The Art Of Seduction

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There are three types of writers in this world:

  1. Those that drag out the story for so long that you start to lose interest and begin thinking of all the other books you could be sleeping with reading.
  2.  Those that race to the finish – so just when you start to get into it, it’s all over,  leaving you feeling short-changed.
  3. Those that get the balance just right – creating enough tension and complexity to hold our interest until the very end and perhaps leave us wanting more.

Having just completed the NaNoWrimo challenge in November 2015, I now have a wordcount of just over 50,000, which puts me in the 2nd category.  While January is traditionally the time when we are told to shed bulk, I am once again bucking the trends and hoping to pile on pages as I attempt to ‘beef out’ my novel, without adding any lard!  And therein lies the rub; how do you tease out your novel, without affecting the pace or losing the reader’s interest?

We’ve all read a novel where the writer has obviously been told to make the story longer in order to fit some publisher’s guidelines and the story has suffered as a result.  You don’t want to just add length to your novel for the sake of it – you want to draw out the pleasure of letting your story unfold, keeping your reader entertained along the way with various diversions and sleight of hand.  I like using NaNo as a tool to get a rough draft of my story down, but in order to get the readers to fall under my spell, the real art of seduction begins now.

According to Erika Mailman’s article in The Writer, your novel should have somewhere between 6 and 11 threads (based on her research of bestselling novels).

Some beginning novelists create plots that are too straightforward, with all the attention focused on a single pending event in the book. Readers, though, prefer a little more complexity, a story that better mirrors the intricate interweavings of real life.

If you want to increase your thread count, consider some sub-plots for your secondary characters (who can often end up like minions, there to do your bidding).  Give them their own conflicts that ultimately tie in with the overall plot.  Consider your overall themes when introducing new plot threads and if done correctly, your story should feel as rich as Egyptian cotton!

One of the cardinal rules of writing is ‘show, don’t tell’.  See if there are any scenes where you’ve summarized (told) instead of dramatized (shown).  Now is the time to get back in there and write the scene almost like a screenplay.  This is an excellent opportunity to increase the allure of your book to the reader.  Unless you are writing non-fiction, there is no point in describing the action to your readers – you want them to live it and keep them wondering ‘what will happen next?’

Adding characters is another way to add to your word count, but you need to be careful not to overwhelm the reader with random people who don’t have very much to do with the plot.  It might be easier to develop a character who already exists by exploring their relationships and deepening the bond between them and the main characters.  Creating ‘bonding moments’ between characters in your novel can give the reader a chance to breath between scenes and enjoy the natural progression of these relationships.  You could also explore their character traits in more detail, focusing on their unique qualities which eventually tie in to the overall plot.

Fleshing out characters is probably the most important aspect of editing, but fleshing out the descriptions of your settings is equally important.  It’s much easier to fill in these vital pieces of information after the first draft is completed, as you can really take your time and luxuriate in your descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of your setting.  Just be careful not to overdo it – remember that you’re not writing a travel guide!

Finally, in order to steady the pace of your novel and avoid giving it all away too soon,  you could expand upon your characters’ interior monologue.  Again, this is a clever device that allows the reader a greater insight into your character’s thought process, while keeping the pages turning.

We all want our heroes to win out in the end, but that doesn’t mean we want an easy ride.  We want to be taken to the edge, challenged, surprised and led up the garden path just long enough to make the journey worth while.

 

 

 

 

New Book, New Soundtrack

With NaNoWriMo almost at an end, I’m happy to say that my new novel (book number three!) is really taking shape and I love it!  I’m living in the world of my book, becoming more familiar with my characters and my surroundings.  One of the most important ways for me to connect with this imaginary place is to create a soundtrack that instantly takes me there.

Now normally, I sing like a canary and can’t wait to give away all the secrets like the story-line, the title, etc. but not this time.  I’ll just say that it is set in rural Ireland in 1910 and it is a veritable love letter to simpler times.

So, in order to give you a taste (or a listen!) of what to expect, here is the soundtrack I’ve been listening to while writing everyday.  It’s traditional with a contemporary twist.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find one song, ‘Eleanor A Run’ on Spotify, so here it is on Soundcloud.  It’s a traditional air sung by the spellbinding Roisin Elsafty.  This song genuinely brought me to tears when I heard it (in a good way!).  I think it really embodies the beauty, the sorrow and the uniqueness of the Irish culture.

Happy listening 🙂

The Highs and Lows of NaNoWriMo 2015

nano_featureI’m sure everyone who isn’t doing NaNoWriMo wishes the rest of us would shut up about it.  But it’s a bit like giving up smoking – if you tell enough people that you’re doing it, there’s a good chance that your fear of looking like a failure will get you through!

This is my second Nano, and like some women say of childbirth, you somehow forget the pain when you have the bundle of joy in your arms and before you know it, you’re planning your next.  I obviously forgot the pain when I signed up again this year, so let me just get this down on record (in case I take a fit and decide to do this again next year) IT’S TORTURE!  And it’s bloody relentless too.  You’ve just started congratulating yourself on today’s hard earned word count, when it’s morning again and you’re faced with another 1,600 word target.  (And that’s if you haven’t fallen behind).

I’m sure there are worse things in life, and I could be accused of being melodramatic, but arriving at that blank screen with the pressure to keep up with the ever-increasing graph line, starts to feel like cutting yourself open and squeezing out something that you hope will resemble prose.  Every word sounds clunky and clichéd and you often have to look away as you type, so you won’t be tempted to call the ‘Writing Police’ to come and lock you away for your own safety, as well as that of your readers.

But then, something clicks – a new character arrives, a plot twist just appears from nowhere, or a beautiful scene practically writes itself and you think – ‘Hey!  This could be my greatest work to date!  I’ve SO got this.’  And all of a sudden – Nano is the best thing ever invented!  Writing is a pleasure again and you find yourself with a rather smug look on your face, as you fill the silence with that glorious sound of your fingertips tapping the keys at a jaunty pace.  Until tomorrow morning when the process starts all over again.

To say Nano is an emotional rollercoaster is an understatement – and this is just week one!  But to be honest, that’s what writing is.  It’s a hard, long, slow slog and your harshest critic is all you have for company.  Nano just condenses the process, which can really test your commitment and your resolve, but it’s also an amazing opportunity to get that awkward first draft down on paper.  I heard someone describing it as clay.  These 50,000 words are clay that can be moulded into a novel and for that,  Nano is a really useful tool.

I have been researching, dreaming, and sketching this novel for 10 months now.  The theme is very dear to me and I think I became so fixated on getting it right, that I couldn’t get it written.  Nano has removed all sentimentality and required me to just write and keep writing.  If you enjoy a challenge and find yourself oddly motivated by feelings of guilt and insecurity, then Nano is for you!  Because, despite all of my giving out,  I know I will be so happy to have my little bundle of clay at the end of it.  But if I even hint that I might sign up for this next year – please refer me to this post!  Roll on week two!

Treasures in the attic

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always loved exploring in the attic for old boxes full of letters, cards and little mementos.  I suppose this could become a thing of the past, thanks to the electronic age, but for me, nothing beats that musty old smell when you open up a long-forgotten shoe box (hopefully it doesn’t actually contain shoes!), stuffed with memories and little keepsakes you can’t bear to throw away.  As a writer, these little treasure hunts are priceless.

My new novel is based in France and during the editing process, I thought I would have my protagonist deal with some French bureaucracy.  I spent a year in France on an Erasmus exchange – I’ve always had a love of the language, the culture and the beautiful landscape – so I thought I’d dig up some of my old paperwork from that time.  Needless to say, I got no work done today!  I spent hours pouring over old photos, documents from my college, notes to friends (in fluent French – not sure I could do that now!) and contracts for my ‘stage’ or internship with Airbus.  It brought me right back to that time, how I felt arriving there as a foreigner, the cultural differences, the challenges I had, missing my family.  Opening that box of memories has given me lots of extra little ideas to ground my novel using those experiences.  

I found some old love letters up there too (cringe!) which will no doubt make it into another novel in the future.  Ah young love, it’s always so dramatic 🙂  Now all I need to do is find out how to break into other peoples’ attics and I’ll have inspiration for my writing for the next 30 years!

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Challenging Times…

So I’m starting to think it might have been easier to grow a moustache than write a novel for the month of November!  Still, my word count is just over 24,000 words after two weeks of frantic typing, so that is certainly something to celebrate.  In fact my second novel is really starting to take shape at lightening speed, which is really rather strange for me.  My style of writing up to this point has been to edit as I go along.  It’s such a challenge to shift your focus to the word count and in the beginning, I really didn’t hold out much hope for this technique.  However, it’s actually been quite liberating, because you are free to just get the bones of the story down without worrying too much about the finished product. 

Of course the only real drawback is that you have to say goodbye to your life for the month!  Morning, noon and night, you become obsessed with word counts and updating your total everyday.  Watching other members posting higher word counts is definitely an incentive to keep typing – I’m even in a word war (go Connaught!) to win the overall word count total in Ireland.  Anything to keep the motivation going.

So I’m not sure how this story is going to end – whether I’ll have the 50,000 word total at the end that means I’m a NaNo winner, or if I’ll have the makings of a first draft, but either way, NaNo is a truly unique and challenging way to get writing now.  But if you can grow a moustache for Movember, you might have a better chance of hanging on to your social life.

To be continued…

Must – keep – writing!

Hello all,

Today is the one week anniversary of my NaNoWriMo adventure and I’m delighted to report that it’s actually going quite well (I’m whispering that last bit, as I don’t want to jinx it!)  Novel number two is really taking shape and I have to say I’m loving it.  It’s strange because, when you finish a novel, it’s almost hard to say goodbye to the characters because you’ve spent so much time getting to know them and living in their world.  However, NaNoWriMo has given me the perfect opportunity to move forward with my new novel and to meet a whole host of new characters.  And just between you, me and the world wide web, it’s set in France with some historical elements and a great jazz soundtrack!  That’s all I’m giving away for the moment.

In the meantime, I am organising a blog tour extravaganza for the week of December 9th, so stay tuned for more details on that.  There will definitely be giveaways and offers and lots of interviews, blog posts and other bits n’ bobs to look forward to.  Also, for anyone interested in writing and having their novel published, there is a fantastic online workshop for FREE run by Writers Web TV and you can watch it tomorrow here.

That’s all for now folks and to all my fellow NaNo’s, keep writing!!