Writing Tip #12 – The Power of Revisions

Hello my lovelies,

looks like the UK is getting the best of the sun, while over here in Florida it’s a bit touch and go (as I write, it’s pouring down with rain and the thunder is rumbling!) but still, it’s been a great holiday so far and it’s not over yet. Along with visits to the Disney Parks, Cocoa Beach, and Planet Hollywood, I’ve had the opportunity to sit by the pool and read a proof copy of Three Little Lies by Laura Marshall and it’s brilliant 🙂 and I’m currently knee-deep in One Summer in Italy by Sue Moorcroft, which is transporting me to the Umbrian sunshine 🙂

But on to writing… In my last post, I talked about the rewrite I do after finishing the ‘dirty draft.’ Following a question I’ve had about timescales, I’m happy to share that the first tetchy draft of my book can take anywhere from 2 to 20 months, depending on what else I have going on in my life – I have a full-time day job in HR, kids, boyfriend, housework, social media for previous books etc. – and whether I’m producing a 14,000 word novella or a 100,000 word novel. The first rewrite, which as I explained in writing tip #11 is completed in roughly four stages, can take around 1 to 3 months depending on how many hours I can put in (some weeks I can manage 8-10 hours around everything else, but other weeks only 1-2 hours) and how radical a rewrite I need to do. But once that rewrite is done, I put the book aside again for another few weeks, and come back to it with fresh eyes…

Because before I send it off to my lovely editor, I do my ‘first revisions.’ I think these are really powerful, because they add extra texture and colour to your story. It’s not about padding it out or adding lots of extra words – I might only add an extra 2000 words overall (and as I go along, I might also be cutting out anything I think is unnecessary) – these first revisions are about making your characters three-dimensional and the world they live in as real as possible.

Basically, this stage is pretty quick, and involves me reading the book a chapter at a time and adding in descriptions, enhancing dialogue tags or using actions to drive dialogue, and inserting narrative using the five senses. I do this wherever I feel that the writing is flat or there is too much dialogue without explanation, because I want every reader to feel that they’re either seeing through the eyes of the main character, or are at least in the same room as them. So I look out for these sections and add in:-

  • Description – scenery, buildings, weather, what people are wearing etc.
  • Dialogue tags – ‘He barked’ ‘She scowled,’ etc. But don’t go overboard with these!
  • Actions driving/supporting dialogue – ‘I can’t live with your mum anymore, she hates me!’ He slammed the cupboard door shut and kicked the bin across the kitchen with a trainered foot, where it hit the wall with a thud and spewed its contents all over the floor. 
  • Use of the five senses – what can the main character touch, taste, hear, see and smell? I.e. the satin of the dress slithered through her fingers as she smoothed her hands over her hips; the sweetness of the ripe strawberries rolled over her tongue; a clap of thunder boomed in the distance, making her jump; the sunset was a beautiful blend of colours – red, orange, yellow – reminding her of a favourite cocktail, tequila sunrise; the scent of lavender carried towards her on the breeze, floral and sweet.

I have to admit I really enjoy these revisions, as I feel like I’m making my baby beautiful 🙂 However, I still can’t get too wedded to anything, because there’s always a danger my editor will send me a kind but firm email pointing out all the different ways I can make my book even better. So at this point, I stop revising and send the draft manuscript off to Charlotte at HarperCollins towers, and sit with crossed fingers to wait and see what she says. In the meantime, while I wait for feedback and any requested edits, I either (a) read a lot to take my mind off the waiting, or (b) start an outline for a new book. If you don’t have an editor yet, or an agent, this might be the time when you send the draft off to a critiquing service, or a set of readers, or a mentor. Which leads on to the subject of my next post – getting a second opinion 🙂

In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you have any thoughts or questions, please comment below.

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

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Writing Tip #11 – Rewriting & Refining

Hello my lovelies,

I hope you’ve been enjoying the sunshine at home. Here in Florida it’s equal parts sunny and thundery, making for an interesting combination! In the last post, we talked about getting that first ‘dirty draft’ of your story down on paper/in Word document etc. So it may be a while before this post is relevant, but if you want to think ahead, then read on…

There is nothing I love more than writing that first draft; it’s a time when you can give your creativity free rein, letting your characters talk to you and then guiding them on their journey. Your grammar may be horrific, your spelling shoddy and your sentence structure non-existent, but once you’ve got it down you have something to work with. Some authors hate revisions and rewrites but I love them as much as I love that initial draft. For me it’s an opportunity to untangle the knotty mess that I’ve made and make sense of it all (I love a good puzzle!) followed by rebuilding, refining and polishing it until I’m happy enough to send it to my editor for a first view (usually my third or fourth draft by this stage, and we’ve agreed that what I send is a draft and not a final version, as we often take the story apart and put it back together again).

But we’re talking about first rewrites here aka untangling that knotty mess, so that I end up with something coherent to do some proper revisions on. It may be different for you, and if so that’s okay, because everyone’s writing technique is different. But what does this mean for me?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Well, first I take a break from the book – and I can’t recommend this highly enough. I put the manuscript aside for a few weeks so that I can get a bit of distance from it, because I often find that by the time I’ve finished the first draft, I’m too immersed in the story, too close to it, to rewrite in the way that I may need to (which can often be brutal i.e. cutting great swathes of words out). So, during those weeks, I read, I spend time with family, I catch up with friends etc.

When I’m ready, I pull the first draft out and work through it in the following stages:-

  • Structure

Are the chapters in the right order? Does the story make sense? I often re-order if I don’t think it works. This can involve a lot of cutting and pasting, which is why I don’t do formatting first. I also look at pacing at this point – does the story have a ‘saggy middle’? Do I need to liven it up somehow? Sometimes reordering chapters or events will help with this, depending on the overarching structure of the book. Other times it may be changing the lengths of some chapters to vary them, or ending a chapter at a different point than it did originally, to create more a cliffhanger.

  • Narrative 

Is there more story to tell? Do I need to add in scenes or events? Or is there too much padding? Do I need cut scenes out or reduce word count? Does every single scene move the story forward? If not, it needs to go. (Stripping out narrative can also count as editing). For me this is often the most painful part of a first rewrite. I have a tendency to overwrite during my first draft so that I can get into the character’s heads, and subsequently I have to cut lots of words out. My lovely editor Charlotte calls this ‘writing yourself into the story.’ I do this less than I used to but it’s still my guilty pleasure.

  • Line Editing

During this round, I comb through and correct grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, and get my sentences and paragraphs into some kind of order so that it all makes sense, along with inserting speech marks where people are talking, where I’ve forgotten to. In my first draft I often have notes like ‘insert x here’ or ‘y needs to say something about z here’ so I will fill in the gaps at this stage.

  • Formatting

Finally, I double line space and format each chapter so that it looks like a ‘proper’ book and I have a clean version to work on in Word when I come to the next step – revisions.

So, what do you think? Is this what a first rewrite looks like for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

 

Writing tip #9 – Choose Your Setting

Hello my lovelies,

Hope you enjoyed the long sunny bank holiday weekend. How gorgeous was the weather? I’m looking forward to more sunshine, as I may just be jetting off to Florida in the next few days… 🙂 But never fear, there will still be regular blog posts coming your way 😉

In the last writing tips blog post I talked about how to structure your book, and what the most important elements are, having previously talked about plot, character and conflict. Now it’s time to talk about setting a.k.a. where your story is set – is it in the Bahamas or the Costa Brava? Is your main character living in a studio apartment in Birmingham, or travelling the world trying to find him/herself?

Setting can either be integral to the plot or simply a relevant backdrop, depending on your story. Therefore, it’s important to know which it is and accordingly how much of the setting details to weave in as you write. However, if your setting is integral, don’t let this get in the way of your story. Drip feed in details, don’t write endless pages of description – your reader will get bored!

If you are a plotter (rather than a pantster) you may have decided right from the outset where your story is going to be set, so you’ll have lots of ideas and will even have a ton of research to hand to include as you write your first draft . Pantsters may know where the book is set, but will ‘write into the wind’ to finish a first draft and then will go back and add in the details of the setting afterwards. As I’ve said in previous posts, this really is a matter of personal style!

In some books and films, setting can be as much a part of the story as the characters are, helping to drive the story forward, whether it be due to world-class views or extreme weather. Would Poldark be the same if it was set in Manchester rather than the wilds of Cornwall? Titanic would not work if it was not set at sea! Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence wouldn’t be half as good as he didn’t describe the curiosities of rural life so well.

When I was writing the #LoveLondon series, it was really important to me that readers fall in love with London as much as I had, as the whole series was based around our vibrant, sprawling capital. So I went on several research trips; taking photos, visiting locations like Primrose Hill and Chelsea, making notes, dictating observations into my iPhone voice recorder and bringing home leaflets/keepsakes to pin on the wall. As I wrote, I used the research to add in descriptions and small details to bring each story to life. I’d like to think it worked as I’ve had some lovely feedback from readers, including how much they liked the setting.  *Warning: Small Sales Plug!* If this sounds up your street, you can buy the ebook collection here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-LoveLondon-Collection-Love-London-ebook/dp/B015W1D3TQ/

 

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So, what types of things should you consider when bringing your setting to life? For me, these include:-

  • Time – modern day, historical or future? 2018, 1890 or 2400?
  • Place – well known city? Fictional town? Half way across the world?
  • Buildings/Town/City – any landmarks or specific architecture? Heavily populated or quiet and urban? Massed together or spread over miles? Streets – wide or narrow pavements? Cobbled roads or concrete? Trees? Flowers? Signs? Shops. Are the streets dirty or clean?
  • Locations/landscape – description of coastal locations/country and farms/jungles and waterfall etc.
  • People – what are they like in terms of behaviour, appearance, accents, etc. What are the social classes, hierarchy and culture?
  • Weather – miserable and rainy, stormy, bright and sunny, scorching hot?
  • Food & drink – what’s on offer? What are the local delicacies? What do people get drunk on?! Where do the locals eat?
  • Use of the five senses (more on this in a later blog post) – what are the sights, sounds, smells and tastes, and what can the characters touch?

Is there anything I’ve missed? How has a great sense of setting added to a book you’ve read? Are you facing any challenges with setting, in a book you’re trying to write? I’d love to hear your thoughts – please comment below 🙂

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

Writing Tip #8 – The Importance of Structure

Hello my lovelies,

hope you’re well and enjoying the slowly warming weather 🙂

It’s already time for the next post; time is just flying by! So, if you read writing tip # 5 on Plotters vs Pantsters and you are a complete plotter, then you may have structured your book already. If you haven’t, but read and put writing tips #6 and #7 into action and now know your story/plot, characters and conflicts – it’s time to think about this.

Structure is so crucial to your book, and getting the right one can be the difference between a mediocre novel and an amazing one. The structure is how you tell your story. The reason I tackle it here rather than in earlier posts is because until I know my plot, characters and conflicts, I can’t decide which structure is right for any particular book.  In other words, if I were to decide at the outset that I wanted a book to be made up almost entirely of formal diary entries, but then my main character turns out to be illiterate, introverted and with very little to say for herself for the purposes of the plot, it’s not really going to work.

That’s just one example, and as I’ve emphasised in these posts, writing really is a matter of personal style, and just because this is the way I do it that doesn’t mean it’s the way you have to. But if you do decide on structure from the outset, do make sure that this works with the context of your plot, characters and conflict, so that it makes sense and the action is as immediate as possible to keep readers hooked.

I have seen some amazing examples of book structure that have completely suited the story and enhanced it in some way, or been absolutely key to the plot. For example, Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson (also a major film featuring Nicole Kidman) is a psychological thriller about a woman whose memories are lost every time she goes to sleep. She wakes up every morning not knowing who or where she is, and in effect has to start again. The weaving of a current thread from Christine’s perspective (her life each day as she tries to find out the truth about her situation) interspersed with diary entries, works brilliantly and really ramps up the tension. Another great example is The Last Letter from Your Lover by JoJo Moyes, a novel involving two women’s intertwined stories of love, loss and betrayal spanning forty years. One thread follows Jennifer’s story in the 1960’s, and another one features Ellie’s messy life in the present day, partly linked together with old letters from Jennifer’s lover which Ellie is reading. Some chapters also start with real life ‘last letters’ between lovers, which JoJo Moyes collected for the book. It all works beautifully, and if you haven’t read itI would recommend you do as it’s heartfelt and emotional 🙂

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So, with regards to structure, think about: –

  • The type of prose

Is it going to be straight narrative? Or will it include letters, emails, a diary, or even tweets?

  • Multiple or single view points?

Is the whole book from your protagonist’s point of view, or are you going to tell the story through the eyes of two or even three characters? If you do this, don’t forget you’ll need to differentiate between them! Each character will need their own ‘voice’ so that your book is interesting and credible.

  • Points of View & Tense

Are you writing in the first person or third person? Present or past tense? This can be so important, and will depend on the plot and characters. In the new book I am working on (which if you don’t know already, I am VERY excited about), I swap view points between two main characters; the heroine’s POV is in first person present tense and the hero’s in third person past tense. This may change if my editor and I don’t think it works!

  • Number and length of chapters

Are you going to have twenty big blocky chapters over your 80,000 to 100,000 word novel, or fifty short ones (from multiple view points)? Are they all going to be the same length, or will they vary? Hint: Varying chapter lengths can be used to either slow down or speed up pace and build tension…

  • Era

Is the whole of your book set in the present day, in the past or perhaps even in the future? Or is it a mixture of both/many, entwining two (or more) different but linked character’s stories?

  • Timeline

Will the chapters be in logical order in terms of date, or if it’s set in different eras, will they be arranged so that the reader is pulled back and forth between the present and the past etc.?

Is there anything you can think of that’s important for structuring, or any particular books that you’ve enjoyed that have been brilliantly structured? Share your comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love Nikki x

Writing Tip #7 – Character & Conflict

Hello my lovelies,

hope you’re all okay and have been enjoying these writing tips – I’ve certainly had lots of fun writing them and the comments/likes have been lovely 🙂 In the last post, I talked about constructing your story. Now we get to the heart of it – characters.

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For me, it’s hard to define what comes first – characters or conflict. The two are intertwined. Your character’s goal will normally help form the basis of your plot. But then do you: –

– Create your characters first, followed by deciding what conflicts will occur for them, both internal and external, with the conflict arising directly from their personality? i.e. their likes, dislikes, upbringing, values, life experiences

OR

– Do you decide what the conflicts will be first and then build your characters around them, deciding what personality traits and life experience will support that kind of conflict?

Let me give you an example…

Starting with conflict

The idea for my debut novel, Crazy, Undercover, Love which is a romance set over a long weekend in Barcelona, literally came to me in a dream. Yes, I know how it sounds! But I had this visual of a couple stranded in a room together, unable to get away from each other, alternatively arguing and then falling in love. For some reason, the hero was really angry with the heroine.

I woke up and jotted some ideas down, and knew that the external conflict was going to come from them working together closely over a few days (therefore unable to get away from each other) and from the actions of a secondary character. I also decided that for the internal conflict, the heroine was going to be trying to achieve something that might seem deceitful and dishonest i.e. make the hero hate her, and that she was really uncomfortable with. He was going to have an internal conflict around women in the workplace (no, he’s not a sexist pig, he just doesn’t like romance at work!) It was also going to be a bit of a comedy of errors.

After some time and thought I built a plot, fleshing out the conflicts fully based on the main character’s goal and what led her to need to achieve that goal. Once I had that, I started working on my characters. What kinds personality traits would cause them to clash, but also help each other learn different ways of looking at the world? What kind of man would my heroine Charley be looking for (if she was looking, which she absolutely wasn’t at the start of the book, being fiercely independent), and what kind of man would really rub her up the wrong way? And what about Alex? What kind of person would he warm to, or dislike on sight? What background would he need to give him such a strong sense of pride and responsibility? What might have happened to him to give him such a skewed view of the world? What kind of traits would Charley need to have to give the book the slight ‘comedy of errors’ feel?

Starting with Character

For my #LoveLondon novella, Strawberries at Wimbledon, I had the title and of course the setting, but nothing else in terms of plot, goals etc. What I did have a strong sense of was a headstrong character called Rayne who was a bit off the wall and slightly rebellious. I could fully picture her at uni in a short skirt and tight top, reluctantly making friends, falling for a boy called Adam who was very different from her. I knew that she was who I wanted to write a story about next.

So I got to know her better, and from her background, upbringing, the things she’d been through and therefore what she craved most (stability) I decided what Adam was going to be like and teach her, and how the two of them might meet again when they were older. That lead me to why they might have broken up in the first place, and what might have changed in the meantime, and from all of that grew the conflicts. So in that way, the conflict came from the characters themselves.

Personally, I’m not sure which way round is better, and I switch between either one depending on the book I’m writing 🙂 How about you?

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One thing is for sure; without characters, we’d be lost. Even if you have an amazing idea for a book and a well paced, interesting plot, you need your characters to act as the linchpins of your story. Everything they do, say and think must drive the story forward. So it’s really important to know them when you sit down to write. Again, depending on personal preference, you may build full character bio’s (if you’re a plotter) or you may just ‘know’ your characters in your head and let them act out their own scenes, and determine their own fate as you write (if you’re more of a pantster). It’s entirely up to you. Personally, I outline character bio’s on index cards or as a part of a visual storyboard. I’m not suggesting I need to know each character’s inside leg measurement before I get started, but I do need some idea of at least half of the following: –

  • Age (plus date of birth – month and year)
  • Name (this is SO important; although I have changed character names halfway through books before if I think they’re not working!)
  • Location i.e. where were they born? Where do they live now?
  • Upbringing i.e. class, heritage, culture etc
  • Living situation – do they live alone, or with family or friends?
  • Friendship circle
  • Have they got children? Do they want children?
  • Romantic relationships i.e. dating history
  • Occupation & employment status
  • Hobbies
  • Likes and dislikes i.e. cat vs dog, films, books, music, TV, driving, food, drink
  • Appearance – just a few details i.e. eye colour, hair colour, body build (unless they are especially clear in my head)
  • How do they like to dress?
  • Values and beliefs – are they honest or liars, do they treat people respectfully or not give a damn, are they risk takers or do they sail close to the wind, do they work hard or play hooky? Are they law-abiding citizens?
  • Personality – confident, shy, brash, humble, arrogant, optimistic, pessimistic, detail-oriented or visionary, selfish or selfless?
  • Significant life experiences i.e travel abroad or no travel at all, bereavements, illnesses, weddings, divorce etc

What about you? Is there anything you’d add to the character bio? And what do you think comes first – conflict or character? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Until next time, happy reading and writing,

Love, Nikki x

Writing Tip #6 – What’s Your Story?

Hello my lovelies,

well, the sun may have disappeared but not our love of writing, so it’s time for the next post in this series 🙂

In the last post (thank you for all your likes, comments, shares and reblogs) we talked about how when it comes to writing books, people can be plotters or pantsters – or perhaps something in between. The conversations I then had with both published and aspiring authors on social media were fascinating – how writers do their thing really is unique to them… But however you do it, there is one thing we all have in common; we need to know our story.

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So, what makes up a story? Here are the important elements, so far as I see them:-

  • It’s a good idea to have an overarching theme, or set of themes i.e. love, hope, loss, survival. This basically lays the foundation for what your story is about, and if you can keep this at the forefront of your mind when you’re writing your book, it’ll keep pulling you back in the right direction.

For instance, in The Shawshank Redemption (one of my favourite films) which was actually based on a Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the key theme is hope – you must never give up even when things seem at their worst.

  • You need at least one protagonist (main character aka hero or heroine) which the story revolves around.

In a romance you’ll normally have two protagonists aka the people who’ll fall in love with each other. Some crime novels or historical fiction can have three or four protagonists as the book will be written from multiple viewpoints. E.g. a crime novel may tell the story from the points of view of the serial killer, the detective or team of detectives trying to catch him/her, and the killer’s next victim.

You need to make sure protagonists are interesting, well-rounded and engaging. You need your readers to want to root for them. We’ll cover characterisation another time, but do bear in mind when creating your story that you need to know your characters – how they think, feel and behave etc. – in order to understand how your story might unfold.

  • Your protagonist(s) will have a goal, or perhaps several – what is it that they want? What are they trying to achieve?

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In my novella, Valentine’s on Primrose Hill (part of the #LoveLondon series) my protagonist Georgiana is trying to find normality and create a new life for herself following a catastrophic car crash that has left her injured and scarred. In C.L. Taylor’s excellent and claustrophobic The Fear, Lou Wandsworth is trying (as an adult) to stop the man who abducted her as a teenager from abusing another girl and ruining her life.

  • There will be one or several conflicts. These will stop, or get in the way of, your protagonist achieving their goal(s). These can be internal or external.

Internal conflicts are a psychological struggle in the protagonist’s mind, driven by a previous bad experience or a set of values or beliefs that creates a tension for them i.e. in the film Titanic, Rose (Kate Winslet’s character) is torn between what she should do based on her class and upbringing (marry the man her mother wants her to in order to save them financially) and what she wants to do (live life on her own terms and be free to fall in love with whoever she wants).

External conflicts are events or people outside of the protagonists’ control i.e. in Titanic, Cal Hockley (played by Billy Zane) who cruelly pursues Rose and tries to force her to marry him, or the iceberg which sinks the ship, forcing Rose to choose between Jack (Leonardo DeCaprio) and staying alive.

  • You may have an antagonist (aka the anti-hero) – a character who is getting in the protagonist’s way or creating events that drive the story on and make the protagonist work that much harder to achieve their goal.

In the Die Hard films featuring Bruce Willis, there is always a ‘baddie’ who is trying to blow something up or kidnap someone. If there was no baddie, then Bruce Willis would not be trying to save the day, and there would be no story.

  • Think about the plot – this is the series of interrelated events that form the whole story. They will get the protagonist from A to Z, via B to Y, to achieve their goal.

In other words, and to simplify; first this happens to the protagonist, and then that happens, followed by this, and this, and this, until this happens and the protagonist does that, and it’s the end of the book.

Even if you are a total pantster and don’t like planning, you should at least have an idea in your mind of the main things that are going to happen to the protagonist. For example, *Spoiler Alert* the plot for Eat,Pray, Love might be: Elizabeth Gilbert breaks up her marriage and has a bitter divorce, then has a passionate love affair with an actor, then decides to go travelling to find herself, so then she goes to Rome and has a passionate love affair with food and the culture, then she moves on to India to find enlightenment, and then moves onto Bali where she finds love and faces a tough decision in order to find happiness… I won’t spoil the end.

  • You may have sub-plots too. These are secondary strands of the main plot, which either support or add tension to the story.

They can link into the main plot later on in the book or just be there to add depth to the story (but if it’s the latter, make sure it has a purpose i.e. to help the protagonist develop or grow in some way). Sub-plots can involve secondary characters or the antagonist in some way. They should take a back seat to the main plot, so only give them as much air time you need in order to achieve the purpose of the sub-plot.

In some books, the sub-plots of some characters go on to become the main plot for a subsequent book featuring that secondary character as a protagonist. For example, many of Paige Toon’s books are interlinked in this way i.e. Bridget has a sub-plot as a secondary character in The Longest Holiday in order to help the protagonist Laura achieve her goal, but later has her own story – one of my favourite books of 2017 – in The Last Piece of My Heart.

Hopefully the above should get you started with determining your core story.  There are other things you’ll need to consider when writing your book, such as setting, tension, structure, pacing, language, using the five senses, characterisation etc. but those are other posts for other days 🙂

Let me know how you get on – and if you have anything to add, please leave a comment 🙂

Until next time, happy reading and writing,

Love, Nikki x

 

 

Writing Tip #5 – Plotters vs. Pantsters

Hello my lovelies,

where has the sunshine gone? In any case, we’re not worried, because you have better things to do than worry about the weather don’t you? Yes, it’s time to think about plotting and planning your book! In earlier posts we identified what genre you’re going to write in, along with what you know and love, and can therefore write about, so we made a good start. A quick disclaimer: This post isn’t about the technical aspects of writing a book = how to create a story arc, how many acts to use etc. it’s about your approach to plotting and planning… with my own experiences thrown in for good measure.

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Because guess what? As with many things when it comes to writing, plotting/planning is slightly different for everyone. There are as many ways of doing this as there are authors. Some people love to fly by the seat of their pants and simply ‘write into the wind’ with no clue where the story will take them. These are the ‘Pantsters’ of the blog title. Some like to have a general timeline with a beginning, middle and end (the traditional three act structure).  At the other end of the spectrum there are those who will have project management style Gantt charts and post-it notes and colour-coded index cards with every little detail on them, aka the ‘Plotters.’ The important point is, as in my last blog post about learning your craft, the path you pick needs to suit you; it’s a question of personal style.

  • You may be a ‘Pantster’ and opt for no planning whatsoever if you’re a really laid back person, enjoy the thrill of creativity and need the element of surprise in order to keep you excited about a WiP (Work-in-Progress) and have written before, so have a good understanding of how to create a good story arc and keep it tight. On the other hand, with this approach you may find that your key themes get lost in the mix, characters do their own thing, you go off-piste halfway through, the pacing is off (the dreaded ‘saggy middle’) and that the story ends half way through the desired word count i.e. you end up with half a novel.

I had some experience of this when I first started writing, back in my early twenties, and at least fourteen years before I was published. I was writing short romances aimed at Mills & Boon, and when I was writing my first two or three books (which shall never see the light of day!) I used to sit down most evenings and write into the wind. In my head knew who my two main characters were; what they each wanted (internal conflict); what might prevent them from getting what they wanted and the setting/circumstances (external conflict); and how I thought they might get there, but it was as loose as that. And boy did I suffer! I lost count of the number of times I wrote myself into a corner, either because my story arc came to end 30,000 words in (the M&B titles were circa 50,000-55,000 words full length) or because my plots had massive holes in them. As I got older, wrote more, was offered my first publishing contract and was then under deadline, I radically changed my approach…

  • You may opt for some light planning if you need some structure and a framework to write within but are quietly confident that you know how to get to the end of the book without too much trouble, or that you can handle any curve balls your characters may throw at you (once you start writing, you’ll know what I’m talking about 🙂  For example you might write an extended synopsis of the book, which is a 3 – 5 (A4) page summary of the whole storyline from start to finish. Alongside this you may have a character bio for each of the main characters, and also some notes on the structure of the book i.e. straight prose, diary entries, emails, multiple or single view points, which chapter is from whose point of view, number of chapters, estimated length of chapters, time (past versus present, with dates) etc. On this basis, you are less likely to have problems finishing the whole book, and are unlikely to write yourself into a corner. But if you follow this approach, don’t be afraid to flex as you need to, and if you come up with a better idea then amend the outline and change the story.  If your characters speak to you and they want to do something different, stop and think about where that might lead, and if you should adapt your story accordingly.

When I was writing my #LoveLondon series, I was working on the above basis. The series is made up of five novellas and one novel, all romances set in London. I had the titles from the outset so already had my event/date and the exact setting before I started writing them. Each story can be read as a stand alone, or works together as a linked series because one of the main characters in each of the novellas is related or knows Matt or Zoe, the main characters from the novel, Picnics in Hyde Park. So I wrote a rough outline for each of these stories, a bio for the two main characters, and then because of the complexity with regards to the linking of characters and events, I created a timeline with dates and characters on it so that I could check for continuity. This was also to make sure I wasn’t missing months out of the year, or introducing someone the reader had never met before! This approach worked well for me. It was a great balance of having enough information without stifling my creativity.

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  • If you’re detail-oriented, or under deadline, or have a complicated structure that calls for careful planning, you may want to go for the belt and braces approach and be a ‘Plotter.’ This might mean a colour coded spreadsheet where every scene of every chapter is laid out, and the minute detail of the themes, balance of dialogue versus setting versus action, use of five senses etc. is noted along with a full bio of every character in the book. Different people will use different tools, and there is writing software out there that you can use for this, or writing planners you can buy. You may use coloured post-it notes and lay these out so you can ‘see’ the balance and structure visually i.e. pink for setting, blue for male character, red for female character, yellow for key theme 1, green for key theme 2, etc and where this doesn’t look right you can adjust accordingly.  Plotting works really well for some authors, but others hate it because they know everything that’s going to happen in the book, and so they’re no longer excited about writing the story and they lose interest. This is Not Good Idea. So if you think this isn’t for you, ditch it – don’t be too prescriptive.

I’m being a Plotter for my new book. That’s because it has two viewpoints, uses a couple of different devices to tell the story, includes past and present scenes and chapters over a twenty year period, and most of these are not featured in chronological order. I also want to be able to share detailed ideas with my editor Charlotte and get her input, as well as make sure that the whole story curves beautifully over 90,000 – 100,000 words.

For me, what this looks like is (a) story board with ideas and pictures, timelines etc so I have a visual of the book which keeps my inspiration alive (b) character bios of five main characters so I can add colour to the book with rich detail and (c) a detailed chapter by chapter outline from start to finish, outlining key events in each chapter, who they involve, where and when they’re set and what happens in each of the scenes within each chapter. I’ve never worked in such a detailed way before, and wondered if this might stifle my creativity and make my writing feel flat, but actually it’s going really well (other than taking forever due to the demands of daily life including the day job!) When I sit down to write I have an aim to work towards, but I also give my characters enough space to express themselves and go off on slightly different tangents, and adapt the storyline if I need to. I’m still writing organically in the way I prefer, and feel excited about this book 🙂

I didn’t think I’d be saying this, after doing light plotting for years and thinking that was my thing, but now I am firmly in the Plotter camp and happy to stay there.

So, what works for you already, or what approach are you going to take? Any thoughts or experiences you want to share? And are you a Pantster or Plotter or something in between? Let me know!

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

 

Writing Tip #4 – Learn your craft?

Hello my lovelies,

hope you’re well and enjoying all the glorious sunshine! In my previous writing tip posts, we’ve talked about reading a lot, being prepared to work hard and writing what you know and love. So with that in mind, you may think it’s time to sit down and scope out your plot now, or just start typing away in a blank Word doc or writing in a pretty notebook (I have a TON of them), but I’m going to tell you not to do that yet…

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I know you probably can’t wait to get started, and if you want to ignore me and skip to the next post later this week then that’s fine – I don’t want to get in the way of inspiration and creativity – but if you want to take a few minutes to read and consider this, then that’s great. My next tip is learn your craft.

This will mean different things to different people, and it’s a personal choice how you do this depending on a whole range of factors including time restraints, finances and personal style.  So what do I mean by learn your craft, related to writing and being published? (Other than reading a lot, which I feel is an inherent part of the process). Well, for me it’s: –

1) Learning how to use the English language to write effectively in order to create a compelling, colourful and memorable story. How technical you make this in terms of learning about grammar and so on, is up to you. (Personally, I’m not convinced I need to be able to define what a past participle or a subordinate clause is in order to write well, but each to their own and there are some people who love all that stuff!)

2) Learning about the different elements that make a great story i.e. plotting, pacing, description, characterisation, dialogue, creating a satisfying story arc… and then learning  how to pull all that off when you’re actually writing the book. It’s far from easy!

3)  Learning about the publishing industry – how it works, where to go for what type of service, agent vs publisher, the submissions process, requests for rewrites, publishing contracts, deadlines, royalties, PR, social media etc. It’s complex and often confusing, so be prepared!

To get started with some of this, it might be that you consider:-

  • Signing up for a Creative Writing or English degree;
  • Enrolling in a creative writing class through the local college, often run at the weekends or over a few evenings a week;
  • Paying to be in a writing academy run by a publisher like Faber & Faber in London (which is quite well known for generating best selling authors, but these can be expensive);
  • Joining a writing group where you can talk freely about your book idea, receive constructive criticism on early drafts and get advice from other people on the same journey as you (but who might be further along it and able to offer support);
  • Finding a published author who will mentor you and provide constructive criticism (some do this to supplement their writing income).

I dabbled with a writing class for about six weeks when I was in my late teens, and joined a writing group in my early twenties for a few months, but neither were a good fit, and they never really felt like they were adding value, so I did something different.

I read numerous non-fiction books on writing and publishing, before putting all the knowledge into practice, writing a draft manuscript and getting some constructive criticism so I could make improvements to it. There’s a separate post about constructive criticism later in this series, so for now I’ll focus on some of the books that I found invaluable when I was learning my craft. These are just a few of the best, there are hundreds out there: –

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I hope you find the above list useful, and that if you read and enjoy any of them, you’ll let me know. Otherwise, if you read any others that are great, just post in the comments below or catch up with me on Twitter. We’re all still learning our craft 🙂

Finally, in my honest experience, every published author has had a different journey and I don’t think that any particular one is the right one, so it’s up to you to decide which route to take, whether it’s any of the above or not. The important thing is that once you’ve found the right one, you do yourself justice and commit to it 100%. Good luck!

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

Writing Tip #3 – Write What You Know (& Love)

Hello my lovelies,

April is zipping by and it won’t be long until May. The sun has been shining, everyone seems happier and I’ve been spending my lunch breaks reading books down by the river. I’m very lucky to have such gorgeous views just two minutes from where I do my day job 🙂

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So, it’s time for my next writing tip, and I hope this is one that’ll resonate with people because it’s so bloody hard to get right. When you’re deciding what kind of book you want to write, my advice is this – write what you know and love.

 

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If you write about what you know, it lends an air of authenticity to your book, which in turn makes it believable and allows your readers to connect with the world and the characters you’ve created. Writing what you know can be using anything relevant, such as: –

  • Setting your book in places you’ve visited
  • Giving a main character an occupation you have now or had previously
  • Plotting your book around a major life event you’ve experienced such as moving house, opening a business or getting a divorce (I am NOT advocating writing about what actually happened to you, just use the situation for context!)
  • Hobbies you’ve taken up or that a close friend or family member has, as a backdrop to the story i.e. how many books are there out there about village choirs, or reading groups or art classes?
  • A subject matter you’re considered an expert in
  • Or, less critically, your characters can have an appreciation for the music you adore or films and books that you’ve read etc.

I’ve set books and short stories in places I’ve visited (Barcelona, London, Maldives) and the new book I’m working on is set in my home county of Dorset. My debut novel touched on Human Resources and tribunals (which relates to my day job), and some of the characters in the #LoveLondon series have jobs I’ve done in the past or that my friends/family have done i.e. bar work, nannying, journalist, retail assistant etc.

But you also need to write what you love. If writing about what you know is deathly boring and you can’t summon an ounce of enthusiasm for the subject/setting/occupation etc. your book will be flat and lifeless. So, think about what excites you as well. What genres do you like reading? What are you passionate about? What are the best books that you’ve read, and why? What is the story you can’t wait to tell? What are the values and life lessons you believe in, that you want to communicate to others?

I grew up reading romance, have always loved a good rom-com, and am at my happiest when I finish a book or film feeling that I’ve learnt something important, so it’s no surprise that my books and stories to date have been romances that aim to fill my readers with hope and resonate with them emotionally 🙂 But the more I read psychological thrillers and domestic noir, and enjoy them, the more I start yearning to write a psychological thriller of my own…

In summary, where does what you know and what you love, converge? The sweet spot in publishing is often where that convergence hits the commercial market i.e. the latest trend, along with brilliant storytelling and memorable characters (often with a lot of luck, and word of mouth from readers and bloggers) with a captivating cover = best seller stardom and high sales. So think about this carefully. Don’t be a slave to the latest trend, but do consider the above and make a decision that not only allows you to enjoy what you write, but hopefully gets you some decent sales too 🙂

What do you think? Any thoughts? More writing tips soon!

Unti next time, happy reading & writing.

Love, Nikki x

 

Writing Tip #1 – Read a lot!

Hello my lovelies,

I don’t know about you, but I was so glad to see the sunshine yesterday; I always feel much happier when it’s sunny, and find it easier to write too 🙂

Following the lovely response to my last blog post about when to say no to a publishing deal, I thought I’d do a series of blog posts for aspiring authors. I’m by no means a bestselling author, and I haven’t hit the dizzy heights of a mass paperback deal, but I have done my time as a budding author trying to get that elusive publishing deal, so I thought I’d share the benefit of those experiences with others to help them along the way. The support of other writers has always been really important to me, and I have no doubt that all those titbits of advice I absorbed over social media, through conversations in closed forums (such as the Romantic Novelists Association forum ROMNA), and by chatting at writing industry parties, helped me massively on my journey to publication. So, here goes…

Tip #1 – READ. A LOT.

I know this might seem counterintuitive – after all, if you’re reading all the time, when are you going to have time to write? – but don’t underestimate the importance of reading widely and well. This will expand your thinking as well as improving your vocabulary and grammar (as long as you’re reading quality books!). I’ve always been a massive bookworm, and love to read. If I can transport my readers into another world in the same way that my favourite authors can for me, then I’m happy. My bookcase is heaving with a mixture of genres, from non-fiction writing craft books to romance to psychological thrillers to literary fiction. I honestly think that my love of reading has made a big difference to my writing, injecting my books with passion and colour.

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More importantly, you should read in the genre you are going to write in. This will help you understand what a successful book in that genre looks and feels like. I’m not talking about reading books in your chosen genre in order to copy them, or steal ideas or emulate them; no-one wants a carbon copy of a book they have read before, and if you don’t then inject your unique voice and passion into it, it’ll fall flat. What I’m talking about is reading books in order to grasp what the important elements are, such as: –

  • Plotting – What is the story about? What are the core elements?
  • Structure – How is the story structured? I.e. long or short paragraphs and chapters; use of devices such as diary entries, emails, tweets; flitting between current day and the past, or between multiple viewpoints etc.
  • Pacing – How does the story unfold? What tools does the author use to slow down or speed up the story?
  • Description – How does the author create a vibrant atmosphere so that you feel you can step into the pages? I.e. visuals, use of the five senses etc.
  • Characterisation (including point of view) – How does the author make the characters three-dimensional? How do they create a main character that you can live inside the head of, and are rooting for?
  • Dialogue – How does the author create natural sounding dialogue that carries the story forward, instead of bogging it down? How do they use dialogue tags to create action i.e. rather than just adding ‘he said,’ and ‘she said’ after every bit of dialogue? How do they use dialogue to add depth to the characterisation?
  • Showing not telling – On the whole, how does the author communicate the story to you? I.e. ‘Jack slammed his fists on the worktop’ (rather than, ‘Jack was angry.’) etc.

The above isn’t an exhaustive list, but should give you a starter for ten 🙂

Personally, I read books on two levels – one with my writer/editor hat on, ‘That’s an interesting way to do it, that works, I can see what s/he has done there, I didn’t like that bit of description – why not?’ and one with my reader hat on, ‘Wow, I’m hooked, what a great story, I should be going to bed but I’m going to keep reading instead.’ (BTW, I know that a book is particularly good if my writer/editor hat disappears altogether and I stop noticing the writing techniques). Try it and see how you get on; I’ve been amazed by the useful things I’ve come up with that I’ve then applied to my own writing. In fact, after reading a brilliant book by Lisa Jewell, Then She Was Gone, I have just changed one of my character’s viewpoints from first to third person in a multiple viewpoint book, to help create a different ‘voice’ and it now works much better.

Let me know how you get on 🙂 I’d love to hear from you if you found this post useful, and I’m around on Twitter if you fancy a chat via @NikkiMoore_Auth

The next top tip is coming soon! Until then, happy reading and writing.

Love, Nikki x

Belated #SummerImpulse; Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe (Review)

Hello my lovelies,

I hope everyone is well, has had a great week and is enjoying the summer 🙂

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I’m always nothing if not honest in my blog posts so I’ll start by openly saying this review is late. Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe by the marvellous Debbie Johnson was supposed to be the second HarperImpulse book I read and reviewed for the #Summerimpulse Readathon, which ended last Sunday… But between two jam packed weekends and starting a brand new shiny HR job, I had little time to read.

However, just because #Summerimpulse is over, that doesn’t mean reading and reviewing another HI book isn’t valid, so I went ahead and finished it. Here’s what I thought.

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This is a bloody brilliant book. End of. I could stop there but of course you might want a little more detail, so I won’t! In short, this is not just a romance, and it’s not just a ‘location’ book following a successful market trend (cafe / west country setting) and it’s not just a glorious summer read. It is all of those, but also much more.

Yes, it has a heartening romance at the centre of it (between Laura, our frazzled, slightly nuts but adorable heroine, and the gorgeous local vet Matt) and yes, it had an amazing backdrop in terms of beautiful Dorset, where I count myself very lucky to live and yes, it helped me enjoy the summer 🙂   But it also had a full cast of delightfully rounded characters, my favourites being Laura herself, Nate and Lizzie (Laura’s children, who are similar ages to my own kids and who were frighteningly true to life) and Jimbo (the ageing Labrador) all of who leapt off the page and drew me in. I also liked the premise of the book, with Laura transplanting her family from Manchester to Dorset for the summer for a change of scenery, a holiday and to get back into the working world again after losing her husband a few years previously. Laura initially thinks of her plan as crazy, as do her family, but slowly and surely the Dorset coast and the welcoming people start to work their magic…

Debbie also writes with a really engaging  voice, capturing both the lighter and darker moments of life perfectly. I always know that when I read Debbie’s books I’m going to laugh out loud but at the same time be emotionally wrung out and taken on the journey with the main character. In that way, her writing reminds me of the fantastic JoJo Moyes.

However, for me the book worked best because it spoke to me in a touchingly honest and sensitive way. The core themes were about dealing with grief (candid but not depressing), appreciating the simple things in life such as friends and family, and learning to truly live again after a loss. They’re all themes that resonated with me after two recent bereavements, and while the book is a cracking good read, more importantly I felt Debbie had helped me see things in a different light… Which is why I was so glad that when I got to the very satisfying end of the book with all the threads knit together so well, I was left with a smile on my face, tears in my eyes and a genuine desire to read another Debbie Johnson book.

Have you read Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe? What did you think?

To find out more about Debbie you can look here https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00HPYTB2M or find her on Fb here www.facebook.com/debbiejohnsonauthor

The book is available to buy across a number of formats and platforms including Amazon – for only 99p as an eBook here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Summer-Comfort-Food-Cafe-bestselling-ebook/dp/B015EXDQIA

I’m off abroad soon but am hoping to post about my holiday TBR pile, which I’m really excited about, before I go.

So until next then, Happy Reading and Writing.

Love, Nikki x

Writing Tip #10 – The Dirty Draft

Hello my lovelies,

I hope you’re well? As I get ready to jet off to Florida, overlooking the tarmac from a comfy sofa while sipping a certain drink that might have Mr Daniels in it, it occurs to me that it’s time to start drafting your book. In previous posts, we’ve talked about reading, writing what you know and love, being prepared to work hard, plot, structure, character, conflict, setting etc. Now that you know your story and how it’s going to unfold is clear in your head, and you have the main characters raring and ready to go, it’s really time to put bum on seat and start typing/writing/tapping/whatever floats your boat.

And by the way, the title of this post is not a reference to a well-known book with fifty shades of S&M in it, or some kind of pornographic intro. When I talk about the dirty draft, I’m referring to a raw first draft that is full of plot holes and peppered with spelling and grammar mistakes and it doesn’t matter. Because it’s not the finished product you’ll be happy to send off to your editor, agent or anyone willing to read your book. This is not the book baby you will proudly show to the world. This is the start of your book, the birth if you like, and it’ll be some time before it is bathed, and smartly dressed, and ready to be passed around for people to smile and tell you how beautiful it is.

The reason I suggest writing this way because it’ll help you get a draft written without making it feel like a slow form of torture. The type that means by the end of it you hate your book, the characters, your life in general… and you never want to touch a keyboard again. It’s about getting the story down, downloaded from your head and heart, and onto the page. Don’t think too much, just write. Don’t worry about tense, pronouns and flowery descriptions etc. Just let yourself go, let your characters speak to you, and enjoy writing their story 🙂 Once this is done, you can go back to the beginning and start revising and redrafting and making it shine.

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I learnt this the hard way, believe me. When I first started writing, it used to take me a long time to write  a book – we are talking years. Because I was being too precious about it, and wouldn’t move the story forward until I was absolutely sure that every single word, sentence and paragraph was polished and sparkling. I’d spend weeks on a single chapter because every time I sat down to write, perhaps having only a one hour slot between the day job, kids and household chores, I’d go back and look at what I’d written last time, and would revise it. I’d do this a line at a time, taking bits out and putting them back in because I wanted perfection first time around. By the end of the hour, I’d have maybe added only a few hundred extra words in word count to the end of the chapter. The next time I wrote, I might even go back to the beginning of the whole book, revising everything again. This was a slow and painful way to write, and at times I thought of giving up. Or else, I’d start writing something new, because I was so sick of the current project that I needed to feel some excitement again. I can’t remember who suggested the dirty draft to me; I think I may have overheard a conversation at an RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) event, but for me it was a game changer. Without learning that lesson I doubt The Lost Weekend (my debut novel, released under the title Crazy, Undercover, Love) would even be finished, let alone published. It’s very easy to end up with a pile of half completed manuscripts. But if you want to be a published author you need to finish one and get into a habit of finishing them!

So why not try it, and let me know how you get on? I’d love to hear from fellow writers 🙂 Good luck!

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love Nikki x