Search

maxbantleman

Writing

Collection of Short Stories

A collection of short stories from Jacci Gooding, a writer that attends Banbury Writers’ Café.

Go take a look and if it is the sort of thing you like… buy it!

I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jacci’s stories out later this year.

 

Dialogue

Dialogue should do a lot of things.

Not all at the same time, though more than one at once is a real win.

Dialogue is a really good tool: it’s not just chat between characters.

Be wary of banter dragging on!

What sort of things should dialogue do?

It should reveal something about the character speaking.

It should tell us something about the character within story, the plot-line, how it will advance, what the expectations for that character are.

It can explain things through exposition.

It should advance the story.

It has to be true to the character speaking it.

Dialogue is best when it feels natural, like the spoken word, with some imperfections, half-thoughts and interruptions thrown in.

That’s a lot of stuff!

How do we make dialogue achieve all or some of that?

For me, this is where the great advice of ‘just write bad stuff’ really comes in to its own.

I find that dialogue never comes out fully formed with the first words on the page. I write sketchily, getting ideas out, playing around and let it just sit there taking up the space it needs to until I can come back and make it better.

Most often we’ll know what we want to get across in a piece of dialogue, prompted by the action of the story. We’ll know what the character is feeling, how they are thinking, what they want to achieve by saying what we’re going to get them to say. Start with that. Get out the guts of it, the intent, the bare content.

Get the dialogue working as an exchange. Get the other character/s in the scene contributing, reacting and stating their case, getting across what they want. Start the conversation on the page.

Revealing something about character is done through how they would react in context of the scene, driven by their background and goals. Their personality, education, physical and emotional state will all affect the way they speak and what they want to say. What are they trying to achieve with their dialogue?

Does the dialogue need to tell us where we are going with the story? Is it a character explaining something to the reader as well as stating something in context of the story?

We can get a feel for how people speak by listening to them. That sounds bloody obvious I know. But a lot of the time we’re busy trying to pick up on the message within the spoken word and don’t really listen to the way it’s spoken. As writers we can learn a lot about writing by listening.

We can learn from people in the world around us or from people on the page, screen, stage and radio. Learn from other writers. Why wouldn’t we?

And remember: write bad stuff! Never expect it to be perfect as soon as it hits the page.

Just get the ideas out, write down what you want to convey from that character at that place in the story. Just get the ideas down on the page.

Going back and sharpening dialogue is one of the best parts of rewriting.

In editing it can be less fun, as you rewrite, hone, tinker, refine and then decide that whole chunks need to go.

But that’s in the future. For now, just start the conversation on the page.

Banbury Writers’ Café

The ‘Banbury Writers’ Café’ wordpress site is up and running.

If you’re anywhere near Banbury and fancy joining a writers’ group, we’d love to meet you!

https://banburywriterscafe.wordpress.com/

 

Tools

 

If you’re writing you are a writer.

You need to have written to be a writer, not just have planned to write.

But as soon as you start and words appear to express an idea, then you’re it: a writer.

That’s really cool.

Writing is hard and you need all the help you can get.

What can help are the tools you use to write.

A certain mega-famous author says nobody writes with pen and paper anymore despite what some say, that the notion is quaint, but that nobody actually does it like that. Is she right?

Do you use a phone, tablet or laptop?

I use a Surface Pro 4, Windows 10 (word). The smaller laptop means I can now leave my monster PC at home and write wherever I go with ease. Something I’m not really taking full advantage of yet. I write mainly at home, is that the norm?

Do you write straight to page or dictate stuff and then go back, listen to it and pick out the good bits? Do you dictate and then transfer direct to page via software?

There is some great voice to page software out there, which allows those with less nimble fingers to write more easily.

I’d guess we all use a mixture of whatever we have where we are.

The tools for writing have changed a lot over the past few decades. Starting with the old word-processors and then moving on through the myriad developments in computer tech.

Using a keyboard comes naturally to most of us, using a pen is pretty alien for things other than signatures and forms. My handwriting has got so bad I can only read back about 50% of it!

Once in electronic format our writing becomes easier to mess with, both for correction in things like grammar / shpeeling, as well as for rewrites for structure and flow.

We are getting used to writing with rewriting being easier than when it is pen on paper. Is this a good thing? I think it is. Writing in stages is the way I’m used to working: first draft for ideas and loose structure, with some bad writing expected, then on to rewrites.

We see people writing in many different locations and some people pretending to write in some of those locations!

Our available tools have allowed us to move about more freely and still access our work. Not that you can’t do that with pen and paper, just seems easier, especially for rereading and rewriting.

In most writing formats some form of grammar / spell-check is included in the software, so that helps us too. Another really useful tool.

Once we have written, we also have the work in a format very close to that wanted by people we are going to submit it too. Bonus!

We have some awesome tools that help us write more efficiently.

Are there any tools I’ve missed out? Anything you can recommend?

Are you reading this and thinking, ‘I use pen and paper and they’re amazing: I wouldn’t move to keyboard and electronic entry if you paid me!’

Let’s share some stories and tips for writing tools.

Looking For An Agent

I’m looking for a literary agent.

Why?

Because I’d like to get my book (‘SoulDice’) published by a publisher rather than put it out there myself.

Why?

Because I believe the book (‘SoulDice’) has the potential to click with a lot of people and I don’t think I could get to the full potential audience using the tools I’d have if I were to self-publish.

I know what you’re thinking… ‘I really hope he doesn’t keep doing that ‘name of the book in brackets thing’’ (‘SoulDice’)… I won’t.

Off I went and read a lot of stuff on how to find an agent.

Most of what I found made a lot of sense and there is a shed-load of great advice out there.

Find an agent that deals in the genre you are writing in. This saves a lot of wasted time. It also makes you realise you haven’t thought enough about the genre.

Make sure they are seeking submissions. There’s no point annoying people by sending them stuff they don’t want that they haven’t asked for. I think we can all relate to that.

Keep the introduction letter short and cover the basics. Make sure you address is properly and include the information needed for the agent to move on to the synopsis or the first few chapters you’ve enclosed.

Write a synopsis. Big one this. Took me a long while to get a synopsis that is short and to the point, that covers the plot and characters without getting bogged down in too much detail. I hate writing the synopsis. I know that the more I do it the better I’ll get, so there’s that… but yeah, really difficult for me.

Include the first chapters / page count asked for by the specific agent. This is another of those ‘don’t waste time’ things: if they have submission guidelines then follow them!

Knowing that agents make a living by selling what they take on means you have to be clear about the transaction that is taking place. The synopsis / pages you are sending are meant to give the agent enough of a feel so they can tell whether they think your book is worth them investing in.

Individual agents will have different views, different contacts and publishers they favour, there will always be a degree of subjectivity from each agent.

The agent is making a living from books. They are only going to be interested in books they think they can sell. Really important that bit.

When the rejections start coming, I’ll bear that in mind more than anything else.

Feedback will be brilliant, but with the volume of submissions agents receive, I’m not expecting any.

I just have to keep plugging away. Looking for suitable agents and going through the process.

I know it’s a long haul. So the sooner I start, the sooner it’ll get done.

So I’ve started!

 

I’m using ‘Agent Hunter’ to help me look for appropriate agents:

https://www.agenthunter.co.uk/

Why Write?

Why are you writing?

What’s your goal?

What are you hoping to accomplish with your writing?

There are lots of ‘motivational’ quotes out there from lots of famous, erudite, witty people that say things like, “if you’re not writing because you’d just die if you didn’t then don’t bother.”

You get the gist. Of course you have to have a passion for it, feel a need to get it done, but it doesn’t have to be life or death right?

But… why are you writing?

What is the measure of your own success?

If you have a story to share, or information to share on a topic you are well-versed in, then getting it out there means bringing it to the attention of people that may be interested.

Will you sell it or give it away? Are you using sales as a measure of success?

Writing for its own sake is rewarding. Learning the craft, using language, telling stories, uncovering stories, all can be enjoyed by just you.

Are you the sole audience for your writing?

If you want to share what you write then it comes back to bringing it to the attention of people that may be interested in it.

How do you plan to do that?

The answer ‘social media’ is fine, a bit vague, but fine.

You’ll need to construct a social-media presence that can reach the people you want. That takes time and energy, but is ultimately worth it, even if you decide to try and publish with an agent rather than self-publish.

But aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves, we haven’t even written the thing yet!?

Then you realise that your writing, the ‘thing’, will take on a different shape depending upon why you are writing it, what you are going to do with it.

How are you going to judge whether you have succeeded with your writing? Or is that not important? Is it just about getting the piece written?

If you’re anything like me, you have bouts of insanely manic self-confidence (of course it’s worthwhile, have you not understood what I’ve been saying!?) as well as crushing self-doubt (there are so many other good books out there, why is anyone going to give a shit about mine?), but you’ll probably spend most of the time in the middle – the ‘well, I like the story, so someone else might, and I can write a bit’ territory.

The first measure of success I use is getting the thing written. Getting it to a state that it can be rewritten and then self-edited. The second measure of success for me, is getting it read by people who understand what the piece is about, getting feedback and tidying up. Then more rewriting. Then, as far as I’m concerned, it’s down to the angsty stage… getting it professionally edited.

Then I can really address what I want to do with it and how best to achieve that.

More goal-setting and planning.

But that can only happen once I’ve written it.

Why do I write? I have stories to tell and I believe other people will want to read them.

What’s my goal? To get my stories and ideas in to the hands of people that will be interested in them and not lose money in the process.

What do I hope to accomplish? To get stuff out there to an audience, to broaden what I write and who it appeals to, to explore new topics, to get better at writing as a craft.

Cats or dogs? Cats.

Werewolves or Vampires? Werewolves.

Any more questions? No, I think I’m done…

Write Bad Stuff

Write bad stuff. It’ll be ok, you can fix it later.

Just write. If it’s bad, don’t worry about it, just get stuff out.

That is great advice.

I find it almost impossible to follow.

I keep getting a nagging feeling that I won’t be able to fix it, that I’ll somehow not think it’s bad when I come back to it, that I’m wasting time – shouldn’t I be writing good stuff?

Writing for me is hard. I get distracted easily or I get self-doubt creeping in.

So just getting words out can be hard, and to be told to just get bad words out, just doesn’t sit well with me most of the time.

The thing is, and this really is the thing… the thing is… it really is better to write bad stuff than not to write at all.

I know that. I get it. I just find it hard to do.

Like the advice you can give to others safe in the knowledge it is wisdom hard-earned and keenly given out of a sense of wanting to help.

That advice, and we all have a store of it for those we have around us, that advice is seldom as easy to listen to as to verbalise.

But today I have been writing. And some of it, well ok, most of it, is pretty bad. There are some good ideas there, the odd good phrase and even a really good idea well written in there, but overall, it’s going to need to be chopped and fixed drastically.

I’m going to keep writing. Got a feeling it’s working today. Getting the bad stuff out. So going to keep on keeping on.

Leave it a few days (if I can) then come back and see what’s what: what’s worth keeping and fixing and what’s just got to go.

I’ve heard myself say it to others often enough: just write, get stuff down, get it out, it’s easier to fix stuff than it is to come up with great stuff off the bat.

I hear myself say it!

Well today I’m taking my own advice. I’m doing it. It feels good.

Even if what’s coming out is bad… it can’t all be bad right? There’s more good than bad surely… no! No analysing! Just get it out!

On it.

(‘Free’ – ‘Fire & Water’… what an album! No! Focus!)

Writing to Market

When we write, who are we writing for?

When we send an email we know who’s receiving it, so we know what kind of language to use. We know how to best get our message across because we know how the person getting the mail thinks.

The same is largely true of texts, and mostly tweets.

(Don’t get me started on Twitter! That’s a whole nother piece!)

When we write non-fiction, we are concentrating on getting things right for an audience that we know will know their stuff, will know what we’re writing about as well as we do, if not better. We put the effort in. Do our research, see what’s out there and where our stuff will sit in the market.

Putting effort in to specifically satisfy our audience seems like a natural, sensible thing to do with all of the above.

So what changes when we write fiction?

Some people say they write for themselves. That they imagine they are writing for someone just like them, or they are writing to only please themselves.

There is of course nothing wrong with that at all.

Writing as a creative process is an amazing way to express and experience things without a need for it to go further.

But what about those of us who write to get out stories and our ideas out there?

To maybe even make some money, maybe… just maybe… even a living at it.

We should know who we’re writing for.

How many of us can picture our ‘typical’ or ‘ideal’ reader?

And if we can, how often do we have their satisfaction in mind when we’re writing?

You have to write from the heart, you have to challenge yourself, believe in what you are doing and have a real passion for the story you are telling.

But you also have to realise that getting that story read by others is going to depend on how well you understand who you are writing for. Who is your market for the story?

Are there any other books out there that are similar to yours? Not in exact theme and content, but does your story fit a genre?

If it does, read other books from that genre, get a feel for what the genre is. Read the top three sellers in the genre: get a feel for what the market likes and wants.

Some of us <ahem…me…> don’t read enough. We need to read more. Get to grips with what’s out there in the genre we are currently writing for. It’s time well spent.

If you’re writing away, deeply engaged in the story, the plot, the characters, nailing those prose, spare a thought for where your readers are – what are they reading now, where will your masterpiece fit in that market?

The plan is to get your stuff out there right?  A cunning plan… stick a tail on it… call it a fox… as part of that cunningness, you’ll need to know where ‘there’ is…

Time to Write

How do you find time to write?

When do you write?

Questions I get asked a lot.

People who ask these questions are really asking, ‘how do I find time to write, when should I write?’

Finding time to write is a unique challenge to each of us. Whether we can find any time to write depends on our situation. But the clue is in the phrase ‘find time’, implying there’s time somewhere just lying about and all we have to do is find it…

If we are looking for the right moment to write, if we are hoping to find it by looking at our daily-schedule, by scrutinising what we do with our time to see if there is anywhere we can fit writing in, then we are already looking in the wrong place.

We can’t ‘find’ extra time. All we can do is make time.

A lot also depends on what circumstance you need to write, what surroundings, conditions you feel you need to be just right, before you can start writing.

Do you have to have some time before you write to ‘get your head straight’? To remind yourself of where you are in the writing? Do you need to reread what you’ve written before you can get started? Do you need a quiet space? Do you need copious amounts of tea or coffee?

At what time of the day, where in your manic schedule, can you find that time, with those circumstances?

Those with partners, kids, jobs or no real ‘space’ of their own where they live, how on earth do they find time, to do anything, never mind write!?

First, you need to identify what you really need to write, in terms of circumstance. Look at that. Is it reasonable, is it even vaguely doable? How long are you looking to write each day, half an hour, an hour, more? Is that doable?

You will probably need to change something in your daily routine to allow you the time and space you need to write. Make sure the time and space are what you really need, be sure that when you are making changes, you are working towards an achievable goal.

When I go through schedules with people and try to identify what they need, environment, time, it mostly comes down to writing at either end of the day. Either getting up earlier and getting an hour in, or staying up later and getting an hour in.

That’s a start.

Then there are looking for opportunities, when people go out, when you know you’re going to have a space to yourself, either at home, work or if you go out to a coffee shop.

You have to train yourself. You have to be ready to write with less perceived prep., to write under less than ideal circumstance.

Be realistic in what you aim for in time to write. Utilise that time. Writing is hard, so go easy on yourself when it doesn’t all come together as you’d hope, but keep trying, be persistent, allocate the time and do it.

To do all of this you have to really want to write.

Really want it.

Because if you don’t, then it’ll be easy to see the obstacles as stoppers rather than to look for a way round them.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑