Posts Tagged novel writing
Just before Christmas, Cornerstones Literary Consultants ran a Twitter competition to win one of several half-hour consultations with Helen Corner-Bryant. I was a lucky winner and this morning Helen phoned me for a brainstorming session. Helen had no prior knowledge of me or my novel but she was quick to take on board my story concept and where I am in my writing journey.
The good news was that characters (like mine) aged around 50 are popular at the moment.
The not so good news was:
- It sounded to Helen like there was passivity on the side of my main characters so I might like to gee them up a bit and make them more active.
- My working title isn’t brilliant – it’s likely to get lost in a morass of other books . This is a small problem that can be sorted out later.
- The structure of the novel might need attention to make sure that it fits the standard three act structure that publishers like. We talked about rising tension peaks and the low point in the novel, where the main character is worse off than she was at the beginning of the book. On the plus side structure-wise – I do have an obvious inciting incident.
Moving forward, my plan is to re-write the book’s synopsis against the three act structure so that I can see what fits and if anything is missing.
The thirty-minute consultation went by in a flash. There was no sales pitch about Cornerstones’ services but, having spoken to Helen, I’d have confidence using them should I ever decide to go down that route. A half hour well spent!
For a long time, I avoided embarking on a novel because I was frightened of failure. Afraid of not completing the novel. Afraid of creating something that was complete rubbish. Afraid of not getting the finished manuscript published. But most of all, afraid of wasting months or years of my life on something that no one else would ever read.
So, I stuck to short stories and articles. There was still the risk of time wasted on writing stuff that would be rejected. But these were much smaller blocks of time and the odds were, that with enough pieces ‘out there’, some pieces would be accepted by magazines for publication. Some were. And some weren’t.
The pull of wanting a novel with my name on the cover grew. I buried my fear and started trying. As expected, it was difficult. My first attempts didn’t get past chapter three or four. But, with persistence, I completed a novel. It went on to win a competition and was published through Amazon. And gave me the confidence to try writing another. The Book Guild thought this next one had commercial potential and that too was published. The third novel got me an agent but not a publisher. Just before Christmas I finished the second draft of novel number four. This novel is now ‘resting’ before I read it again with fresh eyes to spot what does and doesn’t work in the storyline.
I promised myself a treat during this resting period – some short story writing! I was looking forward to this because I’ve always loved the buzz of achievement on completing a story and sending it out into the big wide world. In novel writing that buzz is rare.
This treat is turning into wasted time. With short story writing there’s no continuity between writing sessions. New characters and situations have to be constantly created – and that’s hard work. It’s far easier to slip back into the familiar world of a part-finished novel and bash out a few more pages. My productivity has plummeted and I’m looking forward to returning to editing the novel.
Which is easier – short story or novel writing? Or is the grass always greener?
In 2019 the University of Southampton will be launching a writing competition based on the theme ‘Sustainable Societies’.
Why am I telling you this now, so far in advance? Because most of the competition categories involve longer forms of writing that take time to develop. Among the categories are:
- Stage Play
- Radio Drama/Comedy Series
- Short Film
- TV Series
All the competitions are free to enter and the prize pot for each category is expected to be £1000 distributed across the first, second and third prize winners.
All entries must, in some way, touch upon building a sustainable society with a positive angle. All genres are welcome. The competition website also says:
“The story doesn’t have to be about sustainability or climate change directly. A rom-com, for example, could be set in a society that replaces ownership with borrowing and the heroine goes to a clothes library to pick up a posh dress and borrow jewellery for her big date; or the hero in a crime drama could use a carbon credit card and hear the news in the background reporting on the wellbeing index instead of GDP; or the characters in a legal drama could live in a city where everyone has gardens on their roofs and generates energy from their own waste.”
So, there should be no problem writing in your preferred genre but including some mention of how the characters and society are living in a sustainable way.
If you’re looking for a new, long-term writing project, why not give this a go? Who knows where it might lead!
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.
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.
The article was written when Jamie was running 17,000 km from Vancouver to Buenos Aries to raise money for charity and it comprises his thoughts on how to keep going during an endurance event. When I read it, I felt that much of what he said could be applied to novelists who might be feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of their own challenge:
- Break things down into manageable chunks – it’s easier to imagine completing 500 words rather than 80,000 words
- Keep positive – banish that gremlin of doubt and concentrate on how great you’ll feel when you type ‘The End’
- Look after yourself – eat well, sleep well and take regular exercise
- Be motivated by the success of others – don’t be jealous when others get published, take it as a positive indicator that success as a writer is possible
- Ask for help – this might be help with the chores to give you more time to write or help with beta-reading or formatting for Kindle or anything else you are struggling with
- Make happiness a priority – if slogging over a novel is making you miserable, try a different form of writing instead
I think that last point is especially important – so be happy in your writing!
Sometimes we need a push or a deadline to get us going in the right direction. If your New Year’s resolution is to get started on a novel then the Good Housekeeping Novel Writing Competition 2016 might be just the push you need.
The competition is for crime/thriller or women’s fiction novels. First prize is a book deal and a £10,000 advance!
To win you need to send a full synopsis, 5,000 words of the novel, a 100 word bio and a completed entry form before the closing date of 31st March 2016. The entry form is in the February edition of Good Housekeeping which is in the shops now. All the terms and conditions are also in the magazine – make sure you check them out before entering.
It’s a great prize and so the competition will be tough. But you never know – it could be you! And even if you don’t win, you’ll have the beginning plus a full outline of a novel to work on for the rest of the year.
Get writing and Good Luck!
Toby’s Room by Pat Barker was the latest read at the library book club where I am a volunteer coordinator. It generated an interesting discussion on a range of topics.
Toby’s Room is set during the first world war. Toby and Elinor are siblings and have a very close relationship. Toby goes off to be a war medic and is declared missing in action. Elinor is desperate to find out what has happened to him.
Toby was a papyrus twin. This means his twin died in the womb and as Toby continued to grow he compressed and flattened the dead foetus. So we talked about the effect on a surviving twin when his sibling dies at or before birth. One of our group surprised us by revealing that she was a twin and her sister was stillborn. Throughout her life she has always felt something was missing and she’s also felt guilty that she may have caused the death of her sister by ‘stealing all the goodness’ in the womb. She remembers in her childhood this being said aloud in her presence.
Many of the characters in Toby’s Room are artists and eventually Elinor gets a job drawing wounded soldiers who have terrible, disfiguring facial wounds. The hospital where she works and the artist and surgeon that she works with are real people and details can be found in the Gillies Archives. So we talked about the horrors of war and the advancement of surgical techniques.
We also talked about a scene in the book where Toby’s uniform is sent home in a parcel. When it is opened the smell of the battlefield fills the nostrils. It’s difficult to imagine the terrible emotions this would evoke in a family.
In our group the book got a mostly positive response. We thought the first half was particularly good and enthralling. The second half seemed to be dragged out a little and some thought the ending was too sudden. The reader does find out what happened to Toby – but I won’t spoil it by telling you!
We all agreed that we had learned something new about World War I from the book and that it had definitely been worth reading. If you’re in a book group, Toby’s Room is a good choice.
And if you’re thinking of writing rather than reading a novel, you might be interested in this Online Novel Writing Master Class with Bonus Manuscript Critique for £29 from Amazon Local.