Writing Progress – not so short stories and weird ideas.

 

I’m loving the new version of Werdsmith. It’s strange how an App rearranging it’s homepage can have an effect on my writing but I actually feel it helps me to write more and more often, and on that note, here’s what I’m working on.

Ideas (Left hand side) 

Dust (working title) – this is a Sci-Fi story that I am currently working in. I started it about 18 months ago and wrote two short sections. These now join and move forward towards what I hope will be a plot. I see this as being a combination of Heart of Darkness and To Have and Have Not, but set in space , with three armed aliens.

Who runs from Heaven? 

This is a section of another old story rewritten, now on the third version and third title. I finished it about a week ago and I’m giving it a couple of weeks before going back to revise it. Then I need to find somewhere to publish it which could be tricky because at about 4000 WordsSaw is too long for all the flash fiction outlets but too short to publish on its own.

The sign appeared overnight

All I’ve got so far. Possibly a complete but extremely short story. Inspired by a sign that appeared overnight on my regular dog walk. I could see it in the distance but not read it and it prompted a huge amount of curiosity so I thought it would make a good start to a story.

All Bees are called Steve

I overheard one of my kids say this to the other, and thought it made a good opening line. Possibly a second chapter to Hungry  like the wolf, my incomplete story about someone who might be a Psychopath. One idea I have is that every chapter could deal with a different psychopathic trait, and start in a pub.

War

A new introduction for my novel The Arena of Lost Souls, which I have redrafted and is about to go out to agents again. This will be the third attempt so we will see how it goes. The sentence ‘The Kingdom burned’ was prompted by one of the first rejections in which the agent said they “didn’t warm to the story”. My immediate response was “well maybe I should start it with a great big fire then!”, followed soon after by “Actually, that’s not a bad idea…”

So that’s where I am at the moment. No progress on book 2 other than a new working title “The Valley of the Dead and Lost”, but I’m OK with that as the other things are moving along.

Cheers

M

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A Huge Pile of Words

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My brain is filled by a huge pile of words. At least that’s what it feels like.

I think the problem is that I have too many projects on the go. Now I think about it, I am currently working on all of the following:

Books

The Arena of Lost Souls – Fantasy novel, 85000 words. Finished (Hurrah!) and now being sent out to agents.

The second book (working title!) – Fantasy sequel About 3000 words. Just starting chapter 2.

Stories

The third thing that made  me kill myself – 1500 words. Accepted for publication in an anthology by Centum Press, and out soon. (Hurrah!)

Incompatible – 2800 words. Written in June 15 and rejected by a range of publishers (Boo!). Untouched until last night when I had a sudden flash of inspiration and rewrote the end. Renamed as End User Agreement, it has a much better conclusion, I now just need to work on the beginning. And the middle.

The Robot that sat on my House – About 1750 words. Finished but I don’t like the end. I’m waiting for inspiration.

Sailing the dust (working title) – Sci Fi about deep space fishing and smuggling. Two sections that will eventually join. About 2000 words in total so far. Still got a way to go on this one.

Hungry Like the Wolf – about 1600 words so far. First person, present tense story from the viewpoint of someone who may well be a psychopath. Not totally sure where I am going with this but it feels like it could be a dark tale indeed.

Now I’ve listed them I’m not surprised that I’m feeling a bit jammed full of words, especially considering  I also work full time.

Still, wouldn’t want to get bored would I?

 

 

 

Hungry Like The Wolf

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I am teaching my psychology class about Psychopaths at the moment.

At this point I would like to point out that I do not consider classic eighties pop band Duran Duran to be psychopaths.

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Having said that, you could be excused in thinking that any of their videos, or for that matter their song lyrics, are the result of a psychotic episode.

Burning the ground, I break from the crowd
I’m on the hunt, I’m after you
I smell like I sound, I’m lost and I’m found
And I’m hungry like the wolf

I mean, what’s that about? “I smell like I sound”?

Hungry Like The Wolf was released in 1982 in the uk and charted in the top 5. In the U.S. it reached number 3 in the billboard charts in March 1983 mainly thanks to the video getting a lot of play on MTV.

In May 1983 Diane Downs was listening to the song on her car radio as she drove her three children along a rural road near Springfield, Oregon. The song finished, she switched the radio off and then pulled over to the side of the road. Diane then shot all three of her children before shooting herself in the left forearm and driving to hospital where she claimed they had been attacked on the road. Two of the children survived and her daughter, aged seven, later testified against her in court. The prosecution argued that her motive was that the man with which she wanted a relationship didn’t like children, she was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. She still claims she is innocent.

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At one point in her trial Diane sang the chorus of Hungry Like The Wolf.

Diane Downs’ case exhibits many of the traits associated with Psychopaths, for example callous disregard for others, lack of empathy, ruthlessness and lack of remorse. It is interesting from a writer’s point of view to think about these personality traits. You can use them to build a character and then to make sure that the character acts consistently according to these traits.

By coincidence I started writing a story about six weeks ago in which the protagonist may well turn out to somewhere along the psychopath continuum. I’m not exactly sure where it’s going but it is fun writing from the point of view of someone who delights in breaking the rules especially when your someone who has to spend a lot of time enforcing them.

I think I’ll call it “Hungry Like The Wolf”

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Inside the monster – writing a bad guy

   
Does every story need a bad guy?

Well maybe not, but for me it was an essential part of my book. I wanted adventure and excitement, and for that your main character needs to experience danger. So I invented a bad guy and a monster.

In a book, especially a fantasy book, you are free to conjure monsters in whatever form you wish them. Their desire to kill, maim or feed needs no explanation, it is what they are. Think of the Alien in the film of that name, we don’t really need to spend too much time thinking “What’s made her so angry?”  

  

There is something very frightening about an inexplicable relentless killer and the fact that the victim doesn’t know why they are being pursued just adds to the suspense. And in a lot of cases a human can be portrayed in the same way. In real life the monsters are other people. Psychopathic serial killers may act like something out of your worst nightmare, but they are still human, at least physically.

Personally though, I think a true bad guy is better for some motivation, a back story or a certain charm, even a few redeeming features. I recently read  ‘Cross Country’ by James Patterson. I don’t read a lot of thrillers, but I enjoyed it. Fast paced, lots of action and short chapters with a good twist at the end made it a good read. However if I had one criticism it would be that the main bad guy was one dimensional, a great nasty character but just not enough back story to make him interesting. 

Maybe it’s because I’ve studied psychology that I like to know something about the motivation of such a character. “What made him the way he is?” is a question I want answered. I’m also fascinated by the apparently normal components of an evil character and how they can throw the psychotic into sharp relief. Hannibal Lector’s most famous line from ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is probably 

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”

“I ate his liver” is a pretty chilling line but it’s the addition of the fava beans and the Chianti that makes it so iconic.

Am I a psychopath?

IMG_1005  According to this test from Channel 4, I most definitely am. Of course the idea that you can give someone a questionnaire and from that identify their personality traits has been around for a long time, but I’m sceptical.
Maybe that’s because I’ve just read ‘The Psycopath Test’ by Jon Ronson. It is a well written and interesting book that starts with an intriguing mystery and turns into the author’s journey through society’s differing approaches to mental illness. And it is a real roller coaster, from LSD soaked encounter therapies in the 60s, to the checklist driven approach of the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness) and the ever increasing drive to classify children’s behaviour in terms of mental illness. I recommend it to anyone, particularly if you work with kids.

The issue that worries me is that if you take normal behaviour and diagnose it as an illness then the label sticks for life. Some kids have a lot of energy and if they’re stuck in a boring classroom with a boring teacher doing something that doesn’t interest them, then that energy is going to come out, probably in a way that gets them into trouble. If you’re a naughty kid then you get the chance to shrug that label off, if you are diagnosed as bipolar you’ve got it for life.

I realise that one of those classrooms can be mine sometimes.

I’m not talking here about genuine cases, I have taught quite a few kids who were, for example, clearly autistic or dyslexic and they needed care and support. What worries me is that education is being pushed down an ever narrowing route, and that leaves less scope for kids to be themselves. If you narrow the definition of normal behaviour (and if you read the Ofsted criteria for ‘good’ behaviour you might as well write ‘traditional middle class’), then you just identify more and more people as abnormal.

Jon Ronson comes to the conclusion that you shouldn’t classify people by their extremes and I think I agree. There is no such thing as normal, unless you are talking statistics. And normal doesn’t necessarily mean better, slavery was normal in the 17th century, doesn’t mean it was a good idea.

I faked the test by the way. I’m not really a psychopath. My uncle was. He had a certificate and everything. He got it because he faked being mad and impulsive so he could get discharged from the Navy, but then that’s exactly the sort of thing a Psychopath would do isn’t it?