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Novel Essentials; Threat

A good novel has three main elements; characters, a plot, and an over-arching threat. Much as structure is distinct from plot so too is threat distinct from conflict, but you need it all to create a really good novel.

Well, you need all four to create a publishable novel.

If you wish to write unstructured, meandering, rosy porridge on the daily you’re at perfect liberty to do so, but you may have a hard time selling it.

 

Conflict Vs Threat

The difference is subtle, but important.

Conflict can best be described as the tension caused by someone or something opposing your character. When your character wishes to win a race they are in conflict with their opponents, the people around them who doubt them, and perhaps their own body if they are less than fit.

Threat is either the consequence of failure, or the danger that spurred them on. For example, the threat might be looming heart disease which pushes your character to get healthy, or it might be the forfeit for a bet they have made regarding the race.

 

Whatever the threat is in your novel it needs to be sufficiently significant to push your character onwards in the story.

 

Types of Threat

There are a few broad “types” of threat you can employ to urge your character out of their door and into the plot. The most common are;

Physical; the threat of physical damage or even death is perhaps the most common type of threat you will find, especially in horror, action, and thriller stories. It doesn’t have to apply solely to the main character, either; threat can be levied on those close to the main character in order to push them. This is a form of emotional threat. Physical threat could be, but is not limited to;

  • death
  • injury
  • torture
  • rape (this is also a form of emotional, social, and psychological threat)
  • mutilation (the loss of limbs etc as a form of punishment or assault)

 

Emotional;

Emotional threat or jeopardy is perhaps more subtle, and is most commonly a secondary threat. When someone close to the main character is in danger, or is targeted as a way to influence them the protagonist often suffers under emotional threat, for example fear that the death of that person will be their fault. It can also, of course, be a primary threat in certain situations, such as;

  • Emotional Blackmail; if a character attempts to push the main character into doing something for them (“if you really loved me you would…”)
  • Guilt, real or perceived; the main character being forced to be responsible for another persons fate (think some of the more horrifying puzzles in the SAW series)
  • Loss; if the character does/doesn’t do something they face losing their partner/spouse/family/friends

 

Psychological

Perhaps most common in literary novels, and in narratives which focus on mental health, but almost always a secondary threat when present in other stories. The main character faces psychological threat often due to their lifestyle choices, past traumas, and the attitudes of their support network, but can also face such threat due to being in conflict with a manipulative and/or abusive person. In Rose Madder the main character faces psychological, emotional, and physical threat from her abusive husband with whom she is often in direct and indirect conflict. Psychological threat can be;

  • Loss of reality; pressure forces the character to become delusional, and to face the prospect of losing their grip on reality  altogether (this is most often paired with other threats such as the loss of family, emotional, and sectioning/incarceration, societal)
  • Deterioration of mental health and wellbeing; speaks for itself.
  • Lasting trauma; anxiety, PTSD,  night-terrors etc
  • Suicide; an indirect result of the results of trauma and applied threat.

 

Societal;

This is a kind of threat which puts the main characters position in the world in danger by putting their status, livelihood, or reputation at risk. This is a versatile form of threat which isn’t used as much as it should be (in my opinion); so many of us are invested in how we are seen by those around us that this can be a real motivator. Good examples of societal threat are;

  • Release of proof of an affair
  • Uncovering of a taboo habit or appetite
  • Broadcasting of a secret
  • Informing the police/ public of a covered up crime

The beauty of societal threat is that the consequences can range from small to life-changing, but the issues at hand can have more importance to certain people.

 

Complex and Unusual Threats

Ideally you need to think about layering the threats your character faces, much as you will include multiple small conflicts, to beef up your story.

In Taken , for example, the physical threat is to the protagonists daughter only at first. The threat then extends to the main character. Of course, his daughter also faces emotional, psychological, and societal threat; she is being trafficked for the puprpose of sexual exploitation. For the main character this is a kind of emotional threat; he won’t be able to live with the distress, guilt, and trauma of failing his daughter because he knows what kind of life she will have.

In The Historian the characters face a mixture of physical and psychological threat; they simultaneously fear for their lives and sanity as they come to terms with the idea that Dracula still walks the earth. They also, however, face spiritual threat as they fear for their own (and each others) immortal soul.

 

Spiritual, financial, and identity based threats

These threats are less commonly seen as the main factor, but you can see them laced through many narratives as tertiary or secondary threats.

Spiritual threat is most commonly seen in old school monster horrors; the character fears losing their virtue, their soul, and/or their faith. Loss of faith as a spiritual threat, however, can be seen in certain stories about the harshest moments in life. Consider The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes where Molly, the main characters mother, wrestles to balance her faith with the ever-looming death of her terminally ill daughter.

Financial threat is almost always accompanied with other forms, e.g. the character faces defaulting on their debts and therefore losing their house, comfort and safety to face the dangers of homelessness.

Identity based threat is perhaps the most subtle and difficult to apply, but also one of the most potent forms given today’s society. We care about how we are viewed, and can understand the horror of coming to face something that contradicts who we think we are. This can apply to the main character and those around them. For example, in To Kill A Mockinbird Atticus faces physical and societal repurcussions for his actions, but pushes ahead because to not defend his client to the best of his ability is to become a person he does not see himself to be. A person he does not want to be; Atticus see’s himself as a rational, fair, upstanding man who upholds the law, and so he must act the way he does or he faces the threat of not being the man he thinks he is.

 

In Go Set a Watchman Scout, now grown up, realises that her father is less than perfect; he holds some of the racial prejudices which were so common in his day. He is not fully the man she thought he was because although he defended Tom successfully it becomes clear to her that it was because of his staunch belief that the legal system should be fair and without prejudice, not because it was a statement against racism. This is a threat to her identity, too, because she has built her own liberal, progressive, and anti-racist views on the foundation laid by her fathers defence of Tom.

 

 

Resolving and Dissolving Threat

Threat should be resolved or at least mitigated by the end of your novel, either because it has been removed due to a job well done (e.g. when Jack Sparrow was pardoned at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean) or because it has been dissolved, destroyed, or forcibly removed by the main character and their allies (e.g. the death of President Snow and President Coin at the end of Mockingjay).

Or, you can carry the threat on, as is so common at the end of horror films, by implying that someone else is next or that the antagonist has a successor (think the end of Kick-Ass where a once trusted friend becomes an enemy). In the case of certain threats there may be no way to fully resolve the situation, especially if they were applied fully or partially. At this point it’s about showing how your character can/will cope. Severed limbs will not likely grow back, and if they are replaced the trauma (mental, emotional) remains. Likewise for mentally ill characters there is no definitive end, but a reprieve and a new strategy to manage and cope with the reality of the novels aftermath.

 

Get your characters moving with a real and frightening threat, and whatever you do – Keep Writing!

Image source; http://xyuenx.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/looming-spm.html
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Can mindfulness be applied to writing?

Mindfulness is the hot thing right now; it’s being talked about, summed up, and debated in all corners of society, and so it’s reasonable to ask whether or not mindfulness can be applied to writing. Well, the obvious answer is of course it can! How is another matter.

 

If you’re one of those still in the dark there are plenty of resources which will help you to get a grip on it. At it’s heart, however, mindfulness is about self-awareness; being aware of our thoughts, feelings, and  our bodies, and recognising how these things affect our behaviour, moods, and even mental well-being (you can use mindfulness to control anxiety, for example.

 

For writers the effects of anxiety, depression, and emotional exhaustion are just as, perhaps more, disastrous as for those in more “mainstream” employment, but while mindfulness can help you with all this I’d argue it can help with things like lack of focus, writers block, proofreading, and even serial abandonment of writing projects. Here’s how;

1) It helps you to remain present

Mindfulness is largely about being present, being in the moment, and choosing to be that way. No-one is 100% focused, but when we are mindful we can steer our trains of thought into productive directions. It’s not about ignoring the tangents your brain takes you on (these can be key when you’re writing), but rather about learning when to abandon them. Much like with meditation you should not aim for “nothingness” when you practice mindfulness in writing (in this case, nothing but your goal rather than blankness), but instead be aware of when and how you stray. Follow the train of thought to the end, if its useful, but be aware of where it’s leading you; if it becomes entirely unrelated or of no use remove yourself and refocus on your writing.

2) It can help you circumvent writers block

Old school gamers will get me here; remember when your console used to overheat after a full day of playing, and suddenly it wouldn’t do anything and you were worried it would never ever work again….

That’s writers block, but the overload happens in your brain.

Mindfulness can help you to combat this in a few ways. Firstly, if you practice mindfulness you will learn to recognise when you need a break; take breaks, it is allowed. Secondly, when you choose to be fully in the moment you can remove yourself from the fear of underproduction (or non production) because very often it is this fear which creates the block. Thirdly, you can also use this to distance yourself from internal judgement.

“Waiting for the muse” is one of those things that stems from consistent judgement of unfinished work; not everything you commit to paper must be gold, and you’re not actually, you know, committed to it. Mindfulness can help you to de-clutter your brain; when you’re aware of your thought processes and the ideas floating around you it’s easier to order them efficiently.

3) It makes you a better editor and proofreader

Mark Twain famously and aptly said that when you think you are reading “proof” you are really reading your own mind; we fill in what we thought we wrote, or what we intended to write with out minds when we proofread our own work. This is why mindfulness is so key to efficient proofreading and editing.

Proofreading is a complex, draining, and time consuming process which requires you to be focused at all times. Now, there are many tips and tricks as to how you can make it easier (I’ve written one blog post about that myself), but at the heart of it all is being mindful. You need to realise when you’re getting fed up and skimming, skipping, or filling in from your mind, and when you catch yourself you need to either re-focus or tale a break.

Editing, too, is intensive, and practising mindfulness is useful here in many of the same ways it is when proofreading, but additionally it can help you to recognise sections in need of cutting or editing. Focusing on how each section makes you feel, and how it engages you will make you a better editor. Are you tempted to skip because you’re tired, or because it’s poorly written?

 

Mindfulness exercises for writers; 

The Flush; this is a really simple exercise that I call the “flush” because it’s literally designed to wash out all of the detritus first thing in the morning/when you first sit down to write. This is simple; sit down with a notepad and a pen or pencil ( there are plenty of claims regarding writing by hand, but I say this just because it works your hand and wrist muscles, and eases the eyes into focusing before hitting the harsh light if a screen).

Now, whatever has been rattling in your brain, whether its a scene, some dialogue, or just a word, write it down and let that lead you. It might be nonsense, of course, but follow the train of thought to its natural end point. Et Voila! The Flush.

The Clapback; if you get completely derailed by negative thoughts or doubts, as we all do at some point, get yourself a fresh document or piece of paper and jot down positive responses to the worries/fears/criticisms you’re plagued by. This will let you exorcise them, and might even make you feel better.

Block-Be-Gone; when writers block makes a scene impossible to finish close your eyes, take three deep breaths (cliche, I know) in through the nose and out through the mouth s l o w l y… and root yourself in the scene. Write your own reactions as the characters, or the description as you see it in your mind as best you can; it might not be “Just Right”, but it’ll act as a placeholder until you have something better to replace it with. This lets you move on without skipping.

The Duracell Bunny; another block-buster (not in the Hollywood sense, obviously) is what I call the “duracell bunny”. Pick the part of your scene that most interests you and write from that point, perspective, or about that thing as fast as you can, ignoring spelling, grammar, and sense, for two minutes. Let your excitement carry you, and you’ll be surprised how much can change in 120 seconds!

 

 

 

Image source; https://www.anxiety.org/mindfulness-meditation-how-it-works-anxiety-depression

The Worst Things You Could Say to An Agent

So, you’ve written, proofread, edited, and polished your novel until it shines like a new penny (if you Haven’t you need to back up and check out some of these resources right here, and maybe even the blog page overall)…

You’re ready for publication, you think, and now you need to track down and net a literary agent (they’re surprisingly flighty in the wild!).

You’d think that it’s all about the quality of your manuscript, right? Well, not really. The truth is there are things you can do and say that will put an agent or acquisition editor off ever reading your manuscript. Things like, oh I don’t know, cornering them for a chat in the bathroom…

While some of this is pretty obvious, there are factors that many budding authors don’t consider, and of course view points they don’t get.

 

With that in mind; here are some of the worst things you can say to Literary Agent or Acquisitions Editor (and why they they’re so off-putting)…

 

“I have a few chapters/a rough draft…”

Unless you’re hiring a freelance editor (like me) your editor/agent only makes money when you do. If your book is unfinished, or so rough as to require multiple drafts before it can hit the press they’re going to pass. This isn’t malice, or laziness; these are busy people who simply do not have the time to babysit new authors. Do as much work as you possibly can before you even consider sending your manuscript to an agent or editor, and they’ll be more likely to give you a helping hand where needed.

Editors and Agents are here to sell your book, not do your job for you.

 

“My Mother Loves It”

They don’t care. No-one does.

If this is the most interesting thing you have to say about a manuscript you’ve potentially spent years on this is a bad sign. Of course it may be true… but that’s not the point; never lead with this.

 

“My book is for everyone…”

No it’s not.

No-one can please all potential readers; be honest about your target audience and how wide the appeal of your novel is likely to be. An agent will read your manuscript with the question of who they can sell it to foremost in their mind. If you’re not honest with them from the start they’ll see trouble a head and opt for an easier and more realistic client.

 

“I know this isn’t your area, but…”

No,

Oh Hell No GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Agents and publishers have specialisations for a reason; they know how to sell certain types of fiction or non-fiction, and they know what makes it sell. You approaching an Agent or Publisher who specialises in Fantasy with a self-help Yoga manual is the equivalent of asking a boxer to teach you how to fence.

Furthermore, it implies that you either did not read their brief (and thus are spamming agents), or disregarded it (which is just bad manners).

 

“I’m the next X, Y, or Z”

If you’re claiming to be the next overnight sensation, or (better/worse yet) serial best seller you’re either going to set up expectations that are hard to meet, or you’re going to make the agent in question roll their eyes so hard they go blind. Love your writing, love yourself, and highlight what you do well, but don’t try to deify yourself before you’ve even hit the press.

Agents need to know they can make suggestions without fighting their clients every step of the way over something as minor, for example, as font and text size.

 

“I’ve published 5 books!”

Unless you have sold thousands of copies of each book, or over five thousand copies of one, you don’t need to bring this up. The truth is that most self-publish books rarely sell over two hundred copies, and so this is not a comforting thought; big publishing houses need you to sell a good quantity of books before you even cover their costs.

Focus on what you can do to help them sell this book and they’ll feel more comfortable in taking a chance on you!

 

If you properly prepare your manuscript and don’t say any of these things you’ll have a much easier time when it comes to finding an agent.

 

 

 

 

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Is Writing Killing Your Christmas?

As I write this its five am, the turkey is in the oven, the potatoes are peeled, everyone is asleep, and I am working; it’s Christmas morning, and I’ve been up since four.

I don’t mean werking by the way;

 

I mean working;

 

Merry fucking Christmas, right?  I’m sure a lot of you, dear readers, are in the same leaky boat because freelancers, and especially writers, rarely get days off. Never the less, I have a cunning plan for how we can all get our work done and enjoy Christmas…

Crazy, right?

 

10 Ways to Merry-Up your Writing Routine;

 

  1. Festive Music; not a brain breaker, I know, but it works! work standing up and shake your groove thing to jingle bell rock while you work and you’re guaranteed to smile. You’ll also burn off some of that Yule Log you’re having later, and that’s never a bad thing. Combat writers butt and boredom this Christmas!
  2. Interval Working; have you every tried interval training? Well, if you have and you survived you’re my hero (first of all), but that’s not the point here. The idea is high intensity followed by periods of rest. So write like hell for one song, and then take the next one off. Rinse and repeat five times and then sit your ass down for some cocoa.
  3. Dress up the dog; ok so this won’t help you work, in fact it might distract you, but the family pet jingling all the way to their food bowl is sure to make you giggle.
  4. Santa’s Hat; put a Santa hat on the corner of your screen – if it ever lines up so that some’s wearing it take a drink, if Santa comes on screen or is mentioned on screen take two. Otherwise just let it remind you that it’s Christmas.
  5. Pick the right tools; find that glitter pen, steal one from your little sister… hell write on silver wrapping paper, just don’t let the grind get you down!
  6. Reach out; there are writers everywhere doing this right now – find a few and get merry together.
  7. Indulge; treat yourself when you make milestones. Just because you’re working doesn’t mean you can’t have chocolate, wine, peanuts, or whatever your Christmas snack of choice is.
  8. Be sociable; I don’t care how much work you have to do; get your arse into the sitting room/living room/dining room and sit with your family. Their chatter and laughter will help. You’ll work slowly, but progress is all that matters.
  9. Pick and Choose; if you have a number of projects with broadly similar deadlines work on your favourite. Merry Christmas to you; the festive seasons too short to trudge through the assignments you dread.
  10. No Work at the Dinner Table; you might have to work today, but Christmas is a say for relaxation. When dinner is served work goes away, and shouldn’t be seen until after dessert has been finished and the plates have been washed (this rule applies to opening presents too! When the wrapping paper comes off the work goes away!)

 

Most of all guys, have a merry Christmas; its been a clusterfuck  of a year, and we deserve to kick back.

Cheers,

Merry

 

 

 

 

 

Image source; https://www.nationalstorage.nz/blog/how-to-write-a-christmas-letter-people-will-actually-want-to-read/

The Worst Thing A Writer Can Do

The worst thing you can possibly do as a writer is begin to edit before you have finished writing; you’re not an editor, you’re a writer. 

This might seem like a trite thing to say, a little tired and worn (maybe even soap-box-ish), but hear me out; the roles of writer and editor are so distinct and separate that I really can’t believe we attempt to do them both at all, let alone trying to do them both at the same time.

Writer (Ri-ter); One who writes, especially as an occupation. 

Editor (Eh-di-tor); A device (or person, in this case) for editing film. Consisting basically of a splicer and viewer.

To write is to create, to edit is to change, remove, restructure, or otherwise manipulate; the latter requires the former job to have been completed. This is why editing as you go is the worst thing you can do if you want to create something which is coherent, cohesive, and true to the idea from which it sprang. In order to edit you have to have something to change, manipulate, and otherwise polish.

 

Here are some of the things that can happen when you try to “wear two hats”; 

  • You obsess about format and style over content.
  • You get bogged down in word choice.
  • You hit a “chapter loop”*.
  • You focus on technique instead of storytelling.

 

The overall result can be stagnation, frustration, and endless re-write loops. Of course, I’m not saying you should edit nothing before the book or story is finished; if you see a gaping plot hole fix it, if you absolutely must restructure do it, but leave the small things, the minutiae of grammar, tense, syntax, and spelling for after the meat has been firmly placed on the bones of your idea.

This consistent and constant push forward, this progression, is so much more important when working to a deadline.

 

Drawing the (Red) Line

If you started as an editor, or if you moonlight as one like me, it can be hard to draw the line between your writing hat and your editing one. There are some things that you can do, however, to draw a line in the sand, so to speak, between one task and the other.

Firstly, you can make a physical change; the surroundings in which we work have a lot to do with our mental state. If you have the luxury you could write and edit in different locations (i.e. edit at the kitchen table and write at your desk, or write at home and edit in the library etc). If you can’t do this make a point of changing your physical state. When you stop writing and start editing you may wish to take the time to relax, perhaps eat, even shower, and change your clothes. Tie your hair up instead of leaving it down, or switch the format in which you work from electronic to hand written.

Secondly, you need to make a philosophical and intellectual shift; distance yourself from your work and begin to think as a critic rather than an artist. If you want to lose that connection you can take the time to read something else, or edit chapters out of sequence. The key is to stop thinking about what you were trying to do and start asking yourself if you actually managed to do it.

Once you have achieved these steps, and moreover made a habit of them, you will find it easier to switch between the two states without so much trouble or bleed-through. One of the best results of this will be the fact that you will be better equipped to judge where and when to break this principle for best effect.

 

Like all guidelines and rules there will always be an exception, learning to separate the two stages will allow you to notice, deal with, and mitigate the exceptions which do arise with more skill and efficiency, and I can promise you that (if nothing else) this will lead to less wastage in your writing.

 

 

* A chapter loop is when you write a chapter, read it, edit it, and re-write it repeatedly without making any real progress. Otherwise known as Writing Purgatory.

 

Image source; http://www.photos-public-domain.com/2011/11/22/stop-sign-with-blue-sky/

How NaNoWriMo Can Be a Work-Win

How? I hear you cry, How can NaNoWriMo, the single most time-consuming event of the writerly year, help me to get my day to day writing work done?

 

Well, I’m here to let you in on a tiny secret; no matter what anyone says you don’t have to work on only one piece of writing for NaNo…

stock photo, pets, animals, cat, kitten, funny, hilarious, shock, surprised, funny-face, omg, lol

I know, right? Madness, utter crazy-speak, but hear me out; if you use NaNoWriMo to work on a variety of projects, with the overall goal of meeting that word count target you’ll find that three things happen very quickly;

  1. You get more of your workload done in less time; adding the element of fun (or at least pressure) that NaNo brings to your day to day projects will motivate you, and because you’re focusing on the word count rather than deadlines or the tedium of freelance content production (or whatever it is you write for a living) you will be less likely to flag.
  2. You get writers block less; variety will stimulate and focus your mind. Not only will working on more than one project help you to move on when you do become stuck, but it may even help to stimulate your creative side.
  3. You hit you hit your daily word count more often; when you’re working on a variety of smaller projects you’ll find that your word count is more likely to hit, or exceed, the required daily estimation for precisely the reasons detailed.

 

Furthermore, you can use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to get into the habit of writing every single day; if you do this you could find that your overall word count goes up in the long-run, not just during November. Making a habit of writing every day no matter your mood, the time available, or the weight of your to-do list is something that you must do if you are serious about writing. No-one’s saying you have to write 2,000 words per day, or even write the same amount each day, but if you can aim for a minimum of 30 minutes each day you will find that your workload, and your NaNoWriMo goals, is much less likely to get on top of you.

 

How to make NaNoWriMo a work win

Pick out a couple of projects you need to get through; ideally they shouldn’t be too short, but there’s nothing to stop you from including academic essays (student writers, I’m looking at you!) or even content writing assignments into your word-count.

The goal, other than meeting the desired word count, is to make sure that you have enough work to get you to your word-count goal, but also that you’re doing what needs to be done.

I, for example, am working on my own novel and a ghost-writing project for a client during NaNoWriMo because A) I never write my own stuff anymore, and B) this project needs a bit of a kick start because my client is just to nice to set a hard deadline. It’s a win-win; I write my own stuff, my client gets a boost to their timescale, and I even manage to do NaNo with my friends.

In order to make this work you’re going to need to do a few things;

  • Make a note of where you start and finish on each project; simply updating your word count to match the document wont always help here.
  • Be realistic; prioritise the closest deadlines.
  • Take care of yourself; running yourself into the ground achieves nothing.
  • Plan; it’s much harder to create a coherent novel on the fly when you’re juggling. Ten minutes to recap and lay a foundation for progress is never wasted time.

So… what are you waiting for? Get out there and NaNo up your work schedule!

 

Image Source; http://iscreamsundae.com/6-secrets-to-self-motivation/

Surviving NaNoWriMo; a Guide to the Late Starter

So it’s day two or three, and you haven’t written a single god-damn word.

What do you do;

A) Cry

B) Give Up

C) Cry and then Give Up

OR

D) Follow these Five Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo when you have no time to spare?

Well, it’s up to you… but I’d try D id you’re really keen on the idea of participating. 1)

 

First of all, and this one’s on the house, take a deep breath; I get it (every writer does) as we speak it’s nearly day three and I have not written a word. Why? Because I’m moving house, I have two jobs, and I have to keep my family and dogs more or less alive. I’m stressed about one hundred things, but NaNo ain’t one; I can write, of this I’m sure, and it may shock you to learn that I’m equally certain that YOU can write. All you need to do is follow these five steps and you will make progress.

 

  1. Make Time; and I do mean make it. Figure out if you’re a morning or an evening person and either get up early, or go to bed late. Sacrifice a little of your lunch break; writing as a career path is hard, and it needs (nay, deserves) dedication. If you can’t sacrifice and hour of your personal time to do it you shouldn’t stress about it. It’s hard, I know, especially if you have kids and responsibilities, but you need to slice out some time to actually do this if you, you know, want to do this.
  2. Drop the Red Pen; do not edit as you go. Think of this as a freeflow exercise which lets you get out all the ideas that have been percolating. For one month be a seat of the pants writer and let your mind empty itself. The end product will not be publishable, that’s a fair bet, but it will be a start and that’s enough.
  3. Organise; in almost complete contrast to my last point… do take the time before you start to think over where your story is and where it’s going. You don’t need a detailed game plan, but an overview of what you want to happen will give you the kind of connect-the-dots framework which can help to push through writers block.
  4. Take Care; there is less than no point in you doing this if it’s going to make you ill. Make time to write, but by god do not sit at your computer day and night without breaks. Eat, wash, brush your fucking teeth, and for the love of Jesus, Allah, Thor, and any God (or Gods) you believe in sleep. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your editor. They deserve to read something with half a measure of coherence.
  5. Enjoy It; write about something that excites you, or it’s all for naught. Socialize, compare notes, laugh about your successes and definitely about your failures. NaNoWriMo is the most stressful and wonderful time of the year for many writers because it brings us all together, just don’t let it drive you into isolation.

 

To all you writers out there; if you need me I am here. You can talk to each other, you can talk to me. 

 

Lets crush it!

 

Image Source; http://www.nateleung.com/how-to-reach-success-while-battling-frustration/

 

Three Mistakes That Will Kill Your Novel at Outset

Beginnings are tough for me, and for many writers, and I firmly believe that you’re either a beginning or end kind of writer; people always excel at one above the other. So for all you other “Can’t-get-it-started” writers out there I’ve got three pieces of advice. Three mistakes that I’ve made over, and over, and over before putting them to paper (or page) here so that you can learn from my hard experience. These three things are almost guaranteed to murder the potential of any novel before your reader gets through the front door!

 

One; Leading with Backstory

We’ve all made this mistake; there’s some nugget of the past that we are adamant the reader absolutely has to know in order to understand the protagonist, and therefore the story…

Well, actually, they don’t usually.

If you’re tempted to lead with backstory ask yourself this one, very important, question; is this information/event directly related to the story that is about to follow? If not, no matter how interesting it may be, drop it. If you want to keep a story progressing (and constant progression is one of the things which singles out truly gripping stories) tell the reader only what they need to know at any given time!

 

Two; Purple Prose

Excessive description is a silver bullet when it comes to killing a novel; effective novel description should enhance the readers experience of the story without overtaking it. If you begin with description make sure that this is paired with a character in motion; if the setting is really key make sure that you’re also beginning the story as you introduce the setting.

Description should always, always be incidental, attached directly to the progression of the story, and applied with caution; if you allow your descriptions to overpower the action and story you’re already on a path of steady decline.

 

Three;  Lack of Threat

Threat is an essential in every novel; good fiction revolves around a person or people who face a problem, a situation, or an event which threatens their world as they know it in some way. To paraphrase a well-worn statement; get your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them. Introduce your story with threat; this can be a disturbance to their usual routine, for example a police officer at the doo a la The Rose Petal Beach, or a blow to their psychological state, think that single drop of blood in Rose Madder. It doesn’t have to be brutal or overly dramatic, but it must shift the paradigm of the characters life in a way which requires their input/action or you’re starting from a sedentary point. All novels should begin with need, desire, or danger, e.g. something that poses a threat to the usual working of their lives.

 

This advice won’t see you through every stage of your novel, but it’ll get you through the first chapters and that’s a damn good start!

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Mythic Progression; Heroic Progress and the Doorways.

The “Mythic Structure” or “Mythic Progression” is a writing tool which hold an unusual position; almost everyone who writes, reads, or enjoys films and movies will know exactly what it is, but without any awareness of what it actually is. Does that make sense? No, not really right?

 

The Mythic Structure is also known as the “hero’s journey” (are those lightbulbs I hear clicking on?) which you are probably very aware of. This is a trope, a tool, a cliché, and a plot device, of course, all at once, but it is without a doubt also one of the most effective and beginner friendly plot structures to use. If you are ever in doubt about a genre novels progression I can assure you that the Mythic Progression can help you to iron out the kinks and circumvent the problems that might be causing a blockage in the creative process.

 

The Structure of the Hero’s Journey

James Scott Bell talks at length about the “mythic structure” in Plot and Structure, but to summarise it can be broken down into a series of hooks, pulls, and cut-offs (which Bell calls “doorways”). The simplest form of this structure consists of three acts and two doors, cut offs, or points of no return. This creates, or should create, and imperative for continuation and development; this is something that I hear/see time and time again as a problem.

It is so common for people to falter because, whether they realise it or not, their character has no reason to persist, or for agents to lose interest in a book because there seems to be no purpose behind the progression.

The structure should go as such;

Mythic Structure

This repeats as necessary until a final resolution can be reached between the characters/MC and the antagonist (more about writing antagonists here). A doorway cannot simply be a choice, however; they represent something that forcibly thrusts the protagonist forward in the progression. They make change, development, and continuation necessary.

For example;

When Rosie Daniels/ McClendon first leaves her abusive husband during the opening chapters of Rose Madder she makes the choice because of the sudden realisation that one day he will kill her (followed by the second, more horrible, realisation that he might not). This is the hook, the pull; when she walks out of the door she can always walk back in. Nothing has really changed yet.

The point of no return, the first doorway, (though some people may disagree with me here) comes when she uses the bank card she took from the mantel. At this point there is no going home because at some point he will find out she took the money, question why, and undoubtedly figure out why she took it. Then he would kill her.

Once Rosie withdraws the money from that ATM a door slams shut behind her; she has locked herself into the progression from battered wife to free woman, with all the dangers that entails.

 

The Purpose of the Doorways

The doorways, as has been previously stated, lock a character into a certain path; they make progression possible, and for the writer this is enough of a reason to keep them in use, but for the reader they have a different purpose.

To the reader they are key in the maintenance of plausibility and, where necessary, the suspension of disbelief which all story-telling requires to a degree. If Rosie had not been so certain that her husband would kill her she never would have left, but if she had not withdrawn the money using her husbands card she undoubtedly would have succumbed to fear and turned around.

As readers we understand that someone so frightened, so tremendously damaged and yet so unbelievably sheltered, could quite easily be scared away from the hard road that leads to freedom. We need to understand that the road behind her has been cut off, just as much as Rosie, as a character, needed to be forced to keep going even though it was for her own good.

 

What constitutes a Doorway?

Doorway | Booknvolume
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The “Doorways” of the Mythic Progression must be three things above all else; they must be defined, they must be one way, and they must have an element of need about their presence.

In short, the character should be aware of the finality of their choice/action, one of the consequences should be an inability to back out/down, and there should be a sufficiently severe level of Threat or serious consequences attached to not proceeding.

If your character can walk away from the whole thing and go on as normal then they have not crossed a threshold or passed through a Doorway.

Examples of a Doorway are;

  • Bilbo Baggins signing a contract with the Dwarves of Erebor; he is compelled to sign by Gandalf the Grey and by hid own curiosity. He simply could not bear to miss out on the adventure. He would never be able to live
  • Michael Corleons shooting of Sollozzo and McCluskey; he does so, in a way, to protect himself, his friends, and his family, but he can never go straight again. Life as he knew it is over.
  • When John McClane throws the fire alarm in Die Hard he does so to alert the authorities to a situation, but locks himself into a battle with terrorists; they now know he is loose in the building, and so he can no longer slip quietly away.

 

Compulsion and Coercion

Your characters can either be compelled or coerced into passing through a doorway; sometimes the driving force is also a part of the threshold itself; when Bryan Mills hears the abduction of his Daughter in Taken this event compels him to try to save her through sentiment, moral duty, and through his love for her, but also forms a point of no return. Mills could never live with himself if he did not try to save her, there is no going back even before he puts the phone down. This is an example of coercion and compulsion rolled together to make a forced progression, but not all cases are so cut and dried.

Compulsion to cross through occurs in a non-threatening, or largely internal manner. Character are compelled to cross a doorway by friends, family, or by their own morals, by a sense of duty, by a desire to rectify a situation or help, and even by reckless courage.

Coercion occurs when a largely outside, and generally threatening, force pressures a character to cross over. For example, the villain or antagonist may threated to reveal damaging information, to harm a loved one, to commit an atrocity if the MC does not go on as instructed.

 

The important thing is to make sure that the reader can empathise with and understand the characters actions/motivations. The bigger the change, the more significant the Doorway, the more intense the compelling or coercive reasoning for crossing over. This is how a good writer builds tension and maintains reader interest; its a fine line to walk, but ultimately results in an interesting read.

 

 

 

Image Source; http://fabledlands.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/fantasy-hero-called-ned.html