The Joy of Writing by Hand

Writing by Hand

These days, there are many ways to communicate the written word, so the options for writers and how they get their ideas into the real world are pretty much endless. Over the last few years, I have come across people who write direct on to their laptop. By that, I mean they type. Literally writing on your laptop would probably void the warranty.

Some are slightly more old school than that and they prefer to use a typewriter. After all, who can forget Ernest Hemingway’s immortal words;

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Others prefer the walk-and-talk approach. No, not like The West Wing. They dictate what they’re writing and then either type it up later, or use speech-to-text software. I have even heard of writers who find they are most creative when using a word processing app on their smartphone. That way, they can write wherever and whenever they want to.

There are probably countless other ways that you could think of for getting an idea down on paper (or on screen).

My way is much simpler. I write by hand. Almost exclusively.

Of course, I then type up what I have written, but primarily, my first draft is done by hand.

thinking_capI tend to think a lot clearer when I have a pen in my hand. The slow, analogue process of writing by hand makes me consider each sentence as it comes to me, while simultaneously keeping a thought on what is coming next.

And here’s why:

A piece of paper doesn’t have any other apps for me to distract myself. If I am focusing my energy on a blank piece of paper, I am much more likely to fill it than a blank computer screen than can be transformed into an internet page at the click of a button. Or worse, a game of Solitaire.

Even when I took part in NaNoWriMo last year (good luck to all taking part this year!), the 50,000 words I wrote in that month were predominantly done by hand. I filled one and a half full A4 notebooks in those 30 days alone.

Of course, the drawback at that the point came when I then had to type up each and every one of those 50,000 words as I went, in order to make use of the Verification part of the NaNoWriMo website. But that in itself is not a bad thing.

I have grown accustomed to writing by hand then typing up that particular scene or chapter while it is still fresh in my mind (before the tipping point between enthusiasm and self-doubt is reached). It is all part of my own creative process and, for the most part, it works well for me.

And it comes with a couple of hidden advantages.

isolated-old-writing-grunge-texture-background-notebook-handwriting-black-white-vintage-resource-eps-vector-88653662Firstly, it’s quite difficult for others to read over my shoulder while I write. Aside from the fact that I tend to shut myself away in my room to write, if someone were to try and read over what I had written immediately after the fact, most of the time, they wouldn’t understand a word of it! The more relaxed into writing I get, the faster my thoughts flow. The faster my thoughts flow, the faster I write and my handwriting deteriorates accordingly. I am very fortunate that I am so familiar with my own handwriting, that I know what it says, even when others don’t. Although, there have been times when even I have paused to turn the page upside down in the hopes of deciphering a word or phrase my hand has struggled to keep up with.

My mum proofreads pretty much everything I write, and I am sure she is relieved I send her typed copies and not snapshots of my notes. In case you’re wondering, she has immaculate handwriting – I don’t know how she does it!

6abd057a784cfd8fAnd secondly, have you ever heard of someone being able to hack into a handwritten notebook? Of course, this particular advantage is rather short-lived once I get it all typed up, but even then I still have the handwritten copy to go back to if something goes wrong with the electronic copy.

The Down Side

Now, you may be sat wondering a couple of things at this point:

  • Does my left hand get sore doing this? Yes. Yes it does!
  • Am I at all worried about developing RSI? Absolutely! But I know some excellent physiotherapists so, in the long run, I’ll be fine.

writerscrampI frequently come away from writing with pain in my fingers, my wrist, even as far as my elbow. My knuckles crack and complain in all weathers at times, and the noises that my hand and wrist can make when I stop to flex could make a grown man pale with nausea.

But I’m afraid that just isn’t enough to make me stop. I have found a writing method that works for me and that is really all that matters.

I will way this, though; I see cod-liver-oil tablets in my future!

How about you?

Not the cod liver oil bit. What way of writing works best for you? Leave a comment to let me know!

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NaNoWriMo 2018!

43 NaNoWriMo 2018

CinnamonCoffeeOctober is a great month! Autumn really sets in and brings with it an incredible array of colours in the trees. It brings crisp, cold mornings and short days. Cosy jumpers, warm gloves, and hot drinks spiced with cinnamon.

And for many writers, October brings with it one very important question:

To NaNo, or not to NaNo?

National Novel Writing Month (really, at this point, shouldn’t it be International Novel Writing Month?) has been running for close to two decades now. Every November, the challenge to writers is to write a novel in 30 days. This doesn’t have to be a finished novel, but means that you write something that is novel-length. 50,000 words to be exact (10,000 words over the official minimum requirement for a piece of writing to be considered a novel).

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. This is due to me putting in place a writing plan that I can sustain for longer than 30 days in order to concentrate on finishing the first draft of my novel (more on that in a couple of weeks’ time). But that doesn’t mean I can’t lend encouragement to those who are taking part.

DohC46YXoAMnYXnLast year, when I took part, I discovered something really wonderful about the Writing Community, and that is that it is filled with people who not only have a shared love for writing, but also a shared passion for seeing other writers do well. There were several times last November when I seriously wanted to give up. That 50,000-word milestone seemed absolutely unattainable, and it would have been so easy just to stop.

It was the encouragement of other writers that got me through these moments. These writers may not even have realised that they were such an amazing source of encouragement. They were simply sharing their own hardships and triumphs along with everyone else.

Paradoxically, I think that is what NaNoWriMo is all about: We collectively share the experience of writing 50,000 words (each) in the month of November, and yet at the end of the day we are still writing our own individual stories with no-one to help with the actual writing of it.

If that even makes sense!

Either way, it is a great month and, for me last year’s NaNo was invaluable to me for providing the focus and framework I needed to start taking my novel seriously; something that I am continuing now with a framework of my own.

For anyone who is taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you the best of luck and hope that you have as much fun as I did last year! If it is your first time setting off on this adventure, here are my top tips for getting through:

NaNoWriMo 2018 Survival Kit

1: Tell your friends and family what you are doing

homerThis isn’t just about accountability (which is important – it was a great motivator having a group of people around you to ask you the uncomfortable question of “How’s the writing going?” to actually keep you writing). But aside from that, it is likely that you will become a hermit for a month. If, like me, you have a full-time job, or any kind of demands on your time, the time you can dedicate to writing will be limited. If you’re going to commit to NaNoWriMo, it may be that there are a few social engagements that fall by the wayside for a few weeks. Explaining to your friends and family why this is, and that it is temporary, will help smooth things over no end.

2: Get comfortable!

I don’t know about you, but I find it much easier to write when I am not distracted by the fact that my back hurts, or my bum has gone numb from sitting in one position for too long. It takes time to write 1,667 words (or whatever your daily target is), so make sure you are literally in a position that will sustain you. I am most comfortable in either pyjamas or leggings, and when I can stretch out on my bed. I can be sat up if I want to be, propped up with pillows, or even lying full stretch on my stomach with pen in hand. Find out what works for you comfort-wise, and feel free to be a little indulgent in it for 30 days!

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3: Pre-Writing Rituals

This was my daily routine during NaNoWriMo last year: I would be in work from 8:30am until 5:00pm. I would then walk home, getting in around 5:30pm. Between 6:00pm and 6:30pm, I had my dinner, and by 7:00pm I would get myself ready to write. This meant gathering the following items: my laptop for music, pen and paper (I work best when I write by hand), a cup of strong, milky coffee with one sugar, some sort of snack (usually biscuits/cookies or chocolate), and my Rubiks Cube to keep my hands busy while I think. Gathering all of those together each evening helped put me in the right frame of mind to write (and still does to this day).

4: Feed your body as well as your brain

get-with-the-rythmn.jpgSnacks are great. Meals are better! When you really getting into a writing rhythm, the last thing you want to do is to stop. But remember that no matter how well you are writing, it will likely go a lot better on a full stomach. The temptation during NaNoWriMo (I found) was to opt for junk food. Things that were ready made, or quick to prepare meant less time away from the page. But if you manage to resist this temptation and stick to a more balanced diet, you will feel better for it all around. I am no dietician, but I know how sluggish and irritable I can feel after pigging out for a day. Clocking up 30 days like that is not a good idea!

5: Also, COFFEE!!!!!!!

first-i-drink-coffee-then-i-do-the-things-2.jpgLet’s get real for a sec. When the Ancient Greeks talked about Ambrosia, the food of the gods, what they actually meant was coffee. And this is coming from someone who is usually a Tea Drinker! I feel I am betraying my Britishness to say it, but coffee is actually magical when it comes to writing. I’m sure there is some highly logical and scientific explanation as to why the caffeine in coffee seems to be so much more potent than it is in any other beverage, but really all you need to know is:

Coffee = GOOD!

DISCLAIMER: Please drink coffee responsibly! Any caffeine consumed after 8:00pm can and will keep you awake for the majority of the night. Do not over-indulge if you have a nervous disposition.

6: Don’t do it alone

783729215398OK, so writing is a solitary pursuit. This is why it is important to connect with others, particularly during NaNoWriMo. Fortunately, the Powers That Be who organise NaNo make it SUPER EASY for writers to connect with each other. Check out their website for details of writing groups that meet in your area. If, like me, you struggle to get to the meet-ups, then go for the next-best thing: Social Media. Usually, the thought of technology being used as a substitute for actual human contact is a frightful one, but during NaNoWriMo, the writing community is out in force online (as mentioned above). Twitter is particularly good for this. Look up #NaNoWriMo2018 and you’ll find hundreds of people sharing what they’re going through, and plenty more who are simply cheering you on from the sidelines (that’s where I’ll be this year). It really is extremely encouraging.

Those tips pretty much saw me through the whole of November last year. The only other thing to keep in mind is that there will be times when your body and your brain will tell you they have had enough, and you should stop. You will quickly learn the difference between everyday tiredness and full-on exhaustion. The former can be worked with. The latter cannot. When this happens, listen to what your body is telling you, and stop. There is no point in burning yourself out entirely. If you miss your target one day, remember you can catch up on another day.

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There is also no shame in getting to the end of the month without having written 50,000 words. The point is that you put your best effort in and for that you should be proud!

All that is left for me to say for now is:

GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE!

I, together with many others, am rooting for you! I look forward to hearing all about your adventure soon.

Journey

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Pre-Book Timeline

42 PreBook Timeline

dreamstime_l_260891731As you may have been able to work out by now, I am a Planner when it comes to novel writing. That’s not to say I always stick to said plans, but I certainly find it easier to work when I have a clear idea of what I’m doing.

This means having a plan in mind for the novel itself and what is going to happen within it (for more on that, check out my post on Outlining a Novel). But it also means knowing what happens before the book begins.

The novel I am currently working on is a multi-genre (psychological/fantasy/Western) story set across three worlds, all existing parallel to one another, and whose boundaries gradually start to blur. Just within the novel itself, there is a lot for me to keep straight in my head. But there is a lot that happens before page one in all three worlds that feeds into the main story as well.

dizzy-photo-1When I was in the planning stages (which was nowhere near as structured as it would be if I was starting out today), I made my plan for the novel itself and that was it. I then started writing and came away with all manner of headaches as I realised there wasn’t enough detail or depth to the story I was writing because I had not considered what was going on outside of the story. Specifically, before it all began.

I have talked previously about finding characters through their backstories, about working out where they were going by finding out where they had come from. The same was true, I found, for the whole thing on a much broader scale. It wasn’t simply a case of attributing backstory to the individual characters (although that was very important to do). I also needed to consider the wider context of the world(s) they lived in.

And on top of that, I needed to work out what had happened in each world relative to the other worlds as well.

Like I said. Headache!

What I eventually came up with was my Pre-Book Timeline. This is a six-page, colour-co-ordinated document that sets out all of the key events that led to the start of the book. I cannot tell you just how useful it has been to have everything down on paper, in black and white (well, technically in green, purple, pink, blue, red, and white).

file-20170530-23699-itx0unFor one thing, it has meant that I haven’t had to remember everything! I am very good at coming up with brilliant flashes of ideas at moments when there isn’t a pen in sight and then forgetting them when it comes to actually needing them.

Having the key pre-book events written down in one place gives me something that I can refer back to very quickly, with ease. It is a culmination of lots of thoughts and anecdotes that have occurred to me as I have been working on the book, and now I don’t have to worry if one or two things slip my mind at any given time.

In writing it, I also took time to figure out where the main characters fitted into the bigger picture. They were no longer three disparate individuals rattling about their respective worlds with little direction. They are still disparate individuals, but there is now a sense of place for them in the overall story and that has been a great help in further strengthening, developing, and structuring the book.

88461293-generate-ideas-business-vector-llustration-with-lightbulb-for-modern-designs-In essence, spending time straightening out the pre-book events gave me a great deal of insight into the story I was writing. Given that the story originated in my head, you’d think that I would have all the ‘insight’ I need. If only that were the case.

I am sure I have mentioned before that it would be so lovely if ideas could arrive fully formed and fully realised, and all we had to do was write them down on paper.

That just isn’t how writing works. Ideas are planted in our minds and, as such, have to be given time and space to grow. For me, working out the Pre-Book Timeline contributed a lot to the growth of this particular idea. It was an extremely useful exercise; one that I am sure I will use again for future projects.

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Prologue or Con[logue]

41 Prologue

I’ve become aware recently that there is an ongoing debate in the writing community as to the merits (or lack thereof) of using a prologue. Many writers seem to be of the opinion that if a scene warrants being included at the start of a book, then there is no reason for that scene to be anything other than Chapter One. I greatly respect this, but don’t wholly agree with it.

Now, I am very much willing to concede that prologues can be overused, to the point of absurdity at times. But I firmly hold to the opinion that a well placed and well written prologue can enhance a book overall.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my own list of pet peeves when it comes to prologues. I do.

Prologue Peeves

A Scene taken from later in the book and placed at the start.

200wSupposedly, this is meant to tease what is to come. Well, I’m sorry to break this to you, but that to me is not a prologue. It’s a spoiler, and frankly one that can be avoided. It is all very well wanting to whet your reader’s appetite, but by revealing a crucial  scene too soon, you run the risk of that scene losing its impact later on. It also stands to reason that the beginning of your book should be strong enough on its own to keep the reader reading. If you don’t have that sort of confidence in your opening chapter, the answer is to redraft that, not to borrow from later in the story.

Legend/Prophecy

So, some books (and this is mainly a Fantasy trope) centre around the main character being the fulfilment of a prophecy, or being the only person/entity that can put an end to some long-standing feud. And that’s great. What maybe isn’t so great is a whopping big info-dump at the start of the book in an attempt to clarify or even justify everything that is about to go down. Most of the time, this will come across as clunky and clumsy. There are many elegant and subtle ways that this information can (and should) be incorporated into the main body of the book.

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Incidentally, this is something I will be coming back to next week in discussion of Pre-Book Timelines.

Introduction to the Main Character

This is the type of prologue that really stands out as not needing to be there as it really should just be included as Chapter One. These are the prologues that I feel have the least impact as they tend to leave me wondering what the point was for their inclusion as prologue, given that they are in fact the rightful start of the story.

So what should go into a prologue?

pexels-photo-1472841To me, the point of a prologue should be to show that the story has wider scope than just what the main character sees or understands. It is an opportunity to tease (actually tease, not spoil a later scene) at other things that may have an impact on the story.

In this respect, the prologue becomes more like a cold-open to an episode of TV (the scene that plays before the opening titles that hints at what the episode will be about). Whatever happens, it should be something that is vital to the overall story (even if the relevance is not made clear until later in the book).

It should be something that would be missed if it wasn’t included. In all honesty, this is true of any aspect of the finished book. The difference, here, being it is arguably easier to axe a prologue than any other scene in a book, if it is deemed unnecessary to the plot.

Here are a few things that I enjoy both writing and reading in a prologue:

Meeting a Secondary Character

This may be someone whom the main character will meet a little further into the story, but whose actions prior to the main character’s involvement is worth mentioning at the start of the book. One such prologue that I have written involves meeting a woman who is then not seen for some time in the main book, but whose actions directly affect the main character; to the extent that he greatly misunderstands her to begin with when he finally meets her, but the reader is invited to question his assumptions of her as they have previously seen her in action.

Presenting the event that triggers the rest of the story

murder-chalk-outlineThink of your good old-fashioned murder mysteries. How many times does the murder take place as a prologue to the book starting? The murder is committed and the story then begins with the main character examining the crime scene and piecing together what happened. This sort of trope can be applied to more than just murder mysteries. If the main character does not have a hand in setting the chain of events in motion in the story, who’s to say that the trigger can’t be told as a prologue?

An important event from many years before

Similar to the point above, if the triggering event is something that happened years before the main story begins, then by all means tell it as a prologue. But be warned, this does skirt quite close to the realms of legend or prophecy. One way to prevent this from seeming trite is to tell it “as it happens” so to speak, rather than relying on the proverbial ‘Hollywood voiceover’ version that inevitably starts “Once upon a time… or “Many years ago…

Even Disney knew to break its own mould on that one – just watch the opening to Hercules.

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Whatever happens, and however you choose to use a prologue (or not), make absolutely sure that it is both necessary and relevant. When all is said and done, nothing turns a reader away faster than a scene that is irrelevant. If that scene happens to be the opener to the entire book, well that certainly isn’t going to do you any favours at all.

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Challenge Accepted!

40 Challenge Accepted

This week, I have started what I hope will be a nine-month journey from where I am now to completing my first novel. I have had this book knocking around in my head for many a year now and it is high time I finish getting it down on paper.

Over the past few months, while I have been posting here about various aspects of novel writing and planning (check out the section on Turning Ideas Into Words for more on this), I have been steadily working away and revising certain aspects of my novel that weren’t working for me. What I have now is a much clearer view of where it is going, and that means I know (more or less) what I need to do to get to the end.

How things stand at the moment

editing-redI currently have around 73,000 words of my novel complete. For most people, that would be cause for celebration (and for me, it was, for a while anyway). Of those 73,000 words, I already know that about 13,000 of them need re-writing entirely to bring things in line with my new plan and direction for the book.

When I started out (more years ago that I’d like to admit), I had in mind that the whole thing would be done in around 100,000 words. At the time, that seemed like a massive ask and I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to sustain something that long.

Now, I point and laugh at that initial projection, as it will more likely be double that by the end (and I’m an Underwriter, remember).

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Actual message received from Sarah Jayne Tanner

When I came to this realisation a few weeks ago, it was accompanied by a sinking sense of dread (and much laughter from my best friend – thanks Sarah!). I thought about how long it had taken me to get to this point. And how much longer it would take me to write double that amount.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that changes needed to be made to my writing habits if I was going to get this done.

 

Lessons from NaNoWriMo

It occurred to me that I work best when I have a clear plan in place – whether that is a specific scene mapped out, or extra notes on what a particular character is up to (remember Jaecks). The same is true when it comes to the mechanical side of writing (as opposed to the creative side).

The truth is that the most productive time I have ever had when it comes to writing my novel was last year during NaNoWriMo. And that’s because NaNo gave me two very specific elements that helped me to thrive:

  • A clear target
  • A line of accountability

NaNoWriMoTarget: During the month of November 2017, I completed the challenge of 50,000 words in thirty days (half of which contributed directly to my novel, the other half going towards a prequel project). The daily target of 1,667 words was a brilliant motivator for me. I found it tough for the first few days, but once I got into a routine, I found it became much easier to achieve.

Accountability: The fact that I had an online site to track my progress and thousands of writers worldwide embarking on the same challenge only added to my motivation. If you’re ever feeling downcast about your own writing, I highly recommend that you spend a little time on Twitter. It won’t take long for you to find like-minded people going through the exact same thing and offering encouragement.

This was never more true than during NaNoWriMo last November.

I’m sure you’ll be thinking by now that I’m gearing up for this year’s run in November.

The Downside to NaNoWriMo

Actually, I’m not. As wonderful as NaNoWriMo was last year, I don’t think it will work for me this year with what I want to do.

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The reason for this essentially boils down to other commitments I have in my life. I work full time Monday to Friday, have a flat to maintain on my own; I am also involved in the music at my church each Sunday, have friends that I would like to see from time to time; and I have a blog to keep up with.

Last year, my 1,667 words per day were completed entirely in evenings and weekends around work; I came off the music rota for the whole of November to free up more time on Sundays; I didn’t post anything at all that month.

Basically I became a hermit from 1st to 30th November.

This was all fine for a short time, but given that I have roughly 150,000 words to complete, I don’t see myself being able to sustain that for three months.

19-faces-everyone-who-is-eternally-exhausted-will-2-28443-1415910697-18_dblbigAt the end of the month, I was also exhausted. When 1st December rolled around, I got home from work that day (it was a Friday) and my brain went, “Oh, you’re not writing tonight? Great.” And I was fast asleep by 8:00pm!

Again, putting myself through three months of intensive writing while holding a full-time job and everything else just isn’t practical. I would like to hold on to at least a shred of sanity when this is all done.

So that’s where this challenge comes in.

My Challenge

date-clipart-circled-5As I mentioned, I have worked out that I have about 150,000 words to go to complete my novel. Realistically, I would like it to be done by June 2019. That means I need to be getting down about 600 words per day (which is nothing, right?)

Of course, with the commitments I have, there will be days that I will be able to write a lot more than 600 words, and others when I won’t be able to write any. So instead of setting a daily target, I have a weekly target of an accumulative 4,200 words.

This means that I should still have time to dedicate to this blog, together with everything else that goes on.

As for the accountability aspect, I have already asked my mum to check in with me regularly to ask how I’m getting on, and I am sure that my best friend will be doing the same as well. I will also be giving all of you updates on here as I go. Every few weeks or so, I will let you know how it’s going.

From my experience with NaNoWriMo, I know I will have good weeks and bad weeks, but as long as I don’t give up entirely, I’ll be doing myself and my novel justice.

Wish me luck!

It’s going to be a long walk to June!

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Guest Post – “Dialogue”

Guest Post by Sarah Jayne Tanner

39 Dialogue

When we talk about writing novels, we talk a lot about structure, plot, character and themes, but not so much about writing good dialogue. At university, I studied for a BA English Literature with Creative Writing, and then went on to do an MA in Creative Writing, and I don’t recall ever having a lecture or seminar which focused on dialogue. Which is interesting, because whilst a novel needs a good plot, strong characters and central themes, it is the dialogue which shows us how the characters interact with each other and helps drive the plot and story forward.

Webp.net-resizeimage-30-1000x600I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a novel which lacks dialogue altogether. I’ve read many novels and short stories in particular which are light on dialogue and some short stories which eschew dialogue entirely but I genuinely cannot think of a single novel which doesn’t have at least a few lines of dialogue.

If anyone can think of one, I’d be interested to know.

Why is dialogue so important?

Well, imagine trying to get to know someone without talking to them. Is it possible? No, not really. We need to talk to each other to get to know each other, and there is very little in our lives that we can accomplish without communication, whether by spoken word, written word or sign-language.

This is no less true of the characters we read or write. Good dialogue is essential, and it’s tricky to get right, to sound natural without sounding exactly how people actually speak, because how people actually speak is not good dialogue.

alphabet-antique-casual-1035591When writing dialogue, we don’t want it to sound like a piece of genuine, real-life conversation. Why not? Well, listen carefully the next time you have a conversation with someone. How many times do they start and re-start a sentence? How often do they stop and stumble over what they’re saying? How many times do they say “um” and “ah” and “er”? What verbal ticks do they have, such as the tendency to say “like” and “basically” and “you know” every few words? How many sentences just run on and on? How many sentences are just fragments, not complete sentences at all?

Much of our own real-life dialogue is spontaneous, almost a stream of consciousness which we can’t rehearse or edit in the same way that we can the written word. Our natural dialogue is often fractured because it is, essentially, improvised, spoken as an answer or a reaction to what someone has just said to us or an incident that has just occurred.

When giving a speech, dialogue becomes rather more different, because it is prepared and rehearsed. With a good orator – for example, someone giving a speech or a comedian telling a story – it’s difficult to tell that they are reading from a script or from notes, or even memory – even though we know that they are – as the sound of their speech has a natural ebb and flow to it. Actors don’t make up dialogue as they go along, as a rule, and the dialogue in their film/show/play is carefully written and edited to sound like natural conversation, even though it isn’t.

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Dialogue for a novel is the same. It needs to sound natural, even though it is anything but. We don’t include the verbal ticks and pauses, the “ums” and “ers” and “ahs” when we write dialogue (unless they serve a specific purpose) because reading real-life dialogue between real-life human beings is actually quite boring. If you don’t believe me, then trying transcribing a conversation between yourself and another one or two people. If written dialogue mimicked real dialogue, it would be tedious.

downloadInterestingly, this is an issue which I have noticed recently due to my re-discovery of podcasts. A number of extremely promising podcasts have (in my opinion) fallen down as a consequence of poor, stilted, overlong or rambling dialogue, and it’s a pet-hate of mine. Nothing switches me off from a podcast or audio book faster than bad dialogue, even if the story and acting are good.

Written dialogue needs to flow smoothly, except where it doesn’t for narrative impact. As for when this is necessary, it’s something that can really only be done by instinct (more on this later).

One difficulty with writing dialogue is, rather than sounding a little too much like real-world dialogue, it ends up sounding stilted. I remember reading a book some years ago where I found the dialogue painfully stilted and wooden (I’ve forgotten the title, although I remember very clearly how poor the dialogue was). A conversation between two characters went something like this:

“If I find out that you have lied to me you will be sorry,” he said.

“I have not lied to you,” she said.

“You had better not be lying to me,” he said.

“I am not lying to you,” she said.

“Of course you are not,” he said.

All of the dialogue was written like this. Read it out loud. Does it flow? Does it sound natural? Not to my ear it doesn’t. Now read this:

“If I find out you’ve lied to me –” he began.

“Let me guess – I’ll be sorry?”

“You’d just better not be lying.”

“I’m not.”

“Course not.”

Does that sound better? The use of contractions softens the dialogue and gives it a more natural flow. There’s also no need to indicate who is speaking every time, and not doing so speeds up the flow of dialogue and doesn’t interrupt the rhythm. Punctuation is also important and can be used to illustrate how a character is speaking and provide some indication as to their state of mind.

So, how do we write good dialogue that flows well? I have a couple of tips which work well for me, although they might not work well for everyone.

First of all, write what you want the characters to say. So far, so obvious.

CS Lewis once offered a young writer the following piece of advice:

“Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again.”

C.s.lewis3This is excellent advice. Read your dialogue aloud, exactly as it appears on the page. It doesn’t have to be as if you’re giving a speech, just under your breath will be fine. If it sounds good, if it flows well, if you don’t stumble over it as you read it aloud, then you’re doing well. Give it tone and inflection, as if you’re voice-acting, and it’ll be easier to tell if it’s clunky or stilted.

When it comes to editing, cut out any dialogue that doesn’t serve a purpose. I often find that I end up with “filler” dialogue, which comes about in different ways. Sometimes I’m not sure where a conversation is going, so I just keep the characters talking until I figure it out, sometimes I want the characters to get to a specific point but am not sure how to get the conversation there, sometimes I address plot points in the dialogue which I later decide to cut out, and sometimes I just overwrite and repeat myself and my characters end up rambling.

Blog_Keep_Talking_Im_Not_Listening_3Superfluous dialogue serves no purpose. If it doesn’t drive the plot forward, if it doesn’t further character development, if it isn’t funny, if it repeats something we already know, then it serves no purpose and needs to be cut. It doesn’t matter if you like it: if it doesn’t serve a purpose, it has no place in the finished product.

As mentioned above, sometimes it is necessary write dialogue which doesn’t flow for a specific purpose, usually to underline a character’s emotional state. A character may be confused or distressed or inarticulate with anger, and this can be reflected in the structure of their dialogue, and in selective use of punctuation. Take, for example, this line of dialogue my novel Defiance:

“I don’t need — I don’t want — I can look after myself, I’ve always looked after myself,” I say angrily. “I can just go. I can leave. I don’t need — ”

The main character, Noah, is distressed and confused, shown in his fractured dialogue. Personally, I like to use an em-dash (which serves a different purpose to an en-dash or a hyphen, although they look similar) within dialogue or internal monologue to show the fracturing of dialogue due to emotional distress. I also use it to shown when a character has been interrupted, such as here:

I look at Cris. “He’s joking. Please tell me he’s joking —”

“Oh, I ain’t joking,” Flint says. “You’re mine now.”

“I ain’t yours,” I tell him. “You don’t own me —”

A needle bites into the back of my arm.

In this scene, Noah is interrupted, first verbally by Flint, and secondly by another character, unnoticed by him until this point, who sticks a needle in his arm. Both times, Noah’s dialogue is cut off abruptly, as evidenced by the specific use of an em-dash.

I also like to use ellipses (…) to show when a character is trailing off and not finishing a thought due to uncertainty or are hesitating in what they want to say, such as here:

“I just… Noah, that assignment was hard for me too,” she says. “I… I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry for what happened, for how things turned out.” She swallows. “I’m sorry for what I did to you.”

Here, one of the characters is attempting to apologise to Noah for a wrong done to him by her and is struggling to articulate herself. Her emotional state of guilt and misery, as opposed to anger, is shown with her trailing off, showing that she is hesitant and unsure of what to say to him.

I also happen to loath the use of capitals to indicate anger. I’m not sure why; I simply prefer to use italics and exclamation marks to indicate if a character is shouting or to place emphasis on certain words.

original_vintage_letterpress_printers_blocks_smallI’m not suggesting that anyone follows my personal rules for writing dialogue and use of punctuation to enhance the dialogue. Every writer needs to (and will) develop their own personal style and their own personal quirks. I know some who prefer hyphens or ellipses over em-dashes, others who prefer to use capitals over italics to show anger. What is important is honing a skill for good dialogue.

Good dialogue means good communication between characters, and good communication between characters is essential for the reader to connect with those characters and with the story as a whole.

Bad dialogue doesn’t necessarily mean a bad story, or a bad writer, but it is an essential skill for a good writer.


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For more of Sarah Jayne Tanner’s work, check out her blog: Confessions of a Bookworm

About Defiance

IN A WORLD OF INJUSTICE, DEFIANCE IS THE ONLY OPTION.

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Down in the city’s underbelly, Noah, a smart-mouthed combat fighter, has been sold against his will to Dream Scenarios, an exclusive organisation specialising in body-switching technology. Stripped of his freedom and forced to cater to the whims of the elite, Noah cannot resign himself to life as a puppet of Dream Scenarios and its wealthy clientele.

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#CharacterCharades

38 CharacterCharades

I am celebrating this week!

I have been struggling with one of the characters in my current Work In Progress, but I have finally had a break-through in his development and it has had a massive impact on the direction of my book (not to mention my mood).

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This guy (and I will get on to who it is soon) has been by far the trickiest character I have ever come up with; not because he has some sort of great and powerful lineage, but because he is just a normal bloke in the real world.

I’m a Fantasy/Sci-Fi writer for a reason!

9879559There have been times while working with this character where it has felt like I was playing charades with someone who had one hand tied behind his back. I was there making all sorts of guesses about what he was trying to put across, but nothing seemed to hit the mark. It was very frustrating.

And I figured, hey, why not make a game out of the whole thing?

So who’s up for a round of Character Charades?

The rules are below (together with my offering). I’d love to hear your take on this with your own character, so please leave your own answers in the comments below, or, better yet, share a #CharacterCharades post on you own blog/vlog/channel, whatever outlet you are using!

#CharacterCharades – The Rules

1: Name the character you have found most challenging to write. This could be someone in your current Work In Progress, or someone in a completed/published piece. If they gave you a headache at any point, I want to hear about it! Extra points if that headache was accompanied by a nosebleed.

2: Give a quick reason why this character was so challenging.

3: Using the above-named character, answer the following Charades inspired questions:

Book/Film/TV Show/Play – Give the title and a BRIEF description of the work they featured in. If it is a published piece, please don’t forget to include links to where it can be found. I’m sure we’d all like to know more. If it is a Work In Progress, link to any sites/pages where you have talked about it to any sort of length.

“The” – What is this character’s role in the story (the protagonist, the villain, the love interest, etc)? If they have a job, what is it?

Short Words – Use five words of no more than five letters each to describe this character.

Sounds Like/Doesn’t Sound Like – Can a comparison be made between your character and anyone else in popular culture? This could be another fictional character or someone who may have inspired this character’s creation. OR, is there someone that this character is the antithesis of?

One Syllable – Share one interesting fact about them.

Song – Share your favourite line of dialogue from your character.

4: Once you’re done, pick a couple of people to tag for them to participate as well. I won’t specify the number you should tag. I’ll leave that to you to decide.

And that’s it! Simple! Please feel free to be creative with this and, above all, have fun!

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So here are my own answers to get things rolling:

1: My character is Simon Locke.

2: He was particularly challenging because he is a ‘real-world’ character and I don’t tend to write those. I also found it difficult to fit him in with the rest of the story. He seemed to be on the side-lines for quite a long time (but not anymore!)

3: The questions:

Book/Film/TV Show/Play – Simon is part of my current Work in Progress, The Greenstone In The Fire; what will (eventually!) be my debut novel. I have talked about it to some extent here. To give you an overview of the book, The Greenstone In The Fire follows three completely separate characters, each living in their own world, but whose paths start to cross in unexpected ways when their lives gradually become intertwined and the boundaries between their worlds blur.

“The” – Simon Locke is The Protagonist of this story (or one of them, at least). He is a writer (I know, rule one, don’t write about writers – oops!) who quite literally loses the plot and gets lost in it at the same time.

Short Words – love, grief, twin, maybe crazy.

Sounds Like/Doesn’t Sound Like – I’m going to go with “Doesn’t Sound Like” for this one. Simon draws a lot of inspiration from Clint Eastwood in the book, but he is most definitely nothing like Eastwood himself!

One Syllable – Simon’s obsession with Westerns started at about the same time as his feelings for Naomi (i.e. as they met). It has been the main focus of his work ever since.

Song – OK, this was hard since I am going to be re-writing a lot of Simon’s part of the book but then I found… “You’re only crazy if the voices talk back, right?”

4: So, rather than tagging anyone specific, I would like to nominate anyone reading to have a go at this! As I said before, add a comment below, or post it in your own blog/vlog etc. Just don’t forget the hashtag #CharacterCharades, and if you feel like it, link back to here!

Have fun everyone!

I look forward to hearing about your troublesome characters!

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The Name Game: Characters

37 Names 2

Last week I was looking at the process of naming places in your fictional world. If you missed that post, you can find it here.

This week, I’ll be looking at naming characters. I have mentioned before that I really enjoy the process of naming things for whichever project I am working on. Giving someone (or something) a name is an important step in working out who/what they are. The same holds true for finding the title of the project itself.

While I was planning out what I would be looking at this week, I was all ready to wax lyrical about the importance of the meanings behind names and how this is the primary factor in my own choice of names for my characters.

That is, until I looked back through the characters I have named over the past few years, and realised that their names weren’t chosen for the meanings alone. There was actually a host of other factors that went into them (you’ll see what I mean soon).

But first of all…

The important of name meanings

1_fhLMwRrG7yzfGNjdTd5ZoQSome writers truly take this to heart and every character in their work has a name with a significant meaning that reveals something about them or the role they are to play in the story. Just take a quick flick through the Harry Potter series, or The Hunger Games, and look into what the names mean. Some of them are truly eye-opening.

At the end of the day, a name is a word, and all words have meanings. When I am trying to decide on a character’s name, the first thing I do is look at the meaning (even if I then end up going with something completely different).

When my parents named me and my sister, they chose names that had pleasant meanings (literally in my sister’s case, as Naomi means ‘my pleasantness’).

In the real world, meanings are important when it comes to names. They can be an indication of the parents’ hopes for the child’s life. In fiction, they can be a foreshadowing of that character’s possible fate, or even hold a note of irony, if that character deliberately does not live up to the name he/she has been given.

20180911_203559_resizedAs a jumping-off point I have a book of baby names on my shelf that is my first point of reference (yes, before Google) when a new character of mine needs a name.

But, as I mentioned above, the majority of my characters haven’t been named for the name’s meaning. As I took a trip down memory lane with these names, I was reminded of the many other factors that took precedent.

Here’s a few examples of what I mean

Medwyn, Iestyn, Haydn and Dylan (The Greenstone In The Fire)

No, these names did not stem from an obsession with ending in the letter ‘N.’ Last week, I talked about the Celtic/Welsh connections surrounding Aurelia’s world in my current Work In Progress. The connection extends to a fair few of the other characters in that particular world. All four of these characters are from Dunffin, with Medwyn and Iestyn (pronounced YES-tin) being knights who lived long before the book begins, and Haydn and Dylan having a significant role to play in getting Aurelia to where she is at the start of the book.

All of these are names I encountered while living in Wales, and they seemed appropriate for the Celtic-inspired people of Dunffin.

Runcorn (The Greenstone In The Fire)

Runcorn is not of the same world as Aurelia. He inhabits a world very similar to the Old West, and was one of the hardest characters I have ever named. Being, essentially, a gunslinger, I couldn’t give him a ‘normal’ name, like John or Alan, but finding a name that stuck took a while.

5WVGYZ4DhZz6SgRqTiIxRQcm94hN0Kd59SWPOkOPibUIn the end, he was named after a town in Cheshire, that I just happened to travel through on a VERY long train journey (Carmarthen to Aberdeen – look it up; it’s a killer). I was thinking over what to name him as we pulled into the station at Runcorn… and the rest is history.

This particular source of inspiration also led to Runcorn’s horse being named Alston (after a village in Cumbria that I have travelled through on many occasions).

Nathaniel Griffin and Miranda Phoenix (The Coalition series)

I mentioned last week my Sci-Fi series based around five planets (each with a woman’s name). Well, these are two of the main characters in that series. They are very different from one another, but end up finding common ground. I wanted there to be a connection between then in their names and, for some reason that I can no longer remember (but it was really important at the time), giving them both mythical creatures as surnames seemed the best way to achieve this.

Jack Cavendish (Eye Witness)

Jack has the honour of being in possession of my favourite character name to date, and it came about thanks to three different factors.

Firstly, I wanted to name a character Jack. It is, after all, the coolest of all hero names out there (Jack O’Neill, Jack Bauer, Jack Dawson…).

Secondly, I had read somewhere (or overheard, I don’t remember all of the details for this) that a lot of heroic characters have the initials JC (John Connor, John Carter, James Cole, John Coffey…). A lot of the time, this is done to draw connections between the character and Jesus Christ. In terms of my Jack, this is not strictly speaking the case. He is actually more of a Noir-esque flawed/anti-hero.

2WESaz00cc The third factor came from The West Wing, which has a character called Oliver Babish (played by Oliver Platt). I was struck by how lovely it sounded to have a name ending in ‘ish’ and so looked for an opportunity to use it.

Thus, with these three converging factors, Jack Cavendish was born.

So there you are. My tips for naming characters (such as they are): start by looking at a name’s meaning and then jump off at a complete tangent until you land on something you like.

One Last Thought

Of course, the one thing to remember in the Name Game, whenever you decide to play, is that you always have the option to go back and change your mind. I mentioned last week that I have recently gone back and changed one of the place names in my Work In Progress. The same is true of several of my characters as well. My main antagonist in The Greenstone In The Fire has gone through several incarnations for his name. To begin with, I referred to him simply as The Wizard, then he was Olav for a while, before I finally settled on Thane. I can finally say I am happy with his name, but there are other characters in there who may go through a similar transformation before I’m finished.

This is because a character’s name may fit quite well when you first start working on something, but as the story evolves (and the characters with it), sooner or later those names may not work in the way you imagined.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind part way through if you need to. It is, after all, your story.

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The Name Game: Places

36 Names 1

It seems quite appropriate to be looking at naming fictional places this week, as I have just spent some time over the last few days re-naming one of the places in my current Work In Progress (more on that later).

First of all, apologies for the August hiatus. I would like to say this was because I was off living the high life on some sun-soaked Caribbean island with nothing but sea turtles and rum for company. This would be a lie. In actuality, the day job got busy and so my residual brain power (that usually gets channelled into writing) was somewhat sapped for a while.

But enough of my excuses and back to the fun stuff!

I’m sure you’ve all been given tons of advice on how to go about naming the characters and places for your fictional worlds. In fact, I’m sure that if you did a little research on the matter (and by ‘research’ I mean ten to fifteen minutes skimming through a Google search), you’ll find the same three pieces of advice come up time and time again.

There are, of course, more than just three pieces of advice out there on the subject, but these are the three that recur most often. Call them the golden rules if you like:

  1. A character’s name should reflect his/her setting and background
  2. Be consistent – if you have lots of characters with a common background or culture, make sure their names are equally exotic (or bland, depending on where you land on that sort of thing)
  3. Avoid giving characters similar sounding/looking names

71rns9I6NHLIf you want some more information about when to use and when to break these rules, I highly recommend you take a look at the video link below, where George R R Martin discusses the character names within the Song of Ice and Fire series.

Rather than go over ground that has already been covered so well by other writers and bloggers, I wanted to share with you some of the names I have given to my own characters and places over the years, and share some of the thought processes that went into them. I’ll leave character names to next week and will be focusing on place names for now, as these (in my experience) can be harder to pin down.

Going back to our three golden rules, setting, background and culture are all extremely important when it comes to naming places. While looking at the various aspects of World Building, I touched upon the importance of understanding the physical layout of your world and the people who inhabit it. Both of these will have an impact on the names given to places.

1534803687By way of a real-world example, my sister and I went to Whitby in North Yorkshire at the beginning of August. While driving around, we spotted signs to a village called Ugthorpe. For those of you not familiar with North Yorkshire, please be assured that the name Ugthorpe could not have originated anywhere else on the planet other than North Yorkshire. The name itself demands a Yorkshire accent for its uttering!

What I have found useful when naming fictional places is to have a theme that all of the names can link into. This won’t necessarily be something that is directly linked to the themes of the book itself, but it does help with the consistency aspect. After all, the chances are that town names within a particular country or region will all sound as if they have originated in that particular area.

Here are some that have worked for me:

Musical Terms

In my current Work In Progress, The Greenstone In The Fire, I have not one but two fictional worlds to populate and name! When it came to naming places in Runcorn’s world, I ended up drawing on musical terms, thanks to the name I assigned to the area in which Runcorn lives.

black-and-white-blur-book-164821Runcorn’s world is based on the Old West and the terrain is similar to the Utah/Arizona desert (specially Monument Valley). The first name I came up with for this fictional world was the Requiem Valley. Given the bleak landscape and what Runcorn has gone through before the start of the book, it seemed quite apt. And for no other reason than they sounded quite good, I stuck with the musical theme for naming other places within that world.

This led to naming: the cities of Anthem, Counterpoint, and Ballad; the towns of Diminish Nine, and Caprice Minor; and other features like Lake Allegro, and a ship called the Lyrical.

Human Names for Places 

This particular example stems directly back to Joss Whedon and Serenity (the 2007 film that wrapped up the Firefly series). In Serenity, Whedon ingeniously named a planet Miranda. And it seemed to be a perfect fit, to the point at which I couldn’t shake the concept of naming planets after people when it came to naming the planets (and moons) in what will eventually become a five-book series set around five planets in coalition with one another.

Space-Planets-Sci-Fi-WallpaperAs much as I wanted to use the name Miranda as one of the planets, I couldn’t. It felt too much like stealing. In the end, Miranda became one of the story’s main characters instead. The planets themselves were eventually named Aristella, Cadence, Dana, Sabine, and Abi. Dana (the third planet) also has four moons, which became Cressida, Morgana, Talia, and Dimelza.

These nine names aren’t necessarily common names for girls these days, but I felt they had enough gravitas for them to work as celestial entities.

Celtic(ish) 

relief-carved-celtic-knot-tile-shannon-greshamThis last theme is a little harder to pin down, as I did not consciously set out to follow it (as I did with the two examples above). Going back to The Greenstone In The Fire, the second fictional world that I have to contend with is Aurelia’s world. This world has gone through a few different processes in relation to settling on the place names.

My jumping off point here was the castle where Aurelia spends the majority of her story. This castle is called Idris, which is a Welsh name meaning ‘Fiery Lord’. There are two other place names in the area surrounding Idris that have a Welsh/Celtic connection to them.

The first is the Forest of Nantglas, which loosely translates as Blue Spring. This is the forest that used to grow around Idris itself, but has since been laid to waste and is now an arid desert.

The second is the most recent addition to the world. I mentioned at the start of this post that I have spent some time over the last few days re-naming one of the places in the book. This came about for two reasons:

  1. I wasn’t happy with the name I had originally come up with
  2. I discovered that there already existed a place in Wales with the name I had first chosen

Drawing on the Welsh and Celtic connections that I had already used for other names and places in Aurelia’s world, I eventually came up with the name Dunffin. This is essentially a hybrid name, combining the Welsh word ffin (border) and the Scottish Gaelic word dùn (fort).

Dunffin borders Idris’ desert and is the place that Aurelia escapes from at the start of the book. It is a much stronger name than the one it replaced (which was Neyland) and helps to continue to Celtic theme that is borne out in the names of other characters from that area (more on that next week).

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Now, you may be reading the above thinking there seems to be rather a lot of method to my madness when it comes to naming places. Please be assured that these are just a few times in which I have consciously followed a theme when choosing place names. At the end of the day, there is a lot that can be gained from playing around with syllables and sounds until you land on something that you feel fits your story.

Having said that, when it comes to naming characters, I do find that the meaning behind the names can have a considerable bearing on the characters in question. Come back next week to explore that further with me.


 

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Outlining A Novel

35 Outlining a Novel

I say half a lesson because the analogy is not a perfect one (as you will see), but it is an image I quite frequently relate to when it comes to my writing.

Quirrell came back out from behind the Mirror and stared hungrily into it.

“I see the stone… I’m presenting it to my master… but where is it?”

 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling

I’m sure not many of us will have found ourselves identifying with Professor Quirrell, but the more I work on my first novel, the more poignant the above quote becomes. I can understand his frustration at this point, at seeming so close to his ultimate goal, and yet still so far.

17b900257df0b77d5d0fbb1499983daa.pngIn terms of my writing, I can quite easily picture myself with a completed novel, sitting back and enjoying the relief of it. But how do I get to that point? What are the steps that I have to take to reach my desired destination?

Now, this is where the Quirrell analogy falls down a little, because the answer for Quirrell (and ultimately Harry) was to want something for the right reason. Harry also had Dumbledore’s magic there to drop the Stone into his pocket at the opportune moment.

What does ring true, though, is that just wanting something isn’t enough. When it comes to writing, hard work is absolutely essential. After all, novels don’t write themselves, and they certainly don’t drop fully written into your pocket (if only).

For many writers, that hard work begins with a plan. I know there are some out there, my best friend included, who can get to writing without rigorously plotting out as much of the novel as possible beforehand. We will (begrudgingly) call these writers “The Blessed.”

I am not one of the Blessed.

I would be completely lost without the outline that I have prepared for my novel. It is not something I have always used (which may partly explain why it has taken me so long to get to where I am now), but when I did finally organise my thoughts into a plan, I found my writing speed picked up considerably, as did my enthusiasm for the project because I had a clearer vision of what I was doing.

Mini-Disclaimer: What will follow in this post is a breakdown of the outlining stages that work for me. This will not work for everyone, but I hope that you will be able to use aspects of my process to help inform your own.

Step 1: Inspiration

ignitesessionI would assume this will be the same for everyone. The first step to writing any novel is the idea. One tiny spark of inspiration that quickly catches fire and blazes through your imagination.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get you to pinpoint where your inspiration comes from. Nine times out of ten, that is impossible to do, but whatever inspiration has got hold of you, run with it!

For me, this usually means getting hold of a pen and notebook (this means purchasing a brand new notebook for a brand new project) and writing down everything that comes to mind. A lot of this may look like gibberish, but hopefully somewhere in those notes will be the back bone of a plot, and maybe a character or two who will carry it through.

Step 2: The Name Game

hello-my-name-is_0I am aware that I may stand alone in naming things so early on, but honestly I love this part! Whether it’s coming up with names for characters, fictional places or the novel as a whole, I am quite happy to sit for a few hours coming up with lists of potential names.

Generally speaking, when it comes to naming characters and places, I will have some sort of ‘theme’ in mind (more on this in future posts).

Most importantly for me in these early stages, I will come up with a name for the whole project. At this point, this will only be a working title, and there have been more than a few occasions where the title has changed the further into the project I have progressed.

But names and titles can be quite telling. For me, they help to focus my mind on what will (or could be) the overriding themes of the novel.

Step 3: Visualisation

Some writers swear by Pinterest boards, or something similar. They will collect images that they associate with their work in progress, either as a whole or in connection with certain characters or aspects.

I don’t do this. My visualisation stage comes in the form of a mock book cover. Like the title of a project, a cover image gives me something to work towards. I am self-taught in the ways of Photoshop (the basics anyway), so I will spend some time pulling a few images together into one single image that I can then keep in mind as a sort of banner to mark the finish line I am working towards.

Step 4: Characterisation and World Building

Flags-Of-The-World-HD-Wallpaper-1024x508As I have already covered a lot of ground on these aspects in recent posts (see the links below), I won’t go into too much detail here. This is the point at which I will define the boundaries and rules of the world I am creating and will also get to know the main characters I will be putting in charge of the story.

When I do finally get to writing, I may very well add more details to the characters as I discover them, and also develop other characters as they are encountered and needed.

Step 5: The Outline

By this point, I should have a fairly good idea of where the story is going and what the key events will be. This is where I will try to get as much of the plot bashed out as I can.

During the previous stages, it is highly likely that a handful of scenes will have been very clear in my mind. If that is the case, then these will have been drafted straightaway (or at the very least noted down in as much detail as possible). When outlining the rest of the novel, I will ensure I am clear about the events leading up to these scenes, and what the consequences will be.

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What I aim to end up with is a scene-by-scene break down of the whole book. I will try to put as much detail into it as I can so that I have as much resource as possible to refer back to. In the case of my current work in progress, this breakdown is also colour co-ordinated to highlight the storyline of my three main characters as they navigate their own plots before eventually merging into one story.

This particular plan is about twenty pages long, and is all hand-written.

Step 6: Get Writing!

“At last!” you may be thinking.

All of the above is designed to map out what I want to do and how I am going to do it. You would think this would make the actual writing a breeze.

(*Quietly sobs in the corner*) I wish! Even with all the prep and all the notes, there are still days when putting pen to paper (and I do tend to write initially by hand, even during NaNoWriMo) is about as productive as a watermill in a drought.

But that’s a topic for another day. I do have to keep reminding myself that I would be in a much worse position if I hadn’t prepared the way at all. And I know this to be true as I have tried to plough on without an outline before and, for me, it just doesn’t work.

So that’s it, right? Novel all planned out and writing under way. Nothing more to worry about.

I’m afraid not…

the-fact-is-i-dont-know-where-my-ideas-come-from-nor-does-any-writer-the-only-real-answer-is-to-quote-1.jpg

Step 7: Re-Planning

This is a step that I have added more recently to my writing process when I realised that the more I wrote, the further I was drifting from my plan. This is inevitable, I think. Characters tend to develop organically on the page and if you end up writing something that surprises you, and takes your story in a different direction, then so be it! If you are surprised by your writing, your readers will be too.

696295656-612x612After working for a while, jotting extra ideas and changes into the margins of my plan, I realised it was becoming illegible. So, the proverbial pause button was pressed, and back to the drawing board I went.

The plan I have come up with now still includes details of what I have already written (with several highlighted sections that I will eventually go back to and tweak or re-write entirely), but it only goes up to the next big event of the book, rather than running to the end.

Once I have written up to that event, the way forward will be clearer for the last section of the book and I will be able to block that out before continuing.

This is a process I think I will adopt for future projects: planning in chunks to compensate for my tendency to go off script.

597805a79c234f3be72ef16594b350fc--dipper-pines-cork-boardsSo, there we are. From sharing Professor Quirrell’s frustration at the Mirror of Erised to my own desired destination in seven not-so-easy steps.

I’ll be honest with you, it may look easy when it’s all set out in black and white like this, but I am sure every writer will agree (no matter what their process is) it is not as easy as it looks.

But it is definitely worth the effort.


For more about Characterisation and World Building:

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