Where to Start

As a reader, no matter what I’m reading – a children’s book or a book for adults – I always enjoy the books that start right in the middle of the action. It’s exciting! It makes me keep reading to find out who the characters are and what is happening to them. Yet as a writer, I sometimes feel the need to “set up” the character and setting first.

Excerpt from Writing a Children’s Book: How to Write for Children And Get Published by Pamela Cleaver.

Begin at the moment of change or crisis in the key character’s life. Don’t start with an explanation with his circumstances, or a description of where he lives. If you feel you need scene setting or character establishment to get you going, write it for yourself and go on until you reach an action point. This is where your story should start:

  • Start where the trouble begins.
  • Start on the day that is different.
  • Start where the main character comes up against something he can’t stand.

Don’t discard the previous material but feed it into the narrative as snippets as the story unfolds.

This is simple advice. Yet I feel that it’s the perfect way to find the best starting point for your story. I now know that I have to rethink the beginning of Cat’s Eyes.

I found this advice by using Google Book Search.

Burn It, Bury It, Let It Live

Sometimes, especially when we first start writing, we reach a point where we no longer like or want to work on the story at hand. Usually as we grow as a writer, we can see the errors we’ve previously made and that “spoils” the story altogether.

It’s possible that we might rewrite the manuscript entirely, but even then we are not satisfied, we are not happy. What do we do?

Making a decision like this is difficult. We might regret the decision later, so we must be careful in what we do today.

Holly Lisle’s Burn It, Bury It, Let It Live might help you make that decision. Answer the questions and see how you fair. However, remember, once you burn it you can’t get it back. So be careful you don’t rush into anything.

Why do we edit?

Editing means that we try to make our story as flowing and reader friendly as possible. It means that we take away the confusion of awkward sentences, bad grammar and spelling and allow our readers to enjoy the story. Constant mistakes will distract the reader and eventually they will focus on how terrible we write, instead of the plot. No writer wants this, so editing is essential.

The first thing we must do is read the entire manuscript through, just like we read any other book. As we read, we should use a red pen to mark problem areas – confusion, something missing, waffling, point of view shifts, format problems etc. Don’t stop to fix them yet, because that will stop the flow. Just mark the area and keep reading. If it doesn’t sound right to you, the author, then it’s going to sound even worse to the reader.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

1. Is the style and voice consistent?
2. Do I use the best word possible in every single sentence?
3. Is the flow smooth?
4. Do I use proper sentences?
5. Is the point of view consistent?
6. Am I using passive sentences?
7. Are the events in the right order?
8. Do I have plot holes?
9. Are my characters realistic and growing?
10. Does every scene move the story forward?
11. Is the dialogue natural?
12. Is there enough description, without going over the top?
13. Is the title appropriate?
14. Is the opening sentence catchy?
15. Will the resolution leave the reader satisfied?

Now work through the manuscript again (is it any wonder we end up hating the story?), and this time, fix the errors. Take your time. Be careful, don’t trust your spell checker, so watch for words that sound alike, ie their/there/they’re. And don’t be afraid to cut huge chunks of writing, even if it is your favourite part of the story. If it doesn’t move the story along, delete it.

When you’ve finished, you should have a polished manuscript. However, if you’re like me, you won’t be able to rest until you read the entire manuscript again, and hope with all your heart that you don’t find any errors. If you do…you know what needs to be done!

Imagery in Writing

Stephen King’s article, Imagery and the Third Eye, is an excellent reminder that we must describe enough for the reader to “see” a picture in their mind.

I’ve always believed that we shouldn’t describe everything. It’s never bothered me if a reader sees something different to what I saw when I wrote the story, as long as they saw something and it left them feeling satisfied.

Why do I feel this way? We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, countries. The house that I see in my mind, isn’t the house that you see in yours, because our neighbourhoods are different. Trees and flowers are different in my area to yours as well.

What is scary to me, may not be scary to you, so a good piece of writing needs to give the right elements so that the passage brings a scary image to both of our minds.

Yes, it’s a good article. Go read it to discover if you see images with your third eye.

What’s the Point Anyway?

What’s the point of a scene? There’s only one answer to this question – each scene moves the story along. So if you’re writing scenes that don’t move the story along, then you’re wasting your time. Those scenes need to be deleted, no exceptions.

With my latest project, I’ve found myself asking “so what’s the point of this scene anyway” and if I don’t know the answer then I’m heading in the wrong direction. Luckily, I haven’t had many of these dead ends (only one in fact) but it’s important to remember that each and every scene must have a purpose.

Sometimes it’s difficult to delete a scene, especially one that is worded just right but leaving it in isn’t going to do yourself or your manuscript any favours. You must learn when to cut and then do it.

So, one more time, each and every scene must have a purpose and must move the story along. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.

Keep It Simple (Stupid)

Have you heard of the KISS technique? No, it doesn’t mean you go around giving everyone a big sloppy kiss in the hope of getting published. It means to keep your writing simple.

KISS = Keep it simple stupid

Some writers feel they have to use big, impressive words to be successful but, often, by doing this you are talking down to your audience. Or, you might be saying “look at how intelligent I am”.

People hate that. It’s a quick way of turning readers away.

Keeping your writing simple means that you use the right words, and the least amount of words, to get the message across. This doesn’t mean you have to stop using big words altogether. Readers like to learn new words, sure, and if you use them sparingly there will not be a problem…but if they need a dictionary to decipher a word from every page of your book then you are doing the wrong thing. You are slowing down the pace and confusing your audience. You are stopping the reader from enjoying your story and you are stopping yourself from becoming successful.

So, keep it simple…er, well you know the drill. 😉

Editorial Process

As I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this yet, I turned to Australian author, Sara Douglass, to find out about The Editorial Process.

Reading the procedure brings up a few emotions–excitement and fear being among them. Why the fear? Simply put, can I handle the pressure? Can I meet the deadlines, and in doing so…can I produce the goods? I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

Now to go slightly off topic. I feel writing is like stepping stones across a pool of water (I’m sure I read that somewhere once). As we progress across the pool, we are learning all the things we need for when we reach the other side.

Personally, I feel that I’ve passed the half way mark. My thinking has changed, my knowledge is growing, and mentally I’m ready to step across the uncertain water to a stone that is closer to the finish.

My advice to those who are standing on stepping stones at the beginning of the journey, is to not doubt yourself, to listen when someone is willing to talk about your work, and not to take those comments personally. The only way to learn and grow, is to find out what is wrong with your stories. Hearing “I like it” is good but not helpful. Hearing “I like it but if the characters were developed more it would be better” is harder to hear, but is showing you the way to the next stepping stone. Listen and learn, it’s a necessity if you plan to reach the other side.

Finding Good Test Readers

I believe that although having your family and friends read your work could sometimes be useful, most of the time it’s not. As a writer we need constructive criticism and our family and friends are not usually able to give it.

This isn’t always true, of course, and if you have someone close to you who will read your work objectively and give comments that will help you improve your work – well, my advice is to go with it and let them.

This is not usually what happens though. Have you ever let someone read one of your stories and they come back to you and ask: “Was that character based on Joe, because he wouldn’t act like that? You must have misunderstood something he said.” That is so frustrating. There might be one action that Joe does which you included in your story and instantly someone picks up on it and thinks you’re living out your problems through your writing. They don’t seem to realise that the character may have a characteristic of Joe but is NOT Joe!

Also, your family and friends don’t know what to look for, in your writing, to improve it. Yes, they can tell you if it’s readable or not and that is the first step but after that you need to know if you’ve got grammar problems, plot holes or inconsistencies.

So what do you do?

It’s hard to know exactly because you must remember that not everyone can be trusted and you certainly don’t want someone else stealing your idea. So talk to other writers (who you trust) and find out if they can recommend a writers group that will help you turn your draft manuscript into a polished manuscript that can be sent to an agent or publisher.

You can also join a message board that has a protected area where you can share your work with the other members yet no one else can view/steal your story. Remember, it’s common curtesy to return the favour too. If you are receiving good critiques on your work, you should endeavour to do the same thing for other people. In fact, doing this often changes your view of writing and this will help you see your own work through fresh eyes.

There are a lot of resources on the Internet which will be very helpful. Some critique groups expect you to critique three other stories to get a critique in return. Others allow their members to critique the stories they are interested in, only when they have the time. Yet there are groups where members seem to love to “flame” other members – these groups should be given a wide birth. No one should ever flame another person’s work – NEVER!! There is good and bad in all of our work and both of these things should be pointed out in a friendly helpful manner.