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Category: A Writer’s Musings

All About Writing – 7 Reasons Why You Need to Write that Book for Yourself

Happy Tuesday, friends! After October’s NaNo prep sessions and a breather, we’re finally back to this series! YAY! *throws confetti*

How are you all getting on with your NaNo projects? We’re nearing the end (if you’re behind, like me, and this is the last thing you want to hear, ignore me and pretend everything’s fine) already, and I expect your sanity levels aren’t doing too good. Which is why it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t be writing this book for anyone but yourself.*

You’ve probably received similar advice before, but what does it mean and why is it so important?

* and all the people who said you couldn’t, of course.

Writing a book is hard work, friends. Whether you’re a plotter, a pantser, or a plotster like me, you need to have your world figured out, you need to know your characters, your plot needs to make sense, the words need to get written, and there are all these other things you need to pay attention to besides.* Don’t let anyone convince you this is easy money!

The last thing you want to do is go to all this effort for other people, because–and this might hurt a little–other people won’t care about your book like you do. Sure, there’ll be readers who fall in love with your fictional babies and create fan art in their honour, but no matter how much work you put into it, there’ll always be someone who hates what you’ve created. This is much harder when you write your book to please someone else, because that someone might be the same someone who now hates your book.

I’m not saying you should write for yourself just because rejection will be easier to accept.** There are loads of reasons why you should write for yourself, and today we’re looking at seven.

* like always having enough tea in your cupboard, and not running out of snacks.
** I won’t deny that’s not a plus, though!

When I started my first ever blog, I was studying photography at university. It had been drilled into me that being professional was everything, but it wasn’t stressed enough that you can still be yourself, too. As a result, my first blog lacked personality and didn’t sound like me at all. To be honest, I’m still working on that now! You might get that I’m an honest girl who smiles a lot from my blog posts, but do they accurately convey my sarcasm or that I swear enough for my swear jar to fund a new library for my colleagues at my day job?* Fuck no! Something to work on next year, I think.

But I digress. I found it difficult to write posts for said first blog since I felt I couldn’t be myself, and that drained my motivation to keep it up.

The same is true for your books. When you get too focused on sounding a certain way, you adjust your voice so much you no longer sound like you, because you think whoever you’re writing for might enjoy it more. And then your book will lack all the things that make you you–all the wonderful things that could make your book uniquely yours!

And guess what? Those people who don’t get your voice and want you to change it to suit them? They’re not your target audience. So there’s no need to try and please them.

* not that I have a swear jar… If we had one, we’d be able to get a decent-sized library built between me and some of my colleagues! Maybe we should look into this!

Writing is hard enough as it is. There are times when your characters ignore what you planned for them and go their own way. Times when you’ll run out of tea and snacks. Times when you’ll curl up into a ball and cry in a corner because writing a book is slowly quickly robbing you of your sanity.

The more you focus on what other people want, the more you’ll cut what you want, and the less happy you’ll be with the end result. When you create something like a whole new world from bloody nothing, you should at least feel proud of your achievement by the end of it. When you’re consumed by what everyone else wants, this’ll be harder. You might feel happy for them, but how about for you, hm? This is your book–it should be your pride and joy, too.

My favourite books are the ones that made me feel something. I feel like I’ve connected with the author, have shared their vision for the brief time it took me to read the book. When you write the book you want to write, you pour a part of your soul into it, and that’s when your readers are going to connect with you. It’s that clear, brutal, amazing honesty you just don’t get from books that lost sight of their authors.

There are plenty of stories out there which mimic each other to a degree*, which lost their unique voices to play it safe, and which, I think, lack something vital.

* I’m not talking about all the books of one genre, or all the books with orphans who get adopted by their aunt and/or uncle and go on to save the world. These can still be amazing, and they often are.

It’s said that everyone has a story inside them–you’ve heard of this saying, yes? Only you can tell your story your way. This is why, even though so many scenes and whole plots get repeated, we still enjoy them over and over again, because different writers add different things to them.

It’s insane how often people have said ‘Wow! You’ll be the next J.K. Rowling!’ since I announced I was writing a fantasy book back in 2015. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be the next J. K. Rowling. I want to be the first me. I grew up with Harry Potter and love the books, but they’d be very different books if I’d written them. Our voices are completely different! Harry Potter was J. K.’s story to tell, not mine, and only she could write them in the magical way she did. Just like only I can write my books in the way I do.

Just like only you can write your books in your way.

It’s so liberating to just write and let the words flow however they want to come out. It’s easy to get bogged down under so. much. detail! when you’re really just trying to get a first draft written. You want to get the names of every town and river right*, you don’t want to mess up the lore you created, you keep referring back to the map you’ve drawn–this is tough enough as it is, friends. When the words finally flow without you interrupting yourself, they definitely shouldn’t stop because you’re worried about what someone else might think.

* never mind the names of your characters *ahem*

At the moment, readers love strong female MCs, BFFs who comfort each other and fight sometimes maybe, and same-sex couples. That doesn’t mean your book needs to have all of the above. If your main character needs to be white and male because he was born to white parents and doesn’t have boobs, that’s fine. Let him be male! If he’s straight, let the boy be straight!*

Listen to your characters. If it turns out you were wrong and they have a better idea of who they are, let them make the decisions. I wouldn’t change a straight character into a gay one because readers happen to be into those characters right now. I also wouldn’t change a transgender character into a straight one because I’m straight. My characters are who they are.**

Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t hurt to see what the general bookish market loves or hates right now. If we all wrote the same type of characters depending on what readers love right now, all books would be too similar. You can absolutely treat what the market wants as a guideline, but don’t feel so pressured by it that you end up changing the core of your manuscript.

* Your characters will ignore what you plan for them anyway, so you may as well just give up now and listen to what they’re telling you.
** Example: One of my characters in Darkened Light started out as a straight girl, but turns out I was wrong and he’s actually a gay man because what do I know, I’m only writing the thing??

When you put so much of your time, effort, and soul into something, you’re allowed to do it for yourself. If others love it, great. If not, who cares? As we’ve already talked about, some people will hate it anyway, so you do you.

For those times when you don’t know what you want and your characters choose that moment to give you absolutely nothing, having an ideal reader can be a massive help. Your ideal reader can be someone you know who shares your love for the genre you write and understands you and your writing. It’s often easier to ask yourself what someone else might do, but if this someone doesn’t understand your book and maybe doesn’t even like the genre, your book is going to drift off in the wrong direction. I have two ideal readers, and when I’m stuck and ask myself how they would solve the problem I know I’ll still move forward in a way I’m happy with.


And that’s it for this series! It was a short one, I know, but I hope you took something away from it. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, ask away–or better yet, have a look if I’ve covered it already! In this very brief series, we’ve talked about:

The next series is about the basics of blogging, so if you’re new to the blogging game or just want some pointers, keep an eye out for the first post in two weeks time 🙂

Do you have an ideal reader? Do you write for yourself, or do you worry your voice won’t appeal to too many people? Make yourself a tea, get some biscuits, and let’s chat!


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NaNo Prep Sessions – Week 5 | You’ve Got This, NaNonite!

It’s almost time, NaNonite. Tomorrow, we begin the month-long madness that is NaNoWriMo. Your characters are ready. Your world is waiting to be explored. Your plot is outlined. You’ve prepared as much as you’re comfortable with (or, let’s be honest, as much as you had time for).

If you’ve missed anything or would like to remind yourself of a previous session, here you go:

Week 1 – Your Characters

Week 2 – Your World

Week 3 – Your Plot

Week 4 – Your Reading List and Rewards

I have also added all five posts here:

Writing Resources

And there’s a new category as well, so no matter where you look, you’ve got all NaNo prep sessions in one place 🙂

I have only a few last words of advice for you:

  • Don’t stop writing to do research. Make a note of what you need to look up, and move on.
  • Don’t stop writing to edit. You’ve got a big word count goal ahead of you, friend. There’s no time for that.
  • Don’t cheat and count the 15K words you wrote before November as NaNo progress. The aim is to write 50K in November, not 5,000 in September, 10,000 in October, and then the last 35,000 in November. I know it makes it easier, but it’s not the point of NaNo, okay? 🙂
  • If you need a snack break, take a breather and have that snack.
  • If you feel like you need a break, take a break. It will seem like a terrible idea in the middle of NaNo, but sometimes just taking one day off can do wonders for your productivity!
  • Share your daily and weekly word counts online. It’ll hold you accountable, and the #bookstagram community on Instagram will cheer you on until their throats are sore! Twitter is another excellent place to announce how you’re doing.
  • Speaking of which, join the #authorconfession tag on Twitter (or Instagram or Snapchat). Next month is all about NaNo, which makes this an excellent community for sharing your word counts and connecting with authors who are going through the same madness you are! Here are the prompts:

  • Have a mascot, something you’ll only use when it’s time to write. I have a shirt I only wear when I write the first draft. That way, when the shirt goes on, it tells my brain it’s time to write and I’m immediately in the right mindset! It might seem too easy or even silly to you, but try it! 😉
  • Add me on the official NaNo website so we can be inspired by each other’s word counts.
  • I’ll be sharing my weekly word counts right here, on this blog, and I’ll be sharing my daily word counts on Instagram and Twitter. Naturally, you’re welcome to join me and compare notes 🙂

Now, are you ready to do this? Are you ready to write the first draft of your novel? BRING IT ON, NANOWRIMO!

*ferocious battle roar*

You’ve come this far. Even if you haven’t prepared that much or at all, you’ve decided to do NaNo and accomplish something amazing next month. Often, setting your mind to a task is the hardest part, and you’ve set your mind to this! You can do this, NaNoNite! You’re ready, your characters are ready, your world is ready, your tea and snacks are ready – all you need to do now is write the words.

If you’re planning on writing every day next month, that’s a measly 1,666 words per day! If you’re planning on taking the weekends off, like me, your goal is only 2,272! Not even 2,5k!That’s not so bad. You can do this, NaNonite. Think how incredible you’ll feel this time next month when NaNoWriMo is behind you and you’ve written a massive 50,000 words! Think of the rewards you won’t get to treat yourself to unless you hit those word counts!

I know it’s daunting, but you’re not doing it alone. I’ve got you. If you join the #bookstagram and #authorconfession community, they’ll have your back, too. And at the end of November, we’ll all have achieved something amazing together.

Embrace your WIP’s magic, and show that mad word count who’s boss!


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Gifs came from Giphy

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Break’s home page, have a look here.

 

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NaNo Prep Sessions – Week 4 | Your Reading List and Treats!

Welcome back, NaNonites! How is your NaNo prep going? Are you feeling ready yet? Have you stocked up on tea and snacks? GOOD!

Honestly, friends, this is the best part. You’ve done the hard work, and the worst is behind you (unless you count NaNo itself, I guess). Characters are created, worlds are ready to be explored, and your plot is developed – it’s time we had some fun! 😉

We’re doing two awesome things today: we’re setting our reading lists, and we’re setting our rewards. It’s important to stay inspired when you have a monster deadline, and it’s important to stay motivated. Your reading list takes care of the former, and your rewards will ensure the latter.

Let’s start with your reading list!

Your reading list is a good place for your favourite authors. Re-reading a book you’ve loved before also works – anything to keep your inspiration going! I have a whole shelf of books that inspired me to write better, but next month, I’ll be reading new books by my favourite authors. I know I’ll love these and the wait has been hard, but we all make sacrifices for NaNo, am I right?

Here’s what’s on my list:

Godsgrave

The Language of Thorns

WonderWoman

I’m pretty confident I won’t get through all three, but it’s better to have more lined up just in case than to not have enough when you really need a boost!

You’re all set to get through the month now. It’s time to treat yourself!

The books you’ve wanted for months? Go for it! That jumper you saw the other week? Pop it on the list! That concert you’ve been wanting to go to? Sounds like a well-earned treat for writing 50K!

How you do this is entirely up to you. These are your rewards, after all! They only need to be exciting enough to motivate you to keep writing. Be strict with yourself – if you don’t hit the word count, you don’t get the treat. What’s the point otherwise?

How many goals you set, and whether you reward yourself as soon as you hit your targets, is also entirely up to you. I set three – one at 15K (nice and easy to reach), one at 30K (over halfway there!), and one for reaching the final goal of 50K (you’ve made it! WOO!). Make sure that last reward is a big one; the more you want it, the better. When you feel like giving up, it’s your reason to write on.

I reward myself as I reach my goals because it’s a nice little treat partway through the month (never mind a surge of motivation), but if you’d rather wait until you hit 50K that’s fine, too.

These are my rewards:

15K

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft

(that’s right, my reward for writing all the words is more research material)

30K

Okay, so, what’s happened here is that I’m an indecisive kitten and don’t know what I want because I kinda want all four but I’m supposed to be a responsible grown-up and save money but they’re all so pretty?? And the worst part is, THERE’S MORE? AND IT’S NANO SO I DESERVE IT?? If you thought you’d chosen your rewards allow me to ruin that and show you Cait aka paperfury’s shop on society6. You’re welcome.

50K

The Well of Ascension

The Hero of Ages

I read The Final Empire a couple of months ago and need these. What’s more motivation than two sequels you desperately need to read, am I right? If these don’t see me all the way to 50K, nothing will.

We’re almost there! I have one more post for you next week and then NaNoWriMo 2017 will be upon us!

In the meantime, you’re welcome to add me on the NaNo Website.

What’s on your reading list, NaNonite? What are your rewards, and how will you treat yourself?


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Gifs came from Giphy

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Break’s home page, have a look here.

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NaNo Prep Sessions – Week 3 | Your Plot

Good morning, NaNonites! We’re halfway through October, and you know what that means? NaNoWriMo is CLOSE! Time to give your prep hell!

We’ve already looked at your characters and your world, but today we’re going to look at the one thing that’s going to bring the two together: your plot. This is kinda important and today’s worksheet is a four-page monster, so if you haven’t made tea already do it now 🙂

All good? Then let’s begin!

Your plot is everything, friends. Everything. Without one, your story is going to lack direction, and while it’s been said that a book with a weak plot can be saved if the characters are exceptional, we don’t want to take that risk. Especially during NaNo. Also, the weaker your plot is when you start, the more re-writing you’re going to have to do later, and no one wants that.

The number one reason writers get stuck halfway through their drafts is because they haven’t got a plot, and NaNoWriMo is so not the time for that.

But I don’t mean to scare you or put you off. Honestly, it’s not that bad. It’s because the plot is so important (seriously, tho, not trying to send you running) that I love creating it!

I didn’t always find it easy, though. I mean, your plot is your book! Where do you even start? What do you write down first? How do you make sense of something that doesn’t fudging exist yet?

Today’s worksheet is designed to help you figure out what your book is all about, and what your plot is or could be. It’s the one worksheet that will make sure you don’t get stuck halfway through NaNo. Might sound scary, but this worksheet breaks your plot down into manageable chunks.

And they’re big chunks, friends, so do take your time with this one.

I can’t give you an example of my own work this week because River forbids it, so let’s dive right into the key points:

  • Opening – just write down a few lines describing the opening scene – where is your MC? what are they doing? how does it set up the rest of the book? If you already have a great idea for a first line, include that, too!
  • Theme – is your book going to be dark? Do you want to make people smile? Are you hoping to inspire people? Your theme is so important and yet it’s often overlooked at this stage, so be sure to include a few lines about your book’s overall theme, and how you hope to achieve it throughout – trust me, this’ll be a great reminder as you write. If your unicorns start pooping rainbows two thirds through November but your theme said something about darkness, you may want to rethink the direction your story has taken or change the theme.
  • Character Set-Up – we’ve already looked at your characters, but include them here, anyway – a couple of details, like their name and relation to the MC, will do. You’ve already done all the hard work a couple of weeks ago. (this is a good moment to pat yourself on the back and get a cookie as a reward)
  • Catalyst – this is the big event that sets your MC on their journey, and essentially the reason you’re going to have a book. (deep breaths, friends, you’ve got this) This needs to be big enough for your character to decide to leave his old life behind, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the MC’s decision – it’s okay for your MC to be forced into their new role! Acceptance comes later.
  • Doubts & Decisions – your character has set out on her journey, but now she’s wondering if she can really do this. Your MC also needs to come to a decision – why does she continue despite her worries? Does she overcome her doubts, or does she decide that her quest is bigger than she is?
  • Progression – aka the awkward middle part of your book. Now that your MC has decided to go ahead regardless of their doubts (or with their doubts dead on the ground behind them), how do they, well, proceed? What’s their next step after deciding to do this?
  • Side Plot – your plot – the big, main plot – is what moves the story forward, but the side plots are what move your character forward. Quite often this is love, but it could be anything! Just remember – the plot is important to the book, but the side plots are important to your individual characters. I recommend having one side plot for each MC for this very reason.
  • Recess – think of this as one big party before everything goes to hell; it’s insane how often this is a wedding! Your characters are about to lose all hope and go through a huge struggle, so this is a good moment to give them a last moment of happiness before you make all their worst fears come true.
  • Mid-Point – this is quite literally the mid-point in your book – once your MC gets here, there’s no going back. Your character needs to come to a decision here, and it needs to be a point of no return. For example, your MC could decide that, to defeat evil, he will sacrifice himself, or he could conclude that, no matter how easy it sounds, joining a phone sex line is not the way to get through college and he’ll take the boring but socially acceptable mechanic job instead.
  • The Baddies Close In – this is the calm before the storm. Everything was going so well, but your MC has just decided that she won’t back down, and now your antagonist don’t give your MC any other option, either. The bad guys are coming. This is it, friends. The moment your readers have been waiting for.
  • All is Lost – Blake Snyder describes this as the part where mentors go to die, because that’s usually what happens here. Someone, or maybe something, your MC has relied on throughout their journey dies, and it sends your MC to a very dark place. It’s also the reason the MC then rallies his troops and gives the bad guys hell. It doesn’t need to be a person. If your MC doesn’t have anyone like that but has drawn strength from the bracelet her father gave her on his deathbed, make sure your MC loses that bracelet in a very dramatic way.
  • Doubt – your MC has just lost everything; this is a natural reaction. They are hurting (and hopefully your readers are feeling things right about now, too), and doubt how they can possibly continue now their mentor/bracelet is gone.
  • Merge Plots – remember your side plot? Fortunately, you’ll have been developing this throughout the awkward mid section, so merging your side plot with your main plot won’t be a problem 😉
  • Finale – dun dun dun DUN! This is it! One side either wins or loses (or makes it look that way, anyway – if you’re writing a series, you do kinda need to leave a few things open). How does your book end? I know this bit is hard for many of us, so be vague if you need to be. I also like to make a note here of where my characters are at the end of the book. Where are they physically? Where are they emotionally? Who are they with?

You may recognise some of these points if you’ve ever read the wonderful book that is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. When I first started writing, his list of beats was a huge help. I’ve adapted his points since then to fit what I need and how I work, so feel free to do the same with mine! If you haven’t read Save the Cat yet, I recommend that you do. It’s humorous as well as educational, which makes it the perfect theory read, if you ask me.

You may remember me saying that your characters and your world are going to develop and grow as you write? The same is true for your plot. If you decide now, in the prep stage, that Jonny is going to break up with Karen halfway through the book but Jonny then decides they give having an open relationship a try, run with it! See where it takes you! Your characters will do this sooner or later, so you may as well get used to it 🙂 You can only do so much – if your characters have other plans, trust their instincts. Prepare, but expect that your characters won’t agree at some point and turn left when you made it quite clear that they are to turn right.

Just like with the previous two weeks, don’t panic if you don’t have all the answers right now. If you don’t know how exactly everything is going to go downhill yet, leave it blank. Quite often the answers will come to you while you do something else. Going for a walk, taking a shower, or doing the dishes are excellent ways of letting your mind wander and hopefully solve these holes while you do other things. Just remember to keep a notebook or app handy. My characters tend to answer whatever is left while I write and yours will probably do the same, so don’t worry.

This thing you’re writing is all about them, after all. You’ve got this, and so have they.

Take a deep breath, do what you can, set the rest aside, and know that you’ve given yourself an excellent start. You’ve got this, NaNonite! I’m with you all the way!

Here’s your free 4-page worksheet:

NaNo Prep Week 3 – Plot Worksheet

If you’d like to do a little more, consider signing up to my newsletter – you get a free novel project planner when you do 😉 The sign-up form is underneath this post. Just don’t over-plan, okay? It’s the death of NaNo, friends.

That’s the hard work done! You’ve created your characters, you’ve built your world, and you’ve got the faint outlines of a plot ready to go – it’s time for a bit of fun! Next week we’re going to set our rewards and look at our reading lists. There’s nothing like staying motivated and inspired when you’re putting yourself through NaNo, and that’s precisely what we’ll ensure next week 😉

You’re welcome to join me on the official NaNoWriMo website, too <3

Happy plotting, NaNonite! I’ll see you next week!

How do you plot your book? What are your pitfalls? Which parts worry you? Get yourself another tea, get a cookie, and let’s chat!


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

Gifs came from Giphy

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Break’s home page, have a look here.

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NaNo Prep Sessions – Week 2 | Your World

Welcome back, NaNonites! *waves* *makes tea for everyone* How are your preparations coming along? 🙂 Are you starting to feel more confident/excited yet?

Last week we developed your characters, but this week is all about your world! Whether your book is set in London or a world of your own creation, you need to know what’s what, because your world informs your book more than you might think. Even if you don’t plan on using your world all that much, it still helps to know a few basics. You’d be surprised how often it’ll come up while you write!

Every country has its own religious beliefs, for example. While they tend to be similar in many places, they can also differ greatly, and you will usually find some differences, even if they’re only small ones. So, if your MC is a visitor to one country, their religious beliefs might clash with those of that country. It may not seem like an important detail now, but it’s little things like this that’ll make your world more believable.

Today’s worksheet looks at some of those country-specific details 😉 Here’s another example from my own WIP, Darkened Light:

The key points are:

  • just like with last week’s character sheet, I like to include a picture or two to give me a better feel for the place.
  • are any of your characters at home here? (it’s not included in the example above since none of my characters are Vaskan, but it’s included in your worksheet)
  • the capital city
  • the country’s main trade
  • the education
  • what is this country known for? It’s easy to struggle with this point, so if you’re not sure what to put answer this instead: is your fictional country based on a real one? (Vaska is loosely based on Estonia) What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of that country? What made you want to base a country in your book on this real country?
  • what is the official language?
  • what is this country’s religion?

It’s fine if you can’t fill in all of those details right now. Just like your characters, your world will develop as you go, so don’t worry if you can’t answer every point right now. I always struggle a little more with the world details, and need longer for my country sheets.

You could also easily add more points! If your country is a kingdom, who sits on the throne? What are its most valued laws? You could even add a few phrases in each country’s language! (personally, I like to add swear words; my characters tend to have a swearing problem (Doran and Ash especially))

If one or more of your countries is based on a real place, you can draw information from that. Vaska is loosely based on Estonia, so some of the details above reflect Estonian culture. Of course, Vaska is a fictional place, so there are plenty of differences, too!

If you want to do a little more prep, check out my series on world building here. Just remember not to over-prepare 😉 I think this is a risk especially where your world is concerned, because your world is such a great tool for making your book more believable. It’s easy to get caught up in all those little details that make a country unique, and before you know it you’re too worried about getting some details wrong to continue!

Unfortunately, getting stuck or not remembering a certain detail is likely with big projects like NaNo, but it doesn’t have to stall you. When I get stuck and can’t remember a name, for example, or haven’t named a country yet, I use placeholders. My first drafts are full of them! Whenever a country or a person I haven’t named yet comes up, I type [ADD], and then when I start editing or when I’ve named everything I can run a search through my document, and find every placeholder easily 🙂

Here’s your free worksheet, NaNonite:

NaNo Prep Week 2 – Country Worksheet

You can also join me on the official NaNo website here.

How do you create a whole world out of nothing? Which details does your world need? Is there any part of this you’re worried about? Get yourself a tea, open a pack of biscuits, and let’s chat!


Sign up for my newsletter for updates on my books and recommendations to help you grow as a writer:

Gifs came from Giphy

For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Break’s home page, have a look here.

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NaNo Prep Sessions – Week 1 | Your Characters

Happy October, friends, and welcome to the first of five NaNo prep sessions! I’m so happy you’re here with me <3 Let me give you a quick overview of what you can expect from these sessions, and then let’s get started!

Week 1: TODAY! It’s all about your characters, and I’ve got a free worksheet for you at the end!

Week 2: Next week will be all about your worlds, and there’ll be another free worksheet you can download.

Week 3: We’ll be planning our plots, and the last of the three worksheets will be available, too.

Week 4: It’s time to set your reading lists and think about your rewards! Probably the most important week of all, to be honest.

Week 5: One day away from NaNo, I’ll do my best to bring you a motivational speech. Let’s hear those battle roars!

If you’re not much of a planner, don’t worry. This might look like a lot of prep, but the last thing I want is for you to get bogged down by endless details! NaNo is going to be stressful, NaNonites. I’m here to make it easier for you, not harder!

But let’s get started, shall we? 🙂

Your characters are vital to your book for obvious reasons – if you have no characters, you have no book. One of my favourite character plotting resources is a character questionnaire, but as I said above we don’t want to get buried under too much detail next month, so for now we’ll keep it simple. You can always add to it and flesh your characters out more after NaNo, when you have a much better idea of who your characters are. They’ll change and grow as you write, trust me!

Hidden on my memory stick I have a folder for every series and standalone I write, and within each of those folders I have a world file. Inside is the bare minimum of information about each country and each character that make up each story – and that’s what we’ll look at today, and what’s waiting for you to download below 😉

While this worksheet may only contain the bare minimum, every point is important and will help you make your characters stand out and memorable without overthinking it (the last thing you want is to break the word tide while you’re writing because you can’t remember a fiddly detail). Are you ready? Here’s an example of one of my own characters from Darkened Light:

The key points are:

  • a picture or two of your character – I tend to use one portrait, and one other important feature; magic is a huge part of who Naavah Ora is, so I used that (although a picture of a an old book was also tempting)
  • their age
  • their speech habits
  • their dominant memory
  • their secret
  • their strengths
  • their weaknesses
  • their wants
  • their fears
  • and their treasured possession

Don’t worry if you can’t fill in all of those right now. As I said above, your characters will grow as you write, and will probably fill in the bits you can’t on their own. Moreover, not every character has a secret important enough to be mentioned. Perhaps always telling the truth is your character’s thing? (of course, if it is having a huge secret could inform the plot quite a bit…) Not everyone has an object they value above all others. Not everyone knows what they want from life (I sense conflict right there!).

No one expects you to have all the info right now, or even when NaNo starts in one month. Fill in what you can, and remember you can always add to it or make changes later on. This is just a guide for you to give you a head-start and to make sure you have some useful details about your characters. Be as detailed as you like – you can do short bullet points (messy pink hair), or you can add a little more (shoulder-length pink hair, faded at the routes so natural brown is coming through, self-cut so ends are jagged and overall look is messy). It’s entirely up to you!

If you want to do a little more, check out my series on character creation (third series down). The first post in the series has a questionnaire you can download in case the above questions weren’t enough for you, but I do recommend you take it easy for now. Having said that, you know yourself best, so do what you have to do to make NaNo a success 🙂

Here’s your free worksheet, NaNonite:

NaNo Prep Week 1 – Character Worksheet

You can also join me on the official NaNo website here 🙂

Next week we’ll be looking at your world and I’ll have another worksheet for you, so be sure to pop back for that!

Time to make tea and get some biscuits! Have you participated in NaNoWriMo before, or will this be your first year? Have you got any advice to share for new NaNonites, or those of us who didn’t do too well last time? Feel free to tell me a little about your WIP, too – what genre are you writing? Is it a sequel, or something new? Enjoy your tea, and let’s chat!


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All About Writing – Why You Should Write First, and Edit Later

You’ve likely seen or heard this advice many times already. It’s all over theory books on writing, and when you ask for tips online, this will be in there somewhere. You might also think it’s rubbish! I know several writers who swear they can’t continue writing until they’ve at least proofread the chapter they wrote the day before, and you may well be one of them! Today, I’ll try to change your mind. There’s a reason so many books on the topic tell you to wait, after all!

This will sound cliche, but when you write there’s a chance you eventually get into ‘the zone’ (you can shake your heads at me for being cheesy all you want, I’m not taking it back). It’s that wonderful place where you just write and your characters take control over the words and the book begins to write itself, when your hands merely channel whatever it is your characters want to do and say. You create your strongest writing like this, and need to make the smallest amount of changes later.

This is because the longer you stop to go over what you’ve already written, the more you distance yourself from your writing, and the harder it will be to continue. First drafts aren’t about perfection, they’re about getting a book written. Striving for perfection regardless is a good way to drive yourself insane, friends!

I know from personal experience that the words will begin to flow on their own if I let them. My characters start to have conversations, notice things about each other and their surroundings I wasn’t aware of and couldn’t have planned if I tried, and take control of the story without my meddling. It’s tempting to read over what you’ve already written and fix your spelling here and there when the words aren’t coming, but that’s a good way of stopping them from coming altogether. When I’ve struggled with my writing before, it was always because I focused on the last day’s chapters when I should have been focusing on the blank pages ahead of me.

This is one of the many reasons I love Scrivener’s full screen mode so much. All you see is your current chapter, and your notes. The rest of your book and social media are off the screen. I urge you to try it if you haven’t already – it’s liberating!

You can do the annoying bit later. When you write, write. The edit can wait.

There’s one exception, of course, and it’s the only one. If you know it’s not working – be that a character, the POV, the tense, the direction your story has taken – you’ve probably got work to do before you should continue. Otherwise, you’re only going to increase your headache, and why do that before you even start the first edit? Your headaches will be frequent enough later on as it is *quiet sobs*

If you realise partway through that a character doesn’t add anything, there’s no point continuing as is. Either figure out how to make the character relevant, or cut them. If you realise that the book would work better in first person with one POV, there’s no point continuing in third person with three POVs. These are all large-scale developmental changes, however, not a quick proofread and grammar check. Those little changes can wait, you hear? The big, plot-altering changes should probably be addressed sooner.

Incidentally, it’s when I write without getting distracted by silly spelling errors that my characters are more likely to fix those large scale problems for me. I don’t worry about plot holes anymore because I know my characters will sort them!

Say it with me, friends: My first draft is not about perfection. It’s about getting the book written. And the edit WILL wait.

Don’t jump into the edit as soon as you’ve finished your first draft, though! I know how tempting this is, but you’re not doing yourself or your WIP any favours if you rush it. Leave your draft alone – some people leave theirs for a couple of weeks, others for years – and come back to it once you’ve focused on something unrelated for a while. It’s impossible to see your draft with fresh eyes, but the longer you leave it, the easier it’ll be. I left Darkened Light to marinate for six months, and the edit is easy, friends!

 

How long do you leave your draft before you start editing? Make yourself a tea, find some biscuits, and let’s chat!

Please note: October will be all about preparing for the month-long madness that is NaNoWriMo! Therefore, we’re going to take a little break from this series next month to focus on NaNo prep. There’ll be a new post every Tuesday to help you prepare without overdoing it – we want to be excited for our WIPs and ready to dive in, but not so focused on all the tiny details that we get too lost in them to write! I hope you’ll join me in my NaNo prep sessions! Bring a notebook and a pen, and let’s do a bit of prep – but not too much 😉


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All About Writing – Are You a Plotter, Pantser, or Plotster?

Welcome to the new series, friends! This one is all about writing. Next month, we’ll take a little break from it to focus on NaNo prep instead (not just me, either – we’ll prepare together, right here on CookieBreak!), but right now? Right now, let’s answer the important questions in life!

You’ve probably seen people identify as either plotters or pantsers before – many writers include it in their Twitter and Instagram bios – but the awkward middle child, the plotster, is often overlooked or only mentioned briefly. Well, friends, I’m a plotster (for lack of a better word… I admit, I made this one up), and today I’m going to introduce you to all three!

The main difference between the three lies in how they prepare for a new WIP.

If you’re a plotter, you plan. Meticulously. You know what happens in the final chapter of your book before you even start writing the first chapter. You know where your characters are and what they’re doing when and why and with whom, and they will obey you rarely change your mind. You know what you want, and where your story is going. If you’re writing a series, you probably know what happens in every future book before you’ve even started writing Book 1, too!

Plotters are my kind of people, and for a while there I thought I was one of them. They colour-code religiously, their notes might be messy but they’re thorough, and they don’t get stuck halfway through their drafts because every chapter is planned out.

If this sounds like you, be careful not to stick too closely to your plans, though. Sometimes your characters may not develop the way you intended, and events you didn’t foresee when you first planned your book might pop up. As you delve deeper into your first draft, take care not to confine your characters to roles or scenes that might no longer suit them.

Plotters are more likely to have folders, notebooks, and files with all the information relevant to each WIP (colour-coded. religiously.) before they begin writing.

Plot ahead, but don’t be afraid to allow your WIP to evolve on its own, too. 

If you’re a pantser, know that I don’t understand how you get anything done.

Pantsers are the exact opposite of plotters. They don’t plan, they start and see where their idea takes them. Their books develop as they write, and aren’t confined to any one path the writer has set out for them. Books written by pantsers can really come alive, and evolve as the characters do.

However, pantsers are also more likely to hit that dreaded wall. Without a pre-plotted plan, it’s easier to get stuck or run out of ideas. We’ve all been there, and we all know how frustrating this can be! To avoid this, it can help to have a few backup ideas, something to fall back on should your characters grow tired of their freedom and stop talking to you.

Pantsers are more likely to take notes as they write, sometimes in notebooks, and sometimes on scraps of paper; whatever’s handy at the time! Often the two fuse together to create a beautiful mess.

Allow your characters and stories to take the lead, but have a backup plan just in case you hit that wall (or fall into a deep, dark pit).

The plotster is a mixture between the two, and in my opinion it’s the best of both worlds (I’m biased, though, since I’m one of them!). Plotsters plan and plot as much of their book as possible, but they also leave wriggle room for their stories and characters to develop on their own. They know what needs to happen and when, but they’re not afraid to let their characters lead them in another direction if that’s what they want. In fact, they often count on it!

Plotsters have most of their story planned, but chances are they’ve left some gaps, too. Unlike the plotter who prefers to know every chapter before he starts writing, the plotster doesn’t mind leaving a few empty index cards. Plotsters trust that, by the time they reach those empty spaces, their characters will know what needs to happen next and take the lead until the next notes pop up.

This doesn’t always work, however, and sometimes plotsters get stuck, too.

Plotsters are more likely to have notebooks filled with information for each WIP (I have a different notebook for each WIP or series, and yes, I do colour-code religiously!), but you’ll likely also find a few scraps of paper from when ideas popped up halfway through their daily commute, or in the middle of the night.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all the details before you start writing – your characters know what to do.

How do you prepare for a new WIP? Are you a plotter, pantser, or plotster? Make a cup of tea, have some biscuits, and let’s chat!


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Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love – Which Point of View is Right for Your Book?

It’s time for the final post in this series, friends! Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at how to create believable characters, how and why to craft the anti-baddie, and various other aspects of character creation, but today we’ll take a look at Point of View. It’s an essential part of your WIP, after all!

Who tells your story is one of the first things you decide before you start writing. Will there be one POV, or six? Will it be first person narrator, or third? When I was younger I struggled with this; the choice seemed SO important, and it never even occurred to me that I could just change it later (not that I finished any of my earlier drafts or thought about editing…).

I do have a preference now. My POV of choice is a third person narrator with multiple POVs. While I have used a first person narrator and a single POV on occasion in unpublished experiments, I fall more easily into third person and start every WIP that way. I rarely change my mind. It’s the POV that feels most natural to me when I’m writing.

Let’s take a look at the options available to you:

For many of us, a first person narrator comes easiest. We talk in first person, we send messages and emails in first person, so it only makes sense that you might write in first person, too!

Many of my writing buddies prefer first person to third person. It allows you to really get into your character’s head, and will make it easy to convey what they’re going through as they’re going through it. It makes your chapters more personal, since we feel like the character is talking to us.

At the back of my mind, Darin’s voice grows fainter: Find something, Laia. Something that will save me. Hurry.

No, another, louder part of me says. Lay low. Don’t risk spying until you’re certain you won’t get caught.

Which voice do I listen to? The spy or the slave? The fighter or the coward? I thought the answers to such questions would be easy. That was before I learned what real fear was.

(from An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir)

It’s also more limiting, which doesn’t have to be a weakness! A character written in first person gives the reader insight into everything the character does, sees, and thinks, but no more. This can create tension if done well, but can also leave your reader frustrated if done badly.

For some examples of excellent first person narrators, check out these books:

 

A second person narrator isn’t easy to pull off, but if you want to give it a try I suggest you experiment a little first before committing to anything. I haven’t read any books written entirely in second person, but The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern had some parts written like this. Have a look:

In this tent, suspended high above you, there are people. Acrobats, trapeze artists, aerialists. Illuminated by dozens of round glowing lamps hanging from the top of the tent like planets or stars.

There are no nets.

You watch the performance from this precarious vantage point, directly below the performers with nothing in between.

The reason it can work extremely well is because it makes everything personal. The writer addresses you, and effectively makes you a part of the story. When you’re reading The Night Circus, you feel like you’re experiencing the circus yourself. But it’s also easy to do badly; most people just aren’t used to writing in second person. Educational books and poetry are more likely to use second person, but it can be done in fiction – it’s just not as common. As a matter of fact, my blog posts are a mixture of first person and second person, because I’m addressing you but I’m also talking about my experiences and writing methods!

Here’s the one example I have read:

I love the third person narrator, because it allows you to get into your characters’ heads and give a little insight on the side. It’s a common choice in fiction, so you’d be in excellent company!

I’ve read several articles that state third person POVs can’t get into your character’s head as well as the first person narrator does, but I don’t think that’s true. I’d argue that third person narrators are just as capable as getting into your character’s head (and your readers’) as first person narrators. In fact, the books that have moved destroyed me the most were written in third person!

When the woman dared disobey him the child was so surprised she bit her fingers. She scarcely felt the small pain, vast like the barren wastes beyond the village’s godpost, and had been so since her first caterwauling cry. She was almost numb to it now.

(from Empress by Karen Miller)

You need to be careful, though, because it’s all too easy to switch narrator part way through. If this keeps happening to you, you may want to consider writing your book with several POVs (more on that below). It’s easily done – you’re writing a chapter from Kath’s POV, mention briefly how Jake left the room without a word because he felt like he needed to throw up – and just like that you’ve switched POV without even realising it! Because, you see, Kath only knows that Jake ran out of the room without a word. She might suspect it’s because he’s feeling sick, but she can’t know that because he hasn’t said anything. When you’re writing your first draft it’s easy to make a mistake like that, but it can be hard to spot on your own, so you need to be careful.

Take a look at these wonderful examples:

While I personally prefer multiple POVs, I don’t mind a single narrator telling the entire story. I prefer writing multiple POVs, but I’m not fussy when it comes to reading them.

Having a single POV means that one character tells the entire story. We’re not privy to anything the MC doesn’t know, and will unravel the plot as your character does. This can add a lot of tension, since we don’t know what’s going on behind the MCs back.

What a single narrator doesn’t mean is that your readers only get one opinion. Unless your character never talks to anyone and doesn’t make eye contact, the other characters in your story are likely to argue or support your character throughout. In this way, even though we don’t get whole chapters from their POV, we still know how they feel about the plot and other characters. Your side characters don’t have to fall short just because you’ve chosen a single narrator!

Here are two books with brilliant single POVs:

This is my favourite (I may have mentioned this already… *ahem*). Multiple POVs allow your reader to get a broader sense of what’s going on, but this also means that your characters need to be strong. If you have four POVs and three characters sound and act the same, you’ve got work to do! Every POV needs to add something unique to the story. One of the reasons Six of Crows works so well is because all six points of view have their own voice, and we know who’s talking without Bardugo needing to tell us. There’s a scene where Kaz asks the others what the easiest way to relieve a man of his purse is, and the answers that follow stand alone. No identifiers. No ‘so-and-so said’. But we know who’s talking, because Bardugo has created six strong characters who each stand out from the others.

From my own experience, your readers will either enjoy this or they won’t. Some readers love getting more angles and even knowing that the antagonist has set a trap their favourite characters aren’t aware off, but other readers think it takes away from the tension. Personally, I’m more tense knowing that a character I’m rooting for is walking into a trap. Of course, having more than one POV doesn’t mean one of those has to be the villain! Who you choose is up to you – just make sure they’re there for a reason.

I’ve read plenty of articles recently encouraging new writers to stay far away from multiple POVs. I don’t think that’s necessary. If you want your book to have six narrators, you go write six narrators – just make sure you create six different narrators. Make sure all six are strong, believable, and shine in their own right, and having more than one POV won’t be a problem. It creates more work, sure, but if you enjoy the character creation process like I do you won’t mind that.

More to love, more to hurt you 😉

 

This would be my recommendation of what to stay away from. At least until you find your feet. I’ve read a few books this year which had an omniscient narrator, and most of the time I find it irritating. If a chapter starts with Taylor’s thoughts, I don’t want it to switch to Hillary’s thoughts mid-sentence, and then switch back to Taylor before the paragraph is over. I’ll happily raise my hand and say it’s confusing, and I don’t get it.

You might like an omniscient POV because it knows everything, and can show the reader whatever it wants at any time. Personally, I always feel more detached from the characters, like I’m getting a bit of everything but I’m not getting any of it completely (kinda like buffets which serve however many different cuisines but haven’t mastered any of them).

I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but I do think it takes some skill. I love the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, but as a general rule I’m not a fan.

Here are some examples:

 

You’re excused if you’re writing your book with an omniscient narrator. Otherwise, choose your POV and stick to it. If you feel while you’re writing or editing (I hope for your sanity’s sake that you feel it while you’re still writing the scene) like the chapter would be better told from someone else’s POV, fix it. It’s not too late to change what you’re doing until you’ve hit publish.

If you do switch POV partway through a chapter, make sure there’s a clear scene break so we’re not confused by the sudden change. It’s as simple as tapping the space bar twice instead of once.

As with anything in this business, there’s no one right way of doing things. Go with your instincts. If you start writing your book and it just comes out as a first person narrator with multiple POVs, go with it! If you had plans of writing it in third person with one narrator but the opposite happens naturally as you write, don’t force your first choice. Let whatever happens organically happen.

And if you suddenly realise halfway through the first monster edit that your book needs to be rewritten from third person to first person, I send warm thoughts to you and your sanity.

And that’s it for another series, friends!

If you’ve missed anything or would like to remind yourself of a specific topic, here they are again:

(have you collected your free character questionnaire?)

In the next series, we’ll look at why you should write for yourself above anyone else, what it means to be a plotter or a pantser (or the plotster hybrid), and other general writing related topics, so keep an eye out for those! 😉 In the meantime, if you have any questions, ask away!

How do you decide which POV is right for your book? Do you have a preference when you read? Make yourself a cuppa, and let’s talk about books!


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Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love – The Anti-Baddie

Over the past few weeks we’ve already talked quite a lot about how to create believable characters. What we haven’t looked at so much are redeeming qualities, or why you might want your villains to be likeable in the first place! The short answer is conflict. The long answer is below 😉

You’ve heard plenty of talk about the anti-hero, I’m sure! People love an anti-hero – a hero who has some negative traits like assassination or thieving besides the good ones – but they love a good anti-baddie just as much.

Your antagonist probably wants to rule the world, create chaos, and generally make life difficult for your protagonist (or something along those lines, anyway – I’m not here to tell your villains their business). But it doesn’t have to end there. Villains rarely see themselves as the bad guys, so there’s no harm in giving them some good traits, too!

We all love an antagonist we love to hate, but I love the antagonist I have conflicting feelings for even more. So he’s an assassin – he’s a cat person, too, and will stop to pet every kitten he meets! (one might argue that’s not really a positive trait, exactly… but don’t listen to those people. they’re not cat people and can’t be trusted.)

Or how about the evil queen who wants to murder a village – but only because it would save her sister’s life, and even though she’ll despise herself for it?

The redeeming quality can be something emotional like that, or it can be an action. Your baddie might be a murderer, but oh look, he volunteers in a soup kitchen once a week because really he feels guilty about all the lives he’s taken. Or what if he doesn’t want to kill all those people or seek world domination, and only does it because someone else is pulling the strings? Your villains can commit crimes without enjoying themselves or without being the mastermind behind the plans.

All those things make your readers more conflicted. It’s easy to hate the antagonist who creates chaos for chaos’ sake, but it’s harder to hate someone who’s doing all those evil things for a good reason, despite having a good side, or knowing they’ll live with the guilt for the rest of their lives!

As we’ve discussed a few weeks ago, every character has strengths and weaknesses. I won’t go into detail now because we’ve already covered this topic, but in the case of your baddie his weakness could also be his redeeming quality. You could see the assassin with the hit list of ten high-ranking government employees – or you could see the brother who’s scared for his sister’s life because she has talents said government has just outlawed. He goes on to kill some of those high-ranking people, maybe even all of them (where’s your hero in this? why isn’t he saving them??), but he only does it to protect his sister, who may not even know what her brother is up to! Maybe he didn’t tell her because he knows that she would shoulder the guilt, and by not telling her he’s trying to protect her further!

Years ago I read an article – and I could kick myself for not remembering where! – about what makes redemption impossible for any character. This doesn’t affect just your anti-baddie, either, but your heroes, too. There were three actions the article stated no character could recover from. I remember two of them *ahem*

It stated that killing dogs and molesting or otherwise hurting children are actions no character, no matter how good otherwise, can recover from.

While you might disagree, this is something you need to consider. Your character might have a good reason for killing a dog – an exception could be if the dog is dying and in pain, and the character shows mercy and ends its suffering – but you’d need to do something pretty special to let your character recover from it. A lot of people are protective of their dogs and children, and if your character harms one or both chances are he’s had it.

(If you somehow know which article I’m talking about, please let me know so I can link it)

… don’t count. If you ask me. You can disagree with me, obviously, but if something terrible happened in their past and they use it as a reason to do bad things now then that’s not a redeeming quality. So what if your antagonist was kicked out from home at a young age and was despised by his parents before that? He’s still capable of making his own decisions, and deciding to destroy someone’s world – or everyone’s world if your villain is so inclined – is a decision he’s made.

Reading to sick children at the hospital twice a month is a redeeming quality. Getting revenge for something that happened in your past is not. The former is trying to be a good person at least in some aspects of his life. The latter is committing a crime because he can.

If you think you can convince me otherwise, bring it on 😉

Not every villain needs to have a kind side. As I said above, we love baddies we love to hate, and they’re definitely easier to hate when they’re all evil with no flicker of goodness in them. Literature and cinema are full of excellent examples! Just look at Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Sometimes the bad guys are just evil, and their re-occurrence on TV and in books shows just how much we love it. But plenty of them are more complex than that, too. Next time you create your antagonist, consider creating an anti-baddie, because they need our love and hatred, too <3

Who are your favourite anti-baddies? Do you prefer your bad guys all evil with no kindness, or do you prefer them with a few redeeming qualities? Make a tea, have a biscuit, and let’s chat!


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