How To Write A Smashing First Chapter

ChapterOne

If you are looking for a few tips on how to write a cracking first chapter, you couldn’t do much better than this. Here is an opening chapter masterclass from Author Elizabeth Sims. Enjoy!

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When you decide to go to a restaurant for a special dinner, you enjoy the anticipation. You’ve committed to spending sufficient time and money, and now you’ve arrived, and the place looks good and smells good. You smile and order an appetizer. When it comes, you enjoy it as a foretaste of the larger, more complex courses that will follow, but you also savor it for what it is: a delicious dish, complete in itself. If it’s a truly great appetizer, you recognize it as an exquisite blend of flavor, texture and temperature. And you’re happy, because you know you’ll be in good hands for the entire evening.

Isn’t that what it’s like to begin reading a terrific book?

The first chapter is the appetizer – small, yet so tremendously important. And so full of potential.

As an aspiring author, the prospect of writing Chapter One should not intimidate, but excite the hell out of you. Why? Because no other part of your book can provide you with the disproportionate payoff that an excellent first chapter can. Far more than a great query letter, a great Chapter One can attract the attention of an agent. It can keep a harried editor from yawning and hitting “delete.” It can make a bookstore browser keep turning pages during the slow walk to the cash registers. And yes, it can even keep a bleary-eyed owner of one of those electronic thingamajigs touching the screen for more, more, more!

Fiction, like food, is an art and a craft. Here’s how to blend inspiration with technique and serve up an irresistible Chapter One.

#1: RESIST TERROR.
Let’s be honest: Agents and editors like to make you quiver and sweat as you approach Chapter One. All those warnings: “Grab me from the opening sentence! Don’t waste one word! If my attention flags, you’ve failed – you’re down the toilet! In fact, don’t even write Chapter One! Start your book at Chapter Four! Leave out all that David Copperfield crap!” From their perspective it’s an acid test. They know how important Chapter One is, and if you’re weak, they’ll scare you into giving up before you begin. (Hey, it makes their jobs easier: one less query in the queue.)

Here’s the truth: Agents and editors, all of them, are paper tigers. Every last one is a hungry kitten searching for something honest, original and brave to admire. Now is the time to gather your guts, smile and let it rip.

Your inner genius flees from tension, so first of all, relax. Notice that I did not say agents and editors are looking for perfect writing. Nor are they looking for careful writing. Honest, original and brave. That’s what they want, and that’s what you’ll produce if you open up room for mistakes and mediocrity. It’s true! Only by doing that will you be able to tap into your wild and free core. Let out the bad with the good now, and you’ll sort it out later.

Second, remember who you are and why you’re writing this book. What is your book about? What purpose(s) will it serve? Write your answers down and look at them from time to time as you write. (By the way, it’s OK to want to write a book simply to entertain people; the noblest art has sprung from just such a humble desire.)

And third, if you haven’t yet outlined, consider doing so. Even the roughest, most rustic framework will give you a sharper eye for your beginning and, again, will serve to unfetter your mind. Your outline could be a simple list of things-that-are-gonna-happen, or it could be a detailed chronological narrative of all your plot threads and how they relate. I find that knowing where I’m headed frees my mind from everything but the writing at hand. Being prepared makes you calm, and better equipped to tap into your unique voice – which is the most important ingredient in a good Chapter One.

#2: DECIDE ON TENSE AND POINT OF VIEW.
Most readers are totally unconscious of tense and POV; all they care about is the story. Is it worth reading? Fun to read? But you must consider your tense and POV carefully, and Chapter One is go time for these decisions. It used to be simple. You’d choose from:

a) First person: I chased the beer wagon.

b) Third-person limited: Tom chased the beer wagon.

or

c) Omniscient: Tom chased the beer wagon while the villagers watched and wondered, Would all the beer in the world be enough for this oaf?

… and you’d always use past tense.

But today, novels mix points of view and even tenses. In my Rita Farmer novels I shift viewpoints, but limit all POVs to the good guys. By contrast, John Grisham will shift out of the main character’s POV to the bad guy’s for a paragraph or two, then back again. (Some critics have labeled this practice innovative, while others have called it lazy; in the latter case, I’m sure Grisham is crying all the way to the bank.) It’s also worth noting that studies have shown that older readers tend to prefer past tense, while younger ones dig the present. (If that isn’t a statement with larger implications, I don’t know what is.)

Many writing gurus tell you to keep a first novel simple by going with first person, past tense. This approach has worked for thousands of first novels (including mine, 2002’s Holy Hell), but I say go for whatever feels right to you, simple or not. I do, however, recommend that you select present or past tense and stick with it. Similarly, I advise against flashbacks and flash-forwards for first novels. Not that they can’t work, but they seem to be off-putting to agents and editors, who will invariably ask, “Couldn’t this story be told without altering the time-space continuum?”

The point is, you want your readers to feel your writing is smooth; you don’t want them to see the rivets in the hull, so to speak. And the easiest way to do that is to create fewer seams.

If you’re still unsure of your tense or POV choices, try these techniques:

Go to your bookshelf and take a survey of some of your favorite novels. What POVs and tenses are selected, and why do you suppose the authors chose those approaches?

Rehearse. Write a scene using first person, then third-person limited, then omniscient. What feels right?

Don’t forget to consider the needs of your story. If you plan to have simultaneous action in Fresno, Vienna and Pitcairn, and you want to show it all in living color, you almost certainly need more than one POV.

And if you’re still in doubt, don’t freeze up – just pick an approach and start writing. Remember, you can always change it later if you need to.

#3: CHOOSE A NATURAL STARTING POINT.
When you read a good novel, it all seems to unfold so naturally, starting from the first sentence. But when you set out to write your own, you realize your choices are limitless, and this can be paralyzing. Yet your novel must flow from the first scene you select.

Let’s say you’ve got an idea for a historical novel that takes place in 1933. There’s this pair of teenagers who figure out what really happened the night the Lindbergh baby was abducted, but before they can communicate with the police, they themselves are kidnapped. Their captives take them to proto-Nazi Germany, and it turns out there’s some weird relationship between Col. Lindbergh and the chancellor – or is there? Is the guy with the haircut really Lindbergh? The teens desperately wonder: What do they want with us?

Sounds complicated. Where should you start? A recap of the Lindbergh case? The teenagers on a date where one of them stumbles onto a clue in the remote place they go to make out? A newspaper clipping about a German defense contract that should have raised eyebrows but didn’t?

Basically, write your way in.

Think about real life. Any significant episode in your own life did not spring whole from nothing; things happened beforehand that shaped it, and things happened afterward as a result of it. Think about your novel in this same way. The characters have pasts and futures (unless you plan to kill them); places, too, have pasts and futures. Therefore, every storyteller jumps into his story midstream. Knowing this can help you relax about picking a starting point. The Brothers Grimm did not begin by telling about the night Hansel and Gretel were conceived; they got going well into the lives of their little heroes, and they knew we wouldn’t care about anything but what they’re doing right now.

If you’re unsure where to begin, pick a scene you know you’re going to put in – you just don’t know where yet – and start writing it. You might discover your Chapter One right there. And even if you don’t, you’ll have fodder for that scene when the time comes.

Here are a few other strategies that can help you choose a starting point:

  • Write a character sketch or two. You need them anyway, and they’re great warm-ups for Chapter One. Ask yourself: What will this character be doing when we first meet him? Write it. Again, you might find yourself writing Chapter One.
  • Do a Chapter-One-only brainstorm and see what comes out.

The truth is, you probably can write a great story starting from any of several places. If you’ve narrowed it down to two or three beginnings and still can’t decide, flip a coin and get going. In my hypothetical Lindbergh thriller, I’d probably pick the date scene, with a shocking clue revealed. Why? Action!

It’s OK to be extremely loose with your first draft of your first chapter. In fact, I recommend it. The important thing at this point is to begin.

#4: PRESENT A STRONG CHARACTER RIGHT AWAY.
This step might seem obvious, but too many first-time novelists try to lure the reader into a story by holding back the main character. Having a couple of subsidiary characters talking about the protagonist can be a terrific technique for character or plot development at some point, but not at the beginning of your novel.

When designing your Chapter One, establish your characters’ situation(s). What do they know at the beginning? What will they learn going forward? What does their world mean to them?

Who is the strongest character in your story? Watch out; that’s a trick question. Consider Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. The main character, Stevens, is a weak man, yet his presence is as strong as a hero. How? Ishiguro gave him a voice that is absolutely certain, yet absolutely vacant of self-knowledge. We know Stevens, and because we see his limitations, we know things will be difficult for him. Don’t be afraid to give all the depth you can to your main character early in your story. You’ll discover much more about him later, and can always revise if necessary.

#5: BE SPARING OF SETTING.
Another common error many aspiring novelists make is trying to set an opening scene in too much depth. You’ve got it all pictured in your head: the colors, sounds, flavors and feelings. You want everybody to be in the same place with the story you are. But you’re too close: A cursory – but poignant! – introduction is what’s needed. Readers will trust you to fill in all the necessary information later. They simply want to get a basic feel for the setting, whether it’s a lunar colony or a street in Kansas City.

Pack punch into a few details. Instead of giving the history of the place and how long the character has been there and what the weather’s like, consider something like this:

He lived in a seedy neighborhood in Kansas City. When the night freight passed, the windows rattled in their frames and the dog in the flat below barked like a maniac.

Later (if you want) you’ll tell all about the house, the street, the neighbors and maybe even the dog’s make and model, but for now a couple of sentences like that are all you need.

But, you object, what of great novels that opened with descriptions of place, like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or Edna Ferber’s Giant? Ah, in those books the locale has been crafted with the same care as a character, and effectively used as one. Even so, the environment is presented as the characters relate to it: in the former case, man’s mark on the land (by indiscriminate agriculture), and in the latter, man’s mark on the sky (the jet plumes of modern commerce).

Another way to introduce a setting is to show how a character feels about it. In Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov seethes with resentment at the opulence around him in St. Petersburg, and this immediately puts us on the alert about him. The setting serves the character; it does not stand on its own.

#6: USE CAREFULLY CHOSEN DETAIL TO CREATE IMMEDIACY.
Your Chapter One must move along smartly, but in being economical you cannot become vague. Difficult, you say? It’s all in the context.

The genius of books as diverse as Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Robin Cook’s Coma lies in the authors’ generosity with good, authentic detail. Cervantes knew that a suit of armor kept in a junk locker for years wouldn’t merely be dusty, it would be corroded to hell – and that would be a problem to overcome. Likewise, Cook, himself a doctor, knew that a patient prepped for surgery would typically be given a calming drug before the main anesthetic – and that some patients, somehow, do not find peace even under the medication, especially if they have reason not to.

If you’re an expert on something, go ahead and show that you know what you’re talking about. One of the reasons my novel Damn Straight, a story involving a professional golfer, won a Lambda Award is that I know golf, and let my years of (painful) experience inform the book. I felt I’d done a good job when reviewer after reviewer wrote, “I absolutely hate golf, but I love how Sims writes about it in this novel. …”

Let’s say your Chapter One begins with your main character getting a root canal. You could show the dentist nattering on and on as dentists tend to do, and that would be realistic, but it could kill your chapter, as in this example:

Dr. Payne’s running commentary included the history of fillings, a story about the first time he ever pulled a tooth, and a funny anecdote about how his college roommate got really drunk every weekend.

Bored yet? Me too. Does that mean there’s too much detail? No. It means there’s too much extraneous detail.

How about this:

Dr. Payne paused in his running commentary on dental history and put down his drill. “Did you know,” he remarked, “that the value of all the gold molars in a city this size, at this afternoon’s spot price of gold, would be something on the order of half a million dollars?” He picked up his drill again. “Open.”

If the detail serves the story, you can hardly have too much.

#7: GIVE IT A MINI PLOT.
It’s no accident that many great novels have first chapters that were excerpted in magazines, where they essentially stood as short stories. I remember being knocked to the floor by the gorgeous completeness of Ian McEwan’s first chapter of On Chesil Beach when it was excerpted in The New Yorker.

Every chapter should have its own plot, none more important than Chapter One. Use what you know about storytelling to:

Make trouble. I side with the writing gurus who advise you to put in a lot of conflict early. Pick your trouble and make it big. If it can’t be big at first, make it ominous.

Focus on action. Years ago I got a rejection that said, “Your characters are terrific and I love the setting, but not enough happens.” A simple and useful critique! Bring action forward in your story; get it going quick. This is why agents and editors tell you to start your story in the middle: They’ve seen too many Chapter Ones bogged down by backstory. Put your backstory in the back, not the front. Readers will stick with you if you give them something juicy right away. I make a point of opening each of my Rita Farmer novels with a violent scene, which is then revealed to be an audition, or a film shoot or a rehearsal. Right away, the reader gets complexity, layers and a surprise shift of frame of reference.

Be decisive. A good way to do that is to make a character take decisive action.

Don’t telegraph too much; let action develop through the chapter. It’s good to end Chapter One with some closure. Because it is Chapter One, your readers will trust that the closure will turn out to be deliciously false.

#8: BE BOLD.
The most important thing to do when writing Chapter One is put your best material out there. Do not humbly introduce your story – present it with a flourish. Don’t hold back! Set your tone and own it. You’re going to write a whole book using great material; have confidence that you can generate terrific ideas for action and emotion whenever you want.

If you do your job creating a fabulous appetizer in Chapter One and follow it up well, your readers will not only stay through the whole meal, they’ll order dessert, coffee and maybe even a nightcap – and they won’t want to leave until you have to throw them out at closing time.

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This guest post is by bestselling author and writing authority Elizabeth SimsShe’s the author of seven popular novels in two series, including The Rita Farmer Mysteries and The Lillian Byrd Crime series. She’s also the author of the excellent resource for writers, You’ve Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams, published by Writer’s Digest Books.

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Via: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/8-ways-to-write-a-5-star-chapter-one

Story: Character vs. Plot-Driven

Character-vs-Plot

Knowing how to approach your plot will help you work out many things in the rest of your work, from what to research, to chapter length and even the impact of your ending.

Most stories can be classified as plot-driven or character-driven (and sometimes a mash-up of the two). But what do these terms really mean? A lot of websites provide conflicting definitions and examples, but here’s what it boils down to:

Plot-Driven

It’s helpful to think about plot-driven stories as a complete journey where there is a clear end goal which has already been decided. The characters are there to help move the plot from A to B and if you replaced them with other people, the plot basically stays the same.

Plot-driven stories are commonly found in what’s known as ‘commercial fiction’ such as mystery, crime, romance, and fantasy genres, where we know that at the end the murder will be solved, the guy will get the girl, or the prince will inherit his kingdom.

On Indie Tips, Lewis McGregor says that in Lord of the Rings

Even if you remove Frodo, who is more or less the main protagonist and replace him with another Hobbit, the event, which is the battle for middle earth still takes place, the call to action still exists…”

Character-Driven

This is a more internal story, where we spend time reflecting with the characters and discover who they are as people. The nature of the characters and the decisions they make shape the plot and the final outcome of the story.

Character-driven plots are usually considered ‘literary fiction’ because their structures (especially their endings) are unpredictable and their characters are more in-depth. These books can seem more contemporary than plot-driven novels because they’re not following a tried-and-tested traditional story structure.

For example, Liesel Meminger in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, is a round character that is perfectly capable of making her own decisions and choosing her own path in the book’s plot. Her thoughts and actions are her own, and if you replaced her with another girl there may not have been so many stolen books or well-kept secrets.

Which are you?

Sometimes these dichotomies are not so clear. Many books stick to one or the other, but many also merge the two kinds of plot.

Here is a test that will help you to determine how emotionally developed your characters are, and whether you prefer to write action or character driven stories.

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing your kind of plot. Different stories require different methods of telling, and whichever style best suits your concept is the one that you should use.

Happy writing!

Via: https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/character-plot-driven/

Does Being a Journalist Help When Writing a Book?

I thought this was an intriguing article and worth sharing. In it Fiona Mitchell considers whether being in the profession of writing journalism helps with writing fiction. Here is what she found…Enjoy! 🙂

 

Sometimes people nod their heads knowingly when I tell them I’m a journalist. ‘See that’s why you’ve managed to get your book published, you were a writer already.’ But there’s a world of difference between writing magazine features or newspaper stories and writing a book with 300-plus pages. And the differences have become even more apparent since my debut novel, The Maid’s Room, was published in November.

I’ve been interviewed several times over the past three weeks and I’m trying to get used to being the one answering questions instead of asking them. Over the years, as a journalist, I interviewed quite a few people who didn’t have all that much to say for themselves – yes or no answers, without elaboration. All while my blank notebook stared up at me, along with the creeping fear that I wouldn’t have anything to fill my 1,000-word feature with. When I’ve been interviewed, I have to admit I’ve given some monosyllabic answers myself. ‘Why did you write that scene the way you did? ‘Er, I’m not sure.’ ‘And what about the juxtaposition of light and shade in chapter 7?’ ‘Erm . . .’ I’ve also fallen into the other extreme of filling the awkward spaces with seemingly never-ending gibberish.

Yep, I may be a journalist, but I’m definitely a newbie now I’m on the other side.

Here, best-selling authors and debut novelists share their thoughts on the differences between journalism and writing a book.

 

Fiona Cummins: Author of Rattle, and The Collector which will be published on 22 February 2018.

‘I was surprised by how exposing it felt to be critiqued by readers. I was used to writing other people’s stories – the focus of attention was never on me – and, then, suddenly everyone had an opinion. It gave me some sense of what it must feel like to have a newspaper story written about you, whether you liked it or not. Ultimately, you have no control over what others may think.

‘It’s certainly been a steep learning curve. With my tabloid newspaper background, I was used to working at breakneck speed. Publishing moves much more slowly. I’ve also had to learn to pace myself. Writing a 90,000-word manuscript takes time – I can’t just dash it off in a day.’

Francesca Hornak Seven Days

Francesca Hornak: Author of Seven Days of Us

‘The thing I struggled with in fiction is making bad things happen . . . This isn’t true of all journalism, but in glossy magazines there’s a constant aim to create a kind of aspirational, fantasy world, where people cook recipes and buy £200 moisturisers and scented candles. In fiction, you need to make your characters miserable, otherwise there’s no story. At first I was a bit squeamish about that, but I’ve got the hang of it now.

‘Long deadlines can be hard too; there isn’t quite enough pressure in publishing.’

Cholie Mayer Boy Made of Snow

Chloe Mayer: Author of The Boy Made of Snow

‘I work in news rather than features, so the longest it usually takes for my copy to appear as a newspaper article is the next day. In contrast, the book industry moves at a glacial pace! My debut novel, The Boy Made of Snow, was released last month – more than a year and a half after I signed my publishing deal!

‘As a journalist I write stories all day long, but many articles are limited to just a few hundred words. It’s a completely different skill set to make up a story from scratch and tell it over 100,000 words – with an arc, sub-plots, and an entire cast of characters.

‘The first thing all news reporters are taught is that they must tell the whole story in the first sentence; the introduction must contain the crux of what’s happened and why. But with fiction, you must gradually build a world and let the story unfold over time.

‘Another difference is that in journalism you must explicitly lay out all of the facts and be as clear as possible. Whereas with fiction, you often have to hold back – and what isn’t said, or revealed, is often as important as what is. So learning how to write a novel as I went along was the steepest learning curve for me.’

Juliet West: Author of The Faithful and Before the Fall

‘As a journalist, and especially as a news reporter on a daily paper, there’s a pressure to get your story out very quickly. Ideally that story will be word-perfect straight from your notebook. So when I first began to write fiction I attempted the same modus operandi. I thought I could file my story straight onto the page and all would be effortless and wonderful. Of course, what came out was terrible, so I would re-work every sentence, trying to make it perfect before moving on. I think I wrote three paragraphs over a fortnight, and they were desperately worthy and self-conscious and forced.

‘I realised I needed to give myself more freedom to write a first draft, allowing the story and characters to take root before going back to add polish and finesse. So that’s my top tip. Give yourself a break. Your first draft is yours alone – it’s not going to turn up in the next day’s paper with your byline on it.

‘When I did get a publishing deal in 2013 I was delighted, but also daunted by the prospect of a publicity campaign. Somehow I’ve risen to the challenge, and I’m really proud that I’m able to stand up and give a talk, or chat to a presenter on live radio. But I don’t think I’ll ever shake the feeling that I should be the one asking the questions.’

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Via https://fionamitchell.org/2017/12/06/does-being-a-journalist-make-writing-a-book-any-easier/

How to Use Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales in Your Fiction

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From myths, legends and fairy tales to folklore: again and again, these old tales reappear in modern fiction. But how do you use them in your novel?

Why Reuse Tales?

Old tales aren’t copyrighted; what you can do with them is only bound by your own imagination. Not only are they a great source of inspiration, but they can add another layer of story for your reader to engage with.

Even their original form is still alive and well today. There is something fundamentally human in the sense of something dangerous about the woods, something magical and unexplainable just around the corner.

Myths are not just for dry, dusty old anthropology professors to muse over in their ivory towers – they’re living stories which we continually reinvent for the times we live in.” – Lucy Coats

What has been the impact of these time-defying stories? Holly Black believes the stories have become central to our being, residing in our subconscious and defining how we see the world.

Do we even stop to think about the ridiculousness of the ‘kiss of life’, prevalent nowadays even in action movies? Fairy tales will forever be a part of who we are.

For Sjón, myths remind him of how small humans are. Poseidon, for example, could wipe us out with a tsunami whenever he wants. The less ‘happily-ever-after’ stories remind us of our mortality to protect and prolong life.

Whether thousands of years ago or in the twenty-first century, death is the ultimate enemy of humans and life is to be protected.

Sjón’s homeland of Iceland has many fascinating old tales of its own. Stories that particularly fascinate him are those where metamorphosis occurs: people turn into flowers, rivers or animals. What is stunning is humanity’s obsession with the idea, leading us to the modern age of genetic experiments.

4 Simple Steps to Go From Tale to Novel

With a fairy tale or two in mind, plus a little King Arthur to spice it up, how far do you go from the original story? Some believe sticking as close as possible to the most original form creates a true, pure story untainted by ulterior motives.

But while seeking the original tale for inspiration can give a lot of insight into the core of the story, there’s a lot more to be done.

1. Know your audience

Are you writing for young children, teenagers or adults? Are you writing a literary piece, or a genre one? Identifying your audience leads you to what parts of the old tale are relevant and interesting to them.

Do they want a modernised retelling, or a whole new story with aspects spliced in from old tale(s)? Would anything in the tale be unacceptable or confusing when read in a modern setting?

All right I am corny, you know? But I think there are just about 140 million people in this country who are just as corny as I am, you know? I’m not a politician, I do it because I like it.” – Walt Disney

Kelly Link tries to imagine a world where Disney didn’t create the cartoons that changed fairy tales and how we view them. Would the original, written form be less or more popular than it is now?

While Disney altered several fairy tales, it was done to appeal to the audience and convey the desired message. This is no different from what any more recent rehashing of fairy tales does, and no different from the task in front of any writer picking up some old tales for their craft.

2. Fill in the gaps

Old tales aren’t a complete novel in themselves; some are only a few pages long. Have a look at what is missing in the old story that modern fiction requires.

In Holly Black’s experiences, fairy tales and other old stories typically have plain, simple characters. Developing characters with backstory and motive naturally sparks off a whole new side of the story.

Another common gap in old tales is setting. Some have a vague indication, such as a castle or ‘deep in the woods’, but little indication of the surrounding culture. Building the setting can feed directly into and off your character’s motives.

For example, you might examine the political system in detail; what if wolves were the oppressed minority?

3. Do your research

Some old tales have different versions across cultures and time. Searching for these can give great ideas of story elements you can move around and still be ‘true’ to some form of the original.

It’s also intriguing to discover which myths traverse countries, and how fairy tales adopt different nuances as they travel the globe.

I did a lot of research, then chose the elements which were most vivid and which worked best in my voice. So I hope I’ve retold a story which you will recognise, but which will also surprise you.” – Lari Don

It’s also good to have a look at what is currently popular with fiction using old tales. In recent years, many retellings show the other side of a familiar story.

Another trend is to look into the history of the story itself: how it came about, who created it and who recorded it. Kate Forsyth’s latest novel The Wild Girl was inspired by the forbidden love of one the Grimm brothers. There’s no end to the inspiration held by these old tales!

4. Select which elements to focus on

Are you using a single story, or a collection of myths? This question is particularly relevant if you’re focusing on a mythological being, such as a vampire.

Is it the plot of one or a few tales that really captivates you, or is it the concept as a whole, built by several related but unconnected myths and legends? This will affect which elements you take from the old tales.

You’ll want to handle old tales differently depending on how familiar they are to your audience.

If you’re using a familiar one, it’s good to use more creative license and encourage your readers to see the old tale in a new, exciting way. If you’re using a relatively unfamiliar old tale, its unknown has great potential to add richness to your novel if you stay close enough to the original.

Using the Familiar

Generally speaking, familiar tales fall under Western mythology and old tales. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, King Arthur, and Ancient Greek or Egyptian gods are just some of the stories you may play with in this way.

If you conduct a search for novels using familiar old tales, the first thing you’ll come across is modern retellings with a twist.

When people want simple nostalgia, they’ll likely read the original or sit down to a Disney movie. In picking up a novel, they’re looking for a little something more.

Even when you’re changing the old tale, its core woven through the story will resonate.

The fairy tale is a lie that expresses the deepest of human truths: those of the psyche through the imagination.” – Joslyn Robinson

While it’s good to put a new twist on a familiar tale, readers will notice every time you change something. To an extent, it’s good to keep up their expectations.

Holly Black recommends plot points from old tales as being the most rich and relevant to the original. Sticking to the original’s plot points – metaphorically or literally – will help keep the magic and hint of nostalgia.

Holly Black’s favourite old tale to use is the collection of myths surrounding fairies. While vampires and werewolves are also favourites of hers, they were once human and bring with them a personality that is just a little too familiar. There is also an endless list of fairies, from pixies to brownies and trolls.

Fairies are truly alien; they cry at weddings and laugh at funerals.” – Holly Black

Alternately, Kelly Link likes working with Greek gods and mythology because their characteristics are so human. The tales are full of family squabbles, misuse of power, jealousy, revenge – drama that’s much the same whether in the mortal or immortal world.

Using the Unfamiliar

Maybe a sense of the familiar isn’t what you want to go for. You may want to write a Snow White who lives with seven ghouls instead of dwarves, or something completely bizarre and unheard of. Typically this type of story comes from Eastern, Middle Eastern, African, South American and Slavic cultures.

Researching different versions of old tales from other cultures, or completely unheard of ones, can help inspire an element of the bizarre in your novel.

Another advantage of using these lesser-known old tales is that it’s less likely to be compared to other versions. You can change what you like and not get pulled up on it; you can do a straight retelling and still be seen as presenting a fresh story.

But when they read my retellings of the untrustworthy Korean tiger or the Witch of Lochlann or Inanna tricking the god of wisdom, they might never see that story anywhere else. My version will be the only version they know. And that’s a really heavy responsibility.” – Lari Don

You can use the whole story, or elements of it. But be careful that taking the old tale out of its original culture doesn’t create a story that can’t be understood. It’s important to research and understand the culture the story came from, but assume that your readers aren’t as familiar with that culture.

Kelly Link likes Japanese folklore, which she first came into contact with through Studio Ghibli films, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. My Neighbour Totoro (1988), Princess Monoko (1997), Spirited Away (2001) and Ponyo (2008) are just some of his films inspired by various aspects of Japanese culture and mythology, particularly their land gods and spirits or demons.

Sjón grew up with Icelandic mythology that, while familiar to him, is very unfamiliar to his Western audience. He shared a few bizarre Icelandic tales at the festival that are worth repeating.

Children are told tales of the Jólakötturinn – the Yule or Christmas Cat – that eats children who don’t receive a gift of clothing for Christmas. And there is the huldufólk – Hidden People or elves – whose existence has stopped several contraction plans to move or destroy the rocks they are believed to live in.

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Myths, legends, fairy tales and folklore are a rich part of our storytelling culture and heritage. Bringing them into your modern work of fiction connects you to the fundamental truths that have survived the ages.

Whether taking inspiration from a familiar or unfamiliar tale, you can add a spark of magic to your own work.

Happy writing!

Via: http://writersedit.com/how-to-use-myths-legends-and-fairy-tales-in-your-fiction/

13 Struggles Only Unpublished Fiction Writers Understand

unpublished writers srtuggles

First things first. This isn’t an article for all y’all fiction writers who have actually been published. I’m sure you have your problems, but this post is not for you, you beautiful, successful monsters. This post is for the semi-clueless writers whose hearts are still full of hope, with their Word docs full of nonsense plot outlines and six different versions of the same abandoned manuscript. This is for anyone and everyone who is writing a book right now and has no idea what the hell they’re doing, because that’s where I’m at too. If you’re riding on this struggle-bus with me, you know all of these struggles way too well:

1. You never have time to write

Apparently you have to work to pay rent? And see people to maintain friendships? Also, laundry gets dirty, plates don’t wash themselves, and the fridge is not filled by fairies? What! Does not compute???

2. Just kidding — you do have time, and you waste it like nobody’s business

*scrolls into the Twitter abyss*

*calls mum for a catch up*

*finds the lost portal to Narnia*

Oh man, no time to write! Better luck tomorrow.

3. The conditions have to be ‘just so’ when you’re writing

When there’s no pressure, you can write upside down strapped to a rocket. When you’re writing The Novel That Will Make You As Famous As J.K. Rowling, So Help You God, then you need to have a candle burning, a half glass of red wine at your side, and a chimpanzee playing the violin before you’ll even think about opening your laptop.

4. You’re constantly daydreaming about your characters

I’ve apologised to at least ten different stationary objects that I’ve walked into this month alone.

5. You keep getting 40,000 words into something and then immediately want to burn it down

BURN IT ALL DOWN. (Or rename it “ZZZZZ” so it hits the bottom of your Docs folder and you never have to see its ugly mug again.)

6. Whenever someone asks you what kind of story you’re working on, you make this face…

bustle pic 1 face.gif

Which basically says “It’s just this little dumb stupid terrible awful horrible story I’m working on, sort of, kind of, maybe.”

7. And whenever someone asks to read what you’re working on, you make THIS face…

bustle pic 2 face.gif

Whilst thinking “OVER MY DEAD BODY. (Nobody has to read this for it to get published, right? Right??)”.

8. And yet, you’re genuinely concerned about casting the movie for this book you haven’t even finished

Is [insert favourite actor/actress here] available and will they remain available for the next 10-15 years while I’m getting my sh*t together?

9. Friends you didn’t even know were writing a book end up getting published before you do

Congrats, by the way. Can’t wait to read it and love it and eat an entire pack of Oreos consoling myself, you talented pain in the ass.

10. Every 3 weeks or so you are thoroughly convinced that your ideas suck, everything is crap and what the hell were you even thinking?!

Writers are totally emotionally stable, though!! Honestly, we’re fine!! Everything’s great!!!!!!!!! (Help.)

11. Writer’s block is some real sauce

You can stare at that blank page for hours, and end up typing every random word you can think of in the futile quest for inspiration. You start a sentence, and delete it. Get up and make a drink. Type another sentence. Delete it. At the end of the day you have a blank page and a headache from banging your head on the wall. And it’s not like you can talk to anybody about it, because then you’d have to actually admit that you were writing something in the first place.

12. Nobody but you actually cares

Like, you’re a nobody. You have no deadlines, no expectations, and no cheerleaders to provide that much needed praise and admiration for the stinking pile of dog-poop you’re writing. So you are forced to plod on, without reward. Most likely most days you feel dead inside. TELL ME I’M PRETTY, INTERNET.

13. You actually have no freaking idea what to do when you’re done with this giant thing you made

bustle pic 3 face

Click your heels three times, blow some glitter on your manuscript and hope for the best! According to the internet, the “real work” in getting published hasn’t even begun yet.

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Via: https://www.bustle.com/articles/101031-13-struggles-only-unpublished-fiction-writers-understand

 

Literary Devices: Motifs, Symbols and Themes

literary-devices-motif

Have you ever been reading a story, only to be struck with déjà vu? Perhaps you noticed that roses had just been mentioned for the tenth time. Or daffodils. Or the colour purple. Perhaps you found yourself wondering, ‘Why on earth is this author so obsessed with pineapples?’ But what is it you are really noticing? What are these recurring symbols and images? It may seem like you’ve discovered a strange fetish of the writer, but what you have more likely stumbled upon are motifs.

Just like any other literary device, writers can use motifs to add depth, convey meaning, and/or shape the way a reader receives, responds to, or understands a text. However, before using any literary device, you should first make sure you are familiar with how it works. So, here are the things you may need to know about ‘motif’, before using it in stories of your own.

What is a ‘Motif’?

In literature, a motif can be defined as any recurring image, object, idea, or element within a particular work. However, this definition is not entirely complete. After all, a motif should never be meaningless. In fact, a motif should contribute some form of symbolic significance to the story. For instance, a motif may be used to establish mood and atmosphere, or to reinforce/further explore the overriding themes of a story.

Motif vs. Symbol

As motifs are often symbolic in nature, they can often be mistakenly identified as mere symbols. However, it is important to remember that these two literary devices are not one and the same. So what is the difference between the two? The key difference to note between motifs and symbols is the element of repetition. As we’ve already established, a motif is an item that reoccurs throughout a text. In contrast, a symbol may only appear once. Beyond this, a motif often contributes toward developing the themes of a text, whereas a symbol’s significance may be limited to the particular scene. In this way, a motif may be a symbol, but a symbol is not necessarily a motif.

Motif vs. Theme

Another element ‘motif’ can often be mistaken for is ‘theme’. This is no doubt due to the fact that motif and theme are so closely connected. While a theme can be defined as a key or central idea explored throughout a text, a motif is more a means of embellishing, examining, or reinforcing these central ideas. For instance, a text may examine themes of good versus evil through the repeated images, or ‘motifs’, of light and dark.

Examples of Motif from a Literary Master

The best way to understand any literary device is to study examples of them in action. To better understand ‘motif’ and its relationship with ‘symbol’ and ‘theme’, let’s turn to a literary master, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. The Fall of the House of Usher is rich with examples of motif. For example, the idea of certain things passing from one state to another is constantly repeated throughout the story. The word “pass” or “passed”, for instance, can be found on no less than seven occasions. On top of this, the very name ‘Usher’ (as in Roderick Usher) is associated with someone who directs us from one place to another. In this way, we can see a motif emerging, relating to the idea of transition.

This motif is also contributing to an overlaying theme – a theme of crossing, or transcending boundaries (particularly those between life and death). Madeline Usher, for example, is portrayed as crossing the boundary between life and death, when she emerges, alive, from her tomb. This theme is further enforced by the motif of decay. From the description of the partially “crumbling” house, and the “decayed trees”, to the description of Roderick Usher, possessing a “cadaverousness of complexion”, the notion of death and decay is clearly repeated throughout. As the very process of decay is itself a transitional state – one from pristine to ruin, we can see how this motif works to symbolise and reinforce the overall theme of crossing the boundary between life and death.

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So now you know more about motif, symbols and themes, try identifying some of your own. The next time you read a novel, take note of the images and elements that reoccur. See how they are used, and what they symbolise. Then get writing, and practice using motifs of your own.

Via: http://writersedit.com/literary-devices-motif/

On Writing And Editing Sex Scenes In Fiction

Sex Scenes in Fiction

Sex scenes in fiction are a tricky subject. For a start – depending on your genre – should they be there? How much do you show? Should you write the whole scene or stop at the heavy petting? There are many, many questions. And one of the best articles I’ve read on the subject is by Helen Scheuerer, who gives some helpful tips and advice. Here it is, and I hope you find it useful:

Since getting stuck into the structural edit of my novel, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about sex scenes in fiction. When should they be included? What makes them work? What makes them fail spectacularly? What warrants a ‘Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award‘?

Originally, there was only one sex scene in my novel, but at the request of my publisher, I’ve since added two more in, and recently, I’ve had the somewhat surreal experience of critiquing these scenes with my editor.

Editing in general can often be an intimate discussion regarding the intentions and interpretations of characters versus those of the author, but when it comes to the more explicit scenes in fiction, the process involves even more lengthy debates.

My editor and I read articles on the subject, and researched the best sex scenes in literature (the library scene from Atonement topped most of those lists, in case you were wondering), and realised that in any context, sex is a tricky subject. Perhaps largely because it plays such a major role in people’s lives, and yet it remains arguably a mystery to us, often still taboo, and kept behind closed doors.

Within fiction it’s even more complex. I have friends who hate reading sex scenes in books as it makes them uncomfortable, and then I have friends who enjoy reading the more explicit scenes.

Personally, I’m often confused when there’s zero sex in a book, as it’s such a big part of life, it lays bare motivations, desires and consequences, all of which tell you a lot about a character. Sex can be ugly, uncomfortable and awkward just as much (if not more often) than the head tossing, back arching cliches we so often see in fiction.

It can mean the start (or the end) of something, and set into motion a series of events. It’s a fact of life, just like birth and death, violence and love – none of which we shy away from when we write, so why is it different? Why should sex be metaphorical and ultimately glossed over, when it’s acceptable to create a vivid description of someone being shot in the face?

My editor and I discussed all these issues, before we got down to the nitty gritty sentence-level of the scenes themselves. The scenes I included weren’t particularly explicit in terms of naming body parts and describing actions in detail, but there was definitely more description than the ‘kiss and fade out’ option some authors favour.

So, within the comments section of Microsoft word, my editor and I tried to work out what makes a sex scene ‘literary’, and what factors separate these scenes from erotica, or worse ‘smut’. The use of language in these scenes is definitely tricky; too anatomical and the moment’s ruined, too vague and no one knows what is going where or how the characters feel.

I also learnt as a writer, you also have to be wary of the fact that one person’s turn-on is another person’s deal breaker, which is probably why so many authors choose to keep it vague.

Additionally, I was aware of the fact that I was a female author writing a sex scene. I’ve spoken about the gender bias in the writing industry before, but realised it was incredibly present when it came to interpreting fictional sex scenes. Often, these scenes when written by women are seen as confessions, autobiographical even, which made me feel particularly uncomfortable.

What helped me move past this discomfort was the fact that I was writing from a man’s perspective. This helped me feel like I was keeping a relatively safe distance from the risks above, at least during the writing and editing process (perhaps another post will be due by the time these scenes are finalised in print).

Essentially, what I’ve come to understand is like most things in writing, there’s no ‘right’ answer, a writer just has to be aware of their own intentions, as well as that of their characters, and should work closely with an editor to make sure these two visions match up as best they can.

Lastly, I thought I’d list a few quick tips I’ve learned during this process below. Fingers crossed someone out there finds them useful…

Top 7 Tips For Writing Sex Scenes in Fiction

  1. Don’t include them just for the sake of it, like any scene, they should drive the story forward, or reveal something new about a character.
  2. Space out the explicit details with emotional responses, and revelations of character.
  3. Don’t say ‘member’, ever.
  4. Don’t make it perfect, nothing ever is.
  5. Accept that not every reader will find the same thing attractive.
  6. If you’re not comfortable writing them, don’t – that’s why there’s always a ‘fade out’ option.
  7. Accept that you’re going to have to be comfortable editing these scenes with someone in a professional capacity.

Via: https://writersedit.com/writing-editing-sex-scenes-fiction/