Tag Archives: help me

Writing and the perils of advice.

The deafening sound of thousands of writers, creatives and others talking directly and noisily out of their asses. That is how I would generally sum up writing blogs, this one included.

Advice, even from the very best and most qualified or sources, is bullshit. Or at least it is in part. It may be well intentioned bullshit and it might well even be tried and tested bullshit, but as far as you as an aspiring writer are concerned you are best off taking it all with anything from a pinch to a whole 18-wheeler full of salt.

Let me make this completely clear so there can be no misunderstanding of my point: no matter who is giving the advice and in whatever form it comes, no-one’s advice will be anything more than another person’s opinions, and we all know what they say about opinions, don’t we?

Don’t we? No? Well… You’re a writer. Bloody make something up.

One person’s experience colours their own view just as your own will colour yours. It’s inescapable but none of us can claim to be truly objective when it comes to writing, what works and what doesn’t work, even in areas where we may have a great deal of common ground.

We each have prejudices and preferences that have grown organically from how our own time as writers has gone and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially considering that a lot of the advice givers will be trying to save some other poor bastard from negative experiences they may have gone through on their way to wherever they are. That’s a good thing, finding a little altruism in a competitive industry. Relish it. Read it and soak it up, but never forget that pinch of salt.

All you can do is approach advice in the same way you would approach any other form of research, assuming you want to do it properly of course. You need several reliable and qualified sources, never, ever take just one and accept it as gospel. If you’re in a bind and want a solution, ask two or more people or sources before throwing yourself at the nearest easy answer. Don’t immediately assume that someone who has been in your position has had the same journey as you have. All of our points of origin are a little different, we take different routes at different speeds and have different, though often similar, destinations. Don’t make the mistake that a coincidence is a direct reflection of your own issues when you can’t be certain of how the other person arrived there.

Just because our paths sometimes intersect for one fleeting moment, that doesn’t mean any one of us has all the answers.


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.


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.


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.