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.

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.

That time of the year to take a look at your TBR pile…

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With the end of the year approaching I took stock of my library. There are 441 unread books sitting on the shelves at the moment – effectively my To Be Read (TBR) pile.

 

Which means if I meet my Goodreads goal this year, I’ll be left with 400 (not counting titles on my e-reader). And if I continue on the trend of reading around 100 books a year, it will take me four years to catch up… Without buying any more books.

It ain’t gonna happen.

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I have a mammoth wish list on Amazon as well, and add to it every time I come across an interesting title. Though, I have curbed my spending. Making a deal with myself that I am only allowed to purchase half the number of books that I read for a given month. And I’ve stuck to it this year. I must say I’m quite proud of myself. *pats back*

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I have also organised my shelves into genre, and select one from each section to be placed on my ‘reading shelf,’ to ensure I get to touch on a variety of styles and authors, keeping away from the dreaded reading slump.

Additional to that, is my attempt to Slay Those Series which I started half way through last year – and am continuing with. So many abandoned collections that fell off my radar – Now is the time to tick off the rest of the books before I am allowed to start a new trilogy or collection. (more self-bribery)

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So it has been a year of book bargaining with my inner reader.

What has all this accomplished? Well, although the number of books I’m reading has dropped back a bit, mainly because I’m not shying away from larger titles of 500+ pages, but I’m identifying issues with story, writing style, and ‘voice’ that I may have overlooked before. Subtext and arcs stand out more prominently. I’ve enjoy reading more widely. It not only helps develop my reader’s eye – but it provides me with tools to help improve my own writing.

Consequently, I’m doing some heavy re-writing on two novels I’ve already completed, with what I feel are massive positive changes.

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I’m letting myself experience life a bit more – I’m no longer falling into a reading hole where I’d marathon contemporaries or GLBT titles. They are usually shorter and easy to digest. And while fun, afterwards my recall over certain titles was sketchy because I’d consumed so much.

Everything in moderation has been the catch cry. I’m no longer tired, or putting off other aspects of my life to fit in some reading. It’s also helping in balancing out other parts of the day to day. Writing, housework, socialising, fitness… when you have a win in one area of life, it spurs you on to keep going with other aspects.

Though I must admit I do feel a lot less productive. It’s the sacrifice I’ve made to regain some balance. I just have to try and limit the size of my TBR… as daunting as that sounds.

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Do you have an out of control TBR? What methods do you use to help – book buying bans, read-a-thons, or take a few sickies and sit by the pool to indulge?

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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.

Getting a timeline for your plot.

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On occasion I read a book where suddenly the plot does not seem feasible because the author has ignored a proper timeline. Maybe the editor missed it? Or maybe they neglected to plan out a logical sequence to the events that take place in the story?

It comes down to how you write – your process. If you are a pantser and just go with the flow, assigning a timeline is most likely going to stifle the creativity. But if you are a planner, then this is probably a step you already include in your process.

For a pantser, I’d add this after you’ve nearly finished your manuscript to help fine tune everything. If you are a planner, adding another vector to your plots direction is invaluable.

For me personally, I’m a combination of the two. I like to free-style until I get a meaty chunk of prose to look at. Is it a solid concept? Are my characters interesting? It there enough of an idea for a novel? Usually the content I’m working with is a collection of scenes equivalent to about three to five chapters. From there I start to weave a more intricate plot. That way I can remove anything that is dragging the pace of the story, see if my character is working, ensure the antagonist and challenges my protagonist faces are introduced in the right points of my hero’s journey.

It usually takes the form of pages of hand-written scribbles that I transpose into an Excel spreadsheet. Broken up into chapters, I detail what happens (story); how each chapter drives the story forward (plot), How each chapter increases the stakes (pace & tension); and the amount of time that passes (timeline.) I began to introduce this last column because after sending my first novel out to beta readers and edits, I discovered that on two occasions my weekends lasted three days, and the main characters – high school students – had to stick to a class schedule… which was all over the place. Urgh, how embarrassing! Such a glaringly obvious faux-par. And so that extra column became invaluable. It helped me keep track of the days passing in my story, but also decreased on the amount of money I was paying to a professional editor by limiting the errors (thus time spent) on my manuscript.

Getting a Timeline for your Plot Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.jpg

It also enabled me to keep a realism in my story… and remove superfluous scenes.

Writing is creating art – we all have our own way of doing things. Creation is a personal journey. I like a structure to work to, but the freedom to write what I want. Therefore the guide of an Excel spreadsheet keeps me in check, in context, and on point. Without strangling my creativity. Some writing applications have this inbuilt within the software (like Scrivener,) but I like a one page summary that I can refer to instantly, usually pinned to the wall in front of me while I’m writing.

This chart allows me to see where my story is at, write a future scene, or jump to an entirely different project (with its own spreadsheet.) A great tool to get you into the headspace needed to write. And with the added element of having things timed properly – both in sequence they happen in your novel, and in the amount of time that passes – you are fee to work on whichever scene you want to without getting too mentally jumbled. So when you get stuck somewhere, to avoid writer’s block, jump to a different point in your story and keep writing.

What methods do you use to structure your story? Do plan the whole thing or a few chapters at a time? Does your character guide your story? Is knowing how many days pass in a chapter important to you? Have you seen a better method for plotting that works for you?

And in the meantime – happy writing! 🙂

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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.

In for the long haul?

Writing a stand-alone or beginning a series… what do you picture at the starting point?

In for the long haul by Casey Carlisle

With NaNoWriMo in full swing, I wondered how many of us writers sit down and have full intention of composing a series, or is it merely a case of the story growing larger that we first intended, leading us to subsequent volumes?

It is a bit of a mix with me (as art and the creative process always is). I remember starting my Smoulder series with every intention of it being a trilogy. I had the story of my Firestarter mapped out. But upon reviewing, I completely changed the direction of the plot and added in a whole lot more, afraid it was being too generic… and a four book story line emerged. You could put all of that down to a little self-doubt and exposure to countless reading hours of YA. I think my reading habits (market research) helped me identify major plot problems before I got too deep into the writing process.

The For keeps duology was initially one book, but fears that it would end up being a mammoth book and not lucrative for a budding author, I split it in to two volumes. It was fairly easy – There is definitely a break in the middle of the story where things change in context and was perfect tone for a GLBT contemporary novel to end (and pick up with a second instalment). As it was my first attempt at a completed novel (there had been MANY different books written beforehand but abandoned after 30 or so pages in), it needed the most work. It’s been re-written and edited to death! I’ve found that leaving it for 6 months and coming back with fresh eyes for a final edit to be the saving grace.

A science fiction series (LONERS) I started early last year popped into my head fully formed as a four-book series. It is structured a little differently to a traditional series, where either of the first three books can be read as stand-alone, companions, or out of order. That’s the beauty of sci-fi – you can mix things up a little. This experience has really flipped my attitude towards writing and made me realise that finishing a novel can be a quick, easy and rewarding experience. Or maybe that’s be buying into my own insanity :p

In for the long haul 03 by Casey Carlisle

And finally, the re-boot trilogy started from a few scenes in my head, and evolved into three books… and I’ve yet to decide between one of two different directions this series could take.

And so… I had books that have grown into a series, and those I plotted that way from the outset. Additionally I have some titles which could quite easily become a series, but none of the characters have raised their voices with a desire to continue their adventure as yet.

I’m always amazed at creativity and how it just shows up.

Most of the time I simply just sit and write, no planning, just me and a blank page where I’ll scribe away for hours. Then, if it feels like something, I’ll go back, tidy it up, add to it, and eventually plot out a novel, or series. So, out of 23 concepted works in progress, only two were forecasted as a more than one book franchise.

I’m really great at organising things, and could quite easily plot out everything I write before a letter appears on the page, but find I lose my characters voice that way – and consequently, my passion for writing. Plus I like to keep the work malleable, open to change or exploring other arcs. The debut in the For keeps duology deviated into a major arc that added so much to the story (and how it came about to be a duology) that I’m greatful I let the story stray from my initial imagining.

Who knows if what I’m writing is any good or makes any sense – but the point is: I have to write. I write for me. To be entertained, to escape, to laugh, to vent (and the list goes on…)

In for the long haul 04 by Casey Carlisle

And I’ve committed to the decision to give this writing thing a professional go.

In for the long haul 05 by Casey Carlisle

I guess everyone’s process is different, but I simply wanted to share mine and am interested to learn of other author’s process. How do you write a series? Do you need some major brainstorming before beginning, or does it just happen?

Smoulder series by Casey Carlisle

re-boot trilogy by Casey Carlisle

LONERS series by Casey Carlisle

For keeps duology by Casey Carlisle

Stand alone titles by Casey Carlisle

UPPERCASE lowercase banner by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. 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.