TUESDAY WRITING TIP – WRITE YOURSELF OUT OF THE BLACK HOLE

It’s happening all around the world. With the GST, the EB revolution, the GFC and for so many other reasons, publishing is slow.

There’s a lot being published, but people seem less prepared to take risks – particularly on new and emerging authors.

Instead of producing completely new works, I’ve seen a definite trend with publishers in Australia to republish things that have sold well – but in a different format. Or they commission established writers to work on projects that their marketing departments think or know from experience will bring sales.

This is all great! It means authors are still getting their work published and there are still fabulous books out there to be read…and we all understand publishers have to make a living.

But unfortunately, if you haven’t established yourself as a writer yet, it seems to be getting harder and harder to break into mainstream publishing.

At the moment, I have six projects out on submission across different genres – two YAs (one verse, one prose), one mid-grade novel, one chapter book, one stand alone picture book and a picture book series.

And for a while there, I started to think that my submissions were going into the Bermuda Triangle.  I sent them out and never heard word of them again. Thankfully, I’ve had a couple of positive responses lately, but I have come to accept that this is the way of publishing. Agents and publishers receive so many submissions that they just don’t have time to respond to all of them.

So I’m taking ‘no response’ to mean ‘no thank you’ and I’m moving on.

I’m looking at what I’ve written and reworking it if necessary, and some submissions I’m simply sending elsewhere. (In a strategic way of course – after researching and finding out who has an interest in the kind of thing I write)

Fortunately, I have a group of truly wonderful and supportive writerly friends who understand how all this feels and who pep me up when I’m feeling despondent.

In the end I know it’s up to me. I find that the best cure for the writing blues, to drag me out of that black hole of uncertainty is to write.

Writing is the thing we have control over.  It allows us to immerse ourselves in a world that has less pressure and stress. It allows us to express how we feel, to challenge ourselves, to make us consider events and circumstances outside our experience.

Writing makes me happy. It gives me hope.

There’s always the hope that this is the manuscript publishers will fall in love with. If I don’t have anything to submit, then there’s no hope of publication.

We have to dream, hope and we have to write. It’s who we are. Writing helps us move on.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula to getting published, but the one certain thing is that we have to keep writing – for us, for our future readers. We have to write our way through these difficult times in publishing.

How do you cope with rejection/uncertainty/lack of progress with your writing career? Please feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions. They may help other writers to keep writing.

Have hope, stay strong and happy writing:)

Dee

P.S. Next week I’m having a special event here at the Deescribe writing to help writers who are looking for a crit buddy or writer’s group.

TUESDAY WRITING TIPS – FIXING THE HOLES

The lure of gold can affect our objectivity

Last Wednesday, my goat, Molly got her head stuck in the fence…not once, not twice but three times. It’s not something she normally does, but she was lured by the bright yellow flowers on the other side of the fence.  She had to have them no matter what – her immediate goal got in the way of her common sense.

I sometimes think that this is what happens with writers yearning to get their work published. We are so focussed on the ultimate goal that we can’t be objective about our work – can’t deviate from what we are doing even though there may be a better way.

Molly getting her head stuck in the fence repeatedly also made me think about the fact that making the same mistakes over and over again (and not learning from them) is something that can hold our writing back. So how do we stop ourselves from doing this?

Here’s what I do:

I make a list of all the things I need to watch out for in my next draft.

  1. Are my characters interacting with the setting or have I just put description in?
  2. Have I made my plot too complicated?
  3. Have I developed my characters enough?
  4. Have I given my supporting characters different motives and focus?
  5. Have I used repetitive language?
  6. Has my character grown and changed during the course of the story?

Molly with her rebuilt fence. Unfortunately, fixing holes in manuscripts isn't so easy.

Although I ended up with blisters and was physically tired from fixing Molly’s fence, it didn’t take a great deal of brainpower to solve the problem. All I had to do was attach finer mesh to the existing fence and use fasteners to keep it in place.

FIXING HOLES IN MANUSCRIPTS

As I twisted and attached the wire, I thought about how fixing fences is much easier than fixing holes in manuscripts.

For starters, holes in manuscripts are much harder to identify. Here’s how I identify mine.

1.    Do a scene map identifying

  • Which characters are in each scene
  • The purpose of each scene
  • What my main character’s motivation in each scene is
  • Conflict in each scene
  • Whether the scene moves the story forward in the direction I want it to

2.      Once I have my scene map I compare it to my plot diagram and see where the scenes match up, and if it’s where they should.

3.      I look at turning points, the climax of the story and whether the resolution is strong enough.

4.      I look at whether I have left the appropriate clues for the reader – will they be hooked into the story all the way through?

In much the same way as the fence rebuilding, I hope to identify the holes and fill the gaps.

How do you identify holes in your story? I’d love you to share your techniques and experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy Writing

Dee

P.S. Don’t forget to check back here for Friday Feedback and if you’d like to submit 150 words for feedback, email me Dee*at*DeeScribe*dot*com*dot*au

REVISION TIPS, PART ONE – USING YOUR PLOT DIAGRAMS AS WORKING DRAWINGS

Recently, Rachna Chhabria, a writer friend from India suggested I blog about revising.

Seeing as I’ve spent the last few months revising a YA mystery thriller and an MG survival story, this seemed like a really good idea.

There are two ways I create novels. One is to plan every major plot point and graph them on a plot diagram. The other is to identify the important bits like inciting incidents (the piece of action that starts the character on a new path), turning points, midpoint reversal (where the story changes direction) and the resolution. This is how I wrote my MG survival story, allowing the plot to evolve as I wrote it.

What I’ve realised recently is that I revise differently depending on the method I’ve used to create the story in the first place. When it comes down to it, there are no ‘rules’ in writing or revising – this is simply what works for me.

This week I’m going to talk about revising my YA mystery thriller, THE SECRET LIFE OF MINDY PALMER, a novel with a straight narrative arc. In this story, 17 year-old Lia Palmer sets out to discover how her sister Mindy really died. This novel was carefully planned and structured so the plot diagram was like a working drawing that I could go back and examine to see what needed fixing.

Right from the start, I knew how I wanted the book to end so the structure involved creating a series of events leading up to the climax of the novel – events that would build tension and bring the reader closer to the main character.

As I revised, I looked back at my plot arc and at each individual event and asked myself these questions.

  1. Did it carry enough weight in the story?
  2. Did it occur in the right sequence?
  3. Was it essential to the plot?
  4. Did it reveal information about the main character that the reader needed to know?
  5. Did it reflect the main characters needs and desires?
  6. Were the obstacles realistic?

With this particular story I found that mapping it on a plot diagram was the right way to go. It allowed me to follow the progress of the story. Being a mystery/suspense meant that every event was crucial to the story. Every thing that happened had to have a reason for being there.

For a story like this, I’ve found that a plot diagram works really well because even if I think of a new conflict for my character, it can easily be added to the diagram by way of a ‘post it’ note as you’ll see from the pics in this post. The plot diagram gives me a snapshot of exactly what’s happening in my story – it gives me an overview.

So when I’m revising this kind of book, that’s how I look at structure to see if it’s working.

Author, Bren MacDibble says The problem I find with structure is that you can get it so wrong but you’ve covered it with such beautiful skin you’re reluctant to hack into it.

This is so true. When you’re revising, it’s hard to stand back and be objective about your own work – to tell yourself, this story is beautifully written but it’s not interesting or important enough to hook the reader. That’s where writers groups and crit buddies come in. It can take you a while to find the right one but it’s worth it.

Another writer friend, Shevi Arnold suggested a great technique for more detailed revision. She rewrites the same scene three times and picks the best one. This is a great way of working out if your dialogue, setting and characters are really working for you as they should be.

In the early drafts of THE SECRET LIFE OF MINDY PALMER I found I had flat scenes in my novel where nothing was really happening but they needed to be there to get my characters from one place to another – I guess these were the transition scenes. Shevi’s method really works for invigorating these flat scenes. Thanks, Shevi.

I’m focussing on structure in these revision posts because to me, that’s one of the most important things in your novel. From my experience, if you have a great story idea, editors and publishers will work with you to fine tune the detail. If you write beautifully, but your story idea is not engaging, it’s going to be a lot harder to make your novel work.

REVISION TIPS – PART TWO: Next week at Tuesday Writing Tips I’m going to look at revising a story that is less structured and has evolved through a more organic process.

I’d love to hear your revision tips. Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

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 – ADD SPARK TO YOUR STORY

I have just finished the next draft of a Mid Grade novel about two city kids stranded in outback Australia, struggling to survive on their wits.

I’m happy with how the story is going. The plot has the elements it needs – a strong beginning, a middle with plenty of action and an end that ties everything up for the reader. It even has turning points for the character and a mid-point reversal where the story is taken in a new direction.

But it lacks spark – it lacks those details – that telling information that will make the reader think, “I really know that character”; that will make them feel immersed in the world of my story.

Fortunately, all is not lost. When I am editing a novel, I always make notes of the things that need fixing in the next draft. I look out for the flat spots – for the parts where there’s not enough telling detail – where I haven’t truly got inside my main character’s head and heart.

I’m about to start the next draft, but luckily, I took notes when I was writing the last one. My notes tell me exactly where the flat spots are and they have these added suggestions:

  1. The main character doesn’t make enough observations about himself and his behaviour (my manuscript is written in first person). This would help the reader see how he grows throughout the story.
  2. The character has been thrown into an unfamiliar setting and this is an important part of the story – make more  comparisons and contrasts between where he is now and his world ‘back home’.
  3. Use cues to identify the main character’s location so that the reader is more aware of where he is.
  4. Play more on kids’ phobias.
  5. Use more sensory detail in terms of smell and taste.
  6. More emotion – need to know more of what is going on inside main character’s head. How is all this affecting him?
  7. As things get worse, how does this make the main character feel – sure they are going to die or determined to survive? Do his feelings fluctuate?
  8. In between the action, need more lighter scenes to help build the tension.
  9. Need more physical description about the main character and his injuries so the reader understands how they hamper his actions.
  10. The main character is in a life-threatening situation and there are no adults around. Make him do more risky things that parents wouldn’t want him doing because that’s how he and his younger sister are going to survive.
  11. The siblings are alone so there is nobody there to tell them what to do or say. Include more tension between the siblings – they are under stress with no parental supervision – of course they are going to fight with each other.

These are just some of the notes I made to help me get inside the heads of my characters more and into their world.

I’d love to hear how you prepare for the next draft or fix the flat spots in your story.

Feel free to share your tips and experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

WHERE TO FIND MORE WORDS FOR YOUR NOVEL – TUESDAY WRITING TIPS

Last week, I did a writer’s residency at John Marsden’s Candlebark school; working with year 7 and 9 students as part of the 1000 Pencils project for 2011.

The students had been carefully selected not just for their writing ability but for their dedication to their craft, and they were an enthusiastic and very talented bunch of young writers.

They will  be working on an anthology of short pieces which they will record and present at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival.

Throughout the day, there were many inspiring discussions about writing, but one of the questions that kept coming up was, “How do I write a novel that’s longer than 10,000 words?”

It’s a question I get asked a bit by young writers so I’ve dedicated this post to trying to provide answers. Every writer works differently, but here are some tips that work for me.

The key to writing a longer piece is not to flesh it out with flowery description or mundane detail, but to add things that matter – add action and layers to your story.

When I need to do this I go back to my characters and plot for answers. I look at what is happening in the story at the moment and why it seems to have stalled.

I go back and do a kind of brainstorming/mindmapping to generate new ideas for my story. I ask myself these questions:

  • What can I make happen for my main character next?
  • How does my main character react?
  • What does this cause to happen next?
  • How will this affect the overall outcome of my story?
  • How can I raise the stakes for my main character?
  • How can I develop the subplot to add to the tension?
  • What are the themes in my story? What am I really trying to say and what needs to happen for me to say it?
  • What flaws does my main character have?
  • How can that lead to more difficulties for them?
  • What can I do to reverse things for my main character – to take them off in a different direction from where they want to head?
  • Can I introduce new turning points for my character – revelations that change things for them?
  • How can I develop my main character’s relationships with others?

Once I have the answers to these questions, I write them on ‘post it’ notes which I then place on my plot arc/diagram in the order I think they should appear.

Something else that might need developing is the world of the story. Have you included enough setting to allow the reader to step into your main character’s life and inhabit the world you have created.

Can your reader picture exactly what is happening to your character? Have you created realistic scenes that will resonate with your reader? This could be another area you can develop further.

How long your story should be is not an easy decision. We have to work to publisher submission guidelines, but I always try to write the story I need to tell and focus on the story itself rather than how long it should be.

I’d love to hear how you get moving again after your story has stalled. Feel free to share this post and leave your tips and stories in the comments section of this post.

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – HOW TO FIX ISSUES WITH YOUR PLOT

At times, I’ve had manuscripts back from publishers and fellow writers saying things like they liked the characters and the dialogue, but found the story line confusing. Every happened to you?

As writers we are so close to our story that we know exactly what we want to say – the hard part is that sometimes we don’t communicate it. What’s in our mind doesn’t always translate clearly to paper.

WHAT WENT WRONG

When I get the ‘confusing story’ feedback, this is what I do:

1.            If I have the chance to ask the person why the story confused them, then I do (This isn’t always possible with a publisher).

2.            I try to take a step back from my story and work out which bits might be confusing.

3.            I list the themes and issues in my story to help me work out if it’s confusing because there’s just too much happening.

4.            I look at the sequence of the story – too many flash backs or changes in the ‘story time’ can make it confusing.

5.            I look at my characters to see if the confusion is caused by some contradiction in them – perhaps there’s a character (or two) who hasn’t been developed enough.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

1.            GO BACK TO YOUR PLOT

How you do this depends on the way you work, but I’m a writer who likes to know where I’m going before I start writing my story, so I have a diagram of my plot using butcher’s paper and ‘post it’ notes.

This is the first place I go to try and fix plot issues. Having the plot diagram makes it really easy for me to see if there are things happening out of sequence in the story. Maybe the ‘post it’ notes need to be re-ordered to change the sequence of events.

2.            CHAPTER BY CHAPTER

Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy as that. If the plot arc doesn’t reveal the flaws, the next thing I would do is a 25 word summary for each chapter.

If I can’t say what a chapter is about in 25 words or less then the chances are that:

  1. The chapter might be too complex – too much happening
  2. The chapter is in the wrong place in the story
  3. The chapter doesn’t reveal the true voice or motives of my main character
  4. The chapter introduces/mentions too many characters
  5. The chapter doesn’t move the story along
  6. The chapter doesn’t clearly communicate what I want it to
  7. The chapter might not need to be there

If all else fails, pretend you are explaining the plot to someone who hasn’t read your story – it could be your cat, your dog or even your rabbit – it doesn’t have to be someone who will give you feedback.  The whole point of this is to clarify things in your mind. You can do this verbally or in writing.

It could be just that your plot needs simplifying and I find that this is soon revealed when I attempt to tell ‘someone’ what happens in the story.

OTHER PLOT PROBLEMS I HAVE DISCOVERED

Other flaws I have found with my plot are:

  • It doesn’t start at the right place – sometimes I find myself writing myself into the story and I need to start the story further on – after I’ve created the back story that I need as an author but the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know.
  • Somewhere along the way my main character has lost their ‘voice’ so plot events and their reaction don’t quite fit together.
  • The sequence of the story needs to be re-ordered so that the action builds up to a climax.

It can be disheartening to get the ‘too confusing’ feedback, but all it means is that you haven’t communicated your message clearly to the reader. It’s not fatal, and if you try some of the methods I’ve discussed you’ll find that the problem can be fixed.

Happy writing