Writing and Opinions

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No matter what you do, your writing will reflect an opinion. Now, ideally, this would be your opinion, but that is not always the case. What if you are writing about a protagonist who loathes cats, but you adore them? Their views on the little critters are certainly not your own, but here’s the deal, a lot of people will think that’s the case. They can confuse you the author with you the person. So what can you do about it?

Well you can write stories that only support your own views on the world. Not really ideal, but it is a solution. However you run the risk of writing a story where the reader feels you are simply trying to bash your ideals into them. Not what readers want. At all. Alternatively you can write a small paragraph at the beginning or end of the book explaining how your views do not correspond with that of the book’s characters. If you do this keep it concise and be aware of the fact that many people may not read it, preferring to focus on the story.

Another way to differentiate is through your own social media. You can do this by tweeting your thoughts, sharing articles that support your view and by liking posts that do the same. This is my preferred method as it leaves the story to do its thing (be a story) while making it obvious where you stand on the subject.

Now let me be perfectly clear here, there is a place for stories with an obvious point to them (Brokeback Mountain, Once were warriors are a few examples), and a great story will carry your opinion across no matter what and you need to be aware of that. Why is that? Because you wrote it! A story is an extension of self and will have an opinion in it regardless of what your actual view point is.

What you do need to be aware of though is that there are crazy people out there who will take your view and twist it to suit their own. So be clear on what you think and make sure you are reflecting it, because sure as the sun rises, your writing will have a view point, make sure it’s the one you want.

Let me know what you think in the comments and have a happy and creative week everyone.

The Benefits of Author Talks

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In the past year I’ve been to a fair number of author talks. Now I go to them for a number of reasons, to gain some insights on writing, to show support for fellow writers and because I genuinely love books and nearly everything connected to them. But what are the actual benefits of going to an author talk?

  1. They generate book sales. This is more for the publisher and author’s benefit although, I don’t know about you, but I love getting new books. Every author talk I’ve been to, without fail, has sold the author’s current book as well as any other books the author has written. Buy one, show support and get something awesome in the process.
  2. Generate interest in the book and the author. The authors, or at least the ones I’ve seen, have always talked rather eloquently about themselves, the book and their writing process. And readers love to find out little tidbits about their favourite author/book. This in turn leads them to talk to other people about the book hopefully leading to them reading it themselves.
  3. Promotes discussion. This can be about the book, as noted above, or about the themes/topic of the book in a broader sense. This was certainly the case when I went to Rusty Young’s author talk last week. His latest book Columbiano deals with child soldiers in Columbia and this led to a discussion on how the children become soldiers in the first place and the drug war in general.
  4. Friendship. This may seem like a slightly odd one, but the book world can be a small one and if you go to enough events you will end up seeing a few of the same people. Make friends with them. You already have books in common, who knows what else you might both like?
  5. Knowledge. If you have a question about the book/author here is your chance to get it answered. Don’t worry about the fact they may have been asked it before, if it is something you want to know and it’s appropriate, ask. There is nothing like finding out first hand.

In the end author talks celebrate books and authors and that’s important for without them the world would be a little bit duller. Let me know what you think and have a happy creative week everyone.

Symbiosis and Stories

I was at a writing workshop on Friday, run by the awesome Natasha Lester, when she said the word symbiotic. She was talking about the character and their relationship with their fictional world and it triggered a whole stream of thought in my mind.

You see, I passionately believe that everything in a story should be symbiotic. But what am I talking about? According to dictionary.com, symbiotic means ‘to have an interdependent relationship.‘ So this means that I believe that everything in a story relies on everything else. In other words, if it’s in your story it needs to have a reason to be there.

Its a pretty straightforward concept, not so easy in practice. Why? Because it’s tempting to put everything into your story, ensuring that the reader gets exactly what you mean. This in turn overwhelms the reader and in effect makes them want to put your story down and go for something less wordy. So how do you counteract this? Editing.

Editing is your friend. The first draft is you telling yourself the story, after that you’re telling the reader. And the reader wants it in enough detail that they can build it in their mind, but not get bogged down. Readers are great, they have an imagination that allows them to take words and picture the story in their mind. Don’t deny them that pleasure.

So after the initial writing get ruthless. You know the picture your story is painting, so try and say it with as few words as possible. It’s a fine balance and one that takes practice. But it is that missing ingredient that takes a story from good to great. To understand what I’m talking about, grab your favourite book and reread it, paying particular attention to how everything goes together.

And remember what Stephen King said.

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For great editing articles check out Natasha Lester’s  post on how she completes a second draft, Jodi Gibson’s What I’ve Learned About Editing and for fantastic hands on tips, check out 10 Steps for Editing Your Own Work By Mark Nichol.

Do you think everything in a story should have a reason to be there? Let me know what you think in the comments and have a happy and creative week everyone 🙂

World Building

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Something that can be forgotten when writing a story is world building. What I mean when I say forgotten is that it can be more of an afterthought, the writer so focused on the characters and what they are doing that they forget that the world itself plays an important part.

An excellent example of this is Harry Potter. All you have to do is say the word Hogwarts and people immediately get an idea of what you are talking about, a school for magic. Some of that is because of the movies, but even if you had only read the books, Rowling did such a fantastic job of world building that you can imagine being there. The same goes for Stephenie Meyer and her Twilight series. You can almost feel the constant rain at Forks, the heat when the characters go to Phoenix as you read it. Another book that has the same impact with out having being turned into a movie is Juliet Marillier’s Wolfskin. Within moments of reading you are transported to Viking era Britain. With all these books, the world created plays an important part in the telling of the story.

Why is this? Because the worlds these authors have created have rules, ones that their characters need to follow and if they don’t there are consequences. This in turn helps to drive the plot forward. In the Twilight series it is important that Edward does not step out into the sun. It is a rule in that world that his skin will sparkle in bright daylight and there are consequences if he steps into it (the Volturi). It is something that is fact and the plot is driven forward when he attempts to step into the sun, Bella stops him and the Volturi demand that she becomes one of them. This ends up becoming one of the major driving forces in the series. And it all happened because of Edward’s skin and the way it interacts with sunlight.

So how do you make this work for you? Well, here is what I do.

  1. Know the climate of your world and how it affects your characters.
  2. Physics. The Law of Gravity will affect your character just like it does us. If it doesn’t, have a plausible reason why.
  3. Government. Who/what/how is your world governed?
  4. Magic system. If you have this as an element of your story, take the time to sit down and figure out how it works. In A Balance of Secrets, the magic system I’ve created  is based on energy and colour. Certain colours have an affinity for certain energies and can manipulate them. That’s the short version anyway.
  5. Paranormal. If you’re going down this route, do your research. You can break the rules like Meyer did in Twilight, but know them first and make it plausible. People know about vampires, ghosts etc. and have certain expectations you need to be aware of.
  6. Society/culture. Is it based on money, religion, trade, something else? How do they buy things? What are the typical jobs there? Is there a particular deity everyone worships? Is there a large gap between the poor/rich, nobles/commoners etc.?
  7. Education. Is it freely available? Is it even a thing like we know it or is it more a father teaching son type of education?

This list is by no means exhaustive and you truly can go very in depth if you want. But like anything, there is a time to stop planning and simply do. Create your characters’ world, make it believable, but don’t forget to write the story.

Have a happy and creative week everyone and let me know what you think in the comments.

Using Pinterest for Characters

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Characters, an essential part to any story. So how do you create them? Some people I know sit down and create a worksheet for each character keeping track of their quirks, physical details and any other pertinent information. And they do this before writing a word of their manuscript. It’s not a bad concept and I tried it, because I can see the pros of having a sheet like that handy.

The trouble is that I don’t know too much about my characters before I start writing them. It sounds romantic, letting the writing flow and your character form as you write. And to an extent it is, but it is also a pain in the ass when you realise that your character had a tick mysteriously appear half way through a manuscript. So I thought I would create the worksheet after the first draft. Yeah, turns out I suck at that. So how do I keep track? Pinterest.

For all the fact that I’m a writer and voracious reader, I’m actually a pretty visual person and Pinterest allows me the freedom of ‘seeing’ my characters. An example of this is Magnus Highwater from my manuscript, A Balance of Secrets. He’s a headstrong duke’s son with a penchant for knives. So Bradley Cooper is on my Balance of Secrets Pinterest board as Magnus, as well as pictures of knives, daggers and swords. Another character, Master Lucian, can control fire and there is a picture on my board of a man holding a ball of flames to represent him. There are also pictures of clothing for specific characters, representative of what they would wear to certain events or in daily life. With a click or tap of a finger I can see my characters and it triggers my brain into remembering all about them.

I find it a fantastic aid when I’m stuck as well. An example is the character Tuarwen. I knew there was something striking about her physical appearance but had no clue what. So I browsed Pinterest and stumbled upon a picture of a woman with red hair. It was the first thing I noticed about her and suddenly I knew Tuarwen had red hair. You need to have a general idea before you browse though, otherwise you’ll look up from the screen only to realise that hours have passed. I also use it to fix the scenery in my mind. In a way it’s my way of planning my story without having to actually plan much.

So if you’re struggling to keep track of your characters, why not give Pinterest a go? And if you don’t struggle, let me know what’s working for you.

Have a happy and creative week everyone 🙂

What if?

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What if? It’s a simple question that often signals the start of something, usually some form of problem solving or an urge to try something different just because. As a writer it is my favourite question to ask myself when I lack inspiration for my current project. There is something about the question, the possibilities held in those two words, that fires up my imagination and gets my creative side flowing again.

What if so and so got sick? Or if another character developed a fascination with flowers? The list is endless and can really take your story to places it may never have gone to otherwise.

Then there is the aspect of applying it in everyday life. For example: I’m not sure what I was thinking about at the time, but I do remember thinking, what if…? Then my brain went on a whole different tangent and I ended up at this blog post. I often find myself starting at one point in a conversation/thought and ending up at a completely unexpected destination, simply because I’ve asked myself what if?  It’s weirdly comforting in a way.

Life is full of what ifs and asking them really can change your life.

What if you took a chance on a relationship/job/different lifestyle? What if you took the train instead of driving to work? Sometimes, a small change, a simple question, can really have big results. So ask yourself, what if?

Have a fantastic and creative week everyone!

Social Media and Writing

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I have to admit, when I first started writing, social media was the last thing on my mind. I was writing the next ‘big thing’, I didn’t need to worry about social media! But then came the light bulb moment that, as a reader, I like to see what my favourite authors are up to. Be it a snippet of their latest work in progress, something that inspires them or a glimpse into their writing life in some other way, I like being able to see what goes on. Even better is when they are stuck for a character name and invite their followers to give them ideas.

So rather reluctantly I jumped on the social media bandwagon, figuring that my future readers would appreciate it, just like I do with the authors I read. Surprisingly, I discovered I freaking LOVE it. Instagram has my heart. Pictures to catch my attention and then some words underneath, I’m sold. Twitter took a bit longer, but I’m finding enjoyment with it now. I’ve stayed away from Goodreads and Snapchat because I’m afraid I’ll get really addicted. Facebook, meh, I can take it or leave it professionally.  And my blog, well, I had no idea I would like it so much. Especially when I was frustrated and reluctant to start one.

Rather naively though, I didn’t take into account that other people would look at my social media profiles and judge them. I think I thought no one would really look until I was published and who knew when that was going to happen. So here are some tips so you don’t make the same assumptions and mistakes.

  1. From the moment you first post about your writing it is saying who you are as a writer. Think about that.
  2. It is okay to change, but understand you may lose followers. You may gain some as well.
  3. You are building a base of people who want to read your writing and hopefully buy it in the future. Remember that.
  4. Your followers are real people, treat them like you would in real life and not a faceless computer. (Unless it’s a bot, but that’s a whole different thing).
  5. It’s okay to take time out, but have a time frame and make sure you let your followers know. They are investing their time in you and it’s valuable, it’s good manners to respect that.
  6. Don’t engage with trolls. Ever. Just don’t. The block option is there for a reason, use it.
  7. Only post something if you are happy for the whole world to see it.
  8. Check your spelling and grammar (Something I still struggle with).
  9.  Above all, be YOU. Being genuine always shines through and people appreciate that.

So that’s it, if you have any other tips let me know in the comments. Have a happy and creative week everyone 🙂