Saturday, 31 August 2013

Breaking the Rules

Because You Meant To

When looking for writing advice, you’re guaranteed to find a quote about the rules of writing that usually goes something like: Know the rules [of writing] before you break them.

It sounds like it makes sense but it can get pretty grey if you look into it too much. For example, if those rules are broken in a way that works, and then it catches on, will everyone start writing with broken rules? (Shakespeare used to just make words up!)

When I first started out, I had no idea of any rules. ANY! Other than perhaps how to format my work, and even that was highly questionable. But what I will say is, when I was young and untainted by the internet, there was one thing I used to do constantly, one thing that I did subconsciously, and that was write with conviction.What do I mean by that? Everything I wrote on the page; every word, every sentence structure, every dodgy quirk, I could explain away. If someone sat me down at sixteen and asked - “Why did you use that word? Why did your character do that? What made you end this chapter here?” I would have my answers.

I began learning about the “real” rules of writing when I was nineteen; you know, all that lark about “-ly” words, not using prologues and not over-doing descriptions. And I’ll admit, this advice was very useful. The idea is that you learn the rules so that when you do break them, you do so properly.
But how do you know when you’re breaking a rule…the right way?

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Eat your Deadlines...

...they're good for you

August is coming to an end, as is my deadline. 
Did I reach it? No. 
Am I close? ...ish. 
Am I extending it? Yup! 
My birthday is in three weeks and in all honesty I’d love to finish CAPTCHA the day before to make the celebration sweeter. I have to hand it to myself though, I took this personal deadline seriously, more so than any other (yes uni, I’m talking about you).

I'll also add that during August, by only concentrating on one thing, I managed to accomplished many; I annoyed people by not attending their events, I drove my daughter crazy by pretending I had no children, I let my blog gather dust and I momentarily allowed my partner to marry his PC and game continuously. And those are just some of the things that happened! But none of that was in vain because I also wrote a lot. 

This originally started out as a minor project to take my mind off an old one. I remember only aiming to write something short, like 40k. I’ve since passed that and it’s only the middle. Now I’m on my fifth draft and the beginning has totally changed - unlike my writing process , though it has sped up. This means I haven’t written four full drafts, more false starts and middles that I’ve just built up on until I eventually churned out one completely readable draft, which is when the real work begins. Oh man…

Bottom line is, I created a deadline and worked towards it, and that’s good practice for when I become super-awesome-great and need to write a book every month to please my millions of adoring fans. Writing to a time limit never really comes into play until agents and publication are added to the mix, and for that reason, having to adjust can be a shock. And the aim is that one day well have to adjust to that, right? We wont always be able to take X amount of days off to procrastinate without pressure, will we? Because after all, we’re very serious about this writing lark…aren’t we? Yeah, we are. 
So why not experiment with writing to a reasonable deadline? Hmm? Go on. Set one. They’re good for you.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Getting Feedback

Your Tears Are My Joy

SO! I got some feedback on my old WIP The Indigo City, and it’s looking pretty good. It doesn’t get better than having someone cry over your “sad” ending, does it? 
Oh man, was I elated…

In the past I’ve only had beta readers take on the first few chapters, but on this occasion I found people willing to take on my whole MS. I realised this had to do with how I advertised it to potential readers; I know that sounds obvious but if ever you've written a query or synopsis you’ll know how hard it is to explain that your 80k story is really interesting (honest!) in just 250 words. 

In addition, I included a side note about what type of story I was writing. Attracting the right reader isn't always easy, but a few simple words can help snag the attention of the ones you want; it's just a case of finding those key words. 
"Gritty", I quickly discovered, was mine. 
I no longer received the usual complaints about some of the social crimes my characters committed. "Gritty" warns the reader my MC’s aren’t perfect, and they're not, they’re very flawed, they have redeeming qualities but like real people they’re rarely exploited, and by that I mean no one in my story is actively trying to be a hero - not gallantly anyway. So those wanting to read about typical heroes skipped my story, but readers who didn’t mind a bit of violence, a bit of graphic sex, a bit of drugs and characters with skewered perceptions gave it a go.

Beta readers aren’t comparable to the general public in terms of quantity but they can give you an idea on what to fix in your story. If readers from two different parts of the world say the same things about your characters/plot/writing, you have to start considering whether it’s true. At the same time it’s important to set yourself a goal and start building a consensus; don’t go making changes after two beta readers, aim higher - four the lowest, but enough for you to start seeing patterns. Whatever you do, don’t let one person hype you up or shoot you down, and above all, tell the story you want to tell.  Stick to your guns until all is revealed…or at least as much as four people can reveal!

The best place I found when looking for Beta Readers was over at the Goodreads Beta Reading Group.  Absolute Write is decent as well but as an online community they prefer you to join in and stick around before making any requests, so keep that in mind.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Irony and Boe

Street Art

This is just a short post to say how privileged I feel that the graffiti artists Irony and Boe came to my area and left this Magpie around the corner. I’m so used to seeing practiced scribbles around that images like these really have a WOW factor! 

The first piece of art I saw of theirs was this fantastic Fox.
I noticed it while sitting across the road in a restaurant and thought it was awesome. As a matter of fact, so did a lot of other people because they were lining up to get their photos taken beside it.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Character Cannibalism

Skin like Honey

“She smelt like lemons; it was the fragrance of all the basic shower gels in C-One but mixed with her own unique scent, it made me want to devour her. And her skin, it was something else in the moonlight, seeming to glow like amber.”

“She wasn’t as fair as me or as dark as Lance, something in-between, and as for those lips, I wondered if it was the cold that made them so pink.”

That’s about as far as I go in describing skin colour. I learnt from an early age when writing my little stories that unless your characters are airbrushed on the front cover of your book, people tend to imagine them as whatever race they please. Unless it’s relevant to my story, I rarely go into too much character description. I only go as far as mentioning eye colour, hair colour or any defining features like scars or beauty spots because what I want more than anything is for the reader to invest in my character's character.

However, I recently learnt it’s seen as a general faux pas to liken any person of colour to food. In those short excerpts above you’ll see I describe the skin of one of my female characters to amber. Now, I’m certain I originally used honey but changed it to amber because I felt honey didn’t really glow. Having said that, neither does amber; it all depends on how the light hits both. On top of that, skin itself doesn't actually glow, though on this occasion my male POV  is a little bit “high”, so maybe that skin is glowing. I did, on the other hand, use honey to describe my female character's eyes, in fact, I'm sure I just switched those two around in my final edits.

In all of my stories, though, you’ll be hard pressed to find food descriptions in regards to skin colour. But it's not because I have an aversion to it, it's because in my day to day life I simply don’t use food to describe skin tone - even though “olive-skinned” is a commonly used description. 

I can't say how wrong it is to compare people to food but there were some interesting arguments out there. One was that it makes people of colour sound exotic which, in a fantasy novel may be all well and good, but in a story set here on our earth it’s seen as cringy. Why? Because according to online debates, people of colour have been around long enough for others to not find them “different” or “exotic”. The other argument is that it’s seen as a form of dominating over another, as if the person (usually white) describing the person of colour is going to devour them - something I mentioned my character wanting to do! 

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the whole thing; I don’t use these descriptions so I’ve not thought about it in depth. It's said in these debates that most writers are predominantly white so most descriptions come from a Caucasian's point of view, perhaps. But I’m almost certain I’ve heard people of colour describe themselves as caramel, chocolate and so on, the same way I've heard fairer people use words like creamy, milky or honeyed.

So tell me, what do you think?

Is it a faux pas? Or are people just looking into it too hard? 

Formatting Your Manuscript

Fun As It Sounds

At this rate it looks like I’ll be doing two posts a week! But duty calls and I must adhere - I have me a book to write. The other thing I've been doing is formatting an old manuscript, and if you're anything like me and you left that until last, the whole process seems kinda daunting.
While sending out my old WIP for beta reading, I learnt how to format and I'll share this with you. By share I mean add a link because I'm not the one to tell you how to do it, believe me.

I'll start by saying it's better to obsess with formatting after you've got your material down. No procrastinating now! But taking note of a few things in the early stages can save you a lot of headache when you finally get around to nerve wracking submissions, and the last thing you want is to spoil your chances with bad formatting...or none for that matter.
I’ll also add, general formatting is one thing but always remember to format your work according to what the agent or publisher has asked for in their submissions guidelines. You can often find those on their website and if you’ve searched and searched and can’t find them, ask! There’s no harm in asking...unless it was obviously there and you didn't really look...then you just look incompetent.

So, onto formatting. Click here!

You’ll probably find yourself on YouTube looking up how to indent and how to start header page numbers on page two. I just spent an hour doing this. Maybe I'm slow as hell, I just hope I've helped you somewhat by pointing you in the right direction.
And remember, you’re almost there...

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