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

Just One

None

No words to grace the page or screen in several days.

Well, that’s not strictly true but my blog has been a quieter adventure. With the bank holiday and a trip away to gorgeous Norfolk, I’m afraid I’ve not been in my usual pre-emptive ability to post. I’m still writing though.

I returned to The Poisoned Well this afternoon and I completed my words. I still have my goals and my desire to write for them.

It feels that way sometimes though, as if writing is all or nothing. I’ve discussed this in previous posts but it is so important to keep writing, something, every day. After returning from a bank holiday it would be easy to set the novel aside and just think, maybe tomorrow. Or perhaps the day after that…and then suddenly its three months later and you’re returning to pick up old threads of a long-forgotten project.

My advice for breaking past that stop?  Do it fast.

Set yourself a goal of what you can realistically write each day. For me it should be 500 words. Some days I write 1000 and some days its 2000. On those days I feel like a boss, a might word warrior who is mere weeks away from conquering the world!

It’s the other days that are harder, when I’m sat looking at the screen with no words written for my project. 500 words can seem like a marathon. Especially after a break. If it’s been a few days since you last added to your novel, or current writing project, remember. Don’t be so hard on yourself. It might take a couple of days to get back into the rhythm.

After a break, adjust your aim. If your usual goal is 500 words, then try for 250, or failing that 100.

The next day, increase your target. 100 to 250, 250 to 500 and then allow yourself to feel satisfied. We’re our own worst critics and it’s easy to start thinking about the negatives. ‘Oh, I didn’t hit 500 words today,’ – you know what, that’s okay. You’ll do it tomorrow.

One day your word contribution might be none. That’s alright. Just make sure the next day that it’s some. (Or even just one.)

When the air smell likes ice

Following on from my self-set challenge, here is the third in a series of seasonal flash-fiction. Again, I’m not going to tell what the season is, but I really hope that you can guess.

I love it when the air smells like ice. Dark green pine sways between barren branches and then mountains rise behind. Cars crunch salt, engines purring. It’s an experience, negotiating ice in six-inch heels; challenge accepted.  Coffee cup clutched tight to my chest. The bitter taste of rising steam is mellowed with double cream. Hat pulled low on burning ears and sunglasses paint the sky in gentler hues; lines of pink and gold across frozen blue. There’s another flurry on the horizon. Feet slip without warning. The ground is harder than it looks and less forgiving. Must buy boots.

Part One and Two can be found respectively.

Once part four is thrown up here then I’ll compile them together into a post. I’ll probably even tell you what seasons I was originally aiming for. Fingers-crossed that I’ve managed to avoid my natural inclination to the abstract. I have a tendency to think flash-fiction and then jump across to poetry. So you may have noticed some rhymes sneaking in.  The only problem is, that my abstract is often too abstract for most people to make any sense of it.  So what I’ve been learning is to write simply. Or rather…more simply. If I have an image in mind then just say what I see without trying (and usually failing) to be clever.

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.

Slim Grip on Reality

In response to the Daily Prompt: Cling

Rough seas rise up, dark and murky. Toes stretching in a frantic search for solid ground and arms flail for the coarse grip of rope.

The submissions are sent and my author-neurotic self is running circles, yelping oh my god, oh my god what if no one wants it! What if it’s not worthy, what if I’m not worthy?! Years of hard work and effort wasted? What will I say? How will I explain that I have failed? Once I’ve found a moment to breathe I remind myself that if traditional publishing is not my route, then the world won’t end. In the words of Obama, the sun will continue to rise. In the words of myself, of the things that are certain in this world, it’s that there is always change. Sometimes it just seems to take longer to get arrive. (Sometimes it feels like change got on the wrong bus and is now on a circular route and stuck in M25 traffic, but hey – it’ll get here.)

My journey as a writer will continue. Having simply finished the manuscript and sent it out, I feel rejuvenated (and then terrified) but mostly rejuvenated to start new projects; exciting projects! The second book in the series, a selection of short pieces for radio, a collaborative novella with an intended publisher in mind! Exciting, exciting, exciting!

Burning Embers will also, one way or another, live on. I believe that as Young Adult Fantasy is has a current market. As a genre it’s a saturated market, but I have to believe that I’ve got a unique voice to offer and a story that my readers will fall in love with, a world they won’t want to leave and characters that they’re desperate to champion. That is after all, the dream.

So, in the moments after the panic and in between the project planning, I look at self-publishing options. This blog was always supposed to explore the traditional and the non-traditional and so today I’m going to share a few things that I’ve recently learnt about self-publishing options.

  1. The book needs an ISBN if I’m going to do this. It’s not strictly needed for e-book but I’m vain and prideful and I want to hold my book in my hands! If I want to sell a printed version, it needs an ISBN and then and ISBN printed barcode – this means it can be sold. Hooray
  2. I want the ISBN to be registered in my name. This means I retain the rights as the publisher as well as the Author – double win.
  3. I need to generate more of an online presence. Kew twitter feed, reviewing other peoples works, finding an audience of peer reviewers (how do I find you lovely people?) Beta testers! I need to create a circle of people who are going to be just as excited about the book as I am. To be honest – this works in both versions. If there’s an agent or a publishing contract out there for Burning Embers, then building this circle up is still going to be important.
  4. I would like Burning Embers to be available as an ebook, and in print. I’d like it on Amazon and I’d also like it with Neilson and Gardeners, so that this way the big chain stores have a chance in stocking it. You have to fill out a lot of appropriate paperwork and there is still no guarantee, but if the book is not with a wholesaler/distributer – it’s not going to happen.
  5. I would really like someone to do a lot of the hard work for me. You have to send five copies of your printed book out to specific libraries here in the UK so that it’s legally listed. It’s something I’m capable of doing but right now my brain hurts.
  6. I would also like someone to make the copy-set pretty. This is also beyond my skill.
  7. Could they make the cover too?

So this is what I’m looking for, and I don’t have an enormous budget. My list of demands are the above plus 100 copies of the book. A press release, merchandise and other things I think I can probably do. I’ve even worked out how to get a paypal button on here, wordpress, so that I could sell and distribute the book myself. I’m doing a lot of research and maybe I’ll never need to use it. Perhaps though, I will.

If you’re considering self-publishing, do all of the reading. The pages and pages of PDF’s offered on the company websites. Compare them for the services they offer and the rights that you retain. If you get 100% royalties, that’s awesome, but do you own the ISBN?

It might be construed that I am procrastinating as I wait for replies to return to my inbox. I know myself though, I need to keep my mind busy. Research into a positive outcome is currently my life line and I’m going to hold on dreaming, for as long as I can.

If you have any advice of finding that circle of reviewers, I’d love to hear it!

 

Distractions, Distractions, Distractions – No More!

The manuscript is done! The Christmas Holidays gave me a good opportunity to finish the final edit. It has been a lengthy process and would have been quicker with so few distractions. The majority of last year was spent writing short stories on writing forums. With so much history with Burning Embers, I couldn’t face returning to it.

Was the time wasted? No, I don’t think so. Most of it was spent feeling very guilty about my neglected manuscript. The printed papers were moved from desk, to drawer, to desk and then at what I consider to be the lowest ebb – stuffed in a bookshelf. The guilt though, the writing guilt is gone. Writing on forums I was able to rediscover the sheer joy of putting prose to paper and working to captivate an audience. I’ve developed some new characters and their voices are strong and their stories are interesting. I’ve enjoyed playing with technique, expanding dialogue and exploring a new world with other writers and I’m confident in the impact it has made in my writing. I worry that some of the rules on structure, grammar and style have slipped out of my ears but I can tweak those more easily than I can learn to write a sense of place and expand emotion. I’m proud of the thousands of words I’ve churned out in the last year, even if they’re not on my blog and won’t make it to print. I’m excited to work with writing partners in the future, with a few collaborative projects in development.

Back to the manuscript – you see how easy it is to be side tracked?

In my mind, it was an insurmountable task. 310 pages of printed 1.5 spaced A4 text. 110,000 words to be carefully cultivated and on occasion, brutally hacked with a machete, (there’s shredded paper everywhere) The edit has been my Everest, my Mount Doom and now it is done. I feel like I’ve shaken off a huge weight around my ankles and I’m floating around. This isn’t namby-pamby floating though. After the colossal final edit was done, I went through with a few additional culls. The filler word culprits this time were: but, though and so. Cut them! Cut them all!

Once the post-edit euphoria has faded I’m sure I’ll come down from my excitement. It is difficult though, as I’ve started submitting to agents and indie publishers who accept Young Adult, or New Adult Fantasy. A whole new genre appeared whilst I’ve been writing my book, who knew?! (Apparently not me, as I’ve had my head in a computer for a year)

I might be back to where I began with this blog a few years ago, but I’m better for it and I am excited for the future.

Scratches on the Surface

In my foolish endeavor to return to my prolific blogging self I’ll be joining in with the Daily Prompt ‘s once more. Hooray!

I’ve been caught up with the Olympics again. I feel like a fool, because when the medals are presented I lose that sense of proprietary and the tears start building.  Athletes that realize that they’ve won a medal seem to have the same struggle. Hit with emotion that they struggle to contain. Euphoria, excitement, tears and weak-knees all break through to the surface, for all the world to see. There’s something vulnerable in those moments and sometimes I wish the camera would turn away, and let them regain their sense of control.

But I’m afraid that what gets to me, is that this moment is their culmination of years of sacrifice and training. The metallic disc is their representation of teenage years spent in a swimming pool or gym. Time away from friends and family, early starts and late nights. In their moments of triumph, I can’t help but feel that the absolute joy is made all the sweeter by the difficulties and the long journeys to this point.

In the stories I like to write and love to read, I’m propelled through the plot twists because I’m seeking that moment of triumph. If the protagonist is not victorious then I can’t help by feel cheated. But what is that moment worth, is if the journey is too easy? Nothing can be gained at the end if nothing was ever at risk of being lost.

At the close of a novel, and perhaps shorter fiction, and certainly in a lot of films there is usually that moment of ‘all hope is lost.’ There’s a metaphorical death of the protagonists’ purpose. If they set out seeking love, then the object of their affection might have made it absolutely clear there is no future. Without this moment of utter failure to meet their purpose there wouldn’t be the sweet sense of victory when it’s achieved and they run off into the happily ever after.

So for anyone who is editing, or coming to the end of a piece. Where is your moment of utter failure? Where are the scratches on the medal?