How to Procrastinate Like A Pro

If a cat sits on your laptop, this also gives you the perfect excuse not to do something.

I need to re-write a book. I know how to start, I know what needs doing, and I’m still avoiding it.

Naturally, you can check out the web for lots of tips on how to avoid procrastination (admittedly an exercise in putting off itself), but what’s the fun in that?

So, if you too have something you are putting off, but are rapidly running out of reasons, try these out…

 

 

 

  1. Twitter! Made for the procrastinator (as are most forms of social media). Check out the trends. Follow the links. Spend ages dreaming up witty posts of 140 characters or less. Schedule them, so you have a steady supply of amusing Tweets.
  2. Take pictures of your pet for Twitter/Instagram. This takes AGES. You need to get a seriously good piccie, one that will get plenty of ‘likes’ and shares. Then, you can spend an age obsessively checking just how many ‘likes’ you get.
  3. Research. Whatever comes into your brain at this precise point, look it up online. Where did they film the Boston scenes for Outlander Series 3? (Glasgow, I think.) What are the nutritional qualities of caraway seeds? (Fibre and some essential oils). What is the weather forecast for the next few days? (Rain.) Are there exercises you can do to slim your face? (Yes. And there are LOADS of videos you can watch on this too.)
  4. Write a blog entry and pretend it is part of strengthening your brand and your marketing efforts*. Yeah, right.
  5. Email others you know enjoy the art of procrastination. They will probably reply quickly, asking a few questions of their own which will demand your immediate response. You can keep this up for hours, if necessary.
  6. Make sure all the apps on your phone are set to send you push notifications. Your phone will repeatedly bleep with lots of lovely, shiny new news!
  7. Fill in your tax return in advance. I know. You can tell just how much you are putting off something when filling in a tax return seems like a viable thing.

Of course, if you do want to avoid procrastination you could do the opposite to all of the above. You will, however, eventually need to fill in your tax return.

 

*Oh. Had better self-promote then. You can buy The Girl Who Swapped, a chick lit, humorous read, here

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Dialogue Tags

Reblogged from Caron Allan fiction:

Writing dialogue is one of those things that you either love or hate. I quite like it, and I’d like to think I’m quite good at it, but I could be just fooling myself.  Dialogue is conversation, it’s your characters acting and reacting together to enhance your story and move the plot along. Through dialogue, the inner person of your characters is revealed, and also their motives, hopes, desires, all the things that make them the people they are and enable them to act out their part in your story. Here are a few tips on what I feel makes good dialogue, or more importantly, what makes bad dialogue.

  1. Don’t over-tag.

What I mean is, you don’t need to assign a speaker and manner of speech to every instance of speech. If your dialogue is written clearly, the reader knows who is speaking. There is nothing more irritating than reading a constant stream of he saidhe added, she went onhe further addedshe replied, etc. Look at this:

“Henry,” his mother called, “How many times,” she asked, “Do I have to tell you to tidy your room?” She went on to say, “You know I don’t have time to do it for you. And in any case, now that you’re thirty-seven you should start to do a few things for yourself,” she added.

Eek! Really, this is all one speech – or it should be. I recommend cutting out the annoying little joining-uppy bits to create one nice smooth speech. Now, what about this one:

“Good morning, Mr Tomlinson,” said Jenny.

“Good morning, Jenny. How are you today?” asked Mr Tomlinson.

“I’m very well thank you, Mr Tomlinson. How are you?” Jenny replied.

“I am also very well, thank you Jenny,” Mr Tomlinson told her.

“I’m very glad to hear that, Mr Tomlinson,” said Jenny.

Maybe we could try writing out our little conversation with no tags at all. I’m sure we could do it so that it was clear who was speaking! Don’t over-tag. Please. I’m begging you.

  1. Adverbs and the humble ‘said’.

Some people say NEVER use adverbs, it is forbidden. They probably also say never go into the forest on a Wednesday…

I say use them occasionally if you want to. Whatever you use, it has to be carefully done. Also, it is almost as bad read a long list of ‘active’ verbs as it is to read a repeated list of adverbs:

The active verbs extravaganza first:

“Good morning, Mr Tomlinson,” Jenny declared.

“Good morning, Jenny. How are you today?” queried Mr Tomlinson.

“I’m very well thank you, Mr Tomlinson. How are you?” Jenny enquired.

“I am also very well, thank you Jenny,” Mr Tomlinson responded.

“I’m very glad to hear that, Mr Tomlinson,” Jenny explained.

OR with adverbs instead:

“Good morning, Mr Tomlinson,” Jenny said warmly.

“Good morning, Jenny. How are you today?” Mr Tomlinson asked worriedly.

“I’m very well thank you, Mr Tomlinson. How are you?” Jenny replied sincerely.

“I am also very well, thank you Jenny,” Mr Tomlinson smiled gratefully.

“I’m very glad to hear that, Mr Tomlinson,” said Jenny emphatically.

Okay, I know you would never write anything like that. But my point is, it’s definitely a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other. They both suck.

In my opinion, a lot of the time, it’s better to just stick with the good old-fashioned ‘said’. Because most of the time, we don’t really need to know how something is said, only what was said. How something is said will hopefully become clear within context of the dialogue. Or the reader can furnish this from their imagination.

Too many active verbs or adverbs and the reader will lose the thread, get lost in the jungle of language, the information conveyed in the paragraph will be lost and the wonderful spell of suspended disbelief you worked so hard to create will be broken as your reader is dragged back into the real world. And nobody wants that.

Said is invisible. The reader’s eye glosses over ‘said’ and fixes on the actual dialogue. Responded/replied/enquired/retorted are not invisible, they claim the reader’s attention and remind them they are reading a story.

  1. Natural – but not too natural

I know we want our dialogue to sound like it was uttered by a real live actual person, but we don’t want it to be too real. In real life we rarely speak properly. And we use a lot of fillers and gaps to get our meaning across. I once knew a lady whose entire speech was made up of fillers and gaps and I never knew what she was actually saying. Conversation was next to impossible, and misconstruing her meaning was a constant hazard. In real life, the above little scene would probably go like this:

“Oh, er, good morning, Mr Tomlinson,” said Jenny.

“And a very good er…to you, er, J…er Jenny. How are you, umm?” asked Mr Tomlinson.

“Well, I’m er, oh well, you know, well erm, thank you, Mr Tomlinson. And are you er…?” Jenny replied.

“I am also very well, thank you Jenny,” Mr Tomlinson told her.

“Well, I’m um, very glad to er…, Mr ummm,” said Jenny.

So ‘real’ speech is not for us. What we are looking for is a style that gives the appearance of reality without all that dreary waiting around and time-wasting. Sometimes we want a little hemming and hawing, as they say, but most of the time we don’t.

“Good morning, Mr Tomlinson.”

“Hello, Jenny. How are you today?”

“I’m fine thanks. Yourself?”

“Yes, thank you, I’m much better.”

“That’s great. Could I have half a pound of bacon, please?”

Yay, the scene finally moved on! And we’ve even learned something from what we’ve read: that a) this is some kind of shop or purchasing situation, b) Mr T has been poorly (that may be relevant) and c) that Jenny needs bacon! Now we are all set to introduce the big scene of the great Full English Breakfast Murders

So dialogue should attempt to be natural, but without real life’s untidiness; needs to be tagged sparingly and clearly but without fuss. More importantly it should move the story along.

Day and Night – a Review

Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery (Dottie Manderson mysteries Book 1)Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery by Caron Allan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do love a good crime fiction novel – and particularly when it’s historical crime fiction. That gives you added bonuses. You get the time period of the Golden Age of crime fiction, but with modern considerations, such as detailed characterisation and stories that aren’t just plot-driven.

I enjoyed Night and Day a great deal. There are plenty of likeable characters that you feel you want to read more about, a plot that moves along well and lots of enjoyable period detail. (I, for one, love reading about what people ate and long to live in a time where the servants leave me out cocoa and sandwiches when I come in from a night out…)

Dottie Manderson is a gorgeous character – sassy, bright and modern (for the 1930s, that is) and very relatable. She’s partnered with a detective and you just know this is going to play out satisfyingly in a ‘will they/won’t they’ way. There’s a Cluedo feel to the whole story, and I love it for that.

A great read and I’m looking forward to catching up with more of Dottie, Flora et al.

View all my reviews

The Girl Who Swapped

Coming Soon – The Girl Who Swapped

The Girl Who Swapped

Bespoke book cover art example from coverness.com

As you might have gathered from the title, I have a book that I’m about to inflict on the public and hope that they like it. The book is called The Girl Who Swapped (a shameless attempt to capitalise on the popularity of ‘Girl’ in book and film titles), and here’s the blurb for it…

What do you do when you find yourself in a strange body and a different life?

Lottie and Charlotte are not having a good morning. They’ve woken up in unfamiliar beds. Not to mention, unfamiliar bodies. What is going on?

At least Lottie’s boyfriend, Josh, is by her side. If only Lottie didn’t have this nagging feeling that something important happened last night, but she blew it…

Charlotte feels terrible. She’s woken up with a hangover of gargantuan proportions. And where the hell are her husband and children?

The two heroines must work out what is going on. Along the way, there will be tempting encounters, full-on flirtations, Hollywood stars, riotous parties, blackmail and far too much champagne.

Come along and enjoy the adventure!

My keywords are summer reads, Sophie Kinsella, holiday reading, life switches, chick lit, Bridget Jones and Shopaholic – hopefully that gives you a rough idea of what the contents are like.

Fingers crossed the public could, y’know, think it’s worth buying. Having done that, they might enjoy it enough to consider penning a quick review for it.

Sufficient numbers of them buying it might mean I make a profit – oh, heavenly day if they do. In my head, I’ve spent that profit already on face cream, Prosecco and premium cat food, donating some of my yet-to-be-realised profit to charity to feel better about my shallow spending. I idled away half an hour* working out how many copies I’d need to sell to put me in the black. It’s roughly six hundred copies. Well-established authors will scoff at this, but it seems like an insurmountable number to me.

Are there many writers who enjoy self-promotion? I hate it, but it’s a necessary evil. It’s all very well writing, but if you don’t tell people about it, how are they going to know? So, if you WOULD like to buy it, it’s now available on Amazon for pre-order, here (US) and here (UK).

Thank you!

 

 

*Maybe it was closer to an hour. I’m s**t at maths.

Rip it Up and Start Again

One of things I struggle with as a writer is revising and rewriting. When I finish something, I want to move on to another project or idea. The thought of going back to a manuscript, reading through it and working out what’s wrong never appeals.

I decided to try something different with one of my finished/unfinished projects – Two Slices of Carrot Cake. Writers tend to get wedded to their own words. It’s difficult to detach. I’m editing a book at the moment for someone else and it’s easy for me to strike that red line through unnecessary text, or see what needs to be rewritten.

Some years ago, I read an interview with the writer, Elizabeth Buchan. In it, she said when she writes a book, she writes it three times. Her first attempt gives her the ‘bones’ and from there she starts again and improves the original story. I’ve decided to try this, albeit I’ll just be writing the whole thing one more time, and not two…

The Creative Stuff

Although it seems daunting, writing the story again appeals because it’s about doing the enjoyable, creative stuff again. I know the plot, I know the characters and what they are like, how they speak and I know what happens to them afterwards, seeing as I wrote another book that featured them.

I wanted to change the angle of the story slightly too. After I wrote my first book, Katie and the Deelans, I sent it to agents. It was rejected by all of them, but I was contacted by one after I’d published it through Comely Bank Publishing, who said that he liked my ‘voice’ and was I working on anything else?

When I told him I was working on Two Slices of Carrot Cake, he said I could send it to him when I’d finished it. I did, and he rejected it, saying the ‘issues’ thing in it (eating disorders) didn’t work for him, but he did like the ‘voice’ and he thought a better idea would be to concentrate on the teenage girl using multiple personalities online and the trouble that results. Keep the eating disorder, but don’t make it the main focus.

The Flow Trap

When you try to shift the focus of a story by going back to the existing document, it’s hard. Sentences, paragraphs and chapters flow in a certain way. You get caught up in that flow – if I change this, then that won’t work, etc. If you start writing again, the existing flow isn’t an issue.

I’ve started it. I’m excited about it. I’m feeling creative once more. Keep your fingers crossed for me…

Fates and Furies – a Review

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fates and Furies divided our book group – an even split between those who loved and hated it. I fell into the former camp, as I adored the book.

Lauren Groff’s tale tells the story of a marriage and how different it is to the two protagonists. The first part of the book ‘Fate’ tells the story from the husband’s point of view. Lancelot Satterwhite comes from a wealthy background but manages to alienate himself from his widowed mother. His marriage to Mathilde drives further distance between the two, but after a shaky start to his working life, after his mother cuts him off, Lancelot (or Lotto) discovers a talent for playwriting and establishes a wildly successful career, albeit with a few hiccups along the way.

When he dies, the viewpoint shifts to Mathilde, and it here the book becomes splendid. Nothing that seemed like luck or fate happened to Lotto. His wife was there all the time, working behind the scenes to manipulate circumstances – mostly in Lotto’s favour. She engineered their first meeting and marriage. She put in place obstacles to stop him reconciling with his mother. She re-wrote and edited his plays – a lot of the time he wrote them while drunk, so was unable to tell when Mathilde tidied them up – and she even managed to get his fiercest critic on board. And yet, Mathilde comes across as very sympathetic, a difficult, flawed woman dealing with a hugely ego maniac of a husband. (Who is also pretty likeable, incidentally.)

While my book group felt the writing was beautiful, we differed on our opinions about the story’s sensationalism. Did Mathilde’s story need to be quite so dramatic and terrible? (We later find out she was thrown out of her house as a child by her parents after an accident.) I didn’t mind the dramatisation, but perhaps the really brilliant story is that of two very ordinary people living together for years, and yet not really knowing each other?

There are plenty of twists and turns, and I do love a page-turner so the book appealed to me. I read it in three days. Read it and join the conversation!

View all my reviews

And That Includes You, Fatty

Image result for vampire teeth

Picture thanks to Rikard Elofsson

A sample chapter from something I’m working on… (Slight adult content, so stop reading now if you don’t like that kind of thing.)

Her life with Cordelia had been straightforward so far – straightforwardly bloody, the satisfaction of three different, ferocious appetites. Once upon a time, Eve had been meek and mild. Thin and apologetic, her speech was littered with modifiers and qualifiers.

“Do you think… I don’t mind if you’d rather… only if you feel that’s the best idea… well, it’s only a suggestion, I don’t know if I’m really qualified to comment…”

She’d loved those first few months of vampirism. It was all take, take, take. She grabbed people and sucked the life from them, she broke off great slabs of cake and stuffed them into a greedy, gaping mouth, she held the back of her lover’s head in her hands and shoved it between her legs.

Life was very good indeed.

Now? Now it seemed more complicated. Vampires that saw her as different and thus didn’t like her. The mysterious Firm hard on their heels. Some mysterious prophecy she could only guess at. No doubt, it would be your typical prophecy, predicting doom and gloom but worded in an ambiguous way so that believers couldn’t be too disappointed when it didn’t come true.

“I’m Mathilde,” the woman stepped out of the doorway. “Let me look at you, you magnificent creature.”

Aldric and Arnaud frowned at her enthusiasm, Eve noted. Mathilde was an age somewhere between the old man and the young one. She shared Arnaud’s dark hair and swarthy complexion, and his large, almost-black coloured eyes. She was very small, but then Eve remembered reading that the average height of people hundreds of years ago was much shorter than the average height now.

She got to her feet. Again, the clothes were another aspect of vampire life she loved. As a human, Eve stuck to the recommendations for a capsule wardrobe – crisp white shirts, tailored trouser suits, cashmere twin sets and that kind of thing.

Eve the vampire was much more theatrical. “Be a goth!” Cordelia said when they’d both gone shopping for her new, larger body. “You will look incredible!”

Today, she was wearing some of those purchases – a dark-purple velvet Gothic jacket with lace in-sleeves over a calf-length fishtail skirt in the same colour, laced up with ribbons at the back over her bottom, and suede skin-tight boots.

Mathilde made her twirl in a circle before her, touching her lightly. Light touch, nonetheless, she felt the strength and power in those finger tips. Proof once more of the strength vampires gained the longer they stayed alive.

“I love fashion!” She plucked at the in-sleeves and smiled at Eve. “…though this confuses me. It’s not modern, surely? I think you’re a very young vampire, aren’t you? Why are you wearing this old stuff?”

Cordelia sighed. “Mathilde. Nowadays, people like to ape the fashion of yesteryears. Eve is wearing steampunk Gothic. People love that look these days.”

Mathilde nodded slowly. “Good to know. I don’t like to make a fool of myself when I visit couturiers.”

Mathilde had been visiting couturiers for two centuries now. Aldric allowed it as being thin, pale-skinned and aloof, Mathilde didn’t stick out in the high fashion world. And she only bit designers who weren’t destined for greatness. They weren’t missed.

“I don’t believe that prophecy for a second,” Cordelia had risen from her chair

“Don’t you?” Mathilde turned to face her, her expression suddenly hostile. “You keep coming back to the west country, though don’t you? Interesting that this is the first time in years you’ve chosen to come and see us.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes.

“Two hundred and fifty years of kindness and hospitality!” Mathilde was on a roll. “You ungrateful little bitch.”

With a sudden movement, she flicked out a hand, the gesture enough to send Cordelia flying across the room.

Aldric gave a sigh, but didn’t recriminate her.

“Hey!” Sensing that this wasn’t a fight she would win, Eve backed off Mathilde and the instinct to thump her, hurrying instead to Cordelia’s side and helping her to her feet.

Cordelia grasped her hand. “No matter.” She waved aside Eve’s concern.

“Mathilde refers to something a woman once said before we killed her.”

Arnaud produced another bottle of the fine red wine they’d been drinking and topped up all the glasses. “Yes, I think she was the last victim we despatched together, wasn’t she Cordelia?”

For the first time, Eve began to feel jealous. Arnaud had kept his eyes on Cordelia almost all the time they’d been together in the room. At first, Cordelia had seemed to resolutely keep her gaze averted from his but Eve noticed that now she kept darting looks at him.

Vampire sexuality was fluid, Cordelia often told her. She’d never talked about vampire fidelity, though. The discomfort Eve felt was all too human, reminding Eve of her last boyfriend and the unease she’d experienced whenever he went on a night out with his friends. Carl loved women so much he couldn’t help himself. That was the excuse he gave Eve and expected her to sympathise.

Disturbed by her feelings, Eve concentrated on the present. “What did she say, this woman? That prophecy?”

“Oh, some nonsense –”

“Unlike horoscopes or the rubbish peddled by so-called mediums,” Mathilde broke in, “this lady was precise in her prediction. She gave a date when Cordelia and ‘all her kind’ would be wiped out and by whom.”

Mathilde moved forward so she was standing in front of Eve once more. She cradled Eve’s cheek in her palm. “That means you too, fatty.”

With that, Cordelia exploded. “Do not dare insult Eve!”

She vaulted in front of Eve, pushing her out of the way and grabbed Mathilde by the shoulders, shaking her so hard Eve could hear rattling. Maybe it was her brain. Maybe it was her teeth clashing against each other in her jaws.

Eve didn’t care. Watching someone punish another for insulting you insulated you from finer feelings that might object to physical harm.

Mathilde put up with Cordelia’s ministrations for a while, before growling – a long, deep noise that came from her throat and raised the hairs on the back of Eve’s neck. Aldric and Arnaud, she noticed, didn’t seem unduly bothered by the fight.

“Leave me alone,” Mathilde’s words hissed out, the French accent much stronger.

Aldric stood up, his hands held palms up. “Enough, Cordelia. We have established that my daughter and grandson have no manners.” He dismissed their glares with a wave of the hand. “They concentrate on the minutiae when we have bigger issues to discuss – do we not?”

Again, those hands went out to the side in supplication. Eve could not decide if she was terrified of him or if he was an ally. He turned his head slightly to smile at her and she started. Was mind-reading a trick of old vampires too? She concentrated on clearing her head.

Aldric had taken hold of Cordelia’s hand, taking it between his. Eve blinked. Depending on the light, those hands looked quite different. For a second, she’d been given an X-ray view, skeleton hands overlaid with what looked like lizard skin. Then, they changed instantly, back to ordinary, old man’s hands, large and pink-skinned.

The hands moved and he held up one finger in front of Cordelia’s face. “First, we discuss what you did to create dear lovely Eve, here.” He turned slightly and nodded at Eve, who suddenly found herself overcome with curiosity. She hadn’t questioned her vampire existence until this point and now there seemed to be a mystery, or at least something out of the ordinary about it.

“And then we talk about Gregor and the prophecy.”

He dropped Cordelia’s hands and looked hard at her.

“Do you agree, my dear?”

Gentle words aside, Eve recognised a command when she heard it. It was no surprise when Cordelia nodded her head.

“Eve, can you sit down?” she looked apologetic. “I need to explain something.”

©Emma Baird 2017