Beta Love

Hello fellow, bloggers, writers and readers. I don’t know about you, but for me sharing work with friends and family is terrifying. It’s like standing in front of them naked while they sit and judge. (Well it’s not, but it makes you feel just as vulnerable).

av2UntitledAfter my initial beta reading from my best writing buddy, I re-edited my manuscript and doled it out to a wider selection of willing friends and relatives. I was really nervous at first, I was letting my guard down in a real way and then as time passed I stopped being nervous. I stopped being nervous because not a single bloody one of them had read it. Then it was to hell with nerves and on with “where are you?” “how are you doing?” … and other ways of getting their arses in gear.

When I finally started getting some feedback back in from them the nerves started up again. What if they didn’t like it? What if they think I’m weird? What if they think it’s about them? And worst of all, what if they don’t think I should be a writer? … The funny thing about those worries is that they related more to me as a person than they did my book. I’m proud of my book and if I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t have showed it to them to begin with.

I’ll start by saying they’ve given me some fair and useful criticism, tips that are hard to see yourself on your own project. But the overall response has been a big thumbs up. ‘Hilarious’, ‘fantastic’ and ‘I forgot you’d written it’.

The latter is my favourite comment. I think that’s the highest praise you can give an aspiring writer because if the people who know you best have forgotten it’s your voice and are just enjoying reading a story, surely that must bode well for your prospective audience. I hope so anyway.

I’m looking forward to re-editing my manuscript based on their notes and getting it out in the world. Beta reading is about more than reaffirming an author’s confidence. It’s feedback from your market and a chance to see an objective view of something you can only be subjective about. It’s been fab to experience such great beta love and I hope my book will be all the better for it.

Where are you at with your stories? Are you nervous about beta reading? Have you been a beta reader? Do you think beta love is useful?

I always love to hear from you!

What Makes a Story – #3 Storytelling vs Writing

Welcome to part three of my story posts and this time I’m asking a question rather than making a statement. Do you think story telling or writing is more important?

I’m a firm believer that storytelling or plotting and writing are two different kettles of fish.

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Fantastic writing is when the words melt like butter off the page. They paint vivid pictures with words rather than brushstrokes, so you can visualise the entire world perfectly.

Fantastic plotting is when you’re hooked by the story itself regardless of the words (you know what I mean). You engage with the story and the characters, it’s all about the people and the action.

An author can be fantastic at both. But the more common situation seems to be that they gravitate towards writing or plotting. I’ll get my bias out of the way now, I prefer plotting, I would prefer to read a book where a lot happens to one with a lot of description. But I don’t think one is empirically better than the other.

Some examples …

Writers

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Oscar Wilde – This guy could write! He was magic with a pen, full of wit and lovely descriptions that weren’t overpowering. But ask Oscar to write an extended piece of prose and the plot completely fell to pieces. The words were just as lovely but you can’t help but notice that nothing happens in Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde was a beautiful writer but could only tell a short story, he didn’t have the plotting ability for a novel.

Cecilia Ahern – I think she’s a lovely writer. She really has a way with words. Her plotting is much better than Oscar Wilde but she is still a much stronger writer than she is a plotter. I’ve read two Ahern books and have a third one I’ve never started, and although I enjoy her, I’ve always felt her plots were lacking .

Plotters

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Dan Brown – I know I’m repeating myself but he’s a great example. His books are packed with action but he’s far from the world’s best writer. He’s not bad at all but not a genius with a pen (or keyboard).

Sophie Kinsella – Kinsella is a good writer but she tells a better story. Kinsella focusses on the story rather than the writing, she isn’t worried about describing the exact shade of a person’s eyes and she has never described her main character in the Shopaholic Books.

It’s safe to say writing and plotting is a balancing act and whether one is better than the other is solely down to preference. I will say this though, if I read a writer’s story, although I may enjoy it, I’ll always note the lack of action but if I read a plotter’s story, I’ll only note the writing if it’s really bad…. And if I read a story with brill writing AND a brill plot, I know I’ve found one of those lucky all-rounders.

Writing and plot are both important elements to a book. I prefer plot but I can’t abide by bad writing … and we’re back to finding the balance.

But what about you? Do you prefer reading a writer’s book or a plotter’s book? And writers, which camp do you fall into? I’d love to hear from you!

What Makes a Story #2 – Plot

Hello fellow bloggers and tweeters. I had this great series of blogs planned and then life got so busy I didn’t have any time to write it down. So sorry for my radio silence but I’m back online now.

I’m always musing about what makes stories great. Last time I talked about characters being the most important bit, and while I stand by that, a decent plot will help you too. For instance as much as I love Chris Hemsworth (because, come on) the latest Thor movie didn’t have much of a story. But at least there was Chris.

Anyway, a great plot is a balancing act between being twisty enough to keep you entertained and so convoluted that by the end you’re stuck on the last page going “what?”. Authors have to be olympic gymnastics (figuratively, not literally) to pull it off seamlessly. And not all do.

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I’m going to go into this one more next week but I think there’s a big difference between great writers and great storytellers. Some fall into both categories (lucky devils), but most of us, I’m including myself tentatively in that, fall into one or the other. I’m a plotter, my bestie’s a writer. But more on that next time.

Back to the plot. Obviously plots vary depending on genre, and the strength of the plot varies genre to genre too. For instance chick lit needs to be funny with a few gentle complications, nothing dramatic, but detective fiction needs twists and turns and red herrings. I’m always so impressed when I can’t guess the ending.

Have you ever read any Dan Brown? (If you haven’t, have you been hiding under a rock?) Well he’s a great example of a bloody entertaining storyteller. I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons so much, the plot twisted and turned, I could barely flick over my pages fast enough. The man can tell a riveting story.

Anthony Horowitz – if you haven’t read any Horowitz stop what you’re doing and pick him up now. Oh the man can write! He published a Sherlock Holmes book The House of Silk in 2011 and what a triumph. Brilliant plot, brilliant characterisation and such a sensitivity to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work. When Sherlock Holmes was originally published in the nineteenth century, they were supposed to be light-hearted fun stories and Horowitz really captured that spirit. Not that I’m plugging him or anything but he’s got a follow up book Moriarty too …

Ever read Dorian Gray? Let me spoil it for you, there’s a pretty boy, there’s a painting and absolutely nothing else happens.

Now in a series, overarching story lines can be dangerous. Harry Potter pulled it out the bag but His Dark Materials was such a let down, the big reveal actually ruined the whole thing for me.  It’s great to be ambitious as a writer but you really have to temper it by looking back and thinking about your readers. Of course it makes sense to you, you wrote it, but I don’t live inside your head. It’s why outspoken beta readers are invaluable. I love clever plots but they can be too clever sometimes.

Is there a secret formula for writing a brill plot? Probably not, but I’ll list my favourite bits.

– Being surprised by an outcome … BUT that outcome still fits in perfectly with the story

– More than one major plot twist (I’ve committed to 300 pages here, thrill me)

– If you’re revealing a secret, make it a juicy one. Most things aren’t that shocking anymore, so if it’s a big deal, go for it and shock me!

Hey, this is all just my opinion but I’d love to hear from you. What have your favourite stories been? What stories have you picked up that had literally lost their plot? Let me know !

Writer’s Blog Tour

I was very excited when the delightful Pema Donyo (@PemaDonyo) asked me to take part in this writer’s tour. She’s a very talented and published author – just have a look at her blog. It’s taken me so long to do this! So I can only apologise to the very talented Dorcas who I have nominated to continue the hop.

What am I working on?

I’ve written and am in the process of editing my first ever novel called The Great Graduate Debacle.

graduation-caps-thrown-in-air The Great Graduate Debacle is about five childhood friends who have just graduated from university. They’re getting to grips with being back at home, living with their parents again and working full time. Oh and they’ve stolen quite a bit of money that was hidden by a local drug dealer. What could possibly go wrong?

The plot’s tongue in cheek, you can’t take it seriously and you’re not supposed to. It’s a fun story with relevant characters and themes. But mainly funny, it’s supposed to be funny.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

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I’ve never actually come across a book that deals with this very specific stage in your life, which is why I decided to write about it.

Graduation is a funny time because you feel no more adult than you did when you started university. And yet, you’re suddenly pushed into the real world with the expectation of putting your degree to use. To top things off, if you live back at home, you’re an adult in the day time and still a teenager in the evenings. It can be stressful but it’s funny too, trying something new can often end in brilliant anecdotes.

My novel could fit into the new adult genre but the way it differs is in the characters. My characters aren’t romanticised heroes or villains, they’re just people, with good and bad in them. The normality of the characters and the absurdity of the situation is where I’ve tried to create humour.

Why do I write what I do?

This felt like such a good project to work on for my first novel because it’s what I know. I thought I could tackle this story from real experience that gives it a sense of authenticity I may have not had with more ambitious projects.

As I progress as a writer I hope to write across many other genres, but this was great for getting my feet wet. (And it was fun to write).

How does my writing process work?

I get ideas everywhere. Watching telly, in the bath, chatting with friends … literally anywhere. This particular idea came from a hungover morning with my friends after the funniest night out I’ve ever been on.

Once the idea’s set, it’s on to the characters. Most of the times their names jump into my head and then I decide on their personalities and actions. I take inspiration from people around me but at the end of the day my characters aren’t real (sadly). unnamed

In previous projects, I’ve tried to plan chapter by chapter with no success. So this time I just decided the main points of my story, my chapter titles and the rest sorted itself out. I was lucky in that it just flowed, hopefully it reads that way too!

I’m still editing at the moment and then it’s on to looking for a publishing agent. But watch this space, much like Kodaline I have high hopes.

Now let me introduce you to a very talented writer named Dorcas Amis, a very talented young writer! Over to you my friend! 

DorcasMy name is Dorcas Amis, but my friends call me “Dee”. I am from Chingola, I am 23 years old and I graduated 2 weeks ago from university…yay me.

I have always enjoyed reading. I also enjoy writing my thoughts down. Before I discovered blogging it used to just be me and my diary, experimenting with poetry and just writing short stories which were just for my family’s eyes only. 🙂

I finally decided to get really serious and put more effort in my writing (it was impossible at times, with school and all) and I came up with the YA Fantasy story that I am working on, it is still a work in progress though.

Random facts – I love dolphins. My favourite fruit is a pineapple and I HATE bananas

Twitter, Blog,  Goodreads

Why is a Raven like a Writing Desk?

Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter asked us this question in 1865 and no one is any closer to solving the mystery. (If you say you’ve got it, I simply don’t believe you).

I’m three chapters into editing the third draft of my book and I’m asking myself ‘why?’ quite a lot right now. Why did I put that scene there? Why did she say that? Why is that in his perspective? Why did I choose to do that? Why did I want to be a writer? And why, why, is a raven like a writing desk?

You see, I’ve given my book a bit of break recently. I took the plunge and handed over my manuscript (if I’m going to be bold enough to call it that) to a beta reader, aka my long-suffering friend Phoebe. I’ll hold my hands up admit I could have scarcely been more annoying. Where are you up to? What do you think so far? So will you read more tonight? I’m a bit surprised we’re still friends actually… But we are. She put up with me valiantly and provided some top notch feedback. (See picture below)

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Except going back over it now feels different. It was written just long enough ago that now it’s a bit like someone else’s work. Past Sophie’s. I’m struggling to remember why I made these choices and why I put so many blooming words in a sentence. For the most part, past Sophie did quite well but future Sophie will be wondering why present Sophie is farting around instead of editing.

It’s the dreaded delete key! I understand Phoebe’s comments, I do, and I’m adding scenes and explaining more but I’m so reluctant to press delete. It feels like a piece of my soul has gone into that work and it’s so difficult to cut it out, even if it is for the greater good. Do you ever feel like that?

On the whole, feedback has been both positive and helpful. Having a writing buddy is really useful because they can be honest with you. And my writing buddy is a tough critic. I’m gradually telling my friends and family that I’ve written a book and want to be a writer. It feels a funny thing to admit. I’m half proud (ok a lot proud) and a bit embarrassed. On the whole everyone has been very supportive and I’ve had a lot of reading offers which I’m taking everyone up on! I need as much feedback as I can get – a book is a collaborative venture.

The support here online has been overwhelmingly lovely. I’d say something more emotive but I’m too British, emotion is reserved for fiction.

So why have I done it? Why have I decided to write? Well because I can’t not. And no other why’s seem to matter … except why is a raven like a writing desk, Lewis? One would almost think it was nonsense …

You Effing What?!

Have I got your attention? Lovely. Don’t worry you’re not in for a rant.

What do you think to swearing and what do you think its place in books?

Swearing

Personally I don’t find off the cuff swearing offensive, if someone was swearing at me I might get upset but to hear something along the lines of ‘oh my f***ing god’ doesn’t really register. Is that bad of me? I only realise how much I swear when I try not to but then I trip over (as a naturally clumsy person tends to) and a stream of panicked expletives fly out my mouth. Oops.

In fiction, unlike real life, we don’t have the risk of our mouths firing before our brain’s approval. So what does that mean for swearing? In my book (which is currently going into it’s third draft) my characters swear quite a bit. Now, I haven’t chosen to do this for any sort of shock factor, my characters swear because everyone I know swears and my characters are supposed to be damn close to real people (just more interesting).

I’ve read a lot about swearing in writing being a poor choice, when you have a whole lexicon at your disposal why resort to effing and blinding? In some ways I agree. When you’re writing a description in third person it would seem odd to say ‘it was ****ing raining’. But, in dialogue I think it can sound natural and dialogue should sound natural.

I should point out here that I’m not writing a children’s book (there are lines) … but saying that, even Mrs Weasley calls Bellatrix Lestrange a bitch.

Anyway, what do you think? Does swearing have a place in writing? Or should we rise above?