Book Recipes

Book Recipes: How to Write Chicklit

Time for another book recipe! This one is on how to write chicklit, so I’m sorry to tell you that your perfect outfit is about to be ruined by a lorry driving through a puddle right next to you or something. Don’t worry, it’ll be hilarious.

 

Ingredients

  • One endearingly ditzy heroine
  • A collection of sassy friends
  • An incredibly attractive and successful woman to be envied and/or hated
  • One suitably fancy city
  • An attractive man to make bad decisions with
  • An attractive man to make better decisions with
  • The big presentation
  • One extremely embarrassing family
  • A fancy event that the protagonist needs a date for

 

Method

  1. Your endearingly ditzy heroine is living in this fancy city! Oh boy, isn’t she having a lovely time.
  2. Introduce her sassy friends and the object of the protagonist’s envy/hatred/confused lust.
  3. The big presentation is coming up at work! This is your protagonist’s opportunity for…big work stuff?
  4. Uh-oh, here comes the embarrassing family!

giphy merida
GOD MOM YOU’RE SO EMBARRASSING (image: giphy.com)

  1. But what’s this? Looks like an attractive man who the protagonist could make bad decisions with…
  2. Go to a bar, just for fun.
  3. Introduce the second attractive man, who gives off an air of inspiring better life choices by wearing cardigans and holding doors open. Despise him immediately.
  4. Have a hilariously embarrassing encounter with one of your love interests. YOU MUST TRIP OVER.
  5. Become a sort-of couple with Love Interest #1. Insist that this is not a bad decision.
  6. Hang out with your sassy friends some more!
  7. Oh no, looks like the object of your protagonist’s envy/hatred/confused lust is muscling in on the big presentation! There’s only one way to resolve this…
  8. POORLY THOUGHT OUT SHENANIGANS.
  1. Oh no, turns out Love Interest #1 was a bad decision, for he has betrayed you in a way that no-one saw coming!
  2. Angst about your breakup with your sassy friends.
  3. Get closer with Love Interest #2 while working on the big presentation. Maybe he’s not so bad after all…
  4. Your protagonist is at the fancy event with Love Interest #2 but oh no, it’s all gone wrong somehow! Walk home alone in the rain.
  5. Have a surprisingly touching moment with your embarrassing family and get cheered up a bit.
  6. It’s time for that big presentation at work and YOU NAILED IT YEAH YOU DID
  7. And who should witness your success but Love Interest #2, here to make amends!
  8. Become a couple with Love Interest #2. Immediately steal his cardigans.

THE END. Serve in a pink cover.

 

Tips:

  • There are two cities you can set your novel: London and New York. All other places are mini-break destinations or hometowns which the characters joke about.
  • Always write in first person. If you sound like you’re speaking directly to the reader, even better!
  • Give your heroine a suitably fun job, while making sure that she coasts by on the minimal amount of work. All we really need to know about the big presentation is that it’s big.
  • Your protagonist must trip over and/or accidentally flash someone at least twice.

giphy shrug js
Them’s the rules, I don’t make ’em (image: giphy.com)

  • There are two kinds of parents in this novel: endearingly bumbling and embarrassing or cold and stern.
  • Even though your protagonist lives in one of the most expensive cities in the world, she still has to have a really nice apartment all to herself for plot reasons.
  • The protagonist must be naturally bad at everything she tries, for Comedy.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

“…and as you all know, this will be crucial to our quarterly projections…”

Damn. I’m late.

I sneak into the back of the meeting room, trying to wrestle my hair back into place. It isn’t bad enough that I’m late to the big meeting, oh no. I also happen to be late to the big meeting because I’ve been caught in a storm, so my hair has been blown all over the place and my makeup is running so bad I look like The Joker after Harley dumped him.

Halley waves me over to a chair she saved for me. I creep over, using the sound of the sales team droning on as cover.

“Lissa, what happened to you?” she whispers. “I thought we were supposed to meet for coffee before this.”

I clatter into the chair, twisting my ankle in the process. “I lost my shoe in the storm.”

She raises a pierced eyebrow at me. “What? How?”

I prop up my notebook so it looks like I’m taking important notes and start telling Halley the story. I was walking to work in my brand-new heels – turquoise four-inch stilettos that I’d been coveting for weeks – when I had trodden on a drain. The point of my heel had got stuck in the grid and jammed there, and when they’d got my leg out of the storm drain the fire brigade had told me that my beautiful, beautiful shoe was gone forever. They also told me that I should really get the scratches looked at, but by then I was half an hour late for work, so.

Halley’s eyes light up as I finish my story. “Ooh, firemen! Did you get any numbers?”

But I’m too hungry to talk about firemen. I dropped my cereal bowl in my kitchen back at the flat, spilling milk everywhere, and when I bought a pastry on my walk into work a seagull flew down and snatched it out of my hand, which was rude. I’m starving, and luckily for me, this is a brunch meeting, and there’s a tray of bacon sandwiches in the middle of the table with my name on it.

I lower my notebook and, as subtly as I can, edge through the crowd to get to the central table. I manage it pretty well – this time, I only tread on three feet – and lean over the big jug of orange juice to get to my sandwiches. I scoop up four, piling them onto a paper plate, dripping grease and ketchup. I can’t spill anything, or people will notice. It’d be terrible if I made a mess in front of everyone, at this big important meeting.

I sit back down and devour the first bacon sandwich in three bites. The sales guy is still talking, but I’m pretty sure his voice is loud enough to cover the sounds of me chewing. Hopefully, anyway.

“Sorry, did I hear that right?” comes a perfectly cultured voice from somewhere to my right. “You got your leg stuck in a storm drain?”

My heart sinks. Of course she overheard that part.

I turn to face Mimi St Clair, perfectly manicured darling of BusinessCorp. Her perfectly plucked brows are pulled together, concerned, and her silk shirt shows a tasteful amount of cleavage as she leans forward. I give her a bacon-y smile and blush, immediately. Ugh. She’s so perfect.

“Thanks for asking, Mimi,” I say around a particularly chewy bit of bacon rind, “but I’m really fine.”

She bites one of her red, red, lips – and that’s not fair, how is her lipstick still in place – and frowns at me, still worried. “You don’t look fine. I can see the scratches on your legs.”

I blush even more. Of course she’s been looking at my scratched and bleeding legs. Probably comparing them to her own perfectly long, tanned, limbs and knowing with absolute certainty that she’s got the best legs of everyone in the whole of BusinessCorp. Not that I’ve been comparing. God, I hate her.

“Well –” I stop, briefly choking on a bit of bacon. “ – gotta get to work. Gotta…hustle, and stuff. With the money. You know me, all about that business.”

Mimi gives me a dazzling smile and how is there nothing stuck in her teeth when half the bacon sandwiches are gone? It’s not fair. It’s not fair that she’s the best businesswoman in the whole of BusinessCorp and a mega-hot blonde who once dumped a Russian oligarch. And she’s really nice, which makes it worse. And she’s probably also a really great kisser.

“I always know you’re serious when you bust out the technical terms,” she says, still smiling. “So does that mean you’re going for the big presentation, then?”

Killing for time, I make my way back to the table to get a glass of orange juice. I only elbow five people on my way through so I don’t think anyone notices. I’m very careful as I pour out my glass; it’d be so embarrassing if I spilled something at this crucial meeting. I try and eavesdrop on the sales guy while I do it – honestly, how is he still talking – and there is some stuff about a presentation, and it does sound pretty big. Huh.

I sit back down with my orange juice, take a sip, and promptly spill it all down my top. Halley laughs, but Mimi hands me her handkerchief. It’s silky and smells really nice, like freesia, and I think I’m about to explode with jealousy. She has everything I want – a top job, an Instagram-worthy flat, a fantastic wardrobe, a really great butt and her eyes are so pretty and her voice is like butter – and I hate her so much, I definitely hate her.

I mop up the orange juice as best as I can. “Well, I mean, maybe I could see if I’ve got time in my schedule for –”

“It’d be so good if you did,” she says, leaning forward, “I could always use a little friendly competition. It’s such a motivator, don’t you think?”

This is it. This is my chance to finally show up Mimi, to prove to everyone that I too can be good at my job, well-dressed, not clumsy, and maybe I’ll also smell nicer and get a better butt in the process. I mean, there’s no reason why I can’t do it. I care about my job, like a lot, and I can care about whatever that sales guy is talking about if it’ll help me show up Mimi. Oh, and maybe I’ll also get a boyfriend.

I grin at Mimi. “If it’s a competition you want, that’s what you’ll get,” I say. I reach for my notebook – and my elbow catches a sales director right in the kidneys. He staggers forward, bashing into a group of assistants, who clatter down like dominoes into our chief buyer, who lurches forward, throws out his arms to catch his fall, and then crashes right through the central table. Bacon sandwiches, orange juice and coffee fly everywhere, along with bits of splintered conference table, several notebooks, and the laptop with the sales presentation on it, which goes flying out of an open window.

There is a few seconds of silence. Then everyone turns to look at me.

I swallow the last bite of my bacon sandwich. “I was sitting down,” I say.

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

alice-in-wonderland-i-see-what-you-did-there

Book Recipes

Book Recipes: How to Write a Zombie Apocalypse Story

Time for the first book recipe of 2020! This one’s on zombie apocalypses (apocalypsi?) so get ready to shuffle along and groan.

 

Ingredients:

  • One plucky band of survivors. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • Grizzled lawman
    • Hapless comedy bumbler
    • Woman who is still insanely hot despite the apocalypse
    • A delightfully cute child who your readers will want to push out the window after ten minutes
    • Religious one
    • Idealistic doctor and/or scientist
  • A butt-ton of zombies, obviously
  • Smashed-up buildings
  • Buckets of blood and gore
  • Murder-eyed psychopaths
  • Guns
  • A hackneyed moral about the human condition
  • A barrel full of extras who will die for the sake of DRAMA.

 

Method:

  1. Set the scene with a smashed-up cityscape and our brave survivors sneaking around. Sure hope there aren’t any zombies here.
  2. Oh no! Zombies!
  3. Kill off your first supporting character.
  4. Retreat back to the survivors’ hideout and introduce the rest of your characters. It’s so great that they’re all alive.
  5. For plot reasons, the heroes must leave their very safe hideout. Suit up and get ready to go to the place where you will all definitely be safe, I promise.
  6. Oh no! Zombies!
  1. Your survivors manage to get away with only one extra being eaten, how nice. Reminisce about the pre-apocalypse world so the reader knows they should put down their mobile and go outside more.
  2. Uh-oh! Looks like there’s some other survivors here, but bad ones. Hide from them so they don’t murder you extravagantly.
  3. Aww, looks like two characters are starting to bond, despite the apocalypse. Isn’t that nice?
  4. Oh no! Zombies!
  5. The bigger and/or manlier character rescues the smaller and/or girlier character from the zombies. Yay! Relax, everybody, only three extras got eaten this time and our leads are fine.
  6. But what’s this? The science character has been observing the zombies and has had an idea! Could it be A Cure, that will only come into play in step twenty?

giphy bag
I’ll just put these plot points in my bag for later. (image: giphy.com)

  1. Your plucky band of survivors is drawing close to the place where they’re totally going to be safe now, but it looks like there could be trouble up ahead.
  2. Oh no! Zombies!
  3. Time to kill off one of your core cast! It can be anyone apart from science character, the rescuer, or the rescuee, save those for the end.
  4. Hooray! You’ve made it to the safe place! Settle in for a bit and meet some of your new survivor friends.
  5. Some of these survivors seem kind of…murder-y.
  6. Oh no! Your new friends have turned on you! Turns out the real monsters…were humans.
  7. Fighting! It’s very bad, because this time it’s people, and maybe some of your core cast have betrayed you to join the newbies!
  8. Emerge victorious, but not without the heroic death of either the rescuer or the rescuee. It’s very sad, but luckily your science character has found A Cure, hooray! This will definitely fix everything and tie up all outstanding plot points.

THE END. Serve covered in blood.

 

Tips:

  • Zombies are always a metaphor for something. Make sure to spell it out so your reader knows that you are very, very smart.
  • You’ve always got to have at least one child zombie.
  • Society has completely collapsed, but your hot lady character has access to razors, shampoo, conditioner, and all kinds of makeup she might need. Everyone else looks like they’ve been through hell; she has one artfully placed smudge of dirt on her left cheek.

maxresdefault scarjo
See, you can tell she’s been in battle because of the one (1) smudge. (image: youtube.com)

  • Make sure to include vivid descriptions of at least one very smashed-up landmark.
  • Choose your hideout well. It needs supplies and medicine, of course, but it’s also got to have an aesthetic. Make sure to leave one or more of the following objects lying around:
    • A discarded doll
    • A poster for something very innocent with a bloody handprint on it
    • A torn-up flag
    • A creepy music box that’s always playing
    • Scorch marks
  • At least one character must die when trying to approach someone they don’t know has been turned into a zombie, and/or a loved one who is turning into a zombie. Such pathos.
  • Never, ever run out of ammo, unless it’s for plot reasons.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

The survivors crept through the streets, making as little noise as possible. Abandoned cars sat rusting on the side of the road. Broken glass crunched beneath their feet. Doors swung open in the wind, and with every creak of hinges they all flinched and whirled around.

Cal did a quick head count. He was in the lead, shotgun in hand. Teagan stood behind him, one smudge of dirt on her cheek, her combat heels covered in dust. She was holding the hand of Li’l Annie, six years old and trailing a teddy bear in one hand. Behind them was Dr Muerta, staggering slightly, and his research assistant Janet, who was shuffling up the line, looking rather worried. Then came Rosa and Walt Daedmann, clutching each other tightly, and Vic and Tim, both of them armed at the rear of the column. There were only nine of them left now, and –

There was a spluttering noise and a soft thud, and the sounds of several people breaking into a run. And then, a groan.

“Fffff…”

Cal whirled around. Dr Muerta had dropped to his knees, his face drained of colour. Too late, Cal saw the bite mark on his shoulder. They’d got him.

“Vic, Tim, checkpoint A,” he muttered. They nodded and started running, leading the others away, and Cal walked up to Dr Muerta and shot him before the transformation could finish. So. Now there were only eight of them left, and –

There were a couple of screams from up ahead. “God damn it,” Cal muttered, and set off at a run. He soon found the source of the noise – Rosa and Walt, on the ground with two of the zombies hunched over them. They looked up as he approached, and began the moaning again.

“Fffffoooooaaaa…”

Cal shot both the zombies in the head, and then did the same to Rosa and Walt: those wounds weren’t going to heal, and when they got back up again they wouldn’t be Rosa and Walt any more. He headed for checkpoint A, praying that nothing had happened to Teagan and Li’l Annie.

Checkpoint A had once been a school. He skidded to a halt just inside the main doors and saw them all standing there – bruised, but not bloodied. Teagan and Li’l Annie ran up to him, Li’l Annie throwing her arms around one of his legs.

“Mister Cal!” Li’l Annie squealed, “I thoughted you were all eated up!”

He ruffled her hair, making sure that Teagan could see how brave and stoic he was being. “Not today, kiddo.”

“Not ever!” Li’l Annie insisted. “Those mean ol’ zombies aren’t awwowed to eat up my fwiends!”

“I’ll make sure to tell them, kiddo.”

Teagan flashed him a smile and then, they went about securing the school. Only one room was safe enough to use: a classroom on the first floor with a good vantage point and a heavy, lockable door. He and Tim raided the nurse’s office for medical supplies, and then the cafeteria, but they didn’t find much apart from toilet paper. The corridors were full of discarded toys – skateboards, dolls, and other plastic things that youths enjoy – and just looking at them made Cal shudder. He had been a youth once.

They settled in for the night, barricading themselves inside the classroom, covering the windows and making a small fire in the bin. They huddled around it, hunched into themselves. Vic and Tim were cleaning their shotguns, while Janet leafed through some papers she’d taken out of her bag. Li’l Annie had her head on Teagan’s lap, peeping out from the collar of Cal’s jacket.

“Whatcha got there, Janet?” Tim asked, throwing her a curious glance.

“Hmm?” she said, taking a pencil out from behind her ear. “Oh, just some notes. Dr Muerta had been studying the zombies. I think there’s a pattern here.”

“Why?” Li’l Annie piped up.

Janet put on her glasses. Oh shit, Cal thought, it’s about to get very serious now. “Looking at the data Dr Muerta collected,” she began, spreading her notes across the floor, “it seems as if there’s some kind of instinctual behaviours that the zombies are emulating. Speaking from a neuro-physical point of view, there must be some kind of bio-evolutionary response that causes a synaptic…”

Cal tuned out. He concentrated on making his jaw look as square as possible. Teagan was looking this way and firelight was always flattering.

“Gee, Dr Janet,” Li’l Annie interrupted, “you’re weal smart, huh? I wish I was as cwever as you.”

“Well, thank you, Annie.”

“It’s Wi’w Annie. Dr Janet? Where do zombies come from?”

The room went quiet. Janet took off her glasses, polished them, and put them back on, and that was how Cal knew he had to pay attention.

“Well, no-one’s really sure exactly how it started,” Janet explained. “It seems to be linked to some kind of electronic devices, although I don’t know what kind, as areas with poor electricity coverage didn’t get as badly hit as places were everybody was online. As far as Dr Muerta and I were able to tell, the outbreak started by changing the electrical signal in the brain, and rapidly evolved into something that could be transmissible through a bite.”

There was a distant moaning. It almost sounded like the word “Phooooonneeeesssss,” or perhaps it was just “Weshould’vegoneoutsidemoooorrreeeeee.” Cal shivered. Who knew what went on in the minds of zombies.

Li’l Annie took her thumb out of her mouth. “So you mean a mummy zombie and a daddy zombie don’t have to get mawwied?”

Cal and Teagan exchanged an adoring look. Li’l Annie was so cute.

Janet attempted a smile, but she looked vaguely disgusted. “I’m sure they could if they wanted to.”

“But Dr Janet,” said Li’l Annie, frowning adorably, “if mummy zombies and daddy zombies can want to get mawwied, why do we have to kill them? I want to get mawwied to Mr Teddy,” she said, brandishing her stuffed bear, “so doesn’t that mean that we’re samesies?”

“It’s not quite that simple. They want to eat us, Annie.”

Wi’w Annie, thank you. I don’t understand, Dr Janet. If mummy zombies and daddy zombies can feel wove, how do you know they awen’t just like us – wiving, feewing things? If we wook at Maswow’s Hiewawchy of Needs, wove and bewonging is the third tier of the pywamid, which impwies that –”

“Don’t kids just say the cutest things?” said Teagan. “All right, Li’l Annie, time for bed.”

Li’l Annie put her thumb back in her mouth and closed her eyes. Teagan was right, Cal thought, kids do say the cutest things.

Janet leaned forward. “That’s not all I’ve discovered,” she whispered. “If, as I suspect, the original virus was triggered by an electrical signal in the brain, it should, in theory, be possible to reverse the polarity of the original signal and wipe the virus from existence. I’d need access to a generator, of course, and a signal tower, but if we can get all the equipment together we could at least twy. Sorry, try.”

For the first time in a long time, Cal felt a flicker of hope. Could it be possible to reverse the effects of the virus? What would happen if they succeeded? But he was getting ahead of himself, he thought. They still had to make it all the way to Pastor Grimwood’s Church of the Redeemed, and that was a week and a half’s hard journey on foot. Not to mention that there were only six of them left –

A horde of zombies burst through the door. Vic and Tim were closest, and were dragged backwards, screaming.

“God damn it,” Cal grumbled, and reached for his shotgun.

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Strong Female Characters

The Problem with Strong Female Characters

It seems like I can’t go two steps without tripping over an ad for the latest instalment of The Hunger Games movie franchise. Granted, this may be because I still haven’t mastered the ability to avoid tripping over my own feet, but the point still stands. The Hunger Games is everywhere, and Jennifer Lawrence – playing the famously strong-willed heroine, Katniss Everdeen – scowls out from every poster with a determined look on her face.

Katniss's SRS BSNS face.
SRS BSNS. (image: screencrush.com)

This got me thinking. Since the book’s release, Katniss Everdeen has been widely acknowledged as a Strong Female Character. When critics point to examples of her strength, most of the evidence they present is based around the scenes that show Katniss kicking ass and taking names in the arena. This is by no means a trend that is limited to The Hunger Games – more often than not, the characters praised for being Strong Female Characters are the ones who can grind their enemies into paste.

But does this actually make them strong?

We live in a world where feminism is becoming more and more acceptable, and where writers, directors and artists are making more of a conscious effort to include women in their narratives. The easiest way to do this is to put a token woman in a team of male heroes – I’m looking at you, Avengers – and to make her really good at fighting.

This is not characterisation. We need more well-developed, realistic female characters in fiction, and martial arts skills are not a substitute for a personality.

So how many women in fiction are well-developed, well-rounded characters, and how many just have a really good right hook where their personality should be?

Well, I’m going to find out.

I’m going to be starting a weekly series of blog posts where I look at popular female characters in fiction and determine whether they’re really as developed and well-rounded as everyone says they are. To help with my analysis, I’ll be subjecting each character to the following questions:

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
  2. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
  3. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
  4. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
  5. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
  6. Does she develop over the course of the story?
  7. Does she have a weakness?
  8. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
  9. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
  10. How does she relate to other female characters?

If they get more than eight out of ten, they’ll have passed my test. If they don’t, I’m going to sit in the corner and cry.

Let’s get started. Katniss Everdeen, I’m coming for you.