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Tag: writing

Let’s talk about sex, baby…

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This week, I have been mostly trying to ‘sex up’ my story as I continue through my final edits of ‘From Here to Nashville.’ Despite my age and vast experience, it has not been an easy task 😉 It is one thing to have experienced romance, love, kissing, sex (eww, as my teenage daughters would say) but it is quite another to write about it. Not only that but there’s not much help out there for inexperienced writers either.

I had lots of great advice on my blog last week (thank you to everyone for your wonderful comments) and one of the first things I knew I had to decide on was the level of sex scene I am comfortable writing about. How to do this? I know I like to read all kinds of romance, from what I would call ‘closing the bedroom door’ romance to E.L. James, if you get my drift 🙂 However, I know that I’m looking to write something in the middle of these two extremes and I am certain about that. It was clear though that I hadn’t really achieved that in my book as yet.

As I said last week, I went on a course earlier this year which was designed to help writers put passion on the page. However, in a day, we only got as far as kissing! Crikey 😉 Still, I wrote a first kiss scene that I was happy with and it is still in my book almost exactly as I wrote it back in February. Apart from that though, my romantic scenes were very generic – ‘the kiss deepened’ – sort of thing and although I did have a scene where my characters finally made love, it was too far into the story. My editor wanted it to be a lot sooner and a lot more sexy!

I went to find my notes from my course and remembered the handout we’d been given about ‘The Twelve Steps of Intimacy’ by Desmond Morris, from his book ‘Intimate Behaviours.’ You can find the list by Googling it but I’m going to reproduce it here for you to see what I did with it. The other advice my editor gave was to make sure to incorporate each of the five senses in every description of their romantic encounters. This wasn’t new to me. I just wasn’t doing it.

1. Eye to Body
I wrote this into my first chapter as the first time they see each other from a distance. They give each other a quick glance and register an initial attraction. This doesn’t have to be too detailed but needs to give the reader the idea that they want to get to know each other better.

2. Eye to Eye
In the same chapter, my two main characters meet and pick up more details. They now know they find each other attractive enough to begin flirting.

3. Voice to voice
It helps if your male character is from Nashville of course and has a sexy southern drawl. There aren’t many synonyms for ‘drawl,’ I can tell you. Otherwise, they just need to talk to each other and this is where you can really get going on the senses. Again, this all happens in my first chapter when they first meet.

4. Hand to hand
This could be a handshake during their first meeting or it could come later. I do both and it is the touching of skin that is intimate and charged.

5. Arm to shoulder
This one has to come a bit later when they know each other better in my view. It was during my characters’ fifth meeting. During the previous  three meetings, I went through stages 1 to 4 above again to reinforce their building attraction so that by the time he puts his arm round her to comfort her during their fifth meeting, it should seem quite natural. This closeness allows you to bring in things like your male character’s smell and you will find yourself wasting hours on the internet looking for ways to describe him that don’t sound weird 🙂 I liked this article, from Vogue here. It’s called ‘How Women Want Men to Smell.’

6. Arm to waist
I included this in their first kiss which comes on their first proper date, although it is about the sixth time they’ve met each other. She slips her arms around his waist as they move in closer for the kiss.

7. Mouth to mouth
This is their first kiss and needs to build on everything that has gone before. This takes place in Chapter 6 in my novel. Here it is for your reading pleasure:

‘As I looked into his dark eyes, he leaned towards me, tilting his head to one side. My heart beat a little quicker in anticipation of a kiss and suddenly, his warm lips were on mine, brushing them gently at first. His kiss was so inviting that I responded naturally, moving closer, taking in his wonderful masculine scent. I was very aware of his hands, one resting on my hip, the other clasping the base of my neck. I slipped my arms around his waist and the kiss deepened. He traced my lips with his tongue and when I opened my mouth a little, he took the hint and started to explore further.

I closed my eyes, and a moan of pleasure escaped me. He groaned too, pulling me closer. The stubble on his cheek tickled mine and I wondered what it would feel like if he was kissing other parts of my body. My face burned at the thought of it.’

8. Hand to head
The first kiss I have written also includes this step and according to the 12 steps of intimacy, this is really quite high on the list!

9. Hand to body
As Jackson’s hand is on her hip during the kiss, this is also achieved at the early kissing stage. However, it could obviously mean many other things.

10. Mouth to breast/11. Hand to genitals (blushing yet?)/12. Genitals to genitals
I knew for me that this was the point at which I wanted to stop. I don’t want to write about full-blown sex, although my characters do have it. I didn’t run and hide from it either, by closing the bedroom door and leaving it to my reader’s imagination. I just went for somewhere in the middle, leaving the reader in no doubt of what was about to happen. My characters make love for the first time now in chapter 8, much earlier than they did previously and I know that makes more sense.

There is no doubt that this is one of the hardest things for a romance writer to do. For most of us, it’s so personal and intimate that putting it on the page in a way that is enjoyable for a complete stranger just seems a bit strange. However, as romance readers, we expect it and so that means we have to learn how to write it. As I have gone through my novel, I have used these 12 steps again and again to help me write convincing scenes. I have looked up all kinds of things from male scents to signs that your date really likes you. Yesterday’s research was probably the best fun so far though – I was writing about great make-up sex! Oh the fun you can have sitting at your writing desk 🙂

For another useful viewpoint on writing sex scenes, see this post here.

Thank you for reading as always. Please do leave me comments about how you find writing this kind of scene and any tips you have for me or readers of my blog.

Some Thoughts on How to Make Your Dreams a Reality

Dreams
Photo courtesy of flickr.com

This past week I have been doing a lot of reflecting as the time for me to go back to work was approaching after the long summer holiday and so, this post is the result of some of those reflections, if you don’t mind indulging me, just this once 😉

Like a lot of writing people I know, it would be a dream come true for me to be able to give up my day job so that I could spend all my time writing. The trouble is that the writing would have to provide me with the income that the day job does and as I haven’t yet published anything, this leaves me with a bit of a problem for the time being 😉 I’m sure that there are other people out there reading this blog who would also like to give up their day job so that they could spend all their time doing something they really love and getting paid for it too. Unfortunately, life takes over and the reality is that for most of us, this isn’t an easy option.

So how do you make your dreams a reality? Can you even do that? Well, this time last year, I took what I now realise was the first step on that path. After a lot of discussion with my husband, we decided that we could afford for me to switch to part-time working in my job. This was partly a financial decision for obvious reasons but it was also about our own children who we felt were suffering because we were both out working full-time. I had been lucky enough to stay at home with them when they were young and had only gone back to working full-time in 2009. Soon though, I was strung out, feeling like I was doing everything badly because I just didn’t have enough time to do anything well. Going part-time has definitely improved my stress levels and to a much greater extent than I had thought possible.

However, in the last week or so, I have felt very low about what the next year might bring for me, which undoubtedly has a lot to do with the fact that I’m going to be turning 50. It’s a time in your life when you start to wonder whether this is it, whether you’re just going to be slogging away until retirement (whenever that is these days) and whether you will have nothing to show for your life’s achievements. It’s also because I’ve been visiting universities with my daughter and helping her find the path to her dreams. We’ve always taught our children that you can reinvent yourself as many times as you like in life, that your path is not cast in stone because of decisions you make when you’re 18 so you should choose the path that you believe will make you happy at that time but if you change your mind later, it’s okay. Your dreams don’t have an expiry date and they can, and will, change as you go through your life.

I know that I have so much to be thankful for in my life and also that I will have plenty to show for it at the end in personal terms. But there is also your own personal desire to make a success of what you choose to do for your living and to enjoy doing it. So now it’s time for me to take the next step on my path, I think. I am going to do what I have always done when I reach these points in my life: I’m going to train to do something else, something I can do from home that will be a good back-up as a business to do along side the writing. I had planned to do this training last year but for some reason, I talked myself out of it so this time, I’m going to get on with it and take that next step. I believe that the more options you have, the better able you will be to make your dream a reality and for me, that has always started with learning. By taking that decision, I feel so much better because now I have a plan. I know I want to publish my first book next year and everything is on target for that, I hope, so I can turn my attention to learning something else for a while and see what that leads me to. This is a small step perhaps but that’s how you bring about change in my view: one small step at a time.

If I can share only one piece of advice from my self-indulgent reflections, it is simply that every major change in life has to start with a small step and eventually, all those steps add up until you find that you’ve actually made a great big leap one day. This is only what I have experienced of course, your view may be different to mine and if it is, I’d love you to leave me a comment below. In the meantime, I wish you luck with your chosen path and encourage you to take whatever small step you need to towards making your dream come true.

Writing a great blurb for your contemporary romance novel

DSCN9080After a great break away, it’s time to get back to writing and I always find that this weekly blog post breaks me in gently on a Monday morning. I thought I ought to start with an update of where things are with my writing journey. This photo shows one of the mountains we saw whilst we were away in the French Alps last week and it reminds me a lot of where I am with my writing right now.

Before I went away on holiday, I got in touch with a freelance editor I’d met at the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) conference in July and asked her to do a partial edit on the first three chapters of ‘From Here to Nashville,’ my debut novel. I have sent her the final draft of those chapters so I hope that these represent as close to the finished work as I can make it on my own. I am nervously awaiting her feedback which is due by the end of this month. Dependent on what comes back, I may or may not have a lot of work to do to polish the rest of the story to the same standard as the first three chapters will be after her help.

The other thing I have done is to contact a cover designer and I am all set to go with them this week in starting work on an e-book cover only, in the first instance. They have a lot of experience in book cover design and also in the romance genre and I’m looking forward to working with them. The cover should be ready by mid-September and I will keep you up to date with its progress.

In the meantime, I am still implementing the revisions suggested by my RNA reader following my manuscript assessment as part of the New Writers’ Scheme. This should keep me busy whilst all these other things are going on. On top of this, I have started working on a blurb for my novel, just another one of those seemingly easy but actually quite difficult jobs you have to do as a novelist. I read an interesting blog post at the weekend by Tara Sparling called ‘What Makes People Buy Self-Published Books’ which you can read here on her blog. The three things that came out of her survey that encouraged people to buy were the cover, the sample and the blurb. As I’ve got going on the cover and the book itself is on its way to being professionally edited, I felt it was time to turn my attention to the blurb.

I have had a go at this in the past but found it quite difficult so I did some research and found an interesting piece all about it here, on Digital Bookworld’s site. Their advice is to follow four easy steps to writing your blurb: first, describe the situation your characters are in at the start of the story; then explain the problem; next, tell the reader what the ‘hopeful possibility’ is; finally, describe the mood of the story. I found this incredibly useful and have even managed to produce a first go which comes in at just under 150 words. It’s not as good as it could be yet but it’s a start. I also spent some time looking at blurbs for other books I’ve read and enjoyed on Amazon to see what I should be aiming for. Whilst doing this, I noticed that most blurbs start with a separate line of just a few words which aim to hook the reader in. For example, Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’ blurb starts with: ‘What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?’ And ‘Can Baking Mend a Broken Heart?’ from Jenny Colgan’s ‘Little Beach Street Bakery.’ In keeping with this idea then, mine is ‘Can Music Really Make Your Dreams Come True?’ Once again, it’s a first go but it’s made me think about my story and how to hook readers.

Thanks for reading and if you have any thoughts about writing a blurb, do let me know in the comments below. Good luck with writing yours!

3 Tips to Help you Show More and Tell Less in your Writing

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

On Friday of last week, I came home to find my manuscript had returned from its assessment by one of the professional readers of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). I wanted to wait a while before opening it but my children were having none of that 😉 They waited with bated breath as I tore open the envelope and read the first paragraph of my three page report, summarising the reader’s opinion of ‘From Here to Nashville.’ When I looked up with a big smile on my face, they knew the coast was clear and we all breathed normally again. I read the whole report through then and was very pleased with how positive it was. Of course, there are things I need to work on but they are manageable and mostly, the sort of things I was expecting.

So in my blog post today, I want to pick up on one of these things which is all about ‘showing, not telling’, a phrase I know you will all be familiar with, just like me. The trouble is that a lot of the time, you read about these things that you’re not supposed to do when writing but you do them anyway because you don’t know how to do things differently. I have been reading up about it over the weekend and found that the advice is not so much that we should ‘show, not tell’ as writers but that we should try and achieve a good balance between showing and telling. Sometimes, you will need to tell your readers some information in order to move things along. All writers do it, you’ll see it all the time when you’re reading. The trick is not to do it too much and to get in as much showing as you can without overdoing it. Easy, right?

The best article I read about this topic was on Emma Darwin’s blog ‘This Itch of Writing.’ You can read the article here. She refers to ‘showing’ as ‘evoking’ instead, making the reader feel as though they’re in there with the characters. Instead of ‘telling’, she refers to ‘informing’, when as the narrator, you need to cover some ground. I find this a much clearer way of looking at the whole thing.

1. I feel/I felt
So how do you know when you are ‘telling/informing’ too much? Well, if you’re writing in the first person like I am, you will find the phrases, ‘I feel’ or ‘I felt’ popping up a lot if you are ‘telling’ too much. For example, at the beginning of Chapter 2 of my novel, I’ve written:

‘My mind turned immediately to last night and I felt warm and fuzzy all over when I thought about our fantastic gig and how the crowd had given us such a positive reaction.’

2. Watch out for those adjectives
I must admit to wondering how I could show that she was feeling warm and fuzzy, instead of telling the reader that she is. The advice I was given for this example was to write something like ‘my tummy flipped over when I thought…’ Using a verb allows me to get rid of those adjectives that have crept in there too.

3. Use the senses
Next, I need to ‘show’ what warm and fuzzy looks like so that the character’s emotional experience is conjured up for the reader. One way of doing this is to use the senses to describe her feelings. You don’t need to use every sense, that would be overdoing it but maybe choose one or two and work with that. I decided that I could rewrite this sentence as:

‘My mind turned immediately to last night and my tummy flipped over at the memory of our gig. I could still hear the crowd’s applause, see their smiling faces and soon, my heart was pounding once again as the thrill of it all came back to me.’

This has made me think more carefully about the whole meaning of the phrase to ‘show, not tell’ and I think I’m better equipped now to redistribute the balance between the two in my manuscript. However, it is going to mean another complete read through with this new hat on so I may be some time 🙂 I hope you find this useful and that it helps you when looking at your current work in progress. Thanks for reading as always and have a good writing week. Do let me know in the comments below what you think of my sentence above. I’ll be happy to take on any feedback.

3 Things I learnt from setting up a Facebook Author page

Screenshot 2014-06-23 11.05.33
I have been reading a number of blog posts recently about how to promote your novel in the most effective way and it has become clear that most people think you need to have a Facebook page. I have put this off for a long time because, to be honest, I don’t really like Facebook. I’ve had a personal profile for some years but haven’t really engaged with it and when I became a teacher, I decided that was definitely for the best and deleted my account.

Fast forward a few years to when I started writing and after reading up a bit, I realised I would have to have at least three ways for people to get to know me. I set up my Twitter account and took to it like the proverbial duck to water. I set up this blog and I absolutely love writing it every week and watching it grow. Then there was Facebook. I reactivated my account and invited a few select family members and friends to join me, which they did without hesitation. But soon though, my timeline was filled with so much stuff that was really of no interest to me that I was left feeling full of regret. I realised once again, that I just don’t like Facebook so what was I to do? At this point, after a lot of moaning about it, my daughter showed me how to set up a page. I then left it unpublished for more than six months, still unsure what to do with it. Until yesterday when I started playing around with it. I still have a long way to go but I’ve looked at the Facebook pages of a number of authors to see what they do and now feel more confident about making this page into something useful in the longer term. So this week, I’ve decided to share what I’ve learnt so far in the hope that it helps any other new writers out there to set up their own page.

1. Setting up the Page
First of all, you must have a personal account on Facebook in order to create an author page. At the top of the screen, next to the security lock symbol, there is a down arrow which gives you the option to create a page. Once you have clicked on this, you should choose ‘Artist, Band or Public Figure.’ Then choose ‘Author’ from the drop down menu, type in your name and click on ‘Get Started.’ You will now have a basic author page. The link to this page will show up on your personal ‘Home’ page on the left-hand side. You can move its position by clicking on the cog to the left of it and then dragging it up to greater prominence.

2. Adding a Cover Photo
This is as simple as clicking in the Cover Photo area and uploading a photo. If you’ve done this on Twitter or on your website, the process is much the same. You should add a photo of the cover of your book here of course and although I’m not yet published, I have had a provisional cover since day one so I have uploaded this photo there. In the past, you used to be able to insert a ‘call to action’ here for potential readers but Facebook have recently changed the rules so now you can’t do any overt marketing which begs the question, what is this all for? Aargh! Still, I quite like that. Facebook wants you to keep detail like that in your About/Bio section and perhaps that’s fair enough. If you go to Settings at the top of your page, you can fill in all kinds of details about yourself. Don’t forget to include your website! I have asked people to tell me what they think of my cover and pinned that post to the top of the page to try and draw people’s attention to it.

3. Sharing Posts on Twitter
This one took me quite a while 🙂 If you go here you will be able to link your page to Twitter so that when you publish a post to Facebook, it automatically posts it to Twitter. I have also added the Facebook Like widget to my website (over on the right) so that readers can link straight to it and it shows who has liked my page as well. In addition to this, you have to enable Facebook in your ‘Publicize’ settings when you write your posts. This means that this blog post should now appear on my Facebook page. I hope that this will trigger a tweet as well but only time will tell. If it all works, I’ll let you know next time. If not, I’ll give you an update on what I had to put right!

In the meantime, do have a go at setting up your own page, especially if it’s something you’ve been putting off. It’s not that difficult but I won’t know for a while if it’s useful. Please do let me know if this works for you and tell me of your successes in the comments below. Thank you all for reading. Have a good week 🙂

Revising an outline for a novel…again!

Last week, I finally managed to send off ‘From Here to Nashville’ for its manuscript assessment by the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). It felt like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders as I left the Post Office and even though I know there will be lots of work to do on it when it comes back, it feels good to have reached this point with my debut novel. I have taken a few days off and had a good rest in the hope that this would leave me feeling refreshed and ready to go today.

The task I have set myself during the eight weeks that I expect my manuscript assessment to be taking place, is to go back to my second novel and straighten it out before I carry on with it and finish the first draft. This novel, called ‘Seeking Approval’, you may remember, is the one I began in NaNoWriMo last November, writing 50,000 words of the story that month. I carried on with it in April at Camp NaNoWriMo and as a result, I now have just over 75,000 words. However, despite writing an outline before I started this second novel, the story veered off quite considerably and I know I have lots of plot-holes already. I stuck to the NaNoWriMo idea of just writing and not editing though and carried on regardless. I have realised though that I can’t continue like that. It’s driving me insane! I have therefore made up my mind not to do the July Camp this year, unless by some miracle, I have sorted the outline and the story so that they are one and the same and I am absolutely confident of where I want the rest of the story to go.

And so begins the long task of writing scene synopses for every chapter so I can see what I’ve actually written and then comparing that to the outline. When I’ve done that, I think I will write a synopsis again, as I did for From Here to Nashville so that I can see where the plot is going wrong. Then I will have to correct what’s wrong before continuing. I am so fed up with myself for having done this again and it’s making me wonder whether NaNoWriMo works for me. I love doing it but unless I can write a decent outline before November, I don’t want to approach my third novel in this ramshackle way. At the moment, I am left feeling like I haven’t really made any progress on the planning front and I now have another novel to try and sort out. Naturally, I have saved lots of articles about it into my Evernote notebook on Outlining and I have already read a few of these, as well as downloading K. M. Weiland’s ‘Outlining Your Novel:Map Your Way to Success’ which comes highly recommended. The only trouble is that I was supposed to read all of these before I started! I have plenty of time though and perhaps I just need to take it one step at a time and not get too hung up about the mess I’m in. I’m still learning, I guess, and I just have to accept that and get started. Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading and any tips you could offer will be gratefully received, as always 🙂 Have a good week y’all.

5 Tips for exporting your manuscript from Scrivener to Word

This week, I finally finished editing my manuscript of my debut novel, ‘From Here to Nashville,’ ready to send off to the Romantic Novelists’ Association to be assessed as part of their New Writers’ Scheme. As some of you will know, I originally started writing it in MS Word but when I ‘won’ Camp NaNoWriMo last July, I decided to buy Scrivener and I’ve been using it ever since. I love Scrivener and find it very flexible but there is so much to learn all the time. I recently managed to successfully export my second novel to my Kindle from Scrivener (see blog post here) but this week, I had to work out how to export my manuscript from Scrivener to Word. As it took me quite a few goes, I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned whilst doing it.

1. Read the notes about the Scrivener Template you have chosen
It may sound obvious but the first thing I would recommend is to print out the notes about your template and read them. For example, I had chosen ‘Novel with Parts’ which generates a standard manuscript format for novels when compiled (File > Compile). I don’t usually read instructions, preferring to just dive in and learn whilst doing but how I wish I had read these instructions before I started labelling all the different parts of my novel. I had worked out that I would need a new folder for each chapter of my novel and I had set these up as direct subdocuments of the manuscript folder. As I don’t have chapter names, I then labelled them Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and so on. I also labelled many of them with a date as this is important to my story and I wrote the date within the relevant scene as well. What I didn’t realise was that the ‘Compile’ process automatically labels all the chapters too so on my first compile, I found that all my chapters were labelled twice and some had the date showing twice as well! With forty-four chapters, I did not want to have to go through and delete all that information. However, the notes do tell you that you can choose not to include these titles during the compile process. All I needed to do was to work out how.

2. How to omit the titles during the compile process
When you choose File > Compile, select ‘All Options’ at the top of the dialogue box and not ‘Summary.’ This will bring up a long list of options for you on the left-hand side. Choose ‘Formatting’ here and then select ‘Level 2+’ and make sure that ‘Text’ is selected for all the levels showing. You do not need to select ‘Title’. This means that the chapters will only be labelled once and any other labels you’ve included will only show up once. I would imagine that most people will have labelled their folders in a similar way to me in the Binder because otherwise, how do you know which chapter you’re on when you’re writing? If your chapters have a name, not a number, you might be OK but otherwise, it makes sense to label them with numbers. This is what mine looks like.
Screenshot 2014-05-26 11.36.00

3. Title Page
Your title page is included in a folder right towards the bottom of your binder called ‘Front Matter.’ There are three options to choose from here. If you’re exporting to Word, then you need to choose ‘Manuscript Format’ and you will see that ‘Title Page’ comes up within that. Here, you can edit your title page to look exactly as you want it to. I had to make a few changes to mine to accommodate the RNA’s requirements and I don’t have an agent so I deleted those details too. This bit was all quite easy, thank goodness.

4. What to include in your export
The first few times I exported my manuscript, I didn’t realise that I was also including some folders of edits that I didn’t want to send. It took me a while to work out how to sort this out. When you have clicked on the ‘All Options’ tab, after choosing File > Compile, you will see that the first heading on the left is called ‘Contents.’ This is where you check the folders you want to include and uncheck the ones you don’t want to include.

5. Headers and Footers
My other major problem was that the header was not what I wanted it to be at all. It had my surname in capitals, the title of my book and the page number. I wanted my full name, not in capitals and I wanted the page number to be at the bottom of the page instead. I left the title in the header as it was. To change the rest, click on ‘Page Settings’ in the selection of options on the left-hand side. It looks like this.
Screenshot 2014-05-26 11.50.45In the third box along, under Header, I changed <$surname> to say <$fullname>, leaving all the other symbols as they were and I changed the case to lower case. I cut the page number information <$p> and pasted it into the middle box under Footer so that the page number would come up at the bottom of every page. I also changed the Header and Footer fonts here from Courier which I didn’t want.
Finally, you will notice that just underneath where it says ‘All Options,’ in the File > Compile dialogue box, there is a drop-down menu which says ‘Format As’. When you first open up File > Compile, this is chosen for you but you should change it to ‘Custom’ if you make any changes to any of the options at the side. That way, whenever you go to do this process again, your settings will remain the same.

I could tell you about so many more things I encountered whilst trying to do this but this is probably enough for you to take in for now! If you have any questions of suggestions for further tips, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading once again and good luck with your writing week to come 🙂

Editing using E-Prime and reducing repetition, repetition, rep…

Image from flickr.com
Image from flickr.com

During this past week, I finished working through the beta readers’ comments I’ve had in so far for the third draft of my novel. However, following some very useful comments after my last blog post, I decided to ask my husband to read the current draft to get his take on whether my male character’s point of view (POV) is realistic enough. I await his comments with interest – sadly, I may be waiting a long time because he is a slow reader, only managing a couple of pages a night before he falls asleep 😉 As I’ve set myself a deadline of the end of May to complete my edits on what has now become the fourth draft of ‘From Here to Nashville,’ I’ve decided to crack on with my own final edit of the story.

At long last, the time has come for me to turn to all those useful articles on editing I have been bookmarking since I first joined Twitter last year. When I took a quick glance, I could see that I had bookmarked 46 articles in total! Some of them are more proofreading-type articles which I’m going to save for the final, final round of editing when I get my manuscript back from the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) but the rest are about line-by-line editing and I decided to try and work my way through as many of these as possible before my self-imposed deadline of the end of the month.

Therefore, I thought it might be useful for other new writers to see what I’ve been getting up to. The very first article I’d bookmarked can be found here on The Procrastiwriter’s website, a site I’ve found useful on many occasions. The title of the article is ‘The Secret Way to Energise Any Kind of Writing (even Poetry)’ and it focuses on a particular type of editing called ‘E-Prime,’ which involves finding and replacing all variations of the verb ‘to be’ in your writing. The idea behind this is to make your language clearer and to strengthen your writing by making it more active and less passive. It is described as a prescriptive way of writing and I agree with that but I decided to give it a go because I knew that many people advise writers to cut down on the passive voice in their writing. The first thing I noticed is that it is virtually impossible to cut out all instances of the verb ‘to be’ so I stopped trying to do that quite quickly, deciding only to change those sentences that I could and that I thought would benefit from the approach.

Here’s an example of a before and after in my novel:

Before: ‘The feel of the strings against my fingers was as reassuring as always and helped calm my nerves.’
After: ‘The feel of the strings against my fingers reassured me as always and helped calm my nerves.’

The downside of this approach is that it takes a long time to do but it has helped to give the story a bit more energy and so I’m going to plod on with it.

The other bit of editing I’ve been doing at the same time (for when I get bored with just the one job!), is to try and sift out my repetitive use of certain words. Thanks to Scrivener, I can see under ‘Text Statistics’ exactly how many times I use every word in my manuscript. I know how to have fun, right? Unsurprisingly as my novel is in the first person, I use the word ‘I’ a massive 5,008 times in my story. I still feel this is probably too much though and so I’m going to see if there’s anything I can do to cut that down a bit as I go through. The next highest word after that is ‘to’ which can be found 4,577 times. Obviously, some of these words you wouldn’t even notice as a reader perhaps but if the word was ‘gallivanting’ for example, you might feel differently. You’ll be glad to know that I only use this once! Anyway, the week ahead looks like it could be a bit tedious from a writing point of view but I’m hanging in there because I know it will improve my writing. I’ve also noticed that it’s reducing my word count and that’s a real bonus.

I’d love to hear from you if there’s a special editing approach that you’ve used on your manuscript. Until next week, wish me luck and good luck to all of you writing and editing out there 🙂

Writing from a different viewpoint and other POV issues

Nashville Book CoverNow that I have finished Camp NaNoWriMo, I have had to get back to editing ‘From Here to Nashville’ with a vengeance. My aim is to go through my three beta readers’ comments and do a final edit of the story before the end of May, at which point I will send my manuscript off to be assessed by the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). I’m now on my fourth draft of the story and I’m finding it so difficult to apply some of the points that have been raised. The proofreading type edits are easy but it’s the more meaty comments that would involve a lot of rewriting that are so hard to deal with. So I thought it would be useful in my blog post today to raise two of the more difficult issues I’ve been trying to handle, for you to consider.

Writing in a different gender My story divides quite easily into three parts. Part one is set in Dorset and is written from Rachel’s point of view. The second part sees the story move to Nashville and is from Jackson’s viewpoint. The final part moves between both settings and so I alternate between the two main characters’ points of view. I’ll come back to point of view in a moment but I’d like to look at this problem of writing in a different gender. Obviously, it was always going to be much easier for me to write Rachel’s point of view because she is a woman, like me, and I can understand what’s going on inside her head that much more easily for that. When it came to Jackson, I didn’t really ever think consciously, now I need to write more like a man. I had the character in my mind and just wrote his part the way I saw it. However, the feedback I’ve received from two of my beta readers is that he’s not enough like a man, in fact, he’s too much like a woman. The problem with this is that I have created a character in my mind and tried to put him on the page the way I imagined him to be. I can accept that maybe he’s a bit too feminine and work on some of what he says and does but I worry that if I try to make him more ‘manly’, I may stray into male stereotype territory and I don’t want to do that either.

As always, I did some research on the internet and came across this useful article from Janice Hardy’s ‘Fiction University’ blog. If you’re interested in this issue, you really must read the full article but I would like to pick out the main points that I found useful for me in my current dilemma. Firstly, she says that ‘A well-rounded character is just the same, no matter what the sex.’ She says that we’re often tempted to write gender stereotypes when writing about the opposite sex to our own but this will only lead to us writing flat, two-dimensional characters and our reader won’t believe in them. What we need to do is to look at people we know who are of the opposite sex and ask them what they would do or say in the situations our character finds themselves in.

For example, I asked my husband what he would say in answer to a question about whether a wedding had gone well. Jackson says ‘It was really lovely’ in my story but my husband said he would never say that. He thought he would probably say ‘it was really nice.’ Well, that’s a bit bland for my character but it made me think about my choice of language for a man. I don’t think my husband is a typical man’s man but his language is definitely not as flowery as mine.

Another tip Janice gives is to focus on the character, not the gender, seeing them as a person first and foremost. I liked this point a lot. Everyone is different and should be treated as such and for the reader, that’s what makes a character interesting. My question for myself needs to be not whether Jackson ‘needs to grow a pair’, as one reader advised (!) but whether his character is genuinely more in touch with his emotions and whether that reads right in my story. Her final point is to get a beta reader of the opposite sex to read the story and to see what their take on it is. I am going to take that advice and see what happens.

Point of View I want to come back to the question of which point of view you write in. As I’ve said, my story is told in the first person, either by Rachel or by Jackson. I have had some surprising reactions to this. One reader a while back told me that she had only ever read one book written in first person point of view! I was shocked by that statement. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I have read in the first person and it doesn’t bother me at all. It did knock my confidence at the time she said that though because when I did some more research, I found that some critics believe that only inexperienced, first-time writers (like me) would make the mistake of writing in the first person. I blogged about it here. Anyway, I got over it and decided that, whilst I respected that view, it was not something to focus on. However, I’ve had this comment again recently, thus stirring up the same storm for me all over again. This reader has carried on and adjusted to that point of view and she is no longer bothered by it but it is still a worry for me, now that a few people have mentioned it. To change it now would be really hard but I am wondering whether to change the third part of the story to third person instead. I have heard from other writers that Carole Matthews, a very successful romance novelist, writes in first person from different characters’ points of view, concluding with a change to third person and so I feel heartened by that. I need to get round to reading one of her novels very quickly to see how she does it!

In summary then, it is a hard job editing your novel and trying to work out which comments to take on board and which to leave out. The important thing is to consider them all and then make your own decision. It is very important to have other people read your work of course but at the end of the day, it is your story and these are your characters. Only you, as the author, can decide what exactly it is they would say and do in certain situations but it helps to have other people give your their opinions to make sure that you have written the best characters you can write for your novel.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog today. As always, I would appreciate any comments you might have on these topics.

Camp NaNoWriMo April 2014 Winner!

2014-Winner-Vertical-BannerThis morning, I have written a colossal 1,850 words to finally meet my Camp NaNoWriMo goal of writing 25,000 words this month. As you know from my post last week though, I was actually away on holiday for six days and I have finished two days early! This means (and I hope you can hear the drum roll in the background) that I have written an average of 1,136 words a day during Camp this month. Phew! It has been hard work but as always, it has been worth it. My second novel is now around 80,000 words and although I won’t now be writing any more on it for a while, I’m really pleased with the way this first draft is shaping up.

This also brings me to the end of my first year of NaNoWriMo events. I started with Camp in July last year, then I did NaNoWriMo in November and I’ve now completed my first April Camp so I’m feeling very pleased with myself. It definitely works for me as a motivator to get writing and not to worry too much about what needs editing but I really want to make sure that before I start my third novel in November, I have a detailed outline in place for what I want to write. I had a vague outline when I started this story last November but I have gone off at a tangent and I know I will be pulling my hair out later down the line, as I try to get the story straight again! Still, it’s all progress from my first novel when I was a pantser. I know different approaches work for different people but I have found the revising part really hard for my first novel and I can only put this down to not having had an outline. So that will be my goal for next time.

So what next? Well, this week, I’m starting an online Fiction Writing course with Future Learn, part of The Open University. This runs for the next eight weeks and will give me something to do when I need a break from my final edit of ‘From Here to Nashville.’ It still sounds amazing to hear myself say that. I have now had my beta readers’ comments back and I need to crack on with that edit in May so that I can send my manuscript off to be assessed by the RNA. If I achieve that, I will be very pleased with myself and I’ll be able to spend June and July back working on my second novel, provisionally called ‘Seeking Approval.’

As ever, I am keeping myself busy but I may just allow myself a bit of time off for the next couple of days before I throw myself back into the next phase. At this rate, I’ll be going back to my day job for a rest! I hope all those of you who have taken part in Camp NaNoWriMo this month have met your goals and are feeling pleased with yourselves for doing so. It really is an achievement and we should all feel proud. Thanks for reading and for your comments. It’s always good to hear from you. Have a good week!