Tag Archives: Writers Group

Between a feather and a sledgehammer

Lots of us like stories that end in a twist or reveal. I love both reading and writing them, but sometimes the story doesn’t quite work, and in the worst case scenario you don’t understand the end of the story. The fault of this mystery comes down to getting the right balance of foreshadowing (or slipping hints into the earlier parts of the story).

It’s a fine line to tread, you need to pepper your story with enough clues so that if someone was re-reading it they would slap their forehead and go ahh, it all seems so obvious now, but put too many of these in and everybody guesses how the story ends before they get there. Wouldn’t you have enjoyed ‘The Sixth Sense’ a lot less if Bruce Willis had put his hand through the door handle at the beginning?

This is where a writers group can be invaluable. My general rule of thumb is that if half the group gets it, then it works. Fewer than half, then you have been too subtle with your hints. Also, if more than a couple guess your end before they got there, then you have overdone it.

So what do you do when you don’t have a writers group? You force your story onto a bunch of readers and get their feedback! Having recently released a story where you needed to pick up the clues to understand the end I am now feeling the brunt of my subtlety. If you miss the clues in this story you can think that it is just an ‘I woke up and it was all a dream’ story (which is the kiss of death for an author). This has led to more than a couple of bad reviews. I had other hints I could have put in there, but I thought that would be sledgehammer-ing my reveal.

This story was written and published before I had a writer’s group, so as the editor ‘got it’ I figured I had my foreshadowing balance right. Now that it is on line I am discovering the majority of people don’t get it. What’s worse is when I explain it to people they shake their heads and say ‘nope, didn’t see that at all’.

Golden rule about writing fiction; if you need to explain your story, it is not well written.

I’m now on the edge of either a) pulling the story so there is no evidence beyond cached pages that it ever existed, and b) re-writing it with all the foreshadowing that I pulled out of the original version. I still like the premise, and the truth is there is a major continuity error that no-one seems to have picked up that I’ve wanted to fix ever since it came to me in the middle of the night a few months ago, so I think I’m going to go for the re-write.

So as much as one of my widest-read stories is also turning out to be one of my most disliked stories, at least I have learned a major lesson (which given all the times I blab on about how wonderful writers groups are you would have thought I would already have learned); always run a story past a group of readers before you send it anywhere (another golden rule).

Happy writing!

Nat

The Meaning of Life

Yes, I know I promised to present five fabulous non-fiction books to you, but I got some good news this week, and I wanted to share it. So you’ll have to wait until Wednesday for the non-fiction reading list I’m afraid.  

The first bit of good news I got was that my flash fiction story entry Jaxon’s Gift gained an ‘honourable mention’ in the Australian Horror Writers Association short story competition! Which means I wasn’t too far off the pace. I’m also pleased to say fellow SuperNOVA member, Tracie McBride, was also honourably mentioned for her short story Slither and Squeeze.

The next bit of good news I got was that my self-(re)published short story Welcome to Midnight finally made it onto the Amazon free list, and in the twenty-four hours following that over 3,500 people downloaded a copy! As of Saturday night it was ranked #42 (hence the title of this blog). And here’s proof;
Amazon Sales Rank

The truth is I don’t know what the book is being ranked against, it could be all ebooks, it could free ebooks, it could be horror/science fiction books, or it could be free horror/science fiction ebooks by authors with surnames beginning with ‘P’. But I don’t care! My other self-published book on Amazon is ranked at a number four digits longer than Welcome to Midnight, so I’m VERY happy with #42!

So thank you to everyone for cheering up what was shaping up to be a bit of a depressing week!

I promise, next post will be the 5 great non-fiction books!

Nat

But what if this happened instead…

Often when I’m reading a story I think I’ve picked where it is going, or what the twist is going to be, only to find that it doesn’t eventuate. Sometimes when that happens my idea is better than what does happen.

An example for me was when I was reading Twilight. I loved the way Stephenie Meyer was foreshadowing for the mother to have some vampire-related connection which explained Bella’s irresistible attraction. The mother was carefully kept out of the picture, only communicating by phone, and she had lived in the area where the novel is set when she was younger. Perfect set-up.

I couldn’t wait for the big reveal and what it would mean for Bella, but apparently it never happened. I say apparently as I didn’t get past the second book, so I had to ask a friend who had read them all. I was just so disappointed that such a perfectly set-up twist was squandered. 

So what is the etiquette on writing a story based on an idea you got from someone else’s story? The truth is it happens all the time, and people write the stories without any issue. In fact most of the time you could read both stories and have no idea that one inspired the other.

Where it can be problematic is when you get inspired by a submission from someone in your writers group, or from ‘the slush pile’ if you are reader for a publisher. If you are in either of these situations I think you have to let the idea go. In my writers group I’ll share my twist with the author, and if they like it they can have it, if not I wave goodbye as it disappears back out into the collective unconscious to be picked up by someone else.

So will I write the vampire story with the mother twist? Of course, in fact I already have. I just need to find a short story publisher without ‘PLEASE NO MORE VAMPIRE STORIES’ on its submission page and then I’ll send it off. Looks like quite a few people have been inspired by the Twilight saga!

Nat

Aurealis Awards

The Aurealis Awards are one of the biggest events in the Australian speculative fiction calendar. Started in 1995 the Aurealis Awards set out to celebrate Australian speculative fiction in its distinct categories; science fiction, horror and fantasy.  

The shortlist for the awards (winners announced in May) has been released here and I’m proud to say that there are a few members of SuperNOVA (my writers group) represented across several categories.

Another point of interested I read with great enthusiasm was the inclusion of a self-published novel nominated for best Fantasy novel of the year. It just goes to show that self-publishing (or indie publishing as it is now being called) can bring otherwise hidden gems to our attention.

Congratulations to all the nominees and best of luck to the Novarians!

Nat

Moving is like publishing a novel

After countless visits, phone calls and online volume calculators, I finally found a removalist who could move what we wanted for the price we were happy to pay. I thought my work was over. I even went back to writing and put a decent number of words in my WriMoFoFo spreadsheet for the first time in two weeks.

Then my boxes arrived.

It is day three of packing, and while I have nearly exhausted my box supply, the house looks just as full of books and trinkets as it was before. I’ve been down to St Vinnies so many times that I suspect next week the shop will be stocked entirely with my stuff. Yet there is still more to go!

This got me thinking; moving is very much like getting a novel published. You think the hard part is finding a publisher who wants your book, but it is only once the book is picked up that you find out about the real work of being a novelist.

Having never published a book, I know some of you are wondering how I would know, this is where the writers group comes in. Recently we watched two of our members get first time novel deals and go through the whole process. However, they are both still going through ‘the process’ despite having had their books on the shelves for months.

For us unpublished writers, the goal is getting that call from a big publishing house saying they want to include our opus in their list. But it is important that you don’t confuse ‘goal’ with ‘destination’, because once you are published you need to ensure that you get published again. To do that you need to make your first publication work and that means you need to work.

As an unknown author you might have to organise a lot of your own press opportunities, book signings, guest blog spots, possibly even your own launch. If you want posters, post cards, bookmarks or book videos, you may need to commission them yourself. All of this while also working on your next novel, because many publishers work on multiple book deals, with deadlines a year (or less) apart.

But if you are a writer, none of this will scare you off. It is a problem we would all love to have, unlike moving house, which is a problem that I can have all to myself. At last I see why buying a home is the great Australian dream; it is not a crazy desire to owe someone lots of money, we just want to avoid moving all our crap. It is so much easier to shove that spare set of Bocce balls in a cupboard just in case you need them again rather than finding them a new home.  

Nat

NaNoWriMo & WriMoFoFo

Yes, it does look like I’ve just randomly hit the keyboard to produce my title but those actually stand for something. November brings with it NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). This was started in 1999 in the US by a group of friends to motivate them to write more. Since then it has spread across the world, with over 165,000 participants joining in last year.

So what is it? The premise is simple; you try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, specifically the month of November. What do you win? Nothing, you are doing it for the glory.

In my writers group (SuperNova) we have found a few problems with NaNo. Firstly, November is generally not a good month, there is the lead up to Christmas and the weather has finally turned into something you want to get out into. Secondly, 50,000 words is a lot of words. Many people miss the target and find it disheartening, hurting their writing more than helping. Finally, we are all commitment phobic, we have trouble dedicating ourselves to just one novel as the NaNoWriMo rules dictate.

Hence WriMoFoFo was born; Write More For Four. The aim is to write more words than you would normally write over a four week period. So you set your own target; 20K, 10K or even 100K whatever is right for you. You can write anything; a novel, short stories, poems, whatever you want to count toward your writing goal. We even have an ‘edited words’ section for those who don’t need to write something new but rather fix something that already exists.

Normally we run WriMoFoFo earlier in the year, or when the weather is turning bad. But as fate would have it, we all have deadlines to meet, so we are running a WriMoFoFo across November.

So whether you want to WriMoFoFo or NaNoWriMo it doesn’t matter, because even if you don’t hit that magic 50K either challenge will see an increase in the number of words you write –and that is always something to aspire to! You have a week to decide; NaNo or FoFo?

Happy writing,

Nat