As we reach the final few days of National Novel Writing Month 2017, Louise Dean, author and founder of online writing course Kritikme.com joins me to share her insights into why using short sentences is a powerful tool when writing a novel. Thank you for joining me today Louise. Over to you.
Short Sentences. (BANG!)
We can’t always be poetic. We cannot always find a new way of saying things. But if we offer visual images in short sentences, we can create an effect on our readers that is an assault on their senses. Think Bob Dylan.
One short sentence hard on the heels of the last is a highly engaging way to write. It forces the reader into a world that is unfolding with immediacy, speed, possibly danger. Wham. Slam. Bang. Things are happening fast as in an emergency. The story is unfolding. The reader is alert.
Short & Sweet
The most economical short story writer of all time is probably Raymond Carver. With his precise, punchy prose, he conveys in a few words what many novelists take several pages to elucidate. In stories such as ‘Fat’ and ‘Are You a Doctor?’ he writes with understatement about suburban disenchantment in mid-century America.
I’d like to share with you the two things that made his short stories works of art.
These themes can be served, should be served, in staccato sentences for great power.
Make it shorter.
‘Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long.’ Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut employs a choral technique from the songbook of modern music too, with repetition of an almost biblical phrase ‘So it goes’ throughout Slaughterhouse-5.
When Kurt Vonnegut uses that sentence again and again throughout Slaughterhouse-5, setting it against the backdrop of one of the worst tragedies of WWII — the firebombing of Dresden — the fatalistic attitude of that short sentence provides a hard contrast to the horrific details of Dresden.by
Wow. We’ve reached December. My countdown to Christmas has begun. My Christmas Card list has been made (and they sit on the side waiting to be done.) I have my beautiful Christmas tree up (nothing like a real one) and I can legitimately sing Christmas songs without getting funny looks from people (well, kind of. My singing is terrible.)
This time of the year also means that National Novel Writing Month is once again over for another year. I always have a mixture of emotion when I finish NaNoWriMo. On the one hand, I am relived and pleased that it is done. 1,667 words a day is a lot to commit to and it is easier said than done to reach on a daily basis when all you want to do is curl up and sleep or have family commitments or in my case, a holiday. On the other hand though, I am sad it is over. By now, I am in the bubble of the NaNoWriMo thing. I have got into the swing of my story. It is around now that I am past the moments where I have found it hard going and the threat of my laptop meeting my wall have been temporarily suspended.by
Self-publishing provides another route for authors to get their books directly to an audience. I think it’s wonderful to be living in a time when authors have choices. No longer do they need reach readers through a publisher – they can decide what is right for them and for the book.
I had a wonderful relationship with my publisher, but as a small independent, their distribution reach was limited. Most of my sales were ebooks, and I’d spent a great deal of time building up my platform. It made sense for me to go out on my own, hire a cover designer and an editor, and keep my profits. It was very scary jumping ship – jumping off the ship! – but I’m so pleased I did.
It’s been an amazing journey – hard, challenging, and somewhat obsessive – but I’ve really enjoyed having control over everything from cover to content to timelines. And it’s been wonderful to make living from writing, too. That said, like any business, sales can fluctuate, depending on many factors. You don’t have the security of an advance from a publisher, so that can be a little daunting.by
This is it. Day thirty of National Novel Writing Month. Well done to all who have finished, good luck to all the people who are still going and if you didn’t manage it, you’ve still got words written that you didn’t have when you began which is fantastic. Today, Julie Cohen joins us to chat about her editing process (she uses Post-its and I have to say I like her style.)
After I’ve finished the first (very rough) draft of my novel, I usually have a list of all the things I want to change. I write it all down as instructions to myself.
After that, I often spend some time analysing what I’ve written. I find that Post-Its are really handy for this. I outline the entire book, event by event, using colour-coded Post-Its for each story thread. Then I arrange in them in order on the wall, or on paper.
This method lets me see all of the story at a glance. It can make it much easier to understand where you’ve got problems, and to see where new parts can fit, or irrelevant parts need to be cut.
Here’s a picture of one of my novels after it’s had the Post-It treatment.
Julie is the best-selling author of Getting Away With It and Dear Thing and Where Loves Lies (which was released by Bantam Press on 31st July.) To find out more about Julie, visit her website: http://www.julie-cohen.comby
Jane Fallon’s books include Getting Rid of Matthew, Foursome and Got You Back. Her latest, Skeletons was released by Penguin earlier this year. She’s also a producer whose credits include Teachers and This Life. On day twenty-nine of National Novel Writing Month, she talks to us about supporting characters:
Your supporting characters create your world. They’re your colour and texture. Without them your book will feel two-dimensional and flat. Every character, however small a part they play needs to feel authentic and alive. It’s always a temptation to try to use shorthand to get across a character who is only going to appear a few times in your book. Everyone understands a cliche. But if you do that your reader is going to lose their sense of disbelief. You’ve asked them to immerse themselves into the world you’ve created so it’s important that world never feels cliched or flimsy. Make sure they’re as real as your leads.
Lesser characters can also be like a breath of fresh air – light relief, a pause from the intensity of the main story. They can throw a different light on your main characters. allowing us to see our heroes in a different way. They are what makes us feel we have entered a world that exists whether we’re there or not. Don’t underestimate them.
To find out more about Jane, visit her website: http://www.janefallon.co.ukby
National Novel Writing Month finishes tomorrow. I can’t believe we are almost at the end of another year. I hope you’ve had a good month. If you’re still going; that 50,000 word goal still being elusive, you can do it! Today, Cathie Hartigan talks about whether there is a right place to write:
Is there a right place to write? Perhaps there is, but it certainly isn’t the same place for everyone. I’ve met writers who can only work in a café or with the television on and those who need complete silence and become all night long writers. My friend and colleague, novelist Sophie Duffy writes in a lovely shed at the bottom of her garden, although she also recommends writing in bed. Hopeless for me! I fall asleep almost immediately.
My writing space is doubles as the HQ for CreativeWritingMatters and it’s chock full of files, books, several computers and stationary for England. We all know writing is sedentary so in order to get some exercise and not be distracted by a sudden need to turn on the washing machine, I take myself to the wonderful Devon and Exeter Institution (it’s a library, honest!) as often as I can. There I can sit at a huge mahogany table, which has nothing on it except a fabulous shine. Perfect. I’m nose to screen until from across the green I hear the Cathedral clock strike five and it’s time for the library to close.by
Suzanne McCourt also joins us on day twenty-seven of National Novel Writing Month. Her debut novel, The Lost Child has been released today. She shares with us her writing process and route to publication.
It took me almost ten years to write The Lost Child, in part because I tried to control the process: I thought writing came from my head and it took some time to discover that it needed to come from my heart. Losing my mother and having four family deaths within eight months, taught me a lot about letting go of control. So did Barbara Turner-Vesselago’s freefall writing workshops. But it was only when I let myself trust the voice of a child who’d tried to take over a previous novel—only when I allowed Sylvie to tell her own story—that The Lost Child began to unfold without interference from me.
Nabokov suggests that a writer is part storyteller, teacher and enchanter, and that by far the most important of these is enchanter. One of the great joys of writing from Sylvie’s perspective was that I was able to enter a child’s world of innocence, spontaneity, vulnerability and humour and lose myself in the process.by
It’s lovely to write again about a bunch of characters you’ve got to know in a previous book. It’s like meeting up with old friends again, and that’s exactly how I feel when I return to Scarlett and her Notting Hill friends.
I’ve written about them three times now, and it becomes easier with every book. Both you and the reader already know so much about each character, that you know just how they’ll behave in every situation.
There aren’t many drawbacks – trying to keep a new reader who might not have read the other books in the series, up to date with what’s gone on in previous stories is probably the trickiest thing, as you don’t want to bore fans of the series with lots of information they already know. But hopefully I usually find a way to suit all!
I love writing the Notting Hill series, and I really hope to write more in the future.
Ali is the author of the Notting Hill series which include From Notting Hill with Love Actually, From Notting Hill to New York, Actually and her new novel, From Notting Hill with Four Weddings Actually which was released by Sphere in October.
To find out about Ali and the fantastic Notting Hill series, visit her website: www.alimcnamara.co.uk
You can also follow her on Twitter @AliMcNamaraby
The best plot twists are the most believable ones. Don’t you hate it in novels or films where a twist is thrown in for the drama, and while it might be a ‘wow, really?’ moment, it doesn’t feel true to the characters as it sinks in.
The actions that lead to that twist need to be completely convincing and not out of character. Subtle hints (foreshadowing, as we call it) need to be littered throughout the novel, so subtle that it’s only when you read those final pages that you realise how it all ties together.
A little technique I use (and this doesn’t just apply to plot twists, it can also apply to ‘reveals’ in general, so elements of information held from the reader until later on) is to list the reveals I want to unveil. Then beneath each one, list how I can hint at these reveals throughout the novel without giving anything away.by
With NaNoWriMo, the pressure to write anything in the thirty days is tough. Should you make it easier for yourself and write what you know? Does it help or hinder your writing? Portia MacIntosh tells us whether she thinks it does or doesn’t…
Stick with what you know, that’s what they say. Well when it comes to writing, sticking with what I know is something that has served me well so far.
The truth is that I never set out to become a writer, it just sort of happened. As a teenager I got ‘in’ with a few pretty big bands at the time. This lead to me spending a lot of time around touring musicians and eventually getting a job in the industry. With lots of cool stories to tell and lots of empty hours waiting around for soundchecks or struggling to sleep on the tour bus, I started thinking about ways to show people what life behind the scenes was like – not the approved version you read about in autobiographies or see in documentaries – and I knew that it was important to keep things anonymous, lest I get sued or, even worse, kicked out of the inner circle and no longer invited to the cool parties.
It was during the writing of my first two books about the music industry that I realised I loved telling stories, and that I wanted to write lots more books about lots of different things. That’s when I realised that I didn’t need to keep writing about showbiz to benefit from letting my real life influencing my fictional work. You don’t need an unusual job or to have been through something out of the ordinary, anyone can let their day-to-day life influence their writing. Here are some of the pros and cons.by
If a great character doesn’t have a reasonable plot it won’t work and at the same time, if a fantastic plot has cardboard characters then neither will work, so it’s a tough question. However, if I had to choose, I’d say for me the character is absolutely the most important. Well developed, believable characters drive the plot, and sometimes even change the direction of a novel.
I always plan a novel through my main character or characters; for me it may be a woman who has a problem/ a sadness/ or something in her past that has brought her to this point and causes her to behave in a certain way. I like to know my character’s star signs, their favourite colours, foods and preferred music – all these elements help to build the character and help me to imagine their choices and the way they live. It may never be necessary to reveal all this minutiae to the reader – but it helps me as the writer to really get under my character’s skin, create realistic dialogue and decide how they would react to a situation or another person.by
Author, Rob Pateman is with us today (day 24 of NaNoWriMo,) to talk about creating believeable characters.
The grit in the oyster cell makes the pearl – and it’s the friction between the antagonist and the protagonist that lies at the heart of a good book.
The conflict between them drives the narrative, so establish early on what’s at stake for both characters. It could be life or death, financial ruin, the moral high ground, the end of civilisation as we know it, property, family happiness or something more tenuous, like love or truth.
With the basic tension set up, your characters’ personalities, attitudes, beliefs, and life circumstances will begin to follow. One might be demure, conventional, social and funny. The other more calculating, secretive and moody. And the social and funny one might not necessarily be your protagonist!
People aren’t all black and white – so your characters can’t be either. There has to be some light and shade to make them believable and make your readers more likely to engage with them.
Rob writes under the name, R.S Pateman and is the author of The Second Life of Amy Archer. His new book, The Prophecy of Bees was released earlier this month (both published by Orion.) For more information on Rob and his novels, visit his website: http://rspateman.com/
I love reading short stories. There’s something quite gratifying about a sharp, tight tale with a satisfying or clever ending. Although not as widely read as novels, short stories are a lot more prominent than some people may think. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a film adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella (1958). And Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic The Birds was inspired by Daphne Du Maurier’s short story of the same name taken from her anthology The Apple Tree (1952). Oscar Wilde, one of my favourite authors of all time, mainly wrote plays and short stories.
Producing fine, short literature requires great skill and tenacity. Unlike a novel, you only have a few hundred or a few thousand words to create a strong, believable plot with convincing characters and a fulfilling conclusion. Your aim is to engage readers within the first sentence, keep them connected, and not let them down in the last paragraph with a poor or predictable finish. Most of the stories I write have a twist or surprise ending simply because that’s what I like to read, but not all short stories need to take this form. Stories can be humorous, moving, romantic, inspirational or chilling. But, primarily, they must be entertaining.
Personally, the most challenging aspect of short story writing is coming up with new ideas. Magazine editors are always on the lookout for fresh material, and the last thing you want is for your reader to find your story predictable or worn. So when ideas arise I jot them down and work on them later. Ideas are everywhere. A comment someone makes, a newspaper article, a conversation, something I see on T.V. or read on the internet.by
My route to publication was – to quote every contestant X-Factor has ever had – a bit of a roller-coaster… And a lifelong roller-coaster at that… I’d always enjoyed writing stories and making things up, and I had my first short story published when I was 14 (in a teenage magazine – remember them?). I wrote about Tony from the chip shop who I was madly in love with and who ignored me and went out with my best friend instead. I poured every bit of teenage heartbroken angst into that story I can tell you! I sent it to the magazine without ever thinking it’d be published – but they loved it, bought it and paid what was a fortune to me then, and it opened up a nice little niche for me – and I carried on writing short stories, serials, articles (I became the pop correspondent for “Jackie” – was the envy of all my friends!), and anything else they’d pay me for (!) for the teenage mags while I was still at school, and then did the same for the women’s magazines for years. It was my hobby – and I was earning enough pocket money from it to have a couple of nice holidays each year – and that was about as far as I ever imagined my writing career was going.by
1. Write a lot. That’s not meant to sound glib. Writing’s like a game of pass the parcel: you have to wade through all the boring, tedious layers of wrapping on the outside before you get to the prize in the middle. And with writing, it can take an inordinate amount of time to reach that prize.
2. Be brave. I don’t just mean in terms of what you write (although obviously that too). But allow other people you trust to read and comment on what you’ve written. It’s scary putting yourself out there but it can be invaluable in helping your work develop.
3. Suit yourself. Some people will insist that you have to write in a particular place or according to a particular routine. But writing’s one of the most personal things you can do and you need to find what works for you.
4. Be disciplined. Wherever you choose to work on your writing, don’t forget that it is work. Lots of people ask me if I wait for inspiration to write. The answer is a resounding no. You have to write through the days when you’re not in the mood and when you know what you’re writing will end up in the virtual (or even the real) bin. But that’s how you get to the days when you write something that you know just might be okay. Sometimes, on really good days, something that’s even better than okay.by