Beyond beginnings …

It seems fitting that our topic for January is beginnings. 2017 brings with it many changes and hopes after a particularly unusual and tough year for many.

As for me, I’m hoping that with the new year I will carve for myself a fresh beginning with my writing. You see, I had a tough time with it during 2016. With three kids, four after school activities, three separate schools, two P&C committees, and only one me it was a rather time-poor year. And as a writer who thrives off the total immersion method I found myself unable to pen new words. Basically I just couldn’t get my head in the story. The same with reading. I found myself reading the same pages over and over again, unable to move forward because there was never enough time or head space for imagination.

Yet, beginnings are the one thing I didn’t struggle with. Whatever sucked up my creativity seems not to have affected my ability to pen first chapters. I have a grand total of five beginnings that are so darn intriguing (no modesty here) that I’m determined to make them full stories this year.

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Getting past Chapter One can be a chore.

 

So what is the trick of getting beyond the beginning?

  • Stick to it: don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by shiny new ideas. Write them down then come back to story number 1.
  • Plot it: If you’re having trouble finishing a story, plan out where it’s going next. In fact, plan it all the way to the end.
  • Make time: If, like me, you’re strapped for time get up half an hour earlier, stay up half an hour later, write in your lunch break. Whatever it is you need to do to snag a few minutes of writing time, do it.
  • Don’t edit: you heard me. Don’t read yesterday’s words before writing new ones. That chews up valuable writing time and makes it impossible to move forward to new words.

Let’s hope that 2017 is a productive writing year!

I plan on sticking to these golden rules to finish my stories. Do you have any tips for getting beyond the beginning?

Happy writing!

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Stacey NashStacey Nash is going to write lots of great words this year. To find out more about the great words she’s already had published or to connect with her on social media (where she tries to be engaging), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

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Review: Tainted Blood (Dramir #1) by Yajna Ramnath

Welcome to Dramir, a city where the blood never stops flowing

The streets of Dramir have always been protected under the rule of the reigning King. It was all because of his not so secret weapon.

A weapon they called the assassin. A weapon with long-dark hair, savage soulless eyes and a body built for sin.

She wielded a sword as one would breathe air. She danced in blood as one would dance in rain. She laughed in the face of death as one would laugh at a bad joke.

It was believed that the day the assassin experienced emotion, the world of Dramir as they knew it would crumble under the force of her shattering heart.

How could you break the heart of someone who had long since lived without one?

How could you fight against the darkness when she forced light to do her bidding?

Most importantly how could you hide, when she came looking for you?

 

Tainted Blood is fantastic. I did not know that it had been previously published and then rewritten before being released under this title, and to tell you the truth, I prefer this title, cover image and story line better than the original.

Atalia is a likable MC and her voice is consistent throughout. A kick-ass warrior type, she cuts off heads without a second thought and goes right back to what she was doing prior, no hesitation and certainly no remorse. Ramnath does a fantastic job of portraying Atalia, her lack of emotion and her overall queen-of-cool self.

Nathaniel Drake I did not like from the beginning and enjoyed the end of his story-line immensely. However, I thought there could have been a few more interactions with him throughout the story before the final chapter.

Cassius is one of those characters you think you have a handle on, but then realise at the end of the book, that you really don’t know all that much about them. This doesn’t distract from the likability of the character, but does leave me hoping his story is explored more in any sequel that may follow.

Shayur is even less memorable, and I feel his character could have been combined with his father’s with little to no effort or effect on the overall story-line.

The other characters played their parts well enough to push the story forward, but didn’t stand out to be overly memorable for any particular reason. This is not a bad thing. The story focuses on Atalia for the most part, and though at times Ramnath glossed over parts of the story where I felt like there could have been more, the end result was an enjoyable read, and I will recommend it to all those who is in need of an explosive fantasy fix, that mixes vampires, shifters and witches with gods and mythology.

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Overall a 3.5 star book bordering on 4 stars. I hope to see more from this author in the near future.

 

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 10.45.01 PMRebecca Bosevski is a speculative fiction author living on the east coast of Australia. Her debut novel, Enchanting the Fey, is the first in a trilogy and combines old world Fey magic and a sassy contemporary main character.

 

 

The complete comprehensive* post on the greatest** way to start your story

When you’re looking to start your story, one of the biggest questions you’ll face is how.

Below, are five of the greatest ways to open your story ever. Readers love these, agents and editors love these, and if you want your book to be a bestseller, you really need to get on it.

  1. Looking in the mirror – what better way to get your reader in your character’s head than by describing the exact way your MCs eyes sparkle, those flecks of yellow swimming in bright green orbs? The way their tiny nose sits perched in a sea of freckles, and how their rivers of chestnut hair cascade over their shoulders.
  2. Describing the weather in huge detail – you’ve heard the advice, ‘ground your reader’. So, as soon as you can, you need to explain the exact way the sun is sending golden kisses to the clouds, or how the rain is beating down on the hot pavement, steam rising up to meet the droplets. The more purple prose, the better.
  3. Waking up – I mean, isn’t this how we all start our day? Makes sense our characters would, too. The last thing you want is for your reader to miss something important, so walking them through your MC’s morning shower, their coffee brew, and their exact outfit choice will make sure your reader knows every detail of your character’s lives. Bonus points if you can take up the whole first chapter with these mundane events.
  4. All of the action from the very first sentence – bombs, explosions, running from a serial killer! Give me intensity from the very first sentence, make your book Hollywood-level action! I don’t need to know or care about your character right away, we can all relate to free-falling from a cliff-face.
  5. Backstory – every reader needs to know about that one time your MCs, cousin’s, step dad lost his job. Or how your character really hates dudes who drive red cars, except that one kid who lives down the block and seems kinda cool, despite the fact he hates hotdogs which are basically your MCs favourite food ever. Load your reader up with backstory and they’ll know your story as in-depth as you do.

TRIPLE POINTS if you can combine a few of the above. Let’s face it we all love reading that the MC just woke up and those last two explosive action filled pages were all a dream.

*This list is not comprehensive!

**This post is clearly in jest. We totally recommend against these things as an opening, and if you choose to do them anyway, proceed with extreme caution.

Now, we are not implying you can’t mention the weather, shoot a glance at a reflection or even blow up a building, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Eg: Twilight

This 1st Chapter breaks many rules if you take them at face value. It mentions the weather several times, ‘It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue.’, ‘Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds’ and ‘ landed in Port Angeles, it was raining.’ are all written within the first two pages.

There is backstory, ‘It was from this town and its gloomy, omnipresent shade that my mother escaped with me when I was only a few months old. It was in this town that I’d been compelled to spend a month every summer until I was fourteen. That was the year I finally put my foot down; these past three summers, my dad, Charlie, vacationed with me in California for two weeks instead.’

Twilight also presents with another of the frowned upon openings not mentioned above, Extended Dialogue. Opening with two people talking that the reader has no clue who they are can make it even harder for the reader to feel grounded.

So how did Twilight get away with it?

The key is to know why you are breaking the rules. The weather is important in Twilight, the juxtaposition of light and dark, sunny and miserable, it is key to the overall story. As too is the Dialogue between Bella and her mother, their relationship is shown in the interaction between them even if we don’t yet know what they look like. The backstory is important to point out how where she is headed links to who she is, and is kept brief enough to not take from but rather adds to the grounding of the reader.

So now that you are sufficiently confused about what you can and can’t do to start your story, remember there is one thing that you should never forget and that is, it is your story.

 

 

Begin Again

I know she’s not for everyone but I’m a bit of a Taylor Swift fan. I’ve seen her in concert twice and she was all of the awesome. I adore the song ‘Begin Again’ as it’s a story in itself about beginnings and can even be used to examine story structure (see Jessica Brody’s great blog here).

And I’m thinking of it this month as I start a new year and a new story (two swirling in my head).

Today I wanted to talk about not simply beginning, but beginning again.

At the same time as beginning a new year and new story, I have a new puppy. THAT is a lesson in starting again. Harriet Potts chews, she nibbles, she’s adorable and hard work.

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Kind of like my story… lol.

This isn’t my first story which means I’m bringing lessons from before

  1. What worked well last time?
  2. How cam improve my process?
  3. How can I get batter?

All of these questions need to be addressed as I begin.

Then there’s the baggage…

  1. What if it takes longer?
  2. I’ve done one, doesn’t mean I can finish again.
  3. What if that last story doesn’t sell and I’m wasting my time?

I try to take the good lessons (I wrote 50k in Nov, I can write faster than I thought) and not get dragged back by the doubts (this is a fresh start, anything is possible).

Do you have any tips for beginning… again…?

 

🙂

Beck

beck nicholas_ bec sampson

I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction.

 

 

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Beginning where the story starts

To celebrate the new year, most of this month’s posts will have a theme of “new beginnings”. 

One bit of advice you’ll often hear from agents and various other bookish folks — such as editors and competition judges — is to make sure your book starts in the right place. People are time-poor and there are a lot of competing entertainments, more than there were when I was a wee lass. Smart phones! Augmented reality! Reality-cooking-soap-TV shows! You need to hook the reader from the outset, draw them into the story. Start where the story actually stars, with the inciting event — not beforehand.

I’m basically giving you that same message, but thought I’d do it with song an example.

The inciting event — the first big, life-changing incident that triggers the plot — in my first novel, Isla’s Inheritance, happens at a Halloween party. That event is in the first chapter of the novel, and always was … but the first draft of that chapter started with Isla and her cousin Sarah receiving the party invitation and sorting out costumes. I’m still fond of that scene, because it sets up the relationship between the two characters, and Sarah is a lot of fun to write. But it wasn’t the best place. Isla thinking about whether she had time to get her homework done before the party wasn’t exactly the sort of thing that hooked the reader.

In my defence, it was my first novel, and I learned by making the mistake. :p

The fact my opening sucked bugged me all through drafting the book, so after I’d finished and taken the time to get a bit of distance from the writing, I went back again. (The distance is crucial. As I said, I was fond of the costume-choosing scene, which meant I needed to take the time to see it for what it was.) I cut the first part, and started the scene instead with the two girls and Sarah’s older brother, Ryan, arriving at the party. Fixed it!

Yeah, nah.

That was the version of the book I started querying. I entered it in PitchWars at the end of 2012, and the feedback I got from mentors really shook me. I was still starting in the wrong place, dammit! Again, I was still taking time to establish the characters. I had Sarah and Isla giggle over an old school crush. Dance. I thought I was setting the scene, but it was still slow.

I went back and amputated even more from the scene. By this point I’d probably removed around 2000 words (sob). Now it starts with Isla, at the party, meeting Dominic — her eventual boyfriend — and getting invited to participate in a séance. Sarah doesn’t even appear until the end of the chapter.

If you’re getting told your book starts too slowly, have a look at what you’re trying to show the reader in your opening scene. For example, say you start with your character jogging, thinking about their life (apparently this is a very common beginning, as is staring into a mirror). You want the reader to see upfront that your main character is a physical creature who has problems that need pondering. Instead, why not start with the manifestation of the problems. You can always have the character jog later, or mention the athletics trophies being knocked to the ground during the zombie attack — that sort of thing.

Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, such as if your character is doing a marathon and they rupture their Achilles tendon on the first page or get hit by a car, because the rest of the story is about their healing journey.

I’d like to think I’ve learned this lesson now. I’ve started (and finished; OMG!) five other novels, and all of them have a much quicker beginning to the plot. But I learned it the hard way. Avoid my mistake, grasshopper!

Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer. Her first novel, Isla’s Inheritance, is currently free in ebook format at all good (and some dubious) ebook retailers. You know, if you want to find out what happens next. 😉

Note: the featured image at the top of this post is from Shutterstock.

Cassandra Page

Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

This is one of those books I have so many mixed feelings about, I have no idea if I’ll get them all out coherently, but here I go trying anyway.

First of all, the writing style of this book totally wasn’t for me. It was written really well, don’t get me wrong, just not my style. Pretty disappointing considering that blurb had me excited AF to get reading about this mysterious, alluring family with a huge secret, and supposedly amazing ending. Not being a fan of the writing style was purely on me though. It’s not what I’m used to reading, and not what I enjoy. I decided to push through anyway.

Truth is, the main thing that kept me going through this book was my curiosity at what the big secret was. Lockhart kept the mystery alive so much so, I couldn’t have not finished no matter how many issues I had with it.

Basically, Cadence has problems. Those problems consist of being white, being privileged, and being rich. Then something happens and no one will fill poor Cadence in on this BIG FAMILY SECRET so she gets all whiney and dies her hair black and starts giving away every one of her possessions ever, even though half of it is useless crap. Also, the way Lockhart describes her migraines, and her ‘intense’ emotions is confusing and waaaaay over the top.

Halfway through this book it occurred to me I was reading about a messed up family, doing messed up things, for no obvious reason what-so-ever. The exact moment this thought hit me was a scene when Aunt Carrie was wandering the grounds of their private island. Her son is screaming for her because of his nightmares and she TURNS AND WALKS IN THE OTHER FLIPPING DIRECTION.

Like, man. These characters were so frustrating. The whole novels is literally about a summer where the ‘rebellious’ Liars, who are actually not so rebellious, sit around talking at each other. Not to, at. There conversations are about the most basic crap I’ve ever read, like ‘sexual intercourse’ (not sex. Sexual. Intercourse. Every time.) that never actually happened. There is literally no chemistry between any of them, least of all the love interest, until the very end when Cadence has a moment of discovery with Johnny and Mirren and I finally see the family bond going on.

And you know what’s really messed up? I actually enjoyed the suspense. Without giving too much away, I picked the end result of the secret, part way into the book. But then something happened that threw it from my mind. So when I got to ‘Part Four: Truth’ I had to put the book down after a sentence or two. It was like a gut punch that I really should have seen coming, but Lockhart did a great job of convincing me my initial suspicions were incorrect.

The ending was great, I actually got a little teary, which was odd because I never thought I cared about the characters until that moment. I guess it all finally made sense. And now I look back on this book like a bitter-sweet summer.

The other highlight was the use of the fairy tales. They were completely transparent, but they added an extra layer to the whole story and helped increase the suspense and allure of the family. They also showed the side of Cadence who was becoming more self-aware.

At the end there’s a really great moment where Cadence realises who she really is. Her view of herself is completely flipped on its head and I did a mental high five with her, because she finally viewed herself like I had the whole time.

So many people love this book–and I could see why–but it wasn’t for me. I enjoyed it when it was finished, but there was too much throughout that irritated me. All I could focus on were all the first world problems Cadence was bitching about. And yeah, I totally get we’re ALL like that IRL, and there’s a place for that in fiction, but it didn’t draw me in.

I enjoyed it to a point. And after so much excitement going into it, I’m disappointed it didn’t captivate me.

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(and a half)

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary

When to engage a sensitivity reader

The publishing world is changing, I believe in large part, because advancements in technology is giving people more of a voice. And this is a good thing. One of the key things of note is the issue of representation in novels, and how poor representation is harmful.

For me, personally, I understand these concerns. I’ve been quite open about the fact I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. People associate this with obsessive cleaning, counting, and washing hands. I’m not a clean freak. I don’t have any set numbers. Though occasionally I use too much sanitiser. Also, a family member of mine has epilepsy, and I regularly see the misconceptions people have about the condition.

Misrepresentation can occur across many areas, including, but not limited to, culture, medical conditions, mental health, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Poor representation is harmful. It can perpetuate stereotypes and alienates readers in that group.

One of the ways that authors are attempting to address this is to engage a sensitivity reader. But when is the best time to do that?

I’d like to point out now that the use of a sensitivity reader should not be an author’s only tool when trying to ensure that they deal with issues of representation in an appropriate way. And it definitely shouldn’t be the first port of call. Research is important, especially during the plotting and early stages of drafting. Don’t rely on “what you know” as it’s likely what you know is tainted by stereotypes rather than reality. And research can include talking to people.

For example, one of my stories including a subplot involving a survivor of sexual assault. As I haven’t experienced what my character had, and something nagged at the back of my mind as I was doing my first round of revision. I asked for some advice from some author friends who had. My author friends were very supportive, and helped me with solutions to take away the problematic issues that arose from my ignorance. And I was grateful that I was made aware of the issue early.

Research should give you a good basis for starting your story. And if you’re like a lot of authors, you would only want early drafts to be viewed by trusted readers, so this is not the time for a sensitivity reader. But it’s probably a good idea to asks your readers to give you a heads up for any red flags for representation.

Once you have your story to a point where you’re comfortable with sharing it beyond your inner sanctum, this would be a good time to engage a sensitivity reader (in my opinion).

You don’t want your story before an agent with poor representation in it. And, if your agent misses it, you don’t want your story before an editor with poor representation in it. And if your editor misses it, you don’t want your story out with advance reader copies with poor representation in it. And in the unlikely event that it makes it past ARCs with poor representation, you don’t want your story on the shelf with poor representation in it. While an agent and an editor should be helping authors identify problematic issues in a story, it’s your name on the cover, and you should be taking whatever steps you need to in order to ensure that your novel is the best novel it can be.

And, in my opinion, you also don’t want a sensitivity reader to be giving you feedback at a point where you feel like your novel is basically complete as it could make you resistant to changes.

Which leads me into the next important point. If you engage a sensitivity reader, listen to them. Take onboard their feedback and incorporate it into your story. If you use a sensitivity reader, and you ignore their feedback, then you could be alienating your first reader. People who do sensitivity reads are doing it because they want good representation in novels. They aren’t out to wreck your story.

Now this is something else that is important to consider and understand. Everyone has different experiences, and having a sensitivity reader is not a get out of jail free card to stop people being offended by representation in your story. You still could have people saying your portrayal is unrealistic as what you’ve written doesn’t reflect their experiences. You may want to engage more than one reader, especially if your first reader highlights issues that are problematic.

 

Readers expect authors to do their homework and get things right. Even though you’re writing fiction, representation is important. If you were writing a novel about pilots, your reader would expect you to have researched pilots, planes and airports. If you’re writing a story about someone with a mental health condition like OCD, your reader would expect that you had researched OCD, the triggers, the treatments and the condition’s impact on people with OCD. This goes for cultural groups, sexual orientation, gender identity, medical conditions.

By no means am I perfect in this area. I am striving to do better with every novel I write. I hope that you do too.

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Sharon M. Johnston is a New Adult and Young Adult author from sunny Queensland. Her OCD has resulted in Sharon making way too many bead bookmarks, way too many cat t-shirts and way too many toys. It’s also result in her breaking down in tears, calling for support, messaging friends for help and withdrawing from family and friends. She gets annoyed with people who don’t have OCD think they do because they’re clean freaks. If your obsessions and compulsions don’t cause you pain, it’s probably not OCD.