Get yourself writing, part three

Is anyone else feeling the days blur? Are we going by days of the week or the number of days in lockdown? Does it matter?

What does matter is finding new ways to stave away boredom. For some, that’s work and for others, Netflix calls their name. For me, I’m trying to do more writing than normal, while I have the excuse of fewer distractions.

Hopefully you’ve read part one and part two of this series (but if not, use those links to take a look) and you’re ready for the third part, with more writing exercises you can try out. Maybe you’re sharing them with friends or changing them up for a different group or age range – as long as this is helping someone, I’ll keep it up!

Without further ado, let’s get on with it.

Out of place

What you need: A character from your favourite book, game, film or TV show.

This is a great exercise for exploring how characters react, grow and develop. At times, it can feel your characters don’t do much, or the importance is diminished by something else in your story. That could be an event or another character.

While not a bad thing, letting your character fall to the side is unsatisfying and unrealistic – even in the most fantastical stories. How your character deals with this, or anything else that happens, is important to the overall story.

To help with this, use a character you know well, from another book, game or movie, for example, and put them in a different situation. It might be something that happened to you, or a friend, or a news story. It could be the situation you’re writing about.

There will be problems. The worlds are different; the rules, attitudes, settings etc – but that’s part of the fun! This isn’t a serious project, it’s to develop your skills in an interesting, and probably quite funny, way.

Mix it up: Try using multiple characters from different sources and see how they react differently to the situation and each other.

What happens next?

What you need: A story that’s ended. It could a book, film, TV show or game or something else.

This is bordering on fan fiction, but it’s a very good way of tempering your storytelling.

The sky is the limit when it comes to the stories you want to tell but there should be a clear and logical progression. Too many stories fall apart when there are unexplained jumps that change settings, skills and attitudes, and that’s when audiences lose interest.

So, the goal here is to continue the story you’ve chosen. Use the existing characters and continue the story. You want to see if the story can keep going in a believable way. This is harder for some stories than others, as the endings can be definitive.

Remember this isn’t something to be published per say, unless you’re really interested in pushing the fan fiction, but a way to practise developments and scaling in a created story and world.

It would really help if a friend or fan of the story could offer feedback on your story and see if it is believable based on what’s come before.

Mix it up: While it’s easiest to carry on a story that’s just ended, try looking much further into the future. The temptation to jump too far is easiest here and will need extra thought to keep it realistic.

Set the scene

What you need: A picture of something.

This is one of my favourites. Take a picture of something. Some examples I’ve always gone back to are a lighthouse, a cemetery, an empty street, a forest path, a lone house, the rain and an empty lake.

The goal here is to write about it. Take that picture and put it onto paper (or screen).

Describe what you see. Start with the main object or focus of the picture and go into the smallest of details. Is there a chip in the wood? Is the water still? Is the wind blowing, and which direction? Once you’ve one this, I want to be able to form an image in my mind that is close to the original picture.

The next step is to describe the rest of the picture, using the same level of detail. After that, think about what’s beyond the picture, to the sides, behind and above. Your piece should almost act like a full tour of the scene you can see and are creating.

Add in how this scene makes you feel. Are you calm or creeped out? Happy or sad? Hot or cold? You can do this after the description or weave it in. You’ll find no action in this piece. Nothing happens, as such.

What it might do is give you a place to start another project based on, or set in, this world you’ve created.

At the beginning, 500 words might be a challenge but over time, writing more than 3,000 words in this way is more feasible and you’ll learn to construct these scenes instinctively when you see an image and when you need a place for your characters or story.

Mix it up: Combine two or more pictures to create a bigger scene. You can also work on editing this piece down to a succinct amount, which will help you include powerful scenes and settings in other projects without rambling or destroying your wordcount.

How are you getting on? Found an activity that you’ve enjoyed more than others, or have you started a project you’re excited about? Do let me know!

Until next time.

How No Man’s Sky Helps Me as a Writer

No Man's Sky
No Man’s Sky

Another tangent this time but this one, arguably, has more of a relevance to my writing. This time, I want to discuss No Man’s Sky, a game I have been looking forward to for many years.

I generally avoid reviews and critics on most things. If I come across something, I won’t run away screaming but I will treat it objectively – I’d rather make my own mind up, even if it’s not ‘popular’ opinion. It goes for games, films, TV shows, books, music – everything. That’s why, even though a lot of people seem to be complaining about No Man’s Sky, it doesn’t bother me. There are specific reasons I want the game beyond just enjoying it for what it is. I want to go into these shortly.

First though, I’ll address some of the elephants in the blog post.

It’s not perfect, by any means

Let’s get this straight right now. This is not the best game in the world, probably not even close. The crafting system is limited, the interface clunky (at least on the PS4) and the lack of direction can be off-putting for some people. There’s also very little in the way of tutorial, you’ve got to try things for yourself and learn as you go.

Look too closely at the graphics and they’re not as impressive as you first thought. The game is very grind-heavy and repetitive, you’ll be doing similar things on each world you come across as you follow the very loose objectives you do actually have.

But, for me, a game doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s about overcoming the problems and still succeeding, finding solutions that give the best returns and being inspired. The planets I’ve come across have been awe-inspiring. Standing at the top of a cliff and looking out over the plains with water in the distance. Others are harsh and barren but make me work faster to survive and move on.

As a writer, it has already been a big help

One of the nicer planet's I've found on No Man's Sky
One of the nicer planet’s I’ve found on No Man’s Sky

Now, I’m not just a sci-fi writer, and most of my stories don’t resolve around a being alone and fighting for survival on empty worlds but that doesn’t matter.

The scenery, as I’ve mentioned before, can be great at helping me find the perfect setting for a scene or story. It might only be a small part of it, a section or one particular thing that stands out – maybe on something I’ve been working on before and felt was lacking something.

The emotions I feel as the protagonist can also be applied to stories. As a writer, I draw upon my own experiences and imagination, so anything that can help broaden that is welcome. By immersing myself in these kinds of games, by giving the character a life through role play techniques, I can then use some of what I experience in stories, regardless of genre. It takes practise but over the years it’s become a handy skill.

You need an imagination

One of the harsher planet's I've found on No Man's Sky - with a weird, flying beast
One of the harsher planet’s I’ve found on No Man’s Sky – with a weird, flying beast

Well, you don’t NEED one, but if you want to use the game as I do, then you kind of do, yeah. My character has a background, a story, a purpose (that sometimes goes against the point of the game but it is so free and vast it doesn’t matter) and I use that. It can change each week.

Sometimes I create one specifically for a project I have in mind, while others are existing characters I transfer to this. It’s a big change for them and that’s a good process to explore. It lets me dive a little deeper into their mind and that, in turn – I hope – makes writing that character a better experience for my readers.

I’m actually doing it with a character right now, but it’s all hush hush. Sorry!

So, despite its shortcomings, I still think No Man’s Sky is a decent game for what it is – and for what I expected it to be…like I said above, not one to follow the crowd for the sake of it. The extra value I get from it won’t work for all writers but maybe for some. Hell, any creative may find it of use in the same way I do.

Then again, there are plenty of ways to find inspiration, if we only remember to open our eyes, ears and other senses to what’s going on around us.

Or, you can read this post and get some other ideas from me!

Planning a Novel

So, we’re almost into October (or we are, depending on when you read this) and that means just one month to go until National Novel Writing Month. It’s at this time when I start to wind down my other writing activities (don’t worry, the blogs are safe) because I want to give myself a break before such an intense month hits. However, it’s the perfect opportunity to start planning the novel I’m going to write.

Some people like to write on the fly, and I’ve done it myself in the past but I think having some sort of structure to work towards will improve my focus and that’s essential in November, especially since I’m still working full-time, so I have less time than usual!

On a side note, apologies for the lack of pictures this time – I’ll make up for it in the next post!

Reconnecting to old friends

Is it weird to refer to my characters as friends, especially if I haven’t written about them for a while? Actually, I don’t care, I’m doing it.

I’ve spent so much time with these characters that I know them very well and I should hope so since I created them! More than that, I’ve seen them at their worst, their best and beyond even if they haven’t made it that far in the story yet.

It’s always difficult to decide how far each has to or is going to grow and develop at any given time. Too much or too little development can drastically alter a story so it’s not as simple as saying that “this” is going to happen and when if the overall story doesn’t match up.

Does that make everything a little bit too convenient? I think so, yes, but how many books are made from stories of an everyday life? If there are stats on that, get in touch but I’m pretty sure I can guess it already. Fiction is an escape, even if it’s a realistic setting, and it’s important to remember that we read for entertainment and enjoyment just as much as we watch TV for the same reason.

Planning bigger

As I mentioned in a previous post, this year’s NaNoWriMo project is a sequel to my first success. That’s a four year gap to fill in. It’s good to go back over old ground and see what I’ve done and where I plan to go next. I have a plan of where the whole series is going to go but it’s easy to forget details and that’s not a good thing – who wants to read the same things twice, especially if it’s an accident or shows gaps in the story?

Exactly.

There needs to be something new, and that usually means bigger in some way. A bigger challenge, a bigger adventure, a bigger threat – something bigger, whatever it may be. This is where problems can creep in if something wasn’t meant for a sequel or it was but it went too big too soon. There are plenty of examples of this in both book and film. I’ll give ten points out to everyone who can give me a good example with a bonus five for a reason.

The prize? Ummm. I’ll get back to you on the prize.

Finishing the novella

If you’ve been keeping track of my work this year you’ll know there is something else that I have to do before November starts – finish my novella! Well, get the first draft done anyway. I’m two thirds of the way through so far and once I get into a rhythm, I’ll get through the last third easily. It’s finding the time to get into that mind-set that’s the problem.

The benefit of doing it is that I can have people looking over the novella through October and November while I’m working on NaNoWriMo and so once I’ve taken a week or two off in December, I can get back on with the editing and I’ll hopefully have something ready early in the New Year – if not before.

It’s going to be a busy end to 2014 but I’m sure I’ll do it!