So you didn’t make it to the Melbourne Emerging Writers Festival (EWF), huh? Well, fear not! [It’s still on, by the way.] I have my messy hand-written notes all typed up and ready for your perusal.
First up …
Damon Young, Ph.D., author of Distraction; opinion, feature, and review writer for the biggest newspapers and magazines in Australia; poet; and radio personality had this to say:
- Introduce familiar characters/archetypes
What’s an archetype?
“a universally understood symbol, term, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated. — Wikipedia”
This description perfectly shows us writers how to familiarise our readers ASAP.
An example: when was the last time you connected with the busy mother character, fumbling with six bags of groceries as she tries to heave them inside her front door? How about the sweaty, trembling teenage boy who’s waiting inside his new date’s kitchen, with her six foot, five inch father by his side?
These are familiar types of activities and familiar types of people. We don’t connect with alien subjects and concepts. In fact, even a green alien from another planet should have familiar qualities. Perhaps he’s self-conscious because he looks different to all the people on this planet called “Earth”.
- No jargon
This is especially fantastic advice for genre writers. Cue Fantasy or SciFi writers anyone?
Jargon can be a problem in fiction as well as non-fiction. When you load your manuscript with concepts that you’ve spent years getting to know until they’re as familiar as your right hand, you may be blind to your confusing, complex language.
This is the best time to ask a romance writer to beta read your work. It’ll do wonders for ironing out problems you never thought of. Trust me.
- Remember readers are strangers from another world; settle them in.
This involves a common mistake: if you start with dialogue make sure you have enough narrative or context in the conversation to let the readers know where they are and what’s going on.
Anita Sethi, award-winning journalist, writer for the Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Independent, and BBC, among others; international speaker, and author in anthologies, had this to say:
- There are only seven stories in history and these have been re-written over and over. They are:– overcoming the monster;
— rags to riches;
— the quest;
— voyage and return;
— tragedy; and
Surprised? Well apparently Christopher Booker talks about this in his famous book for writers, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. I haven’t read it — yet. It sounds like I should have years ago.
Still, I’ve heard this theory before and I totally believe in it. I know we’d like to think we’re original creative beasts, churning out literary masterpieces, but I think we’re more like copycat thieves learning from the best and doing it better. :D
What does signposting mean?
At the beginning of a chapter, clue your reader to what happened before and what will happen. The likely direction you’ll be going.
In dialogue remember to remind them of the setting. Perhaps it might be a literal sign or post that indicates to the reader the man and woman are chatting at an intersection (they’re not in a black void chatting away and the world doesn’t exist).
- [an obvious one] You need a memorable opening sentence.
You’re judged by your first sentence. If you pass, the reader will allow you to have another go. Your second sentence. This happens for a while — heck, I really do this — until they can trust you. Basically for your first several sentences you cannot stuff up.
Fiona Harris, who has written for programs such as Spicks & Specks and Skithouse; and appeared on TV shows such as Beaconsfield, Offspring, Rove Live, Neighbours and Blue Heelers, had this to say:
- How can I structure this story best?
- Draw up character profiles.
You may not use 90% of what you write, but it’ll help you flesh out your main characters as if they were real people. What are their quirks? Insecurities? Secret/s? (she says each character must have one secret.) etc …
Getting to know your character to this depth helps you know them before you begin writing a manuscript. When you do write, they’ll be unique and realistic. Much less cardboardy.
- Use colour cards to write scenes and then swap them around to alter structure. Use different colours per character. Which characters appear too little? Too much? Where are the plot holes?
My bet is this would take me a day, or maybe a week. But I certainly wouldn’t be re-writing for years, clawing my way through a blind hole (re-drafting without direction) and never getting to the light (the finished, polished manuscript).
- Introduce conflict as early as possible.
- Set up the world as early as possible.
- Don’t climax the story too soon.
I read this often in self-published books. I read and think omigod this sounds a lot like a climax but wait it can’t be happening this soon but why am I reading on and on and why hasn’t this story finished yet and omigod I give up and I don’t care and I’m putting down this story NOW.
- Unreliable characters (use them to your own devices)
- Balance exposition, narrative, dialogue.
THAT’S ALL FOR NOW FOLKS!
But — wait! Yes, there’s more to come! I have personal questions I asked a traditionally published author from a small chat session and future publishing trends and tips from editors and publishers.
You can’t afford to miss what’s coming up.
[What’s that? You might like to FOLLOW Novel Girl‘s blog to stay updated? Great idea! You’re here to get help on being published after all. Wouldn’t want to miss upcoming trends and tips from the people who publish stories!]
Do you already do these things in your fiction? Do you disagree?