Crime and Plotting

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Checking the programme for ‘Alibis in the Archive’

I spent last weekend listening to authors and publishers extolling the virtues of a life of crime at an event held at Gladstone’s Library in Flintshire, along with eighty other interested people. In mainstream fiction, crime pays. We were told that it is the best selling genre. We even had a presentation on the various ways and means to poison someone. Luckily nowadays you are less likely to get away with it than you were in the nineteenth century when forensic science was an emerging discipline.

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The speaker’s platform in the library

I was particularly encouraged though to hear two successful writers admit that they don’t plot their novels ahead of time. These were Ann Cleeves, author of the Vera and Shetland detective novels, and Stella Duffy OBE who has crossed several genres with her books—notably crime and historical.

They were also impassioned presenters, speaking for forty minutes without notes, sharing anecdotes and insights into their thought processes with the audience.

Some members of the audience were astounded to discover that you can write a good crime story without knowing the ending at the start. Ann Cleeves said that when she started writing the first Vera book, The Crow Trap, she didn’t even have the character in mind. She was three chapters into writing the story when someone opened a door and there was Vera.

Stella Duffy is currently working on finishing a Ngaio Marsh novel, Money in the Morgue. Marsh left three and a half chapters and some notes—however with nothing to indicate whodunit or even the names of a lot of the characters. This sounds a rather daunting task but having seen Stella speak, I am sure she is up to the challenge.

I can’t compare myself to either of the above-mentioned authors, but this is very much how my stories develop. Sometimes the direction a story takes comes as a complete surprise.

For example, when I started writing the second book in the Starling Hill Trilogy, Arc Over Time, this scene in Chapter Two came out of nowhere and put a whole different spin on how Jasmine Pepper’s character was going to develop.

Just walking up the road to Max’s house was a thrill. This was a part of London she could only dream about living in. Her parents had helped her pay the deposit on her small garden flat in Stoke Newington and she was still paying off the mortgage ten years later.

She stopped outside the large white Georgian house, the engorged purple flowers of the climbing wisteria vine hanging lusciously over the front door. Taking a deep breath, Jas lifted the brass knocker but the door opened before it fell back in place.

“Ms. Pepper. Please come in.” The speaker was dressed in a maid’s outfit, although a more risqué version than any worn by those employed at nearby royal palaces. When the maid turned to lead her down the hall, Jas got a view of the young woman’s bare cheeks. She swallowed nervously. What was she letting herself in for?

Max was leaning against the fireplace in the large sitting room where the scantily-clad maid had taken her. The sight of her hostess looking imposingly handsome dressed in a close-fitting tuxedo dispelled her misgivings. Whatever this evening was leading to, it was likely to be more fun than a lonely night in front of the telly watching repeats of Rizzoli & Isles.

Interesting what happens when a door opens.

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Gladstone’s Library

It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and I can recommend a visit to Gladstone’s Library. I will certainly be keeping an eye on their yearly programme of events as a return visit is definitely on the cards sometime in the not too distant future.


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Buying Links:

Running From Love: Affinity Rainbow Publications / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

Christmas at Winterbourne is in print…available on Amazon: Amazon UK / Amazon US


 

Resolutions and Repetitions

I gave up making New Year resolutions some years ago. No point in putting pressure on myself to achieve things I’ll likely give up on in the first few weeks. Several friends have decided to do a ‘dry January’. One of them is now suffering from headaches, withdrawal-type symptoms. The other one lasted three days. I’m with her.

Plus, I’ve got 5 bottles of whisky to start making inroads on. All Christmas presents, two from my beloved and the three-bottle F&M selection from my brother. My resolution, should I decide to make a belated one, could be to finish these by the end of the year. (My wife is Scottish, but hates whisky – so I’m on my own with this one!)

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I was asked fairly recently—by a young man—whether it was necessary to drink a lot to be a published author. I guess he was thinking of someone like Hemingway. I do most of my writing in the morning when the only liquids I’ve consumed are orange juice, coffee and water (in that order).

Non-resolutions aside, my first task of 2017 has been to try and finish another novel. So last week I read through the first draft of my current work-in-progress and marked areas that needed attention as well as spotting repetitions. Using the handy ‘Find’ feature in Word, I discovered I had used ‘then’ 144 times in a word count of just over sixty-one thousand. So that was an hour of my life gone as I worked through the document to reduce the total number.

Then, I moved onto the second word I had noted. This time 209 instances of the word ‘well’ were found. Well, well, well!

wordcloud

 

It seems I have a habit of starting dialogue with this word. “Well, isn’t this fun?” I suspect this stems from my own conversational tic. When I’m uncertain of what I’m going to say, I will probably use ‘well’ as a stalling device. Less obvious than a stuttering ‘um’ or ‘er’, perhaps. But not if overused.

So, another hour or so passed as I went through the document discarding ‘well’ wherever it appeared. As with ‘then’, I left some in.

‘Usual’ was another high scorer in my repetition league table but not as high as ‘well’ or ‘then’. I was pleased to find I had only used ‘wetness’ twice and ‘wet’ fourteen times. I thought I could get away with the latter as the story is set in the UK and some of the ‘wet’ words refer to the weather.

On my next read-through, I’m sure I’ll find plenty more repetitious words but I’m hoping not as many as this time. Maybe I should just put the whole document through a word cloud generator.

Back to the writing now to knock this WIP into shape. Then I can submit it and…well, hope for the best.


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Buying options for my books:

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes


 

Giving birth

I’ve heard the analogy that writing and publishing a novel (or any other form of artistic endeavor) is akin to giving birth.

This can hold true in some respects. Depending on the gestation period – vacillating between bouts of sickness, anxiety, and elation followed by a delivery that can either be a long, painful process or a quick entry into the world of the treasured newborn.

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Canada geese with gosling

I have never given birth to a child, and before anyone feels sorry for me, this isn’t something I ever felt the need to do. But I have now birthed five novels.

In the fifth one I created a character who was nine months pregnant. As the story takes place over four days, it was inevitable – and I’m not giving away any spoilers here – that at some point during that time she was going to go into labour.

This character is Gabriella in Christmas at Winterbourne. It is her first child and she’s thirty-seven years old. Gabriella had always planned on a home birth with the help of a neighbouring midwife. With Winterbourne House becoming snowbound, the options are narrowed down to Gaby’s mother and Felicity, who runs the stables and has experienced assisting in the birth of many foals. Somehow this isn’t reassuring for Wil, Gaby’s partner.

As I neared the halfway point in the story, I realised I was going to have to deal with an actual birth scene. Writing credible romance is one thing; I have actually experienced this and know the emotions that come with falling in love, etc (there you go…a fade to black if ever there was one). But how could I describe a birth?

While I was pondering this, I recalled the time I was on a residential writing course. There were sixteen of us—fourteen women and two men. At one point during the course we all had to do a five-minute reading of something we’d written. One of the young men started reading to the group and soon had everyone in stitches. For some reason, known only to him, he had written a scene in a hospital with a woman giving birth. I don’t think he had meant it to be funny, but it was. Luckily he took the laughter in good heart and wasn’t discouraged by the response.

So I figured any attempt I could make at describing childbirth would be about as successful. I kept putting off writing the scene as my mind worked around ways of doing it.

If you want to find out how I managed this, you’ll have to read the book. The opening scenes from Chapter 1 are available to read on the Affinity website.

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Budding tree in spring

(Note: with no actual baby photos to show, I’ve resorted to a budding tree in spring and a gosling. The pic of the geese is a bit fuzzy—I guess I won’t be taking up nature photography any time soon.)


Buying options for Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella BooksSmashwords /Apple iTunes


 

Why do I write?

I considered not posting a blog today with so much despair circulating around the USA election result—but I had it prepared, apart from the last two paragraphs, so here it is.

Why do I write?

You may wonder why I’m asking this. I’ve had five novels and three short stories published in just two years so I must be some kind of writing machine, right?

Not really.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. In the years I lived in London and commuted to work and back by train, when I wasn’t reading, I would fill notebooks with stories and ideas. None of the stories ever reached completion. They stayed in a drawer. Getting anything published was only a distant dream.

When I got my first home computer, a Macintosh LC II, I typed up some of the longer pieces in ClarisWorks – my first experience of WYSIWIG, as it was known then (What You See Is What You Get). It was a joy to have black type appear on a white background, as the favourite office word processing software at the time was WordPerfect – yellow type on a blue background. (Honestly, kids today don’t know how lucky they are!)

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A younger me at work, 28 years ago

These bits and pieces of stories got printed out (my first laser printer cost more than the Mac) and filed away. Over the years I would take them out at times and think about maybe finishing them.

We moved north and I was driving to work, so the writing become more intermittent. It wasn’t until I was nearing retirement that I started to think seriously about trying to publish something.

Since then, just over three years ago, I’ve hardly stopped writing. When I started though, I could never have imagined I would have an Amazon Author page with a line of books showing.

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All those years ago, when I was commuting, I wrote stories to entertain myself. Now that other people are reading my published work, it’s become a job. In some ways that makes it more difficult as I feel I have a responsibility to my readers to give them a good story. Thankfully, I’ve been encouraged, not just by Affinity’s willingness to publish my books, but also by readers who have commented either privately or by leaving a positive review saying how much they’ve enjoyed the stories.

When I knew I would be posting a blog today, I thought it would be a chance to celebrate a historic moment in United States history. Instead America has woken up to a nightmare. And the idea of a woman President remains a dream that may never be realised (in my lifetime, anyway).

I write romances and always aim for a happy ending. So I will carry on writing the stories that make me happy and hope they bring some happiness to others, offering a form of escape perhaps from the gloomy outlook of the world around us.


Book number 5, Christmas at Winterbourne, available from: Affinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords /Apple iTunes


 

Finding the apostrophe

This may not seem like a blog-worthy topic, but I feel strongly about the misuse of the apostrophe. Whenever I see a sign where an apostrophe has been placed where it is clearly not needed, I want to go and remove it. The reverse is true for signs where it has been left out.

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Yes, I am the kind of person who uses apostrophes when sending text messages and emails from small devices. So the discovery I made only this past week is what inspired today’s blog.

I was looking for the hidden smart (curly) quote mark on the computer keyboard – because I was using a software program that was putting in straight ones (inch marks). And I recalled that I had a printout of keyboard tips in my drawer. I found the sheet in a plastic folder and was able to locate the curly quote marks I needed.

When I turned the folder over to return it to the drawer there was a printed sheet on the other side. At some point, a few years ago, I had put together a list of iOS tips for iPads.

Tip #6 was titled ‘Hidden apostrophe key on the keyboard’. I’ve always thought Apple had made a big mistake in not having the apostrophe on the first screen of iPhone and iPad keyboards…having to click onto the next screen to find it. Now here it was, the answer that I must have quickly scanned, put in the drawer and forgotten about.

And it is so simple. Just tap and hold the ! key and voilà – an apostrophe is placed where you want it. And for quote marks, tap and hold the ? key. Amazing. How I’ve lived with my iDevices for so many years without knowing this is also amazing.

So, I just wanted to share this. For any other apostrophe control freaks out there who might not know about this vital time-saver.

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Where to buy books by Jen Silver:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/ Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

My Writing Time

When I’m working on a novel, my morning goes like this: out of bed by 6am or 6:30 at the latest (panic sets in if its later than that). Make breakfast for myself and my wife. This consists of putting together two bowls of oats, yogurt, banana, a few prunes, seeds, various dried fruit. I drink some orange juice while I’m doing this. We make our own coffee. I like proper coffee dripped through a filter, she likes instant (yecchh!). How did we ever get together, you may well ask?

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That morning coffee

Take coffee and breakfast bowl into the living room, sit in chair, glasses on, open iPad. Quick scan of emails and Facebook. Open up newspaper app. Read a few articles that interest me and then look at the weather…endlessly fascinating for anyone living in the British Isles. As we live in the middle of the country, it’s often wrong.

After washing up my bowl, spoon, coffee mug, filter, I pour myself a large glass of water and go upstairs to my office. Resisting the temptation to have another look at Facebook, or maybe a peek at Twitter, I open up my writing program, Scrivener.

Usually I will have had some thoughts on waking up about what I think is coming next in the story, which scenes I need to tackle. If I’m lucky, the day before I might even have added a few notations into blank scenes with the name of the character so I have a clue as to what I was thinking then. Better still, I might even have made some notes in the notebook I have for the novel.

Distractions, other than social media…glancing out of the window I watch the young man across the way getting ready to cycle to work. He’s a bit OCD about it, taking a long time to check and double check everything. Then the neighbor whose garage backs onto the lane directly across from my window opens her garage door and I gauge by her clothing what her activity is… gym, golf, picking up her mother to go shopping.

Back to my own screen and a new blank page. I need to get into the head of this character and describe what happens next in the story.

The man with the bike is almost ready now. I know the signs. He’s locking the side door, checks it once, twice. Goes to the back of the house and checks the patio door is locked. Back to the side door, puts his cycling gloves on, carefully. Checks again to make sure the side door is locked and gets on his bike. He’s gone, so now I can get on with writing something.

My goal every day I’m working on a novel is to write one thousand words. This mostly works and generally averages out over the week if I miss that target for the day.

The closer I get to finishing the first draft, the more this writing time gains in importance. I’m monitoring my word count, checking the chapter lengths, wondering if the title makes sense now that I’m near the end of the story.

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Mugs for writers

Five hundred words on the page. I finish my glass of water. Go downstairs to make another coffee. The cat next door is staring out of a bedroom window and follows my movements with inquisitive green eyes.

Sometimes the words flow, sometimes they don’t. I remind myself that no one is making me do this. It’s my choice to sit in front of a screen and try to put the words one after the other on the page. But when I’m not doing it, I miss it. So I need to make the most of my writing time and enjoy the process.

Is it time for another cup of coffee yet? It’s a nice day, maybe I should go for a walk.

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The canal in Hebden Bridge


Books by Jen Silver

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks/Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & NobleBella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting Over: Affinity eBooksAmazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over Time: Affinity eBooksAmazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in Stone: Affinity eBooksAmazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Let’s get naked

At last year’s GCLS Conference I attended a number of panels and readings. From the sessions I attended this one line from Dorothy Allison stands out. She was talking about writing and said that writers need to have “the willingness to be naked on the page.”

Dorothy demonstrated through all her talks, including the emotive reading she did from Bastard Out of Carolina, and in her keynote speech, that she is willing to be naked in public as well (not literally, of course – maybe only for private readings).

I thought of this “nakedness” again over the past few weeks. I’ve been reading my way through J M Redmann’s Micky Knight series.

Redmann

I read the first in the series, Death by the Riverside, probably about twenty-five years ago, so it’s been fascinating to rediscover the books and see the stories from the perspective of my older self. (Also, the books are set in New Orleans and I can feel another level of  connection from my brief time in the city last summer.)

The author doesn’t hold back when describing the awfulness of Micky’s early years. And her character’s way of dealing with the past isn’t particularly healthy as Micky loses herself in drink and random sex with just about any woman who crosses her path.

In the first book, Micky is well on the road to self-destruction. Her journey through the eight books is a massive roller coaster ride. Just when you think she’s moving towards a happy ever after, Hurricane Katrina arrives and knocks everything sideways.

As a writer of romance novels, I’m always hoping for the perfect HEA. This, however, is dangerous territory for Micky, especially in the beginning, when she doesn’t think she deserves to be loved.

Reaching the end of this series, I know I’m going to have withdrawal symptoms. For all her faults, Micky is a thoroughly believable character. I’d love to spend an evening sitting on a bar stool next to her, sipping Scotch and listening to her stories.

Other characters that come close to engendering the feelings I’ve experienced reading these books are Katherine V Forrest’s Kate Delafield and Jaye Maiman’s Robin Miller. Flawed and edgy; great at making the big decisions in order to catch criminals, but not so good at relationship choices.

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Maiman

With any genre, writers are putting themselves on the line. My romantic stories are softer in tone than the ones featuring toughened detectives. How hard is it to be completely “naked on the page” when writing a love story? However, I do at times wonder if I’m subconsciously censoring my own writing with the subliminal thought hovering in the background – “I can’t write that, my mother’s going to read this.”

I doubt that I will ever be able to create characters with as much depth as those created by the authors I’ve mentioned here. But I hope I have, so far, created characters and situations readers can recognise as real people. I may not be completely naked yet – maybe just down to my bra and panties.

I’ll leave you with that image (but no photo!).


 

 

Ebook links for The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks/Amazon US / Amazon UK / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

And don’t forget to take a look at The Starling Hill Trilogy – still available on Kindle Unlimited:

Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Finding the “loaded gun”

Navigating the mushy middle – I’ve always thought that would be a great title for a book. I’m at that stage with my latest work-in-progress and it seems to be the way my novel writing goes.

Other writers have a problem with deciding where to start the story. I’ve not encountered this particular sticking point yet. Starting is the easy bit. I will sit down to write once I’ve got a few characters in mind and know enough about them to set them off on their journey…which is my journey of discovering where they are going.

So where does the ‘loaded gun’ come into it. My mother reminded me of this piece of advice Chekhov gave to one of his writer friends: “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of using it.” This theory was expanded to say that if the gun is there in the first act, it must be used by the third. Now story plotters are well aware of this device, commonly known as the Art of Foreshadowing. If they’ve placed a loaded gun on the mantelpiece in the first chapter, they know exactly when, how and why it will go off.

After talking with my mother I realised that the loaded gun theory could also be applied to my next published novel, The Circle Dance (being released on Tuesday 15 March). When I was writing this book and floundering about in the mushy middle wondering which direction the story was going, I realised I had a loaded gun, primed and ready to be used. Someone I thought was only ever going to be a minor character was waiting in the wings. She had a much bigger role to play in the story than I had envisaged when I first introduced her.

Once I’d had this revelation, everything started to fall into place. The mushy middle had been conquered. Other elements in the story came together which led to a surprising conclusion (well it certainly surprised me!).

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This no doubt seems a haphazard way of working to those who meticulously plot their novels ahead of time. I admire them, I really do. It would make my life so much easier if I could do it. I also admire, and envy, those who can write the synopsis before they start. This would also be a way not to get mired in the mushy middle and would save me several weeks of agony trying to write a decent summary to send off with my submission to the publisher.

So, back to my current WIP. I’m standing in the swamp, about to sink to my knees in the mushy middle. And I can’t find my loaded gun. I’ll need to go back to the beginning to find out where I left it. It will be there somewhere…in crime writers’ parlance…a vital clue or a red herring.

It would be good to find the gun before I end up fully submerged and abandon all hope of getting out of the bog…and being able to finish the story.

 

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Shooting arrows in the snow

I have to confess that I don’t own a gun, although I do have a recurve bow in the cupboard under the stairs and several longbows leaning against the wall in a corner of the kitchen. They don’t quite fit into the loaded gun analogy and only get taken out to shoot at targets.


Chapter One of The Circle Dance is available to read on the Affinity eBook Press website.

Ebook links for The Circle Dance:  Affinity eBooks/Amazon US / Amazon UK / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

(All three books are available on Kindle Unlimited for the next 2 months)

Writing tools and NaNoWriMo

In last week’s blog I talked about how I use Scrivener – a software program designed for writers. This sparked some interest with comments from others who have wondered about trying it or whether it’s the right program for them. The makers of Scrivener, Literature and Latte, also provide a list of other options that might be useful if you’re looking for something to help your process along.

All I can say is, Scrivener works for me. I read an article in a writing magazine that listed what the writer considered to be ‘top tools’ and one that caught my eye was Zenwriter. This sounds great if you really can’t stop yourself from giving in to online distractions. (What’s happening on Facebook/I have three new emails!/A quick game of solitaire won’t hurt)

Zenwriter saves you from all such temptation by hiding your screen, replacing it with a lovely background image of your choice along with accompanying background music. And you can even apply the sound of an old-fashioned typewriter.

Sounds great. But I think I have enough self-discipline to be able to do this myself. I can ignore the little icons at the bottom of my screen, put some music on, concentrate on writing for more than half an hour. (Oh, excuse me, I have a notification on Twitter.)

Screen image

How to increase your word count—or maybe not!

It’s coming up to November – which means NaNoWriMo for some folks. I’ve not tried this and I won’t be doing it this year either. But I know it can be a great motivator to get 50,000 words written in a month to maybe finish that novel you’ve been trying to write for ages. Anyway, another article I read recently gave tips on how to increase your word count to meet the daily quota. Some of the suggestions were useful, but others were just laughable and sounded like excellent ideas for making your work totally unreadable. For example: “add characters who tell long boring stories, starting again at the beginning if they get interrupted”. Another one was: “Don’t use hyphens. Make all compounds into separate words”. A sure fire way to piss off your editor! Or, how about: “Words such as ‘that’ and ‘some’ can be slipped in almost anywhere”. In my case it is usually “then”.

I’m guessing this article was written as a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ exercise. Although maybe there is some merit in this tip: “Introduce a child who has the irritating habit of repeating everything anyone says”. 1,667 words a day—no problem—make it 5,000!

For anyone taking part in NaNoWriMo, good luck! I will follow everyone’s posted struggles with interest…a bit like watching a marathon on TV…applauding the effort, but glad that I’m not taking part.

Well, that’s my word output for today. Time for a cup of tea and maybe a quick look at Facebook.

Leaves

Happy writing…and reading!


Books:

Arc Over Time – available from Affinity eBook Press /Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Bella Books / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / iTunes

Starting Over – available from Affinity eBook Press / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / iTunes.

Short Stories

There Was a Time and The Christmas Sweepstake – both available FREE on the Affinity website

Talking about writing

How easy is it to sit down in front of a blank page and start writing?

Bernard Cornwell was asked this question in a recent interview and his response was simply: “It’s not hard — you just write the first f**king sentence and go from there.”

Some days it works this way, other days it is a struggle and you wonder if the words are going to come…and how many cups of coffee will need to be consumed. Or maybe a glass of beer, once the pirate ship’s gone past (see Note below).

Boats on Windermere

My main writing tool for the last two years has been Scrivener. The books I have written during this time have had a large number of characters but I’ve limited myself to six or seven points of view. Scrivener is particularly useful for me as the writer to keep the characters separate, and hopefully this helps readers as well when they see the finished product.

This is what the binder on one of my Scrivener files looks like, listing Chapter scenes from Carved in Stone (due out early next year).

Scrivener binder list

A recent blog by Jordan Redhawk gave some very useful advice on using a colour-code to easily identify scenes. I think that’s a great idea that I may employ in future manuscripts but so far just using the character’s names has worked.

With Scrivener I can also add Character Sketches, which is great if I’ve forgotten what hair or eye colour one of the characters has and saves having to scrabble through scraps of paper or a tattered notebook. That was my method BS (Before Scrivener).

This doesn’t mean I never handwrite anything. I do still have notebooks with bits of information, things that come to mind at odd moments, bits of research, and sketches for future scenes. Sometimes even a bit of planning ahead (what a novel idea!). Just a line or two can be all I need to spark the idea for a scene. The notes on this page are for the early chapters of Arc Over Time.

Notebook page

Sitting down in front of a blank page – it’s not always easy. But when the words come it is immensely satisfying to read it back the next day and realise you have achieved something. That you have, perhaps, moved the story on or created space for another plot development. This is the way I write, chaotic at times, but in the end, with the help of Scrivener, I can draw the threads together.

Well, I think the pirate ship went past some time ago. Cheers! Happy reading.

The pirate ship went past

  • Note: this is a reference to a holiday my wife and I took many years ago. We noticed that the pirate ship, a tourist excursion, sailed past the beach we were sunbathing on at the same time every day, about 11:00 in the morning. That was the cue for one of us to go to the bar. Ever since then, whenever we wonder if it’s time for a drink, we’ll say “it’s okay, the pirate ship’s gone past”.

Books:

Arc Over Time – available from Affinity eBook Press /Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Bella Books / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / iTunes

Starting Over – available from Affinity eBook Press / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / iTunes.

Short Stories

There Was a Time and The Christmas Sweepstake – both available FREE on the Affinity website