Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Second Part of the Interview with New Zealand Writer Kim Koning

Kim Koning is a South African Writer living in New Zealand. She is also a published poet and short  story writer. Her story ‘The Ring of Fire’ (A YA Dystopian tale told in first person POV) was published in the New Zealand anthology “The Tales for Canterbury” alongside 33 other authors including the brilliant Neil Gaiman.

Here is my  the second part of my interview with Kim. For part one click here.

Q. I have benefited from your amazing Critiquing abilities. Can you share with my readers what things do you look for while critiquing? What’s the secret behind your awesome critique qualities?

A.  I think the most important thing to remember when you are critiquing another writer’s work is that you need to have a blend of honesty and empathy. I tend to critique with my “reader’s” hat rather than my “writer’s” hat. I usually read the entire manuscript once through aloud. Then I read it a second time and look for any inconsistencies, plot holes, character weaknesses, POV, story themes which I then send out to the writer. Then after that has all been done, I read it through a third time in line edit mode: checking tense consistencies, grammar, spelling. formatting. I try to be very thorough in all my critiques realising that my role is not to rewrite the story or make the story more like I would write it but to help the writer see any blind spots they have missed and help them put out the best version of their story as possible.

Q. You also mentioned that you will be attending a conference. Do you feel  conferences  help in bagging an agent or getting noticed by editors and publishers?

A. I belong to RWNZ: Romance Writers of New Zealand. Although I am not a romance writer per se, it is the largest writers organization in NZ and gives a writer the opportunity to meet fellow writers. I think conferences are always beneficial. It is a chance to meet editors and agents and other writers you might not have gotten a chance to meet face to face.This last weekend I attended my 2nd conference and I was very excited about this one as the keynote speakers and workshops were run by and geared towards the dystopian genres and thriller/suspense genres which are the genres that I write. I also pitched my novel for the first time, The Raven's Court, successfully to one of my favourite agents from the US and got a full manuscript request as well as interest in my future projects. I connected with one of my favourite authors too which was a real pleasure. It was an amazing weekend and the joy and excitement was doubled because I shared/roomed with one of my writing partners. (This meant we both got little to no sleep but it was worth it.) So now I can definitely answer that; yes, conferences do help you get noticed by agents and editors.

Q. Do you follow any daily writing goals?

A Yes I do. I write 3 foolscap Morning Pages with pen and paper every day. I was inspired to do this through reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. She advises one to write, longhand, 3 foolscap pages of streamlined consciousness which basically means whatever is in your brain. It is a great tool to start your day off writing and to unlock the creative elements in your mind. It also gets you into the habit of daily writing. I also have daily word count goals which I try to stick to. At the moment that is between 2000 - 4000 words daily. I tend to write in bursts of 1 - 2 hours before taking 30-45minutes break. I also try to limit my time on social networking otherwise huge chunks of my time can lead to procrastination. I have been writing full time since the middle of May this year and actually find that if I don’t set myself goals, the day can while away before I know it. I give myself 2 days off a week - usually Sundays and Mondays. When I was working in a daytime job these were my days off. I like spending Sundays with my family. I like having Mondays off because who after all enjoys working on a Monday. So I think that as important as it is to focus on your writing, you also need to give yourself some days off or you could burn out. I use those days off to relax my mind and refresh my inspiration. Also for me writing is now my job so I treat it like that and make sure I also have time off from it.

Q. Do you have  a favourite writing craft book?

A. I have read many good books on the craft of writing and creativity but my favourites would be:(1)“The Artist’s Way” - Julia Cameron. This book is a great tool for any creative individual not just writers. (2)“On Writing” by Stephen King would be my favourite purely writing-craft book. Stephen King is a master in the story telling realm and to this day there are very few authors who can scare/fascinate readers like he can. I love this book most of all because it is completely honest and cuts all the “niceties” you often find in other writing-craft books.

Q.  Any writing tip you would like to share with my readers?

A.    Write the story you need to write irregardless of whether it fits a
specific niche or genre. Don’t get hung up on rules like genre or 
market. The best stories sometimes break all the rules. Worry about 
the rules when you get to the editing stage. Put your editor’s hat 
away while writing the first draft. Have at least 2 people, 1 a writer 
friend and 1 a non-writer who you trust. Let them travel with you on
 your writing journey. They will be able to give you fresh insight, 
support you when you need it, encourage you when you’re lagging 
or feeling uninspired, prod you when you need a good butt-kicking 
and most of all they will be able to give you a truthful reaction of 
your story. Get out there and taste of everything life is by exploring 
new cultures and new relationships. Our writing is about life, 
emotion and relationships; you need to live life fully to be able to 
write about it convincingly. But the most important tip is: Read, 
read, read anything and everything you can get your  hands on.
Reading is the best tool to hone your writing skills. It is the knife 
sharpener for your “writing knife”.  A writer who does not read is 
like a cook who has no taste buds.
You can find Kim online in various places:

tumblr: http://dragonflyscrolls.tumblr.com
twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/AuthorKimKoning
facebook profile: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorKimKoning
google+ : https://plus.google.com/106769198036665517108/postshttp://rachnachhabria.blogspot.com/2011/08/interview-with-new-zealand-writer-kim.htmlhttp://rachnachhabria.blogspot.com/2011/08/interview-with-new-zealand-writer-kim.html

Friday, August 26, 2011

Interview with New Zealand Writer Kim Koning

Kim Koning is a South African Writer living in New Zealand. She is also a published poet and short  story writer. Her story ‘The Ring of Fire’ (A YA Dystopian tale told in first person POV) was published in the New Zealand anthology “The Tales for Canterbury” alongside 33 other authors including the brilliant Neil Gaiman.

Here is the first part of my interview with Kim.

Q.   Tell us a little about the books you are writing?

A. Well my current WIP is a Paranormal Historical. It is the first book in a 2 part series. This first book is called: The Raven’s Court. The second book will be called: The Black Prince. This series deals with mythology, life and death, family secrets, curses and promises, love and hate, scorn and revenge. It also deals with facing your own strengths and weaknesses to become a more complete version of yourself. I have a number of  other works in progress that are either dystopian in genre or have elements of  thriller/suspense with a touch of the supernatural/paranormal. Most of my stories are on the darker side of fiction because I believe our true nature comes shining through in times of tragedy, tension, trials and tribulations.

  Q. In one of our conversations you mentioned that you are working on several  manuscripts. How do you manage that?

   A. Well I find that ideas for new stories hit me while I am working on a story already. Often  times I tend to write down the idea and then put it aside for later. But some stories will not allow me to put them aside and demand my attention immediately. So I am  usually working on at least 3 different stories at the same time. I find that switching  between stories gives me a fresh perspective when I go back to stories I have worked on.  
have a very active mind and imagination and find that I prefer working on a couple of  stories rather than just 1 at a time. However when I get to the climax of one story I tend to focus on that story until I finish.
Q.   Where does inspiration for your characters come from?

 A. Oh everywhere and anywhere. A lot of my stories / characters have come to me in dreams. I do not dream often so when I do dream I tend to take notice. But anyone can  really be an inspiration for my characters. I like using real life people that I know as  inspiration. People Watching is another favourite form of inspiration for characters. I have always found watching people and their actions and reactions to be fascinating. I  never fail to be surprised and entertained. I also listen carefully to people’s own experiences. Sometimes I have gleaned pure nuggets of story gold from listening to conversations. I read once that one should be careful of talking to a writer because they cannot resist using part of what they hear to create new story ideas. I would definitely agree with the warning. Any conversation/experience is fodder for this
writer's imagination.

Q. What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser? 

A.  For me the process starts usually with a character. Usually I “meet” the character in a dream and the dream is so vivid that many a time I have woken up at 4am in the morning to write down what I saw and heard in the dream. I keep notebooks by my bedside for this specific reason. Sometimes while writing it down I can glimpse the character’s story but not every character is so forthcoming. Some characters need to be coaxed, cajoled and yes, even threatened to get their story. I have a series of questions that I ask the character to get their story.
To answer the second part of the question: I am a bit of both depending on the story. I tend to be more of a pantser at the beginning of a story and then as the story goes on, I start plotting it out. I love researching story themes and ideas so a lot of that goes on  the plotting side. Do I plot the whole story out? No, because I find that my characters are all rebels and never like “colouring” in the lines. I am often hit by epiphanies during the writing of a story that can often change how I initially thought the ending  would go. My current WIP, The Raven’s Court is a perfect example of this. So I do loosely plot to an extent but it is more in outlines. I think that a writer needs to be  like a driver at night, you need to at least have your headlights on for safety's sake and to see where the next corner is. But you can take different routes on the same  map that will get you to the same place. It just depends on how adventurous you feel. For me a loose outline at the beginning is enough light to get me to the first corner. But for me a story is like a Rubik’s Cube. Any number of combinations could get you to the solution or in the story’s case: the resolution.

Q. Can you tell us about the publishing scene in New Zealand?

A. This is something that I am learning more of with each passing month. Most of what  I have gleaned is from talking to other New Zealand writers as well as organizations  like RWNZ (Romance Writers New Zealand) that I belong to. The NZ publishing  industry is slightly different from large markets like the UK or USA. Here it is not  necessary to have an agent but because the publishing industry here is limited by its small size, it can often be quite difficult to be published in New Zealand if you are an unpublished author or even if you are a published author. For example a well known New Zealand author who has been writing and been published many times over in the USA and Europe only just recently this year got published here in New Zealand for the first time. So even though she is very well known overseas, kiwi readers are only getting to know her this year. I think the focus for a lot of writers in smaller countries is to look at pitching for the bigger markets, like the USA and UK.

Kim can be found online in various places:
tumblr: http://dragonflyscrolls.tumblr.com
twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/AuthorKimKoning
facebook profile: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorKimKoning
google+ : https://plus.google.com/106769198036665517108/posts

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tackling Title Trouble

 I am one of those lucky ones for whom the titles are not a trouble at all. I can happily say that the titles just jump into my head fully formed. Till date, I have never had a working title, the title that I originally conceive are the ones that ultimately sees the light of the day.

 But, it wasn’t like that when I started out. My Journalism teacher in college constantly lectured me on the importance of suitable and eye-catching titles. According to her, my decent features lost out because of boring and dull titles. The titles of the first few articles and stories I wrote for newspapers were changed by the editors. I have to admit, that their titles were far better than mine. Even these lousy titles that I came up with just popped into my head.

I use to be extremely jealous of writers who came up with awesome titles. To get the tag of title savvy, I plunged headlong into the world of titles.  If other writers could emerge with shiny, interesting and amazing titles, then so could I.  In my case it would require extra effort. But, so what?

It couldn’t be that hard, I thought.  If few writers could achieve wonders with it, so could I. After that whenever I read any story/book/feature, I pondered over the title. Did it suit the story? Was it eye-catching? What made the title stand out? Slowly I transferred this detailed attention onto my work. What was I trying to tell my readers? What was the article/book all about? How could I sum up the work in few words? What was the best way to convey what I had written?  Which words correctly described my story? Had the title caught the gist of my story?

It was a tedious task, but eventually I got the hang of it. Nowadays the title trauma no longer affects me. For the past several years, the editors have thankfully retained most of my titles. In my title quest, I have learnt several things about them.

1. A title should  be like a Teaser. It should arouse curiousity. Based on the titles, readers  pick up books, or, read the articles and stories in newspapers. 

2. Diving into the heart of the story to emerge with a suitable title is a great idea.

3. Short and Snappy titles have immediate attraction.

4. Popular  and catchy phrases work better than long and boring ones.

5. Titles that have Instant Recall are seldom forgotten.

6. A title should make a connection with the reader.

What about you all? Do Titles Trouble and Torment you? Do you write with working titles and come up with the final one later. Or, are you the lucky ones who come up with winners right in the begining? Do you have any title tips that you would like to share with us?

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Earliest Writing Influence

The other day, someone asked me that coming from a business family, how did I end up pursuing writing. I often wonder about this. How did I climb the writing bandwagon? What prompted me to start this amazing journey called writing? 

 I told the man that it was my grandmother (my dad’s mother). Yes, one of the earliest influences on my writing was my grandmother. Every night, while making me eat my dinner, when I was around 4 to 5 years, old she would tell me  stories. These were all folktales or stories that revolved around  Hindu Gods and Goddesses and the great Saints. Granny’s tales of  the various  Gods’ childhood  pranks brought each God to life. 

The voracious reader that I am now has its roots in my childhood. I was a voracious listener then, never tiring of granny’s stories, craving them long after the dinner plates had been washed. Long after she gave up the practice of making me eat my dinner, I continued to badger her for stories. Granny, I am sure exhausted her well of stories, but  not one to admit defeat she made up stories just for me.

For an entire week she told me the same story giving it different endings. I asked her why she was telling me the same story with different endings, she laughed  and said,“I am running out of stories, child.” 

Each ending changed the entire story. From humorous it  turned into suspense, and then moved to the battle of good over evil. Each story was embedded with a moral, to make us (her grandchildren imbibe good qualities and  emulate the noble characters who peopled her story). I was fascinated by Granny’s  quick thinking. My love for stories: listening, reading and writing  started then. One of my first few published articles was the story she had narrated to me during my childhood.

Yes, my grandmother was a truly gifted storyteller. To make several  fidgety grandchildren  sit through a repeat  story with only the lure of how she would finish it this time was no small task. And she accomplished this beautifully. Though the stories were repeated she never bored us, as she embellished the story with each narration. Sometimes adding few characters, at times dropping few.

This habit of hers has  inculcated in me the  practical experience of finding out how the same story can end in  many different  ways. Yes, at times I toy with different endings  and finally zero in on the one I think works the best for my stories and books.

What has been your earliest  writing influence? Did someone  prompt  you to start your creative journey? Who or what  was it? We would love to know.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The 3 S's Readers Love

Lets discuss books from the point of readers and not writers today. Readers are an important part of the process of writing. Books are written  only for them. We were readers: die hard readers, long before we plunged into the world of writing.

I have noticed that readers love the  3 S’s. They loved to be Surprised. They love to be  Shocked. And, they love to be Spooked.

Sudden  surprises that makes them shake their heads in amazement.

Swift shocks that renders them into a state of  momentary silence.

Steady spooks that turn them into a mass of quivering jelly.

 Pleasant surprises are welcomed by everyone in their day to day life. And readers are no different. The element of surprise works wonders for the readership of books. The strange twists and turns the plot takes keeps the readers glued to the book. New revelations of the  main character, new entrants that propel the plot forward, the unceremonious exits of old characters, stubborn obstacles that crop up, hook the readers big time. By constantly surprising readers in every chapter  the book starts to become  a page turner. Lets flash back to Harry Potter. Mrs Figg  turning out to be a squib was just one of the many  pleasant surprises  the readers enjoyed! Frequent surprises sweep  away the boredom that tends to creep in. It brings a certain freshness, like the opening of a window that dissipates the musty air.

Though in our personal lives there is no room for shock: we actually detest it, but when we read, shock appeals. We love it when our favourite authors  shock us, when dirty  character  secrets are revealed slowly, chapter by chapter. Book by book. When skeletons tumble out thick and fast from locked cupboards.  When the underbelly of a character is exposed. A case being  J.K.Rowling. Every Potter book  had plenty of the 3 S’s thrown in. I could never have guessed that Snape had been secretly in love with Lily ( Harry Potter’s mother). I am sure that none of us  actually  imagined Snape  being in love with anyone! Albus Dumbledore’s tumultuous past too was a bolt from the blue. For me he was a paragon of virtue. And that he could have a chink in his armour was a major shock.

Another emotion we love in our books is being Spooked. This works more in favour of thrillers, suspense and murder mysteries. The spook factor intensifies the movement of the plot, increases the pace,  heart beats accelerate, nails are chewed as we enter into the thicket of  fear.  Harry’s connection with Voldemort  because of the scar on his head was a tad spooky. Anything that raises our anxiety, heightens our tension has us hooked emotionally to that object.  What will happen next? Will the main character escape, will he/she be saved?? Who will emerge victorious? Will the world be saved? Questions that peck at our mind with the persistence of a woodpecker need their answers, which only the turn of a page will provide.

When the three S’s join together in a book, that has oodles of style, as well as a strong storyline,  the reader is frantically racing over the lines. It’s getting quite alliterative: surprise, shock, spook, style and story.

Which element appeals to you the most? As a reader.

P.S. This post too is one of my earlier ones. Next week I promise to write a  new one. So, please bear with me for now.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bonding with a Literary Character

Though writing is largely a solitary activity, the writer literally lives on an island, scrawling away on sheets, or, typing furiously, isolated from family and friends for long  and painful stretches of time, it’s also one activity that connects with a  vast number of people (readers) instantly.

Our books act as the  bridge that  links us to people who  bring their unique sensibilities to our work. I agree with another writer who said, “books like water will find their own level.”  Books are open to interpretations any which way. The characters that we have nurtured inside our feverish minds find other dimensions when they meet the readers.    

 Different readers glean different nuggets of wisdom  from a literary character/book,  depending on their personal perception. Whatever the reason for the bond between book\protagonist and the reader, the important aspect is that an emotional connection has been forged. A literary kindred spirit discovered. A relationship formed. These connections between reader and character are the barometers of the real success of a book. Not the number of copies sold, nor the clutch of awards won. Readers afterall are the best critics, and their appreciation, the real award.

To create a literary character that firmly entrenches itself into a reader’s mind is an extremely difficult task. A memorable literary character  must appeal to each and every sense of the reader, not just tug,  but play with  their heartstrings, seduce them away from the million and one things clamouring for their attention, entice them into the world woven by the writer. Memorable literary characters leave strong  traces of their presence inside  a reader’s mind long after the book has been devoured. In the history of books there  have been several such characters: Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre, Lata Mehra from Vikram Seth’s  ‘A Suitable Boy,’ to name  just a few.

 A  character can achieve literary  immortality if there is a strong sense of Empathy and Sympathy between the reader and the literary character. Because, when we empathize, or, sympathize with someone, albeit a literary character, concern for their well being creeps in, a reluctant love develops. The warp and the weft of the reader’s life then entwines with the character’s. This ability of a character  to attract the twin emotions  mentioned earlier encourages the readers to be quasi participants rather than distant indifferent observers.

The  character must invoke the feeling of oneness, there has to be a sense of similarity of  experiences, similarity of emotions, of choices made, paths chosen, sacrifices done  between the reader and character. These  aspects further cement the reader-character bond.

To create such characters is every writer’s dream. The character then becomes the voice of that generation of readers, a kind of a role model. There is a complete sense of identity between the  reader and the literary character. “Hey that could be   me, it’s is the story of my life,” the delighted reader nods his/her head. These  characters  are not only inspirational, they gently urge the readers to aspire for greater glories by  acting as catalysts of change in the readers’ lives, and also, silently beckon the readers to visit them again and again.

Isn’t this a measure  of a successfully created character? What makes you all bond with a literary character?

P.S. Due to a hectic schedule (festival, assignments and critique sessions and few other personal commitments I am reposting my first blog post. I had just 2 followers then and the post was read by just 2 people. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Some Age Old Plots

It has been frequently said that there are just a fixed number of  archetypal or typical plots (some people have even gone as far as saying that there are basically just three types of  plots: a Love Story, the  Battle of Good over Evil, and the last one, the Quest) and that every other plot is a variant or a spin-off, of the above three.

I feel there are certain motifs or patterns that tend to recur in one form or another throughout world literature. Below, I have listed a number of most identifiable ones.

                The  Battle with the Monster.
                The Quest.
                The Voyage and the Return Home.
                The Hero hidden as the Monster.
                The Divided Self.
                The Engagement with the Dark Power
                The Fatal Flaw.
                The Journey from Rags to Riches.
                The Voyage to the Underworld.
                The Battle between Good and Evil.
                A Love Story.
                The Revenge Drama.
                Adventure Stories.
                Weakling turned into Superhero.
                 The Chase.
                 Entry into a New World.
                 Encounter with a Strange Creature.
                 One  Man Against Society.
                 One Apart

Many writers combine several  types of plots and create a new plot. This is one idea I try to follow: combining bits from different plots and  trying to make it unique by giving it my  own individualistic touch. Can you think of more plot patterns? What kind of a plot pattern does your book fall into?

Friday, August 5, 2011

How Well do you Know your Characters?

When I start writing, I don’t  know my characters very well, though the story has been frothing in my mind for quite some time. I just have the basic idea  about my characters. Many times I am stuck at different parts of the plot, clueless about my characters’ motive.

I  have tried to read as much as I can on how to get into the mind of my characters. The risk taker  that I am, I love the idea of not knowing what is going to happen next. At other times my analytical mind wants every teenie weenie detail down on  paper.

I am currently in the plotting stage of my new WIP. My Beta Reader cum Crit Partner is going over my completed manuscript  with an extremely fine tooth comb.

For my current WIP, I have decided to get to know all my characters, not just the protagonist and the antagonist, but also characters who have smaller roles to play in the story.

I am going to pretend that I am a journalist and interview  all my characters by asking them about their family background, work interest, relationships, religious beliefs, politics, favourite leisure pursuits, hobbies, dreams, ambition in life, relationship with parents and siblings, educational qualification, any fears that they have, friends, favourite childhood memories, pets, people they loved and lost, people that inspire them, things that touches them the most and  things that turn them off.     
I  am also planning  to throw in a few questions like what they would do in case they win a million dollar lottery, if they are stranded alone on an island with their enemy, if they meet an alien and what happens if they suddenly develop a super power: the ability to interpret dreams, to read people’s minds, to see the future and the ability to change something.

The responses I  imagine my characters  giving me  will be kept short; these responses I  am sure will help me  know my characters better. It will also be an useful way of catching each character’s  voice, personality  and individual style of speaking.

As I am currently in the brainstorming mood, it will be a fun exercise to do. What do you all do to get to know your characters better? Do you have a method that helps you get into the skin of your characters? Please share with us.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Several Ways to Hook Readers

Every writer would love to make a reader not just pick up their book,  but also be intrigued/curious/ and interested  enough to read the first page and after that keep on reading till the last page.

 To do that, we writers have to ensure  that our readers are  entertained by our stories, absorbed by the way the  story unfolds, and transported into the world we have created with our words.

 To hook readers we have to come up with plot ideas that have the following effect on our readers.

Educated. Our stories should educate our readers in some way. After they put our books down, they should be armed with more information and knowledge.

Intrigued. Something about the plot and character  should arouse the reader’s interest. What will happen next should be the thought buzzing in their mind.

Saddened. Stories that  play havoc with our sad emotions, tug at our  emotional heartstrings  are seldom dropped halfway down.

Angered. Stories that raise our shackles, stories that make us  angry enough to join the cause the writer is espousing,  win over stories that are tepid and evoke no reactions from us.

Frightened. Most readers love to be spooked out of their placidity. No wonder thrillers and murder mysteries enjoy a great readership.

Reassured. Happy endings have that effect: of reassuring readers. Stories that reassure us that in the end everything will work out, work the best. They bring a comfort level in our stressed lives. Everyone likes reassurance.

Changed. Stories that change us in some way, work wonders. At some level the journey of reading a book should change us; in some way, maybe we start looking at things differently after reading a book. Maybe our beliefs undergo a shift.Maybe it works on our faith.

Do you feel that stories that evoke all these reactions work better? What is your personal belief where stories and plots are concerned?We would love to know what works for you?.