Writing tips

Finding a Place to Write

A year and a bit ago I and my fiance moved into our first home. It took a while to get settled, but we’re finally happy with the place.

OK, I’m happy. The other half is still moving things around. I don’t really like change, it’s a whole thing. I’m getting off point.

The biggest challenges I faced include replacing a built-in-fridge, getting a second-hand futon (fully-assembled!) up a very narrow set of stairs, and of course, finding the perfect spot for me to sit down and write.

Your writing space can mean the difference between sweet success and that other, dark, harrowing thing.

failure.jpg

Failure, that’s the word

Traditional writing advice suggests your work area should be free of distractions, but not barren enough to stifle your creativity. You should be comfortable, but your space also needs to be practical.

My own search hits a few different rooms, which I’m now going to take you on a journey through, but where I finally end up might just surprise you.

The Study

The new house came with a study? Problem solved, right?

Not quite.

“Study” is actually a pretty generous euphemism we use to avoid telling people, this is where we keep all the video games and the second Playstation. Study just sound more…adult.

The best part is the previous owner had this cool multi-coloured mood lighting installed which helps set the tone for whatever I’m working on.

It does have a desk, but it’s littered with all sorts of gadgets and games, all fun, but not exactly conducive for productivity.

I used this room for a bit, but the numerous distractions and the lack of desk space was killer in the end.

Final Score: 5/10

trash.jpg

I was going to provide actual pictures of these rooms, but that would require cleaning

The Conservatory

The conservatory makes for a beautiful writing space. It’s where I envisioned myself getting to work when we were buying the house. Whether looking at the nice view of the garden or having the blinds drawn to create a cosy atmosphere, the room is just brilliant to write it.

But damn it, it’s just not meant to be.

The room has some hella-comfy chairs, but no desk. That means any writing means having a laptop on my lap—and that means less time writing and more time spent worrying about the damage I might be doing to my fertility.

Final Score: 0/10

Notworthit

Not worth it

The Dining Room

The dining room is…serviceable. It has chairs, a table, no immediate threats to my swimmers. Nirvana right?

It’s practical. But so is an ironing board, and neither set’s my world on fire.

Final Score: 6/10

The Kitchen

Yes, this is where I ended up. Hang on, hear me out – it’s cooler than it sounds.

There’s a corner of our kitchen with a breakfast bar we seldom used. I was walking past one day…and inspiration hit.

Think about it. It’s close as you can be to all the local amenities. Snacks and drinks on demand. Plenty of desk space. There’s even a shelf overlooking the garden I’ve decorated with some notebooks and ornaments.

I’ve got a miniature zen sand garden I can rake when I’m stuck on a paragraph. A little quill and ink pot (stylish but not for actual use, I’m a lefty). A raven figurine I think I got from a Game of Thrones Monopoly set. The whole thing is pretty chill.

If you haven’t got your own writing space, take a look at your house with a fresh pair of eyes. The kitchen was the last place I expected to end up, but now I couldn’t be happier with my little corner of the world.

OK, the stools could be comfier, but hey, they keep me humble.

Final Score: 9/10

What does your writing space look like? What have you decorated it with? Do you put more stock in comfort or practicality? Let me know in the comments.

– H. L

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How Not to World Build in Your Opening

Wularz was the youngest son of the prominent Backth family. They lived on Knaphi, and like many others made a good living trading in Abilia, in the warmer seasons at least. Life seemed good, but Wularz’s family were oblivious to his dark secret…for three months he had been a card-carrying member of the Scisac-Clan. Today he was set to be half-blooded.

This is not the opening to my next project. These are the prototypical first three sentences I read in many a novice writers efforts at writing science fiction or fantasy.

I get it. I really do.

The Backth family has a vast and interesting history which spans for generations, and the lore of Knaphi is so incredible you could fill a companion bible with its culture.

But I’m never going to read that bible. I’m not going to hang around long enough to find out that an Abilia is a sort of cow, and that the Scisac-Clan is a street gang, and to be half-blooded means committing assault on their behalf for the first time. And it’s a damn shame I’m not going to hang on, because that all sounds like it has the potential to be a good story.

But you’ve already lost me:

  • Dropping five jargon words in the first paragraph is a red flag.

  • Naming jargon, and then writing about it in a way which sounds like I should already know what it is, is a red flag.

  • Giving supplementary information about jargon, before I even know what the original jargon even is, is a red flag.

I only need one red flag and I’m putting down the book and considering if I’ve made a bad choice. If I get hit with three flags that quick; bang, bang bang – you’re either getting deleted from my Kindle or you’re going in the bin.

magic girl

You’ve put a lot of thought into your magic-system? Think maybe we can talk about that later? Pretty please?

Maybe you think the main problem with that opening is that it was telling all that information, rather than showing. Well, let’s see how showing the same quantity of gobbledygook is just a big a turn off:

The boy looked so pitiable, Wularz didn’t have it in him to strike him again. He was supposed to see an enemy, but all he saw was a child, no older than one of his brothers.

Drospe, a full-blooded, tutted.

‘Why are you even here Wularz, you’ve not got the balls for this kind of work. If you need extra cash why not just run home and ask Mommy Backth?’

This elicited chuckles from the other Scisac-Clan members. Something snapped within Wularz, thoughts of his brothers faded. He had a new family now.

He struck the cowering boy again, hard enough to draw blood.

‘Well look at that,’ said Drospe. ‘All those years tending Abiilia have given Wularz here a fine right hook. You think your hot shit don’t you, Wularz? You think you got the best right hook on all of Knaphi I bet.’

Wularz ignored him. He was being baited, urged to show disrespect. This was all part of the test, and if he passed, he’d finally be half-blooded.

This is a much better opening, but it’s still got too much jargon for my liking.

As a reader, I’m frustrated this blooded thing keeps getting mentioned and I’m still in the dark, it feels like I’m the last one to a party.

The sentence about tending Abiilia giving the character a fine right hook makes perfect sense to the author, but no sense to the reader.

We’re only seven paragraphs in and we’ve managed to overwhelm, exclude, and also confuse the reader.

tap

Your jargon is water coming from a tap. It needs to drip, any faster and the sink overflows, and then you then slip and die.

Let’s fix it. Cut the mention of the family name and establish it later. Cut the mention the blooded system, and establish it later. I might even cut mention of the Scisac-Clan, and establish it later. We have got a whole book to get this stuff in after all.

Let’s see how the scene looks now:

The boy looked so pitiable, Wularz didn’t have it in him to strike him again. He was supposed to see an enemy, but all he saw was a child, no older than one of his brothers.

‘Why are you even here Wularz,’ tutted Drospe. ‘You’ve not got the balls for this kind of work. If you need extra cash why not just run home and ask Mommy?’

This elicited chuckles from the other men. Something snapped within Wularz, thoughts of his brothers faded. He had a new family now.

He struck the cowering boy again, hard enough to draw blood.

‘Well look at that,’ said Drospe. ‘All those years working on his Daddy’s farm has given Wularz here a fine right hook. You think your hot shit don’t you, Wularz? You think you got the best right hook on all of Knaphi I bet.’

Wularz ignored him. He was being baited, urged to show disrespect. This was all part of the test, it would take a better man than Drospe to make him slip up today.

Now we’re rolling. Our jargon count has gone from nine words to three, but we’ve still got the exact same scene.

Of the three jargon words that are left; two are character names. Names are pretty important in prose, duh. If your reader is only going to remember one piece of jargon by the end of your opening, it better be your weird-ass character’s name.

Anyway, that’s the end of today’s lecture. If you liked the small taste of my writing why not check out Inferna – a  web serial/writing exercise hosted for free on this blog.

Have you got any pet peeves that bother you in the first couple pages of a story? Do you have any books to recommend which ease you into the world, rather than throwing you in the deep-end? Let me know in the comments.

– H. L