Practice Novels: Not Just for the Start of a Writer’s Career

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In my late teens and early twenties, I wrote three novels that I like to refer to as my practice novels. At the time that I was writing them, I didn’t realise that I was just practising. It was only after they were complete that I knew they weren’t good enough, they weren’t the genre I wanted to pursue and they were unlikely to ever see the light of day.

I published the sex scene from the last of them, Liberty’s Secret, in 2015 in conjunction with a blog post on writing sex scenes, mostly to demonstrate that I’m not very good at writing sex scenes. It was full of euphemisms, the highs and lows of waves and crashing, and an overblown sense of emotion. Certainly, it was completely devoid of accurate names for genitalia. (That’s one of the big no-no’s of the romance genre I was attempting to write in.) And I published the entire book chapter by chapter on this blog earlier in 2017, just because… well, why not? I hate wasting writing.

I thought that was the end of my practice novels. But when I sat down to watch the movie of Fifty Shades of Grey, despite its flaws, I realised these genres and sex scenes more generally aren’t going anywhere. They are popular. And if done well, they can be important components of plot and character development. So I could continue avoiding them in my writing or I could try to get better.

Yes, more than twenty-five years after beginning my writing career and after publishing three books, I decided to write another practice novel. I had no intention of attempting to publish it for profit, just to improve on this writing area. Continue reading

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Does It Matter What Your Characters Look Like?

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There are three types of authors when it comes to character description and, just like Goldilocks and her porridge, only one of them gets it just right. Of course, this means the other two provide way too much information or not nearly enough. It’s a fine line. It’s also difficult to please all readers in this area because some prefer a lot of description in order to have a comprehensive image of the character in their mind and some prefer the bare minimum so that they can do some of the imagining for themselves.

So does it matter what they look like? I’m going to use a few Shakespearean examples to answer the question. (Shakespeare’s plays are usually a great example of everything to do with writing.) Sometimes it doesn’t. In Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves play the brothers Don Pedro and Don John. While Don John is described as a “bastard”, an illegitimate son, there is no mention of any specific cultural characteristics so Branagh decided to give his version of the story one black brother and one white brother. However, it’s the illegitimacy of the second son that is relevant, not his different skin colour. Continue reading

The Death Decision: Which Characters to Sacrifice for the Good of Your Story

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Because writers are the gods of the little universes they create, eventually they must make hard decisions about their characters. And unless you’re a psychopath or sociopath, the hardest of them all is deciding which characters to kill and when.

Even in genres where it might seem like death isn’t going to or shouldn’t rear its ugly head, like romance, it can be an important background event. But it’s just as important not to overuse it. Violent video games have shown us that too many deaths leave people desensitised. But one perfectly-timed and meaningful fatality might be exactly what your story needs. Continue reading

The A to Z of Writing

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Just because everybody loves a good listicle (so I hope it qualifies), here’s the A to Z of writing.

A is for Authenticity – you don’t have to know what you’re talking about. Write what you know, write what you don’t know but just make sure you sound like you know what you’re talking about. If you write about the police force and someone actually in the police force reads your book lacking in accuracy or verisimilitude (the ring of truth), then that person won’t hesitate to tell the world. And you’ll just come off as someone who couldn’t be bothered doing a little bit of research.

B is for Brainstorming – it’s one thing to have an idea but to bring it to life with all the little details that give it depth, you’ll have to do a lot of brainstorming. If you want to write about a man who kills his father, great (maybe not for your father, who might wonder why). But it becomes two very different stories depending on whether the son had a happy upbringing or an abusive one. And only brainstorming will get you to the point where the story makes meaningful sense. Continue reading

Things I’ve Learned about Writing from Writing Book Reviews – Part 1

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I’ve always been a big fan of the notion that writers must read (see my previous post on The Importance of Writers Who Read OR Why There Are Book Reviews on this Blog) and I’ve also discussed the concept of writers writing book reviews (see my previous post on The Review from the Top: Should Published Writers Write Book Reviews?). I read a lot and I’ve been writing book reviews for four years now. The more of them I wrote, the more I realised that I was continuing to learn about writing and having things that I’d already learned reinforced with practical examples.

So here, using excerpts from some of my book reviews, are a few things I’ve learned from writing them. Continue reading

Plot Development Strategies

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I love character development but these days I always prioritise plot development, perhaps because it comes less naturally to me. But unlike character development, plot development is a much broader concept. Sometimes a good way to see if your plot is working is to compare it to some of the theories of how stories should be structured.

Back when I was doing my master’s degree, there were four theories I used to prepare my major assessment piece for the Script Adaptation subject. They’re not specific to script adaptation or even screenplays, but these theories are generally known as film theories.

So what? If it works, it works, regardless of whether we’re talking about short stories, novellas, novels, films or documentaries.

It might not work for everyone but if you compare your plot to these structures and find you can’t identify a key act or part in your story that these theories say it should have, perhaps you might have found the missing link. Continue reading

Realising You Have Recurring Themes And Plot Devices In Your Writing

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Last year, I read an article in the Writers Victoria monthly magazine where a writer was digitising her back catalogue with the assistance of her daughter. It was only when her writing was considered as a whole that she realised a theme ran through many of her pieces: knives.

At the time of writing, she hadn’t realised it and she certainly didn’t have any particular fascination with sharp, pointy kitchenware. But unconsciously, or perhaps subconsciously, knives appeared with a reasonable consistency.

I read the article with interest but then put it aside, not realising that I was also a victim of a similar problem. I say “problem” because my recurring themes were much more obvious than just a simple object. And now that I’m aware of them, I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t notice them sooner. Continue reading