Writing Advice · writing process

On Writing: 5 Things You Need When Starting A Chapter

I recently ran a poll on Twitter and asked what day people might like the writing advice posted – “Just post them please!” won the vote, closely followed by Thurs and Friday, so – here I am posting! The first thing I want to discuss in this craft series is starting chapters. But I must say, writing and craft advice is not uniquely mine. There are plenty of resources, posts, and books which might crossover with the advice I give.

The difference is… it’s my point of view, and my way of putting things. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick up on something else? XD If you want to learn what I’ve learned from writing my own books and editing others’, keep reading!

So imagine your blurb interested a reader or an agent, they picked up your book, and now they’re going to devour it. Last thing you want is for them to be confused as they read through and end up throwing it at the wall.

The more manuscripts I’ve read, the more I’ve realised there are 5 things readers expect when starting a new chapter:

  1. POV.
  2. Space.
  3. Mood.
  4. Time.
  5. Wants.

It may seem obvious that’s the case. But over the last year or two of editing both indie and potentially-traditionally published novels, I’ve come across multiple manuscripts which don’t set-up their chapters with all, sometimes any, of the above. There’s literally nothing apart from someone walking into an office, or reflecting on information they received in the last scene, with no perspective on what we as a reader are supposed to be experiencing right now until Annie comes in with a coffee on page 5.

It can take only a few words to a sentence to help ground your readers and push the story along, but it’s obvious when these things are omitted. My personal mantra is that readers love asking “what’s going to happen next?!” rather than “what tf is going on?”.

You don’t want to unintentionally frustrate your audience. It could cause them to stop reading for a while, or simply DNF and pick up something else entirely.

So it might be handy to have a checklist, or just to run through when you’re revising, that you’ve covered all if not most of these when  you’re beginning a new chapter (or even a scene, tbh, but let’s go with chapter for now!)

1. Whose POV are we in?

There have been several instances where I’ve gone into a client’s chapter and had about 3 pages of description, events and history, without knowing whose perspective we’re in til they talk to someone.

If you have named headers this isn’t too much of a problem, but whether you’re in first person or third, the voice should still include something either distinctive or personal to ground us in your character’s perspective, and allow us to experience this portion of the story squarely through their eyes.

It would be incredibly jarring to think we’re still in Jonathan’s head only to realise we’re in Catherine’s later on.

2. Where are we?

Readers need to know where they are in a story, or else it can be disorientating. For example, if we were in a bell tower at the end of the last chapter, and the next continues as though nothing’s changed with no description of the place (white room issues, but I might touch on that in future), then readers could presume we’re still in the bell tower, until suddenly Catherine stops in front of a cafe on the blinding streets of Paris.

Describing the look of a place adds to feeling, the POV, and the mood. It can also allude to how much time’s passed, so you can encompass a LOT just by grounding the chapter in a location.

Does describing place have to be pages long? Nope. Does it sometimes suck to spend hours thinking of a prettier word for “blue”? Yes. But if you create that grounding sense of ‘in the hotel room’, ‘in her car’, or ‘in front of the seven gates of hell’, we’ll at least have something to go off.

3. What’s the atmosphere? How are readers supposed to feel?

Reading should create a feeling. Whether that’s intentional frustration, shock, absolute cute-and-fluffies for the characters, it’s all up to you. But discovering the mood through action or dialogue of the characters will heighten this. For instance, you’ve established place, setting and POV – Catherine’s POV in the press office of her job at noon the next day, for example.

“This is horseshit.” Gerry threw the newspaper on to the oak desk in front of him. A dozen pairs of eyes glanced between each other, as if daring someone to speak. Catherine kept her hands on her lap, fingers curled into the hem of her shirt.

Hopefully, from this very quick example, you get the fact that not only is Gerry someone they fear, but there’s anxiety there – anticipation of what he might do next. Concern, even, that speaking out of turn will get them shot down.

You can do it with anything — romance, horror, comedy, but as long as we know the surrounding atmosphere and how the character’s reacting to it, it’ll spark an emotion from the reader and hopefully invite them to carry on.

4. How much time has passed since the last chapter? 

This not only serves to progress the plot, but also orient readers again. Some chapters may have one continuous action, from ending on a “Behind you!” and starting the next chapter with the big reveal,  to leaving the ending on a poignant moment and starting when the character’s had time to reflect, or rest, or travel to that important place.

We need to know if the character has had time to come to terms with what’s just happened to them or what they’ve learned or whether they’re still in the thick of the action. If you have a time limit, as well, such as “Must stop bomb before it goes off in 24 hours”, it’s handy to know just how close our characters are to the wire.

It’s also helpful if you’re doing some sort of travelling fantasy, where they have to walk a long time to get to the next plot poi… I mean, the next big adventure. Or if you have a non-linear timeline, or a historical and modern switching scenes. Timing is good.

5. What does the character want? 

This easily ties in with point 3 on atmosphere, but it’s basically what the character is wanting, and what they’re doing at the start which might accomplish that want. Writing a letter to someone? Coming home soaking wet after a long day? Looking at their watch cause their date hasn’t turned up yet?

Wants can change through the course of the chaptre, sure. But all the above really boils down to this – we have a good idea of where we’re heading if we see the character doing something, or what their intention is. Are they off to meet someone fresh and fancy, are they struggling to function at work after drinking a liquor store the night before?

Using the example in point 3, it could be that Catherine wants to talk to her boss about an article she wants to write, but he’s in such a bad mood she’s terrified to do it in this seriously bad, very-not-ideal moment. And on seeing him in a temper, she decides to delay her question — or even go ahead and complete the article without his green light.

Establishing a want can take up to a page sometimes, that’s fine. You can spend more time on your character. But when readers don’t really know the point of a character’s actions, they’ll likely be confused, or worse; Just… not care.

 

With all this in mind, it might seem overwhelming or a daunting task to fulfil them all, but I’d encourage you to go and read some of your favourite books. See how they incorporate those five elements over the course of the first or second pages of that chapter. Do you recognise which elements have been fulfilled? Did they combine some into a single sentence, even?

Sometimes a few, and not all, are necessary to start a chapter but you’ll be on much better footing if you can incorporate most of them.

I also want to say, this advice isn’t something I’ve read in a book and it’s NOT a rule! It’s a very soft guideline that you are welcome to follow if you want some grounding for how to start chapters in your writing day. Because let’s be honest – starting is the hardest part.


 

Have a manuscript you’d like editing? Find out more about my services at Cover to Cover Edits

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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 · 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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

aspiring authors · authors · editing · Random Musings · writers · writing · Writing Advice · Writing Method · writing process

It struck me as I sat here in the office of the job I’ve been in for only 3 weeks, alone, trusted to organise the oncoming storm of students and maybe not blast Kerrang! Radio (I’m not blasting it, btw. It’s just… on low) that I wanted to write a blog post.

But what do you write about when you don’t know what to write about?

Exactly that.

Confused? Me too. Let me explain.

Continue reading “”

jade hemming · jadewritesbooks · writing process

Killing Your Darlings (and Other Such Problems)

Unfortunately, there comes a time in a writer’s journey where a piece of writing close to their heart has to be sacrificed for the greater good. Sometimes it’s for the word count, other times it’s simply because it doesn’t fit any more and no matter how much you put smoke and mirrors around it – it’s still there, a bump in the rhythm of your prose, distracting the reader.

You just didn’t want to cut it.

Continue reading “Killing Your Darlings (and Other Such Problems)”