Like an angry George R. R. Martin

I have to get to the root of why you take all my favorite characters and kill them faster than an angry George R. R. Martin!” Said Christopher Smith on his Writing Process blog post.

I know why my characters lead mostly brief and sometimes inglorious lives. What I wanted to know was why Mr Martin is also a maniac parent. Like the gods of old who ate their children. As it happens, our penchant for literary murder stems from an event in our childhood.

No, it’s okay. No creepy uncles, who weren’t really uncles, are involved. For Mr Martin, it was Wonder Man. Apparently (and it must be true because I read it on the internet), the death of Wonder Man in his first “Avengers” appearance in 1964  was extremely moving for the young George.

In my case, my formative reading years were filled with The Famous Five, and The Hardy Boys. There wasn’t much killing in either of them, and if a body did turn up, it was a plot point and not a “I’m breathing and talking… oh and now I’m dead.” shocking event.

Then I read William Golding’s ‘The Lord of the Flies’. My innocence was blown out with Piggy getting his head smashed in and his brains floating away on the luminescence in the surf. But that wasn’t really it. Ralph didn’t really show any grief at the death of his friend (the symbol of stability, consciousness, and learning) he just basically went “Bloody hell, they’re going to kill me! RUUUUNNNN!” And then the army arrives. Hooray.

No conclusion, nothing. The. Army. Arrives.

For a while, I kept going over the events as if thinking about them would have saved Piggy. I came to the realisation that Golding killed Piggy because otherwise he would have had to have killed Ralph as well. Piggy, as the name would imply, was the fat kid who wasn’t good at athletic type endeavours and, from the point where Piggy goes splat, Ralph gets right into his cardio. Running, climbing, swimming. He does them all, free of the weight of his Piggy friend.

At that point I didn’t feel so bad about Piggy any more. He stopped being a ‘person’, and instead became a plot vehicle. My feelings for him, gone.

Then I started reading James Herbert and Stephen King. James Herbert’s characters seemed to die because it was their time, and that was fine. I’d be reading, and as the scene unfolds I could tell that this person or that was going to expire by the end of the chapter. Stephen King was slightly different in that his main characters didn’t usually die unexpectedly. The main character stayed alive for the whole of the story, and then he kills them at the end – especially in his short stories. I don’t think Stephen King writes ‘The End’ at the conclusion of his stories. He should put ‘And then they all died’ just to be sure that he didn’t miss anyone out.

Now the wheel turns and we come back to George R. R. Martin. Until I started watching ‘Game of Thrones’ I’d never heard of him. Yes, that’s tantamount to blasphemy (but I haven’t heard of a lot of authors). And I didn’t realise that what I was watching was actually a huge book series. What I was seeing influenced my writing hugely though.

It was counter to everything I’d seen or read before: the good guy, the just guy, the person of virtue would be struck down, while the scum and vermin continued to squirm their way to the top. It was just like real life! And it was compelling.

Bad things happen to good people (it would seem more often than bad things happening to bad people), and people die. Unexpectedly. Plans are thwarted by action and inaction, plots and stabbed and back stabbed with alarming regularity. There were no main characters. These were lives. Lives that were being lived out, right there in front of me (and now in the books which I’m currently reading).

That was what I wanted to put in my writing. I wanted my characters to be alive. But to be alive they also had to be shadowed by the spectre of death. And that IS a problem for me. Those characters that you like, that get killed? I like them too. I’m writing them and we’re having a good time and then I get to the point where someone has to die. It’s at that point that the character in question looks down and realises they’re wearing the red Starfleet uniform from the original Star Trek series…… and they know.


Want to read me killing your favourite character? Then check out ‘Lament for the Living

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My Writing Process Blog Tour – David Nicol

And so it was, the planets aligned, a cat and a dog shared a home, a twitter notification sounded in the dark. “I nominate YOOOOOOOOUUUUU!” It said. Or words to that effect. This is all pretty much artistic licence right now. But that’s what writing’s about.

Here’s what really happened:nomination

Christopher Smith, a writer who is much better than he gives himself credit for, nominated me to do this Writing Process Blog thingy. He is a bit difficult to find so tweet him at @Reckoner67 to get his latest thingammywhatsits, or visit ProseBeforeHoHos. You can read his Writing Process here.

Now apparently I have to answer some questions about my writing process….

What Am I Working On?

Right now, at the time of writing, I’m working on book 2 of ‘Lament for the Living‘ which is the concluding part of the story of survivors of the zombie apocalypse. It’s set three years after the outbreak, at a time when most of the zombie threat is gone, and the survivors are attempting to rebuild their own civilisations and societal structures.

I also have a number of short stories on the go, covering various themes. I’m quite old school when it comes to short stories in that I like them to be allegorical, or have allusions and latent meanings.

There is also the prequel novel to the dystopian short story ‘The Deluge of Elias‘ which I did start working on after I completed ‘Lament for the Living‘, but stopped when the troubles escalated in Egypt. The setting is just outside Alexandria and a lot of the main scenario had echoes of what was going on there. Very creepy. So that’s on the back burner right now until I can see how Egypt pans out.

I’m also quite excited about another project idea I have that is much more in the fantasy realm. But we’ll see how that goes.

How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

None of my characters are safe. It’s wise to enjoy being with your favourite character while you can because they have a habit of finding themselves dead (Chris wanted to know more about this, so I’m going to write a separate, specific post about it).

My characters have their own lives. They do their own thing as I’m writing them. That may sound crazy, but these characters just don’t behave. That Tobias in ‘Lament for the Living‘? Naughty boy!

When I write, I see the scene, and as each word is written I move from just typing words to the point where I’m practically there. I’m describing the smell of the air, the feel of the surroundings, how the light is. The most common piece of feedback I’ve had about ‘Lament for the Living‘ is that it could easily be a movie as the descriptions are cinematic, which would indicate that I’m getting my vision from the page into the readers mind.

Why Do I Write What I Write?

I write what I write because I enjoy it. As I said in the previous question, the characters are alive and I’m getting to know them as I write them (and kill them off).

Primarily I write for me first, and then with the help of some amazing people, that writing is transformed into something that is accessible to the reader at large.

It really is an amazing feeling to have someone come back and say “I enjoyed your story, when’s the next one out?” Just a simple bit of feedback is an amazing motivator. Seriously, regardless of who you’re reading, if you’re enjoying their work, send them an email, a tweet, even one of those paper writey things with a stamp on and let them know that you’ve enjoyed what they’ve written.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

My aim is to produce the most professional end product I can. I’ve always worked in environments where quality has been a key factor and so I put as much effort into my writing and production as I do with my daytime job (yes, have to work a “proper” job as well). I find it quite disheartening to see independent titles on Amazon or Smashwords that are poorly edited and full of typos. There don’t seem to be as many as there used to be, so that’s a bonus.

When I write I aim to put down at least 1,000 words a day, six days out of seven (that’s what I aim to do, it doesn’t always happen). Each chapter target is roughly 3,000 words (an amount I came to as a comfortable amount to read in one sitting).

That’s the mechanics of the writing, here’s the process:

  1. I start out with the idea: what I’m going to write about. This involves a lot of what other people call “staring out of the window” and “creating google searches that will cause alarm bells to start ringing in the national security department”.
  2. Then I get the alpha and omega of the story sorted out. Where am I starting, and where’s it going to end. Who the main characters and their motivations are.
  3. This is the first draft stage now where I know the beginning and the end. There are also a number of pivotal points in the story that the characters need to pass through. I start writing, and the characters fight their way to the end via each waypoint. Sometimes, despite their best efforts the Hammer of Doom still falls on them. I don’t plan out chapter by chapter at the moment, although it would probably be more efficient to write that way, but I feel it would kill the spirit of my writing (I have tried it using yWriter, which is a fantastic tool, but it just doesn’t fit with the way I work right now).
  4. Once the draft is completed I go back through it myself to check for typos, continuity issues, and big logical flaws (when I did this with ‘Lament for the Living‘ I got to a set of square brackets – which is where I usually put notes to myself – that said something like this [insert here how they get from there to here] which is fine… Except that one instruction was actually about six chapters and required the untying of multiple threads, some cuts, a lot of knots and bit of sticky backed plastic to resolve!
  5. When that’s done, it’s what I consider to be in Alpha state. That’s basically a working manuscript, but nowhere near polished. It now goes to my wife who reads it, finds the typos I’ve missed (it’s a scientific fact that you stop seeing certain errors by filling in or correcting the spelling unconsciously) and highlights the sections that don’t make sense, or don’t read properly. After another read through and edit it’s what I consider ready for Beta.
  6. The Beta-stage is where I harness the talents of the many wonderful people that I’ve met over the years on t’internet. Each of them has a unique set of skills. My beta readers go over the manuscript, then let me know if they enjoyed story,  and feed back any typos they find, issues with pacing, and sections that don’t make sense to them. As a UK author I think it’s important to ensure that scenes translate well across both sides of the pond.
  7. At this point I’m looking at the final round of edits, which involves a spreadsheet of page and paragraph numbers that I systematically go through. This is where the machete comes out and the most brutal edits are made. On top of that, I fire up the Multiphasic Interdimensional Scribeomatic 5000 to add anything that needs it. At the same time I’m usually finalising the cover for the book which will have gone through a number of iterations during the course of the drafting process.
  8. Everything is then put together. The US English edit, the UK English edit, formatting for ebook, formatting for print, proofing and then launch date.

I also have notes floating about. Below is a picture of what I currenlty have stuck to the wall next to my desk. Those are a rough waypoint outline for the main groups in the story, some plot points and a list of all the characters from ‘Lament for the Living‘ and whether they made it through the book or not. *Looks at sheet…. hmmm a lot have “dead” written next to them…*

Typical Story Idea/Flow Sheets
Typical Story Idea/Flow Sheets

Well I hope you’ve enjoyed this incredibly long post about how my head works. Thanks again to Christopher Smith for nominating me. It’s at this point that I’m supposed to nominate other writers to join the tour. Unfortunately, I don’t know a great deal of other writers because I’m kept chained up in a box with nothing for company but a keyboard, and a bowl to catch my tears. However, I did notice that one person tweeted Chris about dodging the bullet.

*!PTANG!* – Ricochet: Michael Woods. You’re it!