Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tips on Planning a Trilogy/Series

Planning a series has made me a nervous wreck. I am reading as much as I can on how to make each book of my Middle Grade Paranormal Trilogy, a Standalone one. I liked Janice Hardy tips which I read on the blog- Literary Rambles.  It made a lot of sense and is helping me in plotting the 3 books, creating individual conflicts for each book and thinking about the character arc.

Planning a Trilogy does take a lot of effort. There are several things to keep a track of, there is a tendency to overdo on the backstory and there is a fear of repeating oneself. Writers have to create plots that can stand on their own feet and push the story forward.

 I am undergoing several fears about introducing too many characters in the first book and leaving too few for the next two. I am trying to create for each book an individual conflict, story arc and resolution.

When I read Janice Hardy’s interview in the blog- Literary Rambles, it was like a blessing in disguise. Here is Janice’s advice regarding a trilogy.   
     
1. Give each book a solid stand alone plot. The story can continue from book to book, but the more solid your core conflict is, the easier it’ll be to write. You’ll have a good understanding of the goals and stakes and won’t be floundering to figure out how it all fits together.

 2. Pretend the previous book(s) is the backstory. Don’t try to rehash or re-explain all of book one or two. Just pretend it’s part of the character’s history and treat it same as you would any other backstory. Once the first draft is done, you’ll know what needs to be fleshed out for new readers.

3. Keep revealing new stuff. Even if the plot is different, if readers don’t learn anything new about the characters or the world, it can feel like the same basic book all over again. Show new aspects of the world, the characters, the problems, the stakes, etc.

How many of you all are writing a series or a Trilogy. How difficult is it to keep  track of everything. Do you all have any tips that will make my writing a trilogy easy? Please share your thoughts with us.
  

Friday, November 25, 2011

How many Drafts should a Manuscript Undergo?

Few months back, a writing friend asked me, “how many drafts did your manuscript undergo?” I said, “several.” I really had lost track of the number of drafts I had made of that particular manuscript. She was shocked. According to her, manuscripts that undergo 7 to 8 drafts are just not a normal writing procedure.

 “Ideally, a manuscript should undergo just 3 drafts,” she said. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that, because the manuscript I am subbing has definitely undergone more than 3 drafts. I may not remember the actual draft count, but I had revised the book like hell.

 I don’t think there is a standard draft procedure or a norm where books are concerned. All I am aware is that the first draft is no where ready to be published, its not even ready to be shown even to the family members whose critiquing abilities don’t match other writers. The first draft is often a literary mess, a jumble of words that make sense only to the writer. It’s just a clutch of scenes, sometimes the scenes are not even linked. It’s as we move on to the next few drafts that the manuscript gets a semblance of a story; that there is a cause and effect sequence to it.

It’s different for every writer. 3 drafts may be too less for some writers, while it may be too much for few lucky ones. My first drafts are sometimes too lengthy and sometimes too sketchy. There is never a balance. I add the finer details slowly. The first draft is just the basic scene.

Do you think there is a set rule for drafts? How many drafts of a manuscript is normal? How many drafts do you all make of your manuscripts? When do you feel its time to send it to Crit Partners or Beta Readers?


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Forgotten Art of Longhand Writing

 Today I did something that I have always loved doing, writing in longhand. Normally I switch on the computer and tap away furiously at my laptop keys. This new WIP, needed  me to revert to my long forgotten roots. When I started writing, I would write with a blue ball point pen on lined foolscap sheets. The first drafts were always on paper.

These would then be transferred to the computer. As I got busy with other things, I started writing on the computer itself to save time. I would just open a word document and start typing. Somewhere with my busy schedule I had forgotten the joys of writing longhand.

When I picked up the reams of foolscap sheets presented to me by my dad (dad had searched long and hard in Bangalore to get these lined foolscap sheets, I had just casually mentioned to him that I was missing my usual paper as the stationary shops near our house had all closed down). I was thrilled. Nothing like visiting old times. Yesterday, the first day of the week I started writing the rough outline of the first book of my Middle Grade Paranormal Trilogy. I am rewriting the first book, keeping just few scenes from the original draft.

It was sheer pleasure to watch the sheets fill up with my handwriting. Every filled page sent ripples of delight coursing through my body. By the end of the day, I was quite happy with my writing progress. While writing, the feel of the smooth paper was bliss. I don’t know why, but I prefer staring at a blank sheet of paper than a blank screen. A blank screen tempts me to open my browser and check my mails, blog or facebook.

I feel longhand writing really unleashes my creativity. It sure turns my normal moody muse into a caring and helpful creature. It also sets free my blocked and choked up brain cells. For a few days I have decided to carry  around the page in which  I have outlined the plot, so that I can fine tune the outline and add more to it.

I know it’s a lengthy process: first writing, then typing. I am just going to write chapter outlines and the major scenes, not the entire book. Lot of it will get changed while writing the consecutive drafts. I am seeing the positive side of it. While typing I can also edit and make the changes.

What about you all? Do you cherish the times when you wrote longhand or do you prefer its quicker version; typing once for all on the computer. What do you all feel about writing longhand? Is it too cumbersome for you all? What is your writing method?
             

Friday, November 18, 2011

Are we Scribblers or Gods of our Universe?

Are we just Scribblers (penning stories) or are we Gods of our Universe. As writers we get to play  God with our literary characters. We  become something akin to their Destiny Makers. We have the ability to bring them to throbbing life, or kill them with one stroke of a pen, or, with the click of a few  keys. We have the means of  ridding  them of their problems quickly, or tormenting  them for several chapters.

In the literary world we can do everything that we cannot do in our real world. Would we create problems in someone’s life like we do with relish in our protagonist’s life? God forbid. No. Never. Would we  ever be accused  of manipulating people in real life, in the way we manipulate all our characters? Again the answer would be no. But when we write we keep aside our guilt conscious, and trouble and torture our characters mercilessly. At times with glee. The more problems we add in their lives the  more believable the character becomes. A case of  the Written Life  emulating the Real  Life. 

As scribblers we give full rein to all our fantasies, create make believe worlds, people the world  with believable protagonists, add loathable antagonists, generously add conflicts of all kinds, and finally resolve it  to universal appeal.

As writers we have complete control of the destinies of each and every character we create, not just the main. We set the stage for the entry and exit of all the people who have initially resided in our imaginations. In real life more often than not we are helpless.

Have you noticed that the lack of influence we have over the people in our lives:  family; parents, spouse, siblings, children, and friends doesn’t trouble us during writing? Our characters unlike our family and friends cannot call us interfering busybodies or control freaks when we meddle with their lives. Writing is  the only time we are in complete control (provided the muse is co-operating, and distractions that deter us from writing are at bay, and we get uninterrupted writing time).

 In our literary worlds characters are created with impunity, they are shown the door unceremoniously, flying on the wings of   imagination our characters indulge in activities that we would never dare to do! Deep down most of our characters  reflect our secret desires and passions. Sometimes I think even the not so nice ones.

Our characters are puppets that we manipulate to put on a wonderful performance that will leave the readers asking for more.

 Are we writers closet control freaks? Is that one of the main appeals of writing for you? To be in complete control of every aspect of our character’s  life?  Or, do we love to create new worlds, new situations and new people? What aspect of writing appeals to you all the most? I  would love to know.

PS: This is one of my earliest posts. As I had no post planned for today, I kind of cheated by re-posting an older post.

Would like to alert you all to a fun Blog- Fest  hosted by Madeleine. Click Here to know more about it and join the Blog-Fest. This is one Blog- Fest in which you are allowed to use Cliches.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Have you got your Writerly Stuff Ready?

Few days back, when the people in charge of the Short story competition in which my short story for children won a special prize asked me to send my picture with a short  Bio for their website, I went into a mad scramble trying to find a suitable picture. Finally I had to beg my nephew to take a picture ( it wasnt a good one) but then I had no other alternative. The author bio too needed a little bit of effort from my side.

 Three days back, when the editor of Penguin asked me to send my author bio for the Anthology in which one of my short story appears, I very happily sent them as I had already written one. 

It was then I realized that its necessary for writers to keep few things handy and do few other things before the book is out.

 Author Bio- where all our writing credentials are mentioned as well as our qualifications in a word document saved under the title of Author Bio. This can be updated often whenever we add on to our writerly activities, namely mention of competitions won, articles published, books published and short stories that have appeared in Anthologies. One agent I wanted to query asked for a detailed list of articles and stories published with links to each article. Needless to say, I did not query that agent as I don’t have these details in hand.

Author Picture. A picture that agents and editors  want to put up on their websites under the list: Clients. This is something I am looking forward to even though I am very unphotogenic. It would be wonderful.  Currently I don’t have a picture ready, but this situation will be tackled soon. We never know when God decides to smile upon our writing efforts.

Visiting/Business Card.  I have often heard that its important  for writers to have a visiting card with their  credentials, contact details as well as their websites. To be honest, I have never bothered with a visiting card. I am still debating on this issue.

 Website. This is another area I have not given much thought to. It’s my personal thought that I would go for a website when I have more books published. But, I have heard that it’s never too early to get a website as that makes writers look professional in front of agents.

Blogs. Blogs have become necessary tools for building platforms. Most of us already blog. The only thing I will add here is frequent posts; even once a week is good enough. Blogs that have not seen any updates from months send out a wrong impression.

Twitter. I have no clue about Twitter, but I have heard that it’s a great  way to keep up to date on the latest publishing news. And its also a wonderful way to build a platform.

Facebook Page. This can be either a Author Page or a Book Page. Its a great way to get the interest going.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me whether you have all your writerly stuff ready. I am guilty of many  writing transgressions. What about you all? Have I forgotten anything?

Friday, November 11, 2011

If I were to Write with my Mother Beside Me

If  ever I were to write with my Mother sitting beside me, issuing instructions  then it would spell literary catastrophe. Because the kind of stories mom reads are definitely not the kind of stories I write.

 Mom loves romances. I don’t write that genre. Though I don’t mind a good romance  once in a while, I am past that age where I swoon over the hero’s gorgeous looks and sigh every time the hero/heroine come near for a liplock.

She loves simple stories with less characters. For me unless there are 35 to 45 characters in my manuscripts I feel lonely. Writing Middle Grade Fiction based in schools makes it easy to add so many characters. Too many characters and mom loses track of them. She has to keep going back to refresh her memory.

Mom loves Happily Ever After. I really don’t care who dies at the end of a book. I just love a good story. But if my reader is anything like my mother, then God forbid if my story has an unhappy ending. That would be sacrilege, a violation of rights. How could I do that to her? She has taken out time to read my book and I cheated her by depriving her of a happy ending! How could I? How dare I?

She loves a clear ending. Many of the endings of my short stories are ambiguous and left to the readers’ imagination and she has often cribbed that she was confused by them.

She hates heavy doses of love scenes.  Fortunately for me, MG fiction really doesn’t give me a chance to explore that area. I will have to think of that when I write a novel.

Mom has cursed authors who have belittled their countries. Several award winning authors have met her disapproval for running down our motherland and showing us in a bad light. I agree. I would hate to run down my country just so that some publishers publishes my work.

If the story tugs mom’s heart strings and plays with her emotionally then she will rave about the book to everyone she meets. The writer can and should hire her to market the book as you just cannot get a better publicist than mom.

Strong and well rounded characters with an inherent sense of honesty, loyalty and dignity who abide by truth and decency win her over. She loves to see the moral fibre in her characters.

Characters who love and respect not just their elders, but every human they come across meet her approval. My characters are all brats.  Who play pranks on their loved ones.  Mom sure won’t be rooting for them.

If I were to write with my mom in mind, I would have to create a super virtous character, who has absolutely no or very few vices, who has never harmed anyone not even a mosquito, and who can be called an angel.

What about you all? If you were to write with a loved one sitting beside you and subtly guiding you, what are the things you would avoid in your manuscripts? What are the things you would be adding to the character and story? Please share, it will be fun to read the way your loved ones guide your writing.

PS: Mom very graciously allowed me to upload one of her favourite pictures of her and Dad.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Getting Out of a Writing Slump

For the past few days I had been sinking into the longest and deepest writing slump of my life. At the start of October, I had decided to do NaNo. It would have been my first NaNo and I was tremendously excited. I decided to plan a rough outline of the MG novel I would be re-writing as well as outlining books 2 and 3.

But, someone up there had different plans for me. Every time I started rewriting or planning the outline, it was dismissed by my inner editor as being too mediocre, too clich├ęd, too  stereotypical. My inner editor constantly shouted, “Try something different. Go for the unusual. ”

I think being on submission too did its bit. Querying is a nerve twisting process, especially for writers like us (being in  India we are too far away from the hub of the publishing world) who have no access to  conferences or cannot get a referral. Most agents I wanted to query were closed to submissions. They either wanted to work with a writer they had met at a conference or a writer who was referred to them by one of their clients.

My writing  (crit) partners rallied around me, but every writer’s advice clashed with the other writer’s.  I was driving myself crazy.

My best friends during that 14 day long slump were all the writing craft books I had bought. At any moment you could see these books lying on my bed. I would be frantically making notes on how to hook the readers from page one, how to move the conflict  up to the first page, make the story question apparent as soon as was possible.

I had  done very little writing in the last few days, though I brainstormed a lot. To get away from all this, I plunged into reading. Reading is very theraupetic. I read two books from the Kane Chronicle Series, I enjoyed Hunger Games, I read Animal Farm. I also went out a lot; caught up with my non-existent social life and stopped thinking of both the query business and writing that perfect book.

Slowly the sun shone out from among the dark and stormy clouds. I think it was my faith in God that provided the ultimate break through. The break through finally happened, though I didn’t feel the effects immediately, I know the cobwebs covering my creative cells are falling away and the writer’s block is melting.

This was literally the worst phase of my writing life. I definitely don’t want to go through this again. Has something like this happened to you? Have you been in prolonged writing slumps? How many days has the slump lasted and how did you manage to get out of it? Please share your stories, we all can benefit a lot from it.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Help for the Beginnings, Middles and Endings

As I am rewriting Book 1 of my MG Paranormal Trilogy and also planning book 2 and 3, I find myself turning more and more to one of my favourite writing craft books: Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.

I am sharing a few things Bell suggests.

Beginnings

The first task of your beginning is to hook the reader.

 Use great opening lines, teasers, attitude, story frames or prologues to grab the reader.

 Watch out for dull exposition at the beginning. Act first; explain later.  

 Middles

 The strongest plots have a sense of death hovering over the head. This can be physical death, psychological death or professional death.

Adhesive holds the lead and opposition together. If the lead can solve the problem simply by resigning from the action, the reader will wonder why he doesn’t do so.

Duty is often the adhesive. A professional duty ( as in a cop solving a case) or a moral duty ( as in a mother fighting to save her child). Physical location can be an adhesive, where it is impossible for a character to leave a place.

The fundamental rhythm of a novel is action, reaction, more action (ARM). You can control the pace by how you control the beats.

Raise the stakes throughout the middle portion of the novel. Stakes can relate to plot, character and society.

Endings

There are three basic types of endings: the lead gets his objective; the lead loses his objective; or we don’t know if the lead gets it.

The lead can gain his objective, but with a negative result attached;or he can lose his objective with some positive result.

Sacrifice is a powerful element in many endings.

Some endings focus on the final battle the Lead must fight. Others focus on the final choice the lead must make.

Keeping all these pointers in mind sure does help in plot points. Do you all have any favourite writing craft book that you frequently refer to? How do you all plot your books? Any pointers for me to help me plot better?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lessons I Learnt from Rick Riordan


Last week I read the first two books of the Kane Chronicles written by Rick Riordan: The Red Pyramid and The Throne of Fire. I must admit that the books were a very racy read. I could barely put them down.

 I have read practically all the Percy Jackson books and am a huge fan. I liked the dual point of view of storytelling adopted by the author for the Kane Chronicles Series. The story is told in the form of recordings by the siblings. The brother and sister take turns to narrate the story.

Every alternate chapter is told from the point of view of either the brother Carter or the sister Sadie. To avoid confusion, beside the chapter headline is the name of whoever is telling that part of the story.

Rick has completely dispensed with not just a long winded introduction, but with any introduction. He plunges his readers into the heart of the problem where the siblings’ father, the brilliant Epyptologist Dr Julius Kane blows up the British Musuem.

What the author has given the readers is a ticket to a roller coaster ride. The readers get to know the siblings as the story progresses; just bits and pieces about their life.

Another master stroke adopted by the author is the number of ancient Egyptian Gods who make their entry throughout the books.  The author has added oodles of appeal to all the Gods. What I liked a lot was the author’s complete hatred for long winded explanations about the myths and legends surrounding each and every God. Its literally a case of , “Hi I am Bast, Goddess of  cats and I am here to help you two.”

The author has blended Egyptian myths and history seamlessly into the story, facts have been woven and what has emerged is a tapestry of fiction. Boredom has been denied entry.

 There is action on every page. Every page sees the two siblings fighting fierce monsters. These monsters have been sent by Set; a God of Ancient Egypt. Dollops of humour urge the story along.

Improvisation is the name of the game where the author is concerned. A god who drives an RV and  travels by plane. A blood thirsty monster (as the legend says)  is given several pints of Salsa sauce, a basketball loving baboon and a Dwarf who wears a blue Speedo and has trouble in his love life all make for an amusing and great read.

 What do you all think of Rick Riordan’s unique way of story telling and his take on the Egyptian Gods and myth. Is there anything in particular you all have learnt from Rick Riordan? Please share with us?