Quarterly Goals / Resolution check-in / Mid-year freak out

 

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Call it what you want. New Years resolutions aren’t just for being declared and forgotten… I’m posting updates each quarter on social media to keep me motivated from fear of embarrassment all through 2018.

Initially, in 2015-2017, I was creating yearly goals, but because of the amount of time that’s spanned, things were too easily put off and I wasn’t getting as much done as I wanted. I’d fiddle-fardle around until the last 3 months of the year and then go on a tear to start completing things off the checklist…. Only to finish a dismal amount of items. Just like my approach to studying in high school. *sigh* After inspiration from Jenna Moreci, I’ve re-worked my goals in to quarterly lists for 2018 and hoping to increase my productivity. I tried monthly goals in the first quarter, but found it wasn’t enough time for my lofty goals, and writing novels are chunky items to get through, so quarterly seems to be the business. Those first three months were depressing: I locked myself inside, in the dark, working my behind off and did not complete one task. Oi vey!

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Here’s a link to her latest quarterly goals video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67VbahiISDo

So what achievements were in my sights for Apr-Jun? I wanted to complete the final edit on one manuscript and finish the first draft of another. I was also looking at expanding and updating my online platform in preparation for a marketing campaign when my novel is ready for the publishing stage. Then there were some personal goals around income, home renovations, and socialising…

How did I perform?

None were completely finished, but progressive percentages all added up to the halfway point as a whole. I feel like it’s not good enough – I should have been able to complete everything comfortably but was sidelined with a lengthy period of illness twice this quarter, and had family come to visit. Spending time with family and taking the time to recover to optimal health is important, so I’m giving myself a break. But I’m hoping to have everything ticked off and adding a few more items for July-October quarterly goals. *crosses fingers and strikes a pose in the mirror – I got this*

Is this new format working? I’d say so. With a more immediate deadline, I tend to be more focused. Value my writing time and stop distractions that waste time. I’m a checklist gal. I like to cross things of a to-do list to make me feel happy and productive. Breaking down my writing into completing set scenes/chapters has made it easier to keep the pace up for my writing goals. Especially when it gets to the pointy end of completing your novel because there is so much to keep in mind wrapping up a story, your head can get ‘full.’

It has also helped in keeping me balanced. I get out and explore the Coast a lot. I catch up with friends more frequently. Last year I was starting to feel a bit down, and on closer examination, it turned out I wasn’t leaving the house for weeks on end. No sunshine, no outside contact, just sitting at my computer for hours typing. Having those breaks – that balance – has invigorated my stamina and helped me focus when writing. I has also increased my physical health. I’m more active and my waistline and expanding rear are shrinking back to a more modest size.

How do you set goals and track your progress? What works for you? All tips and tricks greatfully welcome! List some of your best tools in the comments section.

I have always cherished and guarded my writing time, but quarterly goals have made a point in just how valuable it is. I’ve stopped falling into the social media k-hole, or binge-watching shows or YouTube videos. I set a timer and get some solid writing done each day.

Check back with you at the end of Sept, hopefully with a big list of completed items – and some great news on the writing/publishing front.

Stay calm and carry on writing!

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Writing characters – ensuring your narrative ‘voice’ is different for each point of view

 

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Firstly, ‘voice’ is a somewhat ambivalent word that describes the feeling, tone, or personality behind the writing. For instance an author, or characters voice (or writing style) could be described as witty and sarcastic, direct and to the point. An author finds their voice when they develop a particular way of writing that is distinct in all their works. It has something to do with common word use, sentence structure, and the impression that is left with the reader after reading their stories. Comparatively, a character’s voice is similar in that it is distinct to them, and sets them apart from the rest of the characters in your story.

Writing Characters Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.jpgThe way I ensure my characters are distinct from each other is always identifying their background, identity, and motivations first. From there I may list words or phrases that are common in their dialogue. Maybe a certain way of acting, physical ticks, disability and/or phobias. Do they suffer mental illness, discrimination? All of these aspects play on how a character behaves and lets you develop a style that is unique to each member of your cast.

Why is this important? Well you want your reader to clearly identify who is speaking, or from which character’s perspective the narrative is delivering from. It avoids confusion and keeps the reader engaged.

You don’t want to have to write “so-and-so said” after each line of dialogue. It’s unnecessary and kind of amateurish. It shows intelligence and great writing skills if a reader can immediately identify which character said what line, or from what perspective a narrative is taking from a single sentence or two.

I’ve experienced reading some novels where I’ve had to go back and re-read half a page because I wasn’t sure who was speaking, or which character was controlling the narrative. It’s frustrating and takes you out of the story.

My experiences in working as a screenwriter amplify this device even further – writers quickly identify if the dialogue is representative of the character in the script. It’s not uncommon to find them repeating catch phrases, inventing slang, and word chains. For example Lori in the ‘Glimore Girls’ was always using dialogue that was intelligent and chock-full of long thesaurus-sourced words. This type of dialogue was representative of her passion for knowledge and love of having conversations with her mother. Or even Giles from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ where he would have fatherly advice, broke things down for simple explanations. While he is also a bookish, intelligent character, his motivations were different. On the reverse side of things, Giles became a bit of a characture of an English gentleman, so that is something to avoid unless you are writing for comedic purposes.

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We tend to create a voice intuitively to some extent. There is already a person realized in our head from which we are writing. But in order to really nail voice, we need to take a step back and look at our manuscript with fresh eyes and involve as many tools as we can to separate our characters. The clearer you are, the more understanding your readers will have. Our target market comes from a wide variety of backgrounds in culture and education, so the more distinguished you can make the voices of your cast, the better. And it also provides you with a diverse cast – giving a plethora of characters that your reader can relate to.

A handy tip could be to pin up a few character profiles on your wall. Pictures and notes that are unique to your character and their motivations – what is driving them through the story. Then in the 2nd draft stage (so not to ruin your creative flow when getting the bones of the story down) start applying those attributes to every presence the character has in your manuscript and ensure it rings true to their profile.

Of course there are many other ways to differentiate voice – maybe a more physical approach by changing font for each perspective when printing your novel, or definitive chapter headings with the character’s name… it’s up to your own preferences, your creative process and expression, and the tone you want for your book. Don’t be afraid to experiment in the beta reading/testing process and gauge reader reactions.

What tips do you use to help create your voice? How do you create a distinctive style for each characters perspective? I’d love to hear about other methods for cultivating voice. Comment below.

And in the meantime, as always, happy writing 🙂

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Decluttering your manuscript

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When doing one of the final edits for your novel, it’s hard to get a degree of separation from the words on the page. Because you wrote them all. There is emotional attachment in every syllable. So there are a few tools I use to help me remove superfluous material and keep the flow, pace, and tension up throughout my story.

This is pretty close to a contextual edit.

Firstly I like to clearly identify the basics of my story. The beginning, where the scene is set, the characters are introduced, the goal or challenge is stated, and what is risked or the challenges to be faced will entail. It’s about world building and setting the tone of your novel. Are all the themes introduced – what are they? The middle, where the protagonist faces obstacles, be they personal, emotional, or physical.  Character growth and development from facing these obstacles. Is there one or more turning points, and do they reflect on the theme/s of the story. And the climactic end. A lose-everything-or-die scenario. High emotion, fast pacing, and does it tie up the theme of the novel? Are all your plot points resolved? Does it feel like a natural conclusion? Have you revisited and reflected upon the questions you posed in your introduction? I know all of this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many published novels do not fit this criteria. Identifying a clear start, middle and end will put a spotlight on scenes or chapters that diverge away from your core plot line.

Then I move to taking a closer look at each chapter or scene. It depends on your writing style. Some like to unfold part of the plot over a chapter, some do it through scenes. Some have long chapters, others short.

De-cluttering your manuscript Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.jpgThe main thing I focus on here is asking myself questions like: Is this relevant to the plot of my novel? Is this essential for the character profile, or their development? Is this part of a character arc? Does this tie into my theme/s or shed light on part of my story? Is it increasing the stakes? Generally, if the answer is a negative, I’ll re-read the part of the novel with the section in question omitted, and if I feel it still makes sense and haven’t lost anything in regards to the main story, I’ll cut it. You can highlight it, save a new version of your manuscript, or put all the cuts into a new document in case you change your mind later. On a side note, these cuts are great tools for marketing later – publishing them on your social media or website as extras to entice readers. Never delete!

De-cluttering your manuscript Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleDon’t be afraid to be brutal with your cuts. Having a focused story keeps the pace and interest of your novel at a premium. Resulting in a reader so excited after reading one scene, they can’t wait to read the next. Making cuts like this and focusing on chapter or scene individually allows you to ensure it’s the best it can be, that it is leading the story forward.

If some characters are not supporting the protagonist or the main plot, cut them. Or just mention them in passing. No need to develop a backstory and motivation if they are not adding to the narrative or plot. A rule of thumb is like they do in television shows and movies – if the character is not important, they generally don’t have a name in the credits. Like ‘lady on bus,’ or ‘guy with glasses.’ Keep non-essential characters with those descriptors, so that they are an interesting observation in the landscape and not dragging your narrative with unnecessary tangents.

So that’s the basic premise I use to declutter my manuscript. Further to this, which is usually for the final draft, is a line edit. When I ask the same questions per sentence… and then focus on sentence structure, tense, perspective, spelling and grammar. And usually by that point it’s as polished as I can get it, my brain is melting and dripping from my ears, and I send it out to another professional editor/s to make it even better.

I find addressing questions that always bring me back to deciding if the material is relevant to my story are the key indicators as to whether cuts should be made.

I hope my method of editing helps you in some way for your creative process. What methods do you use that are effective – let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for great tools to improve my writing and share with fellow authors.

In the meantime, write something every day, and carry on.   🙂

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Giving Your Story Relevance – Creating Subtext and Themes

Giving Your Story Relevance Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgAs an avid reader you get to experience a plethora of stories – get a feel for what is engaging and memorable, and what isn’t so much. Also having a literary degree under your belt also helps provide the tools to identify concepts to critique and improve your writing.

I’m primarily focusing on long-form fiction writing, novels that I like to read for this discussion, though the concepts can be loosely applied to many other forms of writing.

To help add complexity and depth to your narrative does not always mean throwing in a bunch of action scenes and having break-neck pacing. There are many novels that are quietly resounding – and those types of stories usually depict the use of subtext and theme more clearly.

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Is the girl in this photo comforting a friend, about to break up with them or wondering what groceries to buy on the way home… but what she says is “I know.”

Subtext is the goings-on between characters that is not said aloud in dialogue. Emotional energy. Motivations. This can be illustrated in symbolism, description of facial expressions and actions contra to the meaning of the dialogue, narrative tone, inner dialogue, things that are hinted at but not totally explained. It’s up to the reader to draw a line between all the dots to bring about a twist on the meaning. We usually see this in conflicted characters and/or motivations. The best way to convey this type of writing tool is by creating complex characters from the outset and planning out when to reveal certain aspects through interaction throughout the story or scene. Slowly revealing underlying motives of the character. It shows growth and development, hidden depth and complexity, and can lead to a transformative plot point later in the story.

On a lighter side it can add that little something extra to your narrative that is superfluous to the plot by adding some levity, interest, or tension.

Further to this concept, symbolism can be even more powerful. An object, thing, idea, quote, that captures the hero’s quest, transformation or state of being, can help the reader identify a deeper meaning hidden in your narrative. You can also use this kind of tool to substitute for controversial or difficult topics you many not wish to spell out directly in your narrative; or work around to keep your novel in a certain genre and demographic. For instance, dealing with death or child abuse in a middle grade novel: using symbolism to convey meaning without actually writing disturbing scenes is a great tool.

Symbolism is usually strongly connected to the core theme of your story.

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Having a theme for your novel is important to keep your narrative focused and on track. No meandering plots. A reader will lose interest if you are continually shooting off in tangents. Most of the time readers are in for a hero’s journey, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, an inner spiritual journey, or finding strength… there has to be an end goal. And the theme will reflect the tone of the novel, the path from the start to the end. For instance, revenge, growth, love. You will need to tie into this theme at the beginning, at a turning point in your story and again at the conclusion for it to work.

And there’s no rule to say you can’t have more than one theme – but don’t over complicate you novel.

I also find it handy to apply these concepts and tools to each character. Not only does this help to create a fully realised cast, but it also allows you to identify superfluous characters. That way you can cut them from the story to keep up the tension and pace.

The best idea is to start using these tools and concepts at the planning stage, but there is no reason why you can’t introduce them after a first draft to elevate the professional edge of your writing. We all have a different creative process, so it all depends on how you like to write.

But these are just some points to initiate a discussion, or things to think about when you cast a critical eye over your own writing. The more we can help each other produce amazing novels, the more enriched our literary landscape with be.

Happy writing.

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book cover art – Using stock photos vs. Creating your own image.

Getting that professional edge.

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I am a veracious reader. I peruse bookstores and online stores. And without provocation, I can confidently say that if the cover looks amateurish, I completely dismiss the novel, whether it be a well-written story or not.

While I hate to admit that I suffer vanity when it comes to book aesthetics, I totally judge a book by its cover. It is one of the biggest marketing tools at your disposal when it comes to releasing a novel, so it amazes me how some authors make little to no effort in this area.

The main culprits are overused stock photo images and bad photoshopping. We’ve all seen book covers where the exact same photo has been used on at least one other authors work. It’s confusing and tends to leave the reader feeling duped. Like the author did not value their work enough to invest in an original cover. So if you do use stock photography, use a treatment to alter it enough that it looks completely different to the original and reflects the tone or your novel. If you are paying someone to create you cover art, ask about the source material, where they got it from, what it looked like. If you are investing money in you book, it better be funds well spent.

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There are some terrible photoshopped covers too. I mean, why bother? In a technological age where any 12 year old can upload quality pics on Instagram and Tumblr, you are just asking for your novel to be ignored if you are making a composite image that is poorly executed. If you want to do it yourself, take a few classes, watch tutorials online. When you think it’s done, compare it to covers of novels in your genre already available. If your answer is anything other than ‘Heck yes!’ then it’s time to start over.

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Additionally these days HD cameras are so cheap. Lighting is not so hard to work out. Take a day and snap your own source material.

The only reason I can think of as to why some of the novels I’m thinking of have bad cover art is because the author in question rushed through the publishing process. Did they have a marketing plan?

Usually the quality of the cover reflects the content – well, in the readers mind anyway. So if you have sub-par content on your cover, do you expect it to hit a best sellers list?

cover art 03Take into account typography, placement of your font. Colour, tone and the images used. Will the cover still be clear in a thumbnail? Does it stand out from other titles in the genre? Does it reflect your story? There should be no reason to rush the most important marketing tool for your book baby. Take a week to sort everything out. A good cover reveal is a great event for creating hype. Use it.

There are even websites that can design a cover for you for a low fee. Cover artists really aren’t that expensive either. Take the time. Do the research. Or if you are a control freak, get some skills and practice!

We all want you to succeed and put your book in the best possible light.

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are you spread too thin?

Balancing writing with blogging and building your online platform.

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Building an author platform is a must these days. Especially before you finish your novel – once it’s published, it’s too late. The momentum has gone. But with all the time it takes to create, grow, and maintain your online platform mainly with social media posts and content creation – will there be enough time to complete your novel?

Previously I’ve blogged about time management, but when it comes to final edits where you need huge chunks of time to remain in the headspace of your WIP, the author platform can get in the way.

Maybe you can avoid this ahead of time by scheduling posts well in advance. But some social media sites do not allow you to schedule unless you pay for a management program (like hootsuite.) The idea is nice, but I don’t want to fork out money for website and application subscriptions if I don’t actually have a product to market. So I still do things manually, schedule on most sites, but only ever a week or two in advance.

So when it came time for the copy edit, or final draft of my latest novel, it meant taking a break from blogging for a while. I usually spend 1-2 hours on content creation, and 1-2 hours interacting with my social network a day when I’m in my writing phase, which I take 4-5 hours to indulge in. But that is not sustainable for the final draft. I need full concentration to track plot points, continuity, flow, pacing; and leaving the narrative for too long means losing the headspace I need in order to keep the project moving forward.

Am I alone in this? Does anyone else out there need to block out consecutive clumps of time to do that final tweak and read-through?

I’m fine writing multiple projects, but when it comes to the last edit before sending it out to and editor or publisher, I practically lock myself in a sensory deprivation chamber to focus. Only because other things like eating, sleeping, getting chores done, shopping also steal my time, so I cherish every moment I get to work my novel.

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So if any of you who read my blog regularly have noticed my absence, well, that’s why. I’m wrapping up a few projects and needed the time to dot my i’s and cross my t’s. And ideally I’d love to schedule posts months in advance to avoid this in the future, but the amount of time to achieve this also steals away my writing time. I’ve made a deal with myself that I need to spend at least double the amount of time on writing as I do on social media. It helps to stop falling down the k-hole of status updates and scrolling through feeds if you have a time limit. Stick to the priorities. Set an alarm. Achieve something every day.

Do you track how much time you spend on your author platform vs. writing? Or marketing activity vs. creating your novel?

Maybe my activities will change once I start to earn more money from my writing and can afford to employ a team, or outsource certain tasks… but until then, it’s going to mean I disappear from the internet for a while every now and then. But that’s good news. I’m not ignoring you, I’m finishing up a novel that will hopefully provide you with hours of entertainment and enrich your reading life.

#amwriting  #amediting  #ampublishing

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Just Get On With It Already

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Mental anguish at the writing process… be gone!

Sometimes I feel like I am talking about my writing more than actually getting the activity done in reality. Everyone knows I’m a writer, and are always asking how things are going, what I’m working on. And lately I’ve found my answers are restricted to one or two sentences.

Just Get On With It Pic 03 by Casey CarlilseMainly because I’m getting frustrated at the repetition of answers, the time it takes to explain everything, and some frustration at my progress. Now I understand how actors feel when they are going the promotional interviews for their latest project. I need to channel some of their enthusiasm and inject some quirky charisma into the conversation… but I’m so socially awkward at times I’m worried I’ll start farting from butterflies in my tummy.

In my head I should be able to churn out amazing prose at an inexorbitant rate, novels shooting from the printer, little editing needed, before charging on to the next adventure.

What a lovely deluded little dream.

Hitting that creative stride comes in intervals. Content editing is exhausting having to track so many concepts at once. The beta reading and drafting process is gruelling and lengthy. Yet I love it all. The creative process of taking black viscous oily substance and adding the pressure of each step, increasingly until a diamond is formed at the other end. I still get amazed at what is produced. It has usually morphed into an entirely different creature.

I just wish the time it took was substantially less. And yes, I could push things along at a faster rate, but fear of an inferior novel getting published – and my name attached to it – resound loudly like a Chinese dinner gong. I’ve read too many self-published novels with spelling errors, ill-though-out concepts and an obvious skipped thorough editing process. They make me cringe, angry even. I would never want a reader to feel that way about my writing.

So I have my charts and spreadsheets to track my progress. It’s almost like I’m back in Grade School, placing a star in my column after each achievement. As juvenile as it is – it works for me.

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I have been reviewing 2017 as it is coming to a close. Feeling out if I am satisfied with the achievements. Am I impressed? The short answer is – sort of. I guess I will never really reach those lofty goals I set for myself: but that’s the point. I like to push myself. But these schedules never allow for a social life, a visit to the dentist, taking time to play with the dog, or that time you got so sick with the flu and weren’t even able to look at a computer because the digital glare was like stabbing knives into your eyes.

I shouldn’t feel disappointed in myself because life gets in the way. It’s those little adventures that make it interesting. That provide inspiration to continue with your craft.

Just Get On With It Pic 01 by Casey CarlilseSo I guess this post is all about giving myself a break. Feeling proud in the amount I have achieved. And a letter to anyone out there who goes through the same angst-ridden self-depreciation. It will take as long as it takes. Don’t cut corners and represent yourself in the best light. The work will speak for itself. Yes, these are all clichés – but they at common for a reason – they are time tested.

The next time you get stuck, or frustrated at the meagre number of words on your screen, remember you’ll get there in the end. Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back for even getting this far. So many give up because there is no instant gratification. Why are you writing in the first place? Tap back into that feeling.

Stay Calm and Write On.

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Novella vs Novel

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What’s the difference between a novel and a novella? Is there a varied approach in how they are published and marketed? What is right for me?

The technical differences between a novella and a novel is chiefly length. A guide to the different categories is as follows:

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For this post I’m focusing more on the idea of when you’ve finished your work and you’re not sure what you’ve got. Or if you have an idea and uncertain of what form you should deliver it in. The information here is merely a guide. Publishers tend to stick within the rules, but as writers, we are artists and can always break through into something new.

Novel vs Novella Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleNovellas for me usually involve 70-120 pages, and focus on a single point of view. I see them as bite sized fiction that are strong in theme. I like them as additions to a series to introduce (prelude) or enhance the collection (from another character’s point of view.) But as a standalone, I usually feel like the story packs a big punch, have a fast pace, and leave the reader to think afterwards.

Because of this, personally, I’m not a fan of releasing a novel in parts. I know some authors do this to get around a current publishing contracts, or to create a hype in their marketing strategy. But I prefer my story to make sense, and not end in the middle of things – not to be confused with a cliff-hanger. A cliff-hanger is a suggestion of things to come. Ending in the middle of things is when hardly any of the plot points introduced at the start of your story have not been addressed or resolved. It’s a big turn off for readers too – so if you go down the road of releasing a novella, pay particular attention to this concept.

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With the structure and concept of novellas out of the way, we usually see them released in the form of an e-book. Yes, there are physical books published too, but you need to have a cost effective release to a ready-made audience for this to be successful, as the printing costs for novellas is proportionally higher. Hence the popularity for publishing in e-book form. It also gives a little exclusivity to the story. Later, if the novella is a part of a series, you can add it at the end of a novel (formatting permitting) as an added bonus in a limited release to give another sales boost.

I like the concept of a novella, its publishing options are much more flexible and offer unique marketing possibilities. Also they are quicker to create – or can compile of edited-out parts of your novel/series that you expand for a companion story.

This is all my preference, and how I like to use the form of the novella to my advantage. It’s slightly different in tone and pacing to my novel writing, and used to enhance a series. If I release a stand-alone novella you can expect it will only be in a digital format, a condensed punchy read.

Novels are my sweet spot. I like to get lost in the world I create on paper. Take my time to build the world and all of the characters within. So that inevitably leads to story arcs, backstories and differing motivations for my cast… and there is no way you can fit all that information in a novella.

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Developing a character and watching them change and grow through a number of experiences is a delight. Having that time to explore and discover the characters, mythology and landscape is what a novel is all about for me. You get to play with tense, point of view, printing format, change and build tension to set the mood. A novel opens up a lot more creative doors in storytelling to allow you to grip the reader. It’s complexity by nature creates interest.

Novel vs Novella Pic 03 by Casey CarlislePlus I love the journey in producing a novel – the editing and re-writes, the attention to detail. Like producing a film, there is much more involved than simply telling a story. It’s about editing, scene transition, tone, pace, a climactic ending. The journey. And then there’s the fine tuning of the physical product – formatting the pages, creating content for the end pages, cover art. How you are going to launch your novel, a marketing strategy and other related activities to get the word out. I find it all fascinating. As authors we wear different hats to walk in each of our characters shoes – and so in the real world with go through the same process taking on different roles to launch and promote our writing. It’s a constant discovery and learning process – especially in the advent of the digital age.

Depending which publishing track you go down: traditional or self-publishing, will also influence your activities. With novellas, I’m looking at more the self-publishing route. For me it means reaching a wider audience and having more control over the finished product than I would with a traditional publisher, as I mentioned, novellas are sometimes not so cost effective, and the return on them smaller. But with a novel, the reach of a traditional publisher exceeds what I could get online. It also adds credibility – not to mention the vetting process most publishers put your book through to really polish your baby to be ready for the reading public. You still need your own marketing campaign (and online platform) in tandem with that of the publisher, but a traditional publisher certainly opens doors that would otherwise remain padlocked down in any other route.

This is all very general and conceptual, but an interesting discussion and guide into the writing/publishing process. As the industry changes, laws are introduced, and the digital market grows stronger our options too will change. I’m excited to see where this all goes over the next ten to twenty years.

Will novellas become more popular in the advent of a generation of instant-gratification digital users leading the market? Or is a new multi-media form going to evolve?

Keep your eyes on the pulse fellow writers…

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Developing your story idea

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Here are some points/questions I use when fleshing out a concept into a fully-fledged novel.

Depending on your genre and target market, the concept of your story – and your creative process; there are many different ways to help turn an idea into a fully formed novel. Here are some sample questions and hints I commonly ask myself (when I have something that may be a paragraph long, or sixty pages in length) to transform it into a novel:

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If not, why are you writing it – a lack of passion can lead to a bland read. Try to make it exciting with a new twist, delicious prose or a unique point of view. There needs to be a little piece of you in everything you write.

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Sometimes we can get so bogged down with the plot and/or story that we forget to see if our main character is someone the readers can relate to – unless it is your intention for them to be creepy/unlikeable as a point of difference. Maybe an unreliable narrator? But there needs to be something to draw the reader to your protagonist. A character that passively reacts to the events in your novel can leave the impression that the hero of your story is weak and always playing the victim.

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This is usually the tone and subtext of your novel – the driving force behind the reason for telling the story. It gives your manuscript relevance. If you are without this central core meaning, your tale may end up reading like a long anecdote. Having a focal point to drive your story forward also helps create motivations for characters.

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I’ve read a lot of novels, especially in YA and romance where the love interest or the hero is perfect. It’s great for a fantasy. But if I’m investing time and money in reading a novel I want something a bit more complex, a bit more realistic. Plus something unexpected makes reading interesting. Don’t be afraid to flesh out your characters.

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When creating a scene, plot, or arc, I go through a mental process about what decisions the characters will make and try to steer away from the obvious if I can help it – all the while remaining true to the character and their motivation. Having them choose a surprising direction, or come up against unexpected challenges increases the tension, and engages the reader. No one likes their story to be predictable.

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The antagonist, the bad guy may be evil – but what makes them act this way? Consider the motivations of the villain in your story and make it believable. They are the hero of their own narrative. They believe in what they are doing… Building a complex antagonist gives you more opportunity to build the tension and pace of your novel. Offers up a field of emotions that would otherwise be ignored. Compassion. An anti-hero. Despair. Grief. Let you mind wander and make your antagonist relevant.

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One thing I loathe more than anything is secondary characters that add nothing to the story. That they are just there for fluff or padding for the hero’s journey. Readers can see right through this. Consider every character you include in your story – why they are there, why they react the way that they do, and how they influence and enrich your novel. If you can’t really make any of that work – maybe it’s time to edit them out.

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Building on the pervious point. Fleshing out your cast humanises them, gives them dimension, so the reader is engrossed and interested in everyone they meet in your story. It also helps to build your story from multiple points of view and check if the plot is holding its own.

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Somewhere the main character has a realisation, changes their mind, has an epiphany – it’s the driving force of your protagonist. This can be the climax of your story, or you can have many turning points throughout. It shows character development. Growth. It lets the reader feel like they have experienced something personal with your main character.  Otherwise it may read like you had a main character that just had a bunch of stuff happen to.

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The big event. The battle scene. The emotional reveal. The earth rattling discovery that with change reality forthwith. Whatever it is, it needs to be big. The reader wants to feel the pay-off. Your story needs to build to a certain point and then end in spectacular fashion. Ensure that this event fits what you are trying to achieve. It doesn’t have to be all explosions and lighting – simply relevant to your story. If it is a woman’s journey of independence – it may be her finally having the courage to branch out on her own. Alternatively, some stories require action, a full cast and deaths aplenty. Sometimes it can be hard to write this scene and I always fall back on my friends and beta readers if I’m experiencing trouble making it work.

Tie up all the loose ends if it is a standalone – or at least address them so your main character is happy with the status quo. If it’s a series, ensure you have resolved enough for the reader to feel like they have got the closure they need. Some arcs can continue on as a teaser or cliffhanger for the next novel in the series. But no reader wants to get to the end and realise that it’s stopped in the middle of a story. You’ll usually just tick them off.

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Subtext is the story that happens around your plot between the characters. It’s a trick a lot of actors use in their work to build a scene. For instance. The main character and the best friend may seem like they have this unbreakable bond, but the subtext is that maybe they both have a need to be loved, or each is battling for control – to become the dominant figure in the relationship. This is nothing that you state outright, it’s merely a tension you can write into their encounters. It helps build their motivations. This is the glue that holds your scenes together.

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There is a lot of talk about motivation and relevance. But it doesn’t stop there. Ramp up the tension and interest. Your protagonist doesn’t just want to reach the mountain top and claim the Chalice of Enlightenment, he may also want a ham sandwich? I know that is a silly example, but as people we usually have more than one reason for doing things. More than one interest. Going to the corner store may mean that they are hungry and buying food, as well as getting some sort of validation from a stranger because they’ve put a lot of effort into their appearance. But also you get to ogle that cute stock boy who had biceps about to rip through his sleeves… Straight away a trip to the store doesn’t sound so boring.

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Writing is entertaining, fantasy. Don’t hold back because you’re worried about what people will say or think. It’s an expression of inner thoughts and desires. You could tap into author gold. There’s nothing to lose. If it doesn’t work, found offensive, or confuses readers, you can edit, re-write, but don’t let fear stop your creative flow. (It can show in the tone of your narrative.) Push your story in a direction that it would not normally organically flow towards. Experiment.

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I know this may sound basic. But did you take the time to introduce your characters properly and set the scene at the beginning. Are the readers clear on what the quest of your main character is? The rules or mythology of the universe in which your world is set?

Are there a series of logical events and challenges that your protagonist has to face to get to their goal?

Does the story come to a resolute end? Is there a pay-off. Will your reader feel satisfied? Has your main character grown and changed, made some great achievement?

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Even if your story is fantasy or science fiction it should make sense. The characters react in way readers can identify with them. You need that connection to your story’s cast, a belief in their motivations to hook the readers’ interest and invest time to read your novel. Otherwise all you have is a jumbled mess. Usually the feedback you get in the beta reading process will identify parts that are confusing – those are the parts you need to address. If they say the whole thing is confusing it may be time to go back to the drawing board and look at plot, structure, and your characters motivations.

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If based in the real world, make sure you get it right. Research your facts. No your shiz. If you mess up on this front the reader is going to think you don’t care – that you couldn’t be bothered to take the time to check the facts and lose interest. It makes you look unprofessional. Plus having a solid grounding in truth can help educate your reader.

If you are building a completely new world or universe – it will operate on its own set of rules. Laws. Mythology. Make sure you keep it consistent and educate your reader on how this environment works.

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Day followed by night, Monday by Tuesday. The passing of time is linear. Make sure you track how this passed in your story. You don’t want to lose track of what is going on and have your main character have three Saturdays in a row, or attending the wrong class with the right group of friends. It’s like checking your facts. You don’t want to confuse your reader. Unless you are setting out to disorientate the reader, like in a dream sequence or surreal environment. Keep track of the passing of time. As humans we like order and to follow a logical path.

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This helps you not only have something ready to pitch your novel to a publisher or literary agent, but is also helps you focus on the core aspects of your novel. It’s point of difference. This is a great tool to reign you in if you start to stray away from the crux of what your story is all about. Plus when friends and family ask you what your story is all about – you’ll be prepared to blow them away J

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I like to develop characteristics, mannerisms, and words unique to each of the cast. It helps the reader identify who says what, what point of view is being expressed. I feel this is an invaluable tool to differentiate my characters and make it easy for the reader to know what is going on.

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There are a plethora of grammatical tools to help enhance your story or add interest – just like an artist can paint with colour, brushes, oil, watercolour, charcoal…. As writers there is a lot to form and function on how the word appears on the page that we can play with. We’ve seen stories that are a collection for documents, diary entries, text graphics, told from multiple perspectives, recounted from dual points in the timeline, through the main characters eyes, or an omnipotent presence watching the story from above… there’s lots to play with. You’re only limited to your imagination.

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Well, I hope that helps all the writers out there enhance their creative experience. I’d love to hear how you develop an idea, or if there are questions you ask yourself to help expand a thought bubble into a complete novel. In the meantime – Keep Calm and Write On!

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Importance of Taking a Break from Writing

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Taking in the big picture – Seeing what your publishing options are – And creating a marketing niche.

If you followed my post on the 16th of August, then you already know I’ve taken a hiatus from social media and writing, having to babysit a new furbaby to the family. Buster, a black Cavoodle has taken up much of my attention, getting him settled in his new home, (losing some sleep in the process), puppy proofing our abode, and general panicked running to whatever activity I want to discourage him from…. and then cooing over his cute moments of puppy unco-ordination and adorable snuggling.

It has also given me time to indulge in some reading, and leave my head clear to think of the direction of my career, personal life, and writing schedule. I think it’s important to take occasional holidays from writing. Leaving behind character development, plotting, and story arcs to stand back and look at the big picture. Not just of your work in progress, but life in general. A moment to decompress and re-assess and come back rested and fighting fit.

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I tend to get so focused on certain projects, it’s beneficial to enforce this metaphorical break and take stock of where I’m at, ensuring I’m still on track toward my goals – or even if those goals are still important to me. It’s very much like putting down your first draft and coming back to it months later with fresh eyes.

This stepping away from the keyboard has allowed me to keep updated with the publishing landscape. Leaving me with a decision to write something new, intending to release before my WIP; effectively as a test case for self-publishing. It will enable me to take that first-time learning process without risking my book-baby from naivety and inexperience. Even though I’m going down the road of traditional publishing, and have a company interested in my work, I feel it would be prudent to examine all my options. Plus there are certain types of writing that perform better in self-published e-book form than through the traditional publishing route. Especially in terms of return on investment.

Today, novellas are far more popular in e-book, as are certain genres, and many never see a printed page unless the series becomes highly successful and a bind-up proves viable for publishing. It’s getting that marketing hat on, and discovering the best road for your work.

I have been discussing this with my writing group. Aspects like releasing an anthology of short stories from various authors, to publishing with another industry altogether, tapping into a new market area: like including photography or art with your story. Referencing real-life periodicals or articles, expanding the definition of the regular book format. As with writing a story, publishing can be as limited as your imagination as well… and maybe funds.

We are even starting to see books released in parts. Rather than publishing a completed novel, authors are breaking it up into a number of smaller digestible chunks. Personally, I don’t prefer this method, but it does get around established publishing contracts; and if well-written can perform commendably. But in other cases, the part-release does not stand on its own because much of the story is not resolved, leaving the reader feeling like they’ve missed something. It can either be frustrating, or a great teaser to excite the reader into purchasing the next volume. It’s a bit of a crap shoot. The key is to know your demographic and their likes.

So taking a break can be a beneficial mind-expanding exercise to make yourself aware of what you can do after you’ve finished writing. What modes are available to you – or heck – what method you can invent yourself as a point of difference. In a publishing landscape where authors are breaking away from the traditional route of doing things, injecting much needed talent and creativity, it can only make the future pretty incredible. With so much of the world available at our fingertips it’s allowed us to redefine and expand what it is to be an author.

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.