Writing Corner: Planning

In my last Writing Corner post I discussed Planners vs Pantsers so today I’m going to focus on planning. There are so many ways to approach planning a novel. You need to find a process that works for you, but in this post I’ll give you some ideas and tips on what and how to plan.  

I’m a planner and do quite a bit of preparation before I’m ready to start writing. How you organise your ideas and plans is up to you. I use Microsoft Office OneNote, but there is other writing and planning software you can use such as Scrivener and Dabble. Do research to find out what’s best for you. You can usually get a free trial too so you can try before you buy. I found Scrivener to be quite daunting, so for now I’m sticking with using OneNote to organise all my notes.

There are five main areas I look at when I approach planning a novel – ideas, research, world building, characters and plot. My ‘Ideas’ tab allows room for splurging ideas and brainstorming my thoughts. I’ll come back to those later and filter them through to my ‘Plot’ tab when I’m ready.

Whatever genre you’re writing, you will inevitably need to do research. Whether that’s into a historical setting, types of weapons or how security cameras work. If you’re writing historical fiction, you’ll need to do a lot of research. But even if you’re writing fantasy, research can help you build your world. I recently wrote a fantasy novel inspired by Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. I did quite a bit of research into the ancient world, and then drew inspiration from that research to build my own world. There’s research you can do in the planning stage and some things you will only need to research as you go.

On the subject of world building, you need to understand your world because setting interacts with plot and character. Your setting (whether that be an invented setting or a historical period) will affect how your characters behave and interact with each other. But there is always room to develop and discover more about your world as you write. If you’re writing fantasy, world building will probably be a big part of your planning. Keep your notes organised into sections (e.g. magic, customs, clothing, religion) so it’s easy to refer back to and find those details when you’re writing.

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Writing Corner: Finding Your Process

Questions that I see asked frequently are things like… How do you write a novel? Where do you start? How do you plan your books? The simple answer is that there is no one answer of how to write a novel. There are no rules. The only thing you have to do is sit down and write. But of course we know it’s more complicated that just sitting at a desk and bashing out thousands of words then sitting back, satisfied, having completed a novel.

One of the simple ways that types of writing process are defined is planners vs. pantsers.

Planners – Plan their novels extensively before starting to write their novel.

Pantsers – Don’t plan at all, or with loose outlines, and let the story go where it takes them.

Being a pantser doesn’t mean you don’t plan at all, and neither does being a planner mean your novel can’t change direction as you write.

But how do you know which method you use? And which is right for you? When it comes to the process of writing a novel, you have to find what approach works best for you.

When I started writing, I was a pantser. I’d write down vague notes about my ideas but pretty much dived straight into the writing. The problem was I never finished anything. I’d get part way through and not know where to go next, or go off on a complete tangent and not know how to get the novel back on track. So after years of writing this way and getting fed up of never finishing anything, I decided to start planning more. I planned out a novella chapter by chapter before I started writing. I wrote it in a few months. It was the first project I’d actually finished. So I decided to apply this method to a full length novel. I spent quite a while planning and researching before I started writing. And again, I managed to finish it in a few months. I’d found a process that worked for me and having spent years never finishing anything, I’ve now written five novels.

My process goes something like this. I usually have a random spark of inspiration, usually when I’m doing something everyday like having a shower or brushing my teeth. I get those ideas down on paper. Then I wait for further inspiration to strike. As more and more pieces fall into place, the ideas begin to come together in my mind. I have enough of a concept to start actively working on it. I plan out the plot, characters and world building. Often there will be some research involved before I start. For example, the fantasy novel I’m working on now is inspired by Ancient Greece and Rome, so I did some research around that to give me ideas for my own world. Once I’ve built a picture of my story, I make a chapter plan. Some chapters are planned out more than others, but I have an idea of roughly what will happen in each chapter and where I want the book to start and end. Then I begin writing.

Even though I’m a planner, there is room for spontaneity and sometimes as I write my ideas change. There’s room to flesh out characters and world building as I write, as new situations arise for the characters. But if I have an outline down on paper, it helps keep me on track.

This is the process that works for me. But every writer is different. There is no one process to writing a novel. You have to find what works for you. If your process isn’t working for you, experiment with it. Try different methods and tactics until you find a rhythm.

What does your writing process look like? Are you a planner or a pantser? I’d love to hear how other writers approach their writing, so let me know in the comments!

Writing Corner: Is My Book YA?

For today’s Writing Corner, I’m going to talk about categorising your novel by age. I see a lot of people on Twitter and forums who aren’t sure where their novel fits, or how much it matters. If you want to be published, it does matter, because that is how the publishing industry categorises fiction, but don’t get too hung up on it.

Middle grade (MG)

MG is generally written for, and features characters, aged from around 8 to 13 years old. These books are usually shorter than young adult books, and don’t have as much romance or violence. They often (but not always) have fun adventures and although they can touch on more serious subject matter, don’t explore it in as much detail as young adult books.

Young adult (YA)

YA is aimed roughly at those aged 13-18, with characters in that same age range, though characters are most commonly 15-18 years old. YA explores more serious subject matter than MG, including more mature content, with romance playing a much bigger role. YA also has more self-reflection and focuses more on the personal evolution of a central character. These novels are often coming of age, looking at the ups and downs of being a teenager. They can explore relationships, sex, mental illness, death etc. far more than MG. As well as this, they can often present more of a reflection on our society and current issues, and explore the characters finding their place in the world.

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Writing Corner: Your Cast of Characters

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about writing, so I’ve decided it’s time to get back into the swing of sharing my thoughts. I’ve been writing for around 13 years now, and have completed four novels and one novella. I’ve learnt a lot over the years, and hope someone will find these posts useful. It is always important to remember though, that writing is a constant learning process! No matter how long you have been writing for, there is always more to learn and discover about the craft, and your own processes.

The cast of characters in your books includes all of the named characters. The protagonist is the focus of your story, but the other characters, and the overall cast, are also really important.

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A Writer’s Journey – Part 2

You can read part 1 of my writing journey here, or dive straight in with part 2.

In my last post, I told you about my early writings and how my writing developed over my teenage years. Finishing the novella was a significant moment and gave me so much more confidence. In 2013 I started work on a new book for the Extended Project Qualification. The project was alongside my second year of A-levels, so it was a very busy time. Most other people wrote essays, I could have written a short story. For some reason I decided to write a whole novel for a qualification I’d get an actual mark for, when I’d not yet finished a whole novel. Perhaps it was over-ambitious, but I had the belief that I could do it.

This was the first novel I planned out chapter by chapter, in the hopes it would keep me on track. And it worked. I finished it in three months. At the age of 17 I finished my first novel. Inspired by studying psychology, the book was about a girl who develops schizophrenia and her journey. It was more serious than anything I’d written before, although it was still in the young adult genre. I wrote it almost in a trance. The words just poured out of me. I’d never had a feeling quite like it before. It all came together, and somehow it just felt right. That book will always have a special place in my heart, and I would like to see it published some day. I haven’t touched it since then, because I knew I would need to develop my writing skills more and come back to it to be able to make it the best it could be.

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A Writer’s Journey – Part 1

My writing journey, as far as I can remember, started when I was nine years old. I probably dabbled in writing before then, but there is a particular time that I really remember properly getting into it. For my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary all of their closest family met up during the Easter holidays in 2006, including me and my parents. To keep me entertained, I had a little green notepad, which I started writing short stories in. I still have this notepad! At the time I was very interested in Ancient Greece as we had been studying it at school, particularly myths. So I wrote my own myths and even drew little drawings to go with them.

The next thing I remember working on was a series of stories probably inspired by Tomb Raider: Legend, which was the first proper single-player action game I played. I wrote two ‘books’ in the series (they were very, very short, only a few pages).

Only a year later in 2008, I advanced to planning an epic fantasy series. Probably as a result of reading The Lord of the Rings. I spent ages drawing maps and characters. I wrote 23,000 words of the first book, which is a pretty substantial amount compared to my previous efforts. I dabbled in the other books in the series (they were connected but separate ‘parts’ of an overall series), and wrote around 42,000 words of the series in total over the course of about three years.

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Release Day! Of Legend and Lore

Today is the release day for Of Legend and Lore, an anthology of fairy tale retelling by the Just-Us League group. The collection includes my own short story, Cursed Glass, which is a retelling of a Grimm fairy tale called The Glass Coffin. It blends fantasy and science-fiction to tell a story about darkness and redepmtion.

This is the fourth anthology published by the group and the second focusing on fairy tale retellings. It was exciting to be part of this for the first time and I look forward to being included in future anthologies. You can read the interview I did as part of the blog tour here.

You can purchase the book on Amazon worldwide in Kindle and paperback! It includes a beautifully designed illustration for each story.

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New life is given to eleven old stories in this second collection of irresistible fairy tale retellings.

Royalty faces magical challenges: a prince uses his powers on a rescue mission and reveals a terrible secret about his people; a king takes drastic measures to save his daughters from a troublesome curse; and a princess befriends an unusual frog.

Mythical creatures can be friend or foe: three brothers face a depressed dragon with a legendary treasure; an ancient crow brings a child’s wishes to life; and one young girl discovers dragons aren’t always the enemy.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes: a miser is in danger of losing everything one cold night; a struggling mirrorsmith meets an invisible recluse; a boy must relive the fairy tale based on his ancestor’s life; a child is rejected because of his love of drawing cats; and an evil witch is sealed in a glass coffin.

Be transported to new worlds and enjoy fresh twists on old favorites.

 

The Art of Words

Words. Crafted in the depths of the imagination. Fuelled by the emotions and motivations that determine our existence. Words. They leap off the page when we read them. They teach us. They soothe us. They make us angry. They make us cry. What is it about the written word that is so enchanting?

They flow from the pen of the writer or from the tap of their fingers racing across the keyboard, to pour out the images bursting in their minds. Writing is a craft, to be sure, that can be learnt, developed and improved upon. Any craft needs practice, and writing is no exception. Yet there is something so non-clinical about writing, about the way stories can paint themselves with words.

As any book lover will know, when you enter a bookshop or a library you are stepping into a cavern of wonders. When you open a book you step inside – you step inside Narnia. The carefully designed spines are all aligned, pointing towards you, wanting you to reach out and carefully slide it from its place and turn the smooth cover over in your hands. The smell may be of freshly printed pages or of paper that has been passed from hand to hand, imagination to imagination, over the years. Flicking the pages and seeing the words printed, waiting to be absorbed.

With our newly claimed book we retreat to a nook or cranny, or the summer air of the outdoors, and peel open the pages to reveal what is inside. The journey is commenced.

The printed words on the page of a book. So quickly devoured. Yet the artist has spent hours, weeks, months, years poring over every single detail, every plot point, every character, every word. Carefully crafting the story before your eyes until it is ready, until the story tells itself. Until it is ready to be passed on. The writer hands over their work, their creation, into the hands of others. Their energy and emotion caught in those words.

What if there were magic in the world? We read stories of wizards and dragons. Yet if we look carefully there is magic here. Our magic is the ink itself. There is magic in words. Words that have the power to provoke feeling. They tug at our heartstrings or make our fingers curl around the pages with anticipation and suspense.

Words. They are alive. They spin, circle, and align to create patterns. Form pictures, images. More than that – grand paintings flowing around the walls of the imagination room. It is there. Inside the mind. Blank walls. Blank floor. Blank ceiling. All white. The words dance. They draw their stories, covering the whiteness in colour.

I sit with the book open on my lap. Sun shining through the window. And I fall in. I fall into the page, into the words. I fall down the rabbit hole and into the C of Chapter One.

Overused Clichés in YA Fiction

As much as I love YA fiction some of it is just so repetitive and similar. It may be marketable for books to be this way but it just gets kind of annoying.

1) The love triangle. It’s just been overused and has become boring and off-putting for many readers. Nobody ever seems to do anything different with it and it’s got to the point where I just find it so irritating.

2) The nice girl falling for the idiot/jerk character. Really? Why would the MC even want to go out with this guy? It just doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps she considers him for a while but I can’t fathom why she would actually pick him to be with.

3) The character describing themselves in a mirror. Just no. Who walks up to a mirror and describes their appearance in detail? Unless it is character/plot relevant (e.g. they have bags under their eyes from lack of sleep due to *insert life issue here* or their skin has turned pink overnight).

4) The main character is the chosen one. They have been picked out by a higher force and there’s some kind of prophecy involved. See Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Matrix, Star Wars, Terminator, and the list could go on…

5) Dead or non-present parents. Unless it is plot relevant or plays some MAJOR role in the arc of the main character why are there never parents around? And if they are around they’re always really stereotypical and 2D. This is especially in realistic teen fiction stories because the most likely scenario is their parents are going to be around ignoring them for convenience just annoys me.

6) Good vs. Evil. Now, I’m not saying we should ditch this completely. Sometimes it’s nice to just read a simple good vs. evil story.

7) Insta-Love. For a start love at first sight is not biologically possible, only attraction at first sight. You love someone when you have got to know someone and they have got to know you and you understand each other. You can’t know that from the first moment you see them. Insta-attraction is, however, definitely possible.

8) The “strong” female character. A strong heroine does not constitute making a girl do man stuff. What makes a strong character is the same for male and female characters. They have to be rounded, believable, have back story, have a character arc etc. Just making a warrior of the female gender does not make that character a strong female character.

9) The girl who is super pretty but believes she is ugly. To some extent this is kind of realistic for many people. But it has just been overdone in fiction now.

10) Everyone is super attractive. Not everybody is super hot and looking like a model. Yes, some characters may be pretty/handsome, but that’s not everyone in the world! One of the things I love about Jane Eyre is that emphasis is put on how neither Jane or Rochester are at all conventionally attractive and that they fall in love because of their personalities.

These are just some things that annoy me whenever they crop up. Do something new people! /rant over