Happy Thursday!

Woo Hoo!Just a random observation that brightened up my Thursday morning… We currently have 899 lovely people following the blog! This seems like quite a few for being around just about 18months. So thanks for taking notice of our little piece of the blogosphere – here’s to person 900

Something else that made be smile was this happy little bear, showing off how limber he is. My caption for this picture? “Woo hoo!” 🙂

Have you discovered anything random today?

Tony’s thoughts…Why your story needs a McGuffin

I was working on “Book Five” this week, and there was a section that was bothering me – I needed a character to be kidnapped, but couldn’t figure out a logical way of doing it. After I solved the problem (That’s the great thing about writing – I get to kidnap people and no one calls the cops!), it occurred to me that the character is a McGuffin.

A wha? What’s a McGuffin? You might ask.

A McGuffin is something in a story that is important to the characters, but is otherwise irrelevant to the plot, and is (In most cases) completely interchangeable with something else.

You with me? No? Okay.

Here’s an example. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant is a McGuffin. Change it from “The Ark” to “The Necklace”, and the plot of the film doesn’t change. Change it a “The Crystal Skull” and the plot is the same. Change it to “The Sandwich” and the plot is the same.
Bear in mind, a McGuffin can also be something abstract, like power or money – it doesn’t have to be a physical object.

The McGuffin drives the story forward, but its nature isn’t important. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of these. He said, “In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers.”
George Lucas thinks the McGuffin should be something the reader-viewer cares about. Sometimes it’s not obvious what the McGuffin is either; Lucas says the McGuffin in Star Wars is R2-D2 – the thing that all the characters are chasing or protecting, in other words.

If anyone out there has read my own book Taken, the McGuffin is the character Sacmis – Amon, my main character, spends most of the book trying to find out who she is, and by the time he finds out, it’s irrelevant; he’s discovered other things about his world that means he doesn’t need to know. But his need to discover who she is what drives him forward.

The McGuffin also ties into something fundamental about characters in stories: They have to want something – a character who doesn’t want something shouldn’t be there. A sandwich, a crystal skull, a necklace. Or a Lost Ark of the Covenant. That will be your McGuffin.

In other words, at the centre of your story is an object, or an idea, something that everything else spins around, but is almost completely interchangeable. The man who craves power could as easily be the man who craves money.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to make myself a sandwich.

Does your story have a good McGuffin? Comments below!

Tony’s Thoughts: My writing playlist…and why

Playing music when I write doesn’t always work for me. My home and my “office” are pretty quiet most of the time, apart from – to quote Belinda Carlisle – the sound of kids on the street outside.

So when I listen to music when I write, it isn’t necessarily because it’s something I want to hear anywhere else. It’s more like it’s another barrier between me and the outside world, another way of getting through the hole in the page where I write without distraction. Earphones and an MP3 player are essential…I don’t want anything to distract me once I’m in there, don’t want to pop back out of the document I’m working on and fiddle with my computer’s media player.

In a way, I can listen to anything…because there comes a point when I’m listening to it and not consciously hearing it; tracks will zip by on my MP3 and I won’t even notice when one starts and one ends until the end of the playlist.

Having said that, if I stick on Beethoven’s Ninth symphony and I’m still writing at the end of it, that’s a solid piece of work; that sucker’s 78 minutes long. I sometimes air compose towards the end, something I always do when I come across The William Tell Overture. It’s too catchy not to. (Trivia of the day: A recording of Beethoven’s Ninth was chosen as the run length of a CD).

Anyway, I have things on my MP3 I never listen to other than when I’m writing. Ten symphonies by Joseph Haydn, and one by his son Michael. Four Beethoven symphonies and 1st and 2nd piano concertos, tons of Mozart. I’ve been getting into some Salieri as well.

I tend to prefer longer pieces of classical when I’m writing, but I have some soft rock on there as well – some Belinda Carlisle (My wife pointed me towards The Go-Gos, and I’ve been having a blast with them), some Bryan Adams. A whole playlist of “Late 20th Century”, 80s and 90s stuff. A long list of 50s and 60s, and The Beatles.

I think the thing for my MP3 is familiarity. I’m listening while I write because the music is familiar to me and I don’t have to focus on it. I’ve heard it a thousand times before, so it doesn’t have any surprises. There’s stuff on there I listen to when I’m not writing, but most of it…most of it is the equivalent of white noise.

And sometimes I even have to turn that off because it’s simply too distracting, and sometimes it’s too easy to get distracted rather than writing – I spent a good few hours on Saturday playing with my playlists rather than writing, for instance. I wrote my last three books without a soundtrack, but I did stick it on when I went back to editing. Book Five feels like a soundtrack novel, and so far it is. It’s early days yet.

I know some people do it for the rhythms, assigning a piece of music to each character, and that sounds like fun and something I wish I could do. You’re a better multitasker than I am if you can focus that well. For me, it’s another wall between the world and the page, and sometimes you need all the walls between you and the world outside, so you can get into the rabbit hole and fall forever.

Tony’s Thinking…Might as well face it, you’re addicted to writing

Today I was waiting for a very slow (It was still going 8 hours after I started it…) progress bar to finish. I’m used to this; working in computers is often a slow and patient business, and luckily I’m a slow and patient guy, or I wouldn’t be in the job I’m in.

Anyway, while I waited, I thought I’d write something off the top of my head, just to pass the time. Came out with a pretty good 1100 word story which I might publish somewhere.

The subject of the story is a bored housewife who takes up writing to pass the time, and on a whim sends her novel away to an agent. I won’t tell you the ending, but it got me thinking:

Is writing addictive? Is there a compulsion to write? I was twiddling my thumbs, and the first thing I thought of was: I’ll write something.

I’d just finished a seven month project to write a 35k novel (Update: That turned into Eight Mile Island), and here I was again: writing.

Here am I writing about writing, for heavens sake.

At least if I’m addicted – or obsessed – it’s quite a benign addiction; can’t see myself knocking over a fast food restaurant so I can find the money for more pens, for instance. But I would like to have some sort of life apart from hitting keys all day!

It’s fun ‘teaching’ it to people, and seeing their work and sharing it, but isn’t that just feeding my addiction?

I know I should be out there doing other things. I think there’s something called…ummm…’Fresh Air’, is it? I’d like to try that one day, just to see what it’s like. I think it comes with a side dish of ‘Exercise’, which sounds awfully strenous.

There are benefits to this addiction as well, I know. There aren’t many addictions where you earn money rather than spend it, and the more time you spend on your addiction, the more it earns you.

I’d love to earn enough to pay my mortgage, even if that wasn’t enough to take up writing full time (At the minute, I’m working on buying a new fridge!), but I can’t really imagine myself writing full time…what would that be like? How strict would you have to be with yourself to think of what you do as ‘your job: writer’, and not goof around on the internet all day. (Speaking of which, how are my sales doing on Amazon…).

So, in conclusion: Am I addicted to writing? Is there a cure? Would I want to take it if there was?

Now I have another story idea…an injection that stops creativity…

See what I mean?

Mel’s Thinking…Christmas Tidings and Busy Times

Noel

Hope everyone has been enjoying the holiday period with friends, family, books… All that time off from work, but it still seems busy!

I have to apologise for the haphazard postings in the last few weeks – I’ve been attempting to finalise my second book and unfortunately putting together blog posts and pulling together the interviews etc. is quite time consuming and so I’ve not been able to do both. Having taken a little break from posting those – they will be back up in the new year when I get some time back again.

2012 has been an interesting and busy year – we’re approaching the first birthday of the blog (January) – and it’s surprising how much has happened when you look back over the twelve months.

The Indie Author Event in May was great, and will perhaps feature again in 2013 with some little changes. My favourite features are the guest posts – when authors and readers talk to us about something a little different, perhaps more openly than a straight interview allows. I’ve also really enjoyed meeting the other bloggers who contribute to Aside From Writing, which has changed from the ‘real world’ friends that started the blog in January (and disappeared quite quickly after a couple of months) to the ‘book world’ friends that I’ve met in the last twelve months through Goodreads: Emily, Tony, Stephanie and Jade.

So…what now for 2012? I’m going to have to think about that…but I am looking forward to getting some new features up and running, and posting a little more regularly! 🙂 See you in 2013 – Mel x

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Aside from Writing’s Year in Numbers

10,300 Hits, 215 Posts, 259 Comments

1 Blogger surviving the whole first year

3 Bloggers evapourating (metaphorically, not literally)

3 New Bloggers appearing

98 Facebook Friends

907 Tweets, 153 Followers

0 People on Pinterest (I just can’t figure it out!)

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Tony’s Rambles: The Curious Curse of the Cellular Phone

Sherlock Holmes lit his foul briar pipe and settled back into his chair, staring moodily out at the London fog.

“It has made your life much harder, Watson.”

Watson, startled out of examining his latest ApplePlum phone, looked up. “Sorry, old boy?”

“Cellular phones, Watson, cellular phones.”

“Not following old boy.”

Holmes leaned forward, his thin face harsh angles in the firelight. “No, of course not Watson, of course not. Now, observe and note.”

He leaned back again and ticked off points on his fingers.

“Firstly, description of character. I had to rely on hearsay and exaggeration. Now you bring that thing -,” (he waved towards Watson’s phone) ” – press a button, and bring me a precise image.”

“True, Holmes, true.”

“Secondly, and I use the vernacular, Watson, you understand, the vernacular. Backup.”

“Backup?”

“How can we be in any peril when you merely bring out your magic device and call for assistance?”

“Impeccably put, Holmes, but what’s your point?”

“As chronicler of my narratives, Watson, you must realise the problem?”

“No, afraid not, Holmes.”

“I will provide you examples then. Take the Hound of the Baskervilles. Someone snaps a photograph on that machine of yours, and the mystery is solved. A mysterious ghostly hound? No, obviously just a dog painted with phosphor. Add a Geotag, and tell us exactly where and when.”

“Ah, yes. That would spoil the mystery somewhat.”

“And are we in peril, Watson, when Lestrade and London’s finest can be called at any time?”

“By Lor Holmes! You’re right!” There was a pause while Watson considered. “What am I to do, Holmes? As a writer of fiction, my readers demand suspense. They demand drama.”

“There are few options, Watson. Break it. Let the potential energy run down, the battery as you would say. Leave it at home. Have it stolen.”

Watson spluttered. “What about my RSS? My Twitter updates?”

“Sorry, old friend. They have to be forfeited. You cannot write tension and drama into a story while that thing is in your pocket.”

Watson considered the slab of plastic and rare earth metals in his hand for a long moment, then placed it on the table beside him.

Holmes slapped his thighs and cocked his head to one side. “Excellent, Watson, excellent! Now if I’m not mistaken, that’s Mrs Hudson on the stairs and a woman with size four feet following. Your tension and drama are restored, and  the game is afoot, my friend…”

Tony’s Thoughts: Do I need a webpage?

This is a little involved, but bear with me for a moment while I tell you a story. I’m good at that, so my reviewers say. 😉

I’ve been playing with the settings on my webpage recently, trying to iron out some random noisy statistics.

For those who don’t know, there are automated ‘spiders’ and ‘bots’ that index webpages for search engines. They crawl through the entire site, picking out keywords and then report back to their makers. Or something like that.

Anyway, I’ve been getting a lot of traffic from random places like China and South America, and as much as it inflates my ego to think that my fame spreads across the globe, looking closer tells me another story. There are bots and spiders out there that steal images and content from your site and eat up your bandwidth. In webpage terms, more bandwidth = more cost, and these bots can get bad enough to eat it all if you don’t stop them, with the result that the people hosting my webpage will turn it off.

I think the steps I’m taking to combat these bots are working, and when I look at my statistics for my webpage, I know by the traffic drop-off that they seemed to have stopped. And so does everyone else, for that matter: zero visitors yesterday. Compared to Facebook, which had thirty or so visits.

Another thing on my mind is that my webpage is ‘rented’ by me from a hosting company, and the renewal is up in December. It’s quite cheap, but money is money at the end of the day.

So here’s the thing: The sudden drop in statistics, the renewal thing have all got me thinking:

Do I need a webpage at all?

It’s in all the how-to-become-an-internet-successful-author books, right there at the top: Get a webpage, get on Facebook, get on Twitter, get yourself virtually out there and networking.

And the webpage is the least successful of all of those. My webpage sits there, passively, in a kind of Zen state. Nothing changes, except when I write another book (and I am!).

I could tweak it and put in a blog, download some applications to do that. But why? That’s what WordPress is for. I drop in links to where my books are sold…again, WordPress.

I could tweak it and put in a forum, do some social networking. But why? That’s what Facebook and Twitter are for.

I could drop in a secure store, but I’m happy to link back to my booksellers on Amazon and Smashwords.

So my point is that everything on my webpage I could spend weeks doing myself (or a small fortune paying someone else), I can do somewhere else. Simpler, faster, cheaper, more interactive. So why do I have a webpage? For instance, I’m posting this on two blogs – not my webpage.

Almost, the personal webpage is becoming redundant. The links on it point to other pages where people can at least interact with me – I’m having a fun debate on Facebook on making up some futuristic profanity for my work-in-progress at the minute.

I’m not planning to dump it tomorrow – for one thing, I get free email hosting tony-talbot@tony-talbot.co.uk, which I like.

I’ll keep you updated when the site comes up for renewal in December 2013. And where will that update be?

Not on my webpage, that’s for sure.

Are personal webpages irrelevant? What do you think?