Death of a Scene

When I opened up my laptop, my word document was gone.

‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘Don’t panic.’ I went into Word and could see my novel I’ve been working on for about 4 years. Beside it, it said ‘recovered’. Recovered? Recovered from what? Was there a power surge? I went all the way down to the bottom of the text, where I had been working, and began to read.

There was about 10,000 words missing…

Not one part of me thought, ‘That’s okay, I can write it again and this time I’ll write it better!’ Nope. My only thought was bailing on the whole book. 20,000 words shy of the 80,000 target and I was giving up. I just could not fathom rewriting 10,000 words. What I lay down on the page, normally stays. I’ll fix up grammar and spelling, but I won’t re-write whole chunks. No way. I’ve done that before, when I was learning to write. I’m not doing it now. And not with this book.

I sat blankly looking at it. I was remembering all the great pages I had written. Should I re-write them now? Quickly, to fix this issue? I remember most things that were written, just not detail. I was about to quickly scramble and write the 10,000 words so I wouldn’t give up. Not long ago I had written a great death scene. It was perfect. The mood was just right. I was very proud of it. I cut it from where it was, to move it, and must have got distracted and never pasted it anywhere. The next day, I couldn’t find it. I knew the computer had shut down and said something about ‘large text still on the clipboard’ or something, but I ignored it.

I re-wrote the death scene, and it just wasn’t the same. I knew most of the details, but when I went to write it, it lost some of its initial glory. I was crestfallen. It’s still in my mind, like a tack, waiting for me to re-write it (again) and try to inject some of the mood it had the first time around. It does feel like killing the same person twice though (sorry character you had to go through that again). I’ve often gone back and read chapters that have been published and thought ‘My god, what was I thinking, that’s horrible…’ but it also works the other way around too. I’ve read paragraphs and thought, ‘Okay, that’s pretty good’. I literally impressed myself.

Minutes ago, I resigned to the fact that this weekend writing session will be the full re-write. Just get it down, go over it on second draft and make it work. I sighed so loudly my neighbours heard it. Then I thought… I’ll check to see if I have a saved copy elsewhere. It was a long shot, but worth looking into. I found an older version, saved for backup. If that was the only copy I had, I would definitely have given up. From the bottom of my screen I saw the title of my book. The date last opened was last weekend. I thought I had already opened it. As I double clicked it, I began watching the page counter rise. Expecting it to stop around the 70,000-word count mark, but it didn’t. It kept going.

It stopped at 77,000. I scrolled down and could see the entire story was there. No re-writes required.

Please, back up your work.

Mitchell

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What If Your Characters Are Smarter Than You?

To anyone who doesn’t write this is going to sound profoundly strange, but I’ve loved to write my whole life and sometimes I need to write characters who have powerful intellects, master schemers and magnificent bastards. The problem with that is, I am none of those things. I am not a master strategist, I don’t have a history of warfare or science and I have never had the need to plot to destroy someone’s life but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it.

Pretty sure. Don’t test me, but still.

Yet somehow, I still have to write all of those things and make them convincing, I have to figure out the plans and plots that are going to unravel. So, here’s my advice on writing brilliant characters despite maybe only being semi brilliant yourself.

Research Research Research

Try not to be wrong. Being wrong will undermine your character’s ability to seem intelligent. I’m not saying you need to be a genius at whatever subject you’re working on but not making obvious mistakes would help. I’ve been dragged out of some of the better stories of my life because a character who’s supposed to be a master got some obvious thing wrong. You don’t need to be an expert, just know your stuff. If you’re writing a master strategist, at least get familiar with some of the classic manoeuvres. If you’re writing a brilliant scientist know something about the field so you don’t end up with a ‘hacking scene’ that involves two people typing on the same keyboard.

Yes, that actually happened.

No, I didn’t ever take those characters seriously again. Shame too, I liked them.

Manage How the World Makes Them Right

This is a bit of a challenge for some writers, including myself. See, you’d think it’d be easy, you can just make their decisions the correct ones, can’t you? Well yes and no. The problem with making your character right, is that you have to make them believably right and to do that you have to determine why they’re right. Is it because they realised something about other characters no one else did? Because they planned for this exact situation? Because they have a secret no one else knows? Have they just read more books or do they have sharper instincts?

The worst thing they can be is right just because they’re a genius. The question is what does that genius mean? What does the fact they’re brilliant mean they can figure out before anyone else? You can make their leaps of logic correct, but there needs to be a clear reason why they made them.

Don’t Make Everything Go Right.

One of the best quotes I heard form a character who I actually believed as a master strategist was ‘being a good strategist doesn’t mean having master plan, it means having a bunch of plans, and fall-back plans, and contingencies. We try things, sometimes they even work.’ One of the most believably intelligent things you can have a character do is respond well when things go wrong. Yes, it’s much easier for your character to have a master plan from the start where everything goes right, but to your smarter readers that’s going to come off as contrived. It can be so much cooler for a reader to watch your character react like a genius than act like one.

Deal With Their Frustrations

This is the part that’s going to seem weird to some people, but characters have a level of autonomy in your head, and yes, sometimes the smarter ones are going to get upset with you. If they planned some master manoeuvre that you just couldn’t figure out they’re going to get annoyed with you, which is going to seem a little strange as the process continues. This might hurt your brain a little in the early stages, but it’s something you’re just going to have to deal with. Like every other annoying little issue remember that this is something you can go back and fix later, so quiet the voices in your head and keep working. Like everything else, you can fix it in editing.

It’s a surreal experience the first time you realise you might not be clever enough to properly write a character that you thought up, but if you know your stuff and are willing to put in the effort, you’ll have them about their dastardly or benevolent brilliance soon enough.

~ Robert

Writing Programs: A review of Scrivener

Writers and authors use a variety of ways to plan their projects. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs I’m not much of a planner, I do however have my research and I have tried a few different programs to help me sort through all of my notes.

As far as programs go I give Scrivener a solid 9/10.

This program has a lot of uses in it that makes it worth the $45AUD one off cost. It updates your program and as far as I’m aware it is a lifetime subscription. Once such thing I came across while playing with the program was the name generator. You can put in a variety of different settings and it will provide you with names that fit your description, you can even look up name meanings.

The basic layout for a fiction novel set up is relatively easy to follow. It has a manuscript section where you can make a tab for each of your chapters then you are able to export the file and it will hopefully come out as a fully formatted novel. I haven’t tried this part of the program yet as I prefer to complete my manuscripts in Microsoft Word for easier reading and editing.

You can also create character profiles within the program which I found extremely useful, especially now that I am gaining more characters and venturing into the second book with them, it is important for me to remember who is who and how they are related to the main plot. Without this section of Scrivener I would be lost, I would be constantly reading through The Stray to make sure everything is correct. Similar to the characters section of the program you can create places. Describing a new place and need to know all the information later on? The best place to store it is in that section. For both the characters and the places Scrivener provides a basic template that you can edit to suit your project needs.

You do also have the option to make extra areas, which is what I do. I make extra folders and corkboards that allow me to put my mythologies and species histories and connections into a database of some kind. You can also create extra template sheets for later use if you require them in other projects.

Scrivener is a very useful program for me and I’m not even using it to its full capacity. I think this program is fantastic for its price and would be useful to almost any writer beginning or published. I’m looking forward to giving Scrivener’s sister program, Scrapple, a try whilst I plan and write the rest of the White Wolf Trilogy. For only $15AUD it’s worth a try.

~Amanda

Convention Preparation as an Author

As convention season commences in Australia, we begin the insanity of convention prep. Most of these tips will be applicable for all those who convention as an artist or any other creator, but this is to all the authors wanting to join the insanity of conventions.

As the co-ordinator of Ouroborus Book Services, I am in charge of stock, packing and running our stall so here are my Top 10 Prep Tips.

1 Lists

Lists are your best friend. Whether you have one book or 13, as we will have this year for April Gold Coast Supanova, this is the most important thing. You need a stock list (especially with multiple titles/items), a stall list (banners, tablecloths, etc) and a survival list (food, water, things to do). Use these to order stock, and while packing so nothing gets forgotten, especially if you are travelling for a convention.

2 Stock Counts

Even though you won’t need 100 of each title (seriously don’t bring 100 of each title or you will be wasting time and space, not to mention lugging them all there), you need to know how much stock you have. I like to make sure we have 20 of each title available before the show. The last thing you want to do is run out. Make sure you do a stock count in plenty of time to order more if you are low.

3 Promo Items

People like free stuff. You need to find the most cost-effective way to do this while making it a useful object. Business cards are great but most folk will put them in the bottom of their bags and never look at them again. Same with flyers. We personally love bookmarks. We hand out free bookmarks at our stall because it’s something people can use. And if they use it, it means you might get a sale later on down the track because they’ve been looking at a pic of your book for the last few months and decide to give it a go. Printing smart is your way to save cash. I know with the place we use, it’s only a small amount of difference in price to go from 100 bookmarks to 1000, so we buy them in bulk. (shout out to www.cmykonline.com.au)

4 Buy a Trolley

Best purchase we ever made was a luggage trolley. It was cheap (under $100) off eBay and holds about 300kg so perfect for us and folds flat enough to fit in the car on top of our stock. It has made life so much easier and we can transport most our gear in one or two tips. If you can’t afford to do this but have an old wheeled suitcase, they can do in a pinch but are a pain to get into a car when full of books.

5 Fridge Bags

If your novel is a standard 5x8in, then supermarket padded fridge bags are perfect to transport books. You can fit two stacks perfectly in each bag and they’re strong enough to deal with the weight. When full they also stack nicely on the above-mentioned trolley and are super easy to Tetris into a car. Plus picking up a bag of books is less stress on your body if you are weak like me. They’re also good for food and drink, and you can pack them inside each other for easy under-table storage during the convention.

6 Self Care

Conventions are hotbeds of germs and injuries. I’ll be honest. The tales of con-flu are real, so you need to look after yourself before and during the convention. Take your vitamins and be kind to yourself and try to get some sleep. During a convention weekend, you will eat horrible food, not drink enough water and most likely fall into an exhausted heap each night. Try to eat some veggies and things not deep fried for at least one meal. And for the love of all that is holy, make sure to get the next day after off work. You will need the recovery time. Also, be careful lifting things as the last thing you need is to do your back in after sitting on hard plastic chairs all weekend.

7 Essentials

Apart from your stock, there are some essentials you will need for the convention. These include

  • a tablecloth (a flat sheet is good because you want it to cover the table and hit the floor at the front) and a spare cloth to cover your stuff at night.
  • Signage (some conventions provide this, but extra visual aids always help)
  • Money tin (you will need somewhere to store your money) and a float (change should be a mix of notes and coins depending on your price point. If your books are $20, you should get $20s and $10s, to make change for $50 notes. If you have $15 books, add $5 notes.
  • Pens (for signing)
  • Emergency box (band aids, Panadol, blutac, cloth tape, tissues, scissors etc)
  • I buy a slab of bottles for our team and freeze them. As it gets crazy hot in conventions you will need water so you don’t pass out, and I know I don’t want to pay $4 a bottle there. You can get slabs of 24 bottle for $15 at supermarkets and office supply stores.
  • Convention food is expensive and usually gross. I recommend bringing something to nibble on. Sugar is also helpful to keep the energy up so lollies and fruit can be good. Be mindful of bringing peanuts as you don’t want to kill a customer who might be allergic.

8 Team Prep

Always bring a friend. Obviously, we are a big team, so we can take breaks and still have several folk behind our stall. But if it’s just you, make sure you bring people with you. Most cons will include a few passes with your table booking so use these to your advantage. Eight hours without food or toilet breaks is not gonna be fun. Make sure your team know prices, basic info on the products and how to handle money. Bribe them with candy, lightsabers or daleks (thanks Mum) if needs be.

9 Give Yourself Enough Time

Prep is a heap of work. I start at least two months before the convention, writing lists and doing stock counts. This gives you time to order stuff you need, amass fridge bags, and to space out your costs. I pack at least a week before the convention just in case I forget something.

10 Breathe.

I used to end up in a ball of panic packing for conventions, which in the lovely humidity of Queensland, was never a pretty sight. I’ve now learned that by prepping ahead of time, keeping to my lists, and stopping if I feel overwhelmed for a break, I can now get things done with little panic and stress.

So, in conclusion, plan, have fun and look after yourself!

~Sabrina

For more info on convention planning check out How to Sell at a Convention by fellow convention goer Megs Drinkwater available on Kindle.

In the Case of Stuing the Sue

Once upon a time (ignore the cliché) many characters were unique, interesting and most importantly they had depth. You may not know this, but many of those amazing characters were in fact Mary Sue or in the male case, Gary Stu.

While everyone has a different opinion on them, I’m determined that the Mary Sue can affect my mood for a story. In my eyes, they are very repetitive and they are more common than you think. They are consistently expressed as beautiful, with a sad ‘poor me’ tale, have no flaws, has everyone’s immediate attention that even bad guys are interested and the most common theme is that they are incredibly overpowered!

Known examples of these characters are:

  • Bella Swan from The Twilight Saga (I mean the name pretty much starts with warning bells)
  • Regina Mills/The Evil Queen from Once Upon a Time (Literally a person who is always the victim, then blames other people for her problems – but the best part is that everyone lets her do things without consequence)
  • Richard Rhal from The Legend of the Seeker (While I’ve only seen the first season and never read the books, he does have obvious elements of a Gary Stu)
  • Superman/Clark Kent from Superman (Alien orphan with incredible power – it’s safe to say I never liked him… No offence to Superman fans)

As you can see, there are several well-known characters that are Sues/Stus and I’m here to hand out advice to stop them from taking over our writing community.

I won’t say that my characters are non-perfect little angels – because they’re not always in that case. But I do work hard to make sure that they are dimensional with real struggles and pain. The only advice I can offer when creating a character is giving them a balance. If you feel like your character is a Mary Sue, take an online test and find out for yourself before giving yourself some time to give a certain character flaws.

With that, I must advise you to not give them so many flaws. If you hand them too many flaws, then they become the anti-Sue which is the opposite of what we want.

For example, make a character intelligent and insightful – but perhaps making them not street smart or a little awkward due to the lack of experience.

However, despite that Mary Sues exist, you can make them better by making them realise their flaws and that they’re actually human (or… inhuman in some cases). Even now, I learn more about my characters – about their fears and hopes. Perhaps in the distant future you will be able to see it as well.

~ Annalise

Long in the Tooth

Every few years I make a list of the books I need to write. And I say need, because for us writers, it is just that. I hadn’t done it for a while, and coming up to the end of two books, I decided I should probably figure out what I need to write in the next year or so.

I started writing down the books that are half written and sitting in my brain covered in cobwebs and I came to the realisation that, maybe, I don’t want to write some anymore. Some of them, like the one I titled ‘Generation Rat’, had a very interesting topic and dynamic, and I couldn’t wait to write it. But now, years later, I would struggle to finish it. My heart and energy just aren’t in the old books anymore. Which is sad. I have a fear one day the writing tube will just run out and I’ll have no more ideas; I’ll sit down to write and that will be it – it’s empty.

Most of these books are either half written or have chapters all over the place and some I still want to write, but ‘I’ll write it later’ when I run out of other things to write. Coming to the end of a book is equally exciting and depressing. If you’ve ever seen those marathon runners that are stick-thin, their knees are wobbly, they don’t know where they are, they’re sweating and falling over – that’s how it feels. You’ve made it to the end of a book, it’s done. Well, sort of. Editing and rewrites come next, but the hard part’s done. The exciting thing is, you get to start another book. Some people find it daunting, but I find it exciting. The first few chapters are vital. Even I don’t know the characters properly, or the environments.

I’ve got two chapters to go on ‘The Skellington Key,’ then I’ll edit it and send it to the publisher. Then I’ll work on ‘Children of the Locomotive,’ which is pretty much all written, but needs another run through. This will take up the next few weeks at least, if I get my arse into gear and knuckle down. After that, I’ll have to choose what to work on next. Do I dig the old books out and dust them off and see what can be salvaged? Has time and experience made them obsolete? Maybe. I really don’t have time to panel beat a book into shape and force myself to write these books that are long in the tooth and I’ve somewhat gotten bored of.

My next adult book ‘Homeless Astronaut,’ excites me. It has a few subject matters that I’m keen to write about. There’s only two characters so far and I’m constantly thinking of what I can do with it. It’s something of a challenge and I like it. Last week I had an idea about writing a period piece called ‘The Wandmaker’s Apprentice’. That started me down a road of exploration and note-writing that lasted nearly five days straight. Although those old books are still in my head, patiently waiting, I’m sure there will be a time where the final story arc will fall in my lap and I’ll sit there and bash it out. I do want to write ‘Generation Rat,’ I like the characters I have. I like the story line. But I also want to rewrite ‘The Devil and The Wall,’ and the other books I’ve wanted to write forever: ‘Dark Water.’ But time and ideas restrict these books. I also can’t write five books at once, I’ll never get anything done. So, I try to only write about two books at once. One adult book, and one Young Adult book.

Don’t let books die, if they are meant to be in print, you’ll get it done.

~ Mitchell.

Living the Dream

If you’d asked me what my dream was my entire life up until a year ago I would have responded the same way. Something along the lines of the fact that I like telling stories, and ultimately my goal was to publish a book one day.

I never really thought it would happen; it was just a dream I kept in the back of my head, to take out and look at when I needed it. Sometimes the dream would be fame and fortune, other times I just wanted the acclaim and satisfaction of having a few people who loved seeing me do what I love. I imagined the pride I’d feel looking at my work and saying ‘yeah that’s mine. I did that.’

Now I’ve done that. My life’s dream has been accomplished which, as you can probably guess, is a much more complicated thing to have happen to you than it might seem at first glance. So I thought now would be a good chance to look at what got better, what got worse and what got weird.

What Got Better

The obvious is probably the best place to begin: I now have a book to my name, which is about the strangest thing to have happen. I still occasionally get a little flush of quiet accomplishment knowing that I’ve done something I always wanted to do. I talk to people and hear that they’ve always wanted to write a book, how they’d always had a story in them. I love the idea of being a positive example rather than a cautionary tale for once, and every time someone quotes my work on Facebook or tells me they recommended it to a friend I feel a happy buzz.

I got what I wanted most from life – so many people never get to do that, so I won’t pretend I’m not lucky, and I’ll never forget what it was like to open up my first box of books.

What Got Worse

I’m only twenty-six years old and I’ve already done the only thing in the world I’ve always wanted to do, which is a confusing situation to be in. I love writing, but I now have a much greater mountain to climb to reach my next potential step. Living off my work is something a lot of authors never achieve, and having already lived my dream I have no overriding goal to accomplish.

It resulted in a sense of malaise that lasted months after I got my first book out there. The fact that not everything changed when I did the only thing I had ever wanted to do was difficult to deal with. My world didn’t turn on its head and honestly, I kind of expected it to.

The world seems so much bigger now, and apparently that’s where things begin. I now have cons, promotion, marketing, trying to meet the right people and get my name out there which are things I have no idea how to do. Something I loved is a job now, which takes something away from the favourite hobby I once had.

Where to go from here?

I know how monstrously self-indulgent this sounds. I’m droning on about how my life changed when I got everything I wanted but the idea that twenty-six might be my peaking achievement is so strange. I don’t know if this is a thing most writers go through, but there’s a possibility. For so long my entire life, and maybe yours, has been about doing this one thing we’ve always wanted to do and once that’s done we end up with a sense of aimlessness that takes some considerable getting over.

My Advice to Other Writers

If you feel like I feel my best advice is to find another goal to work toward quickly. It doesn’t have to be ‘live off my writing’ (which mine is, as insane as it sounds to write that down.) It might be to find a way for writing a sequel to fit into your life or building more effective writing habits. It might be to write something outside of your usual genre, or write something that impresses and pleases you on a level your current work doesn’t.

If all else fails, work on your magnum opus. It’ll never be good enough to satisfy you, but it’s a lot of fun to try.

~ Robert