Archive for category Writing
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:
- Plot i.e. the events of the narrative. This is the smallest part of the structure.
- Story i.e. internal and external character conflicts.
- 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?
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.
The below infographic kindly supplied by Donna Norton of Custom Writing.
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:
- In the ‘File’ tab, click ‘Options’.
- Select ‘Proofing’.
- Ensure the ‘Check grammar with spelling’ box is selected.
- 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?
I’ve been looking at laptops. Until now all my writing’s been done on desktop PCs and, if I’m out and about, in notebooks and typed up later. Currently our household has two desktops, one on Windows 7 and one on Windows 8 but no tablet or other ‘on the move’ device apart from smartphones. But I like coffee shop writing and my husband fancies sitting with his feet up in the lounge when he’s on the internet, rather than at a desk upstairs – hence the decision to look at laptops.
A new Windows 10 laptop demands a new version of Microsoft Office. Microsoft are trying to move towards an annual subscription model but there is still, currently, the option of a one-off fee version, which will not get any software updates. Both of these are expensive on top of the laptop cost. So I’ve been looking into the free open source alternatives.
There are two main free open source alternatives to Microsoft Office: OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Both contain a Word equivalent and an Excel equivalent. Both can read and write in .doc and .docx formats (making them Word compatible) and have similar capabilities to Word. Both are compared to Microsoft Office in this useful article by Techsoup.
I decided to give LibreOffice a try on the Windows 8 desktop PC prior to making any laptop decisions. Downloading and installing was straightforward and the install automatically put a nice little icon on my desktop. I created a document in LibreOffice Writer and saved it as .docx and then opened it in Microsoft Word, amended it, saved it and opened it in Libre. Everything seemed totally compatible (that was one of my worries about not using the ‘proper’ Word) within the simple document that I used as my initial test.
LibreOffice Writer feels like Word but without the final ‘polish’. I haven’t tracked down how to do everything yet but I’m sure a quick question to Mr Google will get me the answers. First impressions make me think that LibreOffice Writer will do the job on our new laptop – especially since I’ll still have access to Microsoft Word on the desktop PC to give manuscripts a final once-over before submission.
Does anyone else use ‘free’ word processors?
I put ‘free’ in inverted commas because LibreOffice does encourage donations towards the software’s further development and support. I didn’t donate on download but if the software turns out to be as useful as I hope then I will return to their donation page. But first we have to make a decision on which laptop to buy…
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!
I picked up a great piece of editing advice on the internet this week courtesy of short story writer, Dan Purdue.
Dan’s blog post on Editing is worth reading in full but I particularly liked the tip that Dan gives in the very last paragraph of his post. He tries to read his work as though it were written by someone he doesn’t like or by someone who’s won a competition in which he was unplaced. The aim is to tear the piece apart and show what a terrible writer this other person really is.
I’m not good at cutting out chunks of prose or ‘killing my darlings’ but I think Dan’s tip is definitely worth a try. I shall get myself into ‘nasty’ mode before I start editing next time.
Over the past couple of months I’ve mentioned a few of my writing-related activities and I thought it was time to give an update.
At the beginning of April, I announced that I was going to use April as a ‘private’ NaNoWriMo and try to write a rough first draft of my next novel. This actually took longer than planned. Partway through I realised that one of my minor characters had much more potential than one of my main protagonists. So I had to re-work much of what I’d done. I killed off the boring main protagonist (when he was only a baby!) and brought the minor character to the fore. I now have 58,000 words and a LOT of work to do.
At the beginning of June, I wrote that I’d uploaded Bedsit Three to Smashwords in order to get it into the Overdrive store, from which many public libraries purchase e-books. Once I could see it available in Overdrive, I went to my local library to ask for the contact details of Birmingham’s e-book buyer so that I could make myself known as a local author. Unfortunately, I was told that there was no budget at all for new books – not even e-books. On the plus side, they were receptive to the idea of an author event and (fingers crossed) will be contacting me in September when all the school holiday activities are over.
A couple of weeks ago, I launched a price promotion on Kindle for Bedsit Three. I reduced it from £2.25 to 99p for 2 weeks. I calculated that I needed to sell 4.5 times as many books at 99p as at £2.25 to make it a viable long-term price point. That number of sales hasn’t materialised so, barring a sudden surge today (30th June 2016) the price will rise again tomorrow.
And finally, I was pleased to receive a gift from Iain Pattison this week – a paperback copy of That’s Why The Lady is a Vamp. It’s a collection of off-beat comedy tales, full of unexpected twists and lots of humour. Plus, the high spot is a guest appearance by yours truly! If you’d like a free e-copy of one of Iain’s books pop along to his website now.
So that’s me. Anyone else got any news?
This week’s post is prompted by a writing acquaintance who was asking for suggestions of websites that have good creative writing prompts.
Creative writing prompts are useful for those times when the ideas just won’t come. Using a prompt focuses the mind and encourages the words onto the paper. It doesn’t matter if the story then goes off at a tangent from the original prompt – the prompt has already done it’s job by starting the process.
There are various sites offering creative writing prompts. Here are a few to get you started:
- Esther Newton often provides prompts and challenges on her blog
- Throughout June 2016 Writing Magazine has been providing a daily prompt
- Creative Writing Now has a page of forty-four short story ideas. They also offer a free e-book of writing ideas.
- Writing Exercises has lots of ‘random generators’ to create plots, first lines and subjects.
Many writing competitions supply a prompt in the form of a subject or theme. These prompts have the added advantages of a ready market to which your story can be submitted and a deadline to work to.
Do you have a favourite way of generating prompts and ideas?
What’s your musical era? When did you transition from child into young adult and have all those special first experiences: first teenage party, first visit to a pub or club, first kiss, first date etc. ?
For me it was the early 1980s. Songs by Adam and the Ants, Soft Cell, Human League and Frankie Goes to Hollywood always whisk me back to that time and I feel again the strong emotions that seemed to accompany everything I did. If I close my eyes when I hear ‘Tainted Love’, I’m at the university Union disco, dancing on a floor which is sticky with spilled beer. I feel the excitement and anticipation of a time when so many things were new and responsibilities were few.
Re-capturing this mood through music enables me to write from the heart about being young and in love. When I get in this zone it’s great – the words flow and I get lost in the story. Pete’s Story was the result of one such emotional interlude and my inspiration came (very loosely!) from a boy I went out with in my teens who was a member of a band.
What songs whisk you back to that heady time of new independence and experiences? And do they help with your writing today?
This blog post is part of a music themed blog event organised by Elaina James, a guest blogger on Mslexia. Her author page on Mslexia can be found at www.mslexia.co.uk/author/elainajames.
Details of participating bloggers in this event can be found on Elaina James’ blog.