Welcome to my Writers Blog

Feel free to read, comment, argue or complain. I would prefer complaints to be amusing rather than trivial.
Ideally you would like to read more, buy my book, ask for help, maybe commission me to write (I can dream). Email me at norristeve@gmail.com - I would love to hear from you. Otherwise just click the social network tabs, so more people get to enjoy.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Social Networks and your fellow Authors

Over the last few months I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a lot of fellow authors in the virtual world of social networks. It’s scary to know the number of people in the same game as you are. We all have access to a computer, years of exposure to reading and life. We all feel capable and empowered to say what we see.
The only problem is that the demand isn’t necessarily growing but the supply is. The economics tell us that we are in the wrong market to achieve anything.
The last few weeks have shown me that actually that view is wrong, and we should think differently.
Previously I felt as if I was competing with fellow authors, and with some on a playing field that wasn’t level. Through various social media campaigns I’ve actually exchanged details with numerous authors in various genres and what I’ve learnt is that we all need each other.
Twitter has been at the heart of this and in about 2 weeks I’ve found nearly 400 contacts in the writing business, and all are happy to share and help each other. There are also numerous sites promoting Independent Authors for free or little money.
What I’ve learnt from all this is that collectively we can achieve more than individually. We are all looking for the same thing.
So why not work together, collaborate for events, joint marketing projects, look for economies of scales. Every one of us knows how much marketing costs but not if we work together.
The indie book sites are the start of it, but there are other things as well. I know some writer colleagues who have done some online interactive sessions on chat sites. Take it a step further and we could have Independent book festivals. A bit like a farmers market we could have a once a month book market where all local authors come out of the woodwork to sell their wares.
I will have a further think about some ideas but the key thing is that we don’t have to compete to succeed but perhaps work together instead.

© S.G.Norris

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Writers: Welcome to your Critics

Writing is very personal, often it is therapeutic, other times it’s all about fantasy. Whatever is behind the work it belongs to the writer. As a writer you have a choice and it is very much a choice, to share that with others.
Some might say that the only point in writing is to share it with others. I’m not so sure about that, it is quite a brave thing, especially in the early days, to share your innermost thoughts. I can imagine there are lots of writers out there who have never let anyone see their work.
So what are we all scared off? The critic it seems. There is probably a million blogs out there on the misery of critics. I’m here to put a word in for criticism although perhaps not the critics themselves. What my point is that writers need critics, harsh or otherwise.
Rule number one of sharing writing with others is knowing that not everyone will like your work. For every opinion you express there are millions of others who will have the opposite. Some might admire your work whilst not enjoying the content, but I would suggest that most people who dispute the content will find fault with the writing. So what does all this mean? Do we ignore critics?
You can’t ignore your critics. You may want to understand their motives and discard them selectively but to pretend they don’t exist will mean the end of a writing career. By testing the reaction to our work we can understand if our intentions are understood. I am often surprised and excited by the reaction to what I write not because I’m looking for confirmation of what I intended but because they often find something there I’d never intended. That’s frightening and joyful at the same time but it shows how interpretation is impossible to anticipate. That’s why writers should be wary of playing to an audience.
My advice is write what you want to write but learn from what people say. Don’t be defensive even when faced with harsh comments. Once you’ve written for a while you’ll begin to have a sense of what’s good and not good in your writing but digesting the reactions of others will help you improve that understanding of your output. Smile sweetly at your critic. Thank them for the time it took them to read your book and maybe your positive reaction might disabuse their negativity the next time.

© S.G.Norris

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Curse of the Ratings Agency

Now I’m not an expert and I guess many of us aren’t but we are all probably beginning to form an opinion about this new being on the horizon: the credit rating agency. These faceless organisations who seem able to dictate an incredible amount of news and shape opinion about banks and countries.

I know they are not new and there have been many a similar organisation offering the same damning opinions on individuals who have had trouble with banks over the years. I was never comfortable with the concept as judgement was passed on people with no real knowledge of their personal circumstances. Simply a blunt ‘computers says no’ response, pushing the desperate victim into the jaws of sharks.

None us will have much sympathy for the debate round the board room table of a bank for a trash rating as it’s unlikely anyone individually would lose much sleep. Maybe they would be forced to turn over in the beds as to whether they could still afford the third house by the sea. The thing that disturbs me most is that they seem to be able to form an opinion stream that results in pretty damning economic consequences. There ability to mark a plague cross on any organisation or country can begin a chain reaction that costs people livelihoods. The facts that the debate are the same in voting chambers and media offices makes no difference, as at least they have a remote accountability for what they produce. These agencies have no accountability and the cynic in me suggests they have a clear motive for profit.

It could work one of two ways. I can imagine a battle among the agencies to be the first to shout ‘Plague’ for any of the organisations rumoured to be in trouble. There has to be a race because there’s nothing for coming second in this media scrum. They want to be first in the news because now everyone will know who they are. The agency whose second to shout will not be in with a sniff of attention. Assuming that attention is what these agencies seek, the media clamber over a new announcement must create a pressure to shout at the absolute earliest opportunity, and maybe ultimately before absolutely necessary therefore ruining a reputation with no justification. This has now turned into a rumour of rumour which leads to more uncertainty in a market place which is already dithering.

The second tactic, and the really cynically option is that these agencies are complying with short selling. They are deliberately driving down the reputation of an organisation for someone to profit on the reduced share price. This may absolutely not be the case, and is purely a point of view from the layman, but with the various dark rooms in which the financial market operates, it’s hard to see that somewhere from all of this doom and gloom there isn’t someone laughing his arse off.

It’s an inevitable conclusion, because it would be absolutely straightforward to start a rumour of success and stability. Start talking up the market, start reassuring financiers that the world will not end tomorrow. If a few trillion is wiped off a stock exchange the sun will still rise. People will still need to eat and do all the things that make the world go round. They may do it off less money and struggle a while, but it will still happen. Why? Because it has to. The world keeps turning and the wheel is relentless.

The game of politics and economics is just that, it’s a game played round the roulette wheel. The money doesn’t go anywhere. It’s like energy it recycles itself. In the end financiers can’t stop that roulette wheel turning because if they did, society would descend into oblivion and the comfortable life they created would die with it. That’s why if they wanted to and when the financiers believe they’ve made enough profit from doom, they can respin the wheel of fortune.

© S.G.Norris

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Deluded Fools or Guilty of Murder

A news article tripped across the wires this morning concerning Aids sufferers who had died because they stopped taking their life-saving drugs on the advice of their pastor or whatever title they choose to give themself. God’s Will would save them instead. There are always two-sides to a news story and there was likely more to know in this but the premise seems clear enough.
There are so many angles to take when reacting to this, each requiring a person of sound mind to shake their head from side to side in utter disgust.
Issue could be taken with the individuals themselves who chose to believe in the preacher but then you might also learn that it was the same preacher or one of similar heritage who suggested that the use of protection in pursuing sexual relationships was the devils work. Strange that the threat of the devils work was never quite enough for them to suspend the promiscuous activity but the use of protection was. Perhaps they felt it was a double jeopardy and that one sin was easier to explain than two. Whatever people chose to believe is in their hands inevitably, one mans medicine man is another’s poisoner.
I turn to the pastor for my vitriol as we expect them to carry more intelligence and awareness of the world about them, such that they would have some responsibility for the impact of their words of stupidity. My first instinct is to look for money changing hands as the motive for such shady operation. The con merchant often knows no depths in the pursuit of profit. This I would understand more if these individuals were offering a vision of hope that would keep the punters returning for another day, but something that would kill off the money trail like this makes me wonder whether they are as deluded as those that queue to listen to them. I say this only because I can’t see where the profit lies in killing your customers. It is hoped that some of the others following in the queue consider turning around and looking elsewhere for solace but I suspect the pastor in question will have an answer to the obvious questions. Something along the lines of God’s punishment and if you hand over a little more money, we will make sure that God’s sees fit to overlook your previous misdemeanour.
Do I believe the pastor to be evil? Given that evil corresponds to a religious negative then it’s perhaps not the right word. Perhaps the better way to examine their motive is to question whether the pastor is either guilty of murder or manslaughter. The legal debate would fall on whether he deliberately intended his victims to die or whether it was simply an indirect result of his words. Sadly it is unlikely these portrayers of death will see a court for their actions but I wish they would. Only then might we begin to see that such preaching of ignorance is as much a crime as inciting religious hatred or conspiracy to murder.

© S.G.Norris 

Monday, 17 October 2011

Indie Writers Zone: Indie Insider - Steve Norris

Indie Writers Zone: Indie Insider - Steve Norris: How long does it take you to create a book from start to finish on average? If you totalled the amount of time spent writing end to end t...

Saturday, 15 October 2011

New Story from Writers Cave - Headlights

A bright searing white scorches my eyelids. I can’t look away, caught in the beam. An orange glow burns inside, a central fire fuelling the glow.
‘He’s awake.’
I hear the voice, but it doesn’t register. I open my eyes and the light is gone, but still the orange flame burns as I try to focus on the faces staring.
‘How you feeling today, John?’ One asks.
They say my name but it means nothing. They could be calling me Jim or even Jill. It still wouldn’t make sense.
‘Do you remember who I am?’
‘Yes Doctor…,’ I reply weakly. I do remember some Indian name but it doesn’t come
Another face appears. The same as yesterday.
‘Do you remember me yet?’
Her face forms the question as hope gleams in her eyes. The orange glow still distorts my view making it difficult to pick out features. Long blonde hair surrounds a pale face. Full red lips form a weak smile that I’m happy to kiss. She’s pretty…I like her.
‘Sorry,’ I say and the hope disappears. I know she’s Ellie, my wife, but I no more know her than myself.
I close my eyes to rest and the light returns. I wonder if the dream will come with it. It forms a whole whilst the orange fires dances. It begins to change, now with yellow and green. All the colours have their turn until a black forms. It’s night. I feel the cold and shiver. I’m walking fast, not sure why. Breathing heavily, I can hear my heartbeat. Lights appear in the distance, approaching quickly. It starts as a pulsing glow that draws me in until it grows with the noise of an engine until it’s all I see and then…I’m on the floor. I feel nothing, just hear a voice.
‘Is he dead?’
And then another.
‘Think so. Serve’s him right.’ The muttered twang in the voice distinct as the last time.
He speaks again. ‘Is he awake?’
New words this time and it takes a moment to register.
I open my eyes to see for the first time something I recognise.
‘Do you remember me? I hear you lost your memory.’ That same twang mocking my thoughts.
‘David.’ The name forms on my lips as I hear an alarm sound in the room. I can no longer hear the sound of my breathing.
© S.G.Norris

New Story from Writers Cave - Days at the Museum

History rained from the walls, time portioned into compartments, horror and gore beside the drudgery of day to day life. Annie had seen it all. Her days from nine to five framed by the annals of time.
‘Wow, what a wonderful job?’ or ‘must be quite boring,’ opinions divided on the nature of her work. They had no idea. The museum was so much more than the history decked throughout, days never felt like work.
Annie took her morning rounds as usual, stepping first into the Roman room. Claude Henry, she noted this from the name tag clipped to his lapel, stared intently at the coin collection before taking his regular seat in the corner. He would spend at least an hour. Why, she had no idea. Maybe haven from the heat of the corporate bonfire outside.
Into the Egyptian chamber, the colour of life no better expressed than by the meeting of Charles and Diana. She didn’t know their real names only that they met here at ten on Wednesdays. Him, with his classic British integrity dressed in clothes which belonged in one of the displays, her in a summer dress with a pattern that curtain manufacturers would do well to copy. Five minutes would pass before they’d speak and feign surprise at meeting. She considered suggesting they get a room, but couldn’t imagine Charles and Di would quite have it in them.
Medieval Britain, the room of drama, Kings and Queens, subterfuge and legend had quite a different role in the 21st century. She called it the spy room. For an occupation adorned in secrecy and subtle unseen worlds she could never quite work out why public school Timothy always came here. He’d met Russians, Americans, and numerous other nationalities, old, young, delicately attractive females, elderly matrons who were cast offs from 1950’s hospitals. If she understood his operation, a queue of others must be outside. But then Timothy probably thought he was important, saving the world from untold dangers, or perhaps Walter Mitty dreaming of glory. Annie was clear where her vote would be.
Every room cast another story, where the path of reality took a twist. Unlikely that any of these occurrences would achieve a record in the archives of the Museum, but still life danced its peculiar waltz through the ancient walls.

© S.G.Norris

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A guide to managing complex storylines – Part 2 – Swimlanes

My previous blog concentrated on tips for building suspense in stories and how to leave hooks that the reader can grab hold of.

This week I am looking at planning and managing timelines, character storylines and how to ensure each thread is not lost in the mass of words that a book becomes.

So the concept I use is swimlanes. Anyone familiar with a project management textbook may know this already. It’s not quite a project plan, which can be a painfully detailed document to manage, but does borrow some principles.

Please don’t run off now that I have mentioned the words project and management, I’m not going to get all theoretical and start boring everyone with powerpoints and clip art. Writing is a creative activity but sometimes we need to borrow a bit of structure to stop ourselves descending into a confused mire.

The metaphor of swimlanes is to look at the timeline of the story as a swimming pool with lanes mapped along the pool. You can then plot storylines or characters within each lane at each point of the story. By using a swimlane for each element of the story you can visualise your characters at each stage and see where the overlaps are or gaps.

Before this gets too heavy here’s an example.

If I use the example of A Very English Revolution, the time line for the book was four weeks. I used Microsoft excel, the best piece of PC software ever, You can use a piece of paper on the wall, whatever works for you. I use excel because I can transport on my laptop with the text and and as opposed to MS word you never run out of page. Even the Lord of the Rings is not going to challenge the excel page limits.

I drew a column for each day of the 4 week period and then defined a row/lane for key characters in the story, Rachel, Joe, Lucy, Sarah. I then summarised the key story point in each day for them. Lucy on Saturday would meet Joe in the park at 2;00 p.m. I write that in the cell for Joe and Lucy for that day. I can then see for each of my other characters where they are at the same time. And it goes on.

Cell by cell you can plot out the storyline

There are probably numerous other ways to do this and I believe there are software packages that can be purchased for the purpose of. But I believe this is as good as anything. The key point is to take the time to think about how your story will pan out. I’m not saying you need to know every angle when you start but you can keep it up to date as you write. Use a different colour to show things you’ve done or yet to do. Things you have to come back to.

Every author probably has a how to structure a story methodology. It’s each to their own. I like this one as I can see where my characters are and can easily cross-reference key elements of the story to tick off.

© S.G.Norris

Thursday, 6 October 2011

A guide to managing complex storylines – Part 1 – Suspense, Hooks and Wet Fish

Modern story writing requires the author to blend together a number of threads slowly revealing the connections to the reader. Most stories require an element of suspense. It’s what brings the reader back for more as the author dangles the next carrot in front of the curious reader.

There are many genres in the literary world and they all have different tools to ensure the next page is turned, but the most common one is suspense.

It’s worth spending time on how suspense works and how it also can be done badly.

  1. Don’t tell all in the first chapter – Sounds simple but useful to remember that when building your character and storyline, be careful what assumptions the reader is making. I write crime and thrillers, both can be different in structure but have many things in common. One thing is that readers are already beginning to form opinions about characters on the first page. Your challenge is not to close off those opinions, you want to prick their imagination, but make sure you have a sense of what they might be thinking so that you can control it and re-use it further down the line. A good example in crime and thriller writing is to introduce your reader to the bad guy early on so that the reveal at the end has more credibility, but be aware of what you tell in that introduction. You might want to cloud it in other contradictory clues or just leave the reader one distinctive characteristic in mind e.g. a recognisable tattoo, a distinct voice, a look in the eye, something you can bring back into the reveal at a later stage. But be subtle, the reader must not be allowed to guess so you must confuse as much as you hint.
  2. Hint’s and clue’s – In the interest of playing a game with the reader, you might want to get them guessing. Whodunnits in the crime genre are classic for this and of course the rule is that it should never be the one you think it is. Agatha Christie was the author who is most famous for deploying the technique but whilst the principle remains the same, readers are far more familiar with the genre and therefore you have to be cleverer at surprising them. Some crime writers turn this on its head by telling you the perpetrator at the beginning but create the suspense by not revealing it to the characters and leading them into situations where the reader has prior knowledge of the danger they are in. A movie that is the best example of this is Apollo 13, where everyone knows the end. But somehow the screenwriters were clever enough to make the journey just as exciting
  3. Red Herrings – Blind Alleys are useful tools for crime and works in other genres as well. The reader is often working ahead of the story trying to anticipate where the ending is leading, partly to reassure themselves that it’s all going to be ok in the end, but also because they think they’re cleverer than the author. That’s when the red-herring turn’s into a slap in the face with a wet fish. Build a story line that gives them enough clues as to where you are going, keep dropping hints, and then shock them with the revelation that they got it all wrong.
  4. The end is never the end – A bit like the red-herring, we can lead the reader to think the story is resolved, that the happy ending is reached. That’s when you reveal another layer to the story, totally unexpected, often a twist and drag the reader back round the whole story again. This is a tricky storyline technique to get right as hitting the reader with a yet unrevealed piece of information might annoy them. The real skill is letting the reader believe they should have known this all along and that the author gave them enough clues. That wins the author respect and a return visit.
  5. Don’t overplay it – A further rule of red herrings, clues and false endings is not to overplay it, especially if you’re writing a series of stories. Readers of genres/series like the rules of the game, because they like the suspense. But they’re also good at spotting the tricks authors use, and as soon as you become predictable the suspense flies out the window. So don’t be formulaic. Know how to use the rules but vary how you deploy them. For Example:- Patricia Cornwell places her character in personal danger in every case she writes, and given it’s a series, when ever she walks into the killers trap, the reader has a reasonably 99% sure guess that she will walk out of it again. As a reader that bores me, and the reason I no longer read her books. This is a major problem for series writers. I’m not saying don’t ever send your character into personal danger, but at least anticipate that the reader might be thinking, ‘I’ve seen this before and I know she get’s out,’ and therefore do something different. Treat the reader with respect if you want them to keep coming back to your stories.
  6. Don’t forget your clues – Having created hooks for your reader make sure those hooks are resolved otherwise your story will look messy and incomplete. For example if you tell the reader your bad guy has an interesting tattoo that would trigger interest in him, when you get to reveal the story behind the character don’t forget to explain the tattoo. The reader will want to know and will be annoyed by the omission.

Next week I will talk more about planning these storylines to be sure you don’t make mistakes with clues and don’t forget the key points that keep the element of suspense.

© S.G.Norris