Monday, December 27, 2010

Of Mice and Men

I had a glorious plan to post today. I even have a rough draft for the post but I don't have the time to polish or tweak. I'm exhausted after Christmas with all the travelling and all the eating. So worth it, though.

I hope everyone had as wonderful a Christmas as I did. And I hope everyone will have a brilliant New Year.

See you in the New Year


Monday, December 20, 2010

The Jolly by Golly Blogfest

I love Christmas. It's the best holiday season of the year. I love the reason for the season: the message of Hope our God has given us. I love the Christmas songs. I love the Christmas food. I love the Christmas gatherings. I love the pretty, sparkly things and all the Christmas lights.

Jen and Melissa are hosting this wonderful Jolly by Golly blogfest to celebrate this season. So, of course, I had to take part! The idea is to post a piccy of your lights, decorations and tree. Share a recipe of your favourite food and drink and lastly to visit everyone taking part and share the joy.

Generally my Christmas lights are inside the house, but this year we put a string of red lights in our frangipani tree out the front. I keep forgetting to take a pic while they were turned on. Oops.

We have a hot Christmas here in Australia so the traditions vary. I have three sides to the family and each one offers a different kind of food. One side offers a seafood buffet with prawns as the star. Another side offers a traditional barbeque with side salads. And the third side offers traditional roast pork and turkey. Oh, and then there are the snacks... There is no point trying to maintain a weight-loss diet at this time.

I don't have a favourite drink, but I do have a favourite dessert:  

Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake.
250g plain choc biscuits
125g butter, melted
500g cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
300g sour cream
300g cherries, pitted, halved
cherries and icing sugar to serve

1. preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius (140 for a fan forced oven) -- sorry I don't know what that is in Fahrenheit (It's slightly cooler than a moderate oven). Grease 5.5cm deep 24 cm base spring form pan. Process biscuits until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add butter. Process to combine. Press mixture over base of prepared pan. Cover. Refrigerate for 30 mins.

2. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating to combine. Beat in cocoa and sour cream until just combined. Fold in cherries. Spread over biscuit mixture.

3. bake for 35-40 mins or until centre is just firm. Turn off oven and cool for three hours with door slightly ajar. Refrigerate overnight. Top with cherries, dust with icing sugar. EAT.

I hope everyone will have a wonderful and safe Christmas. I will post again next week and then my regular blogging schedule will return to normal in the new year.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Flash Fiction: The Perfect Gift

Exciting news: I’ve had another flash fiction published at AntipodeanSF. You can find it here: The Perfect Gift. Let me know what you think. You can even vote for your favourite stories.

Writing flash fiction takes discipline. This particular flash fiction is less than 500 words. I needed to keep the story tight without losing any of the magic.

Before I wrote this one I wrote about three other short stories. They all started as flash fictions, but they all blew out on the word count. I wanted to develop the stories further. I wanted to explore the characters and their motives. Two finished at over 3000 words, and one I’ll keep as a potential novel idea.

Writing flash fiction is a great exercise for writers to hone their skills and keep their imagination firing. What are some of the things you do to sharpen your skills and stay creative?

Please note: I will be taking a blogging break for the next two weeks. I will be around a little, but I won’t have time to post anything new for a while. I’ll be back by the 20th Dec for Jen and Melissa’s Jolly Golly Blogfest.


Friday, December 3, 2010

6 Ways to Persevere

NaNoWriMo is over and many of us have reached our goals for last month, but there are still those final chapters we need to write, there’s still the editing we have to plough through, or an old project to return to. The freshness of our ideas may be exhausted after the initial charge. We may read over our past masterpieces and realise they aren’t masterpieces after all. We may have come a long way, but all we can see is how far we have yet to go.

This can be a discouraging time, so how do we keep going? How do we keep the passion for writing?

1. Remember the Love. Take a step back and ask yourself some key questions: Can I stop writing? Can I silence those character voices in my head? Can I bear to dream and not write about it? Would I be satisfied to spend copious amounts of time and energy on my stories and not try to get them published? Only you can answer these questions. The answers will tell you where your passion lies.

2. Take a Break. This is one of my favourite tips, but also one I find the hardest to fulfil without feeling guilty. But every time I do convince myself to step away from the purple pen or the computer keyboard, I’m given a fresh perspective and my passion is renewed.

3. Find a Support Group. Support groups come in many flavours. For me the blogging community has been an amazing support. Also, critique partners, mentors, friends, the cheer squad of our families. These all help us to keep going.

4. Know You Aren’t Alone. Talk to other writers for any length of time and you’ll discover the struggles you are facing are shared by all of us. This includes the established authors. In many ways we are frail creatures with the tendency to question everything -- even ourselves. Knowing we aren’t alone, knowing we are normal, makes it easier to persevere.

5. Practise Forgiveness. Know your first draft mistakes can me fixed, even the second or third or fifteenth. Be kind to yourself, be patient, and practise forgiveness.

6. Remember it’s Worth It. So what if agents get a billion submissions a day? So what if you think there are better writers out there? So what if the process is so slow you fear you’ll enter old age before you get published? It’s all worth it in the end. To see your book on the shelves, or on the online lists, is a dream come true.

How do you persevere?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Talli Roland -- The Hating Game

On the 1st December Talli Roland will take on Amazon with a massive web splash for her debut novel, The Hating Game. It’s her hope to hit the Kindle bestseller list at and

Let’s help her spread the word. Even a few sales in a short period of time on Amazon helps push the book up the rankings, making it more visible to other readers.

When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £2000,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?

Where you can find THE HATING GAME:

No Kindle? Download a free app at Amazon for Mac, iPhone, PC, Android and more.

You can also find Talli on Twitter @talliroland using the hash tag #TheHatingGame. She will keep everyone up to date on the Amazon Rankings. She will also be serving everyone virtual champagne, chocolate and cupcakes (Gotta love party food that’s guaranteed not to go to the hips)

Monday, November 29, 2010

NaNoWriMo Complete!

At last the pressure is off! I've completed the 50k words in 30 days challenge. Wootiness! I still have another 10-15k to write before I finish the first draft but I'm excited how much I've achieved. It's the most I've ever written in so short a time.

Things I've learned from the challenge:

1. There's no point comparing yourself to other people, you have to find what works for you. I watched some of my NaNo buddies plough through the challenge. Some finished in the first or second week. At first I panicked. I wanted to be able to pump out a story like them. I envied their focus. Then I realised I'm not like them. I accepted I can't work that fast. I just can't. And that is okay. Once I found my own rhythm I was happy again.

2. Perseverance pays off. Midway through the challenge I struggled. I wanted to give in and go play some mindless game on the xbox. It was all too much hard work. Well, I'm so glad I stuck it out. This feeling of achievement is awesome!

3. Outlining Rocks! Without NaNo I probably would still be snubbing my nose at outlining. I thought I'd give it a go. I didn't expect to like it, but I thought it might at least give me a head start on the story and prevent me from stumbling halfway. Maybe. Well, it turns out that outlining works for me. I LOVE it. It helped me be more creative in the plot.

4. I can do it. Set your heart on anything, put a little hard work and passion into it, and it can be done.

How are the rest of you going with your current writing projects? Do you celebrate when you've hit a milestone?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Danny MacAskill - "Way Back Home"

This post is a slight departure from my usual themes, but I had to share it. This short film has been beautifully shot, great music with an amazing, breathtaking performance.

If we work hard enough, driven by passion for whatever it is we're doing, we can all achieve great things.

Have a great weekend, everyone. I’ll have my head down in a scramble to finish the first draft of my latest novel.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

7 Things to be Grateful for in Writing

Jeffrey Beezler is hosting an Early Bird Thanksgiving Blogfest. Participants are asked to discuss what they are most grateful for. Pop on over and join in the fun.

Below is my list of things to be grateful for in writing:

1. I am grateful my characters can’t come to life or they might come for me in the middle of the night with flaming torches and pitch forks.

2. I’m grateful for the invention of word processors. I don’t think I could write a book without a spell checker and the automatic insertion of extra words and paragraphs.

3. I’m grateful for the internet for quick and easy access to information for research.

4. I’m grateful I have an outlet for storytelling otherwise my brain might implode from the pressure.

5. I’m grateful for my muse even though she only visits me at the most inopportune times.

6. I’m grateful for all my blogging friends. This is one of the most generous and supportive communities I’ve come across.

7. I’m grateful I don’t live in the worlds I create. They always seem to be on the brink of destruction. I’d die from stress before the hero saved the day.

What are you grateful for in writing?

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Many P’s of Publishing

We all know the Four P’s on the journey to publication:





Can you think of other P’s associated with publishing?

For example:

Panic: Did I send the right cover letter with my manuscript or did I send my grocery list? Did I remember to save that document before my computer crashed?

Polish: wax on, wax off, wax on again. We all know the hours of hair-pulling fun we have to endure to achieve a ready manuscript.

Pioneering: We hack and slash our way through the murky jungle of ‘what publishers want’ in search of that something special, that unique twist, the next best thing since sliced bread (without the clichés).

Poor: It’s a good thing we love to write because we’re certainly not in it for the money.

(Yes, my writing project is sending me a little crazy)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Awards n Writing Project Update

So many of us are busy with the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) or other writing projects that sap our time and drag us into a huge black hole where our friends and family start to think we’ll never be seen again. My project is coming along slowly but surely. Yesterday I tidied up an outline for the later part of the novel because I needed to see the story with a clearer vision. I needed to put my characters in more danger. How about you? How are your projects coming along?

Next week I will continue my series about the writer’s conference I attended last weekend, but right now I wish to thank my lovely blogging friends for the awards they passed on.

The Magical Blog Award: This one was designed and created by Alexia. It’s a fantastic award and I’d suggest everyone go to her blog and say hi from me. Thanks so much Alexia.

The Beautiful Blogger Award: This one was given to me by L’Aussie. If you haven’t already guessed, she is another Aussie writer like me. Please check out her blogs. She has many to choose from. Go here for her writing blog.

From Me to You Award: Thanks so much to Margo. Again, please visit Margo and say hi from me. This award came with rules: list 7 things about yourself and pass on to 7 people. So here goes: I’m a short writer who loves words and dreams big and easily gets distracted, but owns a cute cat and a gorgeous husband who look after me. Hmm, technically that’s 8 things. Oh well.

And now for the passing on of the awards: Because there are three here and I don’t have time to check everyone’s blog to see if you have a particular one already, please pick the award you want.

Dezmond @ Hollywood Spy (also known to me as Dezzy-baby-hun): I know you have heaps of awards already, but you are a legend. You have a cool blog and you always have something intelligent to say.

Carol Riggs @ Artzicarol Ramblings: While you post only once a week, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. You’ve become a great blogger friend.

Christina Lee @ Write-Brained: A relatively new follower, but not a new blogger, I enjoy your fun posts and great comments.

The Golden Eagle @ The Eagle’s Aerial Perspective: Another great blogger who is celebrating her 200 plus followers. You’ve finished NaNo already and I’m so jealous. You always have great and interesting posts.

Susan Fields @ Susan Fields: You are another great blogger friend who deserves an award. Thanks for your fun posts and great comments.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

6 Tips for Writing for Young Adults

As some of you know, I went to a Writer’s Festival on the weekend. The second speaker was a Young Adult writer,
William Kostakis. He wrote Loathing Lola when he was only 17. The story is about the ups and downs of being Australia’s newest teenage reality TV star. Sixteen-year-old Courtney Marlow struggles with friends, fame, love, loss and... Lola.

Below are some writing tips he offered for writing for young adults:

1. Write with passion. When William first started writing he often heard the advice, “find your audience”. But William suggested that “You are your own audience.” There is little point writing what you think will be popular. Many writers write what they think will sell but they aren’t necessarily writing from the heart. When we write with passion, we find our voice.

2. Try to capture the joy of youth. The appeal of youth is the joy of life, so even if you are writing a sad story, try to find the joy of life.

3. Write with honesty. When you write, don’t try to emulate someone else’s writing. Be confident enough to find your own voice. This will resonate with your readers.

4. Avoid being called an imposter. Sometimes it’s clear an older writer has written for a younger audience. William used the example of reading someone’s work where the author had described Facebook as the Facebook. Get at least one young adult reader to proof read your manuscript.

5. Not every character needs to be 3 dimensional. He suggested that sometimes stereotypes are true and gave the example of his grandmother who is “crazy, old and ethnic”. Also, we don’t have to spell out a character’s history all the time.

6. Write how you speak and keep it simple. You want people to understand you so write small words to reflect big ideas.

Do you have any other tips for writing for the Young Adult market? What's your favourite YA book at the moment and why?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing for Children

On the weekend I attended a writing festival in my local area. The first speaker was a successful Australian author of children’s books: Deborah Abela. She has been writing for children for 17 years. Below are some tips she shared:

1. If you want to write for kids then you need to be around kids. Run workshops for them, go to their schools, learn what they are reading, what they like, how they think.

2. Never write a book for children with the intention to teach them something. In other words, don’t lecture them and don’t be condescending. She had a great way of saying it: “Write as if you were looking them in the eye.”

3. Kids books need to be kid focussed. They should be about kids with the kids finding the solutions to their problems. Adults should remain peripheral to the story.

4. Kids like pace. You need to cull anything in your story that doesn’t drive the plot forward.

5. The book needs to start with a hook otherwise the kids won’t read past the first page.

6. Stay away from fads of language because it only dates your book. What the kids are saying now may not be how they say it when your book is published.

Deborah offered many more great tips for writing which you might see in another post.

Can you think of other tips that might be helpful to anyone wanting to write for children?

Friday, November 12, 2010

5 Causes and Solutions to Writer’s Block

Every writer experiences the dreaded writer’s block at some point in their career. Sometimes it’s a hiccup in the flow and sometimes it’s a mighty wall to surmount. Whatever it might be, there is a reason for it and there is a way through to the other side.

1. When self-doubt causes the block:
We may tell ourselves we aren’t good enough. We may think we are failures if we can’t get our first manuscript published. We may learn a new writing rule and try to apply it only to find our words sound worse, not better. All these damaging thoughts can fool us into thinking we’ve gone backwards without any hope of moving forward again. At these times we need to be kind to ourselves. We need to remind ourselves why we write. We need to remember the passion. And we need to keep writing.

2. When our characters cause the block:
Sometimes our characters will cause us trouble. They’ll refuse to behave in the story. No matter how much we wrestle with them they won’t budge. At these times we need to try to listen to what they have to say. We need to try taking them down the path they wish to travel. But keep writing.

3. When the hard slog causes the block:
Sometimes we might wonder why we put ourselves through the pain everyday. When we catch a free moment, rather than putting our feet up, we write. Rather than spending time with friends or family, we write. We begin to grow resentful of our writing career. At these times, take a break. Spend time with friends and family. Relationships are important. They are often our inspiration for writing. Yes, writing is hard work, but we need some play time as well.

4. When distractions cause the block:
As I mentioned in my last post, distractions will happen. When they become so great they cause a block in our creativity. We may have to pay attention to why we are getting ourselves distracted. If the reason is to avoid writing, then we have to get over it and refocus. If the reason is because we’ve hit a slow point in our story and we’ve grown bored, then we need to either jump ahead, or reassess what we have written. In these cases the key is to keep writing. Of course, if the distraction is the kitchen on fire, then I’d suggest the key would be to deal with that instead.

5. When lack of time causes the block:
At times we may have to face daunting deadlines or tight schedules. We may be to struggling to juggle all our commitments. At times like these we may have to prioritise and reassess our schedules. We may have to accept we aren’t superhuman and either ask for help with the non essentials like cleaning the house and cooking dinners, or reschedule so our goals are easier to reach.

Do you have any other techniques for breaking through the wall? What are the things that block you most frequently?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Things that Hold us Back

In the midst of our writing projects we can loose steam. It becomes a struggle to keep going. I’m a master of procrastination and excuses. Here are just a few:

I’m too tired to concentrate. I’m not good enough. I’ll just eat this one chocolate first. The house needs cleaning. I need another snack. I have to get ahead with my blog posts. I just want to switch off for a while. I’m not feeling well. I’m too hot. I’m too cold. The house is too noisy. The neighbours are too noisy. My brain is too noisy.

I could go on, but I’m guessing you get the picture.

Distractions will happen when we write. They aren’t insurmountable. We just have to be careful they don’t turn into excuses to avoid writing.

Get over it, decide to write, even if it’s a few words and don’t let anything hold you back.

What are some of your worst distractions? What are some of your lamest excuses?

Monday, November 8, 2010

NaNoWriMo + Awards

This is a short post because I'm both busy and exhausted.

The NaNo bit:
The first week of the challenge to write 50k words in 30days is complete. I’m still excited about my writing project and I’m pleased I haven’t pumped out drivel. Yes, I’ll need to do some heavy editing after November, but I don’t know anyone who can write a perfect first draft.

I’m excited about the story. I’m thrilled with my characters. I even love the setting. I’ve chosen to write a Young Adult steampunk fantasy about friendship and duty. I’m using a time consuming method though: I first handwrite the scenes then transcribe them into the computer. I would probably write a lot faster if I just typed it all straight into my computer, but lately I’ve found so many distractions on the computer.

How about you? How’s your writing projects coming along? What do you like about them? What don’t you like?

The Award Bit:
I’d also like to officially thank a couple of blogging buddies for some awards I’ve picked up. Please visit their blogs and say hi from me. You won’t be disappointed.

Thanks so much to N. R. Williams for the “Honest Scrap Award”

And thanks so much to Rachna for the “Blog with Substance Award”

Friday, November 5, 2010

Advice for Hopeful Writers

I was once approached by a hopeful writer who asked: “What do I need to do to become a writer? How do I get started?”

To answer this question I could list the obvious necessities for writing. For example, get yourself a pen, some paper, lots of passion, even more perseverance… and don’t forget the chocolate.

I could advise they learn about the craft – learn about the basics of grammar, punctuation. Learn about plotting and character development. Learn to listen to the words, build a strong vocabulary and understand sentence structure.

I could express the need to also read. Don’t just read novels within the targeted genre, but also read anything and everything. Reading teaches and inspires.

I could warn the hopeful writer to learn about the publishing industry, to know the market, to understand the genre of choice.

I could encourage them to also build an online presence, to start networking, to attend writer’s conferences.

There is so much a hopeful writer can do to become the writer they dream about. They can research copious amounts, attend a mountain of workshops, they can sign up to courses and become a famous networker, but if they don’t write, then they have nothing.

And so, my best advice to any hopeful writer is WRITE. And keep writing!

What advice would you give to any hopeful writers? What's the best advice you've ever received?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Story is…

Have you ever wondered about story and why it captures our hearts? Have you wondered why storytelling has endured through the ages?

Though it started as a teaching tool to pass knowledge down through the generations, story has evolved into something greater. Story is more than an explanation, an opinion, a vision, or a dream. It’s more than a memory, a journey or a destination.

Story is more than a moment captured in time. It’s more than the mundane and more than the extraordinary. It’s more than reality and more than imagination.

Story is a vehicle to carry not only the plot, a sequence of events, but it’s also the binding agent of character, conflicts and concepts. Story reflects drama, silence, and atmosphere.

Story starts as a spark of creation but then it travels beyond the stage. It reaches into our hearts and plays with our emotions. It’s a glimpse of something grander, whether it’s about a rise, a fall, a comedy or a tragedy.

Story is greater than the writer. It goes by its own rules and is swayed by neither beauty nor ugliness. It goes beyond revelation and delves deeper than secrets. The written story is the essence of each other captured on the page…and more.

For me, story is a dance of many or few steps.

What is story for you?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Don’t Bore Us with the Thesaurus

Have you ever read a piece of prose that’s so chock full of adjectives you suspect the writer may have overdosed on the thesaurus? Many established writers warn against dependence on the thesaurus for this reason.

For me the thesaurus is a tool like any other. I once spent ten minutes searching through the thesaurus because I’d forgotten the word ‘optional’. Times like those I hang my head in shame and wonder why I call myself a writer. But then I recall even the greatest chefs, musicians, and writers need tools to perfect their art.

The thesaurus is handy when the brain begins to fry. It reminds me of the words I need to reach for – the words that hang on the edge of consciousness and tease the flailing mind.

The thesaurus can, however, become a crutch when a writer lacks confidence to find their own words and their own phrases. It can also make a writer grow lazy as they depend more on the reference book. They may accept a suggested word, but it may not be the right word. Sometimes we need more than a single word. Sometimes we have to work for the right phrase, the right description.

And don’t forget, the thesaurus can be used in other ways as well. If you own a hardcopy version then it can trigger ideas for characters and stories through random page selection. It can squash a bug crawling across your desk. You can even balance it on your head to improve posture.

How often do you refer to a thesaurus? What are some ways you use the thesaurus? What are some other references you use when writing?

P.S. Good luck to those starting NaNoWriMo today!!! Exciting times!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Character Arc

We all know the perfect character in any story will only add a plastic element of make-believe like something pulled from a Disneyland parade. No one in real life is perfect and, if they appear that way, then they will bore us to death when it comes to reading an entire novel about them. We want flawed characters and we want them to overcome their inner conflicts so they can conquer their outer conflicts.

This is where the Character Arc comes in:

The Character Arc is the gradual development of the characters through the story. It’s about their inner struggles and growth reflected by the outer changes in the plot. The reason why it’s so important is because it gives depth to the characters. We want to cheer for them, we want to cry for them, and we want the novel to grab us by the heart and involve us in the story.

To plot out an Arc for a character many writers start at the end. They want to know where their characters are internally and externally so they can work out the best possible path to that point. For example, if I wanted a character to show an act of courage at the end of the novel, then the act becomes more poignant and heartening if the character starts the story with a lack of courage. Think of the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz.

The change can be more subtle than the example I gave above, but it shouldn’t be a sudden change. It’s unrealistic (and a bit of a cheat) for a character to do a sudden 180. No one decides to change their ways without reason. Instead, key moments in their story will guide them to the changes they need to make.

Do you plot out the Character Arcs before you begin a novel? How detailed are your Arcs? Do you ensure an Arc is present for your secondary characters as well as your main character?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Music of Our Words

Sometimes I’ll write a sentence and, even though it's technically correct, I know there is something wrong. The sentence doesn’t sing. The words lack any real power because the rhythm is off.

Every piece of prose we read carries a kind of music. Sometimes it’s a merry jaunt that makes the reader’s eyes dance across the page. Sometimes it’s a jittery staccato that makes the reader catch their breath. Sometimes it’s a harmonious flow of words that makes the reader float through the story.

Rhythm is connected to both the pace and the sound of the words. It can be found in the ebb and flow of your prose and it brings life, feeling and atmosphere into the story. Although the music is often subtle, it has a profound impact on the reader because it can trigger the reader’s emotion. This is the same reason soundtracks so successfully enhance movie imagery.

Because rhythm is sound, we must read our pieces out loud to tune our ears to the music. This way we’ll be able to hear how the rhythm of the sentences fit in with the music of the paragraph in the concert of the scene.

When you are writing and editing do you think about the music of your piece? What importance do you place on rhythm?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Using Writing Devices

I often hear the rule, “Don’t use too many metaphors”. I was never convinced about this advice. For starters it’s a little simplistic. What’s too many? One could be too many if it’s not the right one. Instead, I think it would be more accurate to say, “Be careful when you use metaphors – or any other writing device.”

When used incorrectly writing devices, such as metaphors, similes, alliteration, and so on, can hang in prose like Christmas decorations in April. They are more than pretty baubles. They are tools to help the reader gain a deeper understanding of the things we want to say, the worlds we want to share, the emotions we want to explore. Their purpose is to bring our stories alive, to inject richness, flavour, and depth. These devices help us weave images in the readers’ mind. They play with rhythm and sound. They tease the senses.

Writing devices need to add to the prose, not detract from it. Clichés will detract because they’ve been so over used that they’ve lost their effectiveness. To avoid clichés the writer needs to make the extra effort and get inside their subject. The writer needs to ask themselves, “Does this clarify my meaning, or is it just extra words that I could toss?”

By keeping this in mind, these devices become a powerful tool.

Do you use many writing devices in your prose? Do you have any favourites? Can you think of other ways of keeping these devices in check?
Over the weekend N R Williams held a blogging Halloween Party. It was lots of fun. I'm still visiting all the party-goers. (I'm a little slow in my Hobbit costume). Double choc chip chocolate cupcakes for all those in costume!

Friday, October 22, 2010

NaNoWriMo: To Plan or Not to Plan?

November is NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

This is the first year I’ll be taking part, although I have a friend who’s participated every year since 2005. If you’d like to be my writing buddy, I’m signed in as LynFaw. Just click here.

Earlier in the year I had decided to wing it and see where the words would take me, but working on my current WIP reminded me of the downfalls of this method. Writing can slow down when we don’t know where we want to go next. At one point I hit a wall that took two weeks to budge. If I want to finish a new novel for NaNo, then I can’t afford this kind of set back.

In the past I’ve tended to plot a little ahead as I go, but I’ve never tried a full outline before. I’ve always turned my nose up at this method and proclaimed it wasn’t for me. I expected it would dull my creativity. In truth I’ve discovered the opposite.

I’m more willing to try different plot tangents for the story because it’s less work to write a quick outline. I can see whether or not it works and throw it out if it doesn’t. When November hits and it’s time to write the novel, the outline won’t stifle my creativity, but instead give me freedom to concentrate on how I tell the story.

How much do you plan a new novel before you begin to write the words? How open are you to try new methods of writing?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CassaStar Book Launch

At last it’s time for the Grand launch of the much anticipated science fiction,
by Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The story:

To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…

Few options remain for Byron. A talented but stubborn young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude, his cockpit skills are his only hope. Slated to train as a Cosbolt fighter pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life as he sets off for the moon base of Guaard.

Much to Byron’s chagrin, the toughest instructor in the fleet takes notice of the young pilot. Haunted by a past tragedy, Bassa eventually sees through Byron's tough exterior and insolence. When a secret talent is revealed during training, Bassa feels compelled to help Byron achieve his full potential.

As war brews on the edge of space, time is running short. Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive, and Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?

I’ve heard great things about this novel. Below is just one quote:

…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal
You can find more details about the book and the author on Alex's fantastic blog here

If you want to read a brilliant interview with the author go to Dezmond's awesome blog here

Find it, buy it, read it. I know I will.

CassaStar by Alex J. Cavanaugh
October 19, 2010 Science fiction/adventure/space opera
ISBN 9780981621067 Dancing Lemur Press LLC

Monday, October 18, 2010

Writer Interrupted

As writers we value our time. Time has a way of slipping through our fingers. Days, weeks, months can pass before we finish a mere outline for a novel let alone the novel itself. And so, we get frustrated at any interruption that pulls us away from our precious writing time.

But life is a series of interruptions. They are unavoidable. I should know: I’ve lost two weeks of editing because of sickness. During that time I realised frustration is a waste of energy. There was nothing I could do so, rather than seeing the interruption as a step back from my work, I decided instead to try to see it as an inspiration.

Inspiration comes from the most unlikely of places: the stranger at the door, the overheard conversation, the delayed public transport. A whole novel can form from a single unexpected moment, phrase, image, or sound.

If we stay attuned to the world and never switch off as a writer, then we can make the most of every opportunity – including the interruptions. They can be an opportunity to hone the writing mind.

Can you think of a time when an interruption helped you as a writer—even if it was just a break you didn’t realise you needed?

Note: Thank you so much for all the well wishes. I’m still sick but I can at last say I’m on the mend.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I'll be back

Quite sick at the moment (just a bad case of flu that won't go away) but I won't be able to post anything coherent for a couple days. I'll be back as soon as I can.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Write What You Know (Part 2)

My last post was about how we can and do write about what we don’t know. Today’s post is about how we end up writing what we do know.

I may write fantasy and science fiction, but I draw from all my experiences. I’ve travelled widely and the places I’ve visited have turned up in my writing. I’ve used the awe I felt wandering the Whispering Gallery of St Pauls in London; the excitement of exploring the ruined Urquhart castle on the shores of Loch Ness; the strangeness of sensing an ancient spirit of the land that clings to the red dust of central Australia; the thrill and honour of a VIP tour to the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea; the agony of the hot sun during a three day camel trek across an Indian desert.

These places exist, but they mean little without our response to them. This is what writing is about: our response to the world and each other. And this is why we write what we know even when we don’t realise it.

I didn't need to travel to be able to write. I could still write fantastical pieces based on the things I know. And what I didn't know, I could learn. A photo of a place we’ve never visited may inspire us to write. Observation, imagination and research are powerful tools. They will carry us to places we’ve never been.

RaShelle said it best in her comment on my last post: “I've always thought of writing what I know as writing what I love.”

Where do you get most of your inspiration from? How much research do you do?

I’d also like to thank Alison from Wistful Wanderings. She had a competition to celebrate getting to stay in Germany and I won! My goodies arrived in the mail yesterday: “The Pasta Detectives” and two blocks of German chocolate. Sorry, Dezmond, but I’ve already eaten the 71% dark chocolate one. Naughty me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Write What You Don’t Know (Part 1)

When I first started writing in my teens the one piece of advice I most frequently heard was write what you know. I struggled with this rule. If I could only write what I knew then my work would end up as dull and boring as I believed my life was at the time.

I didn’t want to write only to reflect the mundane. I wanted to write to escape the mundane! And this meant writing what I didn’t know.

I’d never had an adventure, I’d never investigated a crime, I’d never met a dragon, I’d never battled supernatural armies. I wanted to make the ordinary extraordinary.

It wasn’t until later I learned it wasn’t about the unknown worlds I created, it was about the characters. What engaged me most about the stories I read was the fascination for people and their struggles. We all have that fascination. People are interesting, even the dullest people. It’s because we are made up of so many layers and contradictions.

Writing is a journey of discovery. We want to know why a certain person acts a certain way. We want to follow them on their journey. The more we can relate to the characters, the more their journey becomes our own.

And so we write -- and we sometimes write what we don’t know.

Next post I will explore how we write what we do know even when we don’t realise it.

Are there other rules on writing you’ve struggled with? Do you often write what you don't know?

Pic: As a teenager I drew a lot of dragons. Here is one I did in coloured pencils.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Keeping Track

Today I’m taking part in Patti Nielson’s Blogfest about keeping track of how much time we wrote or edited last week. This Blogfest was a great exercise. It reminded me how important it is to keep track of the time because it’s so easy to squander. Distractions have a way of creeping in and before we know it another day has passed and we have little to show for it.

If this Blogfest had happened a month ago I could have proudly posted my neat schedule and my 1000 words a day goal. However, now I’m in the editing phase and it’s harder to pinpoint goals while I’m still looking at the big picture, testing my plot, tweaking the characters and events. I needed to adjust my schedule and be both stricter and kinder with myself so I can get this done and feel good about it.

As it turned out I did an average of five hours a day on editing. It would have been higher but I didn’t start the week off well and I chose to take a day off and I didn't even bother to count the weekend because I've been down with flu. However, when I paid attention to what I was doing – yes, reading through the ms is editing; yes, thinking about plot is editing; yes, scrubbing out changes I’d just made is still successful editing – I felt so much better about my WIP. I may not have been able to point to fresh new pages of glossy print, but I did achieve a forward step on my novel.

So, my advice is to keep track. Give yourself achievable goals. Be kind to yourself. And keep writing!

Do you try to keep track of your daily achievements? If so, how do you keep track?

Friday, October 1, 2010

10 Things I Like About Writing

I’d like to send Rosie of  East for Green Eyes a huge thank you for this award. To accept it I’m meant to list 10 things I like (not love – I cheated a little) so I thought I’d turn it into a writing theme.

1. I like that writing gives me a means of expression and a purpose.

2. I like when my writing flows and the story takes on a life of its own. I’m merely a conduit for the words.

3. I like when others get something out of my stories. It makes me feel like I’ve done something right.

4. I like things of quality – in terms of writing, that means I like the end result when hard work means a powerful plot, strong characters, attention to detail, correct grammar.

5. I like sitting at the local coffee shop early on a Sunday morning. I watch people go by while I write snippets of blog posts or stories.

6. I like to travel to new and wondrous worlds through my writing.

7. I like to explore the inner workings of people through my characters.

8. I like the power of the imagination. Without it writers wouldn’t exist.

9. I like words. I like their magic, their simplicity, their complexity.

10. I like the satisfying feeling of typing The End on a finished manuscript.

What are some things you like about writing?

I’m supposed to pass this award on to ten people, but how about five…

Jeffrey Beesler
Carolyn V
Robert Guthrie

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bad Books

Time is running out and I keep getting myself distracted by writing up pieces not meant for today’s post. And so I will make this a brief one because I need to get back to some editing for my WIP.

Books have the same enemies as people: fire, humidity, animals, weather, and their own content.
– Paul Valery

When you read a published book only to discover it was a waste of your time and money, are you discouraged as a writer? Or, do you feel encouraged because you know deep down you could do better?

What makes a bad book?*

*amendment: what I'm asking is what is it about a book that will more than likely fail to keep your interest?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Questions to Ask While Editing

There are many questions we need to ask ourselves when we edit our fabulous first drafts. Below I’ve listed just a few:

Questions to ask first:
Does my story fit into the market?
Does it have a hook?
Does it have a satisfying ending?
Do I have enough chocolate in the house?
Do any of my scenes lack spark?
Do I have too much backstory or description?
Is the story engaging? Can I make it better?
Is the story easy to follow?

Questions to ask about character:
Are my characters believable and relatable?
Do they have a strong enough motivation?
Does the main character grow through the book?
Is the main character strong?
Does he/she have flaws?
Is their dialogue snappy enough?
Is there any unnecessary dialogue?

Questions to ask about conflict:
Does the tension build through the book?
Do I give my readers any anti-climaxes?
Has any of the conflict turned into melodrama?
Is the conflict believable?
Am I happy with the balance of inner and outer conflict?

Questions to ask about the details:
Is my style consistent?
Am I showing rather than telling?
Are there any unnecessary words?
Are my sentences active or passive?
Do I still have enough chocolate in the house?
Is my grammar correct?
Do I have any hidden typos that Word hasn’t picked up?
Is the story still easy to follow?

There are so many more questions that could be asked. What are some questions you ask while you edit your latest novel?

SPECIAL NOTE: Justine Dell is having a competition to celebrate her 250+ followers. The prizes are amazing. Check it out here

Friday, September 24, 2010

How to Make Compelling Characters

This post is part of Jen, Alex and Elana’s Great Blogging Experiment.

What makes a character compelling? What is that secret ingredient that makes us care about what happens to them? Below I’ve listed a few elements that add to a character’s charm.

Believability: characters should come across as real. Not cardboard cut outs. Compelling characters should be like onions. They should have more than one layer. They need to have depth, history, motivations, goals.

Relatability: characters should have traits we can all relate to. We like the people we connect with the most.

Flawed: characters who have flaws are more interesting and believable and in turn become more relatable. No one likes a perfect person. No one likes a perfectly bad person either.

Conflict: even the most interesting character becomes boring if they are placed in a story with no conflict. Our characters need challenges to overcome.

Envy: This might sound strange, but even a boring person becomes interesting when they have something we want. I’ll travel through a book with a bland character and hardly notice their blandness if they are living the life I want to live, overcoming the odds I want to overcome.

Uniqueness: the same ole clichéd characters we’ve all seen before won’t pique our interested. We should try to give them something new, something unexpected.

Consistency: characters need to react in a consistent way. We put our guard up when they do something totally unexpected without motivation.

Likeability: No one likes a whinger. Even a whinging villain can become a groan.

Can you think of other elements that make up a compelling character?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Beginning the Editing Process (Part 2)

Last Friday I wrote about how daunting it can be to start the editing process. Today, as promised, I will go into more detail about how to begin editing.

Editing becomes less daunting when we face it one step at a time.

Step 1: To kick start the process after a break you need to reimmerse yourself into your story. The best (and only) way to do this is to read through your entire manuscript (ms). Try to read it as if you are reading it for the first time. Resist the urge to edit. You can make brief notes, but that’s all.

There’s no point line editing at this stage. Let me repeat that: there is no point line editing at this stage. If you do, then you could spend hours looking for just the right word or phrase only to realise down the track the whole section needs to go.

Step 2: Read through your ms again, but this time write up a synopsis or a flow chart (if you haven’t already). The purpose of this is to break the story up into important events and changes in the Main Character’s (MC) external and internal development so that you can see the Big Picture. Some people require visual aids such as index cards or post it notes to shuffle around story elements.

Step 3: eat some chocolate. By this stage you’ll have earned it. You’ll likely need that gentle pick-me-up anyway.

Step 4: Take another look at what you have. Find the weaker elements in your story. Make sure you have the catchy beginning, a tight middle and a satisfying end. You’ll need to watch for character development, likeability and believability. You’ll need to keep an eye on tangents, unresolved elements and hidden discrepancies.

Step 5: eat some more chocolate because next you’ll need to take a look at the details: the superfluous words, the weak phrasing, the inconsistencies. You may have to return to step 3 a few times.

In short, editing is like building your very own croquembouche (profiterole tower). You have to start at the base and build up from a solid platform. Your solid platform is your plot. Once you are happy with the plot, how the story flows, the pace and the conflicts, then and only then is it worth spending time on more detailed editing. The spun sugar for your profiteroles is in the final detail: the right words and phrases; the appropriate sentence length; the correct grammar and formatting.

How often do you read through your ms while you edit? Do you use a different method of editing?

Note: every writer must find a way that works for them. Everyone is different. There is no absolute rule a writer must adhere to – except, “Keep writing!”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Top 10 TV Shows

I’m taking a break from my usual posts to take part in Alex J Cavanaugh’s Blogfest. Are you ready to see how geeky I truly am? 

1. Babylon 5 – In short, it’s about a group of people on a space station named Babylon 5. It was made in the 90s. I loved this series because of the awesome dialogue. Check here for cool quotes.

2. Firefly – aired in 2002, it lasted only one season as a series, but it was brilliant. It was a Space Western. I loved the characters, the dialogue and the world. 

3. Friends – Apart from some of the hairstyles and outfits, this series hasn’t aged since the 90s. The stories and characters are still relevant and amusing.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The early seasons were the best when it didn’t take itself too seriously. It was just a bit of fun.

5. Dr Who – A British scifi that’s older than me. I think it started in the 60s but it’s still going strong. It never had a big budget and some of the monsters and sets used to be dodgy, but it proved that story drives a good show.

6. Masterchef Australia – it’s taken from a British show, but we’ve made it our own. It’s similar to Top Chef but without the backstabbing. It’s about amateur cooks vying to be titled Masterchef. It’s the only reality show I watch these days.

7. Misfits – This is also British, about a group of young offenders forced to work in a community service programme, where they become imbued with supernatural powers after a strange electrical storm. Due to its success they’ve started filming the second season in May. There are some rough language and elements in the story but I enjoyed it anyway. I think it’s labelled as a dark comedy. 

8. Stargate SG1/Universe – two great series. I enjoyed the characters and the stories. SG1 has a great re-watchability to it. 

9. Star Trek – Original – Sure, it’s dated, sure I only ever watched it as reruns, but I loved the spark between the three main characters. The stories were imaginative at the time, they didn’t take themselves too seriously and it was fun to watch.

10. Fawlty Towers – A British comedy made in the 70s and only had 12 episodes, but they were all memorable in their silliness.

So there you have it. This list shifts and changes a lot for me, depending on my mood.  And I'm sure I've forgotten a few which deserve to be on this list more. If you haven't taken part in the blogfest, I'd still love to hear which tv shows are your favourite.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Beginning the Editing Process (Part 1)

As some of you know, I took a two and a half week break from the first draft of my current work in progress (WIP) and have at last begun editing. This is a scary time for any writer. It’s when we read through our manuscript (ms) and begin to make the difficult decisions of what stays and what goes. This is when we must question everything. This is when we realise how much work is yet to come.

It’s easy to get discouraged at this stage. I opened up my ms and shuddered. The first two chapters have to go. That’s 5000 words blown up in smoke and the little black cloud from the explosion threatens to hover over my head. I have to remind myself that this is all part of the process. I have to throw out the bad bits to make room for great bits.

Greatness. That’s what we want to aim for when we edit. We can only achieve greatness through the hard slog, through the tossing out of sections that don’t work, through the careful attention to detail, through the ability to see the big picture. It takes practice, patience and a kind of bulldog determination to keep going.

Next Wednesday I will post a more detailed piece on how to begin editing. (Monday I will be taking part in Alex J Cavanaugh’s Top Ten TV Shows Blogfest which should be a lot of fun – and you’ll see my true geeky self).

Do you enjoy editing? Do you find it a daunting process? What keeps you going?

Special Note: Jen over at Unedited is having a giveaway. Pop on over to check it out.

Pic: I took this photo of the sun at midday during a time of bad bushfires in Australia

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

7 Ways to Avoid Burn Out

Many of us experience burnout when we pour everything we have into our writing. We spend hours a day, everyday, on our works in progress, on our blog posts, on our comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, all in the name of our writing career.

It can often be an uphill battle. We may not be getting the feedback we want. We may be losing too many hours of the day and our houses are turning into breeding grounds for dust bunnies. We may be beginning to listen again to that voice of doubt that niggles in the background of our minds.

These are sure signs of burn out, so how do we avoid this?

1. Take a break. You don’t have to spend thousands on a trip to a tropical island, but a break – any break – will do you wonders. I try to take a blogging break every weekend. I’m currently taking a break from my WIP before I start to edit. Sometimes I need to take a week off from everything. We are allowed.

2. Be kind to yourself. Remember you aren’t a superhero. You aren’t impervious to criticism, you aren’t immune to the pressures of deadlines, but you can learn to deal with these things by being kind to yourself. Pamper yourself with not only the occasional indulgences (chocolate is my favourite indulgence), but pamper yourself with kind thoughts as well. Tell yourself you will reach your goals.

3. Exercise. Blow away the cobwebs of the mind, step away from the keyboard or pen and breathe in some fresh air. Get the heart pumping.

4. Visit friends. I don’t know about you, but I tend to immerse myself in my work and forget the importance of friendship, relaxation and a great girly chat over lunch. (For the guys who read this blog change ‘girly chat’ with manly beer and grunts over lunch).

5. Reschedule. If you are burning out then it may be time to reassess how much time you have devoted to your career. Because our jobs aren’t the typical eight hour day it’s harder to regulate so we need to stay on top of it. You may need to cut back for a while.

6. Prioritise. This is one of my favourites. When drawing close to a deadline our writing becomes more important so we will have to cut back on other things such as social media until that deadline is met. But know there is an end in sight and make it as easy as possible for yourself.

7. Remember the highs. It’s good to remember why you love to write and why you put yourself under so much pressure. Remembering will help to sustain you.

Have you experienced burn out? What are some things you do to avoid burn out?

Monday, September 13, 2010

All in a Name

Talli Roland had a great post last week about pen names. This topic has been on my mind a lot lately because I’m so uncertain about it.

It’s not like using a pen name is an unusual thing. Science Fiction writer, C J Cherryh, put an “h” at the end of her name because her publishers felt that otherwise her name sounded too much like a romance novelist. J K Rowling used initials because her publishers didn’t want to scare off male readers with a female author name on the books.

If I had an unusual name I wouldn’t worry so much, but it turns out my name is more common than I thought. And, what is worse, a woman of the same name, same spelling, has published children’s health books and another whose first name is spelt with an “i” has published faith books.

With today’s growing need to build a platform before we try to get published, I’m nervous about promoting a name that may have to change. This uncertainty factor is why I don’t use my name in my blog title.

What are your thoughts? If I stuck to my true name would I become just one of many, lost in the crowd? Should I stick to this name for now and wait until a publisher tells me to change it, or should I change it now and hope the publishers like it?

I know some of you use pen names. What are the reasons you decided to change your name? Why did you choose a particular name? Do you think a name matters that much?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Awards and Trivia

Today is a short post to thank all the lovely people who so kindly gave me an award over the last couple of weeks. It's only now I've had a chance to give you an official Thank You!

Thank you to Melissa of Melissa Getting Published for the Versatile Blogger Award.

The Rules for The Versatile Blogger Award:
1)Thank and link back to the person that gave you the award.
2)Share seven things about yourself.
3)Pass the award to fifteen bloggers that you think deserve it.
4)Lastly, contact all of the bloggers that you’ve picked for the award. 

Thank you to Dawn of Life Lines for this version of the Versatile Blogger.

The Rules for The Versatile Blogger Award:
1)Thank and link back to the person that gave you the award.
2)Share seven things about yourself.
3)Pass the award to fifteen bloggers that you think deserve it.
4)Lastly, contact all of the bloggers that you’ve picked for the award.  

Thank you to Melissa of Melissa Getting Published and Jessica of  Smile, Feel Good, Pass it On for the One Lovely Blog Award.

One Lovely Blog Award Rules:
1)Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.
2)Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.
3)Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

I'm not going to do the seven things about yourself thing. But I will give a fun and intersting fact:

"Bwaarrk!" is chicken speak for "Threat approaching from the ground."
Yes, chickens have a language too.
 Fascinating huh? (I've been holding onto that for a while now wondering how I could incorporate it into a blog post - lol) Do you have any fascinating or funny trivia you'd like to share?

 I'd like to pass on these awards to those in the list below. Please feel free to pick the one award you'd like.

Erinn @ something else to distract me
Stephanie @ Hatshepsut: The Writing of a Novel
Antonette @ Write on: Exploring the Craft
Talli @ Talli Roland
Arlee @ Tossing it out
Sharon @ Random Thoughts
Jeffrey @ Jeffrey Beesler's World of the Scribe

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why do you write?

Why do you write? It’s not enough to say, “Because I must.” That’s the ethereal answer reserved for strangers. We often fall back on that answer because we don’t believe our non writing friends and acquaintances would truly understand.

Yes, it’s a yearning based on the human need to express ourselves. Words whisper to us when the house is hushed in the early hours of the morning, or in the late hours of the night. They call to us when our minds wander through the chaos or boredom of daily life.

But why? Why are writers so cursed, so blessed, with the need to write?

I believe this question can only be answered by each individual writer. It’s different for everyone and, I think, our reasons shift and change as much as the tides. Below I’ve listed some possible reasons. I’d love to know if any resonate with you.

It’s a way of making a difference to the world.
If your words can reach out into the vastness of the human race and touch just one person, to move them to cry, to laugh, to learn, to sing, then you’ve found your calling as a writer.

It’s a way of making sense of this world. We live in a bewildering world full of strange and amazing experiences. There is so much we don’t understand, so much we can’t quite grasp. Writing may help you to unravel some of the questions you’ve longed to answer. It might help you to speculate on the what ifs.

It’s a way of showing others we aren’t alone. When we write we share with others through the lives of our characters, the experience of the human condition. We want to relate to each other. We want to know we aren’t alone in our feelings, thoughts and dreams.

It’s a way of escaping a harsh reality. There is magic in writing. We can create any world we want and people it with any character we desire. Our imaginations are our only limit. Our stories can become a place we can escape to from a difficult or unwanted reality.

It’s a way of earning a living. A famous Australian cartoonist once admitted in an interview that he hated cartooning, but he pursued it because he was good at it. He said he needed to earn a living somehow. This might take the romanticism out of writing, but it’s just as valid a reason as any other.

What are some reasons you write? Have any of your reasons changed over the years?

Pic: Light Festival in Hong Kong

Monday, September 6, 2010

Contractions – Go with the Flow

Part of the real skill behind good writing is to make it look easy. And it looks easy when it flows off the tongue with a sweet sounding rhythm that’s effortless to understand. So what is one way we can achieve this flow?

We use contractions. A contraction is two words turned into one. For example: ‘can not’ becomes can’t; ‘do not’ becomes don’t; ‘you are’ becomes you’re.

Written contractions work because they reflect speech which is the most common way we communicate with each other. It’s a natural sound we hear every day and so we’re comfortable with the shortened rhythms. When we write like we speak, we give the reader a familiar ground to visit our stories. They aren’t distracted by the writing.

If we decide to write every word in full, then our writing begins to sound stilted. We force the readers to stumble or pause because it’s not a familiar rhythm. Because of this the piece often gains an air of pompousness.

If you don’t want a natural flow to your writing, or you want to achieve a certain level of formality, then go for it. The full words work well in any formal document. You could have a character who speaks without contractions, but they will sound robotic – much like Data in the Star Trek Next Gen series. Sometimes it works, but you’ll find mostly it doesn’t.

Do you use all the common contractions all of the time? Do you mix it up? Or do you think too many contractions make a piece too informal?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fan Fiction - For or Against?

With any popular book or movie, the inevitable result will be spin offs, parodies, wannabes, and fan fiction. Just take a look at Twilight! Fans clamber for more. They lap up the unauthorised biographies, they collect the unauthorised merchandise and they fill the internet with their own stories based on someone else’s world.

Some authors encourage fan fiction. They believe it only helps to spread the word about their own work. They want to nurture their fans so they allow them to indulge in borrowed worlds.

However, some authors are against the whole idea. There is the question of copyright infringement. They believe there is a certain level of theft behind fan fiction. I found in this article the story of Marion Zimmer Bradley:

Most of us laboring in the genres of science fiction and fantasy... had a lesson in the dangers of permitting fan fiction a couple of decades back, courtesy of Marion Zimmer Bradley. MZB had been an author who not only allowed fan fiction based on her Darkover series, but actively encouraged it... even read and critiqued the stories of her fans. All was happiness and joy, until one day she encountered in one such fan story an idea similar to one she was using in her current Darkover novel-in-progress. MZB wrote to the fan, explained the situation, even offered a token payment and an acknowledgement in the book. The fan replied that she wanted full co-authorship of said book, and half the money, or she would sue. MZB scrapped the novel instead, rather than risk a lawsuit.

The article goes on to say there wouldn’t have been any grounds for the lawsuit since MZB had evidence that she came up with the idea on her own. But still it’s something to think about.

What are your thoughts on Fan Fiction? Are you for or against or don’t care either way? How do you think it might impact an author’s work?

* Photo: I'm the stormtrooper in the middle ;)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Give and Take of Social Media

Social media is an important tool in a writer’s utility belt. It’s not just about building a personal platform from which to launch ourselves and our careers. It’s also a great way of staying connected with the writing community. It will link us to a broad base of knowledge, invaluable tips and tricks, and the much needed encouragement all writers crave.

It’s not just about the number of followers we have. It’s also about the number of people we follow in turn.

It’s not just about the number of comments we get. It’s also about the number of comments we make.

It’s not just about what we can gain. It’s also about what we can give.

In other words, it’s about true interaction within a community. More often than not the amount we gain from social media is proportional to the amount we give. So how do we make sure the balance it there?

Be genuinely interested in others. If you have a choice to spend time with two people, which would you choose? The one who is thoughtful, kind and interested in you, or the one who only talks about themselves? Which one would you be more likely to help?

Offer interesting or helpful blog content. If your blog is only about the cuteness your children, or the greatness of your latest book, then people will stop coming back. Give them a reason to return by offering them something of interest.

Run competitions. People love blogfests and competitions. They are a great way to promote yourself without promoting yourself. Prizes don’t have to be huge, but people remember the generosity and the fun.

Promote other people’s work. I’ve had a few people show their support in small but generous ways. I remember these people and I want to offer them the same in return. I’ve had the most success in twitter when I retweet other people’s great blog posts or tweets. Plus it makes me feel good ;)

Ultimately social media is about the relationships we find and nurture. These relationships are precious and need to be treated as such. The rewards are countless.

Can you think of other ways to keep the balance of promotion and interaction in social media? What are your strong points? What are some things which might hold you back?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Celebrations and Breaks

At last I’ve finished my first draft. I’m so excited and I wanted to share the good news with my blogging friends. Can you hear the celebrations?

I feel it has taken me too long: 3 months to write 89k words (If they were polished words I’d be stoked – Aussie slang for ‘more than thrilled’). But I slowed down three quarters of the way through and allowed doubts to get to me.

My plan now is to take 2 weeks off from the book before I start editing. This will give me the much needed distance to do the chop. I might write some short stories that have been whispering to me for a long time. Or I might draft up some ideas for another book. After that, I’ll begin the tortuous editing stage. I plan to rip my WIP apart and piece it back together again. I may need a mountain of dark chocolate for this stage.

How important are breaks for you as a writer? What are some things you do to take a break from your current projects? How often do you take a break?

*photo: Hong Kong Disneyland

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Writing to Sell

As we all know, in terms of novel writing, there is a wide variety of markets we can choose: Adult, Young Adult, Middle Grade. And then there is a wide variety of genres within those markets: Adventure, Romance, Mystery, SciFi, Fantasy, Thriller and the list goes on. There are even subcategories. Some markets are bigger than others and so some are easier to sell to than others. So, my big question for today is, do you choose a market and then write? Or, do you write and hope your piece fits into a market and genre? There are benefits and drawbacks for both methods.

The benefits of writing to a specific market/genre:
• You have a place ready for your piece when it is done.
• You don’t need to go back and make major changes to force a fit.
• To write to a specific market you need to have first done the research about that market. Therefore your piece will have a greater chance of a good fit.

The drawbacks of writing to a specific market/genre:
• The perceived market could be too narrow and your writing could lack originality.
• The market of choice could be the rage now, but will die by the time you’re ready to query.

The benefits of not writing to a specific market/genre:
• You have the freedom to write what you want.
• Passion can drive your writing.
• Originality may be easier to achieve.

The drawbacks of not writing to a specific market/genre:
• Lack of knowledge of a genre and how it fits into a market.
• You discover after you’ve finished writing that your piece has no real place within any market.

I’d love to hear how you approach writing and the market. Are you willing to change or adjust for the hope of a sale? Or do you feel like you are giving up integrity if you write to sell? Do you just write and hope to deal with the selling later on? Have you found the middle ground? If so, where do you think that middle ground might be?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Longevity in Writing

Is longevity in your writing important to you? Do you want to write a novel that will blaze and then disappear after three months? Or do you want to write something that could be regarded as a classic in years to come? From the timeless words of Valeria from the 1982 film, Conan the Barbarian: “Do you want to live forever?”

The majority of books written today will disappear. I think the main reason for the lack of longevity is because they were written to a trend. Fashion is fickle. What is hip now is snigger-worthy tomorrow.

I recently pulled off old wallpaper in my tiny office only to find even worse wallpaper underneath. It was dark brown with bright orange flowers and green patches of grass. It was so painful, it was laughable. But at one time (probably the 70s) it was the height of fashion.

So, how do we achieve longevity?

--Ignore the current trends and write our own stories within the market of our choice.

--Steer away from the language of today because it won’t be the language of tomorrow. For example, any catch phrases, colloquialisms and clichéd expressions.

--Work with timeless themes. Romance and conflict will never date. Overcoming insurmountable odds will never date.

--Strive for quality. Strive to learn your craft, practice your craft and do your very best.

Does longevity matter to you? Can you think of other tricks to make your writing last?