writing…books…life…

Posts tagged ‘writing tips’

Six Tips for Writing First Chapters of Your Story

Nowadays, writing competitions have become quite the thing for publishers to draw in new talent. Having found my way into publishing through a writing contest myself, I’m all for participation in these kind of online hunts. Some require a full manuscript like the Harlequin SYTYCW. Most others however just require your story’s synopsis and a partial. Like the Passions contest that Harlequin holds every season in December-January for aspiring Indian authors. It is ongoing and you can check out the details here. Last date to enter, 25th Jan, ’14.

So how to go about preparing for a contest? They say, well begun is half done. Well prepared is target secured. Any contest is both difficult and rewarding. Difficult as it takes nerves to enter and rewarding because one always learns from experience. Writing contests are no different except that an aspiring writer contestant is especially sensitive to rejection. It’s important when you enter a contest to first keep in mind that ANY outcome is possible. Second, to repeat to yourself, ‘I’ll give it my best shot.’ Over and over. If you do, you’ll have no reproach for yourself at least, however it ends…and who knows you may be next one shortlisted! From my experience of entering writing contests, and winning both of them, I’ve compiled some tips. Also I’ve included the input from all I learnt during the writing of the initial chapters of my first book, Bollywood Fiancé fora Day and the second, You Can’t Fight A Royal Attraction I’ve listed them in order of what looks important to me:

Opening scene: The opening scene should draw the reader in. Right into the world you have created. What is your character doing as the story opens? What is she/he feeling? Is your character worried while driving? Does she accidentally miss the turn signal of car in front? What happened then? Create a situation where the readers (or your judges) can’t help but read on to find out what happens next.

Build a problem: Is your heroine (or hero) in trouble? Why? Who could help her? Why wouldn’t she take help from him? Always go deep into a character’s reasons. Why. That simple word leads to so many possibilities. The late Penny Jordan, romance author extraordinaire once said, the most important of the tips her editor gave her was: always ask why.

Interaction of characters: In romance you have two main characters. Have them in the scene together as soon as possible. That sounds like a tall order for a first chapter. You would say, what about explaining the setting, the situation, the background? But just think, if you don’t show them together here, you may miss the chance to make a strong initial impression. The first chapters, mostly first three are asked for in a partial, should not just set up the story but also hint at the first turning point. So have your characters interacting as soon as possible. Show what the heroine feels for the hero and he for her. How do they happen to be in the situation? Is it planned? Or coincidence? Does she want to avoid him? Will she succeed? Build up the curiosity factor.

Tension: Show the tension between the characters. Awareness. Attraction. Conflict. Does she drop something in her confusion when near him? Most heroes aren’t bumbling but a little tug at his necktie would be endearing, don’t you think? Tension between Hero/heroine is a must in a Mills and Boon! 🙂 And even in other genres, tension, implied and manifest, is a desirable ingredient.

Sympathy for the characters: Have the reader sympathize with your character. If the hero turns the heroine’s troubled aunt out of her house, it’s a very strong conflict between the characters but would the reader sympathize with someone like that? Would you? You’d most likely kick such an insensitive brute. Always keep your character if not lovable, at least understandable. For more on characters, go here.

Make it read-worthy: Last but not least the grammar. Spell check. Read. Revise. Watch your tenses. Double check your verbs. Make your presentation the best it can be. Also always follow the specifications given under the contest rules.

So do remember, begin with a strong opening scene, build a problem, have your characters interact and show tension between them. Make your characters lovable, always spell check and make your work presentable.

Sharing your work can be scary. If you’ve submitted or made a decision to submit your entry to a writing competition, you’re already to be congratulated. If you’re reading this to improve it, double congratulations, because you have decided to go after this writing thing and you’re already interested in making it better. So are you trying your luck? Good luck to all the entrants and remember, if you’re pursuing your dream, you’re a winner!

Write with love,

Ruchi.

Advertisements

Five tips for Nanowrimo success

It’s that time of the year again. Nanowrimo begins! Soo many of us are gearing up to take part. Are you?

I’m going to share here five tips to meet the furious demand of churning out words and win the coveted badge.

Before you ask, I haven’t won Nanowrimo. Not once. Well, I participated just that occasion. But I have finished 30000 in less than 15 days.  *takes a bow* Twice I’ve also managed  >40k in a month. Of course there are people out there writing more and even more speedily. What can you do to raise your word count, even when you have work and home demands which can be shelved for a short time but not totally ignored? Here are my tips for speed writing your manuscript.

Plan

For some people planning makes them feel more organised while some feel it crushes their creative freedom. However, planning at least the roughest idea of what your book is about, where do you want it to go, etc. will give you a framework of your story. You do plan what genre to write, don’t you? You also plan the location of your story, the characters’ jobs etc. At least during the initial stages of your woriting. So also plan the main dips and curves ahead. Even die hard pansters who ‘wing it’ will find it better going if they have some idea of the main pivotal points and definitely more than an idea of the characters. Their goals. Motivation. Conflict. Otherwise you might find your inkwell and your imagination well drying up before halfway through the month. Might. The advantage of planning is that you still have something to sink your teeth into in those rushed times when your muse gets sluggish. Get your characters charted out. As I mentioned in my short story tips post, one important incident at least from each of their stages of life will help you know the character better.

Choose the story you’re most excited about

What is the thing you have to talk about? The tale it’s ultra important to tell? You can only write when the subject moves you. When you’re bursting to have a go at it. Get thinking. Experience. Find what echoes with you and gets you…no, zings you right into the story world.
If possible write 20-25 pages beforehand. That gives you an idea where you should start the story. I don’t think it’s cheating 🙂 Write them then bury them in some other folder. Start afresh on first November.

Ignore the internal editor

This is self explanatory. It’s very, very easy to get caught in the fatal embrace of internal editor. So it’s crucial that you don’t start with the revision process while you’re writing. This happened to me when I first joined Nano. I went back and read what I wrote and tweaked and tweaked some more…and then I didn’t like this…didn’t like that…it went on and that story is still only 15 pages done 😦 So ignore the temptation to make it ‘just’ a little better. December is waiting to get all that done.

Don’t expect all days to be fruitful

Certain days are bound to be better. I’d write 4k one day then sink to 350 the next. Don’t fret about it. Go catch a movie or read a book. Some days are unproductive; you just can’t help it. But indulging ‘off days’ might be just a case of allowing your imagination the lubricant oil of rest. Once the mind settles, ideas start to filter back. Look out for my upcoming post on writers’ block on how to nurse your creativity back to health. 🙂

Don’t mull on it all the day

You’ll get bored if you keeping things of nothing but your WIP all your waking and sleeping hours. Ultimately, you might start to hate it. It begins to seem like work, instead of fun which it started out being. The moment you get up from in front of the keyboard, try not to go back over what you’ve written. If something brilliant comes to mind, make a note. But don’t go over and over a problem again. If you’ve run into a figurative brick wall, go out and do things in between. Fill your muse with inspiration. Most of us rehash, because when you get a load of writing done, it seems like the most exciting thing in the world but take it from one who did it too many times. Thinking too much about it, spoils your story. Yes, it is the antithesis of my previous planning advice but still it has to be said. Plan what your next scene is going to be within an hour or two of your next writing session. Not before.

Of course all advice in writing varies from individual to individual in its usefulness but these are the general tips to keep you on track. A bonus piece of advice. Don’t limit your writing to your official writing time. Carry your current chapter on your phone, notebook, paper napkin ;)…anything which works for you! In those moments when you have to wait for food to cook, travel somewhere, in the waiting rooms, during lunch break at office…seize the opportunity and scribble. That’s a covert and effective way of building word count. 200 words short sessions pile up into big ones and you get that feeling of achievement which is a spur to do more and more!

Good luck to all Nanowrimo participants all over the world. Go make your manuscript happen.

Did you find these tips worth pursuing? What are your own speed writing secrets? Have you ever won Nano? What most helped you make it? Do share your views.

Writing a negative protagonist – Three tips

Have you ever written a negative character? What about a negative protagonist? Most writers agree that a character must have flaws. Flaws make a character relatable and grounded. They have her come to life like our own sometimes blundering self. But how deep can those flaws go? What if a character is so entrenched in her goals that she exhibits behavior we wouldn’t expect from a ‘hero’? What if she isn’t an aspiration to the reader? Would you stick to reading such a character past the first chapter?
Sometimes in our life, we show negative shades. We might shout at kids, though it isn’t done, or maybe even react badly to irritations. We might forego others’ needs when we’re caught in our own passions and interests. But we forgive ourselves and move on. Make at times valid and most of the time empty excuses. Mostly these incidents are harmless and understood by people around us. There might be some amount of bad vibrations but mostly the dust settles down.
But in a book, especially a romance novella, do authors have the flexibility to have characters show negative behavior? The heroine, particularly? Recently I read a book in which the heroine was guilty of being unfaithful, not to the hero but her ex. Could anything justify that? I thought it wasn’t done convincingly but the issue was intriguing because of the author’s attempt to explore norms and go beyond the boundaries. That’s the thing about fiction, it’s ever-changing and may have no set black-and-white. Wuthering Heights sets a prime example of characters with less than pleasant shades.
But relating to the category novels, again I’m faced with the question, can it work there? Has the time come to have less beautiful heroines and less perfectly physiqued heroes? But romance novels are more or less fantasy reads, aren’t they? How much can you tamper with fantasy to have a convincing, believable story yet keep that feel-good, oxytocin-inducing elements alive?
Negative traits are hard to accept, be it in people, fiction or romantic fiction. In my view, here’s how you can make it work.
Redemption : If a character finds the true path at the end, their journey through all the error-riddled arc might even be fun to read. It becomes a part of the character’s voyage to discover their true side and hence promises the reader stark optimism, making then stick with the character. But be careful, such a redemption should be hinted at throughout the story. You just can’t morph Joker into Batman all of a sudden.
Positive intermixed with negative: If you have a heroine who wears animal furs, maybe you could balance it with her being devoted to charity work. A protagonist is made up of a mixture of positive and negative so while we disparage the negative we can cheer the positive. Of course the argument remains. How negative? In the above example, I can’t sympathize with the animal killing. Would you?
A plausible past: The character has a reason for being the way they are. That works well to explain their bad side. Past hurts might cause them to behave in this way. In the above example, say, yes, she wears furs but the story might be set in olden times and maybe the heroine thinks of the luxurious fur as symbolic of how far she has come from being a daughter of a slave family. So, speaking for myself, while I can’t really love the character, maybe I can understand and sympathize with her here. What do you think?

I’ve recently finished a rough draft of a novel where the heroine is more negative than positive. She places more value on her goals than even relationships. She’s single minded about following those goals. Which in this instance is not a good thing. And so she must realize. For those who have read my first book Bollywood Fiancé For A Day, this character is a spin-off from the character of Mia in it. If you know Mia, you’ll agree on the quandary I face in making her a protagonist. In the debut book, she isn’t meant to evoke the readers’ sympathy and in fact any editor would advise not to put such a protagonist in a story. But somehow this story happened. One of those where the Muse takes charge and you listen to the story unfold and just put it down. Will I find a place in publishing for this book? In romantic stories, there’s so little scope for negatives. Characters are supposed to be inspiring. Heroines face troubles and heroes take advantage of the opportunity to come close to them. Of course things are changing. But how much?
I’ll keep you posted on what happens with Mia’s story.

What’s your take on negative characters? Do you find Heathcliff and Catherine fascinating or repulsive? Would you write a negative character as protagonist?  Are negative characters ever redeemable? What about negative heroines? Do they have a place in romantic fiction? Would love to hear from you.

Seven Tips for writing a Short Story

The short form of story telling is a different packet of noodles altogether. More like the instant kind. You don’t have the luxury to wait them to simmer and be done. No riffling comfortably through pages waiting for the build-up and the show-down. So, how to go about tackling a short story when writing?

I had never really thought of writing a short story. Having written a few for blogs and some more which I just toyed with and didn’t have the courage to submit anywhere, I tried my hand for a short story contest with Harper Collins India – and won! In the contest, I had to first outline an idea and then if the idea was selected, I had to write the full. When I sat down to write, I looked up lots of writing advice which gave me courage to believe I could write this format and that story is set to appear in an anthology out this December. Yay!

 So based on my experience and research, here are my tips.

 Stick to one problem or incident

 This is the  most important thing I’ve found worth keeping in mind. You can’t fit a lot of subplots in a short length, so it’s better to be specific. What is the problem confronting your character now? Which of the pressing issues she has to deal with right at the moment which demands action. Not desires or needs to be pondered on. What she has to do now.

 Chart your characters

 No matter even if it’s a short format, you have to know your characters or the aspect you want to come out in the story. It can be instinctive knowledge or deliberate sketch out, but anyway you should know how they will react. My suggestion is to think out at least one important incident about their childhood, youth and current situation each. It helps to define a character well.

 Make every word count

 This was really difficult for me as I’m given to repetition in my writing. I use it a lot for emphasis or escalation of feeling. For novels also it is inadvisable. But it’s a total no no where short stories are concerned. Had to learn that. The good was when I edited out the repeats, it gave me space for more. However, you don’t need to do the extra work. Stick to simple, stark description and strong verbs.

 Have a well rounded conflict

 Make it convincing from all angles. Writing is about emotion but without logic in your argument, you’ll have readers shaking their heads and putting down the work. For example, if the character faces money problems and has to do something illegal because of that, you can’t have her putting on diamond earrings in the scene. Well, you can but you’ll have to explain why she can’t sell them to take care of her troubles. So on. Always think out the motivation for the character’s action. Elementary but so easily missed in the flow of writing.

 Anchor your scenes

 This is especially difficult when you have little amount of words to work with. You cannot indulge in pages of description. Instead depend on the senses to anchor your reader. Smell. Hearing. Is your character in a boat? Have her feel the spray rather than describe the roll of the waves . Also it’s better to have just one or two changes of scenes in the whole story. Any more and you’ll be wasting words in description rather than using them to advance the plot.

 Pace 

 Keep it tight throughout. More importantly use the same tone in the whole story. Is it light and humorous; dark and with underlying threat of danger? Serious and delving into psyche of characters? I wouldn’t advise changing the mood midway, unless there’s special cause for it. Want to build the momentum? Use short sentences for speed.

 Resolution 

 The resolution should be well delineated. Satisfactory or cliffhanger? The cliffhanger which leaves you coming to your own conclusions is  more common in short stories. In any case, it should still make a statement and leave an impact on the characters…thereby on the reader.

Most of all have FUN writing!

So did you find this post helpful? Have any more tips to share? Let’s hear them. I’d love to know your views.

 

Tag Cloud