Last time I updated, I was scraping the barrel of misery in search of a writing epiphany, and I hadn’t met my deadline. The good news: I managed to finish my edits and hand in the new draft of my novel just before Christmas Eve. The bad news: silence.
My novel feels amazing. I feel like I’ve polished up a rusty sports car (no doubt I forgot to replace the bumper or something, but STILL). The villains are uncomfortable and crescendo nicely, the puzzle pieces of the plot click together, the final sentence feels right.
As soon as I sent it off, my prospective agent replied positively, saying he would probably get around to reading it in the first week of January. Whatever the case, he’d let me know when he started reading it. Finally, I could relax for a couple of weeks.
Except, the first week of January rolled around…and I heard nothing. The second week came and went. Hesitantly, I sent an email asking when he’d assigned my novel to his reading schedule. He replied saying he’d not long returned from holiday, but he’d update me within the week to let me know.
He did not.
I didn’t make the November 1st deadline. Once I figured out how to fix the big problems of my story, I worked day and night, every day, to meet the target. But hey, I do also have a life. For some reason I’d agreed to host a food party on October 31st. November 1st was also my cousin’s hen party (for whom I was maid of honour). A day later was the wedding. I also had to write a poem to perform during the service of said wedding. A day after that I was going to Norway. EVERYTHING AT ONCE.
I burnt out. I hadn’t had a chance to stop and reread any of my novel, aside from a fresh scene before moving onto the next. Consequently, I felt like I no longer even knew my novel anymore.
Belatedly following on from my last publishing post, about how I met an agent willing to give me and my novel a chance, it’s time I updated on what happened next.
So, after our feedback meeting, Suresh gave me a couple of big plot points and changes to think about:
- Maybe cut a character (I’m thinking: I already cut one, aaah!)
- Act One could be shorter
- Your antagonists are blatantly villains, develop their motives
- The world state of affairs is interesting: give us more
For the first time in three years, my schedule is completely blank until mid September. I’m actively looking for new manuscripts to edit, and I’d like to aggressively slash my prices. My rates are never this cheap, so I strongly encourage you to act fast because my inbox gets flooded every time I do this. […]
Do you have a business card as a writer or author? Have you thought about it? Business cards are a good idea with lots of uses.
Just a quick tip: First, make sure your card stands out. A signature color, logo, or something that draws attention is good. Also make sure that you use a legible font and include only details you want widely public (for example, I omitted my address and phone number).
Here are ten ways you might not have thought of to use your business cards:
- One clever idea, which I will implement when the third Family Secrets novel comes out, is to use the space on one side of the card for thumbnails of three books. It’s almost a perfect fit. Then put your info on the back along with a link to where you prefer people to buy them. It’s an immediate sales tool in…
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Narrative style is tricky to pin down. Style is tone. Don’t forget that the narrative is essentially someone’s voice. The narrator is a character, not simply words dictating what happens in the story. Even if narration has an archaic, formal tone (such as often seen in classic literature or high fantasy), that is still the voice of a character, the one telling you a story of events as they perceived them to happen – even if omnipresent.
Style is how you structure sentences, how you use or abuse punctuation, how you describe scenery and character-thought-progression. It’s a combination of many writing techniques that you pick and perfect to work for not only your story, but for you as a writer.
I suppose one way to think of it is like poetry (we’re getting a bit hon hon darling now, but bear with me, it’s a metaphor). When you read a poem, you generally expect that poem to have rhythm – to have a way of twisting the structure of words on the page to either be staccato, flowing, or broken. You would expect a poem to scratch the surface of its real meaning – leaving you to infur the rest – or to expose the “character’s” emotional depth. The poem will paint every scene in vibrant colours, or it will be minimalistic and clean.
Writing a story is very much the same. Narrative style is one part you relating events as feels natural, two parts your character shouting into a microphone. Or whispering. I mean. It’s your style. Whatever.
FOREWORD: I’m currently moving a lot of my articles from Squidoo over to my blog as Squidoo has declared almost all of my articles as spam. This is one of them. I’ve decided to totally migrate to my blog because I’m sick of fighting my corner on their site.
Create an Authentic Feeling Enviroment
One of the magical perks to being a writer is the ability to mould our own world; a place so tangible that other people can taste it, smell it, walk and run within it. I’ve always believed this is why books like the Harry Potter series are popular. It’s not just the characters, it’s not just the story – Rowling created a world in such finite detail that people weep with dreams of living there. I know I do.
This is why it’s important to research what we’re writing, and research isn’t as dull as the high-school homework we groaned and avoided. If you’re writing about it, surely you find the surrounding lore, mechanics, culture etc. interesting? If not, why are you writing about it?
This article will not tell you HOW to write a steampunk novel or short story. Plot, characterisation and quality are most important but there are already sources on those. In this lens I’ll share with you the information I have discovered whilst building a steampunk world. The elements of steampunk – the choices in front of you. There are helpful videos, links to linguistics and social behaviour, apps, books, locomotive facts, a list of popular figure heads of the genre and more.
I always appreciated—and what I appreciate even more now, in the wake of dozens of post-apocalyptic series that didn’t work nearly as well—was that the camera always kept its eye firmly turned toward the people, not the ruins.
I read that quote a while back at the very bottom of an article about the modality of grief in Battlestar Galactica, which includes a variety of people expressing their opinion on “Unfinished Business”, an episode that split viewers two ways as either being pointless or profound because it focuses so entirely on character development that, technically, nothing happens plot wise.
That quote above, written by Todd VanDerWerff, hit me so much that I cut it from the text and emailed it to myself so I wouldn’t forget it. I’ve been thinking it over and over to the point that I thought I’d comment on it.
VanDerWerff’s main point about characters is clear: it should start and end with them. That is what makes post-apocalyptic stories work.
But, to be honest, this is true of any story, of any genre. “Character drives plot, not the other way around,” said some mysterious person who’s advice was swallowed into the writer’s guide from the void. But it’s the way VanDerWerff has worded his opinion of this universally acknowledged writing technique that really sticks with me, ‘the camera always kept its eye firmly turned toward the people, not the ruins.’ Earlier in his piece, he says,
What’s interesting to me about “Unfinished Business” is how many of the so-called “rules” of good TV that have come up in the last 10 years or so that this episode breaks. Apparently, the crew of the Galactica has this long-standing tradition of beating the shit out of each other when tensions run high, one that we’ve never heard of before. […] In fact, it reminded me of showrunner Ron Moore’s Star Trek history. If we were randomly told that the crew of the Enterprise or Deep Space Nine had rankless boxing grudge matches every so often, no one would bat an eye. It feels different here, because everything is supposed to matter.
If we do not focus on the ruins or the futility of the character’s struggle in the grander scheme of things, does that mean the people themselves offer hope/intrigue simply through their experiences? To what extent must a story not focus on the ruins of civilisation for it to work? Why does VanDerWerff ‘appreciate’ an internalised story, like Battlestar Galactica’s, more so than one with a clearer focus point on the end game? These are questions I can’t answer but am happy to ponder.
Despite being a post-apocalyptic science-fiction story, I would actually call Battlestar Galactica a political drama. The world of the characters, though unbound by the vastness of space, is ironically limited to their spaceships. There are no alien worlds to visit. There are no planets they can stop off at and have a curious look around; stay aground a few days and test the rock density. And this spacial limitation is what forces the writers to focus on the characters and their desires – how these people fit into the greater scheme of society as a concept rather than as a ‘thing’ that must be saved. It must be reformed. The very set-up of Battlestar Galactica lends itself to the phrase ‘the camera always kept its eye firmly turned toward the people,’ because where else could it turn? Space, the final frontier, except not really?
Should we have entire episodes, or chapters, that focus totally on character development for a story to feel genuine? How do we balance plot and personal-social-politics? What does VanDerWerff mean?
Character, I guess, it’s all about character. But applied and implemented how in this particular instance? VanDerWerff doesn’t give any examples of stories he feels have failed, so it’s hard to dissect what exact technique is being praised.
Television and books have more freedom to explore character than, say, films. They also have less chance of doing it well (if we’re to focus on character and character alone in the wake of a larger plot) than, say, roleplaying video games, where it’s often expected that players get one-on-one time with characters and can take a break from the main story. The split in opinion over “Unfinished Business” shows that a large enough number of people watching television don’t think an episode about characters trying to resolve their wounds by boxing each other, currently an unexplored facet of the world, was necessary. Some, like Genevieve Koski, argue that it felt too out of place, too overdone, too much like a “patch-work-quilt”. While she enjoyed certain aspects of the episode, in her opinion piece, she says,
However—and here’s where I turn into the party-pooper—I find I have a much harder time connecting to the Starbuck-Lee-Anders relationship this time around, divorced from the rest of the series. Maybe it’s knowing where all those characters are heading after this cathartic boxing match—more anger, more betrayal, more all-consuming guilt—or maybe it’s just the lack of momentum inherent in viewing it out of context, but this time I found Lee and Starbuck’s midnight tryst a little eye-rolling, which somewhat tainted their final embrace for me.
Perhaps it was an oddly structured episode, perhaps it was out of place, and maybe the anger everyone in Battlestar feels does come across as too overdone (it’s important to note that Koski acknowledges watching episodes singularly rather than in order – and with hindsight – can affect its overall impact), but I personally still enjoyed the episode’s study of grief, like VanDerWerff, because it left a stronger impression of the characters’ bonds with each other.
What does that mean for those of us who are writers?
I suppose a question that often gets ignored by writers with massive worlds is this: how can I show the character has been impacted by current events? How can I show they are struggling without meandering away from the main plot and creating something hollow or cliche? Is it possible to do so without wandering away from the main plot?
When the main theme of our story is world destruction and it hinges upon an evil master plan, we can easily be swept away by the scale of our own ideas. There are so many explosions and betrayals and chase scenes that there’s little time left over to stop and hear the laughter. World destruction equals crying and gun-fights. It means grim-dark-grim-grumble-punches.
Perhaps, then, what VanDerWerff means is that it’s important that we take time to look away from the crying and the gun-fights. VanDerWerff appreciates it when the characters take a moment from grim-dark-fighting-and-futility to confront relationships, whether they are tangled love-hate affairs or simple friendships often overshadowed by war. These little moments are what make the bigger things feel important, because character gives meaning to conflict.
What do you think?
How do you feel about the post-apocalyptic genre? What do you think about episodes, regardless of series, that do nothing for the main story but show something sincere about the characters? Should the writers find better ways to incorporate characterisation? Or does it not matter, so long as the events of that episode still mean something in later episodes?
Bloody hell, writing is difficult.
I have a tumblr blog that keeps track of all the things I find useful for writing or art-making. It’s gathering a fair chunk of content now and I figured other people might also find it useful.
It’s called: pensandpaintbrushes
Everything is tagged, so you can find subjects easily. Here are just a few examples of the content currently available:
- Characters (this refers to writing villains, heroes, anti-heroes etc.)
- Reference (this refers to body positions for drawing)
The writing tips range from writing for children to studying archetypes, as well as containing information on monsters, demons, folklore, science etc. It’s an organised mishmash of writerly/artistic resources.
Another useful blog is Agent and Editor Wish List. This is a regularly updated blog with requests from editors and agents about the sort of book they’re looking for next. It’s a gold mine. You may find the perfect person to submit your manuscript to.
For those who are self-publishing and in need of a cover, check out Book Cover Machine for unique jackets to compliment your novel. You can ask for a custom made product or choose from her selection of pre-made covers, then buy the rights for it at a reasonable price. There are some real gems hidden within her collection, so it’s worth browsing to see what you might find.
And last but not least, Winter Bayne posts great links to competitions, short stories, and new authors of whom she finds interesting. These often lead me to aspiring webzines and resources I probably never would have stumbled over on my own. She blogs about her own progress as a writer, too, and is generally very lovely.
I hope these blogs are useful to someone else as well!
Hello, buccaneers! By tomorrow morning, week one of NaNoWriMo will be trailing in the dust behind us and then begins the week two push. But let’s take a five minute break. I mean, well freaking done for all the words you’ve written. Phew, imagine if you’d never started? You’d really be nowhere. So let’s stop and appreciate what we’ve done so far…
2) What’s your story about, in one sentence?
A woman rescues coma patients by entering their dreams.
3) Did you plan?
I plan my bedtime, my day to day routine—you bet your ass I planned. I’ve got six key points in the story that are driving me forward, like exciting bits of chocolate I can’t wait to smear all over my face. Uh…
4) Has a side character spiralled into the plot and started to become more permanent that expected?
Dude, apparently Tomoya is childhood friend’s with my main character. They kept that one DOWN LOW. It all came out the woodwork in chapter six, I tell ya. He’s kinda cute though, so I don’t mind.
5) Is there a type of character or little thing that you always write?
I always have (what I’ve started to call) a “pink character”. They’re not a giant marshmallow, but something about their personality, their spirit, their likes, or on their person is pink. And they’re probably cute but stubborn. This year, one of the characters has pink hair-tips.
6) Has anyone died yet?
Haahahahahahahahahahaha. I killed the MC’s husband on page one. Does that even count? I’m debating whether or not to kill off Tomoya next…
7) Are any side characters flirting with each other?
I can’t make them STOP. Down, Bessies. This ain’t about you.
Tell me your answers in the comments, and then stop procrastinating. Get back to writing. GO, GO, GO!
Excuse me while I just sit here in stunned fear. That’s right, NaNoWriMo begins in six hours and I’m cacking myself. Why, Willow? You’ve done this five years in a row now? Yes, little minion voice, I have. But previously I didn’t have to grow up and do Shitty Adult Things, all whilst drowning under social/family expectations.
Has it be stated how fucking ridiculous it is that you can’t get a job without super-duper-angel-cum-10-years worth of experience, but you can’t get experience without the fucking job? I’m just throwing that out there again.
So, aside from feeling utterly miserable and pointless about my futile, unappreciated existance, I’m ready for NaNoWriMo. I’ve made the plans, I’ve got key moments, I’ve collected inspiring images—we’re all set, Theodore. Who doesn’t need extra self-imposed pressures? I’m kidding. It’ll be great. It’ll be so great.
BUT HEY, HERE’S SOME ACTUAL GOOD NEWS!
Next Wednesday, October 6th, Mitch Allan and I have a brand new science-fiction/fantasy series airing on Big World Network. That’ll be great. I’ll give more details closer to the time once the cover art is finalised. Yes cover art. Oooo~
HELPFUL THINGS FOR NANOWRIMO:
— Write down key scenes. They are good mile stones and motivators. They are not permanent, either, so you are not bound to these ideas.
— Use Write Or Die when you’d rather bury your head into a tar pit than meet the daily word count. Don’t do the tar pit. Use “Write Or Die”.
— When you’re sparring with your inner editor, change your font colour to white. Ignore any red-squiggly lines that may occur until you’ve finished at least a paragraph; unless, when you right click, you know that it’s offering a correct…correction.
— Getting bored with the scene/plot? Kill someone. One of your characters, obviously. Bonus points if it’s a main character.
— Remember that you can take a ten minute break and think about absolutely nothing. Designate ten minutes for ‘doing nothing’, especially when you’re ready to burn down the house. Then get back to writing.
Writing a novel or a short story is challenging at the best of times. There’s plot holes to consider, bathrooms to be cleaned, food to be eaten and, sometimes, motivation to be found.
I’ve been writing novels for the past seven years and yet I still suffer from chronic procrastination. When my Deadline disappears I turn into a Twitter dwelling, PS2-gaming, clean freak – anything but writing. This is stupid, because I don’t just love writing, I adore it.
So, over the past seven years I’ve taught myself to avoid writing by writing or crafting other things. Like right now (I should be planning another essay). In this lens I’ll share with you 5 ways to procrastinate and still make progress on developing your novel, short story or writing skills. No magic needed.
1. Mood Boards
staring at your wall can now be productive
As I stand triumphantly on the finish line and wave goodbye to three years of screenwriting at university, I thought I would share a few gems with you. I have a habit of writing down things that are said by the people around me. My classmates and lecturers were no exception. I’ve gathered up my notebooks and flicked through every side-margin to bring you these quotes. Some are humorous, some are plain ol’ teacher sass, others are inspirational. There are at least three different professors here and numerous students. I haven’t named anyone, just in case! I hope you enjoy.
Student: I was weeping like a little girl.
Proff: Or like a young man. It’s okay for that.
Proff: Ignore ‘how to write’ books. It’s almost an intellectual fascist theory in the writing help business. Forget the three act bullshit. Write scene one. ENTER JACK and JILL. Something happens between them – conflict – they EXIT. ENTER JOHN. He was always a twat, wasn’t he? You’ve got three ways of conflict. You have drama already.
Proff: You can’t teach writing. Just get on and fucking do it.
Proff: [on writing dialogue] Get rid of “ok”, “oh” or “ah” or opening lines with “well”. Example: “That’s right, ya stupid fucker.” Not, “Oh, that’s right.”
Student: The best manoeuvres are devious.
Proff: Welcome to writing erotica. We are dealing with sex. We’re going to be embarrassed and everything will have a double meaning. We’re not even going to try and rise above it.
Proff: I feel we should be doing this [erotica writing class] in some boudoir dressed in silk. A whip.
Student: It’s all the same fairytale [religion], you just can’t decide which hat to wear.
Proff 1: Yes, dear, you’re a very approachable human.
Proff 2: As opposed to an unapproachable what?
Proff 1: Cumquat.
Student: Where is room JM115? It doesn’t even say what class we have. We could be having a bloody tea party in JM115 for all we know!
Proff: One of the beautiful aspects of 19th century Russian culture was the strong belief that the real life people were experiencing wasn’t it – there was something better. Hope. Dreams. Dreams of happiness. The hope for revolutionary change. There was an awareness that things wouldn’t fundamentally change, but one still needs to believe that things might change. […] No matter how pointless life is, that need for hope is a fundamental characteristic of being human. Even if we are aware our dreams are unobtainable, we must dream.
Student: Little? I’m 6’2″!
Proff: You’re little in mentality.
Student: Just because you look like a student wreck, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to join you.
Proff: Were you potty-trained at gunpoint?
Student: I am a total emotional marshmallow.
Proff: Accountants are like priests. It’s as if magic underpins the value of their work.
Proff: Don’t you love semiotic discussion? The sign is more important than the person, and the person who acts outside of the sign must be sacrificed to reinstate the power of the sign.
Student: New movie: Scriptonite. This shit will end your world.
Proff: If you look in her eyes [Miranda July], there’s that very cynical glint.
Student: The smell of marijuana keeps zombies away.
Proff: There are no lies and truth. There are a variety of opinions that make up society.
Proff: You cut your hair! Did you keep it?
Student: No, I donated it to science. It’s now living on a wheel running around and around.
Proff: [during discussion on textual representation] We have effectively othered the cat.
Proff: Purgatory, the nice bit of hell. Kind of the waiting room, with coffee and magazines.
Proff: Communicating via novel writing is narcissistic. Yup. Whatever.
Proff: Post-modern art gives the squiggle a soul.
Guest Proff: How do you learn about book adaptation and plot beats? Break down Harry Potter, of course!
Guest Proff: If you want to be a screenwriter in Britain, write TV. If you don’t, you will die. It won’t even be a long, slow death. You will just die of starvation.
Student: HEADLINES: lecturer suffocates on his own knowledge.
Proff: Being bombarded by media and having a wealth of access feels empowering. It’s also worrying how much we take in passively and are guided into cultural languages and ideas and mechanisms of choice. It’s hard to disappear or choose how to work – being connected is a strong pressure.
Proff: BBC journalists are told to present and talk to make something appear undeniably true. They must be authoritative, which is backed up by images and the news logo. Bright colours – it sings to you, and not only are you told their word is ‘inevitable’, you are encouraged to want what is ‘inevitable.’
Student: Studies have shown my opinion is right.
Proff: You are a walking contradiction. A military jacket and a peace shirt. I feel you’re trying to tell me something.
Proff: [looking at a student’s poster sketch] And what’s this here? A cash register?
Student: No. It’s a gun.
Student 1: I’ve not see the first and second Toy Story.
Proff: You grew up in a monastery.
Student 2: You did have a deprived childhood.
Student 1: I did not have a deprived childhood!
Student 2: You did.
Student 1: Alright, fine. I’m a flawed human being.
Proff: How many people here smoke? … No one? And you call yourselves writers? How many people smoke other substances?
One student raises his hand.
Proff: Well, at least there’s one honest man among us. Who here drinks alcohol?
Everyone raises their hand.
Proff: Oh thank fuck for that. I was getting worried.
Proff: The film this afternoon is under wraps. Only Student 1 knows what it’s about. He’ll accept no bribes.
Student 1: Well…
Student 2: What about threatening behaviour?
Proff: That’s a very nice belt.
Student: Yes, I stole it from a Persian prince.
And that’s the end of that.
“Dive right in!” they said. “It’ll be fun!” they said.
I’m talking about the word-cannon of inspiration. Getting to know your characters. If you’ve done much writing in your life before, you’ll know that starting anything can be one of the hardest things. NaNoWriMo is no exception. It’s midnight! Your friends have gathered, the room is silent with concentration, it’s time to flay the page with words…
But what words? Where do I begin? Does my character even like ice cream, I don’t know? Should I talk about the room or who McMary is looking at? Would McMary even be in the same room as her enemy yet?
There are only four days left, so, to lessen your nerves and make you feel more confident about who you’re writing about, try these three very simple exercises.
Write one of your character’s talking. Just talking. No action description. A monologue. They have committed murder. This does not have to be relevant to your plot (unless you want it to be). This is a fun prompt.
2. Other Person Monologue
I’ll bet you all the money in the world that your character mentioned another person during their monologue. We’ll call him McJobe. Now, write another monologue from McJobe’s perspective.
Finally, put McJobe and McMary in the same room and let them have a conversation. There should be conflict, either physically, verbally or internally.
From these, you might discover a plot idea that you’ll want to come back to during the downer-period that always comes with NaNoWriMo; when you’re lacking inspiration. It’ll also tell you how certain characters think, feel and react to various circumstances. What have you got to lose? Have fun!