Category Archives: principles in writing

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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‘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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Keeping the dream alive … responding to criticism

I was reading an article this morning about how we receive and how we give feedback and criticism and it made me think.

As a writer I am no stranger to having my work picked over. Fortunately those who have, have always been encouraging even if there was plenty to address.

I also give feedback as part of my day job and I like to think I have developed a style that is encouraging and empowering, but at the same time, honest. It has to be.

What I did was look at what I want from a critique, honesty first and foremost, but no point in saying what’s wrong if you can’t offer a fix, an idea, a suggestion. This is where I think various things combine — me being a writer myself, the fact I work in publishing (albeit on a small scale) but I have worked with lots of stories and lots of writers to know what works, being a reader helps, and my MA alongside numerous other courses so I have a strong grasp of what works and what techniques to use to make things work better. And like you, I return to books and I read magazines and I make sure the advice I give is as solid as it can be.

I once had someone critique my work who just said things like — nah, boring, cut, don’t believe you — and no offer of why or how. I found it demoralising. And I vowed I would never do that or make someone feel that way.

Yes I have worked on manuscripts by very new writers that need a lot of work, but handled right, the comments and suggestions and advice make it clear they have a lot to learn, but a good teacher empowers and makes the student want to learn, and doesn’t demoralise or make them feel like giving up forever.

It helps I am, a ‘people’ person, or I like to think I am, so I approach the job with passion and enthusiasm and do go the extra mile for people. I love it when they tell me they can see the improvement and when they start to have success.  And since I have my publishing contacts, the various projects I am involved in, like CafeLit, I do offer ways to kick-start careers where I can and have suggested they submit to various collections.

Not everyone can teach, I like to think I have the balance right between honesty and encouragement. All I can say is it seems to work and we start the official first full week of work this year, I have a full board of jobs and lots are new clients, as well as familiar faces — so I look forward to what we can do together.

2014 is going to be a great year, come along and see!

Have a great week everyone!

1455061_614034055330223_967283944_nPs the kindle version is still 99p!

 

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Getting inside your head

The aim of a truly great novel is really to get into your reader’s head. To ‘possess it’ for a while in the best possible sense. Or at least that’s my aim when I write anything.

I just love it when I can disappear into the pages of a book and lose myself for a while. People ask me, as an editor, and a writer, if I find it hard with some books to turn that off and find myself reading the book as if I’m critiquing and the short answer to that is yes — in a way. I hate it though as I think well look this is published, edited etc, so who do I think I am? But I guess it goes with the job. But then again if I can truly lose myself in a book then I see that as a measure of how great it really is.

The role of the writer is to create a world that lives in someone else’s head and what lives in one reader’s head will not be exactly the same as what lives in another’s but so long as you write it well and show what you want to show, the world you create will be pretty similar for each reader. And as I have said many times it’s so important that you connect to your readers. Or should I say — that the characters do. This is why I have such an obsession with getting voice right. For me it’s not the author the reader wants to hear but the characters and that’s why when I give readings I have to act a bit as well. (Help!)

And to effect this I truly believe the reader has to be part of the story. I have found myself working on a lot of manuscripts of late where I say SHOW it, FILM THE SCENE. What I mean is don’t tell me how a character feels or why they said something. Or even how what someone says makes them feel, SHOW it. What is so often lacking, or so it seems to me, is SUBTEXT. To complete the whole getting inside a character’s head and that total immersion I think you need, the reader has to be active not passive to the process. By this I mean they have to be watching events unfold, part of those events, rooting for the characters and trying to second-guess. It’s vital they have to work to resolve things, pick at the threads, try to work out what’s really happening in the story. If you tell them too much it becomes a much more passive process for the reader.Subtext, body language, things SHOWN allow the reader to think, to become part of solving the dilemma the novel poses and without that and too much telling, the reader becomes of a passive bystander and so the story lacks the WOW factor. This for me is why you have to SHOW and not TELL.

So, I had a busy working weekend although I did have a lovely mean in Chester with my partner in crime from Bridge House on Saturday but of course we talked writing and books! What else!

I am so looking forward to next Saturday when we have the official launch party for Wild n Free Too when I get to meet all the talented children and their families!

Tonight remember I am signing at Hintons Bookshop in Conwy and I so hope people show up! If you let me loose in a bookshop with no guests but lots of books to look at I might spend too much money!

So, best write but one final plug for the event tonight. Hope to see some of you there!

And remember -- my novel is still 99p on Kindle and made it into the top 500 Kindle books and was 94 on Crime and Mystery yesterday!

And remember — my novel is still 99p on Kindle and made it into the top 500 Kindle books (now at 344!)  and is 77  in Crime and Mystery this morning! DOWNLOAD IT! Tell all your friends!!! Thank you!

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It’s beginning to look a lot like a book tour

Well kind of.

I apologise that all my posts have been about me and my book! I will post more writing tips soon.  Not intended as an ego trip — honest!

So I visited the writing group that meet at the library on Canvey Island yesterday and had a lovely chat. I did feel as if I was suddenly important with my special glass and special water! It’s just me — honest! We talked all things writing and books, getting into some technical things about writing narrative and I did a short reading as well. The library is still waiting for their copies of my novel to come in, although Doreen who runs the group had her copy and came to the launch last week. What a lovely group, I love meeting writers!

After that we headed on over to Maldon where I finally got to meet the lovely Sarah Banhan who I’ve been chatting to for ages on Facebook (we met through mutual friends). We met ‘for real’ at Costa and then headed to the Saint FM studio at Plume School where I was an author on Writer’s Block. It was a whole hour of chatting about books and writing and it flew by, as Sarah said it would. Sarah is a writer herself as well as offering mentoring and writing services to writers and businesses. She really puts you at ease, not that I seem to get nervous about these things these days (which surprises me) and it really was just a lovely chat. Lots of mentions of the novel and also my work with Born Free and the nitty-gritty of writing and publishing.

I don’t think I’ve had so many things lined up on the social calendar with leg one being Bangor events, leg two in Essex but now over as tomorrow I head back for the third leg another Bangor tour and then back this way and trying to line up more events here! So exciting! I need to get further afield too so seeing what I can arrange! Well I will be in LA in March of course!

The main thing now for a debut novelist like me is the importance of word of mouth and trying to create a bit of a buzz about this book. So if you loved it, please spread the word and keep those reviews coming!

So as I sort out some admin things that need doing this morning and try to write as well, before tomorrow, I will leave you with am image from the radio studio! Even if I do look like a big fat bloater! Ah well.

No blog tomorrow as I will be getting ready to travel so see you in North Wales on Friday!

On Saint FM Nov 26th 2013

On Saint FM Nov 26th 2013

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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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