Posts tagged “writing

“Break the Rules,” she said.

Image by Brent Payne via Creative Commons

Image by Brent Payne via Creative Commons

I was talking to a friend yesterday about the rules of writing. Specifically, the rule regarding dialogue and “s/he said”. Apparently, writers are no longer supposed to use adverbs here, we’re supposed to stick firmly to “s/he said”, perhaps the occasional “asked”. Apparently readers don’t want any clues as to how the speaker is speaking.

This isn’t a rule I’ve made up, it’s one I’ve seen repeated many times. For example:

Points 3 and 4 here: Elmore Leonard’s Rules

Point 4 here: Stephen King’s Rules

Point 1 on this list: Common Writing Mistakes

My friend baulked at this. “That’s ridiculous!” she said. (Do you see what I did there?) Now maybe she and I are freaks, relics of a bygone era when writers wrote descriptively and readers lapped up their prose. When I read I don’t especially want to use my imagination all that much, actually. I want the writer to transport me to another place, I want escapism. I want them to paint a world so vivid I can’t help but go with them. I want to be shown what a character looks like, how they interact with the world around them, and yes, how they speak.

When a protagonist says “I need you”, does she whisper seductively, or scream in panic? “Said” is bland, flat, emotionless. “Said” saps the energy out of dialogue utterly. Dear writers, if you’re anything like me, and I know you are, you’ve imagined that scene so many times and so clearly that it feels like a real memory. You know how she said it, you feel how fast her heart is pounding, whatever the reason, so take me there with you. Let me feel it too.

Apparently readers today just want fast paced, no frills, no imagination. Maybe it’s assumed they want to do all of the imagining for themselves, but then, wouldn’t they all be writers? I write to express my creativity. I read to let go and jump in. But I don’t buy it. I don’t think all readers have such short attention spans that they can’t handle the odd “he snapped”. I think that assuming so is detrimental to readers and writers everywhere. But even if attention span is an issue, surely it’s quicker to show the reader how a person is speaking, rather than leaving them wondering and having to pause for a moment to figure it out for themselves. Readers, what do you think? Think of your favourite book from when you were growing up. I bet it had a few whispers, screams, croaks and so on. Did you mind then? Do you mind now? Do you want your literature to read like someone’s Twitter feed?

I take no pleasure in this, as he is one of my all time favourite authors, but one of those lists I linked to up there was written by the legend, Stephen King. I have in front of me one of his epic tomes, The Stand. In the first few pages people speak “sourly”, “mildly”, and get this “weightily from the depths of his ninth-grade education”. These descriptions show us who these characters are. If they merely “said” what they had to say we would be missing these clues into their personalities and backgrounds.

I think what the experts mean when they say “just use said”, is “don’t overdo it”. Use “said” most of the time and then colour the occasional piece of dialogue with some description to keep the reader with you. They can fill in some of the blanks, but don’t leave them plodding along behind you on a string of “he said”, “she said”s. Take them into the world you’re creating, invite them in with some easy to digest descriptions and clues.

She said.

I love to hear from you, so tell me what you think in the comments below. Do you like some description with your dialogue as a reader? What rules do you follow as a writer and which do you throw out?

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Me, Myself & I: Part 3

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Welcome to part 3 of this fab Q&A run by Suzie at Suzie Speaks and Sarah at Diary of a Techaholic. Check out their posts too and show some love to these great bloggers.

1. How do you get your ideas for blog posts?

Generally from what’s going on in my life. Places I’ve been, conversations I’ve had, news I’ve heard and so on. Taking part in these memes helps to get regular posts going too. Many of my posts have been about the research I’ve done for my books.

2. What’s the one piece of advice you would give to new bloggers just starting out?

Blog as often as you can. Blogging, like all writing, is a skill and you only get better with practice. Blogging often also gets you into good habits and will help you to become part of the blogging community.

3. How would your closest friends describe you?

I dread to think! I hope they would say I was passionate, caring, intelligent and funny. They might also say I was sensitive, a bit of a drama queen at times and extremely opinionated!

Meeru24. What’s the best place you’ve ever visited and why?

Meerufenfushi, aka Meeru, an island in the Maldives. It’s paradise on earth. I’m so lucky to have been able to spend a week there 11 years ago. I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic for the place lately and would love to be able to go back.

5. What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Accepting myself. I haven’t overcome this challenge yet, but I am trying. It took me a long time to accept my vocation. I always wanted to be a writer but that booming voice of society told me “you’ll never earn a living at it” and I let that voice divert me. But I was so unhappy in everything else I tried to do. Now that I’ve embraced my path I’m so much happier. I need to do that with all sorts of things in my life, accept myself for who I am and stop worrying that I’m not good enough. I need to change the voice in my head from one of constant self-criticism, to one of love and nurturing. It’s not easy to do, but I have a mantra now “Forgive yourself and move on”. I’m trying to live by that.


Me, Myself & I – Week 1

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I was just looking for something like this to post to my blog today, when fate intervened and dropped this little morsel in my inbox, courtesy of Suzie81 Speaks. The idea is to answer 5 questions each each and share them around the bloggosphere, reading, liking and commenting on other people’s replies too. Each week Suzie and Sare (at Diary of Techaholic) will post the new questions. So, without further ado, here is the first set.

1. What has been your blogging highlight so far?

I’ve blogged for years, across various different sites and about a range of topics. But the last 18 months or so, writing this blog has been very special. I’d say the highlight is probably when I see people sharing my posts and knowing that something I wrote was share-worthy.

2. What or who inspires you more than anything else?

Music inspires me. A certain song, or even a single lyric can set my creative juices flowing. A good rhythm is amazing to write to. I have a playlist for writing to, which contains some of my favourite bands and even entire albums that flow amazingly well. I’d say that up there as my most inspirational albums are Damage by Kosheen and The Heart of Everything by Within Temptation.

3. If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would do with you winnings?

Oh I contemplate this A LOT! Before going property-hunting (I browse the net for amazing properties already in anticipation of winning the next Euromillions jackpot!), or flying off to travel the world with my kids (Florida first as it’s already booked, but then we’ll get on a train and travel around Europe in style), I’d actually get the dull stuff out of the way, like clearing my credit cards and buying a new family car! But I’d also be making some important phone calls to my close family and friends and asking them what I can do with some of the money to make their lives better/easier.

4. If you could describe yourself as a plate of food, what would it be?

Sunday roast. Warm, loving, homey, a little bit indulgent and stuffed full of yumminess.

5. What does a perfect day look like to you?

A long, long lie in all by myself! Followed by a tall glass of cold orange juice outside in the sunshine by a stunning pool. Then sitting by the pool with my laptop to write, taking a dip after lunch during the hottest part of the day. It would just be me, my words and tranquillity.

So that’s it for now. If you want to participate, just copy the questions and answer them in your own blog post. Then leave a comment on Suzie or Sare’s blogs. Don’t forget to read and comment on other people’s posts too. Happy Sunday.


Plots and Plans

fireworksFirst of all, massive apologies for being so quiet. It’s been a crazy couple of months. I am thrilled to say that I have completed the first draft of book three in the Echoes of the Past series, Tides of Spring. Getting the last few chapters written was one of the hardest periods of my writing journey so far. They may never see the light of day, of course, as I have revisions to do, and who knows what will stay and what will go? It’s hard to say why I found it so hard to finish this draft. I had a really good run coming up towards the end, and I thought it would be a few days of productivity before I finished. But I stalled terribly, was crippled with writers’ block, and agonised over the details.

Part of what held me up may have been because of the actions of my heroes. I rarely use that word to describe the main characters in the series. Because to me they are not typical heroes. I usually call them protagonists, a useful word that covers the most flawed of central characters. Stalker-of-Night’s-Shadow is about as flawed as they come. She’s arrogant, reckless, and maddeningly impulsive. She keeps secrets, makes mistakes, and lets her heart rule her head. She neglects her responsibilities and her friends. But her heart is generally in the right place, she’s capable, independent and a fierce combatant. Stalker isn’t the only one with flaws. The rest of the pack have their issues too; from run of the mill pride, to post traumatic stress disorder.

Towards the end of Tides of Spring, having been through some pretty difficult events, they make some tough calls. I, as the writer, had to make them on their behalf. I parted with a character that I very much enjoyed writing too.

I wasn’t consciously aware of this while writing, but since finishing the draft, I realised that there is next to no hope of a film production company wanting the rights for Echoes of the Past (come on, all authors have that dream!), because the protagonists are too flawed, too complex, and at times, too dark. Sometimes it’s debatable whether they’re the good guys or the bad guys. I mean, it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? From the point of view of the Witches of Fenwick, the shifters of Caerton are breaking some of the most fundamental laws of their kind, and sitting on a throne they aren’t entitled to. They destroy nature too. Shock. Gasp.

funny-walking-dead-memes-15But, there is an alternative option for adaptation…. as I reblogged from Kristen Lamb earlier, the hottest drama can be found on the small screen, rather than the big one. Some of my favourite TV series of recent years are packed full of dark, complex protagonists. Take Dexter as the prime example. The central character is a serial killer, for crying out loud. But we root for him, we desperately hope for him not to get caught. Hell, in the last season I was desperate for him to get a happy ending with Hannah… I recently binged on House of Cards. It could well be argued that Kevin Spacey’s fantastic portrayal of Francis Underwood is one TV’s best depictions of a sociopath. The Walking Dead features a group who have crossed the line of morality a number of times in their quest to survive. Television is a fantastic medium to explore the darker sides of humanity. There is time. Time to build suspense, delve deeper into the characters and their motivations. Time to build a relationship between the viewer and the protagonist, so that we are with them on their journey into darkness.

Of course, books do that too. That’s where I want to take my readers, into the darkness. In Tides of Spring we travel to some of the most inspiring places, and then into the pits of emotional hell. I love my characters, I’ve been living with them for years and been inside Stalker’s skin. I don’t like putting them through these things, but I love creating drama! Getting some of that drama onto the page was hard work.

Getting to the end was mainly a relief.

So now I’m in my ritual rest phase. Though I’ve yet to actually rest during this phase of any book! In order to be able to enter revisions with fresh eyes I take some time away from the manuscript. With Seeds of Autumn I started writing Ghosts of Winter during this rest phase, then with Winter I started writing Tides of Spring. I’m breaking this streak now, and instead of beginning the next book I’m working on some other areas of my author life…

The first announcement I have is that I now have a mailing list. You can subscribe here, or in the link in the right hand menu of this page. You’ll get a free PDF of the short story The Storm Riders’ Vigil when you subscribe.

Last, but by no means least, I am really excited to announce that I will be running a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds I need to give Tides of Spring the professional treatment before publishing it. I’ve got some really special perks lined up; from signed copies of the book, to the opportunity to name a character in the next book. So get your thinking caps on for that one! Subscribers to my mailing list will be the first to receive updates in the build up to the launch of the campaign too, so that’s another reason to subscribe 😉


Work-In-Progress Blog Challenge

I’ve been nominated by the ever-lovely Willow C. Winsham to complete the WIP Blog Challenge. Willow is a friend of mine from (shock horror) real life, who is currently writing her debut series of novels, entitled The Virginia Dewhurst Trilogy. I gather it is a hard sci-fi series set in the post-apocalyptic near-future and features alien robots who take over the earth…. no wait, that’s not right… Run over to Willow’s blog and check out her fantastic writing and historical research into witchcraft and other such fascinating topics: http://winsham.blogspot.co.uk/

Work-in-Progress Blog ChallengeHere are the rules:
Provide the link back to the post by the person who nominated you (see above).
Write a little about your work-in-progress.
Give the first sentences of the first three chapters of your current WIP.
Nominate four other writers for the challenge.

My WIP is the urban fantasy series Echoes of the Past. Book one, Seeds of Autumn, is available now on Kindle and in print from FeedARead (links on right). The series follows Ariana, a feisty young woman with special shape-shifting abilities as she battles dangerous demons, deceitful shifters and her own inner-beast. The series is set in the fictional city of Caerton, which is almost as real to me now after working on this project for so many years, as some of the places I have called home.

The second book, Ghosts of Winter, is very close to completion, having been through several sets of revisions already and cover art about to be undertaken but still technically a WIP (I can’t seem to stop tinkering!). But for extra fun and games, I’ve decided to do this challenge twice, because the third book is well under way (nearly 50,000 words!) and has almost all of my excitement at present.

Let’s start with Ghosts.

Chapter One (technically a prologue):

Eyes strode into the shop.

Chapter Two:

Stalker looked around at her pack mates, three savage-looking shifters in their Agrius forms, seven feet tall and covered in thick fur of varying hues.

Chapter Three:

Eyes checked every room in the little house, there wasn’t much to see.

Wohoo! So, there you have it. Could there be some point of view shifting in this book? I’ll leave that thought with you.

A quick note for the glossary: Agrius refers to the beast-like form that my shifters can take. It is their most savage form, fantastic for combat, not so hot at light conversation. The name comes from the Greek myth of Agrius and Oreius, in which a woman is cursed by Aphrodite to mate with a bear. The result is the twins Agrius and Oreius who are half man and half bear. In the myth, Artemis despises the woman and her offspring, finding them offensive and the twins shun the gods. In the end, Ares and Hermes turn the twins into a vulture and an eagle owl. What that may imply for Caerton’s shifters, who believe they were created by Artemis, I will leave to you to ponder.

Okay, so for the bonus round, here are the opening sentences from the first three chapters of book three, which has a title but I’m not revealing it yet. I might give out a prize for the closest guess.

Chapter One (also a prologue):

She pulled her long, blond hair back and tied it in a sloppy pony tail.

Chapter Two:

Stalker watched him sleeping.

Chapter Three:

‘Welcome to the Danegeld.’

I debated what to put for the last quote as the first sentence of chapter three is currently a bit of a spoiler. So this little morsel of dialogue is actually the last sentence of chapter two, but hey, it’s a WIP, so it’s subject to change anyway.

So, I know that the prologue is pretty much DEAD these days, but I like them. They are a fun way for me to sneak an alternative viewpoint into my books, to give the reader additional information and lay breadcrumbs for the big overall story arc of the series. The prologue for book three came to me while working in a coffee shop one, rare, child-free morning and it was an absolute epiphany. I had been struggling with how to start the book, when I went into my notes about what the core plot of the series and that book in particular was it suddenly became clear to me how it must start. I am thoroughly anticipating the shock when people read it for the first time, I can’t wait!

So that’s it for now. All that remains is for me to nominate four more writers for the challenge.

Janna Kaixer at http://jkaixer.wordpress.com/ an exciting up and coming writer whose work I cannot wait to read.

D. M. Cain at http://www.dmcain.co.uk/ author of the Light and Shadow Chronicles.

Carol Phipps at http://www.niarg.com/ lovely fantasy author and Tweeter-extraordinaire.

Paul Cude at http://www.thesoberhockeyplayer.co.uk/ author of the Bentwhistle the Dragon series.


One Lovely Blog

I am really grateful to have been nominated to participate in One Lovely Blog by the ever-insightful Willow at http://winsham.blogspot.co.uk/

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The rules are as follows. Link back to the blog of the person who nominated you, share 7 facts about yourself, and nominate up to 15 blogs that you particularly like, or fewer if you can’t think of 15. If I’ve nominated your blog, please don’t feel obliged to take part if you don’t want to, but if you do, thank you!

Okay, so 7 fun facts about me so that my readers can get to know me a little better.

1. I spend time contemplating how I would survive the zombie apocalypse. Yep, I’m one of those nerds. I have my secure location picked out, should my home fall. It’s a nearby store with no windows, a single set of automatic doors out front and an outdoor area surrounded by a very high fence. Provided it doesn’t get damaged during the looting phase, it will make a great base for quite a few people, we could even grow food in the outdoor space. I have a bat’leth to use as a weapon, it has sharp points for piercing zombie skulls and blades for decapitation. It’s the perfect weapon 😉 I just need a stockpile of tinned goods and I’m ready.

Hulk2. I used to love rollercoasters and thrill rides, but no longer enjoy the more extreme ones that much. I don’t know if it’s old age (ha!) or becoming a mother, but the fear overwhelms the thrill for me these days. I still enjoy rollercoasters that I know and love, like Nemesis at Alton Towers, but am reluctant to try newer, more intense ones. I sat out The Hulk at Universal Islands of Adventure two years ago and watching it, frankly, made me feel ill.

3. I’m an introverted Highly Sensitive Person. This makes it difficult for me to make friends and get close to people. It also means I have quite a volatile temper at times, when I react strongly to things that upset me. I’ve learned how to protect and nurture myself over the years and do try hard to step away from situations that are causing me stress, so I have a lengthy “blocked” list on Facebook 😉

4. Due to number 3 above, I am also a terrible salesperson! So perhaps entering the world of self-publishing was not the most obvious choice. I can natter on social media, but am terrible at approaching strangers to pitch my work, so this route actually made more sense than trying to sell myself to an agent or publisher. Before becoming a mother and then a writer, I had a string of awful jobs in service and sales. It took me a while, including several months as a charity fundraiser, to accept that it really wasn’t my “thing”. Never again!

5. I’m a passionate advocate of rights in childbirth. After a traumatic first birth, during which I was bullied and my consent violated, I became a campaigner for better maternity services. It was a heck of a journey, I learned a lot about different aspects of birth and found myself volunteering on a helpdesk and facilitating support groups. I still keep a finger in that world, but my focus has shifted onto my own career after a healing second birth.

6. I pick up song lyrics ridiculously easily! I generally only need to hear a song a few times to have most of the lyrics memorised and once they’re in there I tend to remember them indefinitely. So far. Except under stress. Don’t put me on the spot and ask me to sing for other people, not on my own. I love being in a choir, but solo singing gives me terrible stage fright.

big read7. This is a terrible admission for a writer, but I’m not actually a big reader! I did used to be, when I was a child and teenager I would devour books constantly and had a large library of beloved books. But I have so little free time now, with two small, home educated kids and a series of books to write, that I tend to choose to zone out in front of the TV during my downtime, rather than tax my brain with a book. But if I get into a book I will grab every instant to read until I finish. I recently read the Hunger Games trilogy (I know, late to the party, see above!) back to back in just over a week, which is fast for me. Next is the rather ambitious project of completing the BBC Big Read 100 most popular books list. I’ve only read about 20 of the titles on the list at some point in my life, so it’s a big project!

So that’s it for me. Now I am supposed to nominate some fellow bloggers…..

Kristen Lamb at We Are Not Alone: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/ I always read Kristen’s blogs with interest and am a fan of her book, Rise of the Machines – Human Authors in a Digital World. 

Sarah Watkins at And Then I Read a Book: http://andthenireadabook.blogspot.co.uk/ Sarah’s reviews are always thoughtful and insightful.

Marcey Kennedy, writer and editor whose writing tips I always eagerly lap up! http://marcykennedy.com/

Sarah at Pyjama School: http://pyjamaschool.co.uk/ lovely home education blog, packed with ideas and inspiration.


Tides

blue moonI had a realisation today, so please indulge me in this short post about how I write.

I am currently drafting the third book of Echoes of the Past, entitled Tides of Spring. About two weeks ago I wrote a pivotal moment in the series, a game changer and key bit of character development for one of my protagonists. It was very emotional to write and I very much hope that my readers feel moved by it too. After writing this, and other previous “big” moments in the series, I was emotionally and mentally exhausted and have hardly been able to write a word since.

Today I realised that I tend to work in tides, high and low. I’ll be extremely prolific for a couple of weeks, churning out 20,000 words or more but then I need a rest, sometimes just a few days but after a significant emotional expenditure like this one I sometimes need a few weeks.

The second element of this realisation was that I noticed it was a new moon yesterday, and a solar eclipse early this morning (I missed seeing it but woke to a notification about it on my phone). This means that I wrote the epic chapter around the full moon. It got me thinking and looking back at these tides and I do believe they are connected to the phases of the moon, which is somewhat fitting as my series is so intimately connected with our silver satellite and the goddesses associates with it. During the waxing moon, as it moves from new to full, I am motivated and prolific. During a waning moon, as it moves from full to new again, I sometimes have a lull in output. This isn’t strictly true all of the time, if I am on a roll then a prolific period can last several weeks or a month or more. The waning moon seems to slow me down only when I reach a super dramatic moment in the series and need that emotional breather afterwards.

People have long connected behaviour with the moon, usually the full moon, which is credited with inducing erratic and even crazed behaviour in people, hence the terms “lunacy” and “lunatic”. Many also believe the moon influences birth, though I can’t say this has been my experience. I wonder what more subtle influences it may have? Does it effect our motivation? Energy levels? Moods? Do those who follow a fitness regime struggle to meet their goals at certain times of the month? Then there are other celestial events, such as eclipses, solstices and equinoxes, and of course a blue moon*. I know that for a week or so around each equinox I feel very unsettled and emotional.

*A blue moon is the third full moon in a season that has four full moons. Seasons normally only have three full moons.

I would love to hear from you. Have you ever noticed any of these influences in your life?


Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

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This is a slightly random post from me, some thoughts about writing opinions vs fact.

When we feel passionate about something, it can sometimes be difficult to tell fact from opinion. I remember an English class from when I was about fifteen. Our teacher gave us a list of statements and we had to sort out the facts from opinions. One of the statements was “Foxhunting is barbaric.” Now, much as I may agree with the sentiment, I knew then that this was an opinion dressed as fact. One of my classmates, however, was adamant that this statement was pure fact, with no emotional bias. She refused to be swayed and a rather awkward stalemate occurred between her and the teacher. I don’t remember what happened next, I guess he changed the subject and the discussion moved on.

I often remember this event when I am writing. I write fiction now, but I have written scientific and opinion articles in the past and both require different approaches. In an opinion piece, a writer needs to be aware that what they are writing is their opinion and be careful to ensure that this is clear. I too often see articles in leading publications that are not entirely clear on this. So-called journalists write what is clearly set up as an opinion piece, however, they report their opinion or experiences as if these are universal and very often make statements that fly in the face of scientific evidence.

Even more disturbing, is when I see “experts” state matters of opinion as if they are facts. A recent example of this was the rather controversial case of Dr Christian Jessen, who commented within an article for Closer Magazine and reiterated in a statement on their website that “If a child is being breast fed until eight, this may make them overly dependent on their mother.” I have no wish to get into a debate on this subject on this blog, that’s a subject for my parenting blog 😉 however, I did want to highlight that this is a perfect example of his opinion being touted as if it were scientific fact. The actual fact is that research demonstrates that the opposite is actually true and that “attachment parenting”, which includes full term breastfeeding, actually fosters greater independence in children than “conventional” parenting does (Mercer, 2005).

When a qualified health professional expresses their opinion it has the potential to influence a great many people who will trust their judgement. Anyone writing for the public must be sure that they are aware of this and ensure that their opinions are stated clearly as just that and that any facts they may wish to convey are accurate. This is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, as per the title of this post, opinion disguised as fact can be dangerous.

This goes for informal discussions too. It is all too easy for unnecessary conflict to arise when someone expresses their opinion as if it is a fact. But as I stated at the start, when we feel passionate it can be difficult to see that our opinion is not fact. It can take quite a lot of strength to see and admit that something we hold to be absolutely true, may actually be up for debate. I may be as guilty of this as others on some occasions 😉

Happy writing, peeps.

Reference:

Mercer, J., (2005), Understanding Attachment: Parenting, Child Care, and Emotional Development, Greenwood Press.