How to Sharpen the First Sentence in Every Chapter

Great writing tips 🙂

A Writer's Path

 

by Carolyn Dennis-Willingham

 

We all know that the first sentence or two in a novel needs to, not only grab a reader’s attention, but flip them out of bed, melt them into their recliners, or make them forget the lasagna in the oven.

Like you, I’ve written so many first lines for my novels, I could add them up and the page count would be the same as the novel itself.

They, editors, agents, writing experts say:

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How writing has changed through the ages

Writing in the modern era is very different to writing even fifty years ago. Technology, lifestyle, attitudes, and education have all played an important role.

Writing today ought to be easier, better and faster. But is this really so?

Research…

Enclycolpedia

Not so very long ago if you wanted to research something you…

a) Asked someone older and wiser (and trusted that they were not making the answer up)

b) Went to the library (assuming it was opening time)

c) Dragged out your Encyclopaedia Britannica (if you were lucky enough to have the set—or half the set…)

Research is infinitely easier in the modern world, all courtesy of the internet. For example, the other day I needed to find out how best and practically to carry an unconscious body on a horse—voila! Thus, providing a demonstration of why a writer’s internet history should never be used in a court of law.

Writing tools…

vintage typewriter

As a scrivener fan, I like to think I have embraced the benefits of modern day writing tools. Not so very long ago you were lucky if you had Microsoft Word. Not much help in structure or planning, but at least it can fix some of the typos and grammar, and for many writers it still holds pride of place. Prior to the introduction of computers, you probably used a typewriter! And before that pencil or quill and paper! And before that a hammer and chisel!

Distraction…

Procrastinating

The modern world contains a vast and ever emerging array of distractions. To compensate we deploy a vast and ever emerging array of distraction mitigating techniques! Sometimes our techniques work, and sometimes they don’t…I am pretty sure me writing this blog post is a distraction…and so is you reading it!

Education…

Education

Education is not such a clear cut conclusion for me. In some ways, the modern world with all its spell checkers and text talk jargon has depleted our basic writing skills. But, there is also an amazing array of blogs (except this one, which is in the above ‘distraction’ classification), free education, books, and other material available via the internet, and to a far wider portion of the population.

The time to write…

time to write

If you were a 15th century crofter, the chances are you probably couldn’t read and were far too busy tending to your turnips to dedicate time to writing. Even a hundred years ago the average person worked a 7 day week with little energy or enthusiasm for embracing their creative side. But, for many people in the modern world we have plenty of opportunity to write, although many of us who are not full time writers would definitely still like a lot more 🙂

Attitude…

writing caveman

Whatever the time or place, there have always been storytellers. They just did not necessarily write. I think the concept of the story and the storyteller has been part of human culture for as far back as we have considered ourselves to be human.

Our attitude to writing has changed over the ages though, and I believe we are far more prolific writers now than we have ever been, and that makes me wonder where we will go to next. Perhaps we will simply project our thoughts onto pages, or perhaps writing as we know it now will ultimately disappear.

 

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7 Tips on writing your first book #amwriting #writing

Many people aspire to write a book, and most have no idea where to start. There are many ways to become a writer, but they all come down to one important activity…

Tip 1: Write stuff…

I am a great believer in not trying to eat the whole elephant. If you want to be a writer, and to write a book, you have to start by writing stuff. Unconstrained, nonsense, and whatever pops into your head. Try different genres and styles. Try for something short, and then try for something long.

After about 20 years of doing this…just kidding! After doing this for a while, which will be different for every writer, you start to get the hang of writing, and something interesting starts to unfold…which is usually a story idea.

Tip 2: When you get a story idea…

Create: Verb. The act of banging your head on the desk until something interesting pops out.

Maybe you have spent a bit of time at Tip 1, playing about with ideas before you find something that might work out into an actual story.

Or maybe you are the sort of person who wants to jump straight in at Tip 2 because you already know a story and you are chomping-at-the-bit to get it down. Let’s PAUSE. If this is your first ever story idea treat it as a bit of fun, and don’t be too disheartened if it becomes nothing more than ‘Tip 1 -stuff’ that ultimately you discard.

However you find yourself at Tip 2, there is no point in holding back. Write it, or plan it then write it, whatever works for you. One of two things will happen at this point:

  • You realise this is a GREAT story idea and that it will pan out into an awesome book
  • You get bored and realise it was FUN but it’s not worth pursuing, or not at this time, because you have just had another story idea that might be better still.

Tip 3: When you get an awesome story idea…

When you get an awesome story idea

Usually you know when an idea for a story is something worthy of pursuit. Now you have to decide whether you need to plan or not. Planning is a matter of personal taste, some people swear by planning, some people loath it with the enthusiasm of a dental appointment.

For planning: People who get the most out of planning are the people who suffer from writers block. If you are the kind of person who finds themselves hemmed in when writing, or not sure what should happen next, planning is GOOD for you. It lets you nut out all the problems upfront so you don’t waste time on something that will go nowhere. Better to tackle all the blocks now than write 30k of words and discover you just don’t have a solution to a key plot point.

Against planning: People who never run out of ideas, who are always chasing the next shiny notion…and could simply write forever! If this is you STOP, and go back to the planning. This may sound harsh, but people with too many ideas suffer from a completely different problem to those who suffer from writers block, and that is what I refer to as ‘Infinite Story Syndrome’ also known as the ’10 book saga’. There is nothing wrong with ten book sagas I love ’em myself. But each book needs a level of conclusion and a little bit of planning, even for the idea masters, goes a long way to getting a good first book.

PS. There is a happy medium..and yes planning will help them too.

Tip 4: Get feedback sooner rather than later…

Writers helping writers

A trusted friend or confidant is what every writer needs. Someone to sanity check your idea to make sure it’s not a complete dud. Once it is drafted look for beta readers. They will be delighted to pick holes in your plot and make it stronger in doing so.

Tip 5: There is nothing wrong with trying…

sleeping writer

I must have a couple of hundred story ideas floating about in bits, scribbled dialog, plot points, and random chapters. All of which were great for my ‘Tip 1-Write Stuff’. I only finished 3 books completely to the draft stage. It was the 3rd one I decided I liked enough to edit, and I am now about to publish. The first 2 drafts—I am going to abandon—and I feel no guilt in that.

I have subsequently finished writing the next 3 books in the series. I spent a lot of time ‘writing stuff’, playing about with ‘story ideas’ and I even drafted a couple of ‘awesome story ideas’ into a full novel, before I found a book I felt worthy of publishing, and I don’t regret any of this time. It helped me to find my writers voice. I had fun. It gave me confidence.

Tip 6: Quality is never a waste of time…

characters for your book

I learnt a massive amount about quality by having my book professionally edited…grammar is definitely not my strong point! A writing course if you can afford it is worth while, but otherwise there is a ton of fantastic free information on the internet, and plenty of great books you can buy to improve your skills that way. No time spent on improving your writing quality is ever wasted time.

Tip 7: Simply read…

The last tip goes without saying…but just in case…when you settle on a genre, read it—a lot.

More more posts on writing…

A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 1

Six secrets to drafting a novel – fast!

How to generate new story ideas

Love Sci-fi and fantasy fiction?

Get Divided Serenity out now on all Amazon stores, and free with Kindle Unlimited.

Why you should share your writing and how to go about it #amwriting

As a person who has spent 20 years writing without another soul seeing my work, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a self-proclaimed expert on the difficulty of sharing.

I think this is probably something many writers struggle with at first. That transition from our innermost thoughts being just that, to allowing them exposure to the critical assessment of others.

It’s daunting, I get that. Really, I do.

Why do you need to share? Why do you write?

This is the first question you need to answer before you go any farther. If you have no aspirations to publish or simply love to write but have no desire to do anything more with your work, then you should feel no burden or need to share. For a lot of my twenty years writing I was exactly this, happy to write, no burning need for it to go anywhere or be seen by anyone

I guess I got to a point where I felt, why not do something more? See what happens?

Yes, I did want to publish. Yes , I did want the satisfaction of sharing what I had done, and hopefully someone (even one person) saying yes, this work resonates with me.

So, why should you share your writing?

10945022_933085073368785_9184225261499281719_n

Feedback is the only way to learn and improve: This is the truth of it. Yes, reading books about writing techniques, blogs, and online articles are all very helpful, and there is no doubt they will improve your work. But! There is really no substitute for ‘just doing’ and receiving feedback. In my opinion this is the only true way to learn and grow.

We don’t often learn by doing something once, or even twice, and we don’t learn without any feedback at all. Learning is an iterative process, which by definition means you have to do it more than once.

It gives us confidence: I can attest to the fact that sharing is the one and only way to gain any level of confidence in your work. I think it becomes less daunting with each increment of sharing. Less traumatic, and more encouraging.

So, you are ready for some feedback, how do you proceed?

How to share your writing

A friend: It can be hard to find a ‘friendly’ someone you know and trust to be gentle, but who at the same time, will provide some valuable feedback on your work. That’s a big ask, and not everyone will fit the bill. So take your time, choose carefully and be brave. Critique Partners

Share anonymously: Using sites such as Wattpad.

Professional feedback: There are all kinds of editing options out there. Developmental editing for example will assist in story structure, copy editing for grammar and punctuation, or proof reading if the story is almost there and you need a final check. See Editing v Proofreading

Generally, this is a service you need to pay for. I used a copy editor who also offered some amazing developmental insights. I learnt an insane amount by having my story professionally edited.

Beta readers: Are kind and wondrous beings who are prepared to read your work and offer feedback…for free. My advice on engaging beta readers is to be polite and mindful that they are doing this for FREE, so make sure you provide background on your book to ensure it is a genre they like. Also, check the type of feedback they provide, some will offer a lot of detail and some will give you a summary overview of what they thought. Note: They often have a queue of books to read, so find out upfront when they may be able to get around to reading your book, and ensure the timelines work for you both.

A Note on feedback: All feedback is invaluable, but, you need to be mindful that you don’t need to act on it all. Not all feedback providers are professional, and even if they are a professional, you still need to think it through. I would say that generally when someone gives you good advice you just know it. I usually read it, let it sink in, and then read it again a little later. You can pickup some amazing gems even from what may at first seem like a negative comment.

My own experience with friends, beta readers, and a professional editor is that very little of their feedback was disregarded. And if it was disregarded I understood exactly why.

So what’s holding you back?

BiXiMA-CUAEk3DtSource https://twitter.com/tomgauld/status/443008838791213056

If you are anything like me, and you struggle with the idea of sharing, ask yourself why you write and if you are ready for feedback.

A few encouraging words can provide a world of motivation!

So, if you haven’t shared before, why not jump in. You might be pleasantly surprised 🙂

Character names – decisions, decisions! #amwriting

Being indecisive?

Am I the only writer who is indecisive when it comes to my character names?

I don’t have any children, and yet I firmly believe naming a child would be far easier than naming a character in a book! Let’s face it you know exactly who you want your child to be when they grow up and a name is a massive part of this. But when you are naming a character in a book you experience so many conflicts of interest and dilemmas that its enough to make your head spin.

Finding a name at all…2015-02-18 15.06.54

How many writers have a link to the latest top baby names website in their quick links/ favourites?

Ok, enough said.

More irony anyone?

Do you pick a name that suits your character’s personality, for example do you give your evil villain a gritty, villainesk name? Or do you choose the ironic option say something ‘fluffy’? Or even something normal?

Growing into our names…

Do you ever get the feeling that your characters grow into their names, or do they fight against it? While the real world has numerous examples of how your name can influence everything from job opportunities and salary to your likelihood of falling into a life of crime, it also has plenty of conflicts. For example the man who named his two sons ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ (let’s not get into a debate on why). Winner went on to be a criminal and loser went on to be a cop!

As a writer though, do we find ourselves attributing a personality and looks to our character simply based on their name?

I know as a reader I do, so I can’t help but think that subconsciously when I am writing I do the same.

Yeah, I still can’t decide…

I have been writing my current book for nearly ten years off and on. It is ready for publishing and has been through numerous rounds of editing, and I still find myself questioning the names! Ok, it’s not the main characters anymore, but I just can’t help giving some of the minor players a little tweak 🙂

IMG_0498

For more cartoons by Tom Gauld… http://myjetpack.tumblr.com

Divided Serenity is out now on all Amazon stores, and free with Kindle Unlimited.

Divided Serenity Book Cover

How to generate new story ideas #amwriting

If you need some fresh writerly inspiration, here is a list of things you can do to help generate new story ideas and rework old ones.

Reading
Reading

It’s the most obvious one, and it’s still the best. Reading can provide a bounty of ideas to use in your own work (..but maybe not plagiarise!)

It’s a great way to pick up style tips too!

Walking
Walking

Walking releases your mind to wonder off in the same way that your body does.

It doesn’t matter whether the route is new or familiar, either will help to set your mind free to explore new concepts in an unstructured way.

Loading up with a few key ideas just before you leave can inspire more detailed outlines for anything from a scene to a book.

Tip: Always take your smart phone / pad with you so you can jot any notes down as you go.

Watch a movie or TV
Watch a movie or TV

This may sound like the worst thing a writer can do, but shows and movies can really generate a plethora of lovely new ideas.

Chimp in headphones
Music

Music can inspire us in so many different ways.

A strong beat can really kick-off an action scene.

A new track can generate an entire story skeleton.

And of course, music can greatly influence the mood of our writing if we listen to it while we write.

Articles and news
Articles and news

Newspapers and articles can spark little gems that often turn into a juicy story concept.

They can also help us to research a specific scene.

people
People

People are the ultimate story inspiration.

I’m not suggesting you take you’re best friend’s relationship disaster and use it for book fodder!

But people are inspiring, and it can often happen in subtle or subconscious ways.

Do something new
Be adventurous and do something new

Taking a holiday somewhere new, joining a club, and generally embracing new experiences are all awesome for discovering new perspectives.

Our minds and our thoughts are only as good as the information we put into them, and opening ourselves to new experiences is a great way to generate surprising and intriguing ideas.

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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Why I guard my writing time jealously

If you are the sort of person who enjoys writing—you just enjoy writing. It’s a form of therapy that isn’t optional. You need writing to feel well, both mentally and physically.

Finding the time to write is not always easy when our lives are busy. It doesn’t matter how much or how little time you manage to dedicate to writing, the important thing is that you have time, and regular time, at that. There are stages in our life where we have more or less time for creative pursuits, and we have to accept this.

We have to receive every moment spent writing with gratitude.

I have been a long-term sufferer of fibromyalgia, which is a debilitating, and often misunderstood, chronic disease. I am glad to say that I mostly manage the symptoms using both diet and exercise now, a hard won balance that took me many painful years to master. There were many days when I was in too much pain to think properly, let alone be capable of writing. When I could not write, I fell back onto greater reading—not such a bad compromise, perhaps.

I lost many things during the worst years of my illness, and made many compromises on the life I wanted to live.

I can look back now and see clearly that it changed me in a profound way. I spent a lot of time grieving for what I couldn’t have, couldn’t be, and couldn’t do.

If it taught me anything, it would be a sense of perspective, and of perseverance. It taught me too, that while in many ways I had changed, the part of me that loved the rich, inner, imaginative world of books, remained exactly the same. And this was very comforting.

I never stopped reading.

And I never completely stopped writing.

We all have things that take us away from our writing, some wonderful and some sad.

The important thing is to keep a little of your writing love going, even if you only have a tiny slot, even if you have to stop up until the rest of the house has gone to bed, or rise early, to get your writing fix. Guard your writing time jealously, because if you are a writer, then a writer is who you are, and when life get tough, it may just be the thing that keeps you going. A love of writing is not altered by our age or our situation, or even by the obstacles life throws our way. It is fundamental, and enduring, and it is pervasive to our very core.