Month: October 2015

Life Is Strange Episode 5 Polarized- The Bittersweet End.

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I’ve been meaning to write about this since I finished playing but just didn’t have chance until now.

There are spoilers here, but I’m assuming you’re coming to this having played all 4 episodes yourself.  Read at your own risk!  If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read this post.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know how much I have loved this series and Episode 5 is no different.  Before I started playing, I knew from the trailers and the end of Episode 4 that this episode was going to be hard going, after all you start by waking up in the dreaded ‘Dark Room,’ awaiting torture and possible death.

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The start of this episode feels very similar to other episodes: making choices, rewinding time when things go badly and trying again to make things right and leap to an alternative timeline.  I knew this episode was too good to be true when it seemed that my torturer had been caught, arrested and I was on my way to a photography exhibit for the Everyday Heroes competition in the first fifteen minutes or so. Like other episodes in the series, you begin this episode expecting one narrative and you end up with another.  This isn’t a bad thing.  At least it kept me on my toes.

It turns out that this episode is all about self sacrifice and whilst it may feel good to bust a criminal and reap the rewards, the apocalypse that has been looming over the game for all previous four episodes comes into play now.  You have to sacrifice your own success and  make changes to the timeline in order to attempt to save Arcadia Bay and your friend Chloe.

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The second half of Polarized is innovative in its approach and moves into Twin Peaks territory with it’s surreal scenes that are twisted versions of past events of the last four episodes.  I particularly loved the P.T. style corridor scene where every door you step through returns you to the beginning, only with subtle scene differences and the scene in the school hallway where everything is backwards.

However, I was disappointed that the torturer and mastermind of the Dark Room, Mr Jefferson, turned out to be a cliched one dimensional villain. He may as well have been wearing a pencil moustache and laughing with a sinister ‘MWAH HA HA!’ as he spilled the beans about his previous murders and how he had framed Nathan for them.  There was also some exposition where he very quickly explained that he had killed Nathan.  Given Nathan was meant to be a significant character, I felt a bit short changed here.  Besides, if he had killed his scapegoat, then surely it was pointless framing him in the first place?  Way to go criminal genius!   It felt as though this part had been rushed through to quickly get to the apocalypse.

The final choice between saving Arcadia Bay or sacrificing Chloe has very literally polarized opinion online, with gamers complaining that their choices in previous episodes amount to nothing in this episode’s final moments. But I think they are missing the point.

They are correct.  It doesn’t matter what choices Max makes.

In the end, your choice whether to water a plant or report someone having a gun are meaningless. You cannot change the future.  It will happen regardless of what you do.  (As someone who suffers with an anxiety disorder, this makes perfect sense to me!)

I do understand gamers frustration at lack of player agency in the first half of the episode though. A lot of time is spent watching cut scenes rather than exploring your surroundings and interacting with it.  I can’t help wondering if this episode was rushed by developers to satisfy player demand or whether more cut scenes were included to have more control over the player experience for this finale.

I know that some people also had issues with unresolved storylines.  It is never explained why Max can suddenly turn back time.  For me this wasn’t an issue (I’ve ready plenty of books where the reader has to just accept the status quo – The Road being a notable example) but it is worth mentioning that this is never resolved.

Despite these flaws none of this ruined my opinion of the series and I agonised for some time before making my final choice at the end of the game.

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I have to say looking back on the series, Life Is Strange is without doubt my favourite game in years, despite the cheesy dialogue.  I will miss the anticipation of waiting for the next episode to be released.  I love the immersive world of Arcadia Bay and how this game took risks with narrative and genre. It has had some of the best cliffhangers that I’ve seen in a while (Chloe in a wheelchair at the end of Episode 3 – jeez!) and I think the episodic nature of release has worked to the game’s advantage. I would also replay this game, something that I very rarely do.

It may be over but hey, at least there will finally be some official merc. Hands up who wants a Hot Dog Man t-shirt! 😉

Halloween Reading: 5 books with genuinely disturbing characters.

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Firstly, this is not a usual Halloween list.  There is not a zombie or werewolf in sight.

It is not that I dislike fantasy horror characters, I just don’t find them scary at all. So here are 5 books that I found genuinely disturbing.

Read the rest of this entry »

What I’ve learned about hooking an agent Part Two: How to avoid ending up in the slush pile – advice on submitting your work to agents.

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This is the second part of a three part series on hooking an agent, based on the excellent advice given during the Writers & Artists event I attended last weekend.  Last week, I wrote about the role of an agent and why you need one.

This week, we are looking at how to avoid the slush pile and what makes a good submission.  The submission package usually consists of your first three chapters, a synopsis and a cover letter.

First question to ask yourself: is my novel actually ready for submission?

The main reasons the agents said they rejected novels were structural issues (it would work better using a different structure) or issues with character motivation (characters behave in a way not in keeping with their usual behaviour).  The rather fabulous agent Juliet Mushens (she represents Jessie Burton who wrote The Miniaturist) suggested many first novels neglect the minor characters.  To use her words ‘they act merely as window dressing for the main character.’

They suggested that your novel should be in at least the third draft before you even consider sending it for submission.  And make sure it is finished (this sounded odd to me but apparently they regularly have people sending them sample chapters when the book isn’t even complete!!)

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The cover letter

The cover letter introduces your book and you.

The most important thing (and what you should introduce it with) is the one sentence pitch e.g. The Fault In Our Stars as a one sentence pitch would be ‘a love story between two teenage cancer patients.’

You should also include the genre of your book, the word count, and a longer pitch (a paragraph) explaining a bit about your book, perhaps comparing it to other similar books on the market.  You only need a small bit about you, including writing credits if relevant.  The aim of the cover letter is to enthuse the agent reading it!

In terms of presentation, it should address the agent by name, have been proofread for errors and be professional in tone.

If you are sending it by email, all the above still applies in the body of your email.

The dreaded synopsis

The synopsis should be a page of A4 in length and outline the main ‘beats’ of your plot, including all plot twists and the ending of the book. The agents stressed it is a technical document, purely outlining what happens and therefore shouldn’t be written in the same tone of your actual writing.

The agent will be thinking the following as they read it:

Does it sound interesting?  Does the plot make sense? Does this sound like they have actually finished the book?

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Your sample chapters

The first three chapters is the usual request, however, send whatever the agent asks for no more! Don’t pick and choose which three chapters – they want to see if the opening has enough there to hook the reader.

In terms of format, the usual approach is to use Arial or Times New Roman, size 12, double spaced with page numbers.  Don’t go for crazy gimmicks like coloured fonts.  Let your writing speak for itself.

Remember to view your submission like you would any other job application.

All agents were keen to stress that the whilst all aspects of the submission process are important, the writing is THE most important part of all of it. If they don’t like your opening chapters then they won’t ask for the rest of the book. However, if your cover letter isn’t perfect it won’t put them off reading your work.

I hope you have found this useful.  Next week, I’ll explain what happened when I got to pitch my novel to an agent.

What I’ve learned about hooking an agent. Part One – What is the role of a literary agent and why do you need one?

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Yesterday I attended the Writers & Artists ‘How To Hook An Agent’ event and I can report that it was absolutely worth every penny, not only for the opportunity to pitch your novel face to face with an established literary agent, but also for the opportunity to meet other writers and learn about how to jump through the fiery hoops of the submissions process.

I learned too much to write about in one post, so I am going to split into into three separate posts.

Part One: What is the role of an agent and why do you need one?

Part Two: How to avoid ending up in the slush pile – advice on submitting your work to agents. (To be posted next Sunday – it would be earlier but Life Is Strange Episode 5 is released on Wednesday and nothing, not even writing, is getting in the way of me playing the finale!)

Part Three: What happened when I pitched to an agent. 

Do note that these posts can *in no way* replace attending one of these events in person.  There was so much information that I won’t be able to replicate it all here – think of this as a very brief summary.  Besides, you can’t pitch to an agent through a blog post.

What is the role of an agent and why do you need one?

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Agents – your year round superhero!

An agent is both a cheerleader and a ball buster!

Let me explain…

One of the other writers there asked why she would need an agent when she could just contact a publisher during their ‘open submissions’ period.

As the agents explained, if you submit to a publisher without an agents help, the first person to read your work is usually an intern.  Now this is no disrespect to anyone on an internship but firstly they are unlikely to have knowledge of the current marketable trends or the experience to spot a bestseller.  If they like your submission, they will then pass your submission on to their supervisor, who passes it on to someone else, who passes it on and so forth.  Your submission could be rejected at any of these points before it even makes its way under the nose of someone who can make a definitive informed decision.

An agent already has a working relationship with the person who makes the informed decision.  This is who your agent sends your manuscript to as the first step of their process.

The other role they have is to get the very best deal they can for you!  They do all the difficult financial negotiation (this is where the ball busting comes in) so that you don’t have to.  They also can recognise a bad deal when they see it and will stop you signing contracts that will not benefit you.

Yes, an agent takes a percentage but they are worth every penny.  As one of the agents put it: they are investing in you, not just for the release of one book. They are there to support you throughout the whole of your writing career.

It’s like a marriage – they are in it for the long haul!

So how do you choose which agent to submit to?

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Every agent is a possibility to begin with. Until you do your research.

Research, research, research!

The agents had lots of stories of people sending them submissions with the wrong name or sending them cookery books when they only deal in fiction.

  1. Use the Writers and Artists Yearbook to make a list of agencies you are interested in and then google every one of the agents and find out about them.
  2. Follow them on twitter (this sounds suspiciously like stalking but its not, its research)
  3. Make sure that the books they publish are books that are similar to yours in terms of age, genre etc.
  4. Another way to find an agent is look at the acknowledgements in the back of books.  An author will always thank their agent.

Send out your submission to ten agents at a time.  Be patient.

If you get an offer of representation let the other agents know. Meet/speak with all of them before making a decision – it is important that you get on with them.  Remember this is like a marriage.

If all ten reject you, take another look at your manuscript. Maybe it is not ready yet (something to discuss in Part Two) When ready, send it out again to another ten.  Repeat process.

So hopefully you can see the valuable job an agent does. I hope you have found this post helpful. Part Two will be posted next Sunday.

If you want to check out the other events that Writers & Artists run you can find them here. As I’ve said, it was worth every penny and I would absolutely recommend them.

I’ve got a Blogger Recognition Award!

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BR_AwardI’m really pleased to have been nominated for a Blogger Recognition Award by sabahbatul. Thank you so much. Please check out her blog too.

This award was created by the book blog, Edge of Night for bloggers to nominate other blogs that they enjoy reading.

You have to do a couple of things in response to your nomination, so first off: my post about blogging. Read the rest of this entry »

Help! I’m pitching my novel.

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In a moment of madness a few months ago, I booked myself onto a pitching event ‘How to Hook an Agent’ through the Writers&Artists website.

It looks really interesting and the idea is that you learn what makes an effective submission, thereby hopefully reducing your chances of ending up on the slush pile.  The most important/nerve-wracking part of the day is getting 10 mins one to one with an agent with the opportunity to pitch your novel.

I’ve never done ANYTHING like this before.

Anyone got any tips or suggestions on how to prepare for it?

When rejection isn’t such a bad thing after all.

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After losing my voice a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been bedridden this week with labyrinthitis. I know, sounds like something fun but makes you dizzy and nauseous.  Imagine all the horrors of being drunk without any of the party.

Anyway, one of the great things that happened, despite feeling rough, is that I got a rejection for one of my short stories from The Masters Review.

Yeah, you read that right: ‘rejection.’

So why am I pleased?

Well, I have this short story and I’ve sent it off to a handful of places now.  I must admit I’ve aimed high, but it has now been rejected from The New Yorker, Granta, The Manchester Review, One Story and The London Short Story Competition.

Every time you’re rejected you’re sent some standard reply that goes something along the lines of…thank you for your submission, we had lots of entries, yours didn’t make the cut, try again some other time.

So what made this one different?

This time it was personal.

It stated the title of my story for starters.  And it had the following phrase: our editors enjoyed reading your manuscript, and it stood out among the group as one of the stronger submissions…

This means that whilst, yes, I have been rejected at least I know for sure the story is good. Sometimes even a rejection can still motivate you to keep on trying.