Skip to content

Archive for

Writing Through Multiple Narrators and Getting Their Voices Right, by Belinda Dorio

This month I reached 20,000 words on my manuscript and it signals the completion of ‘part one’ of Flesh.

Flesh has three narrators – one of which is a zombie and love interest of the protagonist, Talin. The most difficult thing about writing part 1 was getting the shift in narrators right. I was worried about chapter length and whether each individual ‘voice’ was distinct but equally engaging as the one before it.  Talin (17) and Vea (15) the zombie-hunter sisters, run into a lot of trouble leading up to the end of part one and I really had to focus on the difference between their personalities. Both go through some sort of ordeal, but react in different ways: one may have more strength than the other, perhaps more humour, or more resilience. The two sisters have had very different childhoods and teen years, and I was really hoping to showcase that in this section, even though they seem quite similar when first introduced. Doing this made me realised that chapter one needs some work to make the characters consistent with my recent material.

Another challenge for me was writing from the perspective of the zombie, Rexan. I don’t often narrate from a male perspective, add the supernatural element to that and Rexan becomes great fun to write. He is stronger than the humans and has improved senses but struggles to hang onto his memories of being human. He learns that he can only retain memories of a few things, if he is lucky. Propelled by his love for Talin, he attempts to retain his memories of her and their relationship. He looks at photos everyday and keeps a journal where he writes any flashbacks or memories into. Rexan is struggling to keep himself tethered to his humanity, so writing from the perspective of a being who is becoming more and more instinctual everyday is both challenging and exciting. Rexan is also largely responsible for getting across the ‘rules’ of my zombies to the reader, which is incredibly important and needs to be clear and easy to understand (i.e – why they aren’t running around killing every human that they find).

I don’t want Flesh to be one of those books that you flick through to get to read your favourite character again (which I have been guilty of!). I want each character to be compelling enough that a reader will be happy to shift around, not annoyed or irritated at the change in voice. To achieve this, I’ve been reading a lot of books which use this technique. The last one I read was Careless by Deborah Robertson and I am currently reading a book by Kate Forsyth called Bitter Greens, I am intentionally reading books out of the YA/Fantasy genre that do this to make sure I get a feel for how different writers and genres use it.

I feel like I have worked my way through the voice issues and the set up of my supernatural rules; now I can go on with part two, the middle section, and really focus on making my characters shine as they battle the difficulties that come with living in a post-apocalyptic and zombie ridden world.

Wish me luck!

***

Belinda Dorio bio page

Day by Day ArmageddonBitter GreensCarelessBlood Song (Lharmell)Inside OutZombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living DeadShaun of the Dead

Inspiration and the Writing Process, by Janet Marsh

“I write when I’m inspired

and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock

every morning.”

Peter De Vries

Peter De Vries was a prolific author who wrote short fiction, essays, reviews as well as twenty-three novels. He was also very witty. I enjoy this quote because, as an emerging writer, I find it wonderfully easy to write when I’m inspired: the words flow down from my head, through my fingers and onto the keyboard. Easy. The writing is great. The book will be published. Other ideas are flooding my brain: a sequel. No, a whole series in fact. Being a writer is brilliant – I was born for this. Yes!

Then come the not-so-flowing days when the words are constipated, the text is wooden, the plot is meaningless, the characters are flat and the entire setting is featureless. Despair settles like foggy dew. The sun has stopped shining and the cold chill of reality is seeping through every crack and crevice. And there are a lot of cracks and crevices. Suddenly everything seems pointless and even the good stuff from last week no longer seems that good after all. How on earth did I imagine I could write a book. How ridiculous …

Does anyone else ever feel like this?

De Vries offers a solution. What he says is inspiring. He says the routine, the habit, the custom – call it what you will – of writing will see you through. Yes. You simply carry on writing out all the dreadful stuff because sooner or later the inspiration will return.

I remember the summers when I lived in New Zealand. By four in the afternoon all the water in the pipes would be filled with a tepid and insipid liquid. You turned on the cold water tap and all you’d get was a gush of very warm water. It was awful. So, because it was NZ and not Australia, we used to let the tap run till the yucky stuff was out of the pipes and the delicious cool, artesian water was flowing again. Fantastic.

I’ve carried this metaphor into my writing life. Some days you turn on the creativity tap and all you get is a lukewarm flow. So what do you do? You carry on writing. Carry on until the boring bits are out of your system and the good stuff begins flowing again. It has to come at some point. It really does.

In fact I’ve come to regard the non-flowing days as rather healthy. Imagine if we were in top-notch, free flow ALL the time. How ghastly would that be? What if there was no release from pure inspiration. No possibility of sleep because words were pouring out of us and they had to be written because they represented such brilliant material. Imagine days, weeks, months and years of indisputable creativity … Imagine what we would be like to live with.

No thanks. I’ll be satisfied with the ebbs and flows of the writing life – hopefully more flows than ebbs – but not the dam-bursting flow of uninterrupted inspiration. I’d go mad; we’d all go mad. The world is filled with enough mad people as it is, so let’s not add to the supply.

The clock is ticking. It’s time to be inspired.

***

Janet Marsh bio page

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold FryHearts in AtlantisKensuke's KingdomA Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing LifeThe Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's CraftWriter with a Day Job: Inspiration & Exercises to Help You Craft a Writing Life Alongside Your CareerThe Five-minute Writer: Exercise and Inspiration in Creative Writing in Five Minutes a Day

Editing and Rewriting: The Dreaded Middle, by Rebecca Raisin

My mum says I don’t listen. She says she can tell because I get a vacant look in my eyes and I say OK, a lot. And one thing I’ve learnt over the years is, mum’s are always right. She’s probably been telling me my whole life, but seeing as though I don’t listen – I can’t say for sure. In regards to writing, I find it very difficult to take criticism. It’s not because I think my writing is perfect, I know I have a long way to go and a lot to learn, it’s more self preservation. Hence, I switch off if I hear something I don’t like, to protect myself, in case I start to believe I can’t do it. Or I’m not good enough. Or I’m kidding myself…you get the picture.

I’ve been editing Mexican Kimono for about six weeks now. So enmeshed in this crazy fast paced world am I, that I often find myself talking like my main character Samantha long after I’ve turned the computer off. I know the story inside and out, I know the characters and all their foibles, I know where they live and what they love. I know them better than I know myself, it seems. I love Mexican Kimono, and I’m proud of it, but I knew there was something missing, something not quite right, but just couldn’t work it out. This kind of dilemma happens to many writer’s when you’re too close to the piece. It’s my baby though, and I’m protective of it.

Steve read my recently rewritten outline, and instantly summed up the problem for me. The dreaded middle. Lost focus. More conflict and resolution. Argh! Instantly, to protect my brittle confidence, I told myself perhaps if he read the whole manuscript he might think differently, but I wrote down his suggestions, as we discussed movies within the same genre as my novel. He suggested I watch these movies, and see how the story develops through the middle with the character trying to resolve their issues and failing until closer to the end, where they potentially solve the problem, and learn something too.

I wrote down all Steve’s advice and signed off our Skype chat somewhat resigned. I’d always thought the beginning of a story and the end of the story were the hard parts, but by doing this course I’ve heard it time and time again about the dreaded middle (as I now refer to it). Later that night reading a book I have been so caught up in, I noticed the same thing happening. It had me racing to bed early so I could get back to it, but somehow through the middle, it began to lose its way. It was like an Oprah light bulb moment.

Steve was spot on with his advice, and just because THE DREADED MIDDLE needs work, DOESN’T MEAN HE’S SAYING I CAN’T WRITE! I often have to speak to myself in capitals, just to make sure I’m really listening. The big lesson was; don’t become a victim to a pointless or ambling middle!

Renewed, I finally understand so much more about myself and my novel. It’s such a huge learning curve, and I obviously need to learn much more about taking advice, learning to appreciate critique, and realising it will improve me as a writer, and perhaps as a person. You never know I may even start listening a little more to my mum.

***
Rebecca Raisin bio page

Beginnings, Middles and Ends (The elements of fiction writing)Writing Genre Fiction: A Guide to the CraftMany Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular FictionScene and Structure (The elements of fiction writing)Revision and Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Finished Novel (Write Great Fiction)Conflict, Action and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing)Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print

Point of View and Creating Suspense in Your Writing, by Jeff Nelson

Jack opened the bedroom door, walking into the room beyond. The fugitive, hidden behind the door, stepped out and shot him in the back.

Poor Jack. While the reader is likely to be surprised at his potential demise, where is the suspense that will capture the reader and draw them into the story? Particularly if the story is all about Jack and told from his point of view (POV).

Try using a different character POV – say that of the fugitive. I’ll call him Harry.

Harry nervously waited behind the door, his hands sweating, his heart pounding, as he could hear the cop’s footsteps approaching on the other side. He couldn’t let them take him, not again, he was prepared to kill rather than spend time in a cell again.

Jack opened the bedroom door ….

Better? The reader is now wondering what Harry will do, whether Jack will get a bullet or somehow avoids one. This is an example where the reader and current POV character (Harry) know more than another character (Jack). Harry knows the cop is on the other side of the door, but Jack doesn’t know Harry is.

Consider another POV this time from a third character, Steve a fellow police officer of Jack’s.

Steve lay on the rooftop, his binoculars trained on the apartment building opposite. Through a window he could see Jack in the apartment’s sitting room moving towards the bedroom door. Suddenly he saw a shadow move in the next window; someone was in the adjoining bedroom. Steve trained the binoculars on the bedroom window. It was the fugitive and he held a gun. The man had obviously heard Jack approaching and was waiting for him on the other side of the door. Frantically Steve reached for his mic.

Jack opened the bedroom door ….

Now the suspense is created by the reader wondering if Steve will be able to contact Jack via his mike and warn him before he steps into the room. Steve knows that the fugitive is there but Jack doesn’t.

I had an interesting conversation with Steve Rossiter of the Australia Literature Review recently on ways of adding different character point of views into a story to create and build suspense. Those conversations lead me to adjust and see clearer where my novel had to progress too.

We went through a number of ways that POV can be added:

1] Where the reader knows more than the current POV character.

For example the story will have already said earlier that the fugitive is hiding in the bedroom, so as we see Jack (in his POV) going for the door, the reader knows, but Jack doesn’t that the fugitive is inside the bedroom.

2] Where the reader and current POV character know more than another character.

Examples of this are the two given above using the different POV’s of Harry and Steve.

3] Where the reader and another character know more than the current POV character.

Here we could have the story telling how a tenant in the building where the fugitive is hiding sees him run into the apartment but doesn’t inform Jack as he hates Cops.

4] Where the current POV character knows more than the reader.

This is where the POV character knows or is planning something that hasn’t been revealed in the story yet. For example we could have Jack wearing a bullet proof vest, Jack knows he’s wearing it, but the reader doesn’t. It will come out later that he was wearing one.

…and finally

5] Where another character knows more than the reader.

I hope this helps in your writing.

***

Jeff Nelson bio page

B is for Burglar: A Kinsey Millhone mysteryMoney RunConflict, Action and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing)Plotting and Writing Suspense FictionHitchcockThe Arvon Book of Crime WritingThe French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers

World Building, by Russell Cornhill

I remember reading somewhere that all writers of fiction have to do some form of world building – whether it’s the cold of a North Atlantic ocean, the muddy, blood-soaked trenches of World War One, the glitzy night club realm of a drug baron, the castles and hovels of medieval knights or a totally alien planet with giant desert worms. How do we do it – research and imagination, plotting and pure seat-of-the-pantsing, or a combination of all? It doesn’t matter. What is important are the two factors I’ll call the fun and the work.

The fun, like any description, is in the detail because world building is a giant description or, in a sense, character building. It’s the details that will draw the reader in and make the world more real – the blood-red sap that oozes from the slash in the cactus-like plant, seeping around the needle-sharp thorns until it drips on to the sand, sizzling and billowing back as a smoky gas that burns the nasal passages and gags in the throat.

Okay, a bit too much there. Still, it’s the details that count and as the writer you need to choose the details that are important for the reader to understand the world. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes the ideas are so firmly imbedded in your head you need someone to tap you on the shoulder and say ‘Ah, I didn’t quite get what you meant …’ Bugger! Back to the drawing board.

So, basically stick with the aspects that your plot or theme revolve around or that you need for your character building and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination. A good travel brocher only points out ‘appealing’ details – substitute interesting, alarming, exciting, terrifying, etc. After all, once the writer is finished, it becomes the reader’s world and the world will be slightly different for each reader. That won’t matter if the  writer gets the framework right. To make those aspects real to the reader, no matter how alien the world, we can only use human senses and human emotions. That’s all I can use anyway.

So I have to devise a goblin culture that can seem real but doesn’t have to describe every aspect. One of the interesting points is avoiding the ‘they all look the same’ syndrome. The more alien the race, the more difficult that can become. I also have to build a physical world and I’ve chosen to mix known with unknown, that is, my Land (and flora and fauna) is based very, very, loosely on the North American continent. That makes some things easier but means I’m open to criticism if I get something wrong. That’s a worry because I get lots of things wrong.

Then I have the religion/magic system to get right. Ah, I wish I’d gone for more satire or outright spoof. It’s much easier when it’s all tongue-in-cheek.

Which brings me to the second part – the work.

Getting the world building to fit seamlessly into the story is part of the craft and that can be fun too. The part that isn’t that much fun is making sure everything is consistent.

Pray for good proof readers and good editors.

***

Russell Cornhill bio page

The Goblin WarGoblins!: An Underearth AdventureSamiha's Song (Chronicles of the Tree)A Game of Thrones: Book 1 of A Song of Ice and FireThe Road to Rome (Forgotten Legion Chronicles)Description and Setting: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Believable World of People, Places and Events (Write Great Fiction)Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction

Time and Storytelling: Motivation, Time Management and Historical Setting, by Fiona McDonald

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,  “To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”

This sounds awfully like procrastination if you ask me. I should be talking about the progress of my novel but I can only think about what the Walrus had to say.

Time is my enemy. Lack of time is my enemy. Lack of time and energy are my enemies.

What it really comes down to is a strange kind of mental lethargy. In other words, I’m stuck.

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think it is a fear of not knowing where to go next or the beginnings of that inner critic questioning what has already been written. ‘It’s not good enough,’ the little voice whispers. ‘It’s all been done before.’ Or ‘Why bother? No-one is ever going to read it.’

Niggles of self doubt work on an innate laziness and add up to absolutely nothing. Over the last week that seems to be what I have achieved and I cannot believe that Thursday, the day for novel assessments and chats, is nearly here again. What I am going to do, with enormous effort, is delete that annoyingly addictive game on Facebook on which I have wasted so much time, ignore the housework, turn down offers of lunch and coffee and start writing.

What I was supposed to be doing this last week was to be thinking about whether I would set my YA novel, about a girl who inherits a toyshop but is being menaced by baddies who want to rip out her heart, in our real world, an altered version of our world or in a fictional world.

The time that the story is being played out in is the late 19th century, in a bustling city like London. I feel it sits naturally in England although I suppose it could be America instead. I do not think I can fit it into an Australian setting at that time as I want there to be ancient catacombs and man-made waterways, Cathedrals and other very old European things.

It has been suggested that I think about a real, historical setting and add lots of detail that has been properly researched. I must say I find this idea very attractive. I do love research. However, I have been imagining a particular fictional world as the setting for this story with its own religion based on a female deity. I think I need to put this version aside for a while and explore the possibilities of a real world setting. I think it is too easy to fall in love with one particular idea and ignore the other options.

What would it have been like for a young, unmarried woman from a well off middle class family to be running a business at the end of the 19th century? What would have been some of the difficulties socially and economically? What would Agatha have worn? How would she have conducted herself with strangers, business acquaintances, friends, her workers?

Perhaps there could be a background of some political or social unrest. More work, more time needed but I think I need to pause in the writing here to take a look into the past and to see if I’m not missing an opportunity to make this book a whole lot richer.

Some of the books that have been lingering at the back of my mind are Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, Chris Wooding’s The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray and several Dickensian novels. As it is raining today and I’m on holidays I think I should retire to a cosy corner and settle down for a day of reading novels. Or does this sound like more procrastination?

***

Fiona McDonald bio page

His Dark Materials: The Haunting of Alaizabel CrayThe Haunting of Charles DickensKnitted Fairies: To Cherish and CharmBabes in the Wool: How to Knit Beautiful Fashion Dolls, Clothes and AccessoriesGothic KnitsTime Management: 24 Techniques to Make Each Minute Count at Work (McGraw-Hill Professional Education Series)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 195 other followers

%d bloggers like this: