Re-structuring a novel

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Trilogy, A Relative Invasion

This post is about the time when I was re-structuring a novel, the first of my historical trilogy.

Many writers will have experienced coming back and back to a novel knowing there’s a problem but not quite identifying it. Weeks go by without success, then suddenly a solution unexpectedly clicks into place. In this particular case, I didn’t even know I was looking for a solution. I only knew I was seeking some net for the structure. After several rewritings and countless reworking, I was still dissatisfied. However, it’s no bad thing to recognise that something is not quite right and to persevere with re-structuring a novel.

A few agents rejected this book because it is written in the child’s voice. I could have changed this, but after considering alternatives, I remained committed to it. It is very difficult to capture the thinking of a child as he grows from the age of five years to adulthood.

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Novel re-structuring of boy’s time. Knitting socks for soldiers

You need to get the internal language and the mental focus right at each stage; through early then middle childhood, teenage to young adulthood, especially when you’ve chosen the close third person for telling the story. You must stay in the child’s mindset with the child’s focus. It took me a long time to ‘hear’ Billy’s voice aright. Readers of Books 1 (Intrusion) and 2 (Infiltration) have commented very favourably about it, so I feel justified in my decision.

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chapped knees in winter

Billy is a teenager in Book 3, Impact, my work-in-progress. Post-war London left little to optimism so the voice has lost much unworldliness. However,  some innocence still remains, like the short trousers, until the age of fourteen or more.

I recognise that some readers wonder who the target reader is. Is it a child’s book because the protagonist is a child? The pace suggests otherwise and there’s mileage in reading of adult behaviour seen through the child’s eyes. Can a book be for adults when the chapters show the experience of a child? Does his world matter enough? Does his viewpoint count?

My approach to the trilogy uses a child’s mind that is open to possible questions, awaits answers. Therefore, I stuck with the child as a protagonist, one who shows the reader a world from his perspective. How powerful the child’s pov can be! But the reader is adult, s/he can form different opinions and add more sophisticated understanding to the child’s fragmentary view.

However, I felt the work needed some re-structuring. Coming up to finishing Book 1 I felt there was some basic lever or pin-hole missing.  I needed a device for letting the reader look down from adulthood in a systematic form, as well as up from childhood, throughout the plotline.

One day, for no apparent reason, in walking from one room to another, the device suddenly came to me. I could head each chapter with a news headline for the date of each chapter. This would put ‘adult concerns’ in the mind of the reader as s/he read about the child’s.

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Need for re-structuring! The typical post-war playground

Now I am on the third book in the trilogy. Looking around his old environment, Billy is in no doubt about what has happened. WWII is over, but for the author, the headlines and the timeline are far more difficult to compile. Am I committed to the re-structuring I did earlier? I am working urgently to finish Impact but may be gone some time . . .

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Genre? Striking a new note.

 

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What genre?

Writers are always advised to be clear about their book’s genre and to concentrate upon a target group for it. Fantasy stories, for readers of fantasies, sci fi for sci fi readers, and so on. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to please an audience of one genre with your book in a totally different one? That would be a real achievement. I suspect that multiply-awarded Wolf Hall has not managed this. However, it can happen.

Let’s take music as an example. I’ve never liked jazz, despite the fact that my eldest is a musician playing both classical and jazz. It irritates me, the extemporisation on a theme. Simple soul, I want the theme, please. But then one day the Hot Sardines came on the radio and converted me. For those non-jazz lovers, this is a band that has put on wild live shows all around New York City – and now much further in the world.

I was chatting to a young teenager who had only ever read Harry Potter for his leisure reading and was forced to read ’The Scarlet Pimpernel ‘ as curriculum work. Reluctantly, and after much grumbling, he ‘worked through’ the book and came out a convert to historical fiction. ‘I really reckoned the French Revolution and the scheming. Cool. I’m into it now.’ Mightn’t he have been easier to motivate if the cover hadn’t been the one shown below right?

The fact that this series had a very wide appeal is demonstrated by the very different covers, presumably targeting contrasting reader groups. Here are just a few. On a bookshop table, each would likely attract very different shoppers. Scarlpimp Scarlpimp2 Scarlpimp3 136116

It makes you think, if you’re a writer yourself, doesn’t it? It is pretty easy to change a cover and re-upload your title, or to have several covers showing for sale. A number of long-standing successful novels have two or more different covers.

Here’s one of John Wyndham’s, again likely to appeal to different audiences:

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Of course you need a title that doesn’t confine you; ‘Lolita’ or ‘War and Peace’, for instance.

Otherwise, one advantage of being an Indie author is that you have control over your own covers. Almost worth avoiding mainstream publishing for that fact alone?

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Character-writing: resources

Writing characters? E.M. Forster admitted that “We all like to pretend we don’t use real people, but one does actually. I used some of my family …”

Perhaps you can’t or won’t do that. As a writer, you will need different resources for bringing your characters to life.

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Character invisible on the stage

You may have access to a group or category of people who encapsulate the characteristics you want for your character. But perhaps the stage is empty . . .

You want to give your character a convincing appearance and a convincing voice. It’s good if  you can summon up a face and voice that is still in your head. But suppose that isn’t the case and you need to create one? You won’t want the fruit of someone else’s vision — i.e. you don’t want to copy a character from a film or tv script.

Feeling stuck? Try these resources:

  1. Documentary films. The British Film Institute site is not just for buying films you’ve missed seeing. Let’s say your character is a steelworker in 1948. You can see a 1948 close-up of steel production to get the manufacturing process vivid and exactly right, take in the working clothes worn at that time (including a man in a suit working with heavy machinery) and hear the tones and terminology of the narrator.

  2. Oral History interviews  are a wonderful source of actual opinions and attitudes. You can hear audio clips of contemporary voices such as those being compiled by the BBC’s Listening Project, or past voices in archives such as those at East Midlands Oral History Archive, or in the US via the G. Robert Vincent Voice Library – a collection from 1888 of voices from all walks of life.   http://vvl.lib.msu.edu.

  3. Online discussions. Say you have never been in your character’s situation.  Find a blog on that subject, then wheel down to the comments: real people reacting to the situation. For instance, unemployment or being cheated by a friend. You’ll not have to guess how it feels. The comments following an advice column, even review sites include personal accounts with the tiny details that will make your paragraphs sing.

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    Pixabay

    Always better to get it from the horse’s mouth.

 

 

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Promoting literary fiction on-line

Bookbub promotion: a wise investment?

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Jane Davis recently ran a Bookbub promotion. Jane is a successful indie author and member of ALLi whose first novel, Half-truths and White Lies won the Daily Mail First Novel Award in 2008. She has written six further novels, each of them in the genre of literary fiction. They have earned her a loyal fan base, especially after An Unknown Woman was named Self-Published Book of the Year 2016 by Writing Magazine and the DSJT Charitable Trust. But like all authors, she has to market and promote her books.

It is well known that Bookbub is the most effective of all promotion sites. Thousands of downloads follow the one day of a Bookbub listing, but getting a book listed is notoriously difficult. And expensive. It costs hundreds to donate a book – even free – to a potential thousands of readers. No wonder that millions of authors turn to other promotion websites. There are myriad on-line writer advice sites recommending that authors do this, with a consequent rise in websites providing promotions. Not surprisingly, with multiple sites promoting the full gamut of genres, the result is lower effectiveness and fewer sales.

Despite Jane’s existing success, it took several attempts before Bookbub accepted Funeral for an Owl for promotion. Often book promotions are for genre fiction. Would Bookbub work well for literary fiction? This was Jane’s question. Her partial answer she generously shared with fellow ALLi members: the results of her Bookbub promotion: costs and benefits.  (One of the advantages of membership of ALLi is the access to this inside information.)

JaneDavis       Jane’s results are particularly useful because:

  • many website posts that quote results are averaging outcomes from several genres among which literary fiction may well be the least represented.
  • Those ‘sold a million after promotion’ success stories often relate to self-help books (often about self-publishing!);
  • FREE e-books are now expected, encouraging myriads of downloads that are never read. Jane’s data inlcuded the number of reviews that followed: i.e. proof that the book had been read.

Once or twice I have looked up the ratings for books cited by promoters as examples of phenomenal sales after exposure on their site. Once the sales day is over, the rating has slumped to very low.  This does not seem to be so severe a case with Bookbub, probably because the audience is already targeted to its preferred genre. For instance, two weeks or more after the promo on Amazon.co.uk Funeral for an Owl’s best rating was as follows:

Yes, it would be nice to be at number 1, but it is sales that matter and these are by no means all that Amazon use to decide on ranking. One of Jane’s goals was to increase the number of people on her mailing-list, people who would be interested in buying her books. This goal was achieved as result of the Bookbub promotion.

It seems to me that literary fiction is the last to benefit from on-line promotions. This may be because its readers are those most likely to prefer a physical book and most likely to keep it, re-read it, lend it, pass it on. Jane has her books in print too . . .

Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey and is the author of six novels. The Bookseller featured her in their ‘One to Watch’ section.

You can find her at:

 Website: www.jane-davis.co.uk

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage   Paperback-iphone-FB-AD

Twitter: https://twitter.com/janedavisauthor

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/janeeleanordavi/boards/

 Or get an eBook of her novel, I Stopped Time, by signing up to her mailing list at www.jane-davis.co.uk/newsletter

 

 

 

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Writer blogs and their lifetime

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Some few years ago I began my first writer blog:

http://fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com. But I didn’t want to show myself– I let my characters do the talking. Sadly, the characters didn’t live up to the image of Moliére’s group above.  It was more like this on the left. womensclub

I had just published my collection of satirical short stories and I wanted a writer blog that would speak about them, but one that would stop short of marketing. In that respect I fully succeeded; I talked about all the characters, it was humorous, and it didn’t market. I doubt if I sold one copy of the book as result of that site.

But I did have fun and, it seems, this writer blog appealed to the Ukrainians who followed every post(!) The characters became real, including one with a fish phobia, another who could only operate from a chaise longue, and one who was worried about her husband lurking near, ready to snatch her back from her recent liaison. The characters took over the blog completely, writing the dialogue including blistering criticism of me, their author. They started a literary criticism group, discussing each others’ tales. That was extremely unedifying and more than a tad bitchy. Altogether, this wasn’t an author blog, it was a characters’ blog. There was even an intruder, Russell, a character from one of my as-yet incomplete novels.  It’s always good to have an outside perspective on things, isn’t it?

I have just written the final post on this blog. It’s had nearly 23,000 visitors but it’s run its course. The book, Me-Time Tales,  is in its second and expanded edition with new stories, additional characters. Kindle_Cover_opt I need to spend time writing on this blog, and on the author website (http://RosalindMinett.com) that, very belatedly, I am preparing.

I have said Goodbye today to my quirky blog giving this representation of one of mymattress characters. She was moaning that I hadn’t included the new characters from the 2nd edition so, as a swan song, I mentioned her and two others (rather miserable characters).

Now to the serious business of writing. The site you are on is straightforward if far less creative than fictionalcharacterswriting. I learned a lot while blogging on there. But I am not recommending such a time-consuming exercise to new writers or any writers, unless as an alternative to doing Codewords or Adult Colouring.

How far should we write for our own pleasure? One successful marketer, MaAnna Stephenson, has recently stated that before even writing a book she would carry out her marketing exercise: appetite for such a book, pitch, response, audience and so on.

Oh dear. We writers know what we should do but we just carry on writing the stuff in our heads. Our silly heads?

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Strengthening your writing via stimuli.

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Writing stimuli. What gave you that sudden idea that made you urgently scribble it down? It’s worth exploring.

The power of olfactory stimuli in activating memory is well known. But it’s much harder to ‘dream up’ a smell that might affect the character in your story, than it is a sound or sight.

When we’re stuck for ideas for a visual stimulus,  Art can provide perspectives, narratives, symbols to enrich our writing.  For auditory stimuli, theatre and radio present us with ideas and emotions through sound patterns, speech or music.  snuff_optThere is no equivalent for smells.

So having found the right sound or sight stimuli to cause your hero to pale with emotion how to find the right smell/scent/perfume/stink to cause emotional impact? Leave aside the obvious triggers: magnolia, blood, excrement, cabbage (who wants to write hackneyed stuff?). Will the character stop short as spinach fumes enter his/her nostrils, or candy floss?  What particular scent might have been recorded in his/her long term memory?

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You can prepare for that blank moment. How about noting down your own strong reactions to any smell, pleasant or unpleasant? List the source for each. This will make you rack your brains, and may well summon up incidents that you can use in your story. Add any smells that you already know act as powerful reminders for you – and write down why.

A scent for one person may be a stink for another. One perfume might raise very different memories for two different characters. Identifying that memory can enrich your story line. For instance, the whiff of musty clothes in a charity shop reminds Kara of a great aunt, but Debra of pass-me-downs when she was young.  The scent of aloe vera takes Anna back to the birth of her baby, but reminds Dan of a little lane in Almeria where he was set on by teenage thugs. They find themselves quarrelling . . .

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With such a list of smells, you can google them to add any interesting facts to their source and the memories they evoke for you.  Strengthen your writing with that detail that enthralls readers and brings them right into your story.

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Within the character of women

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Here’s my new release, stories short and long, Me-Time Tales: tea breaks for mature women and curious men.

“A wonderful collection of amusing and pertinent short stories with expertly-crafted characters” Karen Perkins, bestselling author of ‘Thores-Cross’ and The Valkyrie Series

No, it’s certainly not erotica. There is a subtly dark edge to the stories most of which at first seem light-hearted. All kinds of women are unlocked in this second and much expanded edition, on Kindle only. Last few days at promotion price of 0.99. 

A top 100 Amazon reviewer said “. .  . their hallmark of wry humour reminds me of a female, modern-day Saki”

 I’ve ‘been’ each of these women, not for real, but during the moments of writing them, (not writing about them). I had some of these stories unused in my files and thought I’d add more, covering teenage to old age and various kinds of angst, to make a collection. I had to imagine being sixteen and covered with tattoos, someone well past sixty; a frustrated shopper experiencing a crisis, someone infertile, and someone overly fertile, someone abandoned, someone beautiful and someone certainly not.

My other fiction is serious, but if you look at my avatar you’ll see it has two sides. These stories probably represent my irreverent side very clearly. I did enjoy writing them!   images

In the original edition, readers told me what they had enjoyed best.  Each reader had a different favourite. You might expect one story to be judged ‘best’, but no. Here are some. Inhibited Elfreda learns the beauty of a gorge. Harriet discovers a wonderful substitute for her man. A bizarre theft in the Well Woman clinic. Fish-phobic Daryl finds her sole.

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The reviewers do converge on the descriptor ‘quirky’ and that’s what Katie Fforde said: “Quirky and Intriguing”.

You’ll encounter obsessive women, curious men, an array of fish, a pile of hot money, a loving mattress, a mangy dog, a bra and a prosthesis. I hope each story will perk up your commute or dispel your night-time preoccupations, and send you to work or to sleep with an uneasy smile of recognition on your face.

If you buy in the next day or two, it will only cost you 0.99. Do enjoy, do write a review.

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Title Optional

Struggling to find the right title?

A writer recently remarked that she had difficulty in thinking of titles. I thought I’d concoct a list for beginner writers allowing use for different genres. Let me know if you like this kind of post. It can be taken seriously or not. Who knows, one of these may spark the next novel for someone. These titles are intended for you to make your own associations (and stories). I had fun.

 

One day too long

Caught in Time

Idyll in Back Alley

Plenary Session

Forbidden Journey

Is There Hair on my Burger?  (or their hair – works as well)

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An Intricate Endeavour

It Takes Time to Jam

Black is the New Grey

They never called me Edna

Not Everyone Marries in a Cathedral

Blogging To Bliss

Entropy

 

IF YOU LIKE THIS, I CAN DO MORE. (But I should be finishing my next chapter).

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Winning Writing

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This lovely image is Iranian.

I like playing Scrabble, but I’m not competitive. The challenge presented by the board in hand and the variety of options, limitations placed upon moves is sufficient. Sometimes the layout feels like an art form. It’s fun to enliven the game further by restraints such as allowing only nouns related to e.g. writing, for words of 4 letters or more. Going to an event based on competition would spoil the enjoyment completely.

It seems that the lack of competitiveness has a worthy origin.Chess_Players_of_Haft_Awrang

Chess is thought to originate in India, before the 6th century AD and then spread to Persia, pictured here.

Chess reached Southern Europe via Arabs and Muslims, and by the 15th century it had evolved into its current form.

The “Romantic Era of Chess” was characterized by swashbuckling attacks, clever combinations, brash piece sacrifices and dynamic games. Winning was secondary to winning with style and the focus was upon artistic expression. I’d loved to have been an audience then before the style changed, in the 19th century, to one of technical mastery and long-term planning.

In presenting our fiction to the world we writers are exhorted to use multiple techniques to gain sales.  Innocent days of creating the best that our talent and art form allow, end. Months of miserable media-bashing follow. What contrasting activities, what different emotions!

Reading about the origin of chess brings similarly opposite emotions to reading self-help books that teach tricks of beating algorithms or garnering a following. It’s these books themselves that sell in huge numbers, their authors then ‘teaching’ a system to all other writers on the basis of this ‘sure’ success.

How sad.  William Boyd, Anne TylerKasuo Ishiguro novels, say, may have comparable Amazon sales rankings with a very badly produced book on Twitter techniques. Even the most reputable newspapers may show best-selling books for their Top Twenty rather than a list of most highly regarded fiction.

Swashbuckling attacks on the media, clever combinations of layered promotion, technical mastewinningry of marketing ploys and long-term planning of a marketing campaign is what sells books and makes a winning writer. Thank goodness that reputable writing competitions rely on writing judges, not the amount of ‘votes’ an entrant can grab via social media. Nowadays, all of us writers are pushed into this.

I wonder whether a ‘romantic era’ for art forms will ever return.

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