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You Can Write! Part Eight

pexels-photo-279415Once you’re in the flow of writing, enjoy it. Don’t let anything distract you. Concentrate your literary firepower on the most important person in your audience – you. Always put your own writing pleasure before profit. If you can sit back after finishing a piece and say “I really enjoyed doing that!” then you’ll never need to sell a word (unless the bailiffs are hammering at your door. That–or death–is the only excuse for abandoning a writing session).

Let your key skill of imagination run riot. Draw up detailed biographies for your characters.  Create Pinterest boards using pictures that suggest the people and places involved in your work in progress. Interview your hero and/or heroine in your head. Live with your characters until you’re as close to them as you are to your own family.

If you’re hoping to get your work published, find out exactly what your potential readers want, and give it to them. Nothing less (or more) will do. Writing for profit doesn’t work in the same way as producing meals for children. You can’t give them what you want to create and say; ‘you’ll have this, and like it.’ or, ‘how can you say you don’t like it, if you’ve never tried?’

fountain-pen-447575_1920Your reader has the ultimate right of veto. If you want to sell your writing, fit your work to your audience. The beauty of fiction is that once you know what your audience wants, you can tailor your writing around them. Your characters can be as outspoken as they like, within your readers’ boundaries. Mice or men, political affiliations or none, the only two unbreakable rules about the people in your books is that they have to be interesting, and they must always act in character.

Always work toward giving your readers the perfect read. Make them care about your characters, and what happens to them. Grab them with the first sentence on Page One, and don’t let go. Your audience is hungry for action, whether it’s romance or drama. They want to escape from their everyday lives into a different reality. Create heroes and heroines for them, with whom they can relate. Give those characters aspirations, a job to do and a journey to complete during the course of your book, whether it’s a physical one or an emotional transformation. Let your characters grow and change through the course of your book. Above all, make them complex and multi-dimensional.

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Seven

In the first six blog posts in the You Can Write! series, we’ve discovered how to make a start on that writing project you’ve had in mind for such a long time. To catch up on any episodes you might have missed, clicked here, then scroll forward through the arrows at the bottom of the first post, or use the images at the top of the blog.

Don’t panic of your writing hits a dry patch. Visit your own particular well of inspiration, even if it’s only snatching a nap. Take a walk. Read a book—although it’s a good idea to choose something outside of the genre you’re working with. The brain has a squirrel-like tendency to hoard things. You don’t want to subconsciously incorporate something from somebody else’s work.

Odd though it sounds, sometimes you can achieve more by trying less. There will be times (if you’re a fan of Red Dwarf, or The Simpsons) when you’ll be tempted to write “I am A Fish” or “S***w Flanders” multiple times rather than face making up the several hundreds, or even thousands, of different words that make up your daily tally. Fine. Go ahead. Write any old thing you like, but try and make it constructive. If you’re writing a book, try a session of journaling instead. If you’re having trouble with fiction, try drafting a non-fiction article about your writing experience. This worked for me, and resulted in me getting the contract to write Struggle and Suffrage In Bristol! Sometimes the simple act of getting a few words down in front of you frees your mind to create a lot more.

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Coming Soon! Find out more here

If it doesn’t, you’ll still have broken your duck. You won’t be faced with a blank page when you return for your next writing session. You’ll find it a lot easier to whip a page of random jottings into shape than it would be to open up a whole new blank page and start again from cold. Remember Scarlett O’Hara’s maxim that tomorrow is another (and probably better) day–and she was living in a war-zone.

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Stratford-On-Avon, twinned with Venice. And Cyprus. And…

One cliche every list of writing tips includes is ‘write what you know’. It’s a cliché, because it works. Everybody on this earth is an expert in something, and that’s their own life experiences. It’s a rich seam to mine, so get digging.

Instead of stressing about creating something that’s 100% fiction, go back over your own memories and see what inspiration you can find. That doesn’t mean you should regurgitate your life story, and nothing else. Did Shakespeare murder his wife over a pocket-handkerchief, as Othello did? No. Did Thomas Hardy hang children from clothes hooks? No, but both writers used their own experiences of human nature, desire, jealousy, shame and misery to colour their fiction.

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Six

Off You Go!

pexels-photo-279415.jpegThere’s an old joke about one party guest asking another what they’re working on at the moment. “Writing a book,” comes the reply. “Neither am I,” says the first guest.

Don’t be like that. Make sure you write something every single day, even if it’s only making notes. You’ve got all the talent you need to get started.  You’re happy you’ve chosen the right genreYou know your characters by name, and you’ve created a potted history for the central players in your drama.

Set yourself a target for the number of words you’ll write. If you don’t have time to make inroads in your major work in progress, try something smaller. Write letter to the local paper about a subject that matters to you. Magazines publish letters and anecdotes for readers. They also offer an outlet for short stories. Study each publication individually, to make sure you know exactly what they want, and the type of stories they publish. Send them something of the right length which shows you’ve paid attention to their requirements, and it increases your chances of your work being accepted.

Give yourself a target. Aim high, and use S.M.A.R.T goals to help you—that acronym means they should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-limited. “I’m going to write a 60,000 word historical romance by 31st December this year” is the type of detailed ambition I’m talking about, which will set you on the path to success.

Put your ambition in writing, and display it somewhere you and other people can see it. That way, you won’t be able to back out!

Work out how many words you’ll need to write each day to hit your target, then do at least that amount of work during every writing  session. Use every trick you can think of to keep yourself motivated. Give yourself little rewards for completing your daily word count. If you’re having trouble making the grade, invent a forfeit such as no fries or cake until the work’s done (that works well for me). Find a writing partner to encourage you when things get tough. Then you can cheer them on, when they need encouragement.

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There’s nothing like seeing your name in print, whether it’s on a letter to a magazine, an article, or the cover of a book.

Make sure your mind is trained on your ultimate prize, whether that’s writing a book, a short story or a magazine article. Wanting to write isn’t enough. You must believe with all your heart you can finish your project. You’ll need that belief to get through the hours of research, writing, re-writing, and the inevitable rejections, which hit us all from time to time.

You know you can do it. Now all you have to do is prove it – to me, and everyone else. Go on. Start writing today.

I dare you!

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Five

Make It Real

pexels-photo-273222.jpegYou’ve made the decision to write a book, and  gathered your thoughts. You’ve decided what type of book you’re writing, and given your characters names that fits the picture of them which lives inside your head.

It’s time to start writing—but you’ve still got a little way to go before you begin Chapter One. Characterisation is the cornerstone of your story.  Often you’ll be convinced you know how your plot is going to develop, but your cast have other ideas. The more you write, the more input they provide. That’s exactly as it should be. As they become more real to you, your story will become more believable to your readers.

In conventional romance, readers want to identify with the heroine, be impressed by the hero, and believe in the secondary characters. That means giving them all well-rounded personalities. Be careful not to make them all stunning to look at, and good and kind in every way. Giving each of them a few identifying marks or peculiarities. Little flaws in their appearance and nature make them more human.

You could make your heroine the type of person who can’t get their act together until lunchtime—but make sure she has a good reason for her shortcomings. Maybe she can’t sleep at night, so she’s always tired. We all know how that feels! Giving her an interesting reason for her insomnia adds another facet to her character, and your story.

Maybe your hero hates lending books—not because he’s ungenerous, but because he’s from the wrong side of the tracks and knows how it feels to have his possessions wrecked by other people. It’s happened in the past, and he’s learned from his mistakes.

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It’s handy to log all the physical characteristics of your novel’s cast members on a spreadsheet. That way, there’s no room for continuity errors. Their eyes will stay blue (or grey, or brown) all the way through your story.

Make sure all your characters act consistently, too. If someone has a phobia of air travel, that’s not something that can be forgotten on a whim. You’ll need to put them into a life-or-death situation before you can reasonably send them anywhere on a plane.

A vegan would never eat a meat pie simply because it was dinner time and they were hungry. If you show a character you want us to like cutting up another driver on the motorway, or laughing at someone slipping on ice, that isn’t consistent behaviour.

Getting to know your characters from the inside out is the way to create believable heroes and heroines.  One way to do that is to invent a complete backstory for each member of your fictional cast. Sign up for my occasional newsletter by using the contact form here, and I’ll send you my template for creating believable characters.

A satisfying story needs your characters to undergo some sort of transformation during the course of your novel. They should change, or learn something about themselves and life, but make sure it’s believable.  A term you’ll often come across is the character arc, which spans the development of a character from the beginning to the end of a book.

If your characterisation is good, situations and conflicts will begin to develop naturally, but whatever you do, don’t let your characters corner you into impossible situations. It’s no defence to think that you can write yourself out of a situation by including the words; ‘she woke up and it was all a dream’.  That device has worked well in some classic stories (which I won’t name, in case you haven’t come across them yet. No spoilers here!) but it’s almost impossible to use it these days without leaving your reader feeling that they’ve been cheated.

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Four

What’s In A Name?

pexels-photo-373076.jpegDuring this series, we’ve covered the inspiration and the talents you’ll need to create the book you want to write, along with its genre. Today’s blog covers one of those small details that seems insignificant until you make the change from reader to writer— but it’s actually a very important part of building a good scaffolding for your story.

Have you  ever been catapulted right out of a story by the thought why on earth would anybody be called that in real life? A jolt like that shows how much care and attention authors should put into naming their characters.

Make sure the names you choose are a good fit with the tone you want to set.  There’s nothing to stop you calling your drop-dead gorgeous World War One flying ace Betram Wilberforce, although anyone who has read the books of P G Wodehouse might have difficulty imagining the nation being saved by a chap named after Bertie Wooster.

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Add 338 years, lose four letters from her name, and you get…

The name Elizabeth probably holds the record for the number of variations on a theme. Each one has a unique feel, and shows the difference in tone the choice of a name can create. Queens Elizabeth I and II are very different women, but using the name in full evokes a suitably formal image. The transition from untouchable icon Elizabeth Taylor to  much-married celebrity Liz Taylor is shorthand for a complete change in the public mindset.  The star system shielded queens of Hollywood glamour until it became better publicity for them to be “more like us”. Glamorous Elizabeth became the chummier Liz when her many marriages were being dissected under the media microscope.

Smart and sensible Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was known within her family circle as the less formal Lizzy, and Eliza. She shared this second name with the equally forthright Miss Doolittle from Shaw’s Pygmalion, which later became My Fair Lady. 

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…Eliza!

Gentle, kind, self-sacrificing Beth March in Little Women creates a completely different image. Betty Turpin was the down-to-earth inventor of the famous hotpot served in Coronation Street‘s Rovers Return. And who could forget pneumatic Barbara Windsor in Carry On Henry, telling a leering Sid James that her mum said she should always be a good Bet! Bet was also the name of a second barmaid at the Rovers Return, but no one would expect the leopard-print-and-lippy-wearing Bet Lynch to be a genius in the kitchen.

Some names, like William and Emma, have stayed wildly popular for a millennium. You couldn’t guess in what year a character with either of those names was born, although I’m guessing any future heroines called Stormi or North will have their years of birth set in stone.

A good way to choose names for your characters is to buy a book of baby names and trawl through it, or search internet lists for the most popular name in the year your hero or heroine was born.

The idea I’m developing for my next novel features a heroine who has been bullied all her life, but decides the time is right to make a stand. She’s called Tabitha Carter, and  she hates her name. Her mother was christened Samantha, after the witch in the 1960s TV comedy series Bewitched. In due course, Mrs Samantha Carter copied the name her celebrity alter-ego gave to her magical daughter—Tabitha.

If sharing a name with a fictional witch’s child wasn’t bad enough, Tabitha Carter’s mother insists on shortening her name to  ‘Tabby’. After years of politely asking her mother not to do it, when Tabitha finally snaps her mother says:

Make up your mind! Five minutes ago you didn’t want me to call you Tabitha. When I pander to you, you don’t like that either.

Once you’ve chosen a name that feels like a good fit for your character, put it into an online search engine to make sure there are no notorious criminals or famous eccentrics who share it—unless you plan on making your character either a notorious criminal or a famous eccentric, of course.

That’s not to say you can’t turn convention on its head to brilliant effect, but  the contrast between name and popular image has to be enormous if it is to work well.  In 1984, written just after the Second World War, George Orwell’s character Winston Smith doesn’t share any of war-time Prime Minster Churchill’s heroic qualities.

Who knows? The world might be ready and waiting for you to create a bloodthirsty anti-heroine called Violet-Elizabeth, who skins little boys alive, and could give Margaret Thatcher’s memory a run for its money. Do you fancy giving it a try?