Ceinwen Langley’s Ten Utterly Unbreakable Writing Rules

There is a LOT of writing advice in the world/on the internet. Mostly on the internet. Message boards and facebook groups and sub-reddits are full of advice – often asked for, often… not – about what to do about adverbs (the road to hell), prologues (readers always skip them so don’t bother), present tense (ew), first person (are you a teenage girl? Because otherwise no), love triangles (stop immediately) and so on. Stephen King’s On Writing is cited roughly eight times a topic, occasionally Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, and a whole lot of ‘personally, as a reader, I’s.’

So to be incredibly helpful, I, a person who wrote a book in first person present with a prologue and a bit of a love triangle, have decided to compile my own list of ABSOLUTELY AND UTTERLY UNBREAKABLE WRITING RULES (you can trust me, I have an IMDB profile and I didn’t even make it myself), drawn from a lifetime of reading and some years of writing.

  1. Your first draft will probably be horrible. Don’t get upset, lean into it. Be as terrible as you need to find the bones of your story.
  2. Your second draft will probably suck too. That’s fine. This is why we drink.*
  3. Prologues are terrible infodumps that all readers skip. Except when they are good, well written, and offer a perspective outside the flow/POV/time period of your narrative.
  4. You should never write in first or second person point of view. Unless it suits your story and character, in which case definitely write that. I mean, there are only three points of view to choose from, unless you invent a new one. And if you can do that in a cool way that enhances your story, please do.
  5. Present tense is weird and belongs in screenplays, not novels. Except that screenplays are exciting and really easy to read. And present tense actually works really well in heaps of literary and genre fiction. So present tense can be great and actually does belong in novels. Snobs are weird and belong in screenplays. As, like, the guy/girl the protagonist’s love interest is dating instead of them even though it at no point makes any sense why someone would date someone like that, y’know? And also at no point does it explain why Kate Winslet would go for Jack Black who is at his least charming and most bland. The Holiday is such an odd movie.
  6. The road to hell is not paved with adverbs. It’s paved with doing crappy things to other people. A poorly placed adverb will hurt your reader, momentarily. Too many poorly placed adverbs might make them put the book down. Some adverbs used in the right spot are quite good. There will be lots in the wrong spots in your first draft, but less in better spots in your third, because that’s how drafting works.
  7. Write what you know. But also you should make an effort to know more because books about uninspired writers are not that interesting. Also you can use what you do know and adapt it into a whole new scenario because we are writers and we are supposed to have imaginations.
  8. Be nice to yourself while you’re writing. Be tough on yourself while you’re editing. But also drink lots of water and take pleasant walk or video game breaks while you’re editing.
  9. Write every day. Unless you can’t. But you really should try to write most days, because then drafts get finished quicker and it becomes easier to write more in shorter amounts of time because endurance training or something.
  10. The most helpful writing advice** comes from yourself through practice and experience. So please feel free to ignore these VERY IMPORTANT AND HELPFUL GUIDELINES and go searching for your own.

*Alcohol/tea/coffee/green cordial. Whatever gets you through.

** Oh, but always read submission guidelines when you submit your work. That actually is an utterly unbreakable rule.

Sharing is really quite a nice thing to do.

I am not a person with artistic skills. At all. Luckily, a thing called Canva exists which lets me kind of pretend a little bit. So I’ve made some cute social media sharables from the three stories in Almost Midnight. If you like the book, or even just like the quotes, please feel free to save them and share them to Facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram, reddit or any other platform you cool kids are into.

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Almost Midnight: The Rebrandening

In which our heroine, frazzled faux ginger thing that she is, reveals the new cover of her seven month old book and the reasoning behind it. 

Greetings and salutations, dear reader.

I’ve made what might be seen as an odd decision. Or, if not odd, extremely unwise on the financial front. I’ve taken a book that I never expected (and still don’t) to sell well, and I’ve thrown more money at it.

Why?

Because my income increased, and I’m sort of bad with money for one. And two, because I wasn’t happy with how the book looked.

I bought the old cover premade – a popular choice for indie publishers on a tight budget (which I very much was at the time). Basically, the cover was already finished, and the designer just filled in my name and the book title for a fraction of the cost of commissioning something new.

I loved the cover, and I still think it suits me and the book – but only if you know me, and only once you’ve read the book, which is the best tactic for selling your words to strangers.

To the uninitiated, it’s a little dark (tonally and colour wise) and skews a bit teenage. I worried that it gave the impression that my retellings would be tragic and grim (lowercase g, one m), and it bothered me that it didn’t quite match the style of the illustrations inside.

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These things had niggled at me before and shortly after I published, but there wasn’t much I could do about it without an income boost.

And then I went full time with the day job.

One of the many weird things about taking a non-creative full time job are all the conflicting feelings of relief and excitement and shame and guilt. ‘Yay, I have money again!’ ‘Yay, I like this job!’ ‘Yay, I’m no longer a burden on my friends and loved ones!’ ‘Wait, am I still allowed to call myself a writer if I’m not doing it full time?’ ‘Oh crap, please don’t ask me about how my writing is going.’ ‘I’m too tired to write tonight, but then what am I doing the day job for?’

Etc, etc.

So when it became clear that I had spectacularly failed Camp NaNoWriMo due to my brain and body getting used to the rigours of full time work again, I decided to focus on one thing I could handle, could now afford, and kept me feeling like a writer.

I’ve been following a few cover designers whose work I like over the past few years, and I immediately knew I wanted to work with ebooklaunch.

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I like their typography, and I think their books would look completely comfortable on a bookshop shelf, which is important to me.

So I got in touch, and with absolutely no idea of what I wanted the cover to actually look like (I am not a visual artist. At all.), I told them that I wanted the cover to clearly reflect the hopeful tone of the stories and the all-age audience. And then I included an example of my illustrations and some book covers in a similar genre that I liked. And they sent back this.

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And I squealed a bit and sent it to some supportive but critical friends for their reaction, in case I was too blinded by love and the need for the amount of money I paid to a complete stranger on the internet to yield extremely positive results. But all reactions matched mine. This was the right cover. It’s bold and pretty, it’s Cinderella without being TOO cliche (I hope), looks great full size and in thumbnail and it looks like it would sit happily on the shelf of a five year old or a fifty year old.

So here we are! Same book, new cover, and a very happy author.

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You can buy the updated ebook or paperback now via Amazon or your favourite ebook retailer.

And now, because my brain and body are somewhat more used to the full time thing, I’m going back to writing the next one.

Happy reading!

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Shame Cycle.

Okay. So I didn’t complete Camp NaNoWriMo. I wrote no words in week two, and only a few in week three, and then I entered a vicious shame cycle which lead to no writing and no blogging for a few more weeks.

BUT. Now I’m settled in at new job (it’s fun, I get to play with Star Wars figurines, so) and have actually fallen into a good writing schedule. Words are getting written, work/life/writing balance is being maintained, and life is pretty good.

Also I’ve spent this silent time getting the cover of Almost Midnight redesigned! So stay tuned for that reveal once my proof copy arrives!

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Camp NaNoWriMo: Week 1

This is technically closer to the week 1.5 mark, but I was otherwise occupied on Friday. The new job has been fun but full on, and writing around it has been an adjustment.

That said, I gave it a good go and as of Day 10 I have written 6,275 words of 30,000. Which puts me at 3,725 words behind schedule. But I’ve also knitted half a beanie, watched most of Season 1 of Gilmore Girls and caught eleven Pokemon in that period, so it’s not like I’ve been completely slacking off.

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On to week 2!

Camp NaNoWriMo

I’ve never successfully completed NaNoWriMo, for many reasons. Well, actually, for two reasons. The first being that November has always turned out to be a ridiculously busy time of year for me, and the second being that I’m a terrible person with poor time management skills.

So this year I’m going to try Camp NaNo instead. Which is exactly the same thing, except in July and you can set your own goal rather than November’s set 50,000 words. July, as it turns out, is also looking to be ridiculously busy. I’m starting a new day job on the 4th (goodbye casual video game sales, hello full time movie, TV and comic tie-in merch), but hopefully this will be a clever way to kickstart new writing habits to fit around my new schedule.

So what am I writing? Good question!

I have four novels currently in various stages of first draft/development hell, but this month I’m trying to move forward with my YA dystopian science fiction project, which I’ve been periodically working on for several years now. It’s based on Subject, a short story I had published in Perehelion Magazine in 2014. I love the concept and the characters, but due to a lack of confidence and fear of the scope (my silly brain has decided it’s the first book of a trilogy), I’ve struggled to write it down. But that’s a terrible reason not to do something, so I’ve decided to charge ahead.

I’ll be aiming for 30k words (though ideally the finished book will be up around the 70k+ mark). This is quite an ambitious goal based on my past output – I’m ordinarily quite a slow writer, and I fuss over things instead of just letting the ideas flow – but what’s life without a terrifying challenge?

Wish me luck!

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Storytelling Without Words, or, Journey: The Loveliest Game Ever

Only two video games have ever made me cry. The first was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, because I was twelve and it was the first game I ever really fell in love with and because I had very strong romantic feelings for a certain blonde polygon.

The second was Journey.

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Journey is the third game by indie game developer thatgamecompany, first released on the PlayStation 3 in 2012 and remastered for the Playstation 4 in 2015. I’d seen screengrabs and gifs floating around the internet for years, and being someone who is extremely susceptible to pretty things, had wanted to play it very badly. But being the owner of a mere Xbox 360, Wii and Wii U I had nothing to play it on.

BUT. Towards the end of 2015, life did me a solid. Sony announced a limited edition Star Wars Battlefront PS4 console, and thatgamecompany announced a remaster, launching within a few months of each other. I’d been looking for an excuse to upgrade to a next gen console for a while, and there it was. I put Journey on layby and pre-ordered my PS4 and on the 17th of November, dressed head to toe in Star Wars garb, I returned from the Star Wars Battlefront launch (my day job is in a video game shop… that’s probably relevant information) with my PS4 and my Journey (and, admittedly, Fallout 4 and an Asokha Tano figurine) under my arm.

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Journey is a game without words, maps or combat. It begins with a little figure in a red robe waking up in a vast desert. The figure is given one goal: to reach a glowing mountain in the far distance, and has only the ability to walk, jump and emit a musical chirping noise to get it there.

And so the journey begins.

I had expected Journey to be beautiful, but I was blown away by how beautiful it actually was. Not just in the visuals, which are stunning, but in the concepts themselves. The world of Journey is a world I haven’t seen before. The creatures are gorgeous, original and respectively frightening and empathetic. The enemies scared the bejeezus out of me the first several times I saw them. The allies are lovely: curious, friendly, comforting and occasionally pitiful, which is impressive given that they are essentially identical flying pieces of cloth. There was a point where I thought I’d lost track of my clothy guides and I was genuinely sad, because I liked being near them so much.

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What I hadn’t expected Journey to be, was moving. But holy crap is it. Without a single line of dialogue, without ever explaining the importance of or even giving a reason for reaching the glowing mountain, Journey creates a powerful, emotional narrative that takes the player through ancient deserted cities, subterranean temples and frozen mountaintop wastelands.  Through colour, mood and the most effective video game soundtrack I’ve ever heard, it played my feelings like Miles Davis played the trumpet. From euphoria to trepidation to fear and loneliness, from despair to hope to pure, exuberant joy. The tears I cried in this game were happy tears, and I am not a person who does those.

The strength of Journey’s story is in its simplicity. The backstory is for the player to deduce from the clues in the broken cities, and the importance of the titular journey is similarly up to the player to interpret. The ending is as ambiguous as the beginning. The journey is all there is.

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Journey can be played in two modes: solo offline, or online multiplayer. Now, I am not a fan of online multiplayer games in most situations – I play video games to get away from the real world and all the people in it, not to have them shouting in my ear – but Journey’s multiplayer is something kind of special.

Where the solo game is all about solitude in an empty world, multiplayer is all about companionship. From the second ‘level’ on, it matches you with one other player somewhere in the world. You don’t get to know a single thing about this person – there is no chat, no gamertags, no way of communicating but the chirping sounds you can both make. How you play is up to you, but this is a game that rewards cooperation. Huddling together in the snow regenerates your energy, each chirp restores the other’s power to float longer distances. Characters wearing white cloaks – players who have found all of the games secrets – will often help less experienced players to find said secrets. At the very end of the game, where your footprints leave clear tracks in the snow, it’s customary to leave each other love hearts and well wishes. To the credit of the game and everyone I’ve ever encountered in it, nobody has ever drawn me a penis. And that, my friends, is a rare thing.

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Journey is only a short game. It takes me about an hour to finish, and I’ve finished it something like twelve times now. But it’s a comforting game. Like a favourite book or movie, I’ll keep coming back to it and I’ll keep getting different things out of different play throughs. If you have the chance, or if you’re one of those people who are sceptical that video games aren’t worth considering as an art form, you should give it a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.

BONUS: Here is the complete soundtrack, which is excellent for writing or relaxing to.

NOTE: This is not a sponsored post. I am not in a Journey centric cult. I just really like this game.