Monday, 29 October 2012

The Subconscious Storyteller

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This is the ideal: blank page, close eyes, start writing.

Sometimes that actually works. Stuff just comes out of somewhere and you know what needs to happen next. Sometimes.

Most times it’s a struggle.

But if we have a part of us that can create the stories we want to tell and can come up with brilliant ideas out of nowhere, why doesn’t the subconscious just produce the goods when we need it to?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Reader Meets Character

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In order for a reader to like a character that reader has to feel like they know the kind of person the character is.

This is easiest to achieve using archetypes, stereotypes and clichés. The cynical but brilliant detective, the unfairly betrayed wife, the shy but sweet nerd... You feel like you know these characters because you really have known them, in one guise or another, all your life.

And while the received wisdom is too avoid the overly familiar, I don’t think it can be denied that lots of successful books use character-types we’ve all seen many, many, many times before (maybe with an added twist, but not always); and these variations on Cinderella or Philip Marlowe or whatever can be very successful.

But often the reason writers fall back on the tried and tested is because they don’t really know how to get the reader to know the character quickly without resorting to the shorthand of referencing traits already out there.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Words: The More The Muddier

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The idea that the more words used the clearer the meaning becomes is one that trips up a lot of writers.

Not that additional details are always a bad thing, but the ‘a little more information couldn’t hurt’ approach is very definitely wrong. It can very much hurt.

If I want to visit you then there is a minimum amount of info (street and house number), and an optimum amount (best route, which exit to take) that I need. And then there’s an excessive amount (the name of your neighbour’s dog).

On the other hand, what difference does it make if you mention the neighbour’s dog? It’s not going to make the address harder to find.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Single-Mindedness of the Novel Writer

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Working out if you’re meant to be a writer is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do.

Talent doesn’t come into it. The truth is, if you are a moderately intelligent, imaginative person, chances are you have the ability (at your best) to write something someone somewhere will want to read.

Of course, connecting with those ideal readers isn’t quite so easy, but that’s another post entirely.

No, the way you can determine whether you are a novel writer is quite straightforward. You have to write a book.  See, it’s easy. And also very hard.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Characters Should Think Progressively

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Written fiction allows access to a character’s mind in a way that no other medium can. What someone thinks often gives a new perspective on events, can reveal aspects you hadn’t considered, or add depth to the way you perceive a character.

Often this is presented as a snapshot of the character’s current state of mind. This is what’s happening, and this is what the MC thinks about it. But what makes a character interesting isn’t just who they are or what they do, it’s how they get there.

And while ‘it’s the journey not the destination’ may seem obvious, knowing exactly which part of the journey is the interesting bit may not.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Putting Emotion In Story

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The travails and adventures of your characters should have more than a superficial effect on the reader. Ideally, the impact should be somewhere between enthralling and devastating.

But how do you convert words on a page to tears in eyes, lumps in throats or hearts in mouths?

There are two basic ways to transfer emotion from page to reader: sympathetic and empathetic.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Story Is A Drug

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Making the reader want to know what happens next in a story is an excellent way to get them to turn the page and keep reading. But that’s not what hooks readers.

Curiosity will only provide part of the glue that makes readers stick with a story. The truth is even if the reader knows what happens next, if they’ve read it before, seen it before, heard spoilers, know the original version... they can still enjoy it.

But if you already know what happens in a story, why is it still worth reading?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Chapter One: The Casual Vacancy

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This is another of my posts on how a successful author hooks the reader at the start of the story, what information she feels is necessary at this point and how she approaches things like POV, character and voice (other first chapter I’ve analysed can be found here: Chapter One Analyses).

I chose The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling partly because it’s in the news, but also because it was a good opportunity to see how an author goes about winning over readers who might be sceptical or wary of her attempt at a new genre.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Story Structure is Simple

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Sure, a story needs a Beginning, Middle and End, but apart from that what else do you need to build a satisfying and effective story structure?

The answer is simple: Nothing.

In the same way that the four building blocks of DNA enable the creation of all life on Earth, so B, M and E, if positioned, combined and repeated correctly, can produce an endless variety of story.

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