Category Archives: principles in writing

Tunnel Vision

It was such a great week last week after the ‘new agent news’ and finally feeling as if I knew what I had to do next. So I found myself up and working at 5 am every day, after a break from that for a while, and fully in that zone: that fully immersive state we all relish if we can get in there! It does mean everything else falls away around you as you write, and some mornings I was aware of the hubby speaking until he probably realised I was not ‘in the room’ and off he’d go and next thing a coffee would plonk down beside my computer mouse. I have him well trained!

So edits under guidance completed along with new synopsis and off to my agent. I am now doing something I have never done before. Working out the plot intricacies of a sequel! I had always intended a sequel to this novel (not saying which one yet) but had not quite worked out what would happen. I spent three hours at 5 am scribbling and thinking. I am not there yet but something is slowly emerging! I often find I need to look the other way for a while to see it clearly as if plots like to take shape just out of shot. My mission for this week is to get something together and find my EUREKA plot moment when I realise what it has to say. And to be ready to start writing it!

Writing is a process of many stages.

  • Planning: advice? Never force it; let it come when it wants to, just nudge it along as I do not recommend waiting for your muse either.
  • Writing new material: is the really exciting part and my fingers get a buzz when I am in that zone. I think that is probably the most exciting phase. This is when the true magic happens and often things you could not have planned!
  • Editing: I relish because it helps your work to take shape and become something so much better than that first draft. And if you are lucky enough more magic creeps beautifully in 🙂

 

Many many rounds of edits later it might or might not be ready but it has to reach a point when you MUST let it go and if you have been working on the same thing for too long — rest it and write something else. We can get too close to it. My advice for anyone wanting a career as a writer and intending to find an agent and a book deal needs to let one novel go and work on a new one, especially when new to it. Get a critique, get solid editorial feedback and learn how to improve — but when you have reached that point know when to rest it and work on something new, taking those newly acquired skills with you. Agents want you for a career, not a single book. My fourth novel was the one that was finally deemed good enough to find a publisher.  But nothing is ever wasted because you have something to later work on.

So that is me, just wanted to pop by to report in mid-editing a manuscript for a client!

That is all. Happy Writing! Happy Week!

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Create Your Style Guide [Editing Tips]

Welcome to a new and busy week. I thought I would give some editing tips every day this week, of course, some of this will have been covered before but  I think it’s always useful as a reminder.

So hands up who uses a Style Sheet or Style Guide when they write?Do you even know what one is? 

A style sheet is a list setting out the decisions that your editor has made on aspects of the layout and language of your document, in order to keep the document consistent.

This is a really useful thing, especially if you intend to write this as part of a series and so how you do something in one book must be consistent across books as well as within the book.

As you come to edit your work you don’t just focus on the shape of the story and if it works, on filler, character development etc. When it comes to the nitty gritty bits of the narrative don’t just focus on the flow of the language and the construction of the sentences either, you have to think about how you represent things. So, for example, do you use a hyphen in ‘no-one’ like that or ‘no one’, both are acceptable. Which of the OK or okay forms do you use (ok is not generally an accepted form). Do you write -ise in words like recognise or realise OR the more US form of recognize/ realize and how is this in other forms of -ise/ize words. Do you use capitals in some of your expressions, like the Magic Sword, the Golden Knife. Do you capitalise the East and the West? Do you use a capital in Professor? University… here I would say unless part of the official address, his name, the university’s name then use a small letter — get the idea? US or UK spelling?

By writing these things down you can create a guide so you don’t have to remember because, inevitably, you will use forms interchangeably. The sheet helps you create consistency — which is key here. For a final edit/proof, it’s vital, especially if you plan to self-publish. But to submit you also want to show the highest level of professionalism. It’s very rare I am sent a ms with the writer’s own style guide but it happens from time to time and it shows me they appreciate this aspect is important.

 

It might include notes on what font is used, whether the text is left or fully justified, how particular words are capitalised or hyphenated, how much indent your indented quotations have, what is put in italics.

Especially if you’ve learned English as a second or other language, you will know that the English language is not consistent, and it doesn’t even have proper rules for some things! This can be really frustrating, as two people might do things in two different ways, BOTH of which are correct.

For example, in English …

  • We can use -s- spellings or -z- spellings in words like “organisation”
  • We can capitalise or not capitalise words like Chapter 1 or experiment 2
  • We can hyphenate or not hyphenate pairs of words like policy-maker

 

And that’s before you get to decisions like …

 

  • Are you going to use 20%, 20 percent or twenty percent?
  • Are you going to describe America as America, the United States, the US, the USA, the U.S. etc. etc.?
  • Are you going to use double inverted commas for quotations and single inverted commas for concepts, or vice versa?
  • Are you going to refer to other research as (Brown, 2003; Green and Jones, 2005, p. 23) or (Brown 2003, Green & Jones 2005:23) or any other variant

 

Now, the important thing with all of these is to keep it consistent.

 

More editing tips tomorrow!

editing cartoon

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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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