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What’s Your Theme?

Having a theme for a novel or story is something I’ve always struggled with. I can cope with the internal and external conflicts that a character must have and the plotting of the ‘journey’ each character must go on, in order to emerge, changed in some way, at the end of the tale. The theme is something much bigger but also much simpler than all of this other detail. The theme will not be mentioned explicitly in the story but will occur and reoccur subtly throughout the narrative in the actions of your characters. The theme will generally be something to do with being human, for example growing old, maternal love or keeping secrets.

I don’t believe it’s necessary to have the theme before starting a fiction project because often it will evolve organically. For example you may notice that your characters are all motivated by greed, be it in slightly different ways, maybe one is greedy for money but another is greedy for fame and attention.

So what made me start thinking about theme?

A friend of mine, children’s author Lorraine Hellier sent me a useful link to an article on theme on the Reedsy blog. The article compares the structure of a novel to an iceberg split into three sections:

  1. Plot i.e. the events of the narrative. This is the smallest part of the structure.
  2. Story i.e. internal and external character conflicts.
  3. Theme. This is the huge chunk of iceberg beneath the water and drives both the plot and the story.

I’ve found this a useful concept to muse on as I ponder over what should happen next or how a character should act/react in my current WIP.

Knowing your theme makes it much easier to tell others what your book is about. Instead of delving into the detail of the plot, start with a sentence on the theme, for example, “It’s about how power corrupts.” (Animal Farm by George Orwell)

Why not take a look at the Reedsy article and let me know what you think?

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28 Boring Words and What to Use Instead

When I’m working on the first draft of something, I go for speed. There’s no time to ponder the best word – I just want to get to the end of the story before I forget what’s supposed to happen next!

However, as I work my way back through the manuscript, editing and re-writing, I realise that I’ve used the same words over and over again. This is not good and I have to start thinking of alternatives. That’s when an infograhic like the one below comes in useful and gets the grey cells checking out other suitable words.

(By the way I’ve previously posted about 200 Powerful Words to Use Instead of Good and 128 Words to Use Instead of Very.)

The below infographic kindly supplied by Donna Norton of Custom Writing.

 

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Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test

If you write for children it’s important to know that the language and sentence structures within your work are suitable for the age range of your target reader. For the rest of us, it can be useful to get an idea of how accessible our writing is, i.e. is it understandable to most people or are our sentences and words too long?

The children’s author Lorraine Hellier recently introduced me to a function within Microsoft Word that measures the readability of manuscripts. It’s very easy to set up. Within Word take the following steps:

  1.  In the ‘File’ tab, click ‘Options’.
  2. Select ‘Proofing’.
  3. Ensure the ‘Check grammar with spelling’ box is selected.
  4. Select the ‘Show readability statistics’ box.

Next time the spell check facility is used within a document, at the end you will be shown a  ‘Readability Statistics’ pane. Among other things this shows the Flesch Reading Ease Index, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and the percentage of passive sentences.

The Flesch Reading Ease index works on a 100 point scale, the higher the index, the easier a document is to understand. A score between 60 and 70 is acceptable for most documents.

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level gives a manuscript a US school grade level. This link gives a conversion from US school grade to age and to UK school year. Roughly, the US grade + 1 = UK school year. For example 5th grade = year 6 = age 10/11.

Writers for adults will find the passive sentence percentage most useful. Eliminating passive sentences makes any writing more immediate and effective. We often write passive sentences without noticing, so this is a great tool for highlighting the need to go back through a story and rewrite these phrases.

How easy to read (and active!) is your work?

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Two New Books for Writers

By now the initial excitement of New Year’s resolutions will have passed and keeping up that writing habit may have become a bit of a slog again. But do not despair – as always, your fellow writers are here to help and re-enthuse you.the-business-of-writing-by-simon-whaley

Simon Whaley is on a mission to make us all become more businesslike about our writing. If we treat our writing seriously and as a source of income, then our family and friends will adopt that attitude too – essential if you want to turn that ‘nice little hobby’ into a publishing empire! Simon’s blog about The Business of Writing is full of useful tips and many of you will recognise Simon’s name from his regular (and wise) column in Writing Magazine. He’s gathered together many of those articles into a handy e-book, also called The Business of Writing. It covers things like tax, record keeping, legalities, pseudonyms and much more, plus there are lots of tips and advice from writers across the genres.

start-a-creative-writing-class-by-helen-yendallTeaching writing is one way that many authors top up their income but the thought of getting a class up and running can be daunting. Helen Yendall has years of experience as a writing tutor and she’s just published an e-book sharing the knowledge that she’s built up – Start a Creative Writing Class: How to set up, run and teach a successful class. The book focuses on the nuts and bolts of setting up a writing class for adults, covering everything from finding a venue and arranging insurance, to marketing the class and giving feedback. There’s also plenty of advice on dealing with students and ideas of what (and how) to teach. It contains 100 x 5 minute writing exercises plus icebreaker ideas to get the class warmed-up and ready to learn.

 

So let 2017 be the year you fulfill your ambitions and take your writing more seriously – with the help of Simon and Helen.

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Birmingham Reader’s Map

Last week I was invited, along with comedy writer Heide Goody and children’s author B. B. Taylor, to take part in a rally to save Sutton Coldfield library.

We collected signatures for the petition, marched through the town centre shouting ‘Save Our Library’, were interviewed by ITV for Central News (but unfortunately that got left on the cutting room floor), listened to speeches by the rally organisers and our MP Andrew Mitchell, Birmingham City Councillor Rob Pocock, Sutton Coldfield Town Councillor Ewan Mackey and eventually we stood up and said a few words ourselves in support of the library.

In between all this excitement we managed a bit of writing chat. Heide told us about the Birmingham Reader’s Map that she curates via her website. It shows the locations of novels set in and around Birmingham and Heide has kindly added Bedsit Three (set in a fictional part of north Birmingham) to the map.

If you’d like to see what other literary gems are set in the West Midlands, use the ‘+’ sign to enlarge the map below and have a hunt around. If you know of any other book that should be on the map, contact Heide and let her know.

Satan’s Shorts, a collection of short stories co-written by Heide and her writing partner, Iain Grant is FREE on Amazon. The book description is intriguing, “Curious about the day that Saint Christopher found out he’d been declared non-existent by the pope? What exactly is a cat in Hell’s chance? How would an annual Christmas present exchange between Heaven and Hell work out? Find out the answers to these and other pressing questions in this collection of short stories from the world of Clovenhoof.”

Satan's Shorts

 

 

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712 More Things To Write About

I’m not good at Christmas shopping. The more I walk around looking for things to buy for other people, the more things I find to buy for myself. 712 More Things to Write About

The latest was a book I found in Waterstones (and it’s also available on Amazon).

712 More Things to Write About is full of ideas to help when that well of inspiration is empty. It’s put together by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto and is in a large paperback journal format with room to write beneath each prompt. There are things like, ‘You look out the window and discover a body floating face down in your pool’ and ‘Write a haiku about your underwear’. The prompts in this book will keep any writer going well past the end of 2017. And prompts are often just what I need!

So, I bought the book and gave it to my husband to wrap up for me. Roll on Christmas when I can get it back in my greedy mitts again!

 

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50 Word Story Competition

If the 50,000 word marathon of NaNoWriMo is too much for you, have a go at this 50 word story competition organised by Just Write.

It’s free to enter and an open theme but the story must be exactly 50 words – not as easy as it sounds!

There are prizes of books and ‘literary goodies’ plus the winner will be published on tyjustwrite.com.

Closing date is 30th November 2016 and entry is by email or post.

This competition could be a useful exercise in focusing the mind and creating an elevator pitch for your NaNoWriMo work-in-progress.

Also, there was a wordpress glitch when I published my last post and I don’t think notification emails were sent out. In case you missed it, it was 200 Powerful Words to Use Instead of Good .

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