Hook, Line and…Stinker?

One of the most important jobs we have as writers is to make sure that we grab the readers interest right from the get go. The second, of course, being that we keep that interest throughout. But without that initial hook, the latter becomes redundant.

We really, really want to avoid this.
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So how quickly do you need to get that hook in?

Some schools of thought say it should be the very first sentence. That’s when you need to grab the reader. Personally I’m not a big fan of this method. Yes, your opening line is important, but should you rely on that one sentence to carry the burden of everything that follows? In my opinion it’s too much pressure. It also increases the chances of the dreaded purple prose.

It was a dark and stormy night.

Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

We all know that one. It is probably one of the most derided openings in the history of literature.

My own preference is that the first page should be the hook. Maybe even that entire first chapter or the prologue if that is how the story is structured. But that first page will allow you to set the feel of the prose. You can go into more detail and give your audience a richer insight. What we want them to do is to want to look beyond that opening. To turn the page and become invested. You can have the greatest opening line ever penned but if the rest of that page doesn’t match up to that standard, they will lose their interest very quickly. A narrative is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember, no one turns the page after the first sentence.

You have the space to build your opening. Use it wisely.

Breakin’ the Law…Of First Drafts

What’s the first rule of writing your first draft? Don’t edit while you write. Just get it down, no going back and forth.

Well screw that, I’m a rebel and thats just what I’ve been doing today. And it really drove home how the “Rules of Writing” really just a guideline. I mean who actually decided on them?

It is something people seem to get a bit hung up on though. I see it a lot in writing groups, writing guides and anywhere that offers advice to struggling writers. The concept of just get it written and worry about edits later is good advice but remember it’s not set in stone. You can write however you want.

Today is a prime example. Sometimes an idea will come to mind long that will change the flow of the narrative. It will be a good idea, one that takes the story into new territory. But there’s a problem. It contradicts a large portion of what you have already written and you get a large, gaping…


*Cue 1950s horror scream*

So what do you do? Do you just leave it and wait until the first edit? Or do you go ahead and do a rewrite? My advice is to ask yourself a few questions.

  • How big of a change is this?
  • Are you on deadline?
  • Can the story go ahead without an immediate change?
  • Will you remember to make the change?
  • If you decide to wait, will you really be able to fit it in properly?

This last one is the most important. What you don’t want is to have your manuscript finished and then have an early chapter that feels shoehorned in. Imagine yourself as the reader. Will it seem obvious that it was a late edit? Will it disrupt the flow?

We all read here and I’m sure we all hate when a sudden interruption happens. Personally it’s made me put a book down in the past.

So don’t worry about following “The Rules” to the letter. They are very much like the pirates code. Basically guidelines rather than rules. Do what works best for you and find your own style and way of doing things.

No, I Don’t Have Too Much Time

I’ve been seeing a certain phrase a lot lately. One that really makes me irrationally angry. You can find it on any social media post where someone has done something a bit creative or just plain fun:

Well, someone has too much time on their hands.

Some Asshole.

I really really hate this phrase. It implies that if you have created anything that isn’t related to some kind of job (those things that suck away far too much of our lives), then you are wasting your time. It’s dismissive of the creative act. The same mentality that makes people assume that you’re doing nothing because you’re reading a book. Yes I am doing something, I’m reading a book. How did we get this frame of mind that doing something you love and enjoy is a waste of time?

Seriously, I’m asking because it baffles me. Maybe I’m a bit sensitive to it because the past few weeks I haven’t had as much time as I would like to do the things I love. Sometimes life just gets int he way. So surely then, it’s even more important to use what little time you find to do those things. We aren’t supposed to be drones who just go to work, slave away all day, then come home and stare blankly at the TV so we can repeat the whole process again tomorrow into perpetuity.

Do what you love whenever you get a chance. You want to build a massive LEGO rollercoaster in your back gaarden, do it. You want to spend a whole weekend as a level 5 Tiefling Druid battling owlbears, do it. There is no waste of time when it’s something you love and feel passionate about. Remember these words of wisdom from George Bernard Shaw:

We don’t stop playing because we grow oldWe grow old because we stop playing.

George Bernard Shaw

Read that book, build that LEGO fort and roll those dice. And most of all, do the things you love.

All Work and No Play

Well I finally pulled the trigger and decided to take a week off from my (nesessary evil) day job. This is my first proper time off since Christmas so I’d say it was about time. I’ve decided to use this time to write. Nothing else, just write. And so far I’m loving this. In fact I might never go back.

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Everyday I’ve actually been excited to get up and get going. It’s a wonderful feeling and not one I’ve had in a long time. It has also made me realise how much I don’t like being around people. Right now it’s just myself and my three furry familiars. The only downside is that I may be developing a slight addiction to chai. Yes I know the stereotype is coffee but unfortunately that is not an option these days.

So do i think I could dedicate myself to this full time?
Honestly yes I do. For the first time ever I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve spoken about the dreaded imposter syndrome that plagues all of the arts before but for the first time I’m not feeling it. It simply feels…right. I can see this becoming a bit more of a regular thing for me. No more making excuses or allowing other things to gt in the way and stop the writing. I really feel like I’m ready to make this happen.

So enough of me babbling on here about ebing deliriously happy and contented. Time to put the kettle on, make a cup of chai and get cracking. The PRD have an adventure to go on and a date with a very dark and evil concisouness.

Evensong – Introducing the PRD

As promised, here is the first installment of the background articles for Evensong, my new paranormal horror story. Today I will give a brief background and history of the Paraphysical Research Department aka the PRD.

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History of the PRD

The Paraphysical Research Department was formed during World War 2 as a response to reports of the Third Reich dealing with the occult. Originally created as a shadow department and never made known to the public, the PRD was known only to a select few within the higher echelons of government and made up of the top occult and paranormal experts of the time. The department was intended to be disbanded at the end of the war; however, discoveries made during it early years were enough to convince those with enough influence to maintain funding. What these discoveries are have been kept locked up within the departments files but at least one founding member is quoted as saying:

The greatest threats we face may not come from man, but rather what he invites in from outside; through doors never meant to be opened.

Prof. John Harris, Personal Journal – 1946

Over the following decades, the PRD undertook several cases of the paranormal and the bizarre which no other authority could possibly handle. And while these were mostly kept out of the public eye, a few stories leaked out and found the ears of those in certain circles of conspiracy theorists and fans of the obscure. Legends of a secret government group appeared in fringe magazines and of more recently on websites and even podcasts.

Of course all of these stories are dismissed as wild fantasy by most people so for the most part are ignored. To this day the department remains largely unknown.

An Unexpected Helper

Do you know what one of the hardest things about editing drafts is? Being too familiar with text. You can read over something a hundred times and miss that one mistake that has been there since day one. It’s funny how the human brain works. I remember in school (oh so many years ago) we used to have reading tests where they deliberately had paragraphs with extra words and missing words. But, depsite that, you could still read and understand everything that was written. The brain has an amazing ability to fill in the gaps and ignore the duplicates. While this is great for everyday use, it’s a bt of a bugger when you’re trying to edit.

Well recently I upgraded my ageing Office install and went with Office 365. Yes I still use Scrivener for formatting once everything is written but with Office I can use it on my phone and tablet (still no android Scrivener, grrrrr). And you never know when inspiration will hit. Plus my laptop is a little under the weather. Anyway, I digress.

I was playing around, learning the new interface and I came across an option called ‘Read Aloud’. You guys know me, I suffer technojoy. I’ll push buttons just to see what things will do. So I opened up one of my old short stories and gave it a go. It was a bit of an eye opener. I’ve read through that manuscript a hundred times and not noticed mistakes that now seem glaring and obvious. All from hearing it read out loud by a totally different voice.

Now obvioulsy the AI being used isn’t going to be able to replicate the nuace and subtleties of an actual person reading out loud. But that doesn’t matter. Hearing instead of reading makes it much easier to spot duplicates or missing words. Or even words with missing letters. Yes I do that quite often when typing, just ask my bestie about some of the utter garbage she has received in messenger. It’s a handy little tool and a rather pleasant and unexpected find.

Look at me, the former UNIX admin praising a Microsoft product. I feel a little dirty.

There is another unexpected aspect to all this. One that comes from that little voice all writers and artists have. That self doubting little bastard who tries to make you hate your own work. You all know the one. Well next time they try and pipe up, give the Read Aloud feature a go. It really puts a new persepctive on things. I’d even say it gives you a bit of a buzz. And you know what? That’s a good thing. We kick ourselves a lot when we create. So let yourself have a moment of joy for a change. Give that self esteem a boost and use that to keep the words flowing, the brush stroking, the clay moulding or whatever it is you are to doing to create. You’re an artist and you’re brilliant.

Evensong – Darkness Hungers

As I mentioned in my Writers Cramp post, I’m taking a bit of a break from the giddy world of childrens books and getting back to my horror roots. As many of you know I’m a massive fan of the genre and it’s where I started oh so many years ago. So, it is my great pleasure to announce the start of a new WIP: Evensong. This is the story of a long abandoned and much cursed asylum. Forgotten over the years, Evensong was a place where people were not sent to heal but instead to be forgotten.

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I won’t go into too much detail here but there is a brief synopsis under the WIP section. Over the coming weeks I will introduce you to the cast of characters, including the members of the PRD; The Parapsychical Research Department. A little known and long forgotten government agency.

We are all familiar with the typical ghosthunter team goes to old hospital and gets eaten, fondled and genrelly messed up by vengeful ghosts trope. Evensong is going to be something different. The PRD are not amateurs, they are not flashy television celebrities; they are professionals who have faced more than their share of what lurks in our deepest nightmares.

So sit back and enjoy the coming character profiles. There is a darkness that is waking up and it is hungry.

Writer’s Cramp

Everyone has heard of writers block but there is another malady that is less known outside of writing circles: Writer’s cramp.

Okay I may have just totally made that up but it’s a good analogy for what I’ve been feeling latley. Think of it like going back to the gym for the first time on over a year (something quite a few can relate to right now). Those mucles that you used to exercise on a regular basis have been neglected and they re not happy with the sudden shock of being put through their paces. You’ve maybe put on a few pounds since last time because it’s cream egg season and you have to get as many in as you can before they vanish again. So without thinking, you hop back on the treadmill and off you go. Five minutes later you’re being knifed in the ribs by an unseen gremlin.

Well writing can be very much like that as I discovered recently. The writing process can be very much like exercising. The more you do it, the stronger you get and the better your endurance. Spend enough time away though, your fitness level will start to drop down and you need to take a few steps back so you don’t do yourself a mischief. This is what happens after a prolonged bought of writers block. Like the one I’ve been going through for the past year.

The block finally shifted about a week ago after what was a pretty horrific dream. As awful as it was, this dream did grab my block by the throat, drag it into a dark alleyway and nick its wallet. The muse had returned and to be honest I don’t think she’s been taking her meds. So here I am once again writing. After two years of working on childrens stories, I’ve returned to my roots and started on a new horror novel. And you know what, I’m loveing every second of it.

Until the cramp sets in that is. Instead of being stabbed in the ribs like you would in the gym, this one punches you in the brain. Like right inside the brain. It all started like normal; a bit of research, make notes, plan things out, the usual. Then comes the day to start writing and get these wild ideas out of the meaty blob in my head and onto the screen. One sentence, then two, everything is going well and suddenly it hits you. You can’t remember how to convert those ideas into words. You can see it in your head but the pathways that go from your brain to your fingers are running on a go slow. What you have on the screen is not what you have in your head. All those bad habits you had trained yourself out of are coming back. Things like editing on the go and being able to filter out the 200 ideas that are all fighting for your attention.

So here I am writing for the first time in ages and I haven’t even managed to finish the prologue yet because the damn story keeps changing. And every new idea needs to be tied in with what’s already been written. It hurts but if you take it slow and steady, you can get back to that level of writer fitness before the block came on. Slow and steady is the key. If this ever hits you, the best advice I can give you is to let yourself work back up. Don’t be hard on yourself if the words don’t come like they used to straight away. You will get there again.

Henrietta Book 1 – Free Download

Henrietta has come to say hello and offer her services to keep you and your kids entertained during this very strange time.

Pop on over to the Henrietta page where you can download the first book absolutely free. There also some ideas for some fun activities for you to do once you’ve read the first of her adventures.

Why not send in your kids drawings and fun ideas and get them featured on the Writers Stall facebook page? You can send them by messaging me on the FB page or by emailing to jbangellwriter at gmail.com

Happy reading, my friends.

Social Media vs. The Comma: Round 1 – Fight.

I will start by saying that I have been holding off on this post simply because I know if I get one comma out of place or have one typo, people are going to eat me alive. Today I am going to talk about a pet peeve of mine. It can be summed up in one phrase that I see all too often.

its facebook speling and gramer dont matter

(errors added for dramatic effect).

Social Media has become everyone’s favourite place to argue with total strangers over just about anything and everything you can think of. And that’s fine. I’m all for lively debate discourse. Admittedly that’s not what is going on but you get the general idea. More often than not, what we actually get is a lot of incoherent rambling. By incoherent I mean it’s basically unreadable. Endless run on sentences without so much as a comma or a full stop that would make even the best Orator of Ancient Greece scratch their head in confusion. (See the book: The Accidental Apostrophe to get that reference).

So here’s the thing. If you are trying to get a point across, people need to be able to understand what you are saying. And this is the whole point of punctuation. It isn’t some kind of system solely designed to torture school children; it is how we can convey meaning and emotion through text. It let’s the reader know when to pause for effect, when to stop and breath. How often do we see misunderstandings when a simple comma or even a full stop would have made so much difference? The classic example of this are: “Let’s eat, Grandad” and “Let’s eat Grandad”. Three identical words but two very different meanings. That little comma makes the difference between a nice family meal and patriarchal cannibalism.

How can you expect to convince someone of your point, if you are unable to properly get your message across. I’m not talking about everyone learning the finer points of correct grammar. I’m saying think about how your message sounds. If you read that, would you be convinced? At the very least throw in a full stop every 50 words so your audience can pause for a breath. Try this next time you write something with no punctuation marks. Breath in normally and the start reading, breathing out as you go. Now here’s the thing. You’re not allowed to breath in again until you are finished. You have to make that single breath last the entire time while taking in what is being said. Not so easy, is it.

Even the simplest of discussions will be made better by stopping and thinking for a moment about what you want you want to convey. If you don’t believe that your spelling and grammar are important, then very likely your point isn’t either. At the very least, that is what will be conveyed to your audience.