Sunday, 17 June 2012


I've finished the first draft of my latest WiP! *pause for cheers* Some stats for the interested parties:

Total word count - 52,129

Projected word count (once I've added in all the extras I thought of along the way... and fixed all the plot holes, ug): 75k-80k

Date started: 28th May this year

Current feeling towards ms: I never want to see it again (Kidding! Kind of)

What will happen next: Leave it to work on second WiP and come back to it in a month or so... hopefully with a little more enthusiasm than what I'm leaving it with

YAY! Party for all!

How's everyone else's WiP going?

Friday, 15 June 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird

This is another post for my book reviews for writers. I break down the main plot and character components of a novel and discuss what writers can take away from it.


The first time I read this book was in primary school, and I'm surprised I a) got through it, and b) understood a single word. It was tricky for me to follow, the main plot didn't happen until almost halfway through the book, and the tension went up and down erratically throughout the story. Why does it work? It's a classic, it was written in 1960, and readers were looking for something different than what they look for today.

So could we try a story like that? Tricky, not impossible. But I wouldn't recommend trying it unless you're a pro. Why?

My answer is based on a theory I have about today's readers in general. With technology making things simplistic and instant, people expect everything to happen Now Now Now. That's why I think YA has become so popular - usually YA books get right to the point, are quick, and are easy enough to get through in less than a day.

Lesson: if you're going to go down the path of a plot line similar to classics such as TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I'd recommend you know exactly what you're doing and know whether it will work with your target audience.


Atticus. Oh, Atticus, Atticus, Atticus. Perfect in every way. In danger of being the biggest Gary-Stu around. So why isn't he?

Firstly, the story is narrated by his daughter Scout in two ways - a) her looking back on childhood moments, and b) her living those moments as the nine-year-old. It's natural and understandable that both versions of Scout would portray him as the flawless, generous man he is in the book. A young girl often looks at her father in such a light, and older Scout might have lost her father by that stage so of course she might remember him as a better man than what he was.

Secondly, a Gary-Stu is not only perfect, but everyone loves him. That's not the case with Atticus Finch. He's attacked, abused, and ridiculed by the townspeople throughout the entire case. This invokes sympathy from the reader instead of disgust.

Both of these cases have to be included to work in Atticus's favour and to keep him from being so perfect it makes the reader close the book in disgust. They're written in balance of each other, as carefully as every gesture, word, and action is written in terms of the character himself.

Lesson: If you're going to write a character with so many amazing qualities, make sure there are (real) ways to balance out the "too-perfect" syndrome, not just one little quirky fault.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Prepare to be Outraged

I hope you have a cup of chamomile tea to drink while you're reading this, because if you're anything like me your blood might actually boil with indignant rage. I saw this article years ago and it still makes me seethe whenever I think about it.

An author (I can't remember who, so there's no point asking me) once put a "How to Deal with Telling People You're a Writer" post up. I figured hey, that'd be a fun read. Sometimes it can be a pain telling people you're a writer when you always get the same types of eye-rolling responses.

One of the points was when people ask "But are you a real writer?" kind of question. The author addressed this by saying something along the lines of "Don't worry about this line of questioning. They're only asking because too many people go around saying they're writers even though they haven't gotten published."

...too many people go around saying they're writers even though they haven't gotten published.

I'm sorry, WHAT?

(Urge to kill rising, rising...)

EXCUSE ME. I've spent eleven years writing stories. Working on manuscripts. Researching the publishing world, following agents, reviewing books, editing, rewriting, screaming at frustration at the computer when that scene SIMPLY WOULDN'T WORK. How DARE that author assume I'm not a writer just because I haven't gotten published?

Writing is in my blood. My fingertips tingle when I sit down to tell a story. Even if I never get published, I won't be able to stop creating worlds and people and crazy situations. What part of that ISN'T being a writer?

If you ever hear or see something like this, lift your chin, give an indignant snort of disapproval, and walk away. What does that person know about you and your passions? And when I find the author that wrote that book, I am never, NEVER going to buy their work, because hey, who needs them?

Saturday, 9 June 2012


This story takes place after the happily-ever-afters of several fairy tales (and we're talking the OLD versions, with all the gruesome stuff included), where the princesses of Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty have become kind of Charlie's Angels/spies/sorceresses/rescuers.

Sounds good, right? That's what I thought, anyway.

Unfortunately, I barely made it through this book. I skim read most of it just so I could be done with it. How could such a great premise be so boring?

What I've done is broken the problems down for you to see what didn't work so that you can keep this in mind for your own writing. I've tried to include only minor spoilers, and hopefully you'll be able to benefit from this post even if you haven't read the book.

Please note these are purely my opinions. I'd also like to mention that the author seems like a great person, and I hate the fact I didn't like this book.

The MC

The main character was Danielle (aka Cinderella). I disliked her immensely. Firstly, she had no personal agenda. She was an empty character. I didn't find her interesting or relatable at all. Also, her stepsisters tried to kill her, they tortured her, they stole her husband and ahem, something else that will be spoilery... and she didn't get the slightest bit rage-y. She didn't want them hurt. She was like Sailor Moon, only it felt like she was more a pushover and annoyingly forgiving rather than kick-butt cool. There was one moment she lost her temper, but then rational thinking came in again and all hopes that the book would get interesting vanished.

Lesson: Don't make your character a perfect, forgiving, sickly sweet character. They're boring, and the reader will only get annoyed.

The Plot

So the prince is kidnapped and the girls have to go to Fairytown to rescue him. Sounds good! Sounds fun! Sounds like a great adventure!

It wasn't.

I've wracked my brain trying to figure out what was wrong. Why wasn't I interested in this? It's so up my alley! They shrank, they rode winged horses, they used swords and magic and all these awesome wa-pow! moves. So why didn't I care?

Partly it was due to the fact that the other two princesses were doing all the super cool stuff, while Danielle did barely anything. But the other part of my problem was there was nothing new. I'd seen all this before. Trolls, fairies, forests... done and done. Sure, there were a few different things in there, but where was that extra something that made it magical?

Lesson: If you have a true and tried setting, make sure you have LOTS of elements that are unique to your story. Also, small details add realism, generates reader interest, and breathes life into your world-building. Think of all the detail that was in the Harry Potter series.


The toilet humour might be refreshing for some, but surely I'm not the only one who found the fart and privy jokes unnecessary and gross? This is a fairy tale book featuring three female characters. I accept that some readers might appreciate the humour. Not me.

Lesson: Think of your target audience!

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Benefits of a Writing Schedule

I'm the kind of person who loves sitting down to write. Sure, it might take me a little while to open the document and actually get started (I'm sure it's the same for many of you), but once I'm in my story, it can take a lot to pry me away. I've never really had a proper schedule - my plan was more just write, write, write... often until my fingers wanted to fall off. Does this sound familiar? Are you the same?

Hate to tell you, but I've discovered a lot of problems with this type of plan:

1. You feel guilty All. The. Time. if you have free time and you're not writing. You shouldn't have watched that episode of How I Met Your Mother! You should have been writing! There could have been an extra thousand words done in that time!

2. You often can't simply sit down for short writing breaks. Often you need to carve a chunk out of your day to feel successful.

3. The amount of writing you do (even 15k in a day!) doesn't feel like enough.

4. You can burn out. Badly.

5. Maybe the most important reason: It's quite possible that the reason you're writing so much isn't for the joy of writing - it's to get it finished. Getting it finished means you're ready for the next round. It means you can send it to betas. It means it's that much closer to being ready to query.

For those who've been following, you know why this is a problem. This kind of mindset means you're not writing for pleasure. You're writing to get published. And that leads to all kinds of new issues.

I've started setting myself a writing schedule (a chapter a day), and here's what's changed about my writing - and my life - so far:

1. I actually have time for other things. Relaxing! Reading! Watching television! Spending quality time with the boy! Accompanied by NO GUILT!

2. I've slowed down to enjoy the writing process. Each chapter has my full attention, because I don't have to worry about the next chapter until tomorrow.

3. Spacing my writing out means I have plenty of time to ponder over things that might happen in my story during the day. I've come up with lots of new ideas that might not have occurred to me if I'd ploughed through my WiP without that stopping time.

4. The health benefits! My fingers and back don't hurt so much because I don't spend hour upon hour at the computer.

5. Extra time for blog posts! :D

The great thing is, this works if you're a pantser OR a plotter. When you've plotted your story, you know what scene to write next and you're ready to go as soon as you open your document. If you have no idea where you're going with your story, you have extra time to think about what happens next because you'll stop after finishing the chapter. There's no pressure to continue right then and there.

It's kind of like exercise. Regular writing without over-exerting yourself can lift your game, rather than tumble it. Give it a go!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A Protagonist's Personal Agenda

This is one of those posts where I'm going to tell you something that seems obvious but can be overlooked too easily.

So your protagonist is about to embark on a character arc. They will be changed, and much will happen to them over the course of your book. They might even fall in love. Great!

However. The protagonist shouldn't just step into the story and start existing. They're not there purely for the plot and romance. They should already have goals, desires, motivations, history. You know that, but do you know that?

Your protagonist should have a life AS WELL AS the romantic plot, and even as well as the main plot. A personal agenda.

The idea of doing this isn't just to give the character realism. I find myself more empathetic towards a main character who's out doing something besides what the main plot (or romantic plot) requires.

I'll give you some examples:

1. In Marissa Meyer's CINDER, there were plenty of subplots, the romantic plot was with the prince, but Cinder's own agenda was to run away from her stepmother.

2. In HEART'S BLOOD by Juliet Marillier, the main plot was about the curse, the romantic plot was with Anluan, but Caitrin's personal agenda was to escape from (and later face) her own demons.

3. In LEGEND by Marie Lu, the main plot was about uncovering the truth about the murder, the romance was entangled with the main plot, but Day's own agenda was to get medicine for his family.

A lot of people complained Bella from TWILIGHT had no personality. At least part of this stems from her lack of personal agenda. Stuff happens to her, sure. But what does she do in the meantime? What does she want? What part of her can I root for?

I've only realised this consciously in the past few days. The main character in my current WiP has a lot happen to her, and there's a love story in there too, but until the plot starts she does very little on her own. She has problems to deal with that turn quite dangerous... but that still doesn't give her the characterisation I'm looking for.

In my next draft I might have her involved in a small political campaign, or trying to start up her own business - something that tells the reader who she is, but also introducing a danger of failing (and therefore giving the reader something to root for) without it directly being about the main (or romantic) plot. It will be her personal agenda, and it should make a world of difference to the story.

Think about your current WiP's main character. What is his or her personal agenda? If they haven't got one, try coming up with something they want for themselves OUTSIDE the main and romantic plots.