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Posts tagged ‘Novel’

P is for … pen and paper!

I began a little experiment a while ago, which I wrote about on Medium. In my day job as a PA, I attend a lot of meetings and take minutes (17 a month!). I’d been using a laptop to take notes, to save time having to transcribe later, and I noticed that – while I was able to capture a great deal of the conversation – when I came to edit the minutes, I found it difficult to remember who said what and in what context. This is because I wasn’t actively listening to the conversation. I was hearing it, but rather than processing what was said, I was simply acting as a conduit for the words to reach the keyboard.

After realising this, I started taking pen and paper into the meetings and writing up the notes afterwards. It takes a little longer, but I’m able to recall the conversation while I’m transcribing onto the computer, and everything makes so much more sense. Of course, it still needs the meeting Chair to keep the conversation focused, and for my colleagues to be clear on what they’re discussing and not assume I can read their minds on conversations that took place outside the meeting, but on the whole I’m confident it has been a success.

20180722_200304As a result, I’ve also taken to writing first drafts of my fiction by hand in a notebook. I’m using a fountain pen too, because it makes me write more slowly and gives me time to think (and encourages me to write neatly, so that I can understand what I’ve written when it’s time to transcribe!). After doing this for several weeks, I can honestly say that it’s been a revelation. Over those weeks, I’ve written more than I had in months. Not only have I spurred ahead on my rewrite of The Lost Weaver, I also have four new short stories out on submission, and another in the works.

 

I think the reasons for this are twofold:

  • With pen and paper, I’m far less likely to fall down a rabbit-hole on the Internet
  • There’s something about writing by hand that acts as a catalyst to my creativity

Whatever the reason, I’m loving it.

20180722_201116.jpgI’ve also developed a mild obsession with fountain pens. Being a lefty (handed as well as politically), I always had a hard time with fountain pens in my youth. Because we lefties push the pen across the page instead of pulling, I would always end up mangling the nibs. I’m still disappointed in the lack of pens made for left-handed people: the only affordable brand I can find is the German manufacturer, Lamy. Lamy pens are great (the one on the right is a Lamy Nexx with a left-handed nib); however, I’ve also learned that – as a lefty – I can get away with using a regular fountain pen as long as the nib is a medium (the one on the left is a Cross Bailey with regular medium nib).  I have a couple of Cross pens, both of which write nicely, and I have my eye on this blue Conklin Durograph, just because it’s so pretty and because I’d like to see how it writes.

Another mild obsession is sparkly fountain pen ink. I’ve been trying out some of the different Diamine colours, and my favourites at the moment are Arabian Nights and Lilac Satin. I think I might try the Arctic Blue next.

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I carry my notebooks everywhere and write whenever I get an opportunity, which has also helped increase my word count. With the recent hot weather, I’ve been sitting in the air conditioned bliss of our local Costa to wait for my husband to pick me up in the evenings, instead of fighting to get on a hot crowded bus. Sometimes I have to wait an hour, but that’s an hour with an iced coffee and my notebook. No wonder my word count has increased!

 

 

O is for … “Oh no, whose bright idea was it to use the alphabet for a weekly blog series?

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Image free on Pixabay by phtorxp

Some weeks, I look up what letter I’m supposed to be writing a post about and wonder why  I thought it would be a good idea to write a weekly writing blog based on an A-Z.

This is one of those weeks.

There aren’t that many writing-related subjects beginning with O.

I thought of ‘onomatopoeia but wondered just how much I could write about words that describe the sound of what they name (bang, cuckoo, splash, slap, rustle, etc).

Or I could write something about oxymorons, where the meanings of a phrase contradict each other (deafening silence, open secret, honest thief, etc.).

In the end, I settled on outlines.

I use outlines.

There, I said it (waits for my pantser friends to stop walking by with protest signs saying, ‘down with this sort of thing,’ against the constraints of outlines).

When I first started writing, I didn’t use outlines at all. I would sit down and write whatever came into my head. It felt wonderful and liberating, but after a while I would run out of ideas, or write myself into a corner, or get totally off-track and lost. Before I started outlining, I never managed to get a novel past about 40,000 words before one of those things happened.

When I talk about outlining, I’m not talking about plotting out every little bit of a story before sitting down to write it.  That would be far too time consuming, and would take the thrill of discovery-writing away. No, I start with the concept of a story and ask myself these questions:

  • How does it start?
  • How does it end?

Once I know these two things, I sit and think about what has to happen for my character to get from the first point, to the last. This is usually a series of steps, and I use these for my chapter outline.

And that’s about it. I use my characters to get me from one step to the next, writing freely. Sometimes, my free-writing will reveal something that wasn’t in the original outline. At that point, I’ll decide whether it’s something I want to keep, and if I do, I’ll alter the outline to accommodate the new plot point, or character.

For example, in The Lost Weaver, I wanted a minor antagonist to make Kestrel’s life more difficult as she tries to fulfil her plot-line. So, I wrote in a fellow bounty-hunter who had a vendetta against her, and who interfered with her business at every opportunity. However, as anyone who’s beta-read the novel will tell you, he becomes so much more than just a pain in her neck (no, he’s not a romantic interest either). This was something that revealed itself as I wrote the novel, and I liked it so much I went back and reworked the plot to give him more prominence, and to foreshadow what happens, so that it doesn’t come as a total surprise to the reader.

I’ve also started outlining short stories as well. Instead of just writing the story and having it turn into a non-story, I’ll brainstorm in my notebook on what I want the shape of the story to be, and then I’ll start to write it. Again, this doesn’t mean that the story is set in stone – it just means it has a little structure to start with. If it doesn’t work, I can change it as I go, but having a goal to work towards helps me keep going.

Outlining has been a life-saver for a procrastinator like me. It helps me to stay on track and finish a piece of work. I know it’s not for everyone, but for someone who’s easily distracted, has helped me a great deal.

What’s your favourite way of writing? Are you an outliner or a pantser, or – like me – do you use both to your advantage?

J is for … Journal

penThere’s something satisfying about writing things down. Not typing onto a computer; the act of physically, taking a pen and writing something down. I used to do this a lot when I was younger, before I had a computer, or a typewriter (yes, I’m old enough to remember those). I would sit and write in notebooks all the time. Writing stories, or just my thoughts.

 

Even those terribly emo poems I wrote as a teenager, about love and death, and how miserable life was.

It wasn’t just creative writing. It was a way of taking the emotions I was feeling deep inside and examining them in the light. Why did I feel that way? Was it me? Or was my reaction to something justified? Sometimes, simply writing it all down allowed me to get it off my chest and move on. It allowed me to talk through the things I didn’t feel I could discuss with anyone. Most of the time, though, it helped me to work through my issues and realise they weren’t as bad as I thought, or simply not worth the attention I was giving them.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered that I could write more with a computer because my fingers flew over the keys and I could write as fast as I could think, and that was that. I stopped writing journals. I would write emails or forum posts to the people who made me angry, and then delete them without sending. That became my catharsis. Sometimes, I’d actually hit send, or post. This is never a good idea, because you always end up being the jerk, regardless of how justifiable your anger felt at the time. Nine times out of ten, the other person isn’t trying to wind you up, or deliberately stamp all over your feelings. They’re simply oblivious, and you having a melt down in their inbox, or on a forum, is the first clue they get that there’s a problem.

It’s the same on social media. You say exactly what you think at the time and ‘boom’, it’s out there. Often before you’ve had the opportunity to examine why you feel that way. Once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. In fact, once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. Even when it’s embarrassing.

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Especially when it’s embarrassing.

 

 

Where was I? Oh, yes. Journals. I’ve started writing by hand again.  I explained my reasoning in this Medium post but in a nutshell, I discovered that writing by hand helped me follow a conversation better while taking notes for work meetings. I then discovered that writing by hand helped my creativity while writing fiction.  I’ve started writing new scenes by hand in a notebook and then transferring them to the computer to edit them there. It’s working well so far, as I plough through a major rewrite of my novel. Where I’d been struggling to keep the momentum going before, I’m writing at a good pace at the moment.

I can write anywhere with a notebook. Sometimes it’s just to jot down a thought before it’s forgotten. Others it’s to write a whole or partial scene. A character sketch. An overheard snippet of a conversation that might work well in a story (or spark a story). Anonymised, of course. Or a reminder of an idea that could turn into something bigger when I get the chance to mull it over.

I keep a notebook with me all the time now, along with a pack of those little note tags, so I can mark the spot where I wrote about a new idea, alongside a spot where I wrote a new scene for the novel.

I have a special notebook at home for writing down those things that bother me. It’s a purpose-made one that a friend bought me and it’s especially for those ‘why are people like that?’ moments. Some days I use it more than others.

I also have a notebook that I keep in my desk at work for work-related things: to-do list, upcoming things to think about, reminders to check for responses to my questions, notes from meetings.

Writing by hand is also having another beneficial effect; it’s improving my handwriting. I’ve been using fountain pens to write with instead of ball-points, and it slows me down and makes me write more carefully. After a couple of decades of typing virtually everything, my handwriting was awful. It’s still not the best but it’s improving all the time.

Being off the computer more, is also helping my peace of mind. Less social media, less procrastinating, fewer opportunities to get drawn into a futile argument with someone I don’t know over something I have no control over. I know things are awful, politically, but arguing with people on the Internet isn’t going to make any difference. I’m not going to change anyone’s political outlook with a pointed tweet, no matter how pithy I think it is. That doesn’t mean I don’t think I can do anything, just that I should focus my energies where I can achieve something.

So yes, I heartily recommend buying notebooks and journals. Take your writing with you wherever you go. Write wherever and whenever the opportunity arises. And get those negative thoughts out where they can’t fester. Examine them honestly and work through them.

Thanks for reading. Now I’m going to go write in the sunshine.

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D is for Dialogue

talking

Dialogue is essential to most fiction. Unless you’re writing a monologue, your characters are going to speak to one another, because – let’s face it – without dialogue to break it up, you’ll end up with pages and pages of narrative, which can be a daunting prospect.

Dialogue needs to carry the story forward just as narrative does, however. Readers won’t stay interestested in people who are just passing the time of day, unless there’s a reason for them doing that. Showing conflict through dialogue is a good way to show the reader who your characters are without spelling it all out in the narrative.

First and foremost, dialogue needs to be easy to follow. So, how do we do that?

Without attributes, your reader isn’t going to know who’s speaking.

“You’re just like your mother.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“Of all the rotten things to say.”

“What are you talking about? Your mother’s lovely.”

“Oh, well that’s all right then.”

We have no idea who’s speaking, or how many speakers there are. To attribute the dialogue to a particular speaker, we use tags.

“You’re just like your mother.” Jenny said.

“What?” Bill said.

“You heard me,” Jenny said.

“Of all the rotten things to say,” Bill said.

“What are you talking about? Your mother’s lovely.” Jenny said.

“Oh, well that’s all right then.” Bill said.

What do you think? It seems a bit repetitive, doesn’t it? That’s because we’re using the same tag for every line of speech. As with every other tool in the writing box, repeated use of ‘he said, she said.’ is noticeable and becomes monotonous.

One mistake that beginner writers often make (I know I did it, a lot, when I first started writing), is to use descriptive tags like ‘screeched’ or ‘bellowed’, or adverbs to qualify how something was said. Again, like all writing tools, they are fine when used sparingly but shouldn’t be peppered in to vary speech.

“You’re just like your mother.” Jenny said, cheerfully.

“What?” Bill said, defensively.”

“You heard me,” Jenny quipped.

“Of all the rotten things to say!” Bill snapped.

“What are you talking about? Your mother’s lovely,” Jenny said, facetiously.

“Oh, that’s all right then.” Bill said, amiably.

What do you think? Did that make you cringe? It did for me. While none of it is technically wrong, it’s not great, either. It’s far better to show the reader how the characters are acting or feeling through what they do and say, rather than using adverbs or descriptive tags.

Let’s change it up a bit and add in some actions.

“You’re just like your mother.” Jenny said.

Bill put down his newspaper and folded his arms across his chest. “What?”

“You heard me.” She began rummaging through the desk drawers so that he wouldn’t see the smile on her face.

“Of all the rotten things to say!”

“What are you talking about? Your mother’s lovely.”

Bill grinned and let his arms drop to his sides. “Oh,” he said. “Well that’s all right then.”

As you can see, the mixture of actions and speech tags stop it from becoming a page of ‘he said, she said.’ Also, if you notice, I switched the tags around, using them at the beginning or the end of a line of dialogue, which also helped to break up the repetition.

I also varied the length of the sentences. This is something I try to do in narrative and dialogue. If you consistently use the same length of sentence, it becomes noticeable and uniform, which grows tedious to read.

There were two lines where I didn’t use any tags at all, because I’d established whose mother they were discussing. It was easy to tell who spoke in those instances, so no tags were needed.

We can see Bill getting defensive and then relaxing when he realises Jenny is teasing and means it as a compliment. Using action tags helps to create more of a visual sense of the scene in the reader’s mind than simply saying ‘Bill snapped’ or ‘Bill said, amiably’.

The exchange lets us see the relationship between Jenny and Bill. She is playful and he, while going straight on the defensive, is quick to relax when he realises she’s teasing. They obviously know each other well.

The nuts and bolts

As well as being able to write convincing dialogue, we also need to be able to punctuate it correctly.  Here are a few hard and fast rules.

Always keep the punctuation inside the quotation marks

“Of course, I’m not going to tell you,” he said.

She regarded him from under her lashes. “Well then, I hope you enjoy last night’s cold pizza. Because I’m not making your dinner.”

“Then you’ll eat cold pizza too.” He shrugged.

She laughed, picking up her car keys. “Wrong again. I’m meeting Mary for dinner and drinks in town. Don’t wait up.”

Always start a new line when a different person speaks

Jane and Tania both shopped at the same supermarket. On one occasion, they both arrived at the same time.

Jane held open the door. “After you.”

“Thank you!” Tania said, hurrying through.

“Sucker.” Jane stuck out her foot between Tania’s, sending the other woman tumbling to the floor. “Maybe that’ll teach you not to spread nasty rumours about my mother.”

Tania scrambled to her feet. “You’re Heather’s daughter?” She took a step towards Jane and then appeared to think better of it. “I should have known, you’re just as obnoxious as her.”

“And just as protective of the ones I love. Leave her alone, or next time I won’t go so easy on you.”

Dashes and ellipses

When we’re speaking, we don’t always finish a sentence. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been interrupted, or maybe we’ve trailed off because we can’t remember what we were going to say, or because we realise something as we’re speaking.

To show this in dialogue, we use dashes or ellipses.  Dashes are for when something stops us from speaking, like someone interrupting, or something happening.

Lucy picked up a pillow and hugged it against her.

Danny said, “why do you always have to be so bloody argumentative? I only asked—”

The pillow hit him on the side of the head.

“You asked a question when you already knew the answer, because you knew it would provoke me into an argument,” Lucy said.

Ellipses show speech trailing off.

“Are you going to apologise for throwing that pillow at me?” Danny asked.

Lucy raised an eyebrow. “You really expect me to apologise after you provoked me?”

“Well, yes,” he said. “I could have been hurt. You could have …” He stepped back as Lucy picked up another pillow.

That’s it for this week. Remember these tips for writing effective dialogue and you’ll do just fine:

  • Mix up your tags but keep them simple
  • Vary the length of dialogue lines
  • Start a new line for each speaker
  • Use proper punctuation
  • Make the dialogue carry the story forward

Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed anything

 

 

Author Interview – Aderyn Wood

AderynWood (2)In my continuing series of author interviews, I’m excited to introduce Australian writer and fellow cat-lover, Aderyn Wood. After reading and thoroughly enjoying her novella, The Viscount’s Son, when I learned that she had a new book coming out—a novel this time—my interest was piqued. I asked Aderyn to chat with me about her new release.

 

 

The Borderlands - E-Book Cover[CJ] Aderyn, The Borderlands (gorgeous cover, by the way) is very different from The Viscount’s Son. Apart from being a novel length work, it’s also a different genre. I don’t often foray into YA, but I do enjoy a good read, and this is definitely a good read. In your own words, what’s the most important thing you’d like readers to know about The Borderlands?

[Aderyn] Thanks CJ. I love the cover too! The artist Taire Morrigan worked hard to create a visual representation of a key thread in which Dale undertakes a journey to find the mystical Borderlands – on her little sailboat called ‘Joy’.

This is a tough question. I think I’d like readers to know that The Borderlands is probably more of a coming of age story than a typical YA fantasy. It’s also an adventure story. YA fantasies tend to focus on a secret magical talent of the protagonist; and romance. Of course Borderlands has these elements but I wanted to add a sense of adventure to this story too. So Dale goes through a number of challenges, physically, emotionally and mentally, as she embarks on an adventurous journey, all of which enables her to learn about who she truly is and develop as a character.

[CJ] The artist definitely did a great job of bringing that thread to life. I did love following Dale’s adventures in Borderlands, as well as getting to know her. At the beginning of the story, she is a loner who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, even at home. She’s also very easy to invest in because she has such a great voice. Of course, there’s a reason for her not fitting in, which goes beyond the usual teenage angst (which I won’t go into for fear of giving out spoilers) but I loved her independent spirit and wit right from the start. What do you like most about her?

[Aderyn] I love how smart she is and how she can see through to the core of a person’s identity. In the story she befriended a couple of other misfits in the form of two old homeless people – Gareth and Joan. Gareth and Joan live in an abandoned old hospital by the river Clyde (set in Scotland), and Dale spends much of her time with Old Man Gareth – her only real friend. Through them, Dale shows us how she sees people for who they truly are inside; she doesn’t judge according to appearance or social status. She values people for who they are. But this also means that she can spot cruelty and pretention easily, and she has little tolerance for people like that. Unfortunately for Dale, most of the students at the exclusive international school she attends (St Nino’s) are bullies or snobs.

[CJ] Her relationship with Gareth definitely shows us the depth of Dale’s character. Many teenage female characters are written as weak/needing help, only interested in fashion and boys (one of the main reasons I don’t tend to read a lot of YA). Did you deliberately set out to overturn that stereotype?

[Aderyn] I didn’t set out to challenge any stereotype, and if I’m going to be honest, I don’t read a lot of YA myself. I simply wrote this story as truthfully as I could, about a girl who felt so different from her family that it caused great tension, especially as she is not able to fit in with peers at school. I set out to show how someone like that would cope in such a situation. Her mother, a fervent social climber, doesn’t understand Dale and would prefer that she did something more fashionable with her hair, or went shopping, rather than reading or painting. Dale drew on the strengths she did have, particularly her intelligence, curiosity and sense of adventure, to overcome the challenges that came her way.

[CJ] You convey all those things about Dale very well. More than anything, The Borderlands struck me as a rite-of-passage story. Along with the reader, Dale learns a lot about herself and her strengths as well as who she is. Is that the kind of story you set out to write when you began, or did it develop as you wrote?

[Aderyn] I agree, that’s how I see this story. While I didn’t set out to write this initially, it very quickly became apparent that the story was all about Dale and how she comes of age. The second book in the series begins a year after the events at the end of Book One, and readers will see a different, more mature Dale, but will understand how she grew to be that person through the trials she experienced in this first book of the trilogy.

[CJ] Great! I will look forward to seeing the more mature Dale, and how her character develops from here. I’m sure readers will love seeing her development in The Borderlands, which is available now on Amazon. I know you’re an indie publisher, Aderyn. There’s a rather steep learning curve in indie publishing—which I found out through releasing my own book of short stories. What did you find the most useful thing to learn through publishing The Viscount’s Son that helped you with The Borderlands?

[Aderyn] The most useful thing I’ve learnt so far is to just keep writing. Yes, it’s wonderful when readers buy your book and even better when they review it or email you with messages saying how much they enjoyed it – that truly is wonderful! But the reality is that indies are mostly unknown authors and they are not going to sell millions or attract a lot of attention initially. According to my reading, most indie authors only start receiving a regular income (and not even one they can necessarily live on) after they have released 5-15 books. So I just keep writing.

[CJ] That feeling is great, isn’t it? I love hearing from people who read my writing. But you’re so right—we have to keep writing. What’s the best piece of advice you could give to a writer poised to take the plunge into indie publishing?

[Aderyn] I think it’s important to be positive. l have seen a few authors complaining about sales or the whole publishing industry in blog posts and forums. While constructive criticism of publishing certainly has its place, I think being too negative can make authors come across as bitter. I can feel doubtful and deflated at times, but a positive outlook gives a better impression to potential readers. I really believe in the saying ‘Nothing succeeds like success’. So look at every sale, every review and every new reader as a success and celebrate it.

[CJ] That’s so true, Aderyn. I think people respond better to a positive attitude. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me! I wish you all the best with your novel, and I’m more than pleased to recommend it to anyone who loves a good story and great characters. I can’t to see what’s in store for Dale next.

[Aderyn] Thanks CJ! I always enjoy reading your author interviews, you ask great questions. I’m also looking forward to seeing what will happen with Dale next! I hope to release the second book in the series next year.

[CJ] I’ll be watching out for it. Well that’s it for this interview. I hope you have enjoyed learning about Aderyn and The Borderlands as much as I did.

Aderyn Wood enjoys reading and writing fantasy fiction most. Her debut publication, ‘The Viscount’s Son’ is a paranormal novella and has earned many five star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. ‘The Borderlands: Journey’ is her second publication and she hopes to release another stand-alone fantasy book later in the year. Aside from fiction, Aderyn loves gardening, cooking and drinking the odd glass of pinot noir. Like most fantasy authors, Aderyn enjoys the company of her cat, who stays by her side during the long and lonely hours of writing.