Plan vs. Not Plan

There are two very different schools of thought when it comes to writing I’ve found – the planners and the free writers. This difference becomes widely apparent at this time of the year, especially in my house. That’s right folks; NaNoWriMo is once again upon us. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, please see last year’s entry on NaNoWriMo here.

It has become a bit of mother-daughter rivalry at my place; as we both battle to beat each other on daily word counts, rushing to fit in writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days while still holding down full-time day jobs and keeping the household running smoothly. Things get a bit crazy.

But it’s the lead up where the planning styles, or lack of, show themselves. My planning involves purchasing copious amounts of sugar free Redbull/V/*insert energy drink*, candy and food I can eat one handed. I am a free writer. This how I approach most my books. On November first I will be up at 4am to start writing and at this moment all I know is a general premise and my main protagonists name…  and that’s how I like it. For me planning a story makes me feel bogged down. It stifles my muse. I like to let my characters write themselves and take me on their stories like I’m merely a ghost writer for a group of fictional entities. Being made to write outlines for stories at school was hell for me. Most times though I had awesome English teachers who understood me and let me write my stories and then write a synopsis. (Thank you Mrs Morris)

And then there are writers like my mum. My mum, Mara Harrison, whose beautiful illustrations for the next Ouroborus Book Services’ book Everdark Realms can be seen at, is a planner. She approaches her writing and art with surgical precision, planning meticulously every detail before even starting to write/draw. Watching her during NaNo is an experience. Whereas I sit typing on the couch, caffine in reach; she sits surrounded by notebooks and bits of paper. She stops at intervals to rifle through her papers, rustling away as my dog looks on perplexed from the safety of my side.

I guess deep down though our planning styles match our personalities to a tea. Although I like to know where I’m going in advance in life, I certainly am more of a head first, try it and see person. My mum on the other hand is a meticulous list maker. She’s very ordered and things don’t get left to chance. And they both work. We stare at each other in shock at the approach we each take to our writing, and life in general, but in the end, the goal is the same. We’re in it for the words and in the end, as another NaNo comes to a close we will both hopefully have our 50,000 words or more ready to be enhanced once the insanity dies down and I lower my caffine levels enough to actually sleep.

So my advice is do what works for you. Don’t get bullied into planning and mapping because it’s what is expected. Alternatively, if you are a planner, especially if surrounded by opinionated free writers, don’t feel that you’re planning is wrong or cheating. If it helps you to write and keeps you going, more power to it.

For those doing NaNo this year, good luck. Feel free to friend me. My name on the site is theravensclaw. Have Fun and happy NaNo-ing.


Book vs. Movie – The Mist by Stephen King

I was planning on writing about Planet of the Apes but I realised that I couldn’t remember most of the older movies so gimme a few weeks on that one. Now before I begin SPOILER WARNING. If you read through these book vs. movie columns and it spoils the ending of either then it is your own fault. Okay, now that that is over let us begin.

I was eight when I first experienced the joy and terror that is Stephen King. My mother was always pretty liberal on what I could watch and read (within reason of course) and she knew of my love for the odd, creepy and downright gross from an early age. At seven I had devoured most the Goosebumps books by RL Stine and by age eight or so I had moved onto Christopher Pike and other teen horror books. One night on a school holiday I was up late and watched the movie Cat’s Eye (which consisted of three short films: Quitters, Inc., The Ledge, and The General) and from that day I had to find more of this master’s works. Little did I know how much more I would love the books as my life progressed.

 I was around nine when I got my first Stephen King book, not having convinced mum to buy me any of my own just yet. I remember vividly that day mum and I went shopping with my aunt. We passed a second hand book store, that musty, dust smell wafting from the semi-lit doorway. I dragged at her hand, begging her to let us stop for a minute. Even at that age I was enthralled with the smell of old books. With a smile she let me run free into the stacks and overcrowded shelves. I emerged after a few minutes holding a thick paperback, its pages and cover dog eared and creased. The spine so bent you could barely read the title. Its cover held a cracked image of a skeleton holding a scythe and the title Skeleton Crew by Stephen King.

 It took a bit of convincing but I persuaded her to let me buy it with my pocket money for the pricely sum of $1.50 (that was a lot of money in 1991 especially for a nine year old). I started reading as soon as we got in the car and amongst all the gems there were two shining stars The Raft and one of the longer stories in the book, The Mist. I hoped to one day see either of them as movies so when they announced they were making The Mist  in 2007, I was stoked but apprehensive. I was a lot more discerning by that age and had seen how most of my idol’s books had been made into bad telemovies or just changed way too much.

 When I went to see it on the big screen it was at a small cinema with a few friends and the cinema was mostly empty as it was the end of the movie’s run. And I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. There were a few changes but only one that really split the King fans down the middle on opinion. I’ll get to that one soon.

 The Mist for those who haven’t seen/read it (seriously you should stop reading if you intend to) sees a thick, soupy mist begin to spread across the town of Bridgton, Maine, making it nigh on impossible to see more than a  few feet in front of you. In the movie the storm that brings the mist and the aftermath that leads to the story is very rushed through (albeit containing a an easter egg for King fans with a painting of a movie poster of Roland Deschain from the Dark Tower series), but the book, along with King’s usual demeanour, ambles along, showing the intricacies of the characters’ ‘normal’ lives. A tree has fallen in the storm and crushed the boathouse of our main character David Drayton (played in the movie by Thomas Jane) falling from his neighbour, Brent Norton’s  (Andre Braugher) yard. Despite the ill feelings between the two, they head into town for supplies together with David’s son Billy (Nathan Gamble).

Once at the store we meet a mixed group of people, from checkout chicks and bagboys, some soldiers from the military compound nearby working on a secret mission named the Arrowhead Project (the book hints at this being the cause of the mist, the soldiers following suicide being further hint of this. The movie straight up blames this project of ‘opening doors to other realms’ for the mist and the monsters from it – another Dark Tower reference perhaps), and the crazy Mrs Carmody. This is when stuff starts going pear shaped. Creatures start to attack from the mist.

I won’t give away too much of them away because it’s rather cool. But one of the other differences between the book and movie is Mrs Carmody. Although personally they both work well for me, the book Mrs Carmody is more strange crazy in the book than religious zealot crazy like in the movie. But as I said both work and by the end she had convinced most the people in the store that the mist is part of the end times and that God wants a blood sacrifice to appease him – in the form of David’s son, Billy. (For the fans: please note in the movie all the King paperbacks on the book shelves). Her getting taken down by a well aimed can of peas to the head certainly brought cheers to the people in our cinema.

Things happen more or less like in the book until the end, and this is the BIG change that personally pissed me off, but some fans loved it. In the book the end sees David, Billy, Amanda the checkout operator and an elderly, yet tough, school teacher Hilda Reppler, escaping in a car driving into the mist. The very last part reveals that they hear a single word come through the crackling radio, ‘Hartford’, giving them hope that there is something out there, and THAT’S IT. And I would love to have seen the movie end this way, but to placate the masses they gave it a ‘real’ ending.

There are still David, Billy and Amanda but swaps Hilda for Irene (same character as Hilda, just different name) and Dan. They drive over to David’s house to find his wife dead – victim to the creatures. Then they start driving away again. Eventually they run out of fuel and pull over. While Billy sleeps, they discuss their fate and with 4 bullets left in the gun David had they decide to end it, having not seen any other survivors on the way. David shoots Billy, Amanda, Irene and Dan and then resigns himself to the fate of the creatures ending his life. He steps out of the car when all of a sudden he hears the rumble of a truck. The mist begins to clear and he sees military personnel and survivors. He falls to the ground screaming realising how close they were to rescue and that his son and wife are now dead.


So my recommendation is read the book first. Get the Skeleton Crew book (because it’s full of awesome stories) and not the novelisation of the movie because it’s not the real deal.

Also if you’re new to Stephen King and his 1000 page epics of fear seem a little overwhelming, this is a great way to start, with bite size stories you can read in one sitting.

As for the movie, it’s good. Personally I stop it before the stupid ending so it’s more like the book but if you’re not a purist or you don’t intend to read the book, the movie is probably one of the better King adaptations.

~ Sabrina




Under the Influence

Whenever I read Chuck Palahniuk, my writing takes on his style; the minimalist writing with short chapters and grotesque subject matter. If I read Stephen King I feel like writing a long book, with deep characters with horror elements as well as supernatural themes. I get too influenced by what I read. A couple of Blogs back I was reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac and it had a profound impact on how that blog was written. It was disjointed, strange and had to be edited about five times before it made any sense. My girlfriend edited it and said it was hard to read and not my usual style, I told her I was harnessing the energy of Hunter S Thompson, Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs.

I’ve always found it hard to find my own style of writing. I don’t really believe I’ve found my true, unique, style yet, strange as that sounds. Even though I have been writing for years and years, I am easily influenced by the book I read at that moment. I think this can be equal bad and good. A few of my books are heavily influenced by Cormac McCarthy; the way he describes things in great detail, heavy on the weather descriptions with a loose storyline and minimal characters. I like that way of writing, I love his books and find it very easy to write like that. Even if I’m not reading a book of his, I can sit down to one of my books that I’m working on, read a few lines and the style will flow right out. I can pick up exactly where I left off. With Chuck Palahniuk’s style, it’s a lot harder. I have to get one of his books from the book shelf, skim through it, remember the way he describes things, situations, people, environments and go ‘ah yes, that’s right,’ and sit down immediately to write. That should not be the way to write, I know.

The only way to figure out your own style, for me anyway, is to not read anything for a while. I’ve done it before, but it doesn’t happen very often as I’m always reading. I’ve sat at the computer raw, with no inspiration from other writers, no influence and I’ve written. What came out was my own style, uninhibited. Looking back at it now, I can see all the areas I need to work on. I can see where I faultier and where other peoples work was evident. It was clear that moving the character through settings, such as down a hallway, or into a haunted house was happening too quickly. I would describe it briefly and move as fast as I could. In my book S.P.O.O.K.S II – The Ghastly Ghost Train, I had the young brother and sister moving through a museum, down towards the basement to check on a mummy that had escaped. I remember them getting from the front of the museum to the basement in only a paragraph or two. I barely stopped to explain their surroundings, their feelings, or anything. It was pretty much walking along a corridor, looking at a specimen in a glass tube, getting in the elevator and heading down to the basement. Thinking back now, if, or when, I do a rewrite, I would try and build suspense up a little more than I did. I would take longer describing the scenery, and this I think I have learned from Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy. You could say it was a technique learnt, rather than imitating someone else’s style. On a rewrite I would have them sit in the car, at night, looking up at the museum with wide eyes, a full moon overhead, the caretaker shaking by the front stairs, holding a flashlight and stumbling over his words. I would make them walk to the basement, rather than get in an elevator, every step would echo and it would be dark, wherever they flash their torches they would see teeth and eyes of the museums exhibits.

Just recently I was writing Everdark Reals book two for the Aquillians and one of my characters is locked in a prison. He is told to look down the hallway at a large window (it makes more sense once you get to read it). And when I wrote it, I did exactly that, made him look down the corridor at the window. After thinking about it after a day or two, that one scene drew me back to the computer because I knew I had fallen into that same trap. I made it too simple, too uninteresting and boring and it was only one sentence. On the rewrite, I described the darkness of the hallway, the way the ground was made from cobblestones, the other cells along the walls and I made a rat with one ear scamper across the hallway and disappear through a hole. I could have said just a rat, but giving it only one ear, makes it a little more interesting. Giving the hallway mist and dripping moisture from the roof tiles gives you more of a clear picture, even if you only picture that one scene for three seconds.

I don’t think a writer can develop their own style without being influenced by what they read. I mean, that’s why we start writing in the first place. We read books that we love and think ‘I’d really like to do that,’ and once you start writing, you can’t stop. You could look at writers like Clive Barker’s writing and think that there is nothing overly unique about his writing. His words flow freely and it’s easy to read. You don’t get snagged on each sentence, like some writers. But the one thing that make Barker unique are his Monsters and settings. And this is his style. You read a Clive Cussler book  or Mathew Riley book, you know what you’re in for. You know their style, you know what to expect. When Stephen King tried to write under a pseudonym, everyone knew it was him, he couldn’t hide his style.

I tend to like writing kids/YA books because I thought they were more fun to write and they were something I would have liked to read as a kid. But now, I just think it’s closer to my style of writing than anything else.

Mitchell Tierney