Monday, 21 April 2014

R is for Reading

As you know if you've been following my blog, I'm on a big reading drive at the moment. My favourite genre to read is YA, although whether that's because I like to write YA, or whether I like to write YA because I like to read it, I don't know.

I've always heard you should read lots to be able to write well, so I think regardless of which way around the above is (does that sentence even make sense?!) the things I choose to read do influence the way I write - the language used, the style of writing, the subject matter, and so on. I don't generally read 'real life' stories, they always have some sort of fantasy/sci-fi in them, and that's what I write.

What do you like to read and does it influence your writing?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Q is for Quick sessions

One of the biggest problems I have is finding time to write around work, meetings, family, hobbies, etc. I often find I only have half an hour to actually sit down and write, and then I think 'well I can't do anything in that time' so I end up just researching (ie, browsing the web...) or doing character profiles for characters that never find themselves in a story.

Something I need to do is to get myself in gear for writing in quick bursts. When I do word wars I know I'm perfectly capable of writing 1,000 words in half an hour, but when it's just me and the blank screen, somehow I can't motivate myself.

So I have a question today - does anyone know of a really active forum or chat room for word wars so I can get motivated and war against other people and not just against myself?

Friday, 18 April 2014

P is for Plans

After two years of not writing as much as I'd hoped to at all I'm a bit wary of setting too many firm plans now for fear of disappointing myself...

However, I do find that I write better when I have something definite to aim for...

I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy NaNoWriMo so much - it's got a daily goal to aim for as well as a longer-term plan. When it's not November though, I have to set my own targets, and I find it much more difficult to keep writing. This ties in with tomorrow's post on Quick sessions...

Has anyone got any tips for reaching goals?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

N is for Names

I really love naming characters, finding the right name for their personality or something that has a meaning that fits well or is suitably ironic.

One of my favourite websites for finding suitable names is - it lists names by country, by popularity in different decades, by gender, and has a section of lists for specific types of people like tomboys, princesses, aristocrats or cowpokes!

If, for example, I'm writing about a teenage girl who's just discovered she's a witch, I can search the list of popular names in the 1990s and see the basic meanings of all the names. Jennifer means 'woman of white magic', which seems appropriate, and it also offers suggestions for similar names like Jenna and tells you where the name originates from - in this case, from Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur.

Have you got any favourite name websites?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

M is for Missing punctuation

I'm a big fan of punctuation, so things like apostrophes going missing or finding themselves in the wrong place annoys me greatly.

A quick guide to apostrophes:
  • Plurals don't need apostrophes. (ie. He took his dog's for a walk would be wrong. He should take his dogs for a walk instead.)
  • Apostrophes go anywhere you take out a letter. (ie. In don't the apostrophe is there instead of the o in do not.)
  • If something belongs to someone, then it should have an apostrophe. (ie. He dropped his dog's lead and the mutt ran away.)
  • You can end a word with an apostrophe if it's got a letter missing or it's a plural possessive! (ie. Jesus' disciples, because it's very confusing to say Jesus's, or he dropped the dogs' leads and they all ran away.)
If, like me, you love punctuation and have been known to deface menus or other badly punctuated missives, or you want to know more about how to use punctuation, I highly recommend Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. It's amazing :)

Monday, 14 April 2014

L is for Limits

On a forum I use someone posed the question You're only allowed to write about one set of characters for the rest of the year. Which characters (your own or someone else's) would you write about?

It made me think about setting limits for writing. What about if I could only choose one place to set a story? Or one time of day? One type of weather? One room? One emotion?

Two years ago I was really into writing flash fiction, but that's fallen off recently. Today my challenge is to use a couple of the ideas above to write some flash fiction - a complete, short, one-scene story with a limited setting.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

K is for Knowing

I remember when I was at school we had to write a story that conveyed an emotion. I wrote about a woman who was scared as she climbed over a wall and was about to break in to a house. I thought I'd done a good job with it but I got a lower grade for the piece that I'd hoped for, so I went to talk to the teacher about it afterwards.

She asked me very simply, 'what is she doing there'?

In concentrating on describing the emotion in the piece I'd completely left out any reason for the character to be doing what she was doing, and that made the piece unsatisfactory.

I knew when I was writing that the woman was a private investigator and she was breaking in to the house of a vicious crook to get evidence against him. It was one of her first cases and she was scared because she hadn't done anything like that before, and knew that if she got caught then she would probably be killed.

The problem was, I hadn't included any of that back story in what I'd written, so the reader didn't know anything about the character's motivation or why she was pushing herself to do something that was making her scared. Of course, if I'd put everything in then it would have been a whole lot of telling and still not a very good piece, so what I should have done was just drop a few hints about some things, maybe have the character remember something about the owner of the house while she was sneaking in, and let the reader fill in just a few of the gaps, rather than having to make up their own reason why the woman was breaking in.

So K is for knowing - how much we know as writers and how much of that information we pass on to readers, and at what points and in what way, can make a huge difference to how enjoyable a story is.

Also, on the off-chance that my English teacher Miss D'Auban, is reading this, thank you for the good advice :)

• Challenge - who has given you good advice? Share it with someone else!

Friday, 11 April 2014

J is for JanNoWriMo and other writing challenges

My writing really got a kickstart when I discovered NaNoWriMo about 10 years ago. I find that I write much more when I have a daily challenge to set myself, but that it's easier when other people are trying to meet the same goal as well.

There's a huge list of monthly challenges on Wikipedia (here) but some of my favourites are:
  • NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - every November, write 50,000 words in November
  • April Fools - Set your own target and write that target in April
  • FAWM - February Album Writing Month
  • Camp NaNoWriMo - Like NaNoWriMo but happens twice during the summer and you can set your own target
  • JanNoWriMo - Write 50,000 words in January

And Blogging from A-Z is another one :)

What's your favourite monthly challenge?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

I is for Imagination

Imagination is a wonderful thing, although I'm a bit worried about where mine takes me sometimes! I've always loved exploring what ifs and making things up in my head.

I can't remember at what point it progressed from let's pretend where I was the person everything was happening to in to imagining things happening to other people and characters, but I know it's something I've always loved doing, from playing Robin Hood as a little girl, re-imagining an ending to a Star Trek episode I didn't like as a teenager, and now making up all sorts of weird and wonderful situations in my spare time.

What was your favourite imagining?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

H is for Harry Potter

...and for Twilight, and Star Trek, and Sherlock Holmes and My Little Pony, and dozens more.

Today's post is about fanfiction. I think almost everyone I know who's tried writing stories has played with fanfiction at some point. A really good article I found (here - definitely worth a read!) picked up on one of the points that people often think fanfiction is not very good.

In my opinion there are several issues with this statement. First, fanfiction might be someone's first try at writing a story for someone else to read, so it stands to reason that it won't be as polished and perfect as a published, edited story.

Second, with fanfiction people have a fixed view in their heads before they read the story of what the characters are like, and so if the character does something that doesn't match those views, then of course it must be wrong. [/sarcasm] The thing is, I know several stories where I've read something that I've thought is wrong for the character, but because it's been done by the actual author and not a fanfic writer then I have to accept it. Fanfic writers don't have that luxury.

Third, most people who write fanfic do it primarily for their own entertainment, and so as long as they enjoy it, they don't really worry about it meeting other people's expectations of standards.

A final word pinched from Lev Grossman in TIME in 2011:
"They don't do it for money. That's not what it's about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the satisfaction. They're fans, but they're not silent, couch-bound consumers of media. The culture talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language."

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

G is for Genre (Also WriYe blog post)

What is your main genre?

Usually YA/fantasy/adventure. I don't do horror, I'm not very good at romance, I can't think of interesting mainstream plots and I get far too bogged down in researching if I try to do historical fiction.

How has it evolved for you in the past few years and how do you think it will evolve further - both in your own writing style and in the publishing field overall?

I think YA is more accepted as a genre in its own right now than it used to be, and I think the boundaries of what YA is have been pushed back. Think how gory some of The Hunger Games is and compare it to stories like What Katy Did or Peter Pan. My writing style hasn't really changed aside from (hopefully) getting better, because I've never really tried to fit into a genre, I've just written what I like.

Is there any genre you think blends easily with your niche?

I think any genre blends with YA. Personally I like writing it because I can tell a story without having to swear, go into graphic detail, or get too involved with gore/sex/violence. It makes me sound a bit like a cop out, but I like telling stories that I could tell to my Brownies or my niece and that wouldn't make my Mum blush ;-)

Bonus: Doodle us something that describes your main genre to a T.

Doodle to follow later...

• Challenge for the day is for you to doodle your genre as well!

Monday, 7 April 2014

F is for Forums

A very short post today, sorry...

I find writing forums can be really helpful for inspiration, support and somewhere to talk to people who don't think you're crazy for wanting to spend all your free time inside your own head.

My favourite forum is WriYe, but I like the NaNoWriMo boards as well, especially when they get really busy from October to December.

• Challenge for today - if you don't already visit writing forums, visit one and see what they're about. If you do visit forums, try a thread you've never visited before.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

E is for E-books

When I got my phone it came with Kindle on it, so I bought a couple of e-books just to give myself something to read if I found myself stuck with a few minutes to kill. I found I was using it quite a lot, although the mobile screen was a bit small and I was very aware that it looked like I was playing with my phone when I was reading.

Last year a friend offered me a Kindle that she'd bought by mistake. I bought it from her thinking I'd use the Kindle for work to type things up and email them. Of course I knew I'd have my e-books on there, but I didn't think I'd actually use the Kindle for reading very much.

I was very, very wrong!

I had maybe 10 books on my phone, including the free ones. Now I've got about 50. It's meant I have much more chance to read. I find myself picking up the Kindle to read in breaks, sitting on the sofa at home, while I'm cooking, in bed... the only place I don't read my Kindle that I would read a paper book is in the bath - paper dries easier than electronics!

• Challenge for the day - what are your thoughts on e-books? Love them or hate them?

I'm going to be away for the next week, so my posts may be a bit sporadic. I will catch them all up!

Friday, 4 April 2014

D is for Datastick

You'll have heard this one before, I'm sure, but always back up your stories. Preferably twice, and in different places.

I wrote a 50,000 word draft during NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago that I was really quite pleased with and was looking forward to refining. I'd even managed to rack up a 10k day while I was writing it - something I'd never done before ever!

I'd got it safely on a memory stick, but then disaster struck - the memory stick broke! It wasn't corrupted, and as far as I know all the data is still on it, but two of the connections inside broke free of the board and I can't get it to work. I even took it to a computer shop and asked them if it could be fixed, but they said no.

So I've now learned from bitter experience that if I write something that I want to keep, back it up. Save it on a hard drive and on a memory stick and on something like Dropbox or Googledrive. Failing that, just emailing it to myself is better than nothing. But always back up!

• Challenge for today - back up whatever you're working on!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

C is for Characters

This year I've tried a new method of creating characters and keeping track of characters I've come up with

Some of my characters pop into my head complete with a story to tell, but others just appear without anything interesting to say, although they seem like they might have potential.

My method for keeping track of them used to be to write down everything I knew about them in a word file on the computer, along with a picture if I could find one that seemed right (I do worry sometimes about what people would make of some of my internet searches, like 'teenage boys' or 'girl on the beach'). The problem with that method was that it wasn't very easy to flip through to get ideas. A lot of these character ideas don't have names, so they'd be filed under 'blond athlete' or 'grumpy housewife', so if I was looking for a particular character then the system might work, but it wasn't so good for just browsing to get ideas for a story.

This year I decided to start a diary where I would do some freewriting every day. That's now turned into a character diary, where I jot down ideas about a new character every day. If I want to find a picture to go with an idea then I print it out and stick it in, and it's a lot easier to pick up a book and flick through the pages than to open dozens of word files. I can take the diary with me as well because it fits in my handbag, so if I get an idea on the bus I can jot it down.

Pic to follow...

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

B is for BICFOK

No, I'm not swearing at you! BICFOK is Bum In Chair, Fingers On Keys - also known as BICHOK (hands, not fingers, on keys) - is a tried and tested way of getting words written!

Okay, I'm being silly, but really it does work. You're not going to write anything by procrastinating or by doing something else while you think about your story. Even if the first 100 words (or 1,000 words!) are nonsense or entirely unrelated to what you actually want to write, by starting writing at least you're getting something down, and you never know where it's going to go from there.

I used to use the 750 Words website to get me writing - you sign up to write 750 words a day and it sends you reminders to do it every day. I'd find I was writing about things I wouldn't have thought about writing about before - one day I write about the colour green, the next day it was about the weather, another day there was a boy setting fire to things. All these things weren't really useable in the sense of being read by anyone else, but they gave me practice at describing things and setting scenes which I wouldn't have had if I hadn't BICFOK'ed.

• Challenge for today - BICFOK for 15 minutes and see where it takes you!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A is for Author

I am technically an author - I've written poems and a guide book for a church which have both been published by other people.

I've also dabbled in self-publication, but while it's nice to see my book in print there's something different about having someone else believe your work is good enough that you deserve the title of author.

When someone asks me why I write, I've got several answers - I like it, I have lots of stories inside my head that I'd like to write down, I want to share something, and I want to see my name in print. That last bit sounds a bit egotistical, but I don't think you can be an author without having a bit of an ego - if you didn't, you wouldn't want to show other people your work.

A is also for Arlee Bird, who set up the Blogging from A-Z in April challenge. Thanks Arlee!

•  Challenge - post a comment about what you think makes you an author. Do you agree with my ideas? What makes you want to write?