Sometimes the words just flow…

I want to tell you a secret.

Sometimes my fingers fly so fast across the keyboard, they can barely keep up with the thoughts and ideas circumnavigating my brain.

These are the times when I am in ‘the zone’ of my novel. Something has just clicked together like a missing puzzle piece and the rest just seems to fall into place. It’s almost like an avalanche, where one small change or idea has the power to influence everything else in its path.

This quite often happens when I’m layering exposition. I can get lost in the spatial awareness of my characters, or of the colour of someones eyes, the way their hair kinks out just so. These are the little details I love to write. These small details that give the reader just enough to start building a world or an image in their mind. Enough that they can be immersed in place and time without being told where, or who or what.

But then, at other times, I sit at my desk and I watch the clock slowly tick by. Writing words feels like pulling weeds. A job that has to be done, but it feels never-ending. There is no joy in these moments. I’ve had a few of these days in the past. But they’ve been fewer and farther between lately. I equate this to two changes:

  1. I am writing more regularly than ever before (excluding NaNoWriMo), and
  2. I’m writing less words.

I’m not writing less words overall, just less words each time I sit down to write. I’ve given myself permission not to reach a certain number of words if they aren’t coming. I allow myself a bit of time to see if it will be a flow or flop kind of day, and then I let it happen naturally.

These days, I’m fitting writing around a baby, so I don’t have the luxury of wiling away hours. My words need to be on point and quick. If it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen.

But that’s OK, because there’s always tomorrow.

On Being a Masterclasser: Conflict

In Masterclass, Fiona stressed the importance of conflict.

As a consumer, I know how important it is to be immersed in the conflict immediately. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s picked up a book from the shelf of my local book store, opened it to the first page and read the first paragraph or so. I’m also probably not the only person to have placed the book back on the shelf in search for something else more grabbing.

However, it wasn’t until this was pointed out to me that I realised just how important those first lines are. But not just the first line of the book, the first line of each chapter, even the first line of each paragraph.

Going back over my manuscript after Masterclass, it was evident just how boring my writing came across. I was trying to tell the story, rather than show it and it was taking me far too long to get to the conflict. I felt like I was reading a letter to a new pen pal that was trying to fit in all the information of a past, and did nothing to move us into the present.

Looking at my writing with fresh eyes, it has been easy to change tactics. I simply deleted the first paragraph or so and this brought the story straight into the thick of things.

Here’s an example of the same opening paragraphs of chapter two of my current WIP.

Before:

Emily had been working as a cashier at a supermarket in Rundle Mall for a couple of years, and her best friend had secured a retail job nearby. They had decided to head overseas for a gap year between school and university.

Two weeks before they were due to fly out, and three hours into her six hour shift, Emily felt her pocket vibrate with a new text message.

“That’ll be eighty six dollars and ninety five cents.” Emily said to her customer.

The woman, middle aged and determined not to smile at Emily or give her any eye contact, pulled a card from her purse and waved it in the air.

After:

“That’ll be eighty six dollars and ninety five cents.” Emily said in a voice so sweet she could have been dribbling honey.

Her customer, a middle aged woman, seemed determined not to smile at Emily or give her any eye contact at all. She tapped at her phone during the entire transaction, barely grunting as Emily attempted to make small-talk. The woman pulled a card from her purse and waved it in the air.

The background information I was conveying upfront; that the character worked at a supermarket, that she was saving for an overseas trip and she was in her late teens, can all be determined through the actions of the scene, rather than by point blank information dumping.

Though a supermarket transaction can hardly be considered a wild adventure or conflicting situation, it’s an experience that shows a lot about the character. It also puts the reader straight into the scene, instead of mulling around the outskirts.

By considering action over information, conflict over description, it’s much easier to set a scene and allow the character to be felt.

At Masterclass, we did a short exercise to really hone in on the opening scenes of a story. We had ten minutes to write an opening that dove straight into conflict. This exercise really helped me to put the theory of story telling, and of showing not telling, into practice.

Click here to read my opening for that exercise.

 

Writing Exercises

I love a good writing exercise. In fact, one of the main reasons I enjoyed studying towards my Masters of Creative Writing was because of the exercises and homework. There’s something about expanding the boundaries of your normal practice that really helps to explore and stretch your skills as a writer. As well as that, playing with words can be fun.

Of course, you don’t need to be a formal student to enjoy writing exercises. If you have better discipline than I do, you could plan and participate in your own practice and achieve much the same enjoyment and development. I suspect being a part of a writers group would support this kind of approach as well.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a writers group, but I do have a wonderful network of friends and writing peers online, who encourage me to expand myself further every day. (Hi Twitter pals *waves*).

Nonetheless, I’m making a commitment to do more writing exercises, whether by joining an online challenge like over at my friend Jodi’s site, picking up on a prompt on Twitter, or opening one of my many writing books and resources and selecting a challenge. The key, like anything, is to do a little bit, a lot of the time. “Little and often”, as one of my friends put it recently.

Yep, thats exactly it.

I’d love to know what writing tools and exercises other writers out there use. How often do you do them? Do you find them helpful? Where do they come from?

Let me know in the comments.

Happy writing, friends. X

On Being a Masterclasser: Character

One of the main things Fiona focused on during masterclass was character. In commercial fiction, character is key, character is plot. Most readers of commercial fiction want to be immersed in the story, they want to feel that they are embodying your character, or walking alongside them. This is why getting character right is vital to the success of your novel.

I’ll admit, my main protagonist came to me almost fully formed. I invested a lot of thinking time into her. But this came at a high cost to all the other characters. Even my protagonist’s daughter, who is the other main character, wasn’t well thought out.

While you don’t need to know a lot about every single character that features in your novel, if you want the main ones to be successful, it helps to give them each a profile; some things that differentiate them from others, like quirky turns of phrase that highlight their background, a unique look, an intriguing habit or tick.

I have quite a few characters, but only four that will hold court for the majority of the book. Before I started the final draft of my manuscript, I created a profile for each of these characters. I use Scrivener and fortunately there’s a built in character profile template with the software. The template includes:

  • Name of Character
  • Role in story
  • Occupation
  • Physical description (Fiona suggests sticking to just 2 or 3 and letting the reader fill in the blanks)
  • Personality
  • Habits/mannerisms
  • Background
  • Internal conflicts
  • External conflicts

I used bullet points so as not to get bogged down in details that would either be irrelevant, or hard to remember as I work my way through the story.

I also did a google image search using keywords like ‘middle aged brunette’ and chose one that resembled the character I had in mind. By including a photo I now have a reference point for any time that I want to layer a scene with exposition about the character, that will always be consistent.