A faint singing, half heard

1 11 2015

It wasn’t clear. High pitched, likely children. Girls perhaps? More than one, maybe three. Voices raised hesitantly. Learning a new song, practising?

He walked towards the noise, hoping for clarity but he knew clarity in this tiny mystery would bring no peace, no resolution. 

It was children. He could see them through the bay window, through the gap in the curtains struggling to keep out the darkness, to hold in the warmth of family. He would twitch them if his hand could but pass through the glass. Twitch them  as if a secret watcher standing guard on a lonely residential street. But he was the interloper here and onwards he must go

The piano they’d been standing about in their innocence had triggered a memory. A conversation so long ago. Where she’d gone as a child to find peace. 

Perhaps, just perhaps? 

He turned his face from the warmth and let the cold moonlight caress him. It was as he deserved. 

He searched the rooftop silhouette for God and set his course to his house.  





The socks! Why the socks?

30 10 2015

the black wool-mix of the base colour was nearly obscured by the colours. Vibrant discs of orange, yellow and red marched around each ankle in regimented bands which presumably paraded from toe to hidden calf. 

The rest was business. Blue trousers – not salesman shiny. White shirt – crisp, cuffed, woven. Tie- half Windsor knotted, blue, slight pattern. Watch – gold but understated. 

But the socks…

Characterisation is about giving your people reality, clear places in their world where they live. They may live uncomfortable lives but they. Do. Live. 

Socks tell us nothing. Should they? 

I’ve been guilty myself on putting a comedy tie on a man to make the reader associate him (falsely in that case) with the office joker, possibly sad and lonely on the inside and overcompensating but that would not be unexpected. 
But what about socks?

What do you think when you see a businessman in non-“standard” socks? Do we have any common cultural references to build on? 

Run out of clean socks? Does he live alone, work away?

Christmas present? Living family? Children? Mad aunt? Work secret Santa?

But why put them on if given a choice? What do you want the world to know, to see, to guess?

I’m open to ideas on this one. Comments welcome
Comedy socks – why?





misogynistic? Sexist? Woman hating?

28 10 2015

Musing on the daily sexism which lies beneath the veneer of men. Building a character who is sexist and blatant about it is different from a character who is your normal bloke who thinks he isn’t sexist but …

I’ve taken to breaking down my interactions with women, my “touch points” to use some marketing speak I picked up in a recent session about promoting a novel. I’ve also taken to focusing my normal author habit of people watching on exactly that. 

As an intriging intro to the subject here are a few of the institutionalised thoughts and actions I have had or seen

– family group in public. Kids playing up. Look to the mum first to control them. 

– bad driving. Think “woman driver”. Too many old jokes told to think anything else?

– nice house. What does her husband do?

– pretty young woman. Use the word “pretty” rather than just “young woman”. Always with sex in mind?

– passing by a kids football team playing in the park, parents shouting encouragement. Why does he have long hair?

– you throw like a girl

– any offer of a lift must include thoughts of sex

– any woman must include thoughts of sex

– slag v stud

When it comes down to it, how many relationships start with the mutual attraction of the mind. Some, of course. Most, not. Men and women are different by definition but is one better than the other?

Our minds and attitudes are shaped by our upbringing and sometimes there are some of those unconscious attitudes which are so ingrained that all you can do is look to control them, bite them back in disgust, hide them behind your new man veneer, the mask we wear. 

Sometimes they escape. How do they manifest, which bit of the mask slips?





Who doesn’t love a good villain?

5 08 2014

This isn’t a throwaway title. Carefully weighted and judged.

Villains come in many shapes and sizes. I have written before about “black hats” and “pencil moustaches” in the traditional baddie but the thing about most cads and rotters you read about or see in films and on TV is that they have a redeeming feature. Something to hook in the audience.

Is it a tale of an abused childhood to elicit some sympathy and possible empathy?
Is it a love of stroking long haired cats? How can a cat lover be all bad?
Does he love his old mum?
Carry a terrible secret?
Walk with a limp? (A limp what?)

Most villains are written with something good on the side. Something that either gives the reader or the hero some pause to consider the person behind the balaclava mask, the motives for evil.

However, sometimes you find someone without that redeeming feature. You find a villain written as a villain, pure evil, self-centred, careless with the precious world and all else in it. What does the reader do then?

Typically, they will look to empathise, look for something to help understand this bad guy. And if they cannot find it they start making excuses,
…perhaps he???
…surely he must have???
… he’ll be redeemed in the end – just wait and see.

penguin

As a writer I try to give my villains something for the audience to hook in to. Not necessarily something big or obvious since no-one likes being led by the nose! Sometimes however, sometimes, the villain fights back. Sometimes the little bit of good you give them turns out to be a con operated on you as the writer.

Sometimes a bad guy is just that. Bad!





Using a photo of your hero/ine

18 06 2014
my hero?

my hero?

How do you picture your hero? Your leading lady? That person you are spending every spare waking hour thinking about and trying to get inside their heads – what do they look like?

Most first time writers find their characters too close to either themselves or to a friend, ex-colleague. Then they have to go through and add a false moustache, dodgy accent or side parting. However, is there an easier way for us to disassociate with your characters whilst also having a focus for the thoughts and feelings you are endowing them with.

I use photos and portraits. Some might argue it’s a bit of a cheat but I argue back. How is it so different to illustrating a character for a cover of a book? It is still from imagination since all I have is a face, hair, sometimes not even a body. But with a picture I have a base to build their dreams upon.

But whose to use? I have a red folder full of faces. Some cut from magazines, some from the internet, some blown up from backdrops in holiday shots. All filed away in order of hair colour initially, then within hair colour are grouped people with the same shape of face, down to nose categories. I built my folder with a hundred men and a hundred women some five years ago so even if any had backstories I had glanced at in the magazine of choice I have no recollection of the facts. They are just fodder now. Nameless faces I build my books upon. Ghosts.

How do I picture my heroines, my leading men, by bit characters and murderers. I look them up in the directory and give them their names. Then they build their biographies as their stories come to life.

Hopefully some of their fictional lives make up for hard times in the real world.





Cultural references again. Positive stereotypes in your writing

12 05 2014

I talked in a previous blog about the difficulty of finding an innocuous name for your heroine without the baggage of being named for someone famous, someone your readers associate with traits uncommon to your character. Depending on the age and demographic of your readers, Julian could be seen as Clary or Fellowes, Tom could be Cruise or Stoppard, Maria could be playing tennis or singing.
Instead of seeking to avoid falling foul of unwanted associations you do have the option to embrace them instead. Find a big personality, someone everyone knows with unmistakeable mannerisms – then take it to extremes in your writing. Give your character the name Biggins and everyone in the UK has a picture in their head which you can build on. Use Eastwood and you will struggle to distance yourself globally from the hard man of film. So do it! Build a tale around an Eastwood who is struggling against the stereotype but cannot help but slip into character when at parties, to meet girls. The accountant who acts a film star?
If I want a quiet northern girl to blossom in my story perhaps she should be a Miss Horrocks? Victoria W is always telling jokes in her job and seeking a way to perform for a living?
Of course, the difficulty with this is that you may be in danger of being sued if the person you are obviously parodying to extremes is not 1) dead or 2) willing to play along with your libellous words. So, using positive stereotypes may be one only for the braver writer. Perhaps the rest of us should stick with making people up –made from bits and pieces of scores of others, but made up all the same.
If one is a gay comedian or another is a short, religious action hero then it is just a coincidence and any reader wishing to overlay a real person on the loose descriptions I write is welcome to do so. It’s all in their heads anyway!





White hats, black hats, masks and pencil moustaches – who’s the baddie?

14 10 2013

I don’t write children’s books where, for the very young, an author has to make the baddie obvious. They cackle rather than laugh, they lurk rather than wait, they are sly rather than cunning. And they often wear a black hat.

In the world of adult literature the role of the baddie isn’t so clear cut. Nor should it be. There are bad people out there – people without redeeming characteristics, without a care for the social convention. But they are pretty rare. Most of us live in shades of gray – not 50 necessarily, but quite a few and those shades can lighten or darken depending on what we are doing at any one point in time.
Ask anyone not locked up in my cellar and they see me as a good man, someone with obvious flaws, attractive ones of course, but nothing which would put me on a register or lead to imprisonment. Ask me, and I might give you a bit more background about hidden motives behind good deeds which may cast shadows on your perception. Does that make me a baddie? How would I portray myself as a baddie in the written word to put the reader on notice or should I leave it to them to work out for themselves?

The latter is the obvious answer. Leading my reader by the nose is not how I see the contract between us. Every one of us has had a bad day, most of us succumb to the darker urges to varying degrees at some time in our lives. I think it is my job to show by actions, by written thoughts, by implication that this is the villain of our show. If you, dear reader, are worse than the bad things I illustrate him or her with then I rather imagine you will keep it to yourself!HH Coventry wears many hats but does not have a pencil moustache!