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Collaboration In The Writing Community, by Kelly Inglis

When thinking of a novelist, the image that springs to mind for many people is one of the lonely author slaving over their manuscript until the wee hours, surrounded by a dozen empty coffee mugs and countless balled up pieces of paper. That is accurate to a large degree. Writing a novel takes endless hours of solo writing, tweaking your characters, plot and dialogue until the story is complete. Then what?

Then the collaborative part of novel writing comes into play.

Once your manuscript is complete, it will need to go through many different hands, cutting and polishing until the brilliance of your story shines through from that first draft. If your manuscript is selected for publication with a major publisher, there will be a huge number of professionals – agents, structural editors, copy editors, etc. – who will be reading and refining your story. How do you get your manuscript as good as it can be so that it is chosen from the slush pile of thousands of others before those professionals even look at working their magic on your story?

As writers, we need other writers. I have found other authors to be a necessary and invaluable resource. The simplest reason for which we need other writers is for general writing advice, such as how and when to approach agents, or tips on the craft of writing itself.

We need other writers as critique partners. Your spouse, sibling, parent or best friend is not likely to give you entirely honest feedback about your beloved manuscript, but a fellow writer and critique partner will. They’ll tell you what works in your story and what doesn’t. They’ll tell you if your dialogue is stilted or if your characters are boring. They can tell you why something doesn’t work, so that you can take their advice and improve your story.

We also need other writers to beta-read our manuscripts. Who could be better to make suggestions to improve the pacing and tension in your story, and to provide feedback on grammar and sentence construction but another writer?

Most of all, we need other writers for encouragement and moral support. Although writing is a passion, it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to achieve your goals. Other writers know the highs and the lows, and of the dedication it takes to complete a manuscript. They will commiserate with you when you get a rejection letter, then pick you up and gently push you back to your writing desk. They will motivate you and encourage you keep writing and to continually improve your work.

A local writer’s group is a wonderful resource where you can meet other like-minded people to bounce your ideas off, to find a critique partner or to learn and improve your writing skills. If your home town doesn’t have a writer’s group, the online writing community is an amazing resource. Through my online experiences, especially ones such as being a Writing Novels In Australia contributor, I have met dozens of talented and inspiring writers who think nothing of helping out other authors, taking time out of their busy schedules to advise and guide aspiring authors like myself. These authors know how hard the journey is because they’ve taken it themselves, and are more than happy to advise on how to make the road a little less bumpy for those who are still finding their way. Thank you to those writers who have guided me and continue to encourage me on my journey. You know who are, and I will be forever grateful for all your guidance. I only hope that one day soon I can pay the help forward by doing my part to help other authors in their journeys in the way that my fellow writers have assisted me in mine.

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Kelly Inglis’s bio page

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     Half Moon BayHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodThe Indigo SkyThe Fortunes of Ruby WhiteAbsolution Creek

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Chase Your Dreams, by Helene Young

Christmas always makes me a little melancholy and a touch introspective as I look back at the things I have (or haven’t) done during the last twelve months. As the summer sun beats down, the afternoon storms deliver hail and lightning, and the mosquitoes descend in squadrons, I remember the year that’s gone.

2013 goes down as a surprising year for me. A change in my health closed one career door but, in the way of the universe, another one opened up that was the size of a barn. (If I’d know what was hiding behind it I may have slammed that door shut again…) During the year, Capt G and I sailed from Brisbane to Cairns and then back again, an unplanned adventure that taught us much about ourselves and the good ship Roo Bin Esque. (It’s lucky that Zeus the Salty Sea Dog was at hand to keep an eye on things.)

With all that action filling every waking hour I handed my publisher a manuscript that was almost too raw to be called a first draft and I’ve spent the last six months furiously polishing to get it into shape. I hope I never have to do that again, but seeing it release at the end of March, two months earlier than originally planned, will be a reward for the hard yards.

Looking ahead, I realise that 2014 will be my twenty-fifth year in the aviation industry. It will also mark fifteen years since I sat down and typed out my very first completed manuscript (that’s the one hiding in the dusty filing cabinet, marked never to be released…). I’m reminded again that all good things require hard work.

Writers seldom take the easy road to success. Measure success how you will, as it will be different for every one of us. It can be a lonely journey of writing in isolation, or it can be filled with like-minded people who come together to support, encourage and, most importantly, validate what we do. Without exception, it will involve long hours staring at a page, watching words build characters, a world and a story for others to share.

Writing Novels in Australia has done a magnificent job of drawing a group of writers together. We’ve shared our experiences, bared our souls and celebrated writing, warts and all.

To those of you who’ve joined us this year and have discovered that writing is your passion, I have this advice: Rules are for fools and the guidance of wise men – be wise, be guided. Each and every one of us will approach our writing in a different way, with a different motivation and a vastly different wealth of experience. What works for me may not work for you. By all means listen to advice, read ‘How To’ books and go to workshops to develop your skills. Join in conversations on the web and learn from other people’s mistakes, especially when it comes to the business side of the industry. Most importantly, never lose sight of the joy that writing brings, both to our readers and to us.

Rejection will hurt and so will editing on a bad day, but the delight when you read something you’ve written and feel that curl of excitement through your body will stay with you long after the moment. You’ve embarked on a long journey and it’s all too easy to worry about it as you write.

A line from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel always comes to mind when I’m struggling to edit: “It will be alright in the end and if it is not alright then it is not the end.” The light at the end of the tunnel is a brand new day, or a brand new year. Set your goals and make them happen.

This is your dream: it can come true.

***

Helene Young’s author website: www.heleneyoung.com

Helene Young’s bio page

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Wings of FearShattered SkyBurning LiesHalf Moon Bay     The Fragment of DreamsHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Setting In Your Novel, by Alison Booth

How does the landscape contribute to your novel? Is it there as background? Is it like a character? Or is it a bit of both?

Some writers use the landscape as a means of reflecting a character’s feelings. Like the weather, the landscape can mirror mood. It can be stormy or threatening when the protagonist faces danger. It can be sunny when the character is happy.

Of course this sort of treatment has to be done lightly to avoid slipping into cliché, as you will know from your own reading, or to avoid those purple patches that I was warned about years ago when I was a schoolgirl.

The landscape can be a lot more than a reflection of emotions. It can like a character in its own right and form a vital part of the plot. Do you need a drought, storm, cyclone or bushfire? Maybe not, but in fiction these can provide great challenges to overcome. For example, think of that terrible Oklahoma dust bowl in the United States in the depression years. This inspired great literature, including John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

Most Australians have probably witnessed a few bushfires. I have in my time, including one that was too close for comfort. I’ve also been fascinated by the story a friend told me of his experiences a few years ago, when an entire village had to be evacuated onto the beach before a fire roared through the community. As I began writing my first novel, Stillwater Creek, I had in my head an image of a bushfire and I knew that this was going to play a part in the novel’s plotting before I’d met all of the characters. While I was writing the initial draft, the landscape evolved in my mind to such an extent that various aspects of it (the dust storm and especially the bushfire) became like characters. As such, they were vital to the plot.

Landscapes can also inspire transcendental experiences. They can transform the individual, be it through providing an intimation of the sublime, a connection to the universe that brings the character peace or by emphasising human frailty against the harshness of the environment. The novels of Patrick White provide many instances of characters who undergo mystical experiences through their connection to the physical world.

In your writing you can use the landscape in a variety of ways: as a catalyst for change, as a backdrop or as an anchor for the action, as a reflection of characters’ moods or as a contrast with their feelings, as a means of providing connection to something bigger than the human being…

You may find that you’ve been doing some of this unconsciously. Have you heard of ‘gifts and surprises’ in relation to university assignments? This was a phrase used by some of our tutors when I was an undergraduate. I like to apply this term to fiction.

I plotted my first novel, Stillwater Creek, in an analytical fashion (I felt I had to with the six different viewpoints representing six different stories). But along the way all sorts of surprises emerged. The same thing happened with my two subsequent novels, The Indigo Sky and A Distant Land, and I’ve heard other novelists say the same.

While I have no idea where many of these surprises came from, I know the origin of the landscapes in the three books – both as background and as being like characters. My parents’ and grandparents’ stories, our travels up and down the east coast of Australia, and my own observations of the harsh realities of our environment and climate, provided much material to draw upon.

You too will have your unique store of landscape observations and will draw on it in your own distinctive way.

In this, my last post for Writing Novels in Australia, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you the best with your writing. May the New Year bring you many ‘gifts and surprises’  – of the nicest possible kind.

***Write with novelist Alison Booth near Hobart, Tasmania with Novel Writing Retreats Australia in April 2014

Alison Booth’s author website: www.alisonbooth.net

Alison Booth’s bio page

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Stillwater CreekThe Indigo SkyA Distant Land     Half Moon BayThe Book of LoveRotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistThe Fortunes of Ruby White

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Writing A Chapter Summary For Your Novel, by Kate Belle (guest article)

Writing a novel of any serious length is an exercise of nerve and madness in equal measure. Once a story goes over about 40,000 words complexities sneak in that are easy to lose track of. The first draft or two can leave an author feeling overwhelmed with detail. Matters of timing, who said what to whom when, maintaining consistent character arc’s and convincing world building can  make you feel as though the story is lumpy or frayed at the edges.

So much is required to pull a novel into a believable shape from its sloppy beginnings that it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. The unwieldy first or second draft has flabby bits, slow bits, inconsistent bits, even wrong bits. In my latest work in progress (WIP) I realised I changed my characters’ surnames half way through the novel!

Tackling this enormous mess of words and whipping it into shape can be an onerous process, but it must be done if your reader is to enjoy the tale you have to tell. The slow way is to read through the novel from beginning to end, mark it up by hand or track changes in your word processor, go back and make the changes, then repeat and repeat until you feel you’ve ironed out the problems in the manuscript. This is approach is fine, but it takes a lot of time, and changes deeper into the manuscript can require further revisions earlier on.

One simple way of wrestling with novel revision is to use a chapter summary, or as my former teacher Andrea Goldsmith calls them, Where Am I Now? (WAIN).

What is a chapter summary?

While the concept of a chapter summary is relatively simple, as a tool it can be incredibly powerful. It’s equivalent to a novel outline, only it’s done after the first draft is complete. Rather than guiding the story, a chapter summary gives you a wide angle view of your WIP, a way of seeing the whole as opposed to only its parts. A good chapter summary will reveal gaps in plot or subplot, biases in POV, sagging action, mistiming and missing information, among many other things.

As with most writing tools, there are many ways to skin this cat, and all of them are wrong except for the one that works best for you and your current manuscript. Here I will set out the basics, with some options for different ways to approach a chapter summary, but I encourage you to test it out yourself and fiddle until you develop a format that suits your style of working and your current WIP.

Essentially a chapter summary captures the core elements of plot development contained in each chapter. You read through your manuscript and make notes at the end of each chapter of the most important aspects of the story you’ve given the reader. Who is telling this part of the story? Where is it set? What are the most important things that happen? When is this part of the story set? What other characters grace the stage in the chapter?

What information does it include?

The most basic of chapter summaries will include things like point of view, setting, timing, and core action. Depending on the nature of the WIP, other elements relevant to the story can be included, for example, global events and current affairs, sub plots, theme development, character motivations, secrets and lies, or weather to name a few.

The scope of a chapter summary is endless, which is why you should think carefully about what you want to get out of it before setting one up. If your WIP is part of a series, you may need to link elements of the story to events or characters in previous or future books. Add as many headings/topics as you need to capture the information that will give you a helicopter view of your work, but don’t crowd it. Too much information defeats the purpose. The idea is to keep it as simple and clean as possible, and keep it to one or two sheets of paper.

What does a chapter summary look like?

A chapter summary can look as simple as a word document with each chapter a heading followed by a short dot point summary of the action beneath it. For example:

Chapter 4

POV: Alice, Setting: Wonderland, When: 1 December

Characters: Alice, White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts

* Alice chases the White Rabbit into the Queen’s garden

* The Queen discovers Alice painting her roses and threatens to chop off her head

* Alice worries if she’ll ever escape

Alternatively, if you’re a visual person, get a poster size sheet of paper (A2 or larger) and divide it up into biggish boxes, one for each chapter. You can then show different points of view using different coloured pens, or different coloured highlighters to show the thread of plots and sub-plots. The benefit of doing it this way is each aspect of the WIP stands out visually. One look will tell you if one character has more air space than the others, or if a sub plot has fallen away only to be picked up again later.

While writing The Yearning I stuck a lot of A2 sheets together lengthways and created six columns: Chapter/Character/Narrative/Relationship/Time/Place. I selected a different colour for each POV and filled in the columns in for each chapter. By the time I’d finished I could see visually areas in the novel where one voice dominated the others and where I’d head hopped (call me a sinner!). It also showed me the places where I’d got seasons and timing wrong. I pinned it up on the wall next to me as I did my revisions so I had a visual guide as to where I needed to go to fix the big stuff, before going back to work on the small stuff in the manuscript.

If you’re not into hand writing in pretty colours, and not afraid of Excel, you might find the spreadsheet approach more valuable. The benefits of using this method is you can add and remove columns as you go along, and the whole thing tends to be smaller and more contained. And you can use colours too, if that floats your boat.

I’ve just completed a chapter summary for my current WIP using Excel. It’s a complex narrative, a structure that loops back on itself, and I found myself getting confused about the age of my characters when certain events took place. To reign in my confusion I decided to add a specific column for character age next to the timeline, as well as a ‘themes/motifs’ column to keep track of repeated images I’m using throughout the novel. My columns ended up looking like this:

Chapter, POV, Setting, Characters, Action, Themes/Motifs, Timeline, Character Age, Notes

The notes column was a useful addition to this particular chapter summary because it acts like a sticky note on the manuscript. It reminds me of something I need to think about, or fix, or refer to when I go back to revise that particular chapter.

With this A3 spreadsheet I can see at a glance where my characters are when and why. It shows me chapters where the theme doesn’t come through because the scene doesn’t work to reflect the deeper drivers in the story. I can also see scenes that don’t move the story forward and, no matter how much I love them, will have to be cut out.

The other benefit of doing a chapter summary for an early draft is identifying excess backstory or exposition. Early drafts are full of this material usually because the author is telling themselves the story as they write. It’s part of the writing process, but much of it isn’t needed in the reader’s version.

For instance, your chapter summary might produce a one line summary for a 5000 word chapter. On reviewing it you might find half of those 5000 words are backstory that’s holding up the narrative. If you leave it in you give your reader an excuse to put down your book instead of compelling them to turn the page. These lulls and hiccoughs in a narrative can be more easily identified when you see the big picture of the novel and can weigh the content of each chapter equally against the rest.

Finally, chapter summaries are very useful plotting tools. You will see immediately if you have a sagging mid-point, if your climax comes too early or too late, if the trigger event occurs before you’ve established reader empathy with the characters. It’s a great way to tighten up the plot and shift plot points around until they are perfectly placed so your story finds its natural rhythm and pace.

Whether you’re a panster or a plotter, a chapter summary is a fantastic way of getting a fresh, long-range view of your manuscript and can help in so many ways. It can even help you overcome writer’s block or to revise a manuscript that you just can’t seem to get a handle on.

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Kate Belle’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kate.belleauthor

Guest Articles

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     House for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodThe Fragment of DreamsHalf Moon BayThe Indigo SkyThe Fortunes of Ruby White

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Going Public With Your Writing Habit, by Phillipa Fioretti

It’s not easy to start writing and be taken seriously. Many, many people write – seven percent of Australians according to one source – and so few are traditionally published. It’s the cruel fact that underlies the writing life. Those who know the industry understand this. They also know that what is published is largely dictated by the market and that many incredibly talented writers are passed over and never get their chance.

It’s not really common knowledge in the non-writing world that this is the case. Unpublished writers are plagued with questions like, “How’s that little book you were writing coming along?” and “Have you got a publisher yet?” Is this people politely taking an interest? Yes, sometimes – but also a faint undercurrent of scorn, with the unspoken label of ‘wannabe’ hanging in the air. Adding this inevitable response to the traditional self-doubt of a writer can magnify the secrecy and isolation of the writing life. Nobody wants to be seen as a wannabe.

If you were spending your free time building a canoe or learning a language you would not receive that look, the one that says, ‘you ego driven wanker’. One occupation is deemed a hobby, the other tainted with serious unmet ego needs pointing to a quite possibly unstable head case who was denied the breast during a crucial window of their infantile development.

So what? While that may indeed be the case, there is no shame in it, to my way of thinking. Aspirations to become an author, or an artist or an actor are nothing to hide away or apologise for. The work required to get even close to success in these areas is substantial – and anyone who works that hard for a dream has to be due some respect.

Adopting what one believes to be the ‘style’ of one of these occupations, without putting in the necessary hard work, without doing the research but with an over inflated sense of self importance because you do aspire to these occupations, is possibly something of a shameful act.

Writers are no different, in most respects, to non-writers in society: no better, no worse and not distinguished by the mystical hand of genius tapping on their shoulder each morning. There is one small detail that does distinguish the writer from the general population – the willingness to put in hours of toil for little financial gain, but that’s about it.

I kept my shameful, dirty writing secret hidden for a couple of years. I couldn’t bear the patronising curl of the lip, the snigger or the ‘oh yeah?’. So it was a huge thrill to come out and say, “My name is Phillipa Fioretti and I am a writer.” I’ve since met many people who write and who confess they are unpublished. I want to tell them not to apologise and not to lose heart – what you are doing by writing stories and imagining worlds, people and places is a very human thing to do. It transcends the daily scrabble and gives you a place to dwell in, a place not confined by status, occupation, income, looks or any other social ranking. The Urban Dictionary describes a ‘wannabe’ as “wanting to be something you are not”. But if you ARE writing hard and in a disciplined way, you can’t technically be a ‘wannabe’, now can you …

This is my final post for Writing Novels in Australia. It has been good discipline trying to come up with topics that can inform and entertain the readers of this blog. Thanks to Steve Rossiter for giving me the opportunity to contribute.

My third novel, For One Night Only, will be published next year by Momentum. So if you like romantic suspense with a little humour on the side, rush to your ereading device on January 15, 2014, find your favourite ebook platform, enter my name or the book’s title and press Buy.

Happy reading and writing for the year to come!

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Phillipa Fioretti’s author website: www.phillipafioretti.com.au

Phillipa Fioretti’s bio page

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The Book of LoveThe Fragment of Dreams     House for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodRotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistBurning LiesA Distant LandThe Fortunes of Ruby White

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

On Finding Success As A Writer, by Jenn J Mcleod

John Farnham once sang, One Is the Loneliest Number. A writer will disagree. For an author the number ‘one’ is not lonely at all. Being #1 is the ultimate: #1 bestselling author, #1 ranking on Amazon, etc.

Some authors will find world domination and many #1’s during their careers. For the rest of us this business is less Lucky, Lucky, Lucky and more Workin’ 9 to 5. Despite the rapidly changing publishing game there’s probably only room for one J.K. Rowling and one E.L. James in a lifetime (I hope I’m wrong) which means turning your passion into a career will not make you famous or rich, so don’t let either be your motivation. (As my character Maggie says to her son in Simmering Season, “you can find fame by doing all the wrong things”.) Rather than fame and fortune, chase your dream because the very thought of no longer dreaming it drags the wind from your sails and renders you a lifeless wreck.

Success should be your own measure. I believe, as writers, we should be obsessed with words, not numbers. Yes, the numbers are important, but statistics like number of books published, advances offered, Amazon rankings, books sold and Facebook Likes should not be your focus. Let your passion for storytelling and words be your motivation (and be reflected in the quality of your product) and those all-important numbers follow.

J.K. Rowling says of getting published that it’s hard work and luck, and that the first often leads to the second.

My final thoughts are these:

Believe. Be brave. Be businesslike.

Think big. Dream. Work hard. Toughen up.

Be committed. Be kind to yourself. Be generous to others. I once heard someone say: “No author ever hurt their career by being generous to another author”. Live by that and karma will take care of you.

Keep trying. I know many writers have heard the following things before, but there is a message in them:

  • 12 publishing houses rejected The Philosopher’s Stone. A year later J.K. Rowling was finally given the green light (and a £1500 advance)
  • Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before having one accepted.
  • Anne Frank’s diary had 15 rejections.
  • Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind faced rejection 38 times.
  • I gave up counting after 45 rejections from publishers and agents before deciding I needed to change tack and try something different.

I never gave up, even though the publishing dream is an emotional rollercoaster. Although there are lots of troughs, the peaks sure are sweet – none sweeter than when you get to write two words: THE END, a writer’s silent victory squeal.

In fact, that’s THE END from me now. Having come to the end of my 12 months of contributions to Writing Novels in Australia, I’m going to get busy writing more books. As of October, I have a four book deal with Simon & Schuster!

Thanks for the memories – especially everyone who commented and shared posts. I hope it was all a little more interesting than watching paint dry.

I’ll be blogging lots more in the coming months. Feel free to follow my personal blog so you won’t miss out.

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Jenn J McLeod’s author website: www.jennjmcleod.com

Jenn J McLeod’s bio page

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House for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod     A Distant LandBurning LiesThe Fragment of DreamsThe Fortunes of Ruby WhiteThe Russian Tapestry by Banafsheh Serov

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Month In Review (November 2013)

Writing Novels in Australia has reached the end of its eleventh month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of monthly contributors encompassing aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists.

Writing Novels in Australia contributors Helene Young and Alison Booth are each attached to a novel writing retreat in 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

You can connect with Writing Novels in Australia on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Articles for November 2013

On Choosing A Title For Your Novel by Alison Booth

On Critiques, Contests And Conferences by Jenn J McLeod

Being An Author Book Stores Will Enjoy Working With by Lia Weston

The Importance Of Secondary Characters In Novels by Phillipa Fioretti

Writing A Satisfying Story Ending by Kelly Inglis

What Makes A Good First Chapter? by Ben Marshall

On Editing Fiction by Onil Lad

Writing Deadlines… And When Life Gets In The Way by Helene Young

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Teen Novels.

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Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

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