In the lead up to the launch of Serenity Press’s upcoming Writing the Dream anthology (available for pre-order here), I’ll be sharing guest posts from some of the contributors. Deborah Disney, author of the satirical Up and In, is the first in this series. She’s sharing the extended version of her 5 Writing Tips (the short version appears in the anthology).
Deborah grew up in the regional city of Toowoomba and now lives in Brisbane with her husband and two school-aged daughters. Deborah practised as a solicitor for a number of years prior to having children, choosing to specialise in litigation law as that seemed like the best preparation for what is now her looming battle – mothering her daughters through the teenage years. Up and In, Deborah’s first novel, is a satirical look at the interactions of school and sporting mums. Buy it from HarperCollins, Amazon, and Booktopia.
- Even if you are a plotter rather than a pantser* don’t be too rigid with your storyline. Part of the magic of storytelling is that sometimes the story starts to go in a direction that you didn’t necessarily start off thinking it would. Sometimes a thread of plot that you initially considered to be inconsequential will become vitally important. It is really important when that happens, that you are able to objectively consider whether deviating from your outline is to the story’s benefit or detriment.
- It is of course crucial for character credibility that characters behave consistently. Sometimes their consistency is that they are inconsistent – ie that they behave unpredictably, and that’s fine, but their very unpredictability ought to be consistent with who they are. To achieve this, I start off with a separate document for character descriptions. In that document, I list all of my main characters and under each one I describe their particular character traits, quirks, sayings they use, motivations and anything I can think of that is suggestive of what type of person they are. This document does tend to be a fluid document – I add to it as I go along and think more about what they are really like. This document is so important to me for writing believable, authentic characters, and I have had many readers comment on my characterisation, so it seems to work!
- Another document I use, regularly update through the writing process and refer to all the time is my ‘scenes’ document. This is where I record notes and ideas, and sometimes even whole passages of manuscript. Sometimes if I am not sure where-to next with the story, my scenes document comes to the rescue. I can look through it and something will jump out at me as being a scene I can use at that point. It is also a wonderful dumping ground for fresh ideas that can distract you from your flow. As much as a fabulous idea for a scene might try to get between you and where you currently sit with your story, if you go off to your scenes document and record it all there, your mind is then free to go back to what you were writing before.
- Although it is imperative to have someone else’s eyes going through your work looking for typos, spelling mistakes and grammar issues, if you can give yourself some space from your writing, you will be able to pick up a lot of these yourself. Giving yourself time to proofread your own work numerous times will mean that your copyeditor is free to concentrate on bigger stuff than changing it’s to its – and that means you will end up with a better book!
- Keeping your eye on the prize is important. A quick Google search of the sort of money that authors make on average will highlight that there is not much point writing a novel to make money. You will quickly find that the hourly rate of most authors only looks good in rupees. So what are you doing it for then? Fame? That is about as elusive as the money, so again – not the best motivation. What your writing needs is the conviction that you are saying something important. Something worthwhile. Or perhaps the idea of entertaining people and making them laugh is important to you. Perhaps making people cry is more your thing. Whatever it is, work it out. Why am I doing this? You need to ask that of yourself. Fill in the end of this sentence: ‘When people finish reading my book, I want them to think/feel/know …’ Fill in the dots for yourself, write it out in big letters and stick it up somewhere that you will see it often when you are in writing mode. That is keeping your eye on the prize, and will result in your best, most heartfelt work. When a reviewer says something in a review that sounds something like your own eye-on-the-prize sentence, then you will know you have succeeded.
Finally, good luck! X
*I think this term refers to someone who writes ‘by the seat of their pants’, but whatever its origin, it means a writer who doesn’t start out with an outline of the plot, and just makes it up as they go along. I wrote my first book mainly as a pantser. For my second I have become more of a plotter.