Friday, 26 May 2017

Writing a great first chapter

Yup! It's the wonderful, spectacular, absolutely dreaded and loved first chapter. This is perhaps one of the chapters you spend most of your time vacillating over - does the first line hook? Does the page have micro-tension? What about the scene setting? Do I have a hook? Do my characters jump off the page? What about the voice?

*cue voice screaming inside your head...*

Image result for screaming


This is something I've been working closely on with a wonderfully talented writer & also a fellow editor with. After much back and forth, talking, brainstorming, wrist slapping, laughing, deleting, and burning of pages, we boiled it down to what we think is needed. Now, here are a few of our quick tips to get that first chapter to hold up its end of the deal.

Have a tangible goal. Your character needs to want something from the get go. Something that they need to achieve and have an all burning desire for. For example: in my WiP, I have a main character whose goal is to enter a female elite warrior guard and clear her family's sullied name so she can feel honorable again. Did you see what I did there? I have an exterior goal (become a warrior) and interior goal (clear her family's name and become honorable). You need to make sure you have a tangible goal. What do they want to achieve in the novel and why? Sum it up in one sentence and make sure it has an exterior and interior drive to it. If you make this evident in your first chapter, you create agency in your character that readers will want to follow.

Have a chapter goal. In general, I'm a plantster (half/half). This means I don't have a goal immediately going in on some chapters. However, you can bet your sweet cashew nuts that I do when I revise. Take your chapter and study it. What does your main character want to achieve here? Why? What stands in the way? What will the outcome be - success, failure, to be continued, etc.? This isn't just your tangible goal (but it will be a step toward it) - it's the goal to drive the chapter and plot forward.

Cut backstory. This is a biggie. Backstory is a lot less needed than you might think it is. Try cutting out all the backstory from your first chapter. Look and see what is 100% vital. I mean, the story won't make any sense at all ever if it's not in the first chapter. Only put that back in. The rest can be filtered in as you go through the book. This first chapter needs to be tight and compelling.

Think like your character. A lot of writers can write on autopilot. I know I can. I just tip-tap away on the keyboard and out comes my story. However, sometimes I read back and see my character looks a bit...generic on the page. That's when I sit down and try to become my character. For me, it means closing my eyes, seeing the scene. It means reading my pages out loud in the accent of my characters (hey, don't judge!). Do what works for you. Do what works for your character. Be them. Inhabit their very core.

Have fun! Don't forget that this is your passion, your heart, your art, and your story. Keep your sparkle in there!


I hope these quick tips helped, and thank you to all of those who read my blog! Remember, these are just my suggestions, but I sincerely hope they work for you like they're working for me!

Happy writing!


Friday, 19 May 2017

Writing Birthday Post - Love What You Do

Okay, so the clue is totally in the name! Today is my birthday...and do you know what I'm doing? Revising. Okay, so I can hear a collective groan. Hey, shoot me, I'm a reviser, not a drafter ;-). Some of you might think I'm on deadline, or I have nothing else to do, or I'm just a glutton for punishment. But do you know what? I'm none of the above. I'm actually doing the thing I love: writing (revising!).

I want you to take yourself back. Way back. Before you started thinking about literary agents, publishing deals, critiquing, editing, marketing, brand development, book tours... Scratch that all away for a minute... You know why? I want you to remember why you first started writing. If your aim was just monetary, then this blog might not be for you. I"m talking to the writers who wanted to explore a world they didn't know, experience something outside of their own life, pass a message to other people, soak themselves in something that wasn't in their every day humdrum (or you might have a super exciting life, and just wanted to try something new!). Whatever the reason, I'm pretty sure you started writing because you loved it.

Yup, there are times when you stare at your screen in horror - writer's block, revision panic, deadlines looming - but those first days/weeks/months of writing because it's your passion? Please don't forget those. Today, I'm ditching the serious writing hat. Instead, I'm doing what I love, just because I love it! Go on and love what you do. Throw off your serious cap, and just have fun! Trust me, it's worth it!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Persistence, Learning & Success - My Story

I've noticed all over the writing community that people are finding the current writing climate hard. This can be for a variety of reasons: writers are getting better and better so competition is hard, the world is in a strange political stance so attention can be divided, writers rush to get out there as quick as they can, and many more reasons.

However, there are two things that have never changed: Persistence and learning lead to success.

Hear me out. I know a lot of you have been pushing hard to get into a contest, land an agent, succeed at submissions, have a successful book launch. Whatever it is, you've been trying your heart out. You've read craft books. You've found your critique partners. You've read out of your own genres and dissected your own. Your fingers bleed from hitting that keyboard time after time.

And it drives you nuts that people tell you persistence and learning wins out (seriously at times that drove me crazy, and at times it still does). Because of that, I wanted to share my story with you. While my story certainly isn't finished, it's one I hope will show you that you really can move forward, as long as you keep going, keep loving writing, and keep building your social network. So for good or bad here's what my tale is like, and I hope it will help you realize you're not alone.




I wrote my first book when I was 16 (that's 20 years ago). It was 120K and a crime thriller (I have no idea why I wrote that). I sent it out in hard copy to every major publisher I could find. Lovely notes were written in the margins saying to keep trying. This is because I was 16, and I'm sure not due to any writing talent!

I wrote a book nearly every year or so. A lot of those have never seen the light of day (thankfully). I wrote not just because I loved to write, but because I wanted to learn from my own mistakes, not just reading craft alone. One book I learned pacing, another plotting, another tone (and yes, I am still (and forever will be) working on all of these things, and much more).

I read every craft book in the world, I think, I devoured books of every genre, joined critique groups, connected to the writers' community, wrote relentlessly. Ten years passed. Yup, ten. Then I got my first agent phone call. It wasn't an offer. It was a lovely encouraging call from Curtis Brown. This little light persuaded me to keep going. I was 26 and still pushing. I freelance wrote for small companies, magazines, and websites. I wrote for little money in the hours between my day job. I started to build my resume. My fees started to increase. After two years, at the grand age of 28, I was selling regularly, had a long-term freelance contract with a children's charity as a content and ghost-writer, and I was interning as a writer for a media company. I was still selling my freelance writing, too. Did I have an agent yet? Nope.

Then I took a two year break. Yup. Things got hard. Things got overwhelming. I had to breathe. So I did. Whether people agree or disagree with this break I took, I needed it. When I picked up my pen again, I was 30 years old and determined to get it right. I interned with a literary agency for a year, determined to understand more about the business. I connected with writers who were where I wanted to be. I started picking up editorial work alongside my freelance writing.

I wrote another book. I sent it into the publishing void...and I signed with an agency. I was ecstatic.
Then I went on submission...and nothing. I stayed on submission for 2 years, but no bites. So I made an impossibly hard decision and chose to leave the agency. During this two years, I had continued a different internship with an agency, and I had secured steady editorial work, as well as joining as a Pitch Wars mentor.

By the way, it was the scariest moment ever to enter the query trenches again. At this point, I'm 33.

I spent a year in the trenches and then I found my second agent. Again, I'm very excited to get going. I'm 34, with regular editorial work, have joined an editorial consultancy, and super keen to get on submission. We spend almost a year doing in depth editorial...and then my agency dropped my age category (sometimes the business world just works that way).

I'm 35. I'm still writing and working as an editor. Still hoping. I've gathered my knowledge. I'm determined. I write my new novel. I'm super excited. I send it out. And to my astonishment...multiple requests, and then some offers. I signed very recently with Maura Kye-Casella of Don Congdon Associates, and I'm absolutely thrilled. In my heart of hearts, I know she is the perfect match for me. It took a long, long time to get to a place where my feet are firmly on steady ground.

The next step? Editing and submission. Do I expect a smooth ride? No, but I hope so. I'm going to grit my teeth, give it my best, and keep pushing (wish me luck).

So, the moral of this long-winded story? Persistence and learning do work. Maybe not as quickly as you want, but they do get you there.

Some people might think I've shared a slow story that they find demotivating, but I think it shows that if you really, really want something bad enough, it can and will happen. Yes, mine took an exceptionally long time, and yes, I didn't put 85% of my books into the query trenches, but I got there in the end.

But here's to a much quicker journey for you, and if you ever need an ear to listen, you know I'm here!

Good luck!

Friday, 5 May 2017

Agent News!

I've been holding this news in for a whole, never-ending four days! Before you laugh at me, we all know how long that is for writers! In the challenging industry that is publishing, where you build your suit of armor against rejection day by day, when good news comes and you have to wait to tell it...well, it feels like forever!





So here it is: I'm absolutely thrilled to announce that I'm now represented by the wonderful Maura Kye-Casella of Don Congdon Associates, Inc.




I can't wait to get started on the next step of this journey with my dream agent - here's to many years of publishing to come!

Thank you Maura for taking a leap of faith on me and my strange little stories! :-)

And for all the other writers out there - unpublished, published, querying, aspiring - if you ever want a writing buddy who appreciates where you are and where you're going, you all know I'm here for you!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Building your writer's circle

I promised I'd add in some posts here and there until I could get things leveled off on my end. With operations up coming, a new editorial job, the script due out at the end of the year after a bit of a delay, and all sorts of other fun stuff, there has been a little less air to breathe than normal!

So, as I always do when I want to say hi again, first I'll get my horse to do it! (That way you'll smile, and will forgive me for my hiatus! Sneaky, huh?). Well, Roger can do that...






   

Now come on, even if you're not a horsey person, you can't say that didn't make you smile, can you?

Alright, but to the point. I wanted to make a quick post on how to build your writer's circle. First off, you should visit places like https://www.critiquecircle.com/ or go on the #amwriting or #amediting tags on Twitter, or talk to your local librarian. Find an online writing group and ask to join (or a local one). Check out writing contests (sometimes you can buddy up with people there). Give something to the writing community (like help organize a blog tour, or offer a critique to someone without asking for something in return) and you'll be surprised how many people will want to get to know you.

But I wanted to cover another aspect, also. Don't be scared to reach out to people who are a step above you on the ladder. As a new writer, I was terrified of talking to published authors, or an agent, or an editor, or a writer who seemed to be doing so much better than me. Now, obviously, don't bulldoze your way into their life, but don't be afraid to reach out. Maybe ask a question on #askagent, or ask a published author a question on their craft, or chat to them about something you might have in common. God, you should have seen how shy I was to approach someone just to say "Hey, I saw you tweeted this and I thought it was really helpful/funny/etc." However, you need to make sure it's organic. Don't just approach someone for the sake of climbing the ladder (it actually won't help you, at all).

I've actually ended up talking to some of my writing heroes (like Tabitha Suzuma - if you haven't read her books, then you should make sure you do that soon) just by commenting on something I genuinely found interesting on their FB or Twitter and leaving a post. I talked to authors who were already published before me, just because we connected on Facebook or Twitter, or met at a writing group.

Also, something that's really important is to be respectful, be kind, sincere, helpful...not just in it for yourself. It's a friendship you're looking for, not a resource (even though some of my friends are agents, editors, and authors, it's not why we got to know each other). Don't go in asking for something like "can you put me in touch with your agent" or "can you read my work".

My overall point is this: don't  be afraid to reach out to people in a polite, respectful way. You'll soon know if they don't want to be approached (they'll tell you or simply not answer), but they won't blackball you because you were trying to be nice. But more often than not? They'll be more than happy to engage with you. After all, they're human, writing, and creating just like you.

As for me? You might be way ahead of me in the process, or on the first steps, but it doesn't matter to me. If you want to strike up a genuine friendship, I'm always here. So go forth, be brave, be nice, be genuine, and don't be afraid to say hi!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Hiatus

Hey all!

I just wanted to let you know that the YA Bookcase blog is going to be on hiatus for a while! I really appreciate everyone who reads and keeps up with the blog. However, health problems have dictated that I need to cut back on certain activities until I'm on a more even keel. I know you guys will all understand (because, let's face it, you're awesome).

In the meantime, I will still be posting once a month on the 10th over here: YATopia. Another good blog to check out is: Writing with the Mentors. I'll be making guest posts there now and again, too.

You can still contact me via my contact and editorial pages on the webpage here.

Keep in touch!

Fiona

Friday, 17 February 2017

Writing - stuck for ideas?

Sometimes you want to write, to really write, but the ideas just aren't coming. You hop from one WiP to another, you draft out part of an outline, write down a concept, scratch together some character profiles, make notes, scribble on notepads...you name it, you do it. Sometimes though, the idea you're searching for just doesn't come, and nothing else seems to stick. So what do you do about it?

Straight off the bat I'd say that sometimes a book just isn't ready to come out yet. Yes, I do like the maxim "write every day", and I believe that can hold true once you start writing your book. However, you can't force an idea to come out. You need to let your ideas percolate without thinking about them too hard. And I don't mean think of an idea and forget about it. I mean forget about thinking about an idea. Give your brain time to breathe. Sometimes, I believe, if we pressure ourselves too much then we end up writing things we don't enjoy, pushing out words that have no passion, using half-hearted concepts, and not enjoying what we do.

Certainly, there are deadlines to meet (especially those under contract, but any good writer should have set their own deadlines, in my opinion). However, it's easier to edit a book that is written with compelling passion and with a clear goal. Otherwise, you can end up with a book that doesn't say anything in particular. If you don't care about your plot and characters enough, why should your reader?

So my one piece of advice is to sit back, close your mind off from writing, and live for a while. Personally, I take a week or two off from reading, as other books can cloud my head, too, as I'm always thinking about craft when I read. It also really helps to get offline when you can. Stop bombarding your brain and just let it be. You might be surprised what your subconscious comes up with.

I hope this idea helps you, and if not, then, as usual, just take it out of your writing toolbox and replace it with something else instead. Writing is such a fluid, personal, mutating art that there's no one way - there's just advice from one person's point of view to another, and everything's worth a try at least once.

Happy writing, and I hope those ideas keep flowing!

Friday, 3 February 2017

A privileged writer - how your fiction can help fight the good fight

We all know these are turbulent times. Whether it's in the States or elsewhere, things are in disarray. Those of us who write know that now is the time to rise up and fight for what we believe in. We all have different areas we want to fight for - equality for women's rights, minority equality, LGBTQIA rights...the list goes on, and so it should.

I, for one, support and will continue to fight for every area. Some may be selective. That selectiveness raises conflict. However, in the grand scheme, we need to realize (or at least in my opinion), that any effort to fight for equality in any area is a person moving in the right direction on something. Yes, we all want to have them fight for all equality, but we need to take every little bit we can get.

Anyway, that all said (and I welcome every opinion, as long as it's respectfully said), I wanted to talk about what privileged writers can do with their writing to help the cause. Granted, we can't take up the mantle of #ownvoices as our own voice, but what we can do is support it in our fiction. Be inclusive of all the wonderful races, religions, sexual orientations, lifestyles, and beliefs in our beautiful world. I would recommend highly getting a sensitivity reader to make sure you have this done with the most considerate hands.

But what if I don't have a multi-cultural/diverse book? I wrote it and it just wasn't there. No problem. There're are more things you can do. Go out and buy books from minority authors. Right reviews on their work. Share it. Heck, if you're published, buddy up with an #ownvoices author and go to a book launch and promote their work as much as you do your own. Consider donating part of your royalties or advance to a chosen charity to help raise funds to fight the good fight. Like one of my amazing friends did. Keely Hutton wrote an amazing book (SOLDIER BOY, available on pre-order), hand-in-hand with a man (Ricky), who lived as a child solider through the LRA in Uganda. She took on his story for him, and donated part of her advance to those suppressed and forgotten child soldiers who Ricky helps rehabilitate. She is helping their cause. Fighting for their equality and human rights.

Anything else you can do? Write about empowered characters. Write about empowering themes. Show the best can come from fighting through the worst. Show that oppression can be overcome - whether in contemporary, fantasy, thriller, or any other genre. Just do what you can.

You could even write a blog post.






Saturday, 28 January 2017

Love not Hate

This week is going to be a short & sweet post for my fellow writers, readers, and creative friends. We all know this is a tough time of year, and that many people feel frightened, lied to, unsettled, and at unrest. However, as much as we are all hurting, the real change starts at the grassroots level. Make sure you spread love and kindness every day.

I don't mean just think loving thoughts - I mean do loving things. Help the person needing help. Listen to the other person's views, even if you don't agree with them. It will teach you how to understand, and understanding is one of the first steps towards change.

I urge creative people to make art using their words, hands, hearts, and minds to show the wonderful diversity of our world. Yes, show the anger, the frustrations, and the suppression. But don't forget to show the love, the compassion, the fight of the human spirit. Be the person, every day, that a child will look up to and aspire to be. We may not all have the chance to do as much as we want, but we all have the choice to do what we can.

Be the person that you wish you could be. Be the person that you looked up to. We do not always have to fight with fire - though sometimes we need to - but we can all fight with love, compassion, and grace.

So my fellow artists, go and be the light our world so desperately needs. No good act is ever too small.

With love from my family to all of yours x.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Filling in plot holes

Let's face it, they happen to everyone. Wide chasms that yawn into the dark beyond in our books. Unless you are the most fastidious outliner (and sometimes even if you are), you're bound to get hit by a plot hole sooner or later. They can instill a feeling of dread: How am I going to fix this? Oh no, my story is ruined. Do I have to pick everything apart? Is there a quick fix? Should I just leave it and hope no one notices?

Pretty much most people have these feelings, and it can be oh so tempting to try and ignore that they're there. But it's much better to face them head on, as hard and daunting as that may seem.

So what to do about them?

My process might be different from someone else's, but this is what works for me: Firstly, I make a bullet point list of what happens in each chapter, scene by scene. Here, I'm looking for whether the character motivation leads to the right reaction, or if the new plot element installed makes logical sense. If the first scene is in order, then I move onto the next, and so on. It's likely it's the set up of the event and not the troublesome scene that's the issue, and fixing that could resolve your problems. Usually, I find this fixes most plot holes. Is it long and somewhat gruelling work? Sometimes. Is it worth it? Always.

If that hasn't quite done it, then I zoom out to my macro plot. I take the plot to one side, and identify the main issue (usually pretty clear when it comes to macro plot evaluation). Then comes the creative bit. I don't look for what the answers are; I look at what isn't the answer. For me, it can become quite daunting having to think up the right answer (kind of like brain freeze on a game show). I find it easier to rule out what won't work. Beginning with the outlandish and whittling it down to the "realistic but doesn't quite work" options helps me to come to a point where I can see what will work. For me, this process helps take the pressure off when it comes to getting the right answer.

Well what if that doesn't work? What then? This is a good question, and I don't think there is any one definite answer. Books are as different as fingerprints, and so are their plot holes. However, there is some advice I can offer from my own experiences: seek help. Ask your critique partners for suggestions. Yes, they aren't there to think up your solution for you, but they might ignite an idea that does suit your book. You could also think about researching more about your craft. There are tons of books out there that cover every topic from prose to plot holes. Yes. they won't have a specific solution directly written for your book, but they will open your mind to different avenues of thought and different ways of thinking. This can make all the difference when it comes to looking at your plot holes. A new perspective can do wonders. I also believe that setting your book aside for a week or two and getting some distance is a tried and true way of letting the mind steep. Go and fill your creative well. Let your subconscious do the work. When you get back to your book, the answer might well be there.

Hopefully, some of these suggestions will help you on your way to fixing your plot hole issues. As always, each book and each writer is different. Don't be afraid to try new things, but don't hold on too tight to those things that don't work for you. Best of luck with fixing your plot holes, and here's to complete stories with no bumps in the road!

Friday, 13 January 2017

How to analyze your book successfully

Looking at your book critically is tough, and knowing whether you're doing it correctly is even harder, even with the advice of your critique partners. Sometimes you have so much differing advice that you can't see the woods for the trees. Sometimes you have so little feedback you don't have a clue what to even consider. So what do you do when you want to analyze and edit your book successfully? While I can't read everyone's individual book to give my opinion, I do have a few techniques that help my book improve through each editing round.

One of the most important things to me is the emotion that comes through from your character. Pull your character out of the story. I mean really look at what your character would be like if they didn't have a plot to follow. Who are they? If you met them on the street and you didn't know them, in which way would they reveal their personality? No one gives away everything about themselves the minute they meet another person. Things come out gradually. You get to know each other. Trust each other before you divulge more. Look at a real life situation of the last person you met. How did that go? What made you connect with them the moment you met? What took your attention? Why did you eventually trust them? Pinpoint those moments as best you can. Then compare that to your character and apply the same process. Once you've done that, you've taken your first step.

Next, I look at the plot and draw up a list of bullet points of everything that's happened. I can now look at my character and take that information I just learned and see where and when they would reveal themselves. I can see which plot elements would affect their emotions and I can see how they would react. Where they would clam up like a shell. Where they would trust the reader to give away a little bit more of themselves. A reader/character relationship is about trust. The reader must trust the character, but the character must equally trust the reader. While most characters don't realize there is a reader (unless you use certain narrative devices), you still have a two-way relationship going on. That's what shows why and where the character feels/does/reacts to the plot in the way they do. In this way it becomes authentic and real.

There are a lot of other elements to look at when analyzing your novel, but, for me at least, this one is the most important. Your character, emotions, and plot create the core of the story. This is what your readers care about most, and they are inextricable from each other.

I hope this has helped, but as always, take what works for you, and junk what doesn't. Don't follow every piece of advice blindly. This is my view, and if it resonates with you, I am all the more glad.

Happy revising my loyal readers, and I'm rooting for your continued success!



Friday, 6 January 2017

2017 - The Writing Year

The bells have rung, the holidays have whizzed by, and we're all back at work (well, most of us anyway). We're fired up, feeling motivated, some of us wrote for Nanowrimo, some of us have made promises to get that novel finished, or get that novel written. New beginnings abound, and positivity fills the air. This will be our Writing Year.

We all know that New Year's resolutions can be hard to keep though. Some of us are great at it; some of us not so much. So how, exactly, do we keep ourselves chugging (or charging forward)? What will inspire, motivate, and push us to keep writing throughout the coming year? For me, there are many things.

1) Keeping a note of why you love what you do. Not just your story or your book right now. Remind yourself, write it on the wall if you need to, but remember...why do you love writing? Why does it burn a fire in your soul?

2) Remember why you love the novel you're writing. What did you fall in love with first? Was it your characters? Your plot? Your setting? Your concept? It can be any element. It isn't about what you think you should like. It's about what you do like. Use this to keep your current story growing.

3) Accountability. If you want to write a book, you have to finish it. If you want a good book, you have to edit it. If you want an agent, you need to submit to them. And so the list goes on. Your goals can be big or small; it doesn't matter. What matters is that you hold yourself accountable. Some people do this publically in a YouTube video, others on a word counter on their blog, some tell their writing friends, and others use their pride. Whatever works for you, that's what you should do.

4) Give yourself a break now and again. Writing is joy and passion. It's also a lot of hard work. Sometimes you need a little bit of a holiday. And why not? Refresh your muse. Focus your mind. Let new ideas enter it. Stop obsessing. I know, that last one is hard, but you need more in your life than just writing a book. It's a passion, but it's not an obsession, it's not a definition of who you are. Do other things in your life, too, and it will fill your writing with zing and zest.

5) Have fun. Experiment. Go wild,. Do something new. Try something old. Keep yourself guessing. Try a competition. Try freehand writing. Try painting your characters. Just try something.

6) Don't do everything you're told to do if you don't want to. This includes this list. Do what feels right for you. Always.


I wish you all a happy, successful, and prosperous New Year, and I can't wait to see what happens with each and every member of my blog. I'm inspired by you following and reading, and I hope for your great success in 2017!