Welcome to the 5th and final part of my series I can help you write a better novel . I hope you ve enjoyed reading my ramblings this week, and don t forget that my debut novel, The Hunter Inside, will be free for you to download from Amazon all weekend between 25th-27th August 2012. You can access the other parts in the series by clicking these links: Part 1 Part 2 Characters Part 3 Characters and Interaction Part 4 Scenes and Timescales Yesterday I was talking about scenes I d like to mention body language, and other things that enrich scenes.
Body language is something all writers could do with studying. A well-placed glance up and to the left from your character could mean that they re telling a lie (according to many who research body language). It also helps fill in the gaps between the lines that enrich your narrative description of scenes.
Using body language and other subtle directive clues can add tonnes of depth, while allowing the reader to build up their own image and understand of events and characters. Conversation in your scenes might be good, but you must be able to work with many other aspects to make a scene full and rich. I ve spoken this week about the five senses, but I d like to talk a little more about them in this piece.
Hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste. When you think about your surroundings, you will automatically pick up on certain things. These are the things that make that place, or scene, alive to you.
For instance, in the room I m sitting in now I can hear the low rattle of an air conditioning unit. It sounds like a steady wind blowing across the surface of a lake, and the cool breeze is like winter s iced fingers flitting gently across the back of my neck. Pale, unnatural light does not reach all the way into the corners, and there are shadows beyond which I cannot see.
Overhead I can hear footsteps, and the television on the wall catches the corner of my eye. There is a musty, dusty undertone to the smell in the room, and if I were to run my fingers along one of the bookshelves, my fingers would displace the dust and leave a line that would eventually be covered in more dust, left abandoned for years. Now, I ve covered all but taste there, and I m sure if you were reading a story with a scene that listed as many details as I did in that short paragraph, you would already have an idea of the taste in your mouth.
By examining what the senses are experiencing, it is actually quite straightforward to create the type of scene you want. As soon as I started writing about what the room I m in was doing to my senses, I suddenly imagined a bit of a spooky scene. I had a prop in there for development the television on the wall catching my eye.
Maybe someone or something is about to appear on the television, even though it is not switched on, or even plugged in, and maybe at the same time something will float or scurry or rush out of the dark shadows in the corner. By examining the senses I ve inspired the reader to picture the scene and I ve also inspired some new events in my own mind. Writing is as much about inspiring yourself as the writer as it is about inspiring your readers.
But you don t need to cover all five senses at the beginning of every scene Right, so John walks into a fishmonger s. He can smell fish. He can hear fish heads being chopped off.
There is a salty taste in his mouth. He can see fish. He leans on the counter and finds his hands slipping in fish slime.
Right, now we can get on with the scene. Wouldn t work, would it? Imagine an opening like that to every scene!
It d bore the pants off you! Senses should be used as clues or prompts to the reader to suggest something about the surroundings, the atmosphere of a place, or precursors to what is about to happen or is going to happen later on. Don t insult your reader by constantly telling them everything about a scene (unless you re writing a travel guide in which case lots of details are fine!).
Let the reader fill in some of the gaps for themselves. Don t say; Brrr, it s freezing in here, Shannon said icedly. Say something like; As she spoke, ghostly vapours issued from lips that were tinged blue.
She hugged herself for warmth and stood closer to Inspector Jennings, as the heat from the gas flame under the kettle left condensation on the windows and blocked her view of snow falling outside. The key thing about both snippets is the fact that it is cold. In neither do I use the word cold , but I know which one works better.
OK, so Shakespeare wouldn t have published it I know. But it s a depiction of a winter scene, written by me in the height of in summer, and it invokes memories of what has been and what s to come. Be subtle, be descriptive I guess I m saying show, don t tell.
I apologise. There are plenty of times when you can tell instead of showing. Armed men are chasing your character down the street.
You want the action to unravel at a frantic pace. Then, and I suppose only then, can you be forgiven for blatantly telling or using an adverb to qualify your character s emotion. But try and avoid it if possible, and do it sparingly if you feel you must do it at all!
I m guilty of telling rather than showing a lot in The Hunter Inside, but it was my first novel, and I was young. That s my excuse. It was a good learning curve for me!
Go and get it for free between 25-27th August and see all my telling mistakes! A bit about inspiration Inspiration is all around us. Don t walk along the road with your head in your iPhone.
Look around. Take things in. You might be introduced to your very own serial killer on the bus, and from that you might be inspired enough to invent a character from that someone you see every day.
That character could inspire a series that sells 250,000 copies (we can all dream!!). One important thing about inspiration always have a means of noting something down that inspires you. You re on your commute home from work and getting on the Tube, when the light reflects from the closing doors of the train and reflects onto a little girl in a white dress, making her look like she s floating along, half a foot off the ground.
You are struck by this image as the whole Tube station fades around the image of the little girl. Then you get on the train and it doesn t leave until three minutes past the time it was meant to, and then when you disembark and leave the station the heavens open and you have no umbrella and you have to run all the way home and by the time you get there you re drenched, and you know what, maybe the first sniffles of a cold have started to bug you. All you want is a nice cup of hot chocolate and a hot bath to make you feel better.
So you get your hot chocolate and your bath and then you make dinner and then you watch some TV and fall asleep on the couch for half an hour before dragging yourself off to bed at 10pm, ready to start all over again the next day. But the little girl has gone, the ghostly apparition of a lost little soul in a white dress, floating across the platform towards you and making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. She s gone, forgotten, never to appear in the pages of a novel.
Alternatively, you have a pad of paper and a pen in your bag, and when you sit down on the train you use the three minutes the train is delayed to make some notes about the girl and the feeling in the station and how you felt being a part of it, and hey presto, it s there for keeps. Not lost, not forgotten. Or you make a note on your iPhone.
Better still, use your iPhone or iPad or whatever other tablet or laptop you have, to start writing the story on the Tube! What better than sitting in the middle of a scene as you write it! I never used to pay much attention to my surroundings.
This is criminal for a writer. But it s the smallest things that can inspire you. For instance, I was on my way home from work on the bus one day (I spend a lot of time on buses!) and a man got on the bus and his hair was so white it was dazzling.
Straight away I had a flash of inspiration in the novel I m working on, From the Sky, when a UFO flies overhead my band of characters, all their hair turns white even the black Labrador. Bang! Just like that.
Inspiration. Works great in the scene, and works great for getting the characters wondering if they ve been dosed up so high with radiation that they can kiss goodbye to the idea of having kids. And boy, don t that dog look weird completely white?
I was in my garden the other night, and it was just going dark. There were clouds up overhead, and the next thing I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye. I thought, What was that?
and I waited to hear thunder. But there wasn t any. I looked back at my phone.
The light flashed again above me. Determined to see it, I stared at the sky for two, three minutes nothing. As soon as I looked at my phone, the light flashed again.
Again, Bang! I was straight inside, grabbing my pen and Post-Its. I got a whole scene in an instant from that little bit of inspiration.
I was excited, and it will develop the story even more. Imagine you re in a world being changed by huge UFOs and you re heading away from them, through deserted towns and cities trying to find people. You are in a small group that survived the initial appearance of the ships due to being sheltered under Northern California s giant redwoods, but the radiation from them soaring overhead has turned your hair white.
You ve travelled twenty-five miles on foot and decide to rest for the night. Then you see flashes in the sky, and you think it s lightning so you count, waiting for the thunder. Except the thunder doesn t come.
What comes, in the blinking of an eye, is a UFO so huge it blocks out all sky above you, a mass of lights blinking and swirling around its underside, mesmerising you and nailing you to the spot. Your face is upturned, fixated on the ship as the bottom half starts to open outwards so that you can see inside. You squint as the wind whips your face and the bright light stings your eyes, and the dog, the now white dog, is barking and running around your feet.
The others have run. They are hidden. But you are frozen to the spot as you see a figure whoa there!
Hang on. You really want to read the actual scene, don t you? Well, I guess I d better write it first, eh?
Don t worry, you ll only have to get through the first 65,000 words of From the Sky before you get to that scene! The thing is, the smallest things can inspire us, so we must always be ready for them. Keep your eyes and ears open things like hearing car alarms have inspired things in scenes for me.
But if you don t look around and take in your surroundings then you won t get the inspiration your writer s mind craves. About ten years ago I went away for New Year with one of my best friends and his family. We were up in Northumberland, close to the border where England becomes Scotland.
It was a place called Adderstone Hall, and it was beautiful. We were staying in a little cottage that, years ago, had been where the staff of the house lived. It was quaint, but I noticed hooks in odd places all around the cottage mostly in ceilings, and the carpets on the stairs were old, patchy orange and black things that were threadbare.
The windows were old, and while they weren t draughty they looked as though they should be. It was sensory overload for me. There were woods surrounding the house, and it was quite deep snow.
I was inspired. This was the perfect setting for a ghostly story. So, when my friend and his family went out shopping I stayed behind, alone at the cottage, and walked all around the place, inside and out, making notes.
I still have those notes somewhere, and still intend to use them if I ever write a ghostly novel! But I had a ball! I was freezing, walking round the woods with my pen and paper taking notes of the surroundings mossy logs covered in snow, a little shed in the middle of the woods where there shouldn t be one, rope hanging from a tree that looked like a noose, and on and on.
I felt like a character in a King novel a writer who has gone to a house in the middle of nowhere to write a novel and finds himself in a strange place caught up with strange occurrences. Maybe that ll be my next novel after From the Sky! Having an end goal and getting there OK, a note about the logistical stuff of writing.
Firstly, Research. Everything about your work should be researched, even if you re an expert. I talked about research in the first part of this piece, and I stand by using the simplest tools first, but using the more complex tools in reference to make your work solid.
Some of the simple tools I discussed were movies, Youtube, other novels (i.e. for setting), geography books, history books, TV programmes etc etc. But when it comes to things like medical procedures, or police procedures, you have got to do the research.
You have got to read the big books, or find a contact who is an expert with years of experience, or your lack of research will stand out like a sore thumb. You can t bluff it, you ve got to do it! You wouldn t talk about expensive watches or jewellery or fashion in your work without researching it your character would not look like an expert.
You wouldn t write a novel set in a courtroom and do no legal research. Remember, your reader can spot a badly researched character/location/scene/event a mile away and your credibility as an author is one of the most important things about making someone want to read more of your work. As fun as it can be writing, you must be committed to the less fun aspects, and hey, you know what?
I know there are some writers who love doing the research and get a real buzz from it. I hope you re one of them, because to do it right you must work hard, and working hard might include reading legalese or about subjects that don t really interest you. It can be mind numbing, but it can also be fascinating, and can open your eyes to thins you never even thought of.
You must schedule time to research using as many methods as you can to keep your focus to learning and finding out the things you need to know. On to editing One of the biggest criticisms levelled at self-published, or indie authors, is that their work is poorly edited or formatted. Full of typos, misused words, spelling mistakes, and other things.
It s true to say there are a lot of eBooks out there that prove this. But this is where traditional authors like Sue Grafton have a chance to criticise and put down the revolution whereby authors control their own destinies and earn much higher royalties. Don t fall into the category of self-publishing authors that proves what the naysayers think.
You must edit edit edit to get your work as polished as you can, and that means the plot, the characters, the formatting and getting rid of typos, spelling mistakes, misused words and so on. You will probably spend as much time on the editing and formatting as you do on the actual writing of the novel itself, and you know what? That s OK.
That s what you should be doing. Don t rush it, give it the attention it deserves. Do it one word at a time.
But do it as you go. The editing process can be a great way of setting routine into how you work. Sometimes it s hard to sit down and switch onto writing when there s other stuff or noise or distractions going on around you.
But you ll find that if you sit down and read through the last two scenes you ve written, you will slide right into writing mode. If the scene you re writing features different setting or characters, then re-read the scene that last dealt with them before you start writing the next one featuring them. Make a few notes things to remember, things you want to achieve, things to develop, things to fade out, minutiae of certain character interactions, and you will have a mini roadmap to support you through writing the scene, and also keep the pace and tone consistent.
One piece of advice you will see about editing from lots of people is that you should take time away from your manuscript. I agree. Giving a week or a month or even a year for your manuscript to sit unread is not neglecting your hard work!
It s different for everyone how long they need to leave it, but there s always another novel or story waiting to be researched or written, and letting yourself forget parts of your finished manuscript is a good thing, as you can look at it more objectively when you do come back to it. That advice has been done to death on a million blogs, so that s all I m going to say about it here! One last thing about editing, and another that s been done to death on a billion blogs find beta readers for your work.
I know criticism isn t nice, I loathe giving and receiving it myself, but it will help your work improve, allow mistakes and typos and bad grammar and other things to be spotted, and ultimately will help you to develop as a writer. And remember the most important thing about editing: edit edit edit edit. Inspiration and your muse She can go missing for hours, days, weeks, months or even years for some.
When she shows up, sauntering across your left shoulder and walking through your mind filling you up with inspiration, you must make the most of it. Don t start writing the brilliant scene she s inspired. Remember, she ll walk straight out your right ear and the fickle thing might not be back for months or even years.
So write plans and plot notes and outlines of scenes and descriptions of interaction and plot and character development notes. These will become the building blocks of your story to work on while you wait for her return. You might plough straight into writing that one scene and have a perfect scene, but then struggle to follow it up.
Scribble, jot, note and get as much of the muse s inspiration down the moment you feel her presence. It is writer s gold. Don t be afraid to plan your novel it will change and grow and develop as you follow the plan and will probably end up being totally different to the plan you originally are inspired to write.
Planning is not tying yourself into a contract of what your work will be, it is not undermining the creative process and diluting your ability or reputation as a writer. It is making the most of your muse when she arrives. It is inspiration something which all writers must make the most of when they have it.
And finally I m a big advocate of notes and diaries and believe every writer, for every piece of work should: Have detailed written character biographies for each main character in their work that can be added to as details of the character emerge or are decided. These are perfect for the novel you re writing, but if you decide to make a series using these characters, just imagine how useful these will be once you re two years into writing and starting the third book in the series! Keep a written scene diary, including word counts after each scene has been summarised to help keep track of action and give the author a reference point for checking facts as they write.
As said above plot notes. The building blocks or skeleton on which you develop your story. I include a page for End of novel ideas , where things that will be revealed near or at the climax of the work can be recorded well in advance of getting anywhere near writing them, and an ongoing page of little things that have happened that will be significant, even little details that might affect how a character does something (for example, a cut hand might be bandaged and mean the character will pick up a phone using his other hand you d be amazed how easy it is to forget details like that when you re 5,000 words down the line of the novel!).
Maps these can be actual printed maps of real places, or hand-drawn maps of the worlds or cities you create, or even maps done using computer software. If the maps are of a world created by you, you could use them to great effect within the end product of the work you create. Thank You!
I m going to finish this five-part series here, as I m sure you re eager to get on with actually doing some writing! Please share your opinions of these pieces with me I d love to know what you think of my methods and advice (and the snippets of my work!). Also, don t forget, that if you re reading this between 25-27th August 2012, you can get yourself a free copy of The Hunter Inside on Amazon.
I wish all of you every success with your writing!