Monday, August 26, 2013

How to Write an Original Story

With a gazillion authors out there and a gazillion more stories written, some might argue that to write something original is getting harder. So often I’ll dream up a great story idea and think it’s original, only to find out it’s been written before. Sure there might be nothing new under the sun, sure there might be only seven basic plots, but there is a way of writing one of the seven in a new, original way. Below are 8 tips to write an original story.

1. Be confident to write your story, not the story you think others will want to read.

2. Read widely, inside and outside the genre you write in. If you read only within the genre you write, you’ll end up writing the same story that’s already out there.

3. Get out and live a little. Life is a great story generator. Sometimes we get so caught up writing, that we forget to enjoy everything life has to offer. The more we experience, the more we can draw on for our stories.

4. Avoid formula. While it’s good to know what sells, and why some formulas work, if you start ticking boxes, the readers will notice the story lacks soul and originality.

5. Don’t target an audience. This advice might go against the norm, but it’s also a fast way to write something unoriginal. Keep the knowledge of your target audience in the background of your mind and just write the story that’s calling to you. You might discover it’s meant for a different audience than you originally intended.

6. Don’t overthink your story. While some writers can approach storytelling in a highly analytical way, I’d suggest this is not the case for the majority of fiction writers.

7. Research. Find out what other stories similar to yours are out there. If they are too similar, then make changes. Don’t wait until you’ve finished writing.

8. Just write. Push those doubts and excuses aside and just write.

How do you write an original story? Can you think of any other tips? What’s the hardest part of writing something original?

A big thank you to Crystal Collier for the Shine On Award. You're awesome!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Importance of Knowing Why You Write

When asked, 'Why do you write?' many of us will give a quick answer, 'Because I must.' While this, to a point, is often true, there's more to it than that. It's too easy to fall in love with the romanticism of the statement—that writing somehow has an irresistible hold on us, that we're slaves to the creative spark. But of course we're not chained to the muse at all. We can walk away at any time, and many of us do when the hard slog gets too much, when we allow life to distract us, when the excuses smother the writing urge.

When we say, 'I write because I must,' and don't go any further, we do ourselves a disservice. We need to go deeper, to understand where that need is coming from and what it truly is so when times get tough, we can weather through or save ourselves the trouble. Knowing the true reason, understanding that deep need, will also help us focus in the right areas of writing so, for example, we won't waste our time attempting the grandiose when really we'll gain the most satisfaction in the opposite direction, or vice versa.

Knowing the whys will help us understand what we want to get out of writing. Some of us write to work through a life issue. Some write for escapism, some to explore a concept, some for a little extra money on the side. There are countless reasons. No reason is invalid, even if you write in the hope of taking a slice of the fame pie. But each reason might change the way you write, how often you write, even what you write.

So, knowing why you write will help you work out the strategy to reach the true goals you want.

What are the reasons you write? 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

16 Tips to Fake a Professional Book Cover

With the heightened popularity of self-publishing, it's become both clear and painful, that more and more authors are making the decision to design their own book covers. In 99.9% of the cases, this is a huge mistake. Sure, it might save them some money up front, but I'll guarantee you they'll lose money in sales in the long run.

Unless you have a known name, readers WILL judge your book by its cover before they buy.

You know how us writers shake our heads in pity when someone suggests that writing is so easy that anyone can do it? That little misconception has caused the downfall of many a wannabe. Don't fall into the same trap when it comes to art. There's so much more to design than drawing pretty pictures. Just because you were good at art in high school, or you own a snazzy drawing program, doesn't mean you'll be able to create a professional book cover.

With my nine years of graphic design experience, I thought I'd share a few tips to recognise and create a professional book cover which will give potential readers confidence your story will be just as good as the cover promises.

The Basics
1. In the very least, the cover needs to communicate the book's genre. An example of good design is Alex J Cavanaugh's CassaStar, CassaFire, and the soon to be released, CassaStorm. They so obviously belong to the Science Fiction genre. The covers promise an exciting read with lots of action, and the stories deliver exactly that.

2. Keep it simple. You might have grand ideas for your cover, but unless you're a professional designer, it's unlikely you'll be able to match what's in your head with what you can create. Simple is far more eye-catching than a fussy design anyway. Fussy will all too often turn to mud.

3. Make sure the design looks just as recognisable and eye-catching in a thumbnail size as it does full size.

4. Design the cover in a high resolution—300dpi is preferable for a sharp image in print. It's then easy to scale back for web images (72dpi).

The Images
5. Check cover trends. Does the trend lean toward photos or illustration for your market? Does it lean toward images of people or objects?

6. Only use recognisable images. There's no point using an image that's not immediately recognisable. Carol Kilgore's Solomon's Compass is a great example of the use of recognisable images.

7. Do NOT use clipart. I don't care if it's free. Do NOT use it.

8. Be aware of rights to images. You can't use anything you happen to come across. Also, free rarely means free for commercial use. If you plan to make money from the use of images or fonts through the sale of books, then that is a commercial venture and no longer falls under the rights of most freeware.

The Fonts
9. Use an easy-to-read font.

10. Do NOT use comic sans. It's a common font that comes with everything and it screams amateur.

11. Keep it simple and readable. Christine Rain's The 13th Floor series is another great example of a clean, easy to read covers.

12. Check what other professionally published covers use for title fonts in your chosen market. Not every market is the same.

13. Make sure there's a strong contrast between the font colour and the background it's on. Remember, the text needs to be readable.

14. Don't use special effects on the fonts. Just because your graphics program has these funky filters, doesn't mean you should use them. Leave that to the professionals.

15. Don't be afraid to break up a long title onto a couple of lines. One long title across the book's width just looks silly. Look for balance in the design.

16. Unless you've built a huge fan base over a number of books, make sure the title is bigger than your name.

There are a bunch of other tips I could share, for example colour psychology, but perhaps I'll save that for another time.

Which are your favourite book cover designs? What are your thoughts on do-it-yourself covers?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How to Keep the Creative Spark Alive

The Spark is that tiny fire burning in our hearts. It pushes us to keep writing despite the nay-sayers, the ups and downs, the doubts, the distractions, the crazies and the closed doors. We need to keep that spark burning because it's a fragile thing, easily snuffed. Each writer needs to find his or her own way to relight the Spark, but below are some suggestions which might help.

Keep the Spark sheltered
  • Keep it in a safe place, surrounded by a supportive group, encouraging friends and other writers who understand the fragility.
  • Delight in the Spark by remembering what it is about writing you love so much.
  • Be kind to the Spark by easing off on the pressure 'to get published'.

Keep the Spark fuelled
  • A writer's fuel is reading good books written by authors we admire.
  • It's getting out and trying new things, taking on new experiences, spending time with family and friends.
  • It's research and non-fiction reading. Our strange and wonderful world is full of inspiration.
  • It's watching people, paying attention to how they dress, speak, move. It's taking note of their reactions to the world around them.
  • It's finding encouragement wherever it might be. For example, the Spark can be ignited by reading our own older works. Occasionally I'm pleasantly surprised by work I used to think was seriously ho-hum. Time has a way of clearing our muddy view.
  • It's writing. Odd that writing can be a fuel for more writing, but it's true. The more we write, the easier it becomes and the more ideas come flooding our way.

Use the Spark
The spark is like a muscle. It needs to be used or it will atrophy. Just as writing is a fuel, it's also an exercise for our creative muscle. Don't let the spark wither and die. Don't let ideas go wasted. Write them down to explore later. Write a journal. Write flash fiction, essays, outlines, concepts, thoughts, observations. Write snippets, captured moments, short stories and novels. Just keep writing.

What has threatened to dampen your Spark... and what have you done to guard against it? 

This post was written for Alex J Cavanaugh's  Insecure Writers' Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.

I had a great time during my mini break doing research for a possible new project. I looked up so many government sites on biological warfare and emergency procedures that my hubby thought we might be getting a knock on the door soon. Hopefully not! Famous last words: It's just research for a novel... I swear!