working, revising, blogging or preparing my Black Library Live army so I can carve my way through my friends’ armies with gay abandon. That’s like regular abandon, by the way, only with a lot more cushions.

In short I have a lot to do, but have all the time in the world to do it. I’m still tempted to say that this could be done within the month, though probably not ready for release as I simply can’t state categorically that those who have agreed to read it through will be done in time, or that they won’t uncover something dreadful that needs my immediate attention.

For now, I must plough onwards. I have a lot to do in order to fulfil my promise of a free ebook for you all and I like to keep my promises, though deadlines are largely something that happens to other people. The key point there, however, is that the wait should always be worth it.


I just couldn’t ask for something without offering something in return…

So, I’ve got a plan…

How does a novella sound to you? Specifically, how do you like the sound of a novella that will cost you absolutely nothing to buy, is yours to keep and to pass around with the only requirement upon yourself to be a gentleman’s agreement that you will pass it on, will tell other people about it and perhaps (if you would be so kind) use your own blog, Facebook page or Twitter account to link back to here? Sound good? Sound fair? Then please, read on…

I am a wannabe. There really are no two ways about it, I’m a gainfully employed wannabe-writer who isn’t actually employed as a writer and, like many others, I have a dream. That dream is to gain a readership, to write books and stories that people love and to be worshipped for it. Well alright, not worshipped, but the odd “Nice one, dude! Would you sign my face?” wouldn’t go amiss, nor would enough money to purchase the odd bottle of JD and to keep myself in biros and notebooks. I’m not seeking fame, fortune or glitz and glamour, but I am looking to get my name out there as a writer and be taken sort-of seriously, or at least as seriously as my writing deserves. And this is where all of you (that’s like, what, six people?) come in.

I got to thinking recently about how to get my name out there, how to garner interest in my stories and how to pimp myself in general without involving money, agents or having to quit my job. Don’t look at me like that, I’m a parent and have certain responsibilities that my wife has kindly informed me I’m not allowed to shirk. So there. What I’ve decided on, with no input from anyone else so it’s bound to be a bad idea, is that I am to become a garage band. Or rather, the literary equivalent. Way back when, before you would get sued so hard your balls would turn to raisins and you would crumple into a pathetic heap of dust, people would record themselves as best they could afford, hastily cobble together some “artwork” (bribe an arty type and take the result to the nearest photocopier) and pass around the resulting tape at their gigs in the full knowledge that it would be copied, passed around and with it the name of the band would spread. Of course this means that if the novella stinks, my name either won’t go far or it will go a long way with the suffix “is a talentless bellend.” That’s a risk I’m willing to take as I have a lot of faith in this story and the novel(s) that will follow on from it.

So, in the next month or so, once the edit is complete and I’ve done the aforementioned cobbling of artwork, a link will be appearing here, there and everywhere for my novella, currently going by the working title of “Spares.” A full teaser, blurb and sneak-peak at the cover will be posted in the run up to the day when I freely give away something that has been very close to my heart for the last few months.

I’d love to have you onboard.