Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bad Books

Time is running out and I keep getting myself distracted by writing up pieces not meant for today’s post. And so I will make this a brief one because I need to get back to some editing for my WIP.

Books have the same enemies as people: fire, humidity, animals, weather, and their own content.
– Paul Valery

When you read a published book only to discover it was a waste of your time and money, are you discouraged as a writer? Or, do you feel encouraged because you know deep down you could do better?

What makes a bad book?*

*amendment: what I'm asking is what is it about a book that will more than likely fail to keep your interest?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Questions to Ask While Editing

There are many questions we need to ask ourselves when we edit our fabulous first drafts. Below I’ve listed just a few:

Questions to ask first:
Does my story fit into the market?
Does it have a hook?
Does it have a satisfying ending?
Do I have enough chocolate in the house?
Do any of my scenes lack spark?
Do I have too much backstory or description?
Is the story engaging? Can I make it better?
Is the story easy to follow?

Questions to ask about character:
Are my characters believable and relatable?
Do they have a strong enough motivation?
Does the main character grow through the book?
Is the main character strong?
Does he/she have flaws?
Is their dialogue snappy enough?
Is there any unnecessary dialogue?

Questions to ask about conflict:
Does the tension build through the book?
Do I give my readers any anti-climaxes?
Has any of the conflict turned into melodrama?
Is the conflict believable?
Am I happy with the balance of inner and outer conflict?

Questions to ask about the details:
Is my style consistent?
Am I showing rather than telling?
Are there any unnecessary words?
Are my sentences active or passive?
Do I still have enough chocolate in the house?
Is my grammar correct?
Do I have any hidden typos that Word hasn’t picked up?
Is the story still easy to follow?

There are so many more questions that could be asked. What are some questions you ask while you edit your latest novel?

SPECIAL NOTE: Justine Dell is having a competition to celebrate her 250+ followers. The prizes are amazing. Check it out here

Friday, September 24, 2010

How to Make Compelling Characters

This post is part of Jen, Alex and Elana’s Great Blogging Experiment.

What makes a character compelling? What is that secret ingredient that makes us care about what happens to them? Below I’ve listed a few elements that add to a character’s charm.

Believability: characters should come across as real. Not cardboard cut outs. Compelling characters should be like onions. They should have more than one layer. They need to have depth, history, motivations, goals.

Relatability: characters should have traits we can all relate to. We like the people we connect with the most.

Flawed: characters who have flaws are more interesting and believable and in turn become more relatable. No one likes a perfect person. No one likes a perfectly bad person either.

Conflict: even the most interesting character becomes boring if they are placed in a story with no conflict. Our characters need challenges to overcome.

Envy: This might sound strange, but even a boring person becomes interesting when they have something we want. I’ll travel through a book with a bland character and hardly notice their blandness if they are living the life I want to live, overcoming the odds I want to overcome.

Uniqueness: the same ole clichéd characters we’ve all seen before won’t pique our interested. We should try to give them something new, something unexpected.

Consistency: characters need to react in a consistent way. We put our guard up when they do something totally unexpected without motivation.

Likeability: No one likes a whinger. Even a whinging villain can become a groan.

Can you think of other elements that make up a compelling character?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beginning the Editing Process (Part 2)

Last Friday I wrote about how daunting it can be to start the editing process. Today, as promised, I will go into more detail about how to begin editing.

Editing becomes less daunting when we face it one step at a time.

Step 1: To kick start the process after a break you need to reimmerse yourself into your story. The best (and only) way to do this is to read through your entire manuscript (ms). Try to read it as if you are reading it for the first time. Resist the urge to edit. You can make brief notes, but that’s all.

There’s no point line editing at this stage. Let me repeat that: there is no point line editing at this stage. If you do, then you could spend hours looking for just the right word or phrase only to realise down the track the whole section needs to go.

Step 2: Read through your ms again, but this time write up a synopsis or a flow chart (if you haven’t already). The purpose of this is to break the story up into important events and changes in the Main Character’s (MC) external and internal development so that you can see the Big Picture. Some people require visual aids such as index cards or post it notes to shuffle around story elements.

Step 3: eat some chocolate. By this stage you’ll have earned it. You’ll likely need that gentle pick-me-up anyway.

Step 4: Take another look at what you have. Find the weaker elements in your story. Make sure you have the catchy beginning, a tight middle and a satisfying end. You’ll need to watch for character development, likeability and believability. You’ll need to keep an eye on tangents, unresolved elements and hidden discrepancies.

Step 5: eat some more chocolate because next you’ll need to take a look at the details: the superfluous words, the weak phrasing, the inconsistencies. You may have to return to step 3 a few times.

In short, editing is like building your very own croquembouche (profiterole tower). You have to start at the base and build up from a solid platform. Your solid platform is your plot. Once you are happy with the plot, how the story flows, the pace and the conflicts, then and only then is it worth spending time on more detailed editing. The spun sugar for your profiteroles is in the final detail: the right words and phrases; the appropriate sentence length; the correct grammar and formatting.

How often do you read through your ms while you edit? Do you use a different method of editing?

Note: every writer must find a way that works for them. Everyone is different. There is no absolute rule a writer must adhere to – except, “Keep writing!”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Top 10 TV Shows

I’m taking a break from my usual posts to take part in Alex J Cavanaugh’s Blogfest. Are you ready to see how geeky I truly am? 

1. Babylon 5 – In short, it’s about a group of people on a space station named Babylon 5. It was made in the 90s. I loved this series because of the awesome dialogue. Check here for cool quotes.

2. Firefly – aired in 2002, it lasted only one season as a series, but it was brilliant. It was a Space Western. I loved the characters, the dialogue and the world. 

3. Friends – Apart from some of the hairstyles and outfits, this series hasn’t aged since the 90s. The stories and characters are still relevant and amusing.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The early seasons were the best when it didn’t take itself too seriously. It was just a bit of fun.

5. Dr Who – A British scifi that’s older than me. I think it started in the 60s but it’s still going strong. It never had a big budget and some of the monsters and sets used to be dodgy, but it proved that story drives a good show.

6. Masterchef Australia – it’s taken from a British show, but we’ve made it our own. It’s similar to Top Chef but without the backstabbing. It’s about amateur cooks vying to be titled Masterchef. It’s the only reality show I watch these days.

7. Misfits – This is also British, about a group of young offenders forced to work in a community service programme, where they become imbued with supernatural powers after a strange electrical storm. Due to its success they’ve started filming the second season in May. There are some rough language and elements in the story but I enjoyed it anyway. I think it’s labelled as a dark comedy. 

8. Stargate SG1/Universe – two great series. I enjoyed the characters and the stories. SG1 has a great re-watchability to it. 

9. Star Trek – Original – Sure, it’s dated, sure I only ever watched it as reruns, but I loved the spark between the three main characters. The stories were imaginative at the time, they didn’t take themselves too seriously and it was fun to watch.

10. Fawlty Towers – A British comedy made in the 70s and only had 12 episodes, but they were all memorable in their silliness.

So there you have it. This list shifts and changes a lot for me, depending on my mood.  And I'm sure I've forgotten a few which deserve to be on this list more. If you haven't taken part in the blogfest, I'd still love to hear which tv shows are your favourite.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Beginning the Editing Process (Part 1)

As some of you know, I took a two and a half week break from the first draft of my current work in progress (WIP) and have at last begun editing. This is a scary time for any writer. It’s when we read through our manuscript (ms) and begin to make the difficult decisions of what stays and what goes. This is when we must question everything. This is when we realise how much work is yet to come.

It’s easy to get discouraged at this stage. I opened up my ms and shuddered. The first two chapters have to go. That’s 5000 words blown up in smoke and the little black cloud from the explosion threatens to hover over my head. I have to remind myself that this is all part of the process. I have to throw out the bad bits to make room for great bits.

Greatness. That’s what we want to aim for when we edit. We can only achieve greatness through the hard slog, through the tossing out of sections that don’t work, through the careful attention to detail, through the ability to see the big picture. It takes practice, patience and a kind of bulldog determination to keep going.

Next Wednesday I will post a more detailed piece on how to begin editing. (Monday I will be taking part in Alex J Cavanaugh’s Top Ten TV Shows Blogfest which should be a lot of fun – and you’ll see my true geeky self).

Do you enjoy editing? Do you find it a daunting process? What keeps you going?

Special Note: Jen over at Unedited is having a giveaway. Pop on over to check it out.

Pic: I took this photo of the sun at midday during a time of bad bushfires in Australia

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

7 Ways to Avoid Burn Out

Many of us experience burnout when we pour everything we have into our writing. We spend hours a day, everyday, on our works in progress, on our blog posts, on our comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, all in the name of our writing career.

It can often be an uphill battle. We may not be getting the feedback we want. We may be losing too many hours of the day and our houses are turning into breeding grounds for dust bunnies. We may be beginning to listen again to that voice of doubt that niggles in the background of our minds.

These are sure signs of burn out, so how do we avoid this?

1. Take a break. You don’t have to spend thousands on a trip to a tropical island, but a break – any break – will do you wonders. I try to take a blogging break every weekend. I’m currently taking a break from my WIP before I start to edit. Sometimes I need to take a week off from everything. We are allowed.

2. Be kind to yourself. Remember you aren’t a superhero. You aren’t impervious to criticism, you aren’t immune to the pressures of deadlines, but you can learn to deal with these things by being kind to yourself. Pamper yourself with not only the occasional indulgences (chocolate is my favourite indulgence), but pamper yourself with kind thoughts as well. Tell yourself you will reach your goals.

3. Exercise. Blow away the cobwebs of the mind, step away from the keyboard or pen and breathe in some fresh air. Get the heart pumping.

4. Visit friends. I don’t know about you, but I tend to immerse myself in my work and forget the importance of friendship, relaxation and a great girly chat over lunch. (For the guys who read this blog change ‘girly chat’ with manly beer and grunts over lunch).

5. Reschedule. If you are burning out then it may be time to reassess how much time you have devoted to your career. Because our jobs aren’t the typical eight hour day it’s harder to regulate so we need to stay on top of it. You may need to cut back for a while.

6. Prioritise. This is one of my favourites. When drawing close to a deadline our writing becomes more important so we will have to cut back on other things such as social media until that deadline is met. But know there is an end in sight and make it as easy as possible for yourself.

7. Remember the highs. It’s good to remember why you love to write and why you put yourself under so much pressure. Remembering will help to sustain you.

Have you experienced burn out? What are some things you do to avoid burn out?

Monday, September 13, 2010

All in a Name

Talli Roland had a great post last week about pen names. This topic has been on my mind a lot lately because I’m so uncertain about it.

It’s not like using a pen name is an unusual thing. Science Fiction writer, C J Cherryh, put an “h” at the end of her name because her publishers felt that otherwise her name sounded too much like a romance novelist. J K Rowling used initials because her publishers didn’t want to scare off male readers with a female author name on the books.

If I had an unusual name I wouldn’t worry so much, but it turns out my name is more common than I thought. And, what is worse, a woman of the same name, same spelling, has published children’s health books and another whose first name is spelt with an “i” has published faith books.

With today’s growing need to build a platform before we try to get published, I’m nervous about promoting a name that may have to change. This uncertainty factor is why I don’t use my name in my blog title.

What are your thoughts? If I stuck to my true name would I become just one of many, lost in the crowd? Should I stick to this name for now and wait until a publisher tells me to change it, or should I change it now and hope the publishers like it?

I know some of you use pen names. What are the reasons you decided to change your name? Why did you choose a particular name? Do you think a name matters that much?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Awards and Trivia

Today is a short post to thank all the lovely people who so kindly gave me an award over the last couple of weeks. It's only now I've had a chance to give you an official Thank You!

Thank you to Melissa of Melissa Getting Published for the Versatile Blogger Award.

The Rules for The Versatile Blogger Award:
1)Thank and link back to the person that gave you the award.
2)Share seven things about yourself.
3)Pass the award to fifteen bloggers that you think deserve it.
4)Lastly, contact all of the bloggers that you’ve picked for the award. 

Thank you to Dawn of Life Lines for this version of the Versatile Blogger.

The Rules for The Versatile Blogger Award:
1)Thank and link back to the person that gave you the award.
2)Share seven things about yourself.
3)Pass the award to fifteen bloggers that you think deserve it.
4)Lastly, contact all of the bloggers that you’ve picked for the award.  

Thank you to Melissa of Melissa Getting Published and Jessica of  Smile, Feel Good, Pass it On for the One Lovely Blog Award.

One Lovely Blog Award Rules:
1)Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.
2)Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.
3)Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

I'm not going to do the seven things about yourself thing. But I will give a fun and intersting fact:

"Bwaarrk!" is chicken speak for "Threat approaching from the ground."
Yes, chickens have a language too.
 Fascinating huh? (I've been holding onto that for a while now wondering how I could incorporate it into a blog post - lol) Do you have any fascinating or funny trivia you'd like to share?

 I'd like to pass on these awards to those in the list below. Please feel free to pick the one award you'd like.

Erinn @ something else to distract me
Stephanie @ Hatshepsut: The Writing of a Novel
Antonette @ Write on: Exploring the Craft
Talli @ Talli Roland
Arlee @ Tossing it out
Sharon @ Random Thoughts
Jeffrey @ Jeffrey Beesler's World of the Scribe

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why do you write?

Why do you write? It’s not enough to say, “Because I must.” That’s the ethereal answer reserved for strangers. We often fall back on that answer because we don’t believe our non writing friends and acquaintances would truly understand.

Yes, it’s a yearning based on the human need to express ourselves. Words whisper to us when the house is hushed in the early hours of the morning, or in the late hours of the night. They call to us when our minds wander through the chaos or boredom of daily life.

But why? Why are writers so cursed, so blessed, with the need to write?

I believe this question can only be answered by each individual writer. It’s different for everyone and, I think, our reasons shift and change as much as the tides. Below I’ve listed some possible reasons. I’d love to know if any resonate with you.

It’s a way of making a difference to the world.
If your words can reach out into the vastness of the human race and touch just one person, to move them to cry, to laugh, to learn, to sing, then you’ve found your calling as a writer.

It’s a way of making sense of this world. We live in a bewildering world full of strange and amazing experiences. There is so much we don’t understand, so much we can’t quite grasp. Writing may help you to unravel some of the questions you’ve longed to answer. It might help you to speculate on the what ifs.

It’s a way of showing others we aren’t alone. When we write we share with others through the lives of our characters, the experience of the human condition. We want to relate to each other. We want to know we aren’t alone in our feelings, thoughts and dreams.

It’s a way of escaping a harsh reality. There is magic in writing. We can create any world we want and people it with any character we desire. Our imaginations are our only limit. Our stories can become a place we can escape to from a difficult or unwanted reality.

It’s a way of earning a living. A famous Australian cartoonist once admitted in an interview that he hated cartooning, but he pursued it because he was good at it. He said he needed to earn a living somehow. This might take the romanticism out of writing, but it’s just as valid a reason as any other.

What are some reasons you write? Have any of your reasons changed over the years?

Pic: Light Festival in Hong Kong

Monday, September 6, 2010

Contractions – Go with the Flow

Part of the real skill behind good writing is to make it look easy. And it looks easy when it flows off the tongue with a sweet sounding rhythm that’s effortless to understand. So what is one way we can achieve this flow?

We use contractions. A contraction is two words turned into one. For example: ‘can not’ becomes can’t; ‘do not’ becomes don’t; ‘you are’ becomes you’re.

Written contractions work because they reflect speech which is the most common way we communicate with each other. It’s a natural sound we hear every day and so we’re comfortable with the shortened rhythms. When we write like we speak, we give the reader a familiar ground to visit our stories. They aren’t distracted by the writing.

If we decide to write every word in full, then our writing begins to sound stilted. We force the readers to stumble or pause because it’s not a familiar rhythm. Because of this the piece often gains an air of pompousness.

If you don’t want a natural flow to your writing, or you want to achieve a certain level of formality, then go for it. The full words work well in any formal document. You could have a character who speaks without contractions, but they will sound robotic – much like Data in the Star Trek Next Gen series. Sometimes it works, but you’ll find mostly it doesn’t.

Do you use all the common contractions all of the time? Do you mix it up? Or do you think too many contractions make a piece too informal?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fan Fiction - For or Against?

With any popular book or movie, the inevitable result will be spin offs, parodies, wannabes, and fan fiction. Just take a look at Twilight! Fans clamber for more. They lap up the unauthorised biographies, they collect the unauthorised merchandise and they fill the internet with their own stories based on someone else’s world.

Some authors encourage fan fiction. They believe it only helps to spread the word about their own work. They want to nurture their fans so they allow them to indulge in borrowed worlds.

However, some authors are against the whole idea. There is the question of copyright infringement. They believe there is a certain level of theft behind fan fiction. I found in this article the story of Marion Zimmer Bradley:

Most of us laboring in the genres of science fiction and fantasy... had a lesson in the dangers of permitting fan fiction a couple of decades back, courtesy of Marion Zimmer Bradley. MZB had been an author who not only allowed fan fiction based on her Darkover series, but actively encouraged it... even read and critiqued the stories of her fans. All was happiness and joy, until one day she encountered in one such fan story an idea similar to one she was using in her current Darkover novel-in-progress. MZB wrote to the fan, explained the situation, even offered a token payment and an acknowledgement in the book. The fan replied that she wanted full co-authorship of said book, and half the money, or she would sue. MZB scrapped the novel instead, rather than risk a lawsuit.

The article goes on to say there wouldn’t have been any grounds for the lawsuit since MZB had evidence that she came up with the idea on her own. But still it’s something to think about.

What are your thoughts on Fan Fiction? Are you for or against or don’t care either way? How do you think it might impact an author’s work?

* Photo: I'm the stormtrooper in the middle ;)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Give and Take of Social Media

Social media is an important tool in a writer’s utility belt. It’s not just about building a personal platform from which to launch ourselves and our careers. It’s also a great way of staying connected with the writing community. It will link us to a broad base of knowledge, invaluable tips and tricks, and the much needed encouragement all writers crave.

It’s not just about the number of followers we have. It’s also about the number of people we follow in turn.

It’s not just about the number of comments we get. It’s also about the number of comments we make.

It’s not just about what we can gain. It’s also about what we can give.

In other words, it’s about true interaction within a community. More often than not the amount we gain from social media is proportional to the amount we give. So how do we make sure the balance it there?

Be genuinely interested in others. If you have a choice to spend time with two people, which would you choose? The one who is thoughtful, kind and interested in you, or the one who only talks about themselves? Which one would you be more likely to help?

Offer interesting or helpful blog content. If your blog is only about the cuteness your children, or the greatness of your latest book, then people will stop coming back. Give them a reason to return by offering them something of interest.

Run competitions. People love blogfests and competitions. They are a great way to promote yourself without promoting yourself. Prizes don’t have to be huge, but people remember the generosity and the fun.

Promote other people’s work. I’ve had a few people show their support in small but generous ways. I remember these people and I want to offer them the same in return. I’ve had the most success in twitter when I retweet other people’s great blog posts or tweets. Plus it makes me feel good ;)

Ultimately social media is about the relationships we find and nurture. These relationships are precious and need to be treated as such. The rewards are countless.

Can you think of other ways to keep the balance of promotion and interaction in social media? What are your strong points? What are some things which might hold you back?