Author: Evie McRae

So you’re writing a novel. Where do you start?

So you’re writing a novel. Where do you start?

admin-ajax 2People generally ask how one attempts to write a whole novel. Sure, it’s one word, followed by another, but which words? My professional experience taught me one thing about the writing process. There are two types of people when it comes to writing. Those who are terrified and intimidated by the blank page, and those who embrace the blank page.

To get off the starting blocks, do not be phased by that blank page or the blinking cursor on your screen. With new technology it’s so easy to change the first word on that blank page. So keep that in mind for starters. Change that first word ten times. It doesn’t matter. Just write it.

When I decided the creative life was for me, I read and read as much as I could. I’d watch podcasts by Paulo Cohello or listen to interviews with Stephen King. The one piece of advice that was repeated over and over again was simple. ‘Just keep writing, every single day’. How hard can it be to do something you love, every single day? That advice, combined with my ambition, my enthusiasm and some divine-inspired zone writing (you know the kind when you write like a maniac, the words come too fast for you to keep up, you just write – and when you finish you look at it and go – wow did I really just write that?). Yes I was hoping for many of those moments to write that book.

It turns out, there are many ways to write a novel. There are hundreds of articles out there on the best way to write a novel. Alas, divine-inspired writing zones don’t generally last the duration of the whole book. They are fleeting burst of a few lines that you may end up having to kill later on anyway.

Let me add to the myriad of articles out there on how to write a novel. Let me qualify that, I can’t tell you how, I can only share what I’ve learned for myself thus far. Perhaps a more accurate question is how do you write a book worthy of publishing. Hopefully that will be a post for another time. Meanwhile, back here in the heady days of the idea, the concept of writing a novel…

It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but you need to know the story you want to tell. I say this, purely because in my younger years I wrote poetry. Sometimes that poetry wrote itself. I never knew what was going to be channelled through my pen onto the page. I would often write until 2.00am or 3.00am in the morning, go to sleep, then get up the next morning and be amazed at the words I had coupled together. Writing a novel doesn’t seem to write itself. I’ve tried believe me – just sitting there waiting for the words to come. So, it’s best to have a vague idea of the story you wish to tell, or an idea regarding the message you are trying to communicate.

Once I have the stirrings of a book idea in my mind, I dedicate some time – not long perhaps a week – to the brainstorming phase. Throughout my years as a copywriter working on go-to-market campaigns, this was the crucial time when the team got together to kick the project off. ‘No idea is a bad idea’ during this phase. The brainstorming process allows you to work out elements of your story that you hadn’t even thought about – until now! As you progress and begin to increase your word count, you will find brainstorming to be an extremely useful technique to work out complexities or challenges that may otherwise halt your good work. After some solid brainstorming you are ready to develop your character, setting and plot outlines.

Character profiles/sketches can be so much fun to work with. Again it’s a case of brainstorming and writing down anything that comes to you. Let your imagination run wild. You may find a certain person that you know comes to mind as this character takes shape on the page in front of you. It’s surprising how shallow and one dimensional your characters can come across to the reader if you as the writer don’t really know your characters. Ensure you have given thought to aspects of their personality such as their conflicts and motivations, their looks, their temperament, little verbal ticks they may have and so on. I have created a mini questionnaire for myself when it comes to creating my characters. Completing it forces me to really identify who my characters are and how they relate to each other and the story itself. I’ll create an example of the type of questions you should ask yourself when creating these people who populate your book’s world and post to this forum in the coming weeks.

Once you have identified your characters, even very loosely, you can move on to your setting outline. The setting of your book may or may not be hugely important to the story – but you do need to consider setting. What year do your characters live in? Is it in the past or the future or present day? Which country do they live in? Is it a particular time of year? Does your character have a favourite place or a feared place? If it helps, take a look around you right now. What things do you observe about your own setting? Are there trees outside? How do you feel about the view from your window? This will help kick start the type of things you need to note about your character’s setting. Again, feel free to brainstorm and have fun with it.

By now, your plot outline should be percolating in your mind. You have the foundations in your characters and setting so now it’s time to weave in the story. I personally find planning and writing chapter outlines is a really useful way to identify very early on where the gaps are in your plot. If you’ve gone from A to C but not quite sure what B is yet, that’s fine – at least you’ve identified that you need to think about that part. There are lots of useful techniques on how to build your storyline which I’ll explain in a later post.

To get you started right now, however, think story goal. As I mentioned at the start of the article, it helps to understand what message you want to communicate or what story you are bursting to tell. This is is the central theme. Once you have established this, consider subplots which serve a function outside the realm of the main plot. Sub plots provide the opportunity to change the scene, tone or emotion at any given point in the story. Perhaps your character has an illness, or perhaps they are in crippling debt, but whatever the subplot is it should add something in terms of layering to your story and character. There are many points I could make about plot, but one important element that I would be remiss to leave out is, ensure your plot has some sort of tension. You need tension to keep your readers involved. I always think, if I’m bored reading back my writing, then my readers will be twice as board. Find the tension!

Once you have given due thought and attention to the points outlined above, it’s a good idea to consolidate everything with a summary – or chapter-by-chapter outline. In essence, your chapter outline details the opening scene of your book and moves forward scene by scene through the story until the end. From here you will identify gaps in the story line but there is no need to be overly concerned at this stage. For now it is good to have identified the strengths and weaknesses.

If you have completed all of this you will have the beginnings of a draft novel. This is a very simplistic view and only designed to get you thinking but hopefully it should help. Depending on the nature of your writing you may have to consider additional elements such as research which you will continually have to add to as your work progresses.

Finally I would like to end on some advice that I started with. Don’t underestimate the importance of writing every single day. With structure and goals written down this should be more achievable. Of course we all get off days where we write a few pages, only to shred them theatrically days later. It is far better to do this than not have anything to shred. For me, it’s about continuity. If I don’t write every day, I forget where I am in the character’s mind or the plot. I have to re-read all my writing from the start to jog my memory. Apart from anything else this becomes boring, and a huge waste of time. So keep writing every day – and enjoy!

News

News

News

It seems already that we have lost so many great talents in 2016 and it’s only just the end of February now. This month we said goodbye to three writers who will leave their mark on generations of readers to come.

Umberto Eco

January 5th 1932 – February 19th 2016
Milan – aged 84
Italian author of ‘The Name of the Rose

Harper Lee

April 28th 1926 – February 19th 2016
Monroeville, Alabama – aged 89
Authored the classic novel ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’

Margaret Forster

May 28th 1938 – February 8th 2016
London, England – aged 77
English novelist who wrote ‘Georgy Girl’

Coping with writer’s block

Coping with writer’s block

eviemcrae

Many years ago I wrote a poem about how it feels to sit in front of the blank page hoping to meet with the muse. Sometimes when the words don’t come you fear they may never come again. Thankfully there are also those magical times when the words are as impatient to be jotted down as a dog straining at the leash.

Writer’s block is feared and dreaded by many writers, but I have found some fun ways to nudge the creative engines back into life.

There are literally hundreds of little techniques I can share with you – but let’s start with this one. Play along with the ‘Write about what you know’ rule.

Anything and everything is worth writing about if the writer finds something engaging about the subject. Try these writing exercises based on first-hand observation:

I’ll start with my favourite one first as I rarely have to go beyond this one to get me going.

  1. Study a painting or a photograph and write a story about the subject, whether it’s a person, a place, or a thing, or a combination of two or all three.
  2. Take a look at titles of books you have on your bookshelf. Create a story based on one or more titles or one or the words that catch your eye in a title.
  3. Research historical figures on Wikipedia or in some other reference resource. Write about a fictional episode in their life — perhaps a chance meeting with another famous person (before or after they became famous) — or assign some invented secret to their life and write about it.
  4. Visit a historical location — a building, a site, a city — and write a factual account of its history or create a story in which it features, or one inspired by it. Or do the same for any structure or location, even if it’s brand new.
  5. Go to a public place and watch people (without, of course, making yourself obvious). Create backstories based on their appearance, their habits, and their communication styles. If you are a people watcher by nature you probably already subconsciously do this – you just haven’t committed it to paper yet.
  6. Visit a zoo or an aquarium, or even a pet store or a dog run at a park, and study the animals. Develop human characters based on their characteristics and interactions, and write about these people you’ve created.

If none of these inspire you here is something else to try. Give yourself one minute only for these exercises. You are going to write the first thing that comes into your head – even if they are just random words – those random words could be the trigger to something else that will have you writing until your ink runs dry!

Time yourself – you will be amazed that you want to keep going beyond the minute.

Start your one-minute story with

“I don’t know when …”

“I know …”

“I wanted to see …”

“I love …”

“I don’t remember …”

“If I could paint…”

Once you have completed one or more (it’s up to you) go back and read through what you have written. Is there anything in there that has form or the foundations of being something new?

Soon you’ll be saying “Writer’s block …pah … I never get writer’s block!”

Until next time.

Evie x

 

Please God – not another synopsis

Please God – not another synopsis

eviemcrae.comWell it’s been an interesting week here at the desk.

JK Rowling (Twitter Queen) relayed a public service announcement about the Lucy Cavendish Prize. “A great opportunity for unpublished female writers resident in UK and Ireland,” she says. I decided, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Right? I’m an unpublished female writer, and at this point in time I’m living in the UK. My book is finished and I’m ready to roll.

eviemcrae.com

I read through the criteria for entry and was shocked to discover that a 10-page synopsis was permissible along with the usual first 50 pages of your novel.

To put this into perspective for you, I have read everything you can possibly read under the sun and on the internet about the perfect Synopsis. I thought I had studied my craft and got it down to a fine art.

But here’s the thing.  I managed the impossible. I distilled my 110,000 word novel down to 4 pages. Until I read, ‘Actually, if you can get your synopsis down to 2 pages that would be great. Thanks awfully.’ An image of the camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle came to mind at that point. But I did it. Then another agent said, ‘We require a 1-page synopsis or we don’t even look at you.’ OK well I guess I can do that. Do you see where I am going? The most challenging one I have had to write so far is the 300 words synopsis. In the name of all that is holy – how the hell do you distil countless layers, sub-plots, twists, fork in the road moments – oh and name 5 characters- into 300 words? Quite frankly I don’t know for sure, but I tried.

Fast forward a few months and here, in front of my eyes, the apparent luxury of 10 pages!!

Except it wasn’t a luxury was it? I pondered whether just to send my carefully crafted 4-pager, or 1-pager, but then I thought well if you’ve got 10 pages you may as well use it.

I’m here to tell you it’s much harder than it sounds.

Initially, I took the most exciting plot elements from each of the chapters and created some copy. But when I read it back it was SO BORING… this happened, then that happened, and then something else happened…Yawn. I was boring myself so I knew I had no chance holding the attention of the judges. I tried a few other approaches but nothing felt right.

So I realised I had to go back to basics. Forget the countless pages I had written in the past and begin with a fresh sheet of paper.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, try to keep these 3 key questions to the forefront of your mind:

  • Whose story is it? (i.e, who is your protagonist?)
  • What do they want and what stops them achieving it? (i.e, what is their conflict?)
  • How do they get it?

From here you can review and revise. Is your voice active? Is your pace dynamic? Does the writing style of your synopsis mirror the writing style in the novel?

It took me a good week to write a Synopsis I was happy with, and even now, I’m not sure the judges for the Lucy Cavendish Prize really want to read 10 full pages before launching into the novel, but now it’s a just a case of ‘wait and see.

I’ll be sure and get back to you in future posts on how to write a Synopsis. Perhaps I can spare you the countless hours I’ve put into the subject – unless you’re a bit of a sadist on that front.

Well – the entry is in. Wish me luck. Until next time

Evie x

How do YOU spell dilemma?

How do YOU spell dilemma?

eviemcraeMy feathers were ruffled somewhat this afternoon. My husband asked, “How do you spell dilemma?”  Now I like to think ‘words’ are something I’m relatively good at. True, sometimes I have to write a word down to be sure, but generally speaking, I can spell.

I replied with confidence “D.I.L.E.M.N.A.”.

Oh, the glee on his face as he shook his head! “Nope, it’s D.I.L.E.M.M.A.”

I frowned and shook my head, “Nope, I’m pretty sure it’s D.I.L.E.M.N.A.” I was sure it was one of those weird spellings that had been drummed into me at school.

It turns out (annoyingly), he was right. I lost nearly a whole afternoon researching the elusive ‘dilemna’. I found out I am not the only person in the world to be taught to spell ‘dilemna’ with a silent ‘n’. In spite of his earlier smugness, even my husband confessed he thought he had been taught to spell it with a silent ‘n’ too. Chance are you were also taught to spell it with a silent ‘n’.

So how on earth did this spelling misdemeanour become so entrenched in our collective consciousness?

Initially, I put the ‘mm’ spelling down to American usage. Perhaps somehow this had crossed over into common usage and no-one had noticed. Nope! I realised as I researched further dilemma has NEVER been spelt with a silent ‘n’. There was no point in sticking to my guns. Clearly – shock, horror – I was wrong. I still can’t quite absorb the painful truth.

If we take a look at the etymology of dilemma we can see it first appeared around 1520, and came from Latin Antiquity.  Dilemma, from Greek dilemma “double proposition,” a technical term in rhetoric, from ‘di’  meaning “two” and ‘lemma’ meaning “premise, anything received or taken,” (from the root of lambanein “to take”). It should be used only of situations where someone is forced to choose between two alternatives, both being unfavourable.

So why have so many of us around the world been taught with a silent ‘n’? God only knows, but if you take a quick Google trip you will see there are actually discussion boards out there on the subject. Seriously! That said, no-one seems to have come up with a rational explanation. The silent ‘n’ alternative is never even offered up as nonstandard spelling in some reputable dictionaries. How can this be? Even trusty Grammar Girl doesn’t offer any explanation though the site does point to another point of reference World Wide Words which goes into detail about the errant spelling.  What I found most surprising that it’s not just the English or the Americans that have been spelling it wrong. In French it sometimes appears as dilemne instead of dilemme. Native French speakers say they, too, were taught the wrong form. It is frequent enough that it appears in lists of common spelling mistakes. In French, it’s said to be the consequence of a false comparison with indemne.

So a veritable word mystery no less. I’d love to know how you spell Dilemna, (yes OK squigly line I meant Dilemma). I’d also love to know your theories as to why so many of us were taught the wrong spelling!

 

Life after the first draft

Life after the first draft

eviemcrae.blog“Hurray – I have finally finished the first draft of my first novel”. When I posted this update on Facebook a few months ago, I was overwhelmed with the number of friends that congratulated me on my achievement. I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself as you can imagine. All previous attempts to write a novel seem to fall by the wayside at around 30,000 words, so all things considered 120,000 words was impressive.

A few days later I felt a complete fraud. It was quite apt that I stumbled across this quote.

I think it’s fairly common for writers to be afflicted with two simultaneous yet contradictory delusions – the burning certainty that we’re unique geniuses, and the constant fear that we’re witless frauds who are speeding towards epic failure.” I concur with that statement wholeheartedly. You see the first draft is not the end of the story. Far from it.

First drafts embody effort and hopes – dreams and potentials that could be realised – if you’re willing to put the hard work in. The cold, hard reality is the First Draft never gets published.

So what now? Well in simple terms it’s all about making your novel as good as it can possibly be. You’ll notice how easy it was to say “as good as it can possibly be”. Well, I’m here to tell you – particularly if you have just discovered this post after writing your first draft – it is a long road ahead. And I mean a long road.

Even assuming you polish your novel until it is positively gleaming, I was reliably informed by a Literary Agent in London that the average novel may be edited up to 12 times.

If you haven’t realised it by now, I’m not trying to pour cold water on the project – merely setting expectations. If you’re serious about getting published, you can’t send your baby out into the world half dressed.

Infinity and Beyond…

Once I committed to the editing process, I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed it. It’s early days but here is my advice based on my experiences so far.

1. Hold it … hold it

Initially, I was raring to get my book progressed to the next stage but it is useful to have some breathing space (typos, spelling and punctuation pick-ups aside). Aim to give yourself a week between the end of the first draft and the beginning of the next phase.

2. Time to wear your editor’s hat

There are those that just like being writers, but even on the most basic level you need to edit your work before it is sent out into the world. Now is the time to start thinking like an editor – not a writer.

3. Print out hard copy

Do a fly through to pick up obvious typos, gaps or weakness in the content. Scribble away in the margins. You might have more ideas, or change your mind, continuity issues, timelines to check– that’s OK just right it all down.

4. Taming the beast

I realised very quickly that while 120,000 had an impressive ring to it, publishers aren’t necessarily looking for a novel with such a long word count. From all my research, I deduced that either 80,000 or 100,000 was the word count I should be aiming for. That means I need to cull at least 10% content. Now here’s the thing. What do you cull? Have you ever heard the expression “Kill your darlings”? Yup. Every bit as painful as it sounds. But if you want to be a published author and taken seriously – needs must!

What to Cull?

  • There are a number of places writers waste words and I’m no different. I have discovered frequently overuse the following words – ‘of course’, ‘realised’ ‘had’ and ‘that’. Those four words/phrases cropped up time and time again throughout the pages. Every writer has certain words they are fond of using. Once you have identified yours you will know what to look out for. Rather than loathing the process I began to enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to say same things. As an exercise, I recommend searching your document for the word ‘THAT’. I guarantee 90% of the time this word is superfluous and should be cut. You will notice your writing is improved with this one simple change.
  • Dialogue attribution. “He says/she says” clogs up your narrative and word count. It is extremely boring to read he says/she says line after line. Create believable characters with strong dialogue and attribution can be reduced to a minimum.
  • Adjectives. Because we LOVE words, writers often string together more adjectives than necessary to describe someone or something. One powerful adjective will do.
  • Adverbs. 90% of the time adverbs are superfluous. Adverbs are used to modify verbs. They tell us when, where, how, in what manner or to what extent an action is performed. Go through your copy and eliminate words like ‘very’, ‘quickly’, ‘soon’, ‘kindly’, ‘calmly’, ‘carefully’ and so on.
  • Be concise. If there is a way of saying something in fewer words – do it. With creative consideration and a good vocabulary, it is possible.
  • Consider the merit of every sentence. In the first draft, you have spilled your guts, but now is the time to tidy up. Each sentence must progress the story and be relevant. Sometimes what goes down ends up irrelevant to the story – action, dialogue, emphasis on a certain character? If it isn’t essential for the growth, development and understanding of your story ditch it – or at the very least, cut it down.

Every stage of the writing process is an opportunity for growth. As I’ve said before tackling a novel is very different from any other writing you may have done, professional or otherwise. I’ve realised through hard work just how rewarding life can be after the ‘First Draft’ but you have to be willing to roll your sleeves up and do the hard graft. There – not feeling so much like a fraud now – until next week. Bye for now.

Is it time to come out of solitary confinement?

Is it time to come out of solitary confinement?

eviemcrae.blogAs part of a busy creative team, I’ve always been motivated and inspired by those around me. I’ve always been in awe of the talented designers who have brought life to my words, no matter how dry the subject matter. Gifted wordsmiths and copywriters have always pushed me to think beyond my comfort zone and have provided invaluable feedback and critique before that moment where you send your handcrafted ‘baby’ out into the world to fend for itself.

If all this sounds frenzied, then you’re correct. However, the world of novel writing is very different. It is solitary. That means you have to be all things to yourself and your work. Many writers will identify with the roller coaster of emotions. The elation and self-belief that you are creating something that could change the world, all the way to despair and the pits of self-loathing. You know what I’m talking about. When you look at your screen and think ‘who am I kidding? A five-year-old could write better than this. I’m an idiot to think I could have something here-‘ and so it goes on.

Sound familiar? If you are one of those who has been quietly working in your corner of the world with no human contact, embroiled in your own nightmare of rejection and derision then I’m here to make a suggestion. Get involved with other writers. They’re not a bad bunch really.

I have to say I struggled with the very advice I’m imparting to you. First of all, I don’t want other writers stealing my idea (as if-). Secondly, having traversed publishing and corporates alike, I have met my fair share of -well I’ll just say it – stuck up literary snobs. The thought of spending evenings or weekends with a bunch of bespectacled ‘superior school teacher’ types makes my feet want to curl up and drop off.

Without wanting to sound like one of those very snobs that I shy away from, neither did I want to attend a writer’s group filled with old grannies writing stories about their cat (and, by the way, I love cats). I’ve been there, done that and I’ll be back there soon enough I’m sure. My desire was to find a group of people just like me – if that were at all possible. People who had enough intelligence to provide valuable critique without making me feel I should give up and stay home to watch the Jeremy Kyle Show. I soon realised that in order to test the waters with what I had to offer, I did indeed have to dip my toes in that scary water.

Taking my courage in my hands, I signed up for a writer’s workshop at Bloomsbury Press in London. The title of the workshop was “How to hook an agent.” I didn’t feel my writing was at the point of needing an agent. My coat of protection was the notion that this was a fact finding mission. If my work wasn’t up to scratch it was because it wasn’t ready – if you catch my drift.

The day of the workshop arrived as did I, all nervous with my laptop in hand. I have no sense of direction and was following my trusty Google Navigation along the streets of London. When I looked up, I met a similarly apprehensive individual, smartphone in hand, nervously looking around.

Are you here for the writer’s workshop?” I asked with all the coyness of a girl embarking on her first day at school. I was met with a smile and relieved nod of the head.

My new friend Alice and I walked in together and sat next to each other to provide each other with much needed moral support. As it turned out, there was nothing to be scared of. We met a group of 4 agents, each providing us with valuable information on what they looked for in a query letter and submission pitch. In the afternoon, we had an opportunity to use that information and deliver our own pitch.

Hearing yourself describe your book to a group of people you’ve never met before is an illuminating experience. First of all, you are fighting the fight or flight instinct with thoughts of ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ But what follows after your mind has scrabbled around trying to find as few words as possible to sum up your book, is the beginnings of your ‘elevator pitch’. Let’s be honest, how many of you would make yourself come up with that at home in the comfort of your study, until push came to shove?

Instead of blank expressions, communicating the much feared ‘what planet are you on?’, you will receive encouraging nods, and people breaking out into their own discussions about ‘your book’.

The feedback I received in my ‘one-to-one’ with my chosen agent of the day, was invaluable. What surprised me most was the questions from other writers and participants. Questions about characters, questions about what inspired the novel and so on.

In short, I came away from the day thinking, ‘you know what, I might have something here. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I know where the work needs to be done.’ Putting myself up for scrutiny like that provided fresh momentum, new motivation, clearer direction and a belief that my destiny didn’t lie in the lap of Jeremy Kyle while my writing languished in a bottom drawer somewhere.

So if you’re struggling with confidence or clarity, I really recommend putting yourself out there. Start with whatever group you feel most comfortable with. Nowadays local libraries run excellent writer’s groups who will provide you with a forum to read your work out loud. That alone is an invaluable experience.

Of course, for my part, the icing on the cake from my adventures in London was making the acquaintance of like-minded people who were really great fun to be around. We made a pact to email each other from time to time and offer support when moments of doubt come knocking. Nobody was interested in pinching my story idea because they all have fantastic stories of their own to tell. So yes, writing a novel is a solitary experience, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one.

Live. Love. Laugh. Create.

Live. Love. Laugh. Create.

eviemcrae.blogAs a professional writer with a significant number of years under my belt in the publishing and corporate world, the decision to branch into longer prose was an emotionally challenging one. After all, my childhood dream was to write a book. My teenage dream and my early 20s dream was, yes you’ve guessed it, to write a book. Somehow life got in the way and I found myself starting many novels only to get to around 30 pages and run out of time, momentum or worse still, the story would dry up. Each time I started a new project thinking this time would be different. I had countless stories waiting to be told but for whatever reason I just couldn’t get them beyond a certain point. So what was different this time?

A few years ago my mother died. My mother was too young to die – she was only 60. What hurt us all about her death apart from the obvious pain of separation from someone we loved, was the sheer loss of potential. She was a truly gifted artist. She could paint, draw and use inks and charcoals as if they were an extension to her small nibble fingers. 

My mother was one of those mothers who made the halloween costume from scratch and I would win first prize every year dressed in one of her creations. Unfortunately, much to my own daughter’s disappointment, it was not a gift I inherited. There was always a feeling our mother could have done so much more with her gifts and talents if she had wanted to.

As her retirement age approached she busied herself creating wonderful inks and drawings of Inchcolm, the island on which she lived with my father for a few months of the year as they carried out their roles for Historic Scotland.

Towards the end of her battle with cancer, the one thing she battled with, within herself, was the fact that she was less and less able to hold a pencil or paintbrush and it was inevitable that she lost more of herself when she could no longer ‘create’ than what she lost physically to this eroding disease.

As time passed, we her children were able to look through her many notepads and canvases. I realised that it did not matter that she hadn’t set up an exhibition of her work, or that she had never taken money for commissions. She did it for love and she did it in answer to her own callings inside. I realised the most important thing was just the ability and drive to create something beautiful from nothing.

Not long after my mother died, I met an amazing man who listened to my childhood dreams and pushed me gently in the direction that I had become fearful to travel. I didn’t realise how fearful I had become until I started making the standard excuses – too busy, too tired, not in the zone. I found myself constantly hiding behind my ‘real writing work’. The reality was I was successful in my career, but what if I was unsuccessful as a novelist. A lifelong cherished dream would be shattered. He put it quite simply to me. “What are your priorities? Do you want to do this or not?” The answer leapt into my mind as a fervent ‘YES’ and I knew that I had to do it this time.

So here I am, nearing 100,000 words on my first book. Will it be a success? Does it matter? Of course a small part of me is saying yes of course it matters, I have so much to share. However, the most important thing I have learned, apart from the fact dedication, discipline and commitment are what makes our dreams come true (and boy do you need lots of discipline), is that you just need to create, to write words every single day. It doesn’t matter if the words are not so great every day, you can always edit, pull it apart and put it together again. Just create. Put something into the world that wasn’t there yesterday. That’s the true secret to living a creative life.

 

How do I know which genre is the right fit?

How do I know which genre is the right fit?

eviemcrae.comIn my previous post, I wrote about how liberating it can be to identify the genre of your book. If you have found yourself in a position where you just don’t know what genre your novel fits into, you’ve come to the right place.

First of all you’re not alone. It’s an issue that many writers struggle with. It’s not that writers don’t know about ‘genre’ as such, though with the huge proliferation of sub-genres emerging it is fast becoming a moving target. The main issue faced by writers, myself included, is they feel their writing could fit into a number of genres. It’s hard not to feel you are missing out on a potential audience if you pigeon-hole yourself.

In terms of advice, I would say make sure you are familiar with what is out there. Take yourself out, notebook in hand, and visit your local bookstore or library. Here you will see quite literally how books are classified and sold.

For example:

  • Action/Adventure — stories including epic journeys, lots of conflict, high stakes, some violence.
  • Erotica — stories of sexual exploration.
  • Fantasy — stories usually involving magic, other worlds, mythological/mystical figures.
  • Horror — stories that invoke fear.
  • Literary Fiction — stories with a focus on the quality of the prose over the narrative arc.
  • Mystery — stories that involve solving a crime, usually a murder.
  • Thriller/Suspense — stories of high tension that can involve either action or mystery.
  • Romance — stories about love/intimacy.
  • Sci-fi — stories usually involving technology, aliens, science-related alternative worlds.
  • Westerns — stories taking place in America’s “Old West,” often with focus on justice.
  • Women’s fiction — stories about women experiencing emotional growth. The primary emotion here is hope.

Of course the above list appears to take a simplistic approach, but as you start delving into what defines each genre, you’ll see this is a useful starting point. Let’s take historical fiction as an example. Historical fiction is one of those areas that stirs up much controversy.

Essentially historical fiction is, surprise surprise, fiction set in the past. The question is, how far back in the past do you have to go to make it ‘historical’? Last week? Last year? Ten years ago? Fifty? Everyone – writers and authors included – has their own idea of what is historical to them.

For consistency it’s worth noting that a historical novel is set fifty years or more in the past and one in which the writer has had to base writings on ‘research’ (ie, not life experience – so autobiographical novels would not fit into a historical novel genre). Each classification or genre has it’s own set of rules, so make sure you research each genre to see what the rules are.

For all those who, like myself, feel their writing could fit into various genres you can break this approach down further.

Take this made up example: MacIndoe and the Maastricht Project

Mike MacIndoe is a detective solving cold cases of missing people. He tackles cases that usually involve adventures of epic proportions (giving the novels an action/adventure feel).

However, MacIndoe is a psychic wizard!

So here we have novels that would certainly satisfy readers with a thirst for adventure – but they would also have to be open to tales of fantasy. If you were the writer of such a novel you would have to think of your audience and what they would identify with most. Having drawn them into a world of fantasy and adventure, you would have to consider Urban Fantasy as a possible fit in terms of genre rather than action/adventure.

The subject of genre is crucial if you want to write a query letter and pitch your work to an agent or publisher. If you are self publishing genre can be more flexible due to the vast array of sub genres.

When writing a query letter you need to prove to your agent/publisher that you understand the market, your target audience and where your book would be most likely sell. The best advice I can give here is to think about the readership. Who is most likely to seek out books on psychic wizards taking on adventure?

There is no exact science when it comes to genre, but if you have studied the fundamentals, you will certainly be further along the road to writing a book that sells.

Benefits of knowing your genre

Benefits of knowing your genre

eviemcrae.comOf all the issues I struggled with in the early days of writing my novel (some of which I’ll explore in later posts), the most challenging for me was genre.

As with all writers who have a spark of an idea, I knew the rough story outline. However, there were so many elements in that story that I had the dawning realisation I would have to decide. It simply wouldn’t cut it to say well it’s a bit of this and a bit of that, with a dash of this and the other thrown in.

Of course many people will say to you – just write the book and then see where it fits in. By choosing to stay open to writing in any genre you are free to pursue any idea that grabs you. That’s great if your books are written in a constant stream of higher consciousness as I had once naively dreamt. Sorry to burst your bubble but writing a novel means large intakes of breathe every now and then. You need to plot, plan and assess your work to ensure it is staying on track, resulting in a process that’s so much longer than writing poetry from the heart or an inspired moment in time.

The topic of genre becomes crucial if you intend to market your book to a wider audience. In short, genre is about marketability. As someone who has written for corporates in marketing, I’m all too aware of the importance of marketability. If you don’t market your goods, products, services, or novel, to your target audience, well quite simply you don’t have a target audience that knows where to find you.

Identifying genre can actually help you in your writing process as I found out when I attended a recent workshop with Bloomsbury Press. I had developed my pitch based on a ‘genre-crossing’ novel. Of course I thought I had cleverly masked the fact I wasn’t sure whether my novel would fit onto a historical category or a philosophical category. It did both in my mind, but that wasn’t enough.

The feedback I received was invaluable. I could still have all the elements I wanted included in my novel, but the ‘cross-genre’ idea just wouldn’t fly with this particular publisher. After discussing the storyline it became clear that what I had been working on was indeed historical fiction. To take you back to my first point, this decision was based on not only content, but ‘marketability’. I have to say the sense of relief to finally nail my genre led me to the realisation that knowing your genre has it’s benefits.

  • Constraints breed creativity. Sometimes having some rules to write by actually makes you more creative. When you can write about anything it can be difficult to know where to start and often you find your story taking you off on a tangent.
  • You look more professional. It’s important for agents and publishers to see that you understand genre and the need to build a platform. If you have a clearer vision of where your title fits in they will view this positively and they will have confidence in your willingness to market yourself.
  • You become known as an expert. The more you write in one genre the more people see you as an authority in that area.
  • It’s one less choice to make. This benefit I cannot stress enough. It was as if someone had literally taken the fog and indecision from my mind. As a writer building a career your life is filled with endless choices. Now you have one less!