Meet my character Blog Tour

In the eternal battle of character versus plot, I reckon no one wins. Why? Both of them are vital to a novel, and have to be developed together, because without either of them a story falls, meanders without reason.

Plot or situation forms and shapes the character and, equally, a character, their personality and background, will interact and think from their point of view to and about the situation and actions happening around them.

Three examples from my own work:
My first novel ‘The 13th Vision’ I focussed on plot with some development of my characters and the novel’s downfall? A too complicated main plot and too many subplots. And two parallel plot lines, one of which was not as well developed as it could be. I like the initial premise though so I’m working on a re-write.

My second novel ‘The Alien Woman’ – two fully formed characters Eve and Ben came out of this one and the novel was written from two POV’s. The plot? As before I got carried away with complications but when I finalised the decisions of how many subplots to use, the novel came together.

My third novel is ‘Things To Fear’ – The situation was formed in my mind and I worked with a character journal for a few days to get to know my character and then got straight into writing a first draft. This character came easily and whenever I get stuck on a scene, it’s usually because I’m fighting against going with what the character would do.

A bit about my character ‘Eve’ from ‘The Alien Woman’.

Who ‘Eve’ is and where she comes from is central to the story of ‘The Alien Woman’. This novel is set in present day and in a fictional south-east of Ireland.
‘Run. Learn.’
With two commands pulsing though her head, a woman is on the run at night in a strange cold world. She enters an empty shelter.
When he gets home, Ben finds her and lets her stay the rest of the night. By morning, he’s surprised at how fast her injuries are healing and lets her to stay in the house when she prepares to run again.
‘Eve’, as he calls her, doesn’t know where she is or how she got to this world. All she has are the commands coming into her mind. She doesn’t mind Ben calling her ‘Eve’, the last time she heard her own name was by the ones she loved and has lost. A new name may help her forget her past.

‘The Alien Woman’ is going through the submission process at the moment.

A big thanks to Andrea of ‘Harvesting Hecate’ for writing about me in her post about the character in her novel ‘The skin of a selkie’. Her post was part of a series in a ‘Meet my character Blog Tour’.

Here is the first writer I’d love to tell you about, J.C. Conway.

J.C. Conway
J.C. writes science-fiction, romance and fantasy stories for adults, young adults and middle-grade readers. He says on his bio, ‘I’m a fan of great fiction that stretches the imagination, probes the depths of the human condition, or otherwise illuminates the unknown or the misunderstood’. He’s a prolific short story writer and his debut novel, ‘Hearts in Ruin’, a contemporary romance, was published in May 2014 by Liquid Silver Books. His blog posts delve into a variety of subjects; science in space and archaeology, information on science fiction awards and events, and information for romance writers, among some of them.

I’ll feature other authors over time but for today, I’m going to pass the baton forward and I hope you’ll go over and visit J.C.’s blog.

Editing: The Editor’s Blog

On the theme of editing, I follow a blog called ‘The Editor’s Blog’, the latest post of which explains Interjections and Exclamations so well.

So if you ever had to wonder whether to use ‘Ah’, ‘Ahh’, or ‘Aah’, now you know…

The Editor’s Blog post on Spelling Interjections and Exclamations.

Enjoy.

Cecilia

Lessons from the journey

I drew the line in the sand in my diary on the evening of Thursday 23rd December 2010 and decided I was going to write a novel. I’ve learned since that the writing life is a continuous journey of learning the craft of writing and learning to live as a writer. It will never stop and if it does, it will be because I have withdrawn from it altogether.

Dorothea Brande gives a warning in ‘Becoming a writer’ in relation to two writing tasks – early morning writing and writing by prearrangement:

‘If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late.’

That is hard. Hard to read as a writer/wanna be writer. If anything, I must have ignored that warning when I read the book two years ago and ploughed on regardless. I’ve never done the early morning pages or turned up by prearrangement (well never on time anyway) and somehow pushed out three first drafts, one of which is now a completed novel.

Admittedly, I wish I could be more disciplined, I really do and I keep booking times in my diary to get organised and sometimes I make it and sometimes I don’t. I’d say life and distractions get in the way. Them pesky distractions.

But how I got on and wrote more than the day’s date, I’d put down to a combination of things:

1. The decision to give it a go.
I’d written bits of two novels seven years before that date above, and then wrote another bit of a novel two years before the day I made my decision of ‘this is it, let’s just do it, prove I can do this or give up’.

2. Joining a writing group.
I joined one that started in September 2010 and bit by bit it found its feet. The short writing exercises were the start of recognising I could write even if it was only every two weeks. Support from a group is essential, if you don’t feel supported, find another group.

3. Taking a writing course.
The first one, a two day start your novel course, got me to write a first chapter. I wrote a couple after that; doubt set in and I didn’t continue. The second one, I got feedback on a short story and it made me think, perhaps I can do this. The third course I learned how to edit my work; made me realise what I was doing right. Teachers are critical to a writer – I’m glad of the ones I’m learning from, their challenges on how I view my writing and writing life, how I edit, and what I write (been writing performance pieces, one act plays etc… as well as the novel).

4. Reading about writing.
I read every book I could get my hands on about writing. I especially liked the Writers Digest collection on Dialogue, Plot & Structure, Description & Setting, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, and Revision & Self-editing. If I was starting again as a writer, I’d read those as well as: Self-editing for fiction writers, Browne and King; Nail your novel, Morris; Make a scene, Rosenfeld (I may be the only one who needed this). There are other ones on the shelf but these are the ones I’d read again.

5. Reading fiction, all sorts.
I read a variety of fiction, novels, short stories, poetry. Even snippets and samples of other writers, famous or otherwise make you realise your own writing voice. Sample the variety out there. My favourite novel is still Annie Proulx’s ‘The Shipping News’; I can dip in and out of it and find wonder at her descriptions, not static, moving, move the story forward.

6. Writing lots and editing.
Doing first drafts meant I knew I could get to the end of a story. Moving a novel from first to second draft meant I understood how to examine and revise the structure of a novel. From third to fourth draft, meant learning how to revise, cut, and reshape sentences to make the words and sentences work better. Fourth draft – read aloud to make sure that the ‘fictive dream’ is not interrupted for the reader. Fifth and beyond – feedback from Beta readers.

7. Believe.
The hardest one. Still learning.

So that’s my journey up to today.
What would you have said to yourself starting out?

Writers’ doubt and how to live with it

Doubt is normal. All writers have it, get it, live with it. Published, unpublished, still thinking about doing it and/or starting it one day.

But when it strikes, and I’m not talking about the little itty bitty strikes of ‘oh, perhaps if I change this one word, oh, yes that’s it, it’s perfect’, I’m talking about the ‘doubt doldrums’ (see Andrea’s post on this) and all the chaos and messing with your head that that involves. How do you move on and out of the doubt and the low level rumblings shaking you to the very core of your belief in yourself and your ability as a writer.

I suppose it’s the start of writers block, or the cause of writers block and I want to know if I can nip it in the bud. I’ve been dragging my feet (fingers on keyboard) for the last two weeks and all I’ve got is one poem to show for it. And the all pervasive feeling running inside my mind that I’m not good enough, what am I doing, I’m wasting time, this writing is rubbish, what am I thinking, how on earth could I think I could be a writer…it’s been running on and on and on…

But this time, I’m on to my repeating pattern and I want to stop it.
How do I recognise the pattern and nip it in the bud?
How long does it go on before I can activate some strategy to stop the doubt and get my brain back and focused on the problem at hand – writing the damn novel?

So strategy, what can be done as soon I know I’m going down the slippery slope, faster and faster, sliding down into doubt and how do I bring myself back to writing again, that carefree satisfaction that comes from enjoying the freedom of writing a shitty first draft.

1. Recognise the problem

2. Write about anything else but what you’re working on
Write about the problem. I wrote a poem. Even opening up your notebook and writing the date can be the starting point. Free write. Go to a café and write. Go to a beach and soak in the salt air and write. Write in any other place to your normal writing spot – I moved out of my office onto the kitchen table to complete the major second draft of my novel last year.

3. Get away
Do the housework, do the gardening, clean the gutters, spring clean (it’s that time of year when the light makes every bit of dust look twenty times bigger than it was in winter), walk, go for a drive.
Bigger budget – think bigger! Smaller budget, walk. Just walk. The rhythm of your feet on the ground works both sides of your brain – left and right.

4. Take a break
No, not a couple of hours. A real break, a holiday from writing. A free from ‘any writing pressure’ slot in time, marked in the diary, just for you to get a real, complete break from writing. All jobs give you holidays – writing should be no different. Know when you’re coming back.

5. Accept that writing is for the long haul
Disillusion can set in when we are in the middle of a project. Recognise that novel writing takes time, has its ups and downs, fluctuations, bursts, day dreaming times and it will get done. We are creating even when there are no words on the page. These moments, days of doubt are normal, meander through them and rest in them. Find the courage to see these days for what they are.

6. Come back to the page
Write the date. Write some rubbish, stuff you’ll never use for anything else.
Try the 33 minute productivity technique.

7. Read about doubt to understand it.

Dorothea Brande in her book, Becoming A Writer, says in the section entitled ‘The Slough of Despond’,
‘But then comes the dawning comprehension of all that a writer’s life implies: not easy day dreaming, but hard work at turning the dream into reality without sacrificing all its glamour…wonders how (s)he ever dared to think (s)he had a word worth saying…Every writer goes through this period of despair. Without doubt many promising writers, and most of those who were never meant to write, turn back at this point and find a lifework less exacting.’

I started this post to think of ways of managing moments, who are we kidding, periods of doubt and I’m ending it by saying, we need to recognise doubt as a normal part of being a writer. But in order to be writers, keep writing, we need to find our own way to move forward through moments of doubt and disillusion, to step out onto the other side.

 

 

Writing a third novel and still doubting

Imagine that you’re writing your third novel and still doubt that you can be a writer.

Last September I completed a novel. Not just a first draft, or a second structural draft, or a third draft tightening everything up, but the final, read it all aloud, every single word, draft and I have three chapters and a synopsis all polished and looking good. And a Beta reader (three to date) read it and gave feedback and when I got the courage a month or so later, I began to send it out to the few agents that deal with science fiction, in the UK and Ireland. I’d send out about three submissions, tailored to each agent’s requirements and when the rejections came in, I’d prepare the next three and so on. The rejections were lovely, kindly written and I knew that I wasn’t their fit. I’m waiting for another two responses at the moment.

That novel ‘The alien woman’ was the second novel I’d written. I began it in November 2012 and completed it after two re-writes to get the plots, subplots, and structure the way I wanted. As I’ve written about in previous posts, the creation of a ‘Fact Sheet’ was a turning point because there were so many subplots I needed to make sure all played out correctly and back stories fixed and set before the revisions would work.

I wrote a first draft of my first novel ‘The 13th vision’ in 2011 and did a second draft in 2012 but it wasn’t working and in November 2012 I took part in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and started the second novel. I did it to prove to myself that I could write and wasn’t a one novel writer. I didn’t want to get bogged down working on one novel for years and not know how to progress it. Also, I figured that a first novel is like a first child, it’s your practice novel. So what better way to learn than starting a second novel and, with new skills on editing and re-reading every book I could lay my hands on about writing, I proved to myself that I could write another first draft.

That’s where the ‘Fact Sheet’ and my own version of a Beat sheet (see Nail your novel by Roz Morris) which I called my Scene and Chapter Intentions sheet were used (see also Scene Intentions) and I moved the second novel ‘The alien woman’ from first to second draft and sorted out structural issues until I was happy with it. The Fact sheet came out of feedback I got from a mentor through Artlinks and the Waterford County Council Arts Office. We were reviewing a draft of the Synopsis. She asked me many questions about aspects of the plot and back story and it made me realise that I kept changing things and needed to fix the facts of the novel (character facts, location facts, plots/subplot facts, back story facts, timeline etc…) before I could do a real structural edit. Once that was done, a full structural draft and then writing the Synopsis became much easier.

In November 2013, I started my third novel called ‘Things to fear’. This novel has been emerging out of me almost fully formed. I’d done a Character Journal and it helped me know my main character in advance before I entered her world. (A first draft does that as well, gives time with a character, a chance to see how they get on, react, live in the world we’ve placed them.) I’ve been a little slower finishing the first draft of this novel. I’m on Camp Nanowrimo since start of April and hoping to make a dent on the end of the novel.

But back to the statement above. I still don’t believe I’m a real writer. Perhaps it’s because I’m not published yet. I’d love to be published the traditional route but I realise that since I’m only starting out and the kind of science fiction/stories I write about may not be what the traditional route is looking for at the moment.

I know I haven’t written much in the last week because I’ve been doubting myself, about whether I’m any good at all, about my novels, my stories and whether anyone will even be interested in them. And whether I should give it up with the odds stacked against me making a living from being a novelist. And I keep thinking that if I complete another two more novels then I’ll have something to show for it and perhaps then I’ll be a real writer.

Heck, I already know what my fourth novel is going to be about. I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it out how to stop doubting myself.

Editing: Where to start

I was about to start editing a colleague’s work recently and it set me thinking about what I look for when I’m editing my own work. I made a list but I know there’s so much more and as a friend said ‘but rules are made to be broken’. That’s true but you need to know what the rules are before you break them.

So, if I was telling myself three years ago how to edit what would I say?

Firstly, read ‘Self-editing for fiction writers’ by Browne and King, ‘Revision and self-editing’ by Bell and ‘Solutions for writers’ by Stein. I think these give a good start to ideas about editing your own work. I’ve read them all three times each over a few years, each reading reinforces ideas, writing gets stronger.

Secondly, write, write, and write. Through writing, we start to incorporate the ‘rules’ and also develop an awareness of when to break some of the rules to create the effect we need.

Thirdly, consider some of these key ideas when editing fiction:

1. Repetition
Words that are used too many times in the same sentence or paragraphs or throughout a section. Think of other ways to show it unless there is no other way and the repetition is deliberate.
e.g. He carried…then she carried another bag…they carried the pots…

2. Cliché phrases
Similes and metaphors that we know are familiar, have heard before. Try to think of a unique way of describing something.
e.g. the sky was blue – try – It was sunny out, a blessed relief following the dull days but a cold night put a layer of ice over the car windows. Jack dashed at it with the scraper. He was going to be late.

3. Excessive words
Words, which if they are cut out of a sentence, don’t diminish its meaning.
e.g. clearly, just, very, now, then,
e.g. he was clearly excited – try – he was excited – or even better, show his excitement – he jumped out of his chair.

4. Linking words
These words, when used, mean that you may need to rearrange sentences to show preceding actions or information before this sentence i.e. if events are in sequence these words are not needed.
e.g. which, that, as,

5. Active versus Passive
Avoid use of ‘had’ unless going into the past of the past. If you get a ‘had had’, find out why and is it really necessary.

6. –ing
Consider use of the definite form e.g. ‘held’ versus ‘was holding’.
-ing is an action in continuous/indefinite form. –ed is the definite form.
Use –ing form sparingly, as needed.

7. Show not tell.
Avoid telling the reader how someone feels, try to show it.
e.g. he said, amazed – try – He said, taking a step back.
Use an action description that shows the emotion.

8. Dialogue tags
If the dialogue is working, then ‘he said/she said’ is all that is needed. The reader skims over these words, using anything else and the reader has to slow down. The reader wants to read the dialogue, not the dialogue tags.

Try to use volume descriptions of said, if needed, e.g. she shouted, screamed, whispered.
It is not necessary to use the dialogue tag to describe what is happening in the dialogue if the dialogue shows it (this is repetitive and superfluous)
e.g. ‘he rejoiced’ when his dialogue shows this already.
e.g. ‘You are right,’ he agreed. Repetition.

Also, don’t combine actions with dialogue tags i.e. you can’t laugh and speak full sentences at the same time. Separate action from speech.
e.g. He laughed. ‘All I can say…’ not He laughed, ‘All I can say…’
‘We’ll go there…’ He pointed to the pub.

Use speaker with tags consistently e.g. he said/she said versus said he/said she. The latter is old fashioned. Whichever way you decide, be consistent.

9. Naming characters
Avoid giving characters similar sounding names, names that start with the same letter or sound e.g. Jim, Jack, John, and Janice met in at the restaurant.

10. Eliminate all trace of the author’s voice, unless author is narrator.
Everything in the work is from the Point of View of the characters (single or multiple), what they say, how they behave, what they see and sense.

Dialogue should sound like your character (time, place, age) not the author.
Also, vary speech – most people don’t speak in really long sentences.
Note: Phonetic dialogue is not always necessary though, can be done subtly.

11. Sentence variety.
Vary sentence length and type. Short sentences speed up the action. Long sentences slow it down.

12. Paragraph length.
Big blocks of writing and the reader usually skims what is in the paragraph. Vary paragraph lengths with the pace you want for the reader. Use dialogue to break monotony of long paragraphs, if relevant.

13. Details
Use concrete and specific details (telling detail) instead of the general.
e.g. the garden was bountiful – try describing – rows of peas, beans and mounds of potato plants. An example of ‘show’ versus ‘tell’.

Weave in details through the scene, if possible. Avoid a massive paragraph of description at the start of every scene (one or two scenes may be unavoidable but not every single one, surely)

14. Plot.
How the story unfolds and keeps the reader interested. Does anything feels forced, out of place, take the reader out of the dream?

So this was my list. But I defer to the three books I named above as describing the things to look for when editing your own or another writer’s work; they give excellent examples, way better than mine.
When editing, you want to retain the writer’s voice in the material not re-write it completely the way you would have written it or described it.

To finish, a dip into Strunk and White’s ‘The elements of style’, or any book on grammar, occasionally, to keep the basics in check.

Rules are made to be broken and that applies to everything in this article but I think when you’re starting to edit your own work, or others, the ideas above would be worthwhile considering.

What do you think?

Finishing and the writing diet

Stephen King was right. I was re-reading his book ‘On writing’ and he talked about getting the first draft of a novel done as quickly as possible and in one go because the longer it took, there would be loss of momentum, loss of attachment with your characters and their plight and everything would become a bit of a struggle.

So I should have done that for this first draft and kept going after Nanowrimo last year. But I didn’t. I took a ‘break’, a long one, and I’m dawdling and other things keep fighting for my attention and the novel is not moving on despite my knowing exactly what happens next.

So I have to keep going, make time, and just do it.

Or I have to figure out if it is the next scene or chapter that is the problem and figure out if I need to revise my idea of what happens next.

I did my first draft for my first novel in about six weeks. My second novel took about 2.5 months. And, I think, it’s pure cockiness on my part that I haven’t finished the first draft of this third novel. (Hey, look at me, I finished one novel, this one will slip right out, easy peasy. Wrong.)

Right. Time for bum on seat and get on with it. Plan out a writing plan for the next week, times I can give myself for writing and force through the next few words, sentences, paragraphs and pages until I push through the block holding this novel from progressing.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong (to me) with the story of the third novel – I love the ideas I’ve come up with for this novel but I seem to have slowed my momentum down too much and need a mental push to get to the next chapter and so on, until the first draft is complete.

Here goes. Find my writing time. Commit and begin again.

This is just like being on a diet – the writing diet! Fall off the wagon, pick myself up, and start again.