5 Reasons for Reading Outside of Your Genre

May 24, 2010 at 6:41 am (Genre, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

It is advice that you hear all the time.  Writers should read widely.  They should read outside of their preferred genre.  Some people even go so far as to give you a specific list of books you must read (I always worry when someone tells me I must read something – it usually leads to me spending many weeks turning one page at a time and finding multiple other things to do).

I do however think it is good advice to read anything and everything you have the time to read – even things you know you are going to hate before you begin them. Here are my 5 reasons why:

1.  It is less likely you will end up emulating one particular author or group or authors if you have read widely. Having seen language used so many different ways it is unlikely you will latch onto any one person’s style and so you have more chance to find your own voice.

2.  Very few books fall into only one genre. Most have elements of many genres mixed together. Fantasy for instance usually has adventure, mystery, coming of age, romance, drama, horror and a range of other genres interlaced.  It helps to have read a wide range of genres so that you can develop these ideas within your own genre.

3.  Sometimes you discover something amazing. As I said, I usually worry when someone gives me a book and tells me I have to read it. I tend to have images of high school going through my brain and trying to read the class novel and not fall asleep and then remember enough of the story to write about it afterward. But sometimes, you discover a real gem. Something that just works for you.

4.  Even reading something you don’t like can improve your writing. If you critically analyse what it is you don’t like about what you are reading it will make you more critical of your own writing and how the reader will receive it.

5.  Particularly if you are write what you know kind of author, more experiences are better. Reading outside your genre, you never know what you might learn.

What do you think? Do you read outside your genre or do you stick with what you know?

Also, what is the worst book you’ve ever had to read because someone has requested you read it?

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Is it a fashion statement?

May 22, 2010 at 5:01 am (Character, Setting) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I usually have a lot of fun dressing my various characters.  Mostly because I have such a strong mental image of the character and few of them ever dress for what they end up doing – plus I set them in fantasy worlds and so I don’t really worry about whether people dressed like that in any particular era or not.

That said, the protagonist in my latest WIP is giving me all kinds of trouble. I have a strong mental image of her but the clothes keep changing and they are always very practical, clothes. Lots of leather and denim and most of it torn and patched, which given the hostile nature of the world I’m building makes perfect sense. But it isn’t all that fun to write about. Still, every time I try to dress her differently I just think, there is no way she’s going to wear that skirt and she certainly isn’t going to wear bright colours and try to attract a lot of attention.

I did destroy her denim jacket though. Which lead to the very touching boy lending her his brown vinyl jacket scene which wasn’t really an improvement on her look but was an interesting interaction between the two characters.

Dressing your characters? Fashion statement or practical? Or both? Love to hear your views.

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Small Spaces and Long Drives

May 19, 2010 at 6:17 am (Author Info, Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

I spent the weekend in a small car hurtling along a road that I suppose should be called a highway (it was certainly named so on the map).  I will point out that the only thing holding the road together was the roadkill and the only good thing about it being a highway was that you were travelling fast enough that you never really had to look at what you were driving over – eww.

What do you do on long car rides?

I can’t read in the car.  I can’t watch movies or play games or do anything that might stop me from becoming mind-numbingly bored because as soon as I do I get dreadfully sick.  So when I wasn’t behind the wheel and wishing that I didn’t have to focus on the small lumps smearing the road ahead what was there to do? (Conversation is of course out of the question given the driver doesn’t want to be distracted and the other passengers were trying to sleep.)

Well, I ended up doing what I always do when stuck somewhere with nothing to do.  I planned.

Before I left on the trip I had just started a new scene for my current WIP and was unhappy with how it had begun.  While I was staring out the window at the brown grass spreading in every direction, I played the scene through in my head.  Then I reversed and added a different beginning.  That didn’t really work, so I tweaked something else.  I continued to play with the scene in my head until I finally played it through and realised it was perfect. All of the issues I’d been having were resolved.

And only six hours to go until I could find a pen to write it all down in a notebook so that when I got home I could try to fix the scene for real.

What do you end up doing on long car rides?

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5 Things Your Protagonist Probably Shouldn’t Do

May 17, 2010 at 5:50 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Unless, of course, there is a valid reason.

Under most circumstances these are 5 things that protagonists shouldn’t be getting up to.

1.  Waiting for another character to solve all of the problems and hand them a nice tidy package.  I’m not pointing fingers at any single, scarred, boy wizard for this one (in one of his later books), but protagonists should be actively involved in trying to work through the conflicts, not passively sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone to tag them and say that it is now time for them to get involved.

2.  Getting over things. This one is something I’ve found in quite a few stories that I’ve started reading and then abandoned. Midway through a major conflict the character just get’s over it and decides that something is no longer important.  If your protagonist gives up caring about a problem, odds are the reader is going to as well.

3.  Getting side tracked and never returning to the original complication. Yes, side plots are great but if your protagonist gets tangled up in a side plot to the point where the original problem is left dangling and never resolved then this is going to bother your reader.

4.  Have a personality transplant midstory.  There is a difference between developing a character and throwing out a character midway through the plot and suddenly having a doppelgänger with the same name but no other resemblance to the original character running around.

5.  Drop dead in the second act. By all means, kill your protagonist off if the story calls for it, but if we’ve been following this character so far and now they are dead and there is still almost a third of the story to go, as reader’s we are going to feel resentful.

What do you think?  Is there any thing your protagonist should just not do?

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Lots of Links

May 16, 2010 at 6:26 am (Thoughts on Writing, Weekly Review) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Not reflecting on the week anymore – mostly because I don’t know from week to week whether I’m going to be online or off anymore (hopefully I’ll be online more often than off).  However, I still want to share some great writing links so here they are.

I’ll start with the self-promotion and get it out of the way.  If you haven’t checked out Death’s Daughter, here’s the link.  Or you can read an excerpt here. And if you happen to have a kindle you can buy it from Amazon here.  Self-promotion over and onto some useful links for all the writers out there.

My Pick

Let the Words Flow asks nine writers whether they outline their plots before writing.  Some great insight.

Other Links

  • Jane Friedman from There Are No Rules has once again shared a list of the best tweets for writers – which comes with a whole lot of links that writers may find helpful. Well worth checking out.
  • Helen Ginger on Straight from Hel looks at the use of details in a story.
  • Beth Groundwater on Inkspot shares some useful brainstorming techniques.

Hopefully some of these links will be helpful for you and if you have some other links that you would like to share, feel free to leave them in the comments. Just try to make sure they are writing related. Thanks.

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How did Calandra get her name?

May 15, 2010 at 7:29 am (Character, Death's Daughter, fantasy) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Okay, it was brought to my attention prior to publishing Death’s Daughter that Cassandra (my name) and Calandra (my protagonist’s name) are kind of similar.  There are two things I have in common with my protagonist. One – we both like boots. I have a serious liking for wearing boots and my protagonist is equally obsessed.  Two – our names start with the letter C and have a similar number of syllables.

Possibly people who know me will point out a few other similarities but as far as I’m concerned, those two points are it.  I love Calandra as a character, particularly as she grows throughout the story, but I don’t know that I would ever want to be compared to being too much like her.

So, how did Calandra Delaine end up with such a name?

I remember reading a book as a child where one of the characters were called Callie. I always thought it was a great name. When I started writing the story I decided I’d like for another character in the story to call the protagonist Callie in an affectionate way and then I had to find a full name that could conceivably be shortened to Callie (It seemed like a good idea at the time). I pulled out a dictionary of names and narrowed it down fairly quickly.  Here are some of the easily rejected names:

  • Calanthe
  • Calliope
  • Callista

As you can see, not a lot of choice. Besides, I read the name Calandra and I just knew. I had found the name my character needed. If I ever had second thoughts about it, Calandra would be sure to point out to me that she knows her own name and that she would not stand for me arbitrarily changing it on her.

cover art

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Rules for Writing Fiction

May 13, 2010 at 7:25 am (Planning, Structure, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , )

I visited a blog called the Life and Laughs of me the other day and came across a post entitled, Rules for Writing Fiction.  It is well worth a read if for nothing else than to get you thinking about whether you have any rules you follow consistently when writing fiction.

Personally, I disagreed with rule 8 on this list.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Personally I like being kept in suspense as a reader, as long as the revelation is worth the wait.

That said, number 6 – be a sadist – is an excellent rule.  Just because you feel connected to your protagonist and have spent so much time on them doesn’t mean you shouldn’t heap ruin and pain upon them. It makes for a far more interesting story.

So what are your rules for writing fiction?

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I Am Not A Blade of Grass

May 12, 2010 at 6:31 am (Editing, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

Okay, I am aware that the list of things I am not would far surpass the list of things that I am.

I’ve recently realised that despite my being part of gen Y and being fully aware that language is a dynamic, living, changing  thing and that I am a very big fan of splitting infinitives and breaking other traditional grammatical rules, I am not simply going to go wherever the wind is blowing.

Specifically, I’ve recently realised that when I’m reading other people’s blogs, I don’t mind the occasional spelling error or sentence fragment. Most of us write blogs quickly, do a once over and a spell check and that’s about it. If someone points out a massive error in the comments, maybe go back and edit. Blogs are not generally going to be a perfectly polished type of text. Some people will disagree with me and I know there are people who spend ages over each blog and that works for them.

Despite that, it really bothers me when I’m reading a blog and it isn’t punctuated. I’m not talking about every comma being in the right place and correct use of semi-colons, I’m just talking about basic full stops and capital letters with an occasional apostrophe. It really puts me off to the point where I don’t remember the content at all. Same with lower case I’s. It doesn’t take that much more effort to tag the shift key while typing to make it a capital.

Maybe this is me being overly pedantic about things other people don’t find important but there we have it. It interferes with my ability to enjoy content.

I’d love to hear your opinion.

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Response to Writing Blind

May 11, 2010 at 7:39 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I ran across a post by Kyle on his blog “Exercise in Futility” called Writing Blind and really started thinking.  Kyle asks:

How much should I know about my story before sitting down to start on a draft?  Should I have the entire plot mapped out, with all the main plot points, or should I just go with it, and write whatever comes to mind?

And really, we all ask that question from time to time. We get an idea, get really excited and maybe want to leap straight into writing, and some people have to start writing straight away or they lose that spark, that fire, whatever it is that drives them to write the idea down. Others know from experience that they have to have at least an outline, while others still won’t consider drafting without detailed chapter by chapter break downs and six hundred colour coded notes on each character.

I’ve come to understand my own writing pattern fairly well and ever I still wonder whether I could do it better. I don’t plan too much. Mostly because I don’t look at any of my notes once I start writing the first draft. I just don’t. I close my eyes and type and when I feel my fingers slowing I read what I’ve written and sometimes start writing again and sometimes read blogs or tweets or go watch television or do some other work until I feel ready to write again.

However I never start a draft without having written out an outline and character profiles and concept maps. I have a notebook with all of these things in it. I just don’t use them once I’m writing.

My theory is it is a safety net. It’s like when I used to play the clarinet. I would practise a piece over and over again. I could play it perfectly. It could play it without ever actually looking at the music and I knew this because half the time I would forget to turn the page of the music. However, if someone took the music away I suddenly would freeze and wouldn’t be able to tell you what the first note was. The music was my safety net. I didn’t need it, but it made me feel like I knew what I was doing and so I was fine.

My note book with my plans is my safety net. If I get really, really stuck on something and I desperately want to finish it (though usually when I’m that stuck it is because what I’m working on is rubbish) I can go back and see where I was meant to be going and where I’ve gone wrong. That and I usually remember most of what I’ve written down in the book anyway and so I’m following the plan and just adding bits to it and tweaking it as I go.

And that works for me.

The advice I read many time, given to me by many of the bloggers out there, when I first started trying to write for something more than my own enjoyment was that every writer has to find what works for them. Read what others do and then try some of the different suggestions but don’t feel like there is some ‘right’ way to accomplish the task.

Incidentally, I would love to hear what is working for other people at the moment because I’m always looking for new ideas.

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Been Tagged

May 10, 2010 at 8:16 am (Author Info, Feature) (, , , , , , , )

I was tagged by Alex J. Cavanaugh

For a “Tag” you answer 5 questions 5 times to share a bit about yourself. So here goes.

Question 1 – Where were you five years ago?

I was at university.

I sold donuts and coffee.

I was five years younger.

My favourite anime was still Sailor Moon (which is incredible but is no longer my favourite).

I spent nearly ten hours a week on trains.
Question 2 – Where would you like to be in five years?

Still teaching.

Still writing.

I want to have travelled to at least three countries (hopefully Japan and Canada feature in those).

Have read a lot more books.

Finally learnt to reverse park?

Question 3 – What is on your to-do list today?

Watch the morning news.

Work.

Hot chocolate.

Hopefully write something.

Work some more really.
Question 4 – What snacks do you enjoy?
Chocolate biscuits.

Chocolate bars.

Chocolate cake.

Chocolate drinks.

Anything chocolate.
Question 5 – What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?


Build a library and fill it with books that I would enjoy reading.

Build my own cinema complex and watch all the movies I love.

Try to fund a program that would help others – though I’ve never really thought about it because I’m unlikely to ever have the money to do it.

Shoes – a pair of boots for every occasion.

Travel, lots.
The rules are that I get to pass the Tag along to 5 Bloggers I admire….

Stephen Tremp

Elizabeth Spann Craig

Eric – from Working my Muse

Little Scribbler

Barb – from Creative Barb Wire

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