Monthly Archives: February 2012

Getting to know your characters

I was thinking about my WIP novel the other day (what a surprise), and it suddenly occurred to me that I am nowhere near as far through as I thought I was.

Why not? Because I don’t know my characters well enough.

In my experience, a book is so much better when the author knows their characters inside out. Ideally, you know them well enough when it gets to the point that you just set a scene and then stage manage as the characters write themselves.

I’ve had this experience before with other stories I’ve written, and they’ve come out – to my mind, at least – really well. You set the scene and see where it takes you, with the characters taking control. Yet, with this current story, I’m still thinking about how the different characters will react to the situations I’m putting them in. It’s not automatic as yet, or at least it’s not as automatic as I would like it to be.

As a result, it looks like I’ve got a few character-building exercises in front of me, to make sure that I do know these people inside out and back to front, so I can put them in a scene and just give them their heads and see what comes out.

Alternatively, I can just keep writing and see where that takes me.

While I’ve had success with the latter, I’ve heard of great success stories about the former and am wondering if I should give it a try.  Is there a real benefit in actively and aggressively moulding your characters, or is it better to let them do it themselves?  As such I’m looking for advice, if anyone has much experience with this. Should I go searching out exercises that will develop my characters, or should I keep on writing them and let it happen organically? Which is the better route?

Thanking you in advance.  :)

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To pin or not to pin?

Everyone on the net these days seems to be talking about Pinterest. How it’s the next big thing for just about anything and everything, and how anyone serious about having an online profile needs to be on there.

Well, I have a confession to make. I have never gone browsing on the Pinterest site. I have gone there when directed by links sent from friends, but I don’t really “get” it as yet. I know that I should go and have a really good look, but I have such limited computer time that it seems a waste to spend it doing that when I could be writing. Or blogging. Or doing any number of other things that need doing, like paying bills, enrolling my kids in various activities and other mundane, everyday things. Heck, I don’t even go on real estate sites  to check out the houses for sale in my area, even though I walk past a number of them regularly and am very curious about what they look like inside. (Go to an open inspection and see for myself? Sorry. It’s on against tennis lessons for son #1.) Computer time feels too valuable to spend just surfing, if that makes any sense.

Yet, Pinterest is calling. Part of me is intrigued and part is turned off by its exclusivity – you need to be invited to join up – and everywhere I look people are getting pages, linking to things, “pinning”. I think I have a vague understanding of how it works, but I fail to see its appeal. Then again, I’m someone who takes a while to “take” to new things, in many ways. For years I was the one saying, “But why would anyone bother to blog? Who cares about the thought processes of someone like me?” (Thinking about this, it may still be true, but I’m inflicting my thoughts on you anyway. Perhaps I’m just more blase about it now.)

So I’m interested in people’s thoughts on this. Is Pinterest worthwhile? Should I ask for an invitation? And is it really as addictive as some people say it is?

Really, tell me what you think about this. I’m all ears.

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Restructuring – the dreaded “R” word

Right. First things first. You may notice  that my blog has a couple of new tabs at the top – one covering mentions and one listing publishing credits. These have both appeared since my last blog entry and I would like to send a huge thank-you to the people responsible for it: Rachel Kovacs, who linked to last week’s entry in her webzine Writer, and Maria Kelly aka the Were-Traveler, who published my flash fiction No Regrets in the latest edition. Wow. I really feel like I’m getting somewhere in this writing thing now!

That said (and please excuse my self-glorification but hey, you have to take everything that comes your way, right?), I am now going to get back to the point. Last week I went to my first writing-related conference.  While much of it wasn’t directly relevant to me, it was a really useful exercise in getting to know other writers in my area, and hearing about how other people approach their writing.  Coming out of this conference, I stood in the rain at the bus stop and had an epiphany.

I am going to restructure my novel.

I don’t mean anything small here. I mean, the whole thing is going to need a rewrite. I’m not even going to edit my main manuscript; I’m going to start a new one and begin from there.  The bits from the old one that I can use – which will be a lot of it, but much will be presented in a different way – will be copied from the old document and pasted into the new one, rather than me trying to navigate around what’s already there.

Believe me, the decision to do this did not come lightly.  However, I’ve been thinking about how to streamline my plot – some people who have read some of my earlier works might know that I have a tendency to tell the whole story when in reality snippets would do just as well – and give it a much shorter timeline. That is, instead of telling a story covering twenty years, it’s now going to cover four or five years and involve some flashbacks and the like to cover the initial bit that’s now being cut out. This means it will look very different from the original story I planned when this idea came to me two years ago, but it also means that it’s going to be shorter, better structured and have more of a punch to it.

In other words, it will be a better novel.

Now, I’m just going to ignore the fact that it may feel like I’m giving one of my children plastic surgery, take a deep breath, and jump in the deep end of the restructuring process. Wish me luck!

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Assorted writing tips #1 – don’t use your delete button

 

This, believe it or not, is actually some of the best advice I’ve ever received, and I’m afraid to say that I received it so long ago that I have no idea who initially suggested it to me. It’s exactly as it sounds, though – you don’t actually delete anything you’ve written.

By this, I don’t mean that every word must be kept, and certainly not in the initial manuscript it was written for. What I do mean, though, is that when you are editing your work, it’s a good idea to have a separate document open as a personal slush file. Whenever you cut a significant bit of writing from your story – say, more than a couple of sentences – try cutting and pasting it into that slush file instead of getting rid of it altogether. That way, when the time and inspiration is right, you can use it for another story, or as inspiration for another scene or character.

I guess this is a long-winded way of trying to stress that our creative juices should be valued. Just because a particular scene or piece of dialogue doesn’t fit one story or a particular place in that story doesn’t mean it’s not going to be good – albeit slightly edited – somewhere else. And, speaking from experience, it’s well worth it. I’ve adapted countless thoughts, conversation snippets and whole scenes from old stories to fit new ones, and usually they’re a much better fit the second or third time around, possibly because I’ve had that extra time to get them right.

Well, that’s it from me.  What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever received about your writing? I’d love to hear it. :)

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Balancing time

It is, I’m sure, a common conundrum. Aspiring writers, like me, who are trying to both write their book and establish an online profile at the same time. I’ve been working diligently – well, as diligently as I can while looking after young children – to try to get this blog, and my Twitter and Facebook profiles, up and running. And, well, while it’s great to get followers and feel like you’ve reached out to people, it is time-consuming.

And therein lies the conundrum. I have limited time on the computer due to real life commitments, and I have to ask myself: Am I better off spending this time getting my profile established, writing blogs like this one and posting on Twitter and Facebook and the like, or should I instead be working on my manuscript, without which there will be no book and, therefore, no need for an online profile?

I find myself doing a little of both, but not giving either enough of the time they really require or deserve, and I feel as though I’m short-changing my book, my profile and myself. Add this to traditional mother-guilt, and that’s a lot on my conscience, almost all of it self-inflicted. And this is not a good thing. Therefore, I feel the need to streamline my activities in order to simplify things.

Today is Wednesday. As I said on the weekend, Wednesday is my writing day, especially now holidays are over so I have no distractions in the form of small children. That is, aside from the baby, who is another matter for another day.  This means I will spend most of the day concentrating on my manuscript. I will also (obviously) blog on Wednesdays, as I’ll be at the computer anyway. However, other social media like Facebook and Twitter can be reserved for use on my phone, when I’m off the computer. Thus, fewer distractions from my writing, which is what I’m trying to focus on anyway.

Does anyone else have any suggestions for how to manage limited computer time yet still get everything done? Has anyone managed to strike a compromise that works? Am I on the right path or getting totally lost? Any feedback would be most welcome.

Thank you!

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