A-Z Challenge 2015

#AtoZChallenge – Reflections

A-to-Z Reflection [2015] - Lg

When my lovely friend and fellow blogger Rosie Amber suggested I take part in the A to Z Challenge I didn’t really know what to expect. Yes, I knew I’d be posting every day except Sundays in April, and I had an idea for a theme – writing and editing tips – but I had no idea how interesting and valuable an experience it would be.

I started off the way I always do – incredibly efficient and well-organised (to begin with). I had ten posts ready to go before the challenge actually started – all scheduled so that all I had to do was hit publish. This, however, lulled me into a false sense of security and by the time I’d reached letter ‘M’ I was writing posts the day they were due. So much for being well-organised!

The best thing about the challenge was making contact with other bloggers – bloggers and blogs mostly concerned with writing, but in a variety of genres and with a variety of interests and insights to share. These are recommended:

https://saylingaway.wordpress.com/

http://lucciagray.com/

http://www.shanayatales.com/

and of course

https://rosieamber.wordpress.com/

The trickiest thing was navigating blogs other than those on WordPress – it was irritating reading and appreciating a blog post and taking the time to add a comment only to have to jump through hoops to get the comment published. Not the bloggers fault of course, but a bit of a shame as sometimes I just gave up!

Another minor irritation was the amount of blogs listed that actually weren’t taking part. I’m pushed for time and the challenge was a big commitment. It was annoying to click on link after link to find no mention of the challenge or to read about theme reveal that looked really interesting only to find that the blogger had decided not to take part. Having said that, with the amount of blogs listed, I can understand that it would be extremely difficult and time consuming to remove these blogs from the list.

That said, I did thoroughly enjoy the challenge. I made lots of new blogging friends and had a big increase in visits to the site. And I’ll definitely take part next year. Although I’ll try and stay organised this time!

#AtoZChallenge: Z is for Zeugma and Zzzzzzz

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

Z is for Zeugma and Zzzzzzz

I thought long and hard about the tricky letter ‘Z’ and then stumbled upon this rather lovely word.

Zeugma comes from the Greek for ‘bonding’ or ‘yoking’. It’s a literary device in which either a single verb is used to refer to two different objects for effect, or an adjective refers to two different nouns even though the adjective is really only appropriate for one of them. Complicated? It’s one of those terms where an example is probably the best explanation.

‘Or lose heart, or necklace, at a ball,’ The Rape of the Lock; Canto 2, Alexander Pope

‘Miss Bolo rose from the table considerably agitated, and went straight home, in a flood of tears and a sedan-chair.’ The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens

‘You held your breath and the door for me.’ Head Over Feet, Alanis Morrisette

Using devices like this in your writing can add drama. However, do be careful not to confuse your reader. It really is one of those things that needs to be used skilfully.

And as for Zzzzzzz – well, it’s been a lot of blogging. I normally only post once or twice a week, so posting every day has been a challenge! But I’ve managed to do it, if sometimes by the skin of my teeth. And I’ve discovered lots of great blogs and great bloggers, fellow writers and others that blog about things that I would never have known about or thought to look for. But it has been tiring, and I have to admit it will be nice not to have that pressure – until next April anyway. So now I’m off for a little rest.

sleeping

 

 

#AtoZChallenge: Y is for Your and You’re

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

Y is for Your and You’re

It’s nearly the end of my first A-Z Challenge and I can’t quite believe I’ve managed to write twenty-four blog posts so far about writing and editing! So today I’m going to keep it short.

ryan

I’m sure you all know the difference, but just in case:

You’re: contraction of ‘you are’.

“You’re looking particularly gorgeous in this picture.”

Your: second person possessive adjective. ‘Your’ is used to describe something belonging to you. It is always followed by a noun or a gerund (a noun made from a verb by adding -ing).

“Could I please have your number?”

On a side note, ‘yours’ is an absolute possessive, and so doesn’t need an apostrophe to show possession. This is also true for ours, theirs, mine, his and hers.

Now, I wonder if I can find a picture of Ryan to use for ‘Z’…

#AtoZChallenge: X is for X-Rated

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

X is for X-Rated

erospsyche (1)

I edit a lot of erotica and romance, some of it fairly mild, some of it less so. Sometimes I’ll be sitting at my desk on a Tuesday afternoon with a cup of tea and a digestive, deleting unnecessary adjectives from a raunchy scene and I’ll think to myself how strange my job sometimes is!

But it’s not just erotica and romance that calls for X-rated scenes.  If you’re a writer, the chances are that one day you’re going to have to tackle a scene of this type. This is something that worries a lot of authors. So here are some tips on how to write a sex scene that won’t make you or your readers cringe.

  • Skip the euphemisms. Show your reader some respect. If you need some awful examples to avoid read 50 Shades (Down there? Really? What are we, eleven?)
  • Make it consensual. Obviously consensual. Non-consensual sex is not erotic or sexy. At all. It is just wrong.
  • Your characters are not porn stars. Unless they are porn stars. It needs to be hot, but not unbelievable. Don’t use clichés from terrible porn movies.
  • Stay true to your characters. As with all action scenes and as with all dialogue, your characters need to behave and speak in a way your reader can believe they would behave and speak.
  • Make sure the scene has a purpose. Like any scene or event in your book it needs to drive the story forward.
  • As with all your writing, but especially when writing about sex, use all five senses. ALL of them.
  • Often the idea of sex is more erotic than the act itself. Build up the tension.
  • Act it out! Seriously – one of my best teachers on my Masters course had written both excellent fight scenes and excellent sex scenes and she insisted that the best way to make both realistic and readable was to act them out. (That way you don’t end up having your characters do things that would take three hands each and I don’t have to sit there on a Tuesday afternoon wondering what’s supposed to be going where when I’d rather be eating a biscuit).

Once again, my top tip is to read. Shirley Conran and Jilly Cooper write better sex scenes than a certain other author mentioned above, as does Sylvia Day (sometimes). And of course you can’t beat a bit of DH Lawrence. Though in my humble opinion Flaubert did it best with poor old Madame Bovary.

#AtoZChallenge: W is for Writers’ Block

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

W is for Writers’ Block

writer's block - cat

Writers’ block is something most writers will be familiar with. It may be just an hour or so of a dreadful blank mind, or it may be an inability to write that lasts for days, weeks or even months.

There are ways to kickstart your brain, and get writing again.

  • Write anything. Even if it’s absolutely terrible. A blank page or white screen can be intimidating. Filling it can sometimes be enough to break the fear and get going again.
  • Move on. If you’re stuck in a scene and you don’t know where to go, leave it. You can write in any order you want. No one will know. And writing something that happens later on in the story may help you tackle that scene you’re stuck on later.
  • Set a target for writing and stick to it, even if it’s only a couple of hundred words a day. Forcing yourself to write can sometimes be enough.
  • Go for a walk. Get out of the house and get some air. Try not to think about your writing. Sometimes a change of scene can work wonders.
  • Take a break away from the writing and read a book. Or watch a film. Stimulate your brain and you may come away refreshed and inspired.

Got any great tips for beating writers’ block? Share them by leaving a comment below.

#AtoZChallenge: V is for Verisimilitude

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

V is for Verisimilitude

The appearance of being true or real  (Oxford Dictionaries)

v

Writing is always a balancing act. You want to transport your reader, to take them on a journey, possibly have them experience things that they wouldn’t normally experience through your characters. So why the need for realism, for truth? After all, this is fiction right?

Well, yes it is, and in a way, writing fiction is lying. We writers of fiction spend our days lying. But as anyone who has ever successfully lied to their parents about where they were the night before, or to their teacher about where their homework is, or to their boss about how they were really sick the day before and just couldn’t possibly have made it to work, the secret of a good lie is that it rings true.

Fiction is just like that. You are methodically, carefully and imaginatively building a world for your characters. A world that doesn’t exist. The appearance of truth is essential to help build that world, that lie. One wrong move, one wrong word and the illusion collapses.

So how do you ensure that you keep the ‘reality’ of your fictional world intact? Here are the pitfalls to avoid:

  • Something unusual happening in your fictional world that you haven’t prepared your reader for
  • A character that notices something they wouldn’t notice in real life, says something they wouldn’t say, or does something they wouldn’t do
  • In fantasy, a character not using a skill that you have given them when they should do so
  • Unrealistic dialogue that is used to convey information
  • In historical fiction particularly, an object, custom, behaviour that didn’t exist or wouldn’t have happened in the time in which your novel is set
  • This is as important in fiction as it is in films. For example, if your character has his hands handcuffed behind his back, don’t have them in front of him two minutes later (as in Reservoir Dogs).

Much of writing is about building believable and compelling worlds, but those worlds must follow a logic that the reader can relate to, understand, and around which you can create interesting and dynamic stories.

#AtoZChallenge: U is for Unique Selling Point

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

U is for Unique Selling Point

usp

There are literally thousands of books out there, all vying for attention. Whether you’re sending your manuscript into the self-publishing market or to an agent or publisher, you need to make it stand out. So how do you do that?

Of course the writing has to be amazing, and your manuscript has to have been edited and proofread to within an inch of its life. If you’re self-publishing then the cover needs to be eye-catching and inviting. But what else can put your work above all the others?

This is really something that you need to think about BEFORE you write that novel. Make sure you are writing something new, something exciting, something that sets you apart – have in mind your unique selling point.

What is different about your book? Why should anyone want to pick it up? What does it have that no one else has?

Read the books that yours will be competing with – what does yours have that they don’t? This is at the heart of your USP. Try to condense that into one sentence. When agents are reading the six hundredth query letter they’ve had that week, or a reader is browsing Amazon for a new book, they want to know, quickly, what your book can give them. They need to know in one or two sentences. This is your chance to grab them.

It’s horribly competitive out there – and it’s very hard work. But having a unique selling point will give your book an edge.

Does your novel have a great USP? Share it by leaving a comment below.

#AtoZChallenge: T is for Transitions

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

T is for Transitions

Transitions are used to:

  • Change time
  • Change location
  • Change character viewpoint
  • To skip unimportant time periods or events

One issue I’ve seen with many writers is that they put too much detail in these transitions, showing how a character gets from one place to another – getting into their car, driving home, parking, walking up the stairs to their apartment, just like this scene from the infamous B-movie Birdemic:

The reader doesn’t need to know that. They just want to get on with the story, on to what happens next.

So how do you use transitions skilfully?

  • Start a new chapter – this easily lets your reader know the narrative has moved on
  • If you’re changing scene/time/viewpoint within a chapter use a physical sign like ***** centred on the page, or double space and then don’t indent the first line of your next paragraph.
  • Keep it short and simple – ‘that night’, ‘the next day’.
  • Jump right in – rather than say: ‘When Linda arrived at the coffee shop the next morning’ go for ‘Linda slid into the booth and took a sip of her latte’. We know where and when Linda is straight away.

Any other tips for smooth transitions? Please share by leaving a comment below.

#ATOZChallange: S is for Senses

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

S is for Senses

8fdc1deb134b867f17585eb77bddb6cd

The world is three-dimensional, full of colour, sounds, smells, tastes, textures. Your characters live in a three-dimensional world too; a world that you need to bring to life for your readers.

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.’

Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things

When I read this, I can feel the intensity of the heat, smell the rotting fruit, hear the insects. It’s a beautiful description, every word carefully chosen, brilliantly put together.

If you want to bring your reader into a scene, if you want them to be immersed, to experience what your character is experiencing, then you need to consider all five senses.

Vision – what’s ahead, behind, just out of sight? If your character is looking down, what’s underfoot?

Sound – this can really help to build a scene; the snap of a twig, breathing, a snatch of a song that brings a memory to mind.

Smell – a fragrance, an aroma, a stench – the things we smell can be so evocative, reminding us of something or someone, or placing a character firmly in a certain place.

Touch – how does something feel? The texture, the weight, the temperature.

Taste- this can be a tricky one. But taste, like smell, can be so evocative. A certain flavour can take us back to childhood, for example. And it doesn’t have to be food – use your imagination!

A word of caution though – remember less is more. You don’t need to bring all five senses into every scene. What you need to do is to create a world with your words that your reader can imagine, a world where your characters can live.

#AtoZChallenge: R is for Reading

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

R is for Reading

matilda-reading

I can’t quite believe that it’s already letter ‘R’ in the A to Z Challenge. This is my eighteenth post and my eighteenth editing and writing tip. And the advice I’m giving here is advice that really runs through all the tips so far.

My 18th editing and writing tip for writers is:

READ

It may seem obvious and not worth saying, but if you want to be a good writer, if you’re serious about writing, if you want readers to enjoy your books, then you need to read. A lot.

Want to know how to write great dialogue? Read a book.

Want to know how to develop characters that are believable, empathetic and entertaining? Read a book.

Want to learn how to ‘show’ not ‘tell’? Read a book.

I could go on.

And it’s not just about reading great, well-written books. Sometimes reading a book where something isn’t quite right, where the dialogue is stilted and unnatural, where there are too many adjectives, can be just as helpful. It shows you what not to do.

But reading a great book, one that makes you feel bereft when you get to the last page, one that makes you laugh, cry, order another book by the same author, that experience is invaluable for any author – experienced, self-published, traditionally published or just starting out.  A fantastic reading experience can be inspiring; can push you forward, to strive to be as good.

winnie-the-pooh-reading

And the other great thing about reading? Well, if you’re a writer or an editor or a proofreader or a cover designer or a book blogger, then reading counts as work! Sometimes I really love my job…