Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Him, Her, Who?

Julia sent in a question which I know many writers agonise over. She says: I think I've more or less got the knack of when to use a character's name and when to substitute for "he" or "she" within a paragraph. However, is there a grammatical rule about new paragraphs? If the story is continuing - and no other characters' names are mentioned - is it okay to continue using she/her and he/him, or should you refer to the character by name again?
There isn’t a grammatical rule. The only thing to bear in mind is clarity for the reader. If it is obvious from context that you are still referring to the same character, then there is no need to name him or her again. 
However, if there is the slightest possibility of confusion or ambiguity, then use the character’s name. Just because another character’s name hasn’t been mentioned doesn’t mean there isn’t someone else in the room. The last thing you want is to cause your readers to come out of the story while they try to work out to whom the pronoun refers.

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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Writing Classes: Are They Worth the Investment?

Have you considered taking a writing class, but not been sure if that option was right for you? Today, my guest Kate Willson outlines the pros and cons.
Writing Classes: Are They Worth the Investment?
Throughout my years of working as a freelance writer, I've seen countless authors, bloggers, and professional writers jump into heated discussions and debates over whether or not writing is a natural gift, or if it is something that must be honed and developed through years of hard work and intrinsic learning.

I doubt we'll ever see an end to this age-old debate, but nevertheless, I strongly believe that it can't hurt to learn more about the art of writing from time to time. That said, I've found that writing classes have tremendously helped a great deal of my writing colleagues and acquaintances. If you're looking to improve your writing work, enrolling in a writing class might be a viable option to consider.  Here are some of the pros and cons of enrolling in writing classes.

Pro: Time set aside for writing
When I was a young writer, I used to bemoan the fact that I never had time to write for fun since my newspaper job took up most of my creative energy. With writing classes, however, you'll have a designated amount of time set aside to do your personal writing. If you have been putting off writing a book, poem, or short story, you'll finally have a time to do so in your writing classes! Most of the writing classes you'll take require you to spend a lot of time writing solely for fun, so you'll not only be practicing your craft, you'll also be knocking out those side projects you've been putting off for much too long.

Pro: Practice makes better
No, practice doesn't make perfect; it does, however, make better. One of the greatest pros of enrolling in writing classes is the opportunity to stretch your writing bones and improve your craft.  Each and every day you spend learning about writing, you're not only learning more about the ins and outs of professional writing, you're also improving your body of work. So, if anything, writing classes give you the opportunity to spend practicing your writing skills. And as all seasoned writers know, practice is essential to becoming better.

Pro: Opportunity to network
As I'm sure you're already aware, professors are some of the most helpful resources a student can utilize. During informal writing classes, however, you should try to network with both your professors and fellow students. I know what you must be thinking: "How can fellow students help me? Aren't they in the same boat as me?" Well, keep in mind, since you're taking a professional writing class, you're going to be surrounded by a room full of students who, like you, are already immersed in the writing world. Therefore, they can be of help to you both in and out of writing class. In fact, you can reach out to your fellow students and professors whenever you need help on a project, need a work reference, or need some on-the-side writing jobs.

Con: It's difficult to tell if you're choosing the right course
Writing courses come in all different shapes and sizes. That said, it's difficult to know whether or not you're choosing the right writing course based on your specific needs. You might see courses like "Fiction Writing 101," "How to Write a Book in 30 Days," "Short Stories," and more, but it's tough to tell based on a class's name whether or not it's right for you. A great way to avoid this problem is to go ahead and learn more about the specific class. Call the school, organization, group, or association that is offering the course and ask for some more insight into the class itself, such as the number of students typically enrolled, the qualifications of the professor, any assignments you'll complete during the course, who usually enrolls in the class, and anything else you want to know. Another important factor to pay attention to is how long the class runs.

One-day writing classes can inspire you and introduce you to a lot of unique ideas, but then you have to practice what you've learned at home. Only the most disciplined individuals are able to find success with these one-day classes. Remember, the longer a course runs, the more you'll learn from it. Furthermore, you're going to want to figure out what it is you want to learn about. If you're looking to become a better novelist, see if there are any specific novel-specific classes that are of interest to you. Avoid taking classes that seem to broad because you'll probably end up learning more of what you already know.

Con: One man's trash…
The criticism that's entailed in writing classes is one of the most common complaints about writing classes as a whole. Let's face it, not everybody that reads your work is going to like it. Each and every writer has his or her own signature style, and sometimes our style won't jive with somebody else's. Does that mean our writing isn't good? Absolutely not! 

During your writing class, you may submit something to the professor or fellow students that'll receive a lot of criticism and negative feedback, and that may make you question your talent or style. Should this happen to you, don't let it get you down. You're clearly a talented writer, otherwise you wouldn't be as accomplished as you already are. If you're sensitive about critiques and criticisms, there is a chance you'll find writing classes a bit cut-throat. Decide for yourself whether or not you can handle outside criticism without becoming overly sensitive and angry.

Con: Forced creativity
Every writer goes through bouts of writer's block, and it can be difficult to push through these creative dilemmas. Oftentimes, the solution to improving your writing is to simply stop trying so hard and take a break. I personally turn to reading a good book, going someplace new or unfamiliar, or taking a nap whenever I'm having trouble putting together a writing piece. If you've been having trouble with your writing, I wouldn't be so quick to think that taking a writing class will be the solution to all your problems. The last thing you want to do is to force yourself to create something that isn't genuine or well-written.

If you're considering taking a writing class to help you improve your craft, it's smart to weigh the pros and cons. It's up to you to decide whether or not you need outside help. Happy writing!

Kate Willson is a blogger for Collegecruch.org. She is passionate about providing helpful information to incoming college students and parents and is always pleased to hear from readers.

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Monday, 10 December 2012

Reading in public? Don't panic ...

Estelle is due to give a series of book readings, which is great, but she is very nervous. She writes: Between us, my publisher and I have set up several readings and book signings in libraries, bookstores and writers’ groups. I am terrified because I’ve never done anything like this before. Do you have any advice on how to prepare? I don’t want to end up making a total fool of myself. And what do I do if no one turns up?

Let me answer the last point first. Don’t leave it up to the organisers to arrange publicity. Do everything you can to spread the word. Send a press release to the local paper. Email everyone you know within easy driving distance of the event and invite them along – tell them to bring a friend or two (three, four or five is even better). Put up fliers advertising the reading at least a week in advance.

You need to be relaxed, comfortable and prepared
The last thing you need is to arrive at the last minute, hot, flustered and out of breath! Find out how long it will take you to get to the place where the reading will take place. Is there adequate parking nearby? If not, find out where you can park safely. If going by train, how far is it from the station? If possible, go to the venue the week before at approximately the same time you’re due to read. Check how long it takes you from the time you leave home to actually being in the building ready to set up.

Have a good look around. Is the room cold and whistling with drafts? Hot and stuffy? Dark and gloomy? Massive plate-glass windows allowing the sun to shine in your eyes? Will you need a microphone? Any niggles such as these can be dealt with if you know in advance about possible problems.

Once you know what the venue is like and how much time to allow for travelling, you can decide what you’re going to wear. Don’t sacrifice comfort for glamour. There’s no way you can do justice to your reading if your feet hurt, or you’re worried that you’re showing more cleavage or leg than you intended.

Plan the reading
If you’ve been told you have an hour, only plan to read for just over half that time. Readings are often interrupted or delayed in some way, so if you’ve chosen a full hour’s reading, you’ll end up feeling panicky about not getting through it.

Rather than read one piece, I would advise picking two or three shorter sections. This will enable you to show a greater spread of the storyline and means you can vary the pace of the reading (which will help to keep the listeners alert and interested). It also gives you the opportunity to bring in more characters, conflict, tension or (if appropriate) humour. If you can make people smile, that will go down better than dry narration.

Choose the passages carefully. Go for strong scenes with not too much dialogue (unless you have a gift for taking on several personalities in speech).

Also bear in mind that the people there are not likely to have read the book, so context might need to be given showing where each scene fits in the storyline.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. You might know the novel back to front in your mind, but reading it out loud is completely different. You’ll be amazed at how strange it feels at first, but the more you rehearse, the more natural it will feel. Read slowly, don’t rush the sentences. Time yourself reading – preferably into some kind of recording device so that you can listen to it afterwards. Where did you rush the words? Where should you pause for emphasis and impact? When you’re happy with how it sounds, ask a trusted friend or partner to listen to the full reading and give you some honest feedback.

Make notes on the book to remind you where to pause, or place emphasis. If there is anything you continually stumble over, leave it out, or choose a different scene. If you’re confident at home you’re far more likely to be comfortable in public, but if you get stressed in private because you know a sentence or paragraph is coming up that causes you problems, you’ll feel ten times more stressed in public.  

On the night, read exactly as you did in rehearsal. Get involved in the scenes you’re reading. Share the emotional experience with the audience.

Another good reason for choosing two or three passages, rather than one long one, is that audiences like to find out about the author and the writing process. As you move from one piece to the next you can chat to them about the next scene and why you’ve chosen it. They’ll feel involved and ready to listen.

Finally, be prepared to take questions at the end. By then, hopefully, you and your audience will be so in tune it will be like chatting to friends.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Tips on writing a series

Have you ever thought about writing a series of books? Here, prolific author and great friend, David Robinson, gives his thoughts and advice.

On Friday, November 23rd, Crooked Cat Books released the fifth STAC Mystery, Murder at the Murder Mystery Weekend. Five books, all with the same central characters, but the only theme common to them is a murder mystery.
Writing with a series in mind is a fine idea, and even when I produce stand alone novels, like Voices, I tend to finish them with a sequel in mind. There are many pros to turning out a series. But, equally, there are a few cons.
The STAC Mysteries are just beginning to be noticed, and a part of that lies in the series factor. A reader buys one, enjoys, and buys another, and another, and another. Why? Because they know what they’re getting.
From the writer’s point of view, this is a great advantage. As long as you can keep the storylines fresh, keep the characters in character, maintain or improve the level of quality you set at the start, then the readers will follow, perhaps slowly at first, but they will be there.
In a stand alone novel, you have 100,000 words to develop your character(s). In a series, you can have them grow. Joe Murray, the amateur sleuth of the STAC Mysteries, is a case in point. Grumpy, hiding a heart of gold, Joe remains obstinately single after his divorce, but with this fifth book I took the opportunity to re-introduce him to the joys of love (non-graphically, of course) and in the sixth book, I’m taking that theme a stage further.
Another advantage is you don’t have to go into detail on character backgrounds. Most of the groundwork has been done in the first book. A few reminders here and there in subsequent tales are all that is needed. It frees you up to concentrate on plot and action.
Finally, the great advantage a series has over, say a serial, is that each novel is a stand alone. Think of Harry Potter as an example. Would Goblet of Fire make complete sense if you had not read the earlier books? But if you read Murder at the Murder Mystery Weekend, it would make perfect sense, and you could go back to The Filey Connection (the first STAC Mystery) at your leisure.
But it’s not all plain sailing. There are downsides to the series, and the biggest one is accuracy.
Joe was born sometime around 1955. He was 55 years old in The Filey Connection. I cannot, then, have him as 54 years old in Murder at the Murder Mystery Weekend. Opposite Joe’s cafĂ© is Doncaster Road Industrial Estate. It will always be Doncaster Road Industrial Estate. It cannot suddenly change to Sanford Industrial Estate, anymore than the local newspaper can start off as the Sanford Gazette and later become the Sanford Herald. To make such changes needs an explanation, and to avoid error, keeping detailed records is vital.
It’s one of the tenets of writing novels that you should know every, tiny detail about your characters. That goes double for writing a series. One of Joe’s friends is diabetic. I cannot have her taking heaps of sugar in her tea when I’m six books in. Another is a self-employed painter and decorator. If I have him installing a new central heating system several books down the line, the reader will want to know where he got the skills and whether he’s just doing it as a favour.
Another problem you face with the series is variety. The Filey Connection was a traditional, British seaside mystery. When I began work on the second book, The I-Spy Murders, I set it in Skegness, but then I changed my mind and moved it to Chester. I did not want the STAC Mysteries to become seaside mysteries. Since then, I’ve set them in Leeds, York, and with Murder at the Murder Mystery Weekend, Lincoln. I vary the murders, the murderers, the circumstances and the motives as much as I can.
Is there a limit?
I don’t know. Alan Hunter, author of the George Gently novels, turned out 46 between 1955 and his death in 1982. I’d like to think that the STAC Mysteries could go that kind of distance, but only time will tell.
In the meantime, if you’re contemplating a series, go for it. I’ll keep an eye out for you in the Kindle charts.

David Robinson is a 62-year-old freelance writer, novelist and blogger. He lives and works in Greater Manchester, England.
He has published six novels with Crooked Cat Books, five of which are STAC Mysteries.
He was a volunteer editor on 50 Stories for Pakistan, an anthology whose profits go to the Red Cross to help those afflicted by the 2010 floods in Pakistan. He was also a managing editor on 100 Stories for Queensland, the proceeds going to help victims of the Queensland floods of January 2011.
You can find David at http://www.dwrob.com and you can learn more about the STAC Mysteries at https://sites.google.com/site/sanford3rdageclubmysteries/

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Saturday, 24 November 2012

Critique Service Gift Vouchers

With Christmas fast approaching you might be wondering what to buy for the writer in your life. Or maybe, as a writer yourself, you’re hoping your loved ones will be a bit more inventive than in previous years and give you something different this year – after all, how many how-to books can one writer read before going insane?

I’ve had such positive feedback from satisfied clients on my critique service that I have decided to offer gift vouchers. You can find more details on this page of my website, but basically, the way it works is this: you, or one of your loved ones, buys a gift voucher which can then be redeemed by the recipient at any point in the future against one or more in-depth writing critiques.

Isn’t that a better gift than reading for the millionth time how to self-publish a block buster?

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