Category Archives: Character development

Self Editing: Eveything you need to know

I had planned a post at some point similar to this, but when I read the talented Sharon Zink’s page I decided to share it.

Sharon is an amazing writer and I have had her on my blog. She also does the same job as me in that she offers manuscript appraisals; the same level of detail.

So I decided to share this link because it really is a masterclass in writing and everything on here is exactly the kind of thing I say to clients all the time when I assess their manuscripts…

Take heed fellow scribes!

I am now about to write the homecoming chapter on Pelicans… this is exciting, it’s the final chapter when we reveal the last of the missing pieces… and it’s raining so I am loving the sounds of rain on the roof as I write! The morning goes pitter patter… ❤

Have a wonderful day everyone!

http://sharonzink.com/writing-tips/all-first-drafts-are-sht-so-heres-a-masterclass-on-self-editing/

 

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Further thoughts on back story

What is the function of back story?

Were you paying attention last time?

Many might say that it explains the character, that it’s essential to enable the reader to understand why a character is behaving as he is (motivation). Yes absolutely true. But don’t forget, and this is the crucial bit, it  has to be woven seamlessly into the plot in a way that feels as if it’s almost invisible. The reader imbibes back story as they discover character, notice how they react, behave and through the carefully placed memories that motivate or foreshadow key moments.

And here’s my further thought — could it be said that back story isn’t to provide answers — but to provide questions?

There lies the essence of the good hook — right?

Have a great day.

 

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Getting into Character

I find myself this week back in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco and then climbing the dizzying heights of Pacific Heights and down to Pier 39. Contrasting neighbourhoods. No I have not jetted off to the states again (more’s the pity) but am back in the minds of Frank and Richard in the next novel. It’s already had a fair polish but needs some overhauling and the ending is in my head but not on a page. So here I am back there. What these characters are telling me is I know Frank’s voice really well (ex con, hard but soft) and Rich is more of a challenge as he is a bit of a bumbling prof recovering from a mental breakdown.

So for me to be suddenly back with these guys feels like a real treat. I have done a lot of work on this one but now I think it’s time to get to sorted. It’s pacey and psychological this one, darker too.

Because I’ve been to San Francisco a few times, one in particular on a fact-finding mission for this book, I feel more comfortable than perhaps I Am Wolf where I have never been to Alaska or Moscow. One of things we did in San Francisco five years ago (see I said I had been working on this for a while) was walk in Golden Gate Park, ride the amazing carousel that is in the novel and wonder where a body might be found near the carousel. Yep really. But what you can’t capture from Google earth are smells and the feel of the place. So I also had my notebook and asked what scents I could pick up on — get a feel for the place in the early morning. What I love about San Francisco is the fog, very atmospheric, right?

So I must leave you now to get back into character. While Frank has his issues — and so does Rich although I think your sympathies are with him from the get-go, Frank is the likeable rogue  and so I hope all of that comes across. Well — I will have to make sure it does. Being a writer is like being a character actor.

 

AlcatrazIsland

Have a great Wednesday, y’all!

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Getting to know your characters …

New cover WNOWW

 

Characterisation is a vital part to process, as you know as a writer, and one of the things that’s really important to make that VITAL connection to your reader. It all ties into voice, so we see, think, hear and root for the character.

Indeed,  I have talked about characterisation here many times in one guise or another.

I challenged myself writing an African-American with Lydia and have been overwhelmed with how much people have loved her. In fact they say they like all the characters in While No One Was Watching and yes they are all likeable because I tried to keep them real, while at the same time not stereotypes — which can be hard. Some might think they are stereotypical. The test is the number of people who want to know what happened to them once the book was over and so far that seems to be what people are saying. And I do hope to use Lydia again 🙂

It’s more of a struggle writing the more flawed character and I have always been aware that Amy in I Am Wolf is both complex and flawed and there are aspects of her the reader might not like. How she treats Mark for a start but I have worked to make the reader see why and warm to her, I hope — and that has been tricky. She has, as they say, a lot of baggage. But how much should the reader like the character? 

Well, it would not feel authentic if all characters were flawless, nor if all characters were evil. It’s about getting the right balance so even the hero has flaws and the evil character has redeeming features. Or at least that’s how I do it. My fiction deals with reality but with a touch of something unusual — or that’s how I describe it. It is grounded in reality, but I do like it if a character is ordinary but feels extraordinary. This was how someone described Lydia and I was chuffed with that.

There have been many challenges with the new novel and characterisation is most definitely one of them. I want Amy to be a victim who wears a mask, but I also want her to feel like a real person and I confess I still struggle with her.  She’s the kind of character who bosses me about and I have to keep her in check! But I think I’m almost there as I approach the end of another edit and hope it’s about ready.

Getting the characters right is so important for that connection I go on and on about (yeah I know!) But they are your vehicle for doing justice to the story. And as Stephen King put its, love before horror. Make the reader care about your character before you put them in peril — if you want the reader to stay for the journey.

And we all love it when we get to know characters and especially, as a writer, it’s great when people say they want to meet the characters again. Of course there are many trilogies and crime series where we do just that. And taking that a step further look at how close we come to feel to, let’s say, soap characters.

I was watching Daybreak this morning when Lorraine made a suggestion that I have been saying for years! I want to see a character in let’s sat Corrie, who pops down to London for a bit or forever, or a character in EastEnders who moves to Manchester (lots have!) make an appearance as the same character in the other soap! Hell — how many EastEnders characters end up in Spain? Maybe one  could pop over to Benidorm for a while! I think the public would love this and I think we should get more liaison between TV production companies to do this to characters?

Writers of the novel do it all the time, in a way when characters have walk on parts in other novels, so why not take that further?

One of the questions Parthian asked me and one I now ask other writers is — and I would love people here to comment — if you could be friends with any FICTIONAL character, you have created or read or watched on TV, movie etc. who would it be and why?

Mine — well here I am talking characters I have created — would be Lydia Collins.

Have a great day everyone!

Indeed!

Indeed!

 

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‘Trying to write a story without structure is like trying to invent an airplane without wings’

Yeah it’s a long title and one I plucked out of a book on writing, to be precise Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brookes. *recommended*

He says that no matter how you get there — be it with lot of plotting or through what arises organically through drafting, and whether you know it and think about it as you write or have  natural instinct for what works, structure is essential. Without it the house falls down or the plane doesn’t fly. And even if the architecture is lavish, akin to great writing, beautiful narrative, without structure you have no story. Right? I’ve said that before.

Like a natural law of the universe.

So let’s see writers if he has something new to say …

If the structure isn’t right, he claims, then you fill find it impossible to sell your work — yeah that’s what he says. He says that while experimental structures are interesting, keep the for the lit class not the novel or screenplay you’re trying to sell!

What he talks about is the adaptation of the three-act structure we see in plays — but it’s what we call the 4-part model, and for those who have worked with me professionally you’re recognise this more like the story arc I provide for those struggling with the plot.

Brookes talks about how every story in the world needs to adhere to this structure or it is doomed to fail and this is what I say about the story arc. It’s the same thing essentially but he visualises it as four boxes — these contain the scenes and what happens  to the hero in each box is the result of evolution in a sense, growing — anticipation — foreplay — sex — climax :to use his more crude analogy.

But what he says that I think is important is that what happens in box 1 in the set-up when we meet the character is developed in box 2 and box 2 needs box 1 and box 3 needs box 2 etc. So it is like a child growing. But what does this mean in real terms?

Box 1: Set-up — establishes everything that will follow. It introduces the protagonist and its single mission is to lay the premise, to foreground the key conflict of the story. And only hint at the antagonism in the plot (what do I keep saying? Don’t burden the set-up with too much back story! Lay the foundations!)

The function of Box 1 is: to set-up the plot by creating stakes, back-story and character empathy, while foreshadowing the oncoming conflict.

While you will most likely have the first inciting incident, this is what will foreground the big major plot point. Brookes warns that establishing the conflict too early does not allow time to establish the back-story. I see this when I critique and while I love it when we start right in the action and this is a device that’s fine, you still need to back-track in places as you will see to explain it and sometimes this device, unless handled with skill does not work as well as it should.

The more we understand and empathise with the hero the more we root and invest our time wanting to go with them on the journey, so you need to set-up, but you also don’t need to overdo the back-story so it’s a balance.

Box 1 ends with the reader now engaged and understanding the hero and takes us to the edge of the threshold, the stakes are now raised to the point of no return. So now we have the first major plot point (not to be confused with the first inciting incident which may coincide or may be part of the set-up) — now the story truly begins.

Got all this?

Have I hooked you? This is what Box 1 does (akin to the first 25% of the story) — have a look at how this can be applied to your own writing or the books you’re reading.

And I will resume with the next part tomorrow!

I will get it next week! Second edition!

I will get it next week! Second edition!

 

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The Glorious City of Bath

Winning the Bath Short Story Award (BSSA) this year has to be one of the big highlights. It knocked my socks off to actually win something and with a story  that had some very personal meaning. It seemed other people got it, it resonated on some level and isn’t that what being a writer is all about? So this is a great feeling when you make that connection. Thanks BSSA for choosing Learning to Fly –– read it here! LINK

Jude, one of the BSSA ladies, also wears another hat, that for Writing Events Bath, so when she knew I work with developing writers and my novel was out this month, she invited me to run a workshop on writing a psychological thriller at the wonderful Mr B’s Bookshop. And I love psychological thrillers, and while While No One Was Watching isn’t exactly that, it is kind of and I call it that if I have to pigeon-hole it and of course it uses many of those devices that tap into the psyche. I  grew up reading and being influenced by such books! So I loved putting this workshop together — a pig in literary mud!

And so last week Mum and I did something we never do, we left Dad in charge of the pooch and took a little trip to Bath, and the Hilton Hotel. And what a treat we had!

This time last week in fact we were  getting ready to set off to the station, although sadly it seems like ages ago now! Want to do it again! Want to do it at lots of hotels and places! Anyone else want to hire me? He he …

The hotel, although not quite as aesthetic to look at as the other Bath buildings, is lovely and central and a very short walk to Mr B’s although we did take a rather convoluted route because the girl at the hotel wasn’t sure! But we found it and around the corner at 3,30 we also found Halls and Woodhouse, the cafe where we were kindly treated to afternoon tea by the lovely ladies from BSSA. So nice to finally put faces to names, I met Jude, Anna and Jane and from Writing Events Bath also Alex.

We had a lovely chat about all things writing and enjoyed the delights of an afternoon tea. Then we relaxed on the sofas before it was time to go to Mr B’s ready for the workshop.

 

Writing Events Bath

Jane (BSSA), Debz (some writer apparently) and Jude (BSSA and Writing Events, Bath)

I had not run this particular workshop before, with a specific genre, but as I pointed out good writing is good writing and many of the things we talked about relate to any genre — good characterisation, motivation for action, sharp narrative etc. However I did focus it on what a psychological thriller is, where it fits in the context of other thrillers and the premise of many of these novels. I will do a blog post about this as I think many would find this interesting.

We had a couple of writing exercises, one writing an opening scene or blurb to see if we could capture the essence of a good psychological thriller. And after the break we wrote a scene with tension, after a discussion of narrative devices.

We finished with a Q&A and I even signed copies of my novel, in fact we ran out of books.

People were lovely and many said it had been very helpful 🙂 I hope that what I showed was that it can be done, we can get published if we work at the craft.

I have sat through many workshops and so I did what I thought I would want from a good workshop, it needs to be two-way, interactive and they needed to know I do know what I’m talking about (most of the time!).  So it helps that I work with lots of writers and I know the common errors! And that my novel was published of course!

I had a lovely time! And am so pleased some of the writers that took part have have found me on Twitter and said they’re enjoying the novel and loved the workshop! Phew!

The following day we did a spot of sightseeing in Bath, the tour bus, the Jane Austen Centre and of course some shopping! Although I bought very little.

A nice meal in the hotel that evening, and  then we relaxed in the room.

The following morning at breakfast, who should walk in but Ade Edmondson, who had been performing with his band in Bath that night. I didn’t disturb his breakfast but I was tempted to ask him if he wanted a copy of my book! I didn’t of course!

So here are some pics guys! I wish I was still there now!

 

Bath Abbey (1)

 

 

Bath Abbey (2)

 

That writer person again, who does she think she is?

That writer person again, who does she think she is?

 

Off to talk to the lovely writing group at Canvey Library this afternoon and you can hear me on Sarah Banham’s show on local radio Saint FM from 7pm, here’s the link: SAINT FM

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The art of story telling — the question a novel asks

Writing is not just about having a good idea.

It’s not just about being clever with words and finding new and interesting ways of combining them,

It’s the whole deal and that’s why it can take a long time to really get that to work, to learn this craft of ours.

And burning at the heart of any good novel needs to be a question, one that  makes the reader want to read that book and then keeps them hooked throughout, even to the last page!

Some stories are what we call high concept, the kind that often end up as movies, a great idea, something that feels like it surely must have been done before and has real universal appeal. I hope While No One Was Watching might be that.  It’s not like something I set out to do, and I am not so sure I Am Wolf does that, but we’ll see!

I was thinking about ideas that hook yesterday when the lovely Roy Noble interviewed me for BBC Radio Wales. It airs on Sunday morning, 10.30 onwards.  We talked a lot about Kennedy and about this idea of what’s happening at the same time, who was Eleanor Boone and why did she disappear? Of course I wasn’t going to answer that exactly. He also asked after all my research who did I think killed Kennedy? Well not sure I can answer that either, only to say I was quite convinced it could not have been a lone assassin. I suspected a cover up, and I tried to evoke many of the ideas and theories in my novel — I would say no more. No spoilers!

Roy did also say the idea of being apart from a child is one that is current and he talked about the film Phil0mena.  I’d like to see that.

Yes I think there are two things that I hope have that universal appeal with While No One Was Watching. One is that it deals with an iconic moment in history where everyone, who is old enough to remember, recalls where they were and what they were doing, as does Edith Boone who was standing on the grassy knoll.  But we take it a step further with her  because she got stuck in that moment forever. Can you imagine turning around, distracted for a moment by the gunshots and the panic (and can you blame her? Does this make her a bad mother?) — and then turning back and the child is GONE.

That in itself is a horror story for any parent, right? But amidst an assassination, a moment anticipated with excitement at seeing the President turns into a murder in front of you  … and not only is your child gone but  she is never found.

So why?  Why does she disappear? Is the story really what it seems? Is the question that beats at its heart (as has to be the case in good story telling) and the hook to add page turnability, what really happened to Kennedy? Or what happened to Eleanor Boone? I think it’s this:  if Kennedy had not been assassinated that day, would Eleanor Boone still have disappeared?

That is the one I set out to answer.

So what about your novels — can you identify a single question?

With the anniversary week approaching and the conspiracy theories rearing their heads  again, there was an interesting programme on Channel 5 last night, although not sure when it came to suggesting an accidental gunshot by a member of the Secret Service, I can buy into that. They glossed over quite a lot and when it came to the key elements of the argument, like that the magic bullet could have been right as Governor Connally has a lower seat than originally suggested there was no real evidence to show this or the trajectories, just a sweeping ‘so the Warren Commission was right after all and the ‘magic bullet’ could have passed through Kennedy and Connally etc.’  And in concluding the final head shot that tore the President’s brain apart was an accident,  the agent in the car behind reaching for his gun and falling onto it and that was the fatal shot made me say — hang on, show the evidence? And why go to such lengths to cover that up when they had one man to blame. Okay one that would cast terrible shame for the US if one of their own secret service agents (Hickey) had fired the fatal shot, but in fairness  a response to a real assassination attempt by Oswald. But really? It could be that simple? And would an agent (even though they did say he was not experienced) have made such a mistake? Hmm …

Not convinced.

What about you?

There is another TV show on tonight ITV 10.35 that I will await eagerly.

I do wonder at this incessant need for conspiracy, but there is little doubt for me with this story that this is what we have and with records remaining sealed until 2029, what do they have to hide?

I think this obsession with conspiracy in any story taps into the same primeval need for a good story. Diane died tragically in a car accident as many do every day, didn’t she? Or something much more sinister? Add a cover-up and you have all the ingredients for a high concept bestseller, right? Do we like to wallow in tragedy?

Maybe as humans who seek pleasure in escapism, be it film, TV, books, plays etc, there is an inherent need to inhabit other lives and for things to be bigger and better and  at the same time far worse and more sinister than they might be. So maybe that’s why we buy into it, who really knows.

All I know is we constantly seek new angles and so I hope that what my novel does, is find a different  angle that makes an old story feel new.

But you will be the judge of that.

Some wonderful reviews coming in! Thank you and if you read it and enjoyed it, please do post a review on Amazon too!

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