Friday, 26 January 2018

Plotting: Wrong Way or 'Write' Way? by Sophie Claire

Are you a plotter or a pantser? (If you're not sure what I'm talking about, there's a good explanation here)

I’m a wannabe plotter

I would love to be able to sit down and plan a book. I wish that before I started I could produce a neat map detailing exactly how the plot will unfold, when and how the characters will develop and change, and which obstacles they will face and overcome. And with every story I write, I try to do this.

Unfortunately, my mind doesn’t work that way.

My plot outlines are usually hazy with two-dimensional characters and predictable situations. 

It’s only as I write that the characters come alive and usually throw my plan out the window to take new, unexpected routes of their own choosing. Which is great. There’s nothing better than a character who knows their own mind and has their own unique fears and dreams and opinions. And if they surprise me, then hopefully they’ll surprise the reader too.

But to get to the point where my characters become fully developed like this involves a lot of hard work: hours spent at the computer, writing scenes which will later be deleted. 

In essence, I write, scrap what I’ve written, then rewrite and rewrite again. I have to explore a lot of dead ends before I find the right way
It’s a time-consuming process, and I used to berate myself for not getting it right first time. I wished there was a trusted and experienced professional would read my synopsis and instantly spot the flaws. A fairy godmother who would give me advice (kill off the ex-girlfriend, increase the conflict here, raise the stakes there…) which would save me months of work.

Over time, however, I’ve realised that no one has a magic wand, and this is simply my method of writing. 

It feels scary, fumbling around in the dark, struggling with a story for weeks and months. When it's not going well, writing feels like the loneliest job in the world. I feel lost and alone, I question why I ever started this novel...

                               – then, suddenly, a bulb lights up and everything falls into place.

This has been the process with each of the last 3 books I’ve written, and I’m finally learning to accept it. To keep the faith and keep writing even if what I write today will be deleted tomorrow. Now, rather than seeing these scrapped scenes as wasted pages or wrong turns, I understand that they’re invaluable for getting to know my characters and understanding what makes them tick.

So that when I find the right path, I’m certain it’s right. 

What's your writing method? Are you happy with it?


Photos copyright: Sophie Claire and Pixabay

Monday, 6 November 2017

National Creative Writing Graduate Fair 2017 by Louise Marley

I recently attended the National Creative Writing Graduate Fair at Manchester Metropolitan University. There was an opportunity to attend panels and workshops, and pitch to a literary agent! However, it is hard to take in what is being said and make notes at the same time, so I have paraphrased!

Balancing Act:
Living and Working as a Writer

SJ Bradley (Writer)
Adam Lowe (Writer/Performer/Publisher)

AL: If getting started is difficult, try writing about anything. Or write around the subject – write about your characters, the setting, etc. Or draw a map of your location. Anything to trick yourself into writing.

SJB: It can be a challenge to get people to take you seriously as a writer. You have to be strict about your writing time. Think of it as work. Don’t let anything interfere.

AL: Switch your phone off. Have set writing times. Set boundaries.

SJB: If it helps, go somewhere to work where you can’t be interrupted – like a cafĂ©. You’ll also get that ‘going to work’ feeling!

AL: Find time to think. Let things percolate. Reads books – it counts as work (films count too, if relevant). But be strict with yourself. And don’t work in the evenings, it’s unhealthy.

SJB: But don’t write yourself out!

AL: It can sometimes be helpful to leave something for the next day. Try breaking off halfway through a sentence!

AL: But it is important not to sequester yourself. It’s good to meet other writers. Bounce ideas off each other, compete with word counts, but be supportive of each other. Writers are like magpies, they love new and shiny. Meet new people. Have new experiences. It will make your writing come alive. If you don’t go beyond your own experiences the reader is never surprised and it can lead to inadvertently duplicating ideas or themes from existing books or movies.

AL: It’s easier for others to take you seriously as a writer when you are paid for your work. Don’t use the excuse that because you love your job you’re happy to work for free. Lawyers love their work too but they don’t work for nothing!

If you’re on Twitter, check out SJ Bradley’s timeline (@BradleyBooks), where you can find answers to some of the questions there wasn’t time for.

Going Digital:
New Opportunities for Writers

Kathryn Taussig (Associate Publisher: Bookouture)
Michelle Green (Writer)
Kit Caless (Co-founder/Editor: Influx Press & Co-founder: #LossLit)

Michelle Green told us about her collection of short stories, Hayling Island: Stories at Sea Level, to be published as a digital audio map in collaboration with a composer, digital artist and literary geographer. The map will link to local tidal reports and change according to the real-time time on the island. For example, a story set on one of the sand banks will be inaccessible when the tide is in!

Kit Caless talked about the digital story-telling project, LostLit, which explores the various influences of loss in literature. The LostLit Twitter write club is hosted every first Wednesday of the month between 9.00 pm and 11.00 pm, and open to all. Updates and retweets can be found on @LossLit, and hashtagged #LostLit.

Kathryn Taussig is an Associate Publisher for Bookouture, who were one of the first digital book publishers. Their challenge was to make their books more visible and to stand out from the crowd. With traditional publishing you only have one shot to get it right. Sometimes even the most promising books can fail for no apparent reason. With digital publishing there can be more individuality, and there is the opportunity to re-brand authors and try things that are different. For example, if a book cover doesn’t work it can be quickly and easily changed. Readers of ebooks are voracious and ideally they want two or three books a year from their favourite authors.

Bookouture publish mostly commercial fiction, including women’s fiction, romance, sagas, and psychological crime. They take unagented submissions, which can be made through a portal on their website. Their authors receive a higher percentage of royalties – 45% of everything they receive from the retailer.

Writing the Perfect Synopsis

Debbie Taylor (Founder & Editorial Director: Mslexia)

An elevator pitch is the character, their quest, and the obstacle preventing them getting it. Concentrate on just one character – who is the most important person in your story? – and be sure to name them!

A synopsis is the summary of characters and plot in order, not a blurb. Your submission letter explains who you are, the sample of three chapters proves you can write, but the synopsis is there to show how you plan to develop your story. A synopsis may also be used to create the blurb on the back of the book, and sent to the designer to create the cover art.

A synopsis should be between 500 and 1,500 words (but check individual guidelines). Write it in the present tense, third person, ‘omnipresent’ point of view. It should start with a summary paragraph, similar to the ‘elevator pitch’, followed by the sequence of actions that make up the plot. Summarise each character’s profile when they turn up. Who propels the story forward? Give their name, occupation, social position, and anything distinctive about their appearance or an unusual personality trait.

Related Posts:


Comma Press

Louise Marley is an Amazon Top 100 bestselling author and a creative writing tutor with Writing Magazine. Her latest book is Trust Me I Lie.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

My First Writing Retreat by Sophie Claire

Do you ever wonder how much you could achieve if you weren’t constantly interrupted by the demands of daily life and could concentrate solely on your writing? Well last weekend I did just that when I went on a writing retreat for the first time. It wasn’t anything official – just a group of us who booked into a Bed & Breakfast in the grounds of a monastery in Yorkshire.

Beforehand, I was excited at the prospect of immersing myself in writing for 3 days and being in the company of writer friends, although I must admit I was a bit nervous too about not having my usual desktop (I borrowed a laptop) or a printer, and also, would it be too intense? Would I be the naughty one who was always stopping for cups of tea and distracting the others? (*coughs* that did happen, but I think they were happy to stop – and eat flapjacks!).
The orchard (the monks produce their own apple juice)
The vegetable patch

I needn’t have worried. The technology worked, and I was at my desk at 8am each morning.

Away from my usual routine, I was really productive and more focused; although we had internet, I wasn’t as tempted as usual and enjoyed the uninterrupted stretches of time to write – what a luxury.

My word count steadily increased, but regular breaks were essential, so I explored the monastery grounds, which were surprisingly big for a town site.

The whole place had a very peaceful atmosphere, with benches dotted around everywhere, inviting you to sit and contemplate...

...Encouraging you to slow down, and live in the moment.

By the third day I felt immersed in my story and with this came a feeling of deep calm. It reminded me of when I took part in NaNoWriMo last year – I experienced the same freeing up of the imagination and shutting off of the inner critic, allowing my imagination space to simply create.
I could hear the outside world, the cars and buses trundling past on the main road nearby, yet I felt cocooned here and apart. Cloistered, is the word, I suppose.

The church bells rang four times a day and they soon became a familiar background noise, also calming. Out of curiosity we went to evensong, which was beautiful and the monks were very welcoming. (I kept setting my alarm to go to 6.45am matins too, but I confess I never made it!)

The church

Anne Stenhouse, Sophie Claire, Kate Blackadder
& Helena Fairfax

After evensong we headed out to eat in the local pub, where we soon became regulars.

Unlike the monks’ meals, these were not silent!

The four of us had lots to catch up on, writing projects to discuss, ideas to share. All good fun and inspiring.

The whole experience was very liberating and productive. We all agreed that we’d like to do it again and I look forward to that.

Have you ever been on a writing retreat? How was your experience? 


Anne Stenhouse
Kate Blackadder
Helena Fairfax
Sophie Claire