Investigative journalism and research can help improve your fiction writing.

Taking a page from journalistic writing to help write and edit your novel.

What’s the best thing about journalism that we tend to overlook?

Typically, print investigative journalism is usually condensed, because there is a word count that the writer needs to comply with. A hook. An angle, a balanced discussion, or point of view the author wishes to bring to light. All the relevant information, facts, and references are provided. Regardless of tone and writing style, these aspects are usually always present. So, what is the takeaway for fiction writing?

Focus.

If you break down your writing into scenes – a section of your writing that has its own unique combination of setting, character, dialogue, and sphere of activity – (like a conversation, or a fight, or the first time a character arrives at a destination) you can focus on certain elements to help keep your writing focused, paced well, and if need be, your word count on track.

Granted an article is short prose and has different intentions than a novel, but if you look at each scene in your story and ensure it hits benchmarks of purveying the right emotion and intent, covers the plot points (or facts, or reveals) and has an element that engages the reader… all the hard work is done. Then it’s a matter of ensuring the pacing works for the scene and the prose flows easily. Journalism or Non-fiction can tend to be flat or short in its writing style (apologies for the broad and generally incorrect assumption.) Not a lot of time is spent on world building or on character development. It’s all about supported facts and the intent of the piece.

I think this is especially handy when you are looking at your work and can’t figure out what is wrong with the scene.

What is supposed to happen? What do you intend the reader to get from this scene? Or what (facts) am I meant to show the reader? Is the plot point clear?

See how asking those questions clear away a lot of muddy ground to get right to the heart of the scene. Or if in fact the scene is needed at all.

All of the above points deal with the mechanics of your writing… how it is put together. The other aspect of investigative journalism is research. It should be common sense at this point, but there are still writers out there that begin writing a novel about something that they don’t know much about. Taking the time to build the world, craft characters, look into every little facet that makes your characters compelling and interesting, of the world you are setting your novel in (wondrous, or bleak, or scary…) it’s adding those little touches, brief flecks of complexity that give your writing confidence and nuance. I’ve known authors to spend months researching topics before beginning to write. Some create elaborate topological maps, extensive character profiles. Researching mental illness or medical conditions, collection of colloquial dialogue, or even the fashion and social etiquette of a certain time period. Other writers read scientific journals on forward evolution or potential global impacts of things like pollution, over-population, solar radiation, etc… to get a solid ground behind them before crafting even a single sentence. It boasts sound knowledge of their world, plausibility of the plot, and realistic, complex characters which are a joy to read. The narrative feels solid and realistic no matter the subject.

Things like this can be applied in a developmental edit, but, you can use these tools in the planning phase of writing your novel depending where you sit in the spectrum of Plotter vs. Pantser.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. 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.

Editing your novel

Blocking time and different types of editing – what does it take to edit your novel?

Editing Your Novel Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

There are many types of editing that I’ve been exposed to, and not only do they have many names, but also overlap in function and many are re-visited in the publishing journey. There is no rule of what you must do, but it is advisable to develop your own process to have your manuscript publish ready. The more steps you include in your vetting process, the more professional your novel will appear. And we all want to give ourselves the best possible chance of success.

It can be daunting to hand over your book baby to someone else to critique, but I’ve put together some information that may help you view the process objectively and put you on the road to publishing success:

Editing Your Novel Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleContextual edit (Substantive or Developmental edit also called a Structural edit) – This type of edit is best done by a professional in the publishing industry. They should concentrate on story structure, organisation, coherence, logical consistency, relevance, continuity, world building, and character development. It’s ‘big picture’ thinking over your novel. To make sure it makes sense. That the basics are covered and you have a sound structure to build off.

This type of edit can be done on a partially completed manuscript, or a first draft. It’s about shaping the concept.

Story structure is about making sure you have a beginning, middle and end. Identifying the themes of your novel, its genre, and clearly plotting things out like the heroes (protagonist) quest and the obstacles they overcome. Ensuring a turning point (or points) and the climax of the storyline.

Organisation deals with a logical sequencing of your plot/paragraphs. You may switch and reorganise chunks of text to create a better flow to your story and cut other parts completely.

Coherence and logical consistency are all about making sure the story makes sense. That it follows a clear train of thought. That ‘voice’ or narrative style is consistent. Or that character perspectives are consistent and definitive from each other if including more than one point of view. This can also help identify tense, active or passive voice, show don’t tell, perspective (first person, third person, third person removed/omnipresent) and ensure each of these remain consistent throughout the manuscript.

Relevance refers to judging if the sentence/paragraph adds to, or drives the plot forward. Whether it helps develop the character, or sets a scene – otherwise it should be cut so as not to drag the pacing of your novel.

Continuity deals with the following up of events, mentions, dates, passage of time, names of characters and so on. For instance if you state early on in your novel that a character hides an object in a place, that it is resolved in some manner. Like tying up all the plot points. That Wednesday follows Tuesday. That the descriptors used for each character remains consistent throughout. This is a great step to eliminate plot holes and inconsistency within the physical world of your novel.

World building deals with how you introduce the reader to the rules, mythology, and description of the setting of your novel. How much is too much description? How much to suggest so the reader can use their imagination to fill in the gaps? This is important to ground your story and create a set of parameters in which your characters interact with each other and their physical environment. Again, show and don’t tell usually come into play where you are uncovering facts about the characters surroundings, or getting to know other characters through experience rather than a long paragraphs of info dumping.

Character Development is also an important aspect. You want the protagonist of your story to be impacted from the obstacles he/she/it faces and change from the experience. This also ties into motivation of the character – why do they do the things they do? What is driving them towards the goal/climax of the story? It not only adds for interest for the reader, but gives a sense of completion and the ability to connect with the character through a shared experience. At this time attributes of a character can be addressed. Aspects like race, gender, sexual orientation, special abilities, able-bodiedness, financial resources, social hierarchy, mental/medical ailments or disorders, physical characteristics, age… elements like these help paint a more realistic picture and add interest for the reader.

Word count – Depending on your genre, how you are publishing your work, and market trends, it may be identified that your manuscript may be too long or too short. In this stage of the editing process you will need to identify a word count goal (usually decided by your publisher) to work to. Publishers use this to not only stick to a budget when dealing with the cost in printing, or to meet an expected length commonly accepted by the targeted demographic. Word count will differ per publisher, genre, target audience and relevance to your manuscript.

A professional can complete a contextual edit from anywhere between three days to a couple of weeks depending on the length of your manuscript and how much work is needed. Editors also charge per word, so be sure to get a quote before committing.

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Line edit or Copy edit – Where the abovementioned edit deals with larger issues of the story and structure, a line edit, or copy edit deals with intricacies in how it is delivered. Issues like grammar, style, repetition, word usage, and jargon come into play. As does relevance (again).

Grammar focuses on sentence structure, the sequence of words and their meaning. Style refers to the tone and feeling that your writing as an author invokes – something that is unique to your expression. Repetition looks at eliminating common words that frequently appear in your manuscript so that you don’t bore your reader with overuse of particular words. You can either rework the sentence or replace a word with a synonym to add interest and keep flow. Word usage usually refers to ensuring you are using a word in its intended context, that it makes sense, and that it does not confuse the reader. Jargon (and slang) can be polarising – depending on the intended format of delivery of your novel (i.e stream of consciousness) Jargon and slang are usually confined to dialogue, however if deemed appropriate, can be used in the narrative. The reason it’s not common practice is that because of the different culture and backgrounds of readers, you will be limiting your audience to those who are familiar with the jargon/slang you are using – and it messes with the voice and tone of your novel. Letting the reader create that in their own mind will help them relate to and connect with your novel. Excessive use of colloquial words may isolate your story from its intended market. Again relevance comes into play – ensuring each paragraph helps to drive your story forward and is not weighing down the pace of the novel.

A line or copy edit from a professional usually can take anywhere between three days to a couple of weeks depending on the length of your manuscript – as also will a content edit, or proofreading.

Editing Your Novel Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleContent edit – Depending on the style and genre of your novel, checking on factual information and their sequence i.e. dates, places, references; fact checking may be of high importance. You want to make sure all of these things are correct. It adds trust, integrity, and professionalism to your name as an author. This type of edit is especially important in non-fiction.

Proofreading – Is done after the above edits are completed. Proofreading is a light form or editing primarily used to pick up minor errors: grammar, capitalisation, punctuation, spelling, and word usage. This can be done by anyone with a high competency in the language in which the manuscript is written, and who has knowledge in the topics mentioned in the novel. Obviously a professional is more adept and identifying errors and suggesting corrections.

Formatting – This step deals with text, ensuring layout is appropriate for the medium in which it is being delivered (i.e. script, novel, electronic media, etc…) You determine how the words will appear on the page/screen. Font size. Whether you are having chapter headings or artwork. Number of pages in the printed copy. Content to be included in the end pages. Margins from the edges of the page or screen. It’s all about the physical appearance of your manuscript.

Formatting takes as long as it takes – it is dependent on technology, software, and process for the intended delivery. But it should not take any longer than a few weeks at most.

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Critical Partner – It is important to have at least one critical partner in your writing process. More if possible. A critical partner is usually another writing professional who writes in a similar genre as you do to help identify issues in pace, relevance, structure, impact, plot holes, potential triggers, flow, tense, and narrative style consistency. Commonly in the form of writer’s groups (or online groups) where you swap work for a critique for free. Its authors supporting fellow authors. It helps to have friends or professional associates within your industry, not only to become a critical partner, but also to be a resource of information, emotional support, and even a mentor in your writing process.

Beta reader – This type of editing comes at the end of the process mainly to determine the impression your story makes, or market reception predicted after publishing. Beta readers usually aren’t professionals, just readers for your intended demographic that will give you feedback on how your novel will be received. This can offer valuable insight of tweaks and issues that may have been overlooked and a valuable resource before spending time and money on publishing and marketing your novel.

The time it takes for a beta reader to complete offering feedback varies depending on their available time and reading speed. Some can get back to you in a couple of days, others can take longer than a month. But use understanding and manners when dealing with beta readers as they are usually doing it out of kindness. I usually touch base every few chapters for feedback while it is fresh in their mind with a list of questions on hand (and it keeps track of their reading.)

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I’ve listed the types of editing in the journey towards publishing in a logical order, but of course you may cycle back up the list, or jump down depending on your needs, resources, and state of your manuscript. It will also depend on if you are following a traditional publishing route, or choose to self publish; and well, how much money you want to invest in this step.

Editing services can be expensive, and you need to identify an editor who works with your writing style. You can find editors endorsed by your states/countries publishers and writing associations on websites. Usually they are registered and vetted for you, and you can send a chapter or two as a sample to see if you are happy with their style and get a quote for your entire manuscript before deciding on services. Critical partners may also have suggestions for different types of editors you can use.

Sending your work out for critique can be scary, but you have to develop some objectivity and a thick skin to give your book baby the best possible chance to succeed. Do your research and take the time to get it right. I find this list (and process) handy in the writing process for self-editing – so I have the manuscript as polished as possible before sending it out to a professional. Hopefully to reduce the number of times I have to pay for services, and flex and grow my writing muscles.

What is your editing process? Do you have any resources you can recommend to fellow writers?

In the meantime, happy editing 🙂

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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.

Re-vamping an old manuscript to make it culturally relevant for a present day release.

Can you polish an old turd?

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I read through an old manuscript the other day and still really loved the story. But given it is one of my earliest attempts at writing a novel, it is rife with inexperienced writing and pop culture references from the 1980’s. So can you rescue an old story without completely re-writing the whole thing…? I’ve given it a bit of thought and listed some things below to consider in giving on old piece of writing a new lease on life.

Firstly, deciding on an era. Maybe I want to keep it set in the ‘80’s. It is certainly on trend right now. What was once a current and relative setting is now historical fiction? But I was cringing with the use of snail mail and landlines, and feel the implementation of email, webcams, and mobile phones would help in the pacing of the novel so that it is not tied down with too many details – and can eliminate some locations for a better feel and flow. It’s a personal preference, but I agree that the story would benefit from this. Again, as an amateur writer all those years ago, I hadn’t learnt to get rid of details not relevant to the plot – so this will help a lot.

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With setting it in a more contemporary time, all the pop culture references will need to be current – and easily identifiable. So bring on the research! What falls into this category of relevance and well-known, and will flow with the narrative? This can be fun, it means lots of television, movies, and scouring the internet.

Another big thing, and which seems to be on trend at the moment, are diverse characters: anti-heroes, women of colour, a spectrum of gender identities and orientations, differently abled characters, people living with mental illness… and the list could go on and on. We are seeing authors taking risks and exploring the human condition much more than ever before, so ensuring your cast is representative of the real world can only add interest and complexity. My earlier writing reads flat and is full of stereotypes and tropes – because that was all I had exposure to back then. So switching up my protagonist and supporting characters can only be a massive improvement.

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I am also able to identify issues with pacing much more easily these days. Due to experience. The floundering, flowery writing of this early piece is in desperate need of some tightening up. I go paragraph by paragraph asking myself these questions. It this relevant to the plot, the scene, or the character’s motivations. If the answer in no, it gets cut. Can I express this in a shorter, more meaningful (or punchier) sentence? In this manner, I can also address grammar, spelling, tense, active/passive voice, and eliminate too many adverbs.

Another attribute of my early writing is the simplicity in plot. It is predictable and tends to only deal with the protagonists outcome. So adding in some story arcs for secondary characters, a bit of their background to support their motivations to favour the protagonist sounds appealing. Then brainstorm twenty ideas for some plot twists and decide on a few…

And hopefully you have a much improved manuscript. Beta readers will let me know if I’m on the right track.

Have you tried to re-visit some of your old writing and breathed some new life into it? What tools helped you?

In the meantime – happy writing and editing.

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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.

Quarterly Goals / Resolution check-in

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2018 is one check in away – looks like there is going to be a mad dash towards Christmas to kick those goals!

This past quarter was awesome! I trail-blazed through the months writing like I was possessed. Got out to visit amazing places and caught up with lots of family and friends for some parties full of love and laughter. In my down time I read sooo many books and managed to get some house renovations done to magazine-quality aesthetics… pity it all happened in my head. Reality was a little different.

A few issues due to health and a holiday stole a chunk of time in meeting my goals for the July-September quarter. I was trying to force myself to finish a few projects… but with the creative process, wrestling to man-handle out the inspiration can have the reverse effect. So I stalled on the two WIP’s which would have been easily wrapped up if I hadn’t stressed myself out. Not writer’s block, but a creative slump. When you’re getting to the pointy end of a novel, the conclusion needs to zing. But I was zingless. 😦

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Though, here’s how I performed overall:

This quarter has shown the highest word count than in the past three years, however, I was working on scattered projects and not on the ones I wanted to complete. It was hard taming the muse. At least I have my groove back and am making progress – now I’m on the home stretch, as the year ends, so will many of the projects. *rubbing a rabbits foot, kissing a four-leaved clover, and tossing salt over a shoulder* It feels great to edit all the text that has been flowing from me lately.

I wanted to get some more of the renovations and furniture restorations done, but alas, while the words were flowing after a sparse previous quarter, I didn’t want to jinx it, so the manual labour I use for breaks was pushed aside. As too were any professional development studies, though, I did get a lot of research done around the publishing landscape and some marketing ideas.

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This quarter was more about getting back on the (writing) horse than anything else. I stopped blogging. Back to concentrating on the basics. Why I love writing, and what I was doing it all for. It seems to have worked, I feel like a weight has been lifted and am back to the regularly scheduled programme. So expect to see this blog coming back to life after just over a month away.

I’d say there was only a 20% progress for yearly goals overall – pitiful really, but I’m just glad to be writing again. Can’t express how terrified I was that my excitement over writing was gone. But there is only one direction left to go. Onward and upward!

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Next check in will be at the end of the year, and hopefully with some news of a publishing date in 2019!

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.

How reading sub-standard and low quality novels has bettered my writing…

…and things to look out for when I publish my own book.

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I see it all the time on Goodreads, readers DNFing a novel, and a review of a sentence or two saying how horrible the writing was. And that’s it.

Good for them. I’m not knocking anyone’s opinion. I’ve tried to give up on completing a novel, but my brain won’t allow me. I at least have to skim through so I can find out what happens and reassure myself that what wasn’t working continued throughout the book.

The biggest aspect of my OCD with reading is that I now turn even the worst reading experience into an educational endeavour. There are always good points and bad points in each story. What worked, what didn’t. I like to list how I would improve the novel as if I were an editor and about to publish the book under my own label – what changes would I want to make in order for me to sign my name to the title?

It’s helped develop a critical eye, and use these tools on my own writing.

So I welcome low rated novels in my reading habits. (But not on purpose.) It helps to hone my skills, pick up on things I hadn’t previously thought to identify in my own writing, editing, and publishing processes. Things like complex characters and character development, spelling and sentence structure, pace and tension are a given. But I have found elements in context, and writing style that I hadn’t noticed before. Issues with cover art, formatting, font size and style, information for the end pages, the quality of the physical book are starting to jump out more and more. Especially for self-published titles.

It has re-iterated how important it is not to rush the publishing process. Steps to take to vet and proof your work. And skills in marketing and market research you need to acquire to help make your writing a success.

I am slowly compiling a checklist for the whole writing to publishing process to put my own work through. Granted it is going to grow and evolve over my career as I gain more experience and insight.

Reading Substandard Novels has Improved my Writing Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleI’ve heard some of my friends say that it is a useless endeavour to read low rated books – that I should be focusing on top quality literature as something to aspire to. What’s wrong with doing both? I find glaringly obvious issues with my low rated book reading that I would have otherwise overlooked in top rated books. It’s like brushing up on the basics. High rated books give me examples of nuance.

It also helps stretch that editing muscle – a must for your own writing process. And helps to create not only a critical eye, but gets you in a frame of mind to distance yourself from your own writing. So heavy cuts and rearranging aren’t so gut wrenching. It helps you identify what is lacking so you can get that second draft even more polished.

It’s not about tearing down other authors writing, or striving for perfection in your own. It’s more about exercising the essential tools you need to improve the creative process. Creative flow is one thing – having it make sense and relate to a reader is an entirely different thing. That’s why we have rules in language, spelling and grammar; to help set a standard that everyone can build from.

So when I read something that makes me cringe for all the wrong reasons, I’m glad for the opportunity to identify what is not working for me and go about fixing it. Then I can mirror that exercise on my own content. It will help me grow – and hopefully keep the professional editing fees lower 😉

What is your opinion on completing novels that feel like a dog’s breakfast? Are you one to scrap it in and not waste your time, or do you at least have to see what happens at the end?

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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.

Plotting out a series

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How to keep pace and interest in a multi-book series and avoid the middle book slump syndrome.

The key to this is planning. And plotting. (…well for the way I work anyway…)

The goal is to have each book in your collection have a clear start, middle, and end. Have the hero/protagonist state a goal and achieve it (or not, depending on the tone of your story,) have their character grow and evolve from the experiences. The climax must be poignant and get resolved enough to satisfy a reader.

You can end on a cliff-hanger, or have some plot points unresolved to continue in the next book/series.

In the sequel/s you follow the same format where you also introduce new characters, new plot points, more twists and turns. You really want to up the anty and difficulties the hero/protagonist faces.

I like to plan out most of the basic plot points for the books before I start writing anything so I know where I can start to add in character arcs, plot twists, turning points, in a linear fashion. That way you can identify organically where part of the story breaks… and these breaks can constitute each novel in your collection.

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Even though this is an example of a single book in the Hunger Games series, the themes run across all three books – try continuing the graph for  the remaining books and you will start to get a feel for how to plot over a series.

 

A hero’s quest is always a great example for a series – in each book the protagonist faces a major obstacle/s on their journey for completion of their desire.

Maybe each novel reveals something that has our protagonist re-assessing the situation and going in a different direction, or towards another goal.

It could also be more of a contemporary tale with each novel dealing with a milestone in the protagonist’s life.

The important thing is that each novel is a complete tale in its own right, and the subsequent sequels build on the world and tension that was established in its predecessors.

Also it is important to keep the consistency in the writing style. If you change perspective, writing for a different characters POV, and the debut was in first-person narrative, continue with that for the sequels. Comparatively you need to continue with the same tense, active/passive voice. If you switch things up too much, the ground work you’ve established in the prequel/s becomes redundant. Readers are going to expect consistency, and breaking from that pattern is only going to disappoint – and end with bad reviews.

Having these basic ideas plotted out at the beginning keeps your narrative on track and allows you to chart the pacing of your novel. It also gives readers a subconscious hint of what is to come and will keep them engaged in your story.

Of course you don’t need to plot out an entire series before starting to write. It could be when wrapping up your novel you get ideas for a sequel because there is more you want to explore in the universe of your story… there is no set way to do this sort of thing. It’s basically finding something that works for you and sticking to it. But I personally like to have a guide. That way if I want to have fun developing my characters, building my world and adding in some engaging side plots or character arcs, there is room to play without turning my manuscript into an epic Stephen King length novel.

Again creating a series is only restricted by your imagination. We see series coming out set in the same universe, but with new characters – like novels set in the same town. Series taking on different perspectives of a core cast. Series of a protagonist overcoming a number of obstacles on their way to a single goal (think Harry Potter.) Generational series, following a family tree, each novel dealing with a protagonist from each generation. Maybe it’s simply following a character and each novel is a romance with a different love interest… Allow your writing to become a piece of art and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Hope these tips help in inspiring your writing and organising methods to keep you creating great novels to read. Let me know what helps you in plotting out a series. I love tips and would be forever greatful.

Happy writing everyone 😀

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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.

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.