CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

Have you ever crashed into a secret?

You either have one or know someone who does and you want to know.

With all of the ideas I’ve been working on for The Circle of Stars and some other bits and pieces, the idea of secrets seem to keep floating to the surface.

We all keep secrets of one kind or another. What you’ve bought someone for a birthday, the cheque’s in the post, and all the way up to the gladly less common, I did kill that man. The whole of the process just involves keeping said fact away from view or for just a select group and when it comes to story telling, the struggle to either uncover said fact or keep it hidden despite the efforts of others is very often a central tenet of what goes on.

Now in the real world, these things still happen but as always, it’s more than just the two choices that can cause problems.

Keeping a secret can cause problems beyond just the keeping. Guilt potentially about what was done and also for the fact you have to keep it under wraps. Trust issues as you may recognise that a significant other isn’t being fully truthful. Resentment that everyone around you may know something yet they’re keeping you in the dark. Intrigue at the thought of a puzzle to solve.

Imagine you’re not told something at work, which you then know that others around you do know. Everyone’s sworn to secrecy and you’re out in the cold. Why don’t they tell you? Have you done something wrong? Is it about you? Don’t they like you? Are you going to be fired?

Your behaviour would suddenly be altered at the thought of all the questions which come with not knowing. You’d want to know. You’d try to find out. And you’d look at the others differently. It wouldn’t matter what the detail was, things would be tilted because you were he odd one out.

A secret as a story telling tool, is a wonderful chance to plant seeds for the narrative to grow as the story progresses. It can allow you to explore character dynamics in a way that can create conflict without the need to rely on flying fists.

All in all, secrets can be useful things for a story, though in the real world…………….

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THERE ALL ALONG

There I was, trundling along with my writing on the next novel, The Circle of Stars, and from out of the blue, came the big slap in the face.

When I write, I have a plan of sorts about what’s going to be happening but I always make sure to leave enough free room that I can amend and nudge the story as I go, depending on what the story does as I move along. I’ve referred to it as almost Bltzkrieg writing, where I blast off to a far off point I the story and then go back to the start and fill in details as I then repeated the journey.

But very often, a central detail of what I need to try and fold into and then build the story around, is missing for quite some time.

So how the hell do I write a coherent book if I don’t have the so-called keystone?

I just get the ball rolling and see how I get along, having enough of a plan where I need to go and the story, and indeed all of the central themes, spiral out of what comes to the surface.

I’ve often wondered if my ‘process’ is anything other than the weak minded way of bungling a story together or indeed, if it’s just the best way for me to be able to sort all of the ideas I have into some kind of order. I know when I start out, the place the story needs to eventually end up, but surely over planning to the Nth degree will drain all of the colour out of the words, leaving behind detailed descriptions but possibly lacking a degree of organic growth. Making sure you have all of the room to breathe when writing means that you’ll have space to include something you may have had in the back of your mind but which didn’t come to the surface until long into the process.

I think I’ve proved to myself that I’ve known what I needed to be saying at the core of the latest book for quite some time. I look back over the notes I’d made, re-examined the characters and what they need to be doing and even looked on the short story, Crossing the Line, which I published in Answers from the Darkness, with a new eye.

My message was always there.

I’d always known what was happening, it was just that I hadn’t told myself. Maybe the timing wasn’t right.

Certainly feels right now though.

SPIN ME ROUND

Something I’m playing about with at the moment while writing the next book in the Circle series is being completely honest with everything I say but telling lies with that honesty.

The way words are used on any given day can hide the truth despite there not being anything false being said. We all know that politicians the world over are amazingly adept at moulding all manner of sentences which don’t lie at all, yet also can’t be trusted fully, just in case.

A good example of how the truth can be covered up would be that all those thousands of years ago when I was still a fresh faced young thing and still in full time education, I collected, after much hard work and studying, all manner of qualifications. GCSE’s, A-Levels and then off to college. In fact, I studied ten GCSE’s, six A-Levels and then graduated with a qualification in Sports Science from Nottingham Trent University.

Impressive. Ish.

None of that is a lie but it’s also just fuzzy enough to lure people in the direction I want.

If I were to ask how many A-Levels I passed, what would you say? Six? Nope.

What city did I live in when studying Sports Science? Nottingham? Wrong.

When I’ve used this example in the past, I can paint a picture which people can then extrapolate their own ideas. You hear ‘Six A-Levels’ so go with that, overlooking the ‘studied’ rather than passed. You hear Nottingham Trent University so assume Nottingham but associate colleges are beyond just there.

Now none of this is there as any kind of confession to wildly misleading people or that I’ve been making up huge aspects of my life, rather that depending on how you spin the details, you can allow the information to point the way and just let the road unfurl before people.

As an author, I need to try to paint a clear picture of what’s happening but that doesn’t always mean that every aspect of every narrative is saying the exact thing you’d expect. Making the reader travel happily off in one direction for that to lead them to a different destination makes all things so much tougher, but so much more fun.

Honest.

CARROT OR STICK?

We’ve all heard the phrase or variations of it, “You catch more flies with honey”, about the importance of methods to get results.

No doubt we’ve all, at some point, been on the receiving end of the wild stick treatment and you want to reach out and crush the one dishing it out. We may fully understand the problem but that stick seems intent on striking away until the end of time, making us acutely aware of the depths of our ineptitude and doing everything in it’s power to crush us beneath the righteous ire.

But that delightful carrot is so much better.

Being given the chance to receive a reward for completing a task is great. You know that when you reach the finish line you’re going to be basking in the knowledge of a job well done as well as accepting the carrot you were promised. Everyone wins.

So why would anyone use the stick over the carrot?

The carrot rewards good performance yet the stick punishes poor performance. If the only thing available is the reward when you do well, the worst you can expect is not doing what you should. The stick gives it balance.

The stick on it’s own just becomes a landscape of dour, crushing bleakness where you end up looking over your shoulder all of the time, waiting for the inevitable explosion. In this situation, the carrot becomes that blazing beacon that means that life could be so much more. Balance again.

We see it in life, and I’m trying to stitch it into the books I’m writing, where people become stuck on one or the other rather than keeping that balance. The carrot becomes the way the hero does things, the stick, the baddies. Big Brother of 1984 existed as the ultimate stick whereas Julia is the carrot, the gleaming hope of a better world for Winston Smith.

Stories mirror life in so many ways and making sure that there’s balance in the way people interact and how systems function create the reality that make the world believable.

We all need to have both aspects of motivation. Being treated with too much saccharine or with too much salt isn’t good for us so we all need to make sure we give the same consideration to everyone else.

Onwards to the best results.

A GOOD PAINT JOB

Have you heard the phrase ‘A picture paints a thousand words’?

As an author with zero ability with a paint brush, it could be really simple to think that I’m on the wrong side of that equation but as with so many things in life, there’s always layers to everything we consider.

How many of us have bought flat pack furniture from IKEA or the like and been confronted with the wonder that is the instruction booklet? A collection of pages that are meant to provide directions through the maze of construction to the promised land of a securely put together unit but at some point, we’ve all come across instructions which seemed to have been designed to do more harm than good.

Could you imagine trying to put together a bookcase you’ve never seen before with nothing but words in the ‘How to’ guide?

It wouldn’t take long before you’d have clumps of your hair in your fists and a selection of the bits you were working with scattered all over the room. Trying to paint that picture with just the words could be a bit of a toughie. But so could the reverse.

Words and pictures have their powers and both can be used to explain and entertain. A picture paints a thousand words but I can paint a picture with a thousand words. It’s just a matter of time.

I’ve taken inspiration from single pictures to add to the narrative I’m working on and when I look at all manner of images I try to imagine all of the back story that may come with them. The giant dragon image, the creature wrapped around the burning castle as it roars out at the night sky, looks great on its own but just think about all of the story that could be spilling out with the image.

Pictures of all kinds can make our minds fire. The right blend of words can do the same. The artist and the author have to plan and execute their work to create the piece they aim for but the person admiring that work could see the written word as being more work to unravel. A picture can paint the words more quickly but in both art forms, the more you look, the more you read, the more time you take, the meaning is spread out much more clearly, showing level after level of new detail.

Trouble is, I can’t draw for the life of me.

SOON

Who looks out there at certain things, certain events, and just can’t wait?

When I write, I very often get caught up in the story I’m working on and can’t wait to reach the next part of the narrative, excited to finally get there and explore that next area of the story. I know that what I write is something that I’d enjoy reading and having that story bubbling along in my head all of the time, I just can’t wait to arrive at the next stage.

I won’t deny it. I’m very often like a small child at Christmas on the run up to a convention. I get myself wound up with all of the thoughts of what’s going to happen on the given weekend. The people I’m going to speak to, the talks I’m going to hear, the total of the shopping, the films, the acts, all of  it, drives my mind along like you wouldn’t believe all of the time leading up to an event and that’s a chunk of the fun for these events.

Excitement for the upcoming anything in our lives is great. If we don’t have anything to look forward to, life can get pretty boring so looking forwards allows you to set goals and do all you can to reach them.

In readiness for this weekends extravaganza at the Sci-Fi Weekender, I threw a focused effort into completing the short story collection, Answers from the Darkness, in enough time to get the copies delivered. I’ve been counting and re-counting the books I have in readiness for the off, packing and re-packing everything, checking and re-checking the clothes I’m going to be wearing as I watch the clock count down.

I love conventions. I love the chance to see all the associated things and the chance to interact with all of the people who attend. We all share some ideas, and we have disagreements but they’re always a great source of enjoyment as we get together.

Having that ‘whatever’ to look forward to is a powerful thing. Kids at Christmas and birthdays show it clearly, so much so you’d swear they were going to explode. And why do we stop doing it? As we age we get told not to wish our lives away and as the years pass by, it could be easy to be spending all the time looking backwards wanting to keep hold of a time when there was more ahead of us than behind.

But we never know when it’s our ‘time’. With nothing to look forward to, you’re left with a very bleak landscape ahead. Having a wonderful thing, whatever it could be, to be aiming for, to look forward to, to be waiting for, gives you that bundle of butterfly’s in the stomach and let’s you appreciate that little bit more of life.

And if you’re going to the Sci-Fi Weekender, I’ll see you there. Come and say hello. I’ll be looking forward to it.

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COMING TOGETHER

There I was, writing away on the next book, concentrating hard to get the words on the page while I had the radio playing in the background, and an ad came on for the stations annual five hundred word short story competition for youngsters. I was working on a short story myself so it was good to hear the drive to get others going in the field.

What Radio 2 did in the promo was to expand what you could get out of it.

Rather than simply being a relative call to arms, that particular promo also gave a small tip. It was done because they had webchats and other resources available on the website so was just an example of what else the kids taking part could use to deliver the best possible story they could.

But that little nugget was awesome.

As a way of getting going, think about putting two things together that wouldn’t normally go together. If you’re struggling to find a way of starting out, look at the way that you can subvert the normal.

It was so basic yet summed up everything that I’ve been trying to do in so much of my writings. It had boiled down my writing process to a single sentence.

In my first novel, The Circle of Fire, the central idea was doing just that. The big scary monster was the good guy. The main character was created to be a representation of a stereotype of the gym going man so I could turn it on it’s head as the series went on. My short stories include ideas around what we all think, and how we interpret words and I’ve tried to look at things in a very different way.

Don’t we like the idea of turning things on their heads?

Don’t we like the idea of what we’re all used to seeing being shown to be wrong?

Rooting for the little team versus the huge club. The David versus Goliath.

Excitement comes from looking outside the norm and by slamming things together that shouldn’t be together under normal circumstances. It can allow all manner of topics to be explored. The film Enemy Mine has the story based around a human and an alien being stranded on a planet. They’re sworn enemies and have been fighting in space prior to their crashing. Everything grows from there. The Odd Couple indeed.

Then think of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yet again, we see the strange bed fellows. The court room, the home of justice and all things honest is shown to be a terrifying place if you come from the wrong population. Truth, that which we all know that we have to maintain, becomes an irrelevance before the glare of twisted ideology.

All kinds of stories are out there to prompt thought and to entertain, and very often, by bringing things together that shouldn’t normally interact, you can uncover some interesting stuff.

Now I’m off to write a story about an HR performance review of someone on the Death Star.