When I was struggling to find a concept for NaNoWriMo this year, out of the blue an idea came to mind. Now this, in itself, is not unusual because we all know it happens. However, it was not only the genre that surprised me but the fact the idea formulated as a three book series!
The genre is a detective/crime, something I have not tackled before. Although, I have written in various genres, it is normal for the story to come first and then the genre becomes apparent as I write. This is the complete opposite and makes it an exciting prospect. The idea formulated around three main characters and a common adversary across three books.
The other surprise was that I easily began planning each book – another first for me the self proclaimed free flow writer. I am not sure why this change in technique came about but it will certainly play a big part in this new project.
Whether we plan in detail or go with the flow, there is no right or wrong way to write – we all do it differently, which results in the uniqueness of our narratives.
Firstly, it seems obvious but set a goal for your writing session. Do you know what your objective is? Are you brainstorming, creating a character description, outlining a plot, starting a new project or completing one?
Secondly, prepare for what you will be writing, do your homework for locations, period etc. Brainstorm ideas before you start, make notes. Create a inspiration list and find images for your story’s setting and characters. Make up a board, either physical or digital that you can have in front of you as you write.
TIP: Don’t be too ridge, let the story flow – it doesn’t always go to plan! But that’s the joy of writing.
Thirdly, gauge how committed you are to this piece of writing? Are you excited to start or is it feeling like a chore? If the latter, try something new or another project.
TIP:Use word or picture prompts to ignite your Muse to get you started and in a writing mood.
Also make sure you are in a good writing spot. Have you minimized distractions? Do you need quiet or music, a cafe or library setting. Or is your home space best for you or will there be too many interruptions?
Decide on how long you will write for. Don’t make the session too long or it will dampen your enthusiasm. Ensure you have breaks for refreshments, to stretch or even go for a walk.
Once you have these elements in place check your clock and set the timer. Don’t look at it constantly – just write. Lose yourself in the narrative. Enjoy the process. Don’t edit as you write – let the process flow. Let your imagination expand.
TIP: Don’t edit or revise – just write.
I like to sit in my living room with my laptop on a little table – in the warmer months, I can look out at the lawn and watch the birds & bunnies and in the cold months, I enjoy the fireplace. When we go on road trips, I usually sit at the desk or on the bed with my little table.
A good editor is worth their weight in gold. They not only fix your grammar and find and correct major and minor errors , but also improve your book’s content and structure in a way that preserves your style. There are two main processes a manuscript has to go through prior to publication. Both require a systematic approach.
Use these as a guideline to edit and proofread your manuscript before sending it to an editor. Expect a red-lined manuscript back and learn from the experience.
This process concentrates on:
Paragraph structure and clear transitions between paragraphs.There is a flow of the story – whether character development or plot.
Highlighting any repetition of words, sentence structure, and the correct use of any technical, historical or factual elements.
Helps to condense and improve the efficiency of your writing.
Questions your flow of the narrative.
A more focused approach to find common errors and the ones missed during editing. Here are a couple of tips to help you:
Read the manuscript out loud or divide it into sections. TIP Read from last chapter to first.
Rewrite structure if required, such as plot, story line, consistency and continuity. TIP Create a general outline 1 – 3 pages maximum to track the story line.
Scene outline. Read each scene to determine if they require editing or deletion TIP Do they push the story forward? If not delete them. TIP Create a check list for each step of proofreading. Then concentrate on that particular one at a time.
Print out your manuscript – it may seem odd to do this in the computer age but we perceive information differently between screen and paper. TIP Read it out loud. On hearing the flow of the language you will understand your strong and weak points.
TIP from the King!
We can be too wordy in our writing, Stephen King learned: “2nd Draft = 1st draft – 10%”. An average manuscript requires at least three rounds of editing and at each round try to shorten your draft for 10% of its original length.
Linear Edit. This is the point you deal with the minor issues such as rewriting sentences, exchanging with words, and fix grammar, punctuation, proofread for misspellings and typos.
Do you have a particular system or tip you use while editing & proofreading?
I have read about one author who prints the manuscript on different coloured paper for each step but this seems a bit excessive!
As writers we are always honing our skill and learning new styles and types of writing aid our creativity. I attended two workshops on 29th February, both gave me the opportunity to improve my writing.
As an author, we welcome constructive critique of our work, it is how we grow. So a group of local authors and I spend the first few months of each new year working on our current work in progress. Some are the result of our NaNoWriMo participation, while others are whatever story/novel/project we are working on currently. The premise of these monthly workshops is to read a certain number of chapters each month of each others work, then using track changes edit, suggest and comment on the plot arc, continuity, premise etc. Having a number of different reader’s feedback allows us to identify any inconsistencies and correct them. Obviously, we do not have to take every suggestion, it is after all our work but if there is a consensus of opinion throughout on a specific part, then we can revise and improve them. This allows us to create the best story possible prior to publication.
My project is my steampunk novel, The Commodore’s Gift. Currently 75,102 words, 201 pages, 39 chapters and epilogue. Publishing date September 2020.
The second workshop, I attended was a poetry workshop held by The Writers Foundation of Strathcona County in anticipation of Poetry Month in April. I have to admit that poetry is not my forte, so it did stretch my creativity a bit! We covered several types of poetry: monorhyme, enclosed rhyme, simple 4-line rhyme, coupled rhyme, chain rhyme and alternative rhyme. After an explanation of each style, we then had five minutes to create a rhyme in that style using randomly selected words. The words chosen for the chain rhyme were: after, banana, crafter, panorama, would, bandanna, could, dessert, should. Yes rather a mixed bag and it had everyone struggling, but that’s the point – we cannot learn without effort. I managed this:
Alice’s happy thought was about the contest after
As she ate her second banana
Her final piece as a genius crafter
Showed a glorious textured panorama
Comments from friends confirmed she would
Win the coveted bandanna
Her gumption knew she could
A promised reward when she won – a dessert
Even though her diet negated she should
I even managed to include the ‘extra’ point words of happy, genius & gumption in that one.
What workshop have you recently attended. What did you learn about your writing?
Without characters our stories would have no real impact on our readers. We write to engage and intrigue them and hopefully make our protagonist the character our reader cares about. If your experience is anything like mine, there is usually one, or possibly two characters, that make their presence known in no uncertain terms. They want the starring role in our narrative. These characters are usually more defined in our minds and are ‘easier’ to relate to, whether because of a personality trait or that they are more fun to write. When creating the protagonist and antagonist in our stories, we give each opposing views and/or values. This is the basis of the conflict that carries our readers along their journey. Each character, whether major or minor, needs to have flaws and redeeming features, motivations, expectations, loyalties and deterrents.
This leaves us with the problem of developing our supporting characters with as much attention to detail as the main antagonist and protagonist. When creating characters we must remember to ensure that each character acts and responds true to their given personality. Character profiles are a good way of ‘getting to know’ our characters, this can be achieve mainly by utilizing character’s names, personality traits, appearance and their motivations. A name is a vital part of creating a mental image of our character for readers. The right name can give them a quick visualization of our character’s age, ethnicity, gender, and even location, and if we are writing a period piece, even the era. For example if I say the girl was called Britney, you would probably picture a young girl because of the association with Britney Spears. However, if a female character were called Edith or Edna, you would imagine someone born several decades ago. So you see a name is not just a name.
A burly man would be called something like Butch but not Shirley, unless of course you are going to tell the story of his struggle throughout childhood to overcome the name. There are plenty of web sites available, which list the most common names for each decade and locations around the world. These are great resources for writers, who require particular names for period stories or want to stay true to a certain decade.
The use of a nickname will also give your character an identity, be it an unkind one given by a bully or one of respect or fear for the bully. You would expect Big Al to be just that, a large person, however, Little Mikey would be the exact opposite. Nicknames, or sobriquet’s can work very well in defining an ethnicity as well but care must be taken not to offend a person of color. Obviously there are certain words that were in common usage decades ago that are not politically correct now, so we need to be diligent in their use.
We should also consider giving our characters a conscience. Will the hero question his actions if they are extreme to his morals? Does the villain have a deep-seated angst? What motivates them? Some flawed characters can be difficult to write on occasion as they are far removed from our own personality (well I certainly hope so!) but with care we can accomplish a believable character.
How do you set about building a character?
Do you write out a full description of your characters?
Have you based a character on someone you know, a famous personality or mixed up several people’s traits to make a new one?