Digging Deep to Write Every Day


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A writing teacher once told me that the only real way to write, to be a serious writer, is to write every day.

To dedicate yourself to the cause. Working from home makes this goal a lot easier, but there are days when finding that motivation is tough.

But – I’ve learned to “dig deep,” as they say. To write even when I don’t want to, when I don’t feel like it, when I’m tired or even when my creative brain is burning out. How do I (try and) keep writing? I just write something.

Once, I used to work on just one thing, one story at a time. If I got stuck, I would try a writing prompt, but they didn’t ignite my passion in the same way. I tried word-count minimums, schedules and deadlines, but that didn’t keep me motivated either. And it didn’t help much when it came to things like working out character/plot/story problems.

What does work for me, I finally discovered, is having a few different narratives on the go. A literary novel, a speculative short story (or three), a sci-fi/fantasy fiction blog. I kind of rotate between them, so that if I’m not in the right headspace for one, I can least work on the other. Which makes it easier – and more motivating – to write every day.

Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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The Inconsistency of Character


ID-10072565In her book, The Writing Book: A Workbook for Fiction Writers author Kate Grenville writes that:

“Inconsistencies can make characters interesting, as long as they’re inconsistent in a way that adds something to the story.”

But what does mean by this? Aren’t characters supposed to be consistent?

They are, but when we write and read fiction, we don’t want to encounter flawless, whole characters who are perfect in every way. If our heroes and heroines were already perfect, what would the point be in going on a journey with them?

And how would we identify with them, since we, as readers, are inherently filled with our own flaws and inconsistencies?

What Kate is getting at here is that characters, while they must be consistently created by a writer, don’t need to be consistent in their fictional existence. As she says, “Inconsistencies can add depth to a character, but they have to be carefully controlled by the writer.”

When it comes to fiction and popular genres, inconsistencies are often the key to strong and appealing characters. All compelling characters, in other words, have an Achilles heel.

  • The hardboiled detective who is great at his job, but who can’t control his anger.
  • The bloodthirsty vampire who is capable of love and compassion.
  • The wicked queen who has a kingdom under her belt, but is still obsessed with beauty.

Inconsistencies not only make characters likable, but vulnerable as well. This is important because we need vulnerability in a character in order to empathise with them.

As readers, we need to believe that characters could fail as much as they can succeed, that their ultimate flaw or inconsistency is capable of bringing them down or as much as it can help them grow and change.

In any story, however, inconsistencies or flaws can’t be random. A character’s inconsistencies must somehow tie in with their personal story and relate to their inner fears, goals and arcs.

The overall point is that one way to add more depth to our characters and make them more likable is to give them an ‘inconsistency’, flaw or vulnerability.

Whether they overcome this inconsistency at the end of the story and how you play with these vulnerabilities is up to you (just think of all the flaws and inconsistencies in something like Gone Girl or Catcher in the Rye or even the Turn of the Screw), but I think it’s something that needs to be there, in every character.

For writers, this might sound like one of the most obvious and basic character-building approaches, but I always believe it’s beneficial to go back to writing basics and be consciously aware of how these vulnerabilities are playing out in terms of those character arcs and their journeys.

(Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net /  Craftyjoe) 

Writing Prompt: Weekend at the River – A Bricolage 


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The dogs had been barking at the edge of the gully for a full hour, an ominous nerve-racking sound, for it echoed down the gully and from the caves on the other side. Some kids are skipping stones on the river down river. I wish they’d float away with their bellies up.

Over the balcony and off into the flooded square where gulls would swoop and snatch them away. A theory of everything. There are simply too many characters.

Again I hear these waters, rolling from their mountain-springs with a soft inland murmur. I have grown up in the sound of guns like the child of siege.

When I was a kid, my pop used to take me fishing here. One day him and my mama were out on our boat and so I yanked down my shorts and plopped myself down in the sand and pissed. We all grew up with myths. This is, in part, what gives my life its own moral particularity.

Now the things you gotta make way for are the details, cause it’s the details that sell your story. We must stir our way onward, mixing as we go, disorder out of disorder into disorder until pink is complete, unchanging and unchangeable, and we are done with it forever.

Out of sight, beyond the frame, two people are sitting in the dark interior. It is like a strange picture, he said, and a strange sort of prisoners.

The ordinary-sized stuff which is our lives, the things people write poetry about – clouds – daffodils – waterfalls – and what happens in a cup of coffee when the cream goes in – these things are full of mystery. For him, they were not fictions, but how he suddenly saw, or interpreted the world.

I ran into the sun room where the lavender curtains were drawn and the moon was bright and half full. The waves are the loudest sound in the room at night.

Rivers of light live inside your head. It’s like love, don’t you think?

What Is a Bricolage? 

In any art form, a bricolage is a creation made from other available creations, forms or sources. When writing, a bricolage is a fantastic way of creating and shaping meaning through intertextuality and understanding the importance of the intertext, even when it’s evidently “on the surface” and to push the boundaries between original and new.

In my bricolage, I’ve taken phrases and sentences from other short stories, from movie scripts and plays, from poetry, and from other short stories I’ve written myself to compose a new text that makes its own meanings and offers commentary on the ways in which we see the world growing up.

Is It Possible to Over-Plan When Writing a Novel?


ID-10078246 man with penAre you a novel planner? I tend to be. But is it possible to plan too much?

Usually, once I have an idea in place, I go about creating a plan for the rest of the novel. Sometimes I wrote a long synopsis, other times maybe a chapter or scene summary.

And this plan serves to:

  • Keep me motivated
  • Keep my writing on track, so that I understand the goal or finish line of each chapter/scene
  • Force me to think about the bigger picture of the story, and how to create meaning for the characters and the actions they undertake along the way

But sometimes, when I write off a plan, I run into two main problems:

(a) It all begins to fall apart when writing. I start to question the plan I’ve written up and then I dive into other possibilities for character action, reaction, emotion and decision. And then – I just go back to doing more planning, instead of more writing.

(b) I get bored. One of the things I love about fiction writing is the opportunity to work out the characters and the story as I’m writing it. But once it’s all in a plan, the appeal of creating the story is kind of gone for me as an author.

So I suppose the question is – Am I an over-planner? Am I trying to work it all out too much in advance? Trying to make the first draft of the story to perfect?

Or should I embrace the plan-then-write working structure, and be a more methodical writer? ID-100160560 man dream bubble

Who knows. I’ve crafted story plans that have worked for me. And I’ve also ignored the need for a plan, and spent hours and hours writing around in circles.

I guess the conclusion here is that (like everything in life) it’s all about creating a healthy balance.

I do think it is possible to plan too much when writing a novel. You can plan everything to a tee – but at the end of the day, it still comes down to making it all work through writing.

And yet if you just write without a plan (as I know some writers do, and it works for them), you can end up becoming writing ‘lost’ (though which is not always a bad thing). It’s one thing to have a story goal for your character, but sometimes, it isn’t always obvious how that goal should come to fruition in terms of scenes, actions and emotions.

Anyway, it would be great to hear your thoughts – fellow writers – on how much or little you plan!

For me, I’m done with planning right now. It’s time for some creative writing.

(Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / David Castillo Dominici / Master isolated images) 

Getting Inspired by Travel & Distance


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I’ve noticed there is a gap in my blog posts – but thankfully, it’s because I’ve now relocated from Sydney to Seattle.

I’m one of those people who could explore the world forever, and find myself constantly inspired by the things I see and the places I visit.

The mountains of Washington became the mountains in my children’s novel. And the lake and harbour near where I’m living bring to mind the world of a coastal town in another crime story I’m working on.

But can travelling and distance really make you a better writer?

I think so. Because the travelling experience – of the world, of new places, sights and cultures – gives you depth as a person. Which also means more depth as a writer.

The real challenge, at least for me, is to translate that experience in the words, descriptions and actions of my characters.

It’s one thing to set sights on a magnificent snow-capped mountain, it’s another to write about that experience from the point of view of your character so that it creates meaning within the narrative and adds something to the character.

But overall, the lesson here is that it helps.

Travelling can inspire and add to experience, and distance can give you perspective and breath, and all of this works towards making you a more rounded, well-versed and engaging writer.

Here’s hoping my Seattle experience continues to bring me a wealth of words and imagination!

Keen to read more about my adventures in Seattle and the US?

Follow my other blog – Seattle Soup

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Simple Ideas On How to Start Your Story


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It’s the start of a brand new and exciting year, so I thought I’d do a post on how to start a new story.

When should the story start? What’s the first scene? Should that opening sentence be about your main character or something else?

It can easy to throw up tidbits like “start with a critical moment…” or “open with a scene that forces the character into conflict…” – and these are great pieces of advice – but since they’re quite general/abstract, they can be difficult to get a handle on when it comes to writing a concrete scene.

I flip and flop when it comes to openings. Sometimes, it’s simple.

One of my novels-in-progress starts with a young boy finding a body on a beach. This signifies the changes of everything – in the main character, the other people of the town, the setting and its flow of life.

But in my other novel-in-progress, it wasn’t so easy to find a starting point. It took many drafts to figure out that it starts with the main character, a boy, encountering a book that is literally about to change his life.

So, here are a few simple ideas for openings. They aren’t meant to work like magic. Instead, they’re meant to act as prompts or exercises to help you begin writing, and uncover where your narrative starts.

1. OPEN WITH SOMETHING ESSENTIAL TO YOUR CHARACTER’S STORY

In other words, don’t open with your protagonist. Open with something that’s essential to him/her. You’ve likely got some kind of idea about what’s central to your story – Is it an object? A setting? An animal or a pet?

An entire scene the protagonist is witnessing? Whatever it is, open with it. Think about what’s important to your character. And then see where the narrative takes you.

2. CRAFT A SYNOPSIS

If you’ve got a great idea but are struggling on when to start the story, write your story synopsis first. It shouldn’t be any longer than a few sentences.

This forces you to nut out what elements are critical to the opening of your narrative – and it can show you when and how to begin.

Your synopsis isn’t set in stone, either. You can always change it later on.

3. START IN THE ORDINARY WORLD

This is the first golden rule of the Hero’s Narrative or Journey. Place your character in his/her ordinary world and show them doing ordinary things.

The ordinary world can be established in a sentence, a paragraph or an entire chapter.

But it must contrast and/or set up the journey the character is about to take. Then – throw in something that upsets that world.

4. WRITE THE BACKSTORY

You won’t want to spill your entire backstory on the opening page, but writing the backstory for yourself can have an endless range of benefits – and it can also shed some light on when and how the story should start.

5. OPEN WITH AN EMOTION

Compelling characters experience emotion – they don’t just ‘do’ or ‘see’.

Giving your character an emotion in the opening sentence can help. Such as: “Ryan was feeling ecstatic” or “Natalie was feeling depressed.” This isn’t meant to be your opening sentence, but it can be a great prompt or trigger to help you figure out why the character is feeling this emotion.

And when you start writing about that, you can find it will throw you into a scene or dilemma.

Once you’ve got that down, you can then go back and rework that first sentence.

6. START WITH YOUR ENDING (IF YOU KNOW IT)

Beginnings and endings are tied together in every way imaginable. If you can’t figure out how to open your story, write your ending.

This could mean your last paragraph, page or chapter.

Even your last sentence. If you look closely enough, it’ll tell you when and how the story is meant to start… Craft your beginning on your ending.