Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How do you choose the best point of view for your own narratives?

One of many questions I have about writing fiction! And while I am sure that there is no perfect answer, I also believe that there might be some different answers, depending on who you are and what you write and who your audience is.

I recently touched on this when I wrote about breaking some writing rules

The main reason why this interests me has to do with productivity. I don’t know about you, but I have very limited time to write in my busy life. So, optimising my time and getting my fiction drafts as far as possible every time I sit down to write is absolutely essential. Otherwise, how can I make my dreams come true?!

One major stumbling block on the journey to becoming a successful novelist is having to rewrite your entire draft just because you picked the wrong point of view to tell your story from in the beginning. Once you write yourself into a corner it can be pretty tough to get out of it – especially if you’re writing in first person.

First person narrators are a popular choice in YA Fantasy and SciFi but many novels in these genres suffer from dissatisfying ‘miraculous’ solutions to problems that the protagonist can’t solve because their is no way he/she/they could have had access to the information, place, or powers needed to get out of their latest pickle.

I try not to work miracles in my stories. NOT EVER! And it’s very hard. But I also found that the better I plan (I’m a plotter, remember?) the easier it is to actually finish my stories. And isn’t that the ultimate goal for us novelists – to one day finish our novels so we can hit ‘publish’ …eventually…and without our readers feeling cheated?

The choice of which point of view you use to tell your stories is NOT arbitrary. Choose wisely. Think about what kind of story you are writing, how likely your protagonist will be able to convey all the information your audience needs so you can solve your problems in a clever, yet plausible way that doesn’t require miracles.

And don’t forget: if your are using magic to solve any problems in your story, you better not break any of your self-imposed limits and rules. Just inventing a new rule that the audience didn’t know about up to that point is cheating. Your readers won’t appreciate it.

How do I know this? Because I am a reader and I hate feeling cheated. And every time an author cheats me, I make a note of their name and never buy their books again.

See ya next time 😉

If you have experienced the pain of having to switch point of view in the middle (or close to the end) of your narrative, share your experience in the comments below. I would also love to know if you know of any clever tools (or at least aides) to help choose the right point of view from the beginning. I always love to learn new techniques.

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Author Business, Fiction, Writing Process

Eight rules for writing fiction that you should definitely break!

Yes, yes…you’re right. There are definitely more than eight rules when it comes to writing fiction; especially in the realm of the fantasy genres (and sub-genres). But I found this article in The New Yorker (from 2013) and it strikes me that the eight rules they picked for their article are eight that I definitely break often…without breaking my stories!

In the wild west of indie publishing it might be tempting for new authors to launch into their projects thinking one of two things:

A. That you have to follow ALL the rules known to fiction authors.
OR
B. That you have to follow NONE of the rules known to fiction authors.

Neither approach has my recommendation. If you follow each and every rule you have ever heard about fiction writing, you are most likely going to end up with a stale piece of prose that will be so rigid and structured (and flat) that nobody will want to read it…unless they are a special kind of individual who likes to torment themselves!

On the other hand, if you follow none of the rules you have ever heard about fiction writing, you are most likely going to end up with a wild, unstructured beast of a story that will fail to provide any useful reference points to your readers. Your fiction will evade all tropes and genre conventions and be of use to nobody. Some rules are good! But I don’t think those are the eight rules hailed by The New Yorker…

Here are my recommendations about the eight rules mentioned in their article…which is published in the humour and cartoons section of their website (although this is not necessarily clear if you come in via google results as it’s categorised as ‘daily shouts’ rather than ‘satire’):

Show, don’t tell.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Yes we heard it many times. Show don’t tell is where it’s at. Don’t write your story like a manual for household appliances (seriously, please don’t do that)! But you can’t show everything without messing up your pacing, narrative voice, style, and general appeal. So here’s my version of this rule for the modern fiction writer of 2021: show when you can and tell when you can’t. Choose wisely.

Create three-dimensional characters.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

This one tickled me the most! The article literally advises fiction writers to avoid cliché character descriptions by telling your reader how long, wide, and girthy some hard-charging banker character is…as he drives around in his flashy sports car… oh my! You want to avoid cliché character descriptions? Write down the clichés you know of and then find innovative ways of describing the character traits to move you away from the overused descriptions.

I am not saying YOUR version of the hard-charging banker has to be a slim, unicorn riding, sugarplum fairy with delicate wings…but how about not describing the character as ‘hard-charging’ to start with? And what if your banker character was secretly uncomfortable with driving a sports car but too afraid to show it? Wouldn’t that be a lot more interesting than learning about his measurements in 3 dimensions?

Choose a point of view.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Sounds like good advice – doesn’t it? After all you don’t want to end up head hopping and confusing your readers…? Sure, but there is a problem with this rule which is why I often break it. The point of view from which your story needs to be told is not arbitrary. Depending on what information you need to convey to your readers/ characters to conclude your story, every writer who has ever written themselves into a corner without escape (I have done this many times), will have experienced what happens when you choose the wrong point of view.

First person narrators are a popular choice in YA Fantasy and SciFi fiction but this only really works well if your protagonist has the freedom or opportunity to access every place, character, and knowledge that is essential for moving your plot past all of the crucial landmarks in your story.

Otherwise you might end up having to invent ‘magical’ phenomena, additional characters, work miracles (not very satisfying for your readers), or constantly rework your plot to get out of those pesky corners. You’re not really choosing a point of view…you are matchmaking your point of view with the story you want to tell. Work out what your story needs and learn to use the relevant point of view to your advantage…instead of to your detriment.

Give your characters motivations.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Now this is among the most problematic pieces of advice in the fiction world. You are led to believe that if you can work out what your characters(s) want(s) you can come up with a great, engaging plot for your story that will have the readers turn the pages to the very end. But have you read any of those stories that are primarily driven by characters’ wants? I have! And they bored me to tears.

One wants cupcakes. Another wants to be with somebody else’s spouse. The next wants power. It’s just what they want. But there is no reason why! I firmly believe that it’s not enough for a character to want something. Whatever it is the character strives for, he/ she/ they must need it.

Think about Frodo from Lord of the Rings. Do you think he just wants the ring? Does he just want to own it? Does he just want its power? If you need to remind yourself, go ahead, I think you’ll find that what Frodo feels in relation to the ring runs much deeper than want. Frodo needs it. The ring calls to him. He is drawn in and becomes increasingly obsessed (or possessed – you choose) by it. Giving it up is painful. Unthinkable.

Figure out what your characters need! And don’t forget that your antagonist must need something that conflicts with what your protagonist needs – otherwise they’re on the same side.

Write what you know. 

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Oh dear. Another overrated piece of fiction writing advice. Please don’t write what you know. It gets boring pretty quickly. I spent years trying to write a novel about what I know and it has resulted in some of the worst stories I have ever written! Everything you know is already so close to you that you will have difficulty writing about it in a fresh and interesting way. Instead, write what you love to read! In my case that’s YA Fantasy (mainly high fantasy).

Find what rocks your socks as a reader…and then write a story within that genre. Write a story you would love to read that is full of the type of characters, plots twists, and conventions that make you love your favourite genre. Chances are it will be well received by readers who like what you like. Be your own ideal reader. It works! Everything else can be researched.

No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader. 

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Problems getting emotional when you are writing? Me too. Does this mean that our readers can’t be moved by our writing? I hardly think so. Comments on my work suggest otherwise. I think this point was thrown into the original article to allow for some comic relief but I really don’t believe this to be valid at all – humorous intention or not.

No need to go slice onions…just have your writing read back to you to check the reader experience. A lot of the emotional response from readers comes from an element of surprise, coupled with effective foreshadowing. As a writer, make sure your works sounds right and that you have the correct setup for the emotion you wish to incite in your readers. The rest is just gimmicks!

Revize, revize, revize.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

I know this might seem like I am being contentious on purpose. But hear me out. Revising your work is a good thing! Every writer’s output needs an edit (or two, or three). What your work definitely doesn’t need, though, is a perfectionist maniac author who is so worked up over the possibility of releasing anything into the world that might feature the tiniest flaw that they never release anything at all.

All stories have flaws. A determined critic can poke holes into just about anything (just look at me picking apart The New Yorker article over here). Here’s the rule you need: write, edit, revise, proofread, then publish. Get your story into the hands of readers (at least beta ones), collect feedback and make your next story better. Write, write, write and ship!

Trust yourself.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Yes and no. If you are writing what you love to read and your story is shaping up to be the kind of book YOU would buy, chances are good that you are on the right track! But please don’t forget that the question is: does this work of fiction read like the books I love to read? Rather than: do I think the story ideas are similar to other books I have read in this genre? Trust yourself as a reader but beware of your writer-self.

You have to be honest with yourself. Is the quality of our writing comparable to the books you love to read? If the answer is no (or if you’re unsure) listen to your beta readers…by which I mean other people who love to read what you love to read. Be unemotional (I know this is hard) but don’t assume people will love your story just because it’s the right type of story. It also has to look, feel, and read like other stories in the genre and that takes a whole lot of skill. Keep learning.

See ya next time 😉

If you have enjoyed this post and are curious what a story that breaks all these fiction writing rules might look like, have a look at my one-shot YA Fantasy story ‘Shadow Play’ (for free). As always, comments, feedback and further thoughts on this post are welcome. Please share in the comments.

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Author Business, Self-Publishing

Can free text-to-speech software save your self-publishing budget?

I am slightly biased when it comes to anything technology (my day-job involves horizon scanning for technological solutions in a large organisation) and it never fails to amaze me how many of the most boring and menial tasks can now be done faster and easier with the help of advanced tools. So, I recently had a brainwave when it comes to improving my writing and my proofreading – for free! – and I thought that you might be interested in trying this, too.

If you are thinking about self-publishing, or if you have already got some experience with this, you might have discovered that self-publishing can be expensive. Especially if you want to put out quality products (i.e. books). No, I am NOT suggesting that you use free text-to-speech software to help turn your books into audio books. But I AM suggesting that this type of software can be make you a better writer. And it will cost you nothing at all.

How is this possible, you ask? It’s all down to one little fact that we writers already know: it’s impossible to proofread yourself. Everyone who has tried it will undoubtedly have come across the problem of missing words (‘be’, ‘a’, ‘the’, are common problems), duplication (‘the the’ and ‘a a’ are my personal faves), and a general issue with spelling and grammar (don’t get me started on this one).

If I am telling you that the culprit of such problems is the human brain, your eyes will probably roll right into the back of your head. But this is exactly why technology is an excellent solution. Software is dumb! It doesn’t have thoughts, it doesn’t assume, doesn’t understand words that are misspelled, doesn’t block out duplicate words, and it most certainly doesn’t fill in words that are not actually there.

So, dropping a paragraph of your text into a free text-to-speech online tool (Natural Readers is my tool of choice), helps you beat your overly helpful brain! It lets you hear your writing as it will come across to your reader and you will hear if your sentences are overly long, and whether your narrative flows…or not. You will hear every misspelled word (because the software won’t be able to pronounce it) and you will be alerted to all missing and duplicate words.

I recently used this to edit a one-shot YA Fantasy story and the feedback I had on this from readers was so much better than I could ever have anticipated.
My favourite comment on this story claims:
This is one the most well written stories that I’ve read on here [Wattpad]! So much passion in so few words! I commend you! : )

See ya next time 😉

If you give this approach to self-editing and proofreading a try, share your experience in the comments below. Links to your stories on the web are also welcome! Have a great week.

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Story, Structure, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

Can you ‘doodle’ your story in 4 simple steps?

We have already discussed the pros and cons of having an outline (or map) to help with closing plot holes, ensuring you have the right number of characters for your story, and that there are enough scenes to tell a satisfying story.

What we haven’t talked about is how to start the outline. I know how intimidating a blank page can be when your story is nothing but a vague series of snippets in your head.

To help overcome this initial anxiety, some people like morning pages. Others keep a notebook and write down bit over time until there is enough material to pull it all together. Unfortunately, neither of these methods has ever been of much help to me.

If you have had similar experiences, you might want to try the doodle method. And it goes like this:

1. Start with a blank sheet of paper (I did mine with the doodle feature in Evernote but you don’t have to be fancy). Take any pen and write ‘story doodle’ at the top of the paper.

2. That’s a good way to cheapen it up a little and reduce anxiety of ruining the page. Expect it to look terrible. Don’t pressure yourself to make this pretty! That’s very important.

3. The put the working title (if you have one) of your novel onto the centre of your paper and draw a bubble around it. Then identify the main themes of your story and write them spaced out around the centre bubble. Draw bubbles around each of these too and connect them to the centre bubble. I like to include a bubble for ‘characters’ but this can be done separately if you prefer.

4. Now start filling in information around each bubble and connect your notes with relevant bubbles (connect notes to several bubbles if applicable.

When you finish you should have something like this:

Story Doodle for the fantasy novel ‘Fearful Magic’ by Josie Cole (@WimpyWriter)

Tadaa! Your first draft outline is complete. This one took about 20 minutes, so perfect if you don’t have much time for your writing. I use my story doodle as a point of reference to help with populating my story grid and character profiles…and when I’m stuck.

See you next time 😉

If you try a story doodle or have a similar (or maybe even better) method to get a story outline started, please share your experience in the comments section below this post. I would love to hear from you.

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World-building, Writing Process

How to invent a magic system?

No character can be almighty. Even the strongest and meanest villain has to have some level of weakness…otherwise, why would we be reading? That’s my number one reminder to myself when I am coming up with magic systems for my stories. As much as magic is an amazing story tool and so interesting to write, without limitations it all falls apart.

Now this isn’t to say that this limits a writer’s imagination. It certainly doesn’t limit mine. Think of all the wonderful ways in which magic can be limited. Maybe it only works under certain conditions, in certain places, in the presence of specific artifacts, or away from certain materials…yes we all heard about kryptonite…

So where to start with your magic system? You could try starting with the cool stuff if you find the limitations boring. If the idea of limitations excites you, try spinning the whole concept on its head and start by working out what magic can’t do in your story or when it won’t work (at least not reliably).

Sometimes the best magic systems can come out of a process of elimination. If your character can’t do x and y with magic…how else would they do these things and what other magical abilities do they have to solve their problems (or at least try)?

You can also use limitations in your magic system to mould your characters and ensure there is growth throughout the character arc. If they can’t solve a problem by using magic, is there a non-magical way they can solve it?

Maybe they have to learn a new skill or make an alliance…or perhaps there is something the character has been avoiding that is now the only way forward for them, seeing that magic is not available?

See ya next time 😉

Would love to hear about all the quirky magic systems that you can possibly imagine…and the appropriate limitations, of course. Mine still needs more work but, don’t worry, you will hear more about it as I get closer to working it out. If you are planning on writing this weekend, I hope it goes well for you!

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset, Writing Process

How to bounce back from ‘research’ overload?

Even though my planned Christmas holiday from writing dragged on way longer than recommended, I am glad to be back to my normal posting schedule. I hope you haven’t missed my antics all too much and are looking forward to new posts? I’m sorry if you found my silence irritating…the words ran dry and I needed a rest!

The main reason for my extended break from writing was ‘research’…by which I mean ferocious reading of material mostly tangentially relevant to the story I am crafting…by which I mean…I was reading other authors’ works of fantasy and adventure fiction whilst not working on my own.

If you want tips on how to procrastinate, I fear I might be a masterful adviser. Just ask in the comments section below.

There, I admitted it. Relieved to have come to the end of a difficult year, I plunged into a blissful winter break from EVERYTHING. I ate cake (and other sweet treats in abundance), explored amazing story worlds, watched Netflix, felt jealous (and like a bad writer) a lot, and battled self-doubt.

I’m sharing this with you because I promised to share every part of my journey to my first self-published novel and what happened between this post and my last is something that writers sometimes go through. I am fessing up about the most recent time when I felt like giving up – but didn’t.

Think about everything you heard any successful author ever say about rejection. The advice is always the same: keep writing. Start over. Carry on. Or in the manner of Stephen King (just read The Dark Tower): get a bigger nail! This advice also holds up when it comes to rejecting yourself.

You know not to read back your first draft until you finished it but you do it anyway and start doubting and worrying, and rejecting your writing. Like me. The key is to start again. Be kind to yourself. Recharge, write more. At least that’s what I intend to do.

It’s 2021 and if there are any of you out there wondering how to bounce back from the black hole that was lockdown Christmas (at least that’s what it was in the UK) I hope this post helped.

See ya next time 😉

How was your winter holiday? Did you also get caught up in any ‘research’? If you got anything out of this post (or if you read something amazing and want to share a recommendation) let me know in the comments below.

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

Don’t worry, write happy!

Writers are dreamers! I am sure that you and I are no exception. That’s what makes us strong…and weak. The world wasn’t built for dreamers Being a dreamer is hard…tiring…and often disappointing.

But for those who dare to dream, one special reward awaits. No, it’s not becoming rich. No, it’s also not winning awards or speaking at a writer’s convention whilst brushing shoulders with your idols…although any one of these dreams is entirely within the realm of possibility…for some very lucky ones.

So, what about those of us who will most likely never fulfil our dreams? Should we stop now? Of course not! Our dreams are the fuel for the engine of our imagination…any writer’s bread and butter. A dreamer is rewarded in the moment of pursuit. The journey is the reward.

Feeling happy about the possibility of success (as defined in our day-dreams) is the best kind of feeling. We have no expectation for that in-the-moment feeling, we just let it happen. We don’t judge it, don’t expect it, don’t compare it. It’s not what we dream about but it is what makes even the unfulfilled dreams worthwhile.

Dream big! Write! Never stop dreaming. Never lose hope. And please never beat yourself up!

See ya next time 😉

If this post makes sense to you, or if you have another opinion on the matter, don’t be shy and leave a reply in the comments section below.

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Plot, Structure, Writing Process

Write scenes – not chapters!

Before you bite my head off for the contentious title of this post – let me explain. There is actually a really important distinction between a scene and a chapter which I only recently understood and it changed my outlook on writing.

A scene is a sequence of story actions taken by characters within your story. A chapter is a collection of scenes. How many scenes go into a chapter is mostly an arbitrary decision by the writer/ editor/ publisher.

If you bear this in mind, it becomes easy to see why writing in chapters might cause problems for a writer. How can you divvy up scenes into chapters when you haven’t written those scenes first and don’t know how many words are in each of them? Chapters are there for the reader. But for a writer, scenes are your friends.

Following this logic, I am committed to writing all of my stories in scenes and it’s working wonders for coming up with the right sequence of events as it becomes easy to see where there might be gaps in the plot.

See ya next time 😉

If you are also a fan of writing in scenes rather than chapters or if writing in chapters works better for you, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Writing Process

How do you start a novel (in notes)?

So, here we get into debate territory. Popular opinion rules that there are many ways to start a novel. And that’s absolutely true. The following are only a few examples of the different options available:

1. You could start at the beginning, end, or middle of your story (if you already have a rough idea) note down key events and work out what setting, characters, etc. you need later.

2. You could start with a character profile (not even necessarily the protagonist) and then work the story/ setting out from there.

3. You could decide just to write random scenes and discover the story, setting, characters, etc. as you write.

I have tried all of these approaches (and a few others) and none of them have worked for me. The only method that has so far proven successful is a brainstorm of notes where I don’t need to worry about any of the above options.

Try it: start a document and note down whatever comes into your head – be it character traits, descriptions, a part of a scene, a short speech, notes about the world/ setting, or anything else you can possibly imagine. You might be surprised how much of the word-vomit will later jog your brain about pretty much any aspect of your novel. Even a picture can work!

See ya next time. 😉

If you have tested any of these (or the many other) methods to write a novel, share your experience in the comments. We are all learning!

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Writing Process

Do you need a writing process?

As a child, I knew how to build things. With a little help from my friends, I built castles out of sand, Lego and wooden blocks. I baked mud cakes in all shapes and sizes. I drove and repaired miniature race cars and didn’t let anybody tell me that I was doing things wrong. My imagination was the limit and my imagination was boundless.

I don’t remember when I lost that ability to decide on an approach and follow through (regardless of criticism) but I know it was recent. All of a sudden, the opinion of others seems to matter and the buffet of possibility exudes a rotten smell. I have spent the better part of 5 years trying to write a complete novel. Without success. All because I struggle to make decisions about what to write and how to write it. I have started (and stopped) more projects than I care to remember.

Today, I finally see a way forward: a process! With the right, repeatable process, I am sure I can write a complete novel. So, regardless of criticism, I am officially deciding this process will see me through to the end of my writing adventure and help me make decisions. No backsies!

See ya next time! 😉

If you struggle with decision making as much as I do, or have developed your own writing process, consider leaving a comment below.

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Worthless Waffle

How do fiction writers write?

With great difficulty… if the most wildly celebrated (and prolific) authors out there are to be believed. So what chance do I have?

As life has recently turned into an Edward Hopper painting (thanks to the current global pandemic)…the best chance in the world! Finally an excuse to stay in and work. No visits, no holidays, no distractions. Just me, a load of blank pages, and a whirlwind of ideas going through my head. Can you tell I am trying to motivate myself…and maybe one or two of you out there?

Welcome to the first steps of my writing adventure from vague idea to self-published novel – a one stop shop to fully understanding how I write! Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of it documented in weekly posts (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). All my learnings, winnings, and failings – uncut!

See ya next time! 😉

If you are also currently writing your first novel, consider leaving a comment below. I would love to know how you’re getting on!

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