Breaking Writing Rules / Chekhov's Gun



There is a difference between a rule and a law. In theory, rules apply in most cases but not all. Laws always apply.

(As an aside, this distinction includes an element of myth, since it’s impossible to know for sure if something is a law or a rule – science fudges it and claims more certainty, but it’s a fundamental flaw based on limited human perspectives.)

New writers are often given "rules of writing" or storytelling. But if we followed every rule then storytelling would become as static and formulaic as a Holywood thriller, where certain events and twists have to happen at certain times in order to please focus groups. To avoid staleness and predictability, some of the rules have to be broken. The end result may not always work, but it might lead to new things and freshness. It’s a risk any good writer must be willing to take.

A key element: you can break rules, but you still need to understand them and be experienced at following them first. You break them with intention and understanding of the effect, not randomly.

I’ll illustrate this with one example. Chekhov’s Gun. I know many writers swear by this. It's the rule that, if you introduce an element into a story, then it must have relevance. If it isn't used in the plot, it should be excluded as extraneous. In general, it helps lead to tighter writing and plotting, a way of cutting the flab from a story.

Can you see the problem, though? If all writers follow it, then it becomes predictable and boring. Stories become childish puzzles where the key pieces are obvious, rather than being immersive experiences.

Recently I listened to the audiobook of Alien Covenant (I haven’t seen the film, which may be different). Because I know about Chekhov’s Gun, it means when I am presented with writing that follows such rules, I have a key to predicting some outcomes, since I have both data and a formula. So, at one point in the story, a synthetic changed his hairstyle so he was identical to another. The incident passed without much comment, but I immediately thought "that’s a detail presented, so it must have some plot significance later". I guessed that there would be a scene where there was a confusion of identities between the two synthetics. And when one of the two appeared later, and the other characters studiously avoided even considering the 50/50 possibility that the synthetic they spoke to was not who he seemed to be (the kind of sleight of hand authors do to distract their audience, even though it defies internal logic), I immediately knew for sure that I was right. I knew it was the other synthetic; there would be a twist later where he was in their trust and could betray them. And yes, it happened just like that.

So you see, following all the rules can end up destroying the effect of the creation because it means unpredictability is lost. A rule is a formula, and a formula fed the same data will lead to the same results. Audiences nowadays consume so much storytelling in books and film and TV that – even if they can’t consciously formulate the rules being followed – they instinctively feel them through repetition. The more a story follows rules to fit the formula sold as successful, the less effective the end result is through repetition and predictability. And so the “rule” that some thought might even be a law, turns out to be less than a rule. Or rather, its definition reverses. Instead of “follow this rule in order to create maximum satisfaction”, it ends up being “follow this rule in order to create predictability”.

Thus it is for any rules that state something which seems inviolate. Smoking gun moments. Character arcs. Requirements for character development. Mid-book reversals. Denouements. Rations of dialogue to action. Order of events. There are always examples of successful works which threw those rules out, and seemed all the fresher for it. And I say that as someone who reads a lot of contemporary fiction, and has judged international fiction competitions. The two biggest problems with the bulk of things that get submitted are problems of bad writing, and problems of predictability and overfamiliarity. The latter problems come from following all the rules, all the time.

So rules are things a writer needs to understand and have experience with – but then the real fun can begin. Because with that understanding, the rules can be reversed in surprising ways, to avoid falling into the rut of sameness.

If you think I'm talking nonsense, feel free to tell me in the comments. :-)

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Sad About Green Spaces

I love green spaces. I do my bit to look after my local area (e.g. cleaning, removing rubbish, litter picks etc).


This was a park near me. It was green, though could have benefited from being enhanced with flowers and native shrubs. I'd have loved it if those kind of improvements had been made. Still, it was nice walking past it on the way to the library or a cafe.

That's all changed, and it breaks my heart. Instead of enhancing the natural beauty, a local group (FB / Website) worked with Munro Landscape to ruin it. Trees were cut down, diggers moved in, large areas paved. Would they leave the other green areas? No, every bit of grass was dug up. It looks more like vandalism to me.

The view now



Some of those responsible


Others who seem to support digging up open green areas, listed here

I've seen this happen with green spaces in other towns, where they're divided up more and more by concrete paths, cutting green spaces into smaller wedges. What about teaching people to respect the natural environment, not despoil it? Shouldn't children be taught to appreciate and enhance nature, not remove it as a hindrance? I don't like to walk past it now, and have heard similar sentiments from other people. What a mess.

Maybe they have plans to plant wildlife-friendly bushes and flowers and smaller fruit/nut trees, but if so, they wouldn't have dug up all the grass and put sand down instead of soil, so at the very least they are doing it in an arse-about-tit kind of way. Dumfries Council should have scrutinised the plans and not allowed them if they resulted in loss of green spaces in the town.

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Sixty Hours Of Drinkwater Drinking Water


At 8am today I had a small bowl of porridge after a 60 hour water-only fast. Best bowl of porridge I've ever had! Oats, some chopped dried fruit, home-made soy yoghurt, and half a teaspoon of blackcurrant jam.

I see our digestive system as a 24/7 factory. With a fast we shut it down for a few days, so staff from the production line can focus on cleaning and maintenance. Then it slowly restarts, and functions better for it. Rubbish has been thrown out, bad habits broken, RSI rested, machinery oiled.

I can only speak from my experience, but I always feel great afterwards, and after my first ones twenty years ago with all the "toxin" symptoms (bad breath, spots, headaches) I don't have any negative effects any more. I do one every few years, and even during them I feel surprisingly energetic. I used to teach martial arts while fasting. At the end I reintroduce foods slowly, starting with plain and simple things like oats, rice, steamed vegetables. After a fast I have a much better relationship with food, since my body craves really simple and healthy stuff and no junk.

As an aside - I had one of the lowest sick rates in my departments when I worked for a uni. My occasional day off was usually due to injury rather than illness (snapped toe in martial arts; pulled back from helping a neighbour move heavy furniture). I used to have a normal amount of colds etc, but haven't actually had a cold or flu for maybe five years now, perhaps longer. So all I can say is that the way I practise it, and the frequency, seems to be a great thing for my body. (Some of that health may be from regular exercise, a vegan diet, and making good life choices.)

Also note that I am fasting partly as a bodily reset and chance for my body to switch the resources used for digesting food into other processes like cleaning and breaking down excess fats. I also partly do it as one of my willpower-strengthening exercises - saying "I can do this" and then just doing it. It's similar to my reasons for my recent week without chocolate and week without alcohol (and my challenges of getting up early to watch the dawn - see here and here). I am not doing it as part of a crazy diet or weight-loss system. For me it is something I do every few years, and I think it is one of many things that can help to maintain good health in a body that isn't malnourished. It works for me.

Humans did not evolve eating every day, yet our civilisation is based around endless food in large amounts (and often over-processed). It's rewarding to give up the luxuries and have a different experience.

In case you're curious: my longest fast is 74 hours, though that one was a water and fruit juice fast.



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Ethical Clothing And My Books


Sometimes my readers tell me things they'd like.

"Hey Karl, write a sequel to Lost Solace."

"Dude, I wish there was a film made out of Lost Solace."

"Dear Mister Authorman, I'd like a T-shirt that says Lost Solace."

Yes, Lost Solace is my most popular book/series ... :-)

I am working on the sequels. I  can't do anything about a film unless people can persuade Neill Blomkamp or another director with experience in that genre. But I decided I would look into the clothing idea.

I've now set up a store with Teemill.

They're the most ethical of the clothing companies I contacted. Organic GM-free cotton, no animal testing (inks) or animal products, low waste printing tech, made in a renewable energy powered factory etc. You can find out more in the product specs and on their website.


There's a range of products but I'll only design 15 different items max. I have some free slots in my range. So, are there any of my other books people would like to see featured on clothing? Or particular designs you'd like? Quotes, and if so, which ones? I'm happy to look into options, just get in touch with me here, or on social media. I'm always interested in feedback, since there are so many designs, clothing items and colours to choose from.


There are postage charges for items ordered - and since they are all made in the UK factory, I am not sure how expensive will work out for international customers.

My First Order

I ordered some items, and was impressed with the delivery.

Some of my items - no waste plastic!

Lovely packaging that's full of detail. All just recyclable paper. Brill!

I like the way my author logo is included on the address label :-)

The Lost Solace Logo T-Shirt, modelled by some weird beardy bloke


Browse the whole store here.

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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Music - DMC 2019


Last year I really enjoyed the 2018 DMC (Dumfries Music Conference) event, so went to the 2019 event last night (Facebook) at a new venue. Again, it was really good. I love live music, and every time I strum my own guitars I wish I was a lot better! Music and singing are forms of communication for emotions and ideas. As with last year, there was a wide variety of styles, to cater for all tastes.

Megan Airlie (FB / Twitter)

"With a voice that traverses the glamour of Judy Garland, with the darkness of Amy Winehouse. Airlie, originally from East Kilbride is setting the Scottish scene ablaze with performances at Wide Days and XPO North as well as the 2018 SAY Awards. This young artist is building a repertoire of songs that will leave you shuddering, spellbound and moved with a classic sound that breaks convention in the most delicate of ways."

Megan Airlie sang and accompanied herself on guitar. She was chatty and reminded me of Doctor Who in her jacket and long coat. It was an easy and relaxing style, good to listen to.

The Lutras (FB / Twitter)

"In the past 12 months, The Lutras have twice sold out hometown headline shows at the 350 capacity Venue in Dumfries, alongside rapturous performances at Edinburgh's Liquid Rooms and Glasgow's iconic King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, firmly cementing the foursome as one of Scotland's most-hotly tipped new bands, armed with a new release and a ferocious live set."

The Lutras were the headliners, and it was my first experience of them. They played really well, a professional rock outfit, and got everyone jumping around - which is what you want!

Actually, after the The Lutras set up but before they played, a rapper was asked to get on stage and give an impromptu performance. I missed his name - Justice? The Lutras improvised a drum and guitar backing and he freestyled to it, really enjoyable and clever stuff. I wish I knew who he was! All the more impressive for they way they all just created something without rehearsal.

Quiche (FB)

"A harmoniously textured, romantically dreamy and adventurously tasteful’ psychedelic pop rock quintet from Glasgow. If you like Mac DeMarco, The Lemon Twigs and Tame Impala then you’ll like Quiche."

Quiche were energetic and fun, jumping around and sometimes coming into the audience. They played a mix of rock songs that I really enjoyed, with humour and passion.

Prussia Snailham (FB / Twitter / Instagram)

"A piano-based musical experience with songs about love, insanity, conversations, life, loss, animals and sarcasm. A captivating performance driven by its melancholic and evocative vocals/melodies, heartfelt and clever lyrics, with dynamic, unpredictable, stabbing percussion throughout… elements of hip-hop, minimalism, blues/jazz and art-pop."

Prussia Snailham were the first band of the evening to play, and if I had to pick one out of the excellent set as my favourite, it would probably be this, since it was so different to what I normally go and see. Just a young woman on keyboard and singing her own songs while her friend acted as backing drummer. They were both understated and yet filled the stage with earnestness. The singer was evocative, with a hint of early Bat for Lashes and maybe some of the mood/look of Hazel O’ Connor in the quieter moments of Breaking Glass. She sang about dogs and cats, and the miaow miaow song made me laugh. Afterwards we chatted with her a bit, because one of her songs had been about losing her dog - and I still regularly dream about my first ever dog (Toby), even though he died years ago. I love the way all the musicians of the night seemed so friendly and approachable.

So, another great night. I had some beers, did a bit of dancing, chatted with people, and came away with lots to think about. Make sure you support your local music scene, wherever you live, and whatever the styles: it benefits you as well as the artists. Peace!

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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Helene - A Lost Tale Of Solace

 
Helene is the first in my new Lost Solace spin-off series to accompany the main Lost Solace books. These will all be shorter works (10-20,000 words), each tale focussing on a particular character, filling in some gaps in the main story or scenes from the character's past. I thought this series could be fun to write, allowing a range of styles and stories, and adding to the depth of the Lost Solace universe. Plus it is easier and quicker to write 10-20,000 words than 100,000+ words, so there won't be such a wait between books! Don't worry, Opal's story will also continue in the main series.

Lost Tales of Solace will be e-book-only as individual releases (since they are too short to be paperbacks), but I won't rule out releasing a collected edition later, in both paperback and e-book.

Helene is available to buy, at the same e-book vendors as my other books. It would be great if my readers could leave reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, or other review places: it's always difficult launching a new book with no reviews.

Here's the blurb for Helene:

--

Dr Helene Vermalle is shaping the conscience of a goddess-level AI.

As a leading civilian expert in Emergent AI Socialisation, she has been invited to assist in a secret military project.

Her role? Helping ViraUHX, the most advanced AI in the universe, to pass through four theoretical development stages. But it's not easy training a mind that surpasses her in raw intellect. And the developing AI is capable of killing her with a single tantrum.

On top of this, she must prove her loyalty to the oppressive government hovering over her shoulder. They want a weapon. She wants to instil an overriding sense of morality.

Can she teach the AI right and wrong without being categorised as disloyal?

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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Lost Solace Blog Tour


Lost Solace is going on a blog tour! Each day from Monday 2nd to Sunday 8th September (2019) different bookbloggers will post their never-before-seen reviews of the book on their sites (and possibly elsewhere e.g. Goodreads, Amazon).

The table below shows where the tour visits each day: I'll update it with direct links to the reviews and blog posts as they go live.

Join me in visiting the sites and seeing what people think of the book. I'll be sharing links on social media, answering questions, and generally being in a party mood all week. So I hope you'll join me for at least some of the time! Read the reviews, follow the blogs or their social media accounts, share links, leave comments on the blogs, or whatever you feel like. It's even more exciting for me because I have only done one blog tour before, back in 2016, for They Move Below.

Feel free to tag things with #LostSolace, or even the hashtag I used back when Opal's story was being drafted: #GirlOnAMotherfuckingSpaceship (I think I was getting a bit tired of "Girl on/with a ..." book titles back then and wanted to add a bit of sarcasm; yes, I did even consider that as the actual title for Lost Solace for a little while after I bought this book!).


Monday 2nd September


"Clarissa the AI was my favorite. There’s just no way I couldn’t love her. I am completely hooked."

---

"When I read sci-fi books I want excellent world building, interesting protagonists and a well-crafted, thought-provoking story. Lost Solace gave me all that."


Tuesday 3rd September


"The tension kept me turning the page even when I should have been eating my dinner. A tense, exciting sci-fi adventure, with interesting characters and convincing world-building. Highly recommended."

---

Twitter / Facebook

"Here, Karl Drinkwater manages to remind us just how powerful this can be by crafting an atmosphere for us that is genuinely unsettling. And I love it!" 
 

Wednesday 4th September

"Non stop action, fast pace, travel in outer space, ghost ship, fights with military, new decisions, and 2 kickass heroines made this a great read."

---

Twitter

"The whole concept of just one main character and an A.I was very interesting, plausible and well executed. I loved their relationship, the dialogue between them was sparky, intelligent, witty and felt very much like a real friendship." 
 

Thursday 5th September

"I loved the strong female character, intelligent and fearless (very Ripley-esq) and likeable too. I can’t wait to read the next in the series."

---

Twitter

"I read the rest of the book at warp speed. So much is revealed about Opal, and what’s in the ship is the stuff of nightmares."
 

Friday 6th September


"Opal did remind me a bit of Ripley as she is hard faced, takes no shit from anyone, and will take anyone on even if it’s unknown beings or really hardcore supreme marines."

---


Saturday 7th September

Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

"This book caught my attention, and left me turning page after page to unravel the mystery. If you’re a Sci-fi fan with a few good intense and spooky moments- this is definitely a book worth checking out."
 

Sunday 8th September


"Opal is the type of female heroine that was missing in my life. She doesn’t flinch, she doesn’t cower, she’s a force of nature."

---

Twitter / Instagram

"So you probably know by now that I love a good AI-human in space romp, and this is one of them."
 

This tour has been organised by Anne Cater of Random Things Tours.

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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A Tip To Help Authors Make More Money


A trick for author profitability: find a Venn overlap between what sells, and what you love writing: and dive into that sweet spot. Here's a handy diagram I made earlier.

If you've already published books and they aren't doing well, the first things that spring to mind as culprits are that the cover and blurb are wrong, or the book has a problem with the style or plotting. After that, it could just be that it just isn't resonating with the readers in your target niche, or that niche isn't big enough. In that case you could try writing in another genre or sub-genre.

I write in at least three genres, and love them all, and the books all seem to be well received: but it is only in my third genre that I hit the sweet spot. I'll still write books in all three genres, but now my sci-fi work subsidises books in the other two. The good thing is that finding my sweet spot on the third attempt wasn't selling out: it was still writing something I love, but I originally just didn't think I would be any good at writing sci-fi. Readers proved me wrong and gave me the confidence to continue! Also, trying something new reinvigorated me as a writer.

Peace, love, and good luck to all my fellow authors.

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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