Tag Archives: short story

Writing Tips: Voice

I have previously blogged on ‘voice’, so some of this may be a repeat for some of my readers. However, I am adding to my previous thoughts.

I think there are two aspects to voice for a writer. Firstly there is the writer’s voice. This might include (among other aspects) choices as to plot or point of view or language, structural quirks, an outlook on the world and/or future. In some ways this is like the voice of an actor. There are different types of actors. I watch a film with Michael Cain in and I know I am watching Michael Cain. On the other hand, one year I saw three films starring Daniel Day-Lewis and it could have been a completely different actor in each, so effectively did he morph into the characters. I think writers are the same. For me, Colm Tóibín is more of a Michael Cain, while Louise Doughty is more of a Daniel Day-Lewis.

Then, if a writer is creating fiction, there are the voices of the characters. Here I do believe a writer should strive for diversity, which must mean going beyond their own experiences.

One of the narrative characters in my Scarborough Mysteries novels is Theo Akande – young, black, gay, male. What is a fifty-five year old white woman doing writing in a young, black, gay, male voice? There has been some suggestion that this disjunction is one reason why it has not been picked up by literary agents. Perhaps it smacks of appropriation or colonisation. There is a good point here, there are not enough young, black, gay voices out there and publishers should be focusing on promoting them rather than a voice created by me. I do get that. And sometimes I do feel nervous that I’m not getting Theo ‘right’ in some way.

I was cheered slightly by an interview with Bonnie Greer which I heard on the excellent podcast: https://www.thelastbohemians.co.uk/. Greer said we are, after all, from the same species. She also said don’t be an artist if you want to be safe.

Theo evolved over several novels (unpublished & published). Initially he was the ‘sane’ counterweight to Hannah’s descent into depression. He has faced prejudiced and bullying and has many reasons to feel aggrieved, but he maintains his more balanced view of the world because of the ‘secure base’ (à la Bowlby) of his upbringing. I believe Theo is more unlike me because of this than because of his other attributes. I have a very bleak view on life. I also wanted him to be different from the many ‘cops with hang-ups’ which are out there in contemporary fiction, while also having his vulnerabilities. He is more a Peter Wimsey (DL Sayers) than a Rebus (Ian Rankin).

Whether readers will be content with my depiction of Theo is up to them. However, as writers, it is worth considering how we come to characters who are very different from ourselves. I have several suggestions. Firstly, writers need big ears for listening. We also need curiosity. When we meet someone, we need to be asking questions and listening to the answers. The ‘overheard’ is also a great source. Secondly, we research through reading, TV, radio, internet, social media, interviewing… Thirdly, I come back to what Greer said about us all being the same species. At a very basic level, we all have the same impulses to want to be loved and respected and have a sense of purpose. How we might try and gain love, respect and a sense of purpose will vary, more, I believe, by nurture than by nature, though genes must play its part. I only have to look at me and my siblings to understand that. Fourthly, characters develop if we writers allow them to. Planning is often useful, but not if it gets in the way of characters bouncing off each other and off what is happening to them. As with real life, characters behave differently, and are changed, because of what is going on around them.

Finally, as a writer, it is important to believe that all human behaviour is possible. For me, I want all my characters’ behaviours/feelings to stretch back to those fundamental needs of love, respect and sense of purpose. I suspect I would not be able to do great violence to another person, I am far too squeamish and fearful. But I wanted to write from the point of view of someone who could and created Max in my short story Adrift (still available on Amazon somewhere). I feel I managed to capture a mindset which could allow extreme violence and rationalise it. That’s not saying I believe what Max did was right, only that he thought it was right.

What is your experience of creating character and voice? Have you deliberately set out to write a character very different from you?

The Changing Seasons

Autumn has well and truly landed in my part of the country, with cold winds and rain. The Rowan is turning a beautiful ruby colour. The sea is roaring as it pounds in on a high tide smelling of ice. The sanderlings have returned, running in and out of the waves as if they are playing a game of tag.

I enjoy the change in seasons. After a summer mostly recovering from a major operation, I am feeling my energy and creative spirit returning. This morning I spent re-working one of my short stories and, for now, I am pleased with the results. I have decided to represent parts of it as if they were exhibits in a museum (thank you to Susannah Walker’s The Life of Stuff for the idea):

Fragment, diary of Jane Anne Hughes (née Moulsdale)
10th December 1859
Ink on paper
Donated, Helena Moulsdale, 1st July, 2019, 2009.

The first of the exhumations and re-burials. I thought I could hardly bear it, but I must for Stephen’s sake. He torments himself so. Should he have buried the unidentified four to a grave, only to have to bring them up again when one is claimed by a relative? I can merely say, it was the only course to take, we did not have the strength to do it any other way. I hope His God is telling him the same when he prays. Stephen holds his belief in His God like a cherished glass globe. Mine has become like a wrung out dishcloth to me. Yet, I will stay by Stephen’s side, even as the words of the Bible, His Words, taste like ash gone cold in the hearth.

When I look beyond my patch, I find it harder to be so sanguine. The UK political situation, the environmental crisis, the endless wars, so many of examples of crass, ignorant or cruel actions one human on another. The seasons change, it seems we humans are incapable of it. It all leaves me feeling stunned and helpless.

Recently I went to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art near Norwich, a wonderful place to lose oneself in. Currently they have an exhibition about Doris Lessing. I have to admit, Lessing is one of those writers I have held in esteem without really knowing why and who I have not read enough of. The exhibition took me through her life: her political activism; the development of her writing; her personal relationships. She had donated all her papers to the University of East Anglia, even so I felt a little uncomfortable reading some of her love letters. Had she really wanted that?

Lessing never stopped working or supporting the causes she believed in. She had a vibrancy which shone into old age. I was inspired by a part of her acceptance speech when she was given the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007 at the age of 88 and six years before her death:

The storyteller is deep inside every one of us … Let us suppose our world is ravaged by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise…. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

As a writer, I have never believed my work is all about publication (and a good thing too, given my record!) My work has, first and foremost been about saving me, about my own healing. But I hope maybe in that process I may offer some healing, some hand held out, to others. And yes, perhaps even, a modicum of healing to a wounded world.

A Writer’s Toolkit: Reading


We read to escape, for pleasure, to learn something, to divert, but sometimes we read to meet ourselves. We read to have something in ourselves, in our experience, confirmed as acceptable. Or, at least, not so far beyond the possible as to be beyond the pale.

Many of us take up a writing journey to resolve things that, in the end, are un-resolvable. Possibly once we have realised they are un-resolvable, we will find acceptance. Reading another’s perspective or story can also bring us to view what is going with us in a different, perhaps more compassionate, way. Reading can be all encompassing.

Patricia Leavy, author of Handbook of Arts-Based Research (Guildford Press, 2019) suggests:
‘Research shows that reading fiction engages our entire brain, including some unexpected areas, such as those involved with movement and touch. We literally place ourselves in the stories we read, becoming immersed. There are activations in our brains for days after reading a novel, which is not the case with nonfiction prose.’

However, as writers we also read to develop ourselves and our craft. Read widely. Read actively. Don’t just think I enjoyed that (or not), ask what makes it appealing (or not) to me. Look for techniques which we may want to bring into our own writing. I’m not advocating plagiarism here. As with walking, we may all take the same path, but we will all experience it and talk about it in different ways. With writing, if we allow the means and the subject matter to be mediated through our self, then using similar methods to other writers will still result in a unique piece.

So essential items in a writer’s toolbox are: a library card, a shelf full of books and a community within which books can be leant and borrowed.

 

Update


My own writing projects continue to progress. I have pulled together my thoughts on writing, walking and memoir into a non-fiction piece and am waiting to see how I might develop that into something I could share with an audience. The short stories I discovered in embryonic state in my writing journals are drafted and are out with readers for comments.

 

 

 

 

I have completed Drowning Not Waving, the fourth in my Scarborough Mysteries series. It has been with a literary agent since the beginning of 2018. Initially she said she loved it and she enthusiastically talked to me over the phone, asking me to do some re-writes which I did before re-submitting it to her. On October 31st 2018 she said she would definitely get back to me with a definitive answer within the week. That is the last I have heard from her.

While all this has been going on, I have completed the fifth in the series, No Justice. I am currently at the re-writing/editing stage and hope to be able to indie publish both as one volume by the end of this year.


 

Blog tour: Greater than the sum of its parts? Assembling a first short story collection

This week I am delighted to welcome fellow writer Anne Goodwin to my blog. Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity launches on Facebook on November 23rd, 2018, where the more people participate the more she’ll donate to Book Aid International. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a particular interest in fictional therapists.

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com
Twitter @Annecdotist.

Here Anne talks about putting her first collection of short stories together for publication.

Many years ago, when I was carving out a space to write fiction, a creative writing tutor recommended I begin putting a short story collection together. Despite knowing very little about publishing at the time, I was aware that short story anthologies are hard to sell in the UK. So I shrugged my shoulders and continued submitting my efforts to individual magazines.

By the time my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published in 2015, I had over sixty short stories in multi-author collections and/or print and internet magazines. I even had a couple in translation – Swedish and Hungarian if you’re wondering – which is yet to happen with either of my novels. But I didn’t consider putting together a collection until my publisher at Inspired Quill suggested it. What writer isn’t flattered to be asked to submit? I decided if Sara-Jayne Slack was prepared to invest time and money in an anthology, I ought to delve in.

It wasn’t until my second novel, Underneath, was published that I had the headspace to revisit my short fiction with an anthology in mind. By then I had around ninety stories – most already published, some still in draft and some doing the rounds – begun over a period of fifteen years. Each having emerged from a separate seed of inspiration, it was a new experience to go back and select a sample not only for their individual qualities but for how they’d fit together as a whole. Like arranging a vase with flowers from different seasons or furnishing a room with both contemporary pieces and antiques.

Or perhaps my stories weren’t so disparate. I knew I kept returning to familiar themes. Perhaps my collection would be like a colour-co-ordinated bouquet. But which colour – or theme – would incorporate the most alluring flowers?

In conjunction with my publisher, I settled on the theme of identity, being broad enough to encompass a range of interpretations around a coherent central idea. How do we become who we are and how that does that change across time and circumstance? How do we manage the gap between who we are and who we would like to be or who others feel we ought to be? How much control do we have over our identity and is it a role bestowed on us by others or something that arises from within? These kinds of questions are consistent with my background as a clinical psychologist. They’re also explored within my debut novel.

After drawing up a list of potential candidates, I set about self-editing. A major difference between this and preparing my novels for submission was that 70,000 words of short pieces contains many more characters and plots than a novel of similar length. What if I had repeated myself? Once the stories were in a single document it was relatively simple to eliminate duplicate character names, but echoes of imagery or phrasing are trickier to detect. Multiple reads and an eagle-eyed editor certainly help.

Following submission, my publisher asked for a statement of how each story fit the theme and a little more editing of some to make that fit tighter. This helped us both develop a stronger sense of what the collection is about and my personal concept of identity as a dynamic process that evolves in relationship with the self and with others. Around this point we also agreed that there was a gap in relation to religious identity (easily filled as I already had the completed stories touching on the topic) and that, although it’s inevitable that some stories would be stronger than others, one, despite perfectly encapsulating the theme, didn’t make the grade.
More detailed editing from my editor followed. The stories having gone through multiple edits already, a few courtesy of the editors of magazines, the collection required fewer alterations than my novels, and definitely fewer passages to cut. On the other hand, some elements of some stories needed a lot more back and forth until they hit the right note.

A satisfying short story depends on nuance; some of mine benefited from a few extra words to hone the resolution while still leaving sufficient space for the reader to draw her own conclusions.

One of the difficulties I encountered in writing my first novel was finding the right structure for the story I wanted to tell. When it came to the collection, while structure wasn’t a problem for the individual pieces, structuring the whole required some thought. In what order should the stories appear to make for the most satisfying read? With a novel, strategically placed crises keep the reader turning the page. But there’s no parallel for this in an anthology. To end one story, like a teasing chapter, on a cliffhanger doesn’t entice readers into the next tale with new characters and setting.

Having already agreed a title change from Being Someone to Becoming Someone to reflect identity as process, my publisher suggested arranging the stories to reflect increasing confidence of the main character in their sense of who they are. Thus the process of reading might follow the process of identity formation, such that the book itself becomes much more than the sum of its component parts. But when the stories weren’t written to illustrate this development, and when most stories contain a process within themselves, a challenge to achieve. Have we pulled it off? That’s for readers to judge.

Becoming Someone published 23rd November, 2018 by Inspired Quill
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-908600-77-6 / 9781908600776
eBook ISBN: 978-1-908600-78-3 / 9781908600783
Author page at Inspired Quill publishers http://www.inspired-quill.com/authors/anne-goodwin/

Facebook launch in support of Book Aid International https://www.facebook.com/events/285314412085573/

Drop in at your own convenience wherever you are in the world, I’ll be here to entertain you from morning coffee to pre-dinner drinks.
The more actively people participate, the more I’ll donate to Book Aid International.


Sugar and Snails promotion My debut novel is discounted to 99p or equivalent (Kindle version) throughout November viewbook at Sugar and Snails

7 prompts for writers #5: building characters

Keen-eyed readers of this blog will notice that this is the third post in my ‘7 prompts for writers…’ strand which is about characterisation. Some of you might be wondering why I keep coming back to this aspect of writing. My answer would be, because the vast majority of my writing is character-driven. To a certain extent, I believe, once I have my protagonists, the plot will take care of itself.

I urge you, therefore, to go back to my previous ‘7 prompts for writers’ posts on characterisation and voice. I want layered characters. I want voices which are various and interesting. As writers we might find characters by looking around us, since, let’s face it, characters are ‘merely’ people. People we decide to bring onto the page and then allow their stories to unravel.

There are two aspects to consider here. First, however close we may be to somebody, we cannot possibly know everything about them. There will be secret corners to them, and nooks which even they are unaware of. When I am creating characters, it is the nooks which they themselves are oblivious to, which interests me. Love an ‘unreliable narrator’ me! Secondly, once we as writer brings a person onto the page, they are immediately morphed from the person or people they are based on. Just as a portrait is subtly altered from the sitter, and the portrait creator is in there somewhere.

So, once we have a person to bring onto the page, how do we flesh them out? Luckily we have one person who is forever open for investigation and discovery: ourselves. Author Milan Kundera suggests: ‘The characters in my novels are my own unrealised possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented.’

We are back to excavating ourselves. But not the ‘self’ we live with every day, which we show to the world, to our friends, to our lovers. It’s the many selves which have not been realised, our potential selves… For me, given the genre I write in, this includes the potential towards violence, which I would normally run away from very fast.

How do we find our potential selves? My tip is to develop them through free writing in our writing journal. I am constantly advocating this, so you will find references to free writing littered throughout my blog posts. I will give another definition here. Write for three minutes without thinking about grammar, spelling, making sense. Don’t follow the lines. Get messy.

Natalie Goldberg in her seminal work Writing Down the Bones, says the aim is to ‘burn through to first thoughts … to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel’, to ‘explore the rugged edge of thought.’ This does take practice and may initially go against your writing instinct.

Warning: free writing and worming our ways into the nooks which we don’t normally look into and often keep well hidden (for good reason) can be upsetting and destabilising. Make sure you have emotional and psychological support. Look after your mental wellbeing.

I feel the need to give the warning, for I know it is required and true. On the other hand, read again Kundera: ‘my own unrealised possibilities’. How great is that to spend time with the many people we could have been. I could be the woman who first conquered Everest, in my writing. I could be less afraid, more care-free, in my writing. I could be anything, anyone, in my writing. And that’s why I think writing will be with me all my life, endlessly fascinating, endlessly enthralling.

What tips do you have for fleshing out characters?

 

#1 A Photograph

Writers can take inspiration from anywhere. Look at a photograph and imagine you are inside the image: write about what you can see, smell, taste, feel, hear. Then imagine you are something (not a person) within the photograph and write from that point of view using the first person ‘I’. As that ‘I’ what are you: feeling inside; thinking; hoping for; scared of; frustrated by? Take no more than 20 minutes to do this. Then see if you can distill down what you have written to five lines.

Here is a photograph. If you want, you can post your five lines to me via a comments box. I’ll be happy to hear from you.

signposts

 

 

7 things you need to know about proofreading

Today I welcome fellow author, David Powning, who is also an experienced copy-editor & proofreader, to guide us through what we need to know as writers about proofreading. Learn more at: www.inkwrapped.com and find out more about his novel The Ground Will Catch You go to: https://goo.gl/wtkdod (10% of the proceeds goes towards the struggle against breast cancer).

David1. Copy-editing and proofreading are not the same thing.
This foxes a lot of people, and understandably so, mainly because there is a certain overlap between the two disciplines. The aim of a copy-edit is to not only find errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, but also to address issues around style, usage, consistency and repetition, among other things. In other words, it involves editing the text. 

A proofread, on the other hand, is the final read-through before publication. Its purpose is to look for errors and inconsistencies in spelling, grammar and punctuation that were missed by the copy-editor or have subsequently crept in when the author made amendments to the text. Your proofreader will also check layout, page numbering, chapter headings etc.  

The important thing to remember is that a proofread is the last read of the text to make sure everything is as ‘clean’ as possible. It is not an edit. 

2. It isn’t particularly cheap. And if it is, you should be hearing alarm bells.
The bad news is you will have to shell out a bit for a copy-edit, and for good reason: when done properly, it’s time-consuming. The copy-editor has to get inside your text, hunting out mistakes and discrepancies, and that includes keeping tabs on people’s details (the colour of their hair or eyes, for example) or what car they drive (if it’s a green Ford Fiesta on page 24, it can’t be a grey Ford Fiesta on page 238), as well as the timeline to make sure events are happening in the logical order. There’s a lot involved, and, as with everything in life, you get what you pay for. 
 

The good news, however, is that a proofread is cheaper. 

3. You can’t proofread your own work.
I know, it would be lovely if we were all able to proofread what we’ve written – and of course I’m not suggesting that you don’t continuously check your work – but it’s a fact that even the best writers have to hand over their efforts to a professional. The problem with proofing your own work is that you know what you’ve written, so, like it or not, there will be times when your brain fills in the words simply because it ‘knows’ what’s coming. And that’s where mistakes occur. You need a neutral person to look at it, because they don’t know what’s around the corner so to them everything will be fresh.

Also, logic dictates that if there are some words you always mis-spell or grammatical constructions you get wrong, how would you know the difference? You can’t spot what you don’t know. 

4. A good copy-editor/proofreader will respect the author’s wishes.
Sometimes as a copy-editor you come across stylistic curiosities that aren’t what you would call, erm, ‘traditional’. Grammatically wrong, even. If it’s a one-off, nine times out of ten you would automatically just correct it. However, if it’s something that crops up repeatedly, then you have to bring it to the author’s attention. And if they say it’s deliberate, then you have to respect that, even if it makes your red pen quiver every time you see it happen. It’s a delicate balancing act. Readers may well go, ‘Ah-ha, I’ve spotted a mistake there, and there, and there…’ but if your client is happy and views it merely as their own stylistic quirk, you must take that on board. It may go against a copy-editor’s natural instinct, but as with a magazine’s house style, sometimes there will be things you disagree with.

5. Proofreading is important.
I’ve often heard it said that readers are not fussy these days about coming across typos when reading a novel, but, you’ll be shocked to hear, I don’t think it’s acceptable. Of course, even with the best will in the world, the occasional error may slip through the net – and that’s true of all books – but to me anything more than that is the thin end of the wedge. If you start to think, ‘Oh, I’m not too bothered about a few spelling mistakes in my novel’, then what’s to stop you being bothered about half a dozen in the next one, and ten in the one cover-jan2016-dpowningafter that? 

Self-publishing has really taken off in the past few years, and I think indie authors have a duty to keep their standards as high as possible so that the public can buy with confidence, as when purchasing a novel from an established publisher/author. Is it okay for a CD to jump half a dozen times? Wouldn’t you return it if it did? Well, the same goes for books. Typos and grammatical errors stop the flow of words and momentarily take the reader out of the imagined world you have created, thereby undermining all your hard work. What’s okay about that?

6. Track Changes is a wonderful thing.
For those not in the know, Track Changes is a function in Microsoft Word that records each amendment a person (i.e. your copy-editor/proofreader) makes in the document. This means that when your novel is returned to you, you simply go through each change and either ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ it. I mention this only because chances are you’ll be sending your work to a copy-editor as a Word file, and I’d be very surprised if they didn’t use Track Changes. It’s simple to use and gives you complete control over the final product. Brilliant.

7. Proofreading is very satisfying.
I love copy-editing and proofreading, whether that’s for magazines or books. To me it’s a challenge to find things that aren’t quite right, and not because I want to feel clever. Every writer makes errors (my novel went through the wringer quite a few times until I was happy), so when you discover something amiss you know you are doing your bit to improve the work, and that’s a good feeling.  

Ultimately, when you’re working for an author, it’s a partnership. You’re both striving towards the same thing – high standards – and to help someone achieve that, after all the hours they’ve put in creating a story, really is very gratifying.