Writing 101: Catching Your Own Imagination

Yes, Writer Tip Wednesday is a little behind, but in my defence, I was stuck on a road to and from Manchester last night for more hours than is humane…so my blog post didn’t go up – you can blame Manchester! Hehe. Following on from my In Search of Originality post, it got me to thinking. Whether we’re creating something unseen before, or merely imitating, the birth of either comes down to one thing in the writer’s mind, no matter what experience is added: imagination.

Such a powerful word, isn’t it? In an instant, it conjures up images of writers from the past thoughtfully chewing on the end of a quill pen, sitting at a cheaply candle-lit desk in a scruffy loft. Or of a bohemian shawl-clad woman smoking copious but elegant cigarettes as she shuffles through stacks of paper to find the said pen. There’s a whole discussion on where exactly imagination comes from, and some scientists now believe the brain as a whole calls on different areas when creating – so no single ‘place’ where the muse sits. So how do we catch hold of this ghostly force floating around our minds?

I think every writer is familiar with ‘writer’s block’, that irritating period where your brain conks out, puts its feet up, and has a drink without you. “I’ll call later,” it says, before hanging up on you. And you just know it’s having fun without you. But after writing professionally for a few years now, I think writer’s block isn’t a brick wall as such, maybe just an obstacle. And with all obstacles, there’s a way around them. I’ve had a few hellish times with blocks in my writing time, and I think I’ve come up with a few (if some are a little strange!) ways of dealing with it, and finding the left turn around the obstacle to your book. So, I’m going to share them with you guys…

 

Stream Of Conscious Writing

This is good for if the story is coming through okay, but your descriptions and words just aren’t up to the task just yet. You’re going to need a pen and paper for this one, and possibly need to travel to places similar to those in your story. I’ll give an example for this one; in a recent chapter of the book I’m writing now, I need to describe a wet, autumnal day. I just couldn’t feel the scene like I wanted to, so…as it’s currently autumn here in Britain, and wet, I went outside with a pen and paper, at 11pm, and using the outside light in our yard, starting writing everything I could see, hear and feel around me, without stopping to consider what I was writing down. I wrote things like ‘Strange light of the dusk’, Sweet and musty’, and ‘frenzied buzzing of a bird’s wings’. I may not use those exact words or phrases in a book, but as I read down the sheet of paper, it brings the memory of a wet, autumnal night back to me sharply, helping me to create the scene I need. I’ve since done a few others, for a ‘cold, crisp autumn morning’, and ‘sunny afternoon in autumn’. Obviously, I’ll have to wait a while for the rest of the year until I have a whole collection, but you get the idea. So if you’re stuck on how to accurately describe a shopping centre, go and write whatever you see, hear and feel there, without stopping to think what you’re noting down. Need to know what a quiet afternoon in the countryside is like? Go visit it for a bit one afternoon, and take your pad and pen! I promise it’s surprising how well this simple exercise can help, and it’s interesting to note all the things you never notice when you’re thinking too hard about it.

Yes, you will actually type this fast. Good, huh?

Yes, you will actually type this fast. Good, huh?

 

Relax For A While!

Yeah, thought you guys might like that one, haha. But seriously, if you’re thinking too much about any one thing, you will get burn out. It’s not pretty. *shudders* But don’t relax too much, that’s the key. If you’re having trouble concentrating on your scene because nothing is coming forth, go and do something else for a while, but make sure it’s still something creative. Go bake a cake, put a shelf up, paint something – as long as you’re still engaging those practical, imaginative parts of your mind, it can be good to change what you’re doing. Continuing to do something creative (based off when I’ve done it, mind, I can’t guarantee results) that’s different seems to help your brain figure things out differently, but by still engaging the same parts of your mind, you’ll find your thoughts drifting back to your book – and nine times out of ten, you’ll also figure out the problem that had you stuck while you were writing. Try it out, and see if it works for you.

Hmm....maybe this isn't the best way to relax. Maybe.

Hmm….maybe this isn’t the best way to relax. Maybe.

 

Talk To Yourself

Okay, I know. This one does sound we’re going into crazy people territory. But show me a writer who doesn’t have a little madness in them. This method can be useful if you’re having difficulty penning out a conversation between two people, and you don’t want it to be flat or dull – you’re also going to need either a good memory for this method, or a pen, paper, and fast hand. Clear a space where you can walk about and imagine the setting for the conversation – I suggest doing this when you’re on your own, by the way. Nothing more embarrassing than being walked in on when chatting with yourself. 😉 Pretend to be the character who initiates the conversation, really get into their mindset. Walk as they would walk, think how they would think, even do a ‘voice’ for them, if you like. Say the first line they would say, then get into the mindset of the other character (or characters) and think of how they would reply. It help to imagine what your response might be to what was said. (What would you say to “I am your lost-lost brother,” for example? Or, “I killed them,”?) Play out the conversation between the characters, and don’t forget to imagine what arm movements they would use, whether they would sit or stand, and where. What expressions would they have while speaking? It might sound mad, but I promise, do this and memorise it, then write it down; or write down notes and write it down, and it will be one of the best conversations your characters have ever had.

Turns out, he was just writing a book. Who would have guessed?

Turns out, he was just writing a book. Who would have guessed?

 

Listen To Music

It’s on my list, but I think this is one method (from all the writers I know) that already gets used a lot – because it’s so good! But, I think you get the best results when you choose music for a playlist with no words at all – so that basically means no setting up all your favourite popular songs. The reason for this is that sometimes hearing other words spoken can be distracting, and you’ll find yourself spending more time singing along than writing, haha. Is your book set in Ireland or Scotland? Find some powerful Celtic music to set the mood. Maybe you’re writing a novel set in the Roaring Twenties? Search for some sultry jazz music. Keep softer, gentler music for emotional scenes, and fiery, powerful music for battle scenes or arguments. Choose music that will fit the ‘vibe’ of your book, and make a playlist that lasts twice as long as the time you set aside for writing each day. (So if you write for two hours a day, make the playlist four hours). This means you won’t be listening to the same piece over and over, unless you want to, of course! Set the playlist to ‘shuffle’, plug in your headphones, and let the writing begin. It’s incredible what emotions and thoughts can be stirred by listening to an appropriate piece of music, and I’ve found ideas usually flow endlessly after you hit the right track.

You know it's good when your cat nods along.

You know it’s good when your cat nods along.

 

So these are some of my favourite methods for cracking down on that irritating writer’s block. Try them out, and let me know if any of them work for you! What about you guys, do you have any other methods you like to use? Share them in the comments below, I’d love to know a few more! 🙂

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Writer Tip Wednesday – Get Out There And Live It!

Good morning, everyone! 😀 Happy Hump Day to all – and only two days to the fabulous Friday. Today, the writer tips go out from the laptop and into the big bad world. LOL Well, in a manner of speaking. I know you’re comfy in that chair. 😀

 

About a week ago, the fabulous Trish Marie Dawson put up a post on her blog about a really vital part of being an author that is often forgotten – reading books! With all the other million-and-one things we have to do on a daily basis, it often gets pushed to one side. But it is so important that we don’t just read, but read EVERYTHING. Even if it’s that rushed few pages in the bathroom, or a quick read on the train to work, we need to keep ourselves – and our muses – fresh. You can read more of her brilliant post here. 🙂

But what’s the other important part of writing that often gets forgotten? LIVING IT. That’s right, I mean leaving the laptop altogether, and heading out into the Great Outdoors. Well, if you character is mainly inside, I guess it would be the Great…Indoors? Either way, it’s a necessity. How often do you read a book (providing you’re following the good advice above 😉 ) and realise that a situation or character doesn’t sound believable? Now, I’m not suggesting that thriller writers go out and commit a crime, or that romance authors throw themselves at a kilted man. (Although if you’re single, and a sexy kilted man walks by, I say go for it, writer or not. LOL )

 

But try to think about what your character would really feel, what they would experience. If your book is set in another country, can you pull off how that country’s culture is? The best way to get this right of course, is to either live in that country, or at least visit it. But don’t fear, you don’t need to book a flight to the middle of Romania right now, there is another way. Research, glorious research. The internet is always a good start, as it holds a valuable wealth of information. Learn all you can about a country. Not just the national costume and how many gold mines it has, but the little things. Is it primarily a religious country? How will this affect your character? Are they happy to go along with this, or do they rally against it? How does this shape them? The second part of this research can come from actual experiences though, even if you don’t go there. Try to find out if any of your friends or family have visited that country, or if they know anyone who has. Perhaps they even know a native of that country! Try to learn all you can from a person who has actually been there.

This same research can go for anything, especially landscapes. If you’re setting your book in a very real-and-here place, then you need to get the geography right. You can do some guesswork, but it takes away from your story when someone has been there, and they know it’s incorrect. Take my current WIP, Daughters Of Brigitania. (Don’t groan, there’s only one mention this time. 😛 ) It’s set in a place called Stanwick, near Darlington in the UK. It’s only twenty minutes drive from where I live, so I’m pretty lucky that I can visit it when I need to. But going to see the ruins of the Iron Age fortifications really gives you a – frankly, breath-taking – idea of just how enormous they were. The hills to one side let me know just what my characters would have seen every morning when they woke up, and being out in desolate country-side shows me just how isolated they would have been two-thousand years ago.

What about if your character is someone very different how your own personality? If you have to write about a crazed killer, (And I’m hoping you’re not a crazed killer here. If you are, thanks for reading my blog, and I live really, really far away from you. Like, really far away. LOL) then how do you manage to portray them? Sometimes, it helps to be a bit of an amateur psychologist. What are the worst things that they’ve done? Why did they do them? It’s no good simply saying, “Because they’re the bad guy”, or slapping some childhood trauma on it without understanding them. You need to build up a picture of them, just as you would for characters you understand much better. Think about what would make you do it. Yes, lovely, docile, sweet you. Your character, when they were born, were just like everyone else. (I suppose at this point, I should make a note of saying sometimes villains in books, depending on the book-iverse, are born as such. But it’s few and far between when this can be carried off, and it makes for a less believable character. Think of ‘The Omen’, with little Damien. He’s possibly the most evil character possible, and yet he’s a sweet, innocent little boy to start with.) So providing your character is just like everyone else, what warped them into who they are now? How did it build up? Do internal research, searching for the emotions that would drive you to change this way.

 

So I hope today’s writer tip inspires you to go and see more of the Great Outdoors – or the Great Inner You! And don’t forget to check out Trish Marie Dawson’s post either, it’s definitely another brilliant tip. 😉

Writer Tip Wednesday – The Dreaded Rewrite

Morning, lovely  people! 🙂 Okay, so maybe the title of today’s post makes it sound a bit more ominous than it really is. But sometimes, the rewrites can be the toughest – if easily the most creative – part to do. It can be the part where you up the gears of your book, and turn it from a sow’s ear into a silk purse. And yes, I did love the movie Mulan. What of it? LOL

So where do you start? Let’s take a peep at the different steps, because it’s certainly not a job to be done quickly.

1. Where will the reader struggle with what’s in your head?

Take another read through your whole manuscript, and imagine you know nothing of the world you have created in your book, nothing of the characters. At what points would you think it had jumped too quickly? Compare events to real life – would it happen so quickly. It no good having your character escaping from somewhere and turning up in the next town, all within the space of one paragraph. The reader will get bored with things jumping so quickly, and it makes it much harder to lose themselves in the storyline. Mark out all these places, putting notes as to why a certain section needs expanding.

Especially the mud on the face. Why would you put mud on your face?

Especially the mud on the face. Why would you put mud on your face?

2. Expand upon the expansion.

Now that you’ve marked out where you need to fill in the details, read through each one carefully. is it a character? How does it need filling out? Be careful not to fill out parts about characters with too many details of how they actually look. These are things which come later. But perhaps there was a conversation you missed out, a scene where more of the storyline needed explaining through dialogue? What are the important parts of your story, how will this link to them? There’s no point your characters having a conversation about the weather if it’s not integral to the plot. If it makes you bored, it will make your reader bored. Keep the tension running through the whole book, even if at times it’s only a fine thread.

If it’s an event that needs filling out, think of my point above – how would this happen in reality? Not to say you need every tiny detail in there, but a character escaping, an explosion going off, a fight – all of these things would not be over with quickly. Think of it this way, you’re building the tension until the reader is right on the edge of their seat. If it helps, even imagine a fight scene from a movie you watched – a good one. Did you watch the main character with bated breath? Were you wincing with every weapon that was swung or fired? All of that happened because it took a few details to get to that point. The character picked up a weapon – but then it was knocked out of their hand. The secondary character nearly gets to them to help, but he gets pulled back from behind, and slung into a wall. The main character runs for the enemy, but they trip halfway and nearly get killed by someone else. Fill out exciting scenes with extra details, moment by moment. This can really help to expand and build up the anxiety.

Look, the Doctor can get away with it. You can't. Unless you're the Doctor.

Look, the Doctor can get away with it. You can’t. Unless you’re the Doctor.

3. Check the facts

Does everything in your story match up? If one of the characters stormed off in chapter ten, due to disliking the main character after an argument, it’s no good them then turning up in chapter twelve having a hug with the main character, with no explanation of how  – if they did – make up again. Watch out for inconsistencies, and check them against what you would need to put in. This is an opportunity to do another part of rewriting – possible deleting. If something is unnecessary, or if it would be an info dump, consider deleting that part altogether, if it makes the story flow better. Check for time, as well. If an event was due to happen in a month for your characters, then suddenly it all kicks off three days later, you need to go back and change something. Create a story that flows easily from one part to the next. Think of it like a stepping-stone waterfall. One stone is different from another (chapters, if you will), but the water flows across all of them, joining them together. This is your plotline.

Don't leave your readers doing this. It's just not fair.

Don’t leave your readers doing this. It’s just not fair.

4. Be ready with the red pen

This is possibly the hardest part. You’ve constructed your tapestry of a story, woven the threads so tightly it’s like the Fort Knox of books…and now you’re going to tear it apart. Lots of first-time writers will not wish to delete anything, and you’ll fully believe everything should be left in. Not so. Are there any parts where the story drags on? Do you really need that conversation about the garden, if it doesn’t add anything to the characters or the story? What about the long description of the kitchen that goes on for two pages, too much maybe? Delete parts that don’t help keep the pace bubbling along, or where you’ve ‘filled in’ purely to plump out the word count. trust me, a reader can spot where you had that mental block and panicked with the wordage.

Luckily, you don't have to go to these extremes. Hitting the 'delete' button should do. Hopefully.

Luckily, you don’t have to go to these extremes. Hitting the ‘delete’ button should do. Hopefully.

5. Do your edits first

Lots of people will finish up on Step 4, and send it straight across to the editor. DON’T. You have to do your own edits first. There is nothing worse for your editor than picking through a totally unedited script. It shows both that you’re not serious about your talent as a writer, and that you would rather someone else did it. Your editor is there to give your manuscript a polish, to pick up the stray ends you didn’t spot. So remember to start with spelling and grammar – and don’t use Word’s ‘Spellcheck’. Ever read a book and come across a ‘form’ where it should have been a ‘from’? That’s because it won’t get picked up, as it’s still a word. Do it yourself, boring and laborious though it might be, and feel great at the end, knowing you’ve gathered up most of the escapees of good spelling and grammar. 🙂 Remember to check everything, from the right character’s name attached to speech, to a run-on sentence. Then, send it across to the editor for that final spit and polish.

Yeah, don't be this dude. Just don't.

Yeah, don’t be this dude. Just don’t.

Hopefully these little tips might help if you’re in the middle of writing your first book – or even if you’re onto your next one, and still learning all the time like me. Happy writing, lovely peeps! 😀 Don’t forget tomorrow is Thursday Teaser, so keep an eye out for another snippet of Daughters of Brigitania!

Writer Tip Wednesday

Morning, lovely people! 🙂 We’re halfway to the weekend! *does fist-pump in the air* And today we continue the week of alliterating titles with Writer Tip Wednesday. Each Wednesday, I’m going to pop up a few tips that I’ve been lucky enough to learn so far in my publishing journey. So hopefully they can help you guys too! 🙂

To Plot Or To Pantster? That Is The Question

Now this post will come from someone who has literally been both a pantster, and is now a plotter. In case you’re wondering what on earth those terms are, they are the kind of writer you might be. A pantster literally writes ‘by the seat of their pants’, and can knock up a plotline on the fly, adding all the creative parts later in editing. A plotter will plan the storyline first, writing out the novel as it follows the pattern of events.

I’ve done both of these methods now, and can still see the benefits of both. For my paranormal novels, I’m a pantster all the way. The beauty of these novels is that it can be completely imaginative and free. Things that defy physics can happen (Take that, my old teacher, Mr. Stevens! Gravity does not ALWAYS work!), and you can twist events so sharply it creates hairpin turns. It can be fun to not even know where your characters are heading yourself, and to find out the same way as a reader would can tell you if it’s good enough or not. The downside to this kind of writing is that you must do a lot of editing. Inevitably, as you go back over the novel in the editing process, you may find you forgot to tie up a loose end, or something no longer makes sense to have. But as long as you have a keen eye before sending it off to the professional editor, you can do this method with no problem.

And what of the plotter? Recently having started on my first historical fiction, I’ve found it necessary to plot the story out, as part of it is based on a real person. (I’ll be doing another post at some point on plotting out a historical novel, as it’s very different from some other genres!) If you have a set timeline in your mind, then you can mark it out in order of events, filling the sections in between with action and dialogue, bridging each gap from A to B. This method is the one most used by new authors, and it allows for almost a ‘how-to’ of the storyline. The only downside of this method is that you may find your creativity more limited than the pantster when it comes to the editing process, as you are locked into an unchangeable (without a lot of extra work, anyway) series of events.

So, you’re new to the world of writing. You’ve got an idea of the storyline, it came to you in a dream…now what? You’re going to have to pick a method, but which one?

Pantster

This can be the easiest method to launch into, as you get straight into the process of your idea. But you will need at least the barest of notes first. Your main characters must be well-defined. No matter what your timeline does, they should be well-defined and clear before you start, because they are the backbone of your novel. You can always add to them later, and even drop in extra characters, but the main characters will drive what happens. Have a rough idea of three points; the beginning, middle, and end. Everything else can be filled inbetween. Your story essentially needs to have the protagonist(s) hitting a problem near the middle. The beginning will set events in motion to create that problem, and the second half of your book will go towards resolving the problem. (I won’t go into detail, but I explain more of how to create your plot ‘pantster style’ over at The Book Maven’s blog here.) This method is best for paranormal, romance, and humourous genres.

Not to be confused with a scenario like this, you can actually keep your pants on for the whole pantster process.

Not to be confused with a scenario like this, you can actually keep your pants on for the whole pantster process.

Plotter

This method is more difficult, but depending on your novel’s genre, you may find it a lot more helpful than winging it. Historical fiction and crime thrillers often benefit more from this process. The first thing to do, is your research. If it’s historical, find out as much as you can about the period you wish to write about – and indeed the characters, if you’re basing it on real people. Crime thrillers will require research on weapons used, crime investigation, and much more. Once you have compiled all the research to start yourself off with (you will do more during writing the novel itself!) you can move onto the novel planning. Where is your story going to end up? Will this be a series, or a one-off book? This can determine the end as much as all the other planning. As with the pantster process, work out your beginning, middle and end. However, you must work out and add on all the events in between. Don’t worry too much if you can’t figure out a section between two parts, this is where your writing itself will come in. Once you have a firm timeline, well-defined characters, and research, you’re ready to begin your novel. Although you have to craft your words as creatively as possible, be careful not to stray too far from one point to the next, as otherwise you may add unnecessary words.

You don't have to look quite as mad as this or wear a blazer when plotting, but it may help.

You don’t have to look quite as mad as this or wear a blazer when plotting, but it may help.

So although it’s only a brief introduction to writing methods, hopefully this might help you to decide which you want to use, if you’re just starting out. Which one do you think you would go for, or if you’re already writing, which one are you? 🙂