Friday, 13 January 2017

How to analyze your book successfully

Looking at your book critically is tough, and knowing whether you're doing it correctly is even harder, even with the advice of your critique partners. Sometimes you have so much differing advice that you can't see the woods for the trees. Sometimes you have so little feedback you don't have a clue what to even consider. So what do you do when you want to analyze and edit your book successfully? While I can't read everyone's individual book to give my opinion, I do have a few techniques that help my book improve through each editing round.

One of the most important things to me is the emotion that comes through from your character. Pull your character out of the story. I mean really look at what your character would be like if they didn't have a plot to follow. Who are they? If you met them on the street and you didn't know them, in which way would they reveal their personality? No one gives away everything about themselves the minute they meet another person. Things come out gradually. You get to know each other. Trust each other before you divulge more. Look at a real life situation of the last person you met. How did that go? What made you connect with them the moment you met? What took your attention? Why did you eventually trust them? Pinpoint those moments as best you can. Then compare that to your character and apply the same process. Once you've done that, you've taken your first step.

Next, I look at the plot and draw up a list of bullet points of everything that's happened. I can now look at my character and take that information I just learned and see where and when they would reveal themselves. I can see which plot elements would affect their emotions and I can see how they would react. Where they would clam up like a shell. Where they would trust the reader to give away a little bit more of themselves. A reader/character relationship is about trust. The reader must trust the character, but the character must equally trust the reader. While most characters don't realize there is a reader (unless you use certain narrative devices), you still have a two-way relationship going on. That's what shows why and where the character feels/does/reacts to the plot in the way they do. In this way it becomes authentic and real.

There are a lot of other elements to look at when analyzing your novel, but, for me at least, this one is the most important. Your character, emotions, and plot create the core of the story. This is what your readers care about most, and they are inextricable from each other.

I hope this has helped, but as always, take what works for you, and junk what doesn't. Don't follow every piece of advice blindly. This is my view, and if it resonates with you, I am all the more glad.

Happy revising my loyal readers, and I'm rooting for your continued success!



Friday, 6 January 2017

2017 - The Writing Year

The bells have rung, the holidays have whizzed by, and we're all back at work (well, most of us anyway). We're fired up, feeling motivated, some of us wrote for Nanowrimo, some of us have made promises to get that novel finished, or get that novel written. New beginnings abound, and positivity fills the air. This will be our Writing Year.

We all know that New Year's resolutions can be hard to keep though. Some of us are great at it; some of us not so much. So how, exactly, do we keep ourselves chugging (or charging forward)? What will inspire, motivate, and push us to keep writing throughout the coming year? For me, there are many things.

1) Keeping a note of why you love what you do. Not just your story or your book right now. Remind yourself, write it on the wall if you need to, but remember...why do you love writing? Why does it burn a fire in your soul?

2) Remember why you love the novel you're writing. What did you fall in love with first? Was it your characters? Your plot? Your setting? Your concept? It can be any element. It isn't about what you think you should like. It's about what you do like. Use this to keep your current story growing.

3) Accountability. If you want to write a book, you have to finish it. If you want a good book, you have to edit it. If you want an agent, you need to submit to them. And so the list goes on. Your goals can be big or small; it doesn't matter. What matters is that you hold yourself accountable. Some people do this publically in a YouTube video, others on a word counter on their blog, some tell their writing friends, and others use their pride. Whatever works for you, that's what you should do.

4) Give yourself a break now and again. Writing is joy and passion. It's also a lot of hard work. Sometimes you need a little bit of a holiday. And why not? Refresh your muse. Focus your mind. Let new ideas enter it. Stop obsessing. I know, that last one is hard, but you need more in your life than just writing a book. It's a passion, but it's not an obsession, it's not a definition of who you are. Do other things in your life, too, and it will fill your writing with zing and zest.

5) Have fun. Experiment. Go wild,. Do something new. Try something old. Keep yourself guessing. Try a competition. Try freehand writing. Try painting your characters. Just try something.

6) Don't do everything you're told to do if you don't want to. This includes this list. Do what feels right for you. Always.


I wish you all a happy, successful, and prosperous New Year, and I can't wait to see what happens with each and every member of my blog. I'm inspired by you following and reading, and I hope for your great success in 2017!



Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Christmas Positives

Christmas is the time to celebrate. It's also the time that a lot of people find difficult (for a variety of reasons). So I thought this was a good opportunity to look at when life hands us lemons and how we can use them to make lemonade. To that effect, I'll use some of my negative experiences, and show you how I turned them into positives. Granted, not everything worked out the way I wanted, but I can at least appreciate the good places they can lead me to. By doing this, I hope you can look deeper into your situation and find the light that guides you to a better Christmas.

Let's take a look at my top fails this year and how they became my positives:

1) My agent stopped representing my age category, so I needed to go on another agent hunt. Yes,. this bites. Hard. However, it also taught me two things: 1) Resilience and persistence. Never get lazy. Know that things can change and that you must keep working hard all the time. 2) I have another chance at seeking out an agent who will gel with me. If I can get one agent, I feel better that I can find another. This is my positive.

2) My epilepsy blipped, and I started having stronger verbal ticks and noises. Now I've had to add a third medication. I have 15 days to try it and see if it's going to work for me. Yes, that sucks. But the positive? I have a neurologist that is on my side, helping me through this. My friends are supportive. My family is right behind me. And my partner is the biggest pillar of support. I am reminded by this blip in my health of the people who matter and the people who care. I realize how blessed I am.

3) I've been diagnosed with a neurogenic bladder (linked to my epilepsy). Now I know why I pee 20 times a night (yes, you probably didn't want that knowledge). However, now I can use my new meds to help fix that and get back to a regular sleeping pattern! Hurrah!

4) I have to go for back surgery, as my spine has gone a bit squiffy. Am I frightened? Like a big baby, I am. Am I positive? Yes. It could solve my walking issues and allow me to live my life freely again.

5) My joy of flying was crushed by a terrible flight. I loved flying. Loved it. Now I am terrified of it. The positive? I've learned that things can change and that it's okay to be vulnerable (a huge issue for me, and it extends to this post. Vulnerable feels weak to me, and this flying thing is beginning to teach me it's not. I'm a work in progress about this bit). However, it's also taught me empathy for those who have the same fears. It's helped me understand just how brave I can be when I do step on a plane. It helps teach me what my spirit can do.


So there you have it. Those are 5 things that might not mean anything to anyone other than me, but they are five things that I am looking back at during the Christmas holidays, thinking "I did this", "I got through that", "I learned", and that, for me, is what celebrating Christmas is about - appreciating what you have been given, good and bad.

Merry Christmas to you all, and may you all find the light in your lives!

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Revision tips - Part Three

This post is five days late due to life bumping in the way :-). However, I still want to cover it. When it comes to revising, the next step that I look at is my pacing. Pacing is super important as it can make the difference between you reader turning the pages eagerly, and your reader putting the book down and going out instead.

Pacing is what controls the speed and rhythm of your story, and you must be in charge of when and where to speed things up, slow them down, or suddenly spike. These things really shouldn't be left to chance if you can help it.

When I focus on looking at my pacing, I divide it into two separate categories: structural, and word choice/sentence construction. Let's look at structural first.

STRUCTURAL PACING

This is the overall scene pacing and how they connect together throughout the book. You need to look and see whether your action scenes balance out your slower scene. Are you all action all the time? Your reader might get a bit tired with all that rushing about (though this sometimes works well in a thriller). However, the most likely case is that your pacing might sag in the middle. This is where you've got caught up in the story, showing lots of things, but forgetting to keep momentum. Personally, I make a list of my scenes and see whether they are action packed or not. Then I look to see how I can balance one against the other.

Another technique you can use is a cliffhanger. Or a prolonged answer. This leaves the reader desperate to know more, and will speed up sloppy pacing. However, should you be rushing ahead too fast, don't forget to get inside your character's head a little more and explore your novel a little deeper. For speeding up, you can also use short summaries occasionally instead of full blown scenes, cut any unnecessary scenes, or have a few big things happen all at once.


SENTENCE LEVEL PACING

Which words you choose and how you use them can have a big impact on your pacing. If you want to slow it down, then you'd be looking to use longer sentences, softer paragraphs, more descriptions or internal thought, for example. You can even get into more world building, theme ideas, and subplots (which are a fantastic way to flesh out a book, too).

If picking up the speed is your goal, then using fragments, shorter sentences, punchier verbs, active phrasing, and zippy dialogue can make or break it for you. A rapid fire, tense dialogue section will get things ramping up, full of power and tension. Just as a more relaxed conversation talking about the complexities of life would slow it down.


You need to combine both structural and sentence level pacing in order to have full mastery over your writing and pacing. If not, then it might just be left to fate to decide for you, and it's usually much better if you do the choosing!

Thanks for stopping by the blog this week! As the holiday season is upon us, I might be a little patchy with blog posts until the New Year is over. Don't worry, I've not forgotten you!

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…