Saturday, 23 February 2013

Writing Self Analysis

One interesting writing exercise can be to analyse what you write, and what you want to write. Earlier, I sat down and wrote a big list of various ideas, past and present, to see what sort of thing I might want to write next strongly enough for it to stick. Looking through it, it was easy to spot a few trends, although a couple of the most obvious eluded me until the end.

  1. I write fantasy. I tried putting down a couple of ideas for kitchen sink dramas or gritty realism. However, it seems that the way I most enjoy doing realism is with goblins in.
  2. I write novels, mainly. When I went through the ideas, I was looking for something novel length. There are things that might work better as a short story or even possibly as a graphic novel script, but I seemed to automatically skirt around them.
  3. I like the point where fantasy meets the everyday, both because there's something intriguing about the idea of ordinariness, and because it makes it easier to write about the everyday.
  4. I like the point where once great things have fallen apart.
  5. I like main characters who do the everyman thing (and they are usually male, because my attempts to write longer fiction with female main characters haven't generally gone well).
There. Five things I sort of knew about my writing, but now know better.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Starting points

Have you ever had that moment with a story where you're skirting around the edges of it, trying to pin it down but not quite finding the right words for it? I'm there at the moment with a piece. I can sort of see what I want from it but finding the right words to capture everything is taking a few goes. I'll start, get a few paragraphs in, and realise just how awful they are.

Perhaps I should ignore that. Perhaps the thing is just to get a start, rather than worrying about what that start is. Or perhaps it just means that there are things that I still need to get right before it's ready to be written.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A brief diversion into grappling

To slip out of writing mode and into one of my many other hats for a moment, I'd like to talk about doing needlessly destructive things to the human leg. You see, in my martial arts mode, I have a small obsession with leg locks. Small? I'm the chap who actually does scissor takedowns and inverted rolls in the middle of a grappling session. Mostly because when I try to go head to head with some of the judo guys there, I get seionage-d and foot swept.

One thing I've discovered in the last couple of months is that there doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground when it comes to knowing about attacking the legs. The world divides neatly into people who want to know everything there is to know about it, and those who never, ever do it. I'd like to change that, so if you happen to be a fellow martial artist/grappler, here are a few simple rules for finding some middle ground on the leg lock front.

  1. Make it a part of your overall game. That is, find ways that it connects naturally to the things you already do. I think there's a serious problem with people only learning leg locks from the guard top, because anyone who has done BJJ will be too busy passing once they've split the guard to care.
  2. Be able to give them up. One of the most important points with leg locks is being able to abandon them and go into a good position. The classic one is the pass off the attempted ankle lock or knee slice. The key is to make the positions you're in for attacking the legs connect to all the other positions you have and to be able to transition fluidly between them.
  3. Treat it as a positional game. By which, I mean don't just concentrate on what's going on down by the foot, but also focus on the level of control you have over the opponent's body and legs. Learn key leg lacing positions and learn how to transition into and out of them.
  4. Triangle. There are many different variations on the theme of leg lacing, many of which are too complex for people to devote time to unless they are committed to leg locking. A simpler, if perhaps not as complete, approach goes like this: triangle your legs. Whatever way round you are when you're attacking the legs, a triangle will be stronger than a basic knee pinch. It's easy to remember and fairly universal.
  5. Control the other leg. Many people complain that leg locks don't work because they get stacked or rolled out of. Aside from the thought that we don't complain about arm bars not working because our better opponents defend them and take side control, it's often a problem of not controlling the leg you aren't attacking. Rolling and standing both need that leg. Control it with your legs or your hands, get if off the floor, and you're in a good position to finish.
  6. Remember the rules. Different rule sets will allow different things, so be sure you pick an approach that fits within what you're allowed. Heel hooks are often banned in many rulesets, while the IBJJF has its reaping the knee rule. Know what you're allowed, and focus on one or two things that you know you'll be able to do.
  7. Perfect the ankle lock and knee bar. Why these two? Partly, it's because they are allowed in the widest variety of rulesets. They're the earliest leg attacks you're allowed in jiujitsu by belt rank. They're allowed in sport sambo, where twisting leg locks are forbidden. They're also relatively safe to train with, and they also force you to perfect mechanics that become doubly effective when you then apply them to tighter locks later on.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Influential Moments

Have you ever thought about the moments that have shaped you as a writer? They might be personal moments, or they might be things you've read that have stuck with you. I'm re-reading Pratchett's Pyramids at the moment, and there's one line there that I always remember, about them being such a small kingdom that the best plague they could manage was the plague of Frog (but it was quite a big one, and got into the air ducts and kept everyone awake for weeks).

There's just something about that knack for taking an ordinary idea, such as 'Egypt had famous plagues' and twisting it on its head like that. Then adding another layer. Right there, as a throwaway line, there's something so well constructed and memorable. I think I remember this joke because it's one of the first ones where I really saw the craft at work.

There were other big moments for me in terms of what I read. Tom Holt work, and particularly his portable door series, was in many ways more important than Pratchett for me, because it showed me that this idea of writing funny stuff wasn't confined to one person. It also had that level of normality in amongst the odd stuff.

Then there was reading Neverwhere. Gaiman's American Gods was impressive, and a brilliant piece of fiction, but it was Neverwhere that caught me more. Perhaps it was the English setting. Perhaps it was just the level of oddity there. Whatever it was, it left me with the feeling that it should be possible to write very strange things and still have them work. Oh, and Grave from Court of Dreams originally started out as two hunters, along the lines of Croup and Vandemar.

Those are the moments that come to me off the top of my head, but I think the beautiful thing is that almost everything influences everyone. Even the things you don't like. Perhaps especially them in some ways. We take the world and we respond to different bits of it, fitting together our own little views of how it works. Maybe that's what it's about, writing.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Readers v Writers

A slightly odd moment in a book shop the other day (acquiring Brian Jacka's sequels to his novel Fated. I've already read through one of them, which should show how engrossing they are) when I got talking to this chap by the shelves for the fantasy books. I'm not entirely sure how. I'm not the most sociable of people generally. Perhaps it seemed that we were kindred spirits because we could both differentiate Tolkein from George R.R. Martin, or maybe it was just because he noted I was carrying one of those bags for life in defiance of their tendency to look a bit odd when they're empty.

Either way, I happened to mention that I was a writer (as a defence against what felt like the unspoken pressures of 'what are you doing here in the middle of the day and why are you standing in front of the fantasy rather than the literary fiction and/or action thrillers?') and inevitably, he had a couple of questions. They weren't the usual 'where do you get your ideas' ones though. Instead, he wanted to know where the quotes on the back of books come from. It also turned out that he didn't know about the existence of the big six publishers.

Which makes a point in itself. Online, I'm so used to talking to other writers, who understand all the details of these things, that it came as a surprise. I realised that most of the time with this blog, and everywhere else, I'm talking to people who at least dabble in writing. Very rarely to people who are simply and purely readers. It's a very different sort of situation.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

IWSG post: keeping track and what you leave

I had an odd moment the other day when I received a copy of the small print publication 'Garbaj' through the post. There was an old piece of mine in it, and I couldn't for the life of me remember sending it off to them. I assume I must have. People who use your work without you sending it to them tend to focus on rather more famous people, and very rarely send complementary copies to the people involved.

Yet it's raised a point about writing, and that is that these pieces are in the world. They continue to be in the world after you've sent them out. They have your name on. So are you proud of everything you have ever put your name to? There might come a point, a hundred or two years from now, when some bored PhD student is sifting through the archives of this early 21st century explosion in minor zines, or even ebooks, and they'll come across your work, or mine. Have you ever stopped to think about what they'll see?