Monthly themed post

Monthly Theme: Pantsing VS Plotting

Posted on Updated on

Pantsers write “by the seat of their pants”, not following a set structure but letting the story take them on a wild, sometimes chaotic, journey. It is also known as “Discovery Writing”.

Plotters plan out the novel in advance, sometimes in meticulous detail, setting out the story’s structure and following it from beginning to end.

Which of the two are you? Is one way better than another? While I would never dictate how anyone should write, it is true that each method has its pros and its cons, and also that many writers tend to fit somewhere between the two.

Benefits:

Discovery Writing:

  • The characters develop organically and will generally drive the story.
  • Excitement as you explore and experience the world you, as the writer, are creating.
  • The delight of discovering hidden secrets or stumbling upon an unexpected plot twist.

Plotting:

  • Because you know where the story is going, it is easier to keep on track.
  • Scenes can be written out of sequence and pieced together; you can write that scene you’re passionate about.
  • Plotting can help you solve problems with the storyline or characters.
  • Knowing the plot twists and red herrings allows for successful foreshadowing and set-up.

Drawbacks:

Discovery Writing:

  • Without a goal – where is the plot going?
  • The story can run off on a wild tangent.
  • The completed first draft will need further, sometimes multiple, revisions (which will undoubtedly result in sacrificing significant portions of the story).

Plotting:

  • It is easier to get bored of the story as you already know where it is leading.
  • Characters may end up railroaded into following the plot.

Here are some tips and tricks our members shared during our Monday night discussion:

  • It helps to know where the story begins, and have some idea of how it will end.
  • Consider your plot points to be “signposts” designed to move the plot in the right direction.
  • Be flexible: if characters, or the plot, behaves in an unexpected manner, be prepared to move these signposts.
  • Use the first draft of your discovery written novel to determine the structure of the second draft.
  • Many writers (especially those that are also dedicated readers) will find themselves subconsciously following the traditional story structure.

What are you? A plotter? A Pantser? Or a hybrid?
Do you have any tips and tricks of your own?
Share them with us on Twitter: @chchwriters or comment here!
We are also happy to take suggestions for our Monthly themes!

Monthly Theme: What Makes a Compelling Blurb?

Posted on Updated on

What is a blurb?

A blurb is a brief description of your story, a text-based advertisement to attract a future reader. It either appears on the back cover or inside the front cover on a printed book, or is the second piece of information you will find on a website (after the cover and the title).

Why is it important?

Because, after the potential reader has admired your cover and clever title, they want to know what the book is about. If your blurb does not entice them, then they’re going to put it back on the shelf, or move on to the next option.

How can I write a compelling blurb?

  • Keep it short, generally between 100-150 characters.
  • Write in third person, present tense (generally, however, exceptions may apply).
  • Be true to your genre and use words that cater to your audience. ie: If you are writing a romance, your blurb shouldn’t make it sound like a thriller.
  • Your first sentence has to hook the reader, most easily done by getting them interested in the character or intrigued by the setting.
  • Once the attention has been gained, it must be maintained. One easy way to do this is by following the basic formula below:

Basic Formula

Introduce:

A. the main character (generally including one defining feature).

Here are some examples randomly selected from my book case.

  • Nine-year old Bruno has a lot of things on his mind.
  • When the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus is summoned by Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice…
  • Pi Patel, a God-loving boy and the son of a zookeeper has a fervent love of stories…

OR: the setting

  • London is on the move again.
  • Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten.
  • In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive…

With the character, you are seeking a way to connect with the reader, establishing the main protagonist as someone they wish to learn more about, and with the setting you are establishing a mystery: ie: is London literally moving? (yes, yes it is). You are endeavouring to engage with the reader and hook them in.

Tip: When trying to decide whether to focus on character or setting, ask yourself: which is more interesting? If unsure, write both and ask your friends/writing buddies/random strangers which they prefer.

Follow up with:

B. The problem

What goes wrong?

Tip: This is likely to be connected to the inciting incident of your story: it is the situation that takes your character from their previously predictable and reliable life and plunges them into the plot.

  • Alas, the ship sinks – and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger.

And connect this with your protagonist and the actions he (or she) will have to take:

  • Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi. Can Pi and the tiger find their way to land?

You must end with mystery – don’t spoil the end!

Tip: Although many blurbs do end with a question, if the answer is simply “yes” then your blurb may have more power if, instead, the reader is made aware of the cost to the protagonist should they fail, or the price they will have to pay to succeed.

C. The Mood

Finally, many blurbs choose to conclude with a final paragraph conveying the Mood and indicating the intended genre or audience. Here, if you have not previously, the setting can be mentioned.

  • Set in a modern-day London controlled by magicians, this hilarious, electrifying thriller will enthral readers of all ages.

Tip: Whilst it may seem logical (and is perfectly permissible) to start with the mood, you do run the risk of the reader going “oh, it’s a thriller, I don’t read thrillers” and proceed no further. Also, some readers may read the first sentence and the final paragraph before determining whether to read the middle.

What about Non-fiction?

Non-fiction blurbs are very diverse, depending on the genre.

  • Memoirs and biographies can be written in much the same way as fiction blurbs.
  • Manuals or guides for specialised topics can begin with:
    • the author and their credentials (third person, present tense).
    • with a series of questions (second person).
    • by informing you (the reader) why you might like this book (second person).

Important things to note about writing non-fiction blurbs:

  • Reach out to your intended audience and make your premise clear.
  • Demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about (list credentials/give an example).
  • Include testimonials if you have them. Of not, it won’t hurt to get some!

Tip: If you can make an outrageous, but substantiated claim, then that is a great way to attract the reader’s attention. However, never lie or mislead your reader!

I intend to publish traditionally;  do I still need a blurb?

Whilst it is true that, if traditionally published through a reputable publishing house, it is unlikely you will be writing your own blurb, first you have to get that publishing contract! Therefore, you still need a brief and enticing advertisement for your book.

Tip: Read a lot of blurbs before writing your own! Pick some randomly from your bookshelf or the library (or browse Amazon) and look at the structure. Try to determine what makes you pick them up or put them back. Specifically target books written in the same genre as yours: what do they have in common with each other, what are the differences? Are some more compelling than others?

Also, TEST your blurb, write several attempts, share them on a writers’ forum or with your friends, get feedback and make alterations accordingly.

Favourite first (or last) sentence in a blurb?
Share them with us on Twitter: @chchwriters or comment here!
We are also happy to take suggestions for our Monthly themes!

Monthly theme: Procrastination

Posted on Updated on

For our Guild Monthly gatherings (held the second Monday of each month), we now have a set discussion topic to begin the evening with. March’s topic was a blight experienced by many writers: procrastination.

Now, I’m not sure about you, but my creative productivity has been at an all time low over the last year, and my writing even more-so. So what is it that is holding me back? What is preventing me from writing?

There are many things that can lead to procrastination, here are just a few that we came up with:

  • Self doubt
  • High stress (either caused by the activity we’re procrastinating doing, or other life events)
  • Intensity of the effort ahead (particularly experienced after the first draft is completed)
  • Striving for perfection
  • Too many distractions
  • General emotional burn-out

Sometimes, when you overthink situations, and try and overwork your piece, the thing you love the most becomes the thing you hate. This, I believe, is where my problem arises, and one that I have found pretty much across the board: you’ve finished the first (or second or even third) draft. You know the story’s not perfect. You’ve read over it numerous times, you’ve people interested in reading it, you love the characters and you want to do them justice, but the self-doubt monster has reared its ugly head and you’ve listened to too many podcasts and read too many books telling you what you should be doing, that you’ve almost lost the will to do it. You know it’s broken, but you’re overwhelmed by the amount of effort required to fix it.

So what can you do?

How does one recover from procrastinating?

Easiest answer is, of course, just write. But if something is hard to write, then it’s also likely to be hard to read. You don’t want your story to feel forced. The trick is to get yourself back into the writing mindset.
Here are some solutions we came up with:

  • Set deadlines: If re-writing the entire piece is overwhelming, break it down into manageable chunks: ie: “this week I’m going to rewrite chapter one”.
  • Timetable: If you are procrastinating by engaging in other activities, set them to a schedule. For example, “I will only spend 20 minutes on Facebook tonight, then I shall write”. Set a timer, and stick to it.
  • Take regular breaks: If you are trying to write, and the words aren’t coming, don’t feel obliged to force them. Take a walk, play with the cat, etc. You may find that your brain becomes more alive the moment you step away from the computer, and suddenly you’re rushing to get back to it. Try not to take the breaks too often though, else they’re just another form of procrastination!
  • Free write: Sometimes the computer can be inhibiting. Try writing on paper: stream of consciousness or a scene you’ve been looking forward to, or putting your character in a difficult situation and seeing how she wriggles her way out of it. If it’s on paper, it’s more ephemeral, and if it’s good, you can then commit it to type. I wrote about this in my own blog last year.
  • Write that scene you’ve been hanging out for: I write my stories sequentially and sometimes I know where a story is going but not how to get there. If you’re having issues writing and there’s a scene you’re excited to be writing, write it! You can always re-work it later to better fit the build-up!
  • Seek a critique: Not sure where the story is going? Ask someone that you trust to be honest to read your story. Be careful choosing people to close to you emotionally (ie: spouses), as if they are a little too honest, it can marr your relationship! I suggest finding a writing buddy, as you can read each other’s work (and writers understand other writers). For help in taking critiques well, we have made a post in the past.
  • Distract the cat: We adopted a kitten last year, and she always seems to want to be involved in what I’m doing. This can vary from sleeping on or beside me, to chewing on my arm and climbing on the keyboard. If your feline (or puppy, or child) is proving distracting, you can either shut them out of the room or set up another activity to keep them occupied (I recommend “Cats Meow” for kittens). If you have children, schedule your writing time when they are sleeping, or when there is someone else to either watch them or field their attentions.
  • Start something new: If you’ve written your story so well in your head that you lack the motivation to put it to paper, take a fresh approach. Either consider the story from a different character’s perspective, or start something else entirely. Take your characters, and write a short story, change the setting, heck, you could even write fanfiction!
  • Set a time to write: Set yourself a time to write every day – say between 9 and 11 at night. Sit in front of your keyboard (disable your internet if need be) and don’t permit yourself to move until that time is over. Pretty soon you’ll get sick of staring at that blinking cursor and will put your fingers to the keyboard and, maybe, magic will happen.

What can I do if I can’t break the procrastination blight?

Use your procrastination for being productive in other fashions, here are a few things you can do if you really, really can’t bring yourself to write:

  • Housework: I’ve cleaned out my pantry, tidied up my closet and unpacked the last two boxes of books. Pretty soon I’m going to move onto gardening.
  • Research: Watch documentaries related to your topic or read articles. Maybe they will re-spark the motivation to write.
  • Read: Time spent reading is rarely wasted. Read in your genre – you can always label it as “research”. Read other genres, as a fresh perspective is always worthwhile. Something might inspire you.
  • Take up a new hobby: Cooking, drawing, painting, sculpting etc. Then at least your creativity will have an outlet.

Have you any more tips to break the procrastination blight?

Share them with us on Twitter: @chchwriters or comment here!

We are also happy to take suggestions for our Monthly themes!

Canterbury Earthquake 5th Anniversary Reflections Excerpt

Posted on Updated on

This Monday past marks the five-year anniversary of the earthquake that adjusted the shape of our city, and changed all of our lives. Deb Donnell is an editor/publisher of non-fiction who has spent the last five years looking at the way the community of Christchurch as come through in the aftermath of the Feb 22, 2011 quake.

This is her story about that day, and how it shaped her career path – and how she can help shape yours.

22 February 2016

Deb Donnell

Our sky had fallen, the earth had quaked, and although it seemed far into the future, I knew we would put the city back together again, some day. Christchurch was broken, but the people’s spirit would not – because we had no other choice.’

Christchurch publisher, Deb Donnell, was working with her parents in their High Street jewellery store on 22 February 2011. She counts herself as one of the lucky ones, escaping with her family, friends and neighbours to safety. Eight hours later, watching the television reports of the nightmare she’d left behind, she made three vows which honoured the victims, the injured survivors and the trained search and rescue volunteers.

Her fifth anniversary reflections look at those three vows, and how making them happen has become the driving force for pursuing her dreams of being an author, publisher and mentor to independent publishers.

Deb Donnell is the founder of the Diamond Publishing System™, Writing Diamonds Ltd and Keswin Publishing Ltd. She is the author of several best-selling non-fiction books, and mentor to several more. Deb is a GIA Diamonds Graduate (Gemological Institute of America), professional editor and publisher. Writing, editing and publishing is a lifelong passion. Her mission is to help release one million trapped books. Will yours be one of them?

Read the full reflection at:
http://debdonnell.net/christchurch-earthquake-5th-anniversary-reflection

 

Remembering September 4th: J.L. O’Rourke

Posted on Updated on

bridge-longSeptember the 4th, 2010: 4:35 am
Christchurch, New Zealand

A Poem by J.L. O’Rourke

Woken,
pitch black night,
noise
roaring, growing,
followed soon by the shake.
Beds heaving,
walls moving
but more felt in the dark than seen.
Recognition comes long before it stops.
An earthquake!
Voices echo down the hall
as family members stagger from their rooms
into the illusion of safety framed by the hall.
Daughter pinned in her bed
unable to stand against oscillating walls.
Granddaughter bruised
scrambling from a top bunk
as it danced across the floor.
Someone found a torch that showed our disbelief
etched in confusion.
From a battery-powered radio
announcers’ voices confirm our innate knowledge
that, somehow, this one was different.
This one was BIG.
This one was life-changing.
Although it didn’t – quite.
It just started the sequence.
The big change would wait till next year.
As it was, we waited until daylight,
surveyed the damage,
picked up the broken ornaments,
cancelled music classes for the day.
We walked, later, around Avonside Drive,
checking on friends left without power or water,
avoiding chasms in the ruined road,
admiring grey volcanoes of liquefaction –
a new word that day – as they bubbled,
spurted, leaked, spread, engulfed
the pristine frontages of historic villas.
It would have been exciting
if it had stopped then
and not changed us forever
with February.

Rounding up NZ Book Month

Posted on Updated on

I can officially say, as a New Zealand Author, that I’ve really enjoyed New Zealand Book Month this year. I got to attend a book reading at the Upper Riccarton Library (put on by NZ Book Month and SpecFIcNZ), to teach ‘Making your own eBooks’ at the South Christchurch Library (also funded by NZ Book Month) and to see my book up on the rotating displays at the Peterborough St Library while teaching my homeschool writers. Last night, the Guild also put on a critiquing workshop, which was fantastic.

In conclusion, I have had an amazing (if hectically busy) month and I want to thank NZ Book Month for its ongoing support of authors like us!

NZ Book Month!

Posted on Updated on

Happy New Zealand Book Month everyone! I hope you are all finding time to read lots of Kiwi books. I haven’t had time to read at all, but that’s how life goes sometimes.

This month I would like to celebrate Sherryl Jordan, an Author who has been my favourite NZ author for a very long time. I can’t claim to have all her books, sadly, but I do have 10 of her novels, which is a good start. She writes children’s/YA fantasy books, and I think this is where my love for such books comes from.

I have just been doing a little research on her, and I think one of the reasons she resonates with me would be because she has the same drive to write as I do. She started writing when she was four, and although she started out as an illustrator (she illustrated Joy Cowley’s The Silent One, 1981) writing was her real passion. I love the way she overcomes even the biggest obstacles to get her stories written. In 1989 she began her struggle with Occupational Overuse Syndrome, and I’m sure I read an Author’s Note in one of her books (it must be one of the two that I’ve loaned to friends) that she was told by doctors that she wouldn’t be able to write again, but persevered and kept writing amazing books.

I won’t talk about all her books, but I would like to highlight a few and how they have influenced me as a writer and as a person.

Sign of the Lion is a book that got me through some dark times during my teenage years. I must have read it a hundred times. It kept me believing in miracles, angels, and gave me faith that things could and would get better.

The Raging Quiet profoundly affected me, and I’m sure it has a lot to do with why I was so pleased to be able to learn sign language. Reading it now I can really get a sense for the frustration the protagonist and her deaf friend, Raven, go through and what the process must have been like to make up new signs and how to communicate what the sign means.

Winter of Fire is quite possibly my favourite. It’s one of those books I come back to and read whenever I’m not sure what to read next. For me, because I grew up in a mining community, the mining theme and importance of coal to the people’s survival really resonates with me. The themes of the oppressed fighting for their freedom is always inspiring, and the protagonist is not just a slave fighting for freedom for her people, but she is a woman fighting to be respected in a pre-feminism time.

I’m trying to keep this short, otherwise I will go on forever about all her books I love and why. Some other personal favourites are The Hunting of the Last Dragon, Tanith, Secret Sacrament and Time of the Eagle.

I think one of the reasons the books resonate with me is because they deal with themes I’m interested in, fighting oppression, subtle magic, sacrifice for the greater good or sacrificing the ‘better’ (socially) lifestyle for love. I know that I love writing YA and medieval era fantasy because of my love for Sherryl Jordan’s work.

Also, if you’d like to read a book for a good chuckle, reading The Wednesday Wizard as an adult had me laughing throughout; humour I totally missed as a kid.

It’s a dream of mine to meet Sherryl Jordan in person so I can thank her for writing such amazing books.

If you’d like to learn more there’s an interview here and here and a book list here with some more information.