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Birds do it, bees do it, but should fictional teens do it?

aguttes-chastity-beltWhen writing a book for young adults, as I am, there comes a point where you have to deal with the inevitable: the truth of the matter is that teenagers have relationships, and a difficult issue when it comes to depicting modern teen relationships is sex.

So what do you do if you want to write a book for young adults, that appeals to the realities of their lives, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of making more chaste teens feel alienated? Basically, an issue I ran into a few months back, like a solid brick wall, was; should teen characters have sex?

My two characters are hardly even teens (they’re both almost twenty) but in the end I decided to take a route for them that walks a subtle line between an actual real-world physical relationship and something less overtly sexual. I definitely don’t want the two of them to be ‘just friends’ but I also have to be careful not to make things too intense for younger readers. I only recently realised that my books might appeal to a younger demographic and keeping them in mind has forced me to make some pretty hefty changes.

One of the key issues I’m having to deal with are the difficulties in plot points that are dependent on their sleeping together. When I say ‘sleeping together’ I don’t mean anything sexual, I simply mean that on a number of occasions a key plot point is dependent on them staying over at each other’s houses.

I pondered this problem for a long time. Originally my main characters had a physical relationship and back then I planned out chapters and chapters of plot based around the two of them being present at the same houses at various times of the day and, importantly, I just assumed that they would be sleeping at each-others’ homes.

However, through the course of time (and after having my wife proof-read my first few chapters) it became clear that if my characters’ sexual relationship remained as overt as it was in earlier drafts the book(s) would be unlikely to be appropriate for/appeal to the teen/pre-teen demographic I’m now hoping to reach.

This is a difficult decision and it’s meant that so many different things have had to change. Though the plot of my book is still very similar to what it was when I started, I’m still having to traipse back through old material to make sure that it doesn’t refer to what was previously a much more overtly physical relationship.

I definitely need them to be boyfriend and girlfriend, however the nature of this relationship has changed significantly. This can sometimes weigh a little heavy on me as I’m not sure if this makes me a dishonest author, pandering to preferred reader, rather than writing what I originally set out to do. That said, I have to be realistic about this. I want people to read my books and it’s no use writing a book that will only appeal to me. If my primary aim is to provide an entertaining reading experience for a wide range of readers, I have to at least avoid writing about things that are either inappropriate or unappealing for those readers.

To be honest I’m actually pretty comfortable with my characters the way they are now. This change in how I define their relationship means I can concentrate more on the day-to-day aspects, rather than trying to pay too much attention to the nature and language of their physical encounters (I have to confess, I’m not the best at writing sex scenes, I’m just going to have to leave that to Anne Rice). Changing their physical encounters, from being overtly described to simply existing as subtle hints, actually seems to have allowed me to explore a more realistic and believable relationship for my two main characters.

Despite this, I’m still concerned that there may be something less ‘literarily honest’ about the way I’ve written my redraft. Of those of you who do write I’m very interested to see what you have done (if anything) to alter your characters, and/or plot, to make it more readable for your target demographic. Am I alone in doing this or do other authors think (even occasionally) about their target readers when sitting down to write? As always thanks for reading and I welcome any comments you have in the comments section below, Cheers, John

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Posted by on 6 October, 2014 in writing hints and tips

 

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The realities of slow authorship

melting_clock_lifestyle_1000Everyone has a book in them and anyone can churn that book out, what differs from individual to individual are the limits that stand between them and that finished manuscript. For me that limiting factor is time, I work near-on full-time and, because my wife and I work opposing shifts, I also spend a considerable portion of my week as a SAHD (stay at home dad). Time is my nemesis.

My writing gets jammed in wherever I can fit it and I feel the constant awareness that I should be writing more. I rush to get the kids to bed, clean away supper dishes, and generally get the house in order with enough time spare before my wife gets home from work. During my days off there are things in the house that need fixed, groceries to buy, meals to cook and things to take the kids to and pick them up from. I am on a constant quest for some alone time in front of my computer.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. Though the individual details may differ I imagine that the demands of normal, every-day life will be one of the most tenacious challenges for most authors and would-be authors. However I’ve spoken to many other writers who suffer from a very different problem; the dreaded writer’s-block. This is a problem that I haven’t had in literally years, and I wonder if time and inspiration are linked.

Perhaps there’s something akin to the expression ‘absence makes the heart grow stronger’ that goes on with writing. I simply don’t have time to fall out with my muse: when I find the opportunity to write I grab her with both hands and the rest takes care of itself. Maybe it’s got more to do with the old adage that if you want something done ask someone who’s busy.

The sad fact might simply be that the blocked among us have too much time to avoid the pitfalls of procrastination and getting stuck in their own heads. Whilst those of us with too little time end up with so much creativity bottled up that when the time comes to write they never feel they’ve done enough, or that it’s been drafted enough to be any good.

Somewhere out there there must be authors who have by some means found themselves in the perfect middle, with just enough time to write but not so much that they get distracted. In the mean time the rest of us just have to envy one another’s glut of either time or inspiration.

My own approach seems to be working fairly well (if unnervingly slowly), I’ve already got a completed book under my belt (you can check it out here), my next book is almost past it’s first third in completed form, and I have two others with a few completed chapters and full book plans. These facts fill me with hope but I can’t help but be a realist about time constraints: this next book is taking a while (a long while). I promised myself back when I turned thirty that by forty I’ll have written ten books and have recorded an album, but with each twenty-minute writing session that counts as my entire authorship of the day, I feel that goal slip ever further. My only choice is to keep pushing and keep my fingers crossed, on top of that maybe I have to learn to make writing more of a priority in my day.

What’s been your experience of trying to write? Do you lack time or inspiration? What tricks have you picked up to get over these obstacles? Let me know in the comments below and as always thanks for reading. By the way, you can also follow me on twitter by following this link, all the best, John

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If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.

 
 

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Small town philosophy

1236837_914517181911287_1936006581401853506_nWe might expect perspectives to be very different relative to where people live, but the truth can be much more subtle. I’ll admit that living in the countryside can mean that things like solitude can be taken for granted but, as a fellow member of Crieff Philosophy Society pointed out, someone in a bustling city could feel more alone than a country bumpkin out on an empty hillside. It’s all relative.

So what is different about small-town philosophy? To be honest I think the lack of higher learning institutions and the more sparse population can add more potential diversity. In a city it’s (relatively) easy to find like-minded individuals, whereas in an area with a smaller population you often have to be happy with similar-minded individuals. Though this might sound like a negative thing it can actually be a more rewarding experience than just meeting with people who agree with everything you have to say (more or less).

In a city I would probably be socialising with a very similar demographic to myself. That’s not to say a wider, more diverse, circle of friends couldn’t be had in a city, I’m just noting that it would be easier to find like-minded people in a city given the population density. In the countryside you’re kind of forced into a broader circle and it can be extremely rewarding.

The philosophy society has been meeting for around two years and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the conversations, the differences of opinions, and the alternative attitudes I’ve encountered in our wee group.

Our numbers look set to swell a little in the next few weeks/months, at least if social media is anything to go by. I recently set up a Twitter page for the group to run alongside our newly arranged monthly get-togethers which will be informal nights out, focussed around a chosen topic, on the first Thursday of each month. All these initiatives seem to be exposing the society to a larger portion of the local community and I’m hearing a lot of positive feedback.

Our next get-together is on 6th November and the chosen topic is identity. So expect more posts on gender, nationality, nature vs nurture etc. through the course of October.

If you’re lucky enough to be part of a philosophy group, either in a town or city, what have your experiences been like? Is it equally as easy to find diversity in the city? What kind of events work best for your group? I welcome any comments or suggestions you have in the comments section below and, as always, thanks for reading, Cheers, John

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If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.

 
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Posted by on 5 October, 2014 in Philosophy

 

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Scotland: A Nation of Philosophers

125371-satellite-image-of-scotland-without-any-clouds-taken-on-may-26-2012-from-neodaasuniversity-of-dundeWith eyes peeled open to the realities of what politics really involve, over three million people took to the voting booth last week to decide on the future of their country. In the run up to this vote being cast we in Scotland were bombarded with such a swathe of information from both sides, and in a host of mediums, that for the last few weeks those who were taking their vote seriously (and I think that was a very, very large majority of the Scottish electorate) became fully active philosophers.

For me the term ‘philosopher’ refers to a certain type of individual; open-minded, yet sure of their own stance, critical of information sources, yet humble enough to recognise the limits of their own investigative powers, and most importantly a person who actively engages with the world around them and sees how things connect and how varied human interpretation of the way the world works/should work can be. I spent nearly ten years studying the subject and working in the field and this is what I gleaned from it.

Keeping this in mind we can (and should) of course celebrate the sheer magnitude of democratic action we saw when over 80% of a nation voted on something. However, the more interesting thing is what this referendum has done to all of us, it has changed us, made us more accepting of difference whilst making us more aware of our own traits. On top of this we have come to see the fallibility of once trusted institutions like the BBC and various different news outlets but at the same time we’ve come to recognise that our view of the world is not the only view of the world.

We have always been a fairly cynical lot but our new-found critical edge is very distant from the flat, tired, almost unthinking cynicism we used to have about things like political promises and the behaviour of our media outlets. We’re waking up as a nation, whether a yes or a no voter people in this country are no longer willing, or even able, to simply accept what they’re told or what is done to them. We have become active, engaged and interested in defining and understanding the nature of our nation and in deciding what might be best for all of us.

The critical eye is open and tired cynicism is on the way out, we don’t simply find problems and exclaim mistrust any more, we are becoming a nation who wants to work at solutions and one that demands that those who seem to expect our trust must first demonstrate that they deserve it. I have not been interested in politics since I was at high school but right now in Scotland the nature of politics is about to get very interesting indeed because a nation of philosophers has opened their eyes and they want to see things change.

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Posted by on 27 September, 2014 in Philosophy

 

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Long term romance or teen crush?

Romeo-meets-Juliet-in-the-1996-filmWhat to choose? What to choose? In basically all three of the books I’m working on at the moment I have a main character who (at least during the book’s opening) is a teenager. But what am I to do about romantic entanglements? You can’t miss this element out when writing a teen character without them looking a little robotic (I did try) so I need to include a romantic partner/love interest for my character to feel real. That part isn’t really a problem as simply exploring the differences between the two characters seems to help me to open out my main character’s personality with the use of a foil.

However, I hit a bit of an issue when dealing with the fact that occasionally their love interest is a secondary (or at least important tertiary character) who will feature through a large portion of the book and a sometimes sizeable portion of narrative time will pass through the course of the book. So here’s my question should I break characters up, even if they seem right for each other, just because my characters are young and statistically there’s little chance a relationship in your teens will last even into your twenties?

This can certainly be done to great dramatic effect (Shakespeare did all right with it anyway) but the thing is at least two of my books are part of a series so I’m a little apprehensive about killing off characters that I could use later. Something I love about Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ books is that you revisit the same world with many of the same characters each time. He rarely kills off a character off and seems reluctant to even allow a character to disappear entirely from the overall narrative of his world. This clearly saves him a lot of time at the start of a book that would otherwise be spent getting to know the characters.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’ll have to explain my characters a little in later books (at the very least I can’t guarantee my books will be read in sequence) and I’m honestly not trying to take the easy way out, it’s just that I’m in this series for the long haul so I’m loathe to dispatch a well-formed character who could otherwise prove useful in a later story-line.

The love interest angle is something I’m finding really easy to use as a means of moving the story on, developing emotional involvement and (possibly most importantly) highlighting the personalities of some of my main characters, but I’m feeling a snag coming up that I’ll need to deal with before I progress much further with these characters. If they’re to break up why do they break up? when does it happen? and why would they feel OK continuing to be around each other?

I know that in writing break-ups there’s the potential for some lovely moody moments, will-they-won’t-they plot elements etc. but to be honest I find the prospect a little boring compared to the narrative I’ve got planned. I think all the trappings of a break up would just get in the way. What do you think? Would a reader be able to handle a teenaged couple that stays together or would it seem a little too unrealistic/over-romanticised? Any opinion welcome, as always thanks for reading, Cheers, John

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UPDATE 16/06/18): If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.

 

Keeping momentum

keep momentumIn the past few weeks I’ve somehow managed to start finding time to write again (mostly thanks to the fact that my wife and I have decided to take turns at getting some writing in down at the local library). One thing that I really struggled with was the fact that after a few months away from it I didn’t really know my characters any more. To be honest I spent a lot of time editing and then re-editing my first three chapters basically just so that I could get to know them again.

Some of the edits changed them quite a bit and I’ll now never be able to say how their original incarnations might have turned out if I hadn’t lost momentum. That said I like my characters as they appear now and I’m also aware that they’ll probably go through more alterations as the book progresses. The important development that I’ve made over the past week or so is that I now have a complete step-by-step chapter plan.

This existed in my head before but I started to realise that my characters were divulging to much about themselves in the first few chapters. Rather than getting to know them piece by piece I was trying too hard to fit in my character descriptions at the very beginning. I decided to take it more slowly and allow situations within the plot to work as a means of displaying the true personalities of my characters.

helen grant

Helen’s latest book ‘Silent Saturday‘, Secret societies, breaking and entering and mysterious disappearances.

I guess that’s the root of my tip for this post, don’t lose momentum and be sure to give yourself a pretty detailed guide so you don’t lose your way. Thanks to a wee twitter conversation with author Helen Grant I can safely say that this approach has backing from a successfully published author. Another thing to be said for detailed plans is that with them in place it becomes easier to figure out what you’re going to be writing when you sit down at the keyboard (your task is infinitely more simple; just flesh out your plan, piece by piece). So far I’m finding it to be a fantastic preventative against writer’s block.

All the best, thanks for reading and please feel free to let me know about any techniques you’ve discovered to help keep momentum going and prevent getting side-tracked. Cheers, John

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UPDATE 16/06/18): If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.

 

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Philosophy of Play

imagePlay is commonly regarded as the stuff of childhood, with adults who play seen as belonging to unusual fringe groups and sub-cultures. However if we’re really honest with ourselves the situation is actually quite different. Play keeps life interesting, whether you get sucked into any sport show going,  or if you are more drawn into the world of fashion, or even if you simply enjoy the odd game of Tetris you’re enjoying forms of play.

Watching or participating in team sports is one of many socially acceptable ways to appreciate play. The same could be said of the enjoyment of playing with identity and expression which are common to fashion. There is no doubt in my mind that a great majority of the more diverting activities which we participate in on a daily basis can and should be understood as forms of play.

I’ve been blogging about ‘toys, life and people’ over at johnthetoyshopguy for over a year now and I recently decided to write a book about the philosophy of toys/play. There’s such a rich mixture of sub-topics within this basic idea; does what we played with as children fix certain aspects of our personality/world-view? Why does society contrast ‘toy’ with ‘real’? Do we ever stop playing? And if we don’t does it help to be conscious of the fact that many activities which we take seriously can also be recognised as forms of play? What role do toys play in shaping cultural notions like gender?

I’m in the very early stages of planning my book so I’d welcome any feedback/advice you might have. It would also be great to hear what you think of my book ‘Living the Good Life in a Modern World‘ now available at the kindle store (first chapter available as a free sample). Thanks for reading, Cheers, John

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UPDATE 16/06/18): If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.

 
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Posted by on 27 September, 2013 in Philosophy

 

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