Monthly Archives: October 2013

Inspiration Monday – Falling Behind

Don’t forget next week is Voice Week! Please stop by each day to check out my stories, each 100 words long, each in a different voice, and head over to VW HQ to see what others have done with the challenge.

It’s writing challenge central over here: tomorrow is the first day of NaNoWriMo. I’ll try to stop by with updates and keep up the blogging schedule when I can, but if I don’t make it, see you in December!

For now, InMon. Enjoy!


Somewhere up ahead, the leader of our line stops dead. He’s seen something, perhaps, or heard it. We don’t know. We sense nothing, being only followers. And probably the halt loses its urgency along with its meaning as it ripples down the line. Some are walking asleep and crash into the one in front; others notice the slowing of the line and leave a gap. Eventually, we all stop. Although, I wonder, does the ripple ever even reach the end of the line, or do some trudge endlessly, unaware of the vagaries of life nearer the front?

Then we wait. A silent ribbon of frozen bodies, like pine cones strewn across the forest floor.

Some, I’m sure, are wondering what has called a halt to our march. We consider the possibilities – attack, obstacle, danger, indecision. The challenges of leading are mere fantasies to us. Most just wait without much thought for cause or consequence. Then the column moves off again. Nothing has changed. Nothing seems to trigger the motion any more than the cessation of it.

I let them string out ahead. Let them get away a little. I can afford to leave some distance, even let them out of sight, and catch up by following the trail.

There are others behind me, but I feel alone now and I look around. All around me is space and darkness. I could make a break for independence. I could chance my life on the unknown; and perhaps discover greatness, or freedom.

Behind me, a million more wait. If I take another route, will they follow me or take the original course? Could I become a leader? Could I steer the rest around obstacles, confront dangers and reach safety?

I stand a moment longer. A single ant on the edge of destiny. Then I take one step, in the only direction I can.


Filed under Inspiration Monday, Writing

Friday Fiction – The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Koi carp: so nice, they named them twice. This week’s picture for the Friday Fictioneers led me to a whole load of research about carp, none of which I used. It bred in my brain several terrible puns, none of which I used. Hopefully, you enjoy the story I did go with. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, who has been distributing our weekly picture ration for a year now, and to founding-Fictioneer Doug MacIlroy, whose picture is this week’s prompt.


The Prisoner’s Dilemma

It’s a feeding frenzy out there. I can hear them pushing and shoving, desperate to get the first bit, the last bit, anything in between. Hungry mouths: never full, never satisfied.

I can hear them, but I can’t see. The small slits that serve as windows too high to provide a view, let alone an escape route. I’ve been here how long? Days, maybe. Weeks, even. The nights and days uncounted.

And yet, I hear them and I wonder if I am the lucky one. My meals are scarce and scraps, but no one fights for my gruel and roaches.

Operation Unified Response


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Words at Play

Ah, puns. Love ’em or hate ’em, puns are a part of life. Especially, it seems, in the English-speaking world. I don’t speak any foreign language well enough to know whether puns are used elsewhere, but certainly there is a perception that it’s a curiously English-language phenomenon to play on words.

Personally, I like them. As long as they are not groan-worthy, puns appeal to me. But when I like them, most, is when they are not merely jokes, but a sort of secret code between reader and writer.

Dickens, for example, was very good at making his characters’ names give an extra flavour of the person – Mr Gradgrind, Mr Bumble, Mr Scrooge … Even without having read the books or heard the stories, you would have a sense of those men, wouldn’t you?

Titles, too, can have multiple meanings – are Elizabeth and Darcy meant to represent Pride and Prejudice respectively (and if so, which is which?) or are both little bit of each? Are Sense and Sensibility opposites or two elements of the same personality, and if they are opposites, which is Austen espousing?

In English Literature lessons, I remember being asked to read a great deal into every word and phrase chosen by the author: “ooh, she used lots of sibilants in that sentence to make us feel the wicked nature of the speaker,” or whatever. And often, I suspect the writer did no such thing. She probably didn’t even notice the large supply of s’s and if she did, she probably wondered if it made the work hard to read and she should edit some of them out.

But on the other hand, writers are wordsmiths. We like words and language and we love the meanings of those words. All of them. So sometimes, I think perhaps the author did smile to herself when she used a clever piece of wording – a sentence that appeared to mean one thing but later turned out to mean the opposite, or a description like “devilishly handsome” for a character who turns out to be merely devilish.

I certainly do. Sometimes, I do it by mistake and then catch it in the edit. Sometimes I don’t catch it at all and only get that snatch of pride when someone else points it out. (Sometimes, it backfires horribly and no one gets it, in which case I know I’ve failed on that occasion.) By way of example:

Perms and Combs is a mathematical term for Permutations and Combinations (for example, given 10 digits and 3 spaces, you can make 1000 numeric combinations, whereas 10 digits and 2 spaces gives you only 100 options). But it could also be about hairdressing. And indeed, the hair of the members of Guns n Roses.

Diana and Nadia both have the same letters in their names – apt if they are facing a similar problem from different vantage points. But so does Aidan; (hopefully) with the subtle intimation that he may be as much a victim as the two women.

How do you feel about puns? Do you like to play with words and hide meanings in your writing? As a reader, do you enjoy hunting out the hidden meanings in what you read?


Filed under Writing

Beware the Grammar Police

[WARNING: This post contains words which some readers may find offensive. I use them only to explain a point about offensive language, but please don’t read on if you may be upset by reading racial-, sexuality- or health-related slurs.]

I don’t consider myself to be a Grammar Nazi: I like to think I embrace change and acknowledge the part different cultures have to play in language. However, those of us who stand up for correct usage are often called by that name. And the use of the word Nazi offends some, not just because of the implied criticism of defending good grammar, but because using it in this context is considered to be trivialising the acts of the real Nazis, back in 20th century Europe.

I can see the point. I can. And I try not to use extreme language like “grammar Nazi” where possible.

But the problem is, the English language is peppered with words and phrases that, taken literally, are extreme, and therefore have become trivialised by exaggerated usage. Here are just a few examples:

“I’m starving!”

“My back’s killing me today!”

“It’s driving me crazy”

“It’s hell out there.”

“She had a fit, because I got there late.”

Political correctness can definitely take things too far. The word “brainstorm” achieved notoriety a while back when people decided it might offend epilepsy suffers, for example. I don’t suffer from epilepsy, so perhaps I’m not qualified to comment, but in my view, since brainstorming is not derived from anything to do with epilepsy and doesn’t have negative connotations, I think this was a step too far. A survey of epilepsy patients at the time suggested they didn’t care either.

There are some words that most people tend to be uncomfortable about, though.  These fall into two main categories. The first is made up of words that are used as insults and are clearly derived from a disadvantaged (or previously disadvantaged) sector of society. This category would include words such as “Spaz” (based on the old word for cerebral palsy sufferers), “Gay” (as an insult, usually for behaviour not related to sexuality), and of course racial slurs.

The second category contains words which have extreme and upsetting meanings, and which we feel uncomfortable trivialising by overuse. Holocaust, genocide and massacre for example. Nazi falls into this second category. But it’s a smaller category than the first and harder to contain. Most of us don’t baulk at talking about “car crash TV” or “terrorising” a neighbourhood.

It’s a balance – exaggerations will always be a part of our language, and using them to shock means we need increasingly shocking words to use. But on the other hand, very few of us want to offend or upset, and I think it’s worth just pausing to consider our audience when we use language which might, inadvertently, do so.


Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

Friday Fiction – Perms and Combs

I’ve been convinced it was Wednesday since Monday, but apparently today I’m finally right! I’m like a broken watch – correct twice a day 😉 So, in celebration, Rochelle has put up the prompt, her own photograph this time, and one that gave me several ideas. In the end, I went for this one. If nobody else, I think my Mum will like it. Those who read my post on Numb3rs might also wonder whether I was prompted by the episode I just watched (Season 6, Scratch) and they’d be right.

Anyway, enjoy, and – as always – I welcome your feedback.


Perms and Combs

“I can’t do it,” Shelley yelled.

“Do what?” I asked.

“’kin Maths!”

I ignored the curse.

“It’s pointless.”

“Pointless?” I needed a way to connect with her, then it came to me. The poster on her wall. “Maths is what makes The Slash a genius.”

Slash,” her voice dripped with contempt, “is a guitarist.”

“I know. How many strings on his guitar?”

“Six. I can count, Mum.”

“Six strings. And how many notes does he play? How many songs? All different. That’s Maths.”

She looked at me as though I’d flipped. But she looked at me. We were making progress.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

What did Numb3rs do for us?

When we acquired Netflix a year ago, I was looking around for something I could watch during quiet babysitting moments, and the US crime drama Numb3rs seemed to fit the bill. A few episodes in, I concluded it was not up to much, with the episodes being somewhat formulaic, the characters not very interesting and the relationships between them a bit clichéd. But it fit what I wanted, including my need not to care too much about whatever I was watching, so I carried on.

Now I’m just getting going on the final series (on Netflix? Ever? I’m not sure. Don’t tell me!) and realizing that I’ll miss it when it’s gone. So, what’s changed – what’s the draw of Numb3rs now? And how is this relevant to a writing blog?

To answer the second question first, it’s relevant because this is the effect we want to have on our readers. A great novel isn’t just one you can’t put down while you’re reading it. It’s also one where, however desperate you are to know what happens, you don’t want it to end. You don’t want it to be done. And how do we get that?

I know him so well

I think part of it is simply a question of familiarity. These characters have been hanging out in my living room for months now. I’ve spent more time with them recently than with many of my friends. I’ll miss them when they’re gone. Unless you’re working on a series, you are unlikely to have readers spend months of their lives with your characters. But the characters might well be spending months of their lives in your readers’ heads, and that’s almost as good.

What You See Isn’t What you Get (***SPOILERS ALERT***)

The characters might have started life a bit wooden, but they have developed and grown through experience. The writers ran out of ways to tell us that Don was a womanizer, so they decided to have him have a crisis about it and settle down; they ran out of ways for Charlie and Amita to flirt geekily, so they had them get together. They ran out of personal plotlines for the brothers, so they had Colby do something interesting and be a spy. Then they realized that people like me were outraged and might stop watching, so they did a massive about-turn and made him be a double agent (all of which, by the way, is full of plot holes and inconsistencies, but I’ve forgiven them because we got Colby back).

As writers, we can’t rely on our readers to wait around for things to get interesting. (Numb3rs got away with it with me because I was a captive audience; I guess they got away with it with a lot of people because of the individual episode plotlines rather than the series-length character plotlines.) We need to provide rounded characters right from the beginning. But that doesn’t always mean they’ll be rounded when we start writing. Sometimes, you have to write a character for a while before you really get to know them – then go back and edit in more of their personality.

Character-Driven or Plot-Driven

Series like Numb3rs prove how short-sighted it can be to think of your writing as plot-driven or character-driven. Each episode is firmly plot-driven (the crime-drama element) but what will make me miss the series when it ends are the character-driven plotlines in the background. The relationships between the characters and their internal development. Like the screenwriters, novel-writers need to mix both ingredients into our novels to make a great whole.

United by adversity

I’ve seen these guys through stab wounds, explosions, double crossings and kidnaps, and I’ve been with them every step of the way. It’s still a bit formulaic, and there are still inconsistencies, plot-holes and boring bits. But we’ve been through the mil together. That’s what makes us really feel linked to characters – it’s what makes us wince when they’re hurt and cheer when they win. And that is what every novelist wants from her readers.



Filed under Writing

Inspiration Monday – Claim your island

This week’s InMon prompts include the phrase “Capture your island”, which put me in mind of the fascinating post I read here (reblogged by Rochelle Wisoff Fields). And hence, my story below. I hope you enjoy it, your comments and critique are always welcome.


Claim Your Island

“So, you’re Robinson Crusoe. The first thing to do is claim your island.” Gordy pulled a forked stick from a pile of driftwood and pushed it upright into the ground. He would have liked to make a flag to hang from it, but there was no material in the pile. He could strip off his vest and use that, but he might need it for warmth in the night. And anyway, a white vest would look like a flag of surrender: Gordy had no intention of surrendering to anyone.

“You never know what’ll be on the island, so you’ll need a weapon to defend yourself, and to hunt wild goats to eat. Luckily, when you were cast away from the ship, you brought your trusty bow and a handful of arrows.” He unslung the bow from his back and counted the arrows in the quiver he’d carried under his arm. Seven. Or it might be eight. Numbers were tricky like that.

The sun flicked behind a cloud and Gordy was glad of his vest. “It’s not as warm as it ought to be,” he muttered. “You should build a fire before it gets any colder. You’ll need it to cook the goats later too.” He began to gather some more sticks into a campfire. “Or wild boar. Mmm…” The idea made his mouth wet and he spat on the ground. Gordy took a swig from his canteen and wished it was grog that slipped down his throat, not water.

There was a rustling from the undergrowth behind him. Gordy froze. The noise stopped, and he dropped to his knees, carefully stringing an arrow onto the bow and pulling back on the string.

The sound came again. “It must be Man Friday,” Gordy whispered, holding the bow steady in shaking hands.

“George Anderson! Is that you messing about in my log pile again?”

“Man Friday is aggressive,” Gordy thought, wishing the local had used his proper, adventure name, and not the one his parents insisted on.

“Get out here this instant.”

Gordy felt a hand on the back of his collar, then he was lifted several feet off the ground and dragged out of the undergrowth. Face to face, Man Friday was even more terrifying. He stood six feet tall and almost as broad, wearing a bright yellow housecoat, with a washing peg hanging from his fearsome mouth.

“I’ve told you about mucking about in my garden. Get home before I tell your mother!”

“Yes, Mrs Rogers.” Gordy pulled his plastic bow and quiver onto his shoulder and hurried away before Man Friday could flick him with the red tea towel she’d been hanging out to dry. It would have made a good flag, he thought. Perhaps later, he’d stage a raid and capture the enemy’s ensign.



Filed under Inspiration Monday, Writing

Editing Progress Report


According to the amending version of the editing schedule, I’ve finished October’s target for editing! Which means I’ve done a full read through, patched up the holes and filled out the text. I’ve dealt with all the big continuity issues and a few of the small ones, made the whole thing flow a lot better and generally done the bulk of the editing I wanted to get done this year.

One of the things I’ve been doing the last couple of months is adding a bit more subplot and tension. The new version is still short – 65,000 words approximately – and given last night’s Booker Prize announcement, hardly seems to qualify as a novel at all, but I’m pleased with it. And for now at least, I think it’s where it needs to be.

December will be for a final read-through for some specific text-based issues, but hopefully no big picture ones. Then next year I’m going to send it out into the world – to Beta readers first, and then on a submission mission.


Filed under Writing

Friday Fiction – Lonely Is Never Alone

It’s FF time again, and this week’s picture comes from the wonderful Janet Webb. Janet reads and comments on all the stories every week – I don’t know how she manages it, but it’s quite the feat. You can see Janet’s story at her blog, and the rest of her week’s reading at Rochelle’s HQ.

Technically, I’m not sure this is a story so much as an observation. Either way, I welcome your comments, as always.


Lonely Is Never Alone

Diana pushed her plate away: another microwave “Meals4One”. She’d resigned herself to the single life, but it still caught her, sitting at the dining table in her oversized flat. She’d imagined a husband, babies playing at her feet. Now the waters of menopause were rising and she paddled them alone.

Nextdoor, Nadia collected Aidan’s plate. When they were first married, he’d praised her cooking, now he took it for granted. She glanced at the other end of the table: empty chairs for the sons they would never have. Then she waded through her grief into the kitchen to wash up.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!

I’m thankful for all my lovely readers and followers! Have a great day!

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