What Makes a Story – #4 – Speech

I’ve been utterly useless at posting recently (life has gotten in the way) but I’m determined to see these series of posts out. So this time I’ve been thinking a lot about speech and as a writer and reader poorly executed speech really grinds my gears.

So what is poorly executed speech? I think the best way to explain that it to look over some examples.

1) “I am coming” “I did not go to the park” “I will not succeed”

All of these examples lack contractions. If you’re writing a modern story, set in a modern time, use the contracted versions (i.e. shouldn’t, didn’t doesn’t) unless you’re emphasising a point. The simple reason it annoys me is because no one actually speaks like that and it always feels as though the writer has never tried reading their work out loud. Read your work out loud, it’s crucial for getting the feel right.

Of course if you’re using an antiquated setting then the full words are better. It’s all about context.

But, the more accurate you make your speech, the more accurately you construct your characters. And you know I think it’s all about the characters.

2) “Could you pass me that biscuit, please?” … “Sure, here you go.”…. “Thank you” …. “You’re welcome.”

I love manners, I think they’re really important in society but not so much in books. Speech sequences like this are waffle and some writers can make them go on for pages. If your characters are having a conversation, make sure they’re talking about something: a) important to the plot or b) amusing or interesting. Long manner sequences, and the like, do not fall into either category. Cut it out.

3) “Look at that star.” I said.

“It’s amazing,” he said.

“Isn’t it just?” I replied.

“I wish it was nearer.” he said.

“Me too. It looks so shiny.”  I said.

Please ignore the pointless subject matter of this quickly improvised speech (I know, I’ve just broken my own rule). The point I’m trying to make is that there are a lot of ‘saids’ going on. Getting the said balance right is a tough one. Sometimes, you have to sit back and let the form of your work do it’s job. If it’s clear there are two people having a conversation and their speech is on separate lines, you won’t have to put said all the time. Just chuck it in occasionally to make it extra clear.

I once read something that said ‘said’ is the only word you should use to describe speech, if you have to say ‘said haughtily’ or ‘nastily’ etc then the speech itself hasn’t done its job.

While I don’t fully agree with that, I do take the point that speech needs to be full of quality and not fluff or filler.

I’ve taken such a strong view on speech because I love speech-y novels, I’d take speech over description any day because it helps me visualise a scene better. And if the speech is naff and unrealistic, it spoils the book a little bit.

What about you? What are your pet peeves about speech in novels? Do you like books with a lot of speech in?

I’d love to hear from you!

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.

once

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

Writer

 

 

 

 

 

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

call-to-action-social-media1

 

 

 

 

 

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.

confused-meme

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 !

What Makes a Story? #1 – Characters

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes any story (novel, film, tv series) good or bad, so I’ve decided to do a series of posts based on what makes a story. This week I’m going to talk about characters.

family_people_silhouettes_by_Scorp1_at_vecteezy.com

To be completely biased, characters are the make or break of a story for me. I always think you can have the best plot in the world but if the audience don’t feel anything for the characters then you’re sunk.

The book I read most recently was horribly disappointing and the main reason for that was that I didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t love them, I just thought they were pathetic. Now, pathetic characters are fine IF they are meant to be pathetic, if they’re meant to be protagonists then you’ve got a problem.

A good character:

  • Has solid motivation – you always know why they’re doing what they’re doing
  • Demonstrates their characteristics – it’s no good telling readers that the character is brave – you have to show them
  • Has a backstory – you don’t need to know every detail of their lives but a strong character shouldn’t feel like they’ve been plucked from thin air
  • Speaks like a real person – I mean this both in the sense of what they say and how they say it – setting and genre play a big part of this. If they’re in the Victorian times, the speaker is less likely to use contractions but if set in recent history and present day, speech feels awkward if there are not contractions (see what I did there?)
  • Makes the audience care – this is the big one. Even if they’re hit and miss with the other four things, if you care about the character, the author/creator has done their job.

Some examples of great characters:

Jaime Lannister – A Song of Ice and Fire  – fantastic motivation, back story and he’s good and bad.

Don Tillman – The Rosie Project – never has a character had so much heart.

Dexter Mayhew – One Day – amazing character development over twenty years.

Becky Bloomwood – Shopaholic Novels – funny, loveable and always in a mess.

Minguillo Fasan – The Book of Human Skin – a sociopath who you’re partly in collusion with.

Poppy Shilling – A Rural Affair – funny and painstakingly honest. Someone you’ll cheer on.

Will Traynor – Me Before You – a quadriplegic patient with a broken spirit that’s brought back to life

And … Josiah Bartlet – the president in ‘The West Wing’, if only he did run the world …

These are only some of my favourite characters – who are yours? What do you think makes a great character?

 

LEIBSTER AWARD NOMINATION

I’m very chuffed to announce that my blog’s been nominated for a leibster award. Thank you so much SS Readers Corner for the nomination!

LiebsterAward

So about the award… The Leibster award is given by bloggers to bloggers. The main aim is to help readers discover new blogs and welcome them to the blogger community.

The rules:

  • Link back to the person who nominated you
  • Post 11 facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions set by your nominator
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers with under 200 followers (you can’t nominate the person who nominated you)
  • Set 11 questions for your nominees to answer
  • Let your nominees know you’ve nominated them.

Eleven facts about myself

  1. I hate all types of bean
  2. I’m horribly scared of falling down an escalator
  3. I love mint tea
  4. I think of stories constantly
  5. Big fan of Strictly Come Dancing (I would simultaneously love and hate to be a contestant)
  6. I enjoy trivia and useless facts
  7. I had an embarrassing (true) story printed in Miranda Hart’s companion book, ‘No It’s Us Too’ … but I didn’t get an ebook until after they stopped selling the companion book, so I’ve never seen it.
  8. I have an uncle called Neale Diamond (he’s not the singer Neil Diamond but we’ve all had fun with it over the years).
  9. I love musicals and listen to the soundtracks way too much
  10. I’m completely teetotal
  11. If I was really rich I’d buy a driver instead of an expensive car. I hate to drive.

 

Eleven questions set by SS Readers Corner

1. What is your favourite book?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – it holds a special place in my heart.

2. If you have a bookshelf or bookshelves, how do you arrange your books? 

I have a small book case with three shelves. On the top shelf I have my light reading (arranged by author), on the middle shelf I have my uni lit books (ordered into Penguin Classics and Oxford World Classics) and on my bottom shelf I have textbooks and classics that don’t fit into the above two categories.

3. What do you enjoy most about blogging?

Connecting with people with similar interests that are on opposite sides of the world. It’s really multicultural and I find that fascinating.

4. If you could have lunch with any fictional character, who would you choose?

Tyrion Lannister. He’d be a riot.

5. E-books or paperback/hardcover?

Real books, I love having hardcovers on my shelf.

6. What book are you currently reading?

I’m about to begin the Seventh Shopaholic Book.

7. Do you have any book suggestion(s) for a book club? If yes, please share.

For some fun reading I’d always say ‘The Rosie Project’, the sequel’s out now too. Or ‘One Day’ I think everyone should read that book.

8. Coffee or tea?

Tea. Always Tea.

9. What is your favourite travel destination?

I’ve never actually been there but I would love to go to Peru. That’s my dream.

10. If someone wants to get you a gift, what would you pick?

Currently there’s a skirt in River Island I’d quite like …

11. If you could meet an author, who would it be?

J.K. Rowling. I don’t think she gets enough credit for what an amazing bloody writer she is.

My Questions:

1. What is your favourite place to read?

2. What is the worst book you’ve ever read? 

3. What three things would you take to a deserted island?

4. Would you rather take the photo or be in it?

5. Do you prefer a starter or desert?

6. Can you do a handstand? 

7. Would you ever want to go into space?

8. Would you prefer a beach holiday or one in the countryside? 

9. What is your favourite colour?

10. What magical power would you most like? 

11. Are you a meat eater or veggie?

Now I would like to nominate these brill bloggers for a Liebster award:

It’s Only Three

thebookiemonsters

bookmark lit

Disappear Into Reading

A Wee Bit Wordy

eatupmyfreetime

Looking forward to reading your posts!

Shoe Shopping – Part One

A story that has very little to do with shoes.

As soon as the car door slammed shut, her nostrils began to burn from the stench of the acid that had attached itself to her clothes. The acid was effective at removing the mess, but it really did stink. She repressed her immediate desire to leave the car for fresh air. Instead she calmly drove away winding the window down with her immaculate leather glove. There was no time to waste.  She drove with a quiet sense of purpose and continued with her day.

The car was quiet, she did not enjoy music. The sounds of the engine and the road were much more soothing to her than lyrics about, what, love? loss? regret? No, silence suited her much better. As she returned to the limits of her village she remembered the milk. As much as she didn’t feel like walking into a shop, she was supposed to buy the milk. If she didn’t, he would ask why, which would lead into a series of complicated lies about her day. Frankly, the activity of the morning had worn her out and buying the milk, as annoying as it was, would be more efficient.

When she stepped out of the privacy of her car and inhaled the fresh air, she realised that, once again, she’d grown acclimatised to the acidic gases. The acid worked so well for her that this was convenient, yet she was also sure it couldn’t be good for her health. The irony of this was lost on her. She strode into the shop and prepared herself by adopting a ‘friendly’ expression and quickly thinking of lines of idle chat. The shopkeeper lived around the corner and she saw him quite frequently, so she assumed that their mutual friendliness and the length and frequency of their relationship made them friends.

The bells tolled above the door, and the shopkeeper turned round with an expression on his face. Was it fear or surprise? She couldn’t tell. She always got those two confused.

“Rita, how are you my dear?” The shopkeeper said. “You’re the first customer I’ve seen today.” Definitely surprise, she thought.

“Slow day then?” She replied, smiling on queue. What was his name? Marvin? Martin? Michael? She couldn’t remember.

“Unfortunately so,” he said. “I resorted to reading all the newspapers this morning, even the local one!” He chortled and she gave a little laugh, but she couldn’t really get the hang of humour. She certainly wasn’t looking for conversation, it was far too much effort, but the man, (Malcolm?), kept yammering away.

She subtly moved to the back of the little shop to get the milk, and as she reached for it, she remembered. “Do you know a good stain remover?”

He pointed to the left at a tall yellow bottle. “That’s the best one we sell.”

“Great, I spilt red wine on my white shirt and I just don’t want to throw it away.” The lie flowed easily from her tongue.

“In this economy I can’t blame you, everything is an unnecessary expense.” He indicated the financial page of the latest newspaper he was reading. As she reached for her purse, he turned the page of the paper. It was an enlarged photo of a young woman captioned ‘missing’. He caught her gaze and shook his head. “Terrible isn’t it? The poor young thing, she hasn’t been seen for a week.”

“Awful,” she agreed, hoping that her tone was appropriate. They exchanged more small talk until she took her items, left the shop, and returned to her car. Although she’d only just seen the picture of that woman, she couldn’t remember her face. You would think such a detail would permanently remain inside her memory, but it never did. As she drove away she glanced down at the gear stick and caught sight of her shoes, black stiletto Manolo Blahnik’s, she needed no prompt to remember the shoes.

End of Part One.

The prompt for this story was to write about topic X without ever mentioning topic X.  How’d I do? Please tell me what you think!