Writing Epiphanies in the Brushstrokes of Picasso

This last weekend I had the rare pleasure of attending an art exhibition of the Modern Masters “Degas to Dali” that called my city a temporary home on loan from The National Galleries of Scotland. With 79 works by over 60 Modern Masters from Renoir to Monet, Degas to Dali, Picasso to Warhol and Van Gogh to Matisse it was a feast for the creative senses.

You are probably wondering what an art exhibition of The Modern Masters has to do with writing and Wrestling the Muse. Everything. Writing is just another form of art. Where the great Masters of the art world used exquisite brushstrokes to create pictures and stir the senses, writers use ink blotches and words to create worlds that a reader can step into. Writing, Painting, Sculpture, Music are all forms of Art. If you are a writer, you are a creator of worlds and an artist of words.

What struck me during my tour of the exhibition was how alike a painter wrestling with his creation is to a writer wrestling with his. We both have a very specific vision of the completed work but at times the journey to get to that point of writing The End or framing that completed canvas is fraught with struggle. There was a room where the quotes of these great Modern Masters had been displayed on a wall. These are some of the quotes that stood out to me. These same quotes could directly be used for us writers.

  • I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else. – Pablo Picasso
  • I have a horror of people who speak about the beautiful. What is the beautiful? One must speak of problems in painting  a story! – Pablo Picasso
  • If there were only one truth, you couldn’t paint write a hundred canvases stories on the same theme. – Pablo Picasso
  • Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working. – Pablo Picasso
  • It took me four years to paint write like Raphael (insert a Master of Literature here), but a lifetime to paint write like a child. – Pablo Picasso
  • Action is the foundational key to all success. – Pablo Picasso
  • An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought. – Pablo Picasso
  • Are we to paint write what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it? – Pablo Picasso
  • Art is the elimination of the unnecessary. – Pablo Picasso
  • Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone. – Pablo Picaso
  • Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. – Pablo Picasso
  • Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.– Pablo Picasso
  • Painting Writing is a blind man’s profession. He paints writes not what he sees, but what he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen.- Pablo Picasso
  • The hidden harmony is better than the obvious. – Pablo Picasso
  • The more technique you have, the less you have to worry about it. The more technique there is,the less there is. – Pablo Picasso

Just like the great artists, us writers have to get messy with our creations. We have to be willing to be ink-splattered. We have to be bold and unafraid. We have to let the story take control over the technique. We have to disappear so our characters can talk to the reader. We need to remember to tell stories like a child does. We need to let loose our passions into the story. We need to remember that up close we the artists may see only brushstrokes and mess but from a distance our audience the reader needs to see the full picture. We need to step back and look at our work with the eye of a reader to truly see if we are consistent in the path our story has taken. Remember to not only read but to look at beautiful art, listen to beautiful music, touch a beautiful sculpture. Seek out inspiration and it will show itself to you.


Always Trust Your First Instinct

Have you ever had a piece of advice that has translated into everything you do? Many years ago a junior school teacher gave me just such a piece of advice. Her advice:

Always Trust Your First Instinct

This is a lesson that I have returned to over and over again in my life. Sometimes a little seed of doubt – damn that doubt – creeps in and I second-guess myself. But time and time again I have to do a 180 or a 360 turn back to that first instinct.

This last week has been one of those weeks where I had to do a 360 turn back to my first instinct in my WIP. On advice, from an agent and from a few authors, I had second-guessed a key element of my WIP’s story structure. After much tweaking and re-tweaking I made the new way work. But the entire time while working on the 2nd draft, this new style kept on grating on my nerves. I couldn’t figure out why this 2nd draft was not jelling with me and why this WIP was so determined to fight me every inch of the way.

Then I was asked a question by my cp that jolted me into a massive A-HA (no, I don’t mean the Oprah saying, I am talking about a huge ballad ala AHA the 80s pop band) moment. What was the question? She asked why I had ever changed styles from the 1st draft to the 2nd draft. Bells and whistles went off in my head! Why indeed? Well, there is no reason I can’t change back, is there? No. That is what editing is about. We can change our minds. We can make 180 or 360 turns. We can cut out, add in and re-splice scenes and chapters.

So here are my writing tips for today in #lessonslearnedwhenediting …

  • Always trust your first instinct & Always trust your story
  • The story is your own, hold your own pen and write the story you must write the way it needs to be written because the writing is not done until you type The End.
  • You can always do a 360 and return to your first instinct…It is never too late until it is too late.

Have you ever second-guessed your first instinct & then ended up doing a 360 back to that first instinct?

Has a WIP ever fought you and just not jelled? – What did you do?

Talk to me…It’s not in your words, It’s all in the way you move…

People are communicators. We love to communicate. We want to communicate. We need to communicate. But what about when words don’t get your full meaning across? What about when talking is just not enough? Have you ever traveled to a country where you did not speak the language there or did not speak it well enough to communicate? What did you fall back on to communicate? You used body language. You used facial expressions. Words can sometimes only go so far and even if you speak the same language, words may have different meanings to different people. So people use body language or non-verbal communication to get their meaning across.

Non-verbal communication is 90% of the way we communicate and verbal communication (words) is only 10% of the way we communicate. So it really is true: Actions speak louder than words.

When a reader picks up your completed novel, they are visiting a new country that is foreign to them. They are entering the world of your characters that you as the writer have created. You may know all the rules. You may see all the scenes in your head. But just because you can, don’t assume your reader can see them too without you communicating these scenes to them. Yes you can use descriptions to describe scenes and you can use dialogue to give a presence to your characters. But how do you show what the character is thinking or feeling in action? You use non-verbal communication, body language, facial expressions and micro expressions.

Ok, so how do you learn to write body language? Before you get to that question, you should first ask how do you learn to understand body language in the real world? We have all heard the expression: write what you know. Body language definitely comes under this. If you don’t do some research on body language you as a writer will be forced to either have the talking-head syndrome or you will be using clichéd phrases and descriptions to communicate your character’s body language. Clichés sometimes are avoidable and they do have their place but it is far better to try for something original.

So who are the experts in body language? Who can you talk to, to find out more? Here are some options for you:

  • The Police
  • Lawyers/Judges
  • Jury Members
  • Medical People
  • Psychologists/Psychiatrists
  • The Military
  • The Airline Industry – Pilots, Flight Attendants
  • PR (Public Relations) Experts
  • Communication Experts
  • Sales People

Off the top of my head these are just a few of the industry experts who need to read, and understand body language. From my day jobs in both sales management & training and my days as an international flight attendant (especially in this role) body language was key to doing my job correctly. In terms of my airline experience we were taught by two police detectives and a psychologist how to read body language. A lot of the most missed body language comes under micro-expressions. Below is a short video detailing the basic micro-expressions all people use to communicate various emotions.

The other layers that make up the linguistics of body language are voice tone, body posture, sign language and then individual “tics” that are unique to each individual. Think of it the next time you are in a room with someone. Think what body language you are using. Does it contradict what you are saying or does it add to it? Think of the other person. What does their body language tell you? Like most things in life, learning to read and recognize body language needs to be practiced until eventually it will become an unconscious habit.

Writing

So how do you add your new-found linguistic skills in body language to your scenes? Let’s take a simple expression that we all can recognise and all have used: smiling

Eliza smiles.

The above sentence is fairly self-explanatory. You have a character named Eliza and she smiles. But 10 people could read that and get 10 different images in their minds explaining the smile. As a writer you have a choice to either let the reader choose their own interpretation or you can open up the scene for them.

Her lips curve slightly before she can pull them straight.

Now I have opened up the scene a bit. I have told you in one sentence that she smiles but is trying to hide the smile. Perhaps she is nervous or perhaps she is shy.

In the doorway he stares at me and smiles.

Again there is nothing “wrong” with that sentence but it lacks emotion and falls flat as a result. How does he smile? Why is he smiling? What does the doorway look like? What is he thinking/feeling? The above sentence does not tell the reader any of that.

Standing in the shadowed doorway, his eyes crinkle at the corners and his lips twitch into a knowing smile.

Now the reader can picture the doorway. The reader can picture the man. They can imagine him perhaps leaning against the doorway. The reader can see his smile is a teasing smile, perhaps with a slight twinge of arrogance or confidence.

These are just two twists on using body language to open up a simple expression of smiling. You could come up with 100 others.

Here is a simple exercise: Go to a mirror and smile. But think something when you are smiling. Perhaps you are thinking of something embarrassing and the smile that comes to your face will be a nervous one. Look at what your eyes are doing, how are your lips curving. Are you smiling with your teeth showing or are you smiling with a closed mouth?

A myriad of micro-expressions can come into a simple smile depending on the person’s mood or the circumstance or the person they are with. Using these skills of describing these micro-expressions will bring a scene to life for your reader.

Two television shows that are fantastic for learning to recognise body language are Criminal Minds and Lie to Me. Criminal Minds is a television show based on the cases of a team of behavioral specialists & experts in the FBI. Lie to Me is a television show about a man who makes a living from being an expert in body language and micro-expressions. Most police shows are very educational with learning how to recognise body language but these two series are my favourite go-to series.

Do you make a conscious effort to use body language in your writing?

What is your most challenging “simple expression”, like smiling, to write using body language?

Go wandering… Get lost a little…

Are you ready to lose the map?

I love road trips. Always have. It started when I was a babe in my mother’s arms and the minute the vehicle started I was in “happy-land”. I love road trips with no clear destination in mind. You know, those times when you get in the vehicle and just drive following the road as your only map. Travelling fuels my sense of adventure, exploration and discovering the great unknown. The best adventures don’t usually happen on the main highway. They usually happen when you take that pothole-ridden abandoned side-road. There’s a sense of risk maybe even danger. Your adrenaline is fizzing through your bloodstream. Anything can happen. It might not all be good but it will be an adventure.

So what’s road trips got to do with this post. Everything. To get very profound, life is a road trip: unpredictable, risky, mapless, pitstops unknown, destination murky and a complete adventure. But this is not a post on the profound meaning of life. That is for another day. This is a post about writing, story, creativity and inspiration.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

Writing both as a vocation and the act of writing individual stories is a lot like a road trip. As a writer, words are my vehicle and inspiration is my driver and gritting-your-teeth-clenching-your-knuckles persistence is the fuel that makes this trip possible. With writing even if I start with a map, I usually tend to veer off the main road and take that tempting side-road. Sometimes these side-roads turn out to be dead ends or cliff tops but the beauty of a vehicle is that it reverses as well so I can always turn back. But more often than not these side-roads tend to give me nuggets of pure gold. They give me the little twist in the tail in my plot, they work out that ugly knot you may have written yourself into and sometimes they change your whole plot into something even better.

I am on just such an adventure right now with my two WIPs. One of them is in the final drafting stage and the other is new and shiny and keeps on catching my eye. I had a map with the first WIP, all neatly outlined. But something was not working, some magic was missing. So I figured the map was holding me back. I threw the map away, refueled with some gritty persistence and took the pitted side road. I am about 2/3 way through edits and the characters are driving it. I stopped thinking and directing so much and just let them take the wheel. It does mean that Book 2 is going to change a little from the original map but that is the beauty of a side-road: Change. When you edit a draft, you need to tear it apart, change it up, stretch it thin and then do it again. You have to get brutal with your plot and you have to get brutal with your ego. You have to buckle up and just keep going, hold on through the rocky patches and speed wobbles but stay in the driver’s seat.

As for my new and shiny WIP, this one is going to be a road-trip completely off the map and off the highway. My creative synapses are sparking off major electric sparks of excitement. The story is gritty, the characters are raw and I am ready for this road trip. I am also ready for a new adventure. I do love the final draft WIP but I know what happens on that road trip, I have seen the destination in the distance. This new WIP is a trip into the unknown but so far the landscape is stripped down to that raw and natural beauty you find in a vast desert where the horizon seems endless. It is just the beginning of this story’s road trip and I have already thrown the map away. I am ready for the adventures these characters are going to take me on. My adrenaline is buzzing.

So what about you?

Do you love road trips?

Are you one of those people who has to have a map and navigator?

Are you ready to lose the map and get lost?

Have you ever found you had to change up the whole plot of your story, you had to get muddled to get found?

Who needs edits? I opt for Brain Surgery instead!

…No really I am not joking…after the round of migraine attacks I have had just this year I am ready for elective brain surgery, failing that a brain transplant from a non-perfectionist…

Archeological remains of patients of brain sur...
Archeological remains of patients of brain surgery performed by ancient doctors of the Inca Empire in the 15th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So March is National Chainsaw-Wielding Editing Month…However for me, I have been deep in editing mode for about 6 months. But for me March is the If I don’t step away now I will …. End-Game. So what have I hated learnt about the brain surgery editing process?

 

  1. … I am a Control-Freak Perfectionist and my own worst enemy not to mention my novel’s. 

  2.  …Don’t over-edit…That is what an “Editor” is there for.

  3. Step away from the manuscript slowly when you have the itch to wield a chainsaw. (Or make sure there is a tree nearby that needs pruning if you cannot step away.)

  4. … In the words of a very wise CP : Say to your EGO “SHOVE OFF” or use more colorful  4 letter terms, I am sure I don’t need to elaborate here.

  5. Step away from the manuscript when you want to kill all your characters from frustration.

  6. …Make sure you have someone in your life who will call you on the head-crap you put yourself through in editing mode…

  7. …Do not hit delete (as tempting as it is) instead Step away and send it to that person who does not accept head-crap from you. (Tip: Make sure you truly are scared this person will whack you if you don’t let them help. Fear is a great motivator to get rid of the EGO.)

  8. …Don’t be so struck with stage-fright or that dreaded EGO to not ask   demand help from any corner willing to give it.

  9. Step away from the manuscript when it starts turning your hair follicles white and your fingers are being chewed to the bone from tension and nerves.

  10. Step away from the edits and play with another WIP to rejuvenate your creative self-esteem…It helps if the next WIP is all about a serial killer…There is something soothing about killing off your secondary characters in a new story. Great stress-reliever.


When all else fails, buy yourself a bottle of red wine, a ginormous slab of chocolate and curl up on the couch with your favourite thriller (Then making sure all the windows are closed, you can scream out your frustrations with the excuse that you are scared of the killer lurking on the screen.)

… What doesn’t kill you, (or make you kill others) will make you stronger….Breathe…Count to 100…Stretch…

So nod yes if you have learned any of the same lessons above as I have. Nod yes if editing your own ms has given you grey hair and/or a license to wield a chainsaw. Nod yes if you wished a virus would eat up your ms so that you could just forget it and head onto the next story.

Now I am stepping away, putting down the chainsaw, staying away from the Destroy “Delete” key and off to play with my new WIP…Followed by red wine, chocolate and the scariest thriller I can find on the movie channel.

Rinse & Repeat: What doesn’t kill me (or make me kill others outside of fiction) will make me stronger!

GoodBye February…Hello March-ing to the beat of a new drummer

Image courtesy of: http://ilikemysugarwithcoffee-n-cream.tumblr.com/post/18513054847/hellowww

march 1 |märCH|verb [ no obj. ]walk in a military manner with a regular measured tread: three companies of soldiers marched around the field.• walk or proceed quickly and with determination: without a word she marched from the room.• [ with obj. ] force (someone) to walk somewhere quickly: she gripped Rachel’s arm and marched her out through the doors.• walk along public roads in an organized procession to protest about something: antigovernment protesters marched today through major cities | they planned to march on Baton Rouge.• (of something abstract) proceed or advance inexorably: time marches on.

I love new beginnings. I love fresh starts. I have always loved the month of March. For me March has always been a month of beginnings and changes. March also happens to be my birthday month. March is also very aptly named. It is the only month of the year with a name that is also a strong active verb. (See meaning above.) How can you not be excited that March has arrived? Bad start to the year? Make March 2012 your month to “March” to the beat of a new drummer.

I am excited about this month. January and February were rough months for me. So March’s arrival is as much a celebration as a timely farewell to February. I also missed the fact at the beginning of the year that 2012 is a leap year. So for those many days when we wish we had an extra few hours or an extra day…this is the year. So my question to you is what are you going to do with the extra day up your sleeve this year? What leaps and bounds are you going to take?

I received something in my inbox yesterday (the last day of February) that really boosted me and inspired me. It was the latest post by Word Bitches. If you have not found and followed this site yet, I urge you to jump in. Anyway here is the post I received yesterday. The blogger at Word Bitches shared and posted the below manifesto courtesy of KM Weiland. She shared a couple of other links from other writers on there as well but it was the below manifesto that really hit ZING on the home zone for me. So I had to re-share it. I have also printed it and hung it. This is just the ZING I needed for this month.

Image courtesy of KM Weiland

So with the above manifesto shining a broad swathe of light in my pathway, I am ready for March. I am ready to jump right in. The beginning of the year has been all about life-interruptus and health-interruptus. Stress has been thy middle name February/January and unfortunately the novel became a dirty word. From a dead macbook battery to family emergencies as well as flu and endless migraines thrown in for good measure, I was not in the right head space to tackle the novel.

Image courtesy of: http://www.strangecosmos.com/content/item/148757.html
If in February you were a mouse running helter-skelter to escape the fall-out of LIFE…then be a LION/Ness in March and let Life do the running from you.

But the one thing we are given freely every day as long as we have breath in our bodies is a fresh sunrise, a new dawn, a new day and the chance at a fresh new start. Yesterday and all its wearisome cares is burnt away by the moon and stars and when that sun whispers hello over the horizon, we can start all again. So with that in mind I have re-shared another image that landed on my computer screen this morning. Just looking at this image fills me with an inner calm and serenity. So if you have had a not so stellar start to 2012, take a look at the image below and remember today is a new day, today is also a new month. Don’t let the failures or stresses of yesterday be an energy vampire on your today. Let the sun burn out those energy vampires. When your sunrise arrives, don’t waste it. Grab the chance. This sunrise is a gift not a guarantee. Fulfill the promise that today is your new beginning and your fresh start. Make sure your boat is pointing in the right direction and your twin oars of persistence and perseverance are at the ready.

Image courtesy of Waves of Gratitude (Facebook)

‘Fiction, imaginative work that is, is not dropped like a pebble upon the ground, as science may be; fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.’ – Virginia Woolf

‘The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, the Odyssey because all life is a journey, the Book of Job because all life is a riddle.’ – GK Chesterton

‘If life got in your way yesterday, don’t despair; today’s dawn is a new start for you lit with the fire of a new sun. Get in the way of life instead by grabbing today with both hands and not letting it go until you have wrung out all the possibilities and fulfilled all the promises.’ – KM Koning

Image courtesy of pagecovers.com
The quickest way to turn a blue day around is…wear something red…

…if you’ve been having one of those days or one of those months, play this song and remind yourself that you are just F***ing Perfect today just as you are…don’t be your own worst critic…strap on your boots or stilettos and take on the world because there is nobody like you in this world and you were put here for a reason…find the reason…make your mark…be YOU…and pick up that pen and start a fresh new page…You are the only one who can write your story…Get started…

 

My Guest Blog | Hero with a Rebel Cause

Today I am guest-blogging...

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to guest post, by the talented and lovely Erin Cawood, on the topic of Heroes.

My heroes are very close to my heart so this was a topic I was excited to guest post on.

“The hero of my stories is usually an underdog. My heroes are rough-hewn and rough around the edges. They have a rebellious streak and love bucking the system. They usually do not know they are a hero until push comes to shove and they are thrown into the white hot fires of adversity, conflict and tension. Even though they are underdogs, they are no cowards. They also don’t have the bounties of life offered to them on a silver platter. They have had to fight for recognition and achievement every step of the way. They succeed through honour, integrity, loyalty and above all perseverance. They believe that if you do not stand for something or stand up for someone in life, you will fall for anything.

….

“My heroes and heroines don’t fit the mould of everyday society. They don’t follow the rules. They fight for their own place in society and they make their own rules. They are rebels with a good cause and they will do whatever is needed to fight for that cause whether it be rescuing someone or standing up for what they believe in. You will want my heroes and heroines on your side because believe me they are better friends than enemies. You might say my heroes and heroines are heroic rebels. … read more on the post here 

What qualities make up your heroes and heroines?

Write from the Heart | Write your Story

Heart

Two things have really struck me over the last few weeks and I felt I needed to blog about them. Both lead into the same subject but from different angles. The subject that has been niggling at my conscience: (Warning: this will be a long post.)

Write from the Heart

For the past 6 weeks I have been working on the final edits of my current WIP. Let me tell you…when I say “working” I mean just that. Anyone who says that writing a novel is difficult has obviously never got to the editing stage. For me first drafts are simple. The words, plot and characters flow out onto the page like opening a tap. Why is writing a first draft simple for me? I am a pants-plotter. I am not 100% a pantser nor am I 100% a plotter. I like some form of an outline but I it is just strong enough to light the next 500 words of each scene. But I am a night owl. Which means that I don’t write by day….In a way you could say that I drive at night if my driving is my novel, my headlights are my plot and my time of day is ruled by the light of the moon. I write like a driver who takes a journey at night. I can see just far enough ahead to know I am not going to crash into anything but there is still enough darkness and mystery that I can still be surprised by what turns the journey can take me on. 

I would say that I plot 30% and free-form write about 70%. For me the story has to be written as it comes to me. If I plot too much I tend to lose that emotion that fuels my writing. I plot myself out of the story if I think too much. So, yes, viscerally it is vital that I write that first draft from the heart. I don’t subscribe to writer’s block. I think you write the story as it comes to you. But I do think you can out-think yourself out of the story and ultimately out of the writing which would in turn lead to a brick wall: the notorious writer’s block.

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

There are so many writer’s books, writer’s classes and workshops out there both online and in real-time. The information network through these channels as well as social networking can be wonderful but adversely can also be really overwhelming. Information is freedom. Or is it? Can too much information be overwhelming? Like the wise people say, too much of a good thing can be overkill. Yes, sign up for writer’s classes, attend conferences, read craft books and network with other writers and mentors…but when push comes to shove, you have to stop the information overload long enough to shut out the world, open the heart and start writing. To be a writer you have to write. To be a novelist or short story author, you need to finish a novel to a short story. Nobody said it would be easy. In fact, I guarantee you that most people love the dream but fear the reality of being a writer. But you knew this when you decided to write. You have to write because otherwise this story and these characters will not let you rest: they haunt your every hour, day and night. Yes, you must write. So the birth of a first draft starts. 

First draft is just that. Your work is not done when you have got to those magic words “The End” of your first draft. Pat yourself on the back for finishing that story or that novel. Unfortunately though, now the real labour pains of the birthing process start. Writing the first draft was just your pregnancy. It may not have been the smoothest pregnancy and you may have had morning sickness but overall you know your “baby” is growing, changing and getting ready for entry into the real world. Your first draft is just like pregnancy in that it is really something intimate and the writing is for you. It is your chance to get to know this story. It is something that nobody else can do for you. Your real work has not even started until the “9 months” is up and your water breaks. Writing “The End” on your first draft is that water breaking. 

But the real guts and glory are in the labour pains of birth. Writing is not easy but editing is painful. Editing a first draft should not be easy. It should be pain-staking, heart-wrenching and pure “work”. 

If writing is sitting down and opening a vein…Editing is sitting down and cutting the vein.

I always thought that if you write from your heart, you must edit from your brain. In theory this is accurate. But can you out-think your first emotions from your first draft? Can you over-analyze to the point of killing the heart in your story? 

I have realised that unfortunately you can over-analyze a story. I talk from very fresh experience. Funnily enough, I am usually my own worst enemy when it comes to critiquing my own work. However it is also true that like all writers, I can also miss certain elements that need to be corrected in my own work. This is when writing partners and beta readers come into play. If you have good writing partners, they are honest and forthright with you at all times. They are your headlights in the editing journey. But say now you get through that first and second edits (your second draft) with your mental health intact and your manuscript looking better for the cosmetic surgery…What now? 

After both you and your writing partners are satisfied you have done all you can to edit your story, you start submitting and pitching it. If you are lucky enough to get an agent or editor to love your first pitch and they request a partial or a full manuscript, you have to put your hard hat on again and enter the final edits. Of course I am not even mentioning the edits that take place after a manuscript has been accepted by a publisher. No, I am just talking about the edits that may be required of you by the agent or editor in the initial request. 

How far do you take those comments on your manuscript? Do you do a complete edit and rewrite again? Do you tweak only a little using both your intuition for the story and the advice you have been given by agent/editor? When does too much change become overkill for your story and your characters? 

From very fresh personal experience, I can tell you that you can over-analyze your story into overkill. You can also change and rewrite your story so many times that after a while you wake up one morning, look down at the screen or the page and wonder who wrote this story? Too much editing and following too many pieces of advice, no matter how well intentioned, can cause you to fall out of love with your own story. You become an amnesiac and the story that you first wrote has disappeared into the ether of too much editing. If you get to this point, you must stop! If you try to push through determined to follow advice and to get that manuscript just perfect, you will start to feel like you are taking dictation and not creating. You become a secretary and stop being a creative writer.

If the advice you are getting is making you change your story to the degree that you are hating your own story and wanting to put off working on it, you must stop! You need to stop and recognise that your cosmetic surgery is becoming ugly and morphing your story into something unrecognisable. If you have fallen out of love with your story because of over-editing, that lack of emotion will come through and stain the story for any readers. 

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” ~ Robert Frost

There comes a point where you have to follow the initial stirrings of your heart. At the end of the day you are the writer and this is YOUR story. These characters came to YOU. The story’s idea may not be original in that isn’t every romance like any other or a thriller just a thriller. What is unique and what is special to your story is YOU and YOUR heart/ YOUR emotion. Great emotion that is tenderly written into the spaces between the words is what makes a story a great story. 

Ultimately advice is just that: advice. You choose what information to use and what to throw away. Ultimately YOUR story has to be YOUR story. You have to write from YOUR heart and you have to write YOUR story that you feel. Let that emotion come through and your story will be the better story for it. So yes: write the first draft with your heart, edit the second draft with your brain but the final checks need to be with your heart and your emotion. Be true to that initial emotion and that initial excitement when you first met your characters and heard their story. If you are true to your story and your characters, the story will be true for your readers. Essays come from the brain but stories come from the heart.

Write from the Heart .

Write Your Story.

Edit with your brain but let your heart be the final check.

Editors and agents are not writers. They are salesmen who help you polish up your story, promote it and market it to sell it. Don’t ever forget YOU are the Writer. It is YOUR story. If you feel strongly enough about keeping something in your story, then you MUST be true to that. It is called instinct. It is called creative license. It is: You writing Your story. Be true to it! Be true to you!

“There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul.” ~ Arnold Bennett

Have you ever over-edited the heart out of your story? Or have you ever been told to remove something / change something vital from your story? What did you do in the end? 

Meeting the Antagonist | Drew Cross

We all know what a hero looks like. We also know what the Bogey Man looks like. But it is an art form to write a Bogey Man that jumps out from the pages of a story and truly scares you. Today I have asked one of my favourite writers to guest post on this topic. Drew is perfect for this topic because not only does he have real life experience in chasing down the bad guys but his antagonists are truly original characters who will definitely haunt you. 
 
When Kim asked me to guest blog about scary antagonists I was well and truly in my element!
I’ve had to invent a number of ‘bad’ characters in my crime and children’s novels to date, and I have something of a formula for what I personally find scary and how as a writer I project that fear onto the reader.
 
Here are my tips:
 
1. Outward normality.
 
I don’t know whether it’s residue from my time in the police force, but I’ve generally stopped thinking about antagonists as hideously ugly and obviously frightening to behold. I think it’s infinitely more terrifying to take the real life psychopath/sociopath as a starting point for your antagonist – outwardly there’s nothing unusual about most of them (I’ve met a few in prisons and on the streets, and they look just like me and you), but if you’re able to peel back the mask of normality then there’s something truly scary underneath. Letting the reader in on the secret thoughts and actions of such beings is always good fun and practically guarantees a shudder or two.
 
2. An obsession.
 
Whether it’s the obsessive urge to murder and mutilate of the serial killer, (Dr Lecter step forward) or the erotomania (obsessive love) of a stalker (think Ian McEwan’s ‘Enduring Love’), a memorable antagonist should have something at the heart of their desires that preoccupies them and drives them to evil acts. That obsession could be for revenge, the desire to possess something or someone, or taking simple sadistic pleasure in the suffering of others; but it’s memorable because we recognise it as being at odds with what it means to be truly human.
 
3. Insanity.
 
Rightly or wrongly we tend to fear the seriously mentally ill; unpredictability and irrationality threaten our love of order and control, so a character who exhibits these behaviours is a frightening prospect for the reader. I studied psychology some time back, and there are a wealth of different personality traits and disorders that translate into useful fodder for the writer: Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, the archetypal ‘bunny boiler’, exhibits strong characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder, for example.
 
4. Originality.
 
Finally, and here’s the most difficult part, you need to find something original (or nearly so, since there’s precious little left that hasn’t already been done) about your antagonists. That might not necessarily be the nature of the character’s actions themselves; it could be the setting, or something about their life or motivations that sets them apart (The character Dexter of book and TV fame is a good example), but unless you’re entirely happy with being considered derivative, you need to be able to point out what sets your bad guys apart.
 
I hope you find this interesting and/or useful, but I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
 
Drew X.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
Drew can be found at: Twitter – @authordrewcross                                                                                      Website – authordrewcross

Thrill me | Chill me | Don’t kill the MC

Thrills / Chills / Kills

The Boogeyman…The ghosts around a campfire…Vampires….Hansel & Gretel’s witch…The evil step-mother…Monsters

Our childhoods are filled with tales that thrill us with adrenaline and chill us with fear. We grow up being told fairy tales of witches, evil killer step-mothers, red shoed witches and monsters of every shape and ilk. Our teen years are filled with ghost stories told around a camp-fire, scaring each other in the dark, continuing the tales of terror, visiting horror shows in fair grounds and roller coaster rides.

What is it about our morbid fascination with all things scary? Why are thrillers and horrors the biggest box-office hits in cinemas world-wide? Why are the scariest rides the most popular at fairgrounds?

When we are faced with things that terrify us we get a giant kick of adrenaline that surges through our bodies and electrifies every single nerve fibre in our body. Adrenaline pushes us to action. Whether we decide to run for the hills or stand our ground and fight the terror, we are forced to act. Our emotions are kicked into hyper-drive and we feel more alive than ever. So there is no great mystery why things that scare us draw us in time and time again. We crave that adrenaline hit. We crave that singing feeling that sends our nerve ends buzzing with an irresistible energy.

Throughout life we dare ourselves and each other to face our fears. In every culture there is a facing of fear task that needs to be overcome to get to certain stages of maturity. Facing our fears and overcoming them turn us from children into adults.

Whether it is ghosts, the dark, different phobias – we all understand fear and its features. But human beings are the only creature that seeks out the things it fears. Perhaps it is our search for adventure that is an antidote to the mundane and normal. But unlike animals, reptiles and birds; we run after things that scare us.

It is more than just the adrenaline. It is also a need to feel connected and feel raw emotion. Fear is one of the most basic and instinctual of all emotions. But fear is not necessarily always a bad emotion. Fear can help us reach the strongest parts of ourselves and resort to acts of courage that we would ordinarily not find. Fear can push us to act rather than just react. Fear also makes us feel completely alive and gives us a rich appreciation for our own survival. Fear casts a harsh light on the fragility of the human condition but it is also forces us to count every second as precious. 

What makes a story scary? 

The setting can be a huge part of setting your reader / viewer up for fear. It could be a graveyard on a misty night, a darkened alleyway, an abandoned house, an office building at night, a creaking floor and opening door…all of these would immediately put you in the seat of fear.

Characters can be another set up for fear. Creepy old people, a child that seems to look into your soul, a menacing individual or the guy/girl who seems just too good to be true…

But for me the scariest scenes are those that could happen and that might happen. When we read something and watch something and believe that it could happen. When the normal suddenly degenerates into the bizarre and twisted. These are the ideas and stories that really scare me. Monsters don’t scare me but vengeful spirits/ghosts do. Vampires don’t scare me but sharks and snakes do. 

Watching or reading something scary makes me appreciate safety and security. It makes me feel alive and immeasurably grateful to be alive. There is a lot of things and people in this world that are truly scary but to know the light we sometimes need to confront the darkness. Another reason why I love reading and watching thrillers is that the good guys always triumph, it may be by the skin of their teeth, but they do triumph. The bad guys always end up on the worse end of the tale, either being killed, destroyed or caught. 

A great thriller walks a close line between the bizarre and normal. It brings out the flaws and fears in the characters and forces them to new levels of strength, fortitude, courage, survival and the most basic levels of humanity. 

I am often asked why I not only read and watch thrillers but write them too. I am drawn to the ultimate fight between good and evil and in every good thriller – book or movie – good trumps evil. I write dark fiction because it helps me balance emotions. I also love pushing characters into terrible spots that they have to get out of to survive. I love writing that is filled with conflict and tension. There is no way that one can hide from darkness in this world but we can teach ourselves that light can triumph over that darkness. After all, it takes only one small match that when lit can light up a whole room. Darkness flees from light. That is the natural order of things. The night can be long, dark, cold and threatening but eventually the sun rises with dawn and the warmth of a new day brings hope. 

This is why I write dark fiction. I write it to remind myself that there is darkness in the world and there are dangerous things, people and situations. But there is also light and goodness. There is also courage and human compassion. Writing dark fiction allows me to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness and courage over fear. Writing a believable antagonist that fills me with fear and foreboding makes me write a believable protagonist that fills me with hope and courage. Writing dark fiction allows me to acknowledge darkness and fear but more importantly it allows me to celebrate light and courage.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.  ~Ambrose Redmoon

Middle Book Blues Magic | Leigh K Hunt

Today I have the pleasure of Leigh K Hunt guest posting. She comes with a wand of magic dust that she is going to use to blow magic back into your manuscript.

We all have those times in a manuscript when we hit a crossroads. We may have been excited by the beginning and can’t wait to write the climax but then there is that pesky middle that we have to get through. We know we have to get through it, there is no other way to the climax. We may read over what we have written and just think it is rubbish because it is not moving fast enough.

Slowly a whirlpool starts pooling at out fingertips and we feel ourselves sucked into a vortex that threatens to overwhelm us. Leigh calls this the Middle Book Blues. Our fight or flight response kicks in. Do we give up or do we forge ahead, sword waving. So if you are at this point, Leigh is going to tell you how to fight back and refuse to give in or give up. She is going to give you some tips, from her own experience, on how to blow magic back into your manuscript.

 

Blowing a little MAGIC back into your Manuscript

 

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago – if I hit the middle of the book with nowhere to go, I would stop writing, shove that blasted manuscript in my drawer, and walk away from it forever. I would give up on it… Somehow, I could always justify it to myself. “It’s just wasn’t worth the angst,” I would say. Then I would start on the next book that I had been dreaming up. 

It wasn’t until I had done this to three or four different novels that I realised something incredibly significant to me. It wasn’t writer’s block that I was suffering from. It was the Middle Book Blues. 

You see… Writing the middle of the book wasn’t like writing the rest of it. It wasn’t all shiny and new like the start. I was no longer developing and getting to know my characters. I wasn’t setting the scene and spending loads of time really discovering what was going on. I wasn’t setting out on a new journey. There was no longer any of that excitement. 

It’s not the end of the novel either, where you are tying up all the loose ends, everything is exciting, and you feel as though you are on a rollercoaster ride of writing adrenaline. 

Nope. The middle of the book just wasn’t exciting. I felt starved of action. And in feeling starved, I lost all motivation to bother finishing it. There was just something that stopping me connecting with the book, the characters, or the storyline.  

I figured it out. 

My characters were too happy! Yes, they were just living their lives… happily! That is boring. There are no happy middles in good books. Happy characters and happy scenes make for some pretty boring writing and reading. And the only way I discovered that, was by actually being there. Then I would throw my manuscripts into my dusty literary drawer. 

So, how do you get yourself out of the Middle Book Blues? Well. It’s simple.

  • Create mass destruction of your character’s lives. I am not kidding.

There is nothing quite like throwing horrific events at your character and watching them work their way out of it. When this happens, there is a huge emotional pay off for your book, your characters, the situation – but most of all – for you as the writer.

In the planning stages of the book, or at least when you get to know your character a little.

  • Write down five things that would be devastate your character, and make them happen.

It doesn’t have to be horrific. Not all of us write like that. An example would be if your character is a materialistic millionaire, then taking all of their money way would force some sort of drama, action, and change to that character. 

Suddenly, the middle of the book becomes exciting again, and more importantly – it’s exciting to write. You learn more and more about the boundaries of your character, and your readers become more emotionally invested in your character’s plight. This in turn creates action, reaction, and commitment. 

Writing your way out of the Middle Book Blues with action will turn your novel into a well-paced and riveting read. Before you know it, you’re wrapping it up, and ending it. 

Remember this: There is no happiness in the middle. The only way out of the Middle Book Blues, is to write your way out. If you find yourself floundering… ask yourself,

‘What is the worst thing that I can do to my character?’ And do it. 

Leigh K Hunt can be found online at:

Her Author’s website 

Her Writing Blog 

The Writer’s Achilles’ Heel | Part 1

The Achilles Heel
Image by texmex5 via Flickr

There are two words that strike fear and tension into a writer’s mind:

Synopsis

Query

But if you want to be published, these are two steps that you will need to take to walk through the gateway of publishing. 

Why do these seemingly simple processes strike such fear into most writers?

It is time to take the arrow from Achilles’ Heel and use it to point you in the direction of Success.

After all haven’t you already achieved something incredible by creating a plot, writing a story and finishing a manuscript. Why then should these words stop so many writers in their tracks? Why are these two steps sometimes the ultimate Achilles’ Heel in a writer’s path to publishing success?

There are so many different “standardized” versions of a synopsis and a query. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that these two words can turn a confident creative into an unsure person filled with doubts. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a definitive list of rules of writing a good synopsis and thereby insuring an effective query. 

Most writers will try to put the SYNOPSIS off as long as possible until eventually we get that magic call/email that our manuscript has been found interesting enough to submit it. The excitement is soon paled by the looming terror of having to sit down and write a synopsis.

Perhaps as writers we are looking at this process back to front. Perhaps instead of leaving the synopsis to the end of the manuscript completion, we need to start compiling the synopsis during the writing process or even before we even start writing the story.

This is what I do. I start writing the synopsis while I am writing the first half of my first draft. For me a synopsis is not just a summarized version of the story that I am creating but it is a map that I am using to help plot my journey to my final destination: the climax and resolution of the story. 

There are no fail-proof methods to attack a synopsis, but here are some points that help me create a synopsis.

Every story I write or read starts with a character. Whether this be the Antagonist or the Protagonist, a story cannot happen without the main characters. You cannot stage a play without the principal actors. Once the main character is introduced, the story can begin. Everything else is just back-story that helps set a scene for the character to step into. Every protagonist needs an antagonist. This creates the CONFLICT which leads to the CLIMAX. The antagonist is usually the spark that sets the whole story alight. He/She is the reason that the Protagonist needs to ACT.

  • Think: Climax | Resolution | Beginning


This is the ultimate breakdown of your story. These are the most important points in your story, no matter what genre you write. Funnily enough, when I first get a story idea, what comes to me first is the crisis point then the what ifs start happening. That’s when I dig some more to get the beginning of the incident/story. Everything else in the plot arc of a story is just padding of these three plot points.

  • Voice & POV (Point of View)         

Who is telling this story? Are you, the writer, narrating it? Is your Protagonist telling the story? Is your Antagonist telling the story? Or is there a secondary character telling the story? These are the questions you need to think of to hear the VOICE of the story. The POV and the Voice gives the story and the characters life. Depending on which POV (who is telling the story?) you choose, the Voice will change. Like chinese whispers, each different person never tells the same story. The core elements may remain similar but the story is guided by who tells it.

  • The Story Arc | Conflict

This is your check list to make sure your story makes sense. Fiction must make sense. Truth can bend the rules of sense vs nonsense but fiction needs to be believable. Your story needs to have a timeline that works smoothly and each step in the journey needs to lead both the writer and the reader into the next step.

Once I have these four points worked out, I can write my story’s synopsis. Sometimes if I find that I am not sure of my character’s pathway to this story or their motivation, I will also use these four points to write a character synopsis. The synopsis does not need to be difficult nor does it need to be put off until the last unavoidable minute before you have to scratch one together in a wild panic. I also find that when I write a synopsis at the beginning of my first draft, it keeps me from hitting a block or stumbling point. Like a map, it gives me a clear path to my final destination. There may still end up being unexpected roadblocks but with just a few minutes looking back at my road map (SYNOPSIS) I am back on track.

If your story’s synopsis has become your Achilles’ Heel, try simplifying it for yourself. Even if you find you struggle with road blocks in your story, this way may just help you past them. By targeting these four points you may just find that writing a synopsis can in fact be a key to the difference between a good story and a great story. Don’t complicate things for yourself by over-analyzing the synopsis. You already have enough to do with writing and finishing the story as well as submitting it for acceptance or rejection.

Part 2 – Query will be posted on Friday so look out for that.

Coming up on Thursday, there is a guest post on a very common writing road block: Middle Book Blues.