The Blog (archived)

Category: Writing

Bad Opening Sentences

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The bleak winter gale thrust its icy tentacles unimpeded up the bare legs of Jock McMuffin, inflicting painful shrinkage upon his manly appendages and reminding him that it was not a good night to be wearing a kilt outdoors … but having scaled the prison wall it was too late to go back for the long pants he now wished he’d worn instead.

What’s that all about, you may ask? Its just something I felt inspired to write after visiting the website of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest and reading the 2006 results. This parody contest is a “whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels”. It is named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who is famous for the immortal novel opening “It was a dark and stormy night”, commonly viewed as a good example of a bad way to start a book.

Visiting the website and following the link to the Results of 2006 Contest will reveal a smorgasbord of entertaining and imaginative opening sentences. Reading them made me itch to write something, and the competition is open to anyone so why not have a go yourself?

If the purpose of a novel’s opening sentence or paragraph is to engage the reader’s attention and make him/her want to continue reading, then most of the winning entries do their job, even if they are supposed to imitate bad writing. And if you’re wondering why Jock McMuffin is scaling a prison wall in a kilt, or whether he escapes successfully, or if he gains comfort for his chilled appendages … then my dubious-quality example has done its job too.


Other Things To Make Writing A Novel Easier

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Last time I wrote about a tool which I’m finding helpful in the task of writing a novel (yWriter novel writing software). To be complete, here are the other two tools which are helping me most.

1. PDA with fold-up keyboard

Many creative types feel most inspired when out in nature, walking, or anywhere else that’s far away from a desk with a computer on it. Some sort of mobile text capture device is needed to take advantage of these moments. While a notebook and pen has served well for centuries, a more modern and flexible way is to use a handheld computer with portable keyboard.

Palm with fold-up wireless keyboardI currently use a Palm (Tungsten T5 model) with an infra-red wireless keyboard (see photo, coffee mug shows scale), though countless other devices will do the job. The Palm fits in one pocket, the keyboard folds up and fits in another, making it far more portable than any laptop. With an internet connection using a phone or wireless access in a cafe, any writing can be e-mailed to yourself, thus providing a secure backup method when away from home.

Most of my novel writing has been done on long weekends and holidays using this setup, or earlier equivalents. The small keyboard may take a little getting used to for some, but its fine for folks like me who spend most of their time thinking of what to type rather than actually typing.

2. Voice Recognition Software

I originally bought Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software for home use when I started developing an RSI problem, and have found it useful for all sorts of writing tasks, including e-mails and this blog. The latest version is uncannily accurate, and learns from its mistakes.

For novel writing, it allows creativity to flow onto the computer screen as fast as you can speak into a microphone. This leads to smoother “flow”, more natural written conversation, and greater output … or so I’ve read. I’m yet to achieve this - years of writing slowly is a hard habit to break - but the potential is there. Not having to use a mouse is a great occupational health bonus too!

Writing a novel has never been easy, and still isn’t, but with tools like these to help facilitate the process there are fewer obstacles than ever. Its getting harder to find excuses for why my first novel still isn’t finished!


Something To Make Writing A Novel Easier

Thursday, May 24, 2007

It is often said that everyone has at least one book in them, but have you ever tried writing one? If you have, you’ll know what a huge challenge it can be to transform the ideas in your head into a completed written work. Here I share a tool which is proving helpful in the writing of my own novel.

yWriter - free novel writing software by Simon Haynes, Spacejock Software

I’d always written using just a text editor, one file for each chapter. That was fine when it was short, but with twenty chapters or more it gets harder to keep track of what has happened, to whom, and when. Especially if you don’t write often. Seeing the big picture isn’t easy with just a huge mass of text to look at.

Then I found yWriter, software that applies project management tools to novel writing. The author designed it to help him write his own three published novels, and found it so useful he made it available to all at no cost. It works with plain text files, but text is organised into scenes, with scene descriptions, character profiles, details of the conflict and outcomes for each scene, and the ability to generate synopses and timelines, and more. It allows the whole project to be broken down into well-documented scene-sized chunks which are easily visualised, and helps with plot development.

Since recently finding yWriter I’ve used it to provide structure to my novel so far, effectively giving a skeleton to what had become (in my mind) just a huge mass of flesh. It has helped me organise my thinking in regards to the whole plot. With a clearer mental picture of the story so far, I’m more likely to work out how the story ends, and perhaps finish writing it at last!

It also helps with continuity. What type of explosives did Brutus hide up his dress at the autopsy? How much detail of the accident did Rupert reveal to the maid in the wardrobe incident? If these details occurred in chapter two they may be hard to remember when writing chapter nineteen, especially if many years have passed. With yWriter, small but important details can be found and kept track of more easily.

You still have to think of what to write, which is the hard part, but yWriter can help you organise the project and thereby shrink one of the obstacles. If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a novel, why not have a go!


Humphrey Bares All

Friday, June 23, 2006

Image from www.humphreybear.comA chance discovery on a Sydney bus has sent shockwaves around the world of children’s television - Humphrey B Bear is gay.

This revelation surfaced in a humble wallet, left on a suburban bus last night and found by its driver. A quick search revealed the owner’s ID … and a membership card for a gay organisation. Also found were some photos of Humphrey with another male television character, in a pose clearly unsuitable for broadcast to Humphrey’s young fans.

Humphrey’s refusal to wear pants has been of concern to many parents for some time; this revelation of his habits can only add to those concerns. Investigations are now under way into Humphrey’s relationship with Donald Duck, who also fails to wear pants.

I wrote this fictional newspaper story as part of an exercise on a writing course, and thought I’d share it. Surely I’m not the only one who finds it oddly amusing that so many children’s TV characters are depicted with clothes on their upper bodies, but naked from the waist down?