Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Better than the Dream

I’ve read a lot of blog posts recently about writers doubting themselves, their abilities, their chosen profession. I think as writers we are built to question everything, including ourselves. But we can’t let that stop us from writing.

Writing isn’t a stroll through a field full of daisies. It takes hard work and dedication. It requires a lot of sedentary and solitary time. It needs perseverance and an active mind. And it’s demanding on family and friends.

As a writer we wrestle with schedules and deadlines. Pressure squeezes us from every direction. Our acquaintances pressure us for our time. Our daily lives and duties pressure us for our attention. The desire to write well is a pressure. The need to pay bills is a pressure. Our own personal goals can also become a pressure.

When it gets too much, it’s important to reassess our priorities. Perhaps your daily word count goal is too high. Perhaps you need a weekly word count instead. What works for one writer may not work for you so you have to find out what works for you. The key is flexibility. Life changes, so sometimes our goals must also.

Perhaps the increased pressure is an indication of your need for a break. Everyone needs a break at some time. There is no point fighting it. But sometimes change is as good as a break. Change the way you write. Change where you write. Change what you write.

Don’t let the pressure frighten you off from writing. Don’t let it tell you lies about your abilities. Writing is better than that field of daisies we all think we dream about. It’s the challenge that wakes us up and lights the fires.

What is it about writing that you love so much?

Monday, June 28, 2010

4 Ways to Write with Passion

William Wordsworth advised about writing, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” In other words, write with passion.

To write with passion, to have your words sing, you must give of yourself. Rather than tip-toeing through the puddles of the worlds you create, wade in, and then immerse yourself.

If you aren’t willing to fully enter your world, then your readers won’t either. You’ll be cheating yourself (and your readers) from everything that makes writing (and reading) such a trip.

Below are four ways to tap that passion:

1. Get involved. Get involved in the lives of your characters. Get under their skin. Find out what motivates them. Learn their likes and dislikes. Discover their quirks and imperfections. Care about the details. Nurture them. Help them to grow.

2. Get poetic. Don’t settle for the everyday way of description. See the world through the eyes of an artist – because we are artists and our paint is words.

3. Be true to yourself. Don’t try to imitate someone else’s art. Make your own. Write the stories inside you that cry out to be written. Be brave and don’t hold back.

4. Care. Care about what you write. Care about the impact your writing may have on another. Extend yourself. Learn about your craft. Do your best and never settle for less.

What is it that makes you passionate about your writing? Can you think of other ways to tap that passion?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Subtlety vs the Sledge Hammer

Part of the joy of reading is the journey of discovery. We like to think ahead and wonder what might happen next. We like to make our own minds up about characters, to learn about them as we would a new friend. It’s how we get involved and why we become so engaged.

To give this freedom to the reader, a writer must employ subtlety. Rather than revealing all the secrets at once, it’s more effective to leave hints and clues, and foreshadow what is to come.

Jaws was such a successful movie because we weren’t sledge-hammered by the shark. We didn’t even see the shark for the majority of the film. Our imaginations worked overtime.

The use of subtlety is important even if your novel isn’t a mystery or a thriller.

Subtlety requires a certain level of trust in your readers. They have long memories so you can trust they will remember the hints you leave lying around in your plot. It might even encourage them to read your novel more than once because they’ll want to go back and pick up on the clues again.

Subtlety also requires a certain level of trust in yourself as a writer. With that confidence you’ll be able to allow your words to ring true without the use of a sledge hammer. You’ll be more willing to show rather than to tell.

Do you agree that subtlety is a clever tool to keep your readers interested? Do you struggle with the confidence to keep your writing subtle?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hook, Line, and Sinker

The hook in fiction (or non-fiction) writing is a rhetorical device that hooks the readers into wanting more. It’s most often found in the first sentence or first paragraph and it’s something catchy that grabs the attention. It can be subtle or it can knock the reader on the head with a 4x4. But it must be there.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. The problem with a hook is that it builds an immediate expectation in the reader. This expectation must be handled with care or else the hook will backfire. In other words, make sure your hooks are more than just an obvious marketing ploy.

If your story starts with something full of action, such as a helicopter crash in your main character’s yard, don’t then embark in a ponderous backstory.

If your hook mentions fish raining from the sky, don’t then follow up with descriptions of your characters.

Keep it related and keep it consistent because follow through is the ‘line and sinker’ that will essentially make the reader allow themselves to be hooked.

Grab a reader’s attention with a clever opening line, and then follow it up. This is the best way to reel in your readers.

What are some of your favourite opening lines in books? (and do they follow through?)

Monday, June 21, 2010

7 Ways to Improve Dialogue

1. Keep to the point. Remove redundancies and everyday chatter. For example:
      “Hi, how are you?”
      “I’m good thanks. How are you?”
Readers don’t care about these pleasantries. They don’t have a lot of time to sift through all the inconsequential babble. It only gives them a reason to put down your book.

2. Make it Show, not tell. Dialogue is a great vehicle to reveal backstory and keeps the plot moving, but used incorrectly, it can come off as a mere devise and make the characters sound stilted. By using it to show the story in a natural way, the readers can become more involved and engaged.

3. Keep it interesting. The careful use of dialect and slang will help to bring the characters alive and will add an element of realism. Just be careful not to over-do it.

4. Avoid speech that is too realistic. Often conversations between people are clipped and repetitive. People also add lots of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’. In the quest for realism it’s not necessary to include these elements into written dialogue. It only makes it slow and confusing to read.

5. Remove clichés. It’s just as important to avoid clichés in dialogue as it is to avoid in description and plot. Don’t get lazy.

6. Don’t forget the spaces between the lines. A lot can be revealed in a character through the words they don’t say. A silence or an action can speak louder than words.

7. Avoid large blocks of pure dialogue. If all you give your reader is a wall of chatter, the reader can quickly lose connection with the story. Break it up with action and description. It doesn’t have to be a lot of action or a wad of description. We are after variety to add flavour and interest. It will also give you greater control on the pace of your story.

Can you think of other ways to improve dialogue? What are your weaknesses when writing dialogue?

Monday, June 14, 2010

One Week Break

Just letting you all know that this weekend is the Queen's Birthday long weekend here in Australia. I get to spend some extra time with my husband and I'm looking forward to it.

I will also be taking this week off from blogging to have a rest and a refresh. I'll be back on Monday 21st June.

Happy writing to you all,


Friday, June 11, 2010

The Joy of reading

This week has been about books, writing and reading so I thought I’d finish off the week with a few questions about books.

How many books do you read at one time?
I’m currently reading two novels (because one is small enough to fit into my bag than the other), one Christian non-fiction, and two books about how to improve my writing. This is somewhat normal for me.

What’s your favourite novel?
I have a few favourites. The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien introduced me to the world of imagination. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by German writer Patrick Süskind and This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti.

What’s your favourite non-fiction?
Again, I have a few favourites that I return to on more than one occasion. He Chose the Nails by Max Lucado, The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell, and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

How about you? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Write to Learn

My last post was about the benefits of reading a lot to improve our writing skills. Today’s post is about the benefits of writing a lot to improve our writing skills.

Practice will always win over theory.

I wrote my first novel while I was still in high school. When the end of school exams came along I made a foolish decision to stop writing so I could put all my efforts into study. I did no creative writing for at least six months. Then other things in my life took precedence for another six months. Then months became years.

I will never get that time back.

When I did finally try to write again I was filled with doubts. My writing was stiff. My stories lacked fire. I’d lost not only the routine of writing, but also the skills of writing. It took many months of writing again to bring back the clarity of thought that is required of writers. It took many months of writing to loosen my prose.

When we write a lot we gain confidence. We are more willing to take a risk, to experiment with the words, to try something different.

When we write a lot we build a routine. We don’t need to scramble for writing time because we’ve already scheduled that time. People around us are used to that schedule and aren’t shocked when we suddenly need to disappear to write.

And when we write a lot we put into action all the subtle lessons we’ve learned through reading a lot. What might work for one writer, may not work for you. The more you write, the more you learn what works for you.

So, I urge you, don’t stop writing. Don’t let the doubts get the better of you. Don’t expect perfection in an instant. Write, write and keep writing.

What are the things that stop you from writing? On average how much do you try to write per day?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Read to Learn

Stephen King’s best advice to new writers (and I would have to agree with him) is this: read a lot and write a lot.

By increasing the quantity and variety of books you read (fiction for a fiction writer etc), you will:

Expose yourself to different writing styles. Style is an illusive creature with so many elements that make up its creation. We all want to find our own style so, to keep from becoming a mere copy of another, it’s best to expose ourselves to a wide variety of differing styles. You will then find your own style that is truly your own.

Increase your vocabulary. While some writers say a large vocabulary is unnecessary to better your writing skills, I disagree. We need words to express our thoughts so the more words we can draw from means our thoughts will become more succinct.

Better the way you use words. Reading more not only increases your vocabulary, but also improves the way you use those new words. You aren’t so tempted to use a word because it sounds fancy. You use it because it’s the right fit.

See punctuation in action. There’s only so many books on punctuation you can read or classes you can attend before you realise your greatest cementer of that new found knowledge is seeing it in action. It’s only then that we gain that deeper understanding to be able to tap its power.

Exercise your mind’s eye. Imagination is essential for all writers. When we read more, our imaginations are fed juicy morsels of potential inspiration.

Explore the use of pace. After reading some old classics, I decided I wanted to write a fast paced book. Then I read some of Matthew Riley’s books which drowned me in super fast action and left me gasping for air. It’s one thing to be told about the importance of pace in a book, another to find your own balance that works for you.

This post is starting to get a bit long so I’ll stop there, but I could so easily go on about the benefits of reading.

Can you think of other benefits that reading has on a writer? Do you try to read a wide variety of books or do you tend to only read the same genre? How many books would you read per month or in a year on average?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Character Building

How do you get to know your characters?

The voice journal: James Scott Bell in his book The Art of War for Writers suggests writing the ‘voice’ of your character for 5-10 mins without stopping. You can prompt them with the occasional question to keep them ‘talking’ but it’s a great way of getting to know who they are and the way they talk.

The interview or worksheet: Some people like to give their characters interviews with a set of questions designed to get to know the inner them. Jody Hedlund offers a very good character worksheet on her blog. It can be an effective method and it helps to keep your characters consistent.

The timeline or family tree: Some people draw up a detailed historical timeline or a family tree for their characters. I did this for my first novel because the machinations of my characters had grown so complicated that I needed to get a handle on it all. I needed motivations and I needed their histories even though much of their history never made it into the story.

The artistic method: Because I’m a visual person, I also sometimes draw my characters. It doesn’t matter to me that I’m not really good at drawing them; it’s enough to get a glimpse into their personas. The clearer I can see them, the louder they speak to me. Sometimes I wonder why my characters look so sad in my drawings and so I’d make up an event in my character’s past to explain that sadness.

The showbiz method: Some people start a character using an actor as a base from which to build. I once based a character off the actor, Leo McKern. The danger of doing this is to build your character into someone else’s character. But it did make a good visual start and from there I changed him into something else.

What’s your preferred way of getting to know your characters? Can you think of other methods?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Sound of Inspiration

Music is an incredible resource. I’ve already mentioned here that it can help us to fight distraction, but it can also be used as a source of inspiration.

I hear stories in music.

Sting’s Mad About You inspired me to write a 3000 word short story. The story had nothing to do with the song’s lyrics, but for some reason all I saw was a world of snow and ice and a man who didn’t belong there.

Depeche Mode’s Wrong and Muses’ Uprising also inspired me to write an adventure set on a cargo ship in space. Again, it wasn’t the words in the songs that inspired me. I rarely listen to the lyrics anyway. It was the mood the music created in me.

Music from Enya, Enigma, and anything Celtic or tribal make great standard back drops for my creative thoughts. I particularly like anything with a deep drum beat.

Soundtracks are also awesome sources of inspiration. It makes sense since they were originally designed to do to a movie as what I hope to do to my writing: evoke emotion. Some sample soundtracks I find helpful are The Last of the Mohicans, Braveheart, and Peter Gabriel’s Passion: Music for the Last Temptation of Christ. And I particularly love the music to a little known animation that never released a soundtrack. It took me ages to find just one song from it: Lotus by Jalan Jalan.

How about you? What’s your favourite writing music? Most of the music on my list I’ve shared with you is old. I haven’t updated my music in a long time so I’m looking for fresh sounds, particularly instrumental. Can you suggest anything more recent?