Things I wish I knew about Point of View when I started writing

Things I wish I knew about Point of View when I started writing.Point of View is one of those things that often takes a long time to get your head around (no pun intended), but once you do you can’t ‘not see it’ when writers ‘break’ the rules.

I recently re-read a book I’d loved as a teenager – a book that sold in the millions and even spawned a movie.

By today’s standards it’s was atrocious in terms of POV, which just goes to show how subjective we all are as readers.

More to the point, what’s acceptable today may not be acceptable in the decades to come.

While I’d encourage people to stick with a single POV per scene, it’s really only a guideline. Do whatever works for you and your readers.

Here’s some more advice you might like to consider:

“Point of view is the best way to get in a characters mind.”
Era Metko

“Be sure to stay within one point of view until a scene change.” Glendon Perkins

“Stick to one per scene. No head-hopping!” Robin Lythgoe

“Understand POVs.  Read the definitions of First, Second, Third, Omniscient, etc.  Realise head hopping is OKAY if that is what you intend.  Don’t let people tell you you can’t do it, because they think it’s wrong.  It’s not wrong, it’s just not their choice.” Vanessa MacLellan

“I wish I’d known that after two books in a trilogy written in first-person, my third book would have to be written from multiple POV. I probably would have done it the same way, but I would have thought a lot harder about the choice.” Blanca Florido

“As a reader I get confused when an author changes viewpoints (head hops) in the same scene unless something else makes it obvious.” Mark Mercieca

“Use whatever POV works best for you and your story – no matter what everybody else says.” Victoria Adams

“I tend to define my narrator as a character. This helps focus my story by limiting what can be told through the narrator’s understanding of events as opposed to my author’s perspective. I attribute motive to a narrator as well, colouring the story with their agenda. Sometimes what they omit or change is as informative as what they relate.” Kelly Martin

“Nothing can break a reader’s attention quicker than a change in the point of view. Tread very carefully when adding more than one, and make sure it is necessary for the story. No amount of revision will smooth out a piece of writing when a point of view is in the wrong place.” Chantelle Griffin

“I would recommend staying with the same POV throughout your novel, except you might slip into an omniscient viewpoint if no POV character is present in the scene, and perhaps if it’s in first person and that character dies.” Mark Mercieca

“Play with POVs, especially on the first draft, but even when editing. You could discover a new perspective that brings light in an otherwise horribly confusing chapter.” Era Metko

“POV is most effective when the narrator shares the “voice” of the POV character (regardless of whether you’re writing first person, third person, whatever). This makes for a more interesting narration and can help to orient the reader when switching POVs (your hitman probably narrates in short, terse sentences with the occasional swear; your sassy teen probably narrates with slang).” Madison Dusome

“As a story progresses it should become clear “Why” the narrator is interested in telling the particular story. If the reader can’t figure out “Why” the narrator cares about the story, then it is going to be more difficult for the reader to care about the story.” Kelly Martin

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

Everything I wish I knew about First drafts when I started writing

Things I wish I knew about first drafts when I started writing.Unlike me, I’m sure most writers never have any trouble finishing a first draft. Okay, maybe a couple do.

I like to tinker, play, and revise to distraction. In fact, I sat on the opening three chapters of my first novel for about a hundred years.

Years, anyway. Quite a few of them.

Which brings me to today’s subject. First drafts. How do you go about writing them? What’s your best advice to a newbie on the subject?

I’ve found the best way for me is to rush through them – write every day until they’re done, and then take a break. NaNoWriMo is perfect for this.

So my advice: Get it on the page – it doesn’t matter how good or bad it is. You can fix it later.

Here’s some more great advice you might like to consider:

“Your first draft is your plan or outline. It’s much easier to take your ideas and characters out for a spin in the virtual world of an outline rather than manage hundreds of pages of a rough manuscript that may end up going nowhere.” Luke Mercieca

“Bad news is, it will suck because you’re not perfect. Good news is, you can make it better. Even better news is, that means you don’t have to worry about what you write. The first draft is for yourself and yourself only.” Era Metko

“The first draft of a manuscript lies in the midst of a great journey. What you do next will make all the difference.” Chantelle Griffin

“A large part of what goes into a first draft will not appear
in the finished work.” Giulio Zambon

“You will see things that need to change, how a different structure would enhance a scene or a chapter. Take notes, move on, and make those changes in revision.” Gerri Lynn Baxter

“Chapters 1, 2 & 3 are about to become Chapters 2, 3, 1 & 4. Oh yeah and you need to tear out most of them and re-write, because they’re bad.” Charles Murray

“In the middle of the draft, if it gets hard or boring or you feel like it’s the worst thing anyone’s ever written, that’s completely normal. Keep on writing anyway.” Kyra Halland

“You might end up rewriting 90 per cent of it, and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid of it.” L.K. Evans 

“Writing is like making a jigsaw puzzle without an image of the finished work, and the first draft is like working on the edges of the puzzle and on the parts you can easily recognise. Expecting to be able to write a first draft from the beginning to end is like attempting to solve a puzzle from top-left to bottom-right.” Giulio Zambon

“You’ll discover so much more about your world, characters, plot than you had planned.  And that’s okay.  Don’t try to force it into a box, even if you do have an outline.” Vanessa Maclellan

“Don’t get distracted by little details that you think you should fix – keep the momentum going and save your edits for later.” Drew Briney

“You can get port in goon-bags.” JW Arlock

“First Drafts are first drafts. It may only be a very small step on a very long journey especially if your intension is to write a series and its the first book. The first draft may be an experiment to see if the plot works or even an expedition to discover both the plot and the characters, and after a analysing it you might find yourself transplanting these elements into a decent story structure…” Mark Mercieca

“Don’t waste time trying to polish up a first draft.” Giulio Zambon

“You’ll get bogged down somewhere around the middle. Don’t give up. Push through, and finish it.” Keith Keffer

And there you have it. I think the general consensus is ‘just write it and worry about making it great later’.

What’s your advice?

If you liked this post, 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 Work, Short Stories, Creating Characters, Story DevelopmentWorldbuilding and Writing.

Things I wish I knew about Critiquing when I started writing

Things I wish I knew about critiquing when I started writingCritiquing means different things to different people.

For me, it was always about finding the flaws so they could be fixed.

I’ve never made it a secret that I want to get my stories in front of as many people as possible, and I assume everyone else does to (unless they say different).

That influences my approach to critiquing, because to get your stories in front of people beyond your immediate reach, you have to give them a story they want to share.

It doesn’t matter how much advertising you do, how popular you are on social media, or even who you know, if you write a story that people don’t like, they aren’t going to share it.

Having a broad base of support is a great advantage, but word of mouth has always been, and will continue to be, a writers best friend.

In that sense, it’s kind of pointless to seek feedback if you’re not going to listen to what’s said.

It’s pretty rare that the solutions people offer will work for your story, but if several people have the same problem with it, then there’s almost certainly an issue you need to deal with.

That’s my advice, at least.

Here’s some more great advice from other writers:

“Being diplomatic and constructive is very important when critiquing, as its somebody’s ego you’re poking. Be true but kind.” Mark Mercieca

“It’s as much about asking the right questions as about the writing itself.” Robyn McIntyre

“Critiquing will take up a large amount of your ‘writing time’, but don’t worry to much about that because its worth every minute.” Mark Mercieca

“You learn as much from reading the critiques of others as you do your own.” Roland Boykin

“Early in the process, there’s a fine line between following your vision and incorporating another’s ideas. Don’t expose your baby on the mountain until she can survive the elements. Then incorporate those suggestions that make your story the best that it can be.” Janine Donoho

“I wish I’d demanded written critiques, not scribbles in the margins of my hardcopy. Week’s later when you go over these reviews they often don’t make sense or you can’t read the reviewers writing.” Mark Mercieca

“There is a big difference between giving criticism and being critical. Be honest, but be constructive. Telling someone their writing is rubbish doesn’t help them. Telling them why it doesn’t work for you and helping them improve it does.” Angeline Trevena

“Like editing, you need multiple reads for: plot / world building continuity, prose / rhythm, plot pacing.” Drew Briney

“Early on I felt that sometimes I couldn’t contribute or identify issues other critiquers picked up. Don’t worry. This definitely improves with practise.” Mark Mercieca

What’s your best critiquing advice?

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

Things I wish I knew about Editing Your Own Work when I started writing

Text: Things I wish I knew about Editing Your Own Work when I started writing.Editing is a dirty word for some, but for me, it’s the best part of writing.

It’s where ninety-five per cent of my effort goes (if not more), and it’s the part I can get lost in. A little too lost, sometimes.

I wish I’d known a few more things about editing my own work when I started writing, because I spent years trying to perfect sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters, yet I didn’t have a clue that some of my stories had bigger problems.

It was a classic forest and trees problem.

I had the editing part down, but not the story part. In short, I didn’t know how to edit for story.

Therefore, my advice to my younger self: Don’t start editing words until you’ve edited for structural issues.

That’s not all I needed to learn. Here’s some more fantastic advice I wish I’d known when I started writing:

“So, so many words can be deleted. I promise there will be another opportunity to use them later.” L. K. Evans

“No matter how many times you go through it, there will still be something an editor will pick up that will have you facepalming and wondering how you could ever be so stupid.” Ann Smyth

“I finally realised that the Rules of Writing are actually just guidelines, not hard and fast rules.” Roland Boykin

“Other people will always pick up things you won’t, so another perspective is crucial; preferably six or seven or ten if you can. If different people are saying the same things about your work then it needs some changes.” Mark Mercieca

“Add your text to a read back app on a computer or mobile device. Follow along on paper to mark the errors in spelling.” Glendon Perkins

“Keep notes to help remember if it was the ‘right hand or left hand that was burned’ later on in the book. Use this for characters and places and named objects.” Keith Keffer

“No matter how good of an editor you are for other people’s work, you will never give your own stuff the same diligence. I find myself overlooking simple things like typos much less giving my work the angry red pen that it really needs.” Colin Ritter

“Get Adobe Acrobat to read your stuff back to you (albeit in a robotic voice). You’ll notice missed/duplicate words, bad sentence rhythm, etc. more easily. If you read it aloud yourself, you may still miss things as you’ll read what you think is there. The computer won’t make that mistake.” Ann Smyth

“Use word count analysis to pick up spelling differences in names etc.” Mark Mercieca

“Know when to stop and pass it off to someone else. If you are on your fifth pass through and you find yourself second guessing what you wrote, hand it off.” Keith Keffer

“There are several things in life for which no amount of preparation will match the actual task, editing is one of these. Make it as much fun as possible because one edit is not enough.” Chantelle Griffin

“When you finally get around to writing a novel, you’ll discover its fun, until editing begins. The countless revisions (i.e. self-editing) is where it gets tough – and the author emerges. Outsourcing is recommended, especially proof-reading.” Karen Wyld

“Always read your work out loud. It means you read a little slower, and you can pick up on issues like repetition, syntax and rhythm that you may otherwise miss.” Angeline Trevena

“Write what you love (what you know will come), read it aloud (and repeatedly) because if you don’t want to, you KNOW something’s wrong; start strong (and then live up to that); and seek advice (then fight it).” Will Hahn

“When you get to the point when you’re changing a word, then changing it back, it’s time to stop.” Ann Smyth

“Edit in a different medium than you write, such as e-reader or paper.” Keith Keffer

“There is no such thing as great writing, only great rewriting.” John Skeats

“Text to speech is a great idea I wish I’d heard of earlier. The metallic computer voice is the ultimate impartial judge on your writing.” Mark Mercieca

“You have to wait before editing. Doing it the day after you’ve written a chapter will block your progress and never be good enough. It may end in an infinite loop of write and correct.” Era Metko

“Find great critique partners who pull no punches. It can be a little painful at first, but once the bandaid is pulled off it doesn’t hurt so much. And the scar makes your writing stronger.” Blanca Florido

“The best way to edit yourself is to hire an editor. Before I hire one, read it out loud, it’s a very different perspective on your work that you must have.” David Nelson

“When writing a story, you need to shut off you inner editor or you’ll never finish your work. Editing comes when the work is complete, not when you finish chapter one.” Chris Mentzer

“The best editing is done three years after you’ve lost your ms, stumbled on it again, said ‘this is really bad’ and started again. You just can’t edit your own work properly until it’s stone dead.” John Yeoman

“Take at least a few months off before making a final edit to make sure the material is no longer fresh in your mind.” Drew Briney

What’s your best piece of editorial advice?

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

Things I wish I knew about worldbuilding when I started writing

Things I wish I knew about worldbuilding when I started writing.Here we are for another collaborative blog post, this time on worldbuilding!

Worldbuilding’s a personal weakness of mine – I tend to write stories first and then go back and enrich the world. That, of course, changes the story and the characters and everything else, requiring further rewrites.

My own lesson is: “If you love a world you’ve created then reuse it; setting subsequent stories there will save you a lot of time.”

That is just one simple piece of advice I’d give to my younger self. There’s probably hundreds more I could impart. Here’s some more great tips from wiser and smarter people:

“Treat your real world locale like another character.” Penny Ruggaber

“You don’t need it to make sense. It just has to be internally consistent.” Hisui X

“Tools, philosophy, folklore, and spirituality. And don’t forget the little touches, like minor superstitions, and foods. Even if you don’t use them, they will inform the way you write and add richness.” Robyn McIntyre

“Make sure you create some kind of map to know where everything is. The last thing you want to do is send your characters north when the city is actually south.” Chris Mentzer

“1st check. Do YOU believe your world could exist, if you don’t, no one else will.” JW Arlock

“Don’t throw capitals at me every couple of pages.  You remember what they mean because you wrote the book.  I’m not likely to remember all those Circles of Pollyanna and Three Faces of Musili.Stanley Morris

“Always make sure your reader knows whether your story is centered in the northern or southern hemisphere. For instance, a reader in north America would get confused if your character heads south and the temperature got colder.” Roland Boykin

You don’t need to do as much thinking or research as you think you need to do before beginning.Mark Mercieca

“I’m a sucker for worlds in weird shapes. Flat worlds are awesome (I mean, who doesn’t like the ability to literally sail off the edge of the world?)” Joseph Stoll

“Just don’t forget that when worldbuilding, whether it’s in this world or another, every subculture has its own favoured art, music and symbols, as well as ideology. Hone those, as well as the history of the place.” Zena Shapter

“Don’t set the “World Map” in stone too early on–let it solidify around your story. I drew mine out and named every mountain range, forest and town years before the story had fully come together, and my uncle surprised me with an artist’s elegant, framed illustration of it. It’s been sitting in my closet for years, and would require a monster glob of white out to be updated.” Charles Murray

“Don’t forget that food, clothing, shelter, and all the other goodies come from resources, both local and imported. Knowing those plants, animals, minerals, water, etc., can go a long way to showing your characters living in the world instead of living on it.” Gerri Lynn Baxter

“World building is by far one of the most magical moments that take form before putting pen to paper; an ever-evolving beast that grows with every step. Without it the story would be a shadow, but add too much and the damage can be catastrophic. The intertwining link between the two plays out like a lover’s embrace, and when done well creates a world of delight.” Chantelle Griffin

“To bring the world alive, it’s not just the social and geopolitical aspects you need, its economics and how alien topographies might affect the story.” Mark Mercieca

“Creative boundaries set by your world can be great creative starting points.” Rik Lagarto

“A world needs to have it’s own myths, religion, heroes, villains… these kind of stories should come out naturally in the narrative and it can make your book stand firmly in a reader’s mind.” Vanessa MacLellan

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 Work, Short Stories, Creating Characters, Story Development, and Writing.

Things I wish I knew about creating characters when I started writing

Text: Things I wish I knew about creating characters when I started writing.What is it you wish you knew about creating characters when you started writing?

If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice on the topic, what would you say?

I’d tell myself to figure out what my characters want, what they need, and to understand the difference, but that’s just a tiny part of creating characters.

Here’s some more fantastic responses to that question.

“A good character is someone who wants something and a good story is about what’s stopping them from getting it.” Dave Versace

“Don’t let your characters take your story over.” Mark Mercieca

“Don’t be afraid of letting part of yourself show up in your characters.” Glendon Perkins

“Characters are people to. They see, feel, smell, taste, hear and have emotions.” Roland Boykin

“Develop a background story for your characters. Even if you never use any of the information in your book, it’s there to help flesh out your character and will help make your characters seem real in the way they act and react to situations.” Chris Mentzer

“Your characters know themselves much better than you. You can get to know them by speaking with them, but they’ll still know better than you. They’ll do what they want. What? The hands are yours, you type up the story? Illusions, my dear.” Era Metko

“No plot survives contact with the characters.” David Friedman

“Creating a character is like digging for treasure, opening the bejeweled chest buried six feet under and seeing it holds a doorway to a secret mine of wonders right next to a sewer.” Charles Murray

“When I try to impose my own ideas on the characters without listening to them? Disaster. The story stalls out and I have to re-write, every time.” Kyra Halland

“Every character needs a goal – whether a grand life goal or just a goal for two seconds in that scene. Characters who want something are more interesting, even without dialogue. They will be proactive rather than reactive.” Madison Dusome

“We don’t create the characters; we ask and they come to us. We then wrestle them into the story and compromise when necessary.” Catherine Green

“Don’t waste too much time filling out the character description, let them come to life on the page. The character will let you know what they like or dislike.” Chantelle Griffin

“There will be moments when your characters come to life, and feel more alive than ‘real life’ people. Choosing who to spend your time with will be difficult – balance is important.” Karen Wyld

Great advice, huh? What’s your best advice on creating characters?

If you liked this post, 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 Work, Short StoriesStory Development, Worldbuilding and Writing.

Things I wish I knew about story development when I started writing

Text: Things I wish I knew about story development when I started writingSo here we are for another round of writerly advice from the friendly writers of Google Plus. This time I’ve asked people for their best advice on story development.

My own personal favourite: “Figure out the worst thing that could happen next, and do that.” It works particularly well with humour where one white lie quickly becomes a disaster zone, but it works almost anywhere else too.

You’ve got to watch it as the worst thing that can happen isn’t necessarily the best thing for the story, but if you use it sensibly to generate story twists and turns, it’s magic.

Enough from me.  On with the fantastic advice from some other writers!

“Don’t worry if it fits right now; it can always be fixed later.”  Glendon Perkins

“Know what your characters want, why they want it, who or what is getting in their way and why, how far they will go to achieve their goals, and the consequences if they fail.” Kyra Halland

“Most of the time it’s the characters who seem to make the story, since, chances are, readers will already have seen your plot somewhere else, and will keep on for interesting or amusing characters and worlds.” Quinn Miczo

“If you plan your novels (plotter), concentrate on the story milestone scenes. Except for these, inevitably everything will change so don’t go into too much detail with the supporting scenes or don’t even bother planning them at all.” Mark Mercieca

“For me, the best stories are character driven and you can’t have a successful main character without a strong cast of supporting characters.” Roland Boykin

“Sometimes it’s better not to think.” Quinn Miczo

“You always need more backstory/world building than you think you will.” Ann Smyth

“Build a story bible.” Charles Barouch

“Writing is the easy part. Revision–now that’s the tough part. Suddenly you question every scene, every paragraph, every word! Everything you love could wind up on the chopping block. And it takes way longer than writing it ever did.” Traci Loudin

“The tendency to avoid conflict in life is very strong. You need to be vigilant for signs of that in your writing. Don’t necessarily shower your reader with one disaster after another (that too can be off putting) but give the characters and therefore yourself, as the author, story obstacles so challenging that you have no way out of in your head, then wait for a way to appear.” Luke Mercieca

So there you have it, fantastic advice on story development from some wonderful writers on Google Plus. What’s your best advice?

If you liked this, check out last week’s post: Things I wish I knew about writing when I started out.

Things I wish I knew about writing when I started out

Things I wish I knew about writing when I started outI wish I’d known a few more things about writing when I started out, so I’ve compiled a list of useful tips and advice from other writers that might help both seasoned pros and newbies alike.

If you like any of the advice, please visit the writers profile/website and check them out.

“Make sure you have fun foremost.” Glendon Perkins

“Don’t worry about if it’s any good or not, just write.” Kyra Halland

“Wish I’d known that not everyone who critiques your writing knows what they’re talking about, including me.” Roland Boykin

“Start building a platform or following when you start writing.” Rebecca P. McCray

“I wrote a whole long novel before I learned I needed to learn things.” Louis Doggett

“Don’t write what you know, write what you love. And don’t force yourself to focus on one writing task if the words aren’t coming. A blog post, a time line, notes, even ideas for a new project. Sometimes the mind needs a rest, and new inspiration.” Penny Ruggaber

“Write the scenes and chapters in order and summarise them as you go.” Mark Mercieca

“Don’t let fear of rejection stop you.  Look how many times you’ve been rejected just to get where you are in life.  Smack downs happen, write anyway.” Mary Martin

“You’ll have days where the last you want to do is write. Write anyway. You will thank yourself later.” Tim McEnroe

“Do not compare yourself to other writers. What works for them may not work for you.” AND… “In the beginning, don’t stress over building a platform/being on social media. Focus on writing. Writing must always come first.” Alice Janell

“The only true failure is giving up.” Angeline Trevena

“Before you become a writer, you must become a reader. Read as many different books as possible. Not just the genre you plan to write, but others outside your comfort zone to see the various styles of writing.” Chris Mentzer

Write what hurts; hide it in your writing and your story will ring with sincerity.” L.K. Evans

You might also like the tongue-in-cheek The Cretin’s Top Ten Tips to Being the Greatest Writer Ever.

If you liked this post, 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 Work, Short Stories, Creating Characters, Story DevelopmentFirst Drafts, and Worldbuilding.

The secret of writing successful stories

Question-markIf I could tell you the secret of writing a successful book, would you like to know what it is?

There is actually a secret, and it’s pretty neat.

What’s more, it works on all genres and subgenres, and will even help you break the genre barrier and reach beyond, which is where you want to be if you hope to sell in big numbers.

A recent discussion that cropped up on Google Plus, and one that often appears among writers, was about a certain book that people love to hate.

I won’t mention it by name in order to protect the innocent filmmakers involved, but it rhymes with highlight and features sparkly vampires.

I read it a while back along with a bunch of other successful books including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Hunger Games, all of which racked up ridiculous sales numbers.

The reason I read them, other than to appease the people telling me I should (hint hint), was to try and understand why they were so popular.

The comment that sparked the discussion on Google Plus claimed that the sparkly vampire book was badly written – a subjective remark at best, and way off the mark at worst.

To some extent I can see where the comment was coming from. The novel didn’t work for me either, but I was hardly its target audience, and that’s not a reason to say it was badly written.

Having broken it (and others) down, I found it more or less structurally perfect and technically fine. What it lacked, if anything, was originality. Other big sellers contained quite a few original elements, so the secret wasn’t there.

And I suspect that’s where this particular comment originated.

The book rhyming with highlight followed a standard formula in an emerging subgenre, while doing little more than tweaking the known tropes.

In the end it gave its readers exactly what they wanted and expected.

In short, it didn’t do anything special from a story standpoint, so the secret wasn’t there either.

So what was the secret?

Here’s a question. What would you do if you could apply that secret to your own writing, without:

  • compromising your integrity as a writer
  • giving up on originality
  • dumbing down or nullifying your brilliant ideas?

What would you do if I said the secret was simple and could be applied to almost any story?

Take a look at any book that’s sold millions of copies, read it, and then take a look at that book’s audience. What do you see?

You see people who:

  • recommend the book to their friends
  • discuss the book online and off
  • look for other books by that same author.

In short, you see fans. Lots of fans. Why do books find fans?

Because fans care about your characters and what happens to them.

It’s as simple as that.

Make your audience care and they’ll tell their friends, discuss it online, and even look for more of your stories. They’ll become fans, and you’ll become successful.

You don’t even have to alienate your niche market to do it.

It’s obviously not as easy as it sounds or everyone would be selling millions of books, but the more people you can make care about your characters and what happens to them, the more successful you’ll become as a writer – assuming you judge success by sales numbers.

If not, forget you read this post and keep on doing what you’re doing.

If you want to sell books though… well, now you know what it takes.

Read more articles about The Craft of Writing.

CSFG blog post on managing the size of your story

Profile image of Ian McHugh deep in thought.
Ian McHugh

I don’t normally promote blog posts I find on the net, but perhaps I should following this post by Ian McHugh on the CSFG site.

In his post, Ian discusses managing the size of the first novel he wrote, and the traps and pitfalls he enountered. He says specifically:

“So, what went wrong?

In a word: structure.

In more words: I didn’t have a strong enough structure, or even a strong enough understanding of narrative structure, to keep my story under control.”

 As I’m giving a presentation on story structure at the upcoming Conflux Writers Day I found this particularly worth the read, so please check out Managing the size of your story

Ian’s blog is also worth a look – lots of good writing information there.

The Elements of Novels at the Conflux Writers Day

Conflux BannerJust a brief announcement to say I’ve written a guest post for the CSFG Blog on my upcoming presentation at the Conflux Writers Day on 5 April.

If you’re coming, please check it out.

While you’re over at the CSFG blog, you’ll find a submission call for the next CSFG Anthology, The Never Never Land!

You never know, I might get my act together and actually submit something for this one myself.

Have a great weekend, and hopefully I’ll see you at the Conflux Writers Day!

Questions for beta readers and critiquers

Old writing tools, old books and a tableHave you ever given your stories to critiquers or beta readers in the hopes of getting some good feedback?

If you’re like me, you’ll find that sometimes the feedback’s great – very specific, very detailed, and very useful.

Other times you’re lucky if you get anything useful at all.

Giving critiquers a specific set of questions will help you get better feedback.

Here’s a list you might want to use.

Overall

  • What do you think works well?
  • What do you think could be done better?
  • Am I providing enough information/backstory in this book?
  • Am I giving away too much information?
  • Does the it fit the ABCXYZ genre?
  • What would you say are the story’s main strengths?
  • Did it leave you thinking about:
    • The characters
    • The Story
    • The World
    • What might happen next?
  • Anything else?

Characters

  • Did you care enough about the characters to want to know what happens to them?
  • Who was your favourite character?
    • Why?
  • Who was your least favourite character?
    • Why?
  • Are there any characters you didn’t care about enough to be interested in what happens to them?
    • Why?
  • Could any of the characters be developed better?
    • How?
  • Did the characters’ motivations work for the story?
  • Are the characters distinct enough from each other?
  • Were the characters three dimensional?
  • Were the characters’ relationships clear?
    • Were they convincing?
    • Were they satisfying?
    • Were they believable?
  • Anything else?

Story and Structure

  • Was the story structure about right?
  • What could be done to improve the story’s structure, if anything?
  • Did anything stand out as being ‘out of place’?
  • Was anything confusing?
  • Was the beginning intriguing enough to keep you reading?
  • Was the ending satisfying enough?
  • Did the overall plot work?
  • Anything else?

Worldbuilding

  • Does anything about the world feel ‘out of place’?
  • Is anything missing?
  • Did you get drawn into this world?
  • Was anything about the world unclear?
  • Anything else?

Conflict and Threat

  • Is there enough conflict between the characters?
  • Is there enough conflict external to the characters?
  • Is there enough internal conflict (doubts, fears etc)?
  • Is the overall threat to the characters/world/character goals strong enough?
  • Does the conflict create enough tension?
  • Anything else?

Theme

  • What would you say the main theme is?
  • What other themes stood out?
  • What other theme(s) could be worked in or better developed?
    • Why?
  • What theme(s) failed to hit the mark?
    • Why?

Style

  • Is there too much exposition? Not enough?
  • Is there too much description? Not enough?
  • Did you want to skip over any sections?
  • Is the pacing about right?
    • Too fast?
    • Too slow?
  • Do the various story threads connect well enough?
  • Anything else?

Technique

  • Are there any consistent grammar or punctuation problems?
  • Are there any repetitive phrases or words that stand out in a bad way?
  • Any other bad habits?
  • Were there enough highs and lows in the story?
  • Was the action balanced with enough calm moments?

What other questions do you like to ask you beta readers and critique group?

You can find more posts on writing in the The Craft.

Conflux Writers Day April 2014

Conflux BannerJust a brief post to let everyone know I’ll be doing two presentations at the Conflux Writers Day on Saturday April 5, which is a prelude to the Aurealis Awards that night.

The inaugural Conflux Writers Day will take place at University House, Australian National University, Canberra.

The theme is ‘The Writers Journey’, which will be covered by four sub-themes – Writing Skills, Writing Processes, Submission and Publication and Building a Career.

My first presentation, Presenting Your Blog Posts for Maximum Impact will focus on:

  • text layout
  • readability
  • images and other features
  • how to keep people on your site for longer
  • accessibility issues and what to avoid.

My second presentation, The Elements of Novels, will feature information about:

  • balancing the beginning, middle and end
  • purpose of theme
  • how to distil a novel into a single, sharp, meaningful sentence
  • the three essential characters every novel needs (and how they work together).

In all, there will be a total of twenty sessions, plus an additional four plenary sessions by:

  • Joanne Anderton
  • Kaaron Warren
  • Ian McHugh
  • Keri Arthur

It will be well worth your time if you’re able to come.

Further information:

You might like to check out my Novel Structure Diagram which forms part of The Elements of Novels presentation.

How to write a thousand words (or maybe more) by Amanda Bridgeman

I first met Amanda at GenreCon 2012, and we struck up an immediate friendship. She’s very unassuming – and barely let on she had a publishing contract with Momentum for her first novel, Aurora: Darwin. Until I caught up with her at GenreCon 2013, I didn’t even know that Aurora: Darwin had hit the number one spot in the iTunes book charts. Today, I’ve managed to convince her to drop by and share some of the secrets of her success. Take it away Amanda…

Profile shot of Amanda Bridgeman sitting on a red chair.They say a picture tells a thousand words, but I disagree. I believe a picture can tell an infinite amount more.

You see, in my mind a picture is not just a flat image consisting of colours and shapes. Instead, it is a window behind which lies a 3D world just waiting to be explored.

If you let your mind delve into, that is…

I recall undertaking an exercise during my creative writing course at university, whereby we gathered images from a magazine, then constructed a story from them.

It was quite fascinating to see what each student came up with, and more fascinating still to see what each came up with when given the same image to work from.

Everyone sees things differently. Everyone has different levels of imagination. Everyone draws from different experiences.

A wooden door.
Prague (Czech Republic)

I’ve always loved photography (and art) because I don’t just see that one flat image they project.

I see the world of possibilities they contain and the many stories that can be garnered from them.

This is why I just love Pinterest and find myself scouring it for hours. The inspiration it can provide to writers is endless.

I can scroll through Pinterest, see a striking image, and have a story flood into my mind about the people or the objects they contain.

One single image has the power to do that for me, and I’m positive it can do that for you too.

So that is what I want to share with you today: a writing exercise to get the juices flowing.

Believe it or not, I want you to construct a story from the simple image of a lone doorway.

During my travels, I have always found myself fascinated by doorways (see some of my photographs on this page).

There are so many intriguing, intricate, and beautiful examples, with so much history behind them, that the mind can run wild with the possibilities of just what these doors would have seen had they eyes, and what secrets they might hold had they ears.

For a broader selection of images, check out my Pinterest Board – “Doorways to the Imagination”.

Find an image that strikes you, then begin your writing journey with the following prompts:

An old door with rivets and a lot of the red paint worn off.
Beijing (China)
  • Where would you find a door like this? What town, city, country, or planet could it come from?
  • How long has this doorway been there? Is it an ancient relic? Or is it relatively new, but styled in the way of the local people?
  • What is it made from? Is it constructed from local resources? Is it made from imported goods? If so, from where?
  • Is it a stock-standard door, or has it been specifically handcrafted? Is there magic sealing this door? Or some laser force-field? Can it only be opened by one particular key, or code, or password, or by one specific person only?
  • What is it a doorway to? Is it someone’s home, a hotel, a bar, a prison, a church, a graveyard, a hospital, a magician’s den, a castle, a dungeon, a palatial mansion?
  • What lies beyond the door? What room will be walked into? How is it furnished? Is it a hovel? Is it extravagant and beautiful? Is it a friendly place? Is it haunted? Is it a portal to another world?
  • Who is approaching this door? Is it the owner? Is it a visitor? Is it a stranger?
  • If it is the owner, are they glad to be home? Are they terrified of what they may find behind the door? Is there anyone waiting for them? Or are they alone? Do they have something they desperately need to do once inside? Where are they returning home from?
  • If it is a visitor, are they pleased to be visiting? Is this a friendly, warm place, filled with good memories? Or is this a place they would rather not visit? Do they have good news for the owner? Or is it bad news? Are they here to confront the owner? Or are they here to declare their undying love? Do they have something they desperately need to do on the other side of this door? Where have they just come from? What led them here today?
  • If it is a stranger, how did they happen upon this door? Was it by chance? Or have they followed some kind of directions or map to get there? Is the stranger seeking answers to something? Or are they just seeking a place to rest their weary head? Why have they come to this particular door? Does this stranger have something they desperately need to do on the other side of this door? Where have they just come from? What led them here today?
  • What will happen when the owner/visitor/stranger enters through this door? Is this simply the beginning of your story? Or is this the point of climax? Or is it simply part of the journey along the way?
  • What is so special about this door? What does it symbolise? A journey come to fruition? A journey about to commence? Will entering this door symbolise someone opening their heart to another? Will it symbolise them confronting a problem/nemesis/part of themselves? Will it symbolise a character opening their eyes to all that they have been blind to before? Does this door hold the answers? Or does it only raise more questions?
A wooden door set into the wall of an old building.
Stratford-upon-Avon (England)

The possibilities are truly endless if you let your imagination run wild. So go with it.

Give this exercise a try and find out just where this doorway may lead YOU.

And if doorways aren’t your thing, you can run a similar exercise with Windows to the Soul!

About Amanda: Born in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, and raised on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC by her three brothers, Amanda grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com, and liking her music rock hard.

That said, she can swoon with the best of them and is not a fan of bugs.

A writer and film buff, she loves most genres, but is particularly fond of Spec-Fic. She likes action, epic adventures, and strong characters that draw you in on their wild rollercoaster rides.

Her debut novel Aurora: Darwin was published with Momentum in May 2013, and the sequel Aurora: Pegasus, will be released in December 2013 but is available for pre-ordered now.

Places where you can find Amanda:

Read another guest post about what Jen Christopherson’s learned about writing and publishing.

Would You Like to be Murdered – Results!

A hand holding a bloody knife.The results are in!

It was a lot harder to come to a decision than I’d thought it would be – as well as the responses directly on my blog, there were plenty more on G+ and even a few emailed directly to me.

What’s more, they were all awesome, making the decision even harder.

Thanks everyone so much for entering! I had a lot of fun doing this post and I hope you had fun too!

Although all the responses were fantastic, there was only one position available for murder, and so I had to make a really tough choice.

I eventually went with the response I thought was the most creative: Vanessa MacLellan!

Here’s Vanessa’s response: So far that month, Vanessa had burned a pattern in her lawn, eaten raw liver, sacrificed her pet bunny, Arnold, erected a tower of tinfoil and chrome, and sent emails to Aliens@space.com and still she had no visitations, though the real reason she should die: striped socks with plaid pants.

Congrats Vanessa – it’s going to be a pleasure to murder you… in print, of course.

In case you missed it, check out the original blog post and competition details: Would You Like to be Murdered?

If you wan to know more about Vanessa, check out her blog or find Vanessa on Google+.

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