Everything in Seven Stories 5: The Next Stage

Welcome to story five from Everything in Seven Stories, The Next Stage.

It’s the moment the world has been waiting for: Signs of life from another planet. But are we really ready?

To listen to the whole series via Apple Podcasts, click here.

Everything in Seven Stories 4: Ring of the Fisherman

We’re over the half-way mark! Time now for the audio drama version of story four from Everything in Seven Stories: The Ring of the Fisherman.

Rome rejoices as a new Pope takes the throne. But this new Vicar of Christ can’t stop fighting demons of doubt.

To listen to the whole series on your favourite podcast app, click here.

Everything in Seven Stories 3: Chester’s Secret

Time now for story three from Everything in Seven Stories: Chester’s Secret.

A kind old man leaves Jack a cheap painting in his will. Little does Jack know, the painting contains clues that unlock a mind-blowing mystery.

You can listen to the whole series on your favourite podcast app, here.

Everything in Seven Stories 2: Why We Fight

Time now for Story Two from Everything in Seven Stories; Why We Fight.

A battle-ready young man prepares for war to protect the country he loves. But it’s never quite that straightforward.

You can listen to the whole series in your favourite podcasting app, here.

Everything in Seven Stories 1: Antidote

This year, I want to introduce you to something I made back in 2020.

2020 wasn’t easy for most people, and I’m sure it was the year many people chose to finally “write the novel” they always wanted to.

As I kinda do that anyway, I wanted to give myself a different kind of lockdown challenge. I turned back to my old book Everything in Seven Stories. I wanted to do something creative that I otherwise wouldn’t do if the lockdown hadn’t happened. And it had to be something I could do in my own home, because, well, 2020. Luckily for me, as a professional broadcaster and voiceover artist, I had my own vocal booth.

So I narrated each of the seven stories, with music and sound effects. The results won’t win an award, but it was good fun to do.

Each month from now until October, I’ll be posting one of the seven stories. They range from just over half an hour to over an hour each.

Here’s story one: Antidote. A young woman uncovers the sinister truth about a dangerous chemical weapon in the heart of New York City.

Enjoy!

If you want to listen to them on your favourite podcast app, well here you go:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/everything-in-seven-stories/id1515257164

Why single spaces after full-stops rule

Keys on a keyboard

This one isn’t a debate. I’m dealing with cold, hard facts. You can disagree if you want to. but you’ll be wrong.

I’m talking about the period-followed-by-spaces rule. And I’m here to tell you something you might not like: typing two spaces after a full-stop (or period if you prefer) is wrong. It couldn’t be more wrong if it was named W. H. Wongy McWronginstien of Wrongsville, Tennessee. Population: Wrong.

Seriously though, this is hotly-contested even among non-writers. People who just send emails for a living. But, and I’m speaking for the editors of the world here, please stop doing two spaces. It causes them all sorts of trouble.

Now what do I know about this? Nothing. But James Felici, author of The Complete Manual of Typography knows a lot about it. It was decided an absolute age ago by professional typographers that you need just one single space between sentences after a period. Period. Why? Well because typesetting already allocates a little extra space after a full-stop. Not quite two spaces worth, just a little over one space. They’re already doing that part of the job for you. A typesetter or editor working through your manuscript has to fix it if you’ve written two spaces, before it can get to the print-ready stage. Okay, this is a simple search-and-replace job, but it’s a niggle that they really don’t like. And you should always try and keep your editor happy.

So where do the “two-spaces” thing come from, if one space has been the rule for decades? Typewriters.

Yes, typesetters had been making spaces slightly wider after full-stops for decades before the typewriter came along. But most typewriters use monospaced fonts. I’ve noted before that I actually like typing my novel drafts in Menlo, a monospaced font. But the problem with typewriters is that the space after a period is of course, just as short as a regular space. So typists being training on the “new fancy” typewriters were told to do two spaces. And annoyingly – particularly with older generations – the practice has stuck. And often it gets passed down.

But we live well into the twenty-first century now. Desktop publishing and proportionally-spaced fonts are the standard, and have been for decades. We just don’t need to do the double-space thing any more.

Suggestions for making unforgettable characters

692DCF19-0D0B-4ACA-9A8A-130A3084DA31You know by now that I am no fan of rules for writing novels and other stories. Getting stuck with rules is too repressive – especially for a novel that has the advantage over other mediums of not being burdened by rigid structures. Having said that though, there are a number of fun and interesting ways you can make your characters a little more memorable.

So again, let me be clear: these are in no way rules. Ignore all of these things if you want. All I’ve written here, are some suggestions for when you’re a little stuck and want to give your character an extra… something. That’s all. Just something to make them come off the page more for a reader.

With that important disclaimer aside, here’s a few suggestions for you, that might get some of the ol’ grey matter stimulated:

  • A rare personality? We’ve had a million private detectives with a drink problem. We’ve had a million police officers whose dedication to the job has led them to sacrificing their personal lives at the expense of catching the bad guy. What about turning these cliches around and given them different traits? The sort of thing you don’t see that often? Something your audience wouldn’t expect? The lazy detective who’s always looking to do the bare minimum to complete the job? The cop who wants to do their shift and walk away at the end of each day, but gets unwillingly sucked into uncovering a criminal enterprise at the heart of the force? Their desire to keep their head down is much stronger than their desire to uncover corruption, etc., but they are somehow forced into doing the right thing. Characters must have agency, they say. But why not turn it one it’s head a little. That’s a big more interesting, isn’t it?
  • What’s their love life? Most of us have one, or have some idea about how this all works, right? It’s so common for people to ignore this aspect of a character if it’s not directly relevant to the story. But it often feels empty, Or not real, if it’s Not referenced at all. And if they haven’t got a partner, or any interest in getting one, well, maybe that’s interesting too? Why not? Have they been married for 50 years and take their partner for granted? Or is their partner long dead, and they never really moved on? Or have they just never taken the time to build up this side of their life and now they feel it’s too late? I don’t know. This is your character, not mine! Whatever the answers to these questions are, these are all interesting things to explore if your character is looking a bit one-dimensional.
  • Why not give them an interesting job? It’s an excuse for you (and your audience) to peek into another world. So what if it’s not relevant to the direct story you’re telling? Maybe this job is something your audience would probably never have a chance to do or experience for themselves? What’s that job like? Are there interesting skills that they must have that can prove useful? Or does it just colour how they think about other things? What’s surprising about this unique profession? What does it tell you about their personality or comportment?
  • Where do they draw a line in the sand? I think about this one a lot as a character builds in my mind. What’s the moral code of the character? Good or bad? What will they not do, no matter what? What will they always do in certain situations? And can you put those moral certainties to the test? Will they break?

There you go, just a few ideas. Maybe they’re useless to you, or maybe they help, I don’t know, spark a little something. But writing them was certainly a useful exercise for me!

Either way, get writing. And give your readers the gift of a unique and interesting character!

The detail of minor characters

Happy New Year! Will this be the big one? Is 2022 the year that you finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write your first novel? Or maybe you’re already a novel veteran and this year you’re going to take the quality of your writing to the next level? Regardless, I hope this little discussion on minor characters gives you a little food for thought in your story.

How much detail do you need to give to minor characters? For me, not much. If they are glorified walk-on parts, used to portray some piece of information to keep the story moving, then probably no real detail at all is the best bet. “Your table is ready,” said the waiter. Fine. But if I said “Your table is ready,” said the waiter, a slovenly man with a droopy moustache, you might start to think he’s more important, and you need to pay attention to him.

Here’s the problem: If you do this, and add “colour” to every minor little character, you get audiences confused about who matters and who doesn’t. But of course, you can always have fun and turn these conventions on their head. For example, I have emails from readers who loved the lead character in Succession of Power: Secret Service Agent Mike Stevens.

The picture they paint of him is so vivid, but it’s totally of their own construction. Seriously.

I deliberately don’t offer a single physical description of him throughout the whole book. I say he’s wearing a suit. But he’s a Secret Service Agent, so of course he’s in a suit. I think there’s some reference to him taking a shave if memory serves. But that’s it.

You decide: is he still a young ambitious man? Some readers clearly think so. Is he an old man, long in the tooth, and too old to be doing the job? Some say so. Ethnicity, hair colour, everything is up to you. I love that it’s so open. So try not to go overboard in the descriptions of the bit-players if you can. You don’t need it, and your readers definitely don’t need it.

How “inspirational social media posts” are made

It’s nearly Christmas, so time for another silly video I’ve made. This one was a while back.

If you’re like me, you can’t stand those supposedly “inspirational” posts people put on Facebook and Instagram, etc. Who on earth is behind them all? Who is that sad loser?

Turns out, it’s me:

Happy holidays!

Being aware of time in a story

It’s pretty easy to hear the clock ticking when you’re writing a pacy thriller which takes place over a short defined period of time, like my novel “Succession of Power”. Because everything moves at the pace of a beat, you are fully aware of those beats at all time, as are your readers. However, not every story has that style. This short article is really to say, that just because you don’t have an obvious ticking clock in your story, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t neglect the concept of time.

Some writers get a little muddled with the passage of time in their stories. If that’s you, don’t worry, it’s common. Time in a story can tie you up in knots sometimes.

The thing is, if the passage of time matters to your plot, then it matters that the audience know exactly where and when they are in your story. The beauty of a novel is that you can do it simply and in just a few lines if you want to, for example: John insisted that he knew how to fix it, as he got his tools out of the shed. He tried and tried but the hours went by with no success. Three days later, he was still trying until he gave up on the Saturday afternoon. See? We’ve covered quite a bit of time and got ourselves into the weekend in just three sentences. And we didn’t lose anything, even though that time went by slowly.

But a word of caution: if other things are happening to other characters in different places during those three sentences, you’ll have quite a bit of work to do to explain later what they’ve been up to over those three days.

Often you can transition to a different time at a new chapter or section of a book. Michael Crichton famously wrote lots of short chapters which often began with a location, a day, and a time. You can do the same with sections, or at least start with a vague reference to the time or describe the setting. An overcast moon poured a dull greyish-blue light on the parking lot. Or something!

If the clock is central to the story (the world is ending at midnight, so it’s vital we know it’s 23.45), then exact times work. In other scenarios, a general description of the time or how things look work well. Usually you want to explain the time early on, so you ground your reader and help them paint a picture of the time in their mind quickly.