Novel Tips

I volunteer on the board of directors for the Ottawa Independent Writers (https://www.ottawaindependentwriters.com).  One night, I spoke with some people at a meeting who suggested that they wanted to learn the basics of writing a novel and what was the best venue?  I didn’t have an answer for that because I am self-taught for the most part.  But what I do have is my experience.  I have been writing for over twenty years.  It started out with poetry and I gradually added short stories, novels and now blog posts.  I’m learning by reading books (of course) and trial and error.  So for the next few blog posts, I’m going to talk about ‘How To Write a Novel,” in my own style.  Hope you’ll stick around for the ideas, even if you aren’t a writer.  You never know, you might become one.

Part One: The character(s)

So you have this great idea that you want to turn into a book.  It’s going to be absolutely wonderful and you can’t wait to get started.  So do it, start writing.  Write out a starting paragraph, even a chapter.  You can do your character development at the same time or before you write.  It’s entirely up to you.  But the character is everything.  So much so, let’s stop using the word ‘character.’  I don’t want to hear about these people as if they were fictional.  I want you to convince me that they’re real.  So how do we do that?  Get to know your character, first and foremost.  I’m not suggesting that you need to know how they celebrated their twelfth birthday or which vegetables they prefer.  But know their important aspects, their personality.  This will help you when you start throwing them into situations (a future post).

An Example:

I wrote a book called Pure Red Sand: An Expensive Retreat.  Actually, I wrote three books with these characters but you’ve probably only seen one, unless you’re an early follower with a Kindle.  I started this novel on a laptop on a small island in the Labrador Sea.  It was the first time I’d just decided to write a book.  I had the benefit that the book was VERY loosely based on a short story.  But very quickly I realized that the characters were too one dimensional to transfer from a four page short story to a 900 plus page trilogy.  They just weren’t strong enough.  So here’s what I decided while I was writing the first chapter.  

Nadine was going to be a strong woman.  She’d grown up that way and had little choice.  But there were repercussions for that kind of strength, in her life anyway.  She always made the difficult decisions, looking at things logically and with the best of intentions but maybe not with emotions at heart.  That might have made her a great medic.  But it also made her prickly with other people, unwilling to trust and maybe even reluctant to take on anything resembling a greater responsibility.  After all, she’d made a success out of her life.  Wasn’t that enough?  As many of you know, it wasn’t.

So once I had my character written, once I knew her, then I would know how she was going to react in certain situations.  For instance, when strangers came to her home, would she welcome them in or turn them away?

An Exercise:

Here are some questions you might want to consider when thinking about your character.  Whether you keep your ideas in your head (like me) or you want to write them out, this might help:

Are they of their own time? (Do you have time travel/a new world/an adventure?)  If they are, then you can take a lot of things for granted.  If not, keep in mind how people react to new things.

What things do they have in common with you? They say write what you know.  But I see a lot of scope in not being me.  That said, I find it easier to write the character when I have something in common with them.  Like Nadine, I always wanted to be strong.  I could empathize with her efforts and her mistakes.

What’s their emotional state?  People who have a fairly stable life are going to react differently to a crisis than those who are already having crises of their own.

How did they grow up?  Did they have economic/social stability?  Were they loved?  We’re all heavily influenced by our past.

Where are they now?  Nadine was a loner and a little anti-social in the beginning.

What kind of social network do they have? Are they close to family and friends or separate from those around them?

Keep adding your own questions until you have your people!

News:

If you’re in the Ottawa area on December 9, 2017, I will be at the Indie Author Book Fair. St David and St Martin Church Hall, 444 St Laurent Blvd. 2-6pm.  Come visit and pick up a couple of holiday presents.  A book makes a wonderful gift.

 

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Down the Rabbit Hole

I watched a documentary, on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnF6Wej3YO8&t=117s), recently about the origins of romance in Britain.  While I put this on as a background to chores I was completing, I found the topic interesting, especially where it was related to books, novels, to the story (ie. pre 1920ish).  From their perspective, society learned about romantic love through the stories they read en masse.

It’s not the first time I’ve thought about or written about the power of the story but it was an interesting new take on it.  If we can change society (at whatever pace), that’s a heavy weight to bear.  I am definitely not suggesting that I can or that anyone else will.  But art does have an influence.  I don’t see it as a responsibility or a duty though.  Perhaps more of an opportunity.  Charles de Lint said “all endeavour is art when rendered with conviction” (1996/1999).  We can make artistic gestures out of our everyday (consider the Japanese tea ceremony versus pouring a cup of tea).  So this is not just for people who consider themselves artists, but maybe for everyone to be aware when we create.  Everything we put out there is a manifestation of ourselves, of our lives and of the material we take in.  Sometimes I refer to taking in too much as ‘over stimulation’ and that I need to take time to assimilate it (just how I work).  In a way, it’s an awareness of our every action in the present.

Well, that went down a rabbit hole, now didn’t it?  Hopefully you’re all still with me here.

I want to make sure that I continue to create.  Not just because I don’t believe I have a say in the matter.  But perhaps because I want to.  Because I want to share the stories with you.  I think, deep down under my neurotic self-doubt, that they’re worth reading.  If I can get caught up during editing and wonder what will happen next, maybe I can keep your attention for a while.  Maybe until the end of the story…

 

NEWS:

If you’re in the Ottawa area, I will have a table at the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair (http://smallpressbookfair.blogspot.ca) on November 25.  If you’re in the area, please drop by.  There will be a good crowd of publishers, authors and bookmakers to meet.  Plus, admission is free!

A Bad Case of “Then What Happened?”

Have you ever read a book that was so good, it was like a drug?  That you’ve found yourself doing chores one handed so you can keep reading.  Putting the book down just before going out the door and with deep reluctance?  I love those stories and when they’re that good, I feel like you can go back multiple times and the magic will still be there.

As requested after my last blog post, a little sample of some of my work.  This is the opening to a small series of interconnected short stories called “It was Supposed to be a Dream.”  They’re currently published as a chapbook, volume 1 in “The Collected Words.”

I remember the night I first met him.  It was so late and I was closing out the coffee shop.  I remember being weirded out by the feelings I got off him.  I normally get nothing off the living because they didn’t need me until after death.  But he felt empty.  The kind of empty that is an endless pit compared to normal puddles.  I didn’t say anything although he looked at me strangely.  I brought the young couple in front of him some pie.  She was one of the self-proclaimed wiccans of the town and he was a straitlaced youth.  I felt bad for her because I could tell he was in it for the kicks.  She was loudly explaining how there was more to the world than we know.  So I tried to do the right thing and support her.

“You have no idea,” I offered.

“This is a private conversation,” she responded coldly so I backed off.  Maybe she was more in tune than I gave her credit for, maybe she saw what I was trying to hide.  Maybe she didn’t want me honing in on her date.  Life gets complicated no matter which way you walk.  I just remember how Michael turned suddenly at my comment and the eyes behind his sunglasses seemed to drill into my back as I returned to the counter.  He followed me there, standing in all his cold, empty glory.

“You can see them, can’t you?” he asked hoarsely.

I didn’t know how he knew but I just agreed.

“Good.  I need your help.”

Language Lessons

“I will not dismiss her care based on your erroneous decisions.”

Sometimes I wonder about language and readership, especially when writing pieces that don’t take place in the modern period.  I find it easier to write for the future even though I have no doubt we won’t be using the profanity of today.  But I think that’s something that can be overlooked.  My work focuses on people.  On the nearly impossible situations I can put them in and how they react to it.  So while my terms and language of science fiction might become obsolete, I hope the characters/people will continue to carry the story.

That brings me to historical periods.  In between spending time on Mars (new book in the works) and Terran B (another new project), I’ve been working on a historical fiction novel.

I read a lot of classical books, some of them over and over.  As one friend recently pointed out, my everyday language can come across as rather old-fashioned at times.  I’m good with that.  So I think I do a fair job of using the correct language for the time period and the class of person I’m writing about.  But here’s where I get confused.  Is it too old fashioned?  I doubt this current book will have the same appeal as the Pure Red Sand trilogy.  I can see it more as appealing to a niche market.  I want to make it accessible to everyone though, not having anyone alienated by a turn of phrase.  At the same time, I am bound as a writer, to the truth of the story.  So I continue to use obsolete language and to worry of losing touch even as they characters are formed with each line of text.  Dear readers, I hope you’ll follow me in.

 

P.S. My long silences are generally associated with wondering what I could put here.  What would people like to read?  Would you like to see excerpts of work?  More information about current projects?  Please post in the comments and help me make this a more relevant and enjoyable place to visit.

A Prologue or An Invitation

For you lovely readers and those of you taking a peek, this is the NEW prologue for Pure Red Sand: An Expensive Retreat.  Enjoy!

Prologue

Goosebumps were apparent on the woman’s arms even though it was hot outside. The man across from her stared, his hard eyes buried in the traces of excess. The suit strained a button or two but he didn’t move.

“Mrs. Cloutier, you must understand that your husband is gone. He’s not coming back.”

“I never thought any different.”

The seat creaked as he sighed and readjusted himself. “Then why are you still here? You were booked to leave yesterday on the main flight. We’ve paid up your salary. I don’t understand the problem.”

“I do a good job here. I clean the school every night and I do the board office on Mondays. You need me.”

He stood, walked to the window before him and stared out at the Martian landscape. Not many people moved in the square below. Those that did were marked by the noonday heat. Finally, he turned back to the woman. “Mrs. Cloutier, you know we can replace you. There are any number of people looking for employment here. Cleaners are very easy to come by. It’s time you went back to Earth.” That decided, he settled back down in his chair and pulled up the departure schedule. “I can get you on a flight tomorrow.”

“I need to offer you something to make it worthwhile to keep me.” Her terse voice sounded off in the decadent surroundings.

“Mrs. Cloutier, you’ve lived here almost eight years. We own just about everything you have here. There’s nothing you can offer us.”

“You don’t own everything. There’s Nadine.”

“Your daughter? She’s seven years old. We don’t take workers that young for the mine. You know that.”

“Don’t be daft,” she snapped, almost secure now. “In ten years, she’ll be old enough to train. Educate her on Earth and I’ll make sure she comes back here to work. You need medics.”

Silence stretched in the room as he considered her offer. “What kind of guarantee do we have?”

“You control the ships off this planet. Give it some thought.” An almost smile brushed her lips. He was hers now.

“How do we know you won’t change your mind?”

“I won’t.”

The slow years to come ground down on that decision until she was left with empty hands and a choice that became a prison.

 

For the rest of it, you’ll have to pick up the book!

 

Good News!

You are the best readers and I can’t thank you enough for your patience this year.  I know I’ve been rather silent but the decision to return to school was not taken lightly.  However, that is complete and I have great news to share with you all.

I am VERY pleased to announce the release of Pure Red Sand: An Expensive Retreat in paperback!  Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Yes, that’s right.  You can now hold the book in your hands and admire the beautiful cover art in person.  The new version of the text will also be available via Kindle on that date for all my tech savvy readers.  But don’t worry.  If you were one of my early readers, there isn’t much change.  I found a couple of typos and wrote a prologue that just adds a little spice to the book.  I’m going to post the prologue here on my blog on May 16 so you can enjoy it.

Happy about that?  There’s more to come!

I will be selling advance copies of the book at Ottawa’s Comic Con THIS WEEKEND (May 12-14).  I’ll be working at a good friend’s table in the Artists’ Alley (http://9five7.deviantart.com) so come by for a visit, see the beautiful art work and pick up a book.

There will be a real book release and reading in the Ottawa in the spring, so stay tuned!

Being Loud

I am not a loud person but I’ve been thinking, lately, about what that means. I’m the sort who hopes she doesn’t get a prize because she doesn’t want to make cheering noises.  Don’t get me wrong, noise is very important. Mine just tends to the literary and the conversational.

I am reading book called When We Are Bold. It’s a series of short biographies of women who have made a difference in peace, in politics and in the environment. It is inspiring to read about all the different ways of resisting, of standing up and of being strong. You have to pick your battles, pick your medium and play on your strengths.

I plan to use my words.

This was never intended to be an outlet for political thought, but more of a musing on writing and what it means to be a writer. But art is not created in a vacuum. So, forgive the occasional foray into…no, don’t forgive it. It’s part of life. I write stories of men and women and the worlds they live in. I write of economic disparity and the distance between rich and poor, those empowered and those not so lucky. But I don’t ever believe that someone can be better or worse based on sex or gender.

 

I’m going to continue to write the stories. I’ll continue to visit my worlds. I hope you might come too.