Call For Writers 2

January 15, 2010 at 5:29 am (Feature, Novel Element) (, , , , , , , , , )

Okay – the poll results are in and the question that 50% of the voters wanted answered was… imagine a drum roll, it adds to the suspense:

What is the most important element of a novel to you and why?

As such, I am now calling for all the writers out there (published and unpublished) to have a go at answering this question and share their thoughts.  If you would like to participate in this it is really, really easy.

  1. Write a response to the question above (aiming for about 250 words for the response).
  2. Write a brief bio for yourself.
  3. Send me an email with your response, a picture of yourself (optional), a brief bio and a link to your blog (if you have one) before February 10.  Email address is cassandra.jade.author (at) gmail.com.  Please do not spam me.
  4. Visit the blog from February 15 and read the wonderful responses and join in the conversation that follows.

Step 5 would be good too – share this information with everyone else so that we get many participants and many comments.

For those who participated in the last call for writers, I hope you respond again because I look forward to your responses.  For those new to reading the blog, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

To recap – Novel Element Series is running from Feb 15 and I am hoping to be able to run it over the week (depending on the number of responses).  If you would like to contribute, email me your response before Feb 10.  Looking forward to seeing the responses and if you wanted a different question answered keep your eyes open for the third call to writers that will happen sometime after February.

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Why So Serious?

January 12, 2010 at 5:28 am (Character) (, , , , , , , , )

I find some characters so much harder to write than others.  I mentioned in a previous post that I find creating laconic characters really quite difficult, mostly because they won’t stop talking.  Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that I also have difficulty creating a character who could be described as the ‘comic relief’.

Part of the problem here is that my characters all take themselves far too seriously.  Most of the humour in the stories I write comes from gross misunderstandings or misinterpretation – sometimes from hyperbole or severe understatement.  Rarely do I create characters and situations that are absurd and comic for the sake of it.  I now realise that part of the reason why I haven’t written these characters and scenes is because it is really hard for me to do.  The common sense part of me kicks in and argues with the characters actions and lack of thought process.

The reason I’m suddenly concerned about this is the last couple of outlines I’ve written have required me to create a character who might at times assume the role of comic relief and yet when it has come to actually creating this character I’m drawing a complete blank.  For the moment I’m working without him but I know that eventually I’m going to need to nail this character.

This brings to mind a few questions.

1.  What makes a character funny and not just silly?

2.  How important is humour in story telling (and given I love books that make me laugh or smile in between tense situations I find humour very important)?

3.  How do you go about creating a character that is humourous?

I would love to hear your thoughts and whether you’ve ever faced a similar problem.

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First Impressions

December 26, 2009 at 5:30 am (hooks, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

First of all, I hope everyone had a good Christmas.  Now, to the post.

When you meet someone for the first time you make an instant judgement.  Sometimes that judgement is fair but usually it is usually superficial and misleading, but we still make an initial judgement.

We do that with books as well.  We look at the cover art, the title and the blurb and we make an instant judgement so that by the time we are actually sitting down to read the book we have more or less made up our minds as to whether or not we think it is going to be any good.

That’s why the first chapter of the story is so incredibly important.  It is also why the first line and the first page have to be spot on.

You could make the argument that some stories just start slow and get more interesting as they go on but most readers would agree that if the book hasn’t grabbed them in that first chapter it is unlikely that they are going to invest anymore time in it.

Look at it this way – you meet someone for the first time and you make a judgement about them that isn’t favourable but then you start talking.  They turn out to be really interesting and funny and they have something to say and so you keep talking to them or you organise a time to meet again.  The cover art and the title and the blurb may leave someone hesitant about reading the book but they decide to give it a go anyway (maybe they are bored or they’re waiting for their friend to finish browsing the book shop).  They pick up the book and read the first page.  You want them to be hooked so that when the shop owner glares at them for reading something they haven’t paid for, or their friend comes back, they buy the book and finish reading it.

So how do you write this brilliant opening? I’m still working on that but I have read a lot of advice about it.  More importantly, I think about the books I read and what has made me keep read them.  When I go to book fairs I usually grab a whole stack of books and then I stand and read the first page of each one.  If I find my fingers tweaking to turn the page I know I’m buying the book.  If I am curious about what is going to happen next, I buy the book.  If I read the first page and still haven’t been given a single reason to read on, the book goes back on the shelf.

As a reader what grabs my attention?

– Meeting a character while they are doing something.  I like character driven stories so I want to meet one of the characters as soon as possible but I don’t want them to just be described to me.  I want to see them doing something and draw my own conclusions about the character from what they do and how they do it.

– Peculiarities.  I really like reading something that is just a bit odd and makes me think, what the.  I then have to read the rest of the book to find out the why and how.  Generally I don’t try to write these openings but I love reading them.  For example, George Orwell’s ‘1984’ had the clocks striking thirteen and instantly you wondered what was going on and you were hooked into this world he had constructed.  Or at least I did.

– Really strong visuals.  This is mostly in fantasy/horror where the first page or so is usually written about the ancient evil that is awakening or seeking a way to cause havoc and these are really cliché openings for the most part but when they get it right they can be really powerful.  A good strong visual of the evil that is going to come forward later so that as we flick to the group who are going to end up battling the evil the contrast is clear, sets up a reasonably good, if predictable, story.

What don’t I like?

– Long descriptions of setting.  If I get to the end of the first page and so far all I’ve read is description, I’m going to pass.

– Bad writing.  Not necessarily grammatically bad, particularly if the story is written in first person, but bad as in slow and clunky and awkward.  If it is painful to read and has no flow I am not going to read beyond the first page.

– Dialogue between two characters that painstakingly explains the back story.  Possibly this is better than a prologue, particularly if the dialogue is well written and interesting, and possibly if it also manages to reveal something about the characters who are talking, but for the most part I’m going to pass on this story.

What do you like when you read a book?  What annoys you?  What is the best opening you have ever read?  Looking forward to hearing your ideas.

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Laconic Characters

November 14, 2009 at 5:38 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , )

Laconic characters make me work too hard.

Probably this isn’t true and it is more that because the laconic character isn’t verbalising every thought that may cross their mind I have to think long and hard about how to convey emotions, feelings, thoughts and the character of the individual.  I have come to the realisation that I rely on dialogue to convey so much of my characters.

I discovered that I really enjoy writing dialogue when challenged on webook to write a short story using dialogue only.  The description for the project included the line ‘exposition is for wimps’.  The process of telling an entire story through character dialogue, without tags, was fascinating and interesting.  Finding just the right words for a character to say to express everything and to describe a setting and give a sense of movement, without having the character dive headfirst into a monologue, was a fantastic experience.  It made me think long and hard about every line and every word.

Reverse the situation.

Write a short story using at least three characters and no dialogue.  Totally possible and yet my efforts are flat and dull and the characters are boring and generic.  I revise, look at every single line, map out what I want from each character and where I want the story to go.  Read through and tweak it all again.  Final reading, boring.  The story I constructed is good.  There is a clear and interesting plot but without the dialogue the characters are distant and without connecting to the characters the story just passes me by.

Usually this doesn’t bother me as I just make my characters verbose.  However, in one of my many works in progress, I described a character as laconic.  She was supposed to be.  It very much defined her.  Then I reread the ms.  Wow, she talks a lot for a laconic character.  Time to revise but now I have to really work at bringing out her character without her speaking.  Which brings me back to the original statement that laconic characters are making me work way too hard, or maybe they are just forcing me to think about what I’m writing.

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