Novel Writing – Starting Somewhere

Writing a longer piece of fiction can feel like setting off on an unchartered ocean. I’ve hopefully compiled a few ideas to stop you feeling Adrift

So, you want to write a story? Not just any story, but the book you feel you’ve wanted to write for years? I would like to say I only have one piece of advice, but then this blog and series of posts with helpful hints and ideas would be arbitrary. So, this is perhaps the most important thing to piece of information. You can do it! What are you doing reading this blog, go write! – Wait, please don’t go! I have advice!

If you are writing an extended story, a novel, an epic ten-part series, or even a novella, you will probably recognise the push and pull of the paragraph above. If not, you’ll soon get used to it. From writing novels, or attempting to, I’ve found that I develop a love/hate relationship with the projects I’m undertaking. On the one hand, they’re just so darned exciting! On the other…when will it end?! Will all the effort even be worth it? What if no one likes it, what if no one except your mum ever reads it? What if you cannot be the next JK Rowling? Despair! Then fall back in love with the words, the story, your characters and the setting again and it’s the worst relationship ever.

This is going to be a series of blog posts about writing that book, or novel. It’s going to cover topics such as getting started, planning, characterisation, world building, editing and include writing prompts and a whole host of goodies. I hope you’ll join me for the ride and perhaps I can even provide something that will be helpful.

Now, I’ve written out a plan about planning – ironic. Yet, what I’m going to base this first post on, is Getting Started.

Now, before you open the cans labelled, ‘self-doubt’ and ‘crushing despair’ that I think writers tend to carry; as with any good relationship, it may be time to set some boundaries with your writing project.

Now, this isn’t, in any way, supposed to limit the scope of your project, and there will be a long discussion about ‘too much planning’ in my next post on this theme. However, I’ve learnt to set myself a few goals when it comes to approaching a new project. If you’re about to launch into yours, (or maybe you’ve already started?) are you able to answer the following questions?

  1. Who is your intended audience?

Child or Adult fiction? Young Adult or New Adult? Steam-punk lovers, or die hard sword and sorcery epic fantasy fans?

  1. What size project are you aiming for?

Is this going to be a gorgeous and concise piece of prose and a short story? What about a poem? Or does it need more space to breathe and could thrive as a novella (under 50,000 words -ish) or is it going to be a full- blown novel? If you’re thinking about publication, then as a rough guide for a debut novelist, you might want to aim for less than 90,000 words. Although, this doesn’t apply to all genres.

  1. If no one other than your mum reads it, is that okay?

Writing to complete a project takes a lot of investment. The most important thing that any of us has, is our time. If you’re going to invest several months of your time on this beautiful planet, hacking away at your keyboard, and wondering where the letter ‘N’ vanished off to (seriously, where has it gone?!) Then are you going to be alright if it isn’t a storming success?

There are a few lessons that I remember very clearly from creative writing courses and one of them is this. Write what you would love to read. This is probably going to dictate who your audience is as well. I love reading YA Fantasy, historical romance, sword and sorcery, old-fashioned crime fiction and children’s literature. What I end up writing is a strange mixture of those components.

At the end of the day, if I’m going to be living in the world I’m writing, it must be enticing – for me at least. Even if not for anyone else. There will be enough days when I don’t want to open the project document and get to work, so I aim to make the project as interesting as possible for myself. When you love something, it’s easier to be passionate about it and keep slugging away. It’s also easier for others to become excited about your enthusiasm and volunteer their own time to read your story.

If you’ve followed the rule of ‘write what you’d want to read’ and you’re pleased with the result; the chances are that you’ve created something where others can share your excitement.

  1. What is the question?

Stories need a question and they need it fast. Your reader will skim the first lines and decide if they’re going to follow you on this journey. To entice them down the rabbit hole, they need an initial question. Now, many stories will diverge brilliantly from the path I’ll set out now, but the way I approach a new project, is to work out the first question.

The first hurdle is the first paragraph. Why should they bother getting to the end? Therefore, it needs to be something intriguing enough to propel the reader into the first page. Then the first page pushes them into the first chapter… and we’ll get to chapter breakdowns in another post.

Now for some examples:

There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. – Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Isn’t that incredible?! This is the opening from Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which by the way, is a wonderful story. The first line! Now look at the questions we’re forced to ask. 1, what is a sad city? 2, what is the name of the city? 3, will the city find happiness? There are three immediate questions in 26 words and they’re enough to tempt me on…

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.  – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

Four questions in the opening twelve words. 1, who is the man in black? 2, who is the gunslinger? 3, will the gunslinger catch the man in black? 4, Do I want that to happen? Eeeek, I don’t know so I better keep reading!

  1. Don’t worry

Now I’ve raised all the talk about questions, I’m going to tell you step aside from any worry it’s created. The sudden surge of ‘am I asking a question in the first line? Is this a good enough question? What is a question?!’ Because this is just the beginning and the most important thing, is to just get writing. Make your start, aim for a question and forge ahead. After all, you’ve got forever to edit and to bring that opening sequence up to what you want it to be – but what you cannot do, is edit a blank screen.

I hope that this has been useful!  Let me know your favourite openings to novels, or even what you’re working on. I might even share the current opening of The Poisoned Well… I was so pleased that I managed to find a question that could carry the rest of the story along with it.

Happy Writing

Fibi

A prize for everyone!

A timely response to today’s prompt Champion

When you’ve been working on a project for so long, you can be accused of developing tunnel vision. Your project is a culmination of coffee, late nights, long hours staring at a blank page, longer hours editing the same words over and over, more coffee… you get the picture. You dream of releasing it out into the world and watching it fly…and then comes all the waiting.

So I decided that I needed to write something new, something fresh – and I’m so glad that I did.

I’ve returned to the wonderful lists of Christopher Fielden and I picked out a few competitions. I’m not much of a poet (and doesn’t everyone know it – ba dum tish) but I’ve had reasonable success with flash-fiction. Something short, something snappy I thought? I can do flash-fiction!

So I submitted a piece to Christopher’s Writing Challenges. The gratification of knowing I’d done something of a good deed – submitting fiction to raise money for charity, was only seconded by the happy glow of seeing my work published on someone’s website. Wheee!

So I submitted to Third-Word as well!

I won!

I am so excited you would not believe, I’m even using far too many explanation marks!!!

Alongside a nifty prize, I still get that lovely glow of  achievement and I’m delighted that again, the Eighty-One words will be put to a good cause. Third word are going to compile an anthology to help homelessness. Triple win!

It’s been an exciting few weeks and I’ve set Burning Embers decidedly to one side, for now. I’m even working on a new Novel – tentatively titled: Initiate

Oooo…I hear you say.

More details will be forthcoming in other posts.

Someday

Response to a Daily Prompt: Someday

Someday, all my Dragons will come true.

Eleia stood at the window, with her hands in the sink. Beyond the horizon purple clouds were touched with silver. The tang of fresh-brewed tea drifted with soap suds. Despite the autumn warmth, the fire roared and crackled behind and she wore layers of heavy wool. Sleeves pushed back to the elbow to keep them out of the washing. A sponge was held by limp fingers, and a plate in the other hand. A shape separated from the mountain tops, lifting with a flap of outstretched wings.

An aquiline neck and serpent body that coiled like smoke as it rose. The beast screamed fire into the falling night and was silhouetted for a breath, before it was swallowed by darkness and vanished against the night. The screech raced along her arms and lifted the fine hairs. It tingled down her rigid spine as she lent forward. Soapy fingers slipped on the catch as she reached for the window.  The metal lifted with ease and the window opened at a touch.

She could smell the acrid singe of Dragon-breath. One day, she promised herself. Someday soon, she would do it. She would throw away the dishcloth and humdrum life. One day she would learn how to fly.

To me!

Audience of One: Daily Prompt

Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog. Write her or him a letter.

Dear Fibi,

If you’re reading this then you’ve probably gone a bit mad – because you’ve only just written it. Seek medical assistance immediately.

But I want you to remember how you feel right now. That fizz of excitement from laying tracks in front of a moving train. The MS is moving forward, track by track, week by week. Every time you come back to it, you’re amazed that you can keep moving forward. Well I’m going to tell you something important, something that you tell other people all the time. Have a little faith in yourself.

Yes, you might feel like you’ve been running uphill for far too long. But at least you’re halfway up now. Not only that, but this is the easier part. The home stretch. Continue the journey and then wrap it up. The giddiness growing day by day as the word count keeps creeping up. Not only are the words going down on screen – but they’re pretty good too. One day soon, you’ll take that next step of sending it all out again. Maybe you’ll even print out a full hardcopy to share with your mum.

Remember that at all times that the ‘Spelling’ is not your friend. It will deceive you. The computer, also with occasionally shut down and magically lose your work. So back it up with an obsessiveness created by the fear of impending doom. Delete all inclusions of the phrase ‘a little’ or ‘for a moment’ because these are pointless.

Pay attention to dialogue. No one ever says what they’re really thinking, so the characters should either. And how many times do you call someone by their name in one conversation? There is never a good reason to have a flat, uninteresting chapter. Invite tension and wibbly wobbly plot lines and at the same time, cut out anything unessential that is doing less than two things to the story. Either developing the world, adding depth, providing information, momentum or joy. But nothing that is only one.

Most of all, you must never give up (even if you run out of coffee.)

Love me.

What would you want to tell yourself?

Third Rate Romance – Surprise!

Another response to a daily prompt.

I used to make pancakes on a Sunday, for me and my flatmate. Slice up the strawberries, whip up a batch – not too much or it’ll lose all the air – and make myself a decent cup of coffee and hang over from my student year abroad in the states. Good coffee is hard to find, but pancakes for breakfast? Easy when you know how.
I was slouched in my hoodie, enjoying each creamy sip of caffeinated delight. The sunshine was streaming through the window, making the dust in the kitchen dance in the air. I had my nose in my coffee cup so I could inhale the sweet sweet nectre when she snuck through the kitchen door, turned in her socks and shut it behind her. It was a tiny room, with a cooker, fridge, sink and a singular cabinet as a worktop. Then squished in the corner was a fold-down wooden table for two, and a chair. The second chair lived in the hallway to save space. But it was such a small room. That as I sat, she stood right in front of me.
“Eh?” I’m not one for words in the morning…
She planted her hands on her hips, and frowned at me.
“Everything…okay?”
“Mmm…”
I was starting to worry. I put my coffee cup down on our tiny table. “Can I get you some tea?” Tea could fix everything.
“You know Mike?”
Mike? “The boy that was a bit…the one who you went on a date with?”
“Yeah. Mike…”
“Yes?”
“I think he’s my boyfriend…” The frown on her face deepened. I stood up and ushered her to the now vacant chair. I filled the kettle, splashing my hoody front and sweatpants with water. I flicked the switch on it and turned back to her.
“…really?”
“I think so?”
“How did that happen?”
“He stayed over – nothing happened but- …well…”
“Yeah?” I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She wore a hoody like me, but green and pyjamas tucked into fluffy blue socks. I hopped backwards, onto the cabinet and perched. Reaching for a mug and tea-bag.
“Well I was asleep-”
“Yeah?”
“He woke me up, in the middle of the night-”
“Oooh –ouch.”
“And he, well he asked if he could be my boyfriend!”
“What did you say?” The kettle boiled. I filled the mug and stirred it.
“Who does that to a person in the middle of the night?”
“Mike apparently.”
“I was asleep! I just wanted to go back to sleep!”
“What did you say?”
“I think-…I think I said yes?” She was running her hands over her forehead in confusion “Maybe it was just a dream?”
“What are you going to do?”
“I can’t ask him if he asked.”
“Noo…nono…”
“Yeah.”
I handed her the tea. Swapping it for my coffee. I cradled it again.
“Well…I guess – congratulations on your new…boyfriend-ness…”
“Thanks.”

Warning: This Blog May Contain Cats!

Warning: This Blog May Contain Cats!

I felt that this was probably an appropriate time to introduce two current stars of my short fiction and poetry. Please meet Lewis and Rosie, and be warned that if you have an adverse reaction to cute and fluffy creatures, this may not be the blog for you to follow.
My cats certainly provide a great deal of comfort and entertainment, but they’re both very different. Lewis is a possibly part Bengal, tabby with white feet and a superbly fluffy belly. His emotional range swings from desperately needy and affectionate to storming off in a huff and sitting alone in the bath. (Literally the bath, he’s very strange.) Rosie, who is black and white and a quarter Siamese, remains consistent in her affection.
I will refer to Lewis affectionately from time to time as a fluffy moron – as he is frequently ridiculous. He loves boxes! Put any box, or bag on the floor and he’ll climb straight in. (Very useful for taking him to the vets!) However Rob and I had an ice lolly each the other night, so imagine a standard size box for three ice lolly’s… This was left on the table. We heard a thump as we sat watching the TV. We looked around to the door and all we saw was this box skidding across the hallway floor, Lewis desperately trying to get in it! He’d managed to just about get his nose and half of his face inside and such was his determination, that he ran the box into the wall; KADUNK! Box and cat rebounded. He bounced away, shook himself and stalked away glaring at us both. As you can imagine we both dissolved into hysterical laughter.
Fortunately Rosie is much more intelligent.
I will do my best not to blog about the cats too often, but thought that everyone should have fair warning!

Like no Pie I have ever seen before.

My mum is infamous for her desire to ‘experiment’ with food. She’s going to kill me for publishing this, but it was just too funny to ignore.

Lemon Meringue Pie

I couldn’t take my eyes off the lemon meringue pie. My mother had laid it in the center of the table. She then sat down with an expectant air.

“I brought cheesecake!” I announced, placing it carefully beside the first dessert. Eight pairs of eyes flicked from one pudding, to the other.

“Cheesecake for me,” my brother was first to break the silence. His request was echoed by his wife, then my sister, her husband, my dad, myself – the gaze finally rested on my boyfriend, Rob.

He swallowed, “lemon meringue please.” A thick slice was cut and set down for him. We were transfixed by the way it wobbled. It just didn’t look…right.

My mum looked up, as an afterthought “I ran out of biscuit- you know, for the base.”

Rob doubtfully tapped the bottom with his fork. A wheeto fell off, rolled across the fine china and bounced onto the floor.

My sister lent forward, “Mum, why is the lemon bit, orange?”

“It’s not!”

“It bloody well is – why is it orange?”

“I ran out of cornflower,” the admission was almost a sigh.

“What did you use?” I hardly dared to ask.

“Custard.”

We watched every slow mouthful that Rob took, fascinated. A lemon meringue pie made from stale wheetos, and custard. “Mum,” I could no longer resist the temptation to ask “did you grate a lemon into the custard?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be a lemon meringue pie without lemon, would it?”

“…was it a waxed lemon?”

We left the house quickly that night. My brother –in-law slapping Rob on the back.

“Well done mate,” he laughed “took one for the team.

I started this story as an exercise, aiming to fit it onto a post card. This meant that it had to deal with a crisis and resolution quickly. I struggled, but I’m happy with the overall outcome. I hope some of the hilarity of my family dinners comes across. God bless substitution of normal ingredients – to things a little out of the ordinary!

Please find below, a picture of my post-card story. Try writing one? Let me know how it goes!

Image

Fi