This blog post is a little bit different to usual and aims to inspire those of you who are on the lookout for new and interesting ideas for storylines. As we all know, it can be hard and frustrating to find inspiration especially if you are actively searching for it, so I’ve come up with a list of internet articles I’ve read recently that I believe would make fabulous starting points for those of you who are stuck.
I’ll keep it brief as it’s relatively easy to find said inspiration when you know where to look, and what to look for! The majority of these articles have come from the ‘BBC Futures’ website which I cannot recommend highly enough – its articles are full of thought-provoking ideas and questions which could form the basis of extremely unique storylines. I find the below links so interesting, that it took me a while to decide whether or not to share them on here, or keep them to myself (selfish, I know…).
Have fun exploring, and let me know any other articles you find in the comment box below…
1. An article about a tribe in Thailand, where the children can see underwater almost perfectly.
“When the tide came in, these kids started swimming. But not like I had seen before. They were more underwater than above water, they had their eyes wide open – they were like little dolphins.” – Quote from article
2. An article discussing the pros and cons of ‘designer babies’.
“The colloquial term “designer baby” refers to a baby whose genetic makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or absence of particular genes or characteristics.” – wikipedia
3. An article exploring the notion of death, how we define it, and the fate of people whose brains have died but whose bodies continue to live
“Their hearts are still beating. They urinate. Their bodies don’t decompose and they are warm to the touch; their stomachs rumble, their wounds heal and their guts can digest food. They can have heart attacks, catch a fever and suffer from bedsores. They can blush and sweat – they can even have babies.
And yet, according to most legal definitions and the vast majority of doctors these patients are thoroughly, indisputably deceased.” – Quote from article
4. A theoretical discussion about what might happen if everyone in the world starting eating as a vegetarian
“Eliminating meat from our diets would bring a bounty of benefits to both our own health and the planet’s – but it could also harm millions of people.” – Quote from article
5. An article about a woman who is allergic to water
“Rachel’s rare condition means that a bath is agony; even her own tears will scorch her face. How can the human body reject life’s most basic necessity?” – Quote from Article
“It’s on your passport. It’s how criminals are identified in a line-up. It’s how you’re recognised by old friends on the street, even after years apart. Your face: it’s so tangled up with your identity, soon it may be all you need to unlock your smartphone, access your office or buy a house.” – Quote from article
7. An article about a man whose brain create false memories
“Due to an unusual illness, Matthew creates false memories that seem as vivid as the real thing. He’s had to learn to live with a past that is as uncertain as the future.” – Quote from article
8. An article exploring how people ‘live on’ after death through social media
“At some point, there will be more dead Facebook users than living ones – and for those left behind, it is transforming how we experience the death of those around us.” – Quote from article
9. And finally, an article discussing “individualism” and “collectivism” in society
“Psychologists are uncovering the surprising influence of geography on our reasoning, behaviour, and sense of self.” – Quote from article
And that’s all for now! Let me know if you come across anything of interest!
So I just want to start this new post off with an apology, as I haven’t posted for ages. I have no excuse other than that I’ve have been slacking, along with the fact that I had my birthday and Christmas in quick succession. My new year’s resolution will definitely be to post on a more regular basis!
Anyway, moving on, today’s post details a few things to avoid when writing your novel, many of which are based on errors I’ve found when reading books. The list has been compiled based on what I, as a reader, dislike, but I imagine that my points accurately reflect many other peoples’ opinions. A lot of these aren’t new or ground-breaking, but I feel they may be useful to bring to the attention of you writers out there.
Contrived character arc
A character arc which feels contrived is a MASSIVE turn off. Yes, arcs are necessary components of well-written and well-rounded books, but they should be subtle, not in-your-face and not written as exposition.
To further explain this using an example –
Assume your character starts as shy and unable to trust people, but learns how to trust throughout your novel. By the end, she has overcome her fear, thus has transitioned from one to the other. This is her ‘arc’. To show this arc, you should gradually show her behaviour and mindset changing (generally as a result of outside influences and events). The key word here is SHOW, and you can show this transition through her actions and dialogue. Yes, you can also use her inner thoughts, but do so carefully and sparingly, and don’t just end up explaining things. If you start to use inner monologue as a gateway to highlighting the character arc, it will end up feeling insincere. See the below as an example of this, taken from my review of FLAWED by Cecelia Ahern.
This monologue, instead of subtly characterising her and developing the story line, is in fact just used to painstakingly explain and warrant her random and seemingly unfounded behaviour, thus justify the entire plot. It felt contrived and like Ahern was using the inner monologue just to highlight over and over again that she had attempted a character arc.
Celestine is a ‘logical’ person, which we are told numerous times within the first few chapters. Her inner monologue and character arc had a lot of this:
“I’m such a logical person, which is why I’ve just made this entirely logical decision to act in this logical way. This is why this logical thing has happened.”
Sudden character change – introduce it gradually
Characters generally change throughout a novel, and this change should not only be subtle, but should also be gradual. Try to:
- avoid having a flat character throughout the novel, and then suddenly having them change at the end based on one event.
- avoid having the character ‘arc’ within the first few chapters and then stay flat for the remainder of the novel
- introduce the change gradually and believably.
- ensure the character is reacting in a way that makes sense and is realistic.
- ensure that you aren’t trying to force a character arc in a way that is unnatural and doesn’t fit with the story.
Creating a story world which doesn’t make sense
Thinking through the exact mechanics of your story world is a must! There’s nothing more annoying than reading a novel, and then coming across an element of the story world which doesn’t make sense. It can be very hard to spot flaws, as you know your story well, so everything makes sense to you – the best thing to do is to ask a trusted friend for feedback. They will be able to point out problems and areas of confusion that you won’t have noticed yourself.
Ensure that the rules in your world are consistent and make sense (even if they only make sense in the context of your world). If the world is inconsistent, you risk other elements of your novel not making sense – your character’s behaviour as an example. Inconsistencies may also annoy your reader as it may look like you’re altering the story world to ‘fit’ your story, as opposed to having a believable story that is set in your world, if that makes sense!
Don’t explain everything
This is a fairly standard rule. Don’t feel the need to explain all aspects of your characters’ thoughts and actions. Sometimes, less is more and it’s better to infer what is happening as opposed to explaining it. Only use inner monologue and explanation if it is necessary to the storyline, otherwise you risk boring your readers, and making your characters seem shallow and your narrative seem amateur.
Don’t constantly have your characters address one another using their names.
“Hi, Heather how are you?”
“I’m great thanks, Rebecca, what are you up to today?”
“Nothing really, Heather.”
“That’s great, Rebecca!”
This point is self-explanatory.
And that’s a wrap on this week’s blog post. Is there anything we missed out that you hate as a reader? Let me know in the comments.
Don’t start watching Netflix before a writing session or during writing breaks
I am the worst for doing this. As soon as I settle in front of my laptop and Netflix, that’s my productivity done for the day. As I work part-time, I try to write for at least an hour when I get home, but like to have a cup of tea as soon as I’m through the door. If I pair that cup of tea with Netflix or television, I quickly lose all writing motivation, and instead start binge-watching.
It’s too late for me, but if you are debating getting Netflix but actually want to finish your novel, don’t buy it! It’s lethal for productivity.
If you tire mid writing session, go for a walk
And I don’t necessarily mean the outside kind. Sitting still for a long period of time is likely to make you feel lethargic or restless, so moving, even if it’s just a short walk to the loo or around your house for five minutes, will wake you up, thus improve concentration.
I will illustrate my point with an experience of mine from a couple of days ago. I made the mistake of cosying up in my new fleece blanket. See fleece blanket:
It’s the warmest, softest fleece in the history of fleeces. Not only did I waste the next 15 minutes sending smug photos of me in the fleece to my sister who was at work (see fleece collage):
I was so comfy and sleepy that I ended up wrapped up like a burrito lying horizontally, eyes closed and listening to music. Eventually, I forced myself to walk to the kitchen for a glass of water and was able to re-locate my concentration and launch straight back into writing!
Get any important activities out of the way before you settle down in front of your computer
I get home from work at 2pm, but like to write between the hours of 3:30 and 5pm. I therefore give myself an hour to unwind after work, prepare and eat a late lunch and treat myself to a cup of tea. Making sure you are well fed and watered before sitting down to write will aid concentration, and will ensure that you don’t get up every 15 minutes to get a drink or a snack (plus you won’t be spending the whole time thinking about how hungry/thirsty you are). As well as eating and drinking, go to the loo, get your laptop charger or collect up any equipment or books that you might need as you write. Basically, get anything that might distract from your writing out of the way beforehand! Although it may sound counter-productive to almost ‘procrastinate’ before writing, you will find concentrating easier, as there are less things distracting or interrupting your writing ‘flow’.
Put your phone on charge in another room
This one is self-explanatory. No phones=no distractions. Unless you are awaiting important news or awaiting a phone call, you can be away from your phone for an hour or two. If, like me, you are constantly touching and playing with your phone, putting it out of reach somewhere where you can’t hear it will improve your concentration ten-fold. You can even treat yourself to an Instagram binge afterward, as a reward for upping your word count.
And that’s all for today, although there are countless other ways to improve your writing productivity. Share your favourite tips with me in the comments!
As we all know, introducing varying levels of conflict throughout your novel is important, and to help you all out, I’ve written a quick list post detailing ways to add it into your novel. Although not all of the below will be relevant to your own writing, hopefully the list will help to highlight the many ways you can ramp up the tension in your novel, and will help you to come up with your own.
As you can see, conflict doesn’t have to come from a catastrophic event, and can be as seemingly insignificant as a stomach virus – perhaps your protagonist passed the virus onto her crush, who in turn, missed the prom.
A secret kiss
A lost object
A natural disaster
A specific rule or regulation
Rallying against those in charge
Head vs Heart
A bad omen
A breakdown (physical or mental)
A breakdown in communication
An animal attack
A revenge attack
A trip or a fall
A car accident
A parent enforcing the rules
Morality vs desire
A power cut
A broken down vehicle
A broken object
A missed train or bus
Feel free to add your own ideas into the comments!
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You (now a major motion picture) comes the touching, unforgettable story of three generations of Irish women faced with the fundamental truths of love, duty, and the unbreakable bond that unites mothers and daughters
Estranged from her mother since she ran away from her rural Irish home as a young woman, Kate swore an oath that she’d always be a friend to her daughter, Sabine. But history has a way of repeating itself, and Kate now faces an ever-widening chasm between herself and her daughter. With Sabine about to make her own journey to Ireland to see her grandmother, Kate is left wondering how they ever made it here, and what she can do to close the gap between them.
For Joy, seeing her granddaughter is a dream come true. After the painful separation from Kate, she’s looking forward to having time with Sabine. Yet almost as soon as the young woman arrives, the lack of common ground between them deflates her enthusiasm. And when Sabine’s impetuous, inquisitive nature forces Joy to face long-buried secrets from her past, she realizes that perhaps it’s time to finally heal old wounds.
Description and blurb taken from Goodreads
JoJo Moyes’ debut novel Sheltering Rain has shown me that you can write a fabulous, well-crafted first novel, but you may still have to wait another ten years before acquiring the type of world-wide fame brought by a best-seller like Me Before You. It has become apparent to me that, although her debut book was great, writing well consistently and over a number of years is often the commitment an author must make in order to achieve world-wide domination in the industry. As the saying goes:
Practice makes perfect.
I came across the book purely by chance. My grandma Sheila had been given the book by a friend, and because she was reading my copy of After You, she knew I was a fan of Moyes. I was excited by the book because I wanted to see how Moyes’ first novel compared to her recent best-sellers. I have read her second novel Forbidden Fruit which I really enjoyed (I really should have written a review for that one…) so I felt optimistic that Sheltering Rain would also not disappoint. I was right.
This book has been added to my list of favourite recent reads, and books that serve to truly inspire me. I thoroughly enjoyed it, believed the characters and was hooked from the first page to the last. If I can write a first novel as good as Moyes (miracles happen, right?) then I will be over the moon.
The characters are well developed, with backstory, intricate relationships, different personalities, flaws and goals all of their own. There are a lot of characters, and I am impressed with Moyes’ ability to manage them all, without getting herself or the reader lost along the way.
In just about any ‘how to’ on the topic of fiction writing, creating backstory for characters almost always comes with a warning. You do not want to write so much that it detracts from the story, however, the characters need to be believable as having a complex past that has shaped them, and the story. Finding the balance is a key element in writing a successful novel, and I think Moyes’ has done an excellent job of doing just that. The back story in Sheltering Rain exists because it adds to the story – it builds the characters to be who they are, as well as building the narrative tension. I wanted to know more about the secrets Moyes’ hinted at throughout, and I wanted to know why the characters behaved as they did. Moyes revealed it all in good time, which I felt added to – rather than subtracted from – the story.
Narrative point of view
What I think Moyes did really well with this book is her use of three different points of view. The story is told from the perspective of three women, from three different generations of the same family.
Usually, I struggle with head-hopping narratives, as I don’t like to be jerked from one mind to another and I sometimes find it hard to follow. However, Moyes handled it well – each character had a clear and distinct narrative voice and no head-hopping occurred within chapters.
Ultimately, Moyes’ POV choice helped to explore a meaningful and engaging premise – that it is easy to assume how other people are feeling and why they act in a certain way, but unless you walk in their shoes, you couldn’t possibly know. Personally, I enjoy stories that I feel I can learn from, and Sheltering Rain is a story that I feel helped me to engage with and understand aspects of my own life that exist way past the pages of the novel. It was intriguing to see how each narrator perceived the other two woman’s actions, and their assumed motives behind them. I liked to be able to compare the perceived motives with the actual motives, because there was often a great amount of misunderstanding between all three women, resulting in plenty of conflict (and we all know how important conflict is in writing!).
In terms of writing style, I was very much at ease when reading this book. It didn’t seem too much like hard work, and although there was not pages and pages of description getting in the way, I felt there was enough for me to immerse myself in the story. If I were to compare it to her more recent books, I would say that Sheltering Rain has a bit more of an elaborate/ornate style than Me Before You, although both styles worked for me.
I would assume that over time, and with plenty of practice and editing, Moyes has managed to hone the skill of giving vivid description in a succinct, subtle and unobtrusive way. This is a skill that I’d like to develop in my own writing, and one that I know will only come with practice.
Taking a critical view
Being a designer, I can’t pick up a book without judging the cover, and although I am careful not to let the cover dictate too me whether or not I buy the book, a good cover certainly helps to catch attention. After all, the first step in selling a book is to get readers to notice that it actually exists. We have written more about the importance of cover design here.
The cover for Sheltering Rain was nice, although personally, I feel it was not eye-catching in the slightest. It employs the typical flat illustration style often seen on Romantic Fiction novel covers, and the rather cliche silhouette of a woman. I understand that to some degree it is important that a novel looks clearly as if it sits within a genre, but perhaps even more importantly, is that it should stand out amongst its competition. If I had not been handed the book and had not been expressly told it was written by JoJo Moyes, I would probably not have even noticed it if it were on a shelf surrounded by hundreds of others. To conclude, my verdict is that it is an average cover for a higher than average book. Lesson being (here comes another saying!!):
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Much.
I would recommend this book to friends, and it has been one of my favourite recent reads. It was a strong story, full of emotion, passion and intrigue. It has also spiked my interest to hunt out more debut novels by best-selling authors, as I find it fascinating to see where they started compared to where they are now.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Paper Towns by John Green
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Again, I liked reading this (perhaps a little less than Paper Towns), but the amount of similarities between the two is high. Here is a summary of both of their storylines…
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
The Host by Stephanie Meyer
The Understudy by David Nicholls
Faceless by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Us by David Nicholls
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Just a quick list post detailing several different ways of sneaking that little extra bit of writing time into your life! It’s a bit hypocritical of me as I’ve chosen to write this as opposed to actually getting on with my novel or short stories but oh well…here goes!
1. Try to write 500 words a day
Exactly as it sounds, try and write a minimum of 500 words per day. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it works! My sister, Becca, has written 70,000 words of her first draft this way. It needn’t be 500 words exactly, just choose a goal that you believe to be attainable and get cracking!
Why this will work:
In his eBook Mastering creativity, James Clear explores the importance of having a schedule and sticking to it – to him, consistency and routine is the difference between being a professional, and being an amateur.
‘if you’re serious about creating something compelling, you need to stop waiting for motivation and inspiration to strike you and simply set a schedule for doing work on a consistent basis. Of course, that’s easy to say, but much harder to do in practice…..If you don’t have a time block to write every week, then you’ll find yourself saying things like, “I just need to find the willpower to do it.” Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits’.
The entire publication is well worth a read. Find it here. Bottom line is, if you set yourself a schedule and stick to it, it will soon become a habit – as integral to your daily routine as brushing your teeth in the morning.
2. Set a timer for 15 minutes each day and write
Very similar to the above point, but you set a timer instead. This may work better if you have less time, as you know exactly how long you will need so will be easier to stick to and schedule in. Just promise yourself you will write AT LEAST until the timer finishes, and more if you fancy it. You could end up writing for hours. OR you could end up writing for 15 minutes. But hey, at least you’re making progress! I’m very tempted to give this method a go, as I’ve been slacking BIG TIME on my writing recently.
3. Devote one day a week to writing
It doesn’t have to be a whole day, but choose a day where you are free of other commitments and spend a few hours writing. This is what I (try to) do. I’m busy the rest of the week with work (now part-time, woohoo) and then freelancing afterward, so I tend to write on weekends. Sundays generally work for me, so I’ll try and sit down and crack out 3 or 4 hours of writing. Although this can work out really well (I once wrote 10,000 words in a day…) it can also be harder to keep to. Life happens, and sometimes your writing days will end up being filled with other commitments. It’s definitely worth giving it a go though, especially if you’re like me, and like to write in big chunks.
4. Download Evernote and write on the train/in lunch breaks/whilst waiting to pick up the kids etc
I love Evernote! I downloaded it over a year ago when I first started writing, and I used this method when I was writing my first draft. I was commuting into London every day and would try to add a little bit to my draft every morning (assuming I got a seat on the train). It worked great and, even though the writing was appalling (I absolutely hate typing on phones), I succeeded in outlining the main story-line this way. Evernote also allows you to access all your notes on any computer/iPad with an internet connection, so you can get home and pick up where you left off on your laptop. It is also a good source for note taking.
Top tip: Split your writing into chapters, or scenes, and have each one in a different ‘note’, otherwise you will find yourself having to scroll for ten minutes just to find the bit of writing you’re looking for. Not ideal. Remember, you can finalise chapter breaks properly once you are in the editing stage – you don’t need to commit to these specific breaks permanently, it is just easier from a usability perspective whilst you are at the drafting stage.
5. Ignore how bad your writing is
So you’ve found the time to write, which is great, but sometimes the quality of our writing can stop us in our tracks! Don’t sweat it. Sometimes our brains just don’t work (example, I just wrote ‘sometims our bains don’t work’…) but don’t let this put you off. If you’re having one of those days, just dump as much as you can on the page (no actual dumping please…). You never know, 10% of it could be salvageable and at least you’ve made progress. Moral of the story: any writing is better than no writing. Again, James Clear advocates the idea that you should give yourself permission to create junk:
‘Creative work is no different than training in the gym. You can’t selectively choose your best moments and only work on the days when you have great ideas. The only way to unveil the great ideas inside of you is to go through a volume of work, put in your repetitions, and show up over and over again. Obviously, doing something below average is never the goal. But you have to give yourself permission to grind through the occasional days of below average work because it’s the price you have to pay to get to excellent work.’
That’s all for now!