Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Let's NOT Start at the very Beginning

This is going to be a novel approach to talking about writing a novel (excuse the pun). I’m calling in my alter ego, Frances di Plino, to guest post over the next few weeks on the subject. The reason I’m not making the posts as Lorraine Mace is that I haven’t yet had a novel published under my own name. Frances, on the other hand, is not only a published author of a crime/thriller (Bad Moon Rising published last year by Crooked Cat Publishing), but she is also in the throes of finishing off the next in the Paolo Storey series, Someday Never Comes. All of which means that Frances, rather than Lorraine, is the person best placed to give tips and advice on the long, hard slog to your first published novel.

So, bye bye, Lorraine, for now, and hello to Frances.

Let’s not start at the very beginning (even though it’s usually a very good place to start, as Maria sang in The Sound of Music).

This week’s question is: have you started your novel in the right place? Some good advice, given to me more years ago than I care to recall, was to start your opening chapter as close to the action as you possibly can.

You want to get your readers instantly involved in the plot and in the lives of the characters. You need the readers to be invested emotionally and intellectually in what happens next. Open with dialogue, action, or both, but make sure you hook your readers from the first paragraph.

Don’t bog down the opening with background information. Any necessary back-story can wait until a later chapter to be revealed by the characters themselves – through their thoughts, words and deeds. Let’s face it, if your character is in a life or death situation, or about to suffer a traumatic event (love affair ends/parent dies/partner seriously ill/going bankrupt/uncovers deception/gets caught out doing something wrong), the last thing you want to do is take away from the impact of that by telling the reader how the character came to be there in the first place.

Did your protagonist have a troubled upbringing or toxic parents? Who cares? What’s important to the reader is how the character deals with the situation he or she is in right now.

Don’t describe characters in those opening paragraphs. It doesn’t matter what colour the heroine’s hair is if she’s hanging by her fingernails from a cliff. The man’s height and build is immaterial if he’s facing down the wrong end of gun. Showing your characters in action, and letting the reader see how others react to them, gives a much better image of them than any description can achieve.

Do you have a prologue? If yes, is it really necessary? I believe prologues should be used for only the following two reasons – if yours doesn’t satisfy one of them, then I don't think need it.

If you really, truly, hand on heart and hope to die, believe you simply have to provide the backstory or your novel will fail, you can do it in a prologue. BUT this shouldn’t be an information dump. The prologue should read like a short story and leave the reader hooked (a bit like chapter one – hmmm).

You can use a prologue to show a scene near the end of the story, and then the novel itself tells the reader how that moment came to pass. In other words, show the character at a moment of high drama (also a bit like chapter one – double hmmm).

The acid test as to whether or not you need a prologue (or you just jump straight into chapter one) is to ask yourself two questions:

If I used this as chapter one, would the story still work?
Am I writing a prologue simply to hook the reader?

If you answered yes to either question, you don’t need a prologue, you need to work harder on getting chapter one to work for you.

If you would like to know more about Frances di Plino, why not subscribe to the free newsletter? A free prize draw will be taking place to give away an e-book copy of Bad Moon Rising to one of the first 100 subscribers. 

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Monday, 21 January 2013

Flash 500 competition news

As I'm sure most of you know, I run the Flash 500 flash fiction and humour verse competitions. I've copied the content of a newsletter sent out to subscibers. If you would like to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox, you can subscribe by filling in the form below. Your details will never be passed on to anyone or used for any other purpose than to send the newsletter.
Long lists
The long lists are up for the fourth quarter 2012. You can find the titles of the flash fiction long list here and the titles of the humour verse long list here.
New judges
The flash fiction judge for the first quarter 2013 is an award-winning short story writer and novelist, Annemarie Neary, and our new judge for the humour verse is the poetry editor at Writers' Forum magazine and founder of the Plough Prize, Sarah Willans.

Two years old at the end of this quarter
Although the flash fiction competition is now in its fourth year, we didn't launch the humour verse category until much later. So, it gives me great pleasure to point out that the newcomer to the Flash 500 stable will be two years old at the end of this quarter. Since its inauguration in April 2011, the humour verse section has grown and grown, with the number of entries now almost rivalling that of its big brother, the flash fiction category! It seems there are more budding funny poets out there than there are competitions to enter.
Disqualified entries
I'm going to repeat a paragraph from a previous newsletter: I’ve mentioned the rules in several newsletters and have even put the necessary sections in bold on the websites, but still we receive entries with the entrants’ names on them. We also receive poems of more than thirty lines and stories of more than 500 words. Please, please comply with the rules. It’s heart-breaking to disqualify anyone’s work, but we have to do so in order to be fair to those who keep to the rules.

For all of you who have made the fourth quarter 2012 long lists, congratulations and good luck with the next stage of judging.
If you missed out this time, here’s hoping you make it through to the long lists this year. Both categories are now open for entries. For more information on everything to do with both competitions, visit the websites: Flash 500 Flash Fiction and Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition.

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Plotting the Theme

A reader sent in an interesting question, but asked me not to use her name: I belong to an online writing group and they often talk about themes in stories. I can never work out what the difference is between plot and theme and don’t want to look like an idiot by asking someone in the group to explain. Aren’t plot and theme the same thing?

No, they are two elements dependent on each other to create a good story.

Think of it this way: the theme is the main idea being dealt with and the plot outlines everything required to carry that idea and make it into a story. Both are needed in order for the story to work.

Let’s say you come up with an idea for a story. To convert that idea into something others would want to read you would need a plot covering who, what, where and when. The theme would tell the reader why.

In simple terms, the theme is the message the author wants to get across to readers and the plot is the vehicle used to deliver that message in an entertaining way.

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition