Category Archives: Structure

Plots, Sequels and Radio Interviews!

Well, what a lot has been achieved this week… lots of plotting and planning. Four hours each morning with a notebook and I think I am about ready to start my sequel to one of my novels on Monday. Yay!

I have blogged about many things on here, mostly writerly, but not on plotting and ‘idea brainstorming’. I don’t think you can force ideas to come, you have to let them show up. Sometimes they march in without knocking and plonk themselves down in front of you. Here I am! Other times they whisper as you sleep or drift in and out like a tide that you can’t hold onto, you have it, you don’t. It’s a tease until you grab it and hold onto it like a wriggling cat until it settles on your lap.

This week has been enlightening. And it’s been exciting. You just never know who or what is going to show up. The good news is that for all its convolutions and complexities that have to be part of this novel to make it a good sequel, the ideas have come mostly pretty well formed and the new characters even told me their names! I am getting to know them now! While I never planned it this way, I have ideas for the two books that will make this a trilogy — and scope for more later. I had not planned to ‘plan’ the third book but since there is this thing called ‘foregrounding’– the legwork for the next one, i.e. the planting of the seeds — then it makes perfect sense. I now know how it all ends and what has to happen in the third one. I even have ideas for the names of the books. I am excited ❤

So how much do you plan?

Well, not too much. That said, if you were to see my notebook you would say I have it pretty much worked out, and I guess I kind of do. However, the true magic of writing happens when you allow your subconscious to guide you. Plots change. They change because as you write, things need to happen: pacing things! When you read a great novel and a chapter ends with one of those moments: another body is found, someone isn’t who you think they are — you know, ‘the unexpected reveal’, well, I like to think it’s by magic. A lot of these, I think, are not planned. They just happen. I have had a character  walk in and make a statement and I’ve spent the next hours, maybe days, working out why and what it means. Truly. Something in me knew it had to happen, and every time it really was vital to the story, I just didn’t know it when I planned the book! See, magic! Writing is magic. You need to plot and plan, absolutely — but then you need to allow the magic in.

I can’t wait to get writing now.

And in other news…

Cover reveal!

My short story collection is out in July and I will be in conversation with Tony Fisher on BBC Radio Essex this very afternoon from 2 pm talking writing and short stories! Do tune in: here’s the link!

TONY FISHER ARTS SHOW

And, here it is… my cover. Me and my nan! Her photo was taken in the 1930s and relates to the last story in the book, the newest short story of mine 🙂

Because Sometimes Medium

Out July 2019

Launch Event, St Nicholas Church, Canvey Island, July 19th 7 pm, all welcome!

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Short Journeys

I have talked about short stories before and how important they have been to me on this journey to become ‘real writer’… that makes me think of Pinocchio I want to be a real boy… 

I think, all too often, we tend to overlook the short story form, assuming that the real success and I guess therefore the real creativity and even the real money is to be made from the novel that becomes the bestseller that becomes the Hollywood blockbuster… and so on. But short stories have also been made into movies you know. And besides, not all short stories want to grow up to be movies, do they?

I always talk about how I ‘cut my teeth’ as a writer working on the short form, and how important this was for me in terms of developing my style and honing my craft and I have spurts now of still writing short stories and sending them out. When I did that earlier this year I had three successes and two of those placements has resulted in a publication; one of which is now available to pre-order, I was runner-up! So I thought I would share a short extract of that as a teaser with some links…

Thinking in Circles

In order to understand something, we must exist outside it.
We are all made of numbers.
Aged 13, Size 8 shoes, Form 5, the 14.35.
We are all on a journey to somewhere from somewhere else with
our eyes half-closed.
And sometimes we get stuck.

You are standing there. Head tucked down; reminds me of a
penguin. The strap of your big blue school bag cuts across your blazer
and it’s as if there’s a thread attaching your head to your shoes. Not
shiny new shoes. These are scuffed, end of term Clark’s one-size-too-small
shoes; they didn’t buy new shoes. Because of what happened
over the summer.
It’s the thing – the thing no one will want to talk about – but they
will talk about it. They’ll whisper. They’ll pretend they’re not talking
about it.
People say bad news is always better when it happens to
somebody else but even when it happens to somebody else,
sometimes it’s happening to you.
You shuffle last year’s shoes to the front; to the desk you used
last year. And the year before. And the year before that. Soon they’ll
all come in and sit where they always sit and nobody will ask. But
they’ll all know.

They’ll all know because it was in the Echo. It was in the Echo
over the summer. Shock had filled up the kitchen: a line of uttered
Oh Gods.
In the sound you were sure you heard something break.
Not like a snap. Not like an ornament shattering into a million
pieces. Not like that. And not like the jolt of something stopping
suddenly, because that happens all at once. This was like a slow
unpicking along the seams.
It happened because of what happened over the summer. It
happened to your dad when he went quietly mad and your nan had to
move in.
It was in the Echo. Everyone knows. About the thing – not your
dad going quietly mad, or your nan moving in. About the thing. The
thing that happened over the summer.

The train left London at 14.35. The name on the front said
Southend Victoria…

© Debz Hobbs-Wyatt 2017, With Our Eyes Open, Published by Bausse Books October 15 2017

The book is available now for pre-order as an eBook and a paper version will follow in tine for Christmas! I will share the link again!

With Our Eyes Open

Order me…

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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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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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What an editor does …

I love getting up close and personal to other people’s writing — but what I love the most is seeing how suggestions and comments are put into practice and when the final version comes back it is so much better. I feel then that my role is justified.

New writers often ask  what to expect from an editor. Do they change your work? What if you don’t agree? Can you keep it your way?

In simple terms, an editor doesn’t just change your work and write a whole other story the way they’d do it! If they do — sack them! They do offer constructive and useful comments. I would change grammar errors where there is a hard and fast rule ,and I would remove run-on or words I feel are redundant but ONLY in track changes so the author can reverse the change if they disagree. And occasionally, if I think it’s the best way to show it, I will change a sentence to demonstrate  a point — see how this sharpens it, for example — a more hands on approach if I think the writer needs that and more often for a critique than a copy-edit. I tend to favour making suggestions — this is overwritten, consider sharpening — and I might suggest what could be better but leave it to them.

By marking your MS and highlighting the weaknesses it really is the best and fastest way to identify weaknesses in style, plot, narrative etc. I had read a great many books on writing but just reading that you need to show not tell and even with examples you can not always see how that applies to your own writing. So you have to let an editor into that personal creative space.

There are various tell-tale signs of the new writer, and we all do this  when we start to write — head hopping mid scene (often because the writer hasn’t even thought about it), telling rather than showing, overwriting using ‘awkward’ or ‘clunky’ phrasing, adding too much back-story and lifting the reader out of the story, overly long descriptive passages that slow the story, too many adverbs especially after dialogue (it’s telling), telling what’s already shown and use of other forms of repetition to drum home a point (tell the reader only once) and using as any different words for said as they can find!

Now these will all be ironed out as you learn and get feedback and new writers who invest in a professional critique will most certainly find this is a short cut to identifying key weaknesses so by the time they start sending work out it’s good.

If it’s good enough to be accepted or publication another editor will be appointed and you need to trust their judgement.

In my opinion there is no room for divas! Luckily for me this is incredibly rare and by this point the writers know the importance of the editorial process and have long since shed their tiara and  learned to take constructive criticism. They will already know that a good editor or critiquer  is worth their weight in gold. Because, and this is very  much my philosophy,  a critique, a copy-edit, even a proof read is a teaching aid and if you get a good editor you will learn. It’s still you writing it — but an editor makes it stronger — and we all need that guidance. At the end of the day it’s about making your writing as good as it can be. And this should be the goal of the writer and the editor and it has to be the goal of the publisher as he needs to sell the book!

So can you argue with the editor? Insist on not changing things? Of course you can — it’s only one opinion but it has to be remembered it’s a professional and experienced opinion (or it should be if you pay for it) and so you need to think carefully about the advice. But if you did something a certain way for good reason and make a good argument an editor will listen to you and wants you to be happy too.

As someone who has straddled both sides of the proverbial fence, even when I wasn’t so sure there was something wrong with something my editor had questioned —  I looked at it very closely and nearly always made some kind of change to remove any trace of ambiguity. I trusted her and she did make great suggestions.

Don’t be a diva!

Have a great weekend all — out shopping for a new tiara!

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The moment when everything changes ….

The title of this post is a line plucked randomly from one of my many writing books.

Aptly it is something I often discuss in relation to plot when I work with clients.

Of course you all know change is the most important action of any key character in terms of both the character arc but also the story arc. Without change, is there even story?

But what brings about this change and how do you get there?

One of the common weaknesses in story is not so much a lack of change, although I do see this too, but it tends to be either a lack of real motivation for change and/or a lack of credible reason at the moment when everything changes — and these are different.

Let me explain.

I have come across stories where the motivation for a character to change is lost or ill-defined but how can you have a true story if you don’t know or you don’t believe what’s at stake? The conflict needs to be established early and it needs to be believable and as we ‘cross the threshold’ into the story (to coin Christopher Vogler’s much-used expression in The Writer’s Journey) then you will also need to crank up the tension, raise the stakes just at that moment so now the character has no choice but to — take the challenge, get the bus, confront the inner demon. This is fundamental to good story telling in any form or genre — be the conflict internal or external, small or large. The reader needs to believe the character and feel there is no other action ‘they’ can now take. And now we have mapped out an arc where we know the climax will be the point where ‘that’ question to be answered, ‘that’ conflict resolved in one way or another.

Of course this sounds simplistic (and yes I have talked about this before) but it’s how you do this that makes all the difference. The reader knows what’s to come but they don’t know what curve balls will be thrown along the way or what the outcome will be at that moment of resolution. Throw in strong believable characters and I can tell you one thing — the reader does know if they’re rooting for that character or not and what outcome they want, already. And they should or at this point they’re putting down the book! Note as well that we need the conflict as early as we can, stories that take too long to set it up can lose the reader before they get started!

So make sure you the motivation for action is defined enough — something really important (life changing even) has to be at stake for ‘that’ character.

So if you get this right, what about that moment when everything changes?

Well in a story with good subtext and character development the change begins with the journey just as we start to age as soon as we become adult! So the key plot functions will not just be how the character seeks his goal and overcomes his dilemma but in the way the events of the story start to change him or her. So by the time we reach the climactic scenes we believe why the character is now able to walk in a dark room, confront the enemy etc.  We believe it but it still needs more …

The biggest change has to be the one that pushes the character to ‘their’ limits at the key moment after which we head for the resolution and of course the ending, the homecoming usually shows the effect of this change afterwards.

Again this might seem to be a simplistic interpretation of the story arc — but that’s the point, it is simple and it should be simple. It’s from that you build the intricacies of the real story. What you don’t want is a character to have an unexpected change of heart at a key moment that breaks down and is inconsistent with everything we know about him so far.We need to have seen the gradual change and then the big one at the key moment. A sudden change of heart would only work (I think) if it has also been built into the character’s development and foregrounded. A flaw of the character but one we kind of see coming?

Now some of you might think this doesn’t apply to the more subtle more character-driven ‘literary’  story and it sounds more like a plot-driven dragon slaying adventure but you’d be wrong. That’s the reason for the inverted commas today for ‘that’ character and ‘their’ conflict. The story can be Harry Potter with a huge external quest where life and death stakes are there bold and clear, we know exactly what’s at stake. Or it can be subtle, internal, psychological but it can still be life and death for that character.  Remember my OCD story I talked about in the dim and distant past (probably not!) well all she had to do was press three odd numbers on a mobile phone — call 999. Hardly life and death for Harry potter or indeed most of us — but for her, it was and ‘that’ story set out to show that and make us believe why.

Whatever the form of the story when that pivotal moment comes — we need the reason for the change that brings about the resolution to be credible. If there is a change of heart we need to see why and buy into it completely.

Have a look at the books you’re reading and see how and indeed how soon the key conflict is established. How does the plot slowly change the character and what happens at the climax of the story?

Getting to grips with story is key to writing a good one — a memorable one, one that stays with the reader. It isn’t just about how you write it and those narrative devices. You need everything to work together.

Have a good one everyone!

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Style versus Voice in Writing

Today when I looked at the flashing cursor I reached for one of my many writing books for inspiration and flicked the pages imagining some invisible person said: STOP.

The book I picked up was: Larry Brooks  Story Engineering Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. I STOPPED on page 221.

Two expressions  that jumped out at me were writing style and writing voice — both of these often get confused and I do discuss them separately when I critique work professionally. Even when I Googled it the two words are used interchangeably. I guess it’s down to pedantics.

I  see the Writing Style  as separate from Voice. 

Writing style, Brooks claims, in akin to the literary uniform that you — the writer– dons. It’s how you compose your narratives: long or short sentences. laden with similes and metaphors or simple sentences, poetic or more direct, descriptive or not — and so on.

I would also suggest that you could extend this to encompass how you build those sentences into creating your structures, hence how you move your plots: i.e. use  of flashbacks, exposition, where you switch narrators as you follow your story arc to its resolution and denouement.  So in other words what devices you use in your story telling to tell your story effectively. For the purposes of critique, I tend to talk about use of phrasing, clunky words, overuse of adverbs, dialogue, description, even formatting (if they do it wrong for dialogue for example) here, as well as how they use flashback, back story — all of these general overall points under the heading style, looking for the things they commonly get wrong or don’t do as well. 

I tend to look at structure more in my discussion of plot but in reality it’s all part of  overall style.

Voice on the other hand is how  the story is told and you might think that also includes the things talked about above. And again it’s down to pedantics, labels. But I prefer to discuss voice with viewpoint. It’s WHO YOU HEAR. In the modern age where we shift away from the more old-fashioned, more prone to ‘telling’  voice of the omniscient narrator, the focus is a lot more on character viewpoint narrators. While it is your voice strictly speaking talking for your characters — it’s their voice we  hear.  So again, voice is who  the reader hears. So it could be you as the omniscient all-seeing narrator but more than likely it’s a character or in multiple viewpoint novels a succession of characters (but no head-hopping mid scene — new character narrators for chapter or  if needed scene but clearly formatted!). And as I have said before, even in a third person where we imagine it’s let’s say the author telling the reader Flo’s story — she thought —  the closer you get to her, the more intimate the connection and in essence it’s not really the author we hear — it’s Flo. We hear her dialect, her way of rambling in her own head i.e.  it’s her jumbled thoughts we’re privy to, no one else’s!  People struggle with that claiming the third person who’s narrating is you the author watching her and listening to her thoughts and therefore you organising those thoughts and translating them for the reader.  So your voice not theirs? Again partly true but have a look at how closely a Stephen King third person character is to first person? How invisible is the third person so all we really hear is the character? So you wouldn’t have the character even in third person say how they’ve gone pale or look tired unless they’re seeing themselves.  That’s what I’m talking about!

So for the purposes of a critique I would look at how the character narrates, quirks, odd phrases, first or third person, tense, their body language even — and this is why I tend to discuss with viewpoint.

So in a nutshell I would say Voice is how the character speaks (through you) and style is the technical stuff in terms of what words you choose and how you structure that.

It might be a game of labels, but so long as the author takes on board what works in their own writing and is receptive to improving weaknesses and working on both their style and their voice then that’s what matters.

I’ve found the more I read and the more I experiment with voice and technique my own distinctive signature style of writing and the voices I use, develop. After all, we are all unique — aren’t we?

Or are we?

More musings on all things writerly tomorrow. Got any nagging questions? Anything you want me to discuss — just ask away! I like a challenge — to stretch my writing muscle!

Writing 1

Happy Thursday!

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