I thought I would take a little time out from my WIP to talk about writers, and more specifically their evil nature.
Now, I realise that being a writer doesn’t make you any more disposed toward a life of crime, or even being unkind because it certainly doesn’t. Although please never check a writer’s search history because you will soon be convinced we are plotting an assassination attempt and looking for ways to hide the body!
What I am talking about is conflict…because every good book needs conflict…and the only way to think up conflict is…you guessed it…to think a little evil.
Right in the very earliest stages of your novel’s development, when it is no more than a twinkling in the dark pit of your mind…there is conflict bubbling up to the surface.
Without conflict or challenge there is only a…millpond.
I’m going to let you in on a secret…nobody wants to read about a millpond because it’s BORING!
What we need is stormy seas and howling winds, and a few pure evil key plot points to screw our character’s lives up!
So, you kick off your story and you feel you have a goodly smattering of conflict going on when. …WHAM! It just pops in there, another totally evil thing you could do to your characters that will stir things up even more!
You rub your hands together in glee and immediately get down to the nefarious deed.
Barely have your characters got over that little challenge when…BAM! Oh yes, you guessed it, another nasty plot point has hatched in your very evil mind.
Are writers quintessentially evil? Do we take to writing as a way of nurturing evil thoughts that are already there? Or do we develop and hone our evil plot point radar as we write and write some more?
I guess we may never know, but one fact is very well established, a little evil thinking will go a long way to help your writing!
So your writing is flowing too fast. The spark of inspiration has set your mind ablaze and your fingers hurt from typing. Stephen King says you should write 3,000 words a day and you’re lapping him: 6,000 words a day, 9,000 words a day. You’re so prolific your beta readers feel like you’re swamping them […]
Some great reminders 🙂
This post is the tenth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.
Before we get into writing your novel, I wanted to talk about two important elements – tension and pace. Understanding both of these will help you write better scenes in your story.
Tension is the element of a novel that evokes worry, anxiety, fear or stress for both the reader and the characters.
One way to think about it is you are raising the stakes for your character, so he or she has to work to get what he or she wants. And this shouldn’t be easy. Basically, you want to keep saying no to your characters so that the conflict appears unsolvable. The more at stake for your character, the more emotions he feels about situations and events.
Tension can take…
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Today I’d like to talk about sports; specifically how they can make you a better writer of genre fiction. I think most of us (and I know this is a stereotype) who write sci-fi and fantasy are much more comfortable in a library than in a gym, or more at home at a tabletop playing an RPG than on a hardtop playing basketball. I speak from experience. No one will ever mistake me for an athlete, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
Let’s face it, in genre fiction, there are a lot of sports. As Grandpa says in The Princess Bride: “Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” You get the picture. “So?” I hear you say, “How does that apply to me and my writing?” Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ll give you some examples from my life.
I played high school (American) football, so I know what it feels like to take a bone-jarring blow to the helmet. I know that smell of blood you get in the back of your sinuses when you get your bell rung. I know what it feels like to have the instep of your foot touch your inner shin (not good). I know what it’s like when opposing forces in pads (the modern equivalent of armor) crash together and try to break each other’s lines. I know how a field smells and feels different in the rain from one that is sun-scorched or nearly frozen with frost. And I know how it feels to see one of your closest friends carted off with a serious injury.
I played rugby in college, so I know what a femur sounds like when it snaps in half (a gunshot is a close approximation), and how the scream afterward is even worse. I know what it feels like to have your shoulder torn out of the socket. I know what my lungs and legs feel like when they’ve got nothing left to give, but somehow find a way to run one more sprint and pile into one more scrum. I know how thirty alpha-males act when they try to kill each other for an hour, and then party like brothers until the dawn (I will go to my grave believing that the spirit of the Viking raid lives on in modern times as a visiting rugby club).
I also took karate and kickboxing in college, and wrestled in high school, so I know what it’s like to grapple with another human being in close quarters, smelling their breath and their unfamiliar scent as they try to hurt or defeat you. I know what it feels like (because I didn’t make weight that week) to wrestle a giant. I know what it feels like to get hit so hard that you can’t breathe and your vision goes dark and hazy. I know how it feels to throw so many punches that you wonder who’s really taking the worst of the bout.
I am into target shooting, so I know that a real gunshot is RIDICULOUSLY louder than on TV and the movies. I know what burnt gunpowder smells like. I know that after a day at the range (or, one can imagine, a lengthy battle) your hands are black with burnt powder. I know that when an ejected brass casing hits your skin it feels like someone trying to put a cigarette out on you (or so I imagine – thankfully, that is one thing I have not experienced). I know how a gun can malfunction in different ways, and how to safely fix the problem. I know that real gun experts are never nonchalant with weapons, no matter how “cool” they might be.
So you see, sports can lend a level of verisimilitude to your writing that it might otherwise lack. Even if you just go for a walk or a hike until you can’t take one more step, that’s useful information you can draw on the next time you write about a long and arduous journey. Do as many pushups as you can until you want to puke, then you’ll get a sense of what your character is feeling when she is pushed to her physical limits. Run as fast as you can for as far as you can, and maybe you can use that when you write about your characters fleeing the alien invasion. And if you go out for a team, you might make it, and then you’ll learn about the camaraderie and fellowship of folks who push themselves and each other to be their best. That certainly can’t hurt, right?
So yeah, sports.
About our guest blogger…
Jason J. McCuiston was born in the wilds of southeast Tennessee, where he was raised on a healthy diet of old horror movies (both classic and of the B variety), westerns and war movies, comic books and old pulp magazines, sci-fi and fantasy novels, and, yes, Dungeons & Dragons. He attended the finest state school that would have him where he studied art before coming to grips with the hard truth that his heart just wasn’t in illustrating other folks’ stories. Following his matriculation, he embarked on a whirlwind tour of underpaid and uninspired career paths until finally realizing that all his forays into role-playing games, comic books, and creative design were merely the manifestation of his innate desire to be a storyteller.
So for the next twenty-odd years, he slogged his way through the jungles of terribly amateurish prose, waded the never-ending streams of form rejections, navigated through the cyclopean obelisks of scathing (yet often constructive) criticisms, and finally climbed the daunting peaks of Personal Growth, Craft, and Skill in search of his goal: the fabled Shangri La of becoming a published and prolific author of speculative adventures.
He can be found on the internet at:
His story, “The Wyvern” can be found in Pole to Pole Publishing’s new anthology, Dark Luminous Wings. It is a post-apocalyptic steampunk horror story set in the skies above a Mojave Desert filled with magic and dark memories.
His first published story, “The Last Red Lantern” can still be found in Parsec Ink’s Triangulation: Appetites anthology.
I am a big fan of protagonists with dubious character traits. There is something about a blurry line that adds flavour and depth. In fact, if the protagonist was to stop and consider themselves, they might think they were on the wrong side of that invisible virtuous line.
So in short, I like my protagonists…to be bad.
Why is a less than perfect protagonist good?
If you are the kind of person who goes to the gym 5 days a week, then going 5 days a week is no big thing. BUT, if you struggle to go once a week, then 5 days in a row is pretty impressive! And so with our protagonist. The more reluctant they are, and the more doing something good or heroic chafes, the more interesting it is when they are finally forced to comply.
As a reader, the more confused you are about the protagonists virtue, the more the tension grows. Will they do the right thing? Are they capable of doing the right thing even? Or are they just too damn lazy?
And what about our antagonist? Are they wholly bad? Or do they have redeeming qualities? Do you empathise with them at any point in the book? Perhaps their behaviour has been abhorrent, and then you discover a terrible secret about their past that casts new questions onto everything they have so far done.
There is a certain fascination with a good guy who is not completely good.
And likewise with a bad guy who is not completely bad.
One of my favourite things about being a writer (and about writers collectively) is our constant quest for growth. The desire that grips us all to learn and improve our craft.
One of the best ways a writer can grow, learn and improve is by receiving genuine feedback on their writing. While we all love the positive feedback, we learn the most from the constructive kind.
Sometimes when I look back at my old scribbles from ten years ago, I shake my head and wonder at my writing. Then I stop and realise how far my writing has come, and I look back on those old scribbles just a little bit more fondly. The only benchmark a writer should measure themselves against is their own, and however we improve, whether through beta-reader feedback, taking a course, or by reading about writing style, it can take many weeks, months, or even years for those improvements to show in our work.
So if you have been writing for a long while, or even a little while, go and have a peek back at some of the first things your wrote. You might be surprised by just how much you have improved, but you might also be pleasantly surprised that those old scribbles (while not perfect) are actually quite good.
Happy 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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
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Four and a half years ago I decided to publish a book. It took me nearly four years to make it happen. One of the first things I did at the beginning of this journey was to start a blog…and so began a separate journey into the delights of social media!
Over the four + years I have learnt an awful lot about social media and I thought I would share my insights in regards to writing. Some of the things I dabbled in have worked and some have not, and some are just no brainers that every writer should do.
My top 4 Social Media essentials for a writer!
- A blog or Book website: You don’t need to go crazy or even spend money. You can get a great blog (or book website) set up for free using either WordPress or Blogger. There are a few other freebies out there but these two are the big hitters and I have used both. I started blogging life on Blogger but switched over to WordPress soon after. I just found WordPress easier to use and more elegant in design, but that’s just my personal preference. It really doesn’t matter what you use as long as you start something. Blogging should be reasonably frequent. I used to be far more prolific, but once a week at least is fine. I find blogging a great way to get my creative brain working, and it’s a nice way to write about your thoughts and feelings independent to your book. If you are published, plan to publish, or just enjoy writing, I definitely recommend a blog. If you prefer not to deliver articles then I still recommend you have a site of some kind to share and showcase your book or writing. You can easily set up WordPress to have a statice front page (like a website) rather than the typical scrolling blog posts, and there are plenty of other options for free sites such as Wix.com. See: http://www.top10bestwebsitebuilders.com
- Twitter: Love it or loathe it, twitter is an awesome social media tool for writers. Whether it is building a following who share your interest or finding great articles, twitter has it all. I have met some wonderful writers through twitter. On twitter sharing is caring, so don’t be afraid to retweet other posts, comments, and books.
- Goodreads: If you are a writer and you don’t know what Goodreads is…you are seriously missing out. I was a member ages ago but I never made much use of it, and I really wish I had! If you are thinking of publishing my advice would be get active on Goodreads. Start sharing what you read and what you thought of it, and you will soon connect with other people who love the same books and genres. By the time you do come to publish you have a list of connections who already share a common interest, and so it’s not unreasonable to assume they might just give your book a go. Even if they don’t, Goodreads has a whole heap of forums to find beta readers, ways to share free copies of your book for reviews, and critique groups. Once you are published you can set up an Author dashboard where you can share your blog posts and connect your books. Goodreads members can flag your book as ‘To read’ and ‘Rate it’. Because Goodreads is global you get reviews from all over the world, unlike Amazon which is related to your particular store. And (unlike Amazon where family reviews are against policy) your nearest and dearest are free to leave reviews on Goodreads, they just show up as a ‘friend’ review.
- Facebook page: This is the last of my top social media. It’s pretty easy to set up a Facebook page, and you can share your blog posts and book news in one handy place. And everyone loves Facebook!
So, if you are a writer and serious about sharing your work you need to present your book related information in a media that appeals to a wide audience. A blog, Twitter, Goodreads and a Facebook page are a great start. Blogging is a weekly thing for me, but I generally post to Facebook and Twitter most days. And I pop onto Goodreads a couple of times a week to see what books my friends have read and any recommendations.
Top Supplementary media
Facebook groups: If you have not yet discovered Facebook writing and reading groups you are missing out. Facebook groups are like a online forums that conveniently sit inside Facebook. I love Facebook groups! Most groups contain support documents to help, for example the indie author group below has lists of book cover artists, editors, tips etc. Some examples of groups:
- Fantasy Writing Fanatics: Some great folks chewing the fat on all things related to fantasy writing
- Book Clubs: Folks who just plain love reading and share their favourite books and recommendations. There are hundreds of reader book clubs on Facebook.
- Indie Author Group: If you are an indie author and have a question someone here will have the answer. A great place to ask newbie questions about writing, editing, publishing, advertising, and anything else related to writing.
- There are hundreds of book sharing groups on Facebook for every genre you can imagine. While these are a little hit and miss in my opinion, it is worth checking out. Finding something genre specific is probably going to give you better impact. And I do think if you are running a promotion on your book it can help give you some exposure. For more book sharing groups See http://www.trainingauthors.com/facebook-groups-for-authors/
Other media options and what I thought
- Tumblr: I have a tumblr account, and my blog automatically posts to this for me so I still share that way. Tumblr feels a little like picture based blogging and so since I already have wordpress, I prefer to stick to that. There are some absolutely awesome Tumblr writer blogs though, but it’s just not a big or active option for me. If you are looking around for a blog tool it’s worth checking out as an alternative to Blogger or WordPress.
- Stumbleupon: I have an account and did dabble for a while. It’s useful to drive traffic to your blog, i.e. you can share your blog posts here. It’s also useful to find good articles. I have probably under utilised this myself and some people swear by it!
- Instagram: Is all about pictures so not necessarily the highest priority for a writer…I mostly post pictures of my cats! Not very writerly of me I know 🙂
- Pinterest: I quite like Pinterest, and it is a fun picture based way to find writing articles and to share. Not a big social media account for me, but it definitely has a good writing community and you can find some great articles here.
If I have missed a social media account that you love please let me know. Or if you have other recommendations or feedback on the above I would also love to hear.
Want to connect on social media?
Find me on Goodreads : G.L. Cromarty (Author)
Find me on Facebook: G.L. Cromarty (TheWritingChimp)
Find me on Twitter: @TheLittlebod
Find me on Instagram TheWritingChimp
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How many times have you read a book where Mr Average is thrown into an extraordinarily strenuous adventure, and never a moment’s consideration that they may be ‘a wee bit tired’ or ‘suffer a spot of muscle ache’? Perhaps our heroine has to hang onto a windowsill by her finger tips, but she is not a former circus acrobat or the high school gymnastics queen.
It happens all too often. It’s as if they forget to feel pain, to ache, or indeed to suffer once their adventure kicks in. Even a regular jogger would be out of puff if they were suddenly expected to engage in a marathon length sprint!
The last thing we want is a whiny protagonist, but I do think it adds realism to our story if we see through their actions and words the suffering they endure. When I think of a really good example of a hero suffering, I always think of Indiana Jones—the guy spends most of the movie looking half-dead! That doesn’t stop him getting the job done, but you do get a deep sense of the effort involved.
It is often this gap between those natural physical limitations, and what they push themselves to achieve, where the character growth comes in.
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