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writing the next novel - a writer's journey
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Thought those of you who enjoy reading SF/Fantasy may be interested in the following review I have written:
A Matter of Perception is a collection of short fantasy stories by writer Tahlia Newland. There are underlying themes of love and redemption as well as an overall theme of perception and how each character uses how they perceive a situation to change the course of their lives – for good or bad.
A Matter of Perception cover
It begins with The Drorgon Slayer’s Choice, a story filled with gods, monsters and love. This is an exploration of the hero’s perception of what is happening around her – is she really seeing monsters? When no-one else sees what she does she must question what she believes and how it affects her actions. On the other hand, The Boneyard is all about assuming one thing when the reality is quite different. When the hero’s lover is lured by sirens she has to save him but at what cost to herself? Mistril’s Mistake looks at how following your heart can lead to some really bad decision making resulting in far reaching consequences. While A Hole in the Pavement is about self esteem. When the hero wants to meet the girl that travels on the same bus as himself, his fear gets in the way, creating big holes that he must learn to climb out of. Not Me, It Can’t Be takes a look at dying, shifting between two realities and exploring the attitudes of the two heroes as well as those around them. Finally, The Rose Coloured Glasses is a story that compares how the hero feels, in other words what mood she is in, to how she sees and reacts to people and the world around her.
These short stories offer a look at the human condition of perception – what a person sees is often nothing like how another person perceives exactly the same situation. Newland’s exploration of this offers an interesting viewpoint and the stories are thought provoking. Each ends with a dilemma either conquered or reached to the point that the question is what will happen next, beyond what the reader has seen on the page. And love is certainly an important element either as self-love and the importance of how an individual looks at him or herself, or else as the passionate love for another and how it can lead a person to act heroically or irrationally. Ultimately, A Matter of Perception’s stories have a positive tone and satisfying endings. It is certainly worth a read.
A Matter of Perception is out now and is currently available as an ebook from the following online book stores:
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0061V4H9C
Smashwords – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/100869
Catapult Press – http://catapultpress.wordpress.com/a-matter-of-perception/
Also coming soon from Tahlia Newland Realm Hunter – a Diamond Peak novella. Available in December 2011.
A philosophy student falls in love
I’ve been away for a few weeks and out of contact with the ‘rest of the world’. Coming home I found myself glued to the telly as I watched the floods unfold in Queensland and now in my home state of Victoria. I marvel at the force of Nature — and how deluded we humans are when we think we can control it.
At the same time, I marvel at how resilient humans are — a line from a song comes to mind: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never going to keep me down…” (Tubthumping by Chumbawamba)
My heart goes out to all who have been affected.
As I heard someone say while she was standing in the ruins of her sodden, mud filled house: “At least I’m alive and all my family is safe…” (Naturally, she was in tears.)
And I guess in the scheme of things that’s the most we mortal human beings can ask for — to live through the event. Our lives are precious, much more so than our possessions. Although that doesn’t diminish the loss of everything you own in life.
Cockatoo Township -- photo from http://www.cockatootownship.com.au/
In fact, I remember when family friends lobbed onto our doorstep on Ash Wednesday (South Australian and Victorian bushfires that occurred on 16th February 1983 and which resulted in the loss of 75 lives and nearly 4000 properties). It was about 4 am and they had to flee the fire as it roared up over the hill and into their township, Cockatoo. They thought they could fight it but the severity of the ‘firestorm’ was such that they had to leave with only seconds to spare. They evacuated with little possessions — actually, it was a basket of dirty washing — and without knowing what had happened to their beloved pets or their home. When they finally got the okay to return it was to a pile of ash. Miraculously, their pets were all waiting on the doorstep — the only sign of what they had been through was one cat had a scorched tail. Who knows how those dogs and cats survived but they did! Cockatoo was decimated with only a few houses left. Six people died because they couldn’t get out in time.
So needless to say, our friends, although absolutely devastated by the loss of all their possessions — apart from the dirty washing, that is — picked themselves up, rebuilt and got on with their lives. I am sure that it affected them but they become survivors and not victims.
How would a disaster affect your hero?
Of course, being a writer means that I think about how a catastrophic event like this would affect someone. I guess it would occur in stages — the lead up to the event, the event itself, the aftermath and then life beyond. The question, as a writer, I ask of any character that goes through this is whether they are a ‘victim’ or a ‘survivor’.
- Victims tap into the pain and tend to remain stuck in the moment.
- Survivors feel the pain and understand that life goes on – it may take a while but they eventually move on.
When you create a character it is vitally important to think about this — because whichever way your character tends toward — victim or survivor — will dictate exactly how they react when a momentous event like a flood occurs in their life. Will they rise above it? (No pun intended!) Will they let it dominate their life?
So what is your hero? A victim or a survivor? And do you think it matters?
As a foot note – I keep reading some quite hilarious stories about some of
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When I met my publisher for the first time — well before he was actually my publisher — I was incredibly nervous. Would he like my idea? Could I persuade him to take me onboard as one of his authors? I knew that he liked what I’d written — the first 50 pages at least — but I needed to convince him that I could come up with a great rest of the book.
So over coffee I pitched my first book. I must have done okay because he not only took me on as one of his authors but he also paid for the coffee!
During the pitch I made it clear that this was the first in a trilogy — and part of that pitch was to say that the next two books would each be from a different character’s point of view. This sounded like a great idea at the time and I have even begun writing the second story with this in mind.
However, the feedback I’m getting from people who have read Mis’ka: Rite of Ascension is that they are expecting the story to continue with Mis’ka as the central character — the hero/protagonist.
And I think that they are right. Although the other dominant characters, Hetat and Gable, are intrinsic to the story — they do not need to lead the action.
So what’s a writer to do? I have gone back to what I’ve written and am rewriting to tell the story through Mis’ka.
Right now she’s in a really bad situation — can she survive? Only time will tell…
Just before the auspicious day my computer decided to crash – again. Ironically I was just backing up my files – in a ‘just-in-case’ scenario as it can take time to retrieve them when they are backed up remotely online. I had done my research and chosen a suitable portable hard drive. Jumped in the car, zoomed down to the local shopping centre (that’s a mall for you non-Aussie residents), found the desired shop and purchased the hard drive. In fact, I discovered that the portable hard drive came in a 500 gb size or, for just $10 extra, a 1 terabyte. Naturally, I went for the Mr Big version!
My computer has crashed and burned – yet again!
My computer has crashed and burned - photo from iStockphoto - konstantin32
Alas, as I was connecting it up my computer froze and nothing happened. I repeated the process but then had to assume that my computer was kaput. Of course, there was a call to my brother (mentioned here) who gave me some advice (by then I was rather teary) and told me to drop it into his place and he’d take a look.
Which he did. But the motherboard has burnt out and so my trusted 4 year-old machine has departed this mortal coil.
In the mean time – the email with all my Blog Jog Day information was lost in the darkness of my now dead computer and I had to contact the lovely Carol Denbow to send me the info again – as I didn’t have her url or email addresses I had to do some back-tracking-come-sleuthing. I had pre-prepared a lovely blog message but it too was lost in the darkness so I had to start from scratch.
But, all ended well…
…both for Blog Jog Day and with the files that were ‘stuck’ inside my computer. Luckily, my talented, lovely, kind brother (yes, there is a touch of sucking-up involved here – as well as one of my kidneys should he ever need it) has shifted the hard drive into a cover and now it is portable! Terrific work! I now have two hard drives to back up my files as well as the remote server I use (MOZY http://mozy.com/). Talk about ‘phew’!
And the winner of my book is:
Truth is I was very pleased to have you all visit. I couldn’t decide the winner so I have involved my 82 year-old mother (who is still strong of body and mind!) who checked out all the comments and then randomly chose a winner. Who is (drum roll please):
Linda – the book is in the mail!
Now that I have access to all my research and notes, next time I will continue on with my writing journey.
It is the month of November and I have been attempting to do NaNoWriMo – the amazing event where a writer taps away at the computer non-stop for the entire month of November and writes at least 50,000 words of a novel.
So how am I doing?
I ask myself why but can come up with no other reason than that I have other commitments – like making a living (yes, it is as a writer but not as a novelist although I do have one of those published and another one on the way.) I had hoped to complete the first draft of my second novel but… alas…
Still, there is still more of November to go! So I must away… (tap, tap, tap…)
NaNoWriMo - what was I thinking?
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Your story must have a premise. The premise is the core, or if you like, the frame upon which all else is built. The premise is often called the theme but in fact, they are two totally different things. For instance, the premise of the film The Sixth Sense is “a small boy sees dead people” but the theme is “unfinished business”.
While your theme must be present in all your scenes/chapters, the premise is about the purpose of your story.
What does this mean? It’s a bit of a Catch 22 thing – in order to decide what your story’s purpose is you need to know your premise but in order to know your premise it helps to know your story’s purpose! Phew!
So how do you discover what your story’s premise is?
Believe it or not, it is actually very easy to do this. But only after you’ve decided who your protagonist is – but I’ll get to that another time. To discover your premise simply work out the most important characteristic of your central character. Then discover how they react to the ‘conflict’ in his or her story. Then how your story concludes.
Character + Conflict = Conclusion
An example is from my novel – my central character is Mis’ka. Her most dominant characteristic is that she is courageous. What must she do with conflict? She must try to overcome it – succeeding sometimes, failing at other times. In the end the conclusion is that her dominant characteristic allows her to beat all obstacles.
Courage (character) Overcomes (conflict) All Obstacles (conclusion)
In The Sixth Sense the premise is “a small boy (character) sees (conflict) dead people (conclusion)”.
The Sixth Sense (poster image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sixth_Sense
By the way, many people think that ‘conflict’ involves physical fighting but in fact, conflict is anything that is an obstacle for your character. Again, in The Sixth Sense the conflict the small boy Cole experiences is that he ‘sees’ dead people – and it terrifies him, preventing him from leading a ‘normal’ life.
Here’s why the premise is important…
The reason why you need to know your story’s premise right up front is so that when your hero reaches a conflict you, as the writer, will know how your character will react – or even if you want the hero to act out of character knowing the premise allows you to play around with your character’s behaviour without confusing your audience.. The outcome doesn’t matter because any good story has ups and downs in the hero’s journey (otherwise it isn’t a story!). This allows you to let your character ‘grow’ during their journey. In fact, the only reason why your character is on a journey is so that they can grow and go back to their life (when the adventure is over) as a ‘better person’!
Premise = character, conflict, conclusion…
Back to the premise – by having this premise (usually written on a post-it note and taped somewhere for quick and easy reference!) if you find that your story is stuck and doesn’t appear to be going forward – or worse, you are writing and writing and it’s just not feeling ‘right’ – it is because you’ve strayed from the premise. Always sit back and ask yourself “what would my hero do now?” and check that post-it note – because your hero only ever behaves in a way that is true to his or her nature. This way, your hero will get to the end of his story exac
Author Tahlia Newland has kindly offered to share her experiences finding an agent and if having one is a worthwhile proposition…
Hi. My name is Tahlia Newland. I’m the author of Lethal Inheritance, a YA paranormal fantasy novel. m.a. invited me over to talk about how I went about getting my agent and whether I think they’re worthwhile.
There are many authors out there without agents, some couldn’t get one, some never tried, some get on just fine without them, some don’t. So why did I think I needed an agent?
Literary agents have access to publishers that don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. That keeps you out of the slush pile and increases your chances of finding a publisher. They also know which publishers are most likely to be interested in your project and good agents have personal contacts in some publishing houses. These publishers will look at your work more closely because they trust your agent’s evaluation – if you get a good one, if not, that’s another story.
Getting an agent is also a stamp of approval.
An industry professional believes your work is of a publishable standard and that it’s saleable. That might not matter to some, but it gave me a lot of confidence.
A good agent will answer your questions, advise you, guide your career and generally support you. My agent, Debbie Golvan of Golvan Arts Management, recently suggested that I review my ms again before we submitted it to a second round of publishers. Something I wouldn’t have done without her suggestion. The results prove that it was good advice.
Once the agent finds a publisher, they will check your contract, explain it to you and where changes need to be made, they’ll negotiate on your behalf. They will also support you in any problems that might occur during the publishing process.
A good agent can save you a lot of worry and hassle.
Querying an agent is basically the same as querying a publisher. First, get a list of agents. I joined The Australian Writer’s Marketplace to get access to their listings. Next go through the list carefully to find out which ones represent the kind of work you do. Go to their website, look at their submission guidelines and send exactly that.
Then you wait. Mostly it’s the first round of rejections, but someone might ask for the full ms. You send it. They read it. You wait – again. There’s a lot of that in this business.
If they like what they see, they may offer to represent you. Debbie sent me to her website so I was clear what her role was but she didn’t ask me to sign a contract. That was fine by me. However, I believe that a lot of agents do ask you to sign a contract. Your agent may also ask you to make changes to the ms. Debbie asked me to drop 19000 words.
Golvan Arts will receive my royalties, take 15%, then send the rest to me. As far as I’m concerned, Debbie has already earned that through the support and advice she’s given me.
About the author…
I still don’t have my computer fixed — but it is in hand! My brother has taken the offending (or should that be recalcitrant?) thing back to his place to fix and cajole back to life. A little mouth to mouth technical stuff.
In the meantime, I have discovered that my laptop has Window’s Movie Maker loaded on to it. Oh the joy! And with a couple of days available to me I have made a ‘trailer’ for my book. And uploaded it onto YouTube! Phew! Who knew I had the technology? And the knowhow?
Why a book trailer?
Recently, I was at a book signing for George Ivanoff and he had a book trailer playing on his laptop — it attracted people as they passed by. He mentioned that a book trailer is ‘all the go’ these days. I immediately decided to get me one of those! Then did absolutely nothing about it — scary thought, getting a book trailer. And how was I supposed to do it on a limited budget? And with no idea how to do it myself?
Here’s what happened next…
This week I had a little time on my hands and with the option of spending it playing spider solitaire or doing something constructive I opted for… okay, one or two games. But I soon found myself looking for something else to do — I could write some stuff or get something happening to promote Mis’ka: Rite of Ascension. I decided on the latter.
So, I Googled and found a great article about writing a book trailer.
Then I set about getting some ideas by viewing a few young adult book trailers online.
Then I wrote a ‘one-liner’ that best described my book — a very long hook if you like, that would get someone interested in reading the story. After I was satisfied I broke it down into bite-sized pieces and started searching for images to marry up with the words. I had to use a lot of symbolic images as it is difficult to get the exact pictures that I wanted (I used ‘free’ photos that are available to use as long as the photographers are given credit). Then I searched iStock for some suitable music — which you pay for but which is then royalty free.
The fun part was putting it together – I learnt as I went. And I’m sure that if I was a ‘professional’ doing this sort of stuff I would have done it differently. In fact, even now I keep coming up with ideas… but you’ve got to stop sometime!
Here’s the result…
I know I was going to talk about the premise of your story but I’ll do that next time…
Here are some links to help you with a book trailer:
How to make a book trailer
iStock – for music and photos
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My computer has done the nasty and crashed. As happens with these things, I was happily typing away when… nothing. The screen had frozen. In itself, that’s no big deal. After all, computers are notorious for hissy-fits. Unfortunately the timing was very off as I was in the middle of an important email to a client discussing some writing I was doing for him.
I hit the reset button. And waited. And waited… Alas, the computer appeared to be making all the right noises but absolutely nothing was happening on the monitor — in fact, the screen kept telling me that it was dropping into power saver mode as there was no digital signal. Okay, perhaps that wasn’t quite what it said but that is definitely what it meant. Then, it went to sleep. Sigh.
I ascertained that the mouse did not appear to be working — no glowing red light. What did this mean? For that matter, why was the yellow light next to the ‘on’ switch glowing brightly instead of flashing with a subdued hue? And what the hell is that big box that holds all the parts called anyway? A processor? Something else that involves techno-babble that I just don’t get?
A technically challenged writer to the rescue!
The next phase in my voyage of discovery — meaning trying to get my now sadly not-working computer working — was to try a different mouse. I plugged it in. This one at least was glowing red — dangerously gleaming up at me with evil intent. As for the monitor, once again, nothing, nada, nil…
Aha! I know! I’ll turn the switch off at the wall. Excellent. I gave it a few seconds — long enough to wander off to the kitchen and fill the kettle. Came back, switched it back on, pressed the start button and sat back, relaxed in the knowledge that all would be well.
Finally I called my brother, the technical engineer — who, by the way, has a t-shirt with ‘No, I won’t fix your computer so don’t ask’ blazoned across the front and which I, being the ‘kid’ sister, completely ignore — he will ‘drop in’ soon (please, God, let it be soon) to take a look at ‘it’.
Luckily I have a laptop (or should that be notebook? I’m never quite sure what to call it these days) that I am now working on. But I do not keep any information on it. Not even email addresses. This has resulted in a few friendly phone calls to find out addresses for people I need to contact. As well as logging onto my internet provider (remembering passwords is an absolute pain) to check incoming emails.
Then, there are my files. They are all on my desktop computer. Yep, the one that is currently being a fantastic paper weight. Again, luckily, I use an offshore back-up system — MOZY, http://mozy.com/ — that does a back-up of my files, online, daily. This means that I have only lost a morning’s worth of work. Not a lifetime’s worth. Phew! That’s great!
So what have I learnt from all this?
- That I probably need one of those portable drives that you can get these days (have made a note to discuss what I should get with my brother as he mutters and curses his way through fixing my computer).
- That having a back-up system that does it all automatically for me is a truly great thing.
- And that I just can’t take the demise of my beloved computer personally. It hasn’t crashed because it hates me — it has worked its little processors to the bone for a few years now and it has been doing a great job. Maybe, like all of us, it’s just gotten tired and needs a break… hopefully, not permanently.
Oh, and that my brother is brilliant – even if he can’t fix the damn thing, he’ll
I like to wash dishes — yep, it’s true! I find it very Zen. And I’m not talking about placing dirty dishes in a dishwasher — I mean real life, filling the sink with hot water and soap, scrubbing clean the dishes. You know how it goes — dip the dirty plate in the extremely hot and soapy water, clean with the dish-mop until it sparkles and then place it on the draining board to dry. One dish at a time — which is where the Zen part comes in.
It gives me time to think — and often that’s when I do some plotting — and not the downfall of some foreign country. I’m talking constructively getting my thoughts around where my story is heading.
So it was with a great deal of joy that I discovered that a very famous writer has felt the same way.
This quote from Agatha Christie invokes what I feel:
“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”*
Really, as a writer I can be thinking about a story or a chapter or a sentence or even which word to use, anytime, anywhere, not just when I’m washing up after dinner. It’s what writers do and why we often have that vague-not-listening-to-you look about us.
Of course the only problem with doing the dishes is that they need to be dried. And boy, do I hate that part!
*(thanks to http://www.quotegarden.com/writing.html)
**(photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_Christie)
As I mentioned in my last post a compelling story must contain the basic elements of story telling. But what exactly is a story?
In its simplest form a story is a sentence containing:
subject / verb / object
cow eats grass
Not much of a story. But it does actually convey information — that there is a cow that is eating grass. I suspect that the motivation is because the cow is hungry.
However, conveying information is easier if it’s entertaining. Maybe the cow is eating because she’s bored. Or, perhaps she’s being force fed. So now the story has someone forcing the cow to do something she may not want to do — suddenly there’s more to this than just a cow eating grass… but there still needs to be more.
Is there more to the story that 'cow eats grass'? Photo: iStockphoto.com/aleksask
That’s where the basic elements come in…
- What? This is the theme of your story. Every ‘scene’ should reflect this – where is the story going and therefore, where is your audience going? In Mis’ka, Rite Of Ascension, the theme is war and peace. Mis’ka lives on Credos whose people have been at war with Nor’la, a neighbouring planet, for hundreds of generations. Resources are running out for both sides and there is a movement to bring about peace. The thought of peace throws Mis’ka — she is a Warrior who has spent her childhood training to fight the enemy. Her internal conflict is that with peace, what happens to her?
- Who? This is your protagonist, the hero/heroine, who drives your story. And remember – your hero must want something so badly that they will do anything to obtain this goal. In fact the higher the goal, meaning the harder it is to reach this goal, the more interesting the journey for the hero and ultimately for your audience. My hero is Mis’ka – in Rite of Ascension her goal is to pass this test but as her adventure escalates she must do more than just pass – she must find a way to survive and come out of the experience alive.
- Why? The central dramatic problem. In the first book Mis’ka thinks that all she’s doing is her Rite of Ascension, which she must pass — the alternative is death or working in the off-world mines. Mis’ka has a lot at stake here. But then she rescues Hetat and finds herself thrown into his fight. Add to this Gabel, an untrained Ma’ji who she must save and suddenly Mis’ka has a whole lot more to deal with…
- How? Your plot — to get your hero from chapter one to ‘The End’. And, if you can, you need to have sub-plots to help layer the story and give your audience more to chew on as they read. And, believe it or not, all your subplots need to have the same theme driving these forward. Plus they need to have all the basic elements as well! Phew!
- Where? Is the setting — because I write science fiction the story is on a planet far, far away! And to highlight that Mis’ka is in this alone, I have set Rite of Ascension on a moon-planet Asner Major, where she must survive. From where she stands she can see her home planet Credos and wants nothing more than to be back there. The next story, Rite of Honour, will take place on Credos and her enemy’s planet Nor’la.
I’m embarking on writing the second novel in a trilogy. The first, Mis’ka: Rite of Ascension, was published in June 2010. Although the story stands alone — meaning that the story is complete — it had subplots (or story threads) that began in this first book and are designed to be picked up in the following two novels.
I’m hoping to take you along for the ride. As I progress, I’m going to tell you about the writing process I follow. It may not be how you’d do it, or how you’ve heard others do it but, hey, that’s what makes us all individuals – our ability to do things differently and still get to the same end. Which in this case is a new novel.
A story is a promise.
When you write or even tell someone a story you are making a promise to them. From the very first word to the last full stop you are taking your audience on a journey — whether that is someone who is reading your novel or a workmate listening to how you missed the train. And with that journey comes the expectation — or the promise — that you care enough and respect your audience enough to take them on the best rip-roaring ride that you possibly can.
Great stories are like roller coasters - they take you on a ride to remember! Photo: iStockphoto.com/mjbs
For a story to be compelling — that is, make someone want to read it and keep reading to the last page — there are a few things that need to be nutted out first. This includes all the elements that make a story:
But I’ll talk about these next time – for now I’m off to walk my dogs…