With so many things going on in our hectic lives how do we wind down and sleep? Here are some ideas drawn from the experience of a light sleeper.
As parents, I’m sure we’re all been there. We’re concerned about how little our children read, especially tweens and boys, and we want to find ways of developing their language skills. Not least because schooling and exams require greater literacy, and of course reading can inspire learning and expand their minds. Remembering also that they will need to write their own creative stories at exam level before too long…
Let’s face it, these days there are numerous distractions for children. We’d like to encourage them to read more and to spend less time gaming or watching TV, so how can we achieve this goal of encouraging more reading? Here are some tried and tested tips, I hope you find them useful.
- A regular time for reading
Establishing a reading time before sleep or first thing on a weekend morning can help to calm the mind. And reintroduce reading. Just watch out for a genuine page-turner in case they are up half the night. Or worse the iPad hidden between the pages.
2. Invite your son or daughter to choose their books
The thinking here is that if they buy into the book when researching and purchasing it, they are more likely to want to read it. A trip to a large bookstore can help. And a suitable budget. Also, keep in mind charity bookstores which can carry a wide array of well loved books.
3. Random book token gifts
A gift of a book token might sound obvious, however it can still work. Unlike an Amazon voucher, what else can they spend a bona-fide book token on? We’ve found this to be useful when encouraging darling son to select his next proper read. Within boundaries of course.
4. Indulge their interests
If they love Percy Jackson or Harry Potter, where’s the harm? The whole series? Sure, if they are inspired to read. Again, bear in mind libraries and charity shops if costs are concerning. Book swaps too can be a great way to keep up the momentum. We found that it is like pushing at an open door when the books are enjoyable. Throw in Dickens and the whole mood changes. Having said that they are some great ‘classic’ reads which are easier going and engaging.
5. Oldies can be golden
Think back to the books you loved as a child or tween. Perhaps even a more challenging classic read. Particularly funny books. I suggested The Hitchhikers Guide, Biggles and The Hobbit. Perhaps I was lucky, but they all stuck home. In each case, that’s a whole load of reading…
6. One to read and two for the shelf
I suggest lining up three books at a time. It’s easier to buy in batches and it means that if a book proves to be ‘boring’ there are other options immediately available. If a series has inspired your darling daughter (or son) then lining up the next few is probably a sound investment. Again, charity shops, swaps or libraries can come in handy.
6 1/2. In print..
Bonus tip – buy, borrow or acquire print copies. There’s something about holding a printed book in your hands. A digital copy may work, however the chances are that same device has games loaded on it as well? And you know ‘app’ which will win out? Most likely the fad adrenaline-packed game…
Hope you find these tips useful.
Parent and Author of Sean Yeager Adventures
After many months of writing, editing, cutting, re-editing, proofing and tweaking…
Sean Yeager Claws of Time will be available from the summer of 2018.
Can Sean and Emily save humanity? Where is Major Clavity? And will they be back in time for dinner? What does Sean’s ‘craft’ assessment say?
Don’t believe me? Find out on Amazon ‘Read Inside’
As an author, I am also a fan of J. K. Rowling’s work. I love the films, the theme parks and most of the books (less so the fatter ones if I’m honest). I was inspired by the parallel shift of Fantastic Beasts and the repositioning of the magical world in the USA. It rang true, complete with the bureaucracy that modern-day America exhibits on entry. Right down to the typefaces and official blurb of the supporting material (briefcase shaped). Based on recent experience, I half expected Newt Scamander to be asked if he was a) harbouring magical creatures; b) a terrorist; or c) carrying foreign fruits or vegetables in his luggage. Just as (unbelievably) you are asked to confess all when entering the USA. Err, real criminals tend to lie…
In addition, what a great achievement to co-write a stage play and progress to screenplay writing. And why not? The formats may vary, the content may require different disciplines, but surely the creativity is the common thread? I was impressed. By both the challenge and the outcome. Entertained too. For once, a film surpassed my expectations and (bar the overlong attack sequence) the originality, warmth and plotting of the movie was touching. A movie with soul amongst the magical goings on.
And there it is, for me at least. The magic ingredients – warmth and humanity. I see the Harry Potter series, including Fantastic Beasts, as less about the outsider coming good, and more about the friendships and bonds between people. This aspect is the one which has inspired me the most in my creative thought processes. People standing together against evil and bureaucracy. People striving for better.
This inspiration I have carried over into my own writing. And a long road it is. I started writing Sean Yeager Adventures with a wisp of an idea. The wisp grew into characters, motives and a secret world set amongst our own. A world where things go wrong and people make mistakes, but also strive to help each other. A world with evil, goodness, and also ambiguity. A world with a rich background and complexity stretching through time and space. And yet nothing like Harry Potter. For that is the real challenge – to create something original and unseen, unread. It’s not easy. I take my hat off to J.K. (not that she needs it, and not that I wear one) the confidence to press on and create can be a lonely place. It can also be amazing, as Fantastic Beasts shows.
When I write I am happy. When I read back and review I am often annoyed with myself for not writing better. After several rounds of revisions and improvement, I become a whole lot happier. For one simple reason – when the work stands up and speaks to you, you know it has something. You know your characters have life and something to say and strive for. And that others will ‘get it’, eventually. It’s a weird thing creating – all that effort and you are second guessing what ‘good’ looks like. Inevitably, you write what works for you. And inspiration from other genres helps a lot.
Sean Yeager and Emily Campbell will reappear book 3, eventually. When they have rebuilt Kimbleton Hall and re-programmed the cat probably. The editing is taking a while, because I don’t write in the conventional way and I don’t write conventional stories. Where’s the fun in that? The flip-side of course is that if you are reading this and look-up Sean Yeager Adventures, you are in a select few. And I thank you for it.
You see, I write films in book form. I write science magic adventures with strong relationships and humour. All my characters have a reason for being and things they strive for. I also write about gizmos, parallel worlds, mind control, sentient computers, alien lifeforms. But not in a way I’ve seen before. I aim for the soul. In Sean’s England the factions are hidden, secretive, small in number and yet deadly. Sean and Emily have to discover the truth for themselves, there are no prophesies or fast-tracks to the stars. They have to rely on their own wits and clues. It’s a tough write. And I love it.
I still remember a time before Harry Potter. When the idea of a book about a wizard was viewed as nothing much, nothing new. It really had been done before (Books of Magic, A Wizard of Earthsea). And now look at the audience and the achievements. And the undoubted hard work that’s gone into it all. It is the classic – it’s not what it is, but how well it has been done. And I have little doubt the next big thing will be fresh and different, just as J.K. was when people saw the merit in the work before them.
That’s creativity I guess, the balance between who ‘gets it’ and the energy of the creator to keep going until enough people do. So bring on the warm cuddly creatures, the strong friendships and rivalries and the impressive plotlines. I love it when things get good.
As J.K. once said ‘rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life’. Everyone needs a foundation and belief in what you are striving for is a good starting point. The unread author really is at rock bottom in the literary world, and yet the work itself could be incredible/
Thanks for reading my ramble. All interest in Sean Yeager Adventures is appreciated. Remember, you were here first. As Cassius Olandis (Sean Yeager character) would say: ‘open your mind and everything will become clear to you.’
Further to my blog post about how to manage editing and the stages, here are some specific things to review and correct. I have gleaned these through research, reading, and writing experience. Hope they help.
Ensure your characters are active – they must : speak, act, think, decide, react
Not be passive or described through narrative alone. And limit that narrative.
Describe characters briefly through impressions / metaphors and pick out a few personal details relevant to the story.
Don’t ramble on for pages in narrative form about your character’s many attributes.
Each character should have their own voice, agenda and attitudes which come through in how they – speak, act, think, decide and react.
Avoid having each character appear identical in voice, actions, thoughts, agenda etc.
Major characters must have objectives, agendas, something they strive for and these must be made clear to the reader.
Correct and rewrite major characters who appear unfocused, bland, random in action.
Major characters need to develop as your story unfolds. This needs to be seen by the reader in how they change in: speaking, acting, thinking, deciding, reacting. Show the struggle, down points, their resolve, how they change, their actions to overcome, their elation / dejection at the outcomes.
Steer away from major characters who do not change during your story, especially your hero / protagonist and antagonist.
Keep it snappy, focused and get to the point. Less is more.
Avoid rambling dialogue with unnecessary words or topics.
Use dialogue to show key conflicts between characters & how they work things out (or not).
Don’t miss the opportunities to show how characters differ and want different things.
Written dialogue is not the same as real world dialogue, stay lean and pristine most of the time.
Only deviate when an effect is needed to show a reaction or character trait.
Minimize the use of speech attributions and stick to ‘said’ as much as possible. Often it is clear who is speaking without the label. Said becomes invisible to the reader, variations such as (replied, stammered, shouted, cried, retorted etc.) do not.
Steer clear of passages with lots of: he said, she said, he said, she said. It becomes wearing.
Ensure each character speaks in a way consistent with who they are, what they know and how they have behaved so far in your story.
Avoid making random speeches or having characters sound the same.
Use dialogue as a natural interaction between characters to further your plot.
Don’t have a character expose the entire back story or unexpected plot points through dialogue alone – exposition needs to be limited. Such as if characters are reflecting on a clue or next action or piece of information they have discovered.
Remember to leave gaps for the reader to figure things out for themselves. No one tells people everything they are thinking or feeling.
Avoid explaining every detail to tie up all the loose ends. Over reflection or over explanation can soon become dull and can spoil the plot.
Note – these are guidelines to improve the quality of what is left on the page. The ‘because’ is always – to polish and improve the quality of the book. There will be exceptions here and there to the above. However, from experience I find these guidelines to be pretty much on the money.
On a personal level, I seek to continually ‘sharpen the saw’ by reading, researching and writing / editing. These blog entries are from the coal face so to speak.
Hope this helps.
Happy 2017! I’ve been busy lately with family matters and editing my third book – Sean Yeager Claws of Time. Here are some thoughts collated from the arduous task of self-editing and the further research I did before kicking off the same:
What is self-editing?
It seems self-explanatory, but let’s define our scope. You’ve written your first draft from start to finish and now you want to edit to the stage where it is good enough to present to either a) a professional editor b) your agent / prospective agent c) your self publishing platform d) your beta readers.
In the main, I suggest it is a combination of a) to d) depending on whether there is a commercial partner expecting to have approval, and have their editor work with you prior to acceptance of a manuscript for publication.
The nature of the editing will vary from simple typos, to wholesale changes to scenes and structure. In my experience, it is wise to expect a lot of rewriting and improvement until you reach the happy place of being satisfied with the words on the page, and of course the flow. Or until your publisher says ‘yes’ we’re going to publish your work.
Stages of self-editing
Leave it in a drawer edit
Yes, leave your draft to one side and read other people’s work for a while. This will help to create a sense of separation from your work and a mental benchmark of what ‘good’ looks like. Once your mind has absorbed enough outside works and experiences, you’ll be ready to properly read your own work with fresh eyes. This is vital.
This is the pass where you iron most things out. Typically I expect to remove, reduce, re-phrase, augment or re-write pretty much every page. Only the really good writing remains untouched. If it reads as ‘clunky’ it needs changing / improving / removing / scorching off the face of the planet. Delete as applicable.
I check for typos, perspective inconsistencies, speech attribution, adjectives, use of language, word flow issues, punctuation, scene progression, dialogue quality, plot points, character reactions, and so on. This is a heavy edit.
Tips – set your objectives clearly and write out your own editing checklist and refer to it regularly. Use a tool to check for overused words such as: that, then, with, like, towards, felt, looked etc. Consider each character’s path through your book – write it out as a brief flowchart and check that it makes sense. If it doesn’t, the chances are you have missed out necessary actions / speech / narrative, or even entire scenes.
My aims in this pass are to ensure that every section is effective and well written. I also re-consider the key plot points to check they make sense. I amend them or remove them if they don’t.
By the end of this stage, you will have a draft manuscript where you are not ashamed of the quality of the writing, and which you have begun to understand as a reader.
Once I have a sense of what I have actually written – as distinct from what I imagined I had written – I take a step back and review the story I am telling. I refer to my notes about each subplot and each character’s progression through the story.
The key question I ask about each sub-plot is – what does this add to the overall story? i.e. Do I need to keep this? Or do I need to move things around? Or should I delete a minor sub-plot lock, stock and barrel?
Tips: Structure – your main character (protagonist) should appear on page 1 or at least early in chapter one. Prologues usually suck and should be burned.
The key question I ask about each scene is – what is the scene’s purpose (action, fear, joy, discovery etc.) and does it work? i.e. is it effective enough or in need of a re-write?
Tips: Scene review – imagine the scene happening in real life and check how plausible it would be for actors to portray it. If it sucks, you need to augment and improve it. If it’s unclear, you may be overwriting and using too much purple prose. Short paragraphs work, pages of narrative by and large do not.
Self honesty is really important, and usually less is more. Also, it is worth recalling the established rules of writing and plotting (web research / books on the same) and breaking less than 30% of them at a time. Unless of course you never want anyone to read or recommend your work.
Removing unnecessary scenes or sub-plots can be really hard, and I don’t do so lightly. However, if you have a sneaking suspicion that the scene about the tree guardian who appears halfway through your story and does nothing except say two lines, is a bit flabby, the chances are it needs to be cut. Unless of course your story is about tree guardians, in which case they should have made an appearance on page one and regularly from that point on.
By the end of this stage, you have a manuscript draft where you are happy with your story, the major plot points and the length of the book. If not, go back and do it again…
Read aloud edit
I print and I read out loud, with a pencil at hand. I never cease to be amazed at how many outright mistakes sneak through until this stage.
The psychology is this – reading is the first pass through your brain, speaking is the second pass, and hearing what you have said is the third pass. The combination means you are much more likely to notice mistakes in your work.
Also, the flow or otherwise of what is written on the page comes across most clearly when you read your work aloud. If it flows, you can imagine what your readers will experience. And where the flow is poor, you will hasten to smooth things out out of sheer embarrassment or even boredom (as a reader). Yes, the section your always hated which dragged on still sucks – so now it’s time to edit it properly… or cut it.
Tips: Dialogue check – do people really speak like that? And would your character say those things in that manner? A key way to show a character is through their interactions, therefore what they say and how they say it matters. Provided of course – they had a plausible reason to say what they say. i.e. Action to reaction. What they know and what they don’t know.
By the end of this stage, you have a draft manuscript you are pretty much happy with, bar the detailed proofing. If not go back and do it again… Or if you absolutely hate the book, perhaps you need to park it for a while?
Once happy with all the key ingredients I run the document through a couple of software tools and consider all the corrections I’m offered. Even the stupid ones which seem to make no sense at all. It’s boring and unfortunately completely necessary. The number of times I have found misused words spelt perfectly, or doubled up words in plain sight, is surprising and a relief – provided you correct them early enough. One tool alone is not enough to spot them all – for reasons I’ve never fully understood. (Software rules and such like).
Tips: check out tools in trial form first and see if you like them. Word alone is not enough.
By the end of this stage, you have a manuscript you are willing to share with others.
Professional editor edit
In an ideal world, all books would be further edited by a professional who gets the aims of the writer and is sympathetic to the effect they are trying to achieve. This may take the form of technical editing, structural editing and further proof editing.
It’s a partnership thing. If you find a great pro-editor, cherish them and send them greetings cards. If not, find someone else if you are able to. (Me, I’m looking.)
By the end of this stage, the book is quite different to the first draft – usually for the better, though I dare say – not always.
Final, final edit
More of the same until a) it’s done or b) someone say’s it’s getting published next week. Quite often a beta reader will raise an important omission or mistake. Sometimes this reaches the writer in time… I jest, the more complex your story the more edits will be needed all the way through to published editions, and corrections to published editions.
When is it good enough?
Never. Provided a writer keeps improving as a writer, they will always want to go back and revise a lesser work until they are sick of the sight of it. Incidentally, by the fifth round of editing I am usually sick of the sight of my own work. When this happens I call a break and go and write or do something else for a while.
Fresh eyes are essential, as is a sense of detachment.Take a break and read other people’s work – ideally writers who are better than you are. Edit often and in hour chunks.
If you can forget you wrote the first draft manuscript and polish what you see in front of you, you can self-edit. Once you can no longer do this – take a break and/or get help.
Hope my insights help. Best of luck with your writing projects. Next time, I plan to write about plotting your book, click your bookmark or subscribe and please feel free to comment.
In due course, I will publish Sean Yeager Claws of Time. Having hurried on previous books, this time I’m following all my own advice and plenty of other people’s. Please check out my website and consider the younglings in your life who are missing out by not reading Sean Yeager Adventures. They are just a few clicks away on Amazon and elsewhere, somewhere between Harry Potter, Star Wars and James Bond.
We all make choices when we write and the decisions we take fit together to shape our style. Becoming aware of these choices helps the author when planning to write and when writing. Here are some further thoughts and learnings from the coal face of an active writer who is writing while learning to improve the craft of his writing. I hope you find these ideas useful for your own projects.
First person, third person or omniscient?
Whose head do you want to get inside when you write? And who are you most comfortable writing about? This makes a big difference to whether you enjoy the writing process and also how convincing the outcomes will be. Expressing motives, thoughts, emotions and characters’ voices are vital to building sympathy or antipathy for the main characters. Of course the writer builds up the story and chooses who to build up in their written characters – the question is – can you be convincing as the part you are portraying in the first person? Or would it be better to observe their actions from a third person viewpoint?
Balance of parts
How much narrative, descriptive, speech and internal voice?
Seasoned authors move between the different parts of writing with ease, at least in their finished work. The key choice here is what is needed, when and how long to stay with each part of writing. A long narrative can quickly become dull, too little action and the plot will not move forwards. Also be aware that an internal viewpoint can help build depth, but too much deep thought can also become tiresome. In other words it’s all about choosing the balance point for the work in progress. Pieces build up into a tapestry and readers need some space to fill in with their own imagination.
Emotional journey of your protagonist & antagonist
To drive the story you need plot points (events) and an emotional arc to support the main characters’ development. It’s essential that the hero / heroine has an emotional journey at the heart of the plot or the reader will not feel sympathy or pathos for their plight. In other words they need to go through hell and back metaphorically. As writers we need to map out this journey and show how it affects them, then review it in flight to ensure it makes sense and has plenty of twists and turns as the writing on the page develops. I find it useful to have an outline and to allow myself to evolve that outline as the characters react to events in the written story. I also constantly review whether it makes sense how the characters react or adjust to each situation they face. In this way the characters becomes alive on the page or demand a better script – and that’s when you know something is happening…
What to leave out
As writers we choose what to show and we choose what to hide or skip over. This applies particularly to twists, love scenes, violence and how much of the story our chosen writing perspective allows us to show. Often, hinting at events and writing around the outcomes can be as powerful as taking the reader to those places. Then again we have to decide what the book genre needs and how to keep the writing engaging. Wall to wall action, description, erotica and such like can quickly become dull, hence our need to choose what needs to be left out and what is essential to the telling of our story.
Choice of words & structures
Obviously the words on the page can be written in many ways. I recommend reading widely and choosing a style that sits comfortably with your own preference for reading. It is often said that creators create primarily for themselves. That being the case, we choose what kind of book we would like to read and set about writing in a style we would like to read. As a personal check if I find myself reading back work that is clunky or dull, I cut or rewrite. If I don’t recognise that I wrote a paragraph and I like it, that for me is a kind of success. I also recommend collecting lists of words, phrases and structures that you enjoy and to set about using them in the appropriate context.
Pace of your writing
It is often said that the middle of a book can drag or be flabby. I have found this to be true even with genuine bestselling authors. There are remedies available, such as speeding up the pace or introducing new twists at the point where this becomes apparent. In truth, any part of a book could drag and as writers we choose the pacing of each book we write. Too much and heads can spin, too little and they hit the pillow. Perhaps we should start at the end and race to a conclusion? At least it’s an option when plotting out a book or working out how to write in an engaging way. Personally I am easily bored by detailed everyday life accounts when nothing much is happening in the plot. Then again if the writing includes insights and expressions I enjoy, where’s the harm.
Humour and darkness
What overall tone are we seeking to put across? Further choices are how we balance light and darkness and the extent to which we introduce humour and horror. My suggestion here is to identify points at which light relief is needed and to crank up the intensity where a climatic sequence is due. Surprising the reader can work, but too much of a good thing can quickly become wearing. Comedy only works when someone is having a bad day, horror only works when it is a contrast to the setting. Much like real life. A series of choices lead to the sequence of scenes and tone that we write, being aware of those choices is therefore the starting point.
Twists and surprises
Clearly we design the slights of hand, the twists and surprises that we include in our work. A recent trend I’ve noticed in some bestsellers is excessive use of these devices to the extent that nothing that’s left is reliable or plausible. Sometimes the work can become too clever clever for its own good. This may be a good thing for movies, but I suggest choosing a balance and keeping the surprises as big shocks with little or no clues because this can be more effective. Also taking lateral leaps beyond the well trodden path and taking an alternate view can be refreshing.
As writers we first edit ourselves and then submit to whatever it takes to be published. We should remember the choices that we are willing to accept and reject those that have no proper basis in improving the work. Anything that improves quality and reduces flabbiness is most likely a good thing, but there is a line that someone needs to understand implicitly for each piece – i.e. what makes it work? Perhaps the detail makes the work or the depth of a character. We need to understand this of the work on the page and choose to ‘direct’ the improvement of the work from that perspective. As the saying goes, you can only serve one boss. For me that’s the reader. Editing out all the good bits would of course be a bad thing. The question is – what are the good bits? And are there enough of them?
That’s all for now folks. I hope these ideas help your personal writing journey. I’ve been busy of late writing Sean Yeager Claws of Time, which will see the light of day when my own choices have run their course.
D. M. Jarrett