5 x 5 Writing Tips: Point of View

The Rolling Stones famously sang “It’s the singer, not the song.”  Regardless of how you feel about The Rolling Stones, I think we can all agree with the sentiment of this lyric.  Narrative voice is potentially more important than the story we’re telling.  The most interesting and compelling story in the world can easily fall flat when the narrator is someone bland and inappropriate for the task. Conversely, a dull story can come across as irresistible if the narrator knows how to convey a story.

  1. There are only four points of view to worry about: first person, second person, third person and omniscient. Each of these allows the reader a different level of closeness with the narrator or the narrating character and your choice should be made depending how much closeness you think is appropriate for the story you want to tell.  The most popular in current fiction are third person and first person but don’t be swayed by the market: write the story that feels right to you.  
  2. Choose the correct point of view for the story you’re telling. Sometimes this can require writing and rewriting until you get it exactly right but it’s worth the effort.
  3. Try to avoid head-hopping. (This is when we suddenly shift from the perspective or thoughts from one character to another.) I’m not going to say head-hopping is wrong.  We can see examples of head-hopping in classic fiction from all over the world and each story will take the route it needs to take. But head-hopping can be distracting. Part of the fun with a well-written story is that we’re limited to the perspective of a single character so we’re unable to know the important train of thoughts hurtling through that other character’s mind. Head-hopping can destroy that tension in a single paragraph.
  4. Never underestimate the value of an unreliable narrator. Edgar Allan Poe begins ‘The Tell-Tale Heart with the following paragraph: True! — nervous – dreadfully nervous, I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? Hearken! And observe how calmly I can tell you the whole story. (Well, the reason why we say you’re mad is because you’re nuttier than a squirrel turd and I think most readers have come to that conclusion by the time they get to the next paragraph). This example of an unreliable narrator takes us into a story where we see the world through the eyes of a crazy person – which makes the whole experience even more unsettling.
  5. Whenever you’re reading, take a moment to distance yourself from the book and think how and why the author has made the decision to use a particular point of view.  If we do this with our favourite authors, we can learn how and why something works for us.  If we do this with authors that we don’t enjoy, we can see what sort of things we should be avoiding with our writing.

ABO by Walter De La Mare

In Episode 44, Col and I look at ‘ABO’ by Walter De La Mare.

Walter De la Mare is renowned as a poet and author of works aimed at children. Consequently I was exited to come across this title because I was familiar with the author’s name, just not familiar with his work.

Maddeningly, the story was something of a damp squib. There is potential for a lot of unnerving content but a lot of this is lost with unnecessary characters and heavy-handed over-writing.

Tuesday Book Review: Soup

Back Cover Blurb

Ashley McCormack was brutally abused as a child, but she’s found a way to thrive as the sadistic Assistant Coroner at the City of Changusay morgue. Convicts from a nearby maximum security prison get shanked on a regular basis, and Ashley loves to play with their remains, picturing her estranged father with every slice of her scalpel. When the morgue is updated with the newest in “environmentally friendly” human disposal systems, the Alkaline Hydrolysis HT500, a fellow member of her dark web death group makes an offer she can’t refuse. No really, she can’t.

One of the great things about reading Indie Horror is that you find yourself experiencing new writers who aren’t bound by the strictures of mainstream norms.  Kate DeJonge is one such writer who can tell an effective story but isn’t contained by the boundaries of what’s expected or what’s been done before.

In this story we’re introduced to Ashley McCormack and given her backstory which shows, she wasn’t subjected to the best parenting in the world – but she’s found ways of coping with that setback. Innovative ways. We also find she’s immersed in her work as a morgue attendant. 

One of the things that stood out for me whilst reading this story was DeJonge’s understanding of funerary practices and the minutiae of life working at a mortuary – this level of realism added a whole new world of verisimilitude that added to the horror I was reading. 

If you enjoy your horror dark and your fiction well-written, this is the next title you need to enjoy.

Soup by Kate DeJonge

Listen for Free

Those who enjoy Indie Horror will already be aware of Godless.  It’s the go-to site for all things Indie Horror and I’m delighted to have a couple of novels on there, as well as a free short audio story.  Some of you may have already read The Damned Box but, if you like listening to authors read their work, it’s now available as a free download.

This has been a ridiculously busy week.  I’ve been interviewing writers for the Bleeding Keyboard and the first of these went live yesterday from when I’d spoken with the award-winning author Candace Nola.

Aside from chatting with authors, I also celebrated my birthday on the 22nd and recorded the audio version of Conversations with Dead Serial Killers

I’m also overlooking the most important event of my calendar for the last week which was the launch of Seagulls from Hell.  The seagulls officially landed on Monday and the feedback is already making me grin.  Thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to read and review.  It really is much appreciated.

5 x 5 Writing Tips: Ideas

I’m not going to say that there’s nothing worse than a writer being stuck for ideas because there are worse things. But I am going to say being a writer who is stuck for ideas is avoidable and below are five tips to help circumvent this particular issue.

For further ideas, check out my book, How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published.
  1. Keep a journal. In the good old days writers would keep a journal, notepad or diary on them at all times. The point of this was, when inspiration struck, it would be ideal for keeping a record of ideas, thoughts and potential material that could be built on. Nowadays a writer doesn’t need to be encumbered by the need to carry a notepad, journal or diary as all of this is available as an app (or a series of apps) on the handy little mobile phones that we all keep in our pockets.
  2. Use the journal. It’s all well and good having a journal/diary/notepad app on your phone, but you need to use it regularly and keep it filled with ideas. Did you hear an interesting snippet of conversation that could inspire a scene? Write it down. Did you just get an idea for a superhero whose Kryptonite is cute doggies? Write it down. Did you finally figure out the perfect comeback for that asshat who called you a no-talent hack? Write it down. Any or all of these could prove the inspiration for your next piece of creativity. But they’ll only be available to you if you make a point of writing them down.
  3. Be Inspired. I consume fiction and it makes me want to create something in a similar fashion. For example, I watch a vampire movie and I want to write about vampires. Or, I watch a movie about dark magic and I want to write about dark magic. This doesn’t mean I want to copy what I’ve experienced (copying and plagiarism are the worst crimes a writer can commit). It means that I take the traditional tropes of the story and try to tell it with my own distinctive style. Be inspired by the stories around you and transform them into something that matches with your own style.
  4. Practice Writing Exercises. Exercises such as ‘free writing’, timed exercises or constrained exercises, allow us to stretch those writing muscles that seldom get used in day-to-day writing practice. Taking 5 minutes to compose a sentence where each word begins with the next letter of the alphabet, or 10 minutes to compose a haiku that sums up your plans for the day, can often produce something that inspires a fuller idea.
  5. Break with Routine. A lot of the time, we’re inspired by the things we see on a daily basis. We see the echo chamber of Twitter and FaceBook. We see the 9 – 5 of our daily experience and the regularity of everything we do outside that 9 – 5. Since I’ve started visiting the gym on a morning, I’ve written at least two stories that feature a character in the gym. I also work my dog each day and there are regular scenes in my stories where characters encounter unexpected surprises whilst walking dogs. Which suggests, if these versions of normality appear in my work because I’ve been exposed to them, lunch at a different location, a chat with different work colleagues, or an impromptu visit to a local tourist trap could all help to add variation to the content of my creativity.

The Ash & Col Podcast: The Leather Funnel

In Episode 43, Col and I look at ‘The Leather Funnel’ by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Conan Doyle is more famous for his Sherlock Holmes stories which, as we all know, follow the adventures of a hero who is driven by pure logic and material evidence. Each time Holmes is faced with something potentially supernatural (The Sussex Vampire, The Hound of the Baskervilles, etc) he finds the solution to the puzzle is grounded in the normal, rather than the paranormal.

But in this story we meet a character who shares Holmes’ incisive abilities and sharp knowledge, yet this is all directed to an understanding of the supernatural. Well worth checking out.

Release the Seagulls

Today marks the official release of Seagulls from Hell.  This is my 62nd full length title and I’m thrilled with the way it’s turned out.  As of today you can purchase this book on Kindle, in paperback, or as an audiobook. 

About the Book:

People visit Blackpool for various reasons: sun, sea, sand, sex, and seagulls. This dark and twisted story, set against a backdrop of the UK’s most famous seaside resort, follows a private investigator as he tries to locate a missing person believed to be amongst the homeless community. It’s an investigation that will bring him face-to-face with violence, torture, punishment, murder, and the seagulls from hell.

From the novel:
The sign said: Welcome to Blackpool. With a lowering thundercloud on the horizon, and the first flecks of rain coming down, the view did not look particularly welcoming. The famous tower was a faraway blimp on the horizon. The curves of a gigantic rollercoaster loomed like the curls of loose threads near the hem of a threadbare grey sky. The whole scene looked even less welcoming when a hefty spatter of seagull shit slapped across the windscreen. The guano appeared like a mixture of white emulsion with a green and yellow kernel at its heart.
Overhead a seagull screamed.
“Filthy fucking creatures,” Chris grumbled. He hit the wiper and the screen wash. For a moment the entire screen was whitened by diluted bird shit. Then the car’s single blade began to clear the mess and he was looking at the approaching town of Blackpool and telling himself this weekend wouldn’t be as bad as he feared.
“Isn’t it supposed to be lucky?” Pamela asked.
Chris said nothing. The car was a Pagani Huayra Roadster, based on the classic styling of the Pagani Zonda R. It was the sort of glossy, low-riding sports car that made heads turn when he drove past. The Nero Blackstar paintwork was something he polished every week until the vehicle was back to its usual oily lustre. A spattering of corrosive seagull crap on the bonnet was going to mean he needed to T-cut the damned thing over the next weekend or maybe shell out for a professional external valet. If that was needed, he’d be looking at a bill in excess of two hundred quid just to remove the stain from a spatter of bird shit. In short: Chris didn’t feel particularly lucky.
“Bloody gulls,” he muttered.
“But isn’t it supposed to be lucky?” Pam pressed.
He tightened his facial muscles, hoping it looked like he was giving the dizzy bitch a grin whilst he nodded. A weekend with Pam promised several good things. For a start, because she’d selected Blackpool, he knew she was cheap. Also, she banged like a shithouse door in a thunderstorm. And, probably most important for his needs, she was very, very attractive. Her hair, breasts, legs and face all seemed pleasingly proportioned, youthful, and made her strikingly similar to the stars of his favourite clips on Pornhub. If only he’d been able to mute her volume in the same way he could mute a Pornhub clip when the woman had one of those fake screeching orgasms, Pam would have been the ideal partner. Maddeningly, Pam seemed to take exception to his attempts to cover her lips whilst they were having sex. And, after he’d tried it once, she was adamant he couldn’t stuff her knickers in her mouth ever again.
Another spatter of seagull shit was thrown across the windscreen. It was a torrential downpour of seagull shit, he thought miserably. “Bastard things,” he snapped.
As they’d been driving, Chris had noticed the screech of the seagulls increase the closer they got to Blackpool. At first it had been a faraway sound, slightly jarring and a little discordant, but nothing more than a reminder that they were nearing the coast. A few miles closer and he realised he wasn’t hearing the gentle seagulls that could be heard cooing over the intro of The Sleepy Lagoon when it was played on Desert Island Discs. These were gulls that were screeching for food or territory or sex. After a while he’d wondered if he was really hearing gulls, or if he was approaching some nightmare location where babies and infants were being massacred…

Seagulls from Hell is available in paperback, Kindle or audiobook format.

The Autumn Schedule

Dee

This is Dee. She’s a pedigree Chihuahua and, in this picture, she looks worried and nervous. That’s because she’s just seen my schedule for blogging in Autumn and she thinks it’s going to be a lot.

She’s not wrong. It’s going to be a packed schedule, so hold onto your hats and I’ll explain what I’m planning to do.

Monday – this will be a book update. It will either be information about the current title I’m working on or I might share favourable reviews of something that’s already been published. Tomorrow sees the release of Seagulls from hell, so that’s likely what we’ll be talking about.

Tuesday – book review.

Wednesday – I’ll share an update on the Ash & Col podcast.

Thursday – 5 x 5 Writing Tips.

Friday – The return of the Bleeding Keyboard.

On Saturday I’ll be sending out my usual newsletter and Sunday will hopefully prove to be my day of rest. So, although I can understand Dee’s anxiety, I don’t think this will prove too much and I hope the content proves sufficient for you, regular reader.

A question for the readers

As I may have mentioned on various social media platforms, I had a lot of fun recording Seagulls from Hell. It’s currently being uploaded to Amazon’s Audible and should be available soon. If you want to hear how it sounds, this is the opening of the first chapter:

I have to admit I’m a huge consumer of audiobooks. I can listen to them whilst I’m travelling. I can listen to them whilst I’m at the gym. I can listen to them whilst I’m doing gardening or chores around the house. Because of this love for audiobooks, I’m now committed to transforming as many of my existing titles into this media as is humanly possible.

Which leads me to the question I have for you guys: which should I be recording next?

I’ve narrowed it down to a choice between two titles as the focus for my next recording project, and I’m hoping you, dear reader, can help me come to a decision. I’ve put samples of each one below and I’m hoping you can take a moment to listen to them both and then, by using the poll option at the bottom of the page, tell me which you’d prefer to hear as a full length audiobook.

Conversations with Dead Serial Killers

“A clown can get away with murder.”
John Wayne Gacy, the killer clown.

Derek Turner makes his living as a psychic. But, when he makes his first genuine contact with the spirit world, it is an encounter that starts him on a pathway to holding conversations with dead serial killers.

Someone is recreating the most infamous crimes of the world’s sickest serial killers: including Jack the Ripper, BTK, Charles Albright and Ed Gein. Derek learns that it’s within his power to either profit from this situation or bring it to a needed conclusion and prevent further unnecessary deaths.

But profit can be a compelling argument.

Blending the reports from true crime stories with the lies from a professional psychic, Conversations with Dead Serial Killers explores the danger and obscenity that comes from glamourising murderers.

PayBack Week

At the end of each summer season, the staff at the Fun Park enjoy a private ritual called Payback Week. Every customer who ever upset them, every boss who ever crossed their path, every person responsible for a grievance becomes eligible for payback. This year, Payback Week will be special because there’s a homicidal killer clown with a meat cleaver patrolling the Fun Park and a lot of debts have come due.

Your input is extremely valuable to me and i appreciate you taking the time to listen and respond. I’m hoping to make a start on recording one of these in the next couple of weeks, so I’ll be closing the survey by August 22nd.

Conversations Video

The thing that few people appreciated about Ed Gein was his skill as a seamstress. Clive had sat through every episode of the Great British Sewing Bee and, whilst the finalists on that show invariably produced some nice-looking creations in the last episode of each series, and sometimes that was when they were working with awkward fabrics such as organza, pleated lace or chiffon, none of them had (yet) been challenged with creating something original from human skin. To Clive’s mind it was an injustice that everyone looked at Ed Gein’s work (the belt made from nipples, the lampshade made from Mary Hogan’s face, and the chairs, fully upholstered, in human skin) and all they saw was the Grand Guignol horror that came from murder, the desecration of graves, and the violation of corpses. No one appreciated the man for his craftsmanship and finesse with a needle and thread.

“A clown can get away with murder.”
John Wayne Gacy, the killer clown.

Derek Turner makes his living as a psychic. But, when he makes his first genuine contact with the spirit world, it is an encounter that starts him on a pathway to holding conversations with dead serial killers.

Someone is recreating the most infamous crimes of the world’s sickest serial killers: including Jack the Ripper, BTK, Charles Albright and Ed Gein. Derek learns that it’s within his power to either profit from this situation or bring it to a needed conclusion and prevent further unnecessary deaths.

But profit can be a compelling argument.

Blending the reports from true crime stories with the lies from a professional psychic, Conversations with Dead Serial Killers explores the danger and obscenity that comes from glamourising murderers.

Order your copy of Conversations with Dead Serial Killers today.