Archive for category Writing

Planning a Novel and the First Draft

I’ve been busy with a whiteboard and pretty coloured Post-It Notes trying to plan my second novel. There’s no ‘right’ way of writing a novel but, in my opinion, it helps to have some idea of where the story is heading. So I’ve taken novelist Bella Osborne‘s advice and tried working backwards from a pivotal moment in the plot. For example, if the pivotal moment is X stabbing Y to death in a fit of anger in a remote field, then scenes coming before that must show X procuring a knife, Y doing something to make X angry, X travelling to the remote field etc. etc. novel planning with post-it notes

My plan looks very nice and it’s got my brain into gear but I know I will inevitably veer ‘off-piste’ as I get deeper into the story. That probably won’t matter and will make the writing process more exciting (the book is meant to be grip-lit!). And if I get totally lost then I’ll come back to my plan.

I intend to write the first draft as quickly as possible, NaNoWriMo style. But I can’t wait until November so throughout April I will be doing my own private NaNoWriMo. I want to write as quickly as possible to keep my brain focused and the story continuously moving forward in my head. The resulting manuscript will be for my eyes only and will require a lot of additional work. But I find it less frightening to edit and play around with words I’ve already written, until they’re at a publishable standard, than try to write to that standard in the initial draft.
And I will be repeating the mantra of writing tutor Alison May, “It’s OK to hate your first draft. It’s OK to hate your first draft.”

Finally I leave you with news that Bedsit Three (another grip-lit novel) has been accepted for inclusion into Kobo‘s ‘Deals Page Spotlight – Thrillers’ promotion for the first two weeks in April. Hurray! And, of course, Bedsit Three is also available on Kindle and in paperback.

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The Art of Receiving Criticism

A couple of weeks ago my writing buddy, Helen Yendall, wrote a blog post about The Art of Giving Feedback. Today, I’m going to come at it from the other side and talk about the The Art of Receiving Criticism.

I am working on a novel, in fact I thought I’d done a reasonable job on it. But I know how hard it can be to look at one’s own writing objectively so I decided to seek the opinion of an expert. I chose published romantic novelist Patricia Fawcett. I have met her a couple of times at writing events and she is also a reader for the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Also, Patricia’s critiques are great value for money.

I received a comprehensive report on my novel suggesting several ways that it could be improved, starting with the first chapter where the pace is a ‘domestic crawl’. On the positive side, Patricia said that she liked my female main character who is ‘vulnerable and interesting’ but, on the negative side, my male main character comes across badly and I need to put in more of his back story so the reader gets to know him. Patricia also pointed out that part of the plot depends on a couple of unlikely coincidences that would ‘get up an editor’s nose’ – so they need taking out and/or re-working. She also suggested a different ending to the novel, which I think will probably be more plausible than the one I had in mind. There was much more in the report but I won’t bore you with it all.

So I’ve still got a lot more work ahead of me.

If I’d received this report a few years ago I would probably have stuffed it in a drawer and given up all hope of ever being able to write anything longer than a 1200 word short story. But as the years go by (and I get older and wiser) I realise that very few people get it right first time and there’s no reason why I should be any different. So it’s time to submerge myself in the plot again and learn from everything that Patricia has highlighted.

Patricia ended her report positively, she said, “If I have gauged you right, you will dust yourself down, shake this one up, and carry on to prove to me and to yourself that you can do it.”

Fingers crossed that I can!

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Write an Epitaph for your Character

Pets' Graveyardat Brodsworth Hall

Pets’ Graveyard at Brodsworth Hall

On Sunday, Andrew Marr was asking Scottish politician Alex Salmond what he would like on his epitaph.

Epitaphs were discussed again on the Today program yesterday and it got me thinking.

An epitaph is a couple of sentences epitomising the dead person i.e. summing up how they lived their life.

It struck me that writing an epitaph might be a good way to get to the heart of a character’s psyche.

I’m sure we’ve all come across those character-creation questionnaires which demand that you fill in everything about your protagonists such as date of birth, hair colour, favourite food, best subject at school and secret fear. I’ve tried doing this but find that I get distracted by stuff that isn’t relevant such as my heroine’s shoe size and what she carries in her handbag.

I feel that what I should be doing is getting to the heart of what my character wants from life, what is stopping him or her from getting it and how they are going to overcome this hurdle by their own efforts. It should be possible to do this in two or three short sentences to fit on a gravestone and then, from these few words, it should be possible to work out what else I need to know about the character’s background.

So I’ve had a quick go at doing this for the hero in my current WIP:

‘A devoted father removed from his son by divorce. He endured unemployment and poverty in order to fulfill his paternal drive.’

Alright, it probably needs polishing and editing before the stone mason gets out his chisel but it helps to focus my mind on what this character wants. Knowing this desire will help to shape his actions through the story and keep him on target to get what he wants.

What about you? Does the twenty (or one hundred) questions method suit your way of working or do you do something completely different to create believable characters?

For those of you who do like the questionnaires as a starting point, there’s a whole array of them here.

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RIP David St John Thomas

Most of you will be aware that David St John Thomas passed away last month at the age of 84.  David St John Thomas Letter Writer of the Year

David St John Thomas founded Writers’ News 25 years ago and still wrote a regular column for the magazine right up until his death. Prior to that he ran the publishing company David & Charles.

A lot of writers will remember him for his work with the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust. The Trust was created with some of the money from the sale of David & Charles. It ran a wide range of writing competitions and also provided bursaries to students taking part in useful work in the developing world.

It was through the competitions organised by the Trust that David briefly touched my life. I was the winner of the 2006 David St John Thomas Charitable Trust Letter Writer of the Year Award. I met David at the presentation event in Harrogate. He was very friendly and it was a lovely event.

It was the final year that the competition ran and so I was able to keep the silver cup that went with the £100 prize.

This Letter Writing Competition was a wonderful way of encouraging new writers. It entailed compiling a portfolio of letters published in magazines and newspapers over a 12 month period and so was accessible to a wide range of people who may not yet have had success in any other area of writing.

So I’d like to say my own personal thank you to David St John Thomas for the encouragement that that competition win gave to me.

Finally, and in the spirit of encouraging other writers, if you’d like to try out your letter writing skills, this competition offers £30 each month to the writer of the best letter of complaint.

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Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society

I’ve finally got around to joining the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society and registering my short stories and articles that have been published over the last three years.

Being a member of ALCS ensures that you get paid any secondary royalties earned by your works, for example if an article is photocopied by an organisation like a school.

Life membership of ALCS costs £25 but this is deducted from the writer’s first royalty payment – so there is no upfront charge and therefore no risk of being out of pocket by joining ALCS.

I have to admit to not totally understanding how ALCS knows what has been photocopied and how payments to writers are calculated. And I don’t imagine that at this very moment zillions of people are photocopying my work and handing it out to all and sundry. So will I actually ever see any money from ALCS? I have absolutely no idea, but you’ve got to be in it to win it, as they say.

Registering work published in magazines (newspaper articles are not accepted) is easy and can be done on-line. But only things published in the last three years are eligible – so it’s better to do this sooner rather than later and then keep it up to date.

The only problem that I encountered was finding the ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) for some publications. The ISSN is an identification number for periodicals but not all magazines have them. I’ve had several articles published in Freelance Market News which I discovered had no ISSN. However, when I contacted the magazine’s lovely editor, Angela Cox, she went to the trouble of obtaining an ISSN for Freelance Market News (thank you, Angela!) So I’ve now been able to register those articles, although I’m not sure of the implications if the ISSN wasn’t in existence when the article was first published.

Has anyone else got any experience/knowledge of ALCS?

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How’s The Writing Going?

“How’s the writing going?”

Since I’ve started declaring myself to be a writer this is a question that family and friends often ask – and one that I find difficult to answer.

Perhaps if I was a ‘proper’ novelist it would be easy. I’d say that I was working on the edits requested by my publisher for one book and drafting a synopsis for the next bestseller with my agent – all quite simple and successful sounding.

But in reality I’m more likely to be still smarting from last week’s womag rejection, wondering why I didn’t make the shortlist of that competition I entered, trying to decide whether or not I can turn the anecdote I heard about someone’s long-lost cat into a short story for People’s Friend and toying with the idea of having a go at a serial – if only I could think of a strong enough idea.

None of that sounds very professional, so I could give them the sales spiel about my latest Kindle e-book (click here if you’re interested) but then they’d probably exclaim that they didn’t have a Kindle. And their eyes would glaze over if I tried to explain that anyone can read Kindle books on a PC or laptop if they download the free Kindle app.

So before I say anything I try and guess what they want to hear. Are they just asking out of politeness in the same way that acquintances you meet in the street ask ‘How are you?’ and expect no answer, other than ‘Fine, thank you. How are you?’ Or are they genuinely interested?

If it’s the former, I’ll be brief and positive, ‘I had a story published last month and have just submitted a couple more so, fingers-crossed, I might get some more good news.’

If it’s the latter, I’ll start slowly trying to explain how I’m trying to lengthen a ‘twist in the tale’ that Take a Break didn’t want in order to make it fit the bill at The Weekly News. But as soon as I sense I’ve lost them, I change the subject and remark on the weather.

Is it me, or is it very difficult  to talk about writing to a non-writer?

What do you answer when people politely ask, ‘How’s the writing going?’

 

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Proofreading and How to Send Documents to the Kindle

Does anyone else use their Kindle for proofreading?

I find this very helpful if I’m writing something longer than just an ordinary short story. It means I don’t have to sit staring at my computer screen for ages whilst I work my way through the whole manuscript and nor do I use large amounts of paper and ink printing the thing off time and time again (although I do use this method when I think I’m almost there).

Proofreading on the Kindle means I can curl up in an armchair with a mug of coffee and pretend I’m reading a ‘proper’ book. I find it lets me judge my writing in a different way and I’m less likely to skip over words.

The disadvantage is that I can’t edit as I go along and I can’t scribble and cross things out either. But depending on what stage you’re at, this can be a good thing because it forces you to read the whole manuscript from beginning to end without wasting time trying to perfect a single sentence. This makes it easier to see the whole story arc and judge whether or not it works.

But in order to be able to proofread in this way, the manuscript needs to be sent from PC to Kindle. There are a couple of ways this can be done. You can either email the document to the Kindle (yes, every Kindle has its own email address!) or plug the Kindle into the PC and ‘drag and drop’ the file across.

There are detailed instructions on how to use both of these methods over on Molly Greene’s Blog so I won’t repeat it all again here. In her post Molly doesn’t specifically mention that Word documents can be sent in this way but I know from experience that they can and there are comments at the end of the post which confirm this. Molly also gives some instructions for the iPad too (I’m not lucky enough to own one of those).

This method of sending stuff to the Kindle can also be used for PDF documents – but I’ve never worked out how to increase the font size of a PDF when it’s on the Kindle and so end up having to use my reading glasses.

And it’s useful to be able to transfer files in this way if you’re ever asked to beta read someone’s work before publication or if you get sent an early review copy.

Please do let me know if you’ve got any proofreading tips or experience of sending stuff to the Kindle.

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Using Regional Speech in Dialogue

I love writing dialogue but never make my characters’ voices reflect their region of origin – because I Madeleine Purslowdon’t know how to do it effectively! Then I got chatting to womag writer Maddie Purslow who loves accents and likes to slip them into her stories for Yours and Take a Break Fiction Feast whenever possible. Today Maddie has kindly agreed to give us all a few tips:

I  have a Brummie accent and some would say I would do well to lose it, but I love accents.  I love using them when I write. A lot of creative writing courses advise against using dialects but I think not only does it make your work more interesting, it also makes it easier for your reader to distinguish one character from another.
However, it can be a problem if it’s overdone. Nobody wants to wade through pages of unintelligible dialogue. The key is to concentrate more on the structure of the dialect rather than reproducing it phonetically which, let’s face it, can be a bit subjective. What sounds like a Geordie accent to you might not to someone else. So I suggest a light touch. Just add the odd phrase here and there that suggests the accent.
Using an American accent seems like an easy option because we hear so much of it on television but remember that Americans often use entirely different words from us and these can trip you up, leading to a lack of authenticity. Using an example from a story I had published recently, “You make sure and tell them to work hard at school, I figure that’s the best advice you can give them right now.” We would never say figure but it is part of American everyday speech.
If your character is Scottish, don’t go down the route of having them talk in clichés like the old, “Braw brit moonlit nicht” stuff. Instead look out for the things that are peculiar to the accent. Scots would add “right enough” at the end of the sentence by way of affirmation. “She’s a good looking girl, right enough.” It just gives the flavour of an accent without over egging the pudding.
And talking of puddings, the proof is in the eating of course, and the majority of the stories I have sold have featured at least one character with an accent.
My final tip would be, once you have written your dialogue, always speak it aloud. Even if you can’t do the accent, speak it anyway. It’s amazing how different it sounds and how many faults can be spotted that way.
But most of all enjoy it. Using an accent can be fun, just don’t overdo it. Or as we would say here in Birmingham, “Take it easy, Bab.”

And read more of Maddie’s great regional dialogue in her first novel, Fred The Red’s Dottir. Fred The Red's Dottir
It’s currently only 99p on Amazon Kindle – going back up to the full price £2.49 next Sunday (2nd March).

The story sounds intriguing:
“It’s 1981 and the recession is biting hard. The summer of riots, a Royal wedding and things have turned sour for Julie Reynolds in London. She is forced to return to Birmingham where she has no choice but to live with her ailing, irascible communist father, Fred in ‘The Little Kremlin’. On her return to the working class Kingsbury Estate where she grew up, she is quickly drawn into the lives of her old neighbours, people she had tried to leave behind. But sometimes it is impossible to leave things behind….like secrets for instance.”

I was 18 in 1981 and remember it well so I’m going over to Amazon now, whilst the book’s still half the price of a takeaway coffee, and perhaps I’ll learn how to make the heroine of my next story talk like a Brummie!

 

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What Am I Working On?

The talented Tracy Fells has invited me to be part of a blog chain, linking writers up across the vast, virtual world that is the internet.

Chain link

Chain link (Photo credit: Matti Mattila)

Tracy writes short stories, flash fiction, the occasional article plus drama for theatre and radio. Her stories have appeared in Take-a-Break Fiction Feast, The People’s Friend, The Yellow Room, The New Writer and Writing Magazine. If you’ve got a minute drop in on her blog – http://tracyfells.blogspot.com/ – it’s full of good ‘writerly’ things.

My task, as a tiny ‘link’ in this vast chain, is to reveal something about what I’m working on now.

I’d like to tell you how I’m deep into a novel which has been painstakingly planned out, has a perfect story arc and is full of characters that are constantly ‘talking’ to me. Unfortunately, this is not the case. When it comes to writing I’m something of a butterfly. I settle on one project for a while and then I decide that my time might be better spent on a different piece of work, so I switch. Or I spot a competition with a wonderful prize and I drop everything to enter it – fully aware that hundreds of others are doing exactly the same thing and I therefore stand little chance of winning.

So, I currently have a few things on the go:

  • I’m working on the third story in the Museum of Fractured Lives series. When that’s ready I will be publishing it as an e-book for Kindle and also producing an omnibus edition containing all three of the stories plus a short prologue about how the museum came into existence. So I’m also thinking about book covers, marketing and other stuff that goes along with putting a new book out.
  • On the back burner I have the NaNoWriMo manuscript that I completed in November. Before Christmas I polished up the first three chapters, wrote a synopsis and entered it into the Ian Govan Award. Whatever the outcome of the competition (& I’m not holding my breath!) I hope to get round to finishing this novel at some point.
  • I also have ideas for a couple of articles which I’m doing preliminary research for, prior to pitching to editors. I won’t tell you what they are in case anyone out there can write them up better (& quicker) than me!

I just wish I could focus on only one thing and then maybe I’d actually get something done!

Back to the blog chain – the following two links in the chain will all post next Monday (13/1/14) about their current writing projects – but why not pop over to their blogs now and see what they’re up to?

  • Debbie Young is a keen blogger and also writes short stories, flash fiction, travelogues, memoirs and non-fiction. Samples and links may be found on her author website: www.youngbyname.me. She is also blog editor for the Alliance of Independent Authors (http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org) and blogs about book marketing on her own website, www.otsbp.com. A keen reviewer of indie and self-published books, when she’s not writing, she’s reading and reviewing.
    From personal experience I’ve found Debbie the fount of all knowledge when it comes to book marketing.

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Fiction Writing Advice From Crystal Lake Publishing

Joe Mynhardt runs Crystal Lake Publishing in South Africa. He publishes horror and dark fiction in both paperback and e-book format. Fear the Reaper Joe Mynhardt

Joe’s put together some advice for horror writers but it can apply equally well to fiction writers in any genre so I thought  I’d share it with you:

  • Write
  • Read
  • Join a forum and participate in it
  • Read non-fiction books, especially about marketing. You’ll need it eventually.
  • Always be open and ready for opportunities.
  • Have confidence in yourself. Every small step becomes part of the bigger journey.
  • Have a story or two on standby at all times.
  • Write every day, even if it’s only 10 minutes.
  • Learn how to edit your own work.
  • Be as visible as possible on the internet.
  • Be professional in everything you say and do. Growing a tough skin goes a long way in not acting like an emotional roller coaster on social media. Think before you post on impulse!
  • Help others as much as you can, even if you just share or re-tweet/re-blog their stuff. Celebrate their successes with them, and don’t be jealous. One day you may be grateful for their help!
  • Eat, breathe and sleep stories, but take time to rest. Writer’s fatigue is no joke.
  • Take some time to just sit and think about creative things to do, whether they’re story or promotion ideas.
  • Don’t listen to negative thoughts. You’ll have off days when you’ll just have to ignore yourself.
  • Take care of your body, especially your back and wrists. Being an author is not a race, but a marathon that never ends.

If I had to pick out just two of those points as being the most important I’d go for ‘Write every day’ and ‘Don’t listen to negative thoughts’. What about you?

Joe is currently running a competition on the Crystal Lake Publishing website. First prize is e-book copies of the first seven books published by his company so far. Details are here. It closes 31/12/2013.

And do have a look at the brilliant covers on the Crystal Lake books – some of them are quite terrifying!

 

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