Friday, 2 December 2016

Revision tips: Part Two


Right, we’re getting into the thick of editing. You’ve checked that your character motivations (logic) and plot logic are in place. It’s all looking like it makes sense. Your plot holes are no more, your character a shining beacon of themselves. Is that all? Not really.

So, here’s the next step I take when looking at my revisions:

TENSION

This is a huge one for me. It’s so important that the reader wants to keep turning the pages. However, I’ll caveat by saying this: At this stage, I only look for the major overall tension on this edit. The micro-tension I save for later. This is the way I tackle it, and perhaps my process might help yours, so here we go:

I look at my biggest plot points and ask the question “What could make things worse?’ For example: Annie has just found out she’s pregnant, but doesn’t know who the father is. What could make this worse? Maybe her parents are highly religious and will be appalled at her choices. Maybe her husband realizes he couldn’t be the father because he was out of town at the time. Perhaps her sister walks in on her and says she'll tell everyone? As you can see, there are any multitude of ideas to use, but what you want to do is make things worse.

However, here’s a caveat: personally, I tend to keep a slight cap on this. By this, I mean I keep it tense and I up the ante with the “What could make this worse” question, but as soon as it diverges too far from my original plot, or becomes a little too outlandish, I put the brakes on it. It’s all about balance – lots of tension vs realism and authenticity.

Okay, so after I've looked at my major plot points, I look at my overall chapters. How is my tension? What could make things worse in this chapter? What else could go wrong? Is it an emotional bump on the road, or a physical one that makes things worse? Can I take something away from my character that they need? There are a lot of options, so you’re going to want to keep searching out those possibilities until you find the one that best meets your story’s needs.

And then, you got it, scenes. Rinse and repeat. From scene, to chapter, to plot points, to whole book, you’ve got to give your character something to struggle against, and you can’t make it easy for them!

It’s also worth bearing in mind that tension can come in the form of not telling the reader something. It’s not always about adding a hurricane or a secret spy. Sometimes it’s the reader knowing something the main character doesn’t (but needs to) . Or the looming dread of a situation.


For me, tension is a biggie, and it ties into so many other areas, such as pacing, but this is the name of the game in writing…it’s a domino effect. You can't change one thing, without it affecting another. So, if you worked on character motivations and plot logic, it will have altered your story. Then you edit for tension and you've altered your story even further…all to the benefit of your book!

You might have noticed that I do revisions in rounds, which is just to keep my head clear. Some people are more than able to do everything at once, but this is just my process. I hope something helps you here! Next week, I’ll go into more again!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Epilepsy and writing

Hi!

Today is an extra post, and it's about something I rarely talk about. However, as it's epilepsy awareness month, I wanted to cover this topic for fellow epileptics, their carers, and to help any writer who wants to write about an epileptic character.

So why am I qualified to write about it? Simply put, because I'm an epileptic myself. I'm fortunate that I have a lot of my seizures controlled by two wonderful medications. However, some do slip through the cracks (like last night, which prompted me to write this blog post).

Epilepsy can be fairly misunderstood. In fact, a lot of people know it only as seizing on the floor - thrashing, loss of bladder control, eyes rolled back, unconsciousness, etc. While this is certainly true, and one of the most common types of seizure, there are a lot more. If you want to learn the full list, or are just curious, it's really good to check out this link.

It's good to know that seizures come in many shapes and sizes, and though there are definitely similarities between each person's seizures, they are also quite unique to the individual. I suffer a few types of seizures:

I have Grand Mal - the thrashing one where you're unconscious. This one I am super fortunate with, as I haven't had one in a long time! Hurrah for great medications! Also, this one is actually the easiest for me. As I'm unaware of it, it doesn't freak me out. I just wake up really sore and tired (all that flailing is like a mini-work out, people!). Oh and a tip while we're at it: Don't wake someone after a seizure; let them sleep it off.

I also have Simple Partial seizures - people describe these as auras, or a strange feeling or sensation. Me? I get a very fuzzy head and tongue (kind of like that feeling you get when you hit your funny bone...but in my tongue).

And I have Complex Partial seizures - this includes (for me) automatisms (repetitive movements, lip smacking, fun stuff like that!), motor issues (jerking of different body parts - which me and my partner lovingly call "off roading"), and sensory issues (my senses have a party - once I felt like I was covered in menthol! I also have speech issues.). These seizures can be 30 seconds to about 2 mins. Just one, or a cluster of seizures. Mine tend to come in clusters, because I'm special like that. If only winning lottery numbers would come to me in clusters...


As I said, there are plenty of different variations of epilepsy, and I want people and writers to know that there're a whole host of areas they can find out and write about. There's a big audience out there (more people have this condition than you might think!), and knowing the different forms of seizures can really bring an authentic slant to your work. Personally, I'm not offended if someone makes a little slip up in their writing about epilepsy, as I know they are coming from the right place (hopefully!), and for me, awareness through creativity and writing is one of the best ways to pass on knowledge of this condition.

Most epileptics get pretty used to their condition, and it's usually harder for the person watching to deal with it emotionally. However, sometimes it can be a little surprising if seizures change. Mine did last night. You'll probably find that the sufferer may a) be scared, b) panicked, c) mortified. Some people get all three. I try and get people not to watch if I know I can handle the seizure on my own (or have my partner make stupid jokes and try to ignore it's happening). Some people prefer the comfort of someone there. If you can, try and see how they react when you're near, and see if you can interpret what they want (okay, this is not easy, but worth a try!),


Fun side story: I was having a seizure with automatisms where I was hitting myself over and over again on the leg and arm while we were driving home. We had to slow down to pass a policeman directing traffic. My partner turned the music up full blast, started copying me, and the policeman gave us such an odd look, trying to work out if we were dancing! Now that is my sense of humor and it helps me relax. Some epileptics really won't like, but it just depends on their personality. Mine, I like carefree and fun if I can get it!


I also encourage writers not to be afraid to ask questions if they see the person is open to it (some are a little embarrassed). I'm pretty open to most questions, as I want to open this topic up so more people understand that epileptics are totally normal (kind of ;-) ).

If you're too shy to ask (some people worry about offending), you can always email me anonymously.

One of the things with epileptics is that they don't usually want sympathy or pity. Pride and the ability to handle their own sh*t is pretty important to them most of the time. Again, depends on the person.

Alrighty, so there you have it. If you're writing an epileptic character or just wanted to have a listen, I hope this helped!!!


Friday, 25 November 2016

Revision tips: Part One


So, you’ve tackled the first draft, and you have all these shiny new ideas on the page. Huge congratulations and kudos for this! I’m impressed. Go you!
Now, I want you to remember this feeling of complete awesomeness, because this is what’s going to help you stay the course during the editing process. Unless you’re like me…and the editing is your favorite bit. In that case, reward yourself for getting through the first draft without imploding.

Okay, so I thought I’d do a little mini-series on how I tackle the revision process. This has changed and morphed over the years, taking in bits of advice that work for me, throwing out bits of advice that don’t. My suggestion is that you do the same – take it all in, then use what works for you, and junk what doesn't. Hopefully, my view on it has something useful to you.

Now, I vary between being a panster, plotter, and planster. I can’t help it; some books demand different things. However, I have learned one major thing about my writing, especially in recent years and it's this: logic, logic, logic. I sometimes forget this in my wild jumps of faith, and chase for cool ideas and quirky plot twists. So, my first and foremost edit is to look for plot logic. This is how I conquer it:

LOGIC

Character motivations: Do they make sense? Is my character following their own path, and not just my plot? I need to check that the reactions they have are consistent to their personality, upbringing, and background. In order to do this, I have to get to know my character. Some people like to know everything right down to their favorite color and shoe size. That person is not me (but kudos to you if it’s your thing – go rock your organized self out!).

Rather, for me, I know my character’s emotional baggage. I know who they are, what shapes them, what they are morally ambiguous about, what they would never do, what promises they would break, why they want what they want, what events in their life shaped them. I know what their darkest secret is and what they would do in order to hide it. In other words, I like to look into the underbelly of my character’s life and see what wriggles and crawls out. Then I check my logic in the plot based on this; I check my character’s actions are correct and consistent throughout the book. Oh, and because it’s important…I do this for all of my characters, secondary included. I think it’s worth it, and gives texture to the world, and a sense of authenticity.



Plot logic: Now that you have character motivations in place, hopefully you should see what plot changes need to be made in order to accommodate the character’s personality. For example: in the first draft, Danny loves math but is bullied for it, so he burns his math homework, and that sets the house on fire. Upon researching Danny’s background, I discover he’s actually terrified of fire, because of a house fire in his past, and he delved into math because he needed an obsession to take his mind off the trauma. See where I’m going with this? He’d no longer burn his homework, but if he did, there’d need to be a super good motivation behind it. Maybe I need the house to burn down...if so, I need to ask myself: what would make Danny do that?

You also need to make sure that you keep your plot in there, too, as I’m pretty sure you don’t just want to have your character running around willy-nilly, ignoring your awesome concept. So, here’s where the balance comes in. You need to have a framework within your plot. Plansters love this as it’s the ideal outline/pantsing combo. However, this is EDITING not first drafting, so you pansters and plotters best get to grips with two facts: You need to let your character have room to breathe and make their own choices, AND, you need to give a framework. Now, in order to solve this problem of “X need to happen in my plot, but Y character wouldn’t do that and allow it to happen”, you need to think “what would make Y character do that X plot point.” Figure that out and you’re on your way to balancing plot and character logic, IMO.



So yeah, that’s what I do first. I look at my character and plot logic, and then balance them out against one another, and make sure one doesn’t swamp the other. Next time, I’ll fill you in on my next step in the revision process…

Friday, 18 November 2016

NANOWRIMO pep talk!

Now that Nanowrimo is in full swing, it's time for a little pep talk. You started off flying - a new idea, a bustling community, a lot of coffee (or tea)...and then you hit week 3. It's like the brick wall of writing. You know you only have a week to go. You know you're way short of your word count. Or your way over but still can't see the end of the book. Well, I'm here to say "Don't Panic!".



You see, it's a self-imposed goal (and a lofty one at that) and you need to ease off on yourself in places. Writing a WHOLE novel in a month? Amazing if you can. Amazing if you even get halfway. Be proud of yourself no matter where you are in the process. Don't write out of desperation. Don't write out of stress. Write because you love it.

If Nanowrimo works for you and the deadline surges happiness through your veins, then awesome. But if you feel your life force seeping away when you see you've not quite reached your goal, don't push yourself to the point of self hatred. Love what you do instead and celebrate the small victories along the way.

Whatever happens, if you even got a handful of words down, you won. You got closer to the end of your book. Take it word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page. Regardless of what happens, you ARE a warrior.

If you complete Nanowrimo you have a huge congratulations from me. If you don't, you still have a huge congratulations from me. Now go love that story of yours!


Friday, 11 November 2016

Should you give up writing?

It happens to the best of us. You hit a slump. A bump in the road. A huge well of despair. You wonder if there's even any point trying to break into publishing. And I don't blame you. This is one hell of an industry and it is not for the faint of heart. You need to be pretty much a steel clad warrior in order to survive (okay, maybe not, but it sure does feel like it sometimes!).

This is when we ask ourselves the brutal question: "Should I give up writing?"

Now, I'm not going to condescend to you with a big cheery "oh no, you shouldn't". Because, to be quite frank, there are some cases that mean you should give up writing...or at least take a break. We tend to troop on despite the damage to ourselves and think asking whether we should write or not in an objective way is tantamount to defeat - mutiny against all other hopeful writers out there.

But it really isn't. And here's when I think you might need to take some time away:

1) Your mental health is suffering. If you think of writing and all you get is a whole lot of anxiety and stress, then perhaps you need a break. Perhaps it's not for you. Only you can know the answer. But be honest with yourself. Is it worth it? We all have moments of stress and despair, but if it's a lot more stress than it is enjoyment, then you have some soul searching to do.
 

2) You don't enjoy it. Quite simply, people write and don't actually like the process or what they end up with. Too many people say "I hate my book". You have to learn to love it. And you have to love parts of the process (note, I didn't say all of the process). For example,  first drafts aren't really my favorite part, but editing...sign me up with a glitter stick, honey! If you don't enjoy any of the process or the book you finish with...consider whether you really want to do it or you're just trying to be published so you can call yourself a writer.




3) If it is badly affecting your everyday life. Now, I don't mean it's a bit of a nuisance and you have to shuffle things around. I mean if you're badly affecting your job (your only income), you're causing marital rifts through not being there for your family, your health is suffering, etc, etc. This may be cause to take a break until you are back on an even keel. Self care is SO important.


I know so many of you are troopers. You are determined, ambitious, positive, boots on ground survivors who will do anything to get your book onto the shelves. And I'm not trying to convince anyone to stop writing. Certainly not. All I'm saying is be careful with how you balance writing with your life. Writing shouldn't be your life. It should be a part of your life.


Again, let's say this one more time: SELF CARE IS IMPORTANT.

Friday, 4 November 2016

What do I do?

Today I wanted to share with you a little about what I do. Since most of you know me as an author and scriptwriter, I thought you might like to know a little more about that. So let's start with author first.


My passion is for YA fantasy. I do love all YA and have dabbled with some other genre ideas, but fantasy tends to be the one I gravitate to. Why? I love the wonder and awe that comes alongside it. In daily life, it's hard not to get side swiped by the mundane - bills, chores, work, etc. When I escape into writing, I want to go somewhere magical where anything is possible.

That's why I wrote my novel A HARMONY OF STRINGS (if you want to know more, you can click on the "My books" tab above). This book was inspired by two things - quantum physics and the idea of life after death. I wondered if the two could possibly be linked and thus the endless research began. As it happens, there is some theoretical science thingies you can bastardize to fit with the idea of finding the answers to life after death. And an idea for a book was born. However, I didn't want to do sci-fi. I wanted to do fantasy. So that led to a magic system based on quantum physics. And yes, that was a big aim lol.

Now to the other part - the day job. I was lucky enough for an independent production company to take me on as their lead scriptwriter (having little experience in the area at that time). We've now been working for two years together and the process continues to amaze me. There is simply SO much involved. It's astounding. And it helps my dialogue hugely. Would I think of writing a script for my own passion though? Probably not. I love it, it inspires me, but novels are where my heart lies. Our script is based on unusual historical facts and stories, combined with word meanings. It's kind of Horrible Histories meets the dictionary lol.

So that is me as a writer. As for anything else? I am summed up easily in a few short words:

Loves German Shepherds, horses, books, kindheartedness, the mountains, and being in the middle of nowhere.






















So...what about you?

Friday, 21 October 2016

To use Scrivener or not?

I've been playing around with Scrivener* of late (yup, I'm very late to the party!). However, let me explain: I originally tried Scrivener a long time ago, and it just didn't work for me. I found it overly complicated, I kept dotting from one thing to another in the binder, I couldn't keep a continuous flow...ugh. But now? Yup, you guessed it, I'm using it! But what changed?




Quite simply, I don't use it to write my novel. In fact, I still use MS word to type all of my chapters. However, what I do now is use Scrivener to help me keep track of my scenes, chapters, characters, etc. I don't write the scenes in there. I just make a little card on the bulletin board, type in a few sentences about what's in the scene, and hey presto, there's the macro view of my novel. This is particularly helpful for me as I'm working on a multi POV novel (good plan, Fiona, good plan).

So I'm a 50/50 kind of user for Scrivener - I use it for planning and noting down what I already have, but I keep it well away from my actual writing.

What are the cons for me?

Not many, to be honest. I only use the basic functions, because to be frank, I didn't want to spend hours going through the tutorial. However, it can be a little distracting. I have to be very conscious of not spending too much time on there.

Also, the other con for me is simply from a fussy point of view - I hate how difficult it is for me to open the files on another computer. If it doesn't have Scrivener, I'm pretty much flummoxed.


There you have it - my thoughts on Scrivener. If you didn't love it the first time, try using it this way. It might work, it might not, but it does for me!

Have fun!



* Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.