As a general rule of thumb, money should always flow to the author. If you have to pay to get your book published (by someone else – obviously if you’re self-publishing, it’s a different story) then the general advice is avoid it.
What does it mean to be a writer? If you’re a writer yourself, then you’d know that there is more to being a writer than meets the eye. There’s more to being a writer than simply knowing how to write. Getting an A for your essay doesn’t make you a writer. It’s not even about having great writing skills. I’m not saying that you can make it out as a writer even if you have bad writing skills. What I’m saying is your writing is just one fourth of the whole equation. Being a writer has more to do with ideas. It is about having something to say. It’s about finding yourself having thoughts about important stuff. It doesn’t even have to be important stuff. Even the unimportant stuff will do. These ideas usually come when the clock strikes 10 in the evening, ideas that comes when you are all alone, giving you no choice but to write it down. Otherwise, you’ll lose all of your ideas the next morning. Being a writer is all about having the most absurd yet logical ideas. It’s about being a fountain of ideas. It’s no wonder that one of the trickiest parts about being a writer is to stay focused. I mean, distractions are everywhere. How can you ever hope to finish what you’re writing? Don’t forget that you also have other things to worry about: the noise. Your head is already noisy enough. Add that to environmental noise that you are surrounded by. I mean, they are just everywhere. Go with the tide If you try to resist the chaos, then there is no way you are going to finish that book. Instead of trying to combat the noise and distractions, why don’t you just let everything be? Now, I know what… read more →
Character agency is basically about giving your characters choices. It’s also tied in to the idea of making relatable, rounded characters – so characters with aims and flaws, who make good and bad decisions. Character agency is the decision-making bit of that; it’s letting the characters drive the events in your stories. Character agency is about how the characters accomplish the plot Ok, so you’ve got your basic plot. Hero rescues Princess from Dragon. Simple, right? But if you pick three different characters, they’ll go about that in three different ways, and you’d end up with three different outcomes. The Dark Lord. Turns up on his own Fearsome Dragon and has them fight while he leans on the wall and has a quick smoke. Hang on…his dragon lost?! Well, depending on your Dark Lord, he can either haul out the Sword Of Doom for a quick bout of hand-to-hand, or produce the cannon he so thoughtfully hauled along…either way, you’re likely to end up with a dead dragon and a suitably rescued princess, who might be rather charmed by a thin moustache and fashionable black armour. The Thoughtful Farm Boy. He brings along a cow, strolls past the dragon while it’s otherwise occupied with that snack, and then talks both Princess and Dragon into leaving with him, because who wants to be stuck in a crumbling old castle? They then all decide that any King who shuts his daughter up in a tower and kills off her suitors probably isn’t a very good King, and go off to rescue the Kingdom as well. Adventure time! The Cynical Assassin. She doesn’t bother fighting the dragon – she scales the back wall, sneaks into the tower and…love at first sight, with a passionate kiss to go with it? Well, why not? What… read more →
I was asked recently how to make characters more individual; how to make them unique, colourful and distinctive. How do you get the different quirks of humans into a piece of writing? Major characters Sometimes it feels as if you could have robots as your main characters and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. They all speak and act in the same way, and you could replace them without anyone batting an eyelid. How can you make them individual? List six character traits for each of your major characters, and use these when you’re writing. How would these traits affect their reactions to events? How would they speak? How would they react to other characters? It works particularly well if you’ve got two traits that play off each other; what would happen if you get two stubborn and angry characters disagreeing with each other? Think about their background. Where have they come from? What happened to them? What adventures have they had? What events have made them who they are? List three priorities for that character at various points during the plot. While at the start, their First Priority might be getting back to their family, as time goes on Priority Two: Saving The World may come to the fore, or occasionally be superseded by Priority Three: Get A Good Night’s Sleep. At each plot point, think about what that character’s priority is likely to be at that point, and how it would affect their actions. Even minor priorities get quite big at certain points – if you’ve ever been wet and tired, getting to shelter or sleep is usually more important at that point than whatever your day’s aim was. Minor characters Cardboard cut-outs in the background. How to give these walk-on parts some personality? Give minor characters… read more →
There’s a lot of things that can stop you writing. Sometimes it’s real life, which can’t usually be helped; if the dog wants your laptop as a toy and your screen’s now decorated with bite marks, that does put a crimp in your ability to type. But sometimes the show-stoppers are either in your head, or in your writing. Here’s five more things that might be stopping your story in its tracks, and some suggestions to overcome them. I’ve got a blank page… You don’t know how to start. You don’t know what the first line should be. You don’t even know if the idea’s worth writing. Flash fiction! Write a story in six words. A hundred words. Three hundred words. Write a paragraph about an image, something you spotted in the street, the eighth line from the book nearest you. Prompts – as a starting point, try Reddit’s r/writingprompts. There’s a whole archive of them, even if you don’t want to put anything on the site. Start in the middle. Write that one scene that set the idea off; write that one snippet of conversation; tell us something about your character. Write the fifth chapter. Write the ending. Get something on the page and then go back to the beginning. My plot is wonky Distill it down to the basics: Get Ring, Take Ring To Mordor, Save The World. You can then expand a little – how are they doing all of those things? What’s stopping them, what’s helping them, what’s the outcome? This can sometimes help to focus on what the actual problem is, and shows where the holes are. Get an outside perspective. It often really helps to get someone else’s ideas; they’ll come up with things you haven’t even considered, and even if you don’t use… read more →
Or, why the bad guy doesn’t think he’s bad. [NB. I’m using “he”, but please take this as non-gender and -species specific; Evil Masterminds of Doom can be anyone or anything, after all.] So, your villain. He wants to Take Over The World, Kill Everyone, Create An Army of The Undead, or *insert plot here*. Ok, that’s great! Gives the hero something to fight against. But he wants to do all that simply because…he’s Evil? Really? That’s it? There are no true Bad Guys If history has shown anything, it’s that the bad guys don’t think they’re bad. The only difference between The Evil Dictator Who Destroyed The World and The Benevolent Ruler Who Brought Us Peace is what stories get told and what people believe. There’s always motivations and drivers behind the worst of actions; we might judge them as insane or warped, but very few things are ever done on a whim. What’s their background? Real motivations make for exceptionally awesome villains. Yes, you can have base motives – revenge, or lust, or desire for power – but give them some background. Why do they hate big-footed dwarves so much? How did they get hold of the technology to create sharks with frickin’ lasers on their heads? Why do their minions trust them? And didn’t someone notice that Maniacal Laugh sooner? Tie into the bigger world The idea of rationality behind evil feeds into worldbuilding, too. Where’s the money coming from to buy all those Mechanised Soldiers Of Doom? Is the Super Baddy actually a good enough leader to keep hold of power once he’s gained it? What do you do to stop the Undead Hordes from getting bored once you’ve conquered wherever it is? And if you Kill All Humans, won’t it get a bit boring around… read more →
When you send a submission, different publishers ask for different things. However, it will usually be at least the first 10,000 words, which should be your first 3-5 chapters. This is what the editor will read and what they will use to decide if your book is any good, and then decide if they want to read the rest of it. And it’s not just the editor; later on, the reader will do exactly the same thing. Ever flicked through the first chapter in a bookshop or read it on Amazon? What made you want to continue and buy the book? What made you put it down and move on? It’d be your impression from the first chapter or two. Basically, the start of your book is pretty freakin’ important for giving a first impression. Have a think about the first five chapters of your book. Have a think about any critique you’ve received. And if you’ve ever uttered any of these phrases or you think they might apply to you, please take a long, hard look at your work… “It gets better later…” I can and will stop reading. If you haven’t hooked my attention in the first five chapters, then you’ve lost me. The same goes with the longer view; if you don’t grab me with the first book, why am I going to read until Book 5 of your series when the ‘real’ action starts? You need to get me interested now. “This is just the prologue…” So why are you starting here? Start with the action! Start with the story! Tell me the parts you find fascinating! When you become a millionaire best-seller you can always do a “pre-story” novel or novella or something, but for now – get to the interesting bits. “Oh, you’ve got… read more →
There’s a lot of things that can stop you writing. Sometimes it’s real life, which can’t usually be helped; if the cat decides to spill a glass of water on your laptop, that does put a crimp in your ability to type. But sometimes the show-stoppers are either in your head, or in your writing. Here’s five things that your head might be telling you, and some suggestions to overcome them. I’m not good enough. That brilliant writer that you want to be like? The one with best-selling novels? Or even just the last piece you read on Tumblr, the snippet of something on Facebook? You’re thinking that you’re not as good as them, you can’t do it, what’s the point of trying… Stop for a moment, and consider how long they’ve likely been writing. How long have they had to practise, and to hone their craft? Writing is a skill like any other; it can be learned and it can be improved. How many drafts and tears and moments of doubt has that best-selling novel gone through? How many edits and revisions? You aren’t that good. Not yet. But you won’t ever be that good unless you start practising. Try. Experiment. Play. And practise, practise, practise. Everyone’s going to hate it Ugh, the invisible audience. I think this is possibly the voice that I hate most; the feeling that whatever you do, someone is going to criticise – and it’s usually yourself! I’ve got a couple of ways round this. Write for yourself. Yell back at the voices; pretend no-one else will ever see it, that it’s only for you. Or, if you’re the most critical, write for a friend who’ll forgive the errors and just wants to read your story. Things like #2BitTues and #1LineWed on Twitter; they’re… read more →