25 Mar

25 March 2016 – How long should a story be?

25 March 2016 – How long should a story be?

pages-1426262-640x480The easy answer to this question is: as long as it should be. I personally feel that you should write without a limitation in mind, and whatever the word count becomes is what is becomes. The story is the most important aspect. However, there are many short story / novel submissions that may ask for a certain word count to be observed. When I had finished writing the story The Box, the word count came to approx. 14000 words. When I checked short story submissions (excluding flash fiction), they ranged from 2000 words up to 10000 words (although 10000 is quite rare). When I checked novella submissions, I found that there are very few publishers and agents that entertain them, and I couldn’t find any journals or websites that would entertain them either. Another negative against The Box was the fact that novellas are usually around the 17000 to 30000 word mark, which left my story in a grey area between short story and novella, and this made it less likely to be published through an official channel. If you have written short stories and they clock up 5000 words instead of, for example, 2000 words, then try to edit your story down to what the submission guidelines require. If that fails, write another story. For novels there are debates over a benchmark word count. Some say 40000 words. Some say 70000 words. Some say a novel has to be 100000 words. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid is around the 40000 word mark, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is close to 60000 words, and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is close to 164000 words. All novels were well received and have had movies made out of them. The main reason for writing is to enjoy it and not to box yourself into a corner where you pressure yourself. If you started writing a short story and it becomes longer than you intended, then don’t worry because after all it’s the end result, the story, that is the most important – and you always have an option to publish it yourself.

23 Mar

23 March 2016 – Who are your influences, and how do they affect your work?

23 March 2016 – Who are your influences, and how do they affect your work?

lamp-1523123-640x480Roald Dahl. They don’t come much bigger than that. I read Fantastic Mr Fox and George’s Marvellous Medicine when I was around five-six years old and they turned on a light that has never gone out (sorry for The Smiths pun). I like Roald Dahl’s sense of surrealism and the macabre and how he was able to blend these together to create not only children’s books but also adult stories too. When I was eight years old I saw Roald Dahl in my local shopping centre, in Boots the chemist, buying some pills. My mum pointed and said: “that’s Roald Dahl!”. I was too shy to go and say hello to him, and this moment has stuck with me since. For non-fiction my influence comes from a different source. I was heavily into video games when I was a kid and started reading C&VG magazine for the latest reviews. The level of detail the reviews went into impressed me, and no stone was left unturned when they reviewed something. The editor at the time was Eugene Lacey, who I later met when I wrote a few reviews for The Mac magazine (now defunct) based in London, and I have to say that he has had an influence on my writing when it comes to non-fiction. I tend to read books that are either considered classics or are written in an unusual way. If a book is written in a beautiful way (The English Patient, Beloved), or has an unusual narrative (American Psycho, Ghostwritten, Catch 22), or has a good story (The Book Thief, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), then I will invariably return to these books at some point for some inspiration. If I have to whittle down my influences to two people then Roald Dahl and Eugene Lacey are the ones I would choose.

21 Mar

21 March 2016 – Is it wise to plan a novel chapter by chapter?

21 March 2016 – Is it wise to plan a novel chapter by chapter?

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 11.32.41There are advantages and disadvantages to this. If you plan your novel in advance, and stick to the first plan you draw up, you may miss ideas that may make the story work better. Having said that, if you have a good idea and you draw up a rigid plan then at least you know what you are going to write. I had the main idea for Making Headlines in my head and started to write, not knowing how it was going to end. For Let Go I had a beginning, middle and end, and all I had to do was to fill in the gaps in-between. A current idea I am working on has not been planned, I don’t have an ending worked out, and I am finding it fun just to sketch the main characters. Every story is different and it’s up to you how you go about writing it. I would recommend the software program Scrivener as it allows you to write down chapter ideas and rearrange them as you would as if you had a corkboard. It also has character sheets and a whole range of options that are designed to help you develop ideas. I would use Scrivener to write your rough draft, but always export to Word as it has a better spellchecker (although this may be subject to change depending on how Scrivener will update its software).

16 Mar

16 March 2016 – How do you start writing and get past being intimidated by a blank word processor screen?

16 March 2016 – How do you start writing and get past being intimidated by a blank word processor screen?

The white page of the word processor before you start tapping can be daunting. What do you write first? Should you try to write the best opening line ever? Or should you just type the first thing that comes into your head? Everybody is different and everybody will work in different ways. Some authors still prefer typewriters. Some prefer writing by hand. Most will probably use a computer. The best advice I can give is to write down any idea that pops into your head in a document. You can revisit these ideas and maybe pick one that you like the best. I have a document like this myself and I have written down some ideas that I think could work, some that won’t, and some that I don’t understand. The main point I am making here is just to write something. If you are thinking too much and feel your brain start to come out of your ears, then the chances of writing something that day are slim. If you are really stuck, then why not just write down words that come to you. They don’t have to make grammatical sense but this process can free you up and loosen you up like an athlete warming up before a race. You might find that you can write something after doing this. Having said that you may also have an idea for a story but just can’t find a way of starting it. You don’t have to start writing a story from the start. If you have an idea, why not write one of the main events of the story from which you can work forwards or backwards.

14 Mar

14 March 2016 – Is it possible to edit your own book?

14 March 2016 – Is it possible to edit your own book?

typewriter-1510114-638x419There is a yes and a no side to this. For Making Headlines I did get advice from The Writers’ Workshop who matched my book with one of their editors. The advice I got was good and the editor pointed out a lot of the book’s shortcomings. However, due to being made redundant, I couldn’t retain this editor for the rewrite and final 5th draft. I started to become overwhelmed and bogged down with Making Headlines and it was suggested by another author / editor, Kevin Frato,  to put the project to the side and start writing something else. I did this and my second novel Let Go was the result. During the time it took to write Let Go and going back to Making Headlines, a gap was created where I was able to look at Making Headlines from a new perspective, and almost like a new book. I edited as best I could and I decided to release Making Headlines to really say goodbye to the characters that I had been weighing me down for years. If I am honest, Making Headlines could have done with another round of editing before it was released, but I have learnt from my mistakes. So, yes – you can edit your own book so long as you put a lot of distance between you and the completion of your final draft so that your book feels new when you look at it again. However, you also need to know how to edit and this isn’t so straightforward. If you have studied creative writing, then this will stand you in good stead. I would recommend Butcher’s copy-editing book as a reference book and The Editor’s Companion if you want good pointers in editing, but I will say that considering hiring an editor is a good idea. If you choose the self-editing route then you need to know what you are looking for in order to be able to edit successfully, and you need to erase what you have written from your brain. There is a tendency for people to go blind when trying to evaluate their own work, and asking friends and family to review your book is not an alternative.