Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Character building tips from Wonder Woman!

Based on Jane and Stu's last blogs I think drastic intervention is called for!
Jane - stop cleaning the house! Stu - the only pants you're allowed near are Wonder Woman's!
Here are some tips about character building from Wonder Woman herself. She reckons she knows a thing or two about this because she started from scratch and her hints will keep you focussed on your novel which, one day, will grace bookshelves and Amazon websites all around the world. Now, hitch up those star-studded knickers, smooth out the wrinkles in your tights, adjust your headband and pay attention!
The characters you create are part of you, they have to live and breathe and you have to know how they will react in any given situation. You may not like them but that's not a bad thing, it means you've created an effective character. They have to have a background, a previous life before you 'met' them - do they have a favourite memory and what are they proud of? What kind of work, if any, do they do and do they enjoy it? Where do they live - in a town/city/village, near the sea? In a house, a caravan, a flat or literally on the street? Look at their home life - do they have a family? Are they in a relationship and what's it like? Who is closest to them? What is their temperament like - jolly, depressed, decisive, impulsive, obsessive? You have to keep questionning them. The characters you create are what they are because of the experience and knowledge you give them.
Are you focussed? Just in case you're not quite there yet, Wonder Woman would like to inspire you with a few lyrics:
Wonder Jane, Wonder Stu.
All the world's waiting for you,
and the power you possess.
In your satin tights,
Fighting for your rights
And the old Red, White and Blue.
Wonder Jane, Wonder Stu.
Now the world is ready for you,
and the wonders you can do.

PS: I do hope you got the lego/character building analogy...

Friday, April 22, 2011

You know it's a dilly-dally day when........

You know it's a dilly-dally sort of day when you have planned to spend the whole day writing but somehow you just can't get to it.  There are a thousand and one other things to do and so you dilly-dally around.
Clearly the best way to retain focus and to get words onto paper/screen is to avoid distractions but first you have to recognise your distractions, which can be easier said than done.

And so I've put together a list of the Ten Top Signs of Dilly-Dallying:

  1. Cleaning the house.  You simply cannot concentrate on writing if the house is a tip.
  2. Calling your Auntie Betty.  She had an operation six months ago and you always meant to call but never got round to it, so it's vitally important that you call her now.
  3. Plucking your eyebrows.  This Denis Healey look is irritating and impeding your ability to focus on the computer.
  4. Emptying the lint catcher in the tumble dryer.
  5. Shopping.  Out of coffee so need to pop to the shops to buy more - can't write without a coffee on the go.
  6. Paying the bills - well you don't want the bailiffs in!
  7. Flossing your teeth - don't want to get gingivitis.
  8. Checking emails, Facebook and Twitter - what is going on out there.  This writing is a lonely affair and connecting to other like-minded people is important for inspiration.
  9. Surfing.  While on the Internet just do a bit more research for the piece you're writing.  You've got about twenty pages of notes already (for a 300 word piece) but you can never have enough detail.
  10. Daydreaming - about the day you make it big.  Agent, publisher, film rights, website, personal shopper, cleaner and beautician will all take away the obstacles above so you can concentrate on writing!
NB  I would like to add that all of the above is fictitious and not based on anyone either living or dead!

Image courtesy of dreamstime.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Confessions of a pantster

Forgive me Reader for I have sinned. It has been five months since my last confession.

I accuse myself of the following sin.

I have committed the mortal sin of pantsting my way through two novels. I know it was wrong but I was taking part in National Novel Writing Month and got carried away. It felt so good that I couldn't help myself. I felt so free!

But when I came to edit those novels I realised that I had characters with the same name, unresolved plot points, and some appalling ideas.

I am sorry for my sins and ask the Muses to forgive these sins as well as any I may have forgotten to confess.

Oh my Reader, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins because of your just punishments, but most of all because they offend you, my Reader, who are all good and deserving of all my best work. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the occasions of pantsting. Amen.

From this day forwards I will plan my novels. Whether I use models such as The Hero's Journey or Dramatica, or resources like StoryFix or The Creative Penn, I will plan.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Professional Author and Editing

Last Monday Kate and I went to the first meeting of a new writing group at Just Imagine in Chelmsford.  The guest speaker was the talented and bubbly Liz Kessler who has published a whopping eight books.  Liz has about her the appearance of an 'ordinary person doing ordinary things' and her laid-back demeanour could lead you to assume that writing is a haphazard occupation that fits in with a seaside St Ives lifestyle.  Not so.

Liz is a dedicated, professional writer who takes her job seriously.  There can be no doubt that she is talented but talent alone does not a successful author make.  Liz spoke to the group about the road to publication and the commitment she gives to her writing career.  She has days when she finds it difficult to write but cajoles herself by goal setting and rewards (chocolate featured quite heavily in this!).  Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Liz's writing life is the amount of editing she does.

Liz said that her books have three stages:

- planning
- writing
- editing

Planning is a very intricate process for Liz as she writes very detailed chapter plans so that she knows exactly how the story will work.  This can be quite lengthy as the pieces are jiggled around until she finally has the book shaped into a workable format.

Next comes the writing which is the quickest of the three steps - sometimes only taking two months to complete.  (This is where the detailed chapter planning really comes into its own.)

Finally, editing.  Liz says that her books are crafted more from editing than writing - and editing makes them stronger.  She will usually carry out two full edits herself before sending the manuscript to two or three friends.  And by 'friends', Liz means people who will give constructive feedback that may help shape the book.  Liz thinks that these opinions are very useful in the editing process as sometimes she may get too close to the book and the comments she receives may help her decide she needs to change something.  At other times she decides to keep the story as it is.  Ultimately it is her decision but Liz claims that it is vitally important to get this feedback - and not rely on hubby or mum who will probably tell you it's wonderful!

Eventually the manuscript is sent to her agent who may come back with some more changes.  And then on to the publisher who will have more changes still.   Liz said that when her first book was accepted she was told that there were a few minor tweaks she would need to do and was shocked to discover that the 'minor tweaks' amounted to seventeen pages of changes/rewrites from the publisher!

The most valuable piece of advice that Liz gave was that after a couple of read throughs of your manuscript you will probably be fed up with it and ready to move on to something else.  You will be tempted to send it to an agent, believing that you have made it as good as you can.  Do not send it!  Liz said that you must examine your manuscript and listen to feedback to make it the best it can possibly be - probably meaning many edits and/or rewrites.  The goal is publication - not rejection.

So work hard on your editing and even if your manuscript doesn't get accepted for publication, you will know that you gave it the best possible chance.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Troubleshooting scenes

Stuck on a scene? Not sure quite what is wrong with it? Take a look at the following questions to see if they can help you identify the issue.

  • What is the purpose of your scene?  Each of your scenes should move the story forward by delivering one piece of story information (exposition).
  • What is the most important piece of exposition you wish to deliver?  Try sticking to one piece of information only and build your scene around that.
  • How does that exposition move your story forwards?
  • If required, have you set up this scene, or foreshadowed it, in an earlier scene?
  • Precisely when will you deliver this exposition, and how?  In action, dialogue, or narrative?
  • How late can you enter the scene without losing the reader?  We don't always need to see our hero drive to the docks for the showdown with the antagonist but we can see him arrive there for the action to begin.
  • Does your scene have a beginning, middle and end, like a short story?  Try giving each scene its own structure, conflict, and flow.
  • Think about what you want your reader to experince during the scene - understanding or feeling?
  • Are you creating anticipation before the exposition is delivered, or are you delivering the exposition as a surprise?  If it's a surprise, how have you set this up, or tricked the reader, so the delivery is a shock?
  • What about the character vs. the exposition?  Is the scene illustrating character by showing them react to the exposition or are you using the exposition to tell your reader about the character?
  • How lean is your scene?  Does it drive towards the delivery of the exposition or stall for time?
  • How relevant is the scene to the overall story?
  • Do you end your scene with a line that propels the reader into the next scene?
  • How many scenes do you have per chapter?  Many modern novels have just one scene per chapter - and therefore lots of chapters! If you have more than one scene per chapter, either break between them with a line of white space or insert a smooth transitional sentence.
  • How strong is your scene opening?  Have you avoided anything redundant?
What else do you consider when you're building a scene?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The upside of commuting

I’m a commuter. Every day I get on the train and travel into London to work and then back again at night. I bet you’re thinking what a terrible way to live your life – travelling each day in carriages full of tired, grey people who don’t talk to you and would neatly and without conscience elbow you in the ribs to get to a seat first. You may, indeed, have a point but I’ve actually grown quite fond of the people in my carriage. We all know each other by sight, sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t, mostly we get on with reading, snoozing and listening to music. And underneath our grey and boring exteriors there lurks all kind of exciting personalities. Me for example. Okay, maybe exciting personality is overdoing it but, yes, me. Now, at first glance you’d see a middle aged mum sitting quietly, hands folded neatly on her lap, having a nap. In actual fact, far from sleeping, what I’m doing is thinking about gremlins and bears. I’m writing a book about them at the moment and in the 40 minute journey into work I sit with my eyes closed and imagine all kinds of odd scenarios. I develop the plot in my mind and occasionally have a burst of inspiration that makes me reach into my handbag and get out my pad and pen to write it down before I forget it (this can startle my fellow passengers so I try not to move too quickly). Train journeys are a writer’s paradise and they are far from being grey, empty journeys full of grey, empty people – everyone is interesting and some have become characters in my books. One fellow commuter, Chris, loves to climb mountains and on his journey in plots and plans his next adventure. He’ll disappear for several weeks before reappearing, usually with a tan and a big, happy grin on his face. Then there’s the small mouse-like lady who does accounts. She travels in with her friend who is four times her size, blond and chatty. Oh and then there’s the lady who travels in with her husband, she’s pregnant and wasn’t on the train last week and we’re all wondering whether it is a girl or a boy. And then there are the people on the station platform themselves, the guy who sells the Big Issue, the woman who folds and hands out thousands of Evening Standards each day…. Yes, believe it or not, commuting is rich pickings for a writer!