Writing 101: How To Begin Your Novel

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a first chapter is worth an entire book. The first chapter of any novel is everything – the set-up for the story, a dramatic entrance, and the selling point. If your first chapter doesn’t appeal to someone, they won’t bother with the rest of the book. Obviously there are always books you pick up and don’t like the first chapter to. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad chapter, it may just mean the book isn’t for you. But we’re aiming for the people who are the target market to fall in love with your beginning, right?

Make lots of notes before you actually start writing out your first book chapter. Source: Public Domain; Wikimedia Commons

How To Start

The very first sentence is the beginning of the beginning, and the ultimate tool at a writer’s disposal to hook people in. I did a post a while back about my personal favourite opening sentences and how to do a good one yourself, and you can take a look for some inspiration. I’m not going to repeat everything here, as I did a ton of rambling words on that post, hehe, but I’ll pinpoint the important things to remember here:

  • Go straight into the action. Don’t hesitate or worry about whether the story is clear at this point. An opening sentence is not about that. It’s about throwing yourself in, a bit like catching the middle part of an interesting conversation when you come around the corner.
  • Short and sweet is the key. Try not to use more than two commas in there, and think ‘snappier, the better’. I’m not saying don’t use a longer sentence, if it fits the bill (this especially applies to historicals and science-fiction). But we all know how much drama and impact a single word, or just a few words can have. Use that impact.
  • Think about what would catch your attention. Does your sentence do that? Imagine that sentence, and just that sentence are on a billboard. Would you stop to see what it was about?
Can you see your opening sentence on here? Does it make you want to stop and read more? Source: Public Domain; Wikimedia Commons

Can you see your opening sentence on here? Does it make you want to stop and read more? Source: Public Domain; Wikimedia Commons

How To Carry On

Okay, so we’ve got a strong opener, now what? Don’t let it fizzle out, but don’t rush everything, either. Draw the intro out, draw the reader in. But drop hints of the action or events to come (hopefully in the second or third chapters). A little bit of foreshadowing is okay, as long as you don’t hit your reader over the head with it! If you started your opening sentence as a part of someone’s speech, have it end in an argument. If the action started in a bar, why not have it end in a bar brawl and a crash where the main character becomes a reaper…okay, that’s a shameless plug for Reaper’s Deliverance. 😛 But you get the idea. The point is, pull the reader in by introducing your world slowly, but keep them there by blowing something up, or making enemies of two characters – or anything else that works.

  • Think of fishing – keep it slow for the intro, then speed things up. Make it comfy for the reader to settle in, then glue them to the chair so they can’t leave.
  • Foreshadowing is okay, but don’t overdo it.
  • Keep everything flowing at a steady pace.
You've got them! He'll be reading that for hours, now. Source: Randi Hausken, 2009 under a Creative Commons Licence, Wikimedia Commons

You’ve got them! He’ll be reading that for hours, now. Source: Randi Hausken, 2009 under a Creative Commons Licence, Wikimedia Commons

How To Finish Up

You’ve got the perfect opener, and you’ve drawn your reader in nicely. Now how do you keep them reading through the next several chapters? The end of the first chapter is often the weakest point, overlooked after so much care has gone into the rest of it. You have to keep a steady pace, otherwise your reader may go into the second chapter, and put the book down. For good. *horrified stare* So how to end it? The best (and classic way) is with that favourite – the cliff-hanger. They’re not just for the end of a book! Putting a cliff-hanger (or a ‘semi-cliff-hanger’, as I call them when it’s for a chapter) can be a great way to keep the excitement flowing. Did that argument end up in two friends becoming enemies? What are the consequences of that? Did they work together, and one of them fired the other? Are they a couple who have broken up? What if the chapter opened with a scene of action, maybe a person on the run from the law, or some dystopian police? Have they found themselves cornered? Lost their way? Been grabbed by an unknown person? End the chapter with another question, one where the answer will appear over the second chapter.

But there are other ways, too. How about revealing an early twist? This can be a good tactic in a murder mystery or thriller, for example. Perhaps the reader knows who the killer is from the first chapter? Or perhaps they see the scene through the killer’s eyes, but don’t know who they are yet? Putting a good twist so early in can also make sure the pages keep flipping over, to see what catastrophes or happiness come from it.

 

So, that’s a few tips I try to use myself – what about you guys? What tips can you add to making a great first chapter? Do you agree or disagree with the tips here? Let me know in the comments below, I love to know what you guys think! 😉

 

Other Sources of Tips

This lady has a TON of great advice, and puts a lot of stuff across that I haven’t touched on here – even offers a different point of view on some stuff. Well worth a watch (and a bit of note-taking). 🙂

 

And if you’re looking for some help on doing the synopsis (I like to do mine before I start the book, maybe you do too!), you can check out my Hubpage on the subject here. As always, my ideas are subjective, but see if it helps if you’re stuck in a rut for how to do it. 🙂

A How-To Guide For Writing The Perfect Book Synopsis

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! 🙂

Female Writers in History,and the World’s First Novel

Growing up in the western world, when I was at school, I was taught that the world’s first ‘true’ piece of writing lay in the epic poem Beowolf. The poem itself is a wonderful glance into the history and thoughts of ancient people, and in how they considered the world around them. Beowolf, the hero, must slay the monster, the monster’s mother, and finally, a dragon, before he is mortally wounded and dies after becoming King of the Geats. It’s a great story, and has created much debate over whether its origins lie in Danish or Anglo-Saxon oral traditions, complete with its memories of Danish paganism. But can it’s origins lead us to the world’s first novel?

The simple answer is no – and this is a fact I only learned recently! Which is why I’m sharing it. 🙂 The Tale of Genji is considered to be the world’s first true novel, a classic piece of Japanese literature written sometime in the 11th century. And an important factor of the novel is that it was written by a woman. Murasaki Shikibu was a noblewoman who lived around the peak of the Heian Period. A sad fact of this is that we in fact cannot be sure of her real name – Murasaki Shikibu is a nickname.

Portrait of Murasaki Shikibu, by Kanō Takanobu

Portrait of Murasaki Shikibu, by Kanō Takanobu

At the time Murasaki was born, women were excluded from writing Chinese, the official language of the government in Japan. However, Japan was at that time, also becoming more distinct in its own right, gaining its own cultural and national identity, and written Japanese was becoming a way for noblewomen to write in their own hand. Unusually for the time, Murasaki was raised in her father’s household, when most women would have been raised in their mother’s households – but her mother had died when she was young. Murasaki also came from a long line of poets, on her father’s side. In The Diary of Lady Murasaki, she wrote, “When my brother … was a young boy learning the Chinese classics, I was in the habit of listening to him and I became unusually proficient at understanding those passages that he found too difficult to understand and memorize. Father, a most learned man, was always regretting the fact: ‘Just my luck,’ he would say, ‘What a pity she was not born a man!'”

The Tale of Genji follows the story of a son of an emperor, Genji, who is politically moved from the line of succession. He has something of a difficult start in life, with his mother dying when he is young, and the story follows the course of his romantic ventures, ultimately ending in a somewhat miserable ending. (Look it up, there are some beautiful illustrations to go with it, and the story itself is a fascinating glimpse into the complex politics of Japan at that time).  There are, of course, many other factors in whether Murasaki was the only author of the novel, and whether she wrote it off-hand, or if it was commissioned. But it remains the world’s first novel, and it was written by a woman.

Yūgiri ("Evening Mist") from Chapter 39 of The Tale of Genji

Yūgiri (“Evening Mist”) from Chapter 39 of The Tale of Genji

This is an interesting point to take in, because it would be several centuries before a woman was again able to write a book that would be read by others, at least in the western world. As Christianity gained a foothold in Europe, women were increasingly deprived of rights and education. However, some literature remains from that period written by women, and it is from them that we know much about women in the middle ages. Women found a voice through religion, and a few published their prayers and reflections when they became nuns or abbesses, the most powerful career choice a woman could make at that time. These include ladies such as Clare of Assisi, Bridget of Sweden, and Catherine of Siena. However, writing about more unorthodox religious experiences, such as visions, were less acceptable, although they still exist. There are even, if searched for, glimpses into courtly love and politics. The Alexiad was written by the Byzantine historian and princess Anna Komnene, daughter of Emperor Alexius I in 1148, and Marie de France and Christine de Pizan also contributed in this fashion.

Later in the 17th century, a woman even wrote an early example of what would come to be known as science-fiction – Margaret Cavendish, then Duchess of Newcastle, wrote The Blazing World, a fantastical adventure where a young woman travels to another realm that can only be accessed via the North Pole. Another book, La Princesse de Clèves, was anonymously published in France in 1678, but it is thought to have been the work of Madame de La Fayette, a minor noblewoman. It is an interesting novel, because it was the first ‘psychological’ novel, that entwined subplots with its characters, and provided a realistic outlook on life at that time, as opposed to the usual romantic damsel saved by the hero, ending in a happy marriage.

The title page from The Blazing World

The title page from The Blazing World

A portrait of Margaret Cavendish

Moving on to the Enlightenment and early 19th century, there are still many women to be found who added a large chunk to the literary world. The most famous of these, of course, is Jane Austen, whose works are known throughout the world. Her novels are regarded as having huge historical significance for their social commentary – but also, at a time when women were not encouraged to be clever or to have opinions, her wit and dry realism offers a viewpoint that at least some women at this time were not regarded in this way.

Jane Austen, as drawn by her sister Cassandra

Jane Austen, as drawn by her sister Cassandra

Another less well-known author from this period is Anna Laetitia Barbauld, an English poet, children’s author, literary critic, and essayist. She had a successful writing career, but it ended abruptly in the early 19th century when she published Eighteen Hundred and Elevena criticism on Britain’s part in the Napoleonic Wars. She was also a teacher at Palgrave Academy in Suffolk, and was politically involved with the issues of the day. (Her own story is really interesting, and you should definitely click and find out how much this lady achieved in her lifetime). In 1818, another famous work of literature was published – Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheusby Mary Shelley. It was also one of the novels that contributed to the Gothic literature that was emerging at that time. She’s most well-known for this novel, but she in fact wrote many more books and articles, such as the historical novels Valperga (1823) and Perkin Warbeck (1830), the apocalyptic novel The Last Man (1826), and her final two novels, Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837).

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell

A portrait of Anna Laetitia Barbauld

A portrait of Anna Laetitia Barbauld

The Victorian period, for all its constraints upon women, still produced many novels and works of literature by women. Some of the most famous are the Brontë sisters. My favourite of these three female writers is Charlotte Brontë, mostly for her novel Jane Eyre. It was the first novel where the the female protagonist, Jane, was plain, somewhat serious, and spoke her mind, showing her intelligence and often sparring verbally with the male anti-hero, Mr Rochester. He himself was far older than her, not seen as particularly attractive, and was flawed from the outset. In short, it was a framework of what we would consider to be vital parts of modern novels; that characters should be flawed and realistic, and that real life often offered up a more thrilling story than glossed-over fiction. It is a reminder of her period, however, that when the novel was first published, it was published under the pseudonym Currer Bell. (The ‘Bell’ surname was also used by her sisters for their novels. An important note of the novel (as with many in the Victorian era) was that it promoted proto-feminism, and explored sexuality and religion – three things that the Victorians at the time used to explain that it couldn’t possibly have been written by a woman.

Portrait of Charlotte Bronte

Portrait of Charlotte Bronte

Other prominent female writers at this time included Christina Rossetti, best known for her narrative poem Goblin Market, which is often described as having many references of sexual imagery. Another poet at that time was Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who wrote from the tender age of four, and it’s largely thanks to her mother (who compiled these poems) that we still have them today. Aside from contributing largely to the world of literature, she was also a campaigner for the abolition of slavery, and her work helped influence reform in child labour legislation. There is also famously George Elliot, whose real name was Mary Ann Evans, who was also an editor and critic as well as being a novelist. Wanting to have her work taken seriously, and also wanting to break away from the stereotype of female writers at the time writing romances, she made the decision to publish her work under a male pseudonym, much as the Brontë sisters did. The novel that sticks most in my mind from her works is Middlemarch, a novel that has eight intersecting though separate volumes that follow a cast of characters. The novel covers a range of themes, from the status of women and marriage, to education, religion and political reform. It also touches on several historical events, referring to them throughout. While reviews at the time were mixed about Middlemarch, it is now considered to be one of the greatest works of fiction in the English language.

'George Eliot' when she was 30, by François D'Albert Durade

‘George Eliot’ when she was 30, by François D’Albert Durade

Cover from Book 1 of Middlemarch

Cover from Book 1 of Middlemarch

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of female writers in history (and I haven’t even included the 20th century here, otherwise this would be a really big article!), but many of them have been forgotten or are less spoken of than their male counterparts. Women have been writers since ancient times, many writing even though education was withheld from them, was deemed ‘unfeminine’, or considered to be less than capable in taking part in politics and social life. I also think it’s a testament to each era that many of these women were openly supported and encouraged by men who were not afraid to speak out and seat women as equals by their side – usually men who were intelligent, educated men themselves, many also adding hugely to the great volume of literature we still have today, including the husbands of many of these women.

At the present, there’s a huge shift coming for equality, for both men and women, and it’s interesting to look back on history and see all the tiny chinks that have brought us up to this moment. There’s still a long way to go, but I reckon we’ll get there eventually. And it’s also wonderful to see that women contributed so much to literature, the vehicle of so much change. 🙂 What’s your thoughts on this? Who are your favourite female writers from history?

For a near-exhaustive list of female writers since ancient times, check out A Celebration of Women Writers, a great website that details many female writers and their works. 

The First Impression

Now, I’m not talking about general first impressions, of course – but of book first impressions! 🙂 Annnd….I know this post was supposed to be up days ago, but apparently WordPress had other ideas, and didn’t post it for me. So here it is, anyway! 

We all know the important parts of putting a book together. Cover, editor, marketing…but what happens after the reader first clicks onto your Amazon page? They might take a look at the cover, and decide that they love it enough to look further. A cover may not bother them, and they’ll go straight to the blurb. (I made a big post on writing a blurb here.) After they’ve read it, been hooked enough to read a bit more, what next?

They’re going to take a ‘Look Inside’. And that’s where the book either lives up to its promise, or falls a little short.

Because the most important part of your entire manuscript – really! – is the very first line. Anyone who has ever had to write an essay knows that it must begin with a sentence that sums up everything the essay is about, your opinion, or your viewpoint. A manuscript is no different in that it must sum up the feeling of your entire novel, and hook someone is just a few words. First, let’s take a look at some great first lines, then we’ll see what sets them apart. (Just to note, first lines in any book are subjective, but I’ve tried to pick lines from classic books that I think most people will know pretty well, and most will agree on. 🙂 )

 

At least we passed the Snape test.

At least we passed the Snape test.

The Good Stuff

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”  George Orwell, 1984

“I am an invisible man.” Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

“Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

“All children, except one, grow up.” J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

“I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped.” Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?'” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

It's a blog, don't worry. We're all crazy around here. But we'll work out these damn opening lines together!

It’s a blog, don’t worry. We’re all crazy around here. But we’ll work out these damn opening lines together!

What’s The Idea?

What makes all these opening lines both so memorable and brilliant? What is it that they all have in common? Well the first important thing to note is that all of them, in one way or another, sum up everything the novel is about. Without having to delve further, the reader already has the seed of an idea of what the book is about. J.M. Barrie’s line immediately encapsulates Peter Pan. Melville’s line open up a complex web of ideas about the narrator, who really, is the character that the book revolves around as he tells it from his own viewpoint. Austen’s famous line also immediately gets to the heart of what the book about, and even without reading further, we almost certainly know there will be a romantic couple somewhere in the novel who do not instantly fall in love. 

So the first thing to consider is ‘does this first line get across the feel of my novel?’ I’m not saying that you have to give away everything in one sentence, but you have to set the tone. Take Orwell’s line, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” For those who have never read it, it’s a science-fiction novel, and it also falls neatly into a ‘modern’ genre; dystopian. This line sets the scene first with its description of the day -cold and bright. ‘Bright’ on its own could bring back memories of sunny days, but not when coupled with ‘cold’. It brings to mind cold, bright places, such as the clinical areas of hospitals, or snowy days outside. It gives a clean, clinical feel to the first line, something quite emotionless and separate from anything comforting. Then there’s the second part of that line – the clocks were striking thirteen. This captures out attention straight away, because we know, in our world, clocks do no such thing. So this tells the reader that this is a strange, unforgiving place with different rules and ideas from our own. We already have the emotionless feel from the first part, so this can only tell us that clocks striking thirteen are not a good thing. This is a carefully crafted sentence, and each part of it, although short, gives the feel of the whole novel to the reader.

 

I must know more!

I must know more!

But What Else?

It can’t be as easy as setting the scene; there must be something more. And there is. It speaks directly to the reader. The quickest way to get a reader to connect with your book is to give them something they can relate to. On the surface, some of them don’t seem like they go too far into this, but unconsciously, you can connect with something in the line. Look at Lewis Carroll’s opening line – didn’t we all feel like that when we were small children? And with Ellison’s line, despite the fact none of us have ever actually been invisible (at least, I hope not!), we can feel the depression and loneliness behind the statement. Maybe it’s because at some point or another, we’ve all felt ‘invisible’ in some way, perhaps for some of us its because we’re the kind of people who empathise easily with people in a difficult situation. 

Leo Tolstoy’s first line actually does this twice. First by suggesting the truth we all know behind any family – that no matter how much you love each other, there will be arguments and fall-outs, and no doubt there’s one or two people in the family who don’t speak to each other at all! But this leads to the other truth he holds up, that we like to have a social veneer over ourselves and our loved ones, to prevent the rest of society from seeing what would be considered to be flaws or immoral ideas. This also encompasses what the novel itself is about, and weirdly, strikes as true today as when it was first written.

 

Go, create beautiful opening lines together. Or apart. Or in a room of people. You can literally write opening lines anywhere. LOL

Go, create beautiful opening lines together. Or apart. Or in a room of people. You can literally write opening lines anywhere. LOL

So To Sum Up…

An opening line needs to be the most powerful sentence you write in the whole novel. It has to connect with the reader, either by evoking an emotion, or by linking it to a universal truth we’ve all felt at one time or another. It also has to immediately sum up the entire book in just a few words. This is the ultimate synopsis, is that it sums up everything that can be expected from the book in one go.

The best way to go about it really, is to write your whole book, edit it, then come back to that first line again. Tweak it and play with it until it covers everything mentioned above – and any reader who loves your first line, is already eager for the rest of your book. 🙂

 

What lines do you guys like the best from novels? What’s your favourite opening line ever? 🙂

Plotter or Panster? And Why You Should Be Both.

A lot of authors often ask the same question – “Are you a plotter or a panster?”

In case you’re wondering what the term is, it basically describes your method of planning out and writing a book. A panster does it by ‘the seat of their pants’, hence the term, and there will be total freefall in where the story goes and how it pans out. Whereas a plotter, as the name suggests, plots everything from the ground up.

Now obviously, some genres will require more plotting than others, such as mysteries (where you will probably need to know whodunnit long before the actual beginning), and epic fantasies, where you will probably need to at least work out lands, names, maps, etc., before fingers touch keyboard. There’s no hard and fast rules to this, as it also depends on how you work yourself, and how you want the book to turn out. But personally, I think that every writer needs to be a little bit of both panster and plotter. And here’s why:

 

Pansters Have All The Fun

ANARCHY. It'll be fun, until someone loses a metaphorical eye.

ANARCHY. It’ll be fun, until someone loses a metaphorical eye.

And that they do! You simply get an idea in your head, decide your main character, and start typing. The story could go anywhere, and even you don’t know where it’s going, which can be an exciting way of writing. But only a few people can do this really well, with no plotting at all, and I personally only know about four people who can. Because there’s another danger with doing nothing but panstering. Aside from the fact you will have to keep making pauses when you write to check facts in your manuscript, you’ve got almost too much freedom.

Remember those prompts you used to get given in little school? Something like, ‘You go into the garden, and find someone has left a mysterious box. You go to open it and…write what happens next.’ Sounds good, right? Except it’s not that good. Sure, it gives a great beginning to work from, same as an idea for a story, but it’s missing a few things. There’s no twists, there’s no problems, there’s no story. (I read something yesterday on a blog that goes much deeper into all of this, and it’s a good article to read over. You can find it here, at Writer Unboxed.) This means that all the complex parts of a story have to be worked out as you’re writing the story, which may mean you have to go back to change huge chunks, or risk continuity errors. This seems like a really freeing idea, but in fact, it can be crippling. It’s easy to work on to start with, but as you get further into a long book, or into sequels to a series, you may find that not having a plan gives you too much freedom. Characters act out of character (pun!), events that shouldn’t happen will happen, and you’ll get confused over what happened in Chapter 3, Book 2.

As I say, there are some authors who can do this, and do it incredibly well. This isn’t everyone. But for most, and especially the average writer just starting out, this can end in one of those ‘I’ll-finish-it-one-day’ manuscripts.

 

Plotters Are Too Rigid

Of characters, people, OF CHARACTERS!

Of characters, people, OF CHARACTERS!

Just as the complete panster can have too much freedom, a complete plotter can have too little. It seems like a great plan. Detail every inch of the story out, know what’s going to happen around every bend, and get writing. Right? Except, no. If you plot everything out, you do have the pros of being able to check notes at a glance, not worry about continuity, and you’ll create a great story.

But by planning every tiny detail, you miss out the creative freedom that comes with intuitive writing. What if you’re creating the perfect scenario for your main character walking through the city, and – oh, wait. You can’t put that in, because otherwise you won’t be able to write out your next carefully-planned chapter, because it won’t make sense otherwise. By being so rigid, you cut out any chances of allowing the natural flow of writing as it occurs, which means that what you’re left with is a technically perfect book, but one that’s a bit flat. It’s a book you’ll enjoy, but it won’t have that memorable ‘something’, that leaves you unable to forget it the next day. Imagine it as a film you’ve once enjoyed, but wasn’t memorable. Good actors, probably well-written dialogue, and great scenes. But it lacked a spark behind it, a glimmer of talent unbridled by the twists the story should take.

Plotting is a great tool, and it’s a hugely important one. But relying on it entirely can take away your author’s ‘voice’, making it feel and seem like something only you could have written, and something with your particular talent behind it. But most good writers I know, however much they plot, always have a bit of panstering about them, which leads on to…

 

Plotter/Panster – A Bit Of Everything

Yes, you too can have it all and go crazy on the dancefloor. I mean...with your manuscript.

Yes, you too can have it all and go crazy on the dancefloor. I mean…with your manuscript.

This is what you’re aiming for, if you want the best manuscript you can come up with. Too much of either plotting or panstering can be too much of a good thing, so a balance is the way to go. But how do you set this up? (By the way, this method below completely depends on how you write, and what genre, so take it only as a basic of the basics.) Well, as we know panstering to start with will leave us with questions later on, let’s do the next thing.

Plotting The Framework

The best way to create the merest of plotting isn’t notes – it’s a synopsis. A synopsis is literally a very thinned-out, 2-4 page description of what happens in your story, including twists and the conclusion. I know, I know, that sounds crazy because it seems more rigid. But I promise it’s not. And this isn’t necessarily the synopsis you’ll put over to a publisher, (but it may be, depending on how well you write it, up to you) it’s just for you to use. Once you’ve got your idea, whether it’s a kind of character, an object, or even just a random jumble of thoughts that came to you in the shower, jot it down. Now decide how it’s going to begin, remembering that it’s always best to go straight into action, rather than slow build-up. This doesn’t mean it has to be a car chase, but put the reader straight into the middle of a conversation, or into the middle of someone moving house, whatever fits. The first line is hugely important (and there’ll be another post on that soon), as it’s the one that will hit your reader first, and the whole first chapter lives by the same rules.

After you’ve got your beginning, what happens next? This is where the plotting comes in useful. Create a problem for your character(s), something that won’t be worked out easily. Now onto the next chapter, where you aim to start resolving this for them. There should be minor twists along the way, backstabbing, secret conversations, whatever you want to use to keep the pace and the storyline flowing well. By the time you get to the middle, you should have half-resolved the problem. I say ‘half-resolved’, because you don’t want it completely worked out. But you need enough that the reader doesn’t sit there going, “Why haven’t the characters done the reasonable stuff yet?”. It should also lead onto another problem, for the second half of your book. (Not forgetting that ‘the middle’ is an objective term, and generally means you’ve hit this point, rather than a certain word count.) Here’s an example:

Beginning: Tracy has to move out of her apartment, because she’s being evicted.

Problem: She hasn’t got anywhere else to go.

Attempts to solve the problem: Friends put her up, but it’s not the same as having her own house, and she can’t fit all her stuff in.

Half-resolved: She finds a new flat (resolved), but she has to share it with a room-mate who she can’t stand, and irritates her. (new problem, so only half-resolved.)

The half-resolved issue leads onto another, bigger problem that needs to be solved. This would give you the next part of your story, with the same method as before. (Problem, attempts to solve problem), with the difference of actually solving and concluding the story. The other important thing as you’re working through your synopsis should be to make your characters change in some way. In the example above, Tracy could perhaps work out that she’s being difficult, and they end up being friends – or in a romance, perhaps she falls in love with her hunky but annoying room-mate.

So by now, you should have characters, a basic storyline, and where it’s headed. Don’t worry about filling in details, such as ‘why’ Tracy was evicted, why she finds the flatmate annoying, or why she can’t find a new flat. You just need the structure here. The important things to have are twists, beginning, conclusion, middle twist, and main characters. (Not even minor characters!) Now…for the panstering.

 

Making Some Changes

The beauty of not being so rigid on yourself with the synopsis means that you can now have some fun playing with it. You know where the beginning is going, so get going on it! As you know what the next twist will be, but not how your characters will get there, if gives you a chance to have freedom with how that will happen. Filling in the gaps of your synopsis are where you can put your panster hat on, and wave your story as it flows naturally from your fingers flying across the keyboard.

And if you want to change something? With a synopsis, rather than a chapter-by-chapter analysis of how the story will go, you’ve got the room to do it. Remember how there are ‘twists’ in there, but they’re not necessarily listed by chapter. So why not take one out, if it’s too long? Add another one, if you think of something great. Or even make them change places, if it makes more sense. When you do something chapter-by-chapter, you line the bricks up and number exactly where they should go. With a synopsis, you can lay the bricks out, but change the order and even add more bricks.

 

So here’s a good place to start, if you’re wondering how to make a start on that manuscript that’s running around your brain. Get your ideas down on (virtual) paper, and work out the major kinks, remembering Problem, Attempts to Fix, Half-Resolved, Attempts to Fix, Characters’ Changes, Conclusion. Then use your writing mojo to panster all the gaps inbetween, letting your characters show you how to link one plotting part to the next. 🙂

How about you guys? What methods do you use when working out a new story? Are a panster, plotter, or both?

How Do You Go About Writing A Blurb?

Writing a blurb is a sneaky, tricksy piece of writing. It has to sell your book, but it has to tell enough story to hook people in without giving it away, and it has to give just the right amount that it tells readers something. But what’s too long, and what’s too short? Too secretive, and too ‘spoiler-y’? I personally like writing blurbs (I’m not saying mine are great by any stretch, but I think I get a good balance), but I know a lot of authors like to procrastinate with blurbs as much as possible until there needs to be one.

Let’s take a look at the breakdown of an average blurb; (There’ll be some example ones further down)

 

Pull ’em in

Colour me intrigued...

Colour me intrigued…

The first line of your blurb is no different from the first line of your book. It’s got to be the most powerful sentence that will grip someone by the shoulders and scream, “I’m here! Look at me, damn it!” And also same as your book, go straight into the action. Here’s some first lines I personally love.

 

‘The President knows it’s a perilous, high-risk assignment.’ – The Target, David Baldacci

Former Broadway dancer and current agoraphobic Billy Shine has not set foot outside his apartment in almost a decade.’ – Don’t Let Me Go, Catherine Ryan Hyde

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother.’ – The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

What if your whole world was a lie?’ – Allegiant, Veronica Roth

 

One thing all these blurb lines have in common, is that they are in the Top Ten at Amazon, which is a great indicator that the blurb has at least contributed in part to their sales. But another thing they have in common is that they make you ask all the right questions. Who? What? Where? When? Your interest is already piqued by that single sentence, so you’re going to read on, in the hope that this gets developed further.

Try making a statement that goes straight into the action, like the line from The Goldfinch, or asking a question, like the line from Allegiant. What do you want your readers to ask questions about? Does your main character have a deathly secret? Make a point of it. Has there been a horrific world event that your characters have to live in? Drop a hint about it. So let’s take a look at where this sentence might lead.

 

Develop It

I promise I'm doing work on this blurb. I promise. Honestly. Definitely.

I promise I’m doing work on this blurb. I promise. Honestly. Definitely.

You’ve hooked your reader in, but this isn’t enough. You’ve got to flesh out your initial hook a bit more, because you need to make sure the reader actually wants to find out more about this character or that world. If what follows your first sentence doesn’t carry on from it, or doesn’t make sense to the first line, readers will immediately switch off and get bored, as it doesn’t follow a valid line of events. Let’s peer at two of the blurbs from earlier again;

 

If he gives the order, he has the opportunity to take down a global menace, once and for all. If the mission fails, he would face certain impeachment, and the threats against the nation would multiply. So the president turns to the one team that can pull off the impossible: Will Robie and his partner, Jessica Reel. Together, Robie and Reel’s talents as assassins are unmatched. But there are some in power who don’t trust the pair. They doubt their willingness to follow orders. And they will do anything to see that the two assassins succeed, but that they do not survive.’ – The Target, David Baldacci

Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.‘ – The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

 

These are the ‘bulk’ of your blurb, and the bit that’s really going to ensure your reader stays to find out more. You’ve hooked them with your first line, now give them a reason to stay. A major thing these two blurbs have in common is that they expand on the first line, while carefully dropping more hints that both intrigue and provide more information, while not giving away any major events. In the blurb from the Target, we’re told a little more about what the ‘high-risk assignment’ was that hooked us in the first line. It expands on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the blurb, but it then goes further into creating another question, while giving more information. Which option will the character choose? How? We’re then introduced to more information for the ‘how’, which in turn opens up all the questions about what events will happen in the novel.

In the blurb from The Goldfinch, it has the same structure, building on the first sentence and answering the ‘what’ and ‘why’. It then continues onto expanding more, but instead of expanding on the situation, it expands on the character. This is important, as it depends on whether your novel is character-driven, or events-driven. You could argue the first one is about the President, but any character could be substituted for him, and the blurb would still make sense. For the second blurb, it can only be about the main character. The blurb is a peephole into your book, so if you focus on characters in your book, but make the blurb heavily event-based, it won’t match up with the reader’s expectations. Tartt then also adds another question at the end of her blurb for the reader – what significance does the painting have?

 

Let’s Wrap It Up

*Disclaimer: Mordor and/or magical One Ring not required for finishing blurbs.

*Disclaimer: Mordor and/or magical One Ring not required for finishing blurbs.

Now we come to the grand finale of your blurb – the reason why a reader should buy your book. They’ve been hooked, they’re intrigued by the premise…but where is it leading? This is about how your book stands out from others, but bringing it down to a finely edited, neatly-sharpened point. This part should give them a reason to answer all the questions they’ve been asking so far. As we’ve already started a trend, let’s take a look at the final lines of the above two blurbs;

 

As they prepare for their mission, Reel faces a personal crisis that could well lead old enemies right to her doorstep, resurrecting the ghosts of her earlier life and bringing stark danger to all those close to her. And all the while, Robie and Reel are stalked by a new adversary: an unknown and unlikely assassin, a woman who has trained her entire life to kill, and who has her own list of targets–a list that includes Will Robie and Jessica Reel.’ – The Target, David Baldacci

‘As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love–and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.’ – The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

 

For me personally, both of these would make me buy them. For The Target, we’re then told this isn’t just about the crisis from the President. It gets more personal, letting you know that the characters themselves are also in danger. This adds an extra element to the already exciting premise, a reason why this book will be different from any other book that has the President making  a hard decision. It also points out that there’s going to be internal conflict for at least one character, adding another layer to the onion.

In The Goldfinch, the blurb ends differently, but uses the same structure, as it’s for a different audience. It adds another layer to the story, letting the reader know this isn’t just about how young Theo deals with the events in his childhood, but there’s another ‘something’ as he grows older. And the ‘something’ is a dangerous event that might answer some of the earlier questions that were asked. It also ends on a ‘sell’ of the kind of book it is, perhaps encouraging the reader to buy it if they already know this is the kind of book they like. Another example of this is when a blurb might end on ‘Fans of xxxx would also enjoy this book’. Readers always look for something new that will give them the same feeling as their favourite book, so this is a good plan if you have a similar book to something else. Fans of the Hunger Games might enjoy a dystopian, for example, or fans of the Black Dagger Brotherhood might like an urban fantasy about a band of gruff but sexy vampires.

Think about your reader. What is it that will make them buy your next book? Genre is the first indicator of a reader’s preferences, but it’s much more complex than that. Taking the first blurb above, from The Target, it looks at first glance as though it’s for a thriller. And on the surface, it is. But it goes deeper than that. By including the final part, Baldacci has narrowed his target audience to readers who not only like thrillers, but also like personal stories about the characters, like books with assassins in, and stories about redemption. For The Goldfinch, it’s aimed towards readers who like contemporary books, but also like stories that follow structure from traditional books, is about loss and renewal, and personalised through the eyes of a main character. Both have been fine-tuned to the point that certain readers will decide it’s not for them, and the target readers will immediately one-click.

So when writing your ‘final sell’, remember these points; Make sure it both adds more information to the questions, and opens up what these will develop into. Add fine details that make your book unique from its main genre. Is it personal to one character? Is there a lost-lost relative that comes in and stirs things up? Is there a coming event that happens behind the scenes, that the characters don’t yet know about? Don’t be afraid to narrow your target audience. A lot of authors throw a wide net, hoping to catch every reader possible, in the hopes that they might like the book. All this is going to do is end up with a lot of disappointed readers, if they buy the book, hoping it was something else!  Speak to your readers directly, let them know that if they buy your book, they know exactly what they’re getting.

 

So what do you guys think? Do you enjoy writing blurbs, or do you find them an awkward task? And readers, what do you look for in a blurb? What captures your imagination?

 

Snippet Time – Creator of Shadows!

I love reunions. Just saying. Especially when it’s a character from the past. Also, PSSST! I’m going to have the pre-order links hopefully up by end of the week, so watch out for them. 😉


Arianwen swallowed hard, her throat tightening with worry. They hadn’t expected the people here to know anything about the goings-on in the capital, but they seemed as informed—possibly more—as they were. Deron stepped out carefully from behind Inghard, offering up a tense smile to the two guards. “Both,” he answered easily. “I’m human, and I have friends who are part o’ the Human Resistance. But ‘dis lot,” he gestured with a thumb, “are part o’ the Immortal Resistance. The point is, we’re all Resistance.”

The older man narrowed his eyes at Deron for a moment, chewing at his lip. Seemingly satisfied with the answer, he gave a curt nod, replying, “Aye, we agree. But it’s all humans here, I don’t think I can let you in. We won’t attack you, but you’ve got to move on. Get going.”

As he and the younger man turned to leave, Arianwen was gripped by a sudden mad idea to run over to him, and her legs pumped forwards before she had a chance to think over her decision. “Nae, lass!” Aodhan cried out as she jogged towards them. Opening her mouth to shout for the older man, her heart leapt into her throat as two hot black barrels appeared in front of her face, the young man’s tense features at the other end.

“We said ‘get going’, immortal. Do as you’re told,” the young man hissed in a faint French accent, his hair blowing gently in the wind that had picked up, scattering dust particles through the air. As if to make his point further, he clicked the safety off on the weapon, and moved forwards enough to make her stagger backwards, her feet scraping against the loose gravel below.

Holding her hands up to show she meant no harm, she shook her head, gazing deep into the man’s eyes. She saw terror there, not the cold, steely gaze she expected of someone guarding an entire fort. Speaking softly, she urged, “Please listen to me. We’re really not here to harm you in any way, or anyone inside. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have to be, I promise you. There is only one thing we want, and that is to bring the Clan to their knees.” Arianwen bit out the last few words, venom from her emotions flavouring each syllable.

The older man spun on his heel and took in the sight of the demoness stood on her own, hands still raised in the air, before marching back across and lowering the younger man’s rifle. “Easy, Pierre, easy,” he soothed. “Let’s not lose our heads. They already said they mean no harm.”

Pierre gave an exasperated sigh, but he slung the gun over his shoulder as his companion asked, giving Arianwen a cold stare. “And you believe them?”

“Yes,” the other man replied, “I believe them. They haven’t tried to attack us in the last few seconds, have they?” Pulling his own rifle onto his back, he clasped his hands in front of his camouflage-covered torso and directed his attention at Arianwen, giving her hands a gentle nod. As she lowered them slowly to her sides, he continued, “My name is Franklin. We’re not making you stay out here because we don’t want you. But there are children inside there, and youngsters who have never been outside the walls of the Castle. Do you have any idea how it feels to be that human and terrified?”

Arianwen drew herself up smartly, smiling broadly. “I do,” she answered honestly. “I wasn’t always an immortal, you know. I was once human, like you all. And Deron here is human, and Psyche is…” She trailed off as she gestured towards her jet-haired friend, struggling to find the right words. “Well, she’s still half-human, anyway.” Turning back to Franklin, she added, “We know, believe me. I used to be a police officer before the war started. I know what people are capable of. And I also know what’s capable if we stand by and do nothing.”

Franklin gave a heavy sigh and squeezed his temples between his forefinger and thumb, before blinking and looking back up at Arianwen with tired eyes. “I’m sorry,” he retorted with a shrug, “there’s nothing I can do. Rules are rules.”

With that, he gestured to his companion, and they both turned to head back to the entrance. “No!” Arianwen begged, breathing heavily. “You have to listen, I—“

“Arianwen! Arianwen Harris?”

The male voice that called out her name from above the watchtower was familiar and hard to place all at once. Her mind buzzing with names of anyone and everyone she had known in her lifetime so far, she gazed up towards the tower and bright blue sky, squinting and using her hand as a shade. An elderly man was leaning over the side of the walls, waving frantically down to her. Narrowing her eyes further, she searched his face, flickering over every wrinkle and line around his shining eyes—it can’t be. It is! Waving excitedly back, she shouted up, “By the gods! Shiner! What the hell are you doing here?” Turning back to Aodhan with a face flushed with happiness, she grinned and cried out, “Aodhan! It’s Shiner!”

The rest of the group exchanged confused looks with each other, watching curiously as Aodhan’s jaw dropped and he raced over to Arianwen’s side. Gazing up with her, he let out a low gasp. “F**k me, it is. I never thought I would see that wee guy again.”

The elderly man disappeared from view, and unintelligible shouts came from the other side of the fort. Cries and yells could be heard making their way down from the air to the ground, and when they hit the bottom the screech of pulling wires echoed into the hazy afternoon air. With a groan, the metal entrance door scraped forwards, heaving up from the ground as the pulleys worked their magic in opening it wide. Arianwen nearly had to cover her ears from the metallic sound as it rose up into the air and revealed the inside of the fort, a crowd of people stood on the other side with wide eyes and frightened expressions.

As the dust cleared, Shiner came striding through the crowd, racing outside to meet his old friend. Arianwen’s lip wobbled before she felt the emotions bubbling up from her chest, and her eyes watered with tears. Holding her arms out wide, she sprinted across and wrapped them around the old man, sobbing with relief—relief that he hadn’t died, relief that she had found him again, and he was safe. She felt the warmth of Aodhan’s hand on her back, and he slapped a hand on Shiner’s shoulder. “Good to see you again, old man,” he said hoarsely, voice thick with feeling.

Breaking the bear-hug, Shiner stood back and smiled broadly at the two before him, wiping his tired eyes with the back of his sleeve. His features were etched with lines and worry, and his once thick hair was thin and grey, but it was definitely still him. “Come on,” he croaked in his Geordie accent. “Let’s get you inside, like. We can talk about why both of us are in the middle of nowhere in the fort.” Giving a wave to the two guards, he beckoned the group forwards.

After glancing nervously at one another, then over to the two demons, the others eventually trudged forwards. They stared forwards, ignoring the two guards in case they changed their minds, and they vanished into the fort as the heavy door slammed down again behind them with a cloud of muddy dust.

 

Taken from Creator of Shadows © Copyright Miranda Stork 2014

A Day In The Life Of…Theodore Webb

Morning, folks! (very early morning if you’re in the UK like me!) Today we’ve got Theodore Webb over with us for our ‘A Day In The Life Of…’ post, sharing a little about his day and some writing tips! Enjoy! 🙂

 

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF…THEODORE WEBB

 

A day in the life of a writer equals a day in the life of a hard life. You can do almost anything else and make more money (that being said, it’s not about the money). Writers like me, particularly us “indie writers,” often cannot devote 100 percent of our time to writing.

As much as I would like to focus completely on writing, marketing and everything else required of an “indie writer,” I must continually find ways to pay my bills, which means picking up part-time jobs and so forth.

For me, there isn’t a “typical writing day.” I write whenever I can make it happen.

Being a writer also means being a reader, so you have to squeeze in your reading time too. I usually wake up around 8 a.m. I make a bowl of oatmeal, a pot of coffee, read current events, news, blogs and a book.

Then, when I’m fully awake, I work on a short story, a poem, a novel, a play, revising a piece, formatting a work to publish digitally, working on a cover, blogging on my website, http://www.theodorewebb.com, engaging on my social media, http://www.facebook.com/theodorewebbauthor or my Twitter, Theodore Webb @STARLINGCONNECT.

I have a few rules and suggestions which help me stay on track and complete projects. Here are five tips about the daily writing life, which I hope will also help you with your own writing:

 

1. Join a writing group or groups. I’m a member of the Morgantown Writers Group (MWG) that meets at the public library as well as the M.T. Pockets Theatre Company Playwrights Group. I’m also a founding member of Morgantown Poets. Between these three groups, I’m often at writers’ meetings several times a month on weekday evenings. These groups keep me busy, inspired and engaged. No one can truly do everything alone. It’s good to be social. If I get overly involved with my own writing or reading, I have a tendency to go too long without seeing people. I’m fortunate to live in a small town with a thriving and supportive writing community. My friends and fellow artists continually inspire me. They tell me what in my writing needs more work. They also help keep me from getting too much inside my own head.

 

2. Write something new for each group meeting. This is my personal rule for my participation in the groups with which I’m involved. Before every meeting, I must have new writing to share. For example, with the M.T. Pockets Playwrights Group, I must write a new scene before every meeting. With Morgantown Poets, I try to have at least three new poems to share at every event. Many writers give themselves deadlines. This is my way of holding to a deadline. It ensures that I’m always writing new work.

 

3. Promote your work. Writers wear many hats. “Shameless self-promotion,” as a friend of mine used to say, is one of those hats. Think about it. You labor for months or years on your novel. And the writing is good. But what good is it if no one knows about it? If you don’t promote your work, then people won’t be able to discover it. I’m continually amazed by how many authors labor to write books, but then do little to promote their books. For those authors who actively promote their books, the competition is stiffer than ever before. Have you looked on Twitter lately? If you’re following authors on social media, as I do, then you’ll notice every other Tweet amounts to “Buy my book!” I don’t think these particular kinds of Tweets are very effective, but I give props to those authors for elbowing their way in there and promoting the heck out of their work. They’re light years ahead of the author who does nothing to promote his book. You have to figure out a strategy for promoting your work. You may find that a fourth of your time or more is devoted to promoting your work while another fourth is engaging with readers and other writers.

 

4. Chaos is overrated. Organize. Saving time takes time. Schedule about 15 minutes each day to get better organized. Creativity may flourish in chaos for some folks, but it’s frustrating no matter who you are if you’re wasting an hour scrambling through that stack of papers looking for that short story you sketched out a month ago. That said, don’t be a perfectionist. Done is better than perfect. If you’re spending more time trying to organize everything, washing dishes, cleaning, mowing grass or any chore besides writing or promoting your writing, then, as a writer, you’re probably wasting even more time. I’m not saying to neglect your responsibilities, but you need to make sure other members of the family are pulling their weight too. Everyone should be respectful of your time and writing career. The whole family needs to work together for each member to be successful.

 

5. Don’t forget to exercise daily. You may ask, “How exactly does exercise connect with the writing lifestyle?” I often find I’m spending far too much time sitting behind the screen. We all need a break. As the old saying goes, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” I’m not necessarily talking about strenuous activity. In my 20s, I ran 10-milers. While running many miles can be aerobic, it can also put quite a bit of stress on your bones and joints, particularly if you run on pavement. Today I’m happy simply riding my bicycle a few miles on the rail trail. These bike rides relax me and bring peace to my mind. I often get new ideas or solve a problem with a character or plotline when I’m not thinking about writing. I recommend you find an outdoor activity that is enjoyable to you. It could be walking, swimming, jogging, a short hike in the woods, fishing; simply anything that you find fun. Ideally the activity should involve mild to moderate exercise to get your body and your creative juices moving.

 

Hope this post has shared some insights into a day in my writing life and also given you a few tips that you may find helpful in your own career in the arts. If you’ve found this post helpful, by all means, share this post with your friends and associates. For more writing tips, essays and more, bookmark my website, http://www.theodorewebb.com.

 

Theodore Webb

Theodore Webb is the author of “The STARLING Connection,” a novel-series about a near-future drone-filled Dystopia in which a group of teenage “hackers” fight for their privacy and freedom to speak. Webb is the author of several short stories, including “Desperate Engine” and “Family Hour.” His electronic books and stories are available on Amazon.com and Smashwords.com. Webb regularly blogs at http://www.theodorewebb.com. “Like” his Facebook author page, http://www.facebook.com/theodorewebbauthor and follow him on Twitter at Theodore Webb @ STARLINGCONNECT.

A Day In The Life Of…Vickie McKeehan!

Good morning, lovely blog-seekers! 🙂 Have we got a treat for you today! The awesome Vickie McKeehan tells us about her wild day as an author, so enjoy!

This post was originally posted up over at http://vickiemckeehan.wordpress.com, re-posted here with permission of the author.

 

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN INDIE ROMANCE WRITER …

 

hot-guy

 

After a night spent with hunky Raphael, the alarm goes off at an astonishingly early six a.m. Even though I have no desire to climb out from underneath warm covers and leave Raphael, I must get up to keep my body in shape. Ah, yes, the dreaded workout and exercise. A few laps in my indoor pool should do the trick.

Half asleep, I stumble to the sliding glass door. I force it open with all my strength because my night with Raphael has zapped most of my energy. I step out onto my adjoining deck to dip my toes into the heated water of the shimmering pool only to discover my toes have landed in Beau’s water dish. Beau is my loyal little, bug-eyed pug. But when I finally come to my senses, when I finally come out of my dream-like state enough to realize I don’t have an indoor pool, Beau gives me one of his looks that clearly says, “Crazy woman. I knew I should’ve gone to live with the dog whisperer, Cesar Millan, when I had the chance.”

I decide coffee is what I need to wake up and plenty of it. After I wander into my gourmet kitchen, a voice from the walk-in pantry calls to me. “What can I fix the most talented, the most awesome writer in the business this morning for breakfast? Your wish is my command.”

As I drift over to the coffee pot, I tell my personal chef, “You know what I like. An egg white omelet with an avocado on the side and a toasted muffin with a tall glass of orange juice.”

Suddenly the male voice replies, “Okay, it’s either whole-grain Cheerios or instant oatmeal with a toasted waffle. What’s it gonna be?”

I sigh. Another bubble bites the dust and it isn’t even six-thirty yet.

Over my bowl of gruel, which grows cold while I pour my own cup of coffee, we go over the day’s schedule. I mention I should probably set up a meeting with my marketing department, my publicist, and my agent. I remind my personal secretary that my agent is brokering a deal to sell the rights forPromise Cove to Disney for several million dollars.

He nods back but counters, “We do have that trip planned to the grocery store for later because the cupboard’s getting bare. Plus, we’re out of toilet paper. As for the meeting with your department heads, I did get a confirmation that Del Taco is continuing Taco Tuesday so we’ll set up lunch there. How’s that sound?”

“I do like tacos,” I muttered into my cereal. “But just once, couldn’t we splurge and go to that cute little restaurant over the water for shrimp and lobster?”

He shakes his head. “That’ll blow the budget for this month.”

I sigh again. Time to head back into my fantasy world. The voices in Pelican Pointe are calling to me.

 

 

Find the amazing author and her books here! – 

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/VickieMcKeehan?fref=ts

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Blog – http://vickiemckeehan.wordpress.com

Amazon Page – http://www.amazon.com/Vickie-McKeehan/e/B006JSYSH8/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1374833762&sr=8-2-ent

Weirdest Processes of Famous Writers–You’re Not So Strange!

You know what makes me sad lately? People remarking (or in some cases, telling) on other writer’s methods of writing, working, or the process. No one person is like another, and no one person’s methods of writing are like another. Here’s some famous examples;

— In order to stave off procrastination, French novelist Victor Hugo wrote both Les Misérables and The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame in–you guessed it–his Birthday Suit. Being nude meant he wouldn’t be able to leave his house, and as a safety measure, he’d also instruct his valet to hide his clothes.

— As well as chain-smoking and index cards, Aaron Sorkin, has a habit of acting out his zippy dialogue while gazing at his own reflection. In 2010, he worked himself into such a frenzy, that he actually head-butted a mirror. “I wish I could say I was in a bar fight,” confessed Sorkin, “but I broke my nose writing.”

— Mary Shelley kept a domesticated 23-foot-long boa constrictor in her writing studio. She would wrap the snake around her shoulders while she wrote. When the snake grew restless and squeezed, only then would she allow herself to stop writing for the day.

— Like a LOT of writers (including me!), coffee was Honoré de Balzac’s poison. But he wasn’t drinking Lattes. He would drink large quantities of black coffee, ensuring that he could write for a full 48 hours straight. Yikes!

— In Cold Blood novelist Truman Capote described himself as a ‘horizontal author’. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy,” he told The Paris Review in 1957. “I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.”

— The author of Blue Angel, Francine Prose, wears her husband’s “red and black checked flannel pajama pants and a T-shirt.” In a 1998 interview with Kate Bolick at The Atlantic, Prose says, “Fortunately, or unfortunately, we live in a strange apartment with one twenty-foot-high window facing a brick wall, about a foot and a half away. Not much of a view. So when I’m at my desk I feel like I can work undistracted. I might as well be in the country. Writing while facing a wall, incidentally, seems to me the perfect metaphor for being a writer.”

— Not only did the Three Musketeers author Alexandre Dumas insist upon himself a colour-coded system of writing (pink for non-fiction, blue for fiction and yellow for poetry), he reportedly sat below the Arc de Triomphe in Paris every morning and ate an apple for inspiration. An apple a day, keeps the procrastination away, clearly.

— William Faulkner preferred to type with his toes instead of his fingers. He kept his shoes on his hands while he worked.

— It is widely known that Hemingway, following years of work in his basement genetics lab, invented a new kind of cat with six toes. Why? I’ve no idea. But before he sat down to write, Hemingway would go over his writing goals for the day with these cats. He refused to share such things with other, normal toed cats, which he considered to be poor listeners. They’re also usually incredibly disinterested, I find. He also famously said he wrote 500 words a day, mostly in the mornings to avoid the heat. In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934, he wrote, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

— Visitors looking for T.S. Elliot at a hideaway on Charing Cross Road were asked to inquire at the porter’s lodge for a man known only as “The Captain.” Upstairs, Eliot’s face was “tinted green with powder to look cadaverous.”

 

So the next time you think the way someone keeps track of their writing, writes at all, where or how they do it is odd, remember that it’s the end product that matters. Everyone’s writing process will be different from yours, and if it’s especially eccentric, you’re in good company! 🙂

 

*Thanks to MSN.com, Wikipedia, and Shortlist.com for the examples.