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.

x

youre-the-heart-inspiresthe-imagination-brings-eternaljoy-to-the-soul

cindersoot

not-all-that

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.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 6.00.21 pm

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!

12990997_10154023884094299_4590882271346753485_n

 

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.

tumblr_ns7kkjU3F11r8wntro2_540

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.

tumblr_nc60xk6yoy1segjlvo1_r1_500

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.

tumblr_nzzo8a1qPG1ry77gto1_r1_400

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.

tumblr_nc60xk6yoy1segjlvo5_r1_500

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.

tumblr_o53nouGpGA1ry77gto1_400

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.

 

Darth Vader’s Guide To Writing

Night had fallen, bathing the forest moon of Endor in the unfettered light of a billion stars. The beauty was lost on Darth Vader, who ignored the view as he swept through the upper corridors of the Imperial Outpost.

A metal door slid upwards as he approached. A commander whose face and name he had either forgotten or never bothered to remember stepped out to meet him. He was accompanied by the obligatory entourage of gleaming white troopers, blasters raised at a young man dressed in black. Luke Skywalker.

‘This is the rebel that surrendered to us,’ reported the commander. ‘Although he denies it, I believe there are more of them and I request permission to conduct a further search of the area.’

Luke met Darth Vader’s gaze, unflinching.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 3.46.38 pm

‘He was armed only with this.’ The commander handed Darth Vader a silver cylinder. Ugly to look at. Powerful to possess.

‘Good work, Commander. Leave us, conduct your search and bring his companions to me.’

‘Yes, my Lord.’ The commander left the way he had come, the stormtroopers following dutifully behind.

‘The emperor has been expecting you,’ Darth Vader said, leading the way back up the corridor. Luke Skywalker followed, compliant.

‘I know, Father.’

Vader looked at him, pleased by this easy assertion. ‘So, you have accepted the truth.’

‘I have accepted the truth that you were once a Jedi named Anakin Skywalker, my father…’

Vader stopped. ‘That name no longer has any meaning for me,’ he said, emphasising each word with the dormant lightsaber.

Luke raised his chin. ‘Then it will mean nothing to you when I say that I’ve read Love In The Time Of The Clones?‘ he asked.

Vader fell as silent as his respirator would allow. ‘I do not know why you think that would be of any interest to me,’ he said at last.

‘Master Yoda told me everything. How, even as he fought in the clone wars, my father wrote and published an epic romance in four parts under the pseudonym Annie Landrunner. It spent four hundred weeks at the top of the intergalactic best seller list. Truly the force was strong with him.’

Vader said nothing.

‘But stranger still,’ continued Luke, turning away to rest his manacled hands on the corridor’s railings, watching his father’s dark reflection in the glass, ‘is the fact that Annie Landrunner continues to publish almost annually to this day. Madame Rodian. The Ithorian Patient. Seducing the Senator. All bestsellers. All with rave reviews.’

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 3.44.07 pm

Darth Vader looked up and down the corridor, confirming what he already sensed. That they were, for the moment, alone. ‘What is your point?’ he asked.

Luke swirled, pale blue eye meeting shining black viewing sensor. ‘Teach me,’ he hissed, his calm veneer falling away to reveal an intensity, a desperation. ‘Teach me the ways of your process. I am ready.’

Vader was caught off guard. ‘You… are not here to surrender?’

Luke took a step closer to Darth Vader, clutching his father’s gloved mechanical wrist. ‘I need to get out of this Jedi thing. Literally all of them but Master Yoda were murdered. And that was only because he hid in a swamp for thirty years. Seriously, Father, I can’t do that. I was there for two weeks and I wanted to feed myself to a swamp slug.’

Vader didn’t move, processing this new information. Searching his son’s words for falsehoods or trickery.

‘My friends will be all right, but I’m in over my head. I’ve searched my feelings and the truth couldn’t be clearer. I don’t want to fight a war. I want to be a writer, like my father before me. I want a nice, quiet life on some up and coming inner galaxy planet with good coffee and free wifi. I just don’t know how to start.’

The Emperor had warned Darth Vader that his son would try to save him, to appeal to his better nature. And how right he had been, for what better side to him was there than the side that had penned Ten Nights On Tatooine? If this was Yoda’s last move, then it was a well conceived one, for Vader felt the lure, the siren song all writers hear when someone asks them to talk about writing. It was darker than the dark side, more powerful than the Emperor, and Vader was powerless before it.

‘Perhaps you should follow me to my office,’ he said, removing himself from Luke’s impressive grip.

‘Then you’ll do it? You’ll teach me?’

‘Your destiny lies with me, my son. Just not in the way I had imagined.’ With a wave of his hand, Luke’s manacles clattered to the floor. ‘Come,’ he said, indicating the way. ‘We have some time before the Emperor expects me, and there is much to say. For you do not yet understand the power of proper punctuation. Come.’

Luke nearly swooned with relief. ‘Yes, Father. Thank you.’

Abandoning their respective loyalties, they strode forward side by side. Father and son, Sith and Jedi.

Writers.

This blog post could also have been titled ‘Content Generator Drives 29 Year Old Back To Writing Fanfiction For First Time Since That Very Enthusiastic Harry Potter Phase In The Early 00’s.’

Too wordy, though.

Collecting Strangers

Every now and then I’ll hear a snatch of conversation in passing, and if it’s interesting enough, or makes me smile, I’ll write it down in my phone (yes, hello, I’m a millennial) and jot a few notes about the speaker. It’s a fun, if admittedly kind of creepy hobby and it’s a great way of teaching yourself how to write natural dialogue and how to describe real people – not just idealised or stereotyped characters you’ve pulled from your head.

For example, here are the notes I took on my trip to the United Kingdom and Paris last year, exactly as I wrote them at the time (I won’t even fix the grammar or formatting in a very painful act of commitment to authenticity):

Overheard:
In Hay book shop, skinny white guy with skull tattoos peeping out the back of his t-shirt ‘have you got anything on skeletons, skulls… the head? Like, the anatomy of the face?’ Barely concealing amusement, conservative looking worker with round specs ‘let me show you to our biology section.’

Edinburgh: ‘Nerd alert, I used to have a character in Everquest who was a dwarf cleric healer…’ A large ginger American woman. At that age where she could have been 29 or 45.

London: a tall, skinny man in business shirt and slacks, on the phone: ‘…when I was a boy you used to be able to get a naughty pen…’

London, Euston: three little girls, two brown, one white, running out of Accessorize brandishing socks at their parents. ‘Only eight pound!’ says one. ‘Now we have matching socks!’ says another.

London, Covent Garden: a late twenties brunette in a shop on the phone, flipping through cards without seeing any of them. Stressed, breathless, talking quickly. ‘I’m one-hundred per cent sure, in that way you can never be one hundred percent sure of anything in these situations, that it wasn’t my fault.’ Tears welling, work related.

Observed: Disneyland Paris, food court. Little girl in full cinderella costume on the floor trying to do the worm with her Buzz Lightyear brother(?). Neither succeeds. Both giggling.

Observed: outside Disneyland Paris, the toilets. An early teen boy (French) visibly uncomfortable with having to hold his sister’s Elsa doll. He proceeds to smash his brother repeatedly in the head with it. Sister (6sih, brunette, dressed as Elsa) is upset on returning to find her now bedraggled doll. Snatches it back. Brother looks sheepish.

Five of these make me smile, two make me sad. All of them teach me something – about people, about the world, and about the way I think and write.

It also gives you something to do when you have to take public transport and you’ve forgotten your headphones. Give it a go! And feel free to leave any of your own favourite strangers in the comments.

pedestrians-400811_960_720