Category Archives: Plot Development

Target Audience

It’s been a while…but, yes I’m back.

Why the silence? Well many reasons, but mainly because I’ve been beavering away on a total re-write of my book, which will no longer be entitled Prophecy of Innocence.

If you recall I paid out quite a few hundred pounds to have a professional edit done on the book which I had been writing for 4 years. My epic ‘children’s’ fantasy tale, Prophecy of Innocence. I’d also written the second in the three volume novel, though this was not sent for editorial feedback.

I have spent the past month and a half having to totally re-think my approach and I thought the best way to update on this (as this blog is all about this writing journey) is to take all the editorial points in hand and talk about how I’m tackling each one in a series of short posts. So here’s the first:

Target Audience.

I paid for an editorial for two reasons. One I have never had any specific writing training. None. I started writing this book simply because I had an idea once upon a time. Also because I wanted to have it published, whether that be by a professional publisher or by myself. But I needed to have professional opinion on it, and so that is what I sought. I am glad I did, despite the initial gut-wrenching desire to throw in the towel and give up!

So, I thought Prophecy was definitely a children’s story and I stood by it as such. I ‘sold’ it as such and the edit was done bearing in mind I’d said it was for middle grade readers.

And therein lay my first problem.

The story I had written had a bunch of stuff in it that middle grade readers wouldn’t be remotely interested in.  Hard punch to take when you work with said demographic on a daily basis!

I hadn’t written specifically enough for my target audience. Although the editor acknowledged there was “much about the novel suitable for the middle grade reader”  it seemed that there were more things which were not than were!

Here are some of the points made:

  • “There’s a lot within it that isn’t necessarily suitable for the MG audience  and much of the novel is concerned with adult characters and their journeys – again not ideal.”
  • “While the beginning is wonderfully dramatic, especially chapter three and the destruction of the factory, so much death isn’t appropriate for your intended readership.” Ooops! (Though I’d argue and point out it was of generic non important characters as a whole and not detailed in descriptive gore!)
  • “For me the title Prophecy of Innocence doesn’t sound like an MG book title, and I don’t believe it will reach out to your audience in the way that it should. It sounds very old – adult- in fact.” Yes, novice writers out there if you pay for an edit be prepared for harsh truths! My new novel has no title as yet… 🙂
  • “The story becomes focussed on romance and marriage.” (Guilty as charged, your honour!)
  • “Toddington’s job – running a factory – makes him seem adult and therefore the reader will probably struggle to engage with him and his experiences.”
  • Summing up: “I wonder if you’ve allowed the story to get carried away with itself, and forgotten your audience in the process.” (And there, dear reader is a lesson in plotting and planning instead of pantsing your way through a novel! Though in my defence I did just start writing this for fun. I never had any ambition much at first to be published, so I just wrote a story and enjoyed it.)

Now I could have taken the view that okay, I could just re-write it based on the other editing points for a YA audience to whom some of these themes would be more suited. However, it wasn’t that simple. All the things wrong with my novice writing attempt tie in together and so I didn’t feel this was the best course of action, though I did consider it.

So what did I do? Well once I’d ironed out a few of the other issues which didn’t work with the book, I set about firstly having my main character as a contemporary child rather than one of (or a few of ) the elflings underground. Basically, I changed main character and viewpoint  and this made me focus much more on being the child. This isn’t an entirely new idea as Book 3 was due to fast forward to the modern age and some contemporary child characters. I guess what I’ve been doing for 4 years is writing an origins story. A history book!)

Then I have been reading lots and lots of Roald Dahl and David Walliams books to my nephew. Not that I am writing humour, you understand, but actually it’s no good me reading only my adult books (not that kind!) if I’m writing for children. I needed to get a grip on how to write for this audience as really I’d never properly considered it before other than in a very vague, generic way.

Secondly I interviewed some ten  and eleven year old girls and boys at the school I work at to find out if my main character needed to be a boy or a girl. This sounds ridiculous. Surely I should know, but there were a lot of things in my plot that I needed to know how boys react versus girls to certain situations. I also had a voice in my head and needed to see who fit it best. Then I wanted to find out about how they behave generally, what are their motivations, what do they do in their spare time, what kind of language do they use, because the type of colloquialisms I used at eleven are not going to be the same 30 years on.

So I did that and that has helped no end in thinking about how my main character reacts to certain events which I’d already plotted out.

Then I wrote the first three chapters in the first person so I could really get inside the child character’s head. This is something the editor suggested I do to help me with viewpoint and sticking with one. I have since changed it to third person (as I prefer this for the type of story I have) but it did really work for me. It might sound laborious, but it isn’t as though I need to do it for the whole book. I might still dabble into it if I have problems later on, but for now I am happy I am in one head. (I will talk about my problems with viewpoint in another post!)

And since then I have simply been writing and playing around with and re-writing and re-writing the first  four chapters and getting to know the two main characters so far.

I’ve also forgotten about aiming to be published. For now. I’ve decided I just want to learn more about the art of crafting a good novel. Maybe joining a writing group/course would be best for this, but I don’t think those types of things are really for me. It’s more fun finding out for yourself and trying different things.

As well as this I’ve also started plotting rather than pantsing! And I’ll talk about this in my next post.

What about your own experiences as a novice novelist? What problems have you encountered/did you encounter and how have you/how did you fixed them? I’d love to hear any thoughts from both novices and those with more experience!

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 

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Filed under Editing, Plot Development, Publishing, Writing

30 Days ’til 40 #8

This one comes with a deep breath and is actually related to what this blog was set up for in the first place…to write about my writing journey… So, today on October 8th we have…

#8: I paid for a Professional Edit on my first novel.

When I started writing this children’s novel 4 years ago I had not a Scooby Doo what I was doing. 4 years, 174 million re-writes and edits later, and now a professional eye cast over the work, it seems I still don’t have a clue.

I am pleased I paid for a professional edit, very pleased, because I could have continued to flounder around in the dark writing more aimless rubbish. I haven’t written a great book. I knew that anyway, even without an edit, but I desperately needed to know what and how to fix it. Every single thing the editor I hired has put in the report I received back today, is absolutely spot on and so I am for that extremely pleased to have invested my £600.

However, it’s only an investment if I do now continue to work on it and aim to be published, surely? None of the outcome of the edit or my thoughts around it alters the fact though that I have been an amateur about all this for too long. Writing has been a hobby and I wonder really if I am cut out to be a writer of fiction novels at all any way. There must be a reason I became a teacher not a writer.

Firstly I think this because I only have one real idea and even that one has taken me years to get so completely and utterly wrong.

I may sound disheartened or negative, but I’m not especially. I just know I am going to have to do a hell of a lot of work and scrapping and re-plotting to get the past 4 years work like anything up to scratch, (and even then I might not get it right) and so I wonder if it is worth it. I wonder if I should just leave novel writing to the likes of Matt Haig and Rick Riorden. To those who actually have a talent for it. Let’s face it there’s enough shite out there without my trying to compete.

But…I love working on this story. I love the story, I love the characters.

I guess the real decision is: Do I just want to write my story and keep it for me? Or do I really want to be published as I once thought was what I wanted?

The main issues at the moment are: its suitability in some of its themes and characters for middle grade readership, and that I don’t have a strong plot driver in volume one.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Right now, there’s a huge mountain to climb and I feel a little overwhelmed by it.

However, I do need a goal as I enter into my next decade…so perhaps I need to knuckle down and get serious.

Watch this space…

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Filed under Editing, Plot Development, Publishing, Writing

Character Count

Another post about her writing journey? Really? What’s come over her?

Yes, folks, don’t change the channel. I know I haven’t done a rant for a few weeks, but you know, this blog is called Writeaway so I do feel a little as though I am false advertising at times.

Anyway, for those of you who have followed this blog for sometime, you will know all the headaches and doubts I have about my novel in progress, as well as the great things I love about it. (Yes, I do; remember the A-Z from last year? There you go.)

You may also be aware that I consider myself to be a plot driven writer, rather than a character driven writer. Many blogs and writers will tell you this is the way to doom and unpublishable work, because if a reader can’t identify and root for the character they can’t give a damn about the plot. I’d agree with this (but only to a certain extent). I would argue there are plenty of adults who don’t worry about either so much. I haven’t read 50 Shades, but from what I can gather, neither the characters or the plot stand up too well, yet look at its success. Hmmmm. That old chestnut, hey?

So as always with writing and with regards to writing my own novel I have to put the blinkers on from time to time and not heed all the ‘rules’ and ‘advice’. As I’ve often said: yes, there are certain rules which need to be adhered to, but essentially I need to write what I feel is in me, and it so happens that my characters are not, as so many writers profess, “speaking to me in my head” or “taking over my life,” whilst I am trying to go about my daily business.  They are just not. It was in a previous post entitled “Losing the Plot” that I talked about this. I think of a plot first and characters come only when I start writing dialogue on the page. That’s just how it is for me, right or wrong, we shall see. It is why I have to ignore social media most of the time because there are a lot of writers out there spouting their advice as though it were gospel, and as any atheist will argue, that’s a load of tosh as well.

So, today I was turning over in my head what my editor may say about my characters (other than “why are they all named after motorway service stations or mash-ups of UK place names?”),  and thinking more so with regard to the question do the characters drive the plot or does the plot drive the characters? And then I stopped questioning myself and thought…”You know what, I don’t care, I’m just going to blog my thoughts on this subject.”

And this got me to  thinking about all the books I loved as a child and how plot won me over every time.

1) The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. Most of the characters got right up my nose actually. Other than the White Witch and Edmund. Lucy was sappy, Susan and Peter as dull as ditch-water, talking Beavers and a fawning Fawn. Then there was Aslan and well, he was just a lion who sacrificed himself. That book was all about plot (and God and Jesus and stuff, not that I got that from it at all when I was ten)! But I don’t think CS Lewis spent an awful lot of time drawing his characters out. I could be wrong, but what I loved about that book (and The Magician’s Nephew – more so actually) was the plot. The story and the way it developed. Just the simple notion there was another land through a wardrobe or pools of water in woods or by putting on a magical ring. Cool.

2) Anything by Enid Blyton: Oh come on. The Famous Five? The Secret Seven? Plot, plot and more plot. The mystery was what kept me reading, not Dick or George or er…who were the other ones again? The Naughtiest Girl in The School only had me hooked because I wanted to go to boarding school and have a tuck box and go to the shop to buy stamps and write letters home. Elizabeth could have been Alfred for all I cared.

3) All Fairy Tales. All of them. Generic characters with the odd baddy to spice it up. (Rumplestiltskin anyone?) Why is it only the baddies who were any fun or actually the ones who drove the plot forward? (Incidentally, I worried that my antagonist is the one who drives the plot forward in Book 2 as oppose to Toddington. I’ll wait for the back lash on that little piece of literary rule breaking and rebellion, but as I’m, essentially, writing a fancy, long fairy tale, I think I’m going to just have the guts and conviction to go with it.)

4) I’d even go as far as to say Harry Potter himself is not the character who kept me reading that particular series of books. Professor Snape? Yes. Ron and Hermione? Yes. Wanting to find out out what magic spell they’d all learn next? Yes. Harry was, for me, quite bland, and although I cared about him a bit, it was more that I cared for the wizarding world and the effect Voldemort had on that and how they were all going to collectively defeat him. All the little plot twists and turns around Snape actually engaged me more than the main plot. And actually Voldemort’s back story was far more riveting than Harry’s.

But not only as a child has this been the case. As an adult I’ve enjoyed Agatha Christie novels and we know how her characters (at least the secondary ones) get accused of being two dimensional. Murder mysteries are, by nature, plot driven. It is the whodunnit? which keeps us reading, rather than the characters, I’d say anyway. I mean her detectives are engaging of course, and Poirot is my favourite, but Christie had plots first it seems, then character.

Then I got to thinking about stuff my little boy has read or is reading. He’s heavily into Roald Dahl at the moment and I’d say his books go on a 50/50 scale, including his short stories for adults. Tales of The Unexpected…very plot driven. Of course he does write some wonderful characters too…The children in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and Willy Wonka and The Grand High Witch. Miss Trunchbull. All fantastic characters.The BFG too is a great character, but I wouldn’t say all of his stories have great main characters. Danny in Danny The Champion of the World is for me, quite dull, yet I love the story itself.  Dahl actually is billed as “The World’s Number One story teller” and I think it is the stories and their plots which engage children most. The idea of winning a chocolate factory? Or of turning ducks into people and vice versa? The idea of a man who can see through playing cards to win a fortune and how he goes about it. It is Dahl’s “what ifs?” which engaged me over the characters (although obviously mainly very well drawn).  I certainly know the idea of The Witches all being teachers in disguise was just perfect! Oh and speaking of Roald Dahl. We’re reading The BFG at the moment and Dahl uses the “was  ….ing” thing LOADS instead of ed verbs. So quite frankly, I really, really, really won’t be listening to much of these “writing tips” anymore. It seems one sure fire way to lose your style and voice.

Also my little boy loves these books called “Dinosaur Cove” by an author called Rex Stone. They are typical chapter books for the 6+ age range, but oh! The amount of adverbs is akin to the number of hot dinners I’ve had and the two main characters are completely indistinguishable from each other. But my little boy LOVES them. Because, you know, dinos.  Also the plots are atrocious, but that’s what is funny. Kids will like books for all sorts of reasons that we as adults and especially us as writers baulk at!

Now, I’m not aiming for a series of ‘easy read’ chapter books or advocating the overuse of adverbs or inappropriate repetitive dialogue tags (grinned – Rex Stone, seriously too many ‘grinned Jamie, grinned the other one’) particularly as I’m writing a three volume middle grade fantasy novel. Of course I want my characters to have depth and I hope the main ones do, (because my character count currently stands at about 24 speaking characters and it’s really hard to give them ALL depth), but in all honesty, my book is not character driven. Probably because when I had the idea for the book I was twelve and had just finished reading The Narnia books. I like my characters though, but I had no idea who they were going to be until I actually started writing. Many of them just showed up half way through, unexpectedly. For Book 3, which I haven’t written yet, I need to introduce four human characters. Children. I work with children. I know children, yet I cannot plan for them at all. I don’t know what I want them to be like until I get them to meet Toddington (the main protagonist). Even Toddington had no real character to him when I first drafted. All my characters have developed as I wrote them in and found them talking. It is my idea for the plot and getting from point a to point b which drives my characters forwards and my writing, not the other way round.

And the truth seems to me, from my experience of children, is that plot is actually more important for most of them than character. That doesn’t mean you can’t have great characters, but do we need to sit and worry that every event which happens in the book is driven forward by the main character? I know in my book it isn’t. And if you watch children write a story they come up with a plot. They do. That’s how they are taught. That’s how their imagination runs. My little one wrote a story the other day. He couldn’t get all his plot ideas down quick enough, as he told me. He was so excited by the plot. It just so happened everything in the plot happened to a velociraptor named Speedey (with an ey on purpose apparently). Speedey was simply the vessel for all his plot ideas to go through. I know however, many writers say “Have a character, THEN put them in a situation, or situations.” But knowing what I do about children it seems to me, I think maybe we need to worry less about what adults think when we’re writing for children and see it from a child’s point of view. I’m not dumbing down my characters at all, I’m just saying I’m going to get ready to defend why they aren’t necessarily at the forefront of my thoughts when writing.

Yes, I am a novice and so am, no doubt, talking out of my backside. My editor will no doubt tell me a load of these things which are formulaically wrong with my book and will hate my characters for more reasons than that three syllable names are hard to pronounce. But I can’t help thinking back to those books I enjoyed as a child, and even now as an adult enjoy most. They are the ones where the plot came first. The characters have to be good, but for me they are not what comes first to my mind when reading or when writing. I do like a good story.

The End.

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Filed under Characters, Editing, Plot Development, Writing

The Long and the Short of It.

As you will know, if you are a regular visitor to the blog, I spent a fair part of 2014 writing short stories and pieces of flash fiction which included a high rate of participation in the Twitter flash writing game, Friday Phrases (FP). You can even find some of the short stories here and here if you so wish to torture yourself with a variety of pieces of fiction  which I don’t hold in particularly high regard.

Now, at the time, I enjoyed writing in this form. I guess, as I was pretty depressed for the first half of last year, writing flash fiction and shorts gave me an opportunity to carry on writing when I didn’t much feel like it. Also I needed feedback as to how my writing was developing and it felt the quickest way to achieve that.

You see, for me writing a short story is a little like the practice for the big event, the novel. Now I say ‘for me’ with good reason as I know this is not the case for a huge number of writers. Many I know in fact only write short stories or novellas and like it and are very good at it. It’s their thing.  However, it is not my thing I have discovered. This is because, when I write a short it’s usually from a ghost of an idea that flits about my mind (which does not happen nearly as frequently as perhaps it should) and then I just write it. I don’t outline, I don’t plan characters, I don’t  worry about it or have sleepless nights about it. I draft it, then I edit it and it’s done. It can feel like an accomplishment of sorts when I’ve not worked properly on my novel, but it does not satisfy me fully. Possibly because I do see them as an exercise in writing rather than something I’d aim to have published.

Now, the trouble was last year I became a little distracted by writing these short stories and flash fiction, as well as this blog and  all of those things combined only served to take me away from what I actually love working on which is my novel(s).

I have a theory as to why I became distracted. The main one being that I don’t consider to myself to be a true writer in the pure sense of the word. Simply I don’t feel a deep seated need to bleed ideas onto the page lest I die, as other writers speak of. Unless I am in a state of heart break. Which I very much was until I bled all that out in this blog post. Seems writing really does have the power to heal.

No,  the only thing I feel a need to tell is the story in my novel, and in truth, it’s the only story I have to tell. Really. All those other ideas which found their way here last year could have quite happily remained in the recesses of my mind and no one would have suffered the worst for it. Me least of all.

So whilst I was writing shorts, and blog posts, and participating in FP, my novel sat without moving off the 18,000 word count it’d been on for months and months. This bothered me of course but I justified it and comforted myself with the idea that at least I was writing. Something, anything. No matter what came out. Oh dear.

Then, without my conscious knowledge my participation  in FP began to dribble off in the final quarter of the year until, in December, it became none existent. I pondered on why this was the other day and realised it is mainly because I have no ideas.  They’ve dried up and this I put down to my not being utterly depressed and heartbroken. In February, March, April time when I was perhaps at my lowest I look through my notebook and there were perhaps six or seven Flash Fiction FPs a week. It seems, as I’ve alluded to before in another post, I need heartbreak for my emotions to really surface so that I can have the ideas to then develop further maybe when I’m not so down. My emotions are heightened and so apparently is my creativity.  (An ongoing debate which many have written about before.) This in turn meant my well for short story ideas dried up, and in all honesty I lost interest in writing shorts altogether. I have two sitting half finished in draft form, but I doubt I’ll be finishing them in a hurry.

Anyway,  with news from the publisher in mid November that they were interested in my novel and passing it onto marketing and production to make a decision, I figured I desperately needed to get back to the second book which leads on from Book One. The word count now stands at just over 53,000 which has grown from those 18,000 in early November and which had been sat at 18,000 for a good nine months previously. Not my most productive writing phase.

Getting back to the novel, really getting back into it, has made me realise this much: I much prefer writing a novel to short stories. The process that is. Despite the fact that it is, in my opinion, much harder. It is for me at least so much more enjoyable.

This then got me thinking about different writers and how they view the long and short form.

I know many people in the writing world who very much enjoy writing short stories, even prefer it to novel writing. They submit continuously to websites and magazines for publications and are sometimes successful  at being published, at other times they are not. Nevertheless, they write and write and write and seem to do little else with their spare time from their day job.

They seem to be able to write story after story after story, having so many ideas flowing from them they don’t know what to write next.

I don’t. I just don’t have that many ideas floating around in my brain. I did back in February/March/April time but generally I don’t.  Hence why I can never really consider myself a proper writer. What I do is a hobby as I have too many other things I love to do in my spare time too. My novel is, nevertheless, a hobby I hope one day to have published and be able to share with the children of the world. I have other writers being kind enough to recommend places to submit short stories and poems to or competitions to enter, but truth is, I have no real interest in this. Maybe that’s cutting my nose off to spite my face.  All these other writers who write and submit, write and submit will one day get their break. The law of probability is on their side. I’m not making it easy for myself by not doing those things too, this I know. However, I wouldn’t submit my shorts as I know they are simply not good enough. Also, maybe I just like the thought of a long hard slog on one project which I can eventually feel proud of. I’ve never felt especially proud of my short stories, (probably because they are not that great, or original) but I feel very proud of the 130,000 odd words I’ve written so far over the two novels.

On the up side though, writing shorts has helped me develop such technical skills as: showing not telling or playing around with viewpoint and structure. For me this feeds directly into my novel -the big project, the one I am passionate about. I don’t have that same passion for writing short stories. Maybe, if I’m really honest, my passion is not even for writing itself ; it is for the process of creating. I’ve created a whole world with characters and a plot and a history and timelines and maps and family trees. Writing is just the form this has taken. If I was any good at art it could have been a mural or a comic strip. I don’t know. But to perfect that form I’ve had to pay attention to the technical stuff and writing shorts and flash has indeed helped me to focus on the actual art of writing.

To my mind, and perhaps this may be controversial in writerly circles, (as I generally have no clue what I’m talking about having never attended a writer’s club, forum, support group or workshop) the process of writing a short compared to writing a novel is completely different.

When writing a novel, for example, there is more opportunity to develop characters, get to know them, play around with them, shake them up when need be. In a novel the characters drive the story, where for me in short stories it seems the plot drives the characters.  (Maybe because I’m doing it all wrong!) The characters in short stories don’t seem to do unexpected things because there is a ‘punchline’ to reach and it needs to be reached in a specific word count.

Writing a novel also means weaving multiple different threads together. So much so it can feel almost like solving a murder mystery and really gets the brain thinking. It can make it ache too, but in a good way. Weaving multiple narrative and making them meet is  a form of problem solving and it feels great when it all comes together. (Especially if you’re a bit of a pantser like me!) This feeling of accomplishment is something I have never found I gain with writing in the short form. As I say, with a short the ending presents itself like a flash of inspiration and then you run with it until you reach it. The biggest problem solving you have when writing a short story or Flash Fiction is to convey what you want to say in as few words as possible. We all know I’m verbose to the extreme, so perhaps this is why I prefer novel writing!

Now, on a personal level I do actually like reading short stories very much. I loved all Roald Dahl’s Tales of The Unexpected and other short stories when I was a teenager. He, to me, is a master in the art of short story telling, and the novella “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” is one of my all time favourites. However, as a writer, they simply do not give me the same pleasure (and perhaps the same pain!) that writing a novel does.

Those light-bulb, Eureka! moments in the shower when you work out, almost subconsciously, how to fix that plot hole that’s been bugging you for months or maybe that you didn’t even know was there until a couple of characters started a conversation in your head whilst you were washing up! That is a complete thrill and once you get it written down, utterly satisfying.

Writing a novel is a marathon over the sprint of a short. It’s harder, certainly; it’s more gruelling, but the feeling when you finish it is far more exhilarating.

These are just my thoughts of course.

What do you writers think? Do you prefer the marathon or the sprint? Which process do you enjoy more?

What do you readers think? Do you prefer to read short stories, what with the busy lives we now all seem to lead, or do you prefer something you can get your teeth into?

I’d be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments box below. 🙂

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 

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Filed under Designing, Editing, Plot Development, Publishing, Writing

Breaking The Law…The Write Way.

Am I a writer?

Well, I write stuff. I write blog posts and short stories and flash fiction and I’ve written a novel. I write pieces of 140 character micro fiction on Fridays and I write a journal.

But if you asked my friends or family: “What does Joanne do?” They’d reply, first of all:  “She’s a teacher.” Then they might say: “she’s a foster carer to her nephew.” They might say she’s a bossy, cantankerous weirdo too, I don’t know. What I do know is that I doubt any of them would say: “She’s a writer.” Which is odd, given that I probably spend a quarter of my time doing just that, when I’m not teaching, parenting or doing chores.

I wonder if I had any of my work published, whether this would change. I’m pretty sure it would.

However, let’s take now, as now is where we’re at.

Do I class myself as a writer? If people ask me: “What do you do?” do I reply with: “I’m a writer?” Or “I write.” Well, the short answer is, no, no I don’t. Why? Why do I not say I am, when actually I write an awful lot?

The answer is I suppose two fold.

The main one being: I don’t earn a living from it. I write, but it’s a hobby really.

The second answer is more complex.

It is more to do with what I see of the writing community around me, whether they be published, none published writers/authors or traditional or indie published writers/authors. I don’t see myself as a writer yet, as I break practically every writing rule,ever conceived.(Mainly because I hate being told what to do. I’ll follow advice, sure, I’m not a stubborn idiot, but tell me something is black, set in stone and I’ll tell you it’s white and wobbly.)

So, here are 13 reasons I probably can’t consider myself a writer, just yet and why I won’t be published for a very long time! (< there’s one; right there.)

1) I do not send my short stories, flash pieces to magazines or other literary publications as I see many of my Twitter folk friends doing.

2) I do not plot and plan stories or novels or characters in any kind of detail.

3) I use adjectives as if they are going out of fashion.

4) I use cliches (see above ^) and adverbs excessively. (<)

5) I do not write every day or at a a set given time, or give myself word count goals. Not even when people on Twitter are screaming at each other to do so, as though if they don’t write, their arm might fall off.

6) I have no idea what characters are going to do in any given situation before I put them in a situation. I do not write them a full bio before I plonk them head first into a story. Fun! Try it!

7) I don’t read anywhere near enough. I average a novel every two months these days. Shocking. I therefore, according to Stephen King, “have no tools to write.”

8) My novel starts with a prologue.

9) My novel starts with a prologue featuring the main protagonist

10) The first actual chapter of my novel doesn’t introduce the protagonist.

11) It took me fourteen months to finish the first draft, not three as Stephen King recommends. Though I am not Stephen King…so.

12) I break pretty much every one of Elmore Leonard’s ten tips for writers (covered above) as well as a) I don’t only use said as a dialogue tag. b) I have opened a short story with a weather description. c) I have gone into detailed description in my novel at times because…well, TOLKIEN! d) And I have definitely used suddenly numerous times and more than 2 exclamation marks per 100,000 words.

13) I never follow writing rules. (except the laws of basic grammar and using active over passive, though I’m pretty sure I’ll have broken those too.)

 

What “rules for writing” don’t you follow? I’d love to know that I’m not the only law breaker out there..Come on, ‘fess up; you’ll feel so much better for it. 🙂

 

 

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X is for…eliXir

Okay, okay I know it’s cheating by not having a word which actually begins with X itself but there are only a total of seven words starting with X in my dictionary (I just checked) and as I have written nothing in my WIP about xylophones, xenon, x-rays or xylem (though I could easily have done so as xylem pertains to plants and roots) you’ve ended up with elixir. Also I wonder how many others doing this challenge will cop out and have a word beginning with say ex rather than x itself?

Anyway, EXcuses over with, lets move on. Why elixir?

Well, as I have already blogged in my c post about crystonal, the magic compound used by the elflings to prolong their lives, it made sense to EXplain some of the research I did, particularly for Book 2 which delves into what is actually in the compound to give them a prolonged life.

At first I just imagined a compound made up of crushed gem stones. This idea stemming from the fact that such crystals are believed to contain healing powers if used in the correct way. Now, whether one subscribes to this way of thinking is immaterial. Does rose quartz attract love? Amethyst induce calm? Does citrine bring wealth? And if you place certain crystals on certain chakras can you heal certain ailments? I don’t know. I collect them because they are pretty and I love the colours.

However none of these stones are rumoured to give longevity of life (shockingly!) and so I got to wondering, Okay what is it in crystonal which causes this phenomenon? (Look at me talking about this compound as if there is scientific fact behind it! Ha ha!)

It was really only when I got to the end of Book 1 and into Book 2 I thought seriously about it. This was because the crystonal, after hundreds of thousands of years of never been misused, (because elflings are just not like that, they are innocent!), they begin to explore its powerful properties in a few different ways. I cannot say how or why though because you know by now I’m trying not to do plot spoilers.

So anyway my brain got to thinking: There has to be an ingredient, a natural ingredient, in it which prolongs life. So I simply Googled ‘elixir of life’ (what on earth did writers do before the internet? They actually would have to pre-know stuff!)

And this is what  found:

“The ancient Chinese believed that ingesting long-lasting precious substances such as jadecinnabar or hematite would confer some of that longevity on the person who consumed them”  

I zoned in on cinnabar as I’d never heard of it and it turns out it’s the common ore of mercury. Well who knew? (Probably loads of people actually, like chemists and geologists, but I’m neither of those so I didn’t know.)

So there I had a very tenuous link. An ancient myth linked to some science. Perfect. And so it was cinnabar became the ‘secret’ ingredient for crystonal and I continued researching into it.

Two problems though. First: Mercury is poisonous. Many of these substances, far from contributing to longevity, were actively toxic. Jiajing Emperor in the Ming Dynasty died from ingesting a lethal dosage of mercury in the supposed “Elixir of Life” conjured by alchemists”

Hmmm, well yes but to humans, not elflings! Ha, phew. Easily explained away.

Not so easy to explain is secondly: cinnabar is not found in Britain as we are not a volcanic island. Well not any more, and not when ‘Prophecy of Innocence’ is set. So how did I navigate this problem? Well I didn’t.

I have to be allowed some artistic licence!

Tomorrow’s Y post continues in the same vein as today’s. I do hope you can join me for what will be the penultimate post in this A-Z blog trip through my WIP.

Thanks for reading and sticking with me until near the end. If you have done so from the start then you certainly have longevity 😉

 

 

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R is for…Research

I wasn’t sure up until about two minutes ago what the R post was going to be about. If you’ve been with me for the entire journey so far on this A-Z blog challenge, you will know from my A post that I started the challenge on a whim with no forethought whatsoever and I chose the theme to tie in with this whole blog which did originally start as a trip through my WIP. (Ooh another rhyme.)

I’ve been worried about X (I say worried, I’m not really worried as much as excited to see what the heck I come up with) all the while, but I never even considered R. R is such a normal letter. Many things start with R. Though apparently not for me to blog about my WIP.

My options running through my brain this morning were:

1) Rainstone: My main protagonist’s surname but there is not much to say about that and he will be covered in the T post.

2) Re-writes; but I think I pretty much covered that in the P for Prologue post.

3) Royalty: This was in my head for a while however, too much of the plot will be given away if I delve into this and so I decided against this.

Instead I’ve settled on research as, as any writer knows, you have to do quite a lot of this even when writing fiction.

Every writing advice blog I’ve read stresses the importance of doing your research and getting your facts straight. And rightly so, because  someone as nit-picky as me may well end up reading my book and as I am one of those sad humans who will go and look things up that I’ve read in fiction, I wouldn’t want to be getting it wrong. One of the things I’ve always been in awe of with the Harry Potter series was the fact that J.K Rowling had so many subtle references to mythical and legendary stories through the character’s names, objects and beasts.  The etymology behind  the spell names was also great.  I would go away and look stuff up after reading and say “Ohhh , wow THAT’S where that comes from”. It all seemed so effortless. I’m guessing it wasn’ t but I’m also guessing she didn’t do what I’ve done and just leave it to her random muse. She must have done her research and done it BEFORE she wrote each book. I’d imagine anyway. It all seems too flawless to not have been planned that way

However despite being a nit-picky, check your facts type of reader, as a writer I am terrible at actually doing research for my writing. My method has gone something like this:

1) Have an idea. A light-bulb moment usually whilst in the shower or driving.

2)Write a few notes then write into the WIP what I think I know.

3) Google countless sites to verify what I know.

4) Change that section of the  WIP to either a) fit the new information or b) introduce the new information

OR

5) Do a little dance of joy that I  hit the jackpot with my hit and miss approach to using my fuzzy head knowledge and that my original thought from Step 1, whatever mad-cap randomness t was  actually, happily, fits the WIP.  and then bask in my own glory thank you very much. 

6) Completely delete said idea from step 1 because it just wouldn’t be plausible.

Despite this cavalier approach to research, for this novel, Prophecy Of Innocence (a children’s fantasy quest adventure trilogy) my research has had to actually be quite thorough in parts. As it is set in a time past and some events in the real world affect the fantasy world, a lot of the research has been historical.

I had to research when canal building began in Britain and find out if  this tied in with the geography of the elfling’s journey. I had to research how canals were constructed in the 18th century. As I said though, I had some ideas before I wrote but in my usually inefficient writing manner I would write a scene then go and Google what I needed to know and  then add in any relevant missing details. I did have to change the geography slightly as a result and bring dates back, but essentially I had it right. However, as they say “The devil is in the detail” and so being a little right is never enough.  I also had to research coal mining and find out when that began to ensure it would fit in to the time scale. The last thing I would want is for someone to be reading the story and be thinking: “Hold on, no-one was down a coal mine until such and such a year”. (i.e my mum. My mum would definitely point out any historical inaccuracies to me.) I found myself also researching when workhouses were first in operation in the country and I found the name of one in Bristol where some of the story takes place which I did not change for the book.

I’ve had to research different types of fungi (which you can read more about here) as well as find out about naturally found herbs, types of trees and plants in Britain at the time. I had an image in my book for a long time of walnut shells being used for a certain purpose. However, I recently thought: “Hold on, I don’t think walnuts are native to Britain” and guess what? No they are not. I am glad I do check things like this because I’d be mortified if someone else had to. I suppose I would save myself an awful lot of re-writes and edits if I just did my research properly before I put finger to keyboard but old habits die hard and besides, quite often I don’t even know what I want to research until I’ve written anyway! This comes from only having a very loose outline. *Slaps own wrists.

Further to the aforementioned I’ve also needed to research: moles, fireflies, natural dyes, how paper used to be made, Celtic/Gaelic languages, places, place names, mercury, cinnabar and medicinal herbs.   I am only a third of the way through Book 2 so I’m sure I’m going to have to do much more research as I go a long.

I quite like the research part of writing. Usually it leads me into discovering other things I can use elsewhere in my WIP. Today for example I have just had a light-bulb moment about something in Book 3 as a result of writing this blog post on research. So I am now off to break my own habit and do some up-front research whilst the idea is but a seedling.

I’d love to hear how other writers tackle research. Are you disciplined and organised, researching at the point of outline? Or are you like me and do it as you go along? It’d be great to hear your experiences.

*Disclaimer: No research whatsoever was undertaken in the writing of this blog post.

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