How To Keep Writing

Image result for writing a novel marathonIf you get bored with your story, you can bet your readers are going to get bored too.

If you are one of these people who constantly starts stories, but never finishes them before moving on to the next exciting ides, then what you need to do is to practice telling stories rather than just beginnings. To achieve that you will need:

  1. To understand story arcs – get on the internet and start investigating, then try to fit some of your stories into an arc (there are plenty of alternatives out there).
  2. Create interesting and compelling characters that you are interested in – someone whose story you want to tell.
  3. Drop the niceties. No one wants to read about goody-goody character to whom nice things happen. Get mean. Create really flawed characters to whom bad things happen and tell the story of how they overcome. If a story starts to get boring for you, throw something really nasty and impossible at your character and say, “Now get out of that.”
  4. Practice writing short stories (2,000 – 10,000) words, that way you will get practice writing complete stories before you (and potentially you reader) gets bored. If you write a series of short stories with the same characters, you could probably string them together later into a complete novel, though, the stories would all need to have a common theme/aim.

Good luck,

Nick

How To Write A Novel

giphySo you have an idea for a great novel.  You eagerly attack the keyboard, but a couple of chapters in you realise you have no idea how to turn this story idea into a novel? What you need is a step-by-step guide on how to write a novel.

You have already take the most important steps to writing your novel:

  1. You had an idea and you started writing.
  2. You have recognised that a story does not make a novel.
  3. You have stopped to reassess what you are doing.

If there was a simple step-by-step guide, we would all be churning out novels, and they would all be the same.

Writing a novel is one of most complicated projects you will ever embark on. No one is born knowing how to write novels; the same as no one is born knowing how to read or write. These are skill we need to learn and develop.

Writing a novel is a learning process. You may be better at telling stories than some other people, or better at grammar, have a larger vocabulary, be better at editing, be willing to sit at a keyboard for extended periods etc, but it is unlikely you will be good at all the skills needed to write a novel at the start of the process, or even know what skills are needed.

Here are a few steps to get you on your way:

First you must understand the Plot:Bgi7g7yCQAAjA87

At the very minimum you need a three line plot. This consists of

  • A Premise – what is the story about.
  • Complication(s) – (But) what difficulties do the characters have to overcome and how do they overcome these complications
  • A Climax – How your characters over the complications and resolve the story.

Keep playing with your three line plot until you have something that grabs you or intrigues you, it’s not easy, but it pay dividends in the end: if the plot grabs you, it will grab your readers too.

Now think about the conflicts you have had in your life and use them as the basis for barriers that your protagonist has to overcome to get what they want. Obviously up-the-anti, and exaggerate the hell out of each situation, but basically that is how you develop the plot.

Next you need to understand your characters:

How your character(s) overcome the complications of the plot forms the main body of your story. Without complications, objections, and hurdles for your characters to overcome, your story will fall flat, because all stories are about how humans overcome conflict. Stories are so hard-wired into human nature, that even stories we think are about something else are ultimately about humans.

In fact, the more difficult you make it for your characters, the more their personalities will be exposed and the more interesting your story will become. Plotting is really all about storytelling and storytelling is all about conflict.

For instance: a Princess is born, grows up, meets the Prince of her dreams, gets married and lives happily ever after is not a very interesting story (unless you are three years old). A Princess grows up overcoming the eccentricities of her parents, meets the Prince of her dreams who turns out to be a monster, but the Princesses’ pure love helps the Princes overcome his Monstrous traits – Beauty and the Beast – is more interesting. Add that the two families are monstrous and compare that against the forbidden pure love of the prince and princess and you have Romeo and Juliet, turn pure love into obsession and you have Twilight. It’s all about what your characters have to overcome and how they go about it that makes your story interesting.

Character and conflict are at the heart of every good story. So here is what you do :

  1. Dream up an interesting character.
  2. Give them some interesting character flaws.
  3. Think of something they really, really want, then put it out of their reach.
  4. Dream up another character with opposite characteristics and have them really, really want the same thing.
  5. Now pit the two characters against each other, or they could be two aspects of the same character.

Now you have a protagonist, an antagonist, a plot, and conflict – all the elements of a good novel.

Now you need to break the plot down into plot points:

Somehow you need to get you from the premise of your plot, through the complication, to the climax, so you will need a story arc.

At this point you may need to learn about story arcs: from a simple three act play (beginning,middle, end), through the classic eight point arc, to the sort of twenty-two point arc used in genre fiction.

Once you have settled on your story arc, you will need to come up with major scenes to populate your the arc. Remember, each scene also needs a simple story arc (I use a modified version of the classic story arc for my scenes).

Next you need some scene progression:

Now you need to tie all the scenes together and plan how you are going to get from one scene major scene to another. The key thing to remember is that every scene in a story arc, subplot, or character development, except the first, must be the direct consequence of what happened in another scene. Often this is the scene before it, but not always.

If you can’t work out a particular scene flow then work backwards. What has to happen in scene Y in order for scene Z to happen, what has to happen in scene X for scene Y to happen, what needs to happen in scene W… you get the idea.

Find out how you are doing:

Join a writing group, either physically or online, where members can read each other’s work and provide constructive feedback, this way you can all learn and grow together. You will soon discover what works and what doesn’t.

Publish your work in progress on somewhere like Wattpad and see what real readers think and how popular it is.

Keep tweaking, changing, and re-writing things until the story works. One of the things you will learn is that there is absolutely nothing that cannot be changed, scrapped, edited or re-written to make a novel work.

And finally:

There is a lot more to writing a novel than that (like editing—wow, a whole subject in itself), but I hope these steps will get you started on the journey so you can discover the other things for yourself as your novel and your skill develop.

I think this diagram I found on the internet sums up the novel writing process quite well:

Image result for How to write a novel

The rest is down to hard work.

Good luck, and keep writing.

Nick

Writing a Mean Protagonist

Image result for smurfs gargamelWhy is it so difficult to write a mean protagonist? ‘Mean’ as in nasty rather than awesome, not that a mean character cannot also be awesome.

Let’s get straight to the heart of the matter. How do you imagine someone who is totally and consistently mean/nasty, without making them a two dimensional cliche?

The key is to try and imagine why anyone would be like that all the time. What you need to do is come up with a reason why your character would choose to live like that.

However, it is a little bit more complicate than simply inventing a plausible reason for their behaviour. You need to climb inside your character’s mind and try to experience life from their point of view – this can be difficult and exhausting.

No one thinks, “How can I be mean to that person today?” or “How would I act if I were a really mean person?” Everyone, and I mean even the sickest, most depressed, unworthy scum of the earth, believes they are the hero of their own story. Everyone believes they are in the right and what they are doing is best/right/necessary/most helpful – because that is human nature. We are all capable of justifying even the most depraved behaviour to ourselves, because we believe either it is in someone else’s best interest, for the good of all, necessary, or just ‘right’.

Often, mean people don’t enjoy what they are doing, they may even resent having to do what they do, but they see themselves as having to bear the burden of society, taking on the responsibility, or having no other choice, because no one else will do what is necessary. Somehow, they see their actions/attitudes as redeemed by their sacrifice/suffering on behalf of others/society/’the greater good’.

Your job as a writer, is to get inside the mind of your character and discover how and why they think they are the hero of their own story. How come they believe what they are doing/the way they are, is benefiting others. Once you discover how they justify themselves within their own mind, they will become relateable to you and to your readers.

So have some fun developing an awesomely mean character who is nothing like you.

Nick

Anarchist Government – Alternative Story Worlds

Can you have an Anarchist Government in your story world?

Technically, an anarchist government is an oxymoron.

In order for there to be any sort of government, someone has to be in charge, or be appointed to authority, or nominate themselves to authority. As soon as this happens anarchists would have another authority figure to fight against. Therefore, any society that appeared totally without any authority figures, would, in reality, be run by secret authority figures in the background, whether appointed or self appointed. Therefore, any government that called itself ‘anarchist’ would in effect be dystopian.Image result for government anarchy

It’s an interesting idea, but to make it work I guess you would have to impose other rules or criteria.  The film, The Purge, is a great example of how a dystopian government could use anarchy to control the masses.

Having said that, I like the ancient Greek idea of democracy: every year or so, the voting population could elect one of their leaders to be banished. Maybe not an anarchist government, but certainly a government shaped by organised anarchy – similar to the effect the Brexit vote has had on UK politics.

 

 

Embarce The Cliché

New writers are always advised to avoid using cliches. However, cliches are good. No, really, they are. Let me explain.

bqcpj7acmaahrp4A cliche/story trope is a short-hand way of saying something to your readers. A cliche only works because the reader understands what it’s all about. If no one had heard of the ‘damsel in distress’ cliche before, it would be considered fresh and ‘alternative’.

Using a cliche sets reader expectations; delivering the cliche in exactly the way the reader expects, especially as a plot, is what makes it bad.

However, taking a cliche and twisting, parodying, or turning it on it’s head, (as you suggested in your question) will delight your readers, because you have done something new and unexpected: you have turned the cliche to good.

A cliche is a tool. Writers should use all the tools at their disposal to tell their story and enthral their readers. How you use the cliche, what you make of it, is what really counts, not whether you think it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Here is a challenge for you: pick your most hated plot cliche, your most hated character cliches, put them all together and use them in unexpected ways – really mash them. The aim is to set your readers up so they think they know where the story is headed, then use the cliches to take them on a roller coaster ride in unexpected directions.

Nick

Write A Novel In 17 Steps

a_novel_by_-_550wEver wanted to write a novel but didn’t know where to start? Here is my 17 step summary to help get you started and write a novel:

 

 

 

  1. Get everything out of your head so you have some creative space. Remember the pensive in Harry Potter, you need a literary version of this. Write down every story idea, character, story outline, scene – you can do this in a note book or in a computer.
  2. Start putting everything into10 order to make a story. If you scribble basic outlines of each scene/story idea onto scraps of paper or sticky notes, you can literally lay them out before you until they start to make some sort of sense. You will likely have bits missing or maybe not even have an overall story – that is fine, any order is better than none.
  3. Stop! Steps (4) & (5) are interchangeable, so do whichever takes your fancy first.

4. Take time to sketch out you main charactersoriginal_character_sketch_1_by_mingming07

  • Who are they? What are they like? What life events have shaped them the way they 

    are? What do they want? Why?

  • What is their past, what are the relationships between them, what strengths and flaws do they have, how will they have changed by the end of the story?
  • Ideally, your Protagonist’s (Hero) and your Antagonist (villain) should want the same thing or same goal – that way they are in direct competition. What do they want – this is the aim of your story.
  • Try to make the character flaws of your Protagonist the character strengths of your charactertraitsAntagonist, and the character strengths of your Protagonist the character weaknesses of your Antagonist – again putting them in direct conflict.
  • The flaws in your Protagonist’s character are the thinks that let them down and get them into trouble. Overcoming one or more character flaws is what leads to ultimate victory or them gaining the thing they want. So what flaws will lead them into trouble and what flaw(s) will be overcome? Jot down story ideas and scenes.
  • The strengths in your Antagonist’s character are what gives them victories over your Protagonist. However, failing to overcome one or more of their character flaws is what leads to they ultimate failure or to losing the thing they are after. So what are their strengths and what flaw(s) will they fail to overcome? Jot down story ideas and scenes.

5. Take time to think about your overall story:

  • What, in very simple terms is your story, (sum it up in one short sentence) – a much harder exercise than it seems.
  • How will the main character(s) have evolved from the beginning to the end of the story (One sentence for each character).
  • Think up some subplots which might compliment/juxtapose/parody the main story, or which show character growth (one sentence for each).Bgi7g7yCQAAjA87
  • If you don’t already know about Story Arcs, do some research, start to fit your stuff from steps (1) & (2) into your main Story Arc.
  • Take out every scene and story idea that does not progress the main story.
  • Use deleted scenes and story ideas for sub plots and character stories. Again, fit them into Story Arcs. If they still don’t fit, save them for the sequels.
  • Fill in all the gaps with new story ideas and scenes.

6. Do whichever of step (4) or (5) you didn’t just do.

7. Start putting everything together:

8. Put everything together for your main story into one straight line in chronological order – lay them out on the floor if you have to.

9. In separate lines lay out the scenes/story ideas for each sub-plot and each character development/story, and decide where they start and finish in relation to the main story.

10. Merge all the story lines together.stickynotes_08

11. It may have taken you hours, days, weeks, or even months, to complete this exercise, but you now have an outline plan for your entire novel.

12. Start writing.

13. Edit for story content, plot, description, setting, scene flow, and characterisation.

14. Edit for grammar and spelling. Also sentence, dialogue, and paragraph 4360118369_e8a55d0ed2_oconstruction.

15. Edit for word flow and readability.

16. Publish.

17. Remember, you also have to have a life while you are writing.

Of course, there is a lot more that just this summary you need to know to write a novel, but once you get started you will soon discover what else you need to research.

Get started by following these 17 steps, to write a novel, you will learn as your writing craft develops.  The main thing, is to have a go.

Nick

 

Seriously Deep Writing

Writing Vivid Emotions

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Linked to Amazon

 

I’ve just pre-ordered a new book by Rayne Hall, called ‘Writing Vivid Emotions: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors‘.  As my regular readers know, I’m always on the lookout for serious books to challenge my writing technique.

I’ve heard good reports of Rayne’s books, but never read any myself.  Being a cold hearted stone myself, I know I struggle  with writing character’s emotions.  However, the thing on the book blurb that really pulled me in was about ‘layering character emotions.’ That sounds like serious writing to me, and when it comes to writing, I’m a great fan of layering.

So I wait with baited breath for the publication date of the 20 February 2017 for my brand spanking new copy of ‘Writing Vivid Emotions: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors’. The pre-order version was also ridiculously cheep, which helps – something else about which I am serious.

Cool Ultra Mobile keyboard

I don’t usually do reviews unless I come across something truly awesome, but I spotted this Proster Ergonomic Fordable Keyboard on Amazon and just had to give it a try. It didn’t disappoint.
Just today a guy walked up to me while I was using the keyboard,  bluetoothed to my mobile phone, and said, “Now that is a cool piece of tech.”
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I’ve been looking for a descent,  lightweight,  fully functioned, foldable key board to use with my mobile phone for a long time.  Everything I’ve seen to date has drawbacks, bits sticking into your hands as you TouchType, chunky battery compartment,  unresponsive rubbery keys, big bulge in the pocket.
The Procter is exactly what I’ve been searching for: It slips neatly into a jacket pocket without bulging, turns on when you open it, has a rechargeable longlife battery hidden somewhere in the ergonomic design, it’s easy to pair and use, clicks distinctly but discretely when in use, is totally unobtrusive,  and firm enough to use on your lap without needing support.
This is it! This is the ultra portable keyboard I’ve been looking for since the Palm Pilot folding keyboard went out of production in the 1990’s – that too was an awesome piece of kit.
Not just a cool bit of kit, the Proster Ergonomic Fordable Keyboard has changed the way I write. No longer do I need to carry round a bulky notebook/laptop, now I can just stroll into coffee shop and produce my mobile phone from one inside pocket and the Proster Keyboard from the other. I prop up the phone on a credit sized plastic stand, that fits inside the keyboard when closed.
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Then type directly into an app like Evernote that will sync with my home computer. For the first time I feel totally mobile with my writing – now, I feel, I can truly write anywhere.
The Proster keyboard is truly awesome.  As soon as you unpack it from it’s wrapping you just know you are holding a well designed, quality piece of kit.  It looks good, feels good, and is a joy to use. It’s hassle free and it just works. What more could you ask?
I highly recommend the Proster Ergonomic Foldable Keyboard to anyone looking for a fully featured highly portable keyboard.  If you want one, you can get one here, the Proster Ergonomic Foldable Keyboard.
Nick

Resist both 1st & 3rd points of view

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Stare at the photo for 15 seconds. Is it a side or front view?

Is it possible to write a novel using both first and third person points of view at the same time? An interesting proposition, though one would urge writers to resist.

Given the perils of writing first-person present tense, mainly the difficulties of remaining consistent in viewpoint, consistent in tense, and your characters not knowing what they cannot know, I should imaging writing a novel which includes both a first and third person point of view would be very difficult. But not impossible.

In fact, it sounds like an interesting project. The key would be how well you know your characters and how rigorously you understand your different character’s point of views.

For instance, describing another character happens very differently in the two points of view: In the first person, your character can only know what they directly experience about the other person, or what they suspect based on their own prejudices and emotions. But in the third person, the narrator can accurately describe a person’s character so the reader understands fully what drives them.

e.g. ‘Mary didn’t like me, she always treated me with disdain. Personally, I think she had a problem with authority figures,’ is very different from, ‘Mary was very shy. She struggled to express herself in even the simplest of ways, especially around men, and even more so with people she admired, like her boss John.’

Both these descriptions are of Mary, but the reader is left with totally different perception of the same character. I imagine resolving this story would present problems. First you need to decide whose story you wish to resolve, Mary overcoming her shyness or John realising Mary’s attitude is not about him? Or is the story all about John coming to appreciate what the reader knows from the very first? If the latter, how do you keep the reader’s interest long enough for them to stick with the story?

Also, would readers be willing to invest mental energy into a story which constantly changes viewpoint – some find the concept of time travel challenging enough, but to have such a challenge written into an alternating point of view might be more than some readers can bear. Given my experience writing novels in the first person present tense, I suspect may readers would not tolerate such an alternating point of view.

The more I think about this, the more challenging the story elements become. The only situations in which I can see this working are romance or comedy, or comedy romance. It could, though, be a useful exercise to help a writer hone their focus on a particular point of view.

If you are tempted to have a go at writing in both the first and third person points of view at the same time, I would recommend writing a few short stories this way first and testing reader reception before launching into a full novel.  It may be best to resist the temptation – except for your own amusement.

Nick

A Dystopian steampunk Author

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