Tuesday, 9 February 2016

My sixth writing-related blog post in which I look at three key elements I absolutely need to know about a new story in order to start writing one

Though I have not been even remotely successful in my writing career and, to be honest, I can hardly call it one, I've been writing long enough to know what I can't start writing a new story without. Today, I'm going to look at three main elements that enable me to proceed with the new project: the plot, the names of characters and places, and the first sentence or paragraph. These are the three crucial keys that I need in order to unlock the content of a blank notebook page or a computer document that is concealed there. Let's look at each one of them in turn. 

I: THE PLOT. I learned a long time ago that vague ideas, however great and numerous, are not sufficient as a foundation for me to build my new story upon. I need to have something more substantial than that. I need a plot. I'm a plotter. I must know, even roughly, the beginning, the middle and the ending of the story. I'm not saying, of course, that I plot every little thing and detail that is going to happen throughout the story — writing, after all, is a journey and an adventure and there's nothing more exciting than to come across some unexpected revelation, to be surprised by the characters or the story itself — but I must have a solid idea of where the story is going, otherwise it has little to no chance of moving forward. Sometimes, I write a chaptered outline with an estimated number of chapters that can and will vary during the process. Sometimes, I just write an outline, dividing it into parts or segments if chapters don't work. Sometimes, I simply sit down and write a summary of the story without breaks but with lots of ellipses and question marks in place of the information I don't know yet. Naturally, these first outlines never stay unchallenged or unchanged and I usually have piles and piles of notes to wade through once I decide upon a definitive outline. 

II. THE NAMES OF CHARACTERS AND PLACES. I can't start writing a story without knowing the names and surnames of its major characters as well as those of important secondary ones. I spend hours and days looking through lists of names and surnames. I use websites, my notes, and books. Sometimes I forget myself and look through them for the fun of it. A DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH SURNAMES has been of great help to me in particular and, when you come to think of it, it is a bit of a surprising find in my family library, considering that before I started learning English, no one in my family really knew it or had any use for such a book. But it is an excellent source of inspiration and I often pore over its pages when I'm looking for some. I open it at random or with a particular letter in mind and start writing out all the surnames that I find promising or appealing. Then I start working my way through them, discarding some, contemplating the others. I need to feel the names doing their job. I need to know that they fit. I try them out. I play with them. I see how they look both written in longhand or typed. I speak them aloud. It can take a long time... The problem is that if I don't know the names, I can't write the story. I don't see the characters. I don't feel them. They are vapour. They need a name — and not just any name, but their rightful name — to start to take shape. The same goes for the names of the places I am going to use within the story. That's often something of a problem because I almost always need fictional names for kingdoms, towns, villages, estates and houses and I can spend ages coming up with them. They also must fit just right and they must hold within them some hint or clue or just roll off your tongue. I sometimes use words from different languages, mashing them together. I like scribbling down something that struck my fancy and play with words. In fact, I'm a certified word maniac.

III. THE FIRST SENTENCE OR PARAGRAPH. Finally, I won't be able to start writing the story if I don't have that first sentence or paragraph that feels just right. I usually take my time thinking about how I want to begin. I mull the sentences over in my head, say them aloud, savour them, then rush to write them down. I write different versions one after another in the same document and if none of those work I usually change the angle and try it over and over again until I know — feel — that I've got it at last. Here are some of the first sentences from my books that I really love: 

James Westfield was not an idle man and was never known to neglect his duty, unless it concerned his sister-in-law, in which case, like any man facing an unpleasant task at hand he was in no hurry to fulfill it. 
MARGARET'S REMATCH 

Almendra opened her eyes on the seventh chime of the clock. She quickly sat up, stretched and smiled. Just then the door to her room opened and in entered a large, grey wolf with a tray on his back. 
ALMENDRA'S JOURNEY 

Mr McBride and his lady were at breakfast when a letter was brought in. Mr. McBride, a big man of five and forty, took the letter from the tray and upon seeing that it was from his uncle's solicitor exclaimed “Ha!” and tore off the seal. “So!” he muttered a moment later, clearing his throat. “The old coot is dead. Well, well!” 
CURRENT REGENCY WIP 

So... once I have all these elements together, I am ready to embark upon another writing journey. What about you? What elements are crucial for you in order to begin writing a new story? 

Three key elements I can't start writing a new story without. What are yours? bit.ly/1Ldifr1 via @faridamestek (Click to tweet)

Sunday, 7 February 2016

REVIEW: Miss Ellerby and the Ferryman by Charlotte E. English

Miss Ellerby and the Ferryman 

Tilby, Lincolnshire, 1812. Miss Isabel Ellerby is a dutiful daughter to her loving parents, and more than happy to go along with the marriage they have planned for her. But the revelation of a long-held secret turns her neatly-arranged life upside down. When an unwise promise to the mysterious Ferryman of Aylfenhame lands her in the midst of an adventure, Isabel is forced to choose: Will she pursue a safe, conventional life as Miss Ellerby of Ferndeane, or will she follow her heart and her destiny to Aylfenhame? 

My thoughts:

It is the most charming and most delightful read! I swear. It has magic. It has magical creatures galore. It has a flying boat! It has a mysterious Ferryman. It has fine ladies and gentlemen as well as rogues that will naturally cause trouble for our heroine. It is set in Regency England but with an added bonus of the magical realm of Aylfenhame. The main heroine, Miss Ellerby, is a proper English lady – sweet, earnest, obedient, dutiful – but what she doesn't know is that she is also a witch. When she learns the shocking truth about herself, she finds it difficult to reconcile herself to lies and disguises associated with her secret heritage and for the best part of the novel struggles with her two different identities. However, despite her inner struggles, which are severe indeed, there are also lots of adventures in the magical realm, some flying, running, sneaking out at night, facing trouble, and the cutest magical companions and creatures imaginable. I swear I literally felt them jumping off the pages! The fashions are bewitching. I sound quite enraptured, don't I? But the story does have such an effect on you)) Also, the book is interspersed with the most enchanting illustrations. You can find some of them HERE. (You must totally have a look!) So, if you like sweet regencies and magic then I would definitely recommend to your attention this excellent story. However, you should probably start with the first one in the Tales of Aylfenhame series – Miss Landon and Aubranael.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

My fifth writing-related blog post in which I look back on my progress during the previous month

I'm sorry to say that unlike my previous writing-related blog posts this one is a bit of cheating on my part. However, at this point this is the only way in which I can follow through with my decision to be a committed blogger. I was actually planning to take part in one of those weekly memos but it didn't work out for me and I really didn't want to skip even one week, because I knew that if I did it once, I would find excuses to do it every time. So, in the spirit of my newly-found determination to post weekly writing-related entries I decided to dedicate this week's post to the progress that I've made in writing, reading and blogging.

I must say that January turned out to be a very productive months for me, largely due to the fact that I had more free time than usual on my hands. But I was also bolstered by my ardent desire to actually do something and make some progress. So far I've posted four writing-related posts, four book reviews and three Harry Potter Moments of the Week - thus making them my permanent weekly features. In actual writing I finally completed my Ukrainian-language fairy-tale and even entered it into a contest. I don't know what will come of it but we'll know soon enough. I also finished reading two old reads and started and finished two new ones. And that's what I call progress!

I think that with enough determination and some extra incentive in the form of comments I can make it work and keep my blog active and running all year long. All I need is to have four writing-related topics for each month's discussion. I still have a bunch of them ready to be explored and I hope that once I run out of those, I'll come up with some new ones. There's always something out there, right? Of course, if I don't, I still intend to take part in some memo or other, provided that I don't leave it till the last minute, but in this case there's always a progress report to write at the beginning of each month!

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Айхо, або Полювання (на) шпигуна — читаю українською

Дія другої частини роману-фентезі зосереджена в Шанталії, а точніше в Університеті Природознавства, спудеєм якого на деякий час стає Айхо. Але, завдяки новим героям та їх історіям, ми продовжуємо подорожувати різними країнами Узбережжя. У Айхо з'являються нові друзі, ментори та недруги. Звісно ж, останніх набагато більше ніж інших. Оршуля Фариняк продовжує дивувати своєю уявою та картинами теперішнього та минулого, які вона вимальовує на сторінках своєї захоплюючої оповіді. Університет Природознавстав дійсно вражає та зачаровує. А щоб мати більш чітку уяву про те, де що знаходиться до книги додається карта університету. Нажаль, ми зовсім ненадовго там затрималися. Інша тема це університетські підземелля, в яких розкривається неначе інший світ, набагато небезпечніший навіть за той, що на поверхні. Мені дуже сподобалась ідея з древніми рунами та порталами. Також мені було дуже цікаво читати про найдревніших (в мене постає питання: а чи побачимо ми їх?!) та про створення легендарного народу доломартів (вражаюче!), але дуже й дуже сумно читати про історію Делеї та, особливо, про історію Майстра Авгуса, що дещо нагадувала історію з елементами фільму-жаху.

Загалом оповідь просувалася швидким а іноді навіть блискавичним темпом. Хоча, було декілька моментів, на яких можна було б зупинитися трошки докладніше. Наприклад, мені здалося, що було дуже замало сцен між Айхо та Дідом Радо. Чогось мені бракувало в їх взаєминах, а іноді здавалося, що вони неначе чужі. А ось кінець цієї частини просто розбив моє серце! Я навіть припустити не могла, що те, що там трапилося, може трапитися. Не знаю чому; я вже мала бути готовою до цього, бо, впродовж ціх двох книжок багато що жахливого та незворотнього траплялося з багатьма героями та істотами, з якими Айхо довелося зустрітися за час своїх мандр та митарств. Наприклад, я ніколи не забуду малого радика. Ніколи. Тоді я теж не могла повірити, що він загинув і що більше не з'явиться знов. Нічого не скажеш, Оршуля Фариняк, вміє дивувати, шокувати та вражати. Отже, тепер чекаю на третю частину...

До речі, мені здається, що книги про Айхо, із таким  багатим, різноманітним, різнобарвним та неповторним власним світом, обов'язково потребують так звану "companion book" - щось на зразок єнциклопедії із додатковою інформацією про різні країни та народи Узбережжя, цікаві історичні факти та, звісно ж, каталог усіх тих різноманітних істот, тварин, птахів, рослин та кольорових висловів, якими ряснить оповідь))

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Harry Potter Moment of the Week #17

What do you think your best subject would be? Not necessarily your favorite but the one you think you'd be best at.

I really love animals and plants so I think Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology would be my best subjects, because I would really enjoy studying them and learning everything that I can. I think Charms and Transfiguration would be my second best subjects, though I have a feeling that Transfiguration would be somewhat trickier than Charms. I'm sure I would never excel at either as Hermione but I think I would be at least an Exceeds Expectations student. I'm also really good at languages and I think I would do well in Ancient Runes. In fact, I would really love to study them. I'm not sure how well I would do at DADA, but I know that Potions would be my downfall. You need to have an almost instinctive understanding of how different ingredients work with each other and you must feel on a deep level what you're doing if you want to become really good at it. It reminds me a bit of Chemistry, which was always an unfathomable subject for me. I tried brewing potions at Pottermore but only ended up melting my cauldrons and I could never score high points for my duelling skills.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

My fourth writing-related blog post in which I'm talking about modern distractions and my unfortunate inability to resist them

I often find myself staring at the screen in the middle of writing and sometimes I'm not even aware that I'm doing it. It's like I've fallen through some portal that holds me suspended in a kind of a trance, like a specimen of an insect in a jar of a special solution: I'm not getting anywhere any time soon. I know that just a moment ago I was scribbling happily away and then, all of a sudden, I am just staring into space, my mind blank. That's when the many distractions the Internet has to offer swoop down upon me and drag me along their various links and threads that wrap themselves around me like Devil's Snare. The point I'm trying to make here is a) there are too many distractions nowadays and b) I'm very much susceptible to their influence. 

I know I should resist them if I want to make any progress at all and in order to do that I just have to change one 'p' (that stands for 'procrastination') for another (that stands for 'productivity'). But to my great shame I've discovered that I can be a very weak human being when it comes to the Internet and all its distractions: Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.. These are my usual haunts and I'm like an addict: I can't stop coming back for more. I can argue that when I'm following many different threads and links and read posts, entries and comments, I'm not wasting my time, because while I'm not writing myself at the moment, they're all about writing and improving your craft. Hence, the dichotomy: I spend so much time reading advice on becoming a better writer that I have very little time left for actual writing. Ironic, isn't it? 

But that's in the first half of the day. When I come home from work, usually tired and just wanting to relax, I fall prey to another distraction: TV-shows. I think it was Sheldon Cooper who said in one of the episodes of Big Bang Theory (to justify his inability to come up with anything new or relevant in his chosen scientific field) that we live in the golden age of TV and I can't help agreeing. TV-shows and period dramas have become my downfall. There are so many of them! I've got my old favourites that I enjoy re-watching over and over again. Having no friends growing up and later in life meant that I had to look for them elsewhere and I found them in abundance in books and TV-shows alike. Then there are new ones, which begets the question: Where to find the time to watch them all? It's almost a relief when the show turns out not worth watching. 

But, with so many distractions abound, is there a chance to accomplish and to achieve anything without, say, undergoing the Vulcan ritual of Kolinahr? How am I supposed to stay focused on my writing when I am constantly tempted away from it to roam and explore the vast expanse of the web and the great number and variety of the shows? I guess there is only one answer to that: set your priorities straight and get to work *said in a very stern voice with an impressive frown*. It's like learning to Apparate — you must always remember the three Ds: Destination, Determination, Deliberation. Seems pretty apt for writing as well. Also, there's a good old saying: work done, have your fun! So there you are. Go and write. Besides, you're very lucky indeed: writing can be lots of fun! 

Talking about what's distracting me from writing, using lots of pop culture references. bit.ly/1UnT1LX via @faridamestek (Click to tweet)

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Кав'ярня на розі — читаю українською

Як я вже зазначала декілька постів нижче, цього року маю мету прочитати якомога більше книжок українською мовою. Також маю намір ділитися своїми враженнями на моєму блозі. Може комусь буде цікаво. Може ні. До цього часу я вже встигла написати два позитивних відгука, але сьогодні маю поділитися не дуже позитивними емоціями, які, нажаль, викликала в мене книга «Кав'ярня на розі». Мені дуже прикро це робити, бо, по-перше, я покладала великі сподівання на цю книжку, а, по-друге, це книжка від Видавництва Старого Лева, яке мені дуже подобається не тільки як читачеві, але і як авторові. 

Дивна якась річь. Начебто все як я люблю: книжка про книжки; про людей, які люблять, читають, розуміють, цінують та колекціонують книжки; також велику роль, неначе один із героїв оповіді, грає кав'ярня (від одного тільки слова стає якось тепло та ароматно, чи не так?); дія відбувається в непримітному, невеличкому місті... Одним словом, там було усе, що мені так подобається і що могло стати цікавим фоном для якоїсь захоплюючої історії. Та, нажаль, мені чогось не вистачило, щоб по-справжньому полюбити цю книжку та мати бажання повернутися до неї знов. 

Може забракло дії. Натомість, було аж занадто балачок та роздумів (з якими я безперечно згодна), які перетворили художній твір на збірку есе на філософські теми. А може це через те, що мені так і не сподобалися герої (окрім самої кав'ярні)? Я так і не змогла знайти в них щось окрім тих їх балачок про книжки, що мені були б до вподоби у їх характерах чи історіях. Мені дуже прикро, що ця книга не справдила моїх сподівань та не причарувала мене так, як її обкладинка та назва. Нажаль, я не змогла поринути у світ, що вона обіцяла відкрити. Мабуть через те, що сюжет майже відсутній, а дія дуже квола. Під кінець було декілька жвавих сторінок, і здавалося, що ось-ось, щось має трапитися... 

Гадаю, мені не подобається читати книжки, які аж настількі схожі на справжнє життя. Залишилось якесь не дуже приємне відчуття. Та це моє, суто суб'єктивне враження, і я гадаю, що багато кому ця книжка прийдеться до душі.