I’ve added a new section to the website called “Thoughts” which is basically the stuff I think about when I’m not writing or self-publishing, as such they do not belong in my main blog. These thoughts will usually be about big questions, and some of them will have a direct connection to the kind of fiction I like to read and write.
I’m hoping these thoughts will be entertaining and informative, and give some insight into the background ideas that influence my fiction.
So, dear reader, if you’re interested in discovering what kind of things make me tick then read on, I hope you enjoy.
The title of this entry is a bit of a spoiler, so it will be no surprise to you that I have a very low opinion of prologues. In fact, my opinion is so low that I’ve been known to close a book and not read it if it starts with a prologue.
Years ago I came to the conclusion that not a single novel I’d ever read had been improved by the prologue it started with. I later confirmed this by skipping prologues and only reading them after I’d finished the rest of the book and – without exception – I found the prologues to be unnecessary. Since then I haven’t found a single novel that I ruined or rendered unreadable by skipping the prologue.
Later, when I began to write, my relationship with books changed (sadly, in most cases, not for the better – but that’s for a later post). I began to analyse the mechanics of prologues and found, in most cases, the author had included one just to prop up shoddy writing. There seem to be two scenarios that convince an author that a prologue is not actually a hideous wordy pustule but something like a good idea.
One: Apparently, sometimes an author feels it’s so important to state a vital piece of information, up front, that they’ll add a prologue just for that purpose. Such prologues often appear as nothing more than info dumps, which are a kind of literary cancer anyway (so why you’d do this as the first thing anyone would read is beyond me). This either shows poor planning or the author’s lack of faith that their own writing is understandable, or worse, they don’t credit the reader with the gumption to understand what they’ve written in the main text.
Two: More often, an author seems to feel the need to include a prologue simply to make their book begin at a more interesting point in the story. If the author recognises the first half or their book is dull and in need of perking up, then as a potential reader, I’m not going to be fooled by an action filled prologue they’ve just tacked on the front to try and disguise the fact.
Neither gives me any confidence that the writer knows what they’re doing, and that’s why I will close the book and read no further.
However, I have made the odd exception, usually when I’ve been persuaded by a friend, as with the Belgariad series of fantasy books by David Eddings, and the Millennium trilogy by Larson. In both cases I was coerced into reading beyond the prologue and I was glad for it, but I would still maintain that these examples would have been just as enjoyable without the prologues.
There may be good prologues out there, I wouldn’t know because I’ve been avoiding them. I’ve heard that the Harry Potter books have well written prologues, that they serve as abridged summaries to ease the reader into the new book?
But these examples do not convince me to change my opinion, life is too short, and reading time is too precious. Unless I have persuasive evidence to the contrary, if I see a prologue I will automatically assume that the text that follows is not worth reading.
In the future, my reader will no doubt criticise my writing for many things, but my inappropriate use of prologues will not be one of them.
Since I started writing properly, and by that I mean with the goal of eventually being published, I’ve run into many different obstacles over the years. More often than not I’ve managed to overcome them. That was true, until recently, when I hit a real snag.
I simply didn’t anticipate how long it would take to get my first two books edited. I’ve held off starting anything new because I wanted to keep both books fresh in my mind to make it easier to finish them off when the edits did eventually come back. Unfortunately, as a result, with this old material bunging up my thinking I’ve not been able to write any new fiction and very little new content for the website.
Finally realising the situation has gone on for too long, I’ve forced myself back to the keyboard to press on with something new.
This, I now recognise, has been a bout of writers block (although I’ve been kidding myself that it was something else for months). As I mentioned in my earlier post on the subject, I believe that most – if not all – writers block, can be traced to some form of fear. In this case, my fear of distancing myself from my older material guided me to make the wrong choice, and thus stifling the development of new stuff. As the editing delay got longer, my self imposed writing dry spell became a full blown drought.
What a dummy I’ve been. I know hindsight is considered by some to be wonderful, but really all it’s done is mess with my melon. Realising I could have knocked out a new first draft in the time I’ve been dormant makes me feel like a prize numpty.
However, I don’t really believe that self recrimination is the correct response. The right thing for me to do, having identified the problem, is to do what dogs do and just kick some grass over it and move on.
So, hence this rather rambling blog entry and my own shambling stagger from the literary gutter.
Right then, where did I leave my writing mojo…?
Although I write about strange stuff, full of occult magic, the paranormal and eldritch mystery, my thinking and life are grounded firmly in science. I’m not prone to fanciful indulgences, a spade is usually a spade and if it quacks it’s most certainly a duck. However, on occasion, I have witnessed things that have made me wonder if I’m right. I’ve had one, perhaps two, ghostly experiences that I find hard to explain, other than one being a vivid dream and the other an auditory hallucination that would put any cinema surround-sound system to shame. And in nearly forty years of gazing at the wonders of the night sky I have seen many odd things that I’ve later reasoned away to my own satisfaction – except one, and I don’t imagine the pilots that were chasing it could either.
So, what I’m trying to say is that I’m not usually one to let myself get carried away, although I often jump at shadows, I still do know they are only shadows.
However, this Halloween, I saw something strange.
I parked the car in a darkened suburban street, open plan with nice manicured gardens, to drop my son off at a Halloween Party. I decided he could manage his own gear; sleep over paraphernalia, lantern and six foot scythe, but my wife wanted to help (and she wanted a chat with the party hosts). After a short while, she reappeared and I watched her in the side mirror as she walked up the pavement. She was dressed in her own costume and made quite an enchanting sight.
Then a figure, dressed in black jeans and a black hoody, appeared and ran up behind her. For an instant I thought it might be a would-be attacker and I went straight to DEFCON 1, ready to leap into action, but then I realised it was probably my son, running to catch up because he’d no-doubt forgotten something. So I calmed down, and watched the approaching figure for several seconds, still convinced it was my son, and feeling that nothing was unusual.
Then as my wife left the pavement to cross to the passenger side of the car I lost sight of her in the side mirror and switched to the rear view, but the other figure did not appear with her. The side mirror was empty also. I turned around and scanned the street but could see nothing.
When my wife got in the car she was unaware of there being anyone else anywhere near her. In fact, I unnerved her more by telling her what I’d seen.
It could have been someone with malicious intent that reconsidered when they realised she was heading for a car that was already occupied, but as far as I could see, there was nowhere for such a would-be assailant to hide.
I don’t know whether it was my imagination, or we had a lucky escape, or that I saw something truly strange…
As you might have noticed, I’ve been slowly growing a web presence as a prelude to actually publishing a real book that a real person will want to buy. It might come as a surprise but I have given the matter some thought, and will continue to do so, but much of what I’ve done has evolved naturally from the intent to simply entertain. But I don’t want to get all preachy, these are just my thoughts so far, that you may or may not find useful.
I haven’t figured out Facebook yet, or how to make the best of it, and this website and blog is still developing. However, I’ve found Twitter accessible and I’m having a lot of fun building what I hope is an interesting Twitter personality. I don’t just want to post endless tweets about my new book, or about my latest book reviews. Although, I will post some tweets like that, but hopefully not too many. But why? Isn’t that what social media is for? To help you sell stuff? Well, yes, partly, but what is it that I’m trying to sell?
I’m a writer, and soon I’ll be an author, the former because I can’t help it and the latter because I want to share. I’m writing my books to entertain, and here’s the crux of the matter because I want everything I do to emphasise that. I want my web presence itself to be entertaining. I don’t want a potential reader to look at my blog or twitter feed and think – blimey what a bore, I bet his books are just as dull, because if they do then I’ve torpedoed myself. I think this is so important, and it adds value. So yes, I want my reader to buy my books – when I publish them – but I don’t want that to be all I do.
I’m not saying for one minute that I’ve got all the answers, or that I’ve got it right, but I am saying that I’m trying to make everything I do as interesting as possible. That’s not such a bad goal is it? I just want to entertain.
I suppose it’s up to you, dear reader, to decide if I’ve actually been successful so far.
It’s taken me about three months to get the second draft of the second book finished, and that’s with a lengthy decorating interruption early on, so all things considered I don’t think it’s too shabby.
But woo, what a feeling, I’ve finished a few books in my time, but never before have I done so knowing that it would certainly be published. I would say I feel so Money Super Market, but I won’t because I’d hate myself.
Anyway, this means that sometime soon, another person, perhaps you, perhaps someone I’ve never met and likely will never meet will read those words and peek inside my head, and that’s both scary and exhilarating. Towards the end, as the number of pages yet to be edited dwindled, this thought grew until it became a serious preoccupation, it never stopped me, but it was there, like someone looking over my shoulder as I wrote. I began to imagine what my reader would say, and it was a fight for me to ignore that thought and simply write the truth of the story.
But wow, what a thrill, I could say it almost felt as good as washing with Herbal Essences but I won’t because I’d hate myself and you’d hate me too.
I’m guessing that this feeling will fade with each subsequent novel I write, but I hope not.
I didn’t give myself too much time to bask in my own self-assumed glory and cracked on with the changes I needed to make to the first book to make it fit with the second. That wasn’t too difficult, but it was surprising the things I’d forgotten, like family members and habits and hair colour (things I should have written down in the first place) and it was difficult not to beat myself up over these lapses. Not only did I have to retrofit changes into book one, but I found new changes I had to make to book two, which this took several iterations to complete.
However, here I am with two complete novels, so what’s next?
Well, it’s off to copy editor to clean them both up and make them presentable, and in the meantime I need to work on the jacket blurbs and the cover art which is a step outside my comfort zone.
I’m starting to get very excited and just a bit scared, a bit like standing in line for a new roller coaster…
In my early writing days I wondered if ‘the block’ was to writers what ‘the wall’ is to marathon runners. I now know what ‘the wall’ feels like, it’s a physical barrier when the body runs out of fuel, and it was only natural to assume that the same thing could happen to a writer when the well of inspiration dries up.
Every writer, great and small, seems doomed to face the dreaded ‘block’ at least once in their writing lifetimes, and sure enough, one day, it happened to me. I was midway through the first draft of a longish – never to be published – novel set in a faraway land, and I froze. The babble of voices in my head were suddenly silent, the keyboard felt alien to my fingertips, and trying to hold the story narrative was like trying to catch smoke with a butterfly net. I sat and waited but nothing happened, and I kept on waiting for weeks before whatever logjam had been clogging up my brain finally gave way. It eventually did and I eventually finished the book – who knows I may revisit it one day, dust it off and see how it reads, but my experience with The Block left me wondering.
Why had I run into the block? And, how had I somehow got around it?
I realised, that for me at least, The Block was simply my unrecognised unwillingness to write, either through laziness or fear, and it had paralysed my imagination. I’d inadvertently managed to get over it by simply forcing myself to write. Many of those – post Block – words were later discarded, because they were forced and mechanical and by the numbers, but I ground on, word by word, until they started coming to me more easily again.
So, the next time The Block happened, I was ready for it and ready to admit to myself that I was just being lazy. So I put the current project to one side and wrote something different, and I stuck at it, grinding the gears at first, but then with greater fluency until finally the words flowed with ease again. Then I revisited the original project, looking for what had made me lose interest, and I realised I had to cut three lacklustre chapters, and in doing so found my writing groove again.
I had simply lost interest in what I was writing, it was uninspiring, and I had to write something different before I realised it. This is the most common kind of Block I face, where I simply haven’t realised that what I’m writing is dull, and it usually takes a break from the project and writing something else to see my mistake. Once or twice I’ve been paralysed by fear, particularly where an approaching deadline or when I think a little success might be on the horizon, my Block kicks in to delay the inevitable or scupper my chances. Again, the best way I have to get around this is to write something else, particularly something that doesn’t matter.
Sometimes, these small distraction projects are not wasted because they often contain nuggets of ideas I can use elsewhere.
Maybe this doesn’t describe everyone’s Block, and maybe different writers have different ways to deal with it when it happens, but this is my Block and this is how I get over it.