Characters, On Writing

The Tale of a Story Told (Part One)

In which Ness takes a past tale and tells its story.

Feel up to a story of improvement and facial seizures? Grab a cup of tea (or a beverage of your choice) and settle in as I tell you the tale of a young girl who had no idea that a single paragraph shouldn’t cover an entire A4 sheet of paper …

Oh Robin!

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was seized by a desire to write a story based around my childhood hero – Robin Hood.

So I began one.

It was appalling.

The main character was, well, she was – and here I must put it quite frankly – a bit of a brat; a pallid shadow of the Maid Marian of Legend. Of course I didn’t intend to write her as such – I was writing a story and accidentally conjured up a proud and arrogant girl with my words.

These things do happen, you know.

The plot itself was rather, well, it had wonderful coincidences. Robin Hood – whose eyes were perpetually twinkling – was easily rescued from the dungeon. It was a strong alcoholic liquid that helped him, you see; administered to the guards, constantly diluted yet always very potent, it was originally owned by our heroine. Why she possessed such a liquid in the first place, I never explained.

Another marvelous coincidence was when poor Little John was imprisoned in the dungeon. He was soon to die. Hanging, I believe. But no fear! Lady Mary Adeney was informed by her beloved maid that there was a secret tunnel:

“It leads to the dungeon, the deepest one at that, no one knows of this tunnel for Sir Guy killed the original owner off it…..and with him, the secret tunnel.”

[How one kills off a secret tunnel is not explained].

By amazing chance, Little John is rescued. By even more amazing chance, Little John – the biggest, tallest and strongest ironically named outlaw about – fits through the tunnel opening. Which is two foot wide.

Lady Mary Adeney – after a showdown with the Sheriff (the dialogue of which contained a perfect storm of exclamation marks) – decided to become a commoner, shunning both the life of a noblewoman and living with the outlaws in Sherwood Forest.

“Minstrel’s songs and heroic tales were one thing, but how could I know what his band were like?”

[Quite right, m’dear. They might be heavy metal or – even worse! – a folk band]

A quick Bible verse was inserted as she released her horse (Bravebrow was his name, if you are wondering) and left her companions in a not at all melodramatic way.  Off to the Fletcher’s in Nottingham she was going, with a new name …

[Drum roll please]

Maid Marian!

… and then the plot dribbled off like water in a cracked jug. Like my spirit when faced with a pile of procrastinated work. Like my strength when accosted with a much too long walk in England’s countryside. (Did you know, I once accidentally stepped on a dead sheep? It was rather an experience). Like- well, I’m sure you understand.

In my story folder that story stayed – gathering metaphorical dust between ‘A Father Tells’ (a father telling a story about his smuggler days. It won me a price for the most gore. I was eight) and ‘Mountain Air’ (in which the heroine was awesome, witty and in no way shape or form resembled me. Cough).

But then I returned to it. I blame Robin Hood and my love for his tales.

Lady Mary was obviously spoiled. Hmm … how to rescue her? A light bulb dawned in my fogged brain. It consisted of two words: character development.

What if she … grew? I could keep the beginning of her story and skip forward two years and show how her character grew.

What an excellent idea!

Yes.

Well, the thing is … I overdid it.

She was suddenly perfect. She was mature. She was delicate and sweet. She could show remorse with the best of ‘em. She could swoon like a pro, cry (but delicately) and was an all-round paragon of maddening perfection.

It was going off to Bristol to be a maid, you see. That was the making of her; the Forming of the Paragon. (Note to self: go to Bristol as a maid, will come back perfect. Probably).

Again the story trailed off, gathering dust particles as I turned away to different tales, different projects.

But then I came back, I still loved Robin Hood and this story I had worked on. I didn’t much like it but it was mine and I had worked on it on and off for more than a couple of years.

Another light bulb – instead of skipping two years I could actually write the transition from spoiled to perfection more, well, human. I gave myself permission to write (on purpose, this time) a thoroughly unlikable character.

Everyone should give themselves permission to write thoroughly unlikable main characters at one time or another.

This Tale of a Tale continues later, in Part Two. Naturally.

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Characters, On Research, On Writing

The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person, Present Tense

In January, I knuckled down and managed to write the sequel to The Dragons We Hunt. Next up? A sequel to that sequel to write – the final book in a trilogy written entirely in first person, present tense.

In honour of squeezing out book number two, I have compiled a list and entitled it: ‘The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person, Present Tense’.

(I’m sure you’ll agree that is a very imaginative title).

(a few of) The Pros and Cons of Writing in First Person, Present Tense

Pros:

– You are given the ability to plunge into the mind of the Main Character – what they are thinking, how they think and what makes them tick.

– You look at the world through their eyes. Some characters, for instance, are dreamers, and as such, they look at the world with slightly more imaginative eyes. Others are very matter of fact and a sunset is simply that – a sunset.

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*sniff*

– The reader is more involved in the character and everything happens right. now. (The mouse is nibbling away at the cheese. Dawwww!  So cute. It’s so adorable. It does my soul such goo- OHMYWORD A CAT JUST ATE IT! Blood! Guts! Gore! Oh the horror. Quick, let me Instagram it).

– There is the interesting challenge of portraying other characters through the MC’s own, biased eyes.

Cons:

– Writing in first person, present tense is constrictive. You can’t soar over the mountains and show that Tom the Shepherd has lost his first sheep while the Hero/Heroine is attempting to swim in the ocean. You can’t dive into other people’s minds.

– If the reader doesn’t get the MC then the rest of the book will be awful, for the POV (in this case) never changes from the MC.

– In real life, many things happen that we simply don’t understand. Usually, when this happens, we google it. However, in my Viking/Mongolian world, Google doesn’t exist, so tough luck for the MC – you’re just going to have to deal with it. (Or, I’ll write a sequel from someone else’s POV explaining it all … yep, that could work).

Have a great week!

and

No mice or sheep were injured in the writing of this post. Honest.

Characters, On Writing

Waiting for Trains

Now, I’m going to admit that this is a bit of a long post. But if you have a few minutes to spare than please do read on. The theme for this month’s Chatterbox is ‘Waiting Fulfilled’. And so below is a small story about a woman who is waiting for her husband and would rather not have ‘death by bench’ on her obituary.

And you may have noticed the new header of this blog. It is winter and I feel the need for warm wood and polar bears.

– – –

She had waited for oh so long. Both for the train and for him.

Though, to be perfectly truthful, she had waited only two hours for the train. For the man on the train, well, she had waited much longer for him.

Three years, five months, two weeks and six days. And, if she truly applied herself, she could work out the hours and minutes as well. But she was quite done with applying herself and besides, maths was never her forte.

Oh, she thought, very well then. I may as well be truthful with myself.

❄ Winter Wonderland ❄ PLEASE NOTE: this  image is a GIF - Animated Pin ❄ Please click on the play button to view ❄It had been three years, five months, two weeks, six days, ten hours and- she glanced at her watch and moved her hand to catch the light of an overhead lamp- thirty-six minutes.

A long time. Too long, almost. But she often thought that it was too long. She had thought it too long when his car had driven off in a cloud of black smoke that heralded a need for a mechanic. She had thought it too long when his first letter had come a week later. When that first lonely month had dragged so unwillingly by.

And then there was that awful first year.

And that perfectly dreadful second one.

She shivered and pulled her coat about her. It didn’t help much. She was going to sit on this cold bench and wait for the train even if it killed her.

She hoped it didn’t though, she had much too much to live for.

And besides ‘death by bench’ didn’t have a nice ring to it.

Suddenly she stilled. Because-? Could she-? Was that-?

It was.

His train – his long delayed train was coming with an impatient huff and a piercing whistle. She could hear its approach.

It was coming. He was coming.

She stood up and began to pace, up and down. Up and down. Puffs of her breath showed white in the air. Up and down.

Here it came.

Standing very still, she watched as, with a screech of the breaks, the iron monster came to a stop.Smoking train (by: Ralph Graef)

(It wasn’t a monster, she told herself. It was a dear, dear machine that was bringing him to her. And that also made her wait for two hours in the bitter cold. Yes, it was a monster. A dear monster, but a monster nevertheless.)

Smartly dressed passengers dismounted. Bags and briefcases bashed each other whilst their owners took sharp breaths at the sudden cold outside.

She stood and waited.

And suddenly, suddenly he was there.

Tall, dark hair messy (because three years, five months, two weeks, six days and bother the hours later and he still forgot to brush it) and with those kind brown eyes glinting in the lamplight, he stood there. In front of her.

“Hullo Vivian,” he said.

“Hello,” she said staring up at him. He really had a marvellous chin, she thought irrelevantly.

He joggled his briefcase and cleared his throat.

“You look …” he started, and she wondered how he was going to describe her. ‘Wrapped-up Cornish Pasty’ she had mentally described herself this morning. Though if he said, ‘Wondrously Beautiful Beloved of my Heart’ she wouldn’t complain.

“… like …” he was fumbling for words. It was rather strange really. He had never fumbled for words. Not even on their wedding day when she had come down with a nasty cold and sneezed during his wedding vows. He had squeezed her hand and smoothly carried on with ‘through sickness and in health.’

She couldn’t bear it anymore. Three years and all those months and weeks and days and a delayed train were much too long to wait, so she did the sensible thing and flung herself in his arms.

He caught her and she didn’t hear the ‘thump’ of the dropped briefcase.

He drew back after a few moments, holding her at arm’s length (though, she noted that he held her quite tightly even then) and staring down at her. “You look,” he said. And stopped. Cleared his throat.

She nodded encouragingly, much too full of everything to speak.

“You look like home.”

Oh,” she replied eloquently as their breath curled white and delicate together in the winter air. “How lovely.”

Characters, I think I just rambled, Life, On Writing

You Don’t Have to Own a Cat

I fled up the garden and into the pottery studio, sat on the lid of a portable toilet and consumed damsons. By the time I had finished praying, pondering and spitting the pips out, Act Three had been hashed out.

damsonsSometimes, sitting down and facing a piece of paper or a computer screen just isn’t the thing. Sometimes, grand ideas and plot points come whilst washing up. Sometimes they come when talking, singing.

Ideas don’t wait politely to be acknowledged. They leap out and present themselves to you and demand your attention.

Want to know something? All those ‘writers are …’ and ‘writers do …’ on Pinterest boards, in books, on blogs … you don’t have to ‘be’ them.

Sure, to be a writer, you have to write. It’s a fundamental truth. But to be a writer you don’t have to own a cat, drink tea, write into the wee hours, possess an ‘artistic temperament’, be wonderful at spelling or brand yourself as an introvert.

Honestly, you don’t.

You don’t have to hear your characters voices in your head or weep as you write. You don’t have to have read a thousand different ‘how to write books’. You don’t have to plan out your character’s back story in meticulous detail.

You have to write. That is all.

Sure, reading craft books can help you. Planning out elaborate characters may be your thing. And sure, you may have a rusty old typewriter, own a cat named Shakespeare, drink obscure teas and hold grand debates with your characters. That’s wonderful.

Just, you know, be yourself. You don’t have to change yourself into a Pinterest board. You don’t have to be a ‘Writer’ as defined by others.

Be your definition.

And write.

Excuse me, I’ve got to get rid of those pips.

Books, Characters, On Writing

It is a good day to live – A Study of Points of View

I’m afraid I must be a rather morbid person as for the example in this little study of mine, I have a man who- well, read on and you will hear his tale told not once, not twice, but four times.

via Pinterest

Third Person, Subjective, Present tense:

He sits on the bench and crosses his ankles, leaning back he looks upwards at the lime tree’s green leaves. The sky is blue and the sun shines brilliantly. He lets out a peaceful sigh – it is a good day to live.

There is a crack, breath is snatched from his body as it shudders just once. He looks down and sees the red which grows on his white shirt like an ink stain. He frowns. His body slumps.

His eyes close.

Third Person, Omnipresent, Present Tense:

He sits down on the bench. Crosses his ankles. Doesn’t know what is going to happen. He doesn’t see gun raised as he leans back and admires the day. It is a good day to live, he thinks. But then there is a crack and blood stains his shirt and he doesn’t see the irony of his thought as he slumps on the bench.

A dog-walker finds him fifteen minutes later, and screams.

First Person, Present Tense:

I sit down on the bench and cross my ankles, lean back and look upwards at the heavens – the branches of the lime tree sway slightly in the breeze and frame a blue sky, whilst the sun shines brilliantly, highlighting the leaves. Ah – it is a good day to live.

A crack and my body shudders. Winded, breathing is difficult.

I look down and frown. What is this? Red is growing, growing, growin- gro-

Second Person:

You sit down on the bench and cross your ankles. Upwards you look and the beauty of the day causes a small sigh. It is a good day to live, you think. You hear a crack and your body shudders. Breathing is elusive – it’s been knocked out of you. You look down and frown at the red which spoils the whiteness of your shirt.

The red spreads.

Your head lolls now and your body has slumped; you aren’t there to hold it up.

A dog-walker finds your hollow frame fifteen minutes later, and screams.

 Please Note: No dog walkers were traumatized or men were shot in the writing of this post. The sanctity of life is still firmly upheld.