U is for University

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I’m sorry I haven’t been around much. I started my university course three weeks ago and was also interviewing for another job (one that will help me find more time for my studies), which I’m pleased to say I landed. I’m alsomoving home in the next month or so.  Not too stressful at all!

Something had to give, so my blogging took second place for a while. I’ll blog when I can, but it won’t necessarily be every single week as it had been prevoiously.

So, university. I was lucky enough to be accepted to study an MFA at Manchester Metropolitan University, by distance learning, which means most of my classes and studies will take place online from my own home.  This is great, because it allows me to work full time and still get to class (and do the reading work).

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My module this term is Reading Novels 1, which involves close reading of a book a week and writing an essay at the end, the subject of which is to be agreed with my tutor. I have some ideas already so we shall see what he thinks once I’ve made up my mind which one to go with.

We discuss a novel each week in an online chat session, with the tutor and my classmates. So far, we’ve discussed writing by Patricia Highsmith, William Golding and Anthony Burgess. This week, it’s Vladimir Nabokov (no, not Lolita), and in a few weeks we’re going to study a novel by Ursula Le Guin (so excited!).

I’m so happy I chose a course that is welcoming to SFF writers. There’s still a lot of snobbery around what is considered literary, and therefore worthy of study, so to see not one, but two speculative fiction novels on the list was reassuring. (Golding’s The Inheritors can also be considered speculative because it explores what it might have been like to be Neanderthal, and what they might have faced in encountering our own species for the first time. And, of course, like any good speculative fiction, it explores ideas that might not be well-recieved if they are set in the backdrop of our own cultures. I won’t spoil anything here – but I would definitely recommend what is an initially difficult but ultimately rewarding read.  Difficult because we have to step outside our own consciousness and see the world through the eyes of a species that did not have the same cognitive abilities, or even vocabulary.

The Nabokov is also proving an exacting read; it requires much more concentration to follow what’s happening than the average novel today. There are a great deal of meanderings, and sentences where you may have forgotten the beginning by the time you reach the end. An acquired taste for today’s reader, I think but again, worth perservering for his character-building skills and his vocabulary alone (I learned at least one new word while reading this, and he was not a native English speaker).

Next term, we get to workshop our writing with other students. I still haven’t decided whether I’m going to use an urban fantasy novel I started but never finished, or a completely new story that I’ve been noodling around with in my spare time. Another urban fantasy, sort of, involving a middle-aged witch, and dragons from another dimension.  I can’t use the time to polish and edit The Lost Weaver, because it’s almost twice the length allowed for the final novel-writing stage of the MFA, but that’s okay. I’m editing it when I get the time and will probably spend the summer getting it submission-ready.

 

 

 

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T is for… The Rewrite!

Okay, so using ‘the’ to claim a T is a bit of a cheat but I’m so stoked that I need to share my triumph. *Drumroll*

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I finished my rewrite of The Lost Weaver this week.

Well, when I say ‘finished’, I mean I finished the writing part. I still need to edit it, after I’ve let it rest a little while.

I began the rewrite after receiving some great feedback from publisher, Gollancz, following their open submissions period. They had it for a year, and I got through to the 3rd and final round of reading but the novel just wasn’t quite ready for publication.

Gollancz feedback

This was the postcard they sent me

I was gutted, of course, but also grateful and encouraged by the feedback. I let it stew a while and eventually it nagged at me enough to make me open up the Scrivener file and have another look. They were right, of course. I needed to revisit and fix the pacing at the beginning. I was trying put too much into the opening chapters of the novel.

Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. After fixing the pacing, I continued and fixed all the other little (and big) things that didn’t quite work if I was truly honest with myself. The main complaint from my writing group was that there were too many names in the opening chapters: place names, people names, race names. So, I fixed that by introducing secondary names more slowly.

I didn’t like the origin story of my magic using character, so I rewrote that. I rewrote whole chapters, completely, and fixed the continuity in others. I deleted chapters, and characters (minor ones) and I wrote thousands of new words (and a couple of new characters). Of course, that leaves me with another problem because even though I’ve deleted so much, I’ve still managed to add another 25,000 words, bringing the total to 143,000.  Even for an epic fantasy, that’s a bit long (especially for a first novel!). When I do pick it back up to edit, I’m going to have to be ruthless.

So, what did I do after the euphoria wore off? I got out my trusty pen and notebook and I brainstormed a new novel idea. I was going to work on the sequel to the Lost Weaver, which I abandoned at 80,000 words to go back and fix the first book, but I want to wait until after I’ve edited the first book so I can keep the continuity.

Plus, I need something non-epic to work on for my MFA, as the word count limit on that project is 70,000.

The new story involves an older main character: a witch approaching her sixtieth birthday, with a talking raven for a familiar. I’m not going to say any more as I don’t want to take away any momentum from writing it, but you can bet she’s going to be a lively character.

I’m also working on another story involving the sisters Edie and Mabel, from my short story, ‘They Never Remember.’  Since Plasma Frequency, who originally published it, are no longer around, (and the rights have reverted back to me), I’ve published it here. The new story involves a bird house that has an unusual resident.

So what have you been up to this week?

 

S is for… short story markets

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Picture by Ramdlon at PixabayRamdlon at Pixabay

If you’re writing short stories, sooner or later you’re going to want to submit them somewhere for publication. There are a great many short story markets that pay anything from a copy of the publication, through token payments, to semi-professional and professional rates.

I tend to submit to the professional rate publications first of all, because why aim low? It can be hit or miss (and you’ll miss more than you hit to start off with), but it’s good practice and if you strike out with the pros, you can still try to sell to the semi-pros, and so on.

Where to start? Well, it depends on the genre. There are a couple of databases out there, where you can search markets based on genre, pay level, story length (is it flash, short story, novella, etc?).

Duotrope is one of these. They list over 7000 publishers and agents, and cover all genres, as well as forms. This is a paid service, so after a week’s trial it will cost you $5 per month (or less if you take out a year’s subscription). If you’re a prolific writer and are constantly looking for the right market for your stories, it’s well worth it for all you get in return.

If you’re a sporadic short story writer, like me – I spend more time working on my novel-length fiction than I do writing short stories – then something like The Submission Grinder

might be more your style.  Their database is free of charge to use, as is their submission tracker where you can keep an record where you’ve sent each story, and avoid embarrassing mistakes like sending the same story to the same market twice. I may or may not have done this, once.

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Cripi on Pixabay

So, you’ve found a market, based on the genre and length of your story, you’ve prepared your manuscript using standard manuscript format, and their submission guidelines for any specifics. The next thing you need to check is whether they accept simultaneous submissions. If they do, you’re good to send your story to another venue at the same time. If they don’t, then you’ll need to wait for a response before sending it elsewhere. You can, of course, ignore their guidelines and send the story to several venues at once, but if more than one editor wants to buy the story you have a dilemma, and one of them is likely to be upset if they specified ‘no simultaneous submissions’ and you ignored their submission guidelines.

Some venues will also accept reprints. If they don’t accept reprints, then you can only send them stories that have not been previously published elsewhere. If they do accept reprints, it’s likely that they will pay less than the original market, but hey, you get to sell the story twice, so it might be worth your while. Do be careful that the rights have reverted to you. For example, if you signed a contract for a publication to have sole rights to publish your story for a year, then you can’t sell it elsewhere until the year is up. If you do, you would be in breach of contract.

There are some markets that don’t pay more than a copy of the publication. And that’s fine. If you have exhausted paying markets but still want to try to put your story out there, non-paying markets are worth a try and can be more newbie-friendly. It’s still worth trying the paying markets first, though. What do you have to lose, other than time?

Some markets respond within a few days. Clarkesworld is the fastest I’ve seen, with responses in days, rather than weeks. Others have response times measured in months. Others still, are only open at certain times, so make sure you check that they’re open before submitting.

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There are some venues out there that charge a reading fee for submissions. My advice for those would be to avoid them. It’s difficult enough trying to make money out of short story writing, without having to pay an editor to read your work.

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Writing Competitions

My only exception about paying to submit would be for competitions and, even then, it’s worth checking out whether a competition is reputable before entering. Some good ones are The Manchester Fiction Prize. This costs £17.50 to enter but the prize is £10,000. It’s run by Manchester Metropolitan University and is very reputable. The Costa Short Story Award is free to enter and the first prize is £3,000, The Reader’s Digest 100-word story competition is also free to enter and the first prize is £2,000 (which works out at £20 a word!), and last but certainly not least, Mslexia’s competition has a £10 entry fee and a first prize of £5,000, as well as a week’s writing retreat and a day with an editor.

There is a listing of short story competitions here (as well as a sign-up for a newsletter that will remind you of deadlines).

So what are you waiting for? Get those stories submitted!

 

 

R is for … Reversal

Warning: this blog post contains spoilers. They will be called out, but the onus is on you to decide whether you want to continue and read a spoiler for a novel you haven’t read.

Now that’s out of the way, what is a reversal? A reversal can take many forms but is generally either a drastic change in circumstances for a character, or a change in direction for the plot. Reversals can help prevent your story from becoming predictable.

You could have a story where a man goes from rags to riches in a short space of time, changing his fortune (Brewster’s Millions), or one where the opposite takes place. Or, where an unreliable narrator turns out to be the ‘baddie’, after getting the reader to sympathise with them through the story.

One of the more memorable reversals I’ve read, was at the end of Lord of the Rings.

SPOILER ALERT

The spoiler will appear after the following pictures, so scroll at your own risk.

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If you’re still here, you’ve obviously either read the book, watched the films, or you don’t mind spoilers. All right, let’s begin.

For the whole of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the main plot follows Frodo Baggins and Sam Gangee. From the moment they set out from Rivendell, they’re on a quest to go to Mount Doom and destroy the One Ring. Yes, there are lots of other plots happening all the way through, but this is the major plot line. One awful thing after another befalls them, but they make it through. At the climactic moment, Frodo stands over the volcano with the One Ring in his hand and … he can’t do it. Wearing the ring and carrying it have affected him to the point where he becomes convinced he can make everything better if he holds on to it. Of course, we know that this is how the ring works, and that if he doesn’t destroy it everything will be lost, but the ring is affecting his judgement and he decides he’s going to keep it. Oh Frodo! What a betrayal.

Then, out of nowhere, his own madness from the ring at the forefront of his actions, Gollum comes shrieking into view to try to take the ring from Frodo. He bites off Frodo’s finger (ring and all) before hurtling to his death in the volcano below. First time readers of the trilogy don’t see that coming.

We have more than one reversal going on here.

  • Frodo’s desire to do good is subverted by the ring, and despite knowing the importance of destroying it, he decides to keep it in the belief that, for him, everything will be different. He, where everyone else has failed, will wield the ring and become a benevolent ruler.
  • Gollum, the most pathetic character in the trilogy, saves the day. However, it’s not altruistic on his part; again, the ring is exerting its influence over him. His need for the ring drives him.

Of course, to make a good reversal work well, it can’t come as a total surprise. You have to lay a groundwork of subtle signs to mark the way for when you reach that point, without making it obvious beforehand. The trick is to make your reader think that the story is going to go one way (Frodo’s struggles to get to Mount Doom and his eventually reaching there), but also drop in enough foreshadowing for the reversal not to be completely out of the blue.  Tolkein does this by having Gollum tracking Frodo for most of the story. He’s seen following them down the river; he becomes their captive at one point, before escaping, so we’re used to seeing him turn up. And then there’s the line where Tolkein foreshadows everything by literally having Gandalf tell the reader what’s going to happen. This comes when Frodo asks Gandalf why Bilbo spared Gollum:

“And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least.”

It’s cleverly buried in a conversation where we might not think much about it at the time, but here the scene is set for what ultimately takes place.

In my novel, The Lost Weaver, I have a similarly dramatic reversal take place in the climactic scenes. I’m not going to go into detail because the novel hasn’t been published, yet. You can bet, though, that I’ve both hinted at and misdirected all the way to that moment. I can’t wait to see if readers see it coming.

If I do it right, they won’t until it happens. And then they’ll say, ‘Oh! Of course.”

 

Q is for …Query

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Picure from Devanath on Pixabay

If you’re serious about publishing your writing and you’re not going the self-publishing route, you’ll need to start querying agents at some point (or publishers if they accept unsolicited submissions).

What is a query? I hear you ask.

A query usually takes the form of a letter, or a letter and sample of your writing, to an agent who represents writers in your chosen genre.  The latter is important. Do your research. Don’t send a query for an epic fantasy trilogy to an agent who only wants books on fly fishing.

If you’re in the UK, a good place to look is the Writers and Artists Yearbook. You can search their database by genre, or, if you prefer, use the hard copy to make your own list of possible agents. There’s also a list of UK literary agents on Wikipedia.

If you’re in the US, there’s a Directory of Literary Agents.  I haven’t used it, so I can’t vouch for how useful it is but it looks as though it might be of use. Perhaps my American friends can let me know in the comments, if they’ve used it. I have used Writer’s Digest to look for agents, however.

Another way to research is to do a Google search on, for instance, ‘US Literary Agents who represent fantasy‘. Just be wary of what comes up. If an agent or publisher wants to charge you money up front, run the other way.

Now you have your list of agents, the next step is to read their submission guidelines. What do they want to see from you? For some, it’s just the query letter, others might want the query letter and a synopsis. Still others might want a query letter, synopsis and the first fifty pages. Make sure you send exactly what their guidelines state. The biggest complaint I’ve seen from editors and agents when they discuss querying, is that writers don’t read the guidelines, or that they ignore the guidelines altogether, as though they don’t apply to them. Gentle hint: the guidelines always apply to you.

Query letter requirements seem to vary from one side of the pond to the other. For instance, an American query letter seems to require more of a punchy, high-concept blurb, as well as a brief introduction to the writer. Cover letters to English agents, however, seem to be looking for more about the writer and what the main themes of the novel are. So look around. Google is definitely your friend. There are a plethora of examples of good query/cover letters out there, on both sides of the pond.

Most query guidelines ask for a synopsis, which is something that most writers agree is one of the most difficult part of querying. What is a synopsis? It’s a summary of the plot. It needs to be more than a back cover blurb, because it should include how the story ends. It doesn’t need to be a blow-by-blow, or chapter-by-chapter account, either. Include the main characters and the major plot events and write a one-page summary (it can be single-spaced). Again, there are many examples online.

If query guidelines request a sample of your novel, send only what they specify. For example, if they are asking for the first fifty pages, don’t send fifty-eight. If they want only the first chapter, don’t send the first two (or chapter 28 because it’s the most exciting).

You can query more than one agent at a time, but don’t query them all in one email.  One email per agent. Use their name and tell them why you are querying them in particular. Use what you’ve learned about them to show that you’ve done your research. It’s okay to follow up, but not until after their guidelines state. For instance, if they say they expect to answer queries within three months, don’t follow up until after three months have passed.

When selling yourself, be confident without being arrogant; be polite and be engaging, without looking as though you’re trying too hard. Don’t try to be funny – save that for your novel, if it’s humorous (and if it’s not, why try to be funny in your cover letter?). Use the kind of tone you might use to write a cover letter for a job application.

Above all, be professional. If an agent ultimately rejects you, don’t write back, except perhaps to thank them for their time. Absolutely don’t try to tell them what a huge mistake they’re making by not recognising your genius and signing you and your future best-seller. The publishing industry is a small world and agents, like people in any other profession, will discuss badly-behaved writers and compare horror stories. Don’t be an agent’s horror story. Even if you vehemently disagree with any feedback they send, move on. Once you’re over the disappointment, you might find they have a point. In fact, on the rare occasion I’ve had feedback from an agent or publisher, it has been of enormous value to me as a writer. If an agent or publisher has taken the time to do more than send you a form letter, they obviously felt it was worth the effort. Don’t spoil that with a churlish response; no matter how cathartic it feels at the time, it will only damage your reputation as a writer before you’ve even begun.

Happy querying!

P is for … pen and paper!

I began a little experiment a while ago, which I wrote about on Medium. In my day job as a PA, I attend a lot of meetings and take minutes (17 a month!). I’d been using a laptop to take notes, to save time having to transcribe later, and I noticed that – while I was able to capture a great deal of the conversation – when I came to edit the minutes, I found it difficult to remember who said what and in what context. This is because I wasn’t actively listening to the conversation. I was hearing it, but rather than processing what was said, I was simply acting as a conduit for the words to reach the keyboard.

After realising this, I started taking pen and paper into the meetings and writing up the notes afterwards. It takes a little longer, but I’m able to recall the conversation while I’m transcribing onto the computer, and everything makes so much more sense. Of course, it still needs the meeting Chair to keep the conversation focused, and for my colleagues to be clear on what they’re discussing and not assume I can read their minds on conversations that took place outside the meeting, but on the whole I’m confident it has been a success.

20180722_200304As a result, I’ve also taken to writing first drafts of my fiction by hand in a notebook. I’m using a fountain pen too, because it makes me write more slowly and gives me time to think (and encourages me to write neatly, so that I can understand what I’ve written when it’s time to transcribe!). After doing this for several weeks, I can honestly say that it’s been a revelation. Over those weeks, I’ve written more than I had in months. Not only have I spurred ahead on my rewrite of The Lost Weaver, I also have four new short stories out on submission, and another in the works.

 

I think the reasons for this are twofold:

  • With pen and paper, I’m far less likely to fall down a rabbit-hole on the Internet
  • There’s something about writing by hand that acts as a catalyst to my creativity

Whatever the reason, I’m loving it.

20180722_201116.jpgI’ve also developed a mild obsession with fountain pens. Being a lefty (handed as well as politically), I always had a hard time with fountain pens in my youth. Because we lefties push the pen across the page instead of pulling, I would always end up mangling the nibs. I’m still disappointed in the lack of pens made for left-handed people: the only affordable brand I can find is the German manufacturer, Lamy. Lamy pens are great (the one on the right is a Lamy Nexx with a left-handed nib); however, I’ve also learned that – as a lefty – I can get away with using a regular fountain pen as long as the nib is a medium (the one on the left is a Cross Bailey with regular medium nib).  I have a couple of Cross pens, both of which write nicely, and I have my eye on this blue Conklin Durograph, just because it’s so pretty and because I’d like to see how it writes.

Another mild obsession is sparkly fountain pen ink. I’ve been trying out some of the different Diamine colours, and my favourites at the moment are Arabian Nights and Lilac Satin. I think I might try the Arctic Blue next.

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I carry my notebooks everywhere and write whenever I get an opportunity, which has also helped increase my word count. With the recent hot weather, I’ve been sitting in the air conditioned bliss of our local Costa to wait for my husband to pick me up in the evenings, instead of fighting to get on a hot crowded bus. Sometimes I have to wait an hour, but that’s an hour with an iced coffee and my notebook. No wonder my word count has increased!

 

 

O is for … “Oh no, whose bright idea was it to use the alphabet for a weekly blog series?

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Image free on Pixabay by phtorxp

Some weeks, I look up what letter I’m supposed to be writing a post about and wonder why  I thought it would be a good idea to write a weekly writing blog based on an A-Z.

This is one of those weeks.

There aren’t that many writing-related subjects beginning with O.

I thought of ‘onomatopoeia but wondered just how much I could write about words that describe the sound of what they name (bang, cuckoo, splash, slap, rustle, etc).

Or I could write something about oxymorons, where the meanings of a phrase contradict each other (deafening silence, open secret, honest thief, etc.).

In the end, I settled on outlines.

I use outlines.

There, I said it (waits for my pantser friends to stop walking by with protest signs saying, ‘down with this sort of thing,’ against the constraints of outlines).

When I first started writing, I didn’t use outlines at all. I would sit down and write whatever came into my head. It felt wonderful and liberating, but after a while I would run out of ideas, or write myself into a corner, or get totally off-track and lost. Before I started outlining, I never managed to get a novel past about 40,000 words before one of those things happened.

When I talk about outlining, I’m not talking about plotting out every little bit of a story before sitting down to write it.  That would be far too time consuming, and would take the thrill of discovery-writing away. No, I start with the concept of a story and ask myself these questions:

  • How does it start?
  • How does it end?

Once I know these two things, I sit and think about what has to happen for my character to get from the first point, to the last. This is usually a series of steps, and I use these for my chapter outline.

And that’s about it. I use my characters to get me from one step to the next, writing freely. Sometimes, my free-writing will reveal something that wasn’t in the original outline. At that point, I’ll decide whether it’s something I want to keep, and if I do, I’ll alter the outline to accomodate the new plot point, or character.

For example, in The Lost Weaver, I wanted a minor antagonist to make Kestrel’s life more difficult as she tries to fulfil her plot-line. So, I wrote in a fellow bounty-hunter who had a vendetta against her, and who interfered with her business at every opportunity. However, as anyone who’s beta-read the novel will tell you, he becomes so much more than just a pain in her neck (no, he’s not a romantic interest either). This was something that revealed itself as I wrote the novel, and I liked it so much I went back and reworked the plot to give him more prominence, and to foreshadow what happens, so that it doesn’t come as a total surprise to the reader.

I’ve also started outlining short stories as well. Instead of just writing the story and having it turn into a non-story, I’ll brainstorm in my notebook on what I want the shape of the story to be, and then I’ll start to write it. Again, this doesn’t mean that the story is set in stone – it just means it has a little structure to start with. If it doesn’t work, I can change it as I go, but having a goal to work towards helps me keep going.

Outlining has been a life-saver for a procrastinator like me. It helps me to stay on track and finish a piece of work. I know it’s not for everyone, but for someone who’s easily distracted, has helped me a great deal.

What’s your favourite way of writing? Are you an outliner or a pantser, or – like me – do you use both to your advantage?

N is for Narrator

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picture from Luxstorm on Pixabay

When we speak of a narrator, we’re talking about the person, or entity, telling the story. Depending on the type of story, there are different types of narrator.

There’s no one narrator, or narrative voice that’s better than the others. They all have their good and bad points and they all have their techniques. It’s a matter of finding out what fits the story, and what you as a writer find most useful.

And, sometimes, it’s good to step outside your comfort zone and try something new. I’m going to go over some of the more common types below. If you do decide to try them, hopefully this will help!

 

First Person Narrator

With a first person narrator, the story is told from the point of view of the main, or central character – although it has been used from an ‘observer’ point of view, of someone watching events unfold, such as the story of a hero knight, told from the point of view of their squire. It can also be from the point of view of someone telling the story, after the fact, of a story they’ve heard. Mostly, however, it’s the story of the main viewpoint character.

We know when we’re reading a first person narrative when we see ‘I said,‘ instead of ‘he/she said’. This is a very close point of view. The reader is right inside the mind of the narrator, seeing their thoughts and knowing everything that’s going on in their observation. However, it is limited to that one character and we can only know what they know.

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.” – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The first person narrator, can also be an Unreliable Narrator.  Because we can only know what the character knows and sees, if they jump to a wrong conclusion, then so does the reader.

Or perhaps the narrator sees the situation in a particular way, that’s at odds with the way everyone else might see it. In this case, you’re still only getting one point of view, but it’s twisted because the narrator isn’t necessarily telling the truth. They aren’t keeping anything from the reader – they can’t, because the reader is in their mind, watching the story unfold – but what they see as the truth, isn’t necessarily the actual truth.

In The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks, the unreliable narrator is believes something about himself that isn’t true,  and tells the story from that point of view. It’s not until later in the novel, when the narrator makes a discovery, that we and the narrator discover that the opposite is true. I won’t give out spoilers, because it’s a good, dark read. But here’s a quote from the novel:

“My greatest enemies are Women and the Sea. These things I hate. Women because they are weak and stupid and live in the shadow of men and are nothing compared to them, and the Sea because it has always frustrated me, destroying what I have built, washing away what I have left, wiping clean the marks I have made.”
– The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Second Person Narrator

This is a less-often used narrative voice, where the narrator is speaking directly to the reader, putting them into the story. It’s not easy to pull off, and while I’ve attempted stories in second person, I’ve never been happy enough with them to submit them for publication. I’m going to keep trying though.  Here’s an excerpt from the opening of a novel told in second person.

” Four P.M.

The day the stock market falls out of bed and breaks its back is the worst day of your life. Or so you think. It isn’t the worst day of your life, but you think it is. And when you give voice to that thought, it is with conviction and a minimum of rhetorical embellishment.”  Half Asleep in Frog Pyjamas – Tom Robbins.

Third Person Limited Narrator

If the first person narrator is looking out from the viewpoint character’s eyes, and therefore is the voice of the character, then the third person limited narrator is looking over the viewpoint character’s shoulder. They know what the character is thinking, they can see what the character is seeing, and the narrative has all the nuances of the character’s voice, but it is not the character. In this narrative, the writer is acting as a conduit for the reader to see the character, rather than relating the story as the character. We know this because they use ‘he/she said/says.’

Here’s the opening of a short story I’m working on, in third person limited. The narrator in this case is Edie. Hopefully, I get close enough to her to let her personality come through in her internal narrative.

“It began with a bird house.

“Miss Edie, come and see!” Vani called her into the garden, beaming all over her face. Something she seldom did these days.

“What have I told you about calling me miss?” The scolding was half-hearted, futile: no matter how many times Edie had told Vani she despised titles, the woman insisted.

“But miss is what you are, is it not? It is what we both are.”

Edie held her tongue. Vani was technically correct. She had never married, but that didn’t mean she should wear the title like a badge of shame, a declaration to the world that no man had ever found her worthy. Why couldn’t she be known simply as Edie? Not that she should be laying the blame for society’s insistence on labels at Vani’s feet. The poor dear couldn’t help taking everything so literally; it was just the way her brain worked.”

A third person limited narator, like first person, can also be unreliable. Because we’re so close to the character and we can only see from their point of view, the character can make incorrect assumptions and the reader won’t know the assumption is incorrect until the character does. This is especially useful if you want to add a twist to your story. For instance, if you wanted make your reader think that a particular character was an antagonist, you’d let your viewpoint character see that other character do something suspicious, like stealing shoes from the door of a hotel room. Then, later, you might reveal that the character was actually taking the shoes to be mended.

Third Person Multiple Narrators

This is similar to the third person limited narrator, in that the writer brings us close to a particular character, except that throughout the novel the viewpoint changes to different characters, from scene to scene, or chapter to chapter. A good example of this is George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones and other novels in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin uses quite a few narrators to tell an epic story.

Third Person Omniscient Narrator

This narrator is the storyteller, a specific entity, unrelated to the main, or central characters, and has a distinctive voice. They know everything that’s going on in a story and will likely adopt a conversational tone, because they are telling you a story. A third person omniscient narrator is usefull to allow the reader to see the way different characters percieve the same event.  It’s the most distant viewpoint of all, however, and doesn’t allow the reader to see the characters’ direct thoughts. Terry Pratchett employs the omniscient narrator well.

“It was a moonless night, which was good for the purposes of Solid Jackson.

He fished for Curious Squid, so called because, as well as being squid, they were curious. That is to say, their curiosity was the curious thing about them.

Shortly after they got curious about the lantern that Solid had hung over the stern of his boat, they started to become curious about the way in which various of their number suddenly vanished skywards with a splash.” – Jingo by Terry Pratchett

In the above example, the narrator takes us from Solid to the squid and gives us a general idea of how they feel. For Solid, the moonless night is a good thing, but for the squid, their curiosity is not so good. Much of Pratchett’s storytelling starts this way and then moves closer, especially when he’s focusing on a particular character. Then, he’ll move into a more limited narration. Imagine a camera that opens on a wide panorama and them moves closer and closer until it focuses on one person. A writer can change the narration in that way, to suit the needs of the story.

What third person omnisicent doesn’t do, is head hop. This is where the narrator gets close enough to a character to be in third person limited viewpoint, and then jumps to the thoughts of the next character. This can be confusing because the reader doesn’t know who they’re supposed to be following.

If you’re writing in third person ominiscient, you use the voice of the narrator and tell the reader what the character is thinking; if you’re writing in third person limited you’ll use the character’s voice and let the reader see what the character is thinking.

If you are going to write a third person limited narrative, it’s probably best to stick to one character per scene, or at least have a definite break, where you switch. It could be something as simple as having the viewpoint character hand something to another character, who then becomes the viewpoint.

I try to experiment with different narrators, and voices, until I find the one that suits the story best, but I do find that third person limited, or multiple is where I’m most at home. What about you? What’s your favourite narrative style?

M is for … Manuscript Format

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I’m a day late updating the blog this week.  An idea for a story caught hold of me and wouldn’t leave me alone all weekend until I had completed the first draft.  It’s rare that they come to me like that, so I had to comply. It’s quite a long story, and has themes of motherhood and empowerment, along with strong mythological influences. It still needs a lot of work before Ican start sending it out on submission, but I’m pleased with the shape it has taken.

Which brings me to this week’s subject: how to prepare your writing for submission to publications, agents or publishers. While most have their own submission guidelines, they will nearly always ask for submissions to be in standard manuscript format.

So, what is that?

If you google the subject, you’ll find lots of answers to that question, including William Shunn’s excellent advice, which hasn’t much changed.  But you won’t go far wrong if you use at least the following:

  • Standard font: Arial, Times New Roman, Courier, etc, set at 12 pt.
  • A4 size paper (letter in the US)
  • Double line spacing.
  • 2.5 cm (1 inch) margins all round.

UK First Page

 

If you’re in the UK, you’ll need a cover page, with your name, address and contact details in the top left corner and the word count in the top right.  In the middle of the page, you’ll want the title of your story, and underneath, your name, or nom de plume.

 

 

 

 

 

US First Page

 

If you’re in the US, you’ll need all that on the top half of the page, and start your story half way down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the top of every page after the first or cover page, you’ll need to have your last name, the title and the page number:

MS Format - Top of page

This is so that if any pages come loose, they can be matched up to the right manuscript. On a UK manuscript, this would start on page 1 because the cover page is not counted. On a US manuscript, this would be page 2 as the story starts halfway down the first page.

If a publication calls for blind submissions, it means they don’t want any information that reveals your identity. Some do this because then they are not biased by the writer and can judge the story on its merits. When submitting blind, you still use standard manuscript format, but your submission will only have the word count, title and page numbers from the above examples, and none of the identifying information.

It used to be the case that two spaces were required after a full stop (period), but most places these days will ask for one. As someone who learned to type when two spaces were the norm, I find it difficult to train my thumb to hit the spacebar only once so I don’t try.  Instead, when I’m editing, I use ‘find and replace’ to change all the double spaces to single ones.

There was also a rule that italics must be underlined, but these days most places will accept manuscripts wth italics. It’s always best to check their submission guidelines to make sure, though.

First line

 

 

Paragraphs should always be set so that the first line  is a half inch, or 1.27 centimeters indented. In Word, you can set the formatting to do this automatically every time you hit the enter key.

 

 

 

I can’t stress enough that you should always read the submission guidelines. It will save your story from being rejected without being read. It might still get rejected (I’ve had far more rejections than acceptances), but at least you’ve given it every chance to succeed.

If you haven’t submitted before, I hope this helps. Now get those stories out there!

 

 

L is for … Language

 

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When you’re writing a character who isn’t from where you are, one of the best ways to convey their origin is the language they use. Since I’m writing in English, my characters will always speak English, but that doesn’t mean I can’t add a little flavour, and  within English there are many different dialects and accents.

So how do you let the reader know that someone in a story is from a particular place, without doing the obvious and telling them, ‘hey, this character is from London,’ or, ‘this person is from Mexico?’

One way to do this is to mostly use English, but throw in the odd dialect word, or a word from another language. Use dialect, but don’t overdo the accent or it will be hard to understand.

‘E were nowt burra big babby. I telt ‘im ta sling ‘is ‘ook burre wunt. ‘E just kept on whingeing about not gettin’ enough respect.

Being from south Yorkshire, I can understand that, but others who aren’t used to the accent might have difficulty. Let’s try it with dialect but lose some of the glottal stops and dropped h and g sounds.

He was such a baby. I told him to sling his hook but he wouldn’t leave. He just kept on whingeing about not getting enough respect.

The second version is a bit easier to read, but I’ve kept the dialect words such as ‘sling his hook’ and ‘whingeing’. I also gave context for the meaning of ‘sling his hook’ by saying ‘he wouldn’t leave.

Ear mate, wotcha fink abart goin’ darn the pub forra bevy?

The above seems a bit ‘Dick van Dyke’, if you get my meaning. If we take away the exaggerated accent, it becomes:

Fancy going down the pub for a bevy?

We’ve kept the speech pattern of ‘going down the pub’ and ‘bevy’ (which, since we’re going to a pub is – by context – obviously a drink).

So now we’ve got a couple of British accents, how about someone from another country? Here’s my take on someone from Mexico.

I waved to get the flight attendant’s attention. She smiled and held up her hand, and said, “Momentito.”

I waited until she finished helping the other passenger. When she turned to me, I asked, “do you speak English?”

She held up her forefinger and thumb pinched together. “Un poquito.” She grinned.

We can see that she means ‘a little bit’ by the action she makes for ‘un poquito’ and the same goes for her putting up a hand as if to say, ‘wait a moment’ when she says,  ‘momentito’. Plus, the word sounds similar to ‘moment’. It’s enough to show she’s not English without going into too much detail or dwelling on an accent.

How about German?

Some people might make a big deal of writing every ‘w’ sound as a ‘v’, or every ‘th’ as a ‘z’ but it comes out quite stereotypical if we do that.

I gave her the moeny we’d collected for the orphans and she was brought close to tears. “Zis is vonderful!” she said, hugging me.  “Zank you! Zank you my friend!”

becomes

I gave her the money we’d collected for the orphans and she was brought close to tears. “This is  wonderful!” she said, hugging me. “Danke! Danke mein freund.”

Instead of using stereotypical accents, we use the language itself. The words are commonly known, and sound similar enough to their English counterparts that we can see what she means, especially alongside the actions. Again, it’s all about the context.

This is an especially useful method to use when writing fantasy, especially if your fantasy is set in another world. Rather than make up new words for everything, it’s probably best to choose a few important words and put them in a context where it’s obvious what they mean.

I’ll leave you with a partial scene from something I’m working on. Can you tell what’s going on here? What do you think the word ‘hekesha’ means?

“I loved her, yes.” Laera hung her head. “But that isn’t why I ran away.”
“Hekesha!” Her father shrieked.
Still she did not look at him, not even at the sound of tearing cloth. She did not need to look to know that he had torn off his sleeve and cast it at her feet. The ultimate in rejection. He had disowned her in front of the entire court.