Tweaking the intro to Prophecy of Power: Prey

Following some feedback I’ve played with the introduction to my upcoming novel. I think it’s much better than it was, but then I (wrongly) thought it was pretty good beforehand too. I’ve got a lot more work to do throughout, but I’m hoping this is a good start.

Please let me know what you think:A drawing of a golden rose

Prophecy of Power: Prey – opening of Chapter 1

Princess Caroline duFandelyon jolted awake, unable to breathe from the pain cramping every muscle. Perspiration broke out despite the cold.

It took an excruciatingly long moment for the pain to pass, but when it did she managed to roll to her back with a soft moan. Dreading she knew what to expect, she slowly raised her bare arms above her face. “By the Higher Realm, no,” she whispered as she stared at her skin. A luminous bell-shaped alimoth flower marked each wrist like an artist’s sketch ready to be filled in. The softly-glowing flowers were the symbol of Marnier du Shae, Goddess of Healing.

The Goddess had put a claim on her.

It had to be punishment for her temerity in coming to consecrated ground under false pretences, though the abbey wasn’t her choice. At her parents’ command she’d travelled under the guise of piety, secretly hiding her pregnancy and later the birth of her illegitimate child. Now that she was preparing to leave, the Goddess of Healing had taken her revenge by demanding lifelong service as if Caroline had been genuinely seeking it.

“Please, don’t ask this of me,” she whispered, unable to take her eyes from the luminous markings. “Your abbey…” Was what? Little but a convenient deception? She’d even lied to her best friends about her reasons for coming here.

And now she was being made to pay for her deceits. If Caroline denied the Goddess now she’d be deprived of the Goddess’s graces her entire life, but if she accepted the outlines would fill in and she’d be bound to serve the Goddess forever. She wanted neither.

A blessing to anyone else, she couldn’t imagine a worse rebuke, not even death. The luminous outlines were a punishment almost as heartbreakingly harsh as the loss of the child she’d had to give up.

Fortunately, the King’s Guard had arrived with orders to return her to Fandelyon City immediately, a perfect solution to defer the unwanted choice. She meant to be mounted and out the gates before a Divine Servant noticed her markings and forced her to confront her calling.

Hands trembling, she took a deep breath and pulled her heavy covers back, the cold hardwood floor smooth under her bare feet. She quickly removed her yellow nightgown, pulled on her warm grey riding dress and boots and threw her royal-blue travel cloak around her shoulders.

Her clothes were tight, but there was no time to get them altered. She’d worn only the order’s pale yellow robes since last autumn and she’d grown several inches taller in that time. Wider too, thanks to her child.

Footsteps approached along the corridor as she tied her hair back. She tried not to show anything but the grace of a princess as the novice Bharise stopped at her open doorway, the acolyte’s olive skin and dark curly hair setting off her pale robes.

Caroline caught her breath when she noticed the shimmering alimoth flowers on the insides of the young Servant’s wrists – something she’d never been able to see before. A nightmare. It had to be.

“Everything’s prepared, Your Highness,” Bharise said, staring up at Caroline as if she noticed something different.

Caroline felt her cheeks flush. The girl knew, somehow. “Thank you, Bharise. I’ll be down in a moment.” As the acolyte’s footsteps retreated, Caroline buried her face in her spare riding dress as if she could smother her growing distress. She needed the support of her mother or sisters to comfort her.

“It’s ironic, don’t you think?”

Caroline jumped, a loose strand of her curly red hair drooping over her face. She dropped the dress on her bed as Tarine, the abbey’s High Priestess, entered her room in a swish of richly embroidered golden robes. Easily a foot shorter than Caroline and barely half her weight, Tarine’s presence nevertheless intimidated. The severely pulled back greying hair didn’t soften her image.

With her clan heritage Caroline had always been tall. Now she stood a head above almost everyone, yet still felt like a child as she confronted Tarine. “Ironic?” Caroline almost stammered as she hurriedly stuffed the heavy dress in her travel pack, making certain her sleeves didn’t slip and expose her wrists. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“How you came here under the pretext of finding your calling?” Tarine glanced pointedly at Caroline’s wrists, her expression suggesting Caroline was no more worthy of Divine Service today than she’d been half a year ago. “Did you even pray to our Goddess while you were here, guile aside?”

“Of course. Devoutly.” It was true – what woman wouldn’t beg the Goddess’s blessing while pregnant?

Tarine pulled her own sleeves back. Like Bharise, a single bell-shaped alimoth flower glowed on the inside of each wrist.

Caroline kept her eyes on the swarthy woman’s face, determined not to acknowledge what she saw. If she did, she’d probably cry. Only three Servants knew why she was really here, and Tarine was one. “I’ve imposed upon you too long, High Priestess,” she said, hoping to divert the woman.

Tarine’s eyes narrowed. “You’re ready for your journey then?” The words were cold. Precise. Direct.

Caroline felt her cheeks flush again. “Thank you for your patience and the kindness you’ve shown me.”

Tarine produced a tight smile, her skin crinkling at the sides of her mouth if not her eyes. “Our Divine Lady doesn’t grant her favours lightly, Princess.”

It was another opening, a chance to acknowledge her divine marks without being called out. Caroline raised her chin slightly. “High Priestess, please understand that this abbey only holds bitter heartache for me.” Humiliated at being forced to acknowledge the Goddess’s apparent blessing, she revealed her luminous alimoth outlines. “I’m not prepared to accept these. They’re a punishment, not a blessing.”

“They’re never a punishment!” Tarine said, but quickly composed herself. “I’ll pray to our Divine Lady. Perhaps she’ll give you the time you need to come to terms with her offer.” She sounded as if the words were being forced upon her.

“I shall pray for the same,” Caroline whispered. She’d always assumed that if she were ever called to Service it would have been the Divine Lady Kindra du Erim, Protector of Warriors, or one of the Elemental Gods. Haram du Heth, Lord of Fire, perhaps.

“Before you depart, you should know that Lady Rhonda duPrey also discovered the healing flowers on her wrists this morning. She has accepted her calling and expects to return to begin her training this summer. Her flowers are fully formed, not outlines like yours.”

“Rhonda will make a wonderful priestess.” And she would. She had a gentle nature, as did her younger sister Kirsty. She would be well suited to the Goddess of Healing.

Tarine stared as if measuring Caroline’s words. “Rhonda’s loyalties run deep. She’s only leaving because she’s been asked to remain with you.”

Caroline hesitated, suddenly curious. “I made no such request.”

“Our Goddess did.”

Our. The word felt like a slap. “But…”

“The Divine Lady speaks to all of us at the moment of our choosing. You’ll eventually have to make a choice; walk the Divine Lady’s path, or step from it forever.”

An easy decision. “High Priestess-”

Tarine grasped Caroline’s hands, squeezing painfully. Although there was conflict on her face, Caroline had never seen her shirk her duties to her Goddess. “I understand your doubts, but She won’t give you another chance if you deny her.”

For a heartbeat Caroline considered refusing anyway. The woman clearly wanted Caroline to walk away despite the words. Yet to deny the Goddess in her own temple… “As you wish, High Priestess. May peace and health always be yours.” Caroline’s alimoth outlines flared warmly at the ritual blessing. She gasped and pulled her hands free as Tarine’s eyes widened. What did that mean? Only Devoted Servants could invoke the Divine Lady’s blessing.

Taine backed a step. “I must pray for understanding. Perhaps you’re being called to greater things than this abbey.”

With her wrists still tingling from the invocation she picked up her pack and swept out of the room, wishing she could leave her regrets with Tarine’s shocked stare.

Within the hour she was a mile along the road toward Fandelyon City in the company of her friends Rhonda and Kirsty duPrey, all three escorted by the King’s Guard. Two maids, a priest, and the duPrey brothers sent to chaperone them all rode behind. Overcast and gloomy for the most part, Caroline suspected it might rain despite the occasional patches of sunlight. The clouds were getting heavier.

“How are you?” asked Kirsty, the younger duPrey sister and Caroline’s best friend. Although pale-skinned like most nobles, she had dark hair like a commoner, but straight. Almost blue-black. Little Raven, her siblings called her when they wanted to tease. They hadn’t seen each other in months due to Caroline’s so-called illness.

Caroline kept her eyes forward, uncertain how to reply without revealing her heartache over giving up her child. No doubt she’d have similar trouble keeping the secret from her sisters when she got home. The number of nights she’d woken up crying, a phantom baby in her arms… She took a calming breath, slowly releasing it. “I’m fine, Kirsty. Fully recovered. Truly.”

The baby would be long gone from these parts anyway, a month old now. For the first couple of weeks Caroline had fantasised about seeking out the child and running away with him or her, perhaps to live among the clans. She was sure to have kin there if she could find them. After watching Tarine swear an oath of secrecy to her Goddess, Caroline was certain the priestess would neither divulge the child’s location nor Caroline’s indiscretion.

Caroline stared ahead, blinking to keep tears at bay. Best not to think about it at all. Obsessing would only lead to more heartache.

“But you were sick for so long. The High Priestess said you only began to recover a month or so ago. Are you sure you’re well enough to travel?”

Lying to her friend didn’t come as easily as she wished. “High Priestess Tarine is cautious, and probably made it seem a worse illness than it actually was.” She’d almost died, certainly, and for days afterward had muffled her sobs under her sheets, wishing she had. It shouldn’t hurt so much to lose something she’d never held.

Wind caught Rhonda’s long honey-coloured hair, but the older girl didn’t pull her hood up to protect herself. She had a distant look as if she’d rather be somewhere else. Back at the abbey, no doubt.

“High Priestess Tarine said you plan to return,” Caroline said as a means of changing the subject. “That the Divine Lady marked you?”

Something like fear passed across Rhonda’s features, but it was gone in an instant. Rhonda held up her wrists and her sleeves fell back a little. She stared at her alimoth flowers as if she wasn’t sure she’d made the right decision. The fully formed flowers were clear to Caroline, and very lifelike.

Kirsty frowned. “I wish I’d been called,” she murmured, staring at Rhonda’s wrists as if wishing she could see the divine marks too.

Despite the wistfulness, Caroline heard the hurt in Kirsty’s voice. Rhonda was tall, graceful and confident, and now she’d been called into Divine Service. Kirsty, probably prettier except for her raven hair, was small, timid, and awkward, younger than Rhonda by more than a year.

“You’re expected to make a sacrifice when entering a Divine Lord or Lady’s service to show your dedication. What was yours?” Caroline asked.

Rhonda paled, her posture stiffening. “Nothing I wouldn’t give a thousand times over. More.”

Lightning flashed bright before thunder pealed across the sky like a God crying out in anguish.

Focus pocus and new resolutions

Person jumping over a gully at sunsetNo posts for ages, and then suddenly a couple in a row. I must be on holidays or something. Oh wait, I am! Back to work Monday though <sigh>.

Speaking of work…

A couple of years ago when I started up Creative Manuscript Services, I made sure I saw a business coach (Leanne Shea Langdown of Achieve Beyond) as part of my redundancy package with CSIRO.

One of the things Leanne recommended I do was to choose a word to help guide me each year; an empowering word with some sort of significance and meaning for me. A word to live by for the year.

I was pretty sceptical, to be honest. I had New Year’s Resolutions, enthusiasm and drive. What did I need a motivational word for?

Unfortunately for me, New Years Resolutions rarely survive January and are quickly forgotten, while enthusiasm and drive are subject to Real Life (RL) intervention like jobs, running kids to events, and a billion other things.

So, New Year’s Resolutions have never really worked for me despite my good intentions, and neither does a list of goals and daily task lists (largely because I get distracted and forget to do them), and even the strongest enthusiasm wanes in the face of RL.

So this year I’m embracing Leanne’s philosophy in favour of a single word to keep me focused. Only what word?

It has to be just right. Something that’ll keep me motivated, focused and constantly achieving little goals on the way to bigger outcomes.

A hand and the world 'Achieve'Leanne’s word in 2017 is ‘Be’. She wants to:

  • ‘Be’ the person she needs to be to achieve her goals
  • ‘Be’ in the moment
  • ‘Be’ aware of the impacts her actions have on others
  • ‘Be’ a leader
  • ‘Be’ brave…

‘Be’ is a great word, but it’s not mine. Or, at least, it’s not mine this year.

Considering I need to focus my efforts, this year I’ve gone with the obvious… ‘Focus’.

Why ‘Focus’ specifically? Because I need to:

  • ‘Focus’ on achieving my goals
  • ‘Focus’ on the task at hand, not the mountain of tasks I can always see
  • ‘Focus’ on creating positive outcomes for myself and my family
  • ‘Focus’ on the reasons I care about what I’m trying to achieve.

That last one is particularly important – why do something unless you care about it, right? If I’m going to devote my down time to a project when I could otherwise be chilling, reading, catching a movie, etc., it had better be something I have a strong emotional connection to. What’s the point otherwise?

Focus is what I’ve lacked these last few years. I’ve wanted things, but I haven’t achieved them because I haven’t cared enough about whether I succeeded or not. I’d passed the ball and was letting others run with it.

What do I mean by that? Well, I’d started full-time work which took a lot of my focus, and I thought I’d already achieved a large measure of success just by landing an agent and publishing contract. Adding to that was advice from my agent not to write the sequels until the first book gained some success (which makes sense – why spend years writing and editing three what could otherwise be unsellable sequels if the first one is a total flop), so I kind of lost focus and let things slip rather than refocus on getting some new novels finished.

I half turned my attention to other projects, but not with any real determination.

Consequently I had no measurable outcomes. No more successes.

The words: Focus on what matters and a corridorThis year I’m determined to change that and keep my reasons for doing things in the forefront. This year I’m going to Focus on those reasons – and achieve the outcomes I’m after.

Maybe ‘Achieve’ will be next year’s word, but for now, I need to Focus.

What’s your word? Let me know if you have one, or don’t yet, but intend to figure one out.

Onward and… more onward

Satalyte Publishing LogoLast year was a bit of a write-off (excuse the pun) as far as my writing career went. I subbed a couple of novels I’d written in previous years to a critique group, but did no new writing and very little editing of my own work.

To top that off, I was planning a big year this year until my publisher (Satalyte, ran by Stephen C. Ormsby), folded. They were scheduled to publish Transcendence of Power: Genesis in the second half of 2017.

I was also planning on finishing the edits to a couple more books loosely tying into that novel – a long-term plan to develop and populate the story universe and its history.

Regarding Satalyte, it’s a shame (and not just for me) they shut down as they were taking risks on new Australian writers. Stephen C. Ormsby put three years of his life into creating his publishing dream.

With a little luck he’ll be able to resurrect Satalyte one day, but for now he’s earned a rest and a round of applause for his efforts.

Stephen gave it a red-hot go, offered extremely fair publishing contracts, and generally tried to do something good. Publishing in Australia is going to be much worse off without him and Satalyte Publishing.

So where does that leave me?

Finding a new publisher isn’t really on my menu. Even if successful, it would take years before I saw it in print.

I’m not interested in waiting that long, so unless disaster strikes I now intend to self-publish Transcendence of Power: Genesis, later in 2017. Unfortunately that’ll take up time I might have otherwise devoted to editing and creating new works, but it’s a much better option than searching for another agent and publisher.

Anyone up for a proofread when I get everything sorted?  😀

Story timelines

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersThe other day I was talking to a mate about timelines, trying to explain my stories set in the past, present and future across two universes.

Although I had it all in my head, I wasn’t able to translate it to a lunchtime conversation very well. So, I sat down and put it into a table, and it was harder than I thought it would be.

I guess it’s probably not going to make a lot of sense like this, but I’ll try.

The upcoming novel I have with Satalyte Publishing (Transcendence of Power: Genesis) is set about 1500 years into our own future, but in a different universe. It’s the culmination of about 200,000 years of scheming by the gods of that universe. In that sense, everything else is a prequel.

Of the ‘prequels’, there are a bunch of stories set in our universe at our present time – urban fantasy’s, if you like.

Later this year, I hope self-publish the direct prequel to the upcoming book, set 3000 years beforehand (in the other universe)

It’s all in the table (clear as mud, right?):

Timeline: Caroline’s universe Events: Caroline’s universe Events: Our universe
0 (current) Noramgaell saga begins – Transcendence of Power: Genesis, etc (formerly Prophecy of Power). Approximately 1500 years in our future.
80 years ago Standalone novel – Lost in Darkness (unwritten).
3000 years ago Short novel: Leviathan’s Reach (this is the direct prequel to the Normamgaell saga, and should be out later this year).
3,700 years ago Event: Crystal wars – between shivras and simoraths – shatters the world (I’m not planning on turning this into a story as yet).
20,000 years ago Sellendria (from Through the Veil) is born. She also appears in Transcendence of Power: Genesis. Our present (unpublished novels): Epicentre, Through the Veil, Dark Genesis. Short story: Wyvern’s blood (published).
24,000 years ago Ellie (from Wyvern’s Blood) was born. Covenant with Wyverns is created.
180,000 years ago Event: Unicorn is killed. This event marks the first volley in the war between the Gods.
200,000 years ago War between the Gods begins.

Have you established a timeline for your stories, whether a single book or a series?

Conflux 11 – Are You Attending?

Conflux 11Conflux this year is set to be amazing – four full days of convention goodness designed for writers of all levels of experience.

Karen, Leife and the Committee have done an amazing job of organising events, panels, workshops, and guests, not to mention wrangling a ridiculous number of people to help out on panels, administrative duties, volunteering, and organising specific areas like the dealer’s room.

If you haven’t been to a Conflux convention before, you’re in for a treat.

For my part, I’m sitting on a bunch of panels on the Saturday and one more on the Monday, as well as running two workshops.

About the workshops:

Creating Compelling Characters

This workshop will run at 1pm on Friday 2 October. Come along for an exciting two-hours that will take you well beyond simple character descriptions and backstories.

Here’s what its about:

Readers have certain expectations that go far beyond genre, beginning with characters they want to spend time with.

Creating Compelling Characters will give you the essential hands-on toolkit to ensure your readers care about what happens to your characters, even the ones they hate.

Through practical exercises and group activities you’ll learn how transform ‘boring’ or even ‘interesting’ characters into ‘absolutely compelling’ individuals.

You’ll gain a clear understanding of how to:

  • apply simple techniques to ensure your characters come across as real, riveting, and engaging people
  • exceed reader expectations through drama and conflict
  • draw readers into an intense emotional experience they’ll be desperate to share with their friends.

The workshop will leave with the keys to making your characters resonate with the people who matter the most – your readers – and to keep them thinking about your story long after they’ve read the last word.

Polishing Your Pitch

My second workshop runs on the Saturday at 2.30pm, and is designed to help you get from nervously wondering what to say to an agent or editor, to a polished pitch designed to intrigue and tempt them into asking for your manuscript.

There are some really simple techniques that will help you do this, the most basic being able to concisely and coherently deliver the essentials of what your novel’s about.

This workshop will help you:

  • create an elegant and informative overview of your story
  • get over any nerves
  • ensure you walk away with the best outcome possible – a request to read your manuscript.

You can find all the details and booking information on the Conflux Website.

Volunteer for Conflux

Register for either of my workshops (or any others)

Attend Conflux (includes all workshops and panels etc)

Are you attending? If so, look me up. I’m always ready for a coffee!

Creating Compelling Novels – ACT Writers Centre Workshop

The ACT Writers Centre LogoI’m going to be giving a full-day workshop at the ACT Writers Centre!

The workshop, called Creating Compelling Novels, is on from 10am–4pm Saturday 25 July.

Here’s the blurb:

“Readers have certain expectations that go far beyond genre. At the very least they expect to be entertained, but entertainment is subjective, even within genre.

Fortunately, there are story elements common across all forms of fiction, such as conflict, theme, and structure. Creating Compelling Novels will teach you to identify and apply these elements and many more so you can meet or exceed expectations.

Through practical exercises and group activities you’ll learn how transform your ideas, characters, and storylines into a cohesive whole, potentially taking your stories well beyond the borders of genre— and all without selling out.

Discover exactly what each part of a novel must accomplish, why so many stories suffer from ‘middle sag syndrome’, and why so many novels fail to be compelling.

You’ll gain a clear understanding of how to:

  • apply story structure without appearing formulaic
  • meet or exceed readers expectations
  • troubleshoot story problems
  • draw readers into an intense emotional experience they’ll be desperate to share with all their friends.

You’ll leave with the keys to making your novel resonate with the people who matter most – agents, editors, and readers.

If you think that sounds like something you’re interested in, get onto the ACT Writers Centre website.

Cost: $125 members, $90 concessional members, $190 non-members (includes 12 months of membership), $140 concessional non-members (includes 12 months of membership)
Venue: E Block Seminar Room, Gorman Arts Centre (formerly ACT Writers Centre workshop room)
Bookings: You can book by phone on 6262 9191, online or at the office. Payment is required at time of booking.

New post on CMS: Translating the Story in Your Head

Translating the Story in Your HeadHey all, I’ve put up an article on my Creative Manuscript Services website: Translating the Story in Your Head.

It’s about making the story on the page worthy of the one you’ve dreamt up.

“When working as a fiction editor I’m sometimes asked by my braver/more enthusiastic clients: Did you like it?

It’s a big question with a lot of emotional baggage.

Its also the only question that really matters to both a writer and a reader.

Being subjective, there’s only one satisfying answer…”

It’s well worth the look, I promise.

 

Things I wish I knew about Author Promotion when I started writing

Everything I wish I knew about Author Promotion when I started writingIt’s really tough getting word out about your creative endeavours, so it’s good to know what works and when to start doing it.

With this problem in mind I asked a group of writers to throw their best tips at me, and they responded with some fantastic advice.

My own tip: Be the kind of person that other people want to be friends with by helping and supporting them whenever you can. (It doesn’t hurt to put the name of your latest book or your website address in your email signature either.)

Here’s some more great tips:

“My biggest one-day bump came from an article a newspaper reporter/recent acquaintance wrote about books featured locally. The second was from doing a reading at high school that then ordered a classroom set of books. Both involved being open to the opportunity. Neither was based on a sale or a paid advertisement. In 20 months as a published writer have seen no appreciable return from sales or paid advertisements!” Robert L. Slater

“Connect with – and support – other authors by commenting on their blogs, hosting them on your blog for releases, Tweeting about their books, etc. People are more willing to help promote authors that they already know and like.” Quanie Miller

“Every now and then try a new author promotion strategy. Ask yourself – Have I done anything new lately to promote my books?” Aditi Chopra

“Promotion also is all about presentation to the right market who is interested in your writing.  Make sure you are targeting the market for success.”  Debra Hargrove

“Promote soft or hardcover editions via a public book signing and leave a copy or two to be discovered in a public place to create a public awareness of your work.” Douglas Moore

“What I learned was that resistance is futile and you need to embrace this part of the process. Sometimes it is even – gasp! – fun.” Janine Donoho

“Think outside the box. That is where the growth occurs and if you don’t grow, you stifle.” Karin Halford

“Be patient. Maintain personal integrity, and hold on to your moral and ethical beliefs.” Armando Almase

“Create a writer’s platform, starting with a blog you own.” Carly Compass

“Social media is a must for any author who wants to earn a steady income from writing. Update your blog(s) and make use of Twitter and Facebook and Google + with a mix of self promotion and reposting other articles of interest. Self promotion alone will lose you followers on social media platforms.” Douglas Moore

“Write, write, write, join a critique group, critique, critique, critique. Then, rewrite what you wrote! [Start with a great book!]” Cholontic (Jen Christopherson)

“An author platform online should encompass many sites. Twitter, an FB page, website optional but definitely a blog, Google Plus, maybe YouTube trailers, Instagram & Pinterest, WattPad, Goodreads, if on Amazon fill out your bio area. Fill that out everywhere and utilize the free online real estate at your disposal. Update your LinkedIn.” Tosca Johnson

“Author promo is separate from book promo. Author promo begins long before you have a book on a shelf, the attention of an agent, or hit ‘upload’ on your first self-pub’d masterpiece. Author promo means standing up in the world, both visceral and virtual, and saying ‘Hello, I’m _ and I’m a writer.’ Author promo means connecting with peers, networking with the writing community, and making sure potential readers know your name long before you have anything other than yourself to promote.” AmyBeth Inverness

“Do what you love.” Joe Machney

“I wish I had known how to do it. I didn’t really promote my first book very much. I wish I had been friends with writers who could point me towards the better sites for helpful hints.  Have an author page on all the major social media sites and keep it up to date with  anything appropriate. They are a great way for people to get to know you as a person and want to buy your books because of it.” Karin Halford

Check out some of the other posts in the “Things I Wish I Knew About” series: Point Of View, Critiquing, Dealing With Rejection, Editing Your Own Work, Short Stories, Creating Characters, Story Development, Worldbuilding and Writing.

CMS Structural Analysis Report giveaway.If you’re looking for a little help with your own writing, head over to Creative Manuscript Services and enter the free Structural Analysis Report giveaway.

I’ll be teaching at Conflux!

A person giving a presentation in an auditoriumYes, you read the title right.

I’ll be teaching  a workshop at Conflux this October.

Why?

Because I’ve been lucky enough to find answers to many the questions I’ve had over the last few years in regard to story, structure and reader expectations, and I’d like to pass some of them on.

I’ve compiled as much of my research as I could into a workshop designed to benefit almost any writer, even those who already know everything (like I thought I did). ;-D

So, what’s this workshop about?

Did you ever get the feeling your story wasn’t working? Or not working well enough?

Perhaps you gave it to some beta readers and their reactions didn’t inspire confidence despite the fact they said they liked it?

I’ve had that feeling, and no matter what I changed, people weren’t reacting the way they were supposed to (i.e., by demanding the sequel).

The prose itself was tight, the characters believable, the world intensely real (at least to me), and the story amazing (I might be showing a little bias).

The point is, the story I saw in my head didn’t translate to the page, and I didn’t know how to fix that.

In short, I didn’t have a story that met readers expectations in the ways it was supposed to.

At every level of schooling I ever attended, right through to university, I was told a story needed a beginning, middle and end, but nobody told me what those parts demanded or how to go about identifying problems or areas that weren’t working.

And that’s what I intend to teach in my workshop – the elements of story – the things that nobody else will teach you because most people aren’t even aware they exist.

So if you’ve got the time, come along and take the workshop.

It’s free for Conflux members and ridiculously cheap if you’re not.

You can find more details on the Conflux website: Planning and Structuring a Novel: A Conflux workshop.

The five key elements of a successful writer, Part 3, Discipline– Guest Post by Amanda Bridgeman

Amanda Bridgeman graces us again today with the third instalment of her five key elements to being a successful writer. Today she talks about discipline.

Discipline

Amanda Bridgeman sitting on a chairBooks don’t write themselves.

They take a hell of a lot of time (and blood, sweat and tears), so stop procrastinating and get to it!

The best analogy here is with athletes.

The most successful athletes are those that are incredibly disciplined and spend every waking moment doing everything they can to make themselves a better athlete (they train for hours, they watch what they eat, they ensure they get enough sleep, etc, etc).

You must be disciplined and set time aside to write, or to promote, or to learn.

If you don’t then you will never achieve your goals.

Aurora Meridian cover artPersistence pays when it comes to writing, and the only way to get something done is to get something done!

So set yourself a deadline and stick to it.

The most successful writers out there (aside from having a mass of talent), are hard workers.

They are disciplined, they are dedicated, and they dare to dream.

Part 4 tomorrow: Understanding.

Catch up on Amanda’s very first guest blog post here: How to write a thousand words (or maybe more).

The five key elements of a successful writer, Part 2, Willingness – Guest Post by Amanda Bridgeman

Amanda Bridgeman is back with some more fantastic advice on the key elements of being a successful writer, and today (as usual) she’s spot-on. It all comes back to the fact that you’ve got to be open and eager to achieve things. Here’s how Amanda puts it:

Willingness

Amanda Bridgeman sitting on a chairBe eager to learn and continue to learn.

Be willing to listen to the advice of your editor, your publisher, your marketing people.

Be willing to attend conferences and talks and listen to what the ‘pros’ have to say, and also what the ‘fans’ have to say.

Be willing to take classes to hone your skills.

Be willing to read across genres and read often.

Be willing to spend time keeping your finger on the pulse of popular culture (Film, TV, music, etc).

Be willing to keep your eye on what is happening in the real world.

Assume that you know nothing (Jon Snow) and strive to learn more.

You must always be willing to improve yourself and your writing, and every step of the way you must be professional while you do it.

Part 3 tomorrow – Discipline

Aurora Series of covers

Miss yesterday’s post? Find out about what Amanda has to say about having Patience.

Five Key Elements of a Successful Writer, Part 1, Patience – Guest Post by Amanda Bridgeman

Amanda Bridgeman sitting on a chairWhen I saw a tweet from Amanda (pure luck with the timing as I’m rarely on Twitter) asking if people would be happy to host her on a blog tour, I jumped at the chance. Amanda’s a fantastic writer with some great insights into the publishing industry (not to mention a lovely person), so I was keen to host her here.

I asked her to  share some of her experience into her writing career, and randomly picked ‘the darkest hour’ as a topic.

Well, she knocked the topic out of the arena, across three States and into a pretty neat little Territory called the ACT, almost punching it into orbit on the way.

This is part one, on the subject of… [drum roll]… needing patience as a writer!

When I asked Chris what he would like me to write about for this blog, he suggested discussing my darkest hour.

I thought about this, and decided to discuss the ways in which you can help avoid experiencing that darkest hour.

Aurora Meridian cover artThe one thing I have learnt about being a published writer is that it is a constant roller coaster of a ride and it will continue that way until you decide to pull the plug.

I’ve never been much of a roller coaster fan, but I’m slowly getting used to it.

You will have your awesome ‘up’ days, and you will have your depressing ‘down’ days.

But that’s the life of a writer – you either accept it or you don’t.

There are ways to minimise the impact, though, by preparing yourself and managing your expectations.

So here is the first of five aspects I think every writer must strive to embrace in order to ward off your darkest days.

Patience

If you want to be published, you must realise and accept that it takes time.

A lot of time.

Firstly you must write that book, then you must whip that book into shape, then you need to ship it around to all the different players, then you need to wait for responses, then you need to negotiate contacts, then you need to go through several rounds of editing, then you need to market and sell your book.

All of this can take years. And even then, when you finally release your book, it is highly unlikely that it will be an overnight sensation – rocketing up the charts.

You need patience to bring your book to publication, then you need patience while you build up your readership.

There is a phenomenal amount of books out there, so it can take time to reach readers. So be realistic with your expectations. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Serious writers are in this for the long haul, and patience is their most prized possession. Don’t believe me? Check out these blogs by Peter M Ball:

Born and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda hails from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, her three brothers raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. She studied film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies) in Perth, Western Australia, which has been her home ever since, aside from a nineteen month stint in London (England). Her debut novel Aurora:Darwin was published with Momentum in May 2013; the sequel Aurora: Pegasus was published in December 2013; and Aurora: Meridian will be released on 11 September 2014.

Part 2… “Willingness”

Things I wish I knew about Dealing With Rejection when I started writing

Dealing with rejectionRejection’s never fun, and although I’ve copped a fair amount of it I still suffer from that moment of disbelief whenever another story gets returned.

Either something didn’t resonate (which is rarely the writers fault – you can’t please everyone), or the story in your head got lost in translation – which is your fault. You’re the translator, after all.

You’d be surprised at how frequently people see something you didn’t intend, or more likely, how rarely they do.

Regardless of the reason, rejection gets easier, but I doubt anyone would ever say it’s a ‘woohoo’ moment (even if you’re involved in some sort of competition to get you submitting – the more rejections, the more proactive you’re being as a writer, after all).

It’s hard not to be precious about our writing, but you can reduce the angst by writing more stories and sending out. That way you’re not pinning your hopes on one – you’ll have dozens out there carrying your dreams of publication.

Don’t consider trunking a story until it’s had at least fifteen or twenty rejections either, and probably not even then. You cared enough to write it, so there’s always going to be something magic there.

Put the story away for a while if you need to – you’ll see it with fresh eyes when you return to it.

In the mean time, write more stories and keep sending them out. Sooner or later, you’ll hit a mark. Lots of marks, hopefully.

Here’s some more great advice on Dealing with Rejection:

“Expect rejection, and when the rejection letter comes, put on your thick skin and send your story out again. Then sit down and feel the pain, and because your baby has been sent out again, feel the hope. Keep writing.” Cora Foerstner

“Rejection is part of the process and your work will not be right for everyone, no matter how good it is. Keep multiple queries or submissions going out, so you don’t have all your eggs (and hopes) in one basket.” Maer Wilson

“When I experience rejection, I consider that all the big authors have five star and one star reviews, so we should expect it too. And, when it’s your baby…remember, it will be a big and strapping young thing one day that can handle itself.” James Steven Clark

“That first rejection might hurt. Even the second. But by the thirtieth, or one-hundredth, it’s like water off a duck’s back. Doesn’t bother you so much. Trust that this will happen and don’t let the fear of rejection stop you.” Vanessa MacLellan

“Before sending off a submission, always know where you’ll be sending that story next should it get rejected. Having a back-up plan before you receive a rejection will soften the blow.” Zena Shapter

“You most likely won’t win the book lottery. Margaret Mitchell, John Scalzi, and others who have managed the almost impossible, partially got lucky, but they had the book that made it possible for them to get lucky. So if you’re getting lots of rejection letters, look to reworking your book, or abandon it and move on.” Gerri Lynn Baxter

Check out some of the other posts in the “Things I Wish I Knew About” series: Author PromotionPoint Of View CritiquingEditing Your Own Work, Short Stories, Creating Characters, Story Development, Worldbuilding and Writing.

Using critiques to improve your writing

Using critiques to improve your writingI’ve probably mentioned I’m participating in a novel critique group this year.

Every month someone in the group puts their novel up for critique, and the rest of us pull it apart with a view to improvement.

It’s all about critical analysis, but its the passion you need to look for – what people love or… really don’t love.

Unfortunately, every comment that’s not adoration stings a little.

In fact, the more effort someone’s put into a book, the bigger the sting they’ll feel.

Still, feedback’s just feedback – impressions based on what other people would do if it were theirs, and that’s the attitude you need to take into it.

The problem is, it’s easy to get lost in the detail or take things personally. It is your baby, after all.

Once you get over the initial disbelief that everyone else doesn’t love it as much as you do (believe it or not that happens occasionally), you’ll begin to discover some value in what’s said.

Hopefully you’ll see lots of value.

Even so, all of it will all be given with bias due to personal tastes and perspectives, so take a step back and ask yourself a few questions about where you want to take your story and what you want to achieve with it.

If you can do that, you’ll be in a better position to assess the responses.

There are a lot of specific questions you could ask yourself, but only one that’s important at this stage:

“What impression did my story make?”

Seriously. Everything hinges off that question. Specifics can wait.

How people react after reading your novel is the truest test of its worth.

If your critiquers didn’t like it, consider that a reasonable parallel with your intended readers. Translation: poor sales.

You’ll need to weigh their reactions against what you know about the individual critiquers of course, particularly if they’re not in your target audience.

For example, romance writers may not appreciate your military SF novel,  but they may know more about developing characters that readers will care about than you do.

In that regard, the greatest thing you can do (from a commercial perspective) is impress readers from other genres.

Everyone’s perspective is valuable, particularly if you concentrate on emotional responses instead of critical analysis.

If you give your novel to ten people and none of them love your story, then it’s probably not working  as well as you need it to.

On the flip side, if they’re emailing you for weeks and months afterward with ideas or are demanding to read the sequel, then you know something’s resonated with them.

That’s the magic you’re looking for!

That’s what sells books, and that’s what you need.

Whatever else you do, keep the things that people love and try to figure out why those things resonated with them (if it’s not obvious).

Conversely, consider ways of improving everything they didn’t like – their critical responses will help with this.

You may even come to the conclusion that some of the things you love have to go or be completely reworked.

A good knowledge of story structure and getting readers to care about what happens to your characters helps here.

How you use the knowledge is the hard part, but it can only come after you assess their reactions.

Write another novel if you need more time to gain perspective. It can only help.

Things I wish I knew about Short Stories when I started writing

Things I wish I knew about short stories when I started writing.There are a lot of great things about short stories – they’re fast to write (at least in comparison to novels), there’s plenty of markets for them, and they allow you to practice and hone your craft while you learn to deal with the realities of the publishing world.

I often use them to explore my larger worlds with fresh characters, and consequently there’s been more than one occasion where a character from short story has made it into a novel.

That said, short stories take a long time to master (if that’s even possible), and even experienced writers who’ve got dozens, perhaps hundreds of shorts published, still learn with each new story they produce.

My advice: Always have at least one or two short stories on the go. That’s something I neglected for a long time.

Here’s some more great advice:

“In a short story, every word counts and every scene should do triple duty.  You’ve no time to waste.” Vanessa MacLellan

“Do not start with a dry explanation of the story’s context.” Mary Jeddore Blakney

“Short stories for a writer are like sketches are for an artist. There is only room to explore your main subject. Every line counts, so make the best of them.” Kelly Martin

“Don’t try to turn a short story into a novel.” Vruta Gupte

“Short stories are a great way to get feedback from readers.  With minimal investment, you can see which of your stories readers like the best – and then, the most popular stories can be used for your next novel.” Drew Briney

“A short is kind of like a poignant snapshot of a much deeper story. So don’t get too bogged down trying to tell the WHOLE story. DO tell enough to draw the reader in and make it an interesting story within the larger story.” Dana Masting

“The few words of a short story can be far more powerful than a novel if done right. Often this takes more out of you to do this, and will leave you more drained than a novel can after it is finished.” Andrea Jensen

“You can still earn money writing short stories.” Vruta Gupte

“Writing a short story is a style all of its own.” Chantelle Griffin

“Writing shorts stories help sell your bigger novels. Gives new readers a small taste of your projects to garner interest. Not everything you write has to be the Great American Novel.” Chris Mentzer

“I wish I’d known to not be embarrassed or distressed because I suck at writing short stories. My natural story length is the novel, and I don’t have to follow the “conventional wisdom” that you have to break in with short stories, and then sell the novel.” Gerri Lynn Baxter

“I’ve never written a short story, but just about every scene I’ve written has a beginning, middle, and end…” Mark Mercieca

Check out some of the other posts in the “Things I Wish I Knew About” series: Author PromotionPoint Of View Critiquing, Dealing With Rejection, Editing Your Own WorkCreating Characters, Story Development, Worldbuilding and Writing.

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