Monday, 30 April 2012

Draft Zero: Where Writing Begins

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Whether you’re a dedicated outliner or you wing it with no idea where your story might take you, the first complete draft you produce will have problems.

A lot of the time you will know a section isn't working before you even reach the end of the paragraph. Just not good enough. 

You can stop and fret and worry about how to make it better, or you can keep going.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

You Can’t Just Leave Out The Boring Parts

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It would be very convenient if, when people pointed out parts of your story that weren’t very interesting, if you could just cut them out.

Snip-snip, and there you go, perfect book.

Unfortunately, you can’t always do that. 

Friday, 27 April 2012

Excessive Detail Can Kill Your Story

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The difficulty with coming up with a story is that you start with no frame of reference. There’s you and there’s the blank page.

The advantage of writing description is you have a definite place to start. You may use your skill and talent to augment it, but when you describe a mug, you have a pretty good idea what a mug looks like to get you started.

This is why aspiring writers will often bury themselves in long descriptions. Because it’s easier. But that’s also why it’s less impressive, no matter how beautiful the prose. And why you have to police yourself much more rigorously.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Whose Story Is It?

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You have to know whose story you’re telling. This is not something you find out. You have to make the decision and then you have to carry it out.

The key to creating a singular voice in a scene is to work out what the tone it is you’re going for. Tone is established through emotion. This can be within the characters, or it can be within the reader. Or both.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Video Games Vs. Books

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Kids these days have much shorter attention spans.

Kids these days are easily bored.

Kids these days don’t like effort.

All of the above is clearly nonsense. And here’s why.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Unmotivated Characters Don't Have to Suck

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You may at some point want to write about a character who doesn’t know what they want. Who has no focus or great passion for life.

Often this will be the starting point of the story and events will conspire to shake them out of their stupor. Or it could be a character study, possibly an existential tale.

It’s a valid character to write about because there are many people who feel that way, and they deserve to be written about as much as anyone. There are many famous precedents by writers like Salinger, Camus, Beckett. 

The problem is that this kind of character is very hard to make interesting.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Throughline: Tying Your Story Together

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It’s a simple task to explain what throughline means. It’s making sure each scene feels connected to the main story. Whether it’s pivotal or not, even if it’s a scene without any of the main characters in it, or part of a sub-plot, if it starts to feel unconnected the reader will lose interest, and any momentum or tension you’ve built up will dissipate.

What isn’t so simple is to explain how to make sure YOUR story has a strong throughline.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Specifics Make Stories Real

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In order for the reader to see your make believe world as clearly as you see it, you need to be specific.

This does not mean long descriptions or emphasising the way characters react to their environment. It means when you make a claim (it was an amazing library) or assign an emotion (she loved him), you have to back it up (what was so amazing about the library? What did she love about him?).

This is quite difficult, especially if you’re trying to avoid the clichés most commonly used. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

Romantic Fiction: It's All Over, Casanova

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Romance novels make a lot of money. Even the bad ones. The demand is very high. Around 50% of all fiction books sold in North America are romances. In Britain the number is around 20%.

What’s more most of these books are written by women and read by women.

So what is it about this genre that makes it so successful, and what can the boys do to emulate that success?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Questions For Mooderino

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Since it’s Q-day in the A to Z Challenge I thought I’d open the floor to any questions you might have about the writing process. I can’t promise you a good answer, or the right answer, but hopefully I can offer you a new way of looking at the problem.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Problems With Publishers

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Publishers are very choosy about which books they consider worth publishing. It’s a very expensive business and so they have every right to choose only those books they believe will find a readership, and make them a profit.

That is certainly a reasonable position to take.

But, after their thorough and exhaustive selection process, of the books they decide are good enough, less than 10% actually make them any money.

It could be that the tastes of the public are so refined and demanding that even if you pick out the best of the best, only a fraction are good enough to make the grade in the eyes of a discerning public.

Or, it  could be that the people choosing the books to be published have no idea what they’re doing.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Only One Thing Will Make You A Better Writer

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Obviously, you need to hone your craft and develop your skills, and there are certainly a multitude of styles and genres to choose from. But the one thing you definitely have to be is open. Open to the idea your work might need to improve.

But you can’t be honest about what you need to do with your writing if you worry about what other people think of you. What they think of your writing is another matter. But tying up your self-worth with the stories you produce is not helpful.

The work is the work, and you are you.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Novels Of the Future

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The three major forms of storytelling are books, television shows and movies. Books are the odd man out because they require active participation. You can sit back and let the story wash over you with a TV set or cinema screen. Books, you have to engage your faculties a little more actively.
 
While television and cinema have gone through major changes over the years as they try to take advantage of advancing technology, books have stayed more or less the same over the last 500 years.

Meanwhile TV and film have been having a battle royale as they try to outdo each other, and the kinds of stories they tell have developed accordingly. Has the novel been left behind?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Marketing For Books

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What makes a book sell? Obviously a good story that’s well written is going to be a big selling point, but once you have a finished product, what makes your well-written book sell better than my well-written book?

And what makes the other guy’s terribly-written book outsell both of us?

Friday, 13 April 2012

Linear Writing Leads To Flat Narrative

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By linear I don’t mean the way time is structured in your story. You don’t have to write scenes all out of order Christopher Nolan style to make it interesting.

This is what I’m talking about: A man is hungry. He goes to the kitchen and makes a sandwich. He eats the sandwich. He is no longer hungry.

The journey from hungry man to sated man is very straight. It’s easy. It’s obvious. It’s dull.

When someone wants something you have the beginning of a story. When they get it you have the end of the story. But the bit in between is the interesting part, and making it too linear won’t generate much enthusiasm in the reader.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Knockout Storytelling

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We’ve all read books that we couldn’t put down, that had us up into the early hours as we kept thinking, “Just one more chapter.”

It isn’t unique to a specific genre or a particular style of writing. All types of books can create this effect.

I think every fiction writer wants to hear a reader say, “I just couldn’t put it down.” But how do you turn a story into an unputdownable page turner?

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Joy Of Completion

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It can be quite a gruelling process to write a novel.

Sometimes you will just know there's no way what you're writing is going to end up in the finished product. 

Things aren’t going well. There’s no point carrying on. The story isn’t working. You’re going to have to rewrite everything, maybe even give it up as a bad job and start from scratch.

Why not just stop now and not waste anymore time going down a blind alley? 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Indestructible Rules Of Writing

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These are the rules you must never, never, never break when writing.

Just kidding. There aren’t any rules that can’t be broken when writing fiction. But these are the things I choose to abide by when I’m writing my stories. My personal rules. There’s absolutely no reason you need to follow any of them.  

Monday, 9 April 2012

How To Write Better Fiction

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Sometimes a scene in a story has nothing wrong with it (nothing obvious, anyway) and yet it doesn’t work. It’s a necessary scene, important to the story, but it feels flat and uninteresting. People who read it will notice it’s a bit lacklustre, but not really know why, or how to fix it.

Usually it’s a more sedate scene, a moment of discussion or reflection, maybe dialogue heavy, but artificially turning it into an action scene doesn’t feel right.

For those instances, I offer the following techniques to make a flat scene more immediate and engaging.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Giraffes and Illegal Downloading

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Why do we live in a world where so many bad things happen?

That’s the sort of thing kids ask, and for which there never seems to be  a good answer. But there is.

If bad things didn’t happen, if earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis didn’t exist on this planet, neither would life. Well, maybe some blobs in the oceans, but that’s about it.

For living things to evolve and adapt, they need to be threatened with annihilation. Catastrophe and disaster and extinction level events are what got us to where we are today. Allow me to explain.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Finding Your Voice

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Having a strong voice that people will enjoy spending time with is a key part of writing a story. Lots of books on writing will encourage you to have a unique and distinct voice. Not many of them will tell you how to go about developing one.

So how do you make sure your voice is strong and consistent and interesting?

Here’s how I would do it.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Ebook Evolution

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Personally I don’t believe you need to win the reader over with your first line or your first page. I don’t buy a book sight unseen, start reading without knowing what it’s about, and if I’m unimpressed by the first 250 words, chuck it in the bin.

The only people who read like that are agents.

Not that I’m not fussy about what I read. I may skim through boring bits, or give up on a well written book if it annoys me with its subject matter or unconvincing characters. But I’m not so demanding that I expect immediate brilliance from word one.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Drama Is Not Optional

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Drama is the key ingredient to all stories.

Drama is wanting something you don’t have (or have and don’t want).

The harder the journey, the obstructions, the opposition, the greater the drama.

If people tell you your story isn’t dramatic enough, it probably means things are either too easy for the character, or what they are in pursuit of doesn’t seem worth the effort.

An easy way to make things more dramatic is to raise the stakes. More to lose, more drama. Harder to get, more drama. Better opposition, better drama.

However...

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Coincidence Is Part Of Storytelling

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Coincidence is an important part of most stories. People have to meet, things have to happen at the appropriate time, connections need to be made.

In some cases ridiculous coincidences that would never happen in real life are the only way to make a story work in a satisfying manner. The need for fantasy/wish fulfilment in storytelling is a very strong instinct within all of us. It’s why we like stories in the first place.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Backstory Delayed Gratification

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Every story needs some background information. You can’t write down every important thing that happens to a character as it happens. Some of it has to be an event in the past recalled in the present. Backstory is a necessity.

It's possible to have a backstory that is so fascinating you can start the story with a birth certificate and a list of schools attended, and every date and childhood trauma is of vital importance. But most backstories are not that captivating.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

An Author's Art

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There are some works of art that you will love. You can see why this book or film or painting or whatever has the reputation it has. You feel it.

Then there those things that are admirable, that are impressive, but your appreciation is detached and objective. You get it, but you don’t feel it.

And of course there are some works or art you have no idea what all the fuss is about. That’s natural—after all, art is subjective and we all have our own preferences.

When it comes to making art—in the case of myself and most of the readers of this blog that art being in the form of the written word—what kind of art do you want to make?
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