Tuesday, 25 June 2013

My cleaner named Procrastination

I've never really believed in procrastinating. I'd much rather get stuck into something then sit around and talk about it for hours or days. At school and university I could never understand why people would waste the day away and then scramble at the last minute to finish off their project or homework. I couldn't handle that sort of stress. I preferred to finish my work as quickly as possible and then spend the evening however I wanted. My family likes to remind me that I never worked passed 6:30pm in high school, just so I could spend the evening watching TV. I managed to retain this non-procrastination streak well into my university studies.

Writing a novel, however, has brought out the inner procrastinator in me. I find myself doing small tasks, any tasks, to avoid writing when I'm not inspired. I'll clean the floor, dust every bit of furniture I own, do my washing—even hand washing!—any menial task that will keep me away from my desk and the daunting vision of a blank page. The strange thing about procrastination is that during these tasks I will become inspired to write. Characters will start talking to themselves in my head (weird, I know) and situations and scenarios will arise. It's almost as if my story pushes its way into my subconscious when I'm not trying so hard to write. It also helps that I have an extremely guilty conscience. I would be the world's worst criminal, turning myself in five minutes after committing a crime. Any time I could be writing, my subconscious will plague my thoughts with guilt. There's no escaping it. So I'll put the vacuum cleaner away, drop the duster and sit down to that blank page that seemed so daunting an hour ago. Once I start typing it's like my procrastination never existed.

Days go by and then I start to realise the house needs a vacuum, a dust and my washing is piling up, but I'll keep writing to avoid these tasks. Writing becomes my procrastination for housework. Then, just like that, I'll lose inspiration and the blank page will begin to mock me. I'll flee to the sanctuary of cleaning products and hope my characters will start talking to me again. Thus the procrastination cycle continues.

Anyone else have a great anti-procrastination technique to share? 

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Return of Sequelitis

In my last post, I examined what it was about sequels that frustrated me and turned me off from reading the next instalment. This week I want to share what I love about sequels and what keeps me entranced with a series.

If you study my book wall (see below), which is what I've named the stack of books in my bedroom which no longer fit in my existing bookcase, there is certainly a trend to be found. Aside from the fact that most books I read are YA Speculative Fiction, and for some reason: the majority have a black spine, they also tend to belong to a series. This started many years ago, when I struggled to find authors which I enjoyed reading. I purposely searched for novels in a series so that I could guarantee there would be at least two more books that I could buy from the same author and enjoy. Now it seems like the bulk of YA novels (especially in Spec Fic) are part of a series, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a stand-alone novel, which can be a good thing or bad thing—see previous post! Today, let's focus on the good.

More of what you love plus something you didn't expect:
A sequel is like a nice warm cup of coffee (or tea–your choice!) that you have each morning: it's familiar and comforting. It brings a sense of homecoming; the characters are welcomed and beloved, the writing style is reassuring and you can submerge into the world with ease. Yet sometimes you want a dash of spice with your coffee (or my favourite: peppermint). Great sequels do this, they maintain all the reasons you loved the first book but also add something that is different and unexpected, yet still fits within the world already established.

One of my favourite YA sequels is Kendare Blake's Girl of Nightmares sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood, which has to be one of the best book titles of all time! The sequel has all the gore and fantastic creepy detail from the first book, but also feels new and fresh by adding a layer of adventure that wasn't in Anna Dressed in Blood. I can't recommend that duology enough, go read it people!

Sequels flesh out the world:
World building is essential to good Speculative Fiction, so no matter how unbelievable your premise is, the reader can picture the world in their mind and are swept along for the ride. This takes time, you can't just cram the whole world's mythology down a reader's throat in the first few chapters, unless you want to commit the dreaded “info dump”. The more complex and different the world is to our own, the more time we need to spend discovering it as we turn each page.

Often there are ideas and concepts only hinted at in the first novel and sequels provide the opportunity to develop these into fully-fledged themes and plots. It's a wonderful pay-off for readers when they experience that light-bulb moment and pick up on a small detail that was mentioned in book one, which becomes paramount in the sequel. It's a great reward for those who stick with a series.

Characters become more interesting and detailed:
When you really love a book, you want nothing more than to spend additional time with the characters and see how they evolve. Whilst characters should always change in someway by the end of a novel, often it's not until the sequel that we can see the full extent in which the events of the first book has transformed their lives. It allows characters to feel more real and have greater depth. 

As mentioned in my previous post, if I don't care about the characters then I'm unlikely to return to the series. My favourite books are character-driven stories, it's their lives, plight and adventures that I am enraptured by. It's often said that in a good book you cannot separate plot and character, that one is fiercely intertwined with the other. Most of the series I have read follows this structure and are strongly focused on characters in addition to having a fantastical premise. With a series you have to keep developing the characters from book to book, they cannot remain stagnant, or the reader will become bored and find the story predictable.

That's not to say I don't read and enjoy stand-alone novels, but I always experience a feeling of dread as I near the final pages of an enjoyable book, at least with a series I know it's not over yet!

If you have any series recommendations please let me know.

Until next time,
My ever-growing book wall