Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Ten-Reader, I Love You…

Popular media has pruned the average attention span down to a few minutes. Pressure of work means reading time is often limited to an uncomfortable commute, or a few minutes before bed. It’s human nature to think I’ll just read to the end of this chapter. If you end each one with a hook or a piece of really strong, vivid writing, you’ll keep them keen.

Vary the length of your chapters as an incentive, to keep your reader turning the pages. If they find it hard to tear themselves away from your book, they’ll be raring to go next time they get a minute to relax. If they know they won’t necessarily have to set aside enough time to read a 4,000 word chapter, they’ll be even keener.

Varying the pace of your writing keeps your reader on their toes. Descriptive passages slow things down. Dialogue speeds it up. Plenty of white space leads them on, while too many dense pages of text encourages them to throw the book aside. Strike a balance. Give them with plenty of colourful, exciting jam with their textual bread-and-butter.
Never pad out your work with pointless description or backstory. If you’ve written a trilogy but two-thirds of it is info-dump, condense it into a single title instead. Don’t think of it as lowering your sights, or compromising your literary integrity.  It’s about improving the experience of people who read your book. Make every word a wanted word.

If your story is absorbing and your dialogue is well-written, you don’t need to identify every speaker every time. Too many “he said/she said” tags interrupt reading pleasure. Don’t use too many long words. Occasional technical terms in dialogue or scene-setting are fine as long as they leave your reader wiser, and move the action along.

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Nine

A writer’s life is full of distractions: family life, the need to eat, the day job…the list of enemies goes on and on. Make sure you don’t put yourself on the list. It’s easy to become your own biggest enemy. Make time each day to write, and make sure you stick to it. If you miss more than a couple of sessions, you’ll get out of the writing habit. Frustration will affect your mood. You family won’t thank you, and your work—when you try to get back to it— will suffer.

Determination is a great asset in a writer but you need to build balance into your writing life. Make sure you don’t swing to the other extreme, and overdo it. Eat well, sleep well, and take regular breaks from crouching over your notepad or computer. However much you love your work, your health and family come first.

Use a good chair that supports your back when you’re working. Make the effort to sit up straight. Use wrist-rests and padded mouse-pads to avoid Repetitive Strain Injury.

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My Favourite Place To Unwind—Alex The Dog Loves This Walk.

There’s nothing like a walk and some people-watching in the fresh air to sharpen your imagination, and exercise helps prevent conditions like Deep Vein Thrombosis.
If you’re putting in long hours in front of a computer screen, get up every hour, on the hour,  to stretch. Taking a drink of water at the same time will keep you hydrated and alert. It’s also supposed to take the edge off your appetite for snacking, too, which should in theory help you lose weight. But then, we all know about weight-loss theories…

There are never enough hours in the day, but once you’ve hit your word count make sure you give your brain a real break, if only for half an hour. Turn off your computer and phone, forget social networking and escape somewhere with nothing more than a pencil and notebook.  Doodle, plan, fantasise – it doesn’t matter what you do, the act of making marks on paper is an exciting contrast to hammering away at a keyboard.

Blog, Writing

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 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.