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The Art of Asking: putting the Quest back in Question

One of my all time favourite albums is This Side by the blue grass band Nickel Creek. I’ve stolen quite a few maxims from them as well. This one’s my favourite:

Only the curious have something to find.

It’s true, isn’t it? Think of the most creative person you know. That person who always sees shapes in the clouds and pulls stories out of thin air. That person who sees the world, not as it is, but as it might be. That person who’s forever asking the question “But what if…”

Maybe that person you know was just lucky to be born with a creative soul. But then, aren’t almost all children born with a sense of awe, a readiness to absorb information &, most notable of all, a billion questions on their lips?

The problem with many of us struggling artists is not a missing ‘creative gene’ but rather a loss of our childlike sense that life is a Grand Adventure. Thinking we’ve seen it all, we stop looking (see Part II on the Art of Observation). Not wanting to appear ignorant, we stop asking questions. We become jaded, & our imagination just doesn’t work like it used to.

But what if we could revive that lost art that comes so naturally to children…        the Art of Asking?

There is a direct correlation between Curiosity and Creativity. The one fuels the other. So if you let Curiosity dry up, you can bet your Creativity will sputter out & wind up rusting in the junkyard of your busy, uninspired mind… unless you choose to embark on a quest that can reverse the hands of time & get your Creative mind banging on all cylinders again.

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3 Ways Asking Sparks Creative Thinking

In his book for cooking up Creativity, Five Star Mind, Tom Wujec explains the revitalizing power of asking questions like this:

Inside the word ‘question’ is the word ‘quest’,  suggesting that within every question is an adventure, a pursuit which can lead us to hidden treasure.

1) Asking questions excites your mind out of its drowsy state by laying an open road before it.

Just like Bilbo Baggins startled from his stupor by a troop of adventuring dwarves, your brain secretly longs for a mystery to solve, a quest to fulfill. Asking questions is an invitation for the brain to step out of its routine & into an adventure.

2) Asking questions gets your brain moving. 

Wujec explains that a question puts the brain in a state of irresolution, a bit like an itch that demands scratching. And believe it or not, your brain LOVES this irresolute state! If you don’t believe it, just look at the masses of Sudoku & crossword puzzles sold in your local bookstore. The brain sees the challenge & sets right to work to scratch that itch. Before you know it, your creative mind is on fire!

Irresolution is a potent fuel, a source of energy & motivation. – Tom Wujec

3) Asking questions gives you a target & helps you aim. 

Here’s where you can apply the Art of Asking directly to your writing, & especially when you feel utterly & hopelessly stuck. Asking the right kind of questions can be the hand up you need to get you unstuck & on your way again. So just what are the “right kind” of questions? 

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The Quest for better Questions

The best questions drive us to see the bigger picture, not just the immediate problem.

For example:  Instead of Why is my protagonist so BORING?! Try What do I already know about this character?  -or- How might this character respond in another situation?

The best questions are open-ended, inviting not just one answer, but many possible solutions.

For example:  In what ways can I make my protagonist more interesting? or more believable?

Then scribble away! You’re only limited by the size of your paper.

The best questions may not lead you to a final resolution… They may even lead you to ask yet more questions! 

That’s OK! In fact, that’s the point! For the creative writer, it’s not the answers but the Art of Asking that counts. Merely asking keeps the creative mind in motion & childlike wonder alive. Mastering this art will take practice — so much unlearning to do before we can have the humility to learn afresh! But the pay-off is enormous! Just consider all the books on your shelves that began with a simple, silly question:

“What if you fell down a hole in the ground & landed upside-down in a fantasy world?”

“What if you walked into a wardrobe & found yourself in in a winter’s wood?”

“What if an ordinary boy discovered he was actually a wizard?”

Do you dare to begin the quest? Who knows where your questions may take you…

 

If you enjoyed this article, check out Got Creativity Parts I & II.   Sign up for email notifications so you never miss a writing tip!

 

4 questions to determine whether you’re feeding or starving your Creative energy

We all know it when we see it. We all want a little more of it… but what exactly is creativity anyway? Tom Wujec, creative thinking guru, hits the problem on the mark in his book Five Star Mind:

“Creativity is a familiar stranger. Trying to define it is like trying to capture a puff of smoke with your fingertips.”

How can it be that Creativity is at once so familiar–we recognize it in others all the time–and yet so strange and slippery when we try to pin it down for ourselves? We come to believe that Creativity is some sort of mystical super power with which only the select creative geniuses among us have been so fortunately graced. While they receive visions, the rest of us ordinary people dig around in the mud hoping to strike creative gold. And dang, it’s hard work!

If only there were some 5-step process to awakening your inner creative genius! If only you could be as creative as _____ (fill in the blank: that writer who seems to strike gold every time they breath)!  If only…

If I’m honest with myself, those “If only” thoughts require a vast amount of energy. Energy that might be converted into…I dunno… creative thinking? Because when it comes down to it, Creativity might be indefinable, but it is not unattainable.

I want to argue that you already have creativity. You are a creative person.

And no, you don’t just need to squeeze your eyes shut and recite the mantra “I am creative!” until you magically pop out a bestseller. I’m not talking about deluding yourself into thinking you’re creative, or even faking it until you make it. I’m suggesting that everybody’s got the ability to be creative.

Having said that, your Creativity won’t look like mine. Just think about it: we are each of us created uniquely. Doesn’t it make sense that what we create and how we create will be equally unique to each of us? What inspires you to create might not do beans for me. And now, finally, we begin to get closer to why Creativity evades definition: it is by nature always adapting, evolving, developing along with us, individually & uniquely.

Ok. So the closest we can get to defining Creativity is to accept that it defies definition–it looks different for each one us. But we still haven’t resolved how we can maximize our creative energy, whatever that means!

Well in Parts II & III of “Got Creativity”, I’ll give you some tried-&-true tools for shaking that Creative muscle awake & getting it buzzing again.

But just for now, here a couple of questions to help you determine whether you’re nourishing your own Creativity… or suffocating it.

Are you giving yourself the space & time to be Creative?

When it comes to stimulating Creativity, the problem is often not too little but too much. How often, in a quiet moment alone, do you savour a bit of mindless musing rather than reach for your smartphone & start flicking? How often do you sit back & stare out the window on long journeys or your daily commute rather than clicking on the radio/ipod/news app/etc.?

Psychologists tell us that when our brain is in information processing mode (ie. flicking through our phones or surfing the web for “inspiration”), we virtually shut down our ability to create. However, when our brains are in task negative or “boredom” mode, it’s like those creative neurons can finally clear the floor & get their dancing shoes on!

When it comes to Creativity, boredom is your friend. It’s a dying art. Letting your mind wander without any external stimulation might even intimidate you. But making that space & time for musing is the vital first step to waking up your own Creativity.

Be brave! Give it a go!

*(Creative photographers Phillip & Eileen Blume talk about the goods & evils of modern technology for Creative thought in this inspirational TedX Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOPVLuopnV0)

Are you bogged down trying to write for the Market?

As a budding writer, it’s all too easy to try and catch whatever winds the market is blowing to fill your creative sails. But don’t be caught out. Trying to perform for an ever-changing market will soon leave you in the creative doldrums.

One of the key ingredients of Creativity is passion. That’s why your creativity looks different to mine! The thing you’re passionate about, the thing that energizes & excites you, that’s the fuel for your creative fire. So keep a weather eye on the Market if you must, but don’t fret over it. Keep a journal & jot down ideas that excite you. Write what you are passionate about. Because chances are, there’s an audience out there that’s passionate about the very same thing!

Are you an Explorer?

More on this in Part III, but suffice it to say for now, Creativity happens when our minds are allowed to wonder, to inquire, to explore… No wonder kids seem to have Creativity coming out their ears!

Remember those good ol’ days as a kid, mixing up mud pies with whatever ingredients you could find in the garden? Sure, to Mum or Dad it might have looked like you were picking berries, tearing leaves and digging up earthworms. But in actuality, you were gathering mundane ingredients together to make something new & wonderfully disgusting. But that is the essence of Creativity! Like a mud pie chef, as writers we gather together our plot, our characters, our settings… we toss in a bit of our favourite books, a pinch of life experience, and… voila! Something totally new results!

So dare to take a second look at the world around you. What others see as mud you may come to see as a scrumptious pie.

Do you learn from hiccups?

Creative writing is quite a lot like cooking (& not just mud pies). You throw together the ingredients you’ve gathered, hoping to make a delicious, harmonious stew. Not every ingredient will blend & enhance as you hoped. That’s ok! The key is to let your creative ideas simmer. It takes time, trial & error. Sometimes it takes getting it wrong before you know how to set it right.

Remember, Creativity grows with you. It’s a journey, and a right fun one if you’ll except the hiccups as all part of it!

Stay tuned for Got Creativity Parts II & III! Sign up to our email list so you never miss a writing tip!

So you want to be a writer? Here’s how.

I wonder if you ever thought about this: every great author had to start from scratch.

Every successful writer out there was once a wisher… someone who wished she could write that book she’d been carrying around inside her just waiting to come out… someone, perhaps, a lot like you.  

How did they make the massive leap from wanna-be writer to real writer?

Was it a lucky break?

Was it some lightening bolt of creative genius that struck them by chance & resulted in a master piece?

I’m confident if you asked your favourite author, he would laugh before answering with a definite “Not a chance!”

So what is the secret? How do you stop wishing you were a writer & become one? I’ll tell you. Here it is, ready?

 The first three baby steps to switching gears from wanna-be to real writer

1. Declare yourself a writer 

As writing-coach Jeff Goins puts it, this is not about faking it until you make it. Deciding and declaring your status as a writer and not a wanna-be is essential to making that step. It’s about making a mental shift & setting your intention in stone. So go on. No more excuses. Write it down. Pin it on the wall. Tell a close friend: I am a writer. But of course that’s just the start… 

2. Start writing… now.

I know, I know. This one sounds like a total no-brainer. But actually, this obvious step is where most people fail to move from wanna-be to writer. Writers are people who write. Sure, they do other things too–dreaming, planning, researching–but all those things can become just ways of procrastinating from the one essential job of the writer, which is (you guessed it) WRITING! So if you want to be a writer but your’e not currently writing anything, get yourself a journal or a notepad and write something: ideas, observations, thoughts about stories you love… remember, you don’t have to write Gone With the Wind on day one. Baby steps. But you must write

3. Learn the basic tricks of the trade 

I absolutely believe the best way to become a better writer is to write, and write, and write. But you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Many have gone before you & picked up tricks– methods, processes, little secrets of the craft– that will make your new life as a writer a lot easier & a lot more fun. 

That’s where we come in! In June and July, we’re reposting our best writing-tips to walk you through the process & motivate you along the way. Writing a novel is an emotional roller-coaster, no matter how many times you’ve done it. There’s nothing like having a shoulder to cry on & a hand to guide you through each step. That’s what we’re here for!

So whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo in July, writing your 100th novel, or giving this whole writing thing a go for the very first time, these tips are going to help you… I can guarantee it, because they’re the same tips that’ve helped us along the way! 

So here’s your homework: Declare yourself a writer today, & let’s get writing!
Sign up for our email alerts (in the right margin) so you don’t miss a single tip!

 

What’s your life story in books?

I recently became aware of a funny phenomenon. That is, I can draw clear lines around the seasons of my life based on what I was reading when. And in a pretty impacting way, the books I read have shaped my life.

Sounds a little hokey put like that, so let me explain it with my story.

As a small child (& as an older child), I loved Winnie-the-Pooh. The whimsical language, the innocent beauty, something about it captivated me and made me yearn to find and put down my roots in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Something similar happened to me when my family read The Chronicles of Narnia together one year. It was more than entertainment… it pulled at my heartstrings, almost like a calling home.

Flash forward a few years. When I was around eleven years old, my big sister introduced me to an author who would forever change my life, that being the one and only Jane Austen. I fell head-over-hills and read everything she’d written (and watched the films), as well as everything written about her I could get my hands on. In those days, I lived in a constant Jane Austen world in my own mind. To live in her actual world in England became my burning desire.

Then came Tolkien. Still in my middle school years, I took my first journey to Middle Earth and never recovered (in a good way). The story combined for me the old world Britain I’d come to love along with the ancient, foresty, far away magic of Narnia.  Once again, all roads seemed to point to England.

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My high school years are pretty much summed up by the stacks of books still collecting dust in my old bedroom, and the one thing they have in common: Classics. I had no time for modern literature, and certainly not teen literature as a teenager. I couldn’t get enough of the old stuff, and especially if it was English. The books I read continued to shape my dreams of a future in another, more ancient and quirky culture. And, let’s face it, I was a bit of a literature snob. I still remember brining Oliver Twist to school and Bri snatching it out of my hand and finishing it in a day. *Yes, she was that annoyingly quick at reading, even then!

The books I read as a kid shaped and chiselled and fuelled my dreams so much, that, at the ripe old age of 21, I actually moved to England! Those early days of immigrating to a new land–even though it was my soul home!–were trying, and I can’t imagine having got through them without the guiding light of books by C.S. Lewis, G.K.Chesterton, George MacDonald and the like. Those authors spoke Truth, made good sense and came off the page like old friends sharing a cup of tea in the next chair. Just what I needed that season of change!

Now, eight years later, that far-off land of my childhood dreams is simply home. In many ways, it’s just become ordinary. But it hasn’t disappointed. I’ve visited the actual Hundred Acre Wood, spent a year in Tolkien & Lewis’s Oxford haunts, and even dressed up in regency attire for the Jane Austen Festival in Bath (oh yea, & I’ve totally had butter beer and ridden a broom at Harry Potter Studios). And I still catch myself frequently observing about some place or other, “It’s just like in Pooh/Jane Austen/Middle Earth/etc.!” It’s like Kathleen Kelly says in “You’ve Got Mail”,

So much of what I see in life reminds me of something I read in a book, when… shouldn’t it be the other way around?

I don’t know, Kathleen. For me, the books have been the catalyst for the real-life adventures, and I’m just fine with that.

So what about now?

Well, these days books play as vital a role in my life as ever… in fact, now that I’m writing them, I’d say they’ve become my bread & butter!

But the books on the shelves in my little London flat are rather different than those in my childhood bedroom. Ironically, they’re mostly contemporary kids books! IMG_0451 2-2

It’s as if, having missed out on all the young, new literature in my youth, I’m making up for it now as an adult. And I’m enjoying every minute of it! Sure, I still make time for little reunions with Dickens, Austen and the like, but I’m also discovering new worlds in Middle Grade literature I’ve never yet visited. And who knows where they’ll lead me next?

Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without books. Good Story is not only a gift from God, but a tool he’s used to shape me & direct me… to write my own story! And I think that’s pretty brilliant.

Can you tell your “Life Story in Books”?
Has a book you read inspired you to go on a real-life adventure?

How to craft a catching cover letter

Allow me to tap the breaks just before we head out on the motorway to crafting your cover letter (or agent query letter). If you’ve not yet been on an agent hunt, put your letter on hold and make that your first port of call. Why delay? Because, as when writing a novel, your Cover Letter is most likely to hit its target if you know exactly at whom your aiming. No two agents are alike in what they are seeking in a new author for their list/ perfect novel. But all agents I’ve come across are alike in this: they expect you to do your homework before submitting.

How do you know which agents are the right agents to pitch to?
  • Check out Bri’s article, We’re going on an agent hunt, for some handy resources. For those of you hunting in the UK, I would add the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for a full directory of agencies & what they look for.
  • Once you’ve found agents who reps similar writers to you, check out their blogs, twitter, etc. to find out if they have wish lists & to find personal points of connection. After all, agents are really people in disguise as agents (*SHOCKING*). Hence you want to address them as people in your Cover Letter.

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*So the key to pitching your cover letter is the 3 Ps:
  1. Make it particular to the agent your querying. Do your research. And by all means, address the letter to the agent BY NAME! Not Dear agent,… 
  2. Make it professional. Don’t try to be cutesy, though not too formal either.
  3. Make it personal. Again, you’re writing to a person, so you use the personal ‘you’ to address him or her. And it doesn’t hurt to let your own personality shine through a bit too!

Huzzah! So you’ve gone and hunted down the perfect agent? Now you’re ready for the nuts & bolts of crafting that Cover Letter. 

What to Include:
  1. General Information – Title, author, genre, age range, length (word count), etc.
  2. Your 1-Line Pitch. See how to write one here.
  3. Your Blurb. *This should be the main body of your letter as you want the book to primarily sell itself! Check out these how to tips on blurbs.
  4. Selling Points – Who will just love your book? What published books are similar, but also what makes yours unique? Show you’ve done a little market research (which may simply mean you’ve snooped around your local bookshop to see what’s selling!)
  5. Profile – This is your chance to share just a little about you as the author. Don’t get carried away about your favourite foods and TV shows, but do include anything relevant – other projects on the go, previous work, anything published or short-listed for a competition, etc. – or interesting details that may help promote your book.
  6. Miscellany – very briefly why you’ve selected this particular agent/agency; maybe a 1-line idea for your next book

 

Final tips:
  • Your Cover Letter should take up about 1 side of A4 (no more!), usually single-space, 12 font (something generic like times new roman), with spaces between each paragraph/section.
  • Check your agent’s instructions carefully. Most these days want the Cover Letter pasted as the body of an email, but others prefer it attached.
  • Remember to let your novel sell itself – the letter should be 90% novel, 10% you.
  • Be excited and proud about the work you’re submitting! Don’t down-talk it to the agent, but at the same time, don’t pitch it as better than anything on the market to date.
  • Look online for good & poor examples of Cover Letters to get a feel for what to do & what not to do. And stay tuned – Bri & I may be sharing our own in the coming week!

 

Hope that was a helpful introduction if you’re new to or rusty on Cover Letters. Good luck crafting yours, and leave us questions and comments below!

 

How to write a simply stellar synopsis

Just in case you’re new to the Café, following a month of writing in November and a month of editing (ouch!) in December, the month of January has dedicated to the next step in the journey: the terrifying but wonderfully exciting topic of SUBMISSIONS!

So far, we’ve touched on how to find an agent how to pen the perfect pitch.

Coming up on the agenda, we’ll cover Cover Letters (stay tuned!). But today let’s knock out ye olde synopsis.

Although not every agent will require a synopsis as part of your submission package (check their guidelines carefully!!), it’s still worth your time and effort to get ‘er done for a couple of reasons:

  • You should be able to describe your book start to finish in the length of one side of A4. This will be a helpful exercise for those future meetings with agents, publishers, editors or just friends who ask you to summarise your book for them.
  • Melting down your plot into a synopsis will hopefully help you detect any lingering holes that need patching up. It’s a way of getting a bird’s eye view of your story to see if the thing is airtight and ready to ship out.

I realise the thought of looking at your story from a bird’s eye may strike a chord of terror. After all the work you’ve done, the last thing you want to find is a hole in the plot! But never fear – go for it! Writing a synopsis is a simplifying, distilling exercise. It’s a great way of getting clarity in your own mind about your own story. And hey, if you’re not clear on it, nobody else is going to be!

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Convinced? Good. Here are a few tips to make your Synopsis shine: 

  • limit it to 1 side of A4, single spaced, with paragraph indentations (spaces between paragraphs)
  • Don’t use voice or dialogue – regardless of your book’s POV, you the author are the narrator of your synopsis.
  • Be choosy! One A4 is not a lot of words. Focus on your story’s narrative arc & emotional drama… the juicy stuff!
  • Include the ending.  A synopsis is not a trailer or a hook. No need to give spoiler alerts to your agent. He/she wants to know the whole story: begging, middle & end.

How to structure your synopsis – Think 3-Act Structure of your Story:

   Paragraph 1) Who is this story about?

   Paragraph 2) What sparks the story into action?

   Paragraphs 3-5) Mounting drama/ mini climax

   Paragraph 6) Apparent failure

   Paragraph 7) Turn-around, climax & resolution

   Paragraph 8) Tie up loose ends (or *denouement* if you want to get fancy;-)

Remember: Cut-&-dry, do NOT be wordy, use action verbs!

*Stick to those keys, and I promise it’s gonna be fine! Good luck writing that stellar, seller synopsis. And hey, let us know how it goes!

**This information comes from a Writers&Artists workshop – How to Hook an Agent – with some of London’s top literary agents. Hats off to them!

Penning the Perfect One-Line Pitch

Here’s a scary thought for you: after months of research, writing, editing and finally submitting your brain-child novel, guess how agents are going to determine whether or not your work is worth their while?

The ONE. LINE. Pitch.

Suppose you actually hook an agent (and I hope you do!). The job’s only partly done. Guess how he/she is going to turn around and try to actually sell your novel to a publisher? Once again.

Your Pitch.

But the process doesn’t end there! Publishers then have the task of selling your book to retailers, and guess how they do that? You guessed it! They include a short pitch in a catalogue. That’s it. That’s all the folks responsible for the future success of your “baby” have to go by.

Need I even say, being “pitch perfect” is a pretty crucial business. It’s not easy either. How often have you been in the in the situation in which some well-meaning person asks the perfectly natural question, “So what’s your book about?” and you want to slap them silly and say, “You try boiling down months of toil, sweat & tears into a snappy sentence or two!!!”

But folks, that’s exactly what we’ve got to do if we want to send our work into the world!

So enough scariness. How do you write the killer pitch?

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First, a few pointers to bear in mind:
  • An Elevator Pitch should be deliverable in about 20 seconds (the time it takes for an awkward silence to form between floors in the elevator… at least I assume that’s where the name comes from…?)
  • Your one-line Pitch should capture the heart and soul of your novel. Go for essence. Don’t spell out every detail. (This means you want to focus on the main character &  his/her plight – the thing that catches the reader’s interest & emotions)
  • When it comes to your cover letter to agents, you must include a one-line pitch & a slightly longer elevator pitch (blurb). Not sure what’s the difference? Think films trailors: the one-liner is your teaser trailer (one image & one line that grabs interest).  The blurb is the plot summary on the back of the DVD box.

**For practice writing both, check out Graeme Shimmin’s cool, apparently fool-proof formula for Loglines & Elevator Pitches.

The ultimate advice on crafting that perfect pitch comes down to one word: Practice.

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All you need is a blank few pieces of paper and a chunk of time. Start with your blurb – think who, what, when, how, why. Then boil it down, and boil it down again until you can extract the essence of your book in a beautiful one-liner.

Not only will you be one leap closer to selling your book, you won’t  feel the need to run screaming into the night the next time someone innocently asks you “So, what’s your book about?” And that can only be a good thing!

How do you know when it’s time to enlist a second reader?

Can you believe we’re already halfway through December? I feel as if Novel in November – remember that epic journey we did last month? – is already yonks away in the distant past. Thoughts of Christmas and this busy season have set my dear little novel on a back burner this month, and I must say, I really miss it!

But of course I should be spending regular revising it as it’s our revision month! But boy is it difficult to stick to task when there’s no ticking clock & world-wide community keeping you accountable… am I right? Oh the blessing/curse of deadlines!

If you’re finding yourself in a similar slump – wanting to get that manuscript pressed & polished for the new year but failing to find the drive, then maybe… just maybe it’s time to enlist a Second Reader. Dun dun dun…

Now don’t flip out just yet! I did say maybe. And it might not be that time. For instance, if you know your novel is in bits & pieces that won’t stand a chance of being understood coherently, then work out the big issues before handing it over. OR, as Bri recommended in her revision post last week, if you feel you’re just too fragile at this particular moment to weather criticism & the inevitable of others not loving your book as much as you’d hoped, then maybe it’s not the time. Yet. 

But let me encourage you to dare to share. Here’s when it might just be a good idea:
  • Your story is more or less in place chronologically, but you’ve lost objectivity & need a 2nd pair of eyes to tell you if it all makes sense? It’s time to share! Amazingly, thanks to pre-planning, I don’t need to do any huge plot revision… I don’t think. I just need to know that what made sense in my head actually comes across on the page to the reader.
  • Your story has a target readership that’s not you? Test it out! My own novel is aimed at 9-12 year olds (mostly girls). I happen to be blessed with five nieces & several friends around that age bracket who are excellent readers. So I’m sending off a copy to them all on 16 December. See what I’ve done there? I’ve got a deadline to get my engine revving up again! I mean, who wants to break a promise to a bunch of eager 9-12 year old girl??!!
  • Your story contains specialist topics or lingo? Get in an expert! The main character of my story is an equestrian. I am not. Sure, I did a bit of research to get the basic terminology down. I even visited the Royal Horse Guard at St James’ Palace so I could experience period stable culture. But I’m still no expert. I want the horse language in my novel to be believable to my equestrian readers but still accessible to those less versed. So, I’ve asked my literary equestrian friend to be a second reader! Bingo! Don’t have a friend who’s an expert? Consider emailing a teaching assistant or grad student at a local college, for instance. They like showing off what they know;-)

It can be truly earth shattering to hand out something so personal and so precarious as a DRAFT of your novel. But overcoming the fear of criticism is essential to becoming a writer. We write for our own sakes, sure. But story is a craft meant to be shared with others.

So dare to share! Here a couple more tips to help you take the plunge:
  • Choose your second readers carefully! Don’t only give your novel to your mum or your spouse (though by all means share with them if they can be objective!). But preferably go with folks who know the genre you’re writing, or who understand the craft of writing themselves. They will have a critical eye, but hopefully a gentle approach as well!
  • Ask specific questions. I recommend putting together a review questionnaire for your second readers. Especially if they are young readers, ie. my nieces & young friends. They may have great feedback, yet if you only ask them “So, how did you like the book?” They’ll likely not know where to begin and just tell you, “Yea, it was good.” Not so helpful. So ask specifics! What did you like about this character? How would you describe the villain? Were you surprised when you discovered who the murderer was? … You get the drift.
  • Brace yourself, and consider comments carefully. Novels are subjective pieces of art. They won’t resonate with every reader equally, but that doesn’t comment on their objective value (or yours as the writer!). Take every comment into consideration, but don’t be too hasty to make changes. You as the author must still love what you’ve written at the end of the day. And if you love it, chances are, there’s a readership out there who will really love it too.

 

So how’s editing going for you? Have you dared to share? Share your experience with us & the Brewhaha community in the comments below!

Happy Editing!!!

Wednesday Writers’ Cafe: getting into your character’s shoes

Happy Wednesday, my writing companions of the world wide web! And welcome, as always, to the Writers’ Cafe!

I just had a moment. I looked down at my watch to check the date & experienced a just a teensy bit of a conniption when it dawned on me that Novel in November kicks off in a mere 19 days! But of course it was mostly a conniption of joy… obviously.

So Bri & I are making it our aim to distill all the hoards of writing exercises out there to bring you only the best, the most useful & inspiring to get the gears going on churning out your story in November. In fact, we feel a bit like Bilbo hunting the Arkenstone amidst the hoards of gems in Erebor! Only we haven’t got a dragon to reckon with… just a ticking clock, which is nearly as vicious

Anyway, earlier this week, Bri posted about starting points – ie. some stories begin with a character, others with a setting or a scenario or even a “what if?”. But wherever you begin your story, you want to set your rudder early on to writing the story that’s going to grab the attention & maybe even the hearts of your readers. And in order to do that, you must work hard at one crucial ingredient: your POV (point of view) character.

Why is the main character so critical? Because, fact is, readers (& most writers) are human. And the way we connect with a story is via shared experience & empathy with the the human or human-like character the story revolves around. Simple enough.

But creating that character that is both believable & interesting enough to get under your readers’ skin… not so simple.

But fear not! It is doable with effort. And here’s an exercise that’s going to help you out tremendously! Quick advisory note: If you’ve not yet filled out Bri’s character check-point list, you might want to do that first to set the foundations. Now for your assignment:

Spend 15-20 minutes  either 1) writing a journal entry as your main character, or 2) interview your main character.

You may wish to set the journal entry/ interview just before or after the inciting incident in your story (if you know what it is yet, of course… don’t worry if you don’t!).

When you’ve finished, read it back. Did anything surprise you about your character? Are there any little quirks you might build on in the story? Any shining character qualities you could build a scene around?

Now think about POV. If your character has a strong or interesting voice, maybe it’s worth considering writing in 1st person…?

Now off you go, and remember to ENJOY the exercise. You get to make a new friend of your very own creation. It’s like having an imaginary friend again!

And please, PLEASE let us know how it goes in the comments below. We’d love to meet your characters too!

tea-journals

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