Decision-making

Earlier this year,  I contracted a virus. It’s this thing called Ross River Virus/Fever, which is a really uninteresting sounding disease until you hear what it is. The symptoms include fever, rashes, fatigue,  sore muscles, and polyarthritis. Polyarthritis is basically the same as rheumatoid arthritis. You get sore, stiff joints. Depending on the person, the symptoms can be mild to severe. Some people have been known to have it for a year,  others 6 weeks. Some may become bed-ridden, while others just sore. It is also inconsistent, so some days are worse than others.

The virus is contracted through a mosquito bite, and I was one of thousands affected this year by it. Before you say something about insect repellent and the like, let me make it very clear. I have never heard of this before this year. In fact, when I was given the diagnosis most of the people at my office had to be explained what it was.

For the last month, I have been starting to feel heaps better. So I think the worst part of it is over for me. So for the first time in months, I started working out again, which cut into the time I have been using to write. It’s been a struggle to do  anything more than basic world-building, still just as important, but that means I haven’t spent any time writing my Show, Don’t Tell article.

What I have decided this week, though, is the format of my blog needs to change to accommodate my life a little better, so articles will be posted on Saturdays going forward, and the story on Sunday or Monday. Also, that I intend to enter NaNoWriMo this year, with my first novel being completely overhauled and rewritten from the first sentence (in the prologue that is a big no-no, I’ve learned from doing this blog 🙂 ). During that month, I won’t be writing any short stories, and what few blog posts I make will be centred on the subject of NaNoWriMo. Also the months leading will be about prepping for writing a book. So some exciting times ahead!! hehe

If  only I could stop chasing my tail getting real posts up! 😉

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Storyteller

Today’s story is going to be a very short one. It is in direct conjunction with my article coming this Thursday. This week’s blog article will be centered on “Show, Don’t Tell,” as telling a statement as ever there was, so I thought to make things fun, I would “tell” a story. Then on Thursday, it’ll be edited into a showing story. I’m hoping it pays off and today’s story at 246 words will be closer to 500 words after edited. I think it’ll be fun! (My version of fun may be different from yours. >_>)

Also, I did try and have a distinct beginning, middle and end, and because of that, the story is pretty basic. But I’m hoping it comes off a little funny in the finished product.

Storyteller

Clara looked up at the sky anxiously. It was daytime, but it was so dark.

“It’s gonna be a big storm,” she heard from beside her.

The train platform was near empty. There were three others waiting – the man beside her, a woman in her nurse’s uniform, and the train mistress. Of course, here she is with earphones in her ears, and he had to speak with her.

“Yeh,” she half-replied.

“I have a brolly,” the man said beside her.

Attempting to not make eye contact, she said, “Good for you.”

The sounds of the train echoed. She breathed a sigh of relief. A roll of thunder followed as the train slowed. Clara entered the train and walked to the furthest end of the cab. She hoped she made it obvious enough that she did not want company.

After the train started moving again, she believed she had escaped.

Minutes later, lightning struck, and the train suddenly stopped.

“Hello, passengers, power to the train has just stopped due to the weather conditions. We’re working to get the backup generators going. We will keep you assessed to any further developments.”

Clara sighed. She wasn’t going anywhere now.

Then the man from the platform stepped forward, feet shuffling. He planted himself in the seat beside her, trapping her in her seat.

“Hi, mate,” he grinned, teeth rotten and breath rancid.

Her eyes met his, and she was instantly regretful. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Common Mistakes by First Time Writers, Part 2

So it’s that time of the week again. Today’s article is a follow-on to last week’s Common Mistakes made by First-Time Writers. The previous story focused on the beginning of your novel and your characters. Today’s will be about exposition and dialogue.  Unfortunately, there is even more ground to cover on these two topics, so I’ll just get stuck right in to it.

The Power of Prose

In the previous sections of this article, I used George RR Martin as an example of a great hook. I could have, as easily, said the same of his characters, as he steers away from stereotypes, his villains aren’t pure evil, and his good guys aren’t pure goodness. Even Ned Stark, the pinnacle of good, had flaws, such as Jon Snow’s existence. Whether he was born from a lie (ie not really his son) or born from a night of infidelity, that makes Stark still a liar. So if Martin is great at beginnings and characters, that naturally makes him great at prose. In a way, he’s an example of good and bad when it comes to exposition and description. I’ll explain why.

At the beginning of Game of Thrones, he focuses on his characters first and then the setting. This balance is perfect and notable given it is a fantasy series. World-building is important, but equally important is to provide a balance with the action of the story. Your audience wants to read the action over long flowery descriptions of the castle and the landscape. Martin introduced a world that, if you explained it out loud, it would sound ridiculous, but it becomes believable. A world where summers span for years and winters for decades? And it’s like medieval times but there are dragons, magic, zombies, and worgs? Sounds ridiculous! But really, it’s absolutely brilliant, and if not for the TV series, there would be an entire audience who wouldn’t think otherwise.

So what do first time writers do that make agents cringe? Everything opposite to this. One of the major issues in description is using too many adjectives and spending too much time explaining. As with beginnings and the hook, the audience just wants to get to the action, and if that means they skip over entire paragraphs explaining the landscape, they will. The use of words with the -ly suffix also are hated, as they generally follow a dialogue tag, or overemphasise a word you have already placed in the sentence. Like the redundant, “She hurriedly rushed through the crowd.” 

Later in the series of Song of Ice and Fire, Martin seems to have spent a bit too much time with the detail. There is less emphasis on the action, and more time is wasted explaining the minute details of how and why. It gets a little long-winded in parts, and this is something that often happens with first-time writers. As a full time author, Martin is given some allowances. He’s established his world and characters, so it can be forgiven. But too much detail can ruin a good story. This comes from a need to describe all of the minor details that you worked out in your head or from research. A fair amount of research goes into some story types, and there’s this inherent desire to tell everything you’ve found. But it needs to have relevance to your story. Readers can tell if you’re trying too hard, and it wreaks of immaturity in your writing. The details can remain in your story, but it must not break the action. A sagging midsection can kill just as much as a cheesy start or boring ending.

“Let’s have a chat”

Last but definitely not least is dialogue. This is just as much about character as it is the actual dialogue. Your characters can have all the great backstory in the world, but if their talking doesn’t match, then it’s all for naught. And if all of your characters sound the same, then it’s even harder to relate to them as individuals.

One of the major issues with new writers is writing believable dialogue. A general rule I have always made when I think about dialogue is that grammar does not have to count depending on your character. Sure, if your main character is a literary major, he/she will require perfect grammar, but the majority of characters will talk like we all normally do.  What that also means is that if your dialogue doesn’t include contractions, then you’re doing it wrong. People do not naturally say do not. It’s don’t, won’t, gonna, wanna. Make it believable.

Believable dialogue also includes people talking over each other. Punctuation is important here. … means the character has tapered off. – means the character was cut off. A good way to check your dialogue is to simply record yourself as you read the dialogue out loud, and then replay it. If it doesn’t sound like an actual conversation you could have or have heard, then rewrite it. 

Believable dialogue also includes long speeches. Unless your character is delivering a speech for a graduation or in front of a large audience, long speeches don’t exist. In police procedurals or mysteries, this tends to be something that occurs. It’s hard to imagine anyone allowing a person to speak for a whole page without breaks. Or that the person speaking wouldn’t see the drool coming from the edges of the mouths of those listening to them drone on. 

Lastly, let’s talk about speech tags now. This is an area I get wrong as well, and it was a real eye opener for me. The staples are said and asked. A general consensus on this is that most readers just skip the said/asked tags. They are only markers to show who said what. A lot of writers forget to place the tags on full stop, and that just confuses the audience. It is still important to have them there, but you can generally get away with it being placed once beside the names if it’s only two people talking. (It still has to be believable, so actions between the dialogue are important.) You can use called and replied, but that is more telling instead of showing. If you need feeling to be expressed, do it in the way dialogue is delivered or in the prose around it. “I know!” she growled – would be better if you wrote – She slammed her fist on the table, “I know!” Also notable is the a lot of writers (myself included) use italics to emphasise a word that is being spoken with inflection. This is a practice that is unnecessary if you show rather than tell. More on that in the next article. 

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The list goes on. See also Punctuation, spelling, grammar, uneven pacing, cliches, repeating the same words throughout (as done in this article), and predictable plots. If ever you stop caring or feel unfocused, walk away from the story and find a way to get your focus back. If for any reason you cannot find your focus or a desire to write anymore on the story, just stop completely. If your heart isn’t in it, then it will reflect on the pages. 

Most importantly, though, if you are certain you’ve written the next #1 bestseller, then invest some money to get that edited, because no amount of self-editing guarantees a perfect manuscript. In fact, I bet you can even find mistakes in printed books. Everyone makes mistakes, so don’t beat yourself up if you find one of everyone of these happening in your book. That just means you get to have fun writing it in a new perspective! 

The Unnatural Poet

Today’s post is going to be a change of pace. I thought rather than write a full story, and given I’m well on my way to completing my challenge of 34 stories this year (33 weeks still left and I’ve already written 4, go me!), today I might write some poetry. I don’t really do much in the way of poetry, so I struggled to write much. Too many of them turned into mini-stories, so rather than post them and embarrassing myself further, I decided to go with this. I tried two different types, so they are still very cheesy. Hope you enjoy!

Barren (haiku)

A noise woke me up.

No furniture on the floor.

What’s going on here?

Grief (haiku)

All my things are gone.

All my brother’s things are gone.

Why? I wish I knew.

Mother (acrostic)

My mother inspires me

Often nurturing, despite her stresses,

There are few that match her.

How I wish she knew how

Encouraging she was in my life.

Respectfully, I thank you, Mom.

Common Mistakes for First Time Writers, Part 1

This week’s article has been a real eye-opener for me, and I really hope those of you wanting to become writers or get better at your craft get a lot of information from this one. There is a wealth of information online about pitfalls and how a publisher or agent knows your an amateur. No amount of editing will help with some of these, so they are very relevant if your goal is to write a full-length fiction novel. For the non-fiction writers out there, there won’t be much in the way of love for you here, despite your amazing contributions to the world.

I’ve researched for a couple of weeks, and yet I still think there will be even more information available if I looked in the right places. For now, let’s keep this as precise as we can. I’m reducing this into 4 categories: The Beginning/First Chapter, Characters, Exposition/Prose, and Dialogue. This article will be about the mistakes, but later on, I may be able to write an article with ways on how to fix these. That will require a fair bit of research and understanding on my part, and at this point, I want to stick with the stuff I know. So without further ado….

In the Beginning…

There was nothing… but a blank sheet of paper. Then one day, the creator lifted his pen and wrote a lifeless beginning, and when the people read it, they wept. Darkness filled the earth, and life felt empty and hopeless.

The beginning of a book needs a hook, something to grab the attention of the reader from the beginning. Many write the hook, though, and as above, it can be fairly cheesy and trite. This can be just as bad as having no hook at all. There needs to be a happy medium. The hook is perhaps the most important part.

The hook is designed to introduce your audience to your characters and plot, but also set up the action. George RR Martin started his first book in the Song of Ice & Fire series with a first chapter filled with dead king advisers, betrayal, incest, and paralysis. That was just in the first chapter, and it was a barometer for the rest of the book. Now some may say his exposition throughout can be noticeably long-winded and lengthy (more on that later), but there is no denying the book hooks you in straight away.

If the beginning focuses too much on back story, you need to rewrite it. In fact, some people even write a prologue to provide a complete back story. (I did! And I thought it was brilliant!) Of course, most literary agents agree that this is a cheater’s way to introduce back story, and they warn against it. Unless you’re an established writer, prologues and back story first chapters just will not cut. Introduce it later in the book, in a less obvious way.

Then we have the too much information first chapters. When you’re introducing your world, you don’t have to spend 2 or 3 pages explaining how Sarah knows crocheting so that later in the book you can have her teaching her little sister how to crochet for the first time. Just get to the action.

That being said, it seems that it’s important you start your story in the right spot, just before the action starts. That doesn’t mean you have to kill someone straight away. In fact, unless it’s a murder mystery, killing someone at the start is a big no-no. Your audience doesn’t care about this person, and so they will feel cheated rather than sympathetic. Additional to this is false starts like making the first chapter just a dream. Again, you’re cheating your audience, and they may either put the book down to never read it again, or they will be overly harsh on the rest of the book.

Last, but not least, is bland beginnings. The common consensus is that if you start with a date, “My name is…” (in first person), or the weather, you are not inspiring your readers on your writing ability. This is perhaps one of the biggest ones, since it seems to be a staple in short fiction. But it definitely makes most agents and publishers cringe, because they really just want you to get to the point. (Seriously, who would have thought this was a problem?!)

It’s all about Character

It’s no surprise that your characters have a lot to do with the success of your book. If your audience isn’t in love with them or rooting for them, then you probably haven’t done your job as a writer. Yet, it still happens. Characters and point-of-view are often the downfall of many a writer.

For this, I want to use the example of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games series. She’s a very complex character, and we spend 3 novels listening to her internal monologue about the world around her. She’s also probably one of the worst people I’ve ever had to read. And that’s a good thing! She isn’t perfect. The perfect hero is a boring hero. She’s flawed. Sure, she can be badass and can kill just about anything with her bow and arrow, but she also has no idea what she wants. She’s basically emotionless, and in a lot of instances, she is incredibly selfish. We are forced through her point-of-view from start to finish, but the other characters in the book have a depth to them despite her bland representation of the world around her. It’s really fantastic.

So what exactly do first-time writers do that make their characters seem amateurish? The exact opposite as above. A character that is too nice or too perfect can be off-putting to the reader. Give your character depth by making them flawed. Make your readers angry with the decisions they make, because this means they are invested in them. Believable characters are just like normal human beings. I’m sure you have a friend that you love dearly, but even (s)he makes you furious from time to time.

A very evil antagonist can be a bad move too. Your villains should have depth as well. They need to have a focus or purpose for the way they behave. What has caused them to be that way? If your villain is just evil because he was made that way, then that’s just poor writing. Make him/her conflicted about their motives, or given them a past that explains why they became who they are today.

When writing a character, remove all stereotypes and the need to explain them straight away. The reader has already read a ton of stories about dumb blondes, or doe-eyed girls who want to make it big, or men with big muscles and perfect attitudes. Most men don’t act like they are from a Nicholas Spark novel. Also, though, you shouldn’t have to spend a page or two explaining your new character either. Introduce him/her slowly and reduce the desire to explain their motives from the start. A bit of mystery is good, and it also will help to not alienate your readers who are probably just as clever as you are. They don’t really need things spelled out for them.

Lastly, we have point-of-view. There are three, generally, for fiction. First-person narrative is in the mind of the main character. Third-person narrative is writing about your characters and what is happening to them. Third-person limited is limited to one or two characters minds only, where omniscient is for everyone in your story. With both, writing in past-tense is the preferred option, so if your tenses change, this can be jarring for your readers. But also, if you are writing in omniscient and keep jumping to different viewpoints, it can be confusing. Stick with one viewpoint for a chapter or scene, and then jump to another if you require it.  Just be certain not to change point-of-view within your book once you’ve decided to go with one. (I tend toward limited, because of this issue.)

Sooo this article is definitely going to have to be a two-parter. We are at 1300 words before I even started to write this final paragraph, which makes this a 10-15min read. As always, I want to make sure you’re not having to spend too long reading one article. 😉 Next week I will finish off this subject with a focus on exposition and dialogue. Then I’ll move on to Show, Don’t Tell, which I really am excited to discuss.  Til’ then! Keep writing and dagnabit! Have fun doing it!