Getting your novel logistics right

While we struggle with deepening our characters, filling plot gaps, strengthening structure and all those other novel elements, often we forget how the “simple” things can trip up our story or, even worse, cause readers to lose faith in our ability to tell a story that holds together. How often have you read something and thought Hold on, that character couldn’t possibly have travelled so far in that time? Or Didn’t this story start on a Tuesday, but now it’s Monday? Or even This house is … [Read more...]

Why a great title is worth the effort

tutu

A lot of people have asked me how I come up with my book titles. I have to say that writing poems is incredibly useful, because you need a title for every poem (unless you wimp out and give them numbers) and after the first 100 or so, you simply get better at it. Some titles have come to me seemingly out of nowhere. The Too-Tight Tutu, which always makes people laugh, just popped out after I’d written the first draft, but there are other books that have had more than a dozen alternatives, and … [Read more...]

The mechanics of your novel: where, when, what

map drawing

While it’s a wonderful feeling to launch into your first draft, visualizing your characters, following your plot outline or writing “by the seat of your pants” and making up dynamic dialogue, at some point you will start getting into trouble with contradictions. These are usually the ones you create yourself! For example, back in Chapter 2, the house had three bedrooms and now it has four. In Chapter 3 it took the characters 5 minutes to run down to the river, now it takes 20 minutes and the … [Read more...]

Goal setting for writers who don’t set goals

It’s the 21st January and the odds are that you have no resolutions or goals in mind. That you deliberately ignored the possibility that you might start 2013 that way. After all, goals don’t work for you, and neither do resolutions. A lot of people talk about goal setting – in books, on websites, in podcasts. Studies show that 87% of people don’t set goals. Of the 13% that do, only 4% (of the 13%) actually carry them out in any kind of sustained way. That sounds like a lot until you translate … [Read more...]

Writing AROUND Your Novel

DSCF1449

It might seem like it's hard enough to write a novel and finish it, let alone do a whole lot of extra writing. But this is the age of the "stand out novel" - you're going to hear that term, and others like it, many times in the coming year. What it means is a novel with depth and resonance, a novel in which characters feel totally real and complex and intriguing, a novel in which the story world is evocative and meaningful. It's pretty hard to write a novel like that by just sitting down and … [Read more...]

Practical Punctuation: Commas and Full Stops

use of full stops instead of commas

I’m not sure what is being taught at school these days when it comes to punctuation, but it continually amazes me how few people (younger, usually) don’t seem to know where to put a full stop. I realize that a lot of this problem comes from not being able to parse a sentence. I can already hear some of you saying, “Parse? What’s that?” It’s the mind-numbing yet vital skill us oldies were taught at school – what the different parts of a sentence are and how they work together. Nouns, verbs, … [Read more...]

Are you stretching your description muscles?

Writers need to use great descriptive muscles

This week I was working with a group of kids (Grades 5 and 6) on poetry, and one thing I like to do is expand their use of language through the five senses. We talk about details and how they bring all kinds of writing alive, both poetry and prose. In poetry it’s often called imagery – I like to call it word pictures. If you can describe something in a way that “transfers” the image from your mind to the page to the reader's mind, then that’s description that enhances your writing. There are … [Read more...]

The hero’s journey structure – what it offers you

hero's journey vs three acts

One of the main reasons the hero’s journey works so well for writers is because it contains some of the key elements that will help you to create a story full of tension and reader engagement. On the outside, through action, the journey gives you these: A concrete goal the main character is aiming for, whether it’s saving the world, the princess or their own life An inciting incident – the call to adventure has to be so strong that even after a refusal, the main character MUST act and move … [Read more...]

The hero’s journey – introduction

Most writers at some point will have at least heard of the hero’s journey. Its genesis is through a famous mythology scholar, Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and the structure was morphed into the basic structure for all of the Star Wars movies. George Lucas (the Star Wars man himself) was a protégé of Campbell’s, and there is even a documentary where they discuss how Lucas turned the hero’s journey into his recurring story and character arcs. However, the structure … [Read more...]

How Structure Will Save Your Story

Recently I’ve been teaching story structure again, and reminding myself about all the ways structure works in a story. There is a lot of talk about plotting – how to plot, how to outline, how to talk to your plot, how to pattern it like this or that. But I think if you don’t “get” structure, you won’t achieve strong plots. What’s the difference? To me, structure is the underpinning. Like when you build a house, you start with a concrete slab or foundations, and you build a frame and roof … [Read more...]