Friday, October 29, 2010

The Character Arc

We all know the perfect character in any story will only add a plastic element of make-believe like something pulled from a Disneyland parade. No one in real life is perfect and, if they appear that way, then they will bore us to death when it comes to reading an entire novel about them. We want flawed characters and we want them to overcome their inner conflicts so they can conquer their outer conflicts.

This is where the Character Arc comes in:

The Character Arc is the gradual development of the characters through the story. It’s about their inner struggles and growth reflected by the outer changes in the plot. The reason why it’s so important is because it gives depth to the characters. We want to cheer for them, we want to cry for them, and we want the novel to grab us by the heart and involve us in the story.

To plot out an Arc for a character many writers start at the end. They want to know where their characters are internally and externally so they can work out the best possible path to that point. For example, if I wanted a character to show an act of courage at the end of the novel, then the act becomes more poignant and heartening if the character starts the story with a lack of courage. Think of the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz.

The change can be more subtle than the example I gave above, but it shouldn’t be a sudden change. It’s unrealistic (and a bit of a cheat) for a character to do a sudden 180. No one decides to change their ways without reason. Instead, key moments in their story will guide them to the changes they need to make.

Do you plot out the Character Arcs before you begin a novel? How detailed are your Arcs? Do you ensure an Arc is present for your secondary characters as well as your main character?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Music of Our Words

Sometimes I’ll write a sentence and, even though it's technically correct, I know there is something wrong. The sentence doesn’t sing. The words lack any real power because the rhythm is off.

Every piece of prose we read carries a kind of music. Sometimes it’s a merry jaunt that makes the reader’s eyes dance across the page. Sometimes it’s a jittery staccato that makes the reader catch their breath. Sometimes it’s a harmonious flow of words that makes the reader float through the story.

Rhythm is connected to both the pace and the sound of the words. It can be found in the ebb and flow of your prose and it brings life, feeling and atmosphere into the story. Although the music is often subtle, it has a profound impact on the reader because it can trigger the reader’s emotion. This is the same reason soundtracks so successfully enhance movie imagery.

Because rhythm is sound, we must read our pieces out loud to tune our ears to the music. This way we’ll be able to hear how the rhythm of the sentences fit in with the music of the paragraph in the concert of the scene.

When you are writing and editing do you think about the music of your piece? What importance do you place on rhythm?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Using Writing Devices

I often hear the rule, “Don’t use too many metaphors”. I was never convinced about this advice. For starters it’s a little simplistic. What’s too many? One could be too many if it’s not the right one. Instead, I think it would be more accurate to say, “Be careful when you use metaphors – or any other writing device.”

When used incorrectly writing devices, such as metaphors, similes, alliteration, and so on, can hang in prose like Christmas decorations in April. They are more than pretty baubles. They are tools to help the reader gain a deeper understanding of the things we want to say, the worlds we want to share, the emotions we want to explore. Their purpose is to bring our stories alive, to inject richness, flavour, and depth. These devices help us weave images in the readers’ mind. They play with rhythm and sound. They tease the senses.

Writing devices need to add to the prose, not detract from it. Clichés will detract because they’ve been so over used that they’ve lost their effectiveness. To avoid clichés the writer needs to make the extra effort and get inside their subject. The writer needs to ask themselves, “Does this clarify my meaning, or is it just extra words that I could toss?”

By keeping this in mind, these devices become a powerful tool.

Do you use many writing devices in your prose? Do you have any favourites? Can you think of other ways of keeping these devices in check?
Over the weekend N R Williams held a blogging Halloween Party. It was lots of fun. I'm still visiting all the party-goers. (I'm a little slow in my Hobbit costume). Double choc chip chocolate cupcakes for all those in costume!

Friday, October 22, 2010

NaNoWriMo: To Plan or Not to Plan?

November is NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

This is the first year I’ll be taking part, although I have a friend who’s participated every year since 2005. If you’d like to be my writing buddy, I’m signed in as LynFaw. Just click here.

Earlier in the year I had decided to wing it and see where the words would take me, but working on my current WIP reminded me of the downfalls of this method. Writing can slow down when we don’t know where we want to go next. At one point I hit a wall that took two weeks to budge. If I want to finish a new novel for NaNo, then I can’t afford this kind of set back.

In the past I’ve tended to plot a little ahead as I go, but I’ve never tried a full outline before. I’ve always turned my nose up at this method and proclaimed it wasn’t for me. I expected it would dull my creativity. In truth I’ve discovered the opposite.

I’m more willing to try different plot tangents for the story because it’s less work to write a quick outline. I can see whether or not it works and throw it out if it doesn’t. When November hits and it’s time to write the novel, the outline won’t stifle my creativity, but instead give me freedom to concentrate on how I tell the story.

How much do you plan a new novel before you begin to write the words? How open are you to try new methods of writing?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CassaStar Book Launch

At last it’s time for the Grand launch of the much anticipated science fiction,
by Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The story:

To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…

Few options remain for Byron. A talented but stubborn young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude, his cockpit skills are his only hope. Slated to train as a Cosbolt fighter pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life as he sets off for the moon base of Guaard.

Much to Byron’s chagrin, the toughest instructor in the fleet takes notice of the young pilot. Haunted by a past tragedy, Bassa eventually sees through Byron's tough exterior and insolence. When a secret talent is revealed during training, Bassa feels compelled to help Byron achieve his full potential.

As war brews on the edge of space, time is running short. Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive, and Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?

I’ve heard great things about this novel. Below is just one quote:

…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal
You can find more details about the book and the author on Alex's fantastic blog here

If you want to read a brilliant interview with the author go to Dezmond's awesome blog here

Find it, buy it, read it. I know I will.

CassaStar by Alex J. Cavanaugh
October 19, 2010 Science fiction/adventure/space opera
ISBN 9780981621067 Dancing Lemur Press LLC

Monday, October 18, 2010

Writer Interrupted

As writers we value our time. Time has a way of slipping through our fingers. Days, weeks, months can pass before we finish a mere outline for a novel let alone the novel itself. And so, we get frustrated at any interruption that pulls us away from our precious writing time.

But life is a series of interruptions. They are unavoidable. I should know: I’ve lost two weeks of editing because of sickness. During that time I realised frustration is a waste of energy. There was nothing I could do so, rather than seeing the interruption as a step back from my work, I decided instead to try to see it as an inspiration.

Inspiration comes from the most unlikely of places: the stranger at the door, the overheard conversation, the delayed public transport. A whole novel can form from a single unexpected moment, phrase, image, or sound.

If we stay attuned to the world and never switch off as a writer, then we can make the most of every opportunity – including the interruptions. They can be an opportunity to hone the writing mind.

Can you think of a time when an interruption helped you as a writer—even if it was just a break you didn’t realise you needed?

Note: Thank you so much for all the well wishes. I’m still sick but I can at last say I’m on the mend.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I'll be back

Quite sick at the moment (just a bad case of flu that won't go away) but I won't be able to post anything coherent for a couple days. I'll be back as soon as I can.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Write What You Know (Part 2)

My last post was about how we can and do write about what we don’t know. Today’s post is about how we end up writing what we do know.

I may write fantasy and science fiction, but I draw from all my experiences. I’ve travelled widely and the places I’ve visited have turned up in my writing. I’ve used the awe I felt wandering the Whispering Gallery of St Pauls in London; the excitement of exploring the ruined Urquhart castle on the shores of Loch Ness; the strangeness of sensing an ancient spirit of the land that clings to the red dust of central Australia; the thrill and honour of a VIP tour to the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea; the agony of the hot sun during a three day camel trek across an Indian desert.

These places exist, but they mean little without our response to them. This is what writing is about: our response to the world and each other. And this is why we write what we know even when we don’t realise it.

I didn't need to travel to be able to write. I could still write fantastical pieces based on the things I know. And what I didn't know, I could learn. A photo of a place we’ve never visited may inspire us to write. Observation, imagination and research are powerful tools. They will carry us to places we’ve never been.

RaShelle said it best in her comment on my last post: “I've always thought of writing what I know as writing what I love.”

Where do you get most of your inspiration from? How much research do you do?

I’d also like to thank Alison from Wistful Wanderings. She had a competition to celebrate getting to stay in Germany and I won! My goodies arrived in the mail yesterday: “The Pasta Detectives” and two blocks of German chocolate. Sorry, Dezmond, but I’ve already eaten the 71% dark chocolate one. Naughty me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Write What You Don’t Know (Part 1)

When I first started writing in my teens the one piece of advice I most frequently heard was write what you know. I struggled with this rule. If I could only write what I knew then my work would end up as dull and boring as I believed my life was at the time.

I didn’t want to write only to reflect the mundane. I wanted to write to escape the mundane! And this meant writing what I didn’t know.

I’d never had an adventure, I’d never investigated a crime, I’d never met a dragon, I’d never battled supernatural armies. I wanted to make the ordinary extraordinary.

It wasn’t until later I learned it wasn’t about the unknown worlds I created, it was about the characters. What engaged me most about the stories I read was the fascination for people and their struggles. We all have that fascination. People are interesting, even the dullest people. It’s because we are made up of so many layers and contradictions.

Writing is a journey of discovery. We want to know why a certain person acts a certain way. We want to follow them on their journey. The more we can relate to the characters, the more their journey becomes our own.

And so we write -- and we sometimes write what we don’t know.

Next post I will explore how we write what we do know even when we don’t realise it.

Are there other rules on writing you’ve struggled with? Do you often write what you don't know?

Pic: As a teenager I drew a lot of dragons. Here is one I did in coloured pencils.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Keeping Track

Today I’m taking part in Patti Nielson’s Blogfest about keeping track of how much time we wrote or edited last week. This Blogfest was a great exercise. It reminded me how important it is to keep track of the time because it’s so easy to squander. Distractions have a way of creeping in and before we know it another day has passed and we have little to show for it.

If this Blogfest had happened a month ago I could have proudly posted my neat schedule and my 1000 words a day goal. However, now I’m in the editing phase and it’s harder to pinpoint goals while I’m still looking at the big picture, testing my plot, tweaking the characters and events. I needed to adjust my schedule and be both stricter and kinder with myself so I can get this done and feel good about it.

As it turned out I did an average of five hours a day on editing. It would have been higher but I didn’t start the week off well and I chose to take a day off and I didn't even bother to count the weekend because I've been down with flu. However, when I paid attention to what I was doing – yes, reading through the ms is editing; yes, thinking about plot is editing; yes, scrubbing out changes I’d just made is still successful editing – I felt so much better about my WIP. I may not have been able to point to fresh new pages of glossy print, but I did achieve a forward step on my novel.

So, my advice is to keep track. Give yourself achievable goals. Be kind to yourself. And keep writing!

Do you try to keep track of your daily achievements? If so, how do you keep track?

Friday, October 1, 2010

10 Things I Like About Writing

I’d like to send Rosie of  East for Green Eyes a huge thank you for this award. To accept it I’m meant to list 10 things I like (not love – I cheated a little) so I thought I’d turn it into a writing theme.

1. I like that writing gives me a means of expression and a purpose.

2. I like when my writing flows and the story takes on a life of its own. I’m merely a conduit for the words.

3. I like when others get something out of my stories. It makes me feel like I’ve done something right.

4. I like things of quality – in terms of writing, that means I like the end result when hard work means a powerful plot, strong characters, attention to detail, correct grammar.

5. I like sitting at the local coffee shop early on a Sunday morning. I watch people go by while I write snippets of blog posts or stories.

6. I like to travel to new and wondrous worlds through my writing.

7. I like to explore the inner workings of people through my characters.

8. I like the power of the imagination. Without it writers wouldn’t exist.

9. I like words. I like their magic, their simplicity, their complexity.

10. I like the satisfying feeling of typing The End on a finished manuscript.

What are some things you like about writing?

I’m supposed to pass this award on to ten people, but how about five…

Jeffrey Beesler
Carolyn V
Robert Guthrie