29 February 2012

Free Footprints

Footprints (a set of four short stories) is free on Amazon at the moment - Tuesday and Wednesday 28/29 February, the free offer finishes 11.59pm Pacific Standard time 29 February.

27 February 2012

How to Annoy Your Readers

Last year, while I was in the UK, I heard a lot about a programme called Downton Abbey, although I didn't see it while I was there.  I've finally got around to watching some episodes on DVD, and so I was interested when I came across a review in The Huffington Post.  While the review is generally about the programme, Maureen Ryan makes some excellent points that apply equally to writing in general, and especially to the topic of plot, and mistakes to avoid.  

One of the main points that resonated with me was this: If a storyline can be removed entirely and it doesn't matter as it has no real effect on the characters, it's not a good story.' Following on from this were comments on silly storylines. I think here the two points are closely connected. The storylines were silly, or could be removed without effect, because they weren't fully explored.  We have two options for dealing with this: get rid of the storyline, or develop it so that it does become important.

The first draft is for getting our story written, not perfectly, but to give us the raw materials to craft into something much better. The first draft is where we are allowed the silly storylines that don't lead anywhere, or don't impact on the characters. Finding them is the first step. We then need to decide whether they should be developed into something that has a effect on the characters, or be deleted.

Something else to look for are plotlines that are concluded so fast they strain the reader's suspension of disbelief. Again this is fine for a first draft, but shouldn't remain that way.

Maureen Ryan also says. 'The point of the stories should be making the audience (reader) care about the people in the house (in your book). The point of every plot should be to shed light on who they are, what they want, why they want it and what compromises they'll have to make to get it.'

About halfway through the article (the paragraphs in italics) Maureen Ryan issues a plea to the creators of television (writers!) and these are good points for all of us to keep in mind.

Readers care about the characters - so don't mess them up for the sake of plot, have them act realistically. Even if the reader doesn't like them they should be compelled to find out what happens to them.

Don't come up with plot contrivances or coincidences just to fill space. Everything should matter and be there for a reason.

If there are larger events happening that lead to changes for our characters then let the reader see those reasonable changes, and how they impact on the characters.

All good advice - now to put it into action!

23 February 2012

Formatting eBooks

I'm thrilled to say that Smart Formatting: How to format and upload your novel to Kindle, Smashwords and CreateSpace is available from Amazon and Smashwords. It should also be available from other retailers shortly.

Smart Formatting covers the MS Word settings and formats you should use, and gives full instructions on these.  It looks at the elements you need to have ready, and the uploading process to KDP and Smashwords. 

Should you also want to produce a print book, I've included a section on formatting your manuscript to upload to CreateSpace.

I've used my experiences working in MS Word on a Windows PC system, so the book doesn't have any instructions for a Mac.

Here is the Table of Contents to give you a better idea of what is covered.

What Do We Mean by Formatting an eBook
The Elements You Need for Uploading Your Manuscript
   Book Cover Blurb
   Front Content
   End Content
   Book Cover
Sorting out MS Word
   Things You Shouldn't Do or Use
   Track Changes
   Word Styles
   First Line Indents and Block Paragraphs
   Creating a Table of Contents using Hyperlinks and Bookmarks
Formatting for KDP and Smashwords
   Paragraph and Heading Styles
   Formats for Saving Your Files
Publishing with KDP and Smashwords
   Uploading Your Book
   What Happens Now?
   Checking Your Book Without an eReader
Troubleshooting Formatting Errors
Creating a Print Book
   Book Interior
   Formatting Your Manuscript
   Paragraph and Heading Styles
   Front Matter
   Checklist for Interior Formatting
   Uploading Your File
   Creating Your Cover
   What Happens Next?
Author Central

If you click the Smart Formatting image on my website homepage, there is a free PDF you can download of the MS Word section of the eBook.  It has the same instructions as the eBook, but a few more screenshots, and has the advantage of being in colour!

I think the book is good value for $0.99. 

The next post will be back on writing topics, I promise.       

20 February 2012

Fooling your Brain

I think of writing as a creative, right-brain activity, whereas editing is more analytical.

There are several different levels of editing and I've blogged about my process over a few posts, from the big picture (and here), and details and problems

Editing is a continual improvement kind of activity, and I find that I approach editing non-fiction in a different way than fiction. However, there is one area that is still the same - fooling my brain about what I'm viewing.

Even with a shorter project you still get used to seeing the same file day after day. If you're like me you have a page setup that will be something like this - A4 page, 2.4cm (1") margins, double-spaced, and your favourite font.

I do some initial editing tasks on the computer, for example, a list of words for the Find and Replace function, but nothing beats editing on hard copy. Before I print it out I change the font type and size, and often the margins as well, all in an effort to make my brain think it's reading something new. This is also the reason for leaving some time between finishing the writing and starting to edit. 

After reading through Lives Interrupted several (it felt like several hundred) times, I found that even changing the font and margins wasn't really fooling me enough, and so I changed the setup to resemble a print book. That was an interesting experience.  I discovered a few sections that looked fine double-spaced on an A4 page, but were just one or two paragraphs on a book-size page, and therefore an indication of places where I maybe needed to break up the narrative with some dialogue.

I've also found using my Kindle another excellent way of looking at work in a different way. I see mistakes that I hadn't caught in earlier readings.  It also means I don't have to carry around a large pile paper.

19 February 2012

Formatting eBooks for Kindle and Smashwords

On this blog I've posted about my experiences with formatting and uploading my novel and short stories to KDP and Smashwords, and also creating the print version of Lives Interrupted.  I've corresponded with quite a few people answering questions about the process, and so I decided to put the posts into a more helpful format.  I've worked on that for a while, and have been editing it over the past week or so, and hopefully Smart Formatting should be ready to go by next week.

17 February 2012

Writing Real Life

One of the writing guidelines that is often quoted is, 'write what you know.'  On this line of thought I had an article published a couple of years ago on using what you know as your starting point, rather than feeling restricted by it.

People often wonder how much of real life gets included in writing. The trouble is real life often tends to be mundane, and an incident that is funny/strange/ coincidental at the time it happens, isn't necessarily the stuff of novels.

I start my day early, as that's a good time for me to write. One morning a couple of days ago, having reached a point where I could put aside what I'd done to move onto something else, I decided to go out to do a few jobs before starting on the next writing task. Because I hadn't noticed the time (or weather), I found myself stuck in the morning rush hour traffic (an interesting term as the traffic certainly doesn't rush anywhere), as the rain poured down.   Nothing much happened.  I completed my jobs, muttered about not going out at that time again, and went home to carry on with work.  Mid-afternoon I glanced up from my laptop, as it was almost dark enough to need a light on, and saw what I thought was a mini tornado forming; it turned out to be a water funnel.  I stood out on the deck (veranda) for about ten minutes watching the clouds churn and move around, while all around me was eerily still.  I'm happy to say it didn't cause any damage, but it was amazing to watch.

And what is the point of the paragraph above, I hear you say?  It wouldn't make for a gripping novel or film.  I agree, left as real life it wouldn't be a page turner.

Writing gives us the ability to pursue a what-if.  It offers the opportunity to change the everyday, improve it, or make it worse.  We can dispense with the routine, and strike out into the unknown.  Or maybe just try and make sense of life?

13 February 2012

Thingish Things

A couple of days ago someone asked me where I get my ideas for this blog.  A slight twist on the where do you get your plot ideas, but I was stumped for an answer. Some posts come easily, and others… 

The idea for this one came as I stared out of the window - actually the ideas rarely come when I'm at the computer. It's been a disappointing summer here in regards to the weather. Warm, but with plenty of rain allowing our sub-tropical greenery to flourish.

My writing often disappoints me by not living up to my expectations.  The initial idea is wonderful, but when I read the words I produce they seem so ordinary.  It's something I thought would improve over the years, but they still disappoint at times.

It reminds me of the thoughts of my favourite philosopher, Winnie the Pooh. 'When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.'

It certainly does.

10 February 2012

2,000 hours

Monday's post about not living with regrets has been on my mind this week.  Generally speaking I'm quite happy with what I'm doing, but there's always room for improvement.

Working a 40 hr week means we're going to work about 2,000 hours this year. 
How long in a lifetime?  I did the figures and believe me you don't want to know.

Spend it doing what you want to do.

09 February 2012

Pushing Creativity

What comes to mind when you see the word creativity? Great thinkers?  Artists?  Musicians?  Leonardo da Vinci?  Einstein?

Certainly not me you might be thinking.

Yet we are all creative.  We have ideas.  We come up with new ways of doing things.  What we need to do is believe in ourselves more, and we can do that by finding out what works for us.  What pushes our creativity?

A long time ago I realised that many of my ideas came when I was out walking, and so now if I'm stuck on something, rather than sitting in front of the laptop getting more frustrated (and feeding those beliefs of not being creative), I put on my shoes and go out for a walk.

A walk with a purpose.

I think about the problem I'm trying to solve.  This might be a work problem, such as how can I best assess this learning material?  Or it might be a plot problem.  How is Tom going to find out about the safety deposit box? 

I push and prod consciously thinking of ways to solve the problem. By doing this I'm telling my brain this is important.

Sometimes the ideas/answers come quickly, and on other occasions it takes longer, but the ideas do come.

Walking is also exercise and our cognition improves from 30 minutes of exercise, and this boost lasts for up to 2 hours after the exercise.

This brings me to something else I discovered in pushing creativity. A change of scenery, or doing something different works wonders. Sitting at the computer when I'm stuck is the worst thing to do. Even if the change of scenery is getting up and doing another job, or making myself a drink. The idea comes once I'm away from the computer.

To sum up what I'm doing is:

  • Giving my brain a nudge and saying this is important to me.
  • Training myself to be more observant: not just of what's around me, but of what is going on in my head.  People often say they're not creative, but I think the reality is more that we aren't aware of the idea, because we're not looking for it.
  • Write down the ideas.  This is a confirmation to the brain that what we're doing is important.

The benefit of getting into this zone of asking questions, really looking and listening for the answers, and writing down the ideas, is that the ideas appear more often and more easily.  When I'm really in the zone the ideas come without me working at it.  The plot points appear and link with things I've already written as if I had planned it that way.  Magic!  But magic we make.


06 February 2012

Don't Live with Regrets

Over the weekend I saw a newspaper article that mentioned this post - Regrets of the Dying. It's well worth reading.

The 5 main regrets are:
- Not to have had the courage to live a life true to yourself.
- To have worked hard and missed your children's youth.
- Not to have had the courage to express feelings.
- Not staying in touch with friends.
- Not to have let yourself be happier.

I was surprised by the last one, though ironically it is similar to a comment from one of the characters in my latest work in progress, when talking about his parents.

My last post was about living your dreams, which I see as the heart of the first one in the list. If you've lived a life doing what others expect of you, rather than one that is true to yourself, then you haven't lived your dreams.

That is sad, especially in conjunction with number two on the list.

I think very few of us are able to live life exactly on our terms. We have relationships that generally mean some sort of give and take, to enable everyone to do some of what they want.

The other side of this is having the opportunity to live our dream, and squandering it. Someone once said to me that life is not a rehearsal.

I'm at a time in my life when I can work hard at my writing and not feel I'm letting other people down.  I came late to the realisation that: a) I was okay at this writing thing, and b) that it was something I really wanted to do.
There are times I wish I had realised this much earlier, but I didn't. I also believe it's pointless wasting time now regretting the years gone. Get on and do it.

Only we can know whether we are living a life true to ourselves, or letting other people dictate what our lives are. Or making other people the excuse for us not doing things.

What is the point of having a dream, if we're not prepared to work at it?  

Live it, don't regret it.

03 February 2012

Live Your Dreams

I saw two short quotes yesterday. Not at the same time, but they fit well together. Life is short. Live your dreams.

Being a writer has been a dream for a long time, and I'm sure not just for me. But to live your dream you have to do more than just think about it. To make it reality you have to work at it.

Yes, we need to spend time doing the soft work, which is my way of describing the thinking time. That's important. But if you don't sit down and put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, then the dream can't become reality. It will  just be a dream. 

No one can read the book in your head. 


Mix strawberries, cream and sugar. Puree and freeze slightly. Beat again and freeze.  I still remember the taste.  Remember the warm summer days.