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Archive for November, 2012
My guest this week had never realised his fiction was so closely tied to music, nor how much that meant it reflected the landmarks of his own life. Through significant songs he has peeled back the years to channel aspects of his family and upbringing, to flesh out the characters in his short stories and novels. He is McStorytellers founder Brendan Gisby and he’s on the Red Blog sharing his Undercover Soundtrack
authors, Brendan Gisby, deepen your story, fiction, flesh, having ideas, how to write a novel, inspiration, landmarks, literary fiction, McStorytellers, My Memories of a Future Life, novels, publishing, Roz Morris, Scottish fiction, short fiction, short stories, The Bookie's Runner, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, upbringing, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing life, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart, writing to music
The expected answer is usually the murderer, the villain, the cheating wife, the despicable and repugnant millionaire …
Brace yourselves, non-writers. We enjoy creating those people.
But if I dislike a character, if they are a chore… I change the character.
It’s nothing to do with whether they spoil things for my other characters. I’m just as excited to write my bad people as angels. But if sharing headspace with a character is not appealing, it means I’m not interested enough to write them well. And the reader will feel the same heartsink sensation whenever their eye alights on that darned name.
Here’s what to do.
If they don’t excite you and the rest of the story does, perhaps it’s a sign they don’t have any effect on the world of the novel. Are they needed at all?
Are they only in the book to give a central character a plausible background, for instance a mother? Have you written her in too much detail, perhaps tried to give her scenes by herself and come up with only trivialities? If a character is in the cast to flesh out another character’s life, it’s perfectly okay to write only the scenes where they are together. Or narrate them from the perspective of the more important character.
But they will become important
Perhaps they’re in the book because they do something important later on. Try cutting the earlier appearances. Not all the cast has to be on stage from the word go. Could your dull character begin as a walk-on and gradually become a significant speaking part? Characters are allowed to blossom late – that can be very rewarding to read. But until they become useful, don’t make them tread water or amble aimlessly. (Or if they must, make them do it outside your book.)
You might find you have several characters who perform roughly the same story function – and this may be what’s bugging you. Could you ditch most tedious one and give their role to someone else? Combining two characters might also give you a fresh perspective on other parts of the story.
Give them even more to do
Yes, you’re already grudging the time you spend with these blots, but I’ve often found my attitude changes completely if I beef up their role. Challenge them, make them a more crucial link in a chain, tighten their attachment to one of the other characters and watch them transform from soggy to sparkling.
Don’t soldier on
If you loathe writing certain people, it’s a sure sign that you need to take action. Don’t soldier on, dragging them through scene after scene, thinking it’s part of your writing duty to sometimes find things hard. Find what makes you want to write them.
Thanks for the pic rotokirby
Have you had a character you hated writing? What did you do about it? Share in the comments!
You can find tips for writing and revision in my book, Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Available on Kindle and in print. You also might like my multimedia course with Joanna Penn – more than 4 hours of audio and slides with an 86-page transcription – find it here.
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My guest this week was so young when Faber bought her first fantasy novel that her father had to sign the contract. She’s more than built on that early promise by scooping the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian prize and is so prolific that in her credits she only lists her best-known works. Her imagination has ranged everywhere, from a fantasy czarist Russia to the far future – and thrilling, evocative music has been intrinsic to all of them. She is children’s author Susan Price, and she’s on the Red Blog with a truly rich Undercover Soundtrack.
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I’m at Authors Electric today, discussing how indie writers are getting their work to readers by curating collections based on a solid respect for craft and originality. While publishers play safe with marketing pigeonholes, some of these indie groups will be the brands of the future. Come and see…
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Savoury chocolate, bad reviews, finding an agent and writer’s block – interview at Lorna Suzuki’s blog
If you come to my house for dinner, I will cook the most bizarre recipe I can find and it will be a dish I’ve never tried before – so an adventure for us all. That’s probably how I approach my fiction too, although I didn’t realise until Lorna Suzuki asked me a bunch of questions at her blog All Kinds of Writing. (Lorna’s pretty cool, BTW – she’s a fifth-dan instructor of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu which she draws on for her kick-ass fantasy series Imago.)
Once we’ve dispensed with the chocolate porcini risotto, we settle down to more useful matters – how to handle bad reviews, what to do if you’re struggling to find an agent, tips for self-publishers, how to handle writer’s block… Come on over (and bring a good supply of Lindt 99%)…
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Gamebooks, for the unnerdly, are interactive adventures (sometimes called Choose Your Own). The story is printed in scene sections, out of order, which end with a choice – trust the blind beggar or not, decide whether to look for your enemy in the town or the desert. Although I’m not a gamebook fan (apologies to those who are), I’m finding the process rather interesting.
Choices and consequences
First of all, what happens in each thread depends on the character’s personality and previous moral choices. So if they’re captaining a pirate ship, in one version they’re jolly tars and in the other it’s mutiny.
Choices are crucial to good stories. Stuff happens – not because a god dumped events into the plot, but because characters did things, usually under pressure. In a gamebook these choices create a unique path through the adventure. But whatever kind of story you’re writing, the chain reaction of choice and consequence is an essential.
Experimenting with scenes
To proof Dave’s books, I’m not reading one thread at a time, but front cover to back – which is jumbling the story into random episodes. It also means I encounter each scene in many versions.
This was like an x-ray of my plotting and revision process. I make copies of each scene and write umpteen iterations looking for tighter tension, more resonant changes, more interesting (but honest) ways to keep the reader on their toes. In fact my outtakes are rather like my novel in gamebook form, with all its possibilities – what if she says this, what if the characters had met before in different circumstances, what if y had happened before x?
(In fact Dave said this experimenting was part of the fun – he could play each scene several ways instead of having to settle for a single one as he would in a novel. The pic shows his flowcharts. BTW, the print books are Lulu editions for proofing only. Yes, we know the covers are horrible.)
Exploring possibilities is something that writers are often scared by. Often they want to keep a scene the way they first imagined it. But the more we squeeze a scene to see what it can do, the stronger a novel will be.
Because the gamebook contains many journeys, there are also many ends – deaths that are daft or valiant, failures to complete the quest, heroic rescues, solutions where honour wasn’t fully satisfied. Usually only one ending hits the mark. (In gamebooks that’s traditionally the last paragraph, by the way.)
Finding the right ending in a novel usually takes a lot of false starts. But you don’t get there unless you try all the permutations of success or failure and the shades between.
Get the experimenting mindset
To get in the experimenting mood, grab a gamebook and read it in a way it’s not intended to be – from page 1 to the end. You’ll see the many ways an encounter can go, the options for a scene of dialogue, the possibilities for your ending. Once you’re loosened up, go back to your WIP and play.
(Here’s the titles that are currently available in the series I’m proofing for Dave, but gamebook fans can probably point you to other goodies.)
Thanks for the signpost pic Shahram Sharif
Do you feel able to experiment with your stories? If so, what helps you? Share in the comments!
authors, beginners, blind beggar, character choices, characters, choice and consequence, choices and consequences, Choose Your Own Adventure, Dave Morris, deepen your story, endings, fiction, gamebook series, gamebooks, gaming, having ideas, how to plot, how to write a great book, how to write a novel, inspiration, My Memories of a Future Life, novels, polishing, publishing, Roz Morris, Virtual Reality, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart, writing routine
‘Each song helped me see the main character a little more clearly’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Melissa Foster
My guest this week has always written in the grip of a wide-ranging playlist, but for one particular novel she found herself listening to three pieces intensively, maybe obsessively. In those songs she found her characters’ strengths and their more playful, softer sides, the great challenges they faced and the reserves they drew on to see them through. She is award-winning bestselling author, indie champion and women’s advocate Melissa Foster – and she’s on the Red Blog talking about Chasing Amanda and its Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, bestselling author, Chasing Amanda, contemporary fiction, creativity, deepen your story, having ideas, how to write a novel, inspiration, Life, Melissa Foster, music, music for writing, My Life, My Memories of a Future Life, novels, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, suspense, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, women's fiction, writing, Writing #2, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart, writing routine, writing to music
In the meantime, I’d planned to make a post appear magically from the archives to jolly along NaNoWriMos (and anyone who needs tips to meet a writing deadline). It began ‘Are you finding NaNo easier than you thought, or harder?’ and was supposed to wait until this weekend, but WP gremlins (or butterfingered me) shot it out prematurely. Immediately I got a bemused comment from a subscriber, convinced he’d got his time machine working. Anyway, here’s the post, if you haven’t already seen it – a NaNo routine to help you finish.
authors, back soon, books, gone fishing, hiatus, how to meet a writing deadline, how to write a novel, inspiration, keep writing, literature, My Memories of a Future Life, NaNoWriMo, publishing, Roz Morris, twitter, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart, writing tips
You are currently browsing the archives for November, 2012
- A plea for reviewers – can we open up a dialogue about self-published books? April 23, 2017
- Writing the perfect love triangle – guest post at Writers Helping Writers April 11, 2017
- Before Arrival: appreciating Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang April 9, 2017
- ‘The unrelenting passage of time’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Theresa Milstein April 2, 2017
- Slow-burn books, publishing misfits and separation anxiety – interview at Henry Hyde’s blog March 21, 2017
- Dear me: how fiction authors adapt to writing memoir March 12, 2017
- The blank page – conquering your fears. And a couple of writing prompts February 26, 2017