Category Archives: Story Structure

6 Ways to get your story written

You may know I run two writers’ clubs at the local library. One weekly one for adults and one monthly one for children. I had a great session with the kids again yesterday. They’re all girls, and some are born writers. I can’t believe how they absorb what I teach them like a sponge, and how prolific and creative their minds are.

The adults seem to have more problems putting pen to paper. Yes, they have more chores and responsibilities that take up their time. I don’t deny that. One lady, though, has a particular problem with writing stuff down (you know I’m talking about you, lovely lady X 🙂 ). I’ve tried all sorts to get her to write a full story, including the ending. This post is to share with you all the creative ways I’ve come up with to get a story written.

1. Set aside a specific writing time

cuvier-eAs adults have less spare time than kids, it helps to set a specific time aside for your writing. The adult writers’ club runs every Wednesday afternoon, so I set every Wednesday morning aside for my short story writing.

I’m lucky not to have to go to work every day, but if you do, you may have to get more creative. Get up an hour earlier or work later into the night when you’re family is still/already asleep. Perhaps you can get your story down during your lunch break or while you’re commuting by bus/train/walking?

2. Just ‘write’

Writing on Mountain Top_W700This is my way. Each week we pick a few keywords and write a story about them. As soon as I know the words, I usually already know the major direction my story will be going in. I don’t always know the ending. In fact, most of the time I don’t. I like to surprise myself.

It doesn’t matter how you write. It can be with pen on paper, or typed on your computer, laptop, or phone. Any which way will do. You could write it in the sand with the tide coming in. You could even record your voice. The thing is to not let the inspiration slip away from you.

It also doesn’t matter where you write. I sit at my desk, but I have a friend who stands at his desk. Desks are not a requisite, though. You could be sitting in public transport, or like I mentioned earlier, walking to work or walking your dog (obviously, you’d be recording your voice as writing while walking is rather difficult and, quite frankly, dangerous). Some people go on holiday to write and get inspiration. You could write your story on a mountain top!

Two years of writing short stories has given me the experience to write a full story within one thousand words, but this may not be the case when you’ve just started writing. The 5-Finger Pitch may possibly help you.

3. 5-Finger Pitch

Microsoft Word - 5-Finger-Pitch.docxIt can help to know more specific what you’re going to write, when you know the major characteristics of your story. We used the 5-finger method to do this, and these are the five points you need to know before you start writing:

  • genre
  • protagonist
  • goal
  • obstacle
  • twist

I learned this system during an online creative writing course and have adjusted it a little. I changed the last ‘finger’ into the twist part. I love twists. Nearly all my stories have a twist at the end.

4. Plotting

Plotting is fun for some
Plotting is fun for some

For some, knowing these five points is still not enough to get to the ending of your story. In this case, you may want to plot your whole story before actually writing it. There are a lot of authors out there that plot every little detail of their novel before writing one sentence. I did this for my third novel and didn’t like it. Like I said before, I like my characters to surprise me and take me into directions I haven’t thought of before.

Apart from the 5-Finger Pitch, you may also need to know the following points to get your story written:

  • Setting and introduction
  • Change of status quo (at about 25%, i.e. 250 words)
  • Reaction
  • Midpoint/Resistance (at about 50%, i.e. 500 words)
  • Action
  • Lowest point of MC (at about 75%, i.e. 750 words)
  • Climax building
  • Ending/Resolution

Knowing roughly where the major turning points in your story are help you stick to the one thousand words.

5. Snowflake method

The Snowflake Method of writing
The Snowflake Method of writing

The above method does require you to know the ending. If you can’t make up your mind on how to end your story, or keep changing it, maybe the snowflake method works better. With this method, you start with writing the whole story in one sentence. Then, you divide this one sentence into three, giving you the beginning, the middle, and the end of your story. Next, you divide these three sentences each into three, more detailed ones. And so one until you have a story of about one thousand words.

Yes, this forces you to know the ending beforehand as well, but also forces you to stick with it. Well, technically, you can change the ending as soon as you’ve split it up from the rest of the story, but you’re not supposed to!

6. Start at the end

When all of the above didn’t work for my writing buddy, I racked my brain on how to get her to write a full story. As endings are her problem, maybe starting with the ending was the way to go. So, for next week, we’re writing a story starting with the end.  It doesn’t matter how detailed or how far ‘back’ you go as it’ll always have an ending (which actually is the whole point of this post).

Next week’s story is going to be a murder mystery, so it’s going to be interesting!

Write Backward
Write backward

Now, I know these methods don’t address the character arcs or tension building, etc. But that were not the issue here. These are six ways for those who have a problem writing things down and getting a full story happening. You can work on the other stuff once you have words down on paper. Like they say; you can’t edit a blank page !

If you know of any other methods of getting your story written, please do let me know. I’d love to hear them, just in case No.6 also doesn’t work…

How to begin writing a novel

Yesterday, I had a meeting with the local Writers Club again. One of our new members wants to start a book but doesn’t know where to begin. When I  myself decided to write, I just started. The first scene I wrote happened in the middle of the story (which I only discovered later), but this doesn’t work for everyone (and I wouldn’t suggest it either). Fortunately, I recently read about the snowflake method and could recommend it.

The Snowflake Method of Writing

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With this method, you start with one sentence which depicts the core of your story. In the next step, you expand that one sentence into a paragraph, outlining what happens in your story. Setup, major disasters, resolution. Next, you do this for each of your characters. If you don’t have a development for your characters during your story, your readers will find your characters flat and can’t connect with them which you don’t want. It also will give you more to write about as the direction of development for each character won’t always go along the same line, pace, direction. The fourth step is to expand each sentence into a whole paragraph. Next, you will be expanding what you’ve got even further. Once you’ve got the basic storyline, make a chart of the scenes. Each scene will have to depict a development. If there is no development in a scene (good turns bad, ideas change, emotions change), delete it as it is just page filler. You now put in more and more details, until you have a full story. An article in which it is explained in more detail can be found here.

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This is how I sort of began my third book, Killing A Vampire. I know the characters in it, I know what is going to happen, and how it’s going to end (I must admit this took me a while to figure out), but I didn’t know what was going to happen in between the major plot twists. I used Scrivener’s corkboard and note cards to layout the chapters/scenes.

I actually used the word count as a basis. Both my other books are about 72K words, so I wanted my third book to be at least this size. They both have about 60 chapters, so I created 60 note cards. It also meant that each chapter/note card needed to be about 1200 words. Then I started filling in on each card what would happen in that chapter. Sometimes I write more words, sometimes I write less. The good thing about Scrivener is that you can move the cards around as you please. Overal I want to stick to the 1200 words, so readers can read the short chapters while they have a little time to read and not have to cut off their reading while something major is happening.

It’s perhaps not as creative as some ‘on the fly’ writers write, but I’ve been thinking for a long time about this story and, even though I know in advance where the story is going, the how is still created only once I sit down and write. I just don’t have to think about the why and where anymore, which I feel is like a weight off my shoulders.

If you have a different way of starting a novel, let me know. I’m all ears 🙂

PS: Talking about ears, my hearing aids are working fine again after the swimming pool disaster last Monday!

 

Movie Reviews: Warrior vs. Creed

Score: Warrior 10/10 vs. Creed 5/10

– Warning: Spoiler Alert! –

Last week I watched two fight movies. First ‘Warrior,’ a 2011 movie with Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte, directed by Gavin O’Connor. Now I normally don’t like fight movies as I find fighting a stupid waste of time. I have nothing against a bit of competition and showing off of physical prowess (hail the Olympics!), but to actually hurt another person on purpose for no good reason is too Neanderthal for me. So it was a surprise that I loved this movie, a lot. Hence I decided to watch Creed afterwards. What a let down that was…

Warrior2

‘Warrior’ has the perfect tension build-up. Slowly but surely we are fed information about the characters, their background and how they tie in together. It starts with normal situations (at all fronts), which during the movie escalates into incredible dramatic tension, coming to a final show off in the fighting cage. During the whole movie you only know one thing: that the brothers will be fighting each other. But what happens before keeps surprising you, as well as how the movie ends. Character set up is perfect, casting is perfect. I love Tom Hardy ever since I saw him in ‘Child 44.’ I didn’t know Joel Edgerton (although I have seen ‘Exodus’ and ‘Star Wars – Episode II’), but he was also very well cast. I really don’t like Nick Nolte, but I respect his work as an actor and thought he was extremely well cast for this role. The music was in line with the tension of the movie, didn’t distract and wasn’t flat. Flow was perfect, even in the fight scenes. The ending was believable and left me happy, even though not all fronts were covered in that happy ending. All in all a great movie that I won’t mind seeing again and would recommend everybody else to watch.

Creed

Now ‘Creed,’ a 2015 movie with Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan, directed by Ryan Coogler. Everything I just said about what was great about Warrior, wasn’t there in Creed. I felt the actors were ‘acting,’ Stallone was often mumbling (as he does) to the point you had no idea what he was saying, the music was laughably far removed from the movie action, the characters were extremely predictable. DH and I actually predicted that the downstairs neighbour would be an Afro-American female even before she opened the door. The dramatic action that was supposed to compare to Rocky reaching the top of the steps in the first movie was just ridiculous. Watching the movie I mostly felt like being at a reunion for the Rocky cast. All in all I am glad I didn’t pay money to see that movie in the theatre. I will not lose a moment’s sleep if I never see this movie again.

So if you want to learn about good story and tension build-up, watch Creed before you watch Warrior (which you should anyway if you haven’t already!) and note the difference.

Warrior3

(Translation: Fighting for his honour, Fighting for his family)

Lessons Learned #25

Director of Orchestra

Character Arcs, Flashbacks and Pacing

Today I want to share with you what I learned about tying character arcs, flashbacks and pacing together. I only recently became aware that there was such a feature as pacing in writing. I know about pacing in music, and I hate it when they get it wrong in movies (flow of the movie). The latest moan about movie flow is the one for Suicide Squad, where the first third of the movie is a drag of background information of the main characters. But I never stood still realising that this was also a part of writing. And it’s important to do it right. Here’s a way to use it.

Character Arcs

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Businessman bending over backwards, side view

But lets start with character arcs first. I read about it in a screenwriting lesson a while ago (heavens knows which one). It was describing a couple in bed getting up and dressed. The situation started very amicable, but with every sentence, every action, the relationship deteriorated and became downright hostile by the time  they left the bedroom.  The lesson was that not only do you need your characters to develop over the whole play, they need to develop within every scene too. Quintessential Editor wrote a nice blog about self editing (you can look for it here) (sorry, the page itself wouldn’t copy) and it was point 11 that caught my eye.

Suddenly the quarter dropped as to why one of my readers mentioned she didn’t like one of my main characters, but absolutely loved one of the side-characters. Unknowingly I had developed the side-character throughout my story, but totally did nothing with the main character! He stayed as bland as anything from beginning to end. No wonder she didn’t like him. So make sure all your (important) characters develop (for better or for worse).

Flashbacks

You probably get sick and tired of me saying I’m using flashbacks by now, but it ties in with this week’s lesson. They are a major tie between the character arcs and pacing. As you want your readers to get to know your characters, you give them little snippets of information about them. Flashbacks are just one way to do this. It gives the reader the reason why your character does things, feel, act, react in a certain way.

Pacing

Footsteps

Now, pacing is the most difficult thing to learn in writing (or so I am told). I read this in an article on Flipboard today, called The Art of Pacing (you can also find it under the blog heading here), by Jack Tyler. It reminded me of the article on flashbacks I read yesterday by Neil Whitman (you can find the link to it here). Somewhere else (and I’m so sorry but I just spent thirty minutes trying to find the article in vain) I read the magic words ‘a flashback needs to follow an intense moment to have purpose.’ And this is all to do with pacing. Readers don’t want to get bored with flashbacks left, right and centre so you can inundate them with background information. Flashbacks slow the story down, the action here and now isn’t happening anymore. Flashbacks have to make sense, they need to have a purpose. And the best time to put them in is right after an intense moment. The readers can then take time to process the action and in the mean time get some more information as to why the action has happened.

In my book, for example (spoiler alert!), I talk about Charlie for a chapter or four before there is a bit of a clash about ‘who sleeps in the big bedroom and who sleeps in the tiny room with the bunk beds.’ Charlie is sent packing to the bunk beds ‘as he is better sized for that room.’ There are a few more hints leading up to this statement, but they are minute. The characters go to sleep and in the next chapter a flashback describes my MC spending an evening with Charlie during which it becomes clear that Charlie has achondroplasia (he is a dwarf). This set up has the reader at first wondering what is going on. Why is Charlie sent packing? What is meant with ‘he is better sized’? Then, while the characters are sleeping, the answers are revealed to the readers. Hopefully their minds will then have an ‘aha’ moment when they remember the little comments about Charlie’s size I put in earlier (but that is a topic called foreshadowing).

This is one way to incorporate character arcs, flashbacks and pacing, I bet there are more…

Have A Happy Writing Weekend!

Lessons Learned #22

Editing quote.jpg

Edit, edit, edit!

I started re-writing my first novel last week. Finally. I had postponed it way too long, but now I have the Winterland book fair as a stick behind the door I had to do it. And boy, did I need to…

Time between edits

They always say to take some time between edits. They never say for how long though. Well, that’s not entirely true, they do suggest lengths of time, but they all vary. So that’s no help at all. I wrote my first novel in August 2015, as good as a year ago. For me, at this moment in time, that is a good time between edits. Only because of the fact that during this year I have learned an enormous amount of English! I had a steep learning curve in grammar, in particular the (past) tenses. I learned about rhetoric. I learned about punctuation and formatting. I learned about  the three-act structure and character building. I learned about sub-plots and suspense building. I learned so much. I suppose that the length between edits will become less in time, as I (hopefully) will learn to write better from the start.

Kill your darlings

So what have I been editing so far? As I may have mentioned before, I have let go of the chronological timeline. The first seventy pages of my book were information dumping and setting the scene. I learned that readers don’t like this. They want action, murder on the first page so to speak. So in the new version I started the story from where things start to happen. Now I had seventy pages of information that I needed to weave into the new structure. Seventy pages of ‘darlings.’ I managed to incorporate some flashbacks as whole chapters. That was the easy way. Half of what was left I managed to put in here and there, also as flashbacks or thoughts, memories, but shorter ones. I still have 2.5K words left over, so still some work to be done as some of those are important information for the story. I can’t ‘kill’ them.

Talk to yourself

Other edits were re-writes of sentences. I haven’t been re-writing scenes as a whole, as I was quite happy with them. Quite a few sentences needed revising though. They didn’t flow well or they didn’t convey the feeling that I wanted them too. Over the past year my vocabulary has grown and I feel that I can express myself now better than before. It’s still no literature, but a shuffle in that direction I suppose. How do I know a sentence doesn’t flow? Because I notice it when I say them out loud, in my head. Gotcha! No, I can’t make myself talk to myself out loud. So I pretend I’m doing it in my head. Works for me. I pretend to have another person’s voice, like that of David Attenborough, and read as if I was reading for an audio book, full of emotion and ups and downs of my voice. You should try it, its fun 🙂 !

Grammar, Punctuation and Formatting

I’ve got ProWritingAid to help me with the grammar, which will help me pick out those odd sentences, re-usage of words in a paragraph and the true grammatical mistakes. I haven’t used it yet, as I still have one last chapter to get through, but this is next on the ‘to do’ list. I will keep you updated on this one.

And there are the punctuation mistakes. Even though I had my work read by a proof reader, I still picked up the odd mistake here and there. We’re only human, so I will throw my work through Grammarly for that. It should be better than any human eye. This will be done after using ProWritingAid. Maybe it’s not necessary after this, but just to make sure (it’s free anyway).

Then I will have to put my text into Word to re-format. I don’t mind doing this. As I suspect I have an OCD streak in me, I like making things ‘smooth.’ I don’t like it when things ‘stick out’ and spoil the overall look. I’m actually looking forward to this part!

Print and Read

After the formatting is done I will print out my work; two pages on one A4 sheet, 1.5 space in between and narrow margins (to save paper). This will show me any formatting errors. I will read my work from front to back, with a red pen in hand to make notes and corrections.

Re-edit

And after I have finished this… I will start all over again!

Have a Happy Writing Weekend!

Lessons Learned #21

A Review of Scrivener

A number of weeks ago I bit the bullet and took a trial month of Scrivener. I had read raving reviews about it and it was going to ‘make a writer’s life a lot easier.’ I did the fast-track intro to it and it all seemed pretty logic to me. At that point I still didn’t see the benefit over using Word in a systematic way though.

I used it first to write my short story for my local writers’ club. I wrote the story and… that was it. Scrivener didn’t give me a word count (as I had to stay under 1000 words), at least I couldn’t find it at the time, and the whole ‘card thing’ was totally unnecessary. I had to copy/paste my work back into Word to do the formatting and to get the word count (which I didn’t surpass to my surprise).

Scrivener Screenwriting

As time was passing by and the end of my trial period got closer I decided I would just go for it and bought it. I wasn’t going to give up so easily. I saw that when I opened a new document, that I could also open a script file. Wonderful! So I used it to write two of my scripts for my filming club. Every time you hit the enter key twice the program gives you the option of what you want to write next; chapter title, dialogue, camera move, etc.(the C you see in the image actually is a ‘Cut T0’ option, but it went as soon as I ‘let go’ with my mouse to take the screen print). When you click on what you want to do it automatically formats your text in the right font and at the right spot on the page. Magic! Made my screenwriter’s life a lot easier indeed. Happy so far.

Scrivener

I then used it to start to re-write my first novel. I copied my novel’s text from Word and chopped it up into the chapters that I had already made (see the grey area on the left-hand side of the above image). As I am re-writing the story, the little cards on the cork board (middle top of the image) are minimal at the moment, as I don’t have the chapters anymore that I had, just the three-act thing. I haven’t been using the right-hand side of the screen at all yet, I still need to dive into what it does. But I like the fact that I can see at a glance on the left-hand-side what chapter I’m at, where I am in the story, and which bits and pieces I still have to put in. As I am re-writing, there is a lot of shuffling around of text and I find Scrivener a great help to keep on top of it all. I haven’t finished the re-writing yet, but again, so far very happy with Scrivener.

My next project will be to write the third novel of the trilogy and this is where I think I will mostly enjoy the program. I will be able to write ‘hybrid style.’ I can draw up a backbone of the story on the corkboard cards and then start writing in the files. I can add files, move them around, delete them, put them on hold, anything. The corkboard can be flipped away when I undo ‘split screen’ and bring them up again to regain my overview and what point I was going to make in that particular chapter. And as I am writing I can change the backbone to go with my creativity, I don’t have to stick with the plan.

Scrivener2

Again, I need to dive into what the right-hand-side of the screen can do for me. I believe it is used for tagging words/situations/emotions in your text. So you know better how to build suspense and the likes. What it also does is show you the label you have given that piece of text. If you look at the image above, you see that you can put the document in ‘outliner mode’ (yellow image at the top) and then add labels and status to the chapters. The status can be set to ‘to do,’ ‘first draft,’ ‘revised draft,’ final draft,’ or ‘title page.’ Again, this would be visible on the right-hand-side of the screen when you are writing, so you keep the overview of it all.

Overall I am happy that I bought Scrivener. When you write more than just a page or two it is definitely worth the money. Oh, and it does do a word count, it’s at the bottom of the page. It even gives you a character count 🙂 .

Have a Happy Writing Weekend!

A three-act day

Three Acts

After almost two weeks of school holidays I got my act together. Well, acts (plural) I should say. I now get up early -ahum, at 9am- and work on re-writing my first novel. Then at lunchtime I drag my kids away from their electronic entertainment and I teach them math. And as the grand finale I work on renovating my house until DH comes home. You could call it a four or five act day, if you include cooking and spending the evening with my family. But I’m talking about my ‘daytime’ act for the moment.

Why am I re-writing my first novel? Because I have learned a lot since I wrote it nearly a year ago. I realised that the build-up was a very slow, action only started to happen on page seventy, so I had to do something about that. As I am shuffling text around, creating flashbacks as to not lose my already written text (I can’t kill my darlings, not yet!), I am picking up a lot of mistakes too. I find my vocabulary has grown and I have learned to ‘say’ things in different ways. All in all a good thing, but time consuming.

The reason I all of a sudden got my ‘act’ together on this is because I received an invitation for a book fair in December. I have decided I want to promote my third book then, but I still have to write it. I can’t write it before I have re-written the first and second one, so there you have it. A stick behind the door!

Trigonometry

Why am I teaching my children math? Because I don’t agree with the school system at the moment. In August they will move to Year 3 of high school and they (basically) can only do one science subject; biology, physics or chemistry. Not all three at once. I wanted to let them make up their own mind and tried to organise for them to get some work experience in a hospital. Not that I want them to work in a hospital in particular, but I had to start somewhere with giving them options. It appears that they have to be sixteen before they are allowed to get experience. That just threw me. How can they limit their education now, when they have no possibility to find out what direction they want to go into? This system is just not working. So I collaborated with the school and I am now making them catch up half a year of Year 4 math work in the six weeks of holidays that we have, so they can join the Year 4s math class when they go back to school (as Year 3s) in August. I am also hoping they get extra lessons in the other science subjects, with pracs done at school and me teaching them the theory at home after school. This way they get a normal base of science knowledge and it will increase their options later. Some say I am cruel, I say you have to be cruel to be kind. It appears that Year 3 material is not amounting to much anyway, so why waste that year? And it beats them sitting in front of a computer/TV the whole day (from my point of view 🙂 ).

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And of course there is the forever renovation going on at our house. We recently finished our bedroom, so now we have moved on to the dressing room (the room next to our bedroom). We initially thought of putting a door between the two rooms, but that will cost us another cupboard, so we won’t. Saves a lot of work too! DH already took the window out for me to strip of paint and of course I found out today that my dust mask is broken. So tomorrow I will have to go get a new one. The problem is that the shop is a 45 minute drive away. I, unfortunately, will have to combine it with a cinema visit. To be cost efficient, of course 🙂 .

 

Lessons Learned #19

First Impressions and Foreshadowing

This week I started reading ‘The Screenwriter’s Bible (6th edition),’ by David Trottier, which was recommended to me by a fellow screenwriter from the US. I only got to page 20 but I learned two things already; the importance of first impressions and foreshadowing.

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First Impressions

The first important thing I learned was to ‘make a good first  impression.‘  Trottier says that not only does it need to ‘hook’ your audience, it also implies something about your story. This was of particular interest to me as I am planning to re-write my first novel. The first seventy pages in my book are just information; introductions, backgrounds, scene setting. Nothing exciting happens in those pages and I think a lot of readers abandon my book before the real action starts as nothing seems to happen. So I had already decided that I had to start my story further in the book, where the real action actually does happen (or soon thereafter). I will just have to weave the beginning of my original story as back-flashes into it (I know, easier said than done).

But, according to Trottier, not only do I need to hook the audience in those first pages, the first impression also needs to imply something about my story. I had to think twice about these words. What could I imply in the first pages? It is a romance, but I could hardly start at the first ‘kiss’ as this was halfway down my book. Then I realised that the whole book is a race. And as soon as I figured this out, where exactly to start my story? At first I was thinking to start it in the bar, when my protagonist and friends decide to flee the oncoming threat of suckers (vampire-like humans). It is where the first ‘movement’ of my protagonist starts. But the bar has (in this story) no significance, they don’t get back to the bar nor get together in another bar anywhere else in the story. I decided to start the story with my protagonist at home, packing for the move. Her home is a key point in the story; she starts there and will come back there. Starting with her packing for a trip will give the reader immediately the implication that this is a story with action/movement, even the implication of suspense, as when you are fleeing there is the immediate question of whether the protagonist will succeed to get away from whatever she is feeing from. This will definitely help ‘hooking’ my readers.

Foreshadowing

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The second thing I learned was the notion of ‘foreshadowing.’ Foreshadowing is the warning or indication of a future event. It’s not exactly the opposite of a back-flash, but a see-through image of it, if you get my drift. I often find myself ticked-off by the Miss Marple stories where the solution of a murder is often solved by knowledge that only comes to light at the very end of the story and there is no way on earth you could have known about it or thought it up. Foreshadowing prevents this. It gives you hints that something is of relevance. Or at least that this item/occurrence/knowledge will be returning later in the story. You read it, your mind acknowledges it, and perhaps even tells you it is important, but the story continues and you forget it. Until you get to the part where it surfaces again and you go ‘I knew that was going to happen!’ even though deep down you have to admit to yourself that you had forgotten about it and it came as a real surprise. The book gives the example of the gadgets Q hands out to James Bond. You just know that these gadgets are going to come in handy, but you have no clue when. And nobody needs jam trousers (as per Eddy Izzard’s suggestion – Lego version on You Tube), so something is only mentioned if it is of relevance. I actually used foreshadowing in my second book (Raising A Vampire) without knowing about foreshadowing. Let me know if you found it after you read it 🙂 .

Have a Happy Writing Weekend!

 

 

Lessons Learned #17

We want action!

Fooled you! I’m not writing about my filming antics, I am talking about writing. There was this article I read in Flipboard a few weeks back that stated that a famous writer was given a manuscript of a driver. After seventy-five pages the writer tossed it back to the driver with the statement “readers want emotion, not information.”

This little sentence made a huge impact on me. Like the driver’s book, the first seventy pages of my first book are full of information only. I am describing my protagonist, her friends, her family, her situation. Nothing exciting is happening. I knew this was a problem as I could see why people would put my book down again, but I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly or how to fix it. I needed to convey this information to understand my protagonist. Then I read this sentence and realised; there is a lot of information and no emotion! People are not moved to be scared, sad or extremely happy whilst reading these first chapters.

I recently read a book by a novice writer, Ruth Ware, called ‘In a dark dark wood.’ I purely bought the book as research as it was advertised as ‘genuinely chilling and totally compulsive’ and ‘a tense, terrifying novel.’ I wanted to know how to write suspense so I thought this was a good way to find out. The story isn’t actually that great (sorry, Ruth, just my personal opinion) as it is very predictable, but it is set up in a way that wants you to keep reading. How? Let me tell you.

Ruth Ware starts the story with the present where things are all very bad, but the reason for this is unknown. Then she flips back to the past, to where it all started. Slowly but surely she weaves the present and past together (in separate chapters, to not get you too confused too much and keep the grammar easy, i.e. all is written in the past simple) until a point 2/3 into the book where everything that has happened in the past is known and the present continues. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it is a very clever set up. Until you know what has happened in the past you want to continue to read to find out why the protagonist acts the way she does. From then on the story must grip the reader to read on and this is where I found it lacking. But then again, I’m a big action-adventure fan, so if this doesn’t happen I’m always a bit disappointed.

It was a big decision, but after that little statement from this unknown writer (I don’t think the name was ever stated in the article) I decided I had to re-write my novel. Definitely the first and perhaps also the second. When I wrote my first novel I realised I was very ‘short’ on dialogue and descriptions (the book is only 55K words long, where standard novels are usually over 70K words long), but I didn’t want to bore my readers. Now I know that I was a bit harsh and need to expand the story. I have also completely thrown the first and second part together, integrating the information bits with the action that happens in the second part. The hard part is, of course, to leave out any text that ‘doesn’t fit’ anymore, to throw away my babies, but I’m hoping that the newly added and integrated text will make it much more ‘readable, interesting and fun!’

Have a Happy (Re-)Writing Weekend!

Firing up again!

Yesterday we had another meeting of my film group and have two project shoots planned for July now. I am so ready to go! Still a lot to be done.

I only have the outline of story No.2, so need to write dialogue, preferably before next week’s meeting. It’s a fun story about a camping trip gone bad, with a twist at the end. Can’t tell you much more about it though, got to keep up the suspense!

I also need to get the AFP website up and running, including the short that we filmed in March. We have a website up at the moment, but it doesn’t let us play a movie so I am working on fabricating a website from scratch. Steep learning curve!

Next to this I am still working hard to re-edit my first novel, so the first seventy pages are not just information without action. It’s a tough job, but it has to be done. My stick behind the door for that one is that I really, really like to re-launch my books with the new covers!

And I need to get writing on the last book of the trilogy, but I’m afraid that will have to wait until after July and we have done the filming.

Apart from this I need to organise carpet for my bedroom, put a second paint layer on the walls and paint the skirting boards, preferably before the carpet is put in.

Whaaahh!!!