The Magic of writing #amwriting #writingquotes

“When you start writing, the magic comes when the characters seem to take on a life of their own and write the words themselves.”

Divided Serenity is available to buy on all Amazon stores, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s Free!

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Books that end where they begin #amreading #amwriting

I am sure most of us have read one of these stories, they start with a brief scene, and then the story jump’s back in time. Books that end where they begin can be a little hit and miss in my opinion. It’s all down to the execution, along with a smidgen of personal taste.

One’s that don’t work.

For me, the ones that leave me with a slightly disgruntled feeling are the cliff-hanger at the start. Yes, I know all the theories about cliff-hangers forcing your readers to just keep turning the page, but to be honest they just irritate me. Five pages in and it’s just getting exciting, and then it jumps back years. You keep turning the pages, hoping that it is going to get back to the action, but it doesn’t for – ever – and I am afraid I just want to throw the damn book out.

You keep doggedly reading, surely it has to get back to that little teaser sometime soon?

You hit mid-point.

You hit three-quarters!

Do I keep reading, well, sometimes, if the rest of it is interesting enough, but it generally leaves me – disatisfied.

One’s that do work

I am going to use one of my all time favourites for an example Use of Weapons – Ian M Banks

The book begins with a scene. It’s not a cliff hanger, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It leaves you intrigued…

Yes, the difference is subtle, and the scene at the start is fairly short. You know it’s the main character, but as you read the story, that early scene almost feels like a different person, and you are – intrigued – as to what made this change.

It has one of the most awesome endings of any book I have read ever. Yes, that is a pretty bold statement. I re-read the last 10 or so pages about 5 times because I kept thinking (or wishing) I had read it wrong! Now that’s a good book, one that picks you up and takes you somewhere that you really don’t want to go.

At the end it plays out the original scene, and like any true revelation, it all makes perfect sense.

Conclusion

Reading is about as personal as it can get, and what works for one person may not work for someone else, but I do like a good circular story, so long as they get the subtle blend right.

How to kill your character – the right way #amwriting #writing

If you are thinking about killing a character, it’s important to get it right.

I will talk in a moment about the rules for killing a character, but to put this in context I am going to talk about my current WIP. I have killed a few people in my book, not a lot, but I have killed a few.

I was pretty happy with my first deaths (hmm…maybe happy isn’t the word I’m looking for?) and felt I had ticked the ‘can I kill them’ check box. But when it came to a later death, I knew they had to go, keeping them alive would have been, to be honest, not very believable. So, I had ticked the ‘can I kill them’ check box, but this time it just did not feel right.

I knew they had to go…

I wrote the chapter, and I moved on…

But I felt something was wrong…

I realised I had missed a vital step…

I had not completed the after killing step. I had not dedicated book time for my other characters to react…

In my defence a) it was the first cut of my draft and everything was pretty scrappy b) it was the busy part of the book where everything is going crazy and the characters barely get time to breathe, let alone grieve. They had to pick themselves up and get back on with saving the world…but even here…and even when the sh*t is going down…you still feel.

The post killing character step is the most obvious, but least talked about part. We often focus on whether it is right to kill a character, but neglect to mention how important it is to dedicate time in the story to show how their death impacts everyone else.

For my earlier character deaths, I dedicated time, and in one instance much of the next chapter, to the characters reaction to the death. In these cases the death was part of the plot and set up the rest of the book. When it came to the later character death though, the book was close to the end. In this case it wasn’t so much about moving the plot, although it did impact the plot in some way, it was more about keeping the story realistic. There also wasn’t time, nor would it be right, to dedicate a large block for reflection–it would have slowed the pace right down. Once I realised what was missing, it was surprisingly easy to address the missing piece, and after it was done the whole chapter felt right.

There is a lot to be said for ‘gut feelings’ when it comes to writing, and it applies to many situations, not just killing a character off. If a section of the book feels wrong it probably is wrong, and you need to explore how to make it right.

This post-death reflection time applies equally to killing any character, whether they are loved, loathed or supporting. If you are going to kill them, it has to be for a reason, and it has to be acknowledged by our other characters if we are to make our story realistic. Not every character will react to death in the same way, nor in a stereotypical way, and it is important that their reaction compliments their profile.

How our characters handle death can even define them.

So, let’s finish off with the – how to kill your character right check list.

  • It drives an essential change in another character
  • It advances the plot
  • It adds realism to the story
  • It is a fitting punishment for their crime

Bonus check list

  • You are writing a murder mystery
  • Your name is George R. R. Martin

When not to kill a character

  • If it does not meet at least one of the above
  • To get a reaction from your reader (sadness or shock)

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on killing a character.

Happy writing 🙂

A writer’s guilty pleasure – reading #amwriting #amreading

I’m a writer, which means I like to write.

Sometimes I also like to read. A lot. When I should be sleeping. When I should be doing something important.

Now, I know all the theories that writers are supposed to read, and how you will never be a great writer if you don’t read a lot etc. etc. But am I the only one who sometimes reads a book with a sense of guilty pleasure?

It’s like…

I could have completed editing that chapter … but spent the evening reading instead.

Or I could have cleaned the house…but I spent the afternoon reading instead.

And even when there is nothing more important to do, and you allow yourself the guilty pleasure of reading time, there are degrees of guilt. For example reading a classic or literary fiction is far more acceptable than dipping into the latest genre fiction offering in the bestseller list. And reading about writing? That’s Okay too.

But a brain-off holiday romance? When you write crime fiction? What if it infects you and your gritty thriller turns into…Oh dear!

And what about people who write literary fiction? They must be in a constant state of fear that if they dip into the latest YA sensation it may give their masterpiece a new and unwelcome twist.

There is no hope for it. I don’t know a single writer who isn’t also a reader. I love the different genres, and I love the different writing styles. I love reading—even when I know I should be doing something else!

And despite the guilty pleasure…I’m off to read some more! 

Six Secrets to Drafting a Novel – Fast! #amwriting

If you want to get your novel DRAFT out FAST, here are my top six tips to help you on your way.

1.Planning. I am the original anti-planner. I hate the constrictive, creativity stifling, and passion killing thought of planning…but…a little planning goes a long way. You don’t need to go crazy and have every single scene detailed before you start, but you do need a skeleton.

Deviating from said skeleton is all part of drafting; so don’t let yourself feel in anyway constrained just because you have a plan. There is no doubt about it though; planning works, and the upfront investment will make writers block and endless story syndrome a thing of the past.

2.Don’t Edit. And when I say don’t edit, I mean DON’T EDIT AT ALL. Sorry shouting and all that, and I am really shouting at myself because I am the world’s worst edit-as-I-go-er. It’s the perfectionist in me peeking out again, better get a whip and a chair to that little monster!

It’s soooo hard not to edit, because the moment you read it, it looks like crap, and you immediately think you are a terrible writer, and that chapter will never work. STOP. It will work just fine…when you edit, which is LATER. So, no peeking, not even a little peek, let it go and move on to the next chapter.

3.Don’t think just write. What? Ok, it’s maybe more…don’t think too much.

Even with a plan, and knowing what the chapter is going to be about, and having a house completely free of interruptions, and your favorite music on, and a coffee at your side…you sit there and your head is blank. The endless procrastination kicks in, you check Facebook, Twitter, you read the news, make a cup of coffee…again. You write a few words and then delete them, and then a few more…and delete them. Sound familiar?

That’s because you’re actually thinking too hard. Yep I know, that sounds like reverse logic because how can you think too hard. It’s not a myth; I do it all the time. It’s not writers block either; so don’t panic. It’s more like…temporary amnesia about what that keyboard thing is for. Either you can’t start writing at all or when you do write you have an overwhelming urge to hit delete.

This is where the stop-thinking bit is really important. Just start the scene, even if you know it’s crap, even if you know you are going to delete the whole first paragraph, because something amazing happens once you get past a few sentences without hitting delete…it all starts pouring out and you remember that there is a connection between the brain and the keyboard, its calling fingers, and wow, they work!

4.Killing the people who interrupt you. Yes, I know it’s not practical, and hiding a body is so hard, but hey sometimes it’s got to be done. Just kidding, you can’t really kill the people who interrupt you, but you can think about it in glorious detail!

Interruptions are a fact of life, and they only interrupt you because they love you so much…or they want to be fed, or they can’t find that . I find meditation, and practicing breathing techniques really works…yes I’m just kidding about that too…nothing works, either get a lock for your door and fit soundproofing so you can’t hear them screaming at you, or just build a bridge and move on.

5.You are going to chop out some the work you write. Gasp! No! Yep, it’s going to happen. Remember in point 2 where I said don’t worry if it looks like crap it will all work out fine in the end? I lied. Some sentences, paragraphs, and yes, even whole scenes will meet a fate worse than death, discarded for ever to your clipping folder where you retain them in the misguided hope they will be reused or reinserted later. They won’t be, but it’s Okay to keep them, I do.

Now, you may be wondering how knowing that a scene may later be chopped is going to help you write quickly because now you are feeling pretty depressed and not at all motivated to write quickly, but here’s the catch, would you rather spend ages over-editing a scene, or procrastinating writing it, and then delete it? Nope, I certainly wouldn’t.

I have lost count of the number of beautifully written sentences or scenes that simply had to go. Sometimes you just need to get the whole story done before you can be truly objective enough to see what needs to stay and what needs to go, and the less time you spend getting to this stage, the better.

6.Word count targets. Love ’em or loath ’em, word count targets work, especially when you are drafting. Goal setting is written about, talked about, and well established as the single most important part of achieving ‘stuff’. If your goal is to write a book, you need to give yourself targets on the way to keep motivated.

Didn’t hit your target today? So what, there are plenty of days where you don’t make as much progress as you wanted too, and some days you make no progress at all. Celebrate the good days, and move on past the bad days, and remember that any words written at all is a step closer to completion! (Unless you end up deleting it as I mentioned in point 4…but we are not going to think about that during the draft)

I have been writing long enough to know roughly what I can write in a day, or an evening if it’s a work day, so I build my daily count around that. I LOVE seeing how I am progressing. Scrivener has this little happy ‘bong’ and a popup telling you well done when you hit your daily target. I LOVE that. I also love hitting book milestones like the quarter point, the half way, the three quarter, the finish, the editing…I break absolutely everything up into little micro targets, and this provides an amazing sense of movement and progress.

Writing a book takes FOREVER, so keeping the motivation up and sense of achievement high will get that draft finished in super fast time.