Hi! Welcome to Ann Evans' blogspot.

Relax, grab a coffee and sit down for a read. As a writer of a wide variety of genres, my blog posts will reflect this - hope you enjoy. Oh yes, and my Sunday posts will be full of writing tips which I hope you will find useful.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Structure your stories

To create anything, you need structure. This applies to anything - a garden shed, a cake or a piece of writing. Structure begins with a solid foundation. Added to this comes a sturdy framework on which everything pins. Finally comes the decorating, making it a wonderful piece of work and your very own. Without structure things will collapse. 

Your solid foundations when writing include your personal skills as a writer – everything you’ve learned so far. You never stop learning. As writers we know that a story needs characters, a setting, it needs believable dialogue which is there for a purpose, we know not to pad with superfluous words, we understand viewpoint, we know how to set a story out, and how to punctuate correctly particularly around dialogue. We know a story needs conflict. We know not to be satisfied with the first draft. Once these things are second nature to you, then you have solid foundations on which to build, it leaves your mind free to be more creative.

The framework of your story includes (in no particular order):
·       Characters, setting, viewpoint, plot, conflict, dialogue, narrative, tense, theme, editing, presentation. All these aspects are the building blocks of your story. Some of these we will look at closer in a moment.
This is your personal style and flair, your descriptions, the depth of the emotion woven into the story, the depth of emotional reaction between characters, the depth of emotional response you get from readers. Can your writing make them laugh or cry?  The decoration is how you describe the setting and characters, it’s how you build the tension and create the mood and atmosphere for each scene. The decoration is your twists and turns in the plot.

You don’t need to know exactly where your story is going, nor do you need to know how it’s going to end. Don’t be afraid to plot, you’re not writing in stone, it’s merely a guide. You can use the 3 Act Structure, which is basically the Beginning, the Middle and the End.

The Beginning. Here you introduce the main characters, establish the setting – time and place, and let the reader see there’s some sort of conflict arising. If you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a story.

The Middle. The development of the story, the development of relationships, more difficulties, more obstacles hindering the protagonist. Here’s where you weave in sub plots and story threads. You can make the story as straight forward, or as complex as you want.  Here’s where tensions increase, rising constantly towards the climax of the story – the blackest moment of the story, where it looks like your protagonist will fail in their endeavours.

The Ending. Your loose ends and sub plots should all have been tied up. At the climax of the story allow the protagonist to overcome their problems through an action of their own. Ie. Don’t send in the cavalry! This ending is where all the strands of the plot come together, matters are explained and resolved. Once all that is done, finish. Don’t drag your story on longer than needed.

Characters need structure too. They need: appearance, personality, a background, family/friends, relationships, fears and weaknesses, beliefs, opinions etc. Take time in developing your characters if only in your mind. And for this story give them something important to strive towards. The difficulties they are facing in your story are crucial to that character.

Don’t be vague or ambiguous about the setting. Bring it alive in the reader’s mind. Describe each location using the sights, sounds and smells of a place. Be specific about time and place.

  • Make your opening really grab the reader.
  • Introduce your protagonist in such a way that the reader will instantly be interested in him/her.
  • Create a setting that conjures up a picture in the reader’s mind. And make it an intriguing picture.
  • As your story progresses, let it be full of high and low spots, rising tension and calmer scenes. Contrast light and shade.
  • Balance the ratio of narrative and dialogue so it’s a comfortable read, i.e. no long boring passages! Don’t have pages of dialogue without interaction from characters.
  • Keep the tension rising, create unexpected twists and turns. At the climax, let it appear that the protagonist is about to fail. Let them succeed or fail through their own actions and choices.
  • Make sure the protagonist has learned something along the way.
  • When the story has concluded, end it as quickly as you can – don’t let it drag on.
  • The ending is hugely important, because the lasting impression you leave on the reader will impact upon the way they regard your story or book, and you as the writer.

Conflict can be external or internal – or both. So, the protagonist is facing problems beyond their control (external conflict); or their own inner fears, phobias and beliefs (internal conflict). One can trigger off the other for an even more emotional journey. Let each problem be worse than the last, so the tension is continually rising.

If you’re having more than one viewpoint character, structure the scene/chapter/viewpoint changes carefully. Do so to add more drama and suspense to your story.  Never ‘head hop’.

Without structure, things will unravel and fall apart. However, we all know that once we get an idea for a story, we jump right in and start writing. See where it will go. See where it takes us. This generally works fine – for a time. Then you find you’ve written yourself into a blind alley. Or things aren’t believable or logical. Or you can’t remember certain points about certain characters. Or your main character is coming across as weak, or his problems are solved too quickly – and who cares anyway? Maybe you’re getting bored through lack of action or emotion. When your story starts to fall apart, then you’ll probably find the fault lies in its structure – or lack of it.

Happy writing everyone.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Fictional stories need conflict

Conflict is not all about battles and arguments
Without conflict your story is flat and aimless. How your character deals with the obstacles and problems dealt him or her is what keeps the reader reading. 

Even the gentlest of stories needs conflict. Think of a toddler's picture book. It will have a conflict suitable for that age group – perhaps a lost teddy bear or a child afraid of the dark. It might seem inconsequential, but to a three-year-old, it’s an exciting story.   

Conflict is all about the character’s problems, insecurities, worries, and anxieties. How your character faces and deals with those obstacles is what makes your story an absorbing read.

However, conflict is not all about action, battles, arguments and fights. There is internal conflict and external conflict. Internal conflict is your character battling with their own emotions, beliefs and anxieties. They could be struggling with their own fears and phobias; or their feelings of guilt or loyalty; or the conflict is brought about by feelings of love, lust or hate for another character – or emotional turmoil in a multitude of other ways.

External conflict is difficulties arising from actual obstacles, from things happening to your character which are beyond their control. This might be anything from your protagonist breaking the heel of her shoe on the way to an important meeting, to a character trying to escape from a prisoner of war camp. However, I would add that even in the most action-packed stories where your character is facing all kinds of physical problems, unless you also show their inner emotions, the story will fall flat.

Keep your story moving forward and the tension rising by piling on the conflict. Give your character mounting challenges to overcome, remembering all the while to let the reader know how they are feeling deep inside – which of course, may be in complete contrast to outer appearances.

Stories can’t be continual mounting pressure on the protagonist, you need to pace your story with high and low spots, ie scenes of calm before the next storm. But whatever life throws at your characters, let the problems rise in intensity as the story progresses. As you near the climax of your story towards the end, your character's problems should seem insurmountable, your protagonist will seem doomed to failure.

You might find it best to tie up all your loose ends before the climax, so you can write the climax scenes without other distractions, and without having an anti-climax after the main conclusion as you’re forced to tie up loose ends then. Of course, you might choose to hold back on one loose end or sub plot, so as to provide an additional feel good moment at the very end.

With the climax of the story, achieving their goal should come through the protagonist’s own efforts, rather than the arrival of the cavalry!  Let your main character succeed or fail through their own decisions and actions. Make the ending unexpected but also believable and plausible. Never cheat the reader with an unbelievable ending.

We all love a happy ending, but if you choose not to have a happy ending, you might want to have a little ray of hope there, or maybe the main character has learned something along the way. The important thing is to leave the reader satisfied. The last thing you want is to leave the reader feeling dissatisfied by the outcome. You want them to come back and read your next story, don’t you?

I find it easier to write scenes where it’s all going horribly wrong, rather than the happy scenes. How about you? Do you like putting your characters through untold misery?  

Sunday, 10 March 2019

The basics of good writing

Whatever you are writing, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, a novel, a short story, an article or any other piece of written work, there are some basic ‘rules’ that always apply. At least, if you intend to get published.

Here’s my list. Can you think of any other points that need remembering when writing?

·         There's only one way to create a good writing style and that is to write regularly. Write every day, even if only for a few minutes. This old cliché is actually a good one – practice makes perfect.

·         Don’t rush through your story desperate to reach the end. Take your time and write every scene with detail and care.

·         Be correct with your facts. Double check everything. If you submit work to an editor containing incorrect information that editor will not look favourably on anything else that you submit.

·         Avoid clichés. Even though I’ve broken my own rule above. Also, use adverbs sparingly, particularly when attached to speech attributions e.g. he said merrily. They can make your work seem amateurish.

·         Make every word count. Don't waffle and don't pad out unnecessarily. Look at your sentence structure. Could it be written more succinctly?

·         Ensure spelling and punctuation are correct. Be especially aware of punctuation around dialogue. If you aren’t sure, copy word for word a published extract of dialogue. You will soon see the pattern.

·        Avoid exclamation marks unless they are in dialogue. An exclamation mark is a kind of indicator telling the reader that they should be surprised at this. It doesn’t work within narrative, as it would smack of ‘author talking’. Fine in dialogue – used occasionally.

·         Watch for repetitions of individual words and phrases. It’s so easy to get into a habit of saying things in a certain way. In the end you barely notice the repetition. However, an editor will.

·         Don’t become so self-critical that you can’t move forward. Have faith in your written words, and remember, the more you write, the better you will become.

·         Don't write in stone. Be aware that your first draft is just that. Your work will improve with editing and polishing.

·         Never be satisfied with your first draft, polish until it shines.

·         Present your work as perfectly as you can. Writing for publication is a professional business, so be professional with your approach and your presentation.

·         Unless otherwise stated, your manuscript should be typed, double spaced on one side of A4 paper or on an A4 document, with good margins all around and pages numbered. Some publications will want the title, your name and page number in the header. Check individual guidelines.

·         Include a brief covering letter or email with your submission saying what you are sending, and any brief relevant information about yourself.

·         Include a title page, giving the title of your work, word count, your name, address, email and telephone number.

·         Read your work aloud. Listen for anything that doesn’t sound smooth. It may just need a slight tweak to make perfect.

Are there any golden rules that you abide by?

Sunday, 3 March 2019

First drafts

Ellie de Lacy's miniature books. Pic Rob Tysall.
We all want our written work to be word perfect, but that comes with re-writing, honing, polishing and editing. Some writers like to get every sentence perfected before moving on to the next, others just rattle away getting their thoughts down to work on them later.

There’s no right or wrong method. Whatever works best for you. Also, you might vary your methods depending on what you’re writing.

It’s worth knowing that sometimes it’s not until you get well into your story or novel that you realise what it is you’ve been trying to say. And if you've been spending months labouring over getting early chapters word perfect, you may realise that much of this will have to be changed, deleted, added to, or moved elsewhere. So, all that time trying to make it word perfect has been wasted.

Additionally, if you’ve sweated blood over every word and sentence, you might be a bit precious about what you've written and be reluctant to change it, even when you know you need to. So, remind yourself that the first draft is for your eyes only.

It's hard to write perfect prose straight off. Far easier to rattle out the story, skipping through the areas you don't yet know, or still have to research. Don't let gaps in your knowledge delay your writing and hold you up. It doesn't matter if your entire manuscript is littered with reminders to yourself to 'find out'. The important thing is to get your story written - and then perfect it.

Saying that, we all work differently. Some writers plan meticulously, others write ‘by the seat of their pants’. You might do a bit of both – which tends to be how I write. Very often, once I’ve had an idea for a story, I have to start writing it. Thousands of ‘first draft’ words may get written before I realise I actually need to plan. The story may be becoming more complex, characters need stronger back stories, maybe the storyline is wavering or losing focus.

If this happens to you, then a bullet point plot may be a good idea. You could even envisage how the ending might be and work backwards. The thing with plotting, whether you plot before you make a start, or halfway through writing, nothing is written in stone. You can change whatever you like, whenever you like.

You're not writing in stone.

 Writers plot and plan in all different ways, here’s a few ideas, you may have a totally different method.
·         Bullet point lists
·         A numbered list, say 1-50, then slot in major scenes roughly where they should come in the great scheme of things.
·         A chart, digital or on paper, using colours to indicate the rising and falling of drama or emotion.
·         A chart showing how different character’s stories are entwining.
·         Post-it notes – nice and easy to move around.
·         Write a detailed synopsis for your eyes only. (An edited version might come in handy for when you’re submitting the finished book to a publisher!)
·         A list of characters showing their appearance, personality, background etc.
·         A timeline – useful whether you’re writing a saga covering years, or just a fleeting moment. (Hint and a bit of a spoiler – read the classic Pincher Martin by William Golding)

Reasons to plot and plan
·         I’m sure even writers who say they never plot, actually do, even if only in their head.
·         Don’t be afraid to plot and plan – you can change things as you go. It’s not written in stone.
·         Plotting can help you avoid writers block.
·         Planning helps you to avoid writing yourself into a dead end.
·         Plotting can show you the whole arc of your story.
·         By planning you can see the high and low spots of a story.
·         Plotting will show if the drama is continually rising.
·         Plotting and planning helps you get the pace of the story how you want it.
·         Plotting and planning helps you identify likely problems.

Plotter or a planner, that first draft has to get written. Someone once said: "You can't edit a blank page." So what are you - plotter or pantza?

Happy writing, more writing tips next Sunday. 

Sunday, 24 February 2019

In search of inspiration

Inspired by a crushed coke can
Inspiration strikes when we least expect it, and usually at the most inopportune moment. It rarely happens when we sit down at our PCs to do some writing. But when it does strike, make sure you note down those ideas and flashes of brilliance, because they have a nasty habit of disappearing.

The idea for my reluctant reader book, Nightmare was inspired by a crushed pop can reflected back through my car windscreen one night. It looked like a grotesque face, and when I said to my passenger:
"Can you see a horrible face in my windscreen?" 
He answered, "It's just the reflection of my coke can. Want me to move it?"
"No," I said. "It's given me a great idea for a story!"

Inspiration can be as silly as that!

If you store ideas away, when you are sitting down, raring to get writing, you'll have something ready and waiting for you to make a start on. 

As you'll know, before you can write anything, you need at least the spark of an idea. Fortunately, ideas and sources of inspiration are all around us:
  • Places we visit
  • Our workplace
  • Holidays
  • Buildings
  • Events throughout history
  • Photographs
  • TV and newspapers
  • Dreams and nightmares
  • People we see or meet
  • Themes and emotions
  • Objects
  • The scent of something
  • A song
  • An overheard remark
  • Art and antiques

The list goes on. The tiniest little incident, sound, smell or thought can spark an idea for a story. The trick is to catch hold of that spark and hold onto it until you can develop it into something more substantial. Often, an idea needs to germinate in your mind before you know what you want to do with it. This mulling over process can take weeks, months, even years. I'm not however, suggesting you spend years thinking about something before starting to write!

From my own experience, the tiniest little things have led to books, short stories and articles:

My brother buying an abandoned canal boat inspired Fishing for Clues. Driving past open-curtained windows at night inspired me to write Pushing his Luck. A music concert led to Stealing the Show. A holiday in the Isle of Wight prompted Disaster Bay. A passer-by inspired short story, The Magic of Christmas. A newspaper headline inspired The Uninvited. A church gave me the idea for Celeste. A crumpled tin can, a pendant; a visit to a museum; a derelict house; a newspaper delivery boy; a cobweb strewn window – they have all resulted in stories, books and articles, and the list goes on.

A newspaper headline inspired this YA book

Store your ideas away safely
Ideas can flit in and out of your head all day long, so be sure to have some method of storing them safely so they can’t escape! Maybe a notebook, or a box, or a folder on your PC, what about a noticeboard? Or you could store images online on Pinterest. How do you hold onto your ideas?

Don't let your ideas escape!

Developing that spark
It only takes a spark of an idea to inspire you to write. But a spark is not a story, so how do you expand a spark into a fully-fledged story or book?

Stories hinge around characters. So, start to think what sort of characters would fit into this vague scenario you're gradually creating. Think about the setting – where is this to take place? Remember that stories need conflict, so your main character needs to be struggling with something. Without conflict you don’t have a story. Give that main character an aim or a goal, and make sure there are lots of pressures to stop them from achieving it.

There will be more tips on creating characters, conflict and plotting in future weeks, so keep popping over to my blog. And I'd love to hear what weird and wonderful things have inspired you to write. 

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Ann's Writing Tips: Getting organised

The difference between a writer and someone who just wants to be a writer, is that one procrastinates, coming up with excuses for not doing any writing, and the other simply gets on with it, and writes.

We all lead such busy lives that it's easy to feel guilty about wanting to sit down and indulge in our passion for writing. There’s so much that we should be doing, that writing ends up being bottom of our list of priorities. So, now is the time to get organised.

Get organised

Analyse your days, take note of what spare time you actually have free, even if it's just a few minutes. For example, do you find yourself sitting waiting for other family members at dancing/swimming/football practice/school? If so, have a notebook and pen with you. 

Go to bed an hour later or an hour earlier than usual and use that time to write.

If you travel to work by bus or train, spend the journey writing. Don’t miss your stop though, as time flies when you are writing.

Get into the habit of free writing – anything, your thoughts, the weather, what you’re going to have for dinner. The simple practice of writing will get your creative juices flowing. These bits of writing are throwaway pieces, for your eyes only.

Never be without a notebook

Don't sit waiting for inspiration. Plan what you intend to write as you’re going about other everyday tasks, so when you sit down to write you’re off to a flying start.

Organise your family so they know you need time to write.

Organise your writing times and stick to them. Write every day, even if only for a short while.

Place pens and notebooks around the house, car, greenhouse, handbag, pocket etc., so you can jot ideas down as they occur. If you don't, they will certainly disappear.

Don't sit staring at a blank PC screen or page, write random throwaway sentences and gradually you’ll be writing words that are worth keeping. Free write – you can perfect and revise later.

Find time to read – not just for enjoyment, but to study how other writers achieve results. Also read as many writing ‘how to’ books and magazines as possible. Writing is a craft where you never stop learning.

Stock up on ‘tools of the trade’. Notebooks and pens – always have these to hand. Keep an ideas book, an ideas box, a log book, scrap book, dictionary, folders and stationery. Invest in a copy of The Writers & Artists’ Yearbook.

My current log book

Do your market research. Know what opportunities are out there. Analyse the magazines and publishers you’d like to try for. Know what they want, understand their readership. Read their submission guidelines.

Keep your eyes peeled for writing competitions.

Join a local writing group or class.

Remember - There's only one way to become a writer – and that's to write! Don't procrastinate!

My book, Become a Writer is currently being updated and will be available soon.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

W.H.Smiths here we come!

Since our supernatural thriller, The Bitter End, was published by Bloodhound Books last summer, co-author, Rob Tysall and I have had a busy time promoting it.

Firstly, a book signing in Hunts Book Shop in Rugby, which is Rob's home town. Hunts are a fabulous independent bookshop and couldn't have been more helpful to us.  The Saturday morning was particularly enjoyable for Rob as a number of his family popped in as well as old friends - one Rugby lady who he hadn't seen for 30 years! Obviously somebody from primary school!

We then had another signing at Kenilworth Books. Again a great independent bookshop who, like Hunts put on lots of author events. It's just fantastic to get bookshops such as these really helping and encouraging local authors.

Our signing at Kenilworth Books was an evening event which included a talk to a sit-down audience about how we collaborated on the book with questions and answers as well as signings. There was wine and nibbles and an enjoyable evening was had by all.

We were thrilled when local BBC Coventry & Warks Radio presenter, Vic Minett chose our book as her 'Book of the Week' and invited us into the studio to talk live about it, and our collaboration. We've both been on the Brody Bunch also on BBC Cov & Warks Radio a number of times, and we were also delighted to be interviewed by Neil Wilkes for Touch FM radio.

Our next event is a book signing at W H Smiths, Queens Road, Nuneaton. This takes place Saturday 23rd February from 11am-1pm. We are delighted that W H Smiths are giving authors - not just the big names, but local authors, the opportunity to come and sign their books. The staff have been so friendly and helpful in getting this organised, and we're looking forward to the event tremendously.

But prior to these events, we had our own launch when the book first came out, with a few friends at a local pub. it was great fun - but I couldn't resist giving Rob the chop!

The Bitter End is available at all good book outlets and Amazon in Kindle and paperback. Ask your local Waterstones, W.H.Smiths or independent bookshop and no doubt they will order it in for you, if it's not on their shelves already. Or contact me for a signed copy in the post.

There's a full list of my books at the very bottom of this blog. Or visit: http://www.annevansbooks.co.uk

Discover more about The Bitter End here: http://thebitterend.org.uk/

Buy from Amazon: