Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Right Time to Query

The big question for every writer who is serious about getting published is this: When is the right time to query? Unfortunately this is not something that we can be told. Each of us has to decide. However, there are some key points that might help.

For example, it's probably not a good idea to start querying after you've finished your first draft. The manuscript will be as rough as a porcupine pillow. I know of no writer who has a quality manuscript after the first draft, no matter how long it took them to write it.

It's also probably not a good idea to start sending out your manuscript to agents and publishers if no one else has read it. Critique partners and beta readers are essential, even for seasoned writers. No matter how talented you might be, you will miss mistakes trusted readers will be able to catch.

Many of us are the impatient sort and we want to start querying the day we declare our manuscripts finished. It's probably a better idea to wait two weeks, read through it again and then send it. I've heard agents say to wait two months before sending.

Of course, there have been exceptions to the rule. I know of an author who sent only the first three chapters of an unfinished book and scored a contract based on that alone. But remember, that's the exception.

The publishing game is a slow one. There is no need to hurry when it comes to our first books. As Jennifer Hillier said in an interview with herself found here, 'Write the best book you can. DON'T RUSH – enjoy the fact that with your first novel, you don't have a deadline and can take your time. When it's ready, and not a day before, start querying. And never, ever give up.'

How do you know if you are ready to query? 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Precision of Thought for Writing

The genius of the George Orwell novel, 1984, is that in the story the government controlled the people by reducing their vocabulary. The theory was that if the people didn’t have words, then they couldn’t form complex concepts. In essence, they wouldn’t be able to think with any clarity.

As writers, our goal is to write exactly what we want to say in an elegant form—a form that resonates with others. To achieve this goal, we need to use words in a precise manner. This requires disciplined thinking, which requires a healthy vocabulary and practise putting those words into tight, meaningful sentences.

When I write, I often have to ask myself what purpose I want a scene to have. What exactly am I trying to capture? Does a particular sentence say what I mean? Could I say it better?

The elegant part of the equation is about the rhythms and flow of the words, and the very sound they make. A deeper meaning can be understood through this music. For example, short sharp sentences increase tension in a scene.

What are some things you do to clarify your thoughts while writing? Do you think of the rhythms when you write?

Pic: A close up of the Sydney Opera House's amazing architecture

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tips for Gaining Voice in Writing

What is voice?
Voice is an elusive element in writing. It can be a subtle thing, or as obvious as a snarky main character. However, voice is more than a single character’s way of speech. Voice is the individual writer’s way of presenting setting, plot and characters. It is a writer’s style that is uniquely the author. It can’t be copied (at least, not easily or well).

How is voice achieved?
Voice is written from the heart of the author—that deep place that makes us individual. From personal experience, I’ve found that voice is easiest to achieve when I’m not fretting about writing rules, when I’m not worrying what others will think of my stories. It takes courage and practise to put yourself on the page for all to see.

Don’t copy another author’s style. It won’t work and the story will likely fall flat in the attempt. You have to find your own style.

Don’t apologise for who you are. Find the courage to be yourself when you write.

Write a fast first draft to keep the doubts at bay. Remember you can fix anything later.

First learn grammar and punctuation, then don’t be afraid to break the rules if your story is calling out for it.

Learn to listen to your story. It will tell you how to write it.

Read not just a lot, but copious amounts. Absorb stories and styles. Be inspired, learn what works and what doesn’t.

Then write. And write some more.

How have you developed your voice? In your opinion what books have included a great voice?

Thanks to Claire Lachance for the Versatile Blogger Award. Please visit her great blog and say hi from me.

Monday, September 19, 2011

10 Tips Writers can Learn from Bad Movies

Today is Alex J Cavanaugh’s Worst Movies Ever Blogfest. Being the rebel that I am, I thought I’d put a spin on it and write up some tips writers can learn from bad movies.

1. Stories must be credible. ‘Unknown’ is a movie which proves this point. The story events stretched believability to the point where I wanted to throw popcorn at the screen.

2. A good ending is just as important as a good beginning. ‘9’ is a beautifully animated movie. The characters are wonderful, the art is visually splendid, and the concept is original. This movie, however, fell into my list of the worst movies of all time because the ending was terribad. It ruined the whole movie for me.

3. Avoid the cheese. Some might say ‘The Blob’ is a classic. I’m not one of them. This horror film comes across as cheesy from start to finish. It is in fact so cheesy that it makes a great comedy, though I don’t think the makers originally intended that.

4. Write outside the formula. ‘I Am Number 4’ is an example of formula gone bad. It is one thing writing inside a genre, another thing writing to formula. It seemed obvious to me that many scenes in this movie were simply included because they were what the makers believed fit into the teen formula. They had no other reason to be there.

5. Kill your darlings. This is a phrase many writers hear because it’s so important to remove any scenes or characters that don’t drive the story forward. In the case of ‘Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace’, the fans dictated the inclusion of characters and scenes to the detriment of the plot. (And don’t get me started about Jar Jar).

6. A good story takes time to write. ‘Your Highness’ gave me the impression not a lot of time went into the story or its humour. It was clear a lot of money went into the making of the film, but money, scenery, and special effects aren’t enough to make a good movie—or a good book.

7. Don’t set up false expectations when marketing. Because I heard ‘The Perfect Storm’ was based on a true story, I had certain expectations when I went to see it. Those expectations shattered when I realised the movie was based almost entirely on guesses. I felt cheated purely because of the way the movie had been marketed.

8. Strong dialogue is crucial. I love dragons and fantasy, but I fell asleep while watching ‘Eragon’. Not only was the acting wooden, but the dialogue was painfully weak. 

9. Pace is just as important as plot. Some might disagree with me on the example I’m going to use for this point, but I wanted to poke my eyes out with a fork while watching ‘Eat Pray Love’. Even though I liked the concept of this movie, it felt painfully slow and self-indulgent because the pace wasn’t right. 

10. Sequels should be consistent to the original. ‘Highlander 2’ is probably the worst movie sequel in all of history. It totally threw away all the ‘rules’ set up in the first movie thereby alienating it’s fan-base.

What would you consider to be the worst movie of all time?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Watching Willow Watts and Awards

Book Launch:
One country girl is about to discover that fame can cost a fortune.

Talli Roland’s Watching Willow Watts is now available in ebook format. The paperback will be coming out in November. I bought a copy for my kindle last night and am already halfway through. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I love the characters. They're all interesting and different. I love the escalating predicaments. I love that the story is set in the 'ugliest village in Britain'. Even my inner editor has stayed silent while reading this story and I love that.

Thank you to Maeve Frazier for the Versatile Blogger Award.

Thank you to Gail Shepherd for the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award.

Thank you to Nancy Thompson for the 7x7 Link Award. For this award I’m supposed to link to what I feel is the most beautiful, popular, controversial, helpful, surpassingly successful, underrated and prideworthy posts. A daunting task to say the least. And so I decided to link to my favourite post which covers most of these: 14 Lies We Tell Ourselves about Writing

Have you read or plan to read Watching Willow Watts? 
What lies do you tell yourself about writing?

Monday, September 12, 2011

7 Essential Elements of Character Creation

Last week Nikki Jefford requested a post on developing characters. There are many different approaches toward developing characters for a story. Last year I wrote a post on different ways to get to know your characters which might help anyone getting started. The techniques I included were the use of visual aids, character questionnaires and family trees. Each author needs to find the technique that works for them.

No matter what method an author chooses to adopt, there are a number of elements that are essential to include in the creation of every character:

The name: Many writers will start with a name and build on the character from there. I can easily spend hours searching for the right name. I’ll often look up a name’s meaning to give a subtle extra dimension. Back when I didn’t plan my stories, I changed a character’s name midway through the manuscript only to discover that the changed name also changed the character’s personality which in turn changed his role in the story. A name can reveal a lot about a person. For example, it can reveal their family’s country of origin.

The appearance: There are a lot of factors to consider for the appearance of a character: their height and build, how they project themselves, if they have any scars or tattoos, and so much more. A character’s appearance will reveal their origins, their education, even their frame of mind. These details, when offered in a sprinkling of information rather than a flood, can engage the reader and make the characters feel more real.

The motivation: The easiest way I get to know my characters is to find out what drives them. What are their passions, and what’s the reason behind their actions?

The use of language: The way a character speaks can be enormously revealing. For example: whether or not a character uses slang, expletives, a certain dialect, abbreviations. The character’s voice can make a reader love them or hate them.

The flaw: Every character must have flaws to make them more believable and well-rounded. The flaw will also give the main characters room for conflict and change through the storyline. You can find more on that subject in a previous post on The Character Arc.

The past: The past, our environment, and our experiences shape us. Because of this, many writers will build a thorough history for their characters to get to know them. While that history may not always end up in the pages of the novel, it’s good to know

The likeability: A main character in particular must be likeable for a reader to journey with them through a story. This doesn’t mean the character has to be nice all the time. We can like mean characters as long as they are interesting in some way. 

Which elements of a character’s creation do you spend the most time on? What are the factors you like most about any given character?

I was recently tagged by Tiffany Garner. I am meant to post 10 random things about myself. Being the rebel that I am, I will post 1 random thing: I have been mobbed like a popular celebrity (or a strange curiosity) in a remote village in India. I took the photo I used for this post from a bus window. I boarded the bus to hide from this crowd because I was so different--white skin, blue eyes and glasses. (Probably a good thing I wasn't blonde as well).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Enjoying the Journey

I recently watched an interview with Jeff Bridges on the Colbert Report. When asked how he looks so great and relaxed after all this time, his answer was that his mother told him to enjoy his work and not take it too seriously. This resonated with me.

As writers, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We yearn for publication, strive to produce our best work, pour hours into social media to build that much needed platform—but what’s it all for if we don’t slow down enough, or lighten up enough, to enjoy the whole experience?

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if I'm not doing it right according to someone else. It doesn’t matter if I can’t devote every waking minute to writing. It doesn’t matter if no one likes my stories. I love them and I get a deep satisfaction from writing them. When I let all the doubts and worries go, I also write a thousand times better.

So, paraphrasing Jeff Bridges’ mum, ‘Enjoy your writing and don’t take it too seriously.’

What helps you to remember to enjoy your writing?

Note: This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The group was formed by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers to encourage each other. 

Giveaway: Theresa Milstein is holding a fabulous giveaway to celebrate her 4 milestones: blogiversary, 600+ follower count, new gradate class, and new job. Pop on over and enter HERE.

Monday, September 5, 2011

10 Stages of Story Development

1. The idea. It could come from anywhere. It could start with a character, a place, a scene, or simply a vague concept. I often have more than one idea, especially when I’m actively looking for them. I’ll write down all my ideas in a notebook.

2. World-building. Sometimes the idea will start with the world first. If I fall in love with the setting/world then I will pursue it further and set up the history, the politics, the ‘rules’. Even if these details don’t make it into the story, they are important to think about. The world will often dictate what kind of story it wants to tell.

3. Character development. I start thinking about the characters and give them names, appearances, traits and desires. Sometimes the characters will come before the world, depending on where the idea starts.

4. Character arc. For me the main element that drives my stories is character so I think about the character arc early on. This is where the plot begins to develop.

5. Outline. This is where I work out a beginning, middle and end. I used to just wing it, but I found I had to do a lot of rewrites to get it right. Outlining reduces those rewrites and it helps me to see the big picture before I get caught up in the specifics.

6. First draft. This is the mad frenzy of pushing out the story onto the page. I usually set myself a goal of 7000 words per week if I’m being kind to myself, or 10 000 words per week if I want to push myself. I prefer to push myself, because my best writing happens when I don’t have the time to over think everything.

7. Break. This is where a break is essential. It’s a good time to start expanding on other ideas or to write a few short stories.

8. The read through. Also essential. I think it’s important to read through your novel from beginning to end many times over the course of development.

9. Editing. This is when I allow myself to slow down and take the time to get the wording right. I look at pacing, motivations, sentence structure, chapter length etc. 

10. Critique partners. I’ll send out my manuscript to trusted critique partners and friends. Then I repeat stages 7-10 until I’m happy with the story.

How do you develop your story ideas?

Thanks to Suze at Girl Wizard for tagging me where we were supposed to tell 10 things about ourselves, but I adjusted the rules. I’m such a rebel.

Also thanks to L. G. Smith for the 7x7 Link Award. Again, being the rebel, I have linked back to her blog, Bards and Prophets, and ask that you visit and say hi from me.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Language and a Writer’s Responsibility

The love of language and all it can do for us is a love born from our need to communicate. Is that all it is? Is language simply a means to share concepts, to voice our wants, to record our history?

Language is an expression of who we are. It evolves over time and varies over locations. Through language we have stories and imaginings. Through language we are made greater by communal ideas. Through language we reveal so much more about ourselves.

That’s why I think writers in particular have a responsibility to use language with care and respect. This is not to say we have to always cling to correct grammar and sentence structure. However, we do need to learn the rules so we can mould language into the best means of offering understanding to our readers. Language is a precious tool.

Is it a writer’s responsibility to preserve language? To an extent. Language is an ever evolving creature. In the last twenty years we’ve seen massive changes in the way we communicate. We’ve seen the advent of emoticons, text messaging and abbreviations that have made it into the spoken word. We’ve become less formal. There is no point getting snobbish over these changes and no point holding onto the past.

I think it is a writer’s responsibility to fight complacency and laziness. I think we should utilise the best that language can offer, not the worst. It is a gift, after all.

Do you think it’s a writer’s responsibility to preserve language?

Note: I have decided to reduce the number of my posts to two per week (Mondays and Thursdays) so that I’ll have more time for writing and blog visits. Thanks to all those who left comments and encouragement on Facebook.

Award: Huge thanks to Carrie Butler for the 7x7 link award. Please visit her fabulous blog and say hi from me.

Reminder: The Insecure Writers’ Support Group, started by Alex J Cavanaugh, will post on the first Wednesday of every month. You can sign up here.