Monthly themed post
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.
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!
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:
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!
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?
- 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!
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
‘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:
A Poem by J.L. O’Rourke
pitch black night,
followed soon by the shake.
but more felt in the dark than seen.
Recognition comes long before it stops.
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.
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
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!
Kia Ora and welcome to New Zealand Book Month!
To commemerate the event, us of the Admin are all writing a blog post about New Zealand authors. Now, I’m running a few days late with my post – but I assure you I have a very good reason. The reason being, I have finally broken free of my Writers’ Block and have been rather extensively editting my latest novel, entitled “Fellowship of the Ringtails”. It’s epic fantasy, with lemurs.
But this blog entry is not about me, I thought I would share with you three very good authors that write for the young adult market.
First up, we have Des Hunt. Des Hunt is a retired science teacher who lives on the Coromandel Peninsula. He has written a number of books – which are mainly geared towards boys, aged ten plus. All are heavily based in reality, set in various rural locations around New Zealand – the West Coast, the Coromandel, near Wellington, Otago peninsula and they are fast-paced adventure novels. In many of them he also has a female character as well, thus adding appeal to any young girls who might be wanting something a little more exciting and realistic. One of the many things I enjoy about his books are the conservation messages, many of his books make mention of our unique wildlife, in some cases with the animals being a major plot point and he also includes aspects of chemistry, geology and other sciences as well as underlying themes of anti-bullying, internet safety, friendship, doing the right thing and for most of the time, his characters behave in relatively sensible manners, making the protagonist a good role model. The characters are very easy to related to, the plot moves at a fast clip and generally the conclusion will have you on the edge of your seat. I have thought about it, and I am not sure I can come up with a favourite novel from his rather long list – they’re all equally good. It also pleases me to learn that his next book is set in Golden Bay – and Tarakohe – with the climax occuring in a place that I remember well: The Tarakohe cement works, now desserted.
The second author I feel deserves a mention is Karen Healey. Now, she is a particularly awesome young lass – not just because she writes urban fantasy with a New Zealand flavour, but also because she used to live in Christchurch and she planned to do a doctorate on comic books. Now I see she is intending to become a High School teacher, which is pretty awesome, and she’d do a wicked job. How do I know? Well, at one point I worked with her.
I have so far read two of her books – the first: Guardian of the Dead, I read several years ago and highly enjoyed. It is set in our very own city and draws on Maori folklore – specifically the patupaiarehe, the rather feral faeries of Maori mythology. The second, The Shattering is set in a delightful, picturesque (and fiction) town up on the West Coast. For all its serenity and beauty, it has a dark secret. Her third, the latest, is called When We Wake and is a future-dystopia novel, which I have yet to read but I’m sure shall be excellent. She has sassy heroines, a wry sense of humour, great social commentary and overall writes an excellent and intelligent read for young adults.
You can meet Karen Healey on the 12 March at the Riccarton library. Details here.
The third author is fantasy author David Hair. David lives in Wellington and has written a number of books, over three series. The series I have read by him is the Aotearoa series, in which the modern day blends with the ancient in a pretty epic urban fantasy series. The first, The Bone Tiki was his first novel and, whilst an enjoyable and interesting read, it was definitely weaker than his later books. Reading through the series steadily, it has been quite impressive watching his writing talent develop and evolve. The series centres around a young man, Matt, who steals a bone tiki, unleashing an ancient warrior into the world. Although the warrior is not necessarily a threat on his own, their are others out there that seek him for their own, rather darker, purposes. Essentially, it’s a great read with a really strong New Zealand flavour and with the writing really going from strength to strength. The fifth book is due out very soon.
That’s it for now, three authors all with surnames that start with “H”. Now, back to the editting!
This week’s theme is writer’s block, which, to be honest, I think I must be suffering from at the moment. I know that if I was to sit down and try to write, whether on something new or on a WIP, I would find a massive blank in my mind with not a clue on how to proceed. I finished a short story at the end of Jan, and I haven’t written anything (beyond poetical scribblings which I’m not sure count) since then.
Rather than get down about not being able to write, I turn my focus to anything that I can find inspiration on instead. Writing is not the sole outlet of my creativity. Lately I’ve been knitting, crocheting and designing cross stitch patterns.
Keeping myself this busy, and productive, I never have to sit down and face the page and suffer from writer’s block. Writer’s block, then, for me is a sense of knowing that if I tried to write nothing would come, so just don’t go there.
I’ve certainly had times in my life that I’ve really wanted to write but there’s just been nothing there when I’ve tried, and it is rather depressing, but I’ve learned that no matter how long it lasts, and how many things I get up to in the interim, the block does pass and I am inevitably drawn to story ideas and the page. Being away from writing for a time makes me really appreciate being able to write. I love the feel of words flowing easily from the brain to the page, and sometimes go on autopilot and just enjoy for a moment the feeling of the pen in hand moving across the page (I really do get distracted watching the point where the ink hits paper) or the feeling of fingers tapping away on the keyboard (I love my keyboard!)
So for me, these periods of writer’s block are not so much a barrier, they are more an opportunity to look elsewhere, be creative in other ways, and give myself time to forget the pain of trying to get words and ideas just right.
Inevitably the inability to write passes, and the need to write returns. That is what makes me a writer.
The final post for our World building series is on the use of random generators.
There are tonnes of random generator sites out there, my favourite is http://chaoticshiny.com/
Generators are amazing tools for world building, in many different ways.
Way number One
This is to use random generators is to generate a result and stick with it, finding explanations for why it works.
I want a regional drink to spice up an area so I use the Fancy Drink Generator (http://chaoticshiny.com/drinkgen.php)
I get: “Light yellow-green with silver sparkles and a slice of a strange fruit on the edge of the glass. The drink smells like fresh dirt and tastes like pea soup. It often inspires the drinker to dance.”
Okay, so first the colour, why is the drink yellow-green? Is this because of an ingredient or the combination of both? If it is a regional drink is this some sort of national colour?
The silver sparkles, are they decorative? Or do they change the flavour?
The strange fruit, how is it strange? What does it taste like?
The smell… how does a drink smell like fresh dirt? Do I actually want to know…?
Tasing like pea-soup makes a lot of sense if peas are still green in your world – but what if they aren’t?
Oh and how on earth does a drink tasing of pea-soup inspire dance? Is it a specific dance? Is it the regional dance?
Clearly that single drink has given us a lot of questions that we now get to have fun answering.
Way number Two
This is to use the random generator to generate multiple answers and use one or a combination to best fit the information you already know.
For example: say I was using the same problem as above, but I know that where I am focusing this drink is a small village that primarily makes glass items for the city just up the road.
I generate five results:
1. Clear as glass with brown swirls and a stick of cinnamon in the mug. The drink smells sour and tastes spoiled. It burns going down.
2. Bright yellow with pale pink swirls and served in a plain glass. The drink smells like perfume and tastes like blueberries. The locals consider it offensive not to accept a drink of it if offered.
3. Pale yellow with small pieces of candy and served in a champagne glass. The drink smells like cinnamon and tastes strange. It causes mild paranoia.
4. Light red with lots of bubbles and served in a plain glass. The drink smells like chocolate and tastes like licorice. It causes the drinker to temporarily lose their sense of taste.
5. Smokey grey with silvery swirls and a lemon slice on the edge of the glass. The drink smells like fresh dirt and tastes metallic.
So I have some interesting results here, some would be brilliant as practical jokes, like the chocolate that causes temporary loss of taste. For a regional drink though not so much (unless there was a strong practical joke custom!) One thing I really like for my regional drink is that the locals consider it offensive not to accept a drink if offered. Now as the area makes glass I also quite like the idea that their regional drink is clear as glass so I’ll stick with the Clear as glass with brown swirls and a stick of cinnamon in the mug” Now smell and taste, if it is a regional drink then it is going to taste good, and is probably this village will drink it cool. Smelling of cinnamon makes sense if there is a stick of it in there but “strange” isn’t much of a taste description so at random I choose blueberries. I may also make it alcoholic so it’s a blueberry flavoured drink with a stick of cinnamon? Maybe the region has a lot of cinnamon, or there is some health benefit attributed to cinnamon?
So I still have some unanswered questions to sort through and make up the answers to.
Way number three
This basically involves regenerating answers until one fits.
I do this more than I like to admit because it feels like cheating but it is a really good way for you to learn what you do and do not actually want. If you don’t really care what type of answer you have then the previous ways work. If you do but still don’t know what it is you want exactly then you use the results generated to rule out something.
So back to my example:
I want a regional drink that my village of glass-makers drink regularly. So these are craftsmen and craftswomen who have a very dangerous job. They are not going to get drunk. So do I want this to be a drink they drink on special occasions or everyday? Everyday. So it will be cool, as they work in a hot environment.
1. Very pale brown with semi-transparent swirls and sugar on the rim of the glass. The drink smells like arsenic and tastes like cherries. It is a great thirst-quencher.
2. Sea green with gold flecks and served in a small cup. The drink smells like lime and tastes like lemon. It is served steaming hot.
3. Sapphire with yellow-orange swirls and served in a mug with runes carved on the side. The drink smells like arsenic and tastes like medicine. It is served lukewarm.
4. Copper with lots of foam and served in a shot glass. The drink smells like rusty metal and tastes like the sea. It goes flat if not drunk within ten minutes.
5. Amethyst with yellow swirls and served in a mug with runes carved on the side. The drink smells like lemon and tastes spoiled.
The only thing I like in these is the thirst-quencher of the first one. I do not want a drink that smells of arsenic. Some of these I could make work but none of them feel like what I am looking for, so I generate again.
6. Solid black with red flecks and a shot of another drink mixed in. The drink smells like fish and tastes like fish. The locals like to drink it on hot days.
7. Mint green with silvery swirls and a stick of cinnamon in the mug. The drink smells like ambrosia and tastes somewhat like coffee. It will melt any material it is spilled on, but is safe to drink.
8. Aquamarine with small pieces of candy and served in a carved wooden mug. The drink smells like chocolate and tastes somewhat like champagne. It often makes the drinker jumpy.
9. Amethyst with bubbles and served in a dirty glass. The drink smells strongly of nuts and tastes like oranges. Sphinx tears are rumoured to be a key ingredient.
10. Dark brown with multicolored bubbles and chunks of meat floating in it. The drink smells like cave rock and tastes like chicken soup. It is served freezing.
Again none of them feel right…
Eventually I find this one:
Blue-green with lots of foam and a sprig of mint in the mug. The drink smells like strawberries and tastes excellent. It is highly caffinated.
This could work. Eventually you will probably pull out bits you like from the results you are given to mash up to what you want.
Finally there is a completely different way to use random generators
This is my favourite way to get past writers block.
Many random generator sites have a “random generator” button. This button randomly sends you to a generator. This one feels more like a flow-chart type approach to me…
1. Random Generator
2. get a few results
3. does any of it feel like it could be worked into your world?
If Yes – Write it!
If No – Go back to 1.
I have no idea what to write
Random Generator: D&D character…
Hmm, I don’t really have any need for new characters my worlds have enough of those…
Random Generator: Flag generator
Hmmm That Kingdom over there could do with a flag… or each of those noble houses could have one….
Now I get to write about the various flags and why the houses chose them. Was there a huge debate over neighboring houses wanting the same design? or too similar a design? Did one of those houses split in the past – how did that impact on the flag?