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Documenting my odyssey into the wonderful world of fantasy writing and beyond. Can't promise I will always be on topic as the world is vast and full of such wonderous, and sometimes terrible, distractions. Email me: cassandra.jade.author@gmail.com

04 November, 2009

New blog location

I would like to thank everyone who followed this blog and I am sorry about the extended absence, it wasn't planned. Since I'm starting up again I decided it was time for a change and have moved to wordpress.

My new blog, Cassandra Jade in the Realm, is located at http://cassandrajade.wordpress.com

I hope to see you all there.

Thanks again.

08 August, 2009

Short Note

Just letting people know the blog has not been abandoned. I was a quite sick with the flu and have since had to catch up on work (I think I'll be behind for the rest of the year at this stage). However, I will resume blog posts as normal from tomorrow and I am mid-way through the series on plot.

25 July, 2009

10 Ways to Know You Are Obsessed With Writing

I'm taking a break from the plot series for the weekend. Though I definitely recommend checking out Jane Friedman's blog 'There are no rules' for great post: The Protagonist Must Have A Goal.

Today I would just like to share a list of ten things that indicate you've become obsessed by writing (not saying obsession is a bad thing):

1. You start re-reading every sentence that you write and then start re-writing every sentence, convinced that you are 'improving' them. I know when it's time to stop when I have just written the same sentence ten times and I no longer even believe it to be written in English.

2. Your partner/best friend/child sends you an instant message asking if you will be eating breakfast/lunch/dinner.

3. You start arguing with your characters out loud: "No, you fool. You have to go..."

4. You have any kind of repetitive strain problem (wrist, arm, finger, neck, eyes).

5. You get home from your day job and your computer is turned on before you have put your bag down, taken your shoes off, fed your pets, or spoken to your children.

6. When you have told your friend/partner/child you will be ready to leave just after finishing one more sentence you write another couple of pages and forget you were meant to be finishing until they unplug the computer at the wall.

7. In your bag you have at least three notebooks and five pens, as well as a pencil in case all of you pens cease working on the same day.

8. Every single thing you read or watch is critiqued in terms of character, plot and setting.

9. When you meet someone for the first time you repeat their name, not to help you remember them but so that you can someday use that name in a story.

10. In conversation you directly reference events and characters you have been writing about (even though nobody else has read it yet).

Add your 'you know you are obsessed with writing when...'

23 July, 2009

Plot - The Hook

It makes sense that if you want someone to read your book that it has to have a hook. When they read that first line (paragraph) they should instantly want to read more. Particularly when your book is still unpublished and you are trying to convince an agent or publisher it is worth the effort, you really want to make a great first impression.

I have to confess, this is a skill I have really yet to learn. I understand why a hook is important and I have read countless pages of advice on how to write an interesting beginning to a story, and I still haven't really managed it.

Recently I was looking over my work and I noticed that the large majority of my stories begin with a single character doing something utterly mundane in the morning. I don't know why this is a recurring trend in my writing, but I have at least identified what I am doing and I understand that this does not make for exciting reading.

Advice I have been given:

  • Start with action - everyone loves action and putting your characters in danger can make the reader feel sympathetic for them (personally I really don't like stories that begin in these situations as I prefer to care about the character before they get into danger, but I guess it is a matter of opinion).
  • Start with dialogue - have your character say something interesting to get the reader interested.
  • Start with a mystery - something a bit odd or different that makes the reader want to find out more. I have to put down Orwell's 1984 as a great example of this as in his very first line the clocks struck thirteen.
Despite this advice, found in a myriad of forms, I'm still working on perfecting the hook. What I do know is that the start of the book has to be interesting for people to read it. It doesn't matter if you think you have the 'best' story ever if nobody ever gets beyond the first page. Managing to get people into the story and reading on is definitely a skill I need to develop.

I'd love to know how everyone else deals with this.

22 July, 2009

Writing Links #2

Last week I did a wrap up of all the links I found on Thursday, then decided I'd like to add one every week and that Wednesday was a better day. Until I change my mind again or my computer breaks down.

There are quite a few links this week and I'm going to try to put them into some sort of order but that may not work. As always, feel free to add more links in the comments or to let me know if you've found a good site for writing discussion or advice. I'm always looking for new ones.

Storytelling

Joe Konrath - How Not to Write A Story
Greg - How to Write - Structure
Ajibade Oluwaseun - Writing A Short Story

Inspiration and Motivation

Jodi Cleghorn - Why Write
Jane - Turn Your Dragons Into Princess'
Blair - Sink Your Teeth Into A New Project
Nick Leshi - How to Beat Writer's Block (Response to previous post on Darkened Jade)
Elizabeth Gilber - Nurturing Creativity (Well worth watching)

Writing As Business

John Green - Advance vs Royalties
Hope Clark - Writer = Entrepreneur

Other

K.M.Weiland - Making Cliche's Work For You
Jean Henry Mead - How To Repair a Manuscript
Nathan Bransford - 5 Stages of Querying Grief
Jane - 5 Elements of a Query Letter
Elizabeth Spann Craig - Book Length
Melissa Donovan - Daily Writing Equals Better Writing

Off Topic But Fun

Daybreaker Trailer


This week (an next) I am exploring plot. So far I've talked about structure and complications, tomorrow I'll be looking at hooks (assuming my Internet is still functioning).

You know, I think the best thing about doing this list is I revisit all the great blogs I've found during the week, something I usually don't get around to doing.

21 July, 2009

Plot - Why So Complicated?

Yesterday I looked at the basic (very basic) plot structure and while I'll be taking a more indepth look at structure and variations on it in later posts, today I just want to focus on complications.

Everyone will tell you a story has to have a problem. Or a complication. Or a conflict. It all amounts to the same thing. There has to be a central issue that is in some way connected to the central characters. Why? Because otherwise, what is your story about.

If someone handed me a book and said 'read it', my first question would be 'what is it about?'. This isn't me wanting the blurb read to me or someone's review. This is me just wanting to know what is the point of the book. Boil all the fancy words down, what is the reason for the story. Read the two answers below and decide which you would read.

1. Luke and Lane are getting married.

2. Luke and Lane are getting married but Lane's mother doesn't approve.

The first tells me what events to expect but it doesn't sound particularly interesting. Unless it is a biography about two people I had heard of and I was wanting to know about their wedding, I'm unlikely to read it. The second tells me there is a problem. They want to get married, but... And that but is enough to keep me interested. How does Lane's mother react? Does she try to interfere? Stop the wedding? Why doesn't she approve? So many questions that I instantly want answered and now I have to read the book to find out.

You have to have a complication.

And before you run off and try to think of something so intensely convoluted that even Nostradamus would have asked for directions the central complication doesn't need to too complex. The important thing is that there is a point to reading and the reader can expect some kind of satisfactory explanation. It is not really important to try to confuse them. If you want to make your story more complex, you can layer other complications and side plots in later, but the basic storyline should be relatively clear.

What kind of problem could there be?

Most people I've spoken to and most of the advice I've read points to four basic types of conflict that appear in books.

1. Man against society - The protagonist (for whatever reason) opposes the world and society in which he lives. The story then usually revolves around the protagonist trying to change things in some way.

2. Man against man - Two characters for whatever reason have opposing view points or goals and the clash of personalities creates the conflict. Frequently one will be villianised while the other will be set up as a hero.

3. Man against himself - Looking at internal conflict of someone trying to change who they are within.

4. Man against nature - Protagonist trying to defeat some kind of monster, natural disaster, climb a mountain, save the world, etc, etc.

While these are the basic types of conflict there are many books that use variations or combinations of these, plus if you include multiple sub-plots it will enable you to explore more than one of these within a single story.

Tomorrow I'm going to put together a list of links found this week and then in the next post I'll be looking at hooks. Let me know if you have any advice or links you would like added or linked to and I would love to know what you think about complications in stories.

20 July, 2009

Plot - Structure of a Story

Welcome to the first post in this series on plot. Over the next two weeks*, I'm going to be looking at all things plot like and hopefully sharing some useful points for writers, as well as hopefully learning something new.
*Wednesday will be a post on writing links and the weekend will be whatever takes my fancy.

This post is looking at the structure of a story. Any story. It does not matter what genre you wish to write or who you think your audience is. The basic story structure remains the same. In its most simplistic form the structure has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That might sound obvious but I've actually read a few books where I get to the end and wonder where I stopped reading the introduction. It feels like the entire story has just been setting something up and we've never really moved on from just getting you used to the characters and the world.

So what should each of these sections include? (At the moment I am only going to look at linear plot structures. I'm going to examine non-linear plots in a separate post)

The Beginning:

This is where you need to establish your main characters and setting as well as your problem (yes there needs to be a problem or a conflict and you need to give the reader some idea of what it is in the beginning so that they know more-or-less where the story is going).

Dangers in the beginning include being overly descriptive. Yes the field may be lovely but if you describe all twenty shades of green for the grass most readers will call it quits. Being overly descriptive can also be likened to doing an info-dump. The reader wants to know about your characters but they don't want to read two pages of description telling you every pertinent detail without moving forward in the story.

Other dangers include not managing to hook your reader. This is why many writers chose to begin with some sort of action sequence or prologue before getting into the introductions though it isn't necessary to jump straight into action in order to get your reader interested. Or at least it shouldn't be.

The Middle:

Despite the story being divided into three basic components they aren't all even lengths. The middle is generally the longest part of the story and unfortunately the one that fewest people seem to value. Everyone will tell you that you need a great start. You have to hook the reader straight away. They'll tell you that you need a great finish. Something people will remember. They seldom tell you that you need a strong and convincing middle that is interesting and logical and well developed. It doesn't matter how great that ending is if the reader gives up in the middle because you've relied on bad cliche's and poor dialogue to move your story forward.

The middle is crucial. You build tension, you lead in additional complications, you give your readers a reason to care what happens to your characters and your settings; the middle will definitely determine whether your book is a thrilling page turner or a yawn that the reader decides to flick through a few pages before going to sleep.

The Ending:

Please end you story. I don't know how many times I have gotten to the end of a book and just wanted to scream because the story doesn't end. I'm not actually talking about series or books that are leading into a sequel. I assume that those will eventually end so while they might be frustrating, I'll get over them.

What bothers me is when in the beginning I'm introduced to some characters who have a problem and during the course of the middle all manner of other complications emerge. By the end one of those additional complications has become amazingly interesting and amazing and the writer ties it up with a big bang and tells me they all lived happily ever after. What happened to the original problem? Usually it is hanging out there un-resolved. It is like the writer decided mid-way along that a side story was more interesting and then hasn't bothered to re-write the opening. Terribly frustrating for the reader. As happy as you are to see the other issue resolved, the voice in the back of your mind just keeps wanting to know what happened to...

Does every problem need to be solved? No. Depending on who your audience is and the purpose of your story. Some things are never solved. Sometimes the solution is that the world ends or that the bad guy wins. That is a solution, though maybe not the one the reader wanted. The story has to end. Whatever you have set up as your main storyline has to have some kind of conclusion. How you do that is up to you.

Tomorrow I am going to look at types of complications and how they work in the story. I'd love to know which part of the story most writers focus on when writing. All three? The beginning? The ending? Let me know.

Some useful links:

Guest blog on Nathan Bransford from Victoria Mixon - Everything you need to know about writing a novel
Greg on Writing - Writing Mistake #7

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