Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Find the Time to Write your Novel

You can find the time to write that novel. Even if parental commitments, caring responsibilities or work pressures take your day. Here are some tips to find the time to finish that novel.

Novel Writing Organiser

Time constraints may make a routine impossible for some novel writers. This means setting realistic and flexible goals. A weekly target is better than a daily one, as some days will be more productive than others and some may even be non-productive. Much can be done in three hours per week, which could be achieved all in one go, or half an hour per day with one day off.

Some writers like to put aside a little time each day. Anything from an hour to ten minutes is time well-spent. But it is important to accept the body is not a machine and that every writer is different. This means getting to know the best time to write, which could be early morning for some; late in the evening for others.

When it comes to a creative space, a bureau, the kitchen table or even a bedside cabinet will do. Keep a stash of good quality writing materials that are kept exclusively for writing.

Writing during Childcare

It is important to remember a new parent must make allowances for a few sleepless nights. However, authors who have children can use empty time slots to good use, such as when the kids are in the bath, during afternoon naps or waiting in the car. Even when the hands are busy during household chores, the mind can be active dreaming up ideas for the novel or finding solutions. Keep a notebook handy around the house for when ideas occur.

Time Organiser for Writers

Writing a novel can be very energy consuming so it is vital to keep healthy. If the writer wishes to make good use of the small time that is available, eating a balanced diet and getting proper sleep will help. It is easy to forget that pressures will affect mental concentration and not to expect too much if there are large commitments at hand such as Christmas gatherings or lots of school visits.

Get a Novel Written in a Year

There are many books on how to complete a novel quickly on the market to help organise the writer who may find it difficult to keep on top of the novel. Completing a novel in thirty days is a popular theme, although there are others on keeping the writer on track for completing a novel in a year.

Novel Writing Software

Creative writing software have great features to help the disorganised author get organised, which include special features that help writers overcome writer’s block, a character questionnaire and story builder. NewNovelist, considered to be the best novel writing program by reviewers of publications such as the Sunday Times and Guardian, allows the writer to work in any way he or she wishes – backwards, forwards or from the middle. Its resource centre is thought to offer the best support for writers.

Completing the Novel

The author who has lots of commitments, such as work or family pressures may find it hard to complete a novel. But a well organised writer will be able to squeeze pockets of time out of the day. Keeping in good health will help retain the best cerebral performance for what little time is available. But the incurably disorganised writer may seek support from books that help the writer complete a novel in a month or a year, or perhaps novel writing software.

External Links on Organising a Novel

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

There is no Tension in My Novel

The aspiring author may read the first draft of a novel to find that one scene merges into the next in a humdrum way without any tension in the plot. The scenes lack suspense and the characters have no motivation or drives. How can the writer create suspense in novel writing?

Writing a Thriller with Suspense

Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) (Write Great Fiction)
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Before improving the novel, the writer may reflect upon the problems with the scenes in order to identify practices at fault. This will help with creating a novel that is full of suspense and compel the reader to keep turning the pages. The following may need addressing.

Allowing characters without drives to drive the story which could create a plot without pace.

Having characters within the story that have similar views and motivations.

Allowing stereotypical situations to occur within the story which could be predicted by the reader.

Having too much of one element within the novel, such as too much dialogue. Dialogue tends to quicken the pace of the story which may cause the novel to race along like a steam train without any lulls or tension build-up.

Similarly, pages full of wordy paragraphs of descriptions and passages could result in a sludgy read. Purple prose, as it is often known, is not good for a thriller or crime novel.

Again, too much action, such as blood, guts, car chases and family feuds, etc, far from creating tension will leave the poor reader feeling as though battened over the head and may even skip the pages.

Creating Conflict in Novels

Creating tension within a story often requires tightening. This means ridding of the deadwood. This could mean: characters that serve no purpose, chit-chatty discourse, wordy passages full of descriptions and weak character drives that would not flatten a lily.

Characters without drives result in a story that has no plot. Does each character have a secret or desire that means more to them than anything? Can the stakes be made even higher? For instance, a protagonist who needs money to pay a loan shark would desire the money more if raising money for bone marrow transplant for a parent.

Similarly, does each character contrast sharply with one another regarding drives, beliefs and backgrounds? Look for ways of increasing this gulf. This will create a huge tug of war between the main characters, mentally, spiritually or physically.

Writing Scenes for Novels

Does each climax within the story reach greater heights than the last? If not, consider shuffling the scenes so that the overall tension increases throughout the story.

Does every scene within the novel serve a purpose? Does each for example reveal a secret, cause embarrassment, create obstacles, reveal character or most importantly move the story forward?

Consider the length of each scene. Many authors use the technique of controlling pace by the length of each scene. Intermixing the length of scenes will keep the reader on his toes. Shorter scenes tend to move the story forward more quickly than longer scenes. Here, I used short scenes to inject punch and humour into my novel, Nora, which is also available as a blog. On this link to my blog novel, two short scenes have been spliced into the narrative to show how an intruder into a millionaire's house deters visitors from his gates.

Writing the Thriller
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Surprise the reader. Creating tension often involves surprises. This may mean revealing a secret, showing a vulnerable side to a villain (which incidentally will make the villain seem more disturbing) or creating an unexpected resolution.

Cure for a Sludgy Novel

Creating tension within a limp story often entails cutting. Clichés, motiveless characters and wordy descriptions have to go. These need to be replaced with scenes that propel the story, a blend of story elements and motivated characters to create a variegated novel that will keep the reader alert.

External Links on Writing Thrillers

My Characters’ Dialogue Sounds like a Soap Opera

Putting words in character’s mouths for novel writing may feel like pulling teeth for some. Dialogue sounds stilted, clichéd or lack distinction. Scenes containing character conversation ramble in a monotone way or fail to drive the story forward. What can the author do to write great dialogue for characters that make the novel sparkle?

How Not to Write Dialogue

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints (Write Great Fiction)
Narrative Ficiton
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Before making improvements to character speech within the novel, the writer needs to address the culprits such as the following.

Having too much dialogue within the story, particularly if the scenes contain a spitfire kind of discourse between people that can make the reader feel pummelled over the head such as the following example:

“What do you mean by that?” he demanded
“It wasn’t how it sounded,” she whispered.
“I’m going,” he said leaving.
“Wait!” she uttered.

Another culprit is allowing dialogue to leak into the story that serves no purpose, such as chitchat about the weather or small talk (unless, of course, it is to reveal character or convey an atmosphere).

Or dialogue that serves only to impart information for the purposes of the plot, such as:

“Hi, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you.”
“Yes, must have been two years at least.”
“Before the accident wasn’t it?”
“Yes, I lost my memory for six months, but I am beginning to remember fragments about what really happened.”

The following also should be looked out for when improving character dialogue:
  • Dialogue that lack distinction which could be spoken by any of the characters.
  • Hackneyed words or expressions that only a stereotype would utter, or words that seem too dramatic or more suited to a soap or pantomime.
Ideal Dialogue for Creative Writing

The following tips on writing realistic dialogue will help improve the novel immensely:
Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) (Write Great Fiction)
Creative Writing Exercises
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Listen to real life conversation and look out for idiosyncrasies, favoured words or expressions that are unique to different people. The close observer will also notice that real conversation contains lots of false starts, repetitions and meaningless chatter. The key is to distil the conversation into the barest elements without losing its authentic flavour.

Get to know the character well within the story, this means drives, motives and background. Having a character questionnaire will help the writer get a feel for how the character speaks, and behaves. Ensure that each character has his or her own speech signature where the reader need not look at the attribution to know who is speaking.

Look for opportunities for subtext. Not every emotion or opinion needs to be voiced. Body language or even silence can pile more tension than vocal expression. Rhetoric, evasion or double meaning in conversation will create suspense in fictional conversation.

See the link to my blog novel, Nora to see how I used subtext to convey a policeman's doubts over a suspect's claims she wasn't present at the scene of an accident. Scroll to bottom to read the discourse between two characters. In my blog novel, Nora, we can sense Nancy's evasion by pauses and silences.

How to Write Great Dialogue

Dialogue should only be used is it serves a purpose, either to reveal character or drive the story. Cut out dialogue that serves no purpose. This means idle chitchat or overtly expressing every thought and emotion. A good blend of action, narrative and dialogue helps to vary the pace and keep the reader interested. This means including dialogue only if it forms part of the driving force of the novel.

External Links on Writing Fictional Dialogue

Monday, 25 October 2010

My Writing Style is Rubbish, What do I Do?

Cliches, platitudes and wordy descriptions may dog the the novice writer who needs clear guidelines on how to improve writing style. Conflicting advice and overwhelming influences may leave the writer confused on how to put ideas in writing. What clear cut advice will help the author improve narrative style?

Simple Tips on Great Writing Style

Becoming a Writer
A Classic Book for Authors
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An author inspired with a great story idea may find it hard to put these ideas into writing. Although good narrative style is not easy, the theory can be simplified. But first, an old saying “Don’t get it right, write it down.” is helpful when completing the first draft. Once the ideas have been crystallised in a novel, the author may begin to edit. Here are some essential tips on developing as a writer.

How Not to Write Novels

Passive writing can be like wood rot to writing style. Passive sentences imply things happen to nouns rather than the nouns doing anything.

Here is an example of a passive sentence:
“The man was running down the road.”

And the active:
“The man ran down the road,”

The former lacks immediacy and takes seven words to relate. The latter uses only six words and is more direct. Although the difference is subtle, the culminating effect throughout the novel can feel sludgy to the reader. Signs that passive writing are taking precedence are the overuse of the words, were, was or felt. Passive writing is explored in more detail on my article on passive writing.

Description Words in Novels

Words to Avoid in Novel Writing
Avoid lots of wordy descriptions. Look out for profuse adjectives and adverbs. In such cases, cutting is the answer. Ask the question if an adjective is merely modifying a weak noun, and whether the two can be substituted for a more accurate noun. A large hill, for example is really a mountain.

Prefer the concrete to the abstract. Descriptions that “show” rather than “tell,” will make the reader feel involved with the story. This applies especially to describing emotions, which is covered in a separate post in this blog. Guilt for instance, is a subjective emotion and means different things to different people. It is also an abstract concept. Why not describe what the characters are feeling without actually using the label? Use the five senses to allow the reader enter the skin of the characters, this means smells, tastes, sounds and kinaesthetic sensations. For example,

“A chilly draft spurred a rash of gooseflesh over her arms,” is better than “She felt very cold.”

Words to Avoid in Novels

Look out for words that sap from the storytelling. With the exception of dialogue, the narrative would benefit from the banishment of the following sort of words: Very, exceptional, extremely, rather, lovely, pretty, wonderful, comely, hateful, horrible, terrible, stunning, heartfelt, etc. These words add nothing to the story. They dilute, sap, pad out and create insipid narrative. A professional writer in the making will get the red pen and cut, cut and cut again.

Originality in Writing Style

A professional writer will strive for originality. Look out for hidden clichés in the storytelling and look for a more novel way of expressing an idea. “His chocolate fudge eyes cooled to stone,” conjures more vivid imagery than “His eyes looked cold.” The incongruous comparison between “chocolate fudge” and “stone” is striking and disturbing.

Writing Exercises for the Author

Cut or curtail clichés, abstract concepts, adjectives, adverbs, emotion labels and passive writing. Look for novel ways of expressing something, and relate to the five senses to describe the concrete. This will allow the reader to enter the minds of the characters. This will help result in more dynamic storytelling and better writing style.

External Links About Writing Style

Sunday, 24 October 2010

I can’t Describe Emotions in my Novels

The developing writer may struggle to find the right words to describe feelings within narrative, resorting to “Her heart stopped in terror,” to describe fear, or “He felt a bolt through the heart,” to describe love. Such clichés are likely to leave the reader unmoved. How can the novelist describe feelings in novels?

Example of Active Writing

Have a listen to a short excerpt taken from one of my audio books, Nora. The main character, Nancy has broken into the home of playboy millionaire, Vince after suffering a horrific car crash. Here, she suffers a flashback which is conveyed through physical sensations: her breaths, her vision, her hearing and a panicking inner voice. Generalizations and cliches are avoided, but specific words that propels the reader into Nora's world. Now to break things down.

Writing Emotions for Novels

Before making changes to prose that fails to incite emotions, the following culprit practices need to be identified.
  • Using abstract words and phraseology to describe sensations, such as guilt, nostalgia, envy or yearning. Such words leave no picture in the mind and are difficult to pin down.
  • In similar fashion, using the emotion label to tell the reader how to feel instead of showing. Furthermore, the emotion label means different things to different people. Guilt, for example, could describe the feelings a child has when caught stealing sweets or how the same child might feel when a neglected parent dies. The two are very different emotions, and yet are given the same label.
  • Overuse of adjectives and adverbs to modify emotion words such as coldly, lovingly, warmly and kindly. Other words to avoid are terrible, lovely, fabulous, heartfelt, and adoration. Such words merely pad out the narrative and dilute the sensation the writer is trying to describe, resulting in weak prose that leaves little impression on the reader’s mind.
Words to Describe Emotions

Describing Emotions
A great exercise for writers is to describe an emotion without actually saying what the emotion is. Think about the five senses. Pin down how the emotion affects the senses accurately, so that it cannot be subjective. Words or phrases to describe fear might be:
  • An iron taste in the mouth.
  • Pins and needles in the hands.
  • Feeling as though walking on stilts.
How to Describe Sensations

Avoid clichés and abstract concepts. Rather than say, “She felt as sick as a dog,” try expressing nausea in a unique way. Juxtaposing contrasting words or using a unique slant will make the sentence stand out or create vivid imagery. A better alternative might be “Her gut lurched like an old steam train.”

Emotion Words for Novels

Effective descriptions of feelings in novels can be achieved by
  • Cutting. Rid of clichés, emotion labels, abstract nouns and concepts and profuse adjectives and adverbs.
  • Describe the emotions without using the emotion label.
  • Use the five senses to describe how the emotion impacts upon the body to prevent subjectivity and to pin the emotion down.
  • Be different. Use words seldom used or add unusual comparisons to create vivid imagery.
External Links on Improving Writing Style