Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Pause In Which To Reflect

My heart has been struck again with the birth of my second child, a beautiful baby girl. I had assumed that my writing would be forgotten and pushed to the side for a couple of months whilst I focused on motherhood.

But I'd forgotten that although new born babies sleep up to 18 hours a day, the same cannot be said for their mothers and so I now find myself with endless night hours that need to be filled. As you may have guessed my baby is nocturnal!

I may have more time but unfortunately my poor brain is in no state to write quality stories when it only gets two hours of sleep a night. Of course this is a small price to pay for having my daughter.

So I've decided to use this time to revisit some of my old stories that have yet to be published, and I'm going to be really drastic in stripping them down and rewriting them. I have no idea whether this will improve them or destroy them. However experts say the more we write the better we get, therefore my older stories will be below the standard of my more recent works. So hopefully it makes sense to rewrite them?

With my recent success of having one of my short stories published in Sanitarium Magazine I'm now even more determined to get another published so that I can show to myself that it wasn't a fluke.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - by N.K.Jemisin

I've heard loads of great stuff about this new and upcoming author N.K.Jemisin, and it's a refreshing change to see a fantasy novel that is multi cultural. The main character, Yeine Darr, is mixed race which is not something you see much of in the fantasy genre, and I also like to read novels centred around a strong female character.

I decided to give this book a read as I love being absorbed into different worlds and this book looked highly original and inventive. The book has a really modern feel, the author has been really clever in mixing modern day issues into a fantasy novel.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is centred around a young girl, half barbarian, half Amareri who after the sudden mysterious death of her mother finds herself named as an heir to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This puts her in grave danger and her only friends are a strange bunch of enslaved gods who are even more dangerous than her foes.

The story is very original, it's very intelligent writing, sometimes I felt the novel in places was at risk of appearing far fetched and unrealistic with the gods being so real and approachable to mortal beings, it's a very difficult concept to add in a book. However N.K.Jemisin does it very well and the characters do seem plausible.

I'd recommend this book, it's refreshing to read great fantasy and alternative novels from a female perspective. This is a great debut and if you love the book you'll be happy to know that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is just the first instalment of a trilogy, and its sequel - The Broken Kingdoms is already out.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

How To Create a Killer Hook in Your Story?

If you want your story to impress and more importantly for someone to read it until the end, you'll need to create a killer hook.

Unfortunately your story may be amazing but if a reader, competition judge or fiction editor doesn't feel gripped by your story within the first paragraph, there's a very good chance they will give up there.

So, what's a killer hook, and where do you place it in your story?

A killer hook is an essential question which is raised in a story, a question so enticing that a reader will want to read your story from beginning to end without pausing for breath. Be warned you must raise a brilliant question and answer it in a way that will leave your reader satisfied and entertained. The plot of your story will be based your killer question so make sure it is relevant and able to sustain the whole story.

Here's an example from an excellent book, Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence.

"Ravens! Always the ravens. They settled on the gables of the church even before the injured became the dead. Even before Rike had finished taking fingers from hands, and rings from fingers. I leaned back against the gallows-post and nodded to the birds, a dozen of them in a black line, wise eyed and watching."

Wow! If you haven't read this book, I thoroughly recommend that you do. What Mark Lawrence has done in the first paragraph of his book is not just create one killer hook, but multiple killer hooks. He raises so many questions in this first paragraph to make sure every reader will want to keep on reading. And he does this throughout his whole novel creating an unstoppable compelling page turning force. Don't start reading this book before you to bed because you'll be up all night unable to put it down.

So these are the questions that Mark Lawrence raises in his first paragraph.

  • Who are "they," and why are they dead?
  • Who's Rike and why is he cutting off fingers and rings?
  • Who is the narrator? Is he good or bad?
  • Why are the birds watching him?
As soon as the reader opens this book they are  immediately thrown into the action and they want to know what is happening and why. I also really like the fact Mark Lawrence has also used dramatic symbolism with the use of adding Ravens which is mentioned in the first word. Raven's to me suggest arcane knowledge from another plane of existence and also that this story may contain occult undertones.

The next question that needs to be considered with creating a killer hook is where to place a killer hook and it should be dropped in to your story as soon as possible. The earlier the better, you need to reel in your reader with your hook and keep command of their attention until the last word. Don't leave it too late to put in your killer hook.

For me personally I have learnt a lot about creating killing hooks by reading. Whenever you stop reading  a new book or short story, or even an non-fiction article keep an eye out for the killer hook. Decide for yourself whether you think they are effective and intriguing enough to keep you engaged and whether you would do it differently.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Have I hit a Wall?

In the last couple of months, I've done and learnt so much. I've even had one of my short stories published, that piece of good fortune is still to settle in! I can't believe that happened. To be honest I'm still convinced it's a fluke and my opinion is unlikely to change unless I get a second story published.

But now I feel like I've ran out of steam, I have an incredibly busy schedule and I feel like the current stories I'm coming up with have lost their sparkle. Usually when I write one I think it's the best thing I've ever done but now I find them just OK.

Is this the beginning of the dreaded writers block? I still have loads of ideas and I'm writing more than ever, but it just doesn't feel right. I'm determined to keep writing and working on my skills but I'm going to pursue other goals alongside them.

So I've decided to take some time out and recharge my creative batteries, and what better way than to delve into one of my passions; reading. My pile of books that have yet to be read is steadily growing taller and taller, it's a really bad habit of mine buying too many books to read.

And what better way to learn more about writing than to learn from the masters themselves who have written some great masterpieces. I also have other projects going and they need a lot background research which I'm really looking forwards to getting my teeth into.

I feel maybe I'm trying too hard and I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing?

But I am looking forwards to reading a lot of books.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

How to Critique Your Own Writing?

This is such a  hard thing to do, and I find myself thinking about this a lot. On one hand I have a lot of really great people in my life who I know if I asked them to read some of work and critique it they'd only come back with praise. Whilst the prospect of only gaining praise for my writing is a very happy one, it's not always useful.

I also feel that if I joined a writers group to get feedback, they may be too harsh, and/ or I would be too easily hurt by any constructive feedback. There's always the suspicion someone might copy one of my stories so I decided this route was also not for me.

That leaves me with the very hard task of having to critique my own work which if I'm being completely honest is something I am very far from mastering. It's very hard to critique something which you have become so closely involved with. In fact I believe that no one can ever really critique their own work which is exactly why successful authors always work with an editor to make sure their work is presented in it's best form.

So here are my tips for critiquing your own work, if you can think of any methods which I have not mentioned please feel free to add them in the comments box.

How to critique a short story?

  • Once you have finished your short story, leave it alone for a at least a few weeks. In the meantime think about what your story was about, what was the point to your story? What exactly were you trying to portray?
  • When you edit your story you need to edit it in two ways. The first edit involves shaping the story. Are you happy with the content? Does it express what you wanted it to say? The second edit involves only looking at the grammar and punctuation. As loathsome as this task is, do not underestimate the importance of doing this. If your grammar and punctuation knowledge needs refreshing do check out the following pages - Improve Your Grammar and Improve Your Punctuation. This is vital if you want to impress a judge or magazine editor and will give your work a professional feel.
  • Another method I use is to constantly re-evaluate old stories I have not read for many months, the longer you leave a story the less familiar you will become with it, and you'll be surprised the things you'll spot.

How to critique a novel?

This is quite similar to the process of critiquing a short story but it is so much harder as there are so many more words. A novel is classified as a work of fiction with a word count of at least 60,000 words, an average short story is about 5,000. Another factor in critiquing a novel is that they will also contain more characters and have subplots. This is no easy task.

  • My first tip once you have written a first draft, is to leave it for at least six months to a year. A first draft can be very rough, it ay only contain the main plot and there may be a few gaps.
  • Whilst you are waiting to have a go at the second draft you can spend your time researching background information for your novel. If your novel is set in the past you will need to research thoroughly the time period it is in so you can get a clear picture of what life was like then to make your story seem real and authentic. This can be a really fun project to do as well as give your more ideas and inspiration for your story.
  • Don't be afraid to rewrite large parts of your story once you begin your second edit. If something isn't relevant to the plot it may be a good idea to take it out.
  • It is also important to evaluate your characters. Do they seem real? Are they likeable? Do you know them well enough? Will the reader understand their feelings and actions?
Unfortunately there's no easy way to critique your own work, but like many skills involved with creative writing, the more practise you get the easier it will become.

What are the Different Viewpoints of Storytelling? Which is Best for Your Story?

One of the great things about creative writing is that there are a huge variety of telling them, but there are only four different viewpoints, something I like to think of as the voice of the story.

Let's take a looks at what these different viewpoints are, and how some are more suited to different types of stories.

So, what's a viewpoint? In simple terms it's the point of view from which the story is told. A viewpoint can be told exclusively through the voice of one character, multiple  characters, or through an omnipresent view.

 What are the four different viewpoints of storytelling?

1. First person viewpoint

Such as I. This is where the narrative comes from one character only, usually always the protagonist, A.K.A the main character. A personal diary is always written in the first person viewpoint.

Advantages of a first person viewpoint

  • A first person viewpoint offers the reader a greater sense of intimacy with the main character, which is vital if the reader needs to strongly sympathise with them.
  • First person viewpoints work really well when writing as it allows the readers to feel involved with the protagonist really early on which is vital to a successful short story.
Disadvantages of a first person viewpoint

  • A possible pitfall is that the reader usually only sees what the protagonist sees

2. Third person viewpoint

Such as He/She. This can be told using a single or multiple viewpoint

Advantages of a third person viewpoint

  • There is more of a barrier between the reader and the protagonist which can be both a advantage and disadvantage. This can be an advantage is there is a major twist looming in the plot, such as if the protagonist is not what they seem and it is only revealed at the end.
  • The reader can see things which the protagonist cannot.
Disadvantages of a third person viewpoint

  • As mentioned above, a third person viewpoint does not afford the same sense of intimacy between the protagonist and the reader.
  • Using a third person viewpoint allows the reader to see the story told through different characters which can offer the reader more information than using only a first person viewpoint.
3. Third person multiple viewpoint

Think Game of Thrones, this is told through the use of multiple third person viewpoints.

Advantages of using third person multiple viewpoints

  • Using a third person multiple viewpoint offers the reader a vast scope of what is going on in the story, they are able to see everything that is occurring.
  • As a writer you can swap between different viewpoints which could make the writing process more interesting. It can allow the reader to build up relationships with more than one character.
Disadvantages of using third person multiple viewpoints

  • Again this method offers less intimacy between the reader and your characters
  • There is a risk that the reader may become confused and a little lost in the plot if there are too many characters. This method requires skill as you must be able to provide multiple unique characters that can stand on their own and be easily distinguished.

4. The Omnipresent viewpoint.

  • This is where a story is told through an un known narrator, this is also called the god's viewpoint.
Advantages of using the omnipresent viewpoint

  • This method differs to the use of a third person viewpoints mentioned above as it allows the reader to eavesdrop in the thoughts of different characters.
  • The reader has access to all areas and they too like the omnipresent narrator can see everything.
Disadvantages of using the omnipresent viewpoint

  • There is a risk of the reader not becoming emotionally involved with the story.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

How to Measure Your Progress as a Hopeful Writer?

As an aspiring writer its easy to think that you're going nowhere but you may surprise yourself with how much you have achieved.

January is traditionally the time for self evaluation and improvement so I thought I'd apply it to my writing. Back in November I set myself three goals and amazingly I have achieved all three, but not only that I'd learnt a lot on the way.

Have a think yourself, you'll be amazed with how much you have learnt about your craft.

In the last three months  I have learnt how to;
  •  Professionally present my work when submitting to magazines
  • Write my own author's bio
  • How to find magazines to submit to
  • Learnt to deal with rejection :(
  • Write with a specific theme in mind
  • Establishing a regular writing routine
It's important  to judge your  work and progress by what you have achieved, not by what you haven't achieved.

Never give up, never give in.

How to Use Different Types of Speech in Fiction?

In this post, speech is meant as the actual way in which dialogue is spoken in fiction. To learn about the three main functions of dialogue in fiction click here

There are three different ways in which you can use speech in fiction;

  •  Monologue/ interior - This is where readers are able to see exactly what a particular character is thinking and gives an added insight for the reader to that character and their private thoughts.
The door slammed shut, there was no way out, Lucy was trapped.

Unbelievable! How am I going to get the package out?

  • Indirect - This is simply speech that is reported and is not annotated with speech marks.
The witch explained that her magic was only used to curse people, not caravans.

  • Direct - This is the most commonly used type of speech and is shown between speech marks.
"The Goblins have arrived," Balthazar said.
"I know," his master concluded.

What Are the Three Functions of Dialogue in Fiction?

Dialogue is essential for fiction, many readers will find it hard to feel emotionally involved with a short story that features no dialogue.

The use of dialogue in a story is so much more than just speech, it can really transform your work.

The three main function of dialogue in fiction;

  • Progressing the plot forwards - Using dialogue between characters moves the story forwards quickly  and can dramatically increase the pace providing a fast paced gripping story. This method is vitally important in short stories where every word counts. 

  • Giving out  important background information - Dialogue exchanged between characters can be a really interesting way of providing background information that is relevant to the plot and also helps to move it along. 

  • Characterization - Characterization involves using many methods to portray a character, dialogue is just one of these methods. For dialogue to be really effective in portraying a character make sure that each word your character speaks shows the sort of person that they are. Does their speech make them sound clever or stupid? Does their speech demonstrate their background? Are they wealthy?

Another very important thing to remember when using dialogue is how to correctly support it. You can give clues to how the character is feeling by describing how they are talking. In real life most people say one thing but are secretly thinking something else.

Detailing the characters physical actions whilst talking can help with characterization.

Tom hovered nervously in the doorway, his hand poised to knock on the door, "Father?" he hesitantly called.

This description of Tom's physical actions suggest that he is feeling nervous and may have some bad news to give to his father. Using descriptions of physical actions can also help break up large chunks of dialogue.

What Are the Three Basic Requirements for Creating Great Characters?

Characters are absolutely vital for any work of fiction regardless of genre. Even in short stories there must be at least two characters a protagonist and an antagonist.

Characters are vitally important to any piece of fiction as it is to read about the human condition and the  and joy we all experience that really moves readers and keeps them reading your work. People and readers are always trying to learn something new about what it is to be human and  how to live in our world and so your characters need to reflect that.

There are three main requirements a  main character must fulfil if they are to be a great character;

  • Characters need to go through a transformation
  • Characters need to be interesting
  • Characters need to be either lovable or hated

It is important for characters to go through transformations that are satisfying to the reader a great example is the tale of the ugly duckling that turns into a beautiful swan. The main characters must go through a great change which may or may not be forced. This change could be personal growth, emotional growth reformation or something else. Above all they need to learn from their mistakes or faults.

A very simple method for creating a memorable plot is to create interesting characters and then put them in interesting situations. Another major ingredient for creating a great character is to make them interesting. When a reader is gripped by a story they will read on because they want to know what happens next, they want to know what this interesting character will do next when faced with certain situations and problems.

For a character to really resonate with your readers they need to be really loveable if they are the protagonists or really disliked of they are the antagonist. The reader must be able to identify with your characters which can be done through sympathy and empathy. If a reader cannot identify with your characters they remain lifeless.

For a reader to empathise with your character they need to feel that a part of themselves is similar to that of the character, this could be a personality trait or a situation or problem that they experience. Maybe the character feels lonely or friendless, they are being victimised or that they are very headstrong or down to earth. Your readers will have all gone through a lot of experiences in their lifetime and  your characters must reflect the personal experiences we all go through. Ultimately if your readers empathise with your characters it means they understand them and therefore their subsequent actions within your story.

Readers will sympathise with a character by identifying with the characters problem and feeling sorry for them. If your reader successfully sympathises for your character they will want your character to succeed and resolve their conflict.

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating characters but if they fulfil these three basic requirements you will be well on your way to creating great characters.

What's a Protagonist?

In simple terms the protagonist is also commonly known as the main character, they are vital to any plot in any story regardless of genre.

The protagonist or main character is central to the plot. Usually the protagonist is deeply affected by a situation which they must successfully resolve usually involving conflict.

The source of their conflict or antagonism is the antagonist, another character that is key to plot development.

There is always a protagonist in every story but interestingly they do not have to be a single character. They can be a group of people, an animal robot,  race of people.

It is very important for the protagonist to go through change when faced with their conflict, and it needs to be satisfying to the reader. This could be personal growth and improvement which they go through in order to solve their conflict.