You know the drill! Below are some ‘mini reviews’ of some of my recent reads. As I haven’t reviewed in a while, there are lots of books, so I’ll probably split the reviews across one or two posts. Let me know what you think!
Lies She Told by Cate Holahan – 5*
Lies She Told centres around the life of author Liza Cole, as she attempts to write a novel – which she hopes will be as successful as her previous bestseller – whilst simultaneously dealing with the death of her husband’s business partner, among other personal issues.
This novel follows an extremely interesting structure. The chapters alternate between Liza’s P.O.V in the real world, and the P.O.V of Beth, the main protagonist in Liza’s novel. We are, therefore, following both Liza’s actual story, alongside her fictional story. At first, the similarities between the two are small – a shared feeling or a similar setting for example – but after a while, the similarities become more pronounced, leaving us to answer the question: what is real and what is fiction?
I personally love this structure. As a writer myself, we’re forever told that elements of us, our personalities, feelings and life stories will inevitably bleed into our fiction, so not only does this structure work in terms of building tension and results in an awesome novel, it also subtly explores several interesting elements of writing, which I find very clever and engaging. As well as this, the structure offers us, in essence, two novels to read at once, both of which I found clever and full of suspense. The alternation also serves to increase tension, as you jump from one cliffhanger to the other. I always looked forward to the next chapter in both stories, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.
Lies She Told will appeal to anyone looking for a unique and engaging thriller, or anyone searching for a novel that’s a little bit different. Must read!
All Things New by Lauren Miller – 5*
All Things New follows the story of Jessa, our protagonist, as she attempts to come to terms with the after-effects of a terrifying accident, and the physical and mental scars left behind.
Long story short, I loved this book. It’s so sensitively done, it’s hard not to, and I believe the comparisons with The Fault in Our Stars and All the Bright Places are justified. It tackles several very difficult subjects carefully and beautifully, weaving a sometimes heart-breaking yet hopeful tale that’s part love-story part coming-of-age. I’d recommend this to everyone.
Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas – 4*
Last Seen Alive follows main protagonist Libby as she swaps her tiny flat in the city for a large, sprawling house by the beach, for what she hopes will be a relaxing get-away. As expected, things don’t go to plan – this is a thriller after all – and the holiday soon turns into a nightmare.
This is a fabulous book, which I very much enjoyed reading. Rarely do I reach the ‘twist’ of a novel without any prior ideas as to what the twist might be, but I’m happy to say this wasn’t the case here, and the twist was shocking yet still managed to maintain believability. Douglas has cleverly managed to allude to it throughout, creating tension and suspense, and laying a solid foundation for the later revelations.
Then she was Gone by Lisa Jewell – 5*
This book was incredible. Dark, twisty and sometimes horrifying, but incredible. I loved reading it and flew through it in a single day. My heart was thumping in my chest throughout and I’d absolutely recommend it to everyone – the fact that it’s so believable makes it all the more shocking.
The 100 by Kass Morgan – 3*
This book was OK and kept me interested throughout, but to be honest, I felt like it lacked something. There seemed to be an awful lot of nothingness (no real plot) and ended with a cliffhanger. I enjoyed it as a ‘listening whilst doing other stuff’ audio-book but may have stopped reading if it was a paperback. I probably won’t read the rest but I’m interested to see the TV show. * UPDATE * The TV show is incredible! I think it might even be my favourite programme…!
The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond- 2* DNF
I’m sure others would enjoy this novel as it offers all the standard things you would expect from a thriller – interesting protagonists, intriguing premise, conflict and unanswered questions. Despite this, this novel wasn’t really my cup of tea, due solely to the fact that I don’t think the intelligent protagonists would have ever opted into the pact in the first place. They seemed to ask almost no questions and didn’t think it was weird at all. I liked the writing and characterisation, but feel I would have had to suspend belief whilst reading to actually enjoy it properly. Thanks anyway to the publisher and author for the ARC!
UPDATE: Apparently this book has sold its movie rights…!
No Filter by Orlagh Collins – 5*
Emerald, our female protagonist is likeable yet somewhat troubled. She’s forever checking her social media accounts and lusting over those sometimes-elusive ‘likes’ ‘hearts’ or ‘shares’. My prior experience of novels that try to emulate the social media age is wholly negative, but this is one of the rare books that actually manages to be ‘social media savvy’ without being boring or try-hard. Both protagonists are well-rounded, and I think Collins has done a fabulous job of writing in two distinct voices (which is hard to do right!).
Overall, I’d describe this novel as a ‘modern-day Romeo and Juliet’, which I understand is a little cliche, but to be honest, that’s exactly how I’d describe this wonderful book. The plot is deep, occasionally heart-wrenching and is populated with well-thought out characters and conflict. Loved it!
This is going to be a fairly short blog post, but I really wanted to share something with you that I’m finding super useful during my editing process. I participated in Camp Nanowrimo during July, which was awesome. Having dragged my third draft out for well over a year, nano forced me to write consistently every day (which I rarely do) and I’m now left with a finished story. 66,000 words later, it’s now time to edit, alter, expand, cut and tweak my draft until I’m happy it’s the best it can possibly be. No sweat, right?
Having used the notecard outline method previously, I’m happy with the actual plot of my story, hence my editing from now on will focus mainly on subplots, characterisation, foreshadowing and dialogue. Although I know roughly what I intend to achieve during this draft, when editing, it can be hard to know exactly where to start and what to do. Personally, I like to write and edit chronologically as I see no point in writing and polishing a later chapter, only to find out it no longer fits with the rest of the novel. I therefore know I want to start editing from the beginning of the novel, but how exactly should I get started?
Well, there are many ways I could attack this draft. I could simply read it chronologically on screen and alter as I go or I could print it off. Although I do intend to print off my novel, I will not be reading it from the A4 printed sheets.
So, what will I be doing instead?
I have sent the Word document to my Kindle, and I’m reading it as I would read any other eBook.
And honestly, I can’t believe the difference it’s making to the reading process. For some reason, reading it in said format makes it so much easier to spot the elements that need changing. The problems seem so much more obvious when reading on this device.
Once you’ve spotted the issues, you can make notes one of three ways. You can:
- edit as you go, I.E, have the word document open at the same time and alter as you read.
- edit directly on your Kindle using the ‘note’ feature and then refer back to these later when editing the Word document.
- handwrite any changes on a printed hard copy after first making them in the Kindle version.
I tend to use a mixture of the second and third option. The second option is good for when you’re on the go, and the third is perfect if you prefer hand-written scribbles to on-screen notes.
How do I get my document onto my Kindle?
This is the easy bit. Simply download the Send to Kindle App, set it up using the instructions and click and drag your document into the window. It will then appear on your Kindle. Easy as pie. I recommend sending it as a Word document as although you can send PDF’s, they appear in a fixed format on your device, so won’t look like proper eBooks, more like smaller versions of the A4 PDF (not ideal). If you work in Pages (Mac) like me, simply export your Pages doc as a Word doc using the export function (RTF may also work). I also fiddle about with making each new chapter start on a new page before I send to Kindle, to make it look even more like a real book, although this is more procrastination than anything else. (Note: If you want each of your chapters to start on a new page and your original document is in Pages, export it to Word before you play with the chapters, as your Word doc will look different to your Pages doc).
Once it appears on your Kindle you can then treat it like any other book – you can even adjust the text size and font as you would normally. All that’s left to do is read! Try to look at your novel with fresh eyes (hard, I know) and, as you go along, any bits of stilted dialogue, typos or bits that don’t make sense should jump out at you. When you find these areas to improve, note them down somewhere (as discussed earlier) and then apply your notes to your original document later. To use the Kindle note function, all you need do is press and hold down on the word and ‘note’ will pop up. You then use the Qwerty keypad to type your comments. You can even view all your notes at the end and export them into a document (see this link for more info).
And that’s it! Even if you don’t end up using this method to do your editing, it can just be nice to see your novel ‘in context’ as if it were a real, published book.
How do you usually edit? Comment below!
Just a quick post today. As I’ve been reading a lot recently, I thought I’d write some ‘mini reviews’ of some of my recent reads. Let me know what you think!
The Honeymoon by Tina Seskis – 4.5*
As with a lot of recent novels, this book employs the ‘unreliable narrator’ trope, which I personally enjoy, but only when done right. I can happily confirm that this book is one of the ones which uses this technique successfully. As I was reading, I often felt one of the narrators (Jemma, our main protagonist) was being purposely misleading and, having read a book recently which flat-out deceives the reader (see Under Your Skin…), was worried that this book would take the same course. It doesn’t and in fact, uses the unreliability of Jemma to develop her as an interesting yet flawed 3-dimensional character. I found her character intriguing, which is good as the reader spends a lot of time ‘in her head’, despite there being several other minor narrators and a little bit of head-hopping, all of which add depth to the story.
At no point did I guess the ending (which is a feat these days..!) and when all was finally revealed at the end I felt a chill run down my spine. I can pretty much guarantee that you will have no idea as to what will happen in the end, and when you do find out, it will smack you in the face (in a good way, of course). Would recommend to anyone interested in domestic thrillers or unreliable narrators.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – 5*
Heartbreaking, eye-opening, complex and sometimes chilling. Honestly, this book left me speechless. I read it all in a day. It feels weird to say I enjoyed reading it due to the subject it covers, but I did. It kept me hooked the whole way through and I think Asher dealt with a sensitive subject in a clever and absorbing way. I would recommend this book to anyone, although trigger warning (suicide is the main theme).
He Said / She Said by Erin Kelly – 5*
Intriguing, unique and not at all predictable, He Said/She Said is part twisty thriller/part courtroom drama with a little bit of eclipse chasing sprinkled in for good measure. The characters are relatable and charming, yet flawed, and the relationships created by Kelly are intricate and believable. The main couple, protagonists Kit and Laura, are perhaps my favourite – I think Kelly manages to capture the ‘met-at-uni-been-together-since’ relationship delightfully. Although the novel explores distressing themes at times, it does so with the utmost care and sensitivity, resulting in an emotionally-charged book which raises some important questions and issues. A very clever, enjoyable and emotionally-complex read. I loved it!
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor – 3*
This book was completely different to what I expected, hence I’m finding it quite hard to review. The book is obviously amazingly written, fabulously plotted and creates a vivid and wonderful sense of place and time, but I couldn’t help but find it a little hard to follow sometimes, due to the vast amount of characters and the ‘omniscient head-hopping’. What one expects to be the main plot (the missing girl) although constantly there, is pushed to the background as the writing instead focuses on the effect this has on the village, more so than explicitly about the crime itself. This is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s a very interesting choice made by the author that ensures the books stands out, although may be a little disappointing for anyone expecting a ‘crime thriller’. Overall, this book is written wonderfully but sadly will not appeal to everyone due to its unique narrative style.
Boundary by Andree A Michaud – 5*
A beautifully written and suspenseful literary work of which I enjoyed every page. Murder, mystery and folklore weave with vivid imagery and expertly created characters in this hauntingly memorable exploration of adolescence, sexuality and community. A time consuming yet massively rewarding read.
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy – 3*
Do Not Become Alarmed is a book unlike any I’ve ever read before, in a number of different ways. The narrative style is unique – as opposed to having one main character which the book follows throughout, this novel utilises a ‘head-hopping’ style of narration. Although not my favourite style, it works for this book, as it effectively allows us to experience the novel’s events from the POV of several of the characters. Although this sounds confusing at first, it’s not, as the characters are well-developed, believable and distinctive, and each bring something new to the story. It’s an impressive feat to manage to successfully write in this style, as I have read many books with multiple narrators that don’t work. That said, I think the novel would have been just as interesting (and perhaps easier to connect with) if it was written from the perspective of two of the protagonists, perhaps one adult and one child. This however, is just a personal preference of mine.
The writing is descriptive and vivid, the storyline is captivating and Meloy’s writing style is competent and enjoyable, although may take a little time to get used to at first. Although I would recommend this book to others, I would warn prospective readers to leave any expectations at the first page – to fully appreciate this book, one needs to read and enjoy it for what it actually is, as opposed to what they might expect it to be.
Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant – 3*
I loved this book right up until the last chapter. The writing was awesome, the narrator was engaging and I was hooked. That was, up until the reveal. WTF is up with the ending? No spoilers, but it was such a disappointment. The rest of the novel had been building up to the climax, so why did I feel that the climax and the ‘answer’ to all of my questions came out of nowhere and were added purely for shock value? I’ve noticed this with Durrant’s other book, Lie With Me, in which she did exactly the same thing – chose the most shocking ending and ran with it, despite its unbelievability.
It’s such a shame because I love her writing style, her creation of engaging characters and her ability to insert humour into her books. I was excited to spend my next Audible credit on one of her other books, but I won’t be doing that now 😦
The Ridge by John Rector – 5*
Part Linwood Barclay, part Hemlock grove, this is hands-down one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. As cliche as it sounds, I read it in only a couple of hours and not once did I guess the ending or any of the twists, although expertly weaved flashbacks and carefully placed clues ensured that the eventual conclusion and reveal was satisfying and adrenaline inducing.
The writing is detailed enough to build a strong sense of place, but not too much so that the plot is bogged down by description, and the twist is one of the best I’ve ever read. Rector expertly creates a world which, on the surface seems idyllic, but it’s not long until the cracks begin to show, leaving the reader with spine chills and goosebumps aplenty.
I would 100% recommend this title and will be actively seeking other titles by Rector. Everyone should read this novel!
The Last Girl by Joe Hart – 4*
I would describe this book as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale meets Scott Westerfield’s Uglies. Surprisingly enough, it works! I particularly enjoyed Hart’s third-person present narration – his ability to conjure up an almost tangible image using simple yet well-chosen words is a rare skill, which deserves applause.
One slight gripe I do have is that the middle of the novel dragged a little too much for my liking. The fast pace which I had grown accustomed to petered out and became almost painfully slow – I found myself skipping pages of description in several instances, hence why I have awarded 4 stars not 5.
It’s all too easy to leave too many unanswered questions in a series, but I’m happy to report that this was not the case with The Last Girl and I was sufficiently happy with the ending of the novel.
I would recommend this title and will hopefully get around to reading the rest in the series.
The House by Simon Lelic – 5*
Part murder-mystery, part domestic thriller, The House is a purely unique thrill ride, of which I enjoyed every page. Written in a conversational style, this novel’s structure and narrative voice is fresh and new – the chapters alternate between our two unreliable narrators and protagonists, Jack and Syd, as they try to figure out what on earth is happening in their new house. The style is evocative of a kind of ‘journalistic conversation’ between the two, a style unlike anything I’ve experienced before and it works well, effectively portraying the vague sense of unease at the beginning of the novel, the paranoia and violence in the middle, and finally through to the explosive climax of which you won’t see coming. As tense as it is clever, The House is a wonderfully-crafted, clever and heart-wrenching novel, which will leave your heart racing.
A quote from this review attributed to me can be found in the paperback version of this book!
Free. Everyone likes that word. Free coffee. Free pizza. Free cinema tickets. Free eBooks.
If the latter phrase gets you hot under the collar then you are in the right place.
This blog post will explore three ways you can add to your eBook library cheaply or for free. The below methods can be used to discover both fiction and non-fiction books of all genres and topics. I personally like to download mainly non-fiction books about the craft of writing and fiction books of all genres, but you can tailor the methods to suit your needs.
Before we get started, I feel the need to address the elephant in the room. As a writer, surely I should be supporting other writers by buying their books for a decent price, right? Of course! I’m not suggesting that from now on, you should exclusively read free and cheap Ebooks. You absolutely should not. Given a choice between a paperback and an Ebook, I’ll buy the former almost every time. BUT. There’s nothing wrong with expanding and adding to your collection by subsidising it with free Ebooks, especially as the authors themselves are the ones who are offering them to you. Therefore, all of the below methods are 100% legal, 100% ethical and 100% awesome.
Now that’s cleared up, let’s begin!
Bookbub / Book Cave
As I reside in the UK, I’ll be discussing Bookbub, as opposed to Book Cave (which I think is the US equivalent?), although both websites do the same thing.
Bookbub is hands-down the reason I became obsessed with Ebooks. This is how it works.
You sign up to the website.
You put in your genre preferences.
Bookbub accumulates a list of free and heavily discounted books which you can purchase across a number of different platforms – Kindle, IBooks Kobo, Google etc.
You download the book through the vendor for free or cheap as you would a normal Ebook.
Bookbub will also send you a daily email of the books it thinks you will like (the list has about 7 or 8 titles depending on how many genres you have ticked). I personally look forward to my Bookbub email and I almost always find one or two titles that I like and download. Although you may not have heard of a lot of the titles, that doesn’t stop them from being decent novels (although I have had a couple which were absolutely terrible). Bestsellers appear on the list fairly regularly, slashed from about £8.99 to about £1.99 give or take.
Subscribe to author websites and blogs for fiction
Anyone who spends enough time on the internet will realise just how easy it is to ‘accidentally’ gather free Ebooks from bloggers, website owners, authors and writers who are keen to expand their readership or get subscribers. They generally offer the Ebook in exchange for your email address (fair swap IMO). Below are two of my favourite authors and bloggers, both of whom are currently offering free Ebooks and amazing website content. Honestly, every writer should visit these websites, free Ebooks aside!
Simply go to the Kindle store on a computer, type in your keyword or phrase (example: novel writing, blogging, how to start a business) and search. Then sort the search results by price, low to high. BAM. The free ones will come up first, followed by the cheap ones. If you’re not sure about a key-word, just write free. This also works on fiction. Simply select the genre instead of typing a keyword.
Below is what happens when you type Free into the kindle search bar. TADA.
For all of us ‘book bloggers’, the Netgalley website offers the exciting opportunity to download and read Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) of new and just-published books, delivered straight to your chosen E-reader in exchange for a review. You need to ‘request’ some of the books (meaning you won’t necessarily be eligible to receive all of your chosen ones), but there are many which you can download straight off the bat. You even get to call yourself a professional reader which, let’s be honest, is amazing!
And that’s it for now. Go forth and enjoy your eBooks!
Ok right, I acknowledge this blog post may or may not have bloomed from a guilty conscience. I quit my full-time job last year and exchanged it for a part-time job so I could have more time to focus on my writing and figure out what I want to do with my life. It has been a year since then and it has arguably been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I spend more time with everyone I love, and now I actually have a work-life balance (whereas before, I spent over 12 hours out of the house each day). BUT. I still haven’t finished my novel. When I realised this, I chastised myself – what on earth have I been doing this past year, because I clearly haven’t spent enough time writing. If I had, I would be finished by now, surely?
That may be partly true. These past two years, I have let weeks or even months slip by without so much as looking at my novel. I’ve been through the waves of self-doubt that every writer goes through and I just needed a break from it all, and that’s fine. But when I really think about it, although I haven’t been writing solidly this past year, I have still been working towards my goals indirectly, and that’s OK. Every little writing or reading-related thing you do will get you closer to the end goal of completing your novel. Chances are, if you’ve ‘wasted’ time on writing blogs or even watching Netflix (perhaps not excessively though…), you’ve picked up some form of useful advice or tip. Did you ever think that perhaps your novel isn’t finished yet because it’s simply not ready to be? You COULD have cranked it out in several months and called it a day but you haven’t because you know it can be better. And that’s awesome!
To further clarify, perhaps your novel isn’t finished yet because you’ve spent time:
Learning the craft of writing
Some people may be able to crank out their first book in a year, but chances are if you’re new to this whole writing thing, it’s unlikely. Let’s take a look at new artists. They won’t be creating Picasso-successful paintings in their first year of painting. In fact, they may throw away or abandon 99% of their work. That’s fine. They are still practicing, learning which brush-strokes to use to achieve certain effects, or what colours to mix together to get that perfect skin-shade. It’s the same for writers. I mean, you have the added bonus of knowing how to speak, hence you already have the foundations and building blocks, but until you research how to structure stories, build characters, write dialogue, and set scenes (and that’s just a small snippet), you won’t be able to write a complete, well-rounded and successful novel.
The longer you spend on honing your craft the better it will be.
Letting your work sit and getting distance from it
This is so important. When writing your first novel you may get sucked into the excitement of it all, chuck in every story idea you’ve ever had and thought it was the best thing ever. Who cares that there are no capital letters, the dialogue is stilted and you almost always tell not show? It’s finished right? Wrong. It is not finished, and chances are if you’ve let your WIP sit for a while you’ve realised this. You may feel somewhat deflated that your ‘completed’ novel is a half done mess, but that’s the first step in making it better. If you had just sent it out to agents you may have been inundated with rejection slips, which would have put you off writing altogether. By letting your work sit, you have gained enough distance from it to objectively understand what is wrong with it, thus are in a good position to improve it going forward. Yay, you!
Getting to know your characters
In the first draft, unless you’ve been ruminating over this character for several years, you won’t know the character as well as you should, which is fine as he/she may have changed in ways you didn’t expect as you wrote your novel. By spending time on your novel and not rushing it, you can really get inside your character’s head and get to know them properly.
Finding your writing weaknesses and remedying them
As you write more and learn the craft, you will be constantly identifying where you need to improve and hopefully remedying these areas by actively searching for the answers, be that in a writing craft book or on Google. As much as new writers may not want to hear it, you WILL get better with time (me included) and that first pass at a novel will be so much better in a couple of months or even years when you’ve understood where exactly you need to improve your writing skills.
Finding plot weaknesses and remedying them
As above. Not only will every writer have weaknesses in writing style but they will also have weaknesses in plotting. Spending time fixing these will only be of benefit.
Dabbling in other writing forms
Maybe you haven’t finished your novel because you’ve been playing around with writing short stories or even poetry. Any writer will tell you that perfecting the art of the short story will give you invaluable insight into story form, structure, character development and theme among other things such as dialogue and foreshadowing. Getting short stories completed, edited and polished is good practice when it comes to your much longer novel.
Now hear me out. If you’ve spent 11 months of the past year arsing around, then that’s unlikely to help you in the long run. If however, you’ve spent the last year reading books, reading writing-related blogs or magazines, listening to podcasts on the craft, Googling answers to your questions, or reading debut novel success stories, then that will all help you on your road to publication. Even watching the occasional Netflix documentary or series may give you inspiration for your story, an idea as to how to fix that plot hole, or even just highlight what makes an intriguing story. I recently answered a POV tense question which had been bugging me for weeks by listening to the always fabulous Writing Excuses podcast.
Blogging and getting yourself a platform
This is self-explanatory. Every writer is told that they need a ‘platform’ to reach out to their readers. By starting early, you will hopefully already have a readership so will be more likely to be signed up by an agent. Also, if you’re self-publishing, you may already have a couple of potential readers. Awesome!
Dedicating yourself to your book
Two years in and haven’t given up yet? You obviously think your novel is really good and enjoy writing it. A lot of people would have given up after two years but you haven’t and not only does that say something great about you as a person, it says something about your novel. You believe in it and if you believe in it enough to stick at it for several months, years or even decades then damn, it must be amazing.
Spending time away from your desk
As with any job, it’s important to leave work at work and home at home. Perhaps you haven’t finished your novel because you’ve been too busy enjoying your life and spending time with the people you love. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I admit it’s ironic that this post was written as an escape from having to actually face my novel but this procrastination has served its purpose. I no longer feel guilty about not having my novel finished, and I really can see a massive improvement between my first (terrible) draft and my current one. I will now log off from blogging, put my butt in gear, and get writing!
Thanks so much for all your lovely comments RE part one of this blog post, it’s great to hear that my posts help not only me but others too, and I hope part two is as helpful and insightful as part one. Without further ado, let’s begin…
Overworked descriptions and cliche metaphors
I realise that overworked and cliche are two different things but keep an eye out for both, as they risk making your work look like the uninteresting ramblings of an amateur writer. To clarify:
“Hannah clumsily grabbed her red, ceramic, heavy mug and filled it to the brim with scalding, hot, brown coffee. It burnt her calloused, dry hands.”
Although this sentence is not horrendous, it’s a little too descriptive. One or two adjectives would have sufficed. See below.
“Hannah grabbed her mug and filled it to the brim with scalding coffee. It burnt her calloused hands.”
This one is self-explanatory but some examples of a cliche metaphor are:
– His eyes shone like diamonds
– Her rosy, red cheeks
– His deep, blue eyes
Accidental or thinly veiled racism/sexism/homophobia etc.
Sadly this is more common in novels than you may think. Of course, most of the time the author does not intend to offend, but it does happen. I have read a few reviews of a current popular novel where the readers felt that the only POC in the novel was represented badly (she was bitchy and homophobic with apparently no redeeming characteristics), so when creating characters, please be aware of the above.
Of course, only you, the writer, know your story world and its inhabitants, but it may be wise to consider whether or not your cast is representative of both ethnicity and gender, especially if it’s set in today’s modern world.
Watch out for outlandish developments
Every plot point and development needs to be a logical step up from what has happened before it. Even shocking plot twists or action scenes have a build up and have been ‘set up’ to some degree. Everything needs to be linked, or the result of something that precedes it, so try not to add in outlandish plot points just to ‘spice up’ your novel. I was recently reading (and enjoying) a novel where there was no mention of cannibals, until all of a sudden, just for a little bit of conflict, the protagonist was abducted and almost spit-roasted for dinner. It struck me as out of place, awfully random and to be honest, a bit stupid. All events in your novel are stitched together, so keep your eyes peeled for any random scenes or pointless developments.
Make sure your MC is actually participating in conversations
This may sound stupid but keep an eye out for this, especially if there are lots of characters. It’s all too easy to allow your protagonist to take a back seat and merely observe events and interactions. Make sure your MC is a driving force in the conversations – it’s easy (especially in first-person) to have the narrator pass thought or judgement on a situation in their head when it may be best if they were to make their judgment out loud to the other characters.
Is your main character somewhat likeable?
Don’t get me wrong, flawed protagonists are great, but your readers must want to root for them, so they have to have something going for them, even if that thing is pure grit or ruthlessness in gaining the story goal. They don’t need to be perfect or even nice, but at a basic level check that they aren’t (unless intentional), any of the following: racist, sexist, unnecessarily bitchy, unfairly jealous, whiny or homophobic).
Watch your use of nonsensical sentences
Of course, creatively writing is part of the fun, so go forth and use your imagination but read every sentence to make sure it does actually make sense. There’s no point trying too hard to be literary or whimsical if the meaning behind the sentence is lost to the reader.
Watch out for deep yet pointless conversations
A deep conversation is all well and good but if it randomly appears in your novel and doesn’t contribute to the overall goal or theme then cut it – it’s just fluff.
Don’t make your antagonist flat
No one is 100% evil, not even your villain. Evil for the sake of evil is something that comes up in a lot of negative book reviews, so make sure your book isn’t one of them. As well as this, don’t make your protagonist 100% good. No one likes a Mary Sue.
Another obvious point that is all too easy to overlook. Ensure consistency throughout. Some examples of things to look out for:
- The weather – if it’s snowing one minute, chances are it’s not going to be boiling hot the next.
- Character hair, eye colour, clothing or jewellery.
- Where your characters are in relation to one another as well as if they are sitting or standing. Also, which characters are actually in the scene.
- Time of day
- Spelling of names, places, and made up things.
The above is just the start. There are so many things (most of which will be unique to your novel) which you will need to keep a check on. For example, in a scene in my novel, my characters are wearing masks that cover their mouths. It would, therefore, be a bit stupid if I forgot this and described a character’s smile (because how the heck would you know if he was smiling or not?!). FYI this totally happened. Oops.
Do your research
If you’re representing a culture or a movement (think BDSM in 50 Shades) do your research so as not to offend those who are part of it. 50 Shades often has those involved in the BDSM movement complaining that it’s not accurate and is sexist etc. This also applies to different cultures – you don’t want to cause offense.
Your protagonist is hot-wiring a car? Check that the methods used are viable and correct (but don’t put your new-found knowledge to use!).
Do you have too much inner monologue?
This boils down to the whole show-don’t-tell thing (see part 1). If the protagonist is talking to himself and summarising what’s happening, would it be better and more engrossing to the reader if it was changed to action or dialogue? The answer may be no but it’s worth checking just to be sure.
Have you started in the correct place?
If your novel only picks up pace in the last 75% (like several books I’ve read recently) then consider starting the novel later. You don’t want your readers to give up before the good bit, so why not move the good bit forward.
Are your characters cardboard cut out or cliche?
Is your novel populated with dumb blondes, geeky redheads who look gorgeous when they take off their glasses, handsome square-jawed football players or brooding dark-haired Byronic heroes? If yes, consider changing it up a bit. As well as this, make sure your characters are multi-faceted. Why not give your star football player an interest in sewing, or make the seemingly dumb blonde an owner of a multi-million dollar company? Use your imagination and inject some uniqueness and life into your world.
And that’s it for now! Let me know what you think of the above in the comments!
This week I thought I’d write a blog post detailing some of the things to look out for when re-drafting and editing your novel. I’m currently at this stage in my own novel writing journey and it’s arguably the hardest stage so far – perhaps even worse than the dreaded first draft. I will be referring to this list continuously myself as I draft, re-draft and hone my novel and I hope it will be just as useful to you. I have split this post into two parts as it would have been a little bit too long to be one. Part two is now live and can be found here.
When writing dialogue, keep fancy dialogue tags to a minimum. There is nothing wrong with plain old ‘said’. Changing it up every now and then to add variation and drama is fine, but if your novel reads like:
Fix it, because it does get annoying. I recently stopped reading a novel 3 pages in because I just couldn’t get past the annoying use of tags.
Show don’t tell
Sorry to bring up the obvious – and you will have heard this numerous times – but it’s important, hence why it keeps cropping up. Show the reader your protagonist is distraught through body language, don’t tell them straight up that your protagonist is ‘sad’. Telling instead of showing distances the reader and this is the last thing you want to do.
Even worse than telling is over telling. If you’ve dedicated a whole paragraph to describing how your MC’s (main charactrer’s) love interest is sad, think about it – could this have been portrayed by describing her drooping shoulders or a flicker in her eyes?
Another obvious yet important point. Even the most well-crafted sentence or most beautifully-designed story world can be completely undermined by a single typo. It’s a sure-fire way to ensure both readers and agents stop reading immediately.
Keep an eye out for repetitive dialogue, imagery or word use. Also, check that you aren’t repeating something in dialogue that’s already been said via inner monologue and vice versa. As well as this, watch out that you don’t mention something unimportant more than once, as you risk bringing too much attention to it. The dad character is too busy on his mobile phone to pay attention to your protagonist? Great, mention the phone once and then leave it, don’t keep referring to it after every mention of the father.
Dialogue should be interesting and believable. Are your characters saying hello every time they meet? Cut it. Are they discussing something in unnecessary detail, purely for the sake of the reader? Cut it.
Example: If your MC and his mother are talking about that time when MC’s sister tried to kill herself, they wouldn’t discuss it like this, as they both already know the details of what happened.
“Mother, I don’t want to leave her because she tried to kill herself seven months ago by taking 20 packets of pain-killers.”
This exchange is being used purely to relay backstory to the reader and it shows. There’s no subtlety or intrigue and it’s just plain amateur. There has to be a better way to get the information across.
Also, make sure there is a point to every piece of dialogue included. Don’t include a rambling conversation between your protagonist and their next-door neighbour purely to set the scene, unless of course, the neighbour is an important element of the storyline.
The mirror scene
Ah, the good old ‘using a mirror to describe the appearance of the first-person protagonist’ trick. There is nothing inherently wrong with a mirror scene, but think carefully about having one and if you do, make sure it is interesting. I have one in my novel at the moment and I’m debating getting rid of it entirely. It’s a good device to use to describe your protagonist, but it’s done so often that it’s becoming a ‘trope’.
Cut lectures and long, preachy paragraphs
A well-written novel will have substance and morals, but these will be weaved subtly throughout and won’t be force-fed down the reader’s throat. Avoid sounding preachy by cutting down (or even cutting out completely) long paragraphs used purely to relay your opinions on certain divisive topics.
Cut the exclamation marks unless absolutely necessary
Pretentious, annoying names
Keep an eye out for these. Unique names are great, ridiculous ones are off-putting.
Do all your novel elements make sense together?
At risk of sounding mean and crass, if you’ve just dumped every interesting thought you’ve ever had into your novel, then chances are, it’s not structured or well thought out, and will only be interesting to you, and you alone. If you’ve got a load of cool but vaguely (if at all) stitched-together ideas, then perhaps you need to seriously think about your story structure. If you’re serious about publishing your novel once it’s done, perhaps take one of the interesting elements and play with that and cut anything that doesn’t fit with it.
Insta love – it’s a word that appears on Goodreads a lot. Some readers love it but most hate it. People don’t just fall in love in seconds or even days. Lust perhaps, but love, no. Build up the relationship believably before you plunge in with the L word.
Do you have too much backstory or exposition in one paragraph or even in one chapter? If so, consider drip feeding it instead. Also while you’re at it, think – do you really need a whole paragraph to describe something when in fact a single sentence would do just fine?
Are you giving things away too quickly?
I read a novel that did this quite recently. Basically, the novel was about a present-day female protagonist who was brought back in time to marry a lord in medieval Scotland. Sounds great, right? Wrong! Instead of joining the protagonist as she wakes up in medieval Scotland with no idea what had just happened to her, the readers are told within the first chapter what is about to happen to her via several paragraphs of clunky backstory. What could have been an intriguing, drip-fed premise had been laid bare in a single paragraph and explained in painful detail. Why should I read on when I already know what is going to happen?!
Characters referring to each other by name all the time
That’s not how we talk. Period.
Too much lengthy description about unimportant things
Yes, scene-setting is great but please don’t discuss your MC’s handbag through three paragraphs of detailed description if it’s not relevant to the plot.
If your twist comes out of nowhere, then you may need to go back and add in little hints as to what’s to come. Yes, it needs to be a surprise (it’s a twist after all) but it needs to also be believable. If all of a sudden your MC turns into a frog because of a curse you need to at some point discuss said curse beforehand, even if it’s just briefly.
And that’s it for part one. Now on to part two.