Tuesday, April 22, 2014

U is for the Unknown

The unknown is an element in many horror novels. There is nothing more terrifying than the unknown. Anyone who has had a loved one arrive late, have experienced what the mind can do with lack of information. I think most people's imaginations are good at conjuring up the worse case scenario.

Our stress levels are highest when we anticipate the worse. 

If you are struggling writing suspense it is worth while checking out the horror genre. The unknown works well with supernatural elements. But the unknown doesn't have to be used on such a dramatic scale. Think about your first day at school or starting a new job. 

Unknown checklist

Have you let your characters stew and worry?
Remeber it's not what your characters husband is doing it's what your lead character thinks he is doing that causes the suspense.
Is your character behaving in a realistic manner to stress. Think of the cheesy horror movies, would your character really walk into the haunted house for no reason? Or do you need to rewrite to make it more believable?
Think back to stressful periods in your life, exam results, medical tests, how did you deal with it? Did you comfort eat, cry, run or speak to others? Give your character a crutch in early chapters and then take it away.
Lastly, give your work to a beta reader - ask them to write their guesses in the margins - did they get it right?

T is for Truth

'I'm not interested in facts, but truths.'
Maya Angelou 

What is the difference?

The majority of works we call timeless classics stand the test of time because they deal with truth. Each generation understand the basic 'Romeo and Juliet' story, loving someone enough that you are willing to sacrifice everything; family, approval of others, even your life is a concept we are willing to embrace. It is a storyline that has tapped into a timeless truth about love.

I write educational resources and you quickly find that works that are used year after year in schools are picked because they are open to interpretation. A class of thirty pupils can all have their own opinion on the work. 

Now I'm not saying that I'm able to write a timeless classic - but here is my checklist for those who do?

What elements of your work are timeless?
Would readers be able to identify with the themes in thirty years from now?
Is there any details which make it dated?
What is the theme of your work?

S is for Suspence

I have had members of my writers group grumble that they have read terrible books which aren't as good as theirs, but have somehow managed to get published. I look at the offending novel, and nine times out of ten I'm correct in working out what key ingredient the book contained - suspence.

It may have poor characters, a weak plot line, and even be twee.  But if there is  suspense, readers often stay with the work. Unfortunately, when they have finished the novel they feel cheated and resentful or they instantly forget the book.

So if you have tried to create suspense in your work here is a useful checklist to see if you are on track.


Have you managed to create a sense of anticipation? This is the echoey footsteps in the darkness or the clock ticking during the exam.
Have you raised the stakes? If someone has to work out a password it's not that exciting. If they have to crack the password in a certain time or before someone shoots a family member, you are raising the stakes.
Danger is a powerful way to increase suspense, this doesn't have to involve a gun. The danger must suit your characters personality. There are many types of danger, sexual danger, illness, emotional, psychological or spiritual dangers. Have you used any?
Do you have a ticking clock? Go through your work and find out how much time has passed in the story. Adding time pressure can be effective. 
Think about what happens if the clock is ticking, but your central character can't act because he's tied up with something else. Stephen King in Pet Sematary uses the mother to create suspense. She runs, but we all know that she can't get to her child fast enough to stop him being run over.
Next have you made use of the unknown? Climbing into the loft space, opening the box hidden in the wardrobe, checking the texts on the phone?
Stephanie Meyer climbed the charts with her Twilight series, what did she use? Sexual tension, will they, won't they - many TV series have used this successfully for years. 
Have you let the reader in on the secret or not? Do we the reader know about the body under the floor boards before the young couple move in? Do we know about the curse, or the shark in the water? 
Does your work contain a secret? Think about Psycho, what would the original audience have thought when they found out the truth about Norman Bate's mother?
Does your character have a flaw that can had to the suspence? Look at Indian Jones fear of snakes?

I hope this list gives you something to think about when you are reading your own work.

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Religion

I have been on so many writing courses where students are given a list of questions to answer about their character, or a photograph, and they are then asked to make a fictional personality from the image. Yet I rarely see the tutor ask us what religion the character is a member of. 

I am writing from the UK. We are a multi cultured society, therefore we have disagreements over religion. I have many friends who say they don't know what they believe in. Or that religion doesn't matter. 

I say that the WRITER MUST know this about the character. I know that at this point some may disagree, but let me explain.

Despite the writers personal views, whether we admit it or not, religion is a definite factor of society. In the UK it doesn't matter what you believe, the shops are still closed on a Sunday morning, Christmas music starts playing in department stores as early as October. 

I think religion either plays a big part of someone's life or no part at all. However, it will affect how your character behaves. So today's editing checklist.

Do you know what religion your character is?

Hare Krishna

Does he or she believe? 
Are they observant? 
Do they go to confession?
Shun pork?
Wear a cross?
Pretend they are not in if Mormons come to the door or listen politely?
How does he or she feel about religion compared to the rest of the family?
Would they have a church wedding to please their Mum?
Is he on she ready to believe in something or is spiritual without going to an organised event?
Do they have guilt? Or are they rebelling? Do they dislike rituals?
Do they follow the latest New Age trends? Are they open to different beliefs?

When did they become devout or lose faith? What triggered it?

Do they have any beliefs that lurk beneath the surface that they don't know they have? 

If you spend just a few minutes thinking about your characters religious background you will gain a deeper understanding on how they will react to events in your plot! 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Prole: from pub to publication

Happy Easter everyone! I was up at five to make bacon but ties for those going to the dawn service, so forgive me if my post is a little jumbled. I've been sent an email recently about a new outlet for fiction which I thought I would share.

Prole: from pub to publication

 Five years ago Prole started in the pub with a feeling that most literary journals were published for writers, rather than readers. Five years later, we’ve just published issue 13 and have four poetry pamphlets/collections under our belt.

 Our mantra is: engaging, challenging, accessible and high quality. We publish poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction with an eye for pieces that are going to connect with readers. Starting from a base of nearly zero knowledge about what was involved in creating and managing a small journal, we’ve carved ourselves a growing readership – both within the writing community, and, more importantly - what appear to be readers rather than writers.

 It’s been immense fun. We’ve learned huge amounts and continue to do so. We’ve done this with no funding from The Arts Council – nor do we seek it. If Prole is to succeed, it has to pay for itself. While there is a very strong case for some aspects of the arts being subsidised, we want Prole to support itself. We certainly can’t afford to plough our own money into it. As a part of guaranteeing covering costs, we run two competitions a year. Our current competition, The Prolitzer Prize for Prose Writing, 2014, is now open for submissions. 

If you’d like to find out more, read an issue or submit work for our journal you can visit us here: http://www.prolebooks.co.uk/

 Brett Evans and Phil Robertson

Co-editors, Prole

Website: www.prolebooks.co.uk 
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prole/236155444300?v=wall 
News blog at: http://prolebooks.blogspot.com/ 
Twitter at: https://twitter.com/#!/Prolebooks 
Reader/writer blog: http://readwriteblog.prolebooks.co.uk/

Q is for Quest

The oldest plot line is the quest. The reader follows the heroes story as they search for something. When I was younger I loved stories based on the Arthur legends.  If you want to write a quest story make sure you have all the correct elements. 

Is your story a quest?

Your central character will begin feeling incomplete in his ordinary world.
He/she must be looking for something of vital importance.
You need huge obstacles to be put in the leads journey.
Your central character must change for the better before they reach their objective, or the reader must feel gutted if the story ends in tragedy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Plot read-through

I love macro editing. To get me into the zone I always remind myself that professionals rewrite and I want to be a professional, so red pen to the ready here is my ...

...Plot read-through checklist!

Avoid starting on page one and tinkering with a sentence. You are looking at plot!

Mark the pages were you feel the story is dragging with a red felt tip mark in the corner.
If you find any confusing paragraphs, draw a line in the margin - don't start rewriting yet.
Make a mark in the margin if you find any places where more information need to be added.
Put question marks next to anything you are unsure or unhappy with.

Do not indulge yourself in self pity at this point, so it needs some work, so what!

Are there any places that surprised you or made you happy - do you need to expand these parts?
What are your characters doing in the story? If it's a scene which is dragging, are you focusing on the real issues the characters are dealing with? Are you looking at their passions and desires?
Is the plot line correct and believeable? Would an alternate plot be better?

What about structure?

Back to basics is there a beginning, middle and end?
Did you start with a disturbance to your major characters life?
What do you think about the pace of your work?
Is there enough motivation behind the characters actions?
Is your timeline correct? Does it need to be rearranged?
Are the big scenes ... big enough?

You will be left with a manuscript with writing all over it. But if you deal with the larger problems first before you focus on a spell check and grammar, your final piece will be so much better after having a good look at the foundations.