Elements of a Great Story – Pacing

This month on Aussie Owned we’re looking at the elements of a great story. I chose pacing because it’s one of my favourite elements of story, and one I have struggled with from time to time — particularly when I was a wee baby writer working on my first novel. (I liked to overshare about the day-to-day of my characters’ lives, you guys. No, I loved it. I was still getting to know them, and that’s fine in a first draft — but some of those scenes had to go because, ye gods, they were boring.)

Pacing is, simply, how fast the story unfolds. The “right” pacing varies depending on the requirements of your story. Some stories take you along like you’re old friends going for a stroll along the beach, slowly immersing you in events until you’re invested (before probably sucking the sand out from under you or smashing you with a wave). Other stories are the equivalent of riding a runaway stallion, all thundering hooves and branches slapping you in the face and maybe, if you’re lucky, the chance to pause and eat some grass at some point.

Okay, I’ll stop with the terrible similes!

The tools for adjusting a story’s pacing are varied; action and dialogue speed the story up, while description slows it down. Short sentences and paragraphs speed it up; long sentences and paragraphs slow it down. I think it’s best expressed by one of my favourite writers (who writes fast-paced speculative fiction and gives the best writing advice I’ve found on the internet), Chuck Wendig.

Further reading … but not, like, in a boring way

I love to give book recommendations, and, happily, I can readily bring to mind two five-star favourites with very different levels of pacing. (Both are speculative fiction, because that’s how I roll.)

The first is Aussie urban fantasy Shadows by Paula Weston (and in fact the whole Rephaim series). The four books of this series are set over the course of a couple of weeks. Sure, there are flashbacks, particularly in the last one, but still. It really gives you a sense for how exhausted the characters must be, the urgency of the storyline. When they had a chance to pause for food or a sleep I was relieved on their behalf! I can’t recommend this series highly enough.

 

The second book I’m recommending is one I just finished, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. This man is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. (I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long.) Because Sanderson spends so much time building his worlds and layering them with backstory and foreshadowing, the books are immersive and the build of tension is slower than in some other stories, but the stakes just keep getting higher and higher. And there are flashes of action that keep you gripped.

 


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose latest urban fantasy, False Awakening, hits the shelves at the end of August. Preorders are now available from your favourite ebook retailers.

The Elements of a Great Story — Setting

This month we’re taking a ‘for the writers’ spin on our theme and talking about what makes a story great. I’ve been tasked with world building, which is something I love!

Worldbuilding is the term we use to describe the creation of an imaginary setting.

Creating worlds that feel as though you’ve stepped right inside them is a tricky talent that will turn a good story into a great story. Let’s think about some books that fit into the ‘great’ category and examine their settings in terms of beleviability;

  • Harry Potter. I know, I know, I use JK Rowling as an example all the time, but honestly she’s one of the best storytellers out there. The magic world in which her characters live is so well rounded that many, many muggles have tried to run through the column on London station marked 9 3/4. Heck, I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts letter!
  • The Lunar Chronicles. This futuristic world of magic and science is so realistic I wonder if it’s actually a glimpse into the future. If Prince Kai will someday reign over the Eastern Commonwealth, if we’ll colonize the moon, if cyborgs … who am I kidding? We’re only a sneeze away from real, live, breathing cyborgs right now!
  • The Mortal Instruments. A world hidden within our own that holds magic, paranormal creatures, and other beings who keep us safe. Like the other two worlds mentioned, I wonder if I just drew the right rune on my arm … would everything pop into focus? Is the old church in my neighbourhood really an institute? If I dive down to the very bottom of a clear mountain pool will I find a gateway into the seelie court?

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All three of these series contain amazing worldbuilding. Let’s take a look at what they have in common.

  • They’re immensely detailed.
  • Those details are woven through every aspect of every character and every aspect of every scene. Think Luna’s fear of nargals. Think ‘moving’ photographs in newspapers. Think feasts that appear out of thin air. Think moving staircases and plants that screech when uprooted. Think language choices unique to the world. Think wumping willows and rooms of requirement. Think extracted memories and listening devices shaped like ears. Think Harry Potter. All of these things, no matter how large or small, add up to create one amazingly unique, almost realistic world.
  • The places in these books feel so real they become like another character in the story. Hogwarts. The Rampion. Alicante. All settings, but if I asked you to describe characteristics or even a personality-type feel to these settings I bet you could.
  • In great stories the reader doesn’t feel like they’re trudging through paragraphs of description to find the plot. The setting (world) is slotted into the story so seamlessly the reader doesn’t notice it’s there.

SUBTLETY IS KEY!

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Setting is an essential part of any great story. Together with great characters, solid (and invisible) world building is what makes readers keep coming back to a series. It’s what makes us wish fictional worlds were real (or hope they’re not :P).

I’ve shared a few of my favourite bookish worlds. Which ones do you love?

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Stacey Nash writes Aussie YA / NA. Her Oxley College Saga is a series of romances based in the fictional Oxley College on a university campus. Her Collective Series is YA trilogy about a girl who discovers secret sci-fi technology and the organisation who suppress it. To find out more about Stacey’s books 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.

Advice, originality and vampires

You think I’d know better than to take the last post slot of the month when we’re doing an advice theme. By this point, dear reader, you’ve seen all sorts of excellent “what I wish I knew” advice posts — and my main messages to my younger self would be very similar to those already described:

So I considered my main advice to younger reader me, and decided it would be “one format of books is not better than another — and, BTW, audiobooks are awesome so get onto that”. But I’ve blogged about the audiobook thing here too.

Given the situation, I lamented to a friend that “being original at this point is impossible”. His reply? “Sounds like a good point in itself.”

Thank you, sir. *doffs hat*

Originality and vampires

One of the things I struggled with when I first started seriously trying to write was that I wanted to write urban fantasy, and I loved vampire stories — but, by this point Twilight was a huge hit, and everyone was writing vampire stories. How on earth could I tell a new story in a market so saturated? (I actually found my plot notes for my vampire novel the other day. It’s still tempting, not gonna lie.)

In the end, I decided on fae instead, as something a little fresher, and Isla’s Inheritance was the ultimate result. But Isla’s ability to see and manipulate emotions was originally born out of the idea of a psychic vampire. Her ability to create a supernatural human servant is evocative of Dracula’s ability to create human slaves (though her cousin gets a better deal than poor Renfield). In other words, I took existing ideas, jumbled them around and came up with something new.

 

Source: Goodreads

Obviously, the state of the market is a factor if your ultimate goal is to publish traditionally. If a publisher already has a vampire story on the books, they don’t need another one competing with the first. But that doesn’t mean that two books about vampires are fungible (I love that word; so fun to say). They aren’t interchangeable. Just because Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, that doesn’t mean that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black is unoriginal. (Anything but.)

Originality and major movie franchises

I found a great example of the way that one idea can give rise to two very different, and wildly successful, stories. Here is a synopsis for your consideration:

I read that and immediately thought of Harry Potter. But it is, of course, also a description of Luke Skywalker’s journey in Star Wars.

Originality and advice

So, coming back to our post theme this month, what’s the take-home message for my younger self?

Whether you’re sitting down to write your first book or struggling to write your seventh, it is important to write something you are passionate about. At the very least, those other books on the same subject as yours don’t have the thing that your book has: your voice.

Stop looking for excuses.

Just write the book.


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction writer whose fifth book, False Awakening, is scheduled for release at the end of August. 

From Query to Publication – Six Stages of Emotion

Are you a writer? Have you been busily squirreling away words in secret while the rest of your household sleeps? Maybe you’re at that uncertain point where you’re thinking of writing a novel, of taking the leap into a pool of words powerful enough to build new kingdoms and birth new people. Yes? YES? Do it! Take the plunge! It’s completely and utterly magical. It will ensnare you, captivate you. And it will catapult you down a raging river of unchecked emotion.

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Photo by Carl Cerstrand on Unsplash

I’m new to this publishing gig. My first novel is due for release in just a few weeks (Yay! Yikes! Gulp!), but I’m already well familiar with the emotional ups and downs that come with bringing a book baby into the world. So strap on your floaties (or maybe a life vest) and hold on tight as I take you through the six stages of the traditional publication journey’s Raging River of Emotions. First comes …

1. The Calm on the River Bank (Emotions = sense of achievement / satisfaction)

After months, maybe years, of self doubt, procrastination, and cleaning dirt from under your fingernails after all the times you’ve had to dig yourself out of a plot hole, you’ve finished your novel! Big pat on the back. You should be proud. This is a great achievement. Writing an entire novel is no small feat. But now what? How do you release it into the big wide world? Well, you must dip your toes into …

2. The Churning Channel of Submissions (Emotions = confusion / doubt)

Whether you’re querying agents or submitting your manuscript directly to editors and publishers, you’ll need to decide WHO to send it to. Which agent is a good fit for you as a writer? Which editors or publishers are looking for your kind of story? Confusion abounds as you sift through agent and editor databases, and your eyes glaze over as you try to read yet another set of submission guidelines. But, with perseverance – and copious cups of triple shot coffee – you’ll eventually have a list of suitable agents, editors, and publishers. You then dutifully send out your query in small batches like all the query gurus have advised you to do. And you float down river into …

3. The Query Rapids

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Photo by Jérôme Prax on Unsplash

This treacherous three-stage stretch of water will take you through a looping cycle of emotions, starting with …

  • The Waiting Wetlands (Emotions = frustration / impatience)

This is a long, dull, and trying section of the river as you wait to hear back from agents and publishers. Response times vary hugely. You might luck in and hear within a couple of weeks. Or you might still be waiting eight months down the track. It might be wise to take up yoga or Pilates. I’ve heard it’s good for managing stress levels. It’ll come in handy when you hit …

  • The Falls of Rejection (Emotions = disappointment / doubt)

This is possibly the worst part of the Raging River of Emotions. No matter how prepared you think you are, this huge dip will wind you every time you drop down it (and you’re bound to drop down it a few times at least!). But you must hang on and push through. The publishing business is hugely subjective. What is a pass for one agent / editor might well excite another. If you’re lucky to get feedback, read it with a critical eye and apply accordingly. Oh, and maybe book an extra yoga class. It’ll help you paddle into …

  • The Upstream of Persistence (Emotions = cautious optimism / determination)

Once you’ve climbed back into your boat and wrung out your sopping T-shirt, as well as your badly bruised pride, you send out the next batch of queries and submissions. Because you are made of stern stuff and the world needs your story. Rinse and repeat step 3 until you develop RSI in your index finger from hitting the refresh button on your email inbox while waiting for …

4. THE Mouth of the River CALL! (Emotions = euphoria / excitement)

This! This is what you’ve been waiting for! Finally, you can see the vast, open publishing ocean ahead. And someone has offered to help you set sail across it. Someone who loves your story as much as you do and wants to take it to the far ends of the earth. They love your voice, your characters, your unusual style of punctuation. But first you’ll need to navigate through …

5. The Editing Tributaries (Emotions = confusion / self doubt / impatience)

You’ve signed the contract, sucked the last drop from your bottle of bubbly, and now the hard work begins. You’re asked to kill off a character, add an extra chapter, and get rid of that unusual punctuation style. It’s not uncommon to be a little confused at some editorial suggestions that come your way. Self doubt can often creep in here, but a sound collaborative editorial relationship is crucial to your book’s success. Ask questions and learn from the reasoning behind editorial suggestions, because it won’t be long before your book’s …

6. Release into the Big Book Ocean (Emotions = excitement / anxiety)

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Photo by Nathan Hulsey on Unsplash

At last! Your book’s birthday has arrived. You can’t stop staring at the cover, and your friends and family can name every character in your book. Even Guido, the one-legged postman who makes a brief appearance in chapter six. It’s likely a time of mixed emotions. Excitement, anxiety, sense of pride, fear of failure. Revel in ALL of them, feel them in every corner of your writerly being, because they are proof you’ve breathed life into a new story and dared to share it with the world. And that’s something worth braving the query to publication Raging River of Emotions.

Tell us about your writing / publishing river of emotions. Does it look similar or have you had a different experience?


Kat Colmer Author

Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author, and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

If I only knew…

By no means do I consider myself an expert at this but I have been writing for a while now and this month we’re sharing things we wish we’d known back when we were starting out.

  1.  The secret

Of course the secret is that there is no secret to any of it. There is craft and grind and learning and friends and showing up each day (or when you can). And I read this and was told this but I still thought there would be some magic secret that would make me a success.

Which brings me to:

2. Success

Enjoy the little wins. This is something I still struggle with. From the first opening the doc and starting (this is cool, lots of people are gonna write a book one day, to start even does man something I think) to writing the end there are so many wins.

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That’s before great feedback and crits, contest wins or even the day it’s published. I need to get better at focusing on each of them and worrying less about the things I want to improve. Don’t let worry steal joy.

3. The community

I didn’t realise I wouldn’t be alone. I’m super shy and awkward but people in the book community are so warm and welcoming and I’d like to still get better at this but they’re there to be embraced (metaphorically and sometimes even literally).

 

🙂

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.

Chill, connect, cool it — advice for emerging authors

 

This month we’re talking about things we wish we knew when we first started out on our authoring journey. Some might see it as us dishing out advice for new writers. Whichever way you spin July’s topic here’s my top three things I’d tell younger me, you know if I had a time machine:

 

Chill, it’s just a first draft.

Spewing words onto the screen is perfect even if those words aren’t perfect. It doesn’t matter how well a story is written when we first write it. That initial draft is all about getting the story out. About telling it to ourself as the author, so we know who the characters are, what the plot is, and how everything comes together. No first draft is perfect and that’s okay! You can spend years going over that opening chapter trying to perfect it, but you know what? All that time is wasted because you’ll be so hung up on crafting wonderful words that you’re likely to never write the two most magical words ever, THE END.

Connect, it’s not a one man show.

Writing can be a lonely business, but it doesn’t have to, nor should it be that way. Books are a bit like children and that age old saying which goes with them; it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I believe it takes more than just one person to write a good book.

Go, grab your favourite book written by a big-5 best-selling author and turn to the acknowledgements. I can guarantee in the list of people that author thanks are other authors. These are usually the people who have supported him/her during the writing process. Many of us here at AO&R are critique partners, beta readers, and plotting soundboards for each other. Reach out, because finding the right writing mates is important.

Cool it, there’s no rush to submit.

Most writers think they have the best story, the best concept, a totally unique idea. And many do!! But rushing off to submit can do more harm than good. You see, most agents and publishers will only look at your work once, so don’t waste that opportunity on work that isn’t your best. There’s no need be concerned that you need to sub before X conference or Y date or Z holiday, or that you have to get in before someone else sells a similar story. Make sure that you submit the best possible product you can. That it’s been through multiple rounds of edits, it’s been read and critiqued by someone who knows about writing and is brutally honest, and that’s it’s been proofread. Of course the opposite can be said too, don’t over think it. You don’t want to hold onto that thing forever.

 

What about you, fellow writers, is there one burning piece of advice you’d give to your former self?

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Stacey Nash writes Aussie YA / NA. Her Oxley College Saga is a series of romances based in the fictional Oxley College on a university campus. Her Collective Series is YA trilogy about a girl who discovers secret sci-fi technology and the organisation who suppress it. To find out more about Stacey’s books 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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Things I wish I knew …

This month at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking about things we wish we knew when we began our writing journey, aka Knowledge for Newbies. 

I like to look to the future. For me, that’s so much more beneficial than focusing on the past, on the could-haves and should-haves that can weigh on your mind and bring you down. No regrets! Live for the now! And all that other good stuff!

But I also believe we can learn from our past mistakes, and if others can learn from mine, I would be thrilled. Why should we all get caught in the same problems when some advice might help us along?

So here are three things I wish I knew back then.

  1. Great things will happen if you just keep pushing. Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep taking risks and exposing yourself to new situations, new challenges, and you’re going to reap the rewards.
    So many times when I started writing, I would worry and think I should give up, that I should quit. I always managed to pull myself out of those slumps, but I did go on a hiatus for a year at one point because I felt I wasn’t good enough, and I wish now I had persevered and kept on keeping on. “The harder I work, the luckier I get” – the quote is attributed to a bunch of different people, including Samuel Goldwyn, and I definitely think it applies to writing. That and words by another wise American scholar: “Just keep swimming”.keep-calm-and-just-keep-swimming-119
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask. When I first started, I thought “Oh, I couldn’t possibly ask Author X to read my book”. Or “No way would Blog Y want to feature me”. Now, however, I know that unless you ask, unless you take a chance, you won’t stand a chance. You have to push yourself to be brave. The worst that can happen is someone says no–but no one is going to laugh at you for having a go. And if they do, they’re not worth your time.
  3. Make a plan. And then change it. I used to be a complete pantser when it came to writing. To a certain degree, I still am, but I like to go into my books now with a plot in mind. Sometimes, I’ll plan it out, down to each individual scene. Most times, I’ll then change it.
    Regardless, going into my writing with a plan has helped me be more productive when I work because I have greater focus.

So they’re my three top tips! What about you? What’s one thing you know now that you wish you knew back then?

lauren k mckellar_ms
Lauren K. McKellar is the author of romance reads that make you feel. You can find her on Facebook or at her website.