PitchWars · Writing Advice

#PitchWars Homework & Resources

Pitchwarslogomentee

I’m not going to lie, being a part of PitchWars 2017 is a freaking amazing experience so far. The camaraderie, the unison, the fact it’s a dedicated hub of writers on the same stage as you… it’s incredible for resourcing, vibing off others, and generally making invaluable friends.

PitchWars is definitely *not* just about making a book shiny before you go in front of agents.

PitchWars is about learning another side to writing – refining your craft and increasing your discipline so you can cope with whatever future editors (or agents) throw at you in a short space of time. It hones your skills of timekeeping, organising, and yes – even stressing.

There are plenty of hints and tips passed around the writing community but it all depends on what works for you – here’s a list of things which could be a good start to search for if you’re struggling with revisions, either in or out of PitchWars;

SAVE THE CAT beat sheet (plus various others)

This is a basic layout of story structure – according to your word count, it advises what beats are hit at numerous points the story and an approximate idea of when to time them. The structure of it is detailed and fits many stories out there, but it’s a great start to see how many stages your MS meets and within what context – whether it’s all in the first 25% (bit bad) or whether you leave it all til the last 10% (also bad)

THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION by Donald Maas

This is a good resource to use if you’re wondering the benefits of showing vs telling and also want some handy examples from literary greats along the way. It poses the opinion that we, as readers, will not care about the characters or feel emotional about them if emotion isn’t evoked during pauses and other devices explained here. Good read!

TIP! – Read the beginning pages of cross-genre category novels

Something I’m doing as part of my homework is to read the first few pages of YA novels, cross-genre so not just Fantasy. See what parts work for me, which ones don’t grab me, and analyse why. It doesn’t have to be fancy but definitely put some thought behind it.

OUTLINE SPREADSHEETS – word counts, chapter-by-chapter, plot points

There’s plenty of resources out there for spreadsheets, and in the mentree group we’re sharing around our own to be of use to various stages. The first stage I’d recommend doing is a play-by-play outline of your novel. You can do it in excel or other, but this is a good tip I found worked for me.

First column, put in your chapter number.

Next column, sum up each chapter in a sentence or two, no need to go into detail.

In the next column write in which POV your chapter is in.

In the next column, write in your word count for that chapter.

This is optional, but effective if you’re using the Save the Cat sheet which calculates your hit-points based on words and chapter. In a fifth column, make a sum (eg =SUM(D5;E4) ) which will total up your word count from all previous chapters.

Here’s an example below!

example.jpg

These are just a very few, basic things to consider if you’re going through your own revisions and need some guidance to help. I’ll be updating more about PitchWars the more the edits go on!

x

Random Musings · Writing Advice · writing process

Query Breakfast – A (weird) Analogy

I was making my breakfast this morning when – either out of hunger or sleepiness – I likened queries to cereal.

By the time I sat eating I’d gone off on a completely new train of thought to do with queries, but all about food (I was REALLY hungry).

So here is a (probably weird) post about queries, what’s needed within them, and what you can do to make sure yours stands out.

CEREAL

Image result for soggy cereal

As if you don’t know what cereal looks like. I mean.

You don’t want to give someone a cereal query. This is where it’s just the grains of your story and nothing else. Even if it’s something fun with a free toy (ok I might be going a little overboard with this analogy…) the grains of story doesn’t give whoever is reading your query a strong idea of what your book is about. If you just throw in the basics, chances are it won’t be the most interesting cereal query in the world. For example –

“17 year old Jessica Lisa Eisenstein wants to win a talent show. If she wins the talent show, she’ll get a crown and £100. A boy, Marcus Orelio, thinks Jessica is too much competition so he ruins her dress. To get her revenge Jessica thinks up a huge plot to ruin him – publicly – in front of everyone.

We know the characters, but it sounds pretty boring – it doesn’t really GRAB people’s attention and say READ ME (unless you want to read about Jessica’s revenge). WHY is the talent show important to Jessica? Why does Marcus want to win so much and think Jessica is competition? What happens if Jessica fulfils her revenge?

STAKES, PEOPLE.

Ooo, Steak.

TOAST

Image result for toast

This is the play-by-play, read my book, I’m doing this but I don’t think I have a shot query. You can dress it with marmalade or chocolate all you want but it’s still burnt bread – dry and without flavour. If you’re not inspired when writing your query, they won’t be inspired reading it. Where there’s no personal lilt to a query, it can come across as bland as toast.

THE BEST BREAKFAST / QUERY

Image result for cereal orange juice croissant

In my view, the best thing you can give to me as a query-breakfast is the staple hotel morning welcome;

ORANGE JUICE /  CROISSANT /  CEREAL.

I would have put bacon etc on here but I’ve turned vegetarian so my piggy friends will leave it off this list.

ORANGE JUICE – the refresher

Orange juice is a wonderful, refreshing taste which just zings up your mouth and gives your tongue a little dance. This is what you want your query to do – zing with the tang of your story, your voice and your style to whet the appetite.

CROISSANT – the thing which makes your book UNIQUE

If you think of a croissant chances are you will associate it with France. It’s one of the most uniquely identifying things of France around the world bar the Eiffel Tower. That’s what you want for your book – something which will identify your premise as UNIQUE, what makes it new?! Exciting, bold? Is it the characters, is it the layering of plots? SHOW US YOUR CROISSANT.

…. there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

CEREAL – GRAINS ARE STILL NEEDED, PEOPLE

You can dress up your query with Croissants and OJ but you need to also have the basis of your story, except in this case – with the help of the above – your cereal is like little bits of bread, creating a little trail for query-readers to follow while you ensnare us with your writerly-wiles.

So there you have it – my thoughts on how to write a query based on breakfast foods.

 

 

On Writing · Writing Advice

#VoicesofYA Book Tag

I was tagged by the gorgeous Hetal Avanee to answer these questions! Be aware I may be rambly at times but I’ll try to inject it with as much concise info as possible 🙂

ABOUT THE WRITERS:

 What draws you to YA?

I had a reading slump for about 7 years. I barely lasted through the books I read, apart from Neil Gaiman’s works, because the adult arena of SFF and fantasy had lost its luster. I wanted more. More diversity, more variety, more risk taking in stories. I wanted to be punched in the gut with emotion (oh boy do I regret that now!).

YA provides all of that for me. It seems to take more risks in themes, stories, voices, etc. where adult is still stumbling along with it a little bit. I love the fact that I can see strong teenagers coming through – because to be honest, even at 29, I still don’t have my shit figured out, so I feel more in tune with the YA characters than I do with adult most of the time!

Also Sci fi and fantasy? YA is KILLING it, AND with the female characters.

jessica

Describe your writing process. Do you like outlines and structure, or seeing where the story takes you?

Both, but to be honest it varies from story to story. Not sure whether it’s just me, and the fact I’m growing with every novel I write, but this tends to be my process:

IDEA! WOW! Ok let’s write this out… brainstorm it… I see these scenes, ok, write those down, tidbits of characters, awesome, great.

*writes out brief plan of novel*

*writes the first 7 chapters faithfully, sticking to the road*

OOoooo look! Shiny new path!

*wanders off entirely and writes self into a corner even though this stuff is half fantastic and half complete drivel*

*cries for about 3 weeks because I can’t bridge between this barren land the path I should ACTUALLY be on*

*figures it out and then writes some more*

WOOHOO writing!

anigif_enhanced-buzz-32720-1376332181-18

I also actually write queries first now, to give myself an outline of it. It seems to really help me keep on track for the heart of the story.

How long have you been writing? Where are you in your journey?

Image result for it's been 84 years gifSince I was teeny tiny I have been writing stories. I just never knew what to do with them. I lived in a time before internet (I KNOW) and my outlet was books, but without the internet I never really thought about the publishing process.

My teacher, when I was young, told me to promise her to always keep writing stories, no matter what else I did. So I kept that promise.

After writing stories about fantasy and other stuff (based on other books I was reading at the time) I started my first proper book. My first novel took me 10 years to complete, my second novel took me a year, and I think it’ll be the same for my third.

 What do you need to write? Coffee? Music?

I often listen to music, I have playlists GALORE but I can easily write in the quiet of night (when my ear isn’t ringing and annoying me lately, which is rare). But yeah my playlists help. And I always need a drink of some kind, mostly tea or water.

If you could offer one piece of advice to another writer (OTHER THAN “don’t give up”), what would it be?

Know your characters. It doesn’t matter if the plot works or not just yet, if you don’t know your characters or don’t focus on making them the heart and utter backbone of the story, nobody will care whether their world ends.

Image result for don't give up gif

ABOUT THE BOOKS:

What book still has you reeling from its plot twist? (*no spoilers please*)

You know, I don’t think I’m reeling from a plot twist. A lot of them I either knew already from people talking about it or it was like “oh ok”. I think, though, the way Maggie Stiefvater ended the search for the King was REALLY unexpected. I loved that.

What books are you most anticipating for this year?

I need more August!! I adore him.Image result for our dark duet

This sounds fantastic.  And LOOK AT THE COVER. I need the US version.

Daughter of the Burning City

And this one….

Royal Bastards

AND THIS ONE

In your opinion, which YA book/series has the most unique premise?

GOSH. I’m not sure. Actually I would say the Monsters duology by Victoria Schwab because I haven’t actually read a story about a warring city full of monsters created from bad things happening, so I’d put that.

What is your all-time favorite quote from YA lit?

“I will have you without armour, Kaz Brekker, or I will not have you at all.”

QUEEN INEJ, DUDE. QUEEN. INEJ.

What book do you most hope will have a movie adaption?

Movies are hit and miss. They don’t cram as much intricate information in them and they’re only so long. I’d MUCH rather have a TV series, and since Raven Boys is already happening, I will say SIX OF CROWS.  I need to see Scheming Face in real life!

 

On Writing · Writing Advice · Writing Method · writing process

On Writing: Authentic Dialogue

Image result for talking gif

Because, Barney. Because.

I admit it. I’m a bit of a dialogue snob. I am so nitpicky when it comes to what feels authentic and what doesn’t. And the truth is – dialogue is HARD.

There’s a fine line, of course, about what feels authentic in a book – anything from cultural background, personal inflections, and regional dialogue can make a difference when phrasing.

But – and it’s a big butt (I’m sorry) – there are some tips to make your characters sing rather than sound stilted and one-dimensional.

For instance, whenever I can, I try and do a long stretch of conversations without questions. When I observed conversations, both mine and other peoples’, I realised that we don’t usually ask a lot of questions between ourselves. Sure, you’d have like the odd “How was the party?” but then you wouldn’t get many obvious questions after that.

This is what a lot of stories fall down on. In order to expose plot through dialogue there are questions on top of questions. A brief (and somewhat awkward) example below:

“Where are you going? Are you trying to avoid me?”
“Why, are you jealous?”
“I’m worried about you, can’t you tell? Ever since Dorothy, my grandmother died in that fire in 1997 and the dreams I’ve had plaguing me ever since…”

STOP. Ok so this example went into a bit of trope territory that I’ll get into in a second, but —

You’re missing an opportunity to show character AND advance the story arc on a personal level. We very rarely talk so openly in real life (unfortunately) but also rarely as stilted.

Maybe try this?

“Every time I see you, you’re off out somewhere. One might think you’re trying to avoid me.”
One might think you’re jealous.”
“I’m just saying. You know what I’m like about things like this.” –

Something like that. Forgive the potential English slang.

But by removing the questions, it moves much smoother and more naturally as well as setting more of a mood of possible tension between the characters.

Image result for act natural gif

Now before I mentioned something about tropes, and it’s the “explain backstory in dialogue” trope I can’t stand. You see it a lot more in TV series these days resulting in an instant eye roll from me but it goes thus:

*Book begins. Exposition. Something about the character. First dialogue appears.*
“I’m going out, Mom.”
“Jason, you know your father and I talked about this. The woods aren’t safe since Mitzy Kougar got taken by the jellybean man last fall. You know the school’s been looking for her since, and the curfews are in place to help you. Sheriff Dunwoody is not going to want to add another case file since his wife died last June, and since I had my hip replacement I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you…”

Image result for talking gif

Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh

Ok so that example wasn’t perfect, but really, I try not to write like that in any case so I’m kinda glad I DON’T know how to write stuff like that. But – the example doesn’t sound like a real human being to me. It sounds like a person giving a local status report or the summary of the last episode so they can do a subtle nod to the reader like – “you following this?” before they get along to the actual plot.

It’s an alternative but still obvious way of Telling so the reader knows where they are and what they need to pay attention to, rather than making an effort for atmosphere and world by other methods.

Going over information is critical at some points in novels but. Please. Not like that. I’d rather you just leave me guessing for a good five pages and reveal slowly than have me slip into a reading slump wishing I could read something else.

Image result for speak gif

These aren’t meant to be rules, either. They’re more like guidelines to help things flow smoother. If you have a few of the things listed above included in your prose, that’s not going to ruin your book unless it’s choc full of it.

When asking questions make sure they either have meaning, motive or both.

When delivering backstory through dialogue, please don’t just info dump it all at once. See what you can create through other people’s stories, their viewpoints.

Like everything in writing it gets better and easier with practice. So keep going!

If you’d like me to take a look and edit your query, MS or synopsis, see this post HERE

 

aspiring authors · Writing Advice · Writing Method · writing process

On Writing: Vulnerable or “Quiet” POV

Related image

The best piece of writing advice I got when first starting off in switching up Points of View was to imagine a pair of glasses, – my book’s world would be viewed through those glasses, and POV was basically as though one character had taken those glasses and put them on.

What would you see through those glasses? What would they take in first? How would they feel? Probably not the same as all the others.

If there’s one huge importance in books with Multiple POV, it’s the fact each POV has to  bring something distinctive to the table.

If every single POV is going to be the same type of thought – the same personality, the same opinion on everything, then the reader will get muddled up. The temptation, then, is to make every single character’s POV absolutely larger than life or very much stark contrasts to each other, which in theory can work. But most books benefit from the vulnerable, or ‘quiet’ POV, where the character may not be the most talkative or the boldest, but rather offering a unique perspective.

POV is all about highlighting the nuances of what makes that character valuable to the story and different to the others.

Related image

If you have a major cast with distinct personalities then switching up POV will work absolute wonders. In my recent YA Fantasy I have three POV. The only reason I went with three for mine and not two, was that I knew each of them would bring a totally different opinion and nuance / arc to the major plot.

There’s one who has magic, but doesn’t know how / why, initially quiet after living a sheltered life and very sensitive.

There’s one who knows how to use her magic, a determined force of nature, steel of heart and sarcastic.

And then there’s one who has no magic at all, breaks tension with humour, and is braver than he believes.

Their individual arcs and development shines through each POV – all of them start at one particular part of their personality and end at a totally different, or evolved state of their beliefs.

But what of the quiet POV? The first one, who’s very naive in some ways, contemplative and shrewd, who isn’t aware of the wider world and is a sensitive soul. They see a different part of the world when it’s revealed to them than the others who’ve walked the paths before. Their own view is in contrast to the others – their goal is also naturally different by default, from their position as a quieter person.

Image result for quiet ones gif

“But quiet characters are boring!” Not so. Rather, they can be the epitome of “it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch out for”. There’s a reason strong silent types draw in mystery, and you can have fun with them. What they can witness  while being a strong silent type, or even a nervous silent type, can bring a deeper sense of the situation, things unseen or unnoticed by the brasher characters, which gives the reader even more depth of space in your world.

I really appreciate a sensitive or quiet POV, because when everything is blowing up and you have characters screaming at the sidelines, sometimes you need a port in the storm to catch your breath. A quiet POV can bring that balance, and more importantly that deeper sense of self, which enriches the story you’re trying to create.

So, celebrate the tiny voice! Celebrate the person who prefers to text than talk, or speaks only when they have something to say, rather than to fill a silence. They’ll be someone’s favourite, I guarantee it.

Book Things · positive posts · Random Musings · Writing Advice · Writing Method

Top 3: Tips For Making Your Writing Life Easier.

Image result for writing gif

Now, a lot of these things will just be general common sense, but I understand as a writer, we can sometimes lose sight of what is reasonable. We put so much pressure on ourselves, even the slightest slip can seem like we’re doomed to failure. So here is my top 3 list of things which has worked so much for me, and which you can use to hopefully feel better about your writing journey.

 

1. Find a routine that works for YOU.

There’s a lot of hoo-haa about having to write every day. It’s true, if I write a little each day it keeps the mental demons at bay, for if I go a few days or longer without putting fingertips to keyboard or pen to paper, I feel like there’s a backlog of words trying to get through. This does not make for a happy Jade, but the second I write again, it’s like someone removed the grey clouds and everything goes back to being normal.

Related image

But writing every day sometimes isn’t plausible, and writers shouldn’t feel guilty if they’re unable to do 500 words or so each afternoon. There’s so much additional stuff to worry about in today’s society, more responsibility which divides our attention, it can be really difficult to maintain a groove which allows for savoured writing time.

While you shouldn’t ignore the hard work which goes in to writing, it’s probably going to work a lot better if you put in that effort at a dedicated time where you know you can manage an uninterrupted hour to focus on your MS. For instance, if you know you generally have a quiet morning on a Wednesday, or that most of your errands take up your Saturday morning, work around it.

Short version: Don’t worry if you can’t make it every day. Do what you can. A stressed writer is not always a good one, so give yourself a break, as long as you keep going afterwards!

2. Create a System for Recording your Ideas.

Now – this can take many forms and it depends on how you get your ideas. Some get them by asking “what if?” scenarios and writing a concept, other writers may just have flashes of inspiration and have to write it on a napkin. Personally, mine can strike any time, without warning, like lightning, and often I’ve had recent ideas in my sleep. But whatever your method, try to figure out how you can record these ideas without losing those inspired tid-bits of story.

Image result for filing gif

My main advice is, don’t be like me and have 500 separate word documents (okay, maybe an exaggeration, it’s like 100) per project with single paragraphs, sentences, speeches, ideas for scenes, linking passages of time – and then name them something which doesn’t make sense, and worse – don’t put them in a folder all together, meaning you lose hours trying to find that one bit you remember writing months ago.

Ideally, if you write an idea on your phone, put it with the rest of the stuff later. Or create a ideas pile where you can easily flick through to see what your brain told you yesterday. If you have an idea while napping, keep a dream diary.

3. Create REASONABLE Goals.

Unless you are some form of far superior being who turns coffee into words at a rate of 100 per minute, you will not be able to write a cohesive novel of 70,000 words in 5 days.

Image result for writing gif

That’s why NaNoWriMo gives people a month to do 50k, and even then not everyone makes it.

As mentioned before it’s easy to feel pressure to perform well, and to the best of your ability, or else feel like you’ve failed. So, the only way to keep the demon of self-doubt at bay is to make sure you’re not stretching yourself, and within the routine you’ve already procured, see what you can achieve.

Start small, maybe? A chapter completed in 2 weeks. 100 words before you shut down the computer and go to bed. Then you can see how far increasing it gets you, like 1000 words a week, or something similar.

It’s better if you sort of leave timing out of agenting, editing, etc while you’re writing because there is no guarantee at all how long any of the process afterwards takes place. Focus on what you can control, and that is definitely how much you want to write by such and such a day.

I had the unfortunate thing of moving a deadline for myself, not because I didn’t put the work in when I could, but because Real Life had decided to throw everything at me in one lump sum. So prepare for life’s little surprises by reducing the amount of stress you’re creating for yourself. If you miss a day, you won’t feel like you’re missing “finalize 5 chapters” and have to rush to catch up.

Be kind to yourself!

OH! AND A CHEEKY 3.5

Talk to people. Other writers, ideally. Build up a tribe of like minded individuals who get you, acknowledge your struggles, support you, and support them in return. This is invaluable. What you’ve experienced, you can share your wisdom. Vice versa. Writing careers are solitary only when you’re *actually* writing. The rest of it requires a heck of a lot of patience, and understanding friends to make it bearable.

Image result for friends group hug gif

The writing community is amazing, supportive, and there for you. Reach out if you need to! ❤

 

 

positive posts · Random Musings · Writing Advice

Productive-Positive Diary.

 What happens when Life™ creeps up on you from behind and waggles a list of responsibilities in front of your face?

Either you smile, and go “oh yes I’ll get right on that!”.

For those who are more stressed, you may go “agh shit right, yeah, in a second”.

Or, if you’re a writer with a deadline, you’ll likely go….

tumblr_lunhvuhLkQ1qmkrok

Social and personal responsibility wouldn’t usually strike me with such fear, but the moment I settle down to write and then look at my diary with “DOCTOR 3.20pm” I instantly remember everything else I was meant to do, such as send letters, emails, pay bills, respond to friends and actually keep my house in some semblance of order.

I’ve tried to start managing with To-Do lists. At first, this only served to make my anxiety worse because it demonstrated just how much I actually hadn’t done in between doing everything else.

My solution? Have-Done lists. Not an exhaustive list of things I feel obligated to do, or the routine things that can sometimes be left til last minute – no. This is a general list of things I HAVE done, which make me feel proud and accomplished, and it’s a good way of feeling like you’ve been productive in some way.

It could be simple self-care, like “took a shower” or “took meds”. Because self-care is important. Notes can be “wrote 250 words” – whether they sucked or not.

But I find the more positive I’m being about what I’ve achieved in the day rather than what I’ve forgotten, the more it boosts my mood and puts a much better spin on it than an imaginary Principal Strickland shouting “Slacker!” at me.

tumblr_may565lF5N1r9vejy

When I tackled some readings, videos, Critiques and other general bits and pieces, writing them down as completed almost felt like a weight off my shoulders. Much more so than staring at a list with lines through it.

The little I do still matters. And it builds strength enough to tackle the bigger things that might slip by due to tiredness, forgetfulness, or simple avoidance of doing the thing. Almost like a productive-positive diary.

I’m going to (try) and start doing this every week on this blog. Even if it’s “read 100 pages” or something similar, I think it’ll be fun to keep track.

Do people already do this? Does it help others?