2012 – The Year of Possibilities and Learning

Last year I had a list of goals a mile long. It was my year of chasing rainbows.

To tell you the truth, I haven’t been back to revisit my goals. The thing about writing goals is that they’re not easily measurable. You can’t say, I’m going to have a book published this year (unless it’s been scheduled) because there are so many factors that are out of your hands.

So, when it comes to writing goals, I look at them more as a means to get me to focus on what I want to achieve for the year.

I guess it’s a bit like doing an elevator pitch. If I can’t contain my goals to a paragraph then chances are I’ve made them too complex and that makes them hard to achieve.

So, if I could sum up my goals for this year, they would be to make the most of opportunities and learn as much as I can about my craft.

2012 is going to be my Year of Possibilities & Learning.

I have a number of manuscripts polished and ready to go. So this is going to be my year of getting them ‘out there’, of biting the bullet and being brave, and submitting. (They are my possibilities)

It’s going to be my year for exploring new genre, for trying my hand at things I’ve never tried before; different ‘points of view’, different styles and new skills. See, I’ve probably set too many goals already, but when it all boils down to it, it’s about honing my skills and working harder at becoming a better writer.

So this is the process I’ve gone through to work towards that goal.

1.  Look at the things I’m not so good at – the things that always seem to come up when I’m having my work critiqued. I’m going to share them with you.

The Things I could Do Better:

  1. story beginnings
  2. story endings
  3. simplifying plot
  4. exploring setting and developing it more
  5. strengthening my characters by focussing on the things they don’t say.
  6. avoid word repetition

2.  Buy books that can help me. I know I’m going to have to work hard at these things. Two books I’ve bought to help me are Martha Alderson’s, ‘The Plot Whisperer’ and mary Mary Buchkam and Dianna Love’s “Break Into Fiction’, so I’ve got a bit of light reading planned this summer:)

I also got some fabulous tips from Michael Bourret at the SCBWI LA conference last August..and the fabulous Ellen Hopkins.

3.  Enrol in short courses like Mary Buckham’s Master Classes online on Active Settings and Body Language and Emotion.

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything like these online courses so I’m very excited. I’ll be sure to share what I’ve learned.

My US author friend, Laura Elliott has decided that 2012 will be her Year of Just Do it!

My Australian author buddy, Karen Collum seems to have the ‘measurable writing goals’ thing worked out. You might like to read her blog.

Hope you have a happy and inspirational year in 2012. I’d love to hear about what you have planned for this year.

Happy writing:)
Dee

HOW TO FINISH A SERIES – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

Today’s great tips and guest post were provided by popular Australian author, Ian Irvine. Ian is visiting on a blog tour to celebrate the release of The Calamitous Queen, the last book in his Grim & Grimmer series.

HOW TO FINISH A SERIES

By Ian Irvine

1. Tying up all the loose ends

There’s nothing more annoying than getting to the end of a series and discovering that half your questions remain unanswered, either because the author forget that he’d raised them in earlier books, or didn’t know how to answer them and hoped no one would notice.

One way to keep track of all the plot threads is to simply read the book through, note down all the questions raised and tick them off as they’re answered. A more visual approach, because you can see how all the threads interact, is to mark them on a huge wall chart. You can also keep them on index cards or in a spreadsheet or database. It doesn’t matter what system you use, as long as you have one.

And this isn’t always easy. My epic fantasy quartet, The Well of Echoes, is 910,000 words, and itself forms the middle section of the 11-book Three Worlds sequence which all up is over 7,000 pages. It would have been impossible to keep track of all the questions raised and loose ends without a good system. More about these books, and the first chapters, here: http://www.ian-irvine.com/threeworlds.html.

When you’re writing a series, remember that you have both story questions and series questions to answer. The story questions must be answered at the end of each book, but the series questions can’t be fully answered until the climax of the final book. The series questions (e.g., will Harry Potter finally defeat Voldemort, and can Harry survive it?) create the suspense that keeps your readers reading to the end.

In Grim and Grimmer, the key story question in Book 1, The Headless Highwayman, is: can Useless Ike overcome his name and nature and make up for accidentally betraying Princess Aurora by rescuing her, or will the Fey Queen kill the princess first? This question is answered at the end of the book (though not to Ike’s entire satisfaction. In the great storytelling tradition, this victory actually makes things worse).

There are three series questions: Can Ike free the Collected Children from the wicked Fey Queen? Can he clear his parents’ names? And can he discover the secret of the Gate Guardians in time to free Grimmery? Despite striving with all his might, Ike makes little progress on any of these goals until well into the final book, The Calamitous Queen. He can’t make better progress, because if he did it would destroy the suspense and readers would feel so let down they might not bother to read on. Covers, blurbs, reviews and first chapters can be found here: http://www.ian-irvine.com/grimgrimmer.html.

2. Deciding when and how to end a series

I normally know how each book and the series is going to end before I begin writing, though I rarely know how I’m going to get to the ending. I do a lot of planning for the first book in a series, but when I start writing I have little idea what will happen in the remaining books. This is deliberate. Planning a book can be a dry and largely analytical process, and for me the story never seems real at this stage. It only becomes real once I’ve written the first draft. In writing it I often have much better ideas than I could have in the planning stage, and I create new characters whose individual choices take the story to places I could not have imagined in advance.

This is an important point to bear in mind – different characters must, necessarily, make different choices in difficult situations, thus taking the story in different directions. Therefore, for me, detailed planning of later books at the beginning is a wasted effort. I only plan each book as I’m about to write it.

But a series isn’t always under the author’s control. I originally planned Grim and Grimmer as a 6-book series, but when I sent my proposal in, in the middle of the GFC, the publisher was concerned about the economic situation and reluctant to commit to more than four books. If I’d planned the series in detail I would have had a lot of cutting to do. Also, it’s not common, if a series is not selling well, for a publisher to suggest that it be cut short. Sometimes the author feels burnt out and can’t bear to write any more in the series, and pulls the plug.

On more felicitous occasions, if a series is doing brilliantly, readers and the publisher will be clamouring for more. For all the above reasons, it pays to not close off the story options too finally, as Conan Doyle did. He killed off Sherlock Holmes when he couldn’t bear to write about him any more, then, after being deafened by the clamour for more Holmes stories, had to find a plausible way to bring the great detective back to life.

3. Deciding outcomes for your characters

Though they’re relatively short books, the Grim and Grimmers have a considerable cast of wild and zany and outright mad characters, and because these were humorous books I wanted to bring all the key characters back at the end (at least, all those who have survived) so I could devise suitably humorous farewells or ironic fates for them.

In The Calamitous Queen there’s a gigantic feast and honours night at the end, after Grimmery has been saved (and most of the story questions resolved), and everyone is there. Not just Ike’s allies, but also his enemies Emajicka the Fey Queen, Grogire the firewyrm, the vicious little imp, Nuckl, plus a host of demons and other villains. This gave me the opportunity to show what happens to each character – such as the fateful romance between the disgustingly unwashed hermit, Gorm, and the violent but fussy old granny, Fluffia Tralalee, each manipulating the other to try and get what they want, and each doomed to failure.

And I wanted to send Ike off with full, humorous honours. He does achieve all his goals in the end. Then, in what is supposed to be Ike’s proudest moment, he’s about to come down the stairs from the upper stage, to be honoured by a grateful princess, when he’s waylaid by our old friend Creepy Cripts the hunchbacked troll. Creepy Cripts demands that Ike fix the troll-bum door he created at the end of The Headless Highwayman. And the only way it can be fixed is from the inside, in front of the assembled nobility and Ike’s gleeful enemies.

4. What happens to the author once the series is finished

I’ve been known to finish a big fantasy series in the morning and start another one that afternoon, though that was a while back and I dare say I’m not so obsessive these days. I know writers who immediately go down with the flu (or total immune system collapse) and can’t get up for days. Others spend a week grieving for the world and the characters they’ve spent years and thousands of hours immersed in. Or run amok. Or get drunk.

I can’t say I’ve ever felt the need for any of the above, but it is important to both celebrate the ending of the series, and punctuate your writing career. Celebrate the ending with a night out or a trip overseas, a massage or a special little reward for all your hard work. And punctuate your career by having a total break from writing for a day, a week, a month or whatever is needed.

Finally, don’t forget to look after the friends and family who have been neglected in your single-minded drive for the perfect ending. They deserve some thought as well.

Then, while you’re waiting for the final book to appear, start work on the next series. And if you have some free time, do pop by to my Facebook author site, where I’m giving away 10 of my books a week all year, plus there’s plenty of other fun things going on: http://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author.

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Here are the other great blogs Ian is visiting or has visited already on his tour.

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – ENDINGS ARE HARD

I usually start a book knowing exactly how it’s going to end, but often through the course of the writing something changes. The character takes me in unexpected directions or when I get to the end I realize it wasn’t so great after all.

We spend so much time rewriting the beginning of a novel because that’s the part we’re told is going to attract the publisher’s/reader’s attention, but the fact is, we still have to meet their expectations at the end.

And often it’s not till I’m seriously into many drafts of a novel that I realize that that the ending is not really  working. (note to self: remember to do this in the FIRST and subsequent drafts from now on.)

The problem with me is that I’m one of those people who puts the foot on the accelerator when I can see the finish line/the end of the road in sight. And this truly doesn’t work with a novel. You have to tie up all the sub plots and story questions, take your time to show the outcomes for the main character.

I’ve just finished the next draft of a novel that’s had many redrafts. This time, I stopped myself about 20 pages from the end of the rewrite and walked away.

I came back a few days later and approached the project as if I’d just picked it up for the first time and those last twenty pages were the first twenty pages of the novel.

This is what I realized about it:

My ending was pretty much a summary by the main character for the reader. “So now you see, everything is going to be okay.” It lacked tension, it lacked action – it was pretty much all telling and no ‘showing’. Eek, how did I know see that before? I had been fooled by the fact that the words read well, but didn’t really say anything meaningful.

So I went back and re-plotted those last twenty pages as if it was a story in it’s own right, and I am so much happier with the outcome. It’s not a big story, just a little one showing the ‘fall out’ from what happened in the climax, and what this means to the main character’s future.

I think the ending now has action, tension and a strong resolution – it’s not some sappy conclusions come to by the main character, where I might as well have just written ‘and they lived happily ever after’.

Other things I learned:

  • Cutting the last line or paragraph can often be an improvement
  • Re-ordering the paragraphs on the last page can make it work better
  • Make sure all the loose ends for the sub-plots are tied up as well
  • Link the ending to a theme in your novel, but don’t hammer your readers over the head with it
  • Don’t be didactic
  • Keep the character’s actions believable and interesting
  • If you want to surprise the reader it has to be in a believable way – don’t add an inappropriate twist at the end, just for shock value

In the “Ask A Question” section of this blog, John wanted to know how you can end your story without finishing it too quickly.  I think I  can truly answer that now. Plot your ending out, just as you would the whole story.

Your story is finished when you and other readers feel satisfaction after reading the last word (and not just because you’ve finished writing it). There has to be satisfaction with the outcome for the main character, and a feeling that the story has reached a strong but believable conclusion.

In many ways, the ending is just like the beginning of your novel. You DO want them to keep reading. You want them to read your next book.

I hope this helps you with your story endings.

Happy writing:-)
Dee

Feel free to ask your own writing question in the “Ask A Writing Question” section of this blog. If I can’t answer it for you, I’ll try to find someone who can.

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE DAY 20

I can’t believe that today is DAY 20! Where have those days gone?

Apart from what I achieved today in a writing sense, I was proud of myself for resisting this ‘chocolate buffet’, specially designed to tempt chocaholics like me.

I couldn't resist these little eggs though.

I thought I’d done really well, then I got back to the hotel after my walk and there was a basket of easter eggs waiting, right at the foot of the stairs.

I’m afraid I succumbed, and took one of each colour – just in case they had a different flavour, lol.

Today I had to stop about five times because the call of the pen beckoned me. I’m finding that the inspiration keeps coming if I use a pen and paper – only problem is I have to then type it onto the computer. Oh well.

I’m not sure why hand writing it out first works for me, perhaps it’s my connection to the paper – who knows? I don’t mind where the words come from, as long as they come.

There were quite a few speedboats on the river today, but it was still beautiful walking around Brisbane.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m a great admirer of any artistic talent so I was transfixed by the Charlie Chaplain human statue in the Mall. And when I gave him money, he came to life.

Another fun day in Brisbane and another great writing day. I’m now over 40,000 words and still going. I have to say, I NEVER expected to get this much writing done. It makes me realise how easily I allow myself to get distracted at home.

'Charlie Chaplin' came to life when you gave him money.

Today was also a milestone on the creative front because I decided exactly how this book is going to end. I’d already worked out the end of book 3, but wasn’t sure where Book 1 should finish and Book 2 should start.

But I figured it was just like writing any other book. I may be wrong here, because I’ve never attempted a series before, but I figured that Book 1 should finish just after the climax ( a very exciting event where the MC’s life is at risk) and the last line of the book will let the reader know that the MC is not out of danger yet.

If I’m doing it wrong, I’d welcome suggestions from series writers.

Happy writing:-)

Dee

 

WRITING – STARTING WITH THE FINISH

Welcome to 2010 everyone, and I hope it’s a safe, happy and succesful year for you.

Logic dictates that I should be starting the new year with a post about beginning a story – but seeing as logic has never been my strong point, I’m starting 2010 with a post about how to handle the end.

Probably selfish I know, but relevant to me at this point in my novel’s ‘creation life’. That’s because I am currently in the throes, wrestling with, doing grapple tackles on my new YA novel, Street Racer – and it’s the ending that needs the most work.

See, my problem is, that I’m a little bit like a Racer in the way I write. When I see the end in sight, I put my foot on the accelerator and go for it – don’t stop till I reach the end. In fact, sometimes, I’m in such a hurry that I make wrong turns, forget to check out the scenery – and have even been known to lose a character along the way.

This year, being a new year, I’m trying a new approach to story endings and so far it seems to be working.

What I’ve realised is that it’s important to take your ending away from the rest of the story and treat it as if it were the start. In fact, this is something you can do with any parts of your story that you feel aren’t working as well as they should be.

Here’s what I mean, when it comes to endings. Take the last fifty pages of your story and rewrite them with the same diligence, care and love you have devoted to the start. If you are anything like me – you will have written, reworked, agonised over and polished that beginning until it shines – that’s after all what all the writing experts tell you to do; that this is the part that will impress the publisher or agent.

But what generally happens with my endings is…..well, I leave them till last. That makes them a bit like the last Christmas present to unwrap, the last week of the school year, the last day of the holidays – you just don’t face them with the same enthusiasm. I’ve realised it’s all about changing your thinking.

If you take the end away, detach it from your story…..and then rewrite it; you won’t run out of steam. Treat it as a new piece. Break it down chapter by chapter, page by page, word by word – until every single part of it is the best it can be. With any luck you’ll find that by doing this, you’ll give your story ending the same vibrance, clarity and spark as the beginning.

Hope this works for you. Would love to know if you can relate to this way of writing, or you may have a completely different solution to offer.

Feel free to leave your comments, and share with other writers the way that you work.

Dee:-)