Tag Archives: Jo Writes Stuff

Book Recipes: How to Write a Noir Detective Thriller

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at Noir fiction. Put on your trench coats and fedoras and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One hard-boiled, alcoholic private eye
  • One dame who done him wrong
  • A spectacularly grimy city, with skyscrapers
  • Entire vats of cynicism
  • An informant named either ‘Jimmy’ or ‘Benny’
  • Guns named after women
  • A sinister crime boss
  • Absolutely no happy endings
  • Trenchcoats

 

Method:

  1. Put your PI in a grimy office and have him monologue about things. It can’t be about anything happy or banal, and must be filled with questionable metaphors.
  2. In walks our femme fatale for the evening! They flirt.
  3. She wants him to investigate a murder, for reasons that are slightly dodgy.
  4. Our PI investigates the scene of the crime. There are Clues. All the important ones have been missed by the police, who are incompetent, corrupt, or both.
  5. Time to visit the informant and find out what he knows. He’ll tell you, because he’s a coward.
  6. Oh no! A Clue has led you to a place where criminals hang out! Time to treat your life with utter disdain and sneak in in the most brazen way possible. Hi-jinks ensue.

  1. The boss wants to see you. This is never good. You should monologue some more so the reader gets it.
  2. The sinister crime boss warns the PI to drop the case, stay away from the femme fatale, or similar. It’s a very tense conversation, and always done in front of hired goons.
  3. Ignore him! There’s still eleven steps to go.
  4. Meet up with the femme fatale again and flirt some more. Something she says doesn’t quite add up, but she’s hot, so it doesn’t matter.
  5. A gunfight! Join in.
  6. You have a Clue that contradicts the evidence of the first Clue, in a way that is too intricate and complex to articulate in a sarcastic twenty-step overview! WHAT CAN IT MEEEEAN?
  7. Something bad happens to slow down the investigation! It could be a break-in, a beat-up informant, or maybe even another murder. Monologue about it.
  8. The femme fatale and the PI have a tender/romantic/sexy moment together. Allow a brief sliver of hope, but get ready to crush it later.
  9. So close to finding out the truth! The PI just needs one more edge piece and the puzzle will be solved…
  10. …but oh no, he’s arrested! It’s highly suspicious.
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Hmmm… (image: gifimage.net)
  1. The crime boss appears again, and offers the PI one last chance. Ignore him, he’s not the protagonist.
  2. Break out of jail! Have a chase scene! Punch a guy! Cram the last few pages with action.
  3. Turns out the femme fatale was behind it all along! What an absolute shocker.
  4. Finish off with a big gunfight. The PI survives, but the femme fatale, the crime boss, and that last sliver of hope definitely don’t. Walk off into the rain, bitterly.

THE END. Serve with plenty of liquor.

 

Tips:

  • Always write in first person. If it doesn’t sound like a bitter drunk is telling you the story while slumped over a barstool, start again.
  • Not sure where to set it? It doesn’t really matter. Near future dystopia, Roaring Twenties, nursery rhymes – anywhere can be a noir setting if you put a depressing enough spin on it!
  • Never ever call women ‘women’. Only ever refer to them as dames, broads, doll, toots, or tomatoes. (That last one is not made up.)
AO_Girl_Tomato
What hath science wrought?? (image: annoyingorangefanon.wikia.com)
  • All your gangsters need to have nicknames. They don’t have to make sense, though.
  • Always make sure your main character has a cool name. He’s got to beat up bad guys and solve murders, and he can’t really do that if he’s got a name like Gerald.
  • Cram it full of questionable metaphors. If you get stuck, elaborate, and then put ‘if ya know what I mean’ on the end of the sentence. Readers will assume you are wise-cracking and witty, instead of thinking that you fell down the rabbit hole with a thesaurus in your hand. If ya know what I mean.
giphy community
YEAH YOU DO. (image: giphy.com)
  • Contractions and slang make your main character sound tough. ‘You’ is always ‘ya’, don’t hesitate to use no double negative, and always go for ‘gotta’ over ‘got to’. Proper grammar is for wusses.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

They say this city used to be the kinda town where everyone knew each other. A guy couldn’t go a block without seein’ someone he knew. A little old lady with an apple pie. Maybe some kids, playin’ on the sidewalk. Musta been nice.

These days, it ain’t so pretty. Sure, there’s a few familiar faces. But they ain’t exactly friendly. Ya see ’em steppin’ out of alleys with a gat pointed at your belly and ya think ‘Gee, didn’t ya rob me last week?’

Not me, though. Nobody robs Mac Hunter. Even in this city, where sleepin’ in the gutter is a step up, nobody’s dumb enough to rob the best PI in town. Besides, they all know I’m broke.

Feet on the desk, I pour myself another glass of hooch. Business is slow, slower than a snail with a gammy leg. I oughtta be drummin’ up a case, but to hell with that. It’s rainin’. Always rains in this godforsaken city.

I light up a Camel. Yellow light stripes through the Venetian blinds, like a zebra, only one with really straight stripes that’s been turned ass over teakettle. Electricity broke two weeks ago and the landlord won’t do a damn thing about it. Says I oughtta be grateful for a place of my own. Hell. He oughtta be grateful he answers to Jimmy “Spoonface” Giuliani. If ol’ Spoonface wasn’t in the picture, he wouldn’t be so quick to run his mouth off.

There’s a knock at the door. Hell. Landlord, again.

“Velma! Get the door!” I yell, before I remember that Velma walked out last week. Said a secretary wanted payin’ in more’n just stale whiskey. She’ll be back. She sticks to me like gum that’s been covered in glue, and then dunked in molasses, and then glue, again. Never could say no to a man with a pack a day habit and a gun in his pocket.

But then the door opens, and trouble walks in. Turns out, trouble is a redhead.

Legs for days and all the way up to her waist, if ya know what I mean. Poured into a dress as black as a black cat in a coal cellar at midnight and with all the lights off. Curls like spiral staircases twirling up to the top of her head, and I couldn’t think of a man who wouldn’t slug a guy to climb ’em. Fur coat. Shiny gloves. A ring that coulda bought half the city, but that ain’t sayin’ much.

“Well?” she says, in a voice like November, “aren’t you going to give me a seat, Mr Hunter?”

Aw, hell. I tip an ashtray and a few empty bottles of hooch off of a chair. She shakes her head, mutters ‘November?’ and sits herself down. It’s like watching a bottle of oak-cask whiskey uncork itself and wriggle towards your hand.

She frowns. “Oak-cask whiskey?”

“Never mind. What can I do you for, Miss…”

“Valentine.”

“I betcha are.”

Mrs Lola Valentine.”

“He’s a lucky fella.”

She fits a cigarette into a long holder. Before I know it I’m lightin’ it for her, like some chubby little drone buzzin’ after the queen bee. Only, with cigarettes and a lighter in my fuzzy bee paws. Note to self: do bees have paws? Probably oughtta look that one up.

She gives me a strange look and takes a drag. “He’s a dead fella, Mr Hunter.”

Damn. Now I remember. Her dear departed husband musta been Frank “Steps” Valentine. Rich. Old. In the Mayor’s pocket and not the one at the back, if ya know what I mean. Shot in the back of the head not two weeks gone. Coroner ruled it a suicide. They always do.

“I know my husband’s death wasn’t a suicide,” she says, fixin’ me with a look that pinned me like a butterfly on a collector’s board. Only, a manly butterfly, with trenchcoat wings, a fedora, and a gat named Ginger in his hand. Antenna.

“Now, Mrs Valentine…”

“You know it too. I heard the tone of your monologue. I want you to find out who killed him. I’ll pay you well, of course.”

She knew I could do with the money. But “Steps” Valentine played a dangerous game, and I don’t mean no game that could be played with the lovely Lola. All kindsa scum had muscled in on Valentine’s racket and his body was barely cold. Eddie “Llama” McMurphy had his slice of the rum-runners. Vincenzo “Beaker” Gorlami was movin’ in on the girlie shows. And worst of all, Boris “the Holly Bush” Krazinsky was havin’ dinner with the Mayor every night, and you betcha he was gettin’ two scoops of ice cream with desert, if ya know what I mean.

But ‘danger’ is my middle name. No, really. It says ‘Mac Danger Hunter’ on my birth certificate.

“And if I don’t take the case?”

“Then, Mr Hunter,” she says, givin’ me a smile that drains all the metaphors right outta me, “I’ll take it to a gumshoe that doesn’t monologue out loud.”

 

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)
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Game of Thrones Season Seven: Prediction Tally

Time for a brief intermission before I go back to talking about Mary Sues. Know why?

So Game of Thrones series seven has come to an end and I’m still reeling. Before the series started I made ten predictions (plus one wild card) about how the series would go. Let’s see how my fortune-telling skills measure up.

 

  1. Stark family reunion

I’m counting this one as it’s been confirmed that Jon isn’t a Stark. As I suspected this season held the reunion of the surviving Stark children and, despite the fact that Bran is a tree now, it was pretty great. This one was fairly obvious though, so I won’t gloat too much.

 

  1. Daenerys will lose a dragon

MY HEART.

giphy tears
I’ve just got something in my eye… (image: giphy.com)

This didn’t happen in the way I expected as my money was on Euron Greyjoy and his magical horn (stop sniggering). But I wasn’t disappointed, mainly because of THAT ENDING. My God.

 

  1. Jaime will break with Cersei

I feel like I can’t really take too much credit for getting this one right as it has already happened in the books. However, I’m still smug. I have to say I’m surprised it still happened after Cersei told Jaime she’s pregnant, but this one’s been a long time coming.

 

  1. Jorah will die of greyscale

Unexpectedly not! What a nice reprieve for everyone’s favourite chocolatey-voiced third wheel. I don’t think he’s got much to look forward to, though. Aside from watching Jon and Dany mooning over each other he’s got an army of zombies to contend with.

 

  1. The Wall will be compromised

’Nuff said.

 

  1. Sam will find an important secret about the White Walkers in the Great Library, but die before he can deliver the information to Jon

I was really expecting Sam to die this season, but I’m so glad that he didn’t. Game of Thrones is at the point where it needs to start trimming down the cast so all that delicious final-series drama can be properly savoured. I’m really glad that Sam wasn’t on this season’s hit list as I’ve got a real soft spot for his and Gilly’s little family.

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I just want them to settle down on a little farm and make jam together. (image: wikiofthrones.com)

That said, he did discover quite a few important secrets in the Great Library – the dragonglass mines on Dragonstone, and, thanks to Gilly, the proof that Jon is the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. All these secrets will come to fruition next season. I can’t imagine Jon’s Aunty Girlfriend is going to be all that pleased.

 

  1. Littlefinger will die

…and it was GREAT. Sansa came into her own, the Starks all banded together and everything was awesome. I did think it was all a little on the convenient side, though. The Starks had no real proof of their accusations against Littlefinger and he didn’t really try and defend himself. I’ve no doubt that if this scene had happened in the books it would’ve played out very differently. But I’m willing to forgive all of that because LOOK AT HOW BADASS SANSA IS:

SHE’S COME SO FAR YOU GUYS SHE’S GROWN SO MUCH AND LEARNED FROM HER MISTAKES AND I’M SO PROUD

 

  1. Bran will possess a wight

Unfortunately this one didn’t happen, which is a shame because it would’ve been really cool. Perhaps in season eight. I did appreciate the insights we got into how wights work though. The showrunners went for the classic ‘Dracula’ monster structure: kill off the creator and all its minions (createes? Not sure if there’s a word) will die too. They’ve written in an easy kill-switch, but hopefully this will lead to a killer duel with the Night’s King. We’ve never really seen him fight, just stand around being scary, so I’m hoping this will mean we’ll get an opportunity to see what he can do.

 

  1. Daenerys will begin exhibiting signs of her father’s madness

Daenerys set two people on fire when she didn’t need to: Randall Tarly and his son, Dickon.

giphy snigger
Heh heh heh.  (image: giphy.com)

This was a hallmark of her father, the Mad King, who took a weird and creepy pleasure in killing his enemies by setting them on fire in various horrible ways. While this could have simply been a demonstration of her power, the show then included a scene where Varys and Tyrion discussed the implications of their own role in witnessing these kinds of executions.

This is quite clearly intended as foreshadowing. The writers want viewers to make the connection between Dany’s actions and her father’s, and consider the implications this may have for her rule. I’m not surprised that this comparison is being drawn. As I mentioned in my original post, Daenerys hasn’t really suffered a storyline-changing setback. All the other characters have. While you could put the loss of Viserion in this category, I’m not sure it would really count, as it hasn’t really dented her resolve to ascend the Iron Throne. She hasn’t had to radically re-assess her goals and beliefs in the way that many other characters have done so far. I think this means she’s in for a strong dose of the Targaryen madness, and I doubt she’s going to take the Iron Throne at all.

 

  1. Cleganebowl

There was no hype. Maybe next season, though.

 

WILD CARD: Jorah’s greyscale has already been passed to Daenerys. She and her court get infected by the disease

Haha yeah, this didn’t happen. I’m glad, though – this would’ve been a lame way for the series to end.

 

SMUGNESS LEVELS: 6/10 

giphy smug
Gloating all day every day. (image: giphy.com)

 

And there you have it! Sixty percent of the time, it worked every time. Probably not quite fortune-teller standard just yet, but there’s always season eight.

Book Recipes: How to Write a YA Dystopia

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at YA dystopian fiction. Get ready to be Chosen and we’ll get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One totally dark and edgy heroine
  • At least two tall and handsome love interests
  • One standard post-apocalyptic setting
  • One vague, shadowy organisation that runs everything
  • Token background characters to be killed off at will
  • The Prophecy
  • A social categorisation system that makes no sense
  • A bunch of futuristic-sounding names
  • Angst
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)

 

Method:

  1. Use your post-apocalyptic setting and social categorisation system as a backdrop for our edgy heroine. Don’t explain too much, unless you’re describing what she looks like.
  2. She has been Chosen!
  3. Introduce your love interests. They must fit into one of the following categories:
    1. Overlooked childhood friend
    2. Dark and mysterious bad boy
    3. Plays guitar
  4. The Prophecy is revealed and it’s all about the heroine. It doesn’t have to make sense, it just needs lots of Impressive Capitals.
  5. Training montage!

  1. Our heroine finds out the shadowy organisation is plotting something! Better grab the love interests and investigate!
  2. FIGHTING!
  3. The heroine and one of the love interests are separated from the group! Better use the time wisely and make out.
  4. A Mysterious Secret is discovered. Don’t pay any attention to it until the final third of the book. We’ve still got chapters to fill.
  5. An authority figure tries to tell the heroine what to do, but they’re over twenty-five and can be safely ignored.
  6. Time for a deep and meaningful conversation with the other love interest!
  7. More training. This time there’s a love interest there, so it’s sexy training.
  8. The Prophecy is coming true, just like the Elders said!
  9. Angst. About everything. You wouldn’t understand.
  10. Time to go and destroy the evil organisation! Suit up. If there’s anyone you want to get rid of, make sure the heroine talks to them before she leaves. Then they’re a goner.
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Just two days until retirement! (image: tvtropes.com)
  1. Sneak into the organisation’s lair. While you’re there, make sure the heroine agonises over who she’s going to make out with.
  2. BETRAYAL! Kill off a few background characters to make it stick.
  3. Time for the final showdown! The heroine bravely goes off to sacrifice herself, but not before making out with someone. I mean, she might die.
  4. Our heroine confronts the main villain, who sneers. There’s a big fight and a few tense conversations but it all works out well in the end.
  5. OR DOES IT??? Prepare for the inevitable trilogy.

THE END. Serve steeped in teenage angst.

 

Tips:

  • Stuck on coming up with futuristic names? Help is at hand. Just take a normal name and spell it badly.
  • Responsible parents should never, ever be a feature. Anything like bedtimes, eating vegetables, and insisting you don’t throw yourself into danger at every possible opportunity would just get in the way of your heroine’s adventures.
  • Never kill anyone off unless you’re absolutely sure you aren’t going to spin this out into a series.
  • Always, always, always use first person, present tense.
  • Don’t know how to organise your dystopian society? Take a random online quiz and base it off that. It doesn’t need to make sense – all it really needs to do is generate pointless tension.
giphy running
Quick! To Buzzfeed! (image: giphy.com)
  • Any opportunity to have a ~*Forbidden Romance*~ should be seized at all costs.
  • Don’t think too much about the whole apocalypse part. Hint at it in a mysterious sort of way, but don’t explain it. You don’t want your readers wondering how toothpaste survived a nuclear holocaust but electricity didn’t, you want them arguing over which cute boy the heroine should kiss!

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

For a second when I wake up I almost forget what Cycle it is. I’m back in The Dormitory with Khamm, Hollow, and Mareen, and any second now we’ll be shaken out of our bunks for Morning Nutrition.

But then I remember. I’m not in The Dormitory any more.

I get out of bed and pad over to the mirror. Elder Landseer’s house is so much nicer than The Dormitory. There are carpets, and a sink with brass taps – something that I haven’t seen before. Apparently there used to be all sorts of things like that, but they all got destroyed in The Cataclysm. Still, I don’t have time for such silly, girly things. I’d much rather be out hunting. I guess I’m not like other girls.

I examine my face in the mirror. Just an ordinary, everyday girl with aquamarine eyes, pure white hair and a scar shaped like a twisting vine on one cheekbone. Nothing special. I pull on my plain grey tunic and leggings and braid my hair. I wonder if they had braids before The Cataclysm.

There’s a knock at the door. Seconds later a guy comes in. I’d know those chartreuse eyes and obsidian hair anywhere. It’s Tretch Landseer, Elder Landseer’s only son. He raises his eyebrows at me, mockingly. “Come on, Freesia. Don’t keep us waiting.”

“It’s just Free, thanks,” I mutter. He wouldn’t understand.

He smirks and holds the door open for me. Stupidly, I trip over the carpet as I pass. I brace myself, ready for the fall, but before I hit the ground Tretch catches me around the waist.

“Careful,” he says, smirking.

I push him away, blushing. I don’t know why he’s being so nice all of a sudden. The Elders and their families hardly ever notice the Dormers. It’s only when we’ve been through The Ceremony that we actually become important.

My Ceremony was supposed to be yesterday, just like everyone else’s. It happens every year: when a Dormer turns sixteen, they are Chosen for their Echelon. There’s five, and once you’ve been Chosen you’re there for the rest of your life.

Khamm and I were both hoping for Venture. They at least get to have some fun – they’re the bravest out of everyone in The Colony, and they get to go beyond The Borderlands. But there’s also Bounty, who farm, Sinistra, who rule us, Meticule, who keep the records, and Pufflehuff, for the rest. Khamm was lucky – he got Venture after all. But when I went into the Room of Knowing, where the Ceremony takes place, nothing happened. I just stood there in the dark for ages, until Elder Landseer opened up the side door and told me I’d better follow him.

Tretch smirks at me again. He’s standing by a door with a twisting vine carved into it. Without thinking, my hand drifts up to my cheek. It looks just like my scar…

I go through the door. It’s pitch dark inside. I stand in the middle of the room and wait.

“Citizen Freesia Brightwater?” a voice asks.

“It’s Free, actually.”

“You are Citizen Freesia Brightwater?”

“Yes, but I go by –”

There’s a rush of whispering all around the room. I squint into the darkness.

“It’s true!” someone says, “she bears The Mark!”

“Her? She’s far too young.”

“She hasn’t even been Chosen! How can a Dormer stand against the Conclave?”

All at once the lights come on. The room is filled with people. I’m standing on a circular stage with rows and rows of seats rising up on every side. The Elders are sitting on a bench high above me, but it’s not them I look to. Khamm is in the front row, his chocolate-brown eyes wide with concern, his tawny hair rumpled, like always. For some reason I turn, and see Tretch looking at me too. There’s an expression on his face I’ve never seen before.

“Citizen Freesia Brightwater,” says Elder Landseer, getting to his feet, “you have been Chosen. Only you can save the world.”

 

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)

Book Recipes: How to Write a Regency Romance

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at Regency romances. Grab your parasol and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One beautiful yet feisty heroine
  • One brooding, hot hero with pots of money
  • A token rival
  • Corsets
  • More dance parties than you could possibly imagine
  • A fine dusting of historical facts
  • A handful of supportive servants to fill time until the hero gets here
  • Unbelievably frilly names
  • Tea
my-cup-of-tea
Of course, you should always have tea handy anyway. (image: phrases.org.uk)

 

Method:

  1. Give your feisty heroine a ridiculously long name and an incredibly detailed physical description.
  2. She must wed, for plot reasons!
  3. Introduce your hero. If he can’t be described as ‘swoon-worthy’, start again.
  4. Time for a ball. Don’t forget to talk about the fancy dresses!
  5. The hero and heroine are immediately attracted to each other, but can’t do anything about it because of all the corsets.
  6. The hero says/does a thing that causes a rift! The heroine now thinks he is a bounder and a cad.
  7. Throw in a ball. Make sure to describe everyone’s outfits.
  8. The rival appears! He, or she, is clearly ALL WRONG.
  9. The hero and heroine have a series of tense conversations about nothing in particular. They’re all secretly about the fact that they really want to have sex.
  10. Time for another ball. What else are the characters going to do?
  11. Wouldn’t it be terrible if the hero and heroine had to work together to help out a random background character? JK THAT’S WHAT’S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW
  12. The hero and heroine have a conversation without blatantly insulting each other. THEY’RE MEANT TO BE YOU GUYS
  13. The rival is messing things up, oh no! Better go and lean meaningfully against something in the rain.
  14. Throw another dance party.
giphy dumbledore
Every day I’m Dumblin’. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Our hero makes an impassioned declaration of love. The heroine compromises her honour by letting him kiss her/see her ankles.
  2. But now the hero must go away for secret reasons!
  3. EVERYTHING IS RUINED
  4. The heroine stands on the brink of a very bad thing! She might fall into terrible poverty, or have to marry the rival, or turn twenty-two before she’s found a husband!
  5. The hero returns! The secret reasons are revealed and they’re always unbearably fluffy.
  6. Get married! Celebrate by throwing another ball, because it’s been a while.

THE END. Serve with plenty of tea.

 

Tips:

  • Give everyone the poshest-sounding names you can possibly think of. The heroine is allowed to shorten hers into a fun and quirky nickname, but no-one else is allowed. Apart from servants, but we don’t care about them.
  • Worried the setting might feel unrealistic? Flick through Wikipedia and drop in a couple of historical facts. It doesn’t matter what they’re about or how they’re delivered – it’s authentic.
  • Make sure your readers know the heroine is feisty by having her ride around on horses, loudly contradict people (including herself), and express opinions from the twenty-first century. There can never be any consequences for this.
  • Have your characters speak to each other in the twiddliest way possible, because it’s olden times. Pick a couple of fancy phrases: ‘ghastly’, ‘I say!’, and ‘how perfectly thrilling’ are all solid bets.
  • Never ever talk explicitly about sex. Your characters don’t have genitals, they have ‘flowers’ and ‘manhoods’.
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I don’t think I’ve ever found a more appropriate gif. (image: tumblr.com)
  • Chuck in as many titles as you can possibly find, the fancier the better.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

The Lady Isabella Marietta Cressida Belle deLisle-Beaumont ran into the marble folly, breathing hard. Her flaming auburn hair was like a red waterfall – literally, because it was raining. Her delicate eau-de-nil muslin gown with the pearl buttons was soaked through, her dove-grey kid gloves clung to her fingers and her magnolia cashmere shawl, once so fine with its silver and gold embroidery, had been trailing in the mud.

Not that she cared how she looked, of course. How she looked meant nothing now. She leant against the pillar and stared out into the rain.

She knew she could not stay long. Sir Humphrey Thingington-Chomsfandleigh had said nothing when she rushed from the ballroom, no doubt remembering her lady mother. But soon he would come looking for her, and when he did she would have to explain about the vile, ghastly, repulsive Viscount Edgar Garbert-Smythe. The way he had looked at her, stroking his horrible black moustache – why, it was worse than the news that General de Malet had not managed to overthrow Napoleon in Paris in October 1812.

To think that she might actually have to marry him…

“Lady deLisle-Beaumont? Is that you?”

An incredibly deep, manly voice like smooth, smooth velvet came from somewhere over her shoulder. Lady Isabella went all tingly.

She turned, and saw Lieutenant George Fitzroy – all six and a half feet of him. His dark hair was attractively damp from the rain and there was water running down his razor-sharp cheekbones. Lady Isabella would have stabbed a man in the eye to be one of those raindrops. Then, she remembered the lieutenant was a bounder and a cad. He’d said such terrible things about dear Miss Cecily de Clare and she could never forgive him.

Lady Isabella drew herself up. “Have you come to gloat, sir?”

He frowned. It was the most perfect frown she had ever seen. “I beg your pardon?”

“I take it you know that Viscount Garbert-Smythe has made my father an offer. The first commercial cheese factory has opened in Switzerland and the Viscount has made millions from it. He wants my hand in marriage for shares in his enormous shipping company. Well, you were right, sir. My father means to see me married, no matter what I think.”

Lieutenant Fitzroy snarled, but sexily. “If he likes the man so much, he should marry him!”

“I would completely support that, but the Viscount doesn’t want Father, no matter how many love letters he writes. He wants me. And I have no choice!”

Lieutenant Fitzroy turned away. Lady Isabella leaned back against the pillar again. From that angle she had a very nice view of his bum.

She sighed, and forced herself to look away. “If only women could own property outright, vote, and have the means of making a respectable independent living!”

“Is wealth all your father wants? Does he not care for your happiness?”

Lady Isabella glared at him. “If I do not marry my family will lose everything! You could never understand!”

He whirled around and strode towards her. He pulled her close against his incredibly broad chest. Suddenly, Lady Isabella was thinking of flowers bursting into bloom, very tall and thick trees, and other metaphors that were making her feel quite hot and bothered. Lieutenant Fitzroy stared at her, intense and brooding.

“Then marry me!”

She gasped. “What are you saying?”

“Good God, woman! I adore you! I do not care about your Father’s questionable taste in potential boyfriends! Your misguided choice of a shawl embroidered in both silver and gold means nothing to me! I only know that without you my life was as empty and meaningless as…as…”

“As Napoleon’s attempts to invade Russia?”

He smiled, and tenderly brushed a lock of auburn hair away from her face. “Yes,” he murmured, “exactly.”

“Oh George,” she whispered, “do you mean it?”

“With all my heart. I have urgent business to attend to first, but when I return…”

“Business? What kind of business?”

“Oh, you know. Thoroughly honourable and above board man-business. I’ll tell you about it when we’re married. But I swear, my love, the moment I return we shall be wed! Now, kiss me!”

Lady Isabella blushed. “But George, we’re not married!”

He grinned, rakishly. “Yes, well.”

They kissed, and it was great. It was a good thing George had proposed, Lady Isabella thought. If anyone had seen them she was ruined. But if they married quickly, her honour would remain intact.

They went back to Thingington Manor together, arm in arm. Lady Isabella did not mind the rain now; it made George’s clothes all wet and clingy.

In the marble folly behind them, Viscount Edgar Garbert-Smythe stepped out from behind a marble pillar. He twirled his black moustache and sneered thoughtfully.

“Make no mistake, Lady deLisle-Beaumont,” he muttered, “you shall be mine.”

 

Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

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Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Fantasy Fiction – A Closed Book?

I’ve always been a big reader. I’m one of those people who always has their head in a book, and I do mean always. Just last week I walked into someone getting off a train because I wanted to finish my chapter. But the one genre I’ve never really been able to get into is high fantasy. When I pick up something like The Lord of the Rings, I have to force myself to finish it, and even then it can take me weeks. To put that in context, I once read five books in a weekend, and that was fitted around getting a haircut, going for a meal and going on a long walk with my family. I practically eat books.

giphy book baby
Mmm-mmm, tasty words. (image: giphy.com)

But high fantasy has always been the exception for me. When I pick up a book called something like ‘The Noun of Nouns’, or ‘The Somethingborn’, I can feel my enthusiasm shrivelling up. When I flick through the first few pages – and see maps, character lists, timelines, translations and glossaries, all with apostrophes sneezed all over them – it’s a safe bet to say I won’t be picking that book up again.

And, to be honest, I’m not really sure why that is. High fantasy has some incredible stories, rich and varied world-building and memorable characters. Look at The Lord of the Rings: it’s a story that has endured for decades and completely reshaped the genre. It’s an epic tale of good vs evil and the heroics that ordinary people are capable of. I know I should like it, but a couple of pages after the hobbits meet Tom Bombadil and my eyes glaze over.

Before we go any further, here’s a quick run-down of the different types of fantasy stories. I’ve missed a lot out for brevity’s sake, but hopefully the following definitions might be useful:

  • Comic fantasy: does what it says on the tin – fantasy fiction that’s also funny.
  • Epic or high fantasy: set in an alternate world and dealing with themes and characters on an epic scale. Battles of good vs evil are a pretty common feature. Tends to be very long
  • Gaslamp fantasy: fantasy fiction set in Victorian or Edwardian-inspired worlds. Often crosses over with steampunk.
  • Magical realism: a few fantasy elements incorporated into a real-world setting.
  • Urban fantasy: fantasy fiction set in cities. Can often cross over into YA
  • Weird fiction: basically Cthulhu.

Most other types of fantasy I don’t have any problems getting into. Discworld, one of my favourite series ever, fits comfortably into the comic fantasy niche. I’ve read gaslamp fantasy on and off since the age of about twelve. Magical realism and urban fantasy have some incredible writers in their stable – Neil Gaiman, China Mieville and Angela Carter, to name a few. And weird fiction is one of my favourite things to read, as long as I can keep all the lights on and I’m not in the house all by myself.

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I mean. (image: vsbattles.wikia.com)

But I’ve never had that same draw to epic fantasy. Looking at the basic elements, I don’t really know why. Battles on grand scales are great! Good vs evil? Sign me up! Incredible world-building? Yes please! But apart from a few exceptions (GameofThronesGameofThronesGameofThrones), if you put these elements in a fantasy setting they just lose their appeal for me.

I think a part of this comes from the style in which most fantasy books tend to be written. A lot of well-established fantasy writers draw on historical and mythological text for their source material, and the style can seep into the writing. It’s often very stiff, formal language. You’ll have seen it before: authors will say ‘for’ instead of ‘because’; characters are not ‘drunk’, they are ‘in their cups’, and a lot of things tend to get prefaced with ‘the very’, as in “it was as if the very soul of the land cried out for vengeance”. That’s a style that doesn’t sit well with me, even though it’s true to the old sagas or epic poetry that the stories are based on. I find it very dry and convoluted, and personally I don’t think that’s what you want when you’re describing orcs hacking each other to bits.

But a much bigger part of why I’ve never got into epic fantasy as a genre is because a lot of the time, I just don’t feel welcome there.

When I look at the majority of epic fantasy stories I often find it incredibly hard to relate to the characters. A lot of epic fantasy stories, particularly the swords-and-sorcery type, focus on warriors and wizards battling it out. Most of them are men, and what female characters there are can be fitted into a few very limiting categories: captured princess, quiet healer, booby sorceress or tavern wench. And that’s when they’re included at all. In The Lord of the Rings, the Bible of epic fantasy, there are three speaking female characters. They’re great characters with meaty storylines, but there are still only three of them. Considering The Lord of the Rings was basically a template for epic fantasy for decades, this didn’t get much better. There were some exceptions, of course, but as a general rule women in epic fantasy were there to be rescued or married. They couldn’t go on the adventures – what if their boobs got in the way?

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Heh heh heh. Boobs. (image: giphy.com)

As the genre has progressed this has become less of a problem, but the problem does still exist. Modern fantasy stories often make a huge effort to include diverse and complex female characters who fit a range of roles. However, in the vast majority of fantasy stories, the society in which these characters exist continually holds other women back. The protagonists are exceptions, and we’re never allowed to forget that. This is where fantasy world-building can let its characters down. These protagonists can be brilliantly written and interestingly flawed women, but if all your background characters are demure ladies or cackling tavern wenches, the reader can still pick up a subtle whiff of disdain.

The most common justification for this goes as follows: epic fantasy is based around a specific time and place, namely Medieval Europe (and more specifically, Medieval Europe from about 1150 – 1450). Societal and gender norms were pretty rubbish for women in this period, and it’s often seen as a matter of accuracy for this to be reflected in fantasy fiction based on the period. But there’s two main arguments against this. The first is that epic fantasy’s version of the Medieval period isn’t all that historically accurate. We have plenty of historical evidence of women in the Medieval period kicking arse: Joan of Arc, Isabella of France, Black Agnes and Christine de Pisan, to name a few. There’s further evidence of ordinary women owning businesses, winning court cases and being respected figures in the community. The second argument is this:

…it’s fantasy.

Why should epic fantasy have to be historically accurate? It isn’t historical at all. It’s perfectly fine to use historical settings as a basis, but there’s no real need to stick to them. I mean, if you can include dragons and wizards and magic, why can’t you include female characters who get treated with respect? People say that’s not realistic – well, neither are enormous fire-breathing lizards who talk, sleep on piles of glittery treasure and fly on wings that physically cannot support their weight.

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In reality they would just crawl about like big spiders. (image: bt.com)

And female characters aren’t the only characters that often get shafted by works of epic fantasy – everyone does. Homosexual characters are rarely represented in the classics. There’s all sorts of weird racial stuff going on in a lot of classic epic fantasy as well. But when you have an entire genre that bases its characters on the archetypes you see in centuries-old legends – which weren’t exactly known for their strong characterisation – those are the kind of characters that are always going to be a part of that genre.

It must be said that more modern fantasy has made a tangible effort to break away from these kinds of stereotypes. A Song of Ice and Fire, for all its (many) flaws, includes a variety of female characters in nuanced and compelling roles. N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy has a mixed-race female protagonist and deals with racial prejudice as well as gods kicking each other’s teeth in. Lynne Flwelling’s Nightrunner series is set in a world where bisexual and homosexual relationships are treated exactly the same as heterosexual relationships. And these are just a handful of books – there are plenty more epic fantasy novels out there which make a conscious effort to move away from the archetypes that have defined the genre for decades.

All of this is a really positive step forward. With more representation in fiction we get better and more original stories – if your fiction all comes from the same group of people, sooner or later it’s all going to be the same. But there’s still a certain amount of gatekeeping that goes on with epic fantasy fiction – just look at what’s been happening with the Hugo Awards. I do wonder if this is reinforced by the way that some of these books are written. The convoluted language, the pages of maps and heraldry at the beginning of every book and the endless appendices can really put people off. It’s often these kinds of books that are seen as the most ‘worthy’ among fantasy fans, and I do have to wonder if that isn’t because they’re so difficult to get into.

But that’s all by the by. While epic fantasy might not always be for me, I’m always willing to give it a chance. And there’s plenty of other subgenres to keep me interested in fantasy as a whole – even if some of them do include weird tentacle-faced monsters.

bYggEeT
Apart from this little hell-angel. (image: imgur.com)

Book Recipes: How to Write a Military SF Novel

This is the first of my new Book Recipes series – a short look at how silly and cliched different genres can be. To kick things off I’m looking at military science fiction. Pack your laser gun and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One lantern-jawed hero
  • One beautiful yet feisty token female character
  • One authority figure you can ignore
  • An assorted mix of sidekicks, all of whom can be described as ‘wise-cracking’
  • So many lasers
  • All the consonants from the awkward bits of the alphabet
  • A generous helping of background aliens
  • A thinly-veiled political allegory
  • One sneering villain (cape-wearing optional)
  • SPAAAAACE

 

Method

  1. Give your lantern-jawed hero a manly, monosyllabic name, a random military title and a big gun.
  2. Have the authority figure send him on a mission. This will be the only time the hero actually listens to his boss.
  3. Time for your political allegory. Put it in space, change the names a bit and you’re good to go.
  4. FIGHTING.
  5. Introduce your hero to the female lead. They’ll disagree at first, but sexily.
  6. Battle plans. These are very serious and important, so you must use the word ‘glower’ and make sure that people bang their fists on the table.
  7. The villain appears. There’s a tense conversation where smirking is involved.
  8. MORE FIGHTING. The sidekicks can come too.
  9. The hero returns – wounded! Use this opportunity to have a flirty yet meaningful discussion with the female lead, instead of tending to the shoulder wound all heroes get when they’re not really in serious trouble but want to look tough anyway.
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Target shown here. (image: tvtropes.com)
  1. Want to spice things up? Why not kill off a sidekick?
  2. The hero and heroine confess their love/attraction/general unspecified tingly feelings…
  3. …just before the final battle! Don’t forget to keep ignoring the boss.
  4. LASERS EVERYWHERE
  5. EXPLOSIONS
  6. ALIENS AND THAT
  7. Was the hero given a specific order? Time to COMPLETELY DISREGARD IT BECAUSE INSTINCT
  8. Time for the final showdown! Punctuate the hero and villain’s tense conversation with bits of the fight. A kick in the teeth is as good as a paragraph break.
  9. Worried about the female lead? Don’t be. She’s either captured by now or helping, but from a safe and feminine distance.
  10. The villain is defeated! Hurrah!
  11. Make sure your hero is proved right about everything, ever. Medals help with this, as does making out with the female lead.

THE END. Serve with a generous dusting of lasers.

 

Tips:

  • Finding it difficult to write a realistic setting? Just don’t bother. Tell your readers where and when they are at the beginning of every scene. It’ll look like a ‘star-date’ and it’s less work!
  • Not sure what rank to give the hero? It doesn’t really matter, as long as it sounds sexy. Captain and Lieutenant are always safe bets, but anything with the word ‘Brigadier’ in front of it is just going to sound crusty.
  • Stuck on naming your planets? Don’t be! Just smash together some of those awkward consonants and say it’s an alien language.
  • Want to show how tough your hero and his friends are? Only ever refer to them by surname. The one exception is attractive women – people might forget how hot they are if you treat them just like everyone else!
  • Struggling with describing futuristic technology? Say hello to your new best friends: the prefixes ‘holo’, ‘cyber’ and ‘techno’. Slap them on the front of any random word and it’s immediately clear that we are in THE FUTURE.
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Don’t forget to dress everyone in tinfoil. (image: pinterest.com)
  • Having trouble with your alien background characters? Just make them like people, but green (or blue). Actually coming up with your own unique culture completely from scratch that depends on an ecosystem, society and physiology that is utterly different from humanity would be haaaaaaarrrrrd.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

The Pinnacle, 4570 AD

Somewhere near the Krebluk System

“Cole,” the Commander said, leaning back in his holo-chair, “do you know why I asked you here?”

Captain Brett Cole, 7th Laser Gunner Corps, stared straight ahead, his chin casting a small shadow on the Commander’s desk. He tried not to look at the red-haired Dr River Kamara, who stood behind the Commander’s chair, holding unnecessary papers and pouting. “No, sir.”

“Dammit, Cole!” the Commander yelled, slamming his fist on his cyber-desk. Something sparked. “You know damn well why you’re here! You took a risk! You snuck into the Kmyth base on Krebluk-6, armed with nothing but a small spoon, and single-handedly blew up Imperator Qrump’s technoport access generator! You put us all at risk! What would the Star Fleet have done if you’d gotten yourself captured?”

River gasped, sexily.

“I didn’t get captured, Commander,” Cole said, “instead, I blew up the whole damn base. Qrump’ll be sitting on his ass for months.”

River leaned forward. It was hot. “Commander,” she breathed, “you know I disagree with Captain Cole’s methods. He’s unorthodox. He’s a renegade. He’s a maverick, a tall maverick who looks good covered in space dirt. But be that as it may–”

The Commander held up a hand. “Thank you, Dr Kamara. But what you fail to realise is that Cole here not only got himself wounded–”

River gasped. It was still sexy. “Wounded?”

Cole nodded. “My shoulder. It’s nothing.”

“– not only got himself wounded, but he also jeopardised our position and put the safety of the entire Star Fleet at risk. He’ll be cleaning the latrines for weeks.”

The Commander got out of his holo-chair and stared out of the technoport viewing area, his hands clasped behind his back. The great purple moon of Gyk-jyk 5 twinkled at them, nearly obscured by the harsh rocks of the Jlkusa Asteroid Belt. A Krebluk spacecraft drifted past. The driver was blue, and he made a rude gesture when he saw them staring.

“Qrump is on the move,” the Commander said. “He’s planning something. Something big. I’ll be putting a strike team together – and you, Cole, will not be anywhere near it.”

“But sir–”

“Dammit, Cole! One more wrong move and you’re court-martialled. Do you understand me? If you go anywhere near the strike team’s secret training facility, you’re finished.”

Cole glowered at the Commander.

“Yes, sir.”

With one last look at River – who was still totally hot, by the way – he left the office.

He was going to break into the strike team’s secret training facility.

 

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: What I Learned

Hey guys! I’ve returned to the blogosphere. Here’s what I’ve been doing for the past few months:

  • Reading
  • Learning Russian
  • Making a fool of myself at various social occasions
  • A little bit of writing of my own
  • Eating pizza

And absolutely nothing else that was not included on that list.

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The rest of the time I just sat around like this. (image: memey.com)

But now that the Strong Female Characters series is over, I’ve had an opportunity to think about what I’ve learned in writing the posts. That’s just as well – if, after a hundred-post series that lasted over two years, I’d learned nothing, then there’d be something wrong. Maintaining the series taught me a lot about reading, writing and thinking critically, and this seems as good a time as any to put it all down.

Because I’m a sucker for a consistent format, here’s ten things I learned while working on the series:

 

  1. Writing is hard

This one feels like it should be a no-brainer, but it’s at the top of the list for a reason. Writing is bloody difficult. It took me a lot of effort to lay out my thoughts on each character in a vaguely comprehensible manner, and I didn’t even come up with the characters in the first place. A lot of hard work went into the characters I looked at, whether they passed or failed, and you have to respect that.

 

  1. Criticism can be a positive experience

Writing the blog series gave me a set of criteria that I had to look for in every single character, which covered most a range of different literary skills. I can tell you with absolute certainty that this has made me a better writer. Looking at fiction critically has been a real help and it’s given me a whole new perspective on things. It also gives me a chance to re-examine stories I really enjoy and has introduced me to completely new things. It’s actually pretty fun!

 

  1. Planning is key

At least five of the blog posts went live when I was out of the country. Loads more went live when I was stuck on a train in the middle of nowhere. I could never have stuck to any kind of schedule if I just made them all up on the spot. A normal post took a couple of hours to write, and maybe one more to lay out properly. I often had to work several weeks in advance, particularly if I was working with a comparison post, and I often tried to look ahead to see if there were any trends I could try and jump onto (but most of the time that didn’t work). I started preparing for the Anastasia Steele post in October – ten weeks before it actually went live.

 

  1. Peppermint tea can get you through just about anything

See above. Also works for indigestion, heartbreak, work-stress and minor natural disasters.

 

  1. There is such a thing as too much choice

It was really, really hard to choose who to talk about. There were so many characters that I still wanted to look at when I ended the series – the running list I kept alongside the posts has over forty characters on it. I tried to choose characters that I thought were relevant, interesting and meant something to people, but there’s loads of them that I missed.

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It would’ve been so perfect… (image: abc.net.au)

 

  1. Context is hugely important

This can have such a big effect on how a story and a character are received. The time and place in which a story is written can radically change how we examine its characters – just look at Lizzie Bennet and Jane Eyre. Every time I wrote about a historical character I had to brush off my researcher skills, because it’s just such a big part of how characters are received. This goes for so many other aspects of the posts – including agency, stereotypes and characters’ beliefs, to name a few – because when a character hasn’t been properly fleshed out, the reader often has to fill in the blanks themselves.

 

  1. Never try and write a blog post while cooking your dinner

Something will burn. Unless it’s soup, soup is probably fine.

 

  1. Knowing where to stop is just as important as knowing how to begin

When I first came up with the idea of the series I pretty much pulled it out of my hat. I made up the test myself, picked whichever characters I felt like talking about and just went with it. As I’m sure you’ve picked up from the posts, it took me a while to get into the swing of things.

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Don’t worry, monkey, it’s a learning curve. (image: giphy.com)

But as much as I enjoyed it, it was a very time-consuming project and keeping it up meant I just didn’t have the time to do the things I really enjoyed. I wanted to stop from about the second half of 2016 onwards – but I didn’t just want to stop the series, I wanted to properly finish it. That’s why I kept going until post number 100 and why I chose such a terrible, terrible character to talk about. I didn’t want to keep going for the sake of it and end up resenting the whole project, but I did want to go out with a bang.

 

  1. Nothing is perfect…

If you look hard enough you’ll find a flaw in anything. A lot of this comes down to opinion, but usually there’s always something. Personally, I think this is a good thing – I don’t see any other way to become a more critical reader and writer if you aren’t willing to look for the flaws in things you enjoy.

 

  1. …and that’s okay.

I ended up failing loads of characters that I really like. Lizzie Bennet, Marion Ravenwood, Princess Leia, Peggy Carter, Morticia Addams, Harley Quinn…the list goes on (and on). But even though I had to pick apart the ways these characters weren’t as good as they could’ve been, that doesn’t mean I don’t like them any more. I really enjoyed looking at old favourites in a new way, even if they didn’t do as well as I hoped. It gave me a chance to think about them in a new light, and sometimes meant I discovered whole new things I liked about them that I just hadn’t thought about before. Despite its flaws, I still watch Beauty and the Beast pretty much every time I’m hungover, and that’s probably not going to stop any time soon.

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I still don’t know how to feel about this version though. (image: comingsoon.net)

 

So there you have it – ten things I learned from the Strong Female Characters series. Hopefully that’s shed some light on some of the behind-the-scenes stuff. I’ll be doing one more post to round off the series completely, where I talk about how the test works in more detail, but after that the series will be well and truly done with.

“So what’s next for Jo Writes Stuff?” I hear you cry.

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Just…just listen really carefully. (image: istockphoto.com)

Well, I still have a lot of feelings about fiction, so you can definitely expect some more vague ramblings about that. There’s no new series in the works just yet, but I definitely haven’t finished with the blogosphere. Watch this space!

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.