Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Write Environment

Creating a good writing environment is hard.

Thank you everyone for your support of my last unproductive week in the comments of my last post on ADD. Unfortunately, errands just keep popping up, the more you do, the more there seems to be done!

This week I managed to spend one of my free mornings editing my brother's book. The next morning I had a very frustrating time changing over my license and registration (yes, I'm officially a Queenslander now... still not sure how I feel about that, as I know I'm a Victorian at heart), which also involved me being accused of illegal dealings while unsuccessfully trying to take off my VIC number plates, and having to ask a homeless man to help me as I couldn't completely unscrew them. Luckily I look pretty innocent. I did a bit more editing the next day before going out to lunch with a work colleague, and then the day after my mother and little sister flew up to Brisbane to visit for the weekend.

So here I am on Sunday with only a bit more editing done (and a few ideas of my boarding house book, Artemis Fowl meets St. Trinians).

It's time to do some thinking (and for me, praying) because something isn't right.

I'm not achieving as much as I feel I should. Which means one of two things:

1) something is holding me back from working as hard as I could.
2) I have unrealistic expectations of how much I should be doing.
(Or possibly a mix of both).

I know I've only been in Brisbane just over a month, and there is a lot of stress involved in moving, starting a new job, setting up. Also, I'm now working a full time job, even if it does start late it is 8.5 hours a day, which just doesn't leave that much extra time when you need to fit in the rest of life as well.

Having said that, even when I do have time, I'm not dedicating as much to writing as I could.

The question for me is why?

I was sitting behind one of the girls in chapel, and was reading the writing she had on her T-Shirt. It was a collection of positive sayings, one of which really jumped out at me:

Create a life you love.

It struck me because I love my new job, and I have so much going for me, but currently when I think of the little life I'm creating for myself here, it's not something I love.

As silly as it sounds, I haven't yet furnished my apartment in a way that makes me feel at home there. This means I don't enjoy sitting in there writing and thinking. There is not enough beauty in my life at the moment.

So I'm going to spend time thinking and acting this week to fix this. I want to make my apartment an oasis that I feel completely at home in and inspires me creatively. I'm going to make it beautiful and relaxing. I just haven't decided how yet, because Brisbane is completely different in atmosphere to Melbourne. While making a snuggly, warm place with lanterns and cosy furniture worked there, it won't work in Queensland. I need to make a more tropical atmosphere. It's just so unusual to me that I don't know where to start. Well, okay, I do know where to start: PINTEREST!

So, I'm off to do some pinteresting as my goal for this week.

What sort of environment inspires you to write? 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Essential Writing Concepts: ADD

Courtesy of Chris Corwin at Flickr
There are many writing concepts that, once pointed out are so obvious that you are sure you knew it all along. This is one of those. It is the clarification of an idea, a marking out the boundaries of something so obvious that you will instinctual know it. However, in realising it intellectually, you will be able to assess your writing anew and with more insight. 

All prose is made up of three things: A D D (which doesn't actually stand for Attention Deficit Disorder, in case you were wondering).

Action: Mary picked up the glass and threw it at his head.
Dialogue: "You pig. How dare you bring her here?"
Description: The room was brightly lit, and the expensive sound system played hits from the 90's. Waiters with champagne glasses on silver trays paused, and peroxided ladies in glittering dresses held their breath. 

That's all there is in a novel, the combination of bits of action, dialogue, and description. Sometimes description can include action, or action description, but the division of the two is necessary for understanding pacing. Action moves a story forward, while description is pausing to look around.

At different points in the history of prose, and in different cultures, the ratios between these three things have varied. As previously mentioned, I'm working to edit and develop a piece written by my great grandfather over half a century ago. The first thing that struck me was that the manuscript has a very large amount of dialogue, and almost no description at all (which, by the way, is quite annoying as I can fill in the dialogue, but have more trouble developing the description of early 20th century Scotland.) Discussing it with my grandfather, he pointed out that it used to be considered the height of sophistication to be able to move a story along by the dialogue, without the need for description. But nowadays so much dialogue leaves no room for the imagination. 

Each genre has its own requirements for how much of each you should use. Take action/adventure, Matthew Reilly as an example. To keep the pace up, the books have large sections which are just action and dialogue, with reduced description. Then, move across to the romance genre, and say Georgette Heyer, and you get long descriptions of every article of clothing worn. 

Similarly, a writer's particular style is developed from how they choose to use these three elements.

In another post I will look at how to utilise the three in your pacing. But as a basis, writing should be made up of equal parts of the three. In peaks of tension, you might have more action and dialogue, and the troughs of your story will generally be more descriptive. However, over all, most pages should have some of all three. 

Now if you are editing a work, try this exercise to better understand your own writing.
Take three different coloured highlights: one for action, one for dialogue and one for description (this can also be done with the highlight feature in your word processor).
Go through your entire manuscript highlighting every part into one of the three.
Are there pages that are predominantly one colour? This is a bad sign, and you probably need to break this up a bit. (This is one of the big problems with "The Ill Made Mute", a book I loved, but there were pages and pages of nothing but description, which I ended up flicking past until I say the next set of quotation marks.)

ROW 80 Goals:
So, last Monday I set the following goals:

- Finish the first run through of Bootcamp and sent it off for a structural edit.
- Started editing After The Winter.
- Create the cover for Bootcamp (I want to play with the one I already have a bit), and start a Goodreads Giveaway for the hard copy, giving myself a deadline for when it will come out.

How much of that have I done? That would be none.
Instead I dedicated this week to getting all those other life errands fixed that require time and energy. I got my car cleaned, picked up the screws I needed to fix my desk, went to Ikea to get more storage for my room, put my car into the mechanics, finally got my hair done, and organised my little flat a bit more. And somehow that was my week gone.
So, the only solution is to try again this week. Wish me luck!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Anna Karenina and The Advantages and Disadvantages of Head Hopping

It might have taken me a month, but last week I finally finished Anna Karenina by Tolstoy.
It is an amazing book but I did wonder if you sent it to a modern, Western publisher today what they would actually say. I'm sure they would take a large red pen to huge chunks of it which are not essential to the story.

But the main thing from the book I want to look at today, because it is considered one of the big 'no-no's' of modern writing, is head hopping. That is, changing points of view between characters. 

Anna Karenina is all over the place, sometimes switching points of view within a paragraph. There were times when I wasn't actually sure whose head we were inside. And at one point I worked out we were in the head of the dog.

Showing us the different points of view in places added to the story (I meant enhanced the reading experience, but now I come to think of it, it is equally true it added the the page count.) With the large number of characters giving their own opinions made a delightful, or extremely sad, comparison between natures. This struck me at the beginning of the story where we first see things through Oblonsky's point of view, and how he feels he is justified in having affairs on his wife because she now has the children to look after and has lost her good looks. (Okay, when Tolstoy says it, it seems more reasonable). But then a little later we get his wife's point of view. Dolly was completely in love with him, and has give up her beauty and figure to bear him children. She spends her days sorting out the domestic issues that come from him spending all their money, and yet its not enough for him. She feels utterly betrayed and heart broken.

The poignancy of the situation could not be gotten across except by showing us both points of view.

Having said that, making us connect with these two characters, and then numerous others who are not the main characters, I think does detract from the connection with Anna. Perhaps it was because I knew she committed suicide at the end anyway, but going through chapter after chapter of other people's issues, problems and perspectives, I never connected very much to Anna. Her death was not that great a tragedy for me as at least Levin and Kitty got a happy ending, and I cared more about them than Anna and Vronsky. We kept coming back to Anna after months of interval with other characters, and each time she was in a completely different state which I struggled to keep up with. She seemed like a different character each time.

Now I want to compare this to the next book I started reading: The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton. (It was only after I started reading it I remembered that the main character in this also kills herself and yes, on the weekend I had to see Disney's Frozen just to make up for all the doom and gloom). I haven't finished the book yet, but already I'm much more invested in Lily Bart because 90% of the book is her point of view. We occasionally get glimpses of the thoughts of other characters, but it always comes back to Lily. What we learn through seeing other people's thoughts is used to explain what is going to happen to her. They are background brush strokes which highlight where the main character is being led to and why. For example we get a bit of a digression into Lily's cousin Grace Stepney part way through chapter 11. However, comments such as 'Even such scant civilities as Lily accorded to Mr. Rosedale would have made Miss Stepney her friend for life; but how could she foresee that such a friend was worth cultivating?' Suddenly we are given the hint that understanding Grace will help us understand Lily's ultimate demise, and what was pointless now becomes very important indeed.  (Of course, I'll need to finish the book to find out exactly how this happens. I've only seen the movie many years ago, so can't quite remember how it all plays out.)

I would recommend a study of the points of views in both books for those who want to understand the advantages and disadvantages of head-hopping within fiction. If you have as much space as Tolstoy did, you can take long discursions into other people's problems and interests. However, you risk your audience losing their connection with the main character. If you want a sharper, faster paced book then Wharton's use of point of view, where other POV's are carefully used to show the reader the unavoidable path the main character is being led along, is very effective.

Having said that, experimenting with using just one point of view, letting the reader be surprised with the main character, is a very interesting exercise. Once I realised the effect head-hopping had on the connection between my character and the audience, I stopped it. I now look carefully at who I want the audience to be interested in within a scene and show it from their point of view. For some books this means always the same person, but in other books I change it to bring in conflict or greater understanding for the audience. I recommend you try changing the point of view and see how that affects otherwise flat scenes.

As to my own writing:
I am currently waiting for the proof copy of the paperback for The Nice Guy's Guide To Online Dating Profiles from Amazon. It should arrive tomorrow, yah!
I ran a Goodreads giveaway for it which ended tonight, and 666 people entered. Is that a bad sign?

I didn't get through the first two days of Bootcamp by last Wednesday, as I had hoped. I'm still working on it, and today found a whole new section on different genres I should add to help the reader. Hopefully I will get that finished tomorrow morning, and finish Day 2 as well. Will just have to see how much I can get done before work.

I've been sending off proposals to agents for 'A Little Bit Of Leaven', so all prayers for that gratefully received. I fulfilled my quota and sent a few more as well, so that's one goal met. I also made it to the gym three times last week, so another goal met.

Finally, reading The House Of Mirth has made me wonder whether I should change the character of Lucinda Hargraves in After The Winter a bit. When I finish Bootcamp I'm going to start on that, just need things to fall into place a bit more. For those who have read the sample chapter on the Synopsis page, do you think she is a bit wet? Would she be better a bit stronger, even if it is to the harsh side?

This Week's Goals:
- Finish the first run through of Bootcamp and sent it off for a structural edit.
- Started editing After The Winter.
- Create the cover for Bootcamp (I want to play with the one I already have a bit), and start a Goodreads Giveaway for the hard copy, giving myself a deadline for when it will come out.

That should probably do.

Anyone read a book with a lot of changing points of view that really worked? 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

End of My First Week With The Girls

It is 10.30pm on a Sunday night, and I'm just settling down 40 teenage girls down after a day at Wet'n'Wild. Yes, that is as fun as it sounds: hyper active, sunburnt, over-tired and already having boy issues. I'm so glad I'm not 16 again!

This is my last shift for my first week as a boarding house supervisor. It has been a very full on week, but I think I'm finally getting my 70 girls names down (Year 10 and 11), though I still have no idea about the other 100 girls in the other year levels.

So how has my writing gone in all this time?

Not as badly as you might expect.

I put together the proposal with chapter summaries for 'A Little Bit Of Leaven' and have started sending it out to US agents. The first one I emailed has already gotten back to me, which is kind but as you might suspect not a good sign. Though he did send it to one of his reviewers to read through, and didn't say anything negative about the manuscript. The only problem is that he's not taking on new authors at the moment, so 'it was a matter of timing'. Not much I can do to overcome that. But that was just the first on the list, so just going to keep plugging along.

I also started editing 'The Five Day Writer's Bootcamp', and have gotten through the preface and introduction. Needs a bit more polishing, but reading it through again is not totally disheartening. Whether I will be able to get it ready in two weeks is another matter entirely. But still, everyone needs a goal.

Still going with Anna Karenina. It is a wonderful book, but sometimes the pacing makes you wonder if it will ever finish. However, if you ever want to know how to do great characterisation and similes, this is the book to go to.

Tomorrow is the first of two days off, so until Wednesday's check in I'm setting myself the following goals:
1. Go to the gym twice or for a swim.
2. Finish the print on demand cover for 'Online Dating'
3. Finish the formatting of the text for 'Online Dating' and order proof.
4. Submit queries/proposals to three more agents.
5. Finish Day 1 and 2 of Bootcamp.

That should keep me busy!

How is everyone else going?