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Three romance-writing lessons

In honour of Valentine’s Day, we’re talking all things love here at Aussie Owned and Read. So I thought I’d look at three lessons in writing romance we can all take from a relatively unknown playwright I grew up with, one Mr Walt Disney.

  1. Sometimes, you need a knight-level romantic gesture. Now, let’s get one thing straight. I’m very pro women saving themselves. I’m not exactly at bra-burning level of feminism, but I sure as hell don’t believe in waiting around for a knight in shining armour to ride in on his horse to save me or my fictional princesses (although give me a few glasses of wine and I’ll karaoke to the contrary if I Need A Hero comes on).
    However, what I do think works well in fiction is a grand gesture from a leading man toward the leading lady, or vice versa, or a leading lady to another leading lady, or a leading man to another leading man (just not a leading man to a leading dog. Because bestiality and no).
    But I digress! Romantic gestures. They rock. Sure, in Sleeping Beauty it might mean fighting through a thorny garden and slaying a dragon to deliver true love’s first kiss–but in a modern-day romance, it could be Heath Ledger singing “I Love You Baby” on the grandstand at the high school in Ten Things I Hate About You. It’s all relative to the story’s scale. Either way, a romantic gesture, whether from the hero to the heroine or vice versa, is a great fictional tool.sleeping-beauty
  2. Love can come in unlikely packages. Whether you’re talking Beauty & the Beast or even to a certain extent Cinderella,  delivering love in a place we wouldn’t traditionally expect it is a great tool that can be used in writing romance today. The reason this works is because not only can it surprise the reader, it also follows something we all know to be true–to a certain extent, opposites attract. At the very least, they make for strong conflict, which creates great scope for some tension-filled scenes (and the potential for a follow-on best-selling movie. Fifty Shades, anyone?).
  3. True love is 4 reals. In Disney movies, the hero and the heroine always end up kicking arse. True love conquers all, baby–there’s nothing it can’t do!
    beauty-and-the-beastI think, when writing fiction today, that’s something we can take on board, too. Sure, there are some HFN endings in which perhaps the hero or the heroine passes away, which obviously implies that it doesn’t quite conquer all (or certainly not death)–but in those novels, invariably we have true love existing or the impact of a hero/heroine dying wouldn’t hurt us as much as it does. If the person passing away was just some guy or gal the leading man or woman was a little close to but didn’t really love, would we care so much when they left us for a walk on the fictional rainbow bridge? No.
    In real life, many people either have found their true love, or are searching for him or her–while we don’t mind reading about the kind-of-almost-maybe loves, what gets readers truly invested, particularly romance readers, is knowing that the love they’re watching unfold is true love. The Big Love. The all-consuming, everlasting love.
    That’s why I think having “true love”, Disney-style, is a great fictional tool we writers can all employ.

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of romance reads to make you feel. Her latest new adult contemporary romance, with lots of true love and a truck-load of love in unlikely places, is on sale now for $0.99. Get your buy links for Seeking Faith now via her website here or find out more info over on her Facebook page.

Guest post: Where and how to begin writing your story, by K. A. Last

Hi everyone, K. A. Last here. It’s been a while since I’ve written a post for Aussie Owned and Read, and it seems fitting that this month’s topic is beginnings, because I was unsure where exactly to begin for this post … So, I’m going to tell you about a book I wrote to help authors with this exact problem.

Where and how to begin writing your story

Beginning a story isn’t always easy. We can have an amazing idea but absolutely no clue where or how to start writing that idea down. Well, I’m here to share a secret with you …

It doesn’t matter. The only thing that does matter is … beginning.

This is a rather long post, so bear with me, because I have some great points to talk about, and there might even be a couple of free things along the way.

As a writer, I often find it hard to get the thoughts in my head straight, and in any sort of coherent order. There are so many voices in there vying for my attention, and at times I feel like one big jumbled mess. Over the years I’ve tried different things, including pantsing and plotting my stories, and I’ve come to realise that for me, the best and most productive method is outlining my ideas in detail first. Once I have a solid outline, I find that when I sit down to write I waste less time, because I already know what I want to write about.

Sometimes I’m lucky enough that my ideas pop into my head fully formed with characters, and plot, and the entire world my story exists in. But mostly all I have is one concept, or a character name, or a theme, and it needs a lot of help to get started. And like I said before, getting to the point where you have a solid story idea or somewhere to begin isn’t always easy.

ani_cover_3dmockThat’s where A Novel Idea! comes in. I created this journal to help writers of all ages and skill levels—to help you be as prepared as you can be when you sit down to write your story. A Novel Idea! is divided into sections, much like the traditional three-act structure of a story plot, but with extra scenes. It will help you work through your story idea from the initial light bulb moment, to all the details about your characters, to visions for the world you want to create. By the time you finish filling in the pages, you will have a wonderful story idea to start writing, and a host of invaluable information to refer back to once your first draft is completed.

I know what you’re thinking, I’ve made it sound all too easy, but I know just how much it isn’t, and that’s why A Novel Idea! is not only a writer’s journal, it’s also a colouring book. When I get stuck on an idea, or I feel I need to work through the thoughts in my head, I often turn to colouring to help me clear my mind and set my ideas straight. The aim of including illustrations in this journal is to allow another creative outlet while working on your writing. If you find yourself needing time to think, but you would like to keep your hands busy, the illustrations can be used as a means to clear your mind. The borders on each page are also colourable, so switching between the two creative modes is easy.

If you want to know more about what A Novel Idea! contains, and how it can help with making a start on your writing, then read on …

THE IDEA

Okay, so the first thing I do is I tell myself to forget about the fact that I need to write around 70 thousand words to make a book. This is just a ball park figure. Some books are shorter, and many are longer, but I write for the YA market, so 70k is a good target number. But like I said, forget it. You don’t want that big, scary number holding you back.

Next, you need an idea. For anyone with a vivid imagination, these are not hard to come by, and we can find inspiration anywhere. But how do we shape and expand an idea into something that we can turn into a novel? This is where we start small, and work until we can see the bigger picture clearly.

Start by writing down the basics of your idea. It doesn’t have to be fully formed, but you need to get onto paper what your idea is so you can free you mind to think about all the other things you’re going to need to know to write your story. It could be as simple as one or two lines, or maybe you’ve been thinking about it for a while and you write a page.

Once you’ve done that, focus on working out the three most important aspects of your story. Take three sheets of paper, or use a notebook (you should have a notebook!) then write about the goal, the motivation, and the conflict of your story.

From here, you should try and briefly outline all the important parts of the story. Story structure usually goes something like this:

  • Beginning
  • First major plot point
  • Second major plot point or midpoint
  • Third major plot point
  • Climax
  • Resolution

If you know what the main obstacles of your story are, then filling in the gaps becomes a lot easier.

Once I’ve worked out the basics, something I like to ask myself when I have a new story idea is why is it exciting? If your story doesn’t excite you, then it won’t excite your readers. You need to pinpoint what it is about your story that will get people excited about it. This could be anything from the romance, to a rebellion, to who murdered someone.

By now you should have a pretty good idea about what your story is about, what the main plot points will be, and how it begins and ends. For me, the climax and the ending are very important, because that is what the story is working for and towards.

CHARACTERS

The next step is to cast the characters of your story. Sometimes my ideas start with a main character, and their conflict and story grow from there. Before I sit down to start writing my story, I like to know who I’m writing about. Of course I don’t know everything, because writing a character is sometimes like meeting them and getting to know them. There are a lot of things about them that I discover along the way. But I always work out the basics of their character profile. Usually a story will have the following characters:

  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Secondary characters affiliated with the protagonist
  • Secondary characters affiliated with the antagonist

Don’t forget that characters don’t always have to be people. You can download a printable character profile sheet to help with the development of your characters.

STORY WORLD

So now you know who the main character in your story is, and what their goal, motivation, and conflict are, you can build the world in which they will navigate and interact with other characters. World building is important for any story, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. The type of world your story exists in will depend on what your story is about, and there are many factors to consider. Not all of these will apply to every story, but they are a good starting point, and you should try to work out as many details as possible to understand how your story world will work.

  • Time or era
  • Place
  • Landscape and architecture
  • Reality or fantasy
  • Climate
  • Magic system
  • Weapons
  • Technology
  • Transport
  • Government
  • Social hierarchy
  • Currency
  • Language
  • Fashions
  • Rules

LET’S WRITE

By this point you should have the three main areas covered. Your story idea, the characters within your story, and the world they will inhabit. All that’s left is to sit down and write! Now is when I like to make a short paragraph outline of each chapter in my story. Sometimes I can’t outline all of them, but I outline as many as I can, as well as the most important scenes to do with the major plot points, climax, and the resolution.

My last piece of advice is nothing is set in stone. I often find that while I’m writing, my characters do something I hadn’t planned, or something I had planned doesn’t fit with their character development. When this happens, it’s okay to re-evaluate your story outline. As we write we get new ideas, and we see things differently. Our stories evolve, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s all part of the creative process.

(NB: the above section was first published at www.storyqueens.com.au for the full article, please go HERE.)

As a bonus to Aussie Owned and Read readers, I’m also giving you a FREE colouring page download. If you would like to know more about A Novel Idea! or any of my other books, come and say hi on my Facebook page, or check out my website.

Good luck with all your story beginnings.

K. A. xxx

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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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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

Four ways to see your writing anew

Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

Drafting a novel is like hiking through a huge forest. Your approach to the impending journey may vary: some of us come up with a detailed map, set their feet on the path and power on through, while others see the edge of the trees, think “let’s see what’s in there”, and wander in. Most of us have approaches somewhere in the middle: we might know where we want to end up, but not have a specific path in mind. Almost all of us get distracted by things along the way; sometimes the distractions turn out to be just that, while other times they are a valuable addition to your journey.

But there’s an idiom that also applies to a writer who is in the middle of or has just finished drafting a novel.

I can’t see the forest for the trees.

Whether you love your work or hate it, when you type THE END, you are not seeing it clearly. Everything from being able to discern the dead wood — those scenes, characters or chapters that don’t move the story forward — to spotting typos is harder. You don’t have the altitude. You’re still in the trees.

So here are four ways to see your work differently. To get a Google maps perspective on your forest.

1. DO SOMETHING ELSE

This is the first and most important, which is why I gave it shouty caps. If you can possibly avoid it, don’t jump straight back into editing. Give the manuscript a few weeks to stew. Read a book (or five). Write something else. Go on holiday. Spend some time with the loved ones you’ve been neglecting. You’ve written a novel, which is a thing to be proud of. Celebrate, but not by re-reading it.

This point should be applied in conjunction with one or more of the other suggestions, below. The only exception is if you’re up against a hard deadline that doesn’t give you the luxury of time. I’m not talking about a pitching contest you want to enter — there will always be more pitching contests — but something with legal ramifications, like a contractual requirement.

2. Read it in hard copy

Speaking of trees (sorry about that, forests of the world)… This is my favoured approach. I wish I could get the necessary distance while still reading my words on a screen, but that’s the place where I drafted it, and I just can’t. On paper I can see misspelled or misused words, tracts of exposition — they all leap out at me. Usually I do a dirty word search before I hit print and make those amendments to the soft copy. Then I sit down with a pen and have at it.

This does have the drawback that I have to enter my edits onto the soft copy afterwards. It’s tedious but, for me, worth it.

3. Change the appearance of the words

If you draft in Arial, try looking at your manuscript in Times New Roman. Or Comic Sans MS, if that’s what floats your boat — just remember to change it back before you submit it to any agents or publishing houses. I know some people who actually format their book and read it on their Kindle, to try and put themselves into the role of a reader rather than the author.

As an aside, I do this with all my blog posts. I write them in Word, do one proofread in the WordPress data entry screen, and then do a final check in the blog preview screen.

4. Read it aloud

Obviously this is better for picking up line edit problems — passive sentences, overused words, that sort of thing — rather than structural problems. Although if you get bored reading a scene maybe that’s a sign the scene could go. There are also text-to-speech programs that you could use if you don’t want to read your 150,000-word opus aloud for fear of never being able to speak again. (And, um, if that’s your first novel I also recommend reconsidering the length…)

I’m tempted to add a fifth point here that says “see point one”, but I won’t. You get the idea.

Do you have other tricks that you use to let you see your words afresh?

Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author and professional editor who has almost finished drafting her sixth novel and is itching to get stuck into the edits. 

Cassandra Page

Finding Time in a Busy Life

Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

I forgot today was my day to post here. Usually we try to have our posts up in the morning, and it was dinnertime when I had an OHNOES moment and realised I hadn’t done anything. Then my son and I had a karate class to go to, so here I am: it’s after 9pm, my legs are tired from kicking invisible bad guys, and I’m drinking tea from a Lady Rainicorn mug and eating crackers and olive dip.

It’s not my finest moment.

I know I should go easy on myself — I have a load of excuses I could give you for why I forgot (single mother working full time, yadda yadda yadda) — but the thing is that, despite everything going on in my life, I am usually pretty good with stuff like this.

How do I do it? I’m glad you asked. 😉

I set reasonable goals. My standard word count goal per week when I’m drafting is only 2000 words. This count excludes writing-related things that aren’t actually writing. I accumulate my word count over two or maybe three writing sessions of up to an hour each, either in between washing and other chores on a weekend or on a week night once the boy is in bed but before I pass out. I don’t watch TV pretty much ever, which helps.

If I want to slack off and do something for fun, I bribe myself. Last month I blogged about rewarding yourself for good behaviour. Sometimes, for me, it’s more like extortion. “Want to play Minecraft? You need to write at least 500 words. GO!” (Yes, I play Minecraft. My friends moved interstate and we have a server; it’s actually a relaxing way to spend an evening, building ridiculous things made of one-metre-square blocks.)

If I can’t write when I should, I do another productive thing. This ties into the previous point. There are always other things I could be doing: blog posts, reviews, synopses, queries, advertising, researching, plotting, scheming… you get the idea.

I schedule things. I don’t mean appointments and whatnot, though I do that too; I mean on social media. WordPress lets you schedule blog posts (and I expect Blogger does too). Tweetdeck lets you schedule tweets. Facebook lets you schedule posts to pages (though not to personal accounts — not yet). Hootsuite lets you schedule posts to a bunch of social media pages (currently Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, WordPress, Instagram and YouTube). This functionality is great if I have a blogging afternoon, where I write two or three posts and want to space them out rather than spamming my readers.

It is also how I manage to post my blog posts on schedule … today notwithstanding.

Are you a writer, a parent, or both? How do you manage to keep everything straight? Do you make lists? Plan obsessively? Wing it and hope for the best? I’d love to know I’m not alone!

Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy author who just forgot, okay?! :p

Cassandra Page

Four Awesome Writery Rewards for Good Behaviour

When people imagine what writers do — even what I imagine I do, when I’m between manuscripts — is sit at the keyboard, fingers flying and words magically pouring out like rainbows from a unicorn. We may occasionally steeple our fingers like Mr Burns as we contemplate some fresh torture, or gloat after we execute a particularly tricky or torturous scene.

Richard Castle booyah

But that hasn’t generally been my experience. In fact, sometimes writing can be downright painful. (Certainly Richard Castle must have felt that way, or he wouldn’t have procrastinated about writing to the point where he started pretending to be a detective. In fact, the animated gif above was the only one I could find where he was even in the same shot as a computer! Procrastination level = master.) Even when it’s not actively painful, writing can still be tedious.

Johnny Depp slinky

Beck mentioned back in January that rewards are one of her strategies to get herself to write, and I use them to get my butt in the chair too. So here are some ideas you might consider as ways to reward yourself for good behaviour — whether that be writing 500 words, finishing a chapter, or finishing an entire novel.

Get a massage. Whether you’re a pen-and-paper drafter or a master of keyboard-fu, writing inevitably involves a lot of sitting, hunching and the occasional fist-to-forehead moment. All of that can wreak havoc on the old back and shoulders. A professional therapeutic massage can work wonders but, if you can’t afford that, why not beg, guilt or entice your significant other or a friend into giving you a shoulder rub?

Do that thing you like to do. Watch your favourite TV show. Go out to see a movie. Play that new computer game. (Or an old favourite — I’ve been playing a bit of Minecraft with my son.) The important thing here is that the reward isn’t too over the top relative to the achievement, because there can be a fine line between reward and procrastination. Don’t spend four weeks binge-watching TV after writing 100 words, or run off and join the police force for “inspiration”. Unless you want to, of course.

Look at the Sims writer go!

Look at the Sims writer go!

Buy yourself a present. What better way to celebrate writing the thing than by reading a thing? Buy a book (or five)! If you’re worried about reading fiction in your genre while you’re drafting, why not read something else? Even non-fiction? Or you could buy yourself some other treat: an awesome new t-shirt, comfy slippers, a charm for a bracelet, or a new DVD. (See my previous point for an awesome one-two combination: buy the DVD and then watch it. Now that’s booyah!)

Eat cake! Or chocolate. Ice cream. Bacon. Pizza. Nutella straight from the jar. Whatever floats your boat. The point is that it should be something you wouldn’t normally do. Or I suppose you could be healthy and go for a run, but I can’t really provide advice on that. 😉

My message here is basically this: do what you gotta do! Because the hard times are temporary and the end is totally worth it.

Benedict smiling

Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy writer who has managed to trick and cajole herself into writing four novels. You can find out more here.
Cassandra Page