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. 

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?

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

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