Friday, June 28, 2013

Writing with the ending in mind?

When I started writing my first lot of stories, I was clueless about their endings. All I knew was how the story started. After writing nearly three fourths of my first book, I floundered in mid sea, with no idea how to end it. Several days later, my muse dropped in with an ending I considered brilliant; my editor dismissed it as “the resolution is too common.”

The book lost out not just because of the way I had ended it, but also the way I had treated it. I was clueless right from the beginning about major chunks of the story. Neither the conflict, nor the main character’s goals were well defined. And the character himself was a watery version of the one I had in mind.  

 That incident taught me the value of writing out a book or a story in an outline form, before I actually started working on it. Even for the short stories (800 to 1000 words) that I write for the newspapers, I have a one- line outline in mind:  who is the protagonist,  what is their  conflict and how  it’s  resolved. This helps me get a feel of the entire story before I tackle it.

For the longer stories (2500 to 4500 words) that are used in anthologies, I do a one paragraph outline before I sit down to write the story. This one paragraph outline tackles the protagonist, his/her or conflict or goal and the antagonist or forces against them.

For the books my initial outline is pretty detailed.  I try to get the basic plot points or turning points, especially the ending down before I start writing the story. As this particular outline is just for my benefit, I even add a little about the other characters who assist or provide stumbling blocks to the main character. Several twists and turns the plot takes too are thrown into it. Getting the basic plot points down is crucial.

After the initial hiccup I have decided never to write a story/book until I have an ending in mind. Once the ending is clear in our mind, we can start building towards it, by adding the twists and turns that lead to it. 

Do you all write with an ending in mind? Do you all follow the policy of writing a book/story  in an outline form?  Or do you all just go along and see where the story and characters lead you?            

Update on Grammarly. I have used it a few times. It’s good, but can scare you with a tendency to find too many errors. As creative writers, we do take liberties with certain words and sentences, so these errors are perfectly allowed to creep into our writing. We should just pay attention to the grammatical errors and maybe the use of passive voice.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Getting friendly with Grammarly

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post because I did not want to be a victim of grammar gone haywire disease, a disease that has ensnared me from the last few days. 

From the past few weeks, I have noticed that I am doing too many things: writing my books, blogging, writing for newspapers, doing book reviews, and critiquing. With college reopening, I will restart teaching. I am making small mistakes or overlooking the errors that creep into my writing.

A few weeks back I realized that I had made an error in my feature for the newspaper after I emailed it. I immediately emailed the editor and pointed out my mistake. Fortunately for me, she had seen the mistake and corrected it. I realized then that it would not be a bad thing to have a tool where I can check my stories and articles for errors.

When I found out about Grammarly, I tried it for my picture book. There were quite a few errors in my story. Errors that two of my crit partners and I had overlooked. It pointed out my tendency to overuse the passive voice and write long sentences. It was like my English teacher in school gently pointing out the places in my assignments wherein I had slipped and fallen.

The reason I am concerned about grammar is because my creative writing sessions will start in a few days. Every time I think of the college students I shudder with dread as grammar is not their favourite and neither are they bothered about it. Commas and full stops are not in their writing arsenal.

I will be suggesting that they all try Grammarly atleast once. It can be used as a "second set of eyes" for the writing assignments. It is a great online proof reading tool which also highlights places where the writing can be improved.

Have any of you taken any grammar help for their manuscripts? Has anyone tried Grammarly? Don’t you think that writers should use such grammar improving tools? Please share your views. Any grammar goof-ups you want to share?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Do titles drive you crazy?

When some people encounter the dense and complicated maze of book titles, they break into a sweat? Once upon a long time back, I was tormented and tortured by title trouble. I love writing, but when it used to come to choosing a title for my work, then, I would end up tearing my hair in frustration.

The titles of my stories and features would be a complete mismatch with its contents. My journalism lecturer in college constantly urged me to choose better titles for my articles and features. According to her my titles never did my writing justice. They were not catchy enough. This habit continued  even when I started writing for newspapers. Often the titles of the features and stories I sent were changed. And changed for the better.

I constantly wondered how other writers came up with such amazing titles. Jealousy and envy stabbed my heart whenever I read their titles.

To become title savvy, I plunged headlong into the world of titles. It couldn’t be that hard, I thought.  If few writers could achieve wonders with it, so could I. Whenever I read any articles or books, I pondered over the titles. Did it suit the story? What did it highlight? 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 a few words? What was the best way to convey what I had written? 

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.

What about you all? Do titles trouble and torment you? Or are you the lucky ones who come up with winners? Do you have any title tips that you would like to share?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why it’s important to belong to a writer’s group?

As none of my close friends write, infact most of them don’t even read books,  I would have been completely lost if I did not have writing friends (most of my close writing friends are my blog buddies and crit partners) to discuss my writing with.

With respects to my close friends (they are wonderful people, doing exceptionally well in their chosen professions), but writing advice is something I don’t take from them. They would be at sea if I were to discuss plot points, character arcs, sub-plots, story arcs, query letters and exclusives, etc.

It’s only with my writing friends that I can discuss all things related to writing and publishing. I can freely send them my query letter, first few pages, synopsis and work on the feedback they send me.

Sometimes I feel, that my close friends look zapped if I tell them that I am in the midst of writer’s block. For many people, they feel that a writer’s job is to open a blank page and start typing. Then once a feature, story or book is complete, it’s sent to the editor. And a writer’s job ends, atleast where that particular piece is concerned. If only it were so!

When I told a friend that my last manuscript had undergone several drafts and revisions, her jaw hit the floor.  “I thought you had finished writing it,” she said. “That was revision number 12,” I replied. I watched her blink rapidly, trying to take in my words. She was under the impression that we send out our first drafts and the editors at the publishing house twiddle their thumbs, waiting for our submissions to hit their inbox. The moment they read our work, they sign us on the spot. She had no idea how picky the editors were. She had never heard of the revision requests they sent to writers.

Another writer would nod at each and everything we say, cause they have traveled that path and our familiar with what we are undergoing. Another writer will also give us unbiased and constructive feedback. If not for my writing buddies (read blog buddies), I would go nuts.

What about you all? Do your close friends understand your situation? Do they understand  your writing problems? Are you like me dependent on your writing friends for discussions related to writing and publishing?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

IWSG Post: Conference Envy

This is my sixth post since I joined the InsecureWriter’s Support Group, started by Alex Cavanaugh. We meet on the first Wednesday of every month to share our writing insecurities, fears and anxieties and support each other.

One of my writing insecurities is not being able to attend conferences. Whenever I read about writers going for a one-to one pitch sessions, or whenever I read that writers met their agents at a conference, I do feel a small twinge of envy.

It would be wonderful to attend a conference, listen to the experts speak about the current trends in publishing, the art of crafting the perfect story, meet other writers as well as literary agents, attend crit sessions and meet editors of publishing houses.

The Bangalore Lit Fest I attended last year (it was mine, as well as Bangalore’s first lit fest) gave me a taste of what happens at conferences.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have any one-to-one with the editors. There were just question- answer sessions with editors, where random people in the audience asked questions, which the panel replied to.

Have you all attended a conference, had a one-to-one pitch with agents, maybe attended a group crit session, listened to the experts speak? What was the experience like for those who attended? And for those like me who have never been to such conferences, would you be interested in attending a conference? Do you have conference envy, like me?