Short Stories and Flash Fiction
It is daunting, even scary to start on writing a novel knowing you need to write at least 70,000 words for it to be classed as such. How does that make you feel? Overwhelmed, put off or ready to rock and roll?
My reasons for stating to write came with the believe that I would never manage more than a few pages anyway. You see I am dyslexic and had been told for years my teachers not to bother with writing as I wouldn’t be able to do it! This was so ingrained into me that when I had an idea for a novel I told myself I would not be able to finish it. Because of this I wasn’t scared off from starting because I never expected to finish it. Although I was when I started novel number two!
It seems crazy now that my first go at writing a short story was only after 18 years of writing novels. It never occurred to me to write short stories, flash fiction and articles, which could actually earn me some much-needed income as well. Funnily enough I found writing short stories harder than a novel as you have a word limit but it is very good practice. I am a believer in the old adage practice makes perfect. Sometimes you have to write to a theme which also stretches your writing muscles. Flash fiction is even harder as you only have 500 words to write something coherent and with a twist in the tail! But you can win substantial prize money although you have to pay a fee to enter these competitions which in itself can mount up quite quickly. It’s all swings and roundabouts with writing and can cost you not only time, but money too.
If you are thinking of writing a novel it may be a good idea to practice on some short stories first and even win some money for your efforts.
Exciting News This magazine has just put on line their favorite articles they have published and my article "How to become Karma Neutral" has been chosen.
This is amazing as they have published hundreds over the years. To read it just head to their web site.
Good Writers Are Good Readers
Are you a good reader? Excited when a new novel from a favorite writer is released? Or do
you rarely pick up a book?
I cannot believe good writers do not love to read, it’s just not possible. For a start you can
pick up tips from your favorite authors and get some idea of the structure for genre writing,
like adventure or crime. I know I have picked up on different styles writers have and know
which I like and wish to emulate and those I don’t enjoy. You’ll hear from a lot of people that
you need a VOICE so your readers identify this with your novels and your fans will know
what to expect from the book. When I started out I used to worry that I didn’t have a voice
but I didn’t realize that I do, everyone does. The more you write the more this voice develops
so don’t panic just write as you feel comfortable writing. It is not a good idea to copy
someone else style but you can take notes on a style you like and then make it your own.
For example I love Robert B. Parker novels as they are fast, exciting and have the bare
minimum of description which for an action adventure is essential. Nothing is worse than
pages of description that hold up the action and slow the story down. He never had this
problem as his books are full of dialogue but they work wonderfully. Like most new writers I
had problems with dialogue at the beginning. It was stiff and un-natural so I decided to read
one of his novels to see how he did it. When I did I really concentrated on dialogue it
hit me how little unnecessary description or comment there is between the speakers. They
just talked face to face and line after line, with not even a he said she said in sight. It was a
revelation as too much in-between speakers really slows the narrative down. This is OK for
some genres but not for crime, thrillers or SF books.
Good readers Part 2
The more you write for your characters the more they become real and the more familiar you
are with your characters the easier to know what and how they would speak at any given time
and the easier it will be to write their conversations.
The interaction between them once you get to know them is so much easier. If they can talk
to each other like normal people their interactions will not grate or jar for your readers.. You
have to know their relationships to one another you realize that enemies talk in a completely
different way than friends or lovers.
Families often have their own shorthand which when added to their conversations makes
them more rounded and real. So knowing all your characters sides and back stories helps you
allow them to speak through you, their creator.
If you are successful very soon they will be doing the hard work for you and talking inside
your head. When this happens it produces the best and most convincing dialogue of all.
That’s when your characters begin to leap off the page and take on a life of their own. They
have been known to boss me around and tell me I’m not portraying them correctly.
Weird but true. It is so much easier when this happens as half the work is done for you.
The last page has been written and you about to write The End! Well done, it is such on achievement to finish it because so many start but far fewer ever finish. So, be happy and put it away. Just take some time to enjoy the feeling that you can now say, you’re a novelist.
I know it sounds strange and a lot of people will love to tell you you’re not a novelist unless you are published but this is total rot. You have worked hard and dedicated a lot of time to accomplish this so be proud.
Now leave the manuscript for at least a month so you can get some distance from it. It is like a child, hard to be impartial or critical about but it gets easier with some time apart. If you are lucky enough to have a good friend who will give you an HONEST opinion of your work and that they have the time to read it; then ask them if they are willing to do so. Make it clear you need feedback to help you edit it. I know from experience most will never get around to reading it or will say it is good but you need them to tell you what is good and what isn’t.
So be prepared to be disappointed but if they do read it and are honest there will be lots that needs working on. The most important questions you need answers for are; does the plot hang together, because if it doesn’t make sense you have a big problem. Are your main characters interesting and grow through their experiences in the novel? Are they believable and finally dialogue, is it stiff and unnatural or does the flow move easily between them?
More on feedback and editing in another blog.
It is truly terrifying to send out your baby (manuscript) into the world to face the cruel and often brutal place it can be out there. If you have a thin skin, get yourself a suit of Armour or at least a chain-mail vest as you’re going to need it.
If you want to improve as a writer you have to bite the bullet and get some feedback and that means other people have to read it.
Unfortunately, friends and family are not the best people to give you truthful feedback. Even if they think it is awful, they won’t say so as they don’t want to hurt your feelings. If you ask them what they think they tend to say, “It was good,” or “I enjoyed it,” Both not very helpful are they? At the time, when I wrote my first novel I thought it was brilliant but when I re-read it some years later, I cringed at how bad it was, clumsily written with very wooden dialogue to say the least.
I see now they were sparing my blushes but it didn’t help me at the time to get any better. It was no surprise than that it was rejected by agents. I shudder now that I ever sent it out in that state. I recognize my friends and family were put into an uncomfortable position so try not to do this as they cannot possibly say what they really think.
So, who can you ask? This is a tough question to answer but joining a writers society may be the answer as they often have critique groups where other writers point out errors and as they don’t know you they will be honest. Again sometimes this is hard to hear but to improve you have to know where you are going wrong. See if there is a group near you and give it a go.
More on this next time.
You thought writing your novel or short story was hard enough but I have found editing to be even more challenging. Have you ever done any editing? If you have how do you feel about it? Now you have got to the end of your work take a few days to savour this accomplishment because it’s a big deal. You have done what many people set out to do but few finish. Congratulations. Take a bow.
Ok now comes the frustratingly hard bit; editing. What to leave in and what to take out. A word to the wise here; NEVER DELETE ANY THING! Instead cut it out and put it onto another file just in case you ever need it again. I have had a few instates when I wish I had done this.
You make think editing is not your job and the publishers will do this. Sorry to disappoint you but they only do the last editing if you get a contract but to get it anywhere near good enough to be accepted either to an agent or publisher you are going to have to edit it. You will need to do this at least twenty times before it may be ready to submit. Twenty times I hear you cry. Yes I’m afraid so but there is some help out there in cyber space. I have recently come across an editing program called Prowriting aid which will do the basics for you. Things like spelling, punctuation, and gramma, which other sites like Scrivener and Grammy do. However this one tells you things like how many times you use the same word (which is a bit of a shock) and many more helpful tips to improve your writing.
I have also found if I read my edited version out loud as it is easier to get an idea of the flow and if it works. It also helps you sort out plot errors like a character being in two places at the same time, which happened in one of my novels! Once you have got any plotting problems sorted then go onto these different programs to sort out the structure and once you’ve done this many times get a good friend to read it and try to get them to give you some honest feed back. This is not easy but at least you are giving them a hopefully, error free manuscript to read. Ask them if the plot hangs together and what characters they like or hate as this is all good to know.
This whole process takes almost as long as it did to write the book but it has to been done thoroughly or all your hard work will be rejected.
45 Minutes to Write a Novel
WHAT! You can write a novel in 45 minutes. No of course you can’t but let me explain what I mean or at least what I was told by Edward Docx when I went to his lecture at the Winchester Writers society.
He said and I have to agree with him, that regular writing is essential to finish your novel. Most of us have jobs and households to run so time to write is limited. I also know that doing half an hour every day is much more productive that several hours once a week. So, find a time of the day that suits you best and try to spend 45 minutes every day on your writing.
This is a perfect amount of time for me to write the next bit and then I run out of steam. Also, it is amazing how quickly your novel grows as even if you only write one page a day in 20 days, you’ll have written 20 pages.
It is best if you schedule a time to designate to your writing. If you’re a morning person get up early to use this quite time to write or find some other time of the day that suits you. Then you have to stop procrastinating and get writing. It isn’t easy and sometimes you can talk yourself out of it but stick to it. It’s worth it in the end.
Lost the plot, part two
When you are working on your novel it is not helpful to start editing it too soon. The next tip is; NEVER read back what you have just written. It is much better to write until you run dry then pack it up and put it away un-read and un-edited. WHY? Well I have discovered that I cannot be objective or even rational about my work when I have just produced it. In the past I have started to edit it right away and made it much worse or had to throw it away in frustration because I felt it was rubbish. But if I wait until the next day and then read it again it is much easier to see the flaws and put them right. If after reading it I know what should come next I start writing again and the manuscript moves forward.
NEVER edit it fully until the whole novel is finished or you’ll never complete it. I have known a few friends who have attempted to write a novel but never got passed chapter 5. Why is this? It is because they continually edited these first few chapters until they were sick to death of it or had completely edited out all the flow and originality from it. So, get it down on paper/computer before going over it more than once. Once it is complete then it’s the time to move on to the editing phase and believe me, you’ll do this many times before it is good enough to submit to anyone.
Lost the plot
Ok the plot! I firmly believe it really needs a beginning, middle and a satisfying ending. Nothing annoys me more than a fumbled or inconclusive ending. But that’s just me.
When I first started writing I had the plot all set out chapter by chapter but as I got going on the manuscript this started to change and for the better too. Once I’d finished it, I looked again at my original plan and I realized how boring it would have been if I’d stuck to that plan. So, the first thing I recommend is to be flexible and allow your characters to tell the story. It’s amazing what they came up with and where they lead you. As long as you get to the end, the route taken can be full of twists and turns. They make the story much more interesting and more life like than a straight road with no complications.
Having a loose plan is fine and as you go along new ideas will come to you and they will often improve your story. If you get stuck, put the manuscript to one side and go for a walk or do something else you enjoy. This will free up your mind and suddenly you’ll know where you’re going next. I often ask for help from my spirit guides just before going to sleep and it is amazing how often I wake up in the morning with the next section of the novel in my mind. This also works with other problems too. Try it and see if it works for you too.
More tips on the plot next time.