Tag Archives: writing career

Writing a Mystery: Do Your Research Right

When writing procedural fiction, research is the hot, molten core that determines how good your story is going to be. This is especially true when it comes to writing a mystery, where your story depends on thrilling twists, on-point procedure, and accurate finer points, ranging from how a firearm should act to what happens to a human body after death.

It takes a lot of research to get procedural fiction right, but it doesn’t have to be a complete mystery. Here’s how to approach intensive research for your mystery fiction novel or short story by jumping right into the deep end.

Learning Procedure

Successful mystery fiction relies on understanding proper and legal police procedure. If a real detective can read your novel and not find a single error in procedure, you’ve done your job well – and you’d be surprised at just how many detectives and police officers read detective, mystery, and police fiction during their break.

Procedure means things like how suspects will be arrested, how they will be charged, how evidence is collected and processed – and this is all vital information to get right from the beginning.

Let’s not forget about consistency with internal procedure. For example, a wayward cop wouldn’t be able to shoot their way through a chapter like in a Bruce Willis flick and face no consequences from victims or their superiors.

Procedure is different in every country, and sometimes even in every state. If you’re writing about a specific area, it’ll have a specific police station connected to it – and it’s especially important to get your facts straight.

Get in touch with the police station you’re writing about and find out if they would be happy to accompany you through a walk-around of the station: Most are happy to do this, and it gives you a basic framework to go with.

Know where to draw the line when making fiction reflect real life. Your fictional officers can’t correspond to anyone actually working at the station.

If you don’t know something about procedure, there are 3 ways to get the information:

  • Search it online first.
    Search engines are a huge pit of information – though, keep in mind that not all of it is correct. Still, you can find a lot of information just by searching the right keywords. Use authoritative and official sources at all times.
  • Look it up in a book.
    You’ll build up a good collection of textbooks as a crime writer – and you’ll have a great excuse for the weird library you keep at the same time. For facts you don’t know, sometimes it’s a big help to consult a textbook – though make sure the one you’re consulting is the one currently being used by professionals working the beat.
  • Ask a professional.
    The best way to confirm a fact is to ask someone in the career or industry you’re writing in – and this applies as much to fiction writers as it does to journalists. Have a list of resources you can call up in the event of questions like this. Eventually you’ll build up a good relationship with your sources.

Technically, the fourth way is knowing procedure from the inside – but most writers haven’t worked in a legal or law enforcement career, nor have they ever been arrested.

Researching and Shadowing Real-Life Professionals

When writing a mystery, the value of shadowing a real-life professional is absolute gold.

Here, you’ll see and experience things that you wouldn’t come across anywhere else – and you surely won’t find this kind of information online. It’s living, breathing experience – and you’d be surprised at how many professionals are happy with a visit to their work environment from a writer taking notes.

Send an e-mail with some background on your story, and you might be surprised when you’re able to see the inside of it all. Listen to the person in charge, keep your eyes open, and stay out of the line of fire. Oh, and wear a ballistic jacket. (Before you laugh, I wasn’t kidding about that one – and that’s from experience.)

If and when this is not possible, the internet remains a wonderful resource: There are many case files, as well as case information and weird documented crimes that you can read through to form a background and find out facts.

Getting Rank Right

Every country lists ranks and positions differently – and every rank has a different role when a crime or investigation is involved. Don’t guess, and hold off on any rank puns like “Sergeant Pepper” or “General Knowledge.”

Here are some suggestions for where to look up the world’s common police ranks:

Write Laws Right

Procedure and rank aren’t the only things you have to think about when writing a mystery. Criminal law (and sometimes other laws) will also be a huge part of your writing – so make a list of resources and legal experts who don’t mind answering random questions from writers. There are many out there.

Keep in mind that federal and state laws might differ in certain countries. Again, ask a legal expert such as a lawyer or law professor when you aren’t sure how something would be handled in real-life.

It’s advised that you familiarize yourself with any relevant laws as a crime writer, too – so stock up on law books and resources and keep them nearby, especially the country’s relevant criminal act.

Here are a few as a starting guideline:

Gruesome Facts

Life’s gruesome facts matter when you’re writing mystery fiction. For example, the way things would decompose under certain circumstances – or just what kind of sound a knife makes going into a human body. (Clue: “Thud” or “Thwack,” depending on the knife.)

For these, don’t guess, and don’t rely on what you’ve seen in other fiction. That’s the easy way out. Swallow your pride and go ask an expert (which will usually fall in the realm of a doctor, nurse or forensic pathologist in this case) to make sure you get it right.

They can give you the answer to a lot of theoretical situations for your character, too – but make sure you clarify why you’re asking this, and give your sources some background on your writing career: Otherwise, they might think you’re nuts and put in a call to the police themselves.

More practical research can also be called for: Sometimes you’ll have to get your hands dirty and take a raw Sunday roast to a shooting range, but that’s half the fun – as long as you aren’t breaking any laws.

Writing a Mystery: Further Reading

Remember those textbooks we mentioned earlier? Sure, it looks the same as a serial killer’s Kindle, but you get to say that it’s for research. Here are six excellent ones to get your collection started:

Thorough outlining and research is all that it takes to remove the mystery out of writing mystery fiction. Crime can pay when you’re a crime writer – now go out there and create your fictional sleuth!

Source: refiction.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Want to Improve Your Writing? Change Your Thinking

A mental shift in how we think about our writing and process can change our perspective, and thus, help us see the things we’ve been missing.

A long time ago, when I was still fairly new to writing, I had my mind blown by a simple “change of perspective” in how I looked at writing. It was a light-bub moment that finally made me understand something I’d been struggling with at that time—point of view.

In the years that followed, I’ve had plenty moments where changing how I viewed or thought about something writing-related helped me understand it, or use it better. As I’ve spoken with other writers, I’ve seen the same lights go on in their eyes as they looked at something they’d struggled with and finally saw things click into place.

There’s a reason there is so much writing advice out there, from so many different people, and so many different approaches to essentially the same stuff. We all learn a little differently, and a technique or theory that works for one writer might fail miserably for another.

My own theory—if you’re struggling with something, come at it from a different direction and see if it helps. For example:

My struggle with point of view? I got past it because of a simple comment in a critique. In a scene where my protagonist sees a rowboat, my critique partner wrote:

“You used “the rowboat” here, which suggests she knew the rowboat was there and was looking for it. Did you mean “a rowboat,” which would suggest it was new information to her? It seems like she didn’t know it was there.”

This comment made me realize that it’s not about what the authors knows is there, but what the character knows is there, which is the essence of point of view—what information is known. I went from thinking description was about telling readers what was in a scene to showing readers what the POV-character saw. And my scenes got better overnight.

(Here’s more on understanding point of view)

Another light-bulb moment came when I mentally separated “editing” and “revising.” These words are used interchangeably all the time, and do mean basically the same thing, but for me, editing became what I did when I worked on changing specific words in the text. Revising became what I did when I worked on changing the overall plot and story.

Changing how I viewed these two words made a world of difference, because it changed how I approached the revision process as a whole. I used to get caught up with tweaking the text before I’d finished making sure the plot and story were sound. I’d polish text and end up cutting it, or worse—feel it was “done” and not cut or change it when it needed it.

Looking at edit and revise as two separate activities allowed me to focus on the part that needed to be done and ignore the rest. I didn’t worry about the text because I was revising, not editing. I focused on the text when I was editing and done revising. I no longer made every chapter “perfect” before moving on, because I didn’t need to edit until my revision was done. It streamlined my entire post-first draft process.

(Here’s more on the difference between editing and revising)

One last example made writing a scene much easier. I’d found myself thinking “What happens in this scene” versus “What are the characters trying to do in this scene?” This was inadvertently making me write scenes that lacked conflict and uncertainty, because they weren’t about a character trying to achieve a goal, but how my protagonist achieved that goal. It left no room for readers to wonder what might happen next, because everything was so obvious.

Once I shifted my thinking, my scenes got much stronger. My characters fought for their goals, my bad guys tried harder to stop them, and it opened me up to consider other possibilities in the scene that weren’t part of my outline. It let me think, “What did the characters do and how did those actions affect what others did?” Plotting became organic and natural instead of a series of described situations.

(Here’s more on looking at a scene from the bad guys’ perspective)

There’s an ebb and flow to writing, and we all have periods where we get stuck—either in a scene or in our own growth as a writer. When that happens, take a step back and think about why.

  • Have you ignored advice because you didn’t think it would work for you—even though you never tried it?
  • Are you fighting your natural process—outlining when you should be pantsing, pantsing when you should be outlining?
  • Are you trying to follow a “writing rule” too closely that may not apply to what you want to do—or could be wrong for your story or writing style?
  • Are you focused too much on the rules of writing and not enough on the process of storytelling?
  • Do you just need to try a different approach and seek out different opinions on the process or technique?

Writing is fluid, and that fluidity applies to our processes as well. Every writer is different, so it makes sense that how we write, and what helps us understand our writing, is going to change and evolve as we do. Everything we learn builds a stronger foundation under us and allows us to see writing in a new light. The more open we are to those changes, the more we grow as writers.

Looking at your writing from a new perspective can help you improve your writing and get past a sticking point—in both your skill set and your story. Don’t be afraid to try new things or adjust your thinking about old ideas or processes. You never know where those light-bulb moments will come from.

Where have some of your light-bulb moments come from? Has changing your thinking about an aspect of writing helped you?

By Janice Hardy
Source: blog.janicehardy.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Restore Your Love of Writing

When the money doesn’t come flowing in or when the market ignores your book, it’s easy to lose the joy in writing. Fortunately, you can get it back.

What Rewards are Writers Seeking?

In almost everything we do, there are two types of rewards involved:

  1. Extrinsic rewards are those we get from the outside world, including money, recognition, prizes, and praise.
  2. Intrinsic rewards are those we get from inside ourselves, including a sense of accomplishment, personal satisfaction, mastery of a craft or skill, or simply the pleasure of pursuing something we enjoy.

Though both methods can be effective when you’re pursuing a goal, it depends on what kind of goal it is. Some research has suggested that extrinsic rewards—particularly money—may in some cases be detrimental to creative goals.

In one experiment, for example, scientists asked elementary and college students to make “silly” collages. Teachers then rated the projects based on creativity, and found that the students offered money came up with the least creative results.

In another related study, researchers asked creative writing college students to write poetry. One group was given a list of extrinsic reasons for completing the project, including making money and impressing teachers. The other group was given a list of intrinsic reasons, including self-expression and the enjoyment of playing with words.

Twelve independent poets then judged the poems. Results showed that participants given extrinsic reasons to write not only wrote less creative poems, but also created less quality work than those given intrinsic reasons.

“The more complex the activity,” wrote lead author Teresa M. Amabile, “the more it’s hurt by extrinsic reward.”

Researchers have some theories as to why this may be:

  • Extrinsic rewards may make us feel less autonomous in pursuing the activity, and lead us to believe we’re now controlled by the reward, making the activity less enjoyable.
  • Rewards encourage us to complete the task as quickly as possible to receive the reward, and to take few risks, reducing creativity.
  • Extrinsic rewards may simply make the task seem more like a “job.”

Signs You’re Thinking Too Much About Extrinsic Rewards

To discover if extrinsic rewards are causing you to lose the joy in writing, ask yourself these three questions:

1. What are you thinking about when you’re writing?

While writing, do you notice thoughts like, This book isn’t going to be as good as my last one? Do you worry the reviews will be lackluster, or that this book won’t get the green light from your publisher? Are you secretly hoping this book will the one to garner you the publishing rewards you long for?

All of these types of thoughts are centered on extrinsic rewards, and even if they occur only sporadically during your writing time, they can derail your focus and sap your motivation. When you find yourself thinking something like this, let the thought go and bring your focus back to the story, alone.

2. How much pressure are you feeling?

Perhaps you’re trying to “write quickly” so you can get more books out there and make more money. Maybe you’re trying to please an editor so you can hang onto a multi-book contract. Maybe you’re trying to prove that the time you spend on writing is really worth it by getting the story done and published, already.

Feeling stressed and pressured quickly takes the joy out of writing, and stress and pressure usually come from focusing on outside rewards. Try to think back to why you started writing in the first place, and see the blank page as a place for fun.

3. How do you feel about yourself as a writer?

It’s amazing how many of our feelings about ourselves as writers are tied up in outside approval. When children create, they do so simply for the fun of it, until they start to get the idea that it matters what others think about their projects.

If you’re feeling down about your writing or about your ability as a writer, you can probably trace it back to something outside yourself—a bad review, negative comment, lost contest, or publishing rejection. Remind yourself that the emotions you’re feeling are because you are seeking approval outside of yourself.

When to Use Extrinsic Rewards to Your Advantage

Sometimes extrinsic rewards can be beneficial to a writer. Think about those writing-related tasks you don’t usually enjoy. Scientists have found that extrinsic motivation works most effectively for them. So if you don’t like promoting your work, for example, you may find more success by providing yourself with extrinsic rewards each time you complete any marketing-related task.

Put together a successful book launch? Give yourself a weekend away. Update your website? Take yourself out to dinner. Write a series of guest posts? Get yourself that new outfit you’ve had your eye on.

“External rewards can be a useful and effective tool for getting people to stay motivated and on task,” says Kendra Cherry, author of Everything Psychology Book. “This can be particularly important when people need to complete something that they find difficult or uninteresting, such as a boring homework assignment or a tedious work-related project.”

Restore the Joy in Writing

If you’ve lost the joy in writing, it may help to remind yourself of the many intrinsic rewards you receive by doing it. Here are just four examples:

  1. Writing promotes healing self-expression.

In one 2005 study, researchers found that those individuals who had experienced an extremely stressful or traumatic event who wrote about the experience for 15 minutes four days in a row, experienced better health outcomes up to four months later than those who didn’t write.

“When we express our feelings honestly,” says writer Nadia Sheikh, “we are better equipped to deal with them because we actually know what we are feeling instead of denying it….we feel more in control of our thoughts and feelings, and we understand them more clearly.”

  1. Writing creates personal satisfaction.

How many people can say they’ve actually completed a poem, short story, or novel? As writers, when we finish a project, there is a blissful sense of satisfaction. We may re-read the words later and wonder, “Where did that come from?” or “How did I do that?”

This sort of satisfaction seems to be even more delicious when the project is difficult. If you had to bang your head against the wall to get through the middle of your novel, but then you figured it out and finished it, that creates a feeling that’s hard to match with any other sort of activity.

“An immense amount of pride and self-satisfaction follows a completed, perfected, edited, and published novel,” says bestselling novelist David Perry.

  1. When writing, you can create your own world.

For some writers, the craft provides a sort of sanctuary, a place to go no matter how chaotic the outside world may become. For others, this immersion into another world stimulates a state of “flow”—that sense of being completely absorbed and lost in one’s work to the point of losing track of time, which has been linked to increased happiness.

“Writing is like being in a dream state, or under self-directed hypnosis,” Stephen King says. “It induces a state of recall that—while not perfect—is pretty spooky.”

  1. Writing makes us feel more like ourselves.

Writing can bring us peace, and make us more comfortable with who we are. That may be because it helps us understand ourselves and others, because it relieves stress and anxiety, or because it allows for that self-expression that helps us make sense of our own jumbled thoughts.

Freelance writer and sci-fi/fantasy storyteller Rand Lee said it well when he wrote:

“I have to face the appalling truth that I have to stop worrying about fame and fortune, and focus upon writing pieces that, first and foremost, produce within me a sense of wonder and delight. Rereading my works with this in mind renews my enthusiasm for the creative process and gets me back in the saddle.”

What rewards do you enjoy from writing?

By Colleen M. Story
Source: writersinthestormblog.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Why The More Successful Writers Fail The Most

Successful Writers

Sometimes, we meet/discover a writer who is super successful.  We think they must have been super lucky, too. Right place, right time and all that. If only we were so lucky!

But what if I told you they’re super successful BECAUSE they failed … A LOT. Seems like an oxymoron, right? Except it isn’t. Many amazing writers are ‘successful failures’.

The above quote is from J K Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech, The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. Being as successful as she is, it’s hard to think of her as a writer who failed. But she did and so have countless other success stories.

 

Failure Is Not Fatal

Maya Angelou is another amazing writer. She came up against huge obstacles in her life, yet she saw the value of failure. Every time life smacked her down, this courageous woman got right back up. Does failing the most equate with learning the most? Maybe.

I think the key to getting past failure is this … None of us know how long the thorny path is. It could take two years, five years or ten years to become successful. Even then, the thorns are still there … Except now they’re entwined with ‘success flowers’ and the path is a nicer walk!

 

The Value Of Mentors, Allies & Moral Support

You don’t HAVE to have a mentor, but there’s a reason they play such a big part in The Hero’s Journey. Mentors can be helpers and facilitators in writers’ journeys. Speaking from experience, I can say it definitely helps when dealing with the thorny path. A mentor can guide you and reassure you as you go through your journey:

Creative: The path of thorns leads up a mountain. The prickles are bad enough. I don’t want to fall and hurt myself.

Mentor: You’re not going to see the beautiful view from the ground.

Creative: Okay, I’ll climb a little way … A stone hit me on the head!

Mentor: It’s just a stone.

Creative: Okay, I’ll climb a little more. Hey, a flower! Pretty. I’ll climb some more … ten stones hit me on the head! That’s it! I’m done. Everyone else is lucky. Look how far they’ve climbed. They’re not getting pelted with stones.

Mentor: You can’t see their injuries from down here. I guarantee most of the people up there have not only had stones hit them on the head but have also been smacked in the face with rocks, boulders have almost flattened them, while a flock of angry seagulls pecked at their faces! You have to take what’s thrown at you, all of it, in order to walk the path of success.

So much of the creative life is about being brave and confident. The value of mentors is they can  help you achieve this and facilitate your career. They can also console you when you have failed. Most importantly, they can remnind you to get back off your arse and try again!

But you don’t have a mentor? That’s okay. Surround yourself with allies … Writer friends who really ‘get it’. Moral support is so important. Why not join the B2W Facebook group today!

 

So … how do we succeed?

Yep! By failing. This means you must not fear failure. Embrace it. Small fails. Big fails. Fail at as much as you can because each opportunity needs to be taken. If you don’t take it, there is neither failure or success.

So, keep failing Bang2writers. Before long, like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Failure has no choice but to become success. Here’s some more links on what it takes:

33 Industry Insiders on Success, Dreams & Failure

Failure Is not Fatal. How To Succeed, No Matter What

The Truth About Success: 30 Creatives Who Broke In Late

24 Experts On The Foundation Of Success

6 Ways YOU’RE Stopping Your Own Writing Success

Good Luck!

 

Source: bang2write.com

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All About Productivity

Productivity is a key concern of Bang2writers. It’s not difficult to see why: procrastination is a huge problem for writers. It’s easy to get stuck in a non-productive rut. We are daydreamers after all!

So, if you’re a hobby writer wanting to turn pro, or a pro wanting to get more done, you need to learn how to boost your productivity. Luckily, we at B2W Headquarters have put together this handy round-up to help you make the most of your writing time.

1) 11 Habits That Can Transform Your Productivity

Create good habits. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?? Yet it’s something many creatives struggle with. Working for yourself, sometimes with little to zero pay, can damage productivity and good habits. HERE are some tips to help stay on track.

2) The Weird and Wonderful Habits of 20 Famous Writers

Want to know which famous writer you are most like when it comes to crazy writing habits? Maybe you want to adopt the habits of a writer you admire to help increase productivity? CLICK HERE.

3) 6 Tips for Boosting Writing Productivity

HERE are some more ideas for improving productivity. The key? Work smarter not harder!

4) 1 Simple Tip to Help You Get More Writing Done

What is ‘dead time’? How can you use it to get more writing done? Don’t let time control you, control time. You might not have a Tardis or a Time-Turner but you do have control over a lot more of your time than you think. Find out HERE.

5) 5 Steps to Beat Procrastination and Stay Focused

Here are some great procrastination busters. No one EVER said ‘I wish I had procrastinated more’! HERE are the steps you need to make sure you won’t regret *not* making the time to create that wonderful work bubbling inside you.

6) How to Get Writing Done, According To 20 Famous Authors

The best way to get stuff done? Learn from the masters – and mistresses! – in the know. Check out these tips, HERE.

7) How to Stop Wasting Writing Time Procrastinating Online

 Did you watch last night’s episode? Yeah, there was a huge argument in an online writing group about that show, did you see it? Blah, blah, CONCENTRATE! To learn how to avoid getting distracted during times allocated for writing, CLICK HERE.

8) How to Improve Your Focus as A Writer

With so many distractions it can be difficult to focus. HERE are some great tips for keeping your eyes on the prize.

9) 12 Unusual and Achievable Productivity Hacks for Writers

Turn an old tennis ball into a car key holder, use your cat as a winter hat. We all love a fun life hack. HERE are some cool productivity hacks to try out today.

10) How To Set Meaningful Goals And Stick To Them

Productivity isn’t about just throwing spaghetti at the wall. Creating meaningful goals means you’re much more likely to stick to them! Find out why, HERE.

Last Words

I hope you enjoyed this round-up on productivity. No more excuses. Get that wonderful work finished and out in the world for others to enjoy. Laser focus!

By Lucy V Hay
Source: bang2write.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

What it Feels Like When Your Writing is Rejected – and How to Bounce Back

One reader asked me: “I’d like to know what it’s like to get rejected by a publisher or several (if that’s ever happened to you) and how you bounce back from it.”

It has indeed happened to me – as you can see from the photo above! Those are all the rejection letters I received in 2007 – 2008, for a fantasy novel that I was shipping around to agents/publishers, and for short stories that I was sending to magazines. I’ve had plenty of rejections since then, too: competition entries that didn’t even get placed, guest posts pitches that were turned down, reviews of my novels that were less than stellar.

Rejection is simply part of the business of writing. Of course, it would be great if everything you wrote was loved and snapped up by the first editor who saw it. But agents and editors are inundated with new material on a daily basis – perhaps receiving hundreds of manuscripts every week, when they might only take on one or two new authors every year.

Here’s what you need to know about rejection:

#1: Being Rejected Doesn’t Mean Your Writing is Bad

Looking back at those stories I wrote in 2007 – 2008, they were far from brilliant. But they weren’t awful, either. During the same time period, well as collecting a stash of rejection letters, I had two small competition prizes and two short-listings for my short stories. I also started freelancing for several blogs.

When you receive a rejection letter, don’t take it as a sign that your writing sucks. There are all sorts of reasons why a manuscript might be selected – perhaps the magazine had just taken an article on a very similar theme, or published a short story with the same premise. Maybe the agent you’ve written to just doesn’t click with your writing style.

All writers get rejected. Every best-selling writer you know – including J.K. Rowling and Stephen King – has received rejection letters.

#2: Getting a Piece Accepted is a Numbers Game

One of the reasons that I had so many rejection letters in 2007-08 was because that I’d decided to enter as many short story competitions in Writing Magazine and Writers’ News as I could. I wrote around 15 – 20 short stories that year, and while most of them didn’t place in the competitions, four did. I sent out the others to magazines, and managed to get one accepted.

Over the past month or so (as I write this in 2018), I’ve been sending out freelancing proposals to potential/former clients for the first time in quite a long while … my youngest has started nursery school, so I’ve suddenly got some extra working hours. Some of those pitches have been rejected; others met with no response. But some were enthusiastically accepted!

The more stories or article pitches or book proposals you write, the more chances you have of success. Create a spreadsheet so you can keep track of which stories you’ve sent where, and every time a story comes back, send it out to a new publication.

#3: Facing Rejection Gets Easier

The first few times I got rejection letters, it hurt. I’d written the best novel I could at the time, and I’d spent ages researching agents, composing cover letters, printing the manuscript in the right format, and so on. I thought that if only I could get my novel accepted, I could quit my day job (I have a slightly more realistic idea about advances now…).

But after a few rejections, I stopped minding so much. I started sending out short stories as well as the novel. I began to understand that rejections are simply part of the writing life, and that – while they might be a little disappointing – they’re just one person’s opinion.

Your first rejection will probably hurt. Your tenth rejection might sting. But every time you recover from a rejection and send something out again, you’ll find that those rejections have a little less power over you.

Moving On From Rejection

You might have noticed above that my rejection letters are from 2007 – 2008. I first wrote this post in 2012, and I updated it in 2018 … so what’s happened since?

At the end of July 2008, I left my day job. In September 2008, I started an MA in Creative Writing, and began to work on a new novel (instead of short stories).

My freelancing work – mostly for websites – wasn’t just a great way to make steady money as a writer, it was also a great way to build my confidence. Getting paid on a regular basis felt like a pretty strong validation of my writing!

My novel, Lycopolis, took three years to finish. I did approach one agent and one editor at a conference, but neither wanted to take the novel on. As the months went by, though, I saw more and more authors – new and established – bring their novels out themselves, as ebooks and print-on-demand works. I decided to bypass the rejection game and take the self-publishing route with Lycopolis (2011) and the next two novels in the trilogy: Oblivion (2015) and Dominion (2016). You can find out about all three on my author website.

(If you’re wondering about the big gap between novels, that’s because my daughter and son were born in early 2013 and late 2014 respectively!)

I also started blogging here on Aliventures back in 2009. With my blog and the weekly newsletter, there’s no one to reject my writing – and I usually get lovely comments that help me know I’m on the right track.

Today, writers have a wealth of different options. You aren’t reliant on agents and publishers to get your stories, articles, or poetry out there.

Yes, having an agent or publisher still has many benefits. When I first wrote this post, back in 2012, I’d just finished a book in Wiley’s Dummies series, Publishing E-Books For Dummies, and I certainly appreciated the advance! 😉 (As well as the attention to detail from my editors, and the opportunity to be associated with a major book brand.)

But … you don’t have to be entirely at the mercies of the publishing industry. If you wanted, you could do any of these pretty much immediately:

I’m definitely not suggesting that you should stop (or avoid) submitting your work to agents and publishers. Collect up those rejection slips and be proud: you’ve survived them! The more rejections you get, the closer you are to an acceptance.

At the same time, find a way to bypass the agents and publishers, so you can get at least some of your writing out there to the world. Having an audience – even if that’s just a handful of friends and family – is hugely rewarding, and can help to take away any lingering pain of rejection.

Whatever stage you’re at with your writing, good luck. If you’ve had any personal experience of rejection – or acceptance! – that you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment below.

Source: aliventures.com

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Writing Deadlines: The Unlikely Secret to Creative Freedom

Do you know how to set your own writing deadlines to accomplish your dreams? Ruthanne wrote here about how a move helped her discover the power of deadlines. Joe heartily endorses setting your own deadlines with consequences as accountability (that’s how he wrote his most recent book).

Learning to set and meet your own writing deadlines not only helps you get your work done, it provides creative and productive freedom.

I’m a firm believer in deadlines.

Some will argue that creativity has no end point and that they can’t be inspired if there’s a timeline. If that mindset results in powerful writing and stories that resonate with readers as regularly as you’d like, then go forth and continue with the process that is working for you!

If, however, you can’t seem to finish in the time and manner you desire, a little deadline practice might be just the thing you need to propel your writing forward.

Why you need a writing deadline

I’m a teacher. My students regularly develop ideas, draft, revise, and submit their writing.

When I don’t set a deadline for assignments, guess how many students voluntarily turn in their work in a timely manner? Very few.

This probably sounds familiar if you’ve had a traditional school experience (adult working environments often work this way too!).

We tend to think we’ll have more time to do it later, or that we just need a little more research, experience, or coffee. (You probably do need more coffee.) Others believe they do their best work at the last minute, but sometimes that is because it’s the only time they write.

A deadline cuts down all those reasons and forces us to get to work.

Planning for a writing deadline

As I plan for student deadlines, I always make room for thinking and idea development. We draft. Then we take several passes at the writing to revise.

I realized early in my teaching career that most students were going to spend about the same amount of time on a first draft whether they wrote it in one speed session the night before it was due or spaced it out over several days. Most students didn’t take the time to revise, because they didn’t know how or there wasn’t time after an all-nighter.

As a result, I began in-class writing sprints, telling students the first draft was due at the end of the period. Whining inevitably ensued, but guess how many students had a draft at the end of the period? All of them. Funny how a ticking clock activated the words.

If you are planning your own deadline, look at when you want the final draft done and then back plan, giving yourself time to revise, write, and develop the idea. (Pro tip: leave yourself a little more time for revision than you think you’ll need if this is your first time revising.)

When you blow a deadline

You might be thinking, “I’ve tried that before and I blew it. Deadlines don’t work for me.” Just because you miss a deadline doesn’t mean they don’t work. It means you have an opportunity to grow.

I recently missed a deadline here at The Write Practice. I felt terrible, but I didn’t wallow in it. I apologized and did some self-evaluation. Why did I miss it? What could I do to avoid letting it happen again?

Consider that sometimes your writing deadlines are unrealistic. Manage those expectations more effectively and set a new, better deadline. Sometimes you are in a difficult writing or life season. Be honest about that and forgive yourself, knowing the situation will change.

The more you practice setting and meeting writing deadlines, the better you will get at estimating time and the amount of work needed.

The secret freedom of setting your own deadlines

My high school students claim to want independence, but they are just like me. I want the fun parts of independence without the responsibility. At the beginning of the year, I am the one who provides deadlines and due dates, but I slowly begin to turn that responsibility over to students as the year progresses. Why?

When they require someone else to set their deadlines, they aren’t really in control of their life and process. I’m the same way. If I know an article is going to take me an hour to write and another hour or two to edit, I can wait until the night before it’s due and stay up late to finish, or I can do it when it makes the most sense in my schedule.

Why wait for someone else to tell me when it is due? I take control of my creative process by setting my own writing deadlines.

When you ignore your own deadlines

For a long time, I set goals or deadlines for myself, and then I wouldn’t follow through. I thought maybe it was just me. I realized though that no one had ever taught me to push through the process.

I believe it was Tim Grahl who once talked about how he would push through procrastination and tell himself, “You need to do this now, because Friday-you isn’t going to have the time or energy.”

That resonated with me. I have since used it with students to help them think through to the end.

I also realized I couldn’t continue to ignore my own writing deadlines after completing a 60,000 word draft during NaNoWriMo a few years ago. I still needed about 20K to finish the story.

No one had a deadline on that book but me. If I hadn’t set my own deadline, the book wouldn’t be in revision right now. It would still be sitting on my hard drive — not even collecting dust like a respectable unfinished manuscript of old.

If you are still in the I-should-write-a-book stage, no one is going to give you a deadline. You have to do it for yourself. Accept that truth and find freedom in knowing you are in control of this part of the process.

Deadlines have a best friend: accountability

When you combine a deadline with another writer or group to hold you accountable, you will find yourself meeting writing deadlines left and right. When I first joined Becoming Writer, our forum here at The Write Practice, I knew I needed to post something each Friday. Suddenly, I had a deadline and a group of people who checked on me.

If you are struggling to set and meet your own deadlines, find a partner or group to help hold you accountable.

I still work under deadlines that others set for me, but I have found that more often than not, I can challenge myself to beat those deadlines by making my own.

What has been your experience with deadlines? Have you found them to be freeing or constricting? Share in the comments.

By Sue Weems
Source: thewritepractice.com

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How do you describe a place? 6 setting tips

The setting of your story is key to readers being able to imagine ‘being there’. How do you describe a place so it is characterful and contributes effectively to your story? Try these 6 tips:

1. Describe place through characters’ senses

We feel connected to place in a story when we see it through characters’ senses. Bring senses such as sight, hearing, touch, smell and even taste (there’s edible wallpaper in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) into your setting. Using every sense might not make sense for your book, yet it’s possible. In Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, set in a sweet factory full of wonder, it somehow makes sense even the wallpaper is delicious.

When describing places in your story, think about tone and mood. Should this setting be intimidating or welcoming? Ancient, dusty and arcane or ultra-modern and spotless? What does an ancient, dusty mood smell like (old books? Damp carpets?).

Use the ‘Core Setting’ section of your story dashboard on Now Novel to brainstorm descriptive elements and create more detailed settings.

Example of effective sensory place description

In Margaret Atwood’s novel Cat’s Eye (1989), the protagonist Cordelia recalls her childhood in flashbacks. Here, Cordelia describes her childhood home, when her parents would throw bridge (the card game) parties:

Then the doorbell begins to ring and the people come in. The house fills with the alien scent of cigarettes, which will still be there in the morning along with a few uneaten candies and salted nuts, and with bursts of laughter that get louder as time passes. I lie in my bed listening to the bursts of laughter. I feel isolated, left out. Also I don’t understand why this activity, these noises and smells, is called “bridge.” It is not like a bridge. (pp. 168-169)

Atwood uses sound and smell to paint an idea of the strangeness of being a child in an adult’s world. She uses the young Cordelia’s senses to create place and this puts us in the scene, as we experience young Cordelia’s surrounds through her perspective.

2. Include time period in description

‘Time’ is an important aspect of setting. This is particularly so in historical fiction. Details from the types of buildings and shops that line the main road of a city to individual details of people’s clothing and speech contribute to a sense of when the story happens. A story set in 1950s Chicago will naturally have very different buildings, cars, and people, than one set in the late 2000s.

How do you describe a place so the reader can sense the time period?

  • Show technology: What are the ordinary tools people have at their disposal? See, for example, the period-specific radio in the image below
  • Show culture: How do people live? Are there rigid gender roles between the sexes? What do the majority believe? Convey these social patterns and habits in the way people speak and things they say
  • Include current interests, challenges or obstacles: In the time period of your story, what are the hot topics of the day? Are people worried about a war, a new law, a change in government?

Period setting - 1950s Chicago scene with old radio | Now Novel

Example of time period in setting description

In Alice Munro’s semi-autobiographical collection of stories, The View from Castle Rock (2006), the Canadian author traces the history of her Scottish ancestors. Here, she recalls the simple ways of village life in the 1700s, describing the life of her ancestor William Laidlaw:

The first story told of Will is about his prowess as a runner. His earliest job in the Ettrick Valley was as a shepherd to a Mr. Anderson, and this Mr. Anderson had noted how Will ran straight down on a sheep and not roundabout when he wanted to catch it. So he knew that Will was a fast runner, and when a champion English runner came into the valley Mr. Anderson wagered Will against him for a large sum of money. (p. 9)

The details here convey a sense of rural life in 18th Century Scotland. Descriptions of herding sheep and rival runners create a sense of an agrarian, outdoor way of life conjuring earlier, less modern times.

Munro goes further creating period in her setting by describing the clothing Will receives in reward for winning the race against the English runner:

Mr. Anderson collected a fine heap of coins and Will for his part got a gray cloth coat and a pair of hose.

The reference to hose, which men don’t typically wear in modern times, further places the story in earlier times.

3. Include small-scale changes in time

In addition to creating the broader sense of time or period, you can use small-scale time (such as time of day or the way place changes week to week or month to month).

Think of how time of day and physical changes to a place in time can both contribute tone and mood.

For example, if a city is bombed over a week’s period in a story, what does it look like at the start versus at the end? As an exercise, describe a sleek, modern city in a few sentences. Then describe the same elements of the city after a week of civil warfare. What has changed and what mood do these changes create?

Including time of day can create moods such as:

  • Fear: Nighttime may bring vulnerabilities such as reduced visibility and general fear
  • Langour and laziness: The golden light of a late afternoon outdoor social gathering, for example</li.
  • Excitement: For example, the breaking light of an important and exciting day such as a wedding or holiday

Weaving in details of time of day as well as the way places change over a day, week, month or year will create a sense of your setting being a dynamic, active and real place.

Example of effective use of small-scale time in writing setting

In his historical novel Oscar and Lucinda (1988), the Australian author Peter Carey describes a stormy nighttime scene where the lights in Oscar’s family’s home go out:

There was no torch available for my father because I had dropped it down the dunny [toilet] the night before. I had seen it sink, its beam still shining through the murky fascinating sea of urine and faeces… So when the lights went off in the storm the following night, he had no torch to examine the fuse-box. (p. 3)

Carey weaves a succession of nightly events together to show the frustrations of Oscar’s father. This use of time, coupled with the stormy setting, creates tension. When the father asks Oscar’s mother where the fuse-wire is, she says ‘I used it…to make the Advent wreath’ [for the church].

Oscar’s father’s response is to blaspheme. The mother, being devout, makes them all kneel to ask God’s forgiveness.

Carey ends the scene showing a change in the setting and how the mother interprets it:

We stayed there kneeling on the hard lino floor. My brother was crying softly.
Then the lights came on.
I looked up and saw the hard bright triumph in my mother’s eyes. She would die believing God had fixed the fuse. (p. 5)

Carey masterfully uses a tense nighttime setting and situation (lights going out in a storm) to show different family members’ personalities. The mother’s response is to turn to her faith, the father’s to think of practical matters like finding fuse-wires to fix the lights.

The stormy nighttime setting provides a dramatic backdrop to the action, giving both the cause for the situation and the mood of the scene.

How do you describe place? Infographic | Now Novel

4. Show how characters feel about your setting

Story settings affect and alter characters’ moods and states of mind, just as places affect our own. Learning how to describe a place thus means, in part, learning how to describe places so that they reveal characters’ desires, interests, fears and more.

Bring your character’s personalities, passions and histories to bear on the setting details they notice and describe.

We often return to this example because it’s an effective description of setting and the feelings it evokes:

124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. (p. 3)

This is the opening to Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), describing the haunted quality of her protagonist Sethe’s family home. Morrison immediately creates a sense of feeling in her setting description. Describing her characters as ‘victims’ of the house makes it clear it is a place of trauma and suffering.

Morrison continues to convey the character of place brilliantly:

The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old – as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). (p. 3)

Morrison lists interesting, mysterious details about the haunted air of 124, and the different details of place that are the final straws for individual members of Sethe’s family.

Overall, the effect of her place description is to create a sense of hostility and ‘unhomeliness’. We have a clear sense of the emotions place produces or reawakens.

5. Keep setting description relevant to the story

Often writers starting out try to describe every little detail in painstaking detail. Others describe everything in broad generalizations. Each have pros and drawbacks. The advantages of detailed place description are:

  • Vivid visuals: We see more of the setting in our mind’s eye
  • Authenticity: Details often create a sense of reality. For example, if the rooms of a house have different light, objects, curiosities

The cons of detailed description are that it can slow narrative pace and clutter your prose.

Being too broad and abstract has its own cons, however. If you describe a high street, for example, and say ‘The shops all have lavish window displays’, we don’t see any difference between them.

It’s often best to balance a little relevant detail here and there with broad description elsewhere to give both the specific qualities and the general feeling of a place.

What is relevant setting description?

It’s description that is:

  • Relevant to impending events: E.g. Including an object that will be used in a scene, such as a murder weapon
  • Revealing about place or character: For example, if a character’s bedroom is messy it tells us something about their personality (that they’re lazy, perhaps, or merely busy or chaotic)
  • Worth mentioning: Beginning writers often include unnecessary descriptions such as ‘she walked across the lounge and headed to her bedroom’. It’s more concise to simply say, ‘She went to her bedroom’

Example of relevant setting description

In his novel Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), Gabriel Garcia Marquez describes Dr. Juvenal Urbino as one of the most respected men in the Carribean town where the story takes place.

Here is description of the doctor’s arrival at a party in the middle of a storm:

In the chaos of the storm Dr. Juvenal Urbino, along with the other late guests whom he had met on the road, had great difficulty reaching the house, and like them he wanted to move from the carriage to the house by jumping from stone to stone across the muddy patio, but at last he had to accept the humiliation of being carried by Don Sancho’s men under a yellow canvas canopy. (p. 34)

This is a simple, effective example of relevant setting description because:

  • Marquez uses how a character interacts with his challenge-ridden setting (the mud and the wet) to reveal character. Because the doctor is so respected he is carried, but he is also ‘humiliated’ by this, showing his proud nature
  • The setting description focuses on the key transition that sets up the next scenes – people’s arrival for a luncheon to commemorate the silver anniversary of Urbino’s colleague’s graduation

6. Make a list of adjectives to describe your story locations

Learning how to describe a place means also broadening your vocabulary with words that capture setting. There are so many adjectives to describe an ‘old’ building, for example. Each of the following terms describe age, yet with different shades of meaning:

  • Ancient: Belonging to the very distant past (OED)
  • Anachronistic: Belonging or appropriate to an earlier period, especially so as to seem conspicuously old-fashioned (OED)
  • Prehistoric: (Informal) Very old or out of date (OED)
  • Archaic: Very old or old-fashioned (OED)
  • Venerable: Accorded a great deal of respect, especially because of age, wisdom, or character (OED)

Even if you don’t use every word you find, this exercise will help you pinpoint the mood of a place. Think about elements such as a place’s:

  • Age
  • Mood
  • Atmosphere
  • Size
  • Appeal

Find adjectives that convey these qualities in a way that make place more specific. ‘Venerable’, for example, suggests respect that comes with age as described above. ‘Decrepit’, by contrast, suggests falling apart and ugly with age.

Source: nownovel.com

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My Map to Immersion

I’ve always loved maps. My earliest memories of map-reading are from family car-trips. My dad would reach into the (gigantic!) glove compartment of our ’68 Chevy Bel Air, and hand back the newest neatly folded roadmap of Michigan from his (gigantic!) pile of maps to my sister and me (hey, anything that quiets backseat rowdiness). He religiously picked up the AAA’s latest version from his insurance agent, whose office was a stone’s throw from his barbershop. (In his defense, those were days of growth for American infrastructure.)

My sister and I would pore over the map, pointing out the odd town names of the Mighty Mitten, and giggling over the absurd trips one could make between them: from Bellevue to Belleville (in our Bel Air!); Pontiac to Cadillac; Bad Axe to Hell; Podunk to Jugville; and even Colon to Climax (a very pleasant 30 minute ride, I swear).

Beyond the giggles, I found it all enthralling. I mean, let’s face it, Michigan has an alluring shape. Not to mention her 3,288 miles of shoreline (second only to Alaska). I remember studying the coasts, the islands, and the towns at the extreme tips of peninsulas—places like Northport, Mackinac, Copper Harbor, and Whitefish Point, and wondering how it would feel there—to be surrounded by nothing but water and forest. I’ve since been to most of the places I wondered about. And though a rare few failed to live up to the expectations of youth, most have exceeded them, and several have become favorite getaways.

My love of maps has undoubtedly contributed to my enduring love of my home state. But I can see that my love of maps also provided a natural lead-in to my love of reading.

And I’ve also become convinced that a line can be drawn from my love of maps to my current life as a writer. Allow me to diagram my case.

A Tolkien of My Affection

As some of you may know, I write epic fantasy, and cite Tolkien as a guiding star among the constellation of my inspirations. Before reading Tolkien, I’d been captivated by a middle-grade book by Dirk Gringhuis called The Young Voyageur. My parents bought it for me in the gift shop of the restored Fort Mackinac, on Mackinac Island (one of those intriguing map dots I mention above). The entire inside cover of the book is a map of the Great Lakes, marked with all of the French and British forts along the shores, and charting the protagonist Danny’s travels, covering hundreds of miles of shoreline and rivers… in a canoe!

Many of the places Danny found himself were places I had visited (thank you, history-buff parents). As I read I found myself referring to the map often. I also remember going to our family encyclopedias to look up French Voyageurs (thank you, “go-look-it-up-yourself, kid” parents). And I clearly recall finding an image of an early French map of the Great Lakes much like the one at the top of this post. I was predictably fascinated, trying to reconcile rivers and landmarks, marveling over how it might have been drawn at the time that it was. All of which put me right into Danny’s shoes.

I’m not sure how long it was after reading The Young Voyageur that I discovered Tolkien (thanks, Mr. Raymond!), but not more than a couple of years. I remember stumbling upon the map at the front of The Hobbit before I started it, and loving the tiny trees of Mirkwood and the drawings of the Misty Mountains. Closer study revealed the tiny dragon drawn above the Lonely Mountain and the spiders embedded in the forest. Then there was that heavy line from top to bottom demarking, “The Edge of the Wild.” Whoa.

There was so much to be gleaned. Which only served to fuel my fervor for the story.

The whole process started over again with The Lord of the Rings boxed set, except this time I didn’t need to stumble upon the map. I immediately sought it out, and was delighted to find the map expanded to reveal Middle Earth in its glorious entirety. It was an enticing indication of how far the story would expand, and I endlessly dissected it, referring to it almost comically often as I read.

Undeniably Tolkien’s maps played a role in pointing me down the storytelling path.

Connecting the Dots

Though I’ve always loved them, lately maps have been even more on my mind than usual. It started with WU’s own Tom Bentley, who’d come across an excellent essay on books with maps by Sarah Laskow. Tom rightly surmised that I’d be of the map-geek persuasion, and kindly passed it along. A few days later a dear friend reached out to me with a question about my latest manuscript, which she is kindly beta-reading. The question was about the locations of two port cities. Her confusion was understandable, but it made me realize that a glance at a map would’ve easily answered it. But I hadn’t provided one.

Over a decade ago I read a piece by fantasist Joe Abercrombie about why he hadn’t included a map for his debut, in which he says, “I want a reader to be nailed to the text… not constantly flipping back to the fly-leaf to check just how far Carleon is from Uffrith, or whatever. The characters often don’t know what’s going on. If they don’t have a conveniently accurate map to hand, why should the reader?”

Abercrombie’s piece contends that our stories should be compelling and self-explanatory without visual aids. Plus, not being trained cartographers (Joe and I and most other writers), our efforts can potentially open us to a level of scrutiny that’s often irrelevant to the story. At the time of reading it, I’d already tried my hand at mapmaking. Extensively. And in my less than stellar results I immediately saw his point. Besides, agents and editors to whom we submit will consider no such supplement.

I determined then that, in spite of my love of maps, the story would have to stand on its own. And I simply stopped drawing them.

Finding the Way Back to Maps 

“One of life’s great treats, for a lover of books (especially fantasy books), is to open a cover to find a map secreted inside and filled with the details of a land about to be discovered. A writer’s map hints at a fully imagined world, and at the beginning of a book, it’s a promise. In the middle of a book, it’s a touchstone and a guide. And at the end, it’s a reminder of all the places the story has taken you.”—Sarah Laskow, from her essay, How Writers Map Their Imaginary Worlds

In the interest of full disclosure, there have been occasions when a reader has requested one, and I’ve sent along my old original map (redrawn by my talented brother-in-law from one of my crappy attempts). Also, full disclosure: Abercrombie’s recent books have maps, though I’m not sure if he changed his mind or was pressed to it by his readers or his publisher.

But generally speaking, I’ve chugged along through six manuscripts without the inclusion of maps. The world of my story has since expanded well beyond my old maps’ borders. Though my story-world is roughly based on the Black Sea and Aegean regions and the Danube River Valley, a real map would never suffice as a stand-in.

My story-world is fairly vast, with a wide variety of topography. There are smoky villages and teeming cities; rocky peaks and round, green mountains; thundering seas and calm blue lakes; vibrant young pine forests and aging oak woods. And yet most every square mile of this fictional realm has remained crystal clear to me. I often struggle to recall the names of minor characters and other details, but I have almost perfect recall of the place names, along with a mental image of each.

It was Laskow’s quote above that spurred me. I finally attempted a map of the entire area of my current story-world. The endeavor has awoken something deep and old inside of me. Something enduring. I am relearning something about myself. True, as a storyteller, maps can show you how to put things in context. They can help you keep your storyline straight and true, even if they’re never meant to be shown to readers.

But more than any of that, maps are an invitation to wonder, and an incitement to imagine.

[As an aside: these days, with so many tools available online, there’s no excuse to avoid making maps, if only for your own use. I used a fantasy mapmaking website called Inkarnate. My attempt is far from complete, and the scale still feels off (reminding me of Abercrombie’s warning). But making it was easy and fun. I’ve put it on my website, if you’re curious.]

Whether you’re a map lover like me, or are just looking to be reawakened to wonder, I encourage you to give story mapmaking a try.

Charting a Course to Fiction

I’m certain that my work will have to continue to stand on its own without any visual aids. But I’m glad I found my way back to my love of maps.

I can more clearly see the path that brought me here. It was about more than a boy learning to read a map. It was about finding where I was and imagining where else I could go. Which is only a short trip to wondering what it might be like there. Then just a step to imagining what might happen next.

Isn’t that what fiction is—mentally conceptualizing the world through an invented scale, then conveying that concept via the written word? Placing yourself on the page, then visualizing the ability to move within it, and then finding your way to a new and unknown experience?

It certainly has been for me. I believe that my love of maps provided a model for what followed in the pages of my story beyond. And in the pages I continue to produce. Maps have provided the very genesis of my ability to immerse myself in story. I consider it a wonderful gift.

Which direction do you fall when it comes to book maps? Do you love maps? If so, can you draw a connection from that to your love of fiction?

Wishing a happy Thanksgiving to the Americans among you. I hope everyone safely finds their way to a blessed holiday among family and friends.

By Vaughn Roycroft
Source: writerunboxed.com

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Writing for Audiobook

Do you love audio books?  Maybe you like to devour the latest epic fantasy novel while you’re on an equally epic road trip, or let a new thriller by your favourite writer entertain you during a boring but necessary house clean. Maybe you have a child who adores the Harry Potter books but is not quite up to reading the last two on his or her own – how excellent to have Stephen Fry do that job instead. I’m of a generation that used to enjoy radio serials – in New Zealand we had one called Portia Faces Life (Portia was a lawyer whose personal and professional lives were both complex.) Another was Doctor Paul: A Story of Adult Love, which I suspect couldn’t have been so very adult, or my parents would not have allowed me to listen to it on days when I was home from school sick.  I also remember the evening book readings on radio, in particular Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and a night plagued by fearful dreams after listening to The Speckled Band.

Fast forward to the present day. Technological advances have transformed our world, both for good and bad. The publishing business is no exception. I’ve been a published writer for twenty years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see almost all my novels published not only in print and ebook formats, but also as audio books. Up until this year, the books have come out first in print and ebook, and have later been produced as audio books, often with a different publisher. The audio books have proved popular with readers, sometimes outliving the print editions. Maybe that shouldn’t surprise me in this time-poor society! Audio books allow multi-tasking in a way print books and ebooks don’t. This year I’ve been writing a novel specifically intended for audio book production. This was something new for me, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

As a reader, I value the effective and original use of voice – my favourite writers of fiction all use voice cleverly to help convey the mood and meaning of their story, to give it a unique shape and character. I try to do the same in my own writing, and increasingly I develop structures around voice. This particular story is an expansion of a novella already written and published. The story, Beautiful, is based on the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and my version is written in first person from a single point of view. My narrator is not the heroic young woman who is the protagonist of the original tale. My character is not human. The story I created for her has its roots in the fairy tale, but moves far beyond it. Because I had worked hard to develop this character’s striking and unusual voice, I believed the story was particularly suited to audio book production. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

I generally read my work aloud to check that rhythm and flow are OK, and I knew that would be especially important this time around. Reading aloud helps you to hear what is clunky, what is repetitive, what is long-winded, and also what soars, what soothes, what makes a strong and powerful statement. It highlights bad pacing and stylistic errors such as oft-repeated words, sequential sentences with the same structure, lack of variety in sentence length and so on. I was happy with my manuscript as submitted, but as I hadn’t done a straight-to-audio book project before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The editorial notes I got back were overall positive, but it was clear I still had a few things to learn about writing for audio book.

I had not considered how my word count would equate to the time taken to narrate. My editor pointed out that a certain section of the book, in which not much action occurred, added around 7,000 words, and that this would take 45 minutes of audio. I was shocked! His request that I tighten up that part of the story seemed entirely reasonable, and I did so. In retrospect, I think I was lucky that they accepted a ms that was (drops voice to a whisper) nearly 20,000 words longer than the contracted word count.

Some things simply don’t work in an audio book. My character can read and write, but in a very limited way. At one point in the book she’s writing place names on a map, in company with another character who can draw but not write. In the text, the place names are spelled correctly when our narrator is saying them aloud: Queen’s Castle, Troll Cliffs, and so on. But as she writes them on the map she spells them as a small child might do: Kweens Kasl, for instance. In an audio book the misspellings would sound exactly the same as the correct names, and would therefore be nothing but a stumbling block for the person narrating, and meaningless to the listener. I changed them back on request.

I’ve realised while working on this project how much I care about the way my stories sound, whether read aloud, or as imagined in the mind of the reader. I’m sure that comes first from my lifelong love of traditional storytelling which has a rhythm and flow all its own. And it comes also from being a musician since I was very young – if you love music as well as writing, the patterns of the first make their way into the second. Now I’m waiting with eager anticipation to find out who is chosen to narrate my book.

Some of you may have narrated your own audio books. Some of you may have published your own. I’d love to hear your experiences with audio book writing and publication.  Please share your successes and challenges in the comments section. Or tell us about your favourite audio books and why you love them!

By Juliet Marillier
Source: writerunboxed.com

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