Tag Archives: writing

Book (Re)Writing – The Grand Plan

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I don’t think small.

In many, many ways the fact that I cannot think in small terms is one of my biggest faults as a writer; I find it impossible to write a short story that doesn’t develop into a novel because I just do not know how to stop myself.

However, as a person it is something that I do take a great deal of pride in. I’m not someone who follows the ideas of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to the letter, and you’re not supposed to, it is a guideline, and each personality type themselves has a broad spectrum of differences within it.

For years though I thought that because I couldn’t think on small terms, it was a character fault because my brain would literally run away from the small idea that I really needed to think about and onto something vastly bigger than it was meant to be. On getting to know my MBTI type, which is INTJ, being a visual master planner is what my personality type is all about. I don’t think small, I have a complex imagination that can draw up master plans and implement them, down to the smallest detail.

For years I have been setting myself the same resolution at the beginning of each year. Draw up a grand plan for the books you intend to write.

And I sort of did – I drew up a list of books I planned on writing, a short summary, and there I had it a ‘grand plan’.

Cue Rocket the Racoon and his belly laugh.

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I didn’t have a plan; I kidded myself into thinking I had a plan and then just got on with writing, which is what I wanted to be doing.

And this is how I have ended up in the mess that I’m in now, because I didn’t follow what is actually my greatest strength – I had a bit of a plan, but because for years outlining a story felt like I was killing creativity that seat of my plans writing could bring to me I resisted.

So admittedly, all I have done so far is make a list of books I want to write, but I’m not stopping there. Since I’ve been writing this blog series, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking and I’m going to use that thinking to write a plan first, and then re-write the book.

I’m not entirely sure how it’s actually taken me this long to come to this conclusion. Drawing up the plan first, properly detailed plans is how Terry Brook’s, an author I admire a great deal, describes how he plans his novels in ‘Sometime’s the Magic Works’. He’s successful, and like me he writes high fantasy series that spans centuries in the same story world.

Honestly how I’ve managed to ignore his advice for all these years is beyond me – but then again a lot of people share Stephen King’s advice of write at least X number of pages every single day, so maybe it wasn’t as difficult as you would imagine, and the guilt that comes from not doing that occasionally hits me, but not as often any more.

So, write a grand plan, or a plan, or at least have more than a vague idea of how you are going to get from the beginning of your story to the end, and I recommend the ‘But…Therefore’ method of plotting.

Now brain focus…

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Book (Re)Writing – Take a Break

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It’s been a while since I wrote about Book (Re) Writing, and I haven’t been publishing much on other things on my blog either, and to be honest it is very much because my life has been utterly insane recently. I’ve actually just been taking a break from writing entirely.

*Cue the collective gasp of the internet’s writing community.*

I’ve been reading everywhere on the internet for the majority of my life that writer’s should always try and write every single day no matter how stressed/blocked/busy you are; advice that stems a lot from the wisdom of Stephen King. If you finished one draft put it aside and start on a new project before returning to a project for editing. But write every single day!

Well I’m sorry but sometimes real life doesn’t afford you that luxury.

I call myself a writer, but it is not my profession – it doesn’t pay my bills (yet), my brand new job does that; nor is writing my partner of ten years (whose recently added ‘husband’ to his description) who does like to spend time with me; nor is writing the new house and the wonderful tour of Europe that was our Honeymoon that has taken up all of my spare time and brain space recently.

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Crochet is my only other creative hobby I’ve been actively pursuing recently, purely for the very fact it doesn’t require me to think too hard. I’ve been able to finish projects like the Ice Scales Scarf which I have been working on for months.  I can use crochet as part of my nightly unwind process. If I write in that time, the inner Night Owl wakes up and my brain will whirl for the precious hours I have set aside to sleep.

And all of this has actively made me feel intensely guilty – because I am not writing every single day like you’re supposed to. Well I was feeling guilty until my brain eventually piped up and said-

“You’ve ignored and even debunked advice you’ve read on the internet about writing before, why the hell are you paying attention to this?”

Thank you brain for speaking up and ridding me of that guilt. At the moment I can’t write every day, or even just every week at the minute, and you might be the same. So I’ve taken a break from my project.

And it has been wonderful.

I am an advocate of working on the project until it is finished and leaving it for a while. If you’re able to work on another project in the interim that’s great, and is one of the points I do wish to make in this post – you do need to Take a Break from working on your projects, whether you are working on the first draft or are editing you’re project.

You should then either go an work on an unrelated project, or just rest, but don’t go back too soon to the project you’re working on. You need space and recovery time. You need to make you’re brain a bit of the blank page in relation to your project so that you can return to it objectively. I get emotionally connected to my stories – I need to break that connection. Clean slate – writing something else helps.

Do-you-want-to-write-well-By-Azuka-Onwuka

Sometimes the limits of real life and available brain space though does mean you can’t write though. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about that.

And you want to know why I think it’s wonderful: because letting go of the guilt and just living means my brain occasionally comes up with a really brilliant idea. Not thinking about writing, and not making it a chore has actually unlocked some really good ideas I’ve had in the past which I had dismissed or written out a few drafts ago. And new ideas as well.

I have to do a major rewrite of my book (as in I think I need to just start entirely again from scratch) and ‘not writing’ has actually been the best thing I could do, because it means I can do thinking instead. Not thinking and planning, has been my downfall in the past.

So yes you definitely need to take a break from your project, and sometimes despite what the collective wisdom of the internet says, you just need to take a break from writing entirely.

Book (Re)Writing – But…Therefore Plotting

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Change the word ‘bored’ to ‘writing’. Same consequence.

One of the very best things that I’ve been introduced to by my screenwriting teacher Gavin Williams (twitter@gavstatic) is the ‘But…Therefore’ approach to plotting. And I would never have come across it because the advice comes from two writer’s whose work I have no interest in – Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They are the creators of South Park which I detest with a passion.

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However, their writing advice is some of the very best advice on plotting that I have ever come across, and I’ve read the books and most of the internet when it comes to learning how to plot a story. The ‘But…Therefore’ method is the best in my opinion, and while I was introduced to the idea for screenwriting, I think it should can apply to prose as well.

In my last post for Book (Re)Writing I talked you all through How to Lose the Plot , where I sat with index cards and wrote down a basic idea of what happens in each chapter. A beat sheet of my plot, where I learnt just how much my plans for the later books have resulted in me making additions to ‘From the Ashes’ in order to lay the foundations for the later books.

Essentially, I discovered that a large proportion of my first book ‘From the Ashes’ is there purely to make ‘To Light and Inferno’ and ‘Into the Flames’ work. NOPE!!! My first book should be there to be my first book, and surprise, surprise I’ve got stuck writing book three. There are many reasons, some of which have nothing to do with writing, that explain why I’ve stopped. One of them is most definitely the plot.

I have a plot, but as I alluded to in my previous post, if you have to imagine my plot as a pathway, you’d have to imagine a steep mountain pass requiring specialist equipment to traverse. I certainly don’t want an easy plot, but the reason I stopped because of plot is because I had lost control, and the story was going in a completely different direction than I have ever intended. The story is fine, however it is going nowhere; what I’ve written so far will be used elsewhere in different stories. They aren’t a waste, but they aren’t want I want. I have a plan of where the series is going to end, and that will never change.

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But on the path I’m on I won’t get there, therefore I will have to change the methods I use to get there.

Enter in the ‘But…Therefore’ method. The principle of the method is using the beat sheet method, which I have already done to my book, and look at the transition from scene to scene. One scene happens to drives the plot forward, the next scene should then be a ‘but’ this happens as an obstacle, and then ‘therefore’ the characters need to do this, ‘but’ this then happens, ‘therefore’ the characters…

‘But’, ‘Therefore’, ‘But’, ‘Therefore’,   ‘But’, ‘Therefore’. Those are the only two words that should be used to describe how one scene moves into another, and in quicker paced scenes, how paragraphs (sentences even) moves into the next.

If the description you have of a transition is ‘and then’, figure out a way to change it to a ‘but’ or a ‘therefore’, because an ‘and then’ slows down the plot and makes it lazy.

So when I looked at the transition of my book, what did I find. Surprisingly a lot less ‘and then’ than I had imagined. I had a quite a lot of ‘but’ and ‘therefore’. I mean admittedly looking at the transition from section one into section two is a ‘and then’ this section happens and it is a massive weak link in the book, but overall once I was able to see the plot of my first book (excluding the plots I’ve added for my second and third book) I do have a pretty decent-ish plot in there.

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‘But’, let’s put it this way, as the titles might suggest my books have a lot of symbolism within them associated with Phoenixes. My book is more like a beast, a dragon.

Dragons are the enemy.

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Okay maybe not this sweetie.

‘Therefore’, there is a lot more other work that I have to do on my book as well, which will be the subject of later posts, but having done the beat sheet in How to Lose the Plot and then applied the ‘But…Therefore’ Method I have a much better set of ideas and weapons to use against the monster that is my book, ‘From the Ashes’.

And I highly recommend the method to anyone else.

 

Book (Re)writing – How to lose the Plot!

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True for life, but not for my story.

In my previous post on Book (Re)Writing, I talked about needed to look at my own advice in order to re-write my book, so I sat and I read through my posts to see what I have written about in the past. It has helped to focus my mind. However, while I have focused my head on writing generally, it doesn’t help me to understand where my book has gone wrong.

I’ve been attending screenwriting classes with Gavin Williams (twitter@gavstatic) recently, after having done a course with him last September and again this spring, and I’ve received loads of great tips from him about how screenwriters approach the breakdown of a story. I’ve been advised to create a beat sheet when writing scripts.

A beat sheet is an outline of a story that comes in the form of bullet points that can be then expanded upon to form sentences and then paragraphs. One of the very best bits of advice Gavin has ever given me is to form this beat sheet on index cards, rather than on a large sheet of paper. In the past I’ve used a very large corkboard that was left over from my student days, and then large sketchpads that then also got dotted with post it notes.

Putting my ideas on index cards has organised my brain in a much better way. I am someone who changes my mind on quite a frequent basis, usually to experiment with different ideas of how something can work. This is so much easier to do with index cards than having to re-write an entire A3 sheet of planning.

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How JK Rowling planned!

However, I didn’t know the index card trick when I planned and wrote my book. In truth I’m not entirely sure I had a solid plan for what I wanted to have happen in my book. I knew where the first book started, and I had an event where I wanted the book to end. However, because of the nature of my books, I never got to that event before I realised I really needed to end book one and instead just start book two.

My book series is called ‘The Phoenix Spell’, and its intention is to be an epic High Fantasy story, that runs more or less continuously from book to book; any jumps in time I have planned would be mid-book not at the start of a new one. The event in question that I was aiming for as the end of book one ‘From the Ashes’, that would have been a cliff-hanger, has now ended up being about a third of the way through book three ‘Into the Flames’.

My cliff-hanger has ended up being a pivotal point changing the course of one book, rather than being the end of a book that was supposed to hook the reader into reading the next book. And I have to admit, at the time of writing the books, I didn’t care that I had made this change, because in the time between making the initial plan and doing the actually writing, I’d had more ideas about what sort of story I wanted to tell, and what other events I wanted to have happen.

The original draft of ‘Into the Flames’ was supposed to be the second book. I’ve added an entire new book ‘To Light an Inferno’ in-between these books. At no point have I done any planning for this, which makes the original intention for ‘Into the Flames’ completely redundant. And one of the ways in which I made it possible for the new book to slot in was by adding hints and laying out foreshadowing into the plot of ‘From the Ashes’.

And that my friends, is how I have completely lost the plot (of my book, though I will accept arguments that I am referring to my sanity as well).

When I admitted the truth that I needed to re-write ‘From the Ashes’, I knew one of the things that I would need to re-consider is all of the ‘additions’ I have made to book one in order to justify things that happen in the new book two, and even as far in the future as book three. Now as the writer, I should know what all of these things are, except because I have been doing this for years I will admit that I’m so close to the work that even I’m not sure about everything that I have added to the story over the years.

index cards

Hello index cards. Using these lovely little beauties I have written a breakdown of my entire book, doing a section by section, and then chapter by chapter breakdown (summarised in one or two sentences) of exactly what happens in ‘From the Ashes’. I have found my plot, and good grief, I’m not surprised some of my beta-readers have got lost trying to follow the story.

If I used an analogy and compared my plot to a pathway, I will admit I would never want a plot that is akin to a straight line on a flat road; a little bit of meandering and some inclines would make a more interesting story. Needless to say I currently have mountains that require specialist equipment to climb and you don’t just go straight up; some of the paths involve climbing down a bit before you start going back towards the summit.

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As much as I love that my book does this, I couldn’t sell it, and if I’m honest I’ve got to the middle of writing book three, and I’ve stopped because even I have no idea how I’m going to carry on. The foundations of my story, while they could be solid, have been built by me pouring the concrete after I’ve already build the walls. It’s a mess.

However, I do have some hope. Having done the breakdown that I’ve created, all of the story elements that are there are solid stories that could work in their own right. They might not work with these books, but they are stories I can use elsewhere. Doing the breakdown has helped me to focus on finding what I had intended to be the main plot.

I can start the re-writing (once I’ve followed a few other steps first) by creating a solid plan of what just the main plot will be, not just for ‘From the Ashes’, but for ‘To Light an Inferno’ and ‘Into the Flames’, and beyond as well.

Hopefully, if you’re new-ish to writing, this post has been a great idea of how a writer can lose and then find their plot again to help you avoid it by using the tips I’ve learn from Gavin Williams. If you’re like me and you’ve already lost the path, try index cards; they are great breadcrumbs to lead you back to where you wanted to go in the first place, and you don’t even need to have used them before you started your journey; they are like magic breadcrumbs they place themselves in the direction you need to go.

 

 

Book (Re)Writing – Looking at my own advice

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So a couple of weeks ago I admitted in my first post on Book (Re)Writing that I had to face the truth and re-write my beloved book into something more than just the book that I have written for myself to read. I came to the conclusion a while back that I needed to do this, but admitting that truth to myself was one of the most heart-breaking things I have ever had to go through.

Making myself accountable to others via the power of blogging as well, has put me in a position that I have never been in before.

I don’t talk about my own writing very much. I am a very private person and my writing is very personal to me. The voices in my head are the characters that I have created, moulded, and changed over time into people that are as real to me as the colleagues I work with on a daily basis and the family I have known and loved my entire life.

I have been thinking quite a bit about how to make myself accountable via blogging, because the decision to blog my way through the re-writing process was made on the spur of the moment. I had hoped it would prompt me into getting on with it. Life isn’t that easy; I’m busy at work and my life is crazy at the moment. I’ve been struggling with depression for a long while, and at the moment that has taken from me my love of reading because of one bad book that’s turned me away from my escape. Thinking about my own has not been my top priority.

I’ve had the weekend to myself and I’ve been using it to procrastinate from thinking about the book by instead thinking about a short film I have to write in the coming week for a screen-writing class. I’ve also been watching romantic comedies that I grew up loving, while crocheting a massive blanket that takes my hands away from being able to potentially write as I have the films on in the background.

The slew of reviews that will get published in the wake of this binge watch will be testimony to a simple truth. I’ve not been sure where the heck to actually start with re-writing my book. That was the case until I watched 27 dresses.

Weird thing to have actually prompted me to realise where I need to start, but in the film Jane collects articles of her favourite journalist. Somehow, in the bizarre way my brain works, I made the leap of logic from those collected newspaper articles to my own collected thoughts on writing that I’ve already shared with the world.

My Key to a Great Story blog series is where I already have shared my thoughts on writing. While in the majority of the blog I have constructed my thoughts on character creation, plots and world-building by looking at popular films and books, that was not universally the case. When I posted about the differences of writing in the first person, third person restricted and third person unlimited, I used my own writing. I’ve put my thoughts on writing out there in the world, and I even allowed some of the original writing I do seep into that as well.

And therefore I’ve figured out where I need to start – I need to look at my own advice and plan this blog series around what I’ve already told you what I think makes a good story.

Sounds like it should have been simple leap of logic to make, but as any writer will tell you, there is nothing simple about writing, and certainly not about re-writing.

 

 

Book (Re)Writing – Admitting the Truth

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I have a confession: I have written a book for myself.

Now generally the advice goes that you are supposed to write the book that you want to read, and that is exactly what I have done. I have been telling myself for years that because I want to read it then it is good enough.

That’s only a semi-truth – it is good enough for me as a reader. But I want to be a writer as well.

I will always have a private copy of my own personal book ‘From the Ashes’ to read. That will always exist. It has been in place for over a year now, and has been my writing baby for nearly a decade.

I have drafted and re-drafted, added and added to this book until it was the perfection that I wanted for myself. And all this time I have dreamed of being a writer.

I was kidding myself into thinking I was being a writer simply by just writing. Except when I say ‘writer’ I mean as a career, not just as a hobbyist.

Therefore I have finally come to admit the truth; I need to re-write my book into something other people will want to read as well. I’ve been getting beta-reader comments back recently, and I have been having to face some harsh truths.

The book that is perfect to me isn’t perfect to anybody else.

And this is one of the hardest truths I have ever had to bring myself to admit, and because it is so hard, I am going to have to make myself accountable, and hopefully ensure if anyone else out there is having the same issues, let them know that they are not alone.

It might not be as scheduled as I tend to make Young Writer’s Review, but my latest blog series is going to be Book (Re)Writing and we are going to learn together how to go through and re-write something that you love so that others will love it as well.

Doctor Who and Torchwood

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Doctor Who has been an obsession for years now. I might have been late to the party after the re-launch in 2005, but once I got into it I was hooked. One of the reasons I love it so much is because the format of the show allows for a great deal of experimentation with storylines, different characters and even species, and you have the universe to explore.

And Doctor Who has exploited this premise to great effect for years. It has also resulted in a couple of great spin offs. I never got into the Sarah Jane Adventures, but I absolutely adore Torchwood. However, as much as I am part of the fan base, I’m not keen on everything. I’m quite willing to hold my hands up and admit there have been quite a few duff episodes over the years, and as much as I love Torchwood I’m only really keen on Series 1 and 2.

It’s been years since I saw Children of the Earth and Miracle Day. I’m going to have to try and sit and watch them again someday, but I disliked them so much when they first aired I get to the end of series 2 and find something else to watch. It’s been a while though, and Torchwood was all about pushing the boundaries of television. Shows like Game of Thrones have come around since, and you never know I might find I like Torchwood a lot more now.

But you know what, I really don’t mind that every now and then they don’t quite hit the mark. Doctor Who is one of the biggest and most creative forces in television; the premise of the show might be old and old villains and characters might come back every now and then, but Doctor Who is original and creative, something which I feel is desperately needed both in film and television.

The other think that I really loved about the show that I really miss is Doctor Who Confidential and Torchwood Declassified. These both showed the behind the scenes work that goes into making a high quality television show and I was absolutely devastated when they cancelled it. It taught people about all the different jobs that people have in television not just the usual acting, writing and directing. Considering the popularity of extra features showing the behind the scenes action on dvds I very much think the BBC missed a trick when they cancelled it.

The other reason I love Doctor Who though is because it inspires me. There’s not many shows out there that make me want to be a part of the show to the point that I begin thinking of ideas and stories of my own. I know most kids end up drawing pictures of monsters, I ended up writing a few scripts and I absolutely loved every moment of it. A Doctor Who script was the first script I ever wrote, and I now regularly return to the format to tell my stories.

From the moment the Doctor (my Doctor being David Tennant) ran around a spaceship where pockets of Madame de Pompadour’s France existed until this last Christmas when he arranged a proper date with River Song, Doctor Who has captured my imagination helped a lot by Captain Jack and his awesome coat.