Archive for July, 2010

Gaia Theology…

Yesterday and today, I’ve been working on the central character’s faith, and I need your help.

This is going to be a little tricky. I’m going to be careful not to offend anybody’s belief system, but I want to portray a realistic view of what it’s like to be a believer who is on the verge of losing his faith. So, I’m going to create a whole new faith! Well, actually, it’s not entirely new – it’ll be a hybrid of Fundamentalist Bible-believing Christianity (my old stomping ground), Christian Spiritualism (the belief in human spirits or angels acting as guides) and the New Age concept that the Earth is a living sentient being (Gaia).

I’m going to bring all those together, and hopefully I’m going to support it using Biblical Scripture! Some say you can prove anything by mis-quoting the Bible. I want to put that to the test.

Yesterday I managed to dig out some Scriptures that could be interpreted to support the Gaia concept, but I still need more, and that’s where you come in. I know there are a number of Christians with a casual eye on what I’m doing here, so if you can think of any parts of the Bible that might come in handy, please do post something up here.

I’ll get the ball rolling with these tenuous attempts:

Isaiah 11:9
“They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (The earth being full of knowledge?))

Deuteronomy 4:26
“I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day” (to be a witness you have to be sentient)

Romans 8:19-22
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…” (This whole passage personifies Nature, so I can probably use that)

1 Corinthians 2:12
“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (A little more difficult to fit in, but it could be interpreted that the world has a spirit).

So that’s a start anyway. I’m sure there’s a lot more I can get my grubby fingers on. Help me out, people.

500 words a day…

It’s been a while since I wrote down my first ideas for the plot and the possible conflicts for the various characters, so I’ve had to re-read them again before going any further. The main plot is solid, I think, but the character interactions are far from mapped out and I’m concerned about the length of time it will take to build them up (especially Tyler’s spiritual demise). Looks like I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and get on with it.

There’s a few more things I need to do to before I really get moving. It’s not always easy to stay motivated to write – some days I’m not in the mood, other days time is tight, and there are times when writing feels like walking through a bog with flippers on – so I need something to keep me going. I did this when I wrote the last novel, and it worked pretty well for me then. So what is it? Nothing stupendously jaw-dropping I’m afraid. Someone once said that they made it their goal to write 500 words a day. I adopted that idea too, and to keep track of it I setup a spreadsheet. Anyone who spends much time in the office knows I’m obsessed with the bloody things, so it was only natural that I did this.

So anyway, that’s what I did today – made my spreadsheet. It told me that if I start writing 500 words a day from tomorrow, I’ll have the first draft of my novel finished on 21st January. That’s unlikely though, seeing as I still have a bit of research to do (that’s one of the other things I need to do before writing that first chapter), but a goal’s a goal. It’s a start.

Bang up-to-date…

This is the last “catch-up” blog entry. After today, it’s all real-time.
So, to take you up to where I’m at as of this moment, I only need tell you about the last thing I did for Gaia’s Engine before coming back home from holiday in June.

I don’t know how many other authors sod around with spreadsheets and tables, but I’m the sort of writer that does that sort of thing. Why? Well, I’ll explain the spreadsheet another time (I haven’t made that yet), but as for the table, it’s another organisational tool to make sure I don’t miss anything vital from each chapter. This is the first time I’ve actually used one to help me write a novel, so I don’t know if it’s going to help or hinder me yet.

I decided upon adding the table when I realised there were lots of different threads running through the plot that I need to keep track of. And I not only need to keep track of them, I need to make sure they develop alongside each other, feed into each other, and happen at the right times.

Here are the main themes of the story that I mentioned earlier that need to be mapped out:

  • The Central story which will gradually reveal the ghosts, present them as a threat and ultimately take the story to its climax.
  • Tyler’s spiritual journey. The story will start with him beginning to doubt his faith and gradually, he’ll lose it entirely. I’ll probably have to develop this slowly and use the story events to impact his beliefs. For maximum impact, he’ll most likely reach his crisis point at the same time that the ghost threat is at its worst.
  • His congregation’s spiritual journey. Tyler’s church will be influenced not only by the issues he has with his faith, but by a rival church, and again, the ghost threat. I’ll be showing their gradual rejection of Tyler as the chapters move on.
  • The journal entry. Although the story has a strong supernatural flavour so far, there’s also a big sci-fi element to it, too. This will emerge from Tyler’s father’s journal as he recounts the tale of how and why he built Gaia’s Engine.

There will be other story threads I need to map out too, but for now, these are the big ones. Somehow I’ve got to make sure these threads interweave, and the only way I can think of to manage this, is to get a rough table drawn up: each row will be a chapter, and each column will be one of the threads I just listed. What I should end up with is a table that gives me a guide for the important information needed in each chapter. I doubt I’ll stick to it, but at least it’ll keep me from going too far off track.

So that’s it! I’m up-to-date. Real-time from this point on…

Sabotage! She’s at it again…

Again! She did it again! I leave the PC unattended for longer than a heartbeat and Ruth just can’t help herself. She just has to go in there and start sabotaging my writing. One day I’m sure  I’ll send something off somewhere and one of her colourful compositions will still be in there – mocking me!

So what did she do this time? She decided to make a few additions to my list of characters. This is what I found when I opened up the document. Enjoy…

FART-FACE MAGOO – a tough-talking Essex gangster whose farts are renowned throughout the county. He is one of the most dangerous men in the shadowy yet pungent gangster underworld. He dispatches his enemies by luring them into an empty room, locking the door and then farting through the keyhole. A method of murder not to be taken lightly, especially taking into account the number of Indian takeaways Fart-Face frequents…

THE GASBAG – this hideous monster lurks in the drains under the church. Sometimes, strange noises can be heard in the dead of night from under the crypt. Contrary to popular belief, these are not ghosts, but the rampant farting of this large bag of gas, a monster created from a crisp packet which got flushed down the loo in a pub once.

THE CLAGGER – a terrible cat from the darkest realms of hell, prone to writing strange, demonic text on carpets using only its anus….

I think I may have to start locking my PC!

Characters…

Blog-wise, I’ve almost caught up with where I’m at today with the novel. Just a brief ‘hello’ to the main characters today, a few more details about some refinements to the chapter planning, and that’s it -real time blogging from then on.

So, characters. Who will be the main players in Gaia’s Engine?

Tyler Penrose: he will most likely be the central character. As I mentioned in the abstract, he’s got more than a few issues with his faith. I will be drawing a lot from my own personal experience to shape him, but there will be obvious differences too: he’s going to be the charismatic leader of a cult, he’ll most likely be better looking than me (I know – that’s a tough call, right?), and he’ll be just moving into his new home – something like the spooky old mansion in the picture.

Constance Penrose: Tyler’s wife (they haven’t been married all that long, and are very much in love). She’s the quiet, thoughtful type. Connie supports Tyler completely but hates to be in the limelight, preferring to work hard in the background, pouring her efforts into counselling members of their congregation.

Ted Ransom: Tyler’s unscrupulous agent. All this guy wants to do is make as much money as he can and he doesn’t care who he uses to get it. But he’s a charmer and a deceiver; most people tend to believe everything he tells them.

Chris McCarthy: A sceptic follower of Tyler’s faith and a close friend. He attends Tyler’s church only as a last resort to try and save his wife who has a terminal illness.

Sue Champion: Granddaughter of the vicar of the local parish church. Organised, brilliant and loveable, she’s the powerhouse of the community and doesn’t appreciate Tyler’s dangerous beliefs muscling in on her spiritual territory.

Phil Wayneright: Sue’s young other half. He works for the police but is training to move into the scientific world instead. Sue’s high profile and the pressure of his work has placed a strain on their relationship, and to make matters worse, through Connie’s counselling Phil will also end up joining Tyler’s church.

Grace Channing: She works for the local paper. Her mission? To stir up trouble between the opposing faiths. She’s a force of nature – not a bad person – but the result of a string of really bad life decisions.

For the moment, I’ve decided that these seven will be the main characters pushing the plot. Naturally there will be other lesser characters, but the importance of these people may change dramatically as the story progresses. We’ll see how it all goes.

Multiple Personality Disorder …

If you’re writing a story, there’s one ingredient you just can’t do without: conflict. A story without conflict is like trying to bake bread without yeast, or a cake without flour. You’ll pull that thing out of the oven and it’ll be flat. So, if conflict’s a must for Gaia’s Engine, how do I create it?

Unless you happen to be the neighbour who lived below me during my teenage years, who (according to my step-dad) could start an argument in an empty house, the answer ought to be obvious: you need two or more people to create conflict. But more specifically, you need people with opposing goals; characters in a novel can’t be meandering aimlessly, not knowing what they’re doing (we’ll leave that to the England football team! Sorry, couldn’t resist).

So, with that in mind, and since I already have the bones of my plot roughly worked out from last time, I’m now concentrating on inventing some characters to put flesh on the skeleton of the story.

I have to decide on a miniature story-line for my main characters, giving each of them a back-story, a memorable personality and physical desription, and at least one goal. And the more determined they are to reach their goals, the tougher the conflict. That’s the theory anyway. Some of the conflicts will just be obstacles in their way, but the best obstacles will be when characters’ goals clash.

But while I invent something for each character, I’ve somehow got to interweave their individual stories with the central plot too. The more characters I add, the more complex things will become, and the harder it will be to keep track of everything  – not just for me, but for the reader too, so I have to think carefully about how many people I want in this novel. Looks like I might need another cigar in the garden to get the cerebral juices flowing!

I already have my main man – Tyler Penrose, but I’ve also mentioned a community that turns against him. The implication there is that I’ll need quite a few characters. So, should I have a limit? What’s the most characters I should have before it becomes just a confusing blur to the reader?

How about fifty? Well, there’s no way I’m going for that amount, but it’s not impossible to do. Just for fun, take a look at this quiz that Mr Corbier posted on facebook the other day – if you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, then you’ll know it’s not impossible to have fifty characters in your book!

I scored 28 out of 50 – see how you do…  LOTR character quiz

Drop me a post below to let me know how you did (p.s. Technically, I did cheat with one character – I couldn’t remember how to spell the name!)

Next time I’m hoping to post up a few ideas for my character profiles.

Writing has two anchors…

Just saw this the other day and thought I’d post it up here as it fits in with what I’ve been blogging here recently. Caleb’s been a faithful ctitiquer of my novels over at Write Club for a while now, so I tend to take notice when he offers advice on writing.

It’s a word or two about plotting. Check it out.

Ah, well!

While I’m throwing together my notes on the characters I want to include in my novel, I thought I’d show you this…

Yesterday, Ruth and I visited Kentwell Hall in Suffolk. Every year they set up an event where everyone dresses and acts as if they’re from the Tudor age. It’s all very authentic and you can stop and chat to the local Alchemist who will tell you how to do interesting stuff like make gunpowder out of Saltpeter and brimstone. They even give you old money to spend.

While we were there, we spotted that well, and I just knew I had to put a spooky old well in the novel.

It’s dark down there, and who knows how many urchins and peasents got trapped inside? Samara might even still be luking under the fetid water!

So there you have it. People often ask where ideas come from – it’s this sort of thing. I’ll keep you posted whenever they pop up.

Plotting and scheming…

Last time I talked about the inspiration for the story, and the time before that I promised I’d tell you how the plotting went.

Let’s go back to the isle of Skye again, and the second day there (June 7th).

Obviously, I’m not going to give away too much about the story on this blog, but I clarified the basics in my ‘Gaia’s Engine notes’ document that day. The woolly concepts I had been thinking about finally started to form into individual events or scenes, and I then had the tricky task of linking them together.

That doesn’t often come easy for me. In the space of a couple of hours, I end up venting my frustration by sulking and playing bubble pop on the laptop while stuffing my face with chocolate instead of thinking it all through. The events I want to include don’t seem to go together at all – they only have a vague connection – but thinking up ways to make them fit is often the key to spawning new ideas that give the story that twist of originality it needs, and that’s when I really start to enjoy the process. I should probably stop playing bubble pop now and just get on with it then.

Too late! Ruth’s popped in and taken a photo of me fighting the zeds and procrastinating. That’s a bad pic!

I got down to business in the end though. I suppose it’s a bit like that TV show back in the 70’s – The Great Egg Race – where someone’s got to create something useful out of an elastic band, a bicycle bump and a hot water bottle. Well, it’s nothing like that really, but you get the idea – you’re sort of forced to get creative, and it can sometimes take a while to get the egg on the spoon.

(those of you in the UK who just went on a little reminiscing trip thinking about Heinzz Wolf, should check out these links)
The Great Egg Race 1
The Great Egg Race 2

For me, getting the basic plot to work also involves a lot of back-story too. In fact, as the story started to come together, I began to realise that I needed heaps of it for this novel. I mentioned in the abstract that Gaia’s Engine – the mystical device itself – was built by Tyler’s father. So, I set about thinking about why he built it and how it affected the community at the time. Quite a bit came out of that. Enough that I had to separate up the notes. I’ve now got the main plot points typed in black, and the back-story typed in red to make sure I don’t accidentally put too much detail in the narrative. Some of the back-story might end up as his father’s journal, and I might even end up alternating chapters between the journal and the story events. I haven’t made my mind up on that yet.

I’m almost there with an overall plan, but that’s just the skeleton. I need to put some flesh on the bones, and to do that, I need to think about characters. That’s for next time…

Snowshill Manor – Haunted?

On my first day of blogging I made mention of a guy named Charles Paget Wade. If you look at the entry for June 1st and look at the very bottom photo, you’ll see where he lived.

Back in May, Ruth and I were enjoying a weekend away in the Cotswolds, and this is one of the places we visited. Back then I’d only just heard the news that my novel The Soul Consortium had been accepted for publication, and with the enticing clause in the contract telling me they wanted first refusal on my next sci-fi horror, my imagination was primed and ready, looking for something fresh to work on. Snowshill Manor gave me plenty to chew on straight away.

You can tell from the photo that it’s a magnificent place. It’s just a pity I couldn’t find any pictures that show you what it’s like on the inside. Charles Wade was an eccentric collector, a hoarder of so many weird and wonderful things, he had to live in the small priest house at the side of the manor just to make room for it all! There were miniature houses, Samurai suits, spinning wheels, oriental cupboards, bikes, swords, keys, locks, and mechanical contraptions that I couldn’t identify. All packed into the sort of house that, whilst charming, you’d never want to spend the night in alone with the lights out.

As I wandered around it, breathing in the ancient smells and listening to the creaking floorboards, it all made me think of ghosts, obsession, religion, and, funnily enough, mysterious mechanical machines (must have been all those keys and mechanisms). I suppose that’s where a lot of the inspiration came from for Gaia’s Engine. I knew after I left that place that I wanted an old Victorian-style, mystical machine, and spooky goings-on in my novel.

To get more of a feel for it all, there’s a few links related to Wade and the manor house for you to browse…

The ghosts of Snowshill Manor

More ghosts…

Charles Paget Wade on Wikipedia

Snowshill Manor – The Cotswolds

‘Old am I, so very old,
Here centuries have been.
Mysteries my walls enfold,
None know deeds I have seen.’

Charles Paget Wade (1883–1956)