a.k.a. letting my mind wander and seeing where it leads me.
I thought that I wasn’t getting anywhere with a story I’m in the middle of writing, the plot seemed like it was getting predictable and I couldn’t think of how to hold anyone’s attention with it. I couldn’t even hold my OWN attention on it for long! I kept going off on a tangent and starting other things, rather than get on with it.
The story in question is called “Survive,” the proposed blurb explains the premise.
“What no man has seen before.”
Ballantyne Alysom is Galactographic! Magazine’s intrepid explorer, Davis Jansen is the cameraman he takes on his most dangerous expedition so far.
When things go wrong and the survivors of the group are stranded on an unexplored planet, Davis sees the real man behind Alysom’s carefully constructed public face.
When rescue arrives, Davis is faced with a choice; does the world need to know the truth? And which one’s story will they believe?
There’s an extract HERE
I liked the story and in my mind, it made perfect sense, but then, it’s been living there for several years on and off. I’ve written bits of it and left it and come back to it as it developed. Then, when I had about 40,000 words done, I realised; there wasn’t enough reason for readers to CARE about the characters to want to read it. It needed a better hook.
If I may head off on a tangent again; the more eagle-eyed of you may well have noticed that the name Ballantyne Alysom features in a previous work of mine, Freefall.
When I was writing that tale I had an idea that he might come in useful in something else. He was only a peripheral figure in Freefall, a useful bit of background to authenticate something else, but he entered my mind and sounded so potentially interesting that I thought he might be worth a spinoff.
So I invented a whole back story for him as a Galactic explorer and now I’m doing it again. Only this time I’m writing him from a different perspective because there is never just one way of looking at things. History is written by the winners after all, and in a story like Survive, the absolute truth may never be known, only the version of it that suits those lucky enough to…, well, survive!
There I go again, this time my tangent went off on a tangent; let’s get back to where I should be.
But then I thought, can’t I use the whole tangent thing as a driver in my storytelling?
I hope that I’ve had the big breakthrough. I’d been using short interludes in the story as a means of separating the action, and I wondered if going off on a tangent for a while wouldn’t do the job of keeping people’s concentration. What I have done is teased the ending and put in a side plot to make them wait to get it. And there’s a twist that hopefully no-one sees coming. I didn’t see it coming myself until it popped into my head!
And by diverting the action away from the main story, and making them wonder how I’m going to get away with what I’ve just done; I hope that I can hold the reader in long enough to want to get back to the main plot.
This really proves that the solution presents itself if you can be patient enough to wait for it. And in doing so, I’ve opened up a whole new set of possibilities for my characters.
And heading off in a totally different direction has unlocked other things in my imagination; I got ideas, a whole lot of them; about this story and also for the bits I’m stuck on in other work as well.
So now I have made progress on several other projects, and all because I was stuck in one. And because I decided to use what I had always seen as an irritating habit in a more positive way.
And in another tangential move, the cover that I showed you borrows an image from another idea, the jungle scene was part of one of the possible covers from another of my works in progress Jungle Green.n It never made it, I decided to go with the one below.
I’ll tell you all about it, that’s another tangent, in case you hadn’t noticed.
Jungle Green is the sequel to my 2015 novel Ribbonworld, it features some of the same characters, but this time they are concerned with the trade in counterfeit drugs and all that entails.
Here is my latest provisional cover, and the blurb
“TC is the wonder drug. Manufactured in secrecy on a remote planet at the edge of the galaxy, it makes world’s inhabitable; and Balcom Industrial lots of money. Then, suddenly, the people who need to take it to stay alive start to die!
For Layla Balcom, fresh from wresting control of her father’s inheritance from those who would have destroyed it, the news is devastating. Can the drug be flawed? Or is something else going on?
In the search for answers, Layla and those close to her find a web of lies and hostility. Then she is dragged into criminal activities and it becomes far more personal. It’s time to sort the good from the bad and protect Layla’s legacy.”
There’s an extract HERE
I hope that Jungle Green will be published soon. That, of course, assumes that I can get it finished without going off somewhere else.
What helps you stay on track? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment.
I hate ending, typing the last word. Whether it’s the end of a book or the end of a character. They’re painful to imagine and worse to write.
You can tell when a story has reached the end, events all move to bring your main characters together at the same point. Usually, there is nothing left of the plot at this time, except for the explanation of it all, the justification for what has happened or the big reveal, where one side tells the other what has gone on and motives are all brought out. Hopefully, by this time you (the reader) have got an idea of what’s going to happen; so you are either pleased to have got it right, or pleased to have been misled and amazed that you missed the clues, the re-telling of which very often form part of the final scenes.
Hopefully, by this time you (the reader) have got an idea of what’s going to happen; so you are either pleased to have got it right, or pleased to have been misled and amazed that you missed the clues, the re-telling of which very often form part of the final scenes.
As the author, I can generally tell when it’s time to finish. In my experience, there is a natural ending in my mind and once I get there, even if I can think of more, it would often be better put into a sequel.
However, if you’re not careful, the end can be the worst part of the story. Recently I’ve had two different reactions to the end of my work.
One book seems to have ended too soon for a lot of readers, and so I’ve written a sequel. The intention wasn’t to short-change them, I really thought the ending was appropriate. It’s gratifying to get feedback like that; I take it to mean that I’d managed to create characters real enough that people wanted to know more about them and to care about their futures enough to want to find out what I think happened next. At first, I wondered if I should have written more, then I decided that, by stopping when I did, I had done enough.
The other book has ended in an anti-climactic way for some, although not all, readers. Apparently, I upped the tension more than the ending could take and it was all a bit flat. That is my failing and I have to hold my hands up, but in my defence, that’s how it unfolded in my head. Again, that wasn’t a universal response; other people said the ending was good.
But isn’t life like that sometimes? The culmination of an adventure or a project can be a bit of a letdown, for so many reasons. Anticipation can ruin any event. In a way, I guess, writing imitates life, the end is not always perfect, sometimes the good guys don’t win. Sad but true!
I guess that just goes to prove that every review is subjective, everyone has things that they like and dislike. I have reviews that alternately praise and criticise the same thing in a story, and it can be illuminating to discover the elements of a narrative that readers are drawn to – such as minor characters that attract attention or little bits of subplot that just seem to grab someone’s attention.
For me, killing a character is the hardest things that I do, and even when the plot demands a sacrifice I still find it difficult. After all, I’ve brought them to life, given them every attribute of independence, thoughts, words and free will, or at least the appearance of it. And very often, they will write themselves little extra’s, ideas that pop into my head to give them more life and realism as their part in the tale progresses.
And yet, in the back of my mind is the knowledge that they must expire. Like the one in red in Star Trek, some are doomed from the start. And their demise is often necessary to move the plot along; after all, you can’t have a murderer without victims. I suppose that they can be killed off before the story starts but where’s the logic in doing that every time? And where’s the fun of writing it? Because for every doomed character, there’s another one who’s fate is to be the killer, and they can be just as difficult to manage. But that’s another post.
There are some characters that have been created for that very purpose, who grow on me. I catch myself wondering if they really have to go; if perhaps I couldn’t… just this once… but it never works.
And believe me; I’ve tried other ways to keep them alive. I’ve tried banishing them by making them ride off into the sunset or by injuring them so they take no further part in events. Yet they sit there in the back of my mind, knocking on the door of my creativity demanding another go. And I’ve even offered some of them a short story all of their own, just to get a bit of peace.
And when it’s all over, and the last sight has faded from their eyes, I feel the remorse, almost as if I had done the deed myself. Maybe in a way, I’m just as guilty as my other creation, the murderous character who I get to do the deed.
In which case, I’ll need you to take several other offences into consideration.
What about you? How do you like to see a book finish, do you want to be left wanting a sequel or would you rather it was all wrapped up? And how about the characters that didn’t make it, do you want to see them again? Do you wish they were still alive or want to know their back stories?
Do let me know in the comments box below.
There’s a point in every novel where someone says or does something that sets a bell ringing in your head. It might not be a big thing in the scheme of the story, very often it’s just a remark or an observation that helps move the plot along or provide a little bit of back story. That’s what I think of asd the tipping point, where anything is possible.
But it can be enough to start a whole new train of thought and it can lead you to some strange places. It has driven me to produce sequels, prequels and spin-offs. And very often, it might not be the thing that you think it will be when you write it. The idea takes on a life of its own and it’s almost as if the characters, not the author are driving the narrative.
In the same way, something that happens in one place can often make the transition to another, for example, I have used the idea of a farm in space in several novels after it started life as the setting for a short story. It works, it fits in and it’s not so far beyond the realms of possibility as to be unbelievable, so why not use it.
After all, if I’ve gone to the trouble of creating a world, complete with all the things needed for life, it seems a shame to waste it or keep it for one scenario and invent something else next time.
And it’s the same with a lot of the back stories; as long as they have a basis in fact they can be adapted to all my worlds.
I like to think that I have developed a series of plausible things for our future, like the farm in space; it’s something that we could do, and it’s not too far-fetched. It has a practical side as well as just being part of the story.
Other ideas, like the turbines I had installed in every bit of moving water to generate electricity in one of my earlier works, now seem to be gaining momentum as an actual thing that may help to solve our present energy problems. See http://waterotor.com
Or the back projection system I devised for aircraft that makes flying feel like you’re in a bubble. Perfectly possible, even with today’s technology, so why aren’t we seeing it?
I can’t claim any credit for these ideas, but it shows that solutions present themselves too many people, while some write about them others actually get on and produce them!
And science catches up with my ideas in other ways, now we are investigating the rings of Saturn, just like Andorra Pett will be doing. Again it’s just a logical thing to do. And like all these things, we very often don’t do them until there is a point to doing them. At the moment, it could be argued that there is no point in travelling faster than light, there’s nowhere to go and we’re safe enough here. But what about if we discovered a planet that could sustain us, or the earth was threatened with disaster, how quickly might we develop the means then?
Anyway, back to my original theme, in writing you often get to a place in the plot where your story could go in two ways, a bit like life but with one minor detail. In life, you have to choose one and can never find out what would have happened in the other, in writing you can explore all the different possibilities. I used this idea in my short story “Tales from the Sleepers,” which you can find HERE, or you can download as a pdf to read later HERE The story is taken from my collection Flash Fiction, which you can download FREE HERE