Monday, 19 June 2017

Downtime by Sophie Claire

We’re into exam season and my children are studying hard. 

I’m glad. I have a strong work ethic and I firmly believe that hard work pays off in the end. But recently I’ve found myself saying Take a break, have some downtime, and I’m trying to follow this advice in my own writing too.

Because the more books I write, the more I realise that writing isn’t only about getting words on the page (although that is crucial, obviously), meeting targets, or sitting at the computer for long hours. It’s also about getting to know your characters and spending time with them, and you don’t have to be at your desk to do this.

When I begin a new book I find the writing is stilted. My characters are still new to me, I’m not sure how the plot will unfold.

But as the weeks and months pass by and I become increasingly submerged in the story I’m creating, the characters come alive and begin to follow me around. They creep into my life and float around at the edges of my conscious thoughts. When I’m watching television I find myself wondering what would X do in that situation? How would he/she react? In the supermarket I spot a product and think; That’s it! That’s what reminds my heroine of her childhood!

I love it when this happens. When my characters become real to me and the tiny quirky details of their lives and personalities reveal themselves.

But I believe that you need two things for this to happen:

1) To have spent time with those characters already (ie. writing)

2) To relax and take time away from the computer, giving the mind room to wander.

Time off can be really productive. 

It’s when the subconscious gets to work, absorbing and mulling over all the information it’s collected, both real and fictional. It’s when – for me, at least – the best ideas bubble up to the surface and land in my head, as if out of nowhere. It may not feel like work, but I've found that reading and researching are as crucial as writing itself. 

And so is time off. Spending time with friends and family, or indulging in your favourite hobbies feeds the imagination. An emotional conversation with a friend or even a passing comment from a stranger can trigger a new idea, and with any luck, that might develop into a character or a plot for a new book.

So I’ve learned that prioritising time off is as important as working hard. Switching off is actually like switching on.

How about you? When do you have your best ideas?


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Prologue - or not? By Annie Burrows

On the first Friday of each month, Novelista Annie Burrows will be drawing a question out of the jar where we've been putting all the questions about the writing process posed by readers –

This month, the question is:

Where in the story to actually start the novel.

The glib answer would be to quote Lewis Carroll “Begin at the beginning…go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

But, what is the beginning?  A pivotal moment in the character’s past, which forms their character, or sends them on their quest?  The moment they are born?

Beginnings are very important.  The opening section of your story is the bit which will be available to a reader in the “browse the book” section if it is an ebook, or what a shopper in a real life shop will read to help them decide whether to buy your book.

Or not.

So it has to grab them, and make them want to find out what comes next.  You have got to make them interested in your main character, and what they are feeling, and what is happening to them.  Or they will put the book down, and buy someone else’s.

And with so many new titles becoming available every month, they have a lot of someone else’s to choose from.

So, I would say, start your story at a pivotal moment.  If you write romance (as I do) it is a good idea to start when your hero and heroine first get together, or reach some kind of turning point, so that the focus is on the developing romance right from the start.  And makes it clear to the reader that the romance is going to be front and centre all the way through.

To give you some examples, I have started some of my books with:
The moment my heroine has to jump out of the way of the hero’s curricle, which he is driving far too fast down a country lane so that she ends up in a muddy ditch. (His Cinderella Bride)

The moment when the hero first asks the heroine’s friend to dance, and, when she refuses, turns with resignation to the heroine, setting her heart a-flutter. (Captain Fawley's Innocent Bride)

The moment when the hero and heroine wake up in bed, naked, with no idea how they got there together. (In Bed With the Duke)

And the one I have just submitted to my editor opens at the point where my heroine socks my hero on the jaw.

However, when planning out a book, I don’t start imagining the story at such a dramatic point.  The story which I’m figuring out at the moment, for example, began when I imagined the heroine in a situation which rocked her world, overturned everything she’d assumed about her life, and sent her spiralling into depression. I can’t start writing it from that point.  Because it will be months before she meets the hero, and their romance starts.  And it is the story of that romance I will be telling – NOT HER LIFE STORY.

So, I am going to have to tell the reader about that crisis in her life, in little bits and pieces, as she relates it to the hero.  They will both explain why they react as they do, and behave the way they do, to each other, in conversation, as the pair get to know each other.  In other words, the reader will get to know both of them while they are getting to know each other.

It would be much, much easier to write this story in chronological order, starting with the heroine’s crisis, taking her through her depression and the beginning of her recovery, and then relate how the romance with the hero completes the process of healing completely.  But would anyone want to read it?  Would the reader have the patience to wade through all that depression, and gloom, in the hope that a dashing hero would come into my heroine’s life and help her see that life is worth living?

And more to the point, would my editor?

So, these are a few questions you could ask yourself when deciding where to start your story.
What will hook the reader?
What will give them the best idea of what kind of story it’s going to be?
And, if like me, you have a pivotal moment in the character’s life which the reader really needs to know about – what is the best way to relay that information?  In one big chunk (which is sometimes referred to disparagingly as an info-dump)
Or, in little snippets, which will entice the reader to keep on turning the pages?  (And is much, much harder to write!)

And there you have it.

If you’d like to Ask Annie anything about writing, then please contact her via the comments section on this blog, or if you’d like to remain anonymous, you can contact her via her website:
 putting Ask Annie in the subject heading.

And if she feels qualified to answer your question, you might see it become the next month’s blog post!

Annie's latest release is "The Debutante's Daring Proposal."

You can read the opening section here

You can purchase it from Amazon, Harlequin, Mills & Boon or any of your favourite etailers.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Just Do It! by Sophie Claire

What stops you writing?

For me, it begins with distractions: internet ‘research’, Twitter, writing blog posts, eating biscuits.

Then there are the crows of doubt: I worry, where is this story going? Is it any good? Will I make my word count today? What if I can’t think of anything to write? There are days when the prospect of beginning and completing a 90,000 word novel is so daunting I want to hide behind the sofa!

But last November I took part in NaNoWriMo and was amazed that...

1) I did it!

2) How fast I managed to complete my daily word count.

At my peak I wrote 2,000 words in as little as 2½ hours. It made me realise how inefficiently I had been working before, and how much time I’d wasted worrying when I could have been writing.

I resolved to learn from this. I would keep up the good habits which NaNo had instigated, and write each morning before I did anything else. No Twitter or Internet or fun of any kind until I’d written.

And, curiously, I found that writing became fun again!

A few months on, I’m still doing this. Yes, the anxiety still lurks – that niggling voice which asks, what will I write next? – but I don’t allow it to hold me back. I sit down, I begin to write, and things start to happen, they take shape of their own accord. The story takes flight; the characters speak and move and think and come alive; one scene triggers another, and before I know it, that little number at the bottom of the page is in the tens of thousands.

The writing process is so difficult to describe to those who haven't experienced it for themselves. It’s unpredictable: ideas can take me by surprise, or hide themselves away when I'm desperately willing them to appear. When it goes well I get lost in the story, only to resurface hours later. It sometimes feels as if, when I’m writing, magic happens.

It’s not something I can control, but once I stop trying to, I realise that this is exactly what’s so powerful about it.
So why not embrace this powerful, uncontrollable process? After all, unpredictable and surprising are wonderful attributes for a story. And magic? Well, we could all do with some of that.

Try it! Just write.I hope you find it as rewarding as I did.

Sophie. x

Next month: I’ll be blogging about why you should stop writing and step away from your computer!