Thursday, 24 October 2013

Pitch Perfect

Today I’ve reached 21 years of bobbing along on this planet. I’m somewhat hung-over from my party last night (if 'somewhat' means 'very'), and I’m spending the day learning how to use an eye-tracking machine for my third year project at university. The eye-tracker is worth £30,000 and you can break it by touching its mirror...

Don’t touch the mirror.

Anyway, as it’s my birthday, I’m going to give you guys a mini present. Have you heard of a competition called ‘Pitch Wars’? Anyone who has a completed manuscript can choose 4 out of 47 writing mentors to send their pitch to. These writing geniuses will pick one novel each to help polish up before submitting it participating agents.

So basically, there’s a chance to have your novel looked at by someone who knows how to make it perfect, and then a chance to test out the polished novel. Fancy a go?

The best bit is that it’s not for another month. If you’re novel isn’t quite there, then spend the whole of November reading through and editing until it is.

Happy Pitch Everybody!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Show Vs. Tell: Round 1

Hands up if a critic has told you ‘show don’t tell’ (SDT). Keep that hand up if you found it rather unhelpful at the time or if that critic didn’t elaborate much. Yes, it’s a pesky phrase. Showing rather than telling can be a pretty powerful tool, and here's what it really means:

Showing brings your words to life, creates imagery, and lets the reader know exactly what’s going on. It doesn’t tell you facts explicitly, but builds an idea in your head so that usually you understand it in far more detail than you would have. Good writing makes you realise a fact without being told it straight.

As a writer it forces you to explore your imagination further really think about your story and your characters. It adds depth.

*But showing is not always better than telling.*

Telling adds pace. It moves the story along and sums up ideas that may be unclear if let to just showing. It doesn’t try to add detail to a relatively boring fact. It lets you know what piece of information is important and avoids using dialogue in an awkward manner.

It’s a useful tool for when the imagery isn’t particularly important. A story that builds up detail into every sentence can be tedious to picture and can feel irrelevant sometimes.

Use telling wisely. Too much of it and your story will fall flat. The reader might not be able to picture your scene. They might fill in the blanks with their imagination which could later clash with yours.

A good story has a balance between the two. SDT is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot and it should be, but it often happens for the wrong reasons. In my next few articles I will delve a little deeper, explaining how and when to use it, and how to tweak your story if you keep getting SDTs.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Featured: A song of Steel by Alyssa Carlier

Last month I posted up a competition to find an amazing opening chapter. I can tell you now, there were some strong contestants. I definitely wasn’t expecting to read something as polished as A Song Of Steel by Alyssa Carlier.

Title: A song of Steel: I, Players and Pieces
Username: Queen of Starlight
Site: Figment

I have yet to read more chapters, but the opening is well crafted, intriguing, and you can tell it was written with passion and edited a thousand times. I won’t give too much away, but if you like the sound of an assassin story that dives straight into the action, then take a read of this.

The best feature is definitely the main character, Serilda. I love a dark character, someone who is far from average and has a unique view on life. I want a character to think differently to me, to act in ways that challenge my expectations, and ultimately entice me to read what they will do next. Serilda is exactly that. I will definitely be reading more soon.

Here’s the link to read it on figment:

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Homophones are Out There, Hiding.

Sometimes it because of a blind spot. Other times, it because your typing-brain want to make you look silly. Either way, be aware of different words which sound similar (homophones), especially in your internal monologue which lets you know what to type. 

It’s hard to write a first draft without having at least one of these hiding in that particular chapter. The aim of the game is to spot it before anyone else does. Here are a few that are commonly written but not commonly spotted, or so it seems:

Dessert – A tasty pudding.
Desert – A not so tasty vast area of sand and heat and sand...

Wary – Concern, worry, cautiousness.
Weary – Tired from physically activity or lack of sleep.

Storey – A level in a building, like your bedroom is probably on the second storey. This is a British preference.
Story – A wonderful tale. Perhaps take a read of my newest story, The Clearing? No? Well, I tried.

Compliment – A polite, usually positive comment.
Complement – A positive addition, like how that top your wearing complements your trousers nicely (that’s a compliment).

Peak – The tip or top, like the summit of a mountain.
Peek – A sneaky little look. A sneaky little homophone too.

Discuss –Debate, argue, you know what it means.
Discus – This was actually in my novel for some time. Sneaky little throwing disc used in the Olympics...

Here are 441 more if you’ve got nothing better to do for the next hour or so and you want to brush up on your knowledge. I’d recommend taking a peek rather than peak at them, because one makes perfect sense while the other... well.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Dialogue Marks and Taglines

I’m having to point out how to format taglines on a regular basis now, especially when the dialogue takes the form of a question. I thought I’d throw together a quick guide in hopes that everyone who was unaware will see this and instantly understand... Or even just one person.

“I fancy a biscuit,” said Samantha. – And I do (how could you tell?) although that’s not the point. My point is you need a comma after biscuit and ‘said’ is in lowercase because the following words form a tagline. It’s a tagline because it refers to how the dialogue is said or who says it.

“I fancy a biscuit.” Samantha grabbed the tin. – There’s no tagline. Therefore you need a full stop and to start a new sentence.

“I fancy a biscuit.” She smiled. – This doesn’t refer to how the speech is said. Therefore you need a full stop.

“Where are my biscuits?” shouted Samantha. – You need lowercase into the tagline. Think of it as part of the sentence.

“My biscuits!” she cried. – Again, lowercase. Whether it’s a exclamation mark, comma, or question mark

"My biscuit," she said, "are gone." - As the sentence continues, a comma is used and lowercase is needed afterwards.

Hope that sums it up. Once you know how it goes, it’s pretty simple stuff. I’m off to have a cuppa now.

Thursday, 10 October 2013


I have learnt a new word! Somehow it has been nestled in my blind spot, although luckily the concept hasn’t avoided me.

It refers to saying the same thing twice but with different words. It reiterates an idea which you’ve just explained... see what I did? And it does so without adding anything more to the point or force.

You’ll wanna avoid tautology. Make sure that every sentence – every word – adds to the description or point. If it doesn’t add, then you don’t need it. Remove it from your paragraph and either replace it with something that brings the piece to life or keep the space free so that the pace can increase.

Sometimes this can relate to modifiers. For example, ‘he sprinted quickly’ has a sense of tautology to it. You don’t need to say both ‘sprinted’ and ‘quickly’. It’s superfluous description (another great word). The raw, basic form of the sentence is much stronger that the one with that extra word of description, although it’s not always felt immediately.

That’s not to say you can’t use repetition to really enforce an idea. Just do it knowingly (and in a way which critics don’t catch you out).

It links in with ‘show don’t tell’ which I’ll be pulling apart soon, which is a phrase much overused and not always understood or relevant. More on that later.

For more on this, take a quick look at:

When to Ignore a Critic: Part 2

Writing is subjective. There’s no way around that. Even if someone really loves your story, they may not agree with every decision you’ve made, and that can be frustrating.

Here’s a few more points to consider when deciding what to do when a critique ruffles your feathers:

Dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling you get when I tell you I don’t like your favourite line in your book. If you think you’re a grammar ninja, yet I pull out a list of mistakes as long as a rattlesnake, then you’ll feel dissonance.

It’s a psychological process that helps protect your self-esteem and gets in the way of being objective.

If you feel upset by someone’s comment, don’t make any decisions straight away. You’re likely to get defensive and will be unable to make changes that could possibly help you. Return to it once the dissonance has settled.

Some critics will bunch together. ‘I agree with bookrighter046 that Tom is a pointless character’. The fact that two of them have missed the subtleness of Tom doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a bad character, especially if others like him.

Conformity can sometimes be the issue. If a reader feels unsure of their opinions or reviewing skills, they may turn to others to help themselves out. It's nothing personal (being annoying isn’t personal).

But if the same criticism is repeated, then there's a good chance that your book isn't having the intended effect.

I personally tend not to read other comments until I’ve already written the review. You’ve already heard their opinion – why would you want to hear it twice? I also don't want the reader to feel ganged up on.

Just because someone has one terrible idea, this doesn’t invalidate their whole opinion. It’s natural for your trust to plummet after they’ve said something that’s a bit silly, but read each of their comments objectively.

Okay, so they don’t seem to understand that semicolons are different from commas, but that doesn’t mean their comment about the pace is wrong. Just because they didn't think your joke was funny doesn't mean that Tom (that guy I seem to be hating on) isn’t a dull character like they said.

It does mean you should be sceptical of any punctuation they tell you to add or take. But then, you already know that.

Have a peek at their writing. If they say your plot is too quick yet you find theirs dull, then maybe it’s a difference of preference. And if your novel is heavy sci-fi and all of theirs are soft romances, then maybe they’re not the best person to judge your novel.

On the other hand, if they're writing the same genre, and their writing is pretty darn good, then it's probably time to take a deep breath and listen.

If something feels off, look it up. I always warn readers not to follow me blindly, but I also hope they won’t ignore me blindly too. Anything that seems unusual should be looked into rather than ignored or accepted as gospel.

Be aware of preferences. There are many differences between British English and American English writing, from spelling to how punctuation should be used. The only way to learn these differences is to raise an eyebrow at a comment and do a little research.

What you learned at school isn't always right. Comma's mark clauses, so don't put them where you want to take a breath. Sometimes a comma before the last 'and' in a list is needed for the sentence to make sense, and you can start sentences with 'but'. If my old English teacher reads this, her head might pop!

So my When to Ignore a Critic post is as much about when to give them another chance as it is to ignore them. Even when you disagree, try to see their point of view. If you can work out why they’ve said something, maybe you can fix it without actually taking on their suggestion.

Here’s my question to you: What phrase do you wish critics would stop posting?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

When to Ignore a Critic: Part 1

The votes are in. It turns out you guys want to know more about when it’s okay to ignore critics. This is probably because we've all had bad reviews. If you've only had love for everything you write, chances are you haven’t faced the right audience yet. 

However, this article is a much about when to listen to a critic as it is to ignore them.

You can’t please everyone. 

You’re not even meant to please everyone. A critic once told me to only listen to people who didn’t like my genre, didn’t like the first chapter, and wouldn’t have read the book after reading the blurb. This angered me because I worried she might have told others to do this too.

At first, I wanted to rant back at her how absurd that was - you write for an audience, a subsection – but then I realised she’d learn that in her own time or suffer the consequences.

Sure, some books are loved by all. Harry Potter is a good example. It was originally aimed at a young audience, yet it enchanted most of the nation. The issue here is that you don’t aim to write a Harry Potter. Well, you kinda do, but not that overtly.

Of course you can write more mainstream and for a general audience. By doing so, you won’t be aiming at real lovers of that genre, and neither will you appeal to everyone in the world.

Please an audience. 

When a critic states they are a huge fan of your genre, have read many books on a similar topic, then you should perk your ears up to what they have to say. They know the genre (as should you!) and they represent the people who would buy your book.

When a critic states this isn’t their preferred genre, then be cautious. Would they buy the book when it’s published? Probably not. Again, you can’t please everyone.

Please yourself. 

This is something that much more famous and greater writers than I have said many times before. Write because you enjoy it. If a critic tells you to make a change that would make you dislike your own story, then ignore them. For now, anyway.

If you’re showing others your work with intent to publish, you may have to make some sacrifices. ‘I like it’ shouldn’t be your excuse for dismissing thousands of negative comments. That joke your character says may be hilarious to you, but if your readers are cringing, then it’s a bit similar to when you’re the only person in the room laughing at your own joke. The only thing missing is the room.

Click here for part 2.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Psycho Bites: Metaphors and Similes

I’m a psychology undergraduate doing my final year project on figurative language. If I find something interesting or relative to writing (the whole reason I picked a psycholinguistic project) then I’ll post it on here for you to read. Do we have a deal?

I'll start with the psychological difference between a metaphor and a smile. A simile compares two concepts using ‘like’ or ‘as’ to. A metaphor is very similar except it states that the concepts are the same despite the reader knowing they’re not.

It turns out metaphors are more powerful because we can read them faster. This was discovered by measuring how long it took for a person to read a sentence written in a metaphorical form (‘jobs are jails’) compared to how long it took to read as a simile (‘jobs are like jails’). Metaphors were read faster!

They also provide different types of imagery. Similes provide more basic links which are true for both items where as metaphors seem to open your mind up to further possibilities. The example given is ‘ideas are like diamonds’ versus ‘ideas are diamonds’. The simile version made participants think of descriptions such as ‘rare’ and ‘valuable’ which are only true for diamonds, whereas the metaphoric version elicited descriptions closer to the original feature of ideas such as ‘creative’ and ‘insightful’.

It seems metaphors focus more on the concept you’re originally trying to heighten (‘ideas’) where as similes drawn in features of the concept you’re using as a comparison (‘diamonds’).

I suppose that means metaphors are more figurative comparisons where as similes are more literal. That makes sense. The fact similes use the word ‘like’ or ‘as’ tends to warn the reader not to be too serious, it’s just a comparison. On the other hand, metaphors dive right in there, making them quicker, stronger, but not always appropriate.

However, when people are asked to choose between a metaphor or a simile, most prefer to read the simile version. Metaphors may be stronger but as always, don't overdo the technique. Stronger techniques usually mean less is more.

If you want to read the full paper by Glucksburg (2003) where all this info came from, then click here.