Tag Archives: literature

Ramblings of a Possible Paranoiac

So, without further ado, I am back in the blogging seat.  Hello!

I had to make some trips to Dublin yesterday and the day before, which explains my absence from the blog; in contrast with the post I made about the city being dank and depressing a few days ago, though, I was glad to perceive a slight improvement in the overall mood of the place.  Perhaps the spirit of a city has a lot to do with the weather and time of day when you make your visit, not to mention your reasons for being there in the first place.  Naturally, if you’re off to visit a friend (as I was yesterday), the whole place will seem brighter.  In any case, whatever the reason, I enjoyed my time in the city a bit more over the past few days; I was, however, still very glad to get home.

 

But now for the paranoia, as promised.   If you own a tinfoil hat, you may wish to don it at this point.

Whenever I’m working on something, no matter what it is, I feel at a certain point during the writing of it that everywhere I look, I see my idea cropping up.  No matter how closely guarded my thoughts are, or how jealously I clutch my metaphorical cards to my metaphorical chest, I can’t help but think: ‘This has all been done.  I’m flogging a dead horse with this idea.’  Does anyone else know how this feels?  The core concept of my WiP was, at the time I first thought of it, quite different to anything else that was leading the market.  In a vampire- and werewolf-saturated world, I thought I’d come up with something just that little bit different.  However, now that I’m finally getting around to writing it, and coming towards the end of draft one, everywhere I look I see similar concepts popping up.  Judging by how long it takes for an idea to go to a published book on a shelf, this trend has been brewing for a couple of years already.  I fear that by the time my own work might be anywhere near ready to bring to the market, things will have moved on again.

Who sets the trends, anyway?  How do they form, and how do they build the momentum to become a wave instead of a drop in the ocean?  I remember when I first approached my old university to undertake my dissertation, I pitched an idea along the lines of ‘Old English meets Angela Carter’, thinking ‘wow, this’ll blow their socks off’; I was met with a disappointed face and my head of subject telling me ‘oh no – not you, too.’  Apparently, practically every applicant she’d met with that year wanted to write about Angela Carter in some way or another.  So much for me thinking I was being utterly unique.  But the funny thing was – I hadn’t known that all my contemporaries were also interested in studying Angela Carter, I had no connections to any other applicant that year, and the Angela Carter link applied across all the variants of English studies into which one could undertake a research dissertation – Carter was being studied by my fellow medievalists, as well as by modern American literature scholars, Anglo-Irish literature scholars, and so on.  For some undefinable reason, she was just on everyone’s mind, all at the same time.

As I came to the end of my research dissertation, too, everywhere I looked I saw boundaries (which was the main point of interest in my work) – everyone seemed to be writing about them, thinking about them and making TV programmes about them.  The concept I had spent three years sweating over now seemed to be part of pop culture, and yesterday’s news.  It was almost disheartening enough to make me give up.  My supervisor said that it was part of being so invested in something – I was thinking about boundaries in texts and culture all the time, so it was natural that I’d see them everywhere I looked – but I always felt it was more than that.  I carried on, and completed the dissertation, and managed to get the degree without being accused of hopping on a boundary bandwagon, but it really did appear that my ideas were not as groundbreaking as I’d hoped.  My once incisive arguments sank into a morass of thoughts contained in a mountain of other dissertations, all vaguely similar, and that was upsetting.

Perhaps it is just as my supervisor said, and it’s true that people will always be more sensitive to ideas similar to their own, because they’re constantly thinking about them.  It’s also true, though, that it’s heartbreaking to see other books with a very similar theme appearing on the shelves just as you’re trying to bring your own to a conclusion – naturally, you’re going to assume ‘why would I bother to continue with this?’  Well, of course I’m bothering to continue because I love the idea, and I love the characters, and I have a story that wants to be told.  Whether anyone will buy it at the end of the day or not is something I have to be indifferent to, in some ways; I can’t let it have much effect on the creative process.

So, am I a rambling paranoiac, or has anyone else experienced this?  I’d love to hear about it.  If anyone has any thoughts on trend-setting, too, let’s have them!  It’s seriously something I have never understood, and would value the wisdom of others.  Are we really all just a hive-mind?  Is it possible to be influenced by trends without even being aware of it?  Or am I just a hopeless lunatic?

 

 

Protagonists and Readers

Greetings from a cold Ireland.  My brain is jumbled up with thoughts today, and I’m not sure how coherent this blog post will be.  I’ll strive to do my best, however!

I read an excellent blog post on the gender of protagonists in fiction yesterday, and whether child readers respond better to stories where the protagonist is the same gender as themselves.  I’m not quite sure how links work, but I’ll try this and hope it’s not illegal or immoral, or anything: http://steelthistles.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-master-maid-role-of-women-and-girls.html This issue interests me because my WiP features a female ‘lead character’, who is not a typical heroine; I have often wondered if she will appeal to boy readers, and I think it’s a vital question to ask.  The author of the blog questions whether boy readers are less likely to engage with a female protagonist than girl readers are to a male protagonist, and I think there might be something in that viewpoint.  I started thinking about female characters in fiction, generally, and why there are so few heroines as opposed to heroes, and whether this is something that needs to be addressed.

This blog post interested me so much that I actually rooted out one of the Middle English romances that I did some research on, years ago, because I remembered there being a wonderful female character in it.  After some rather dusty poking about under the stairs, I eventually found it.  The text is called ‘Ywain and Gawain’, and the character I remembered so well was named Lunet.  A potted summary of the text runs something like: knight goes on a quest, meets a variety of fabulous beasts and wonderful characters; a mysterious girl (possibly a fairy – it’s never fully explained) helps him to win the heart of the woman of his dreams, which he goes on to betray and, hence, lose; knight goes into the wilderness and goes a bit mad for a while, picking up a faithful lion companion on the way; enigmatic girl helps him restore his sanity and win back his wife.  Cue joyful and triumphant conclusion, of course.  It’s one of my favourite texts for many reasons, not least of which is the marvellous lion, but I really love it because of Lunet, the possibly fae-girl, who – while not being the protagonist, exactly – is absolutely vital to the plot.  Without her, the knight would never have won back his lady, they would never have lived together in harmony, and the kingdom wouldn’t have been restored.  Normally, in romances, the standard reward for a female character is marriage – the princess gets her prince (and, by extension, the prince gets her kingdom, but we won’t go there), and the faithful serving lady usually gets married off to a lesser nobleman, and everyone goes home happy.  But Lunet is different.  Lunet is asked what she wants for a reward at the end of the text, and she clearly says something unexpected, because it is described like this:

‘And trew Lunet, the maiden hende./

Was honord ever with ald and ying/

And lifed at hir owin liking;/

Of alkins thing sho has maystri,/

Next the lord and the lady… (lines 4014-4018)

Loosely modernised, this means: ‘And true Lunet, the fair maiden, was honoured for ever among old and young.  She lived just as she pleased, and she had mastery/control over everything, after the lord and the lady.’  She gets (and asks for) no husband, and she is left to live as she wants to.  I can’t stress enough how much this stuck in my mind when I first read it.  It’s so unusual as to be unique, at least in my experience of the medieval romance.  I wondered what happened to this type of female character, and why she crops up so infrequently.

Even in the modern world, with our Katniss Everdeens and our Katsas and Queen Bitterblues, we still struggle to shake off the idea that for a story to end completely, the female characters need to get a man, or get married, or settle down in some way.  For instance, I love ‘The Hunger Games’ books, but one thing that enraged me about the ending was the way Katniss was forced, in a way, to betray her own desires for her future.  I don’t want to give away too much in case you haven’t read it, but when you do, I hope you’ll know what I mean.  It wasn’t enough that she suffered as much as she had, and achieved the great things she’d achieved – she also had to sacrifice something vital, and something she had sworn to herself, because a male character wanted her to.  I can’t help but wish it had been written differently.  I’d love to see more Lunets in literature – heck, I’d even love to see more Wives of Bath!  I know her character is defined by her husbands, too, but she’s the one doing the pursuing.  I don’t think anyone ever told Alysoun of Bath what she could and couldn’t do.

It’s funny that there are characters in medieval literature that seem somewhat more ‘modern’ in their viewpoints than some contemporary heroines.  Of course, though, it’s not as simple as this.  The majority of female characters in medieval texts are either not important at all, or do end up married or otherwise under the control of a male character.  Even in ‘Ywain and Gawain’, you could argue that Lunet is such a singular woman because she has an element of the supernatural about her – it’s like the author couldn’t conceive of a fully human woman who didn’t strive at all times to find a husband.  The ‘romance’ novels we have nowadays didn’t develop in a vacuum; they owe a lot to the medieval romances of the past.  I just can’t help thinking that more boys would read and enjoy books where girls are the main characters if those characters didn’t always have to end up giving away their power at the end of their story.  Maybe those same boy-readers would then go on to become men who would expect women to own their own choices and responsibilities, and who’d accept nothing less.  And wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Less is More

So, this morning, I’m working on a synopsis of the plot of my current piece of work.  I’m entering a competition in a few weeks (one of those ‘find an agent’ type competitions), so I’m obviously pretty anxious to do this correctly and give myself the best shot I can.  The competition requires each entrant to summarise their plot in 300 words or less.  This is a challenge, and no mistake.  I’m sure most people who have ever written creatively felt the same way when it came to this part of the process, and it does help – a little – to know I’m not the only one facing this test.

I’m not 100% finished with the manuscript, but that’s not a problem, as I know exactly where I want the story to go.  So far, I’ve written about 83,000 words, and – for the most part – those words have been effortless and a pleasure.  I’m loving this story, and finding words has never been a problem; that is, except now, when I need to find fewer of them.  It’s really difficult to cut a story down to 300 words, particularly when it’s a story you’ve been thinking about for years, and which you’ve always seen in terms of ‘the bigger picture’ – by which I mean all the back-end detail that only an author knows and loves.  Not only do you, as a writer, know the plot, but you know the characters, their back-stories, their favourite foods and what their childhood dreams used to be, and it’s practically impossible to condense all the life in your words down to a sentence or two.

But this is precisely why you’re asked to do it, of course.

It doesn’t just apply to creative work.  When writing my PhD dissertation, I had to write an Abstract to go with it, for which I had the generous allowance of 500 words.  That was hard.  As interesting (I hope) as the plot of this work-in-progress novel is, at least it is a single story, based around a set of characters, in a world that I created – it’s not an argument, trying to link together twenty or more different stories, made by people at whose mindset I could only guess, as was my PhD.  Stories can always be boiled down to their essential elements – the hero, the quest, the ‘problem’, the journey, the resolution, the antagonist, and so on – but trying to write a clear summation of the stories of multiple texts, as well as showing the central points of my argument, was hard to do in under 500 words.  I did it, though.  It made me understand the necessity of the synopsis, too – I couldn’t possibly expect my examiners to wade through 120,000 words of carefully argued prose before they had any idea what on earth I was talking about.  The Abstract was, in a way, a courtesy to them – a guide to the inner workings of my argument, and a taster for what was to come.  It also made my argument clear to me.  One of the things you’re constantly being asked when you’re undertaking any type of written project is the dreaded question ‘what is it about?’  Being able to explain what it’s about, in a sentence or two, is very useful.  Not only does it mean you can answer the question in ten seconds as opposed to ten minutes, but it also keeps you focused on the core elements of the work you’re doing, which can only help you to bring it to fruition.

Understanding the importance of a plot summary is only half the battle, though.  I’m wondering, this morning, should I leave the end of the story out – in other words, should my plot synopsis end with a cliffhanger question?  I don’t know if I need to go into subplots and minor characters.  I’m not sure how much explanation of the ‘tech’ of my society is needed.  I’m going to have to take a leap of faith on this one, and just do my best, and hopefully I’ll hit the mark.  The worst part of all, the waiting game, is yet to come!  Wish me luck!

Lessons Learned from Reading

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how important it is to read if you want to be a writer.  You can’t understand how to put a story together if you’ve never read one; without some idea of how to sustain and structure a novel, all you’ll end up with is a good idea that dies on its feet after the first few pages.  Some authors have particular strengths – perhaps they write dialogue well, or maybe they have a notable knack for imagery, or whatever.  No ‘How to Write’ book is going to teach you more than reading a novel by an especially gifted writer. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.  I’ve been reading since the age of three – a long time ago now, let me assure you – and I’m not bored of it yet!

It’s hard to find time to read as much as I would like, but I look upon it as an investment, now, as well as enjoyment.  I’ve just finished reading a book that has taught me a lot about how to write, not because of its particular touches of genius but because, in my opinion, it’s full of things I really don’t think should have made it into the final cut.  It made me realise how much you can learn from a book which is badly written – in some ways, I think this book has been more instructive than any of the excellent books I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.

The book, firstly, is filled with info-dumping.  There are several instances of it on display in this particular book – I found myself reading twenty or thirty pages in a row, all exactly the same – the heroine thinking deep thoughts, explaining things to herself (and, by extension, to the reader).  The author even went to the difficulty of telling us what the characters were saying, without recounting the dialogue, which baffled me completely.  Why would you write something like this:  ‘And then Mary said that Pat had seen him that morning at the post office and he’d looked fine, and Jack answered her by saying that someone else had seen him last week and he’d looked awful‘ and so on, instead of just using a dialogue structure?  Recounting dialogue like that is confusing, and you can lose track of which character is speaking.  If you use dialogue, something like this could work much better:  ‘I saw him just this morning at the post office, you know,’ sniffed Mary, adjusting her headscarf as she spoke.  ‘He looked grand, not a bother on him.’  Jack considered this, stirring his tea thoughtfully.  ‘I forget who I was talking to, now,’ he said, eventually, ‘but whoever it was said they saw him last week and he was like death warmed up.’  Jack took a healthy slurp of tea, watching with glee as Mary pursed her lips in distaste.

I’m not saying I’m Dostoevsky or anything, but I think the dialogue works a lot better.  It’s a lot easier to know who is speaking, and it’s just more interesting to read.  It’s very off-putting to look at page after page of unbroken prose.  (Normally I’d put each line of dialogue on a separate line, too, which makes it even clearer; apologies for the layout).

I also had the issue of the main character in this book not seeming real.  I read the book as a collection of things that happened to a flat personality – it’s like the author was using his character as a tool to make a point.  On one page she’s saying unkind things about her Pollyanna-ish best friend, and telling us she’s jealous of her friend’s beauty, and then five or ten pages later she’s suddenly telling us how much she loves this friend.  Something very profound must have happened in between but we learn nothing of it!  She flip-flops between hating and loving nearly all the other main characters on a regular basis, without giving us any insight into her thought processes, and we find ourselves reading paragraph after paragraph of pointless digression on very minor plot points.  This last irritant wouldn’t be too annoying if the author didn’t then skip over opportunities to describe things like market scenes, or a battle on a river, or a refugee camp where our characters are made welcome.  All these things – which could be so interesting – are dismissed in a few lines.  Our heroine is crossing through the Badlands, as they’re called, and actually tells us what she’s seeing is indescribable!  I restrained myself from throwing the book across the room at that point, but it was a struggle.  The character is supposed to be the cosseted, spoiled daughter of a very powerful man, but nothing about her – not her dialogue (such as it is), nor her thoughts, nor the language she chooses to use, support this.  If the author wanted a masterclass in how to write a character who is the stuck-up daughter of a very powerful man, he should have read the amazing ‘Noughts and Crosses’, by Malorie Blackman.

It’s wonderful to be able to engage in my favourite hobby, while at the same time learning lots about the skills which will, hopefully, help me to make my writing better.  I just hope I’ll pick a more enjoyable book next time!

What I Did at the Weekend

Good morning, all. Happy Monday (if that’s not an oxymoron).

This past weekend, my husband and I spent some time with his parents, which was wonderful.  It meant I didn’t get an opportunity to blog or Tweet or check Facebook or email… and it was probably just as well! It was great to have a chance to get some books and spend some time reading, which is basically what I did.  I also spent some time feeling tired and unwell – darned mumps!  It’s taking me quite a while to get over them, and no mistake.  But I digress!

I read ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, by John Green, which was wonderful, and, in the charismatic hero of the story, Augustus Waters, it featured one of the most memorable characters I’ve ever encountered.  Sharp-witted, intelligent, funny and irreverent in all the right places, I really enjoyed reading about him.

This is what the book looks like.  You might notice it’s not the best cover in the world:

I picked this book up because I’m familiar with John Green’s name, and I’m aware of him as a popular and talented writer for young people.  However (and my husband pointed this out, too) the cover would have done nothing to entice me to pick this book up if I hadn’t known all that beforehand.  It made me realise how hard it must be to design a book cover that is a) attractive, b) artistically satisfying (for the designer), c) clear and d) suggestive of what the book is about, without giving too much away about the plot.  This book is about teenagers who are struggling with a terminal illness, so I guess putting an image of their health issues, or whatever, on the cover would give too much away.  Don’t let the plain design put you off, though – the story within is really great, and Green is an excellent writer.  The dialogue in this book is sparkling and authentic, and there’s an interesting sub-plot involving a book that the two lead characters are obsessed with.  They go on a hunt for its reclusive author – no mean feat, when you consider the health issues they’re both dealing with – and overall the book is more funny than sad, despite the central theme.

Don’t breathe a word to my husband, but I also bought ‘The Emerald Atlas’ (John Stephens), ‘All These Things I’ve Done’ (Gabrielle Zevin), ‘Valentina’ (Kevin McDermott), and ‘Knife Edge’ (Malorie Blackman).  In my defence I got one of these free because there was a special offer on in the bookshop.  Not that I need to defend my right to buy books, of course – but just so you know.

I’ve started ‘Valentina’, so as soon as I’ve formulated some thoughts on that, I’ll let y’all know.  I don’t think these books (with the exception of ‘Knife Edge’, which I’ve wanted for a while) are the kinds of books I’d normally read, but I’ve made a decision to expand my reading world.  It can only have a beneficial effect on my writing world, too!  Despite being a big fan of one of the most exciting genres in the literary world – the Young Adult novel – I am only really familiar with a few niches in that genre and I tend to only read ‘within my comfort zone’, so it’s good to try something new once in a while.

I hope I’ll be well enough to carry on with my work today.  I am currently 75,000+ words into my novel, and it has been going well; I’m about to plunge my dear characters into a massive battle, though, so I’ve been resisting that in case one of them gets hurt.  I think a cup of coffee will help…

I hope you had a good weekend, too – and I hope it included some reading, and some writing!  And, of course, that you got out of your comfort zone, too.  Have a wonderful day.

Why Write?

Yesterday on Twitter someone posed the question ‘Writers! Why Write?’, and it’s been on my mind ever since.  I responded to the Tweet by saying something mildly facetious like ‘it’s either that or fall into a depression’, which is partly true, but it’s not the whole story.  I’ve been thinking about my life so far, when and where my interest in writing began, why I started doing it and – possibly most importantly – why I still do it now.

In primary school, around age 8 or so, my class was given a task – to read some of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, and then, after we’d talked it over with the teacher, to write a diary entry as though we were in captivity ourselves.  It might seem like a morbid thing to get a class of 8-year-olds to do, but I remember it as one of the most rewarding experiences of my school years.  Not only did this exercise mark the beginning of my interest in Anne Frank, but it also kick-started my desire to keep a diary.  The first ‘diary’ I ever kept had a red and white checked cover (I seem to remember I wanted it because it looked a bit like the one Anne Frank received for her 13th birthday, when she began keeping her own journal); the fact that it was actually an address book belonging to my mother, which she was still using, did not deter me from writing in it.  My first forays into diary-keeping read something like this:  ‘It’s Tuesday.  I played outside today from ten o’clock to four o’clock and then Mammy called me.  For dinner we had pork chops, peas and spuds.  Then I went to bed.  Goodnight.’  An entry like this would typically be accompanied by a drawing of my dinner, and maybe a representation of me asleep in bed.  I’m often struck, when reading these old books, how my interests haven’t changed much – food and sleep are still high on my list of priorities.  This daily commitment to writing, combined with my voracious love of reading, soon led me to try to write creatively – my early efforts were encouraged by my teachers, but they also took the time to correct my spelling and use of vocabulary, sometimes even giving me extra work in order to keep my interest alive.

This impulse to write stayed with me all through the rest of my school years.  I was religious about writing in my diary every night during secondary school, and I often illustrated my entries – usually with diagrams of where my friends and I were standing when a particular boy walked by, or what we’d all decided to wear to the school dance (called a ‘hooley’ in my part of the world), or other vital scenarios.  This regular writing, which I used to look forward to every evening, was one of the most important features of my adolescent life, and perhaps I wasn’t being entirely facetious in my Tweet yesterday when I said writing kept me from falling into sorrow.  Certainly, writing helped me deal with the stress and heartache I felt as I grew up; I told my diary things I felt I could tell nobody else, and I took out my frustration and my fury on the paper instead of on myself or other people.  It was the best training I could have done for the sort of writing I try to do now.

As I grew older, went to college and started my working life, my diary writing fell away a little.  The grind of commuting, working, and trying to have a ‘grown-up’ life meant that I had no time for my imagination, and I didn’t write – either to record my days, or creatively – for years.  I still had ideas, and I’d note them down, but they would sit, gathering dust, until eventually they were buried so deep that I lost sight of them.  Suppressing something isn’t a good way to get rid of it, though.  It just makes it stronger, and it bides its time, waiting to reassert itself; at least, this is what happened with my writing and me.  Over the past few years, the urge to write and create has come back so strongly that it began to take over my whole life, and it couldn’t be ignored any more.

My teenage years are longer ago than I like to think about, but perhaps I have more in common with my youthful self now than I’ve had for years.  I’m writing every day, I have the luxury of expressing myself, and I feel the same sort of wild joy around words that I used to feel back then.  I just don’t have to worry about what to wear to school hooleys any more, which can only be a good thing; my sartorial choices have always been a bit hit-and-miss.

So, that’s my story.  I write because I have to, and because I love to do it – the ideas keep coming (long may that last!), and I don’t want to let them die.  If you write, what’s your writing story?

Ideas, and where they come from

I was struck by the strangeness of the human imagination (or, at least, my own imagination) last night.  It was late, I had long turned the computer off to go and do other things – like watch The Great British Bake-Off, to which I’m an addict – but then, at something like 10p.m., I felt compelled to turn the computer back on and work.  While I didn’t actually add anything to my manuscript, I spent some time using the internet for information, and scribbling furiously in my notebook.  For once, I managed to have a notebook to hand!  My husband looked at me fondly, if a little bemusedly, and asked ‘don’t you ever switch off?’

That got me thinking.  It’s important to be able to switch off.  As it happened, I went to bed last night, my brain pulsing with ideas and thoughts, and I couldn’t sleep.  I tossed and turned all night, chewing things over, trying to decide how I’m going to structure my work when I go through it with my editor’s cap on, wondering about other ideas I’ve been having and trying to work out if they belong in my current project or if they deserve space of their own to flourish… and so it went on, for hours and hours.  Eventually at about 3.30a.m. I managed to get some rest, only to wake up again at about 5a.m., my brain abuzz.  This is the reason for the late delivery of your blog, followers, for which I apologise!  It’s an interesting thing to think about – just, hopefully, never again at night-time! – and it did get me pondering the idea of inspiration, and how your brain forms ideas and connections between ideas.

The core idea in the book I’m currently working on came to me about six or seven years ago, when I was engaged in doing postgraduate research into the medieval period.  I remember sitting in the café of the Arts building, avidly absorbing a thick textbook about medieval culture, when one sentence in it took my imagination and wrung it; ideas promptly started flowing out of my brain.  And, typically, I had nothing to write on, and nothing to write with.  I flailed about, desperately, trying to keep the ideas alive in my head, and noted that the people at the table next to me had left some rubbish behind – including a pen.  I grabbed it, silently thanking God, while at the same time noticing that the café had placed some feedback forms on the tables.  These, of course, were designed for customers to let the café know how it was serving their needs, not to allow a rather strange postgraduate to make notes on an idea for a novel, so there wasn’t a whole lot of space.  But I managed it.  In the margins, written very small, anywhere I could find room to put a word, I put one.  And that was the basic germ of the idea I’m now working on.  It has had several incarnations over the years, and more than enough false starts – the version I’m currently writing is by far the fullest growth it has ever seen.  But it all came from one throwaway phrase in a book about the culture of medieval Europe.  That was enough to get my brain making connections, and it was like a waterfall of ideas, once the first step was taken.

It’s exciting when you get an idea that you think can go places.  The high of that feeling is more than matched, however, by the devastation of realising that, while it was a good concept, it doesn’t have enough strength to stand as the core of a book.  There are such highs and lows in this business!  It’s difficult to jettison an idea that you’ve had, and which you’ve cherished, but if it doesn’t work no amount of ‘papering over the cracks’ is going to make it better.  There’s a huge difference, I’ve learned, between a ‘good idea’ – a flash, an image, a clever phrase – and something strong enough to build a world around, or create a character with.  That doesn’t mean these flashes aren’t worth holding on to – they may be worth incorporating into a bigger idea.  Don’t waste anything.

And always, always, always have a pen and paper handy.  Always.  Without fail.  If I could impart one message to other writers, that would be it!