Monday, 31 January 2011

Magnificent Oak removed

The Oak tree is gone. Those strong thick branches have been sawn down today. It had probably stood watching over this area for around 250 years or more and one days work has removed this once magnificent specimen. I’m certain that the correct procedures have been adhered too but it still feels like sacrilege! And the noise of the chain saws...

Longlisted – ‘learning the brutal truth’

I was ECSTATIC this morning!

However, I am learning fast and now I’m not quite as excited as I was first thing! It appears that I misunderstood what ‘longlisted’ means but thanks to friendly fellow Twitterers I am now a little wiser.

First the good news – my newest short story, ‘The Price of Lipstick,’ has been longlisted, for which I am extremely grateful. I believe I’m up against three hundred entries that have to be whittled down to only 100. So technically, I have a one in three chance of making the final cut, I think, based on statistics.

However I don't think it’s not quite so simple. I have made it through the first hurdle – a panel of up to six readers liked my story enough to put it forward to the next round. My thanks go to these anonymous readers.

Consequently, I'm six again and I’m back in the egg and spoon race on sports day and I can see the finish line, it's just over there, except this time the staff have included an obstacle! My hand is shaking, will I drop the egg too soon clearing the obstruction?

My story has to satisfy the Editors and I don’t know who these people are but I am going to send them strong positive good vibes and I hope that they will like my up beat contemporary story.

And the newest thing I’m learning personally is 'Patience,' which I have to be honest up until now (including today) isn’t and never was one of my strengths.

Therefore my dilemma is quiet simple, hanging on to my excitement before I gush and make a complete fool of myself in the public domain. Hopeless (romantic) I know! But maybe I can be forgiven this trait or is it a weakness(?) as I’m a novice waiting to hit the big time. And there is one thing I'm certain I’m learning something new everyday especially when it comes to Twitter, I'm finding I do have a small addictive trait too, now that’s a bit scary because I never knew this existed! Except where Chocolate is involved!

Nevertheless I’m sure I’ll get over this too with a little practice.

I’m keeping my fingers and toes firmly crossed that the Editors, a wonderful group of people, will put my entry through to the final 100.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Z is for Zing

Life has to go with a ‘Zing’ every now and then to make it worth while.

I didn’t know that this little word had so many meanings, from urban usage to the more standard dictionary it covers a fair bit of ground. I even have a friend called Zing and I recall thinking what a nice and unusual name for a woman, because it conjured up a very happy excitable person as an image in head.

So this morning I was Zinging! Sunshine does this for me. After so many long dull, overcast days I couldn’t wait to get outside and feel the sun on my face. Naturally, I wrapped up warm and ignored the wind. And Boy it did feel good. I wasn’t alone. I think everyone else had much the same idea this afternoon.

Today was a Zingday for me, I hope yours was great too.

Now all I have to do is settle down and catch up on some writing, lol, but as I am feeling zesty, a little bit sweet, and tart and tangy I should do just fine. Can’t quite believe that January is almost done.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Y is Yes I can do this, laugh out loud!

I’d like to say thank you for dropping by and reading my ramblings. It has been an enjoyable experience to date as I find my feet in my Blog, (is it possible to have ‘feet’ in a writing blog?) but I think you know what I mean.

Last night I retired to bed and desperately needed to sleep but my mind wouldn’t switch off. Sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge that creativity knows no bounds or time frame. If ideas come, they just come. So I ended up getting up several times during the night, that means stumbling around in the dark, finding the light switch, then looking for the pen (why is it never close at hand when you’re half asleep?) and notebook.

Scrawling the dreamt words across the page and getting back into bed, then trying to settle to find that comfortable warm spot but realising the light has been left on! It’s strange how tiredness can make things seem so much harder.

But thankfully the note was made, it was important, a salient point of action that I think added the right amount of sexual tension to the climax of the chapter. The trouble is if I repeat this process more than twice in a night it can get to be disruptive to a girl's sleep pattern. Yet I know I have to do it because if I don’t the thought will evaporate and it is rarely retrieved on waking.

So I have to remind myself that ‘yes I can do this,’ it’s okay to keep doing what ever it takes to complete my book because it's almost finished and that’s an achievement in itself!

Friday, 28 January 2011

X is for 'Xceptional

And yes I know I am cheating, but I got stuck as I didn’t fancy writing about X-rated today!

Last night I attended a reading hosted by Myriad Publications at Hove library. I am partial to listening to writers read their work and listening to Isabel Ashdown read sections from 'Glasshopper' was very enjoyable. It was wonderful being transported back to life in the late fifties and early seventies, through two narrators: Jake a young boy and his mother as a young girl. I have added this book to my ‘must read list’ which I have to say grows steadily, week by week. And I would recommend it to you to read.

When you write do you know when it is good or even exceptional? I have found that not all writers can hear how good their work is and yet during writing group sessions, I have been staggered by how varied and wonderful the writing can be and despite my efforts to reassure a fellow writer that their work deserves praise, I can see and feel the reticence.

I am learning to trust that I am improving as a writer but there are moments of doubt. I know I am happy to embrace constructive criticism especially when I can see why it is being said, and how it would improve my work. Back in 2008 I wrote a book in a sandstorm of activity. It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. I knew I had to write it and I did. But now it sits hiding in a bottom drawer. Once I have completed ‘Letting Go’ and determined its fate then I will endeavour to review the first book. I will cringe at my early attempt but I think I know how to fix it now.

So for me being exceptional can mean one of two things: that what I want to achieve is not so out of the ordinary because I aspire to be a published novelist and secondly, that if several writers are given a topic, no two accounts would be similar, because we all show immense creativity in the way we deal with any one subject and for me that is exceptional.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

W is for Write, Just Write.

My advice to any aspiring author is simple: Just write. If you can, everyday. And don’t be too hard on yourself.

Why do I recommend this course of action? Because they say practice makes perfect. And based on personal experience it goes a long way to exercising the muscle that’s needed to produce creative pieces. It does not matter if it is any good to start with. The whole idea is to train the mind to relax and empty out the negativity so that creativity can flow. Of course I am unlikely to ever be a perfectionist, because I think perfectionism strikes down very good writers and lays them low. But that’s only my personal opinion.

If an idea has developed in my head I try to capture the essence as fast as I can, then I have a chance to rework or rewrite the piece at a later date, after it has rested, and this I am discovering can be a rewarding experience. But I used to think rewriting was difficult however I think my personal barriers have become easier to get around.

Currently, I am working on several chapters that I know I can add more relevant detail too. Now that the basic idea and plot has been shaped. I can see holes where bits of missing action are needed and a little more attention to detail will help develop the plot. I can hear when I need to change a ‘tell’ into a ‘show’ by adding dialogue. Sometimes it almost jumps of the page screaming at me… and I can see that sometimes my scant regard for location leaves the story floating in the ether so to speak.

Several weeks ago I was asked to stretch a chapter by at least three or four pages! And to add more sexual tension! Initially I was shocked, and then bamboozled, because I didn’t think I could rework a section to that extent. But based on the feedback I was given at the session I was surprised how easy it was to expand and it all worked out in the end. The suggestions and advice helped me to visualise what was missing and how to include a longer run in to and up to the dramatic turning point.

I hope it has worked. Will find out soon.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

V is for Voice

Finding the voice of a character can be a daunting prospect at the start of writing a novel for any new and aspiring author.

I didn’t give it much thought when I started writing my book but as my novel has developed and progressed I am getting a much stronger sense of who Alicia is, my leading lady. And how my others characters have grown into stronger images. I can hear their voices in my head. And no I’m not going round the bend, lol, well hopefully not!

The more I write about them and their lives the easier it is to hear and see when something they say or do is does not suit or fit the character. However, I am very lucky. I have a couple of men critiquing my work (as part of a writing group). This is hugely helpful to me because they can and will identify when I give a male character a female trait. Useful to know before I get anywhere near a publisher! So I have found their feedback invaluable.

I try to keep the conversation between characters short and snappy. I fond this works best for me. Dialogue spoken by my characters, makes more sense of each character and brings them to life for me making them real. And I have two ambitions:

Firstly, that my dialogue moves the plot or action forward.

Secondly, I want to make the voice recognisable, almost as if the reader has engaged in a telephone conversation with a familiar friend.

Did I mention - I am ambitious!

The only other aspect of dialogue that I need to keep in mind and learn to use is this: try not to not forget to anchor the conversation in a situation or setting, which can be recognised.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

U is for Understated

When I am writing I have a bad habit of over-egging it!

I seem to adopt my old Sales training philosophy of ‘tell ‘em once, tell ‘em twice, tell ‘em three times!’

Now I have read books where this does happen. Currently I am reading a novel by William Nicholson and in one chapter he writes the same passage three times to good effect and it works for him because he has spaced it well and used the overemphasis with dramatic intent.

So I am aiming to improve my brevity and not go overboard with giving my reader more information than is truly needed, to make sense of the action.

During writing group last week one of the guys read out a short sentence that I had written and I cringed! I really had 'over-egged' it and as I heard him it read out loud, it made me laugh and I promised to remove the superfluous words.

I did that as soon as I got home!

T is for Timeline

I am currently reviewing my novel to ensure that my timeline works. I need to be certain that my characters are in the correct place at the exact time, as I would hate to slip up and say something in one chapter that is then undone or contradicted in another section.

I have found dating the chapters on my draft copies helps me to focus on when events occur but these might be removed before I get to a publisher, once I am certain and clear that my plot flows. I could have done this as part of my original brain storm and plot development but that initial draft was a very simple document and my story has developed along organic lines as my characters have grown.

S is for Setting the Scene

Is it necessary? Would this story work without reference to specific details that draw a picture for the reader?

Sheltering woodlands to the rear of her yard protected the cabin from raw gusting north easterly wind that blew at this time of year. Breakfast was her favourite time of day, venturing outside she wrapped her hands around a mug of freshly brewed tea. She pulled the thick tartan blanket tightly across her shoulders, as she breathed out deeply. Watching her warm moist breathe mingle with the cold morning air, it melded leaving a faint whispering white trail. Bitingly cold air nipped at her skin as it slipped beneath her thin clothing, cooling her warm skin. A pool of bright amber gold liquid, the colour of syrup, highlighted the beauty in the grain of the wooden planks beneath her feet where she stood transfixed by the natural splendour all around her.

Briefly mesmerised by the ethereal atmosphere enveloping she allowed her mind to drift, encouraging memories to rise to the surface as she smiled fondly remembering the old ghosts of this family summer house, which was now her private retreat. This lush wooded area that surrounded her idyllic spot allowed her the freedom to conjure up fantasies and romantic stories. Or she could just sit and read newspapers uninterrupted, scouring them for snippets of gold.

Alicia stood by the veranda looking across the lake, a misty haze rose to meet the sun’s warming rays, blurring the edges of the silent pool when she suddenly felt the urge to go fishing. Away from the pressures of her regular life the knots began to ease from her shoulder blades as the tension lifted making her breathe more easily. She knew meditating would enhance her mood. And from her secluded spot the raised walkway would carry her across the marshy edge of the lake taking her to a tranquil place that she felt privileged to access. She paced deliberate unhurried, out across the raised path, a steady regulated step, towards the water. As the weathered boards creaked beneath her feet easing her passage over the marshy bog water below, her minded wandered unrestrained, slack like the limpid waters edge beneath.

Glancing back over her shoulder she caught sight of the woodpiles stacked high beneath the low overhanging eave on the east side of the cabin. She knew she would stack the wood burner high with logs and warm her feet until they were comfortably warm and toasted on her return. She would throw together a simple rustic stew and it would simmer on top of the burner, bubbling gently until it was tender. The thought of meat melting in her mouth made her salivate. It reminded her that she needed to head back indoors, because whenever she returned here she felt inextricably tied to the landscape, its inherent beauty was never lost on her eyes. Loving her downtime she relaxed, a sense of deep calm descended and settled her after all the madness of the festive season.

R is for Romance

This could be a good topic for me as I decide whether and if I am to be a romance writer because a whole genre is dedicated to it with rules and regulations that require a romance author to follow, if they wish their work to be accepted under this heading. But how easy is it to write romance? Some people excel and become hugely respected authors whilst others avoid this genre perhaps preferring more graphic scenarios.

Good romance should suck you, the reader in to the plot like any other great story. It must be believable otherwise the reader might switch off.

When I write short stories I regard myself as a romance writer but for me the difference between romance and sex is huge. For one, a romantic moment to work it need not necessarily have the lovers in the same room together, or even on the same time zone. However to make this work for a romantic sex scene work would involve a lot of imagination which I’m sure you, my readers can come up with ideas all by yourselves and not need me to elaborate, teezy weezy.

But here’s a personal idiosyncrasy for me, a leading man, needs to be charismatic and attractive, but he has to be flawed. He needs to fail at something.

However, I’m not sure I want to be a romance novelist, because currently I prefer to write about the drama and friction that can surround family life and the entangled relationships but that doesn’t mean I want my stories to be devoid of romance or sex.

However I am still puzzled by the lack of good sex in modern novels. I was reading a great book the other day and when I got to the really exciting part between the lead characters, it cut off just like a 1930’s movie, the door was firmly shut and I felt cheated.

Is this because we have still not aspired to include a very everyday part of life in our writing or is the publishing industry shy and prefers to skirt round the issue because readers don’t want the graphic detail? Whilst I don’t want a full on account, I would like to a see more realistic fun approach to how an author handles sex scenes without only being able to write these an erotica author. But maybe I haven't read all that's out there yet...

Q is for Quotation Marks

I have recently learned, much to my surprise, that quotation marks / speech marks can be confusing, because whatever I was taught at school appears to be out-of-date and incorrect. I had been happily using double speech marks for my dialogue which I have been advised is currently incorrect for the UK publishing industry!

I can tell you that came as quite a shock to me but my saving grace was this: at least I had been consistent in my usage and had I been aiming for the US market or the rest of the global publishing industry I would have been correct.

Now I take more care and change the quotation marks to reflect current UK trend and publishing requirement. Why? That’s simple: because I don’t want to stand out as a novice or someone who is not prepared to be flexible and adopt change.

So all my dialogue is now in single speech marks. However, finding out that double speech marks can be used inside dialogue blew my mind! I shall avoid even attempting this in my writing as I may confuse myself further.

P is for Published

I shall never forget the excitement I felt when Ether Books published my short stories late last year.

And I am still pursuing my ultimate goal to be a published author of a best selling novel. I wrote down this very specific aim sometime ago and every now and then I have to reacquaint myself with this ambition. I am still uncertain how or when I will achieve it but I will continue to work towards this goal, one step at a time because each move however incremental is still taking me in the general direction of my objective.

Has my desire changed? Grown or diminished? That’s easy – it keeps growing.

The more I write the more ideas I have to record. It’s a bit like sports day at school and I’m six and in the egg and spoon race. It will take as long as it takes and I will do my best to keep my concentration fixed on the finish line. I can't and don’t want to drop this egg!

The art of succeeding here is to keep competitive. Stick with the race. I may not be a front runner, not yet. But if I keep taking small significant steps forward then the distance to the finish line will be shrinking. I’m gonna' try not to get distracted or disheartened because others before me have been published and if they did it then I have just as much opportunity as they had.

O is for Openings

I know that when I go for an interview I will do my best to dress appropriately. Make certain my hair and make up reflect the way I want to look because I aim to please, as I want to fit in. And the business pundits say I have 30 seconds to succeed. A decision will be made in that very short time by my prospective employer and then the remainder of the interview is designed to disprove their initial assessment. So, if this is true I have this long to win you over!

But let’s face it together. When a buyer looks at a row of books, neatly stacked along a shelf, how quickly will they make up their minds? When their hand finally lands on your book how long is it before it is accepted or discarded for a more enticing title? The title may appeal in its own right or it might have been recommended. (That has to be great news!) The back cover introduction and front cover may have passed approval and further supported the readers initial choice – otherwise why would a reader turn to the opening page of a new book?

Then there's that all important first sentence and then the opening paragraph. Of course I can be certain of one thing. It will probably be very difficult to be appeal to all readers, all of the time.

Apparently some readers will turn to last page, race to the end of the story to see if it’s worth investing their valuable time to read the book in the first place! To me that strikes of eating pudding before the starter and main course have been fully considered, perhaps they have a sweet tooth that needs to sated. But if they like it then that books is going to be purchased.

So what sort of opening am I aiming for? Straight into the action, reveal the hook immediately or perhaps take a long slow description to set the scene and present the opening set, just like a play. Well now that would be telling but here’s a hint, I don’t like books like the latter idea with a meandering opening has me returning the book to the shelf very quick indeed.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Apologies for Abscence

I am running behind and unable to play catch up properly because it appears BT have hijacked my landline which is very frustrating! I have posts I want to add here but I am struggling with no access to the internet at home. I hope normal service will be resumed just as soon as the BT engineer has fixed the problem and restored my landline. I am keeping my fingers crossed. Who knew I would miss the connection so much! Roll on Wednesday...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

N is for Names

Names are important to me. I can start writing and as my character grows Imay end up renaming that person. For what ever reason the initial name did not sit well on the fictional character and as I hear the voice I realsie that achaneg may be required.

I have tried to use an acrostic before now but this doesn’t often work for me becasue I prefer to build a mental image and a name that compliments certain personal idiosyncracies and actions.

My leading lady started out as Philippa but as I wrote about her I came to dislike this name, sorry to all Philippa’s in the real world, and then for some reason I settled on Alicia. And I’m pleased to report that this name has stuck! My other female lead has also had a name change and I’m working with a temporary name for her until I can decide, its annoying to say the least. Nothing has grabbed me yet and this is annoying for so many reasons.

How important are names to you in your writing?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

M is for Modifiers

Me and my dangling modifiers. I am a recidivist! I’m sorry but I can’t help it! I recently tried to help out a fellow writer by explaining what a dangling modifier is. Crikey. (Back to the visually impaired leading the hard of hearing again.)

I commit grammatical errors of gargantuan proportions but truly I trust these are now safely on the decline. I am trying to learn not to dig a hole and fall right on in after the shovel, so to speak! I am lucky that I get to read other peoples work and critique it. In this editing work I am becoming braver and more certain about what I say.

A lovely man is writing a very mystical story. His written word is magical and often has me entranced but I am getting tougher on him with my personal critique of his grammar because I can see his mistakes much more clearly than I can see my own! And because I want him to improve.

However, when I give feedback I am always careful to explain why I have done this too. He understands. Last night I backed off a bit because not every one in our group agreed with my comments. They too are entranced by his story!

But finally I spoke up – how can somebody present at the side of a body, then in the following sentence emerge from the woods to attend that body? The penny dropped.

Of course events, how ever beautifully written, if these are out of order then the plot and story remain out of sequence and need to be fixed. My fellow writer beamed at me. He promised he’d fix it and I’m sure he will.

Friday, 14 January 2011

L is for Love, Life, Lust!

Where do I begin? By limiting this topic for starters. (Laughs out loud.) My characters have to fight for life, to love and live in my book.

If I didn’t love my character I would soon write him/her off. I did that last summer kill somebody off! And as I walked down to the bottom of the garden to sit in the last of the evening sunshine, to relax I realised what an idiot I had been in committing this gross act of self sabotage! With one single flourish of my pen I had successfully stopped my story dead in its tracks, the wrong tracks! The glass of wine was left behind on the garden table. I had to go back indoors and rewrite the ending of that story. Killing him off wasn’t pertinent to rest of my plot. I needed to bring him back to life. And with another flourish of the pen he breathed again to fight another battle… Colin was too interesting and I wanted to know how he far he would go to achieve his happiness.

All of my characters lust after somebody or something, it’s human to err isn’t it? I hope my characters end up reasonably well balanced, except when I need then to become unbalanced, to move the story to a different level.

I do believe that the more flawed a character is the more intersting he/she will become to the reader. My men lust after power and women and my women – each has to have her own ‘lust’ – be it money, fame, adoration, or power and finally sex. If one character had all of these ambitions, she or he would become quite formidable, but fascinating to write about.

Getting inside the head and under the skin of each character to develop the voice has happened gradually and I have found this fascinating as the character goes from two dimensional to three dimensional. I’m learning all the time. I find the situation and the story often resolve the conflict in my head as to what my characters next move or decision might be and how this will impact the final outcome. The moment I get the right response I’m off. Nothing seems to stop the flow, except when I commit a single act of high treason, killing off a main character.

Who do I love?

What do I live for?

What do I lust after?

Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it? However I am hoping that from this blog it may or may not become evident. One has to maintain an air of mystery? Doesn’t one? My wish for you personally is to ‘embrace harmony’ but not necessarily in your characters lives.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

K is for Kiss

This is vastly understated piece of action, in writing in my opinion!

Kissing is fabulous fun. Well at least that’s what I recall from my youth, rolls on floor laughing!

And to be honest it’s been a while since I have read any author who has handled this topic with flair and style and quality.

So I am asking to hear about great written bits/sections about kissing… who was memorable in your reading history, writing about being kissed?

Sometimes I feel writers get uncomfortable writing about the sensuousness of a kiss and gloss over it with a quick reference and not much dalliance.

Oh for a bit more dalliance and little less speed. I’d love a read about good snog, a snogathon even…

I know that I will use 'kissing' in my short stories when and where I can. And, where appropriate in my novel. It's going to be a key element for my leading lady, Alicia. She will experience both good and bad. Is there such a thing as a bad kiss?

Well now, that would be telling. I’m afraid…I’m back to being teezy weezy, again.

A long time ago when people wrote letters rather than sent emails, there was a chance that if a lover sent you a letter and that it might have a code written along the sealed edge: S.W.A.L.K. Oh, to get a letter sealed with a loving kiss from a lover. Now that brings back good memories.

So I’m sending this blog out: ‘sealed with a kiss,’ and expecting some back!

I wonder what a virtual kiss feels like…. Can’t be any good. Can it?
Nah… well maybe… you never know you’re luck.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

J is for Just a Minute

How many words can you write in a minute?

Free hand I can write quite a few if I have already considered the plot line and characters.

However, from a cold standing start I dare say I might struggle. And if I had to sit and think and type (all at the same time, yes I know we women are supposed to be brilliant at multitasking) I doubt I would get very far, lol.

It’s why I like to relax, go as far as lying down and having a little rest (I kid you not!) so that I visualise my character and walk her through a scene. I find it so much easier to write this way.

So if I set you a challenge how many words could you write in a minute?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Isabella Gardner Stewart Museum, Boston
My favourite museum when I am in Boston a place that is worth a whole day soaking up the atmosphere, a brilliant find so glad I've been lucky enough to visit it twice.

I is for Ideas

Ideas come at the oddest moments, for me, but usually when I’m not focusing on my book. I can be standing as the sink mucking about with the dishes when a random thought will blossom about a character. Writing with hands dripping soap suds across the page can be awkward but necessary as I capture that moment. This week instead of writing a chapter for the novel another short story popped up – ‘The Price of Lipstick!’ and if I allow myself to get frustrated about this intrusion then that might be detrimental, so now I have to redouble my efforts and get back on line with the book.

Driving is the other time I get random ideas. I seem to relax in my car, switch off all the needless chatter, admire the scenery and the next thing I know is I need a lay by… somewhere safe to sit and jot down notes. I have a dear friend, a less able bodied person than I, who claims to write whilst driving her modified van, yikes… I have not resorted to these dangerous methods yet, but who knows a moment may arise in the future when I too can’t afford to let the idea drift away without capturing it and I may do the same! And if you see me approaching your car in the rear view mirror writing, you will know I’ve had a bright idea!

I belong to two writing groups and part of the reason for staying an active member is simple: I love to hear other people’s ideas for stories. I find it fascinating that we can be given a topic and that no two stories written will be close or similar as all of us tackle topics from different angles and different view points. The best one recently that blew me away was titled ‘Moving House’ and the concept was brilliant. It was the house that moved rather than the contents in the removers van… tickled me pink, novel and memorable for all the right reasons.

Today I must revisit a difficult chapter, ‘Boiling Point,’ and revise it, to include more tension or remove parts that don't work. I was quite shocked when one of my ‘critiquers’ asked why my character had not committed a further, more violent act. To say that my ‘gast’ was ‘flabbered,’ would be accurate. I sat stunned. My mind raced. It had taken me weeks of preparation and some considerable research to write this demanding and difficult and pivotal part and I had a reader wanting more nastiness. Wasn’t my guy bad enough already?

I found myself defending Tom. ‘He wasn’t that evil, just a man going off the rails. I don’t want my readers to despise him.’ I said. It was an odd and funny situation to be in. However, I did accept that this chapter needs more sexual tension, so here goes the difficult part two, creating sexual tension…

Help? LOL What am I doing?

Monday, 10 January 2011

H is for Hooks

How does a reader get hooked into a story? Your story?

I know I like to feed snippets of information that sets up the character or the scene, or gives a subtle clue as to what’s going on in the story that is about to unfold. Naturally, I don’t want to give away the game plan too soon unless that’s relevant to the action and will move on at pace.

So what makes me, a reader, read on.
Firstly, the book jacket must convey a situation or a possible scenario that appeals to me. And then if I can’t get I into the first page with ease I am afraid that the selected book is often returned to the shelf, never making into out of the store with me. So what’s my story about? Several times I have tried to write my blurb for my jacket cover but I’m not happy with it yet.

It’s interesting but when I started writing my book what I thought would be my first chapter didn’t turn out that way. The first chapter arrived once I have got writing under way. I had my light bulb moment and my thought process went like this… so if I start here, then this will feed into that and that will lead to… and so on. It has dawned on me (as I write this) that both of my books start in the kitchen… family scenes that are quite ordinary, initially but take a sudden and different direction! So if family life and kitchens are you’re thing I’ve just lost a swathe of potential readers.

Then just as my kitchen sink scenario is about to spill the beans, deliver the reward to my reader for reading thus far, I take a turn to the left and something very ordinary happens! I delay the telling just like real life and the delivery has to be earned by reading more. Just a little teezy weezy, before I resume the action. Of course if I want to string the reader a long a bit further then I can add another twist or turn. Enough to get them hooked.

There will always be someone offering advice on how to or where to start but I firmly believe that unless you make a start you will never know where the beginning is going to end up! Unless you're absolutely clear about your entire story at the outset. Recently I was talking to a friend who told me he wanted to write but he was stuck at the opening sentence because he believed what he’d heard - that the importance of a good opening sentence was imperative.

I smiled, and then I explained that if I waited for my first sentence I wouldn’t make a start on any story! I would never write anything. He laughed. I tried to reinforce that it’s ideas that are important and once the nub of a story is down on paper I believe that bashing it into shape is possible. I went on to explain that where I thought a story might have originally started is not necessarily where it will actually start and that made him laugh too.

What works for some does not necessarily work for others, because one size doesn’t fit all. And that’s so true when it comes to writing.

I have learned to jump right in and write my stories. When my work has been critiqued/edited I have had advice offered that often makes sense but it is after all only one persons view. However, if collectively they agree then there might be a modicum of truth in what’s being said. There is a small group of people I trust and they have said I am good at ratcheting up tension. So I’ll stick with this view for now until an editor or publisher finds my work.

Happy writing. And keep writing, compelling your readers to read more.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

O.M.G. - Word count for my Novel

Tonight's word count stands at: 70,359

I can't quite believe it!

G is for Gerunds: (ing’s) to use or not use?

I had a terrible habit of using Gerunds all the time.

A lot of my sentences and new paragraphs started with a gerund and I think it was my ‘bad shorthand’ kicking in again and because I know what I am writing about I forget to preface the sentence accurately and leaving my poor reader dangling! This bad habit had been pointed out to me sufficient times to make an adjustment and I stopped using them entirely!

Well that change caused its own problems because when my most recent writing was being critiqued I was recommended to recommence putting them (ing’s) back in to my work but sparingly… So I am trying to use them more moderately and this will be my aim from now on in…but I will have to wait and see, if this plan comes to fruition.

I have just started to review a chapter – Tom’s Departure – and I am cringing, the paper is covered, no lets be correct here, obliterated in red marks removing or amending earlier gerund usage! Just about to type it up and see if this rework strengths the plotline… keeping my fingers crossed for a good outcome.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

F is for First Person

I thought I could only write in the third person. It is how I have always written my short stories and my books. Then back in September last year I had a set piece of homework to do – write in the first person. Boy did I get a ‘med’ on… I was the grumpiest writer around. As far as I was concerned it was the last thing I wanted to do and I had a good old moan about it. Of course nobody heard that particular conversation, just as well really. Then push came to shove and I dashed off a piece of homework and included my strong reservations about the piece in the covering email.

I got a wake up call that was not expected. They loved my work. I was gobsmacked.

The funny thing is now that I believe I can write in the first person, I have found the perfect niche for this ability. This difficult unwanted piece of homework became one of those distracting new projects that took me off course, away from my novel.

Miranda developed a life of her own, and seventeen thousand words later I have a whole new storyline in the first person. I’d call that a result in its own right. But there’s more…I submitted a draft to Ether Books and they love it. Whoa, that wasn’t what I expected. However, I will eat humble pie as I am truly grateful for this new and exciting development. I quite like limiting my characters perspective in the first person...

I’m no longer a grumpy first person writer, lol…

Friday, 7 January 2011

E is for Editing

This morning’s mantra is – ‘I must learn to edit, better!’

I can be a lazy writer and I do make mistakes. I don’t think ‘texting’ and ‘emails’ have helped me much either, as speed is of the essence these days. I have come to realise that I use an unintentional shorthand and because I write at speed so that when I review my work I do not focus on what’s wrong. Therefore January is the month that I make myself learn to edit properly.

Today I am going to be Reviewing and Editing: Chapter - Tom’s Departure. It is essential that I get the timeline correct. I cannot afford to have gapping holes that a potential editor/agent/publisher could drive a proverbial bus through. It is my job to ensure that I have covered all aspects and that my story works, fits together alongside other characters storylines.

However: Learning to edit is tough. I can’t see my errors easily. I have to focus and pick a specific topic, say punctuation for dialogue and review it alone. Reading other authors writing is easy, it’s fresh to my eyes and I can spot when their words jar. I want my work to be the best it can so I have to go through this painful process. In the end I hope the energy I expend now will be worth the reward.

Any suggestions on how I can improve?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

D is for Dialogue

Two years ago I would have been the first to confess - I can’t write dialogue – it’s just too complicated and difficult. Then something quite strange happened. At my local writing group our homework had been set to write a piece of pure dialogue, not a story, just a conversation. Needless to say I didn’t do the homework! I was frustrated writer and very confused.

I sat in our group that week and listened to Martina read a short piece called ‘Granma’s Peas,’ and I had my light bulb moment! To this day I shall be eternally grateful to Martina.

The simplicity of her words were astounding to me and in that moment I realised what dialogue was meant to be about – real life. She had succeeding in showing me that how to take a regular everyday event and turn it in to something very special. It was intimate and felt true. I thought I was sitting at that family table, a guest at a private family dinner. It was brilliant. The memory of it has stayed with me to this day.

From that day on, to this, I just got on with it, kept my dialogue simple and wrote exactly what I heard or overheard people say. If it hadn’t have been for Martina and my light bulb I would probably still be struggling with my characters’ dialogue.

Now I am told, by those who have read or who edit my work, that I have a good ear for dialogue. This is lovely to know but who would have thought that it was possible, certainly not me!

If I can do it so can you… go for it?

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

C is for Characters

I love the idea that all characters can be flawed. The more flawed they are than perhaps they would be in real life, makes them hugely interesting. And I can allow them to do things that you or I might not do in real life. Equally, I am partial to the concept that characters can come to life, to me, they have become quite real. (No, I don’t mean imaginary friends or anything daft like that) but probably because these troubled fictitious people remind me/us of someone we know, either worked alongside as a colleague or perhaps we used to have a friend that did exactly the same thing that’s being described in the book.

I know I have developed a man who has a nasty streak and I can’t say how or why this has occurred in my book but it is required for the friction between him and his wife to work. He is not real. Tom does not exist, honestly, except in my mind. Bizarrely, his face is featureless, except for his eyes. It is as if I see his world through his eyes, and it is his reactions and responses I need to move the story along.

His reactions bring the artificial situation he faces to life. Early on I drafted his basic outline but then as I wrote I added more flesh to him, as his part grew more complex and relevant to my storyline. The way he responds to any given set of circumstances that I have placed him in is quite a powerful feeling, because I can change the course of his history. The way he treats his wife isn’t good, which leads to tension between them. However as I write about him, he has grown, consumed great chunks of my energy. It’s fascinating because becoming something or somebody I cannot possibly be in real life, well not without a major sex change operation, is fun. It’s also been rewarding and hard work.

I’m not quite sure how I ended up writing so much about him, especially as my book started out about three girlfriends. But he is the husband of my main character, Alicia. And I think I have had more fun writing about his view of his wife than I could have achieved writing from Alicia’s point of view. She is down trodden and needs to escape.

But one of the oddest reactions I’ve had to my storyline is this: I have begun to give Tom some redeeming qualities. He can’t be all bad! He has to have some charm! I don’t won’t to turn my potential readers off by making him too disagreeable otherwise why would a reader continue to read… Am I going soft? No, I don’t think so but I am trying to write a balanced account of a fictitious situation. And if I’m being honest, the more flawed Tom has become, the more interesting it has turned out to write about him.

If your character could have one redeeming quality what would it be?

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

B is for Back Story

How important is a Back story? In a novel there is plenty of time to develop an idea, heaps of opportunity to relay information from different view points through various characters but, in a short story I feel it’s important to get to the heart of the matter and however nice a back story might be to have, it can detract from the main thrust of events. Naturally, I try to please all my readers all the time but ultimately I want to thrill a publisher or an editor or an agent. And what if I get precious about being told to cut my work, however well written, the story line I thought was useful and helpful back information. It’s tough.

The hard part of writing for me is learning to accept that readers don’t need to know everything about my characters. Hopefully if I am a good enough writer, who is adept at developing my characters, the actions and voices of these characters will deliver the missing back story that I have been so keen to share. I have to learn to choose to be careful and include only the salient points, not bombard my poor reader with the finer points and get bogged down in my back story.

I believe a short story is different because it needs to capture a moment in time. In the short space permitted it is vital that the stage setting is limited to subtle hints since there is a danger, that as the writer I can talk myself into the story. Fill in the blanks so to speak. As if to ease my reader into the seat, perhaps I’m asking the reader; are you ready? Then I’ll begin. Just in case my readers, weren’t paying attention.

Recently, I was advised to remove sections of work that were apparently well written but unnecessary, by an editor. Of course I could have reworked the removed passages back in to the story at a later stage, but this didn’t feel right either. The first time I was offered this advice, I balked! Got a tad precious about my ramblings and summarized the section instead, but in essence my back story stayed.

The second time the same advice was offered it didn’t come as quite such a shock to me and it did make more sense this time so I bit the bullet, removed a swathe of my perfectly written words. Ouch! It did hurt. But it worked.

Monday, 3 January 2011

A is for Aspiring Novelist

Over the past two years I have learned several tricks which I have found useful. So I thought I would share these with other aspiring novelists and short story tellers and writers. It’s funny but when I started to write I never imagined or believed I could write a whole book! How could I possibly find enough to say?

Firstly, I switch off my internal critic, that nagging voice that berates and jars my senses. Leads me away from my desired goal. I just allow myself to write, and the words are permitted to go down on to the paper unedited. It’s hard but it works, because this freedom allows me to access many areas within my creative mind. Then I remind myself that I am not a perfectionist. This reaction stops me from reviewing my newly written work too soon. I have to allow the work to settle and then return to it with fresh eyes. Otherwise editing becomes a nightmare, because I can’t see my own errors. (In truth I am a bit of a hit and run merchant who would much prefer to move onto the next exciting project that has wetted my appetite.)

Secondly, I set myself a daily writing word target. During the summer it was a minimum of 1,000 words each day. By setting up this target I focused all my energies into writing the book, (except of course when I got distracted by bright other ideas, lol) but this action did allow me to write uninhibited. I can now capture thoughts and ideas and develop them with a greater ease than before, because I have exercised my mind muscle! I find it easy to write, for my words flow and for this ability I am truly grateful. But it can be frustrating when there isn’t enough time to capture these thoughts. Especially if I feel they’re important. I am a kinesethic type and very visual, I can see my stories and the latest trick I have acquired is this: I have learned to turn my thoughts into images, in ‘filmic-style’ on a film set. This allows me to rerun the videotape in my head at a later time and move the angle of my perception. If he does this then she reacts… and so on, etc. It works for me.

Two years on, I am quite staggered by the volume of my output. I can’t promise it is all good but, in amongst all those pages there might be a few hidden gems, waiting to be discovered. In truth I am writing my second novel now, as the first attempt remains hidden in a bottom drawer awaiting a full edit! Once I have finished, my current work, ‘Letting Go.’

I have also written a series of short stories, loosely based around the theme of ‘dating,’ which Ether Books recently published (two of them: Kissing the Pavement and 45 minutes) and I hope to publish many more as I release them into this new digital domain.

And my advice to any new aspiring author is simple: just write, write every day – any chance you get – grab it!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy New Year

Throughout January my main focus will be my Novel. My rule is simple:
1. Get if finished.

How I will achieve this objective might be of interest? I recently spent time with a good friend who has kindly stepped up to mentor me through the next few months and stages of developing my writing career. Everything we discussed the other day made sense to me on many levels so that I am happy to work with and at this arrangement to achieve my aim.

Building relationships will be vital if I want to succeed. Because I can not do this job on my own, and in isolation. That would make me into a hermit. And it would be too lonely an experience for someone like me. The fact that somebody has offered to encourage me to achieve my aim is immensely heartening.

I am very grateful. My mentor has nothing to gain yet and can most likely ill afford to waste her valuable time. So I must be driven and disciplined!

I have a plan, an action plan and I have identified my main weakness! I find it hard to edit my own work so I intend to learn how to do this better. Then I hope I will make fewer mistakes. Therefore my writing should and will improve. Then I will begin to edit other peoples work to gain a wider experience.

What will it take for me to complete my book? And will you follow me on my journey?
I will be frank. Tell you when it works. Share with you when it doesn’t.
I will be honest and tell you how my work is progressing.

Today my Novel word count is: 68,323
Hurrah. Almost there!!!