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.

Never stare at a blank page helplessly ever again.

Here’s some ways I’ve found that help to keep inspiration coming, the words flowing, and never having to face writers block again.

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I frequently get asked how I can write every day, do I get writers block, and how is it possible that I can have many works in progress going at the same time… well I think it comes down to organisation. Time management and compartmentalisation. That, and your personality, and work ethic. We all have different habits and things that aid our productivity. Sometimes I like music in the background, sometimes not. I might perform better in a café with paper and pen, and other times locked away from interruption in my office at the computer. The trick is developing a collection of tricks that keep you mind working and the words flowing.

And never let an idea pass you by. Write down everything.

I have an ideas folder. A section for story concepts, interesting characters, or scenes that jumped into my head at one time or another. They are always great sources of inspiration, or even parts I can include in a plot I’m working on…

As for my works in progress… I mix in “pantsing” and planning. Meaning, for the most part, I’ll blurt out anywhere between two and five chapters in a story straight from my head before I go back and look at things like structure, pace, plot, character development, if the writing in engaging… and from there start to form a framework, tweaks and plan out the rest of the novel. I do this in two ways – massive spreadsheets where I can label scenes, turning points, note how each chapter is driving the story forward, keep track of content and time lines… having a detailed plan means I can skip forward and back without dropping out of the narrative. The second method, is having blank pages for each chapter in the book, and scribbling notes on what I want to happen in each chapter – it grows as I start writing, and before commencing to write each new chapter I’ll review the points, put them in order and follow that map as best I can. Sometimes it works flawlessly, and other times my characters react in unforeseen ways and I head back to the drawing board. Never let your outline keep you trapped.

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I feel the need to be flexible in how and where I write. Sometimes the character tells me where the story is going, sometimes I need the focus of a storyboard, scene by scene to get me writing.

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Whenever you get stuck, switch it up. Move out of the study or office, jump to a different point in your manuscript, chat to someone about your work, take a walk around the block. The more tricks you have in your repertoire the better equipped you are to keep the inspiration and words flowing.

Everyone has a slow day. Don’t let it bother you. Writing is more a state of mind thing than anything. At one point I was journaling my feelings before writing – it was the only thing that enabled me to leave the emotional baggage at the office door.

But my most successful tool, above all the other tips and tricks has been time management. If I set a timer for an hour and work on one thing, be it a scene, chapter, concept, blog for one hour and then stop. It will always get me out of a writing funk. Who says you need to be sitting at your computer fourteen hours a day in order to call yourself a writer? A few productive hours a day could be just as good. Structure your day to free up a no distraction window and give yourself a simple task.

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Hand in hand with this activity is that spreadsheet or storyboard, because you can switch projects or chapters/scenes on a whim. Breaking your down into chunks of simple tasks can kick start your brain and get those creative juices flowing.

Whether it’s immersing yourself in scenes – feeling a breeze in your hair, the warmth of the sun on your face, the tang of salt in the air as you sit at the beach to scribble out a lusty romance set in the crashing waves; or concentrating on a conversation between two characters while you sit at a coffee shop, or hide in an office to knock off a chapter in complete silence; keep experimenting and finding things that work for you.

And as always… happy writing.

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What tips and tricks do you use that keep up your productivity for writing? Share them in the comments section below – I’d love to hear about them.

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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.

Cheap Hair Hack to add moisture and re-condition your hair.

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It’s always nice to go to a salon, have the relaxing head massage and tended to with a lovely assortment of perfumed treatments followed by a gorgeous blowout to make your hair feel like brand new. You do that hair flip as you walk down the street feeling like a million bucks… and it certainly nearly cost that much. Then you feel guilty for having spent money on something so vain and frivolous.

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Well you shouldn’t you are worth it. Spending money on yourself every once in a while is not something you should associate with guilt. At the end of the day, we have to look after ourselves.

But, if you don’t have the cash to go out splurging when you want to. A handy tip you can do at home with the products you already have can give you that same new treatment feeling to rescue your hair.

I’m a hairstylist of nearly 40 years and have used this hair hack on myself many times. Instead of an in-salon treatment, or even going out and purchasing one from the store, you can use every day conditioner. That’s right, in damp towel-dried hair, slather in a generous amount, (plait it back if you have long hair) and leave it in overnight. I suggest to put a towel over your pillow to protect it.

When you rinse it out in the morning your hair will feel just as silky smooth as if you got an expensive treatment.

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You don’t have to do it overnight, of course. But I’m lazy, and busy, so it’s the only time I can spare to pamper my locks.

If you are spending the morning doing some house cleaning, you can add the conditioner to damp hair, then wrap some plastic wrap over the top – the heat your body temperature generates while tidying the house will help the process along. Rinse, then ta-da! Alternatively, if you have a day at home when you are not going to see anyone, add your choice of conditioner, put on a plastic shower cap and rinse out at night… how you get the job done isn’t important. As long as the conditioner remains in your hair for a decent amount of time, you should get results.

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Some conditioners can weigh the hair down for those with fine hair, but it helps seal the scales of the hair down to lock in moisture and give a shiny smooth appearance. You will see varying results with different brands of conditioners too. But as you already have some in your shower caddy – it’s free! And you don’t have to make time in your schedule to visit a stylist.

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© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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.

Tips for finding the perfect stylist

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It goes unsaid that word of mouth is the biggest endorsement for finding a hairdresser to tame your wild locks. But what if you’ve just moved to a new place and don’t know anybody to ask? Here’s a few things to take notice of in helping you track down a great stylist.


  1. If you see someone with a similar style to what you desire, approach them and enquire where they get their hair done.
    Though, you don’t have to approach someone cold-turkey on the street, you could always ask a shop assistant in the area when you do some window shopping. These employees are primed to give you their full attention in a friendly manner and generally familiar with the area and businesses close by.
  2. Tips for finding the perfect stylist Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleNotice the stylists grooming – this is usually a reflection on their skills and attention to detail.
  3. Check out online platforms. Some salons or stylists have a web presence with a portfolio of their work and a history of their work experience and journey in the industry.
  4. You could also contact the manufacturer of a product you favour, like a brand of hair colour, they generally have a list of salons in your area to check out. Then at least you will have the security of a product you know and love; and get an opinion of a professional in the industry.

 

Tips for finding the perfect stylist Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.gifAnother big thing to ensure you find a great match is communication. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your stylist. Ask if they can achieve what it is you want.

Bring pictures to refer to.

Get a quick consultation and quote. It’s free and you’ll get plenty of information and be able to gauge if your personalities mesh well together. You need to be comfortable in dialogue with your stylist so you can tell them what you want, and more importantly what you don’t want. Many people leave hairdressers because the stylists have been doing something that makes the customer uncomfortable but are completely unaware, then to never return. It’s their job to make it a comfortable positive experience, and you should not expect any less.

There are some online reviews, but I tend to place less faith in them because there is also the possibility they are fabricated by friends and family of the salon/stylist; and usually edited – only positive comments are picked for publication.

Getting the stylist you need cannot be the easiest of jobs, but if you adopt all of these tips – and persevere – your lovely locks will be ever so greatful in the end. Keep swinging those ponytails, and good luck!

Coiffed Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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.

With so many tips and tricks out there, do we really need a hairdresser?

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It’s an interesting question – especially with the advent and reach of electronic media and a rise in cost efficient D.I.Y. trends, it’s true that some people have never set foot in a salon.

So, I guess the answer is – it depends on your hair goals.  #hairgoals

For those who don’t want complicated and tailored permanent hair colouring solutions, you can do much of the colouring at home. Temporary and semi-permanent colours are very easy to D.I.Y.  And if you are diligent, the end result can be just as good that any professional stylist could acomplish.

The same goes for cuts and styling. It all comes down to how good your skill is, the products you are using, and if you are happy with the results you can produce.

Hairdressers, or Hair Stylists are trained. And they aren’t the ones attempting double-jointed elbow manoeuvres to see in a bathroom mirror – we pay them for a perfect result. So these professionals should be offering security, safety and excellent results.

That is in an ideal world.

We all hear horror stories of beauty services gone rouge. But to be honest – they all come about from either untrained stylists, lazy professionals, or cutting corners (there are certain rules of hair science that you just shouldn’t break).

So that, and affordability, are the biggest reasons many people are turning to maintaining their locks at home.

Some states here in Australia have a regulating body to try and stomp out the Sweaty-Betty stylists; and I’ve compared consumer satisfaction from those states to others that are unregulated through polls over the past 20 years, and surprise, surprise. There is no difference. The government has simply found a way to make more revenue off of a niche market in small business. Because, let’s face it, hairdressing isn’t a massive corporate industry. It’s dominated by small and sole proprietor salons. But I digress…

So why should we be stepping into a salon if it is such a big roll of the dice?

Well… sometimes we have no choice. If we want those blonde foils all over, or suffer from fine hair issues, or desire chemically straightened hair, maybe an elegant wedding up-do. We need a professional.

And so it comes back around to finding the perfect stylist for you.

How do we do that – well I’ll post some tips next week, but for now let’s stay on track about whether it’s worth it to fork over a small fortune to reach your hair goals.

Firstly, if the desired change is easy enough to achieve at home, there is no reason why you shouldn’t. But – and here’s the disclaimer – make sure you know what you are doing and know all about the products you are using. Because at the end of the day if something goes wrong, you’ll have no-one to blame but yourself.

Hair at Home Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleThe key part is skill and product. Do some dry runs on yourself first. Want to colour your hair – practice application with some conditioner. It usually takes 30-60 mins to process (depending on the product) and you don’t want to take too long getting the crème where it should be and get an uneven colour. If you’re new to the product, it pays to do a skin test to make sure you don’t have a reaction – mix a small portion and test it on the skin just behind your ear. Hairdressers should be doing this anyway if you are hypoallergenic. Do a test strand. Especially if it’s permanent hair colour. Make sure it’s going to actually work and give you what you want.

That’s the skill part roughly summarised. The other is product.

Read everything! I mean it. All the fine print, the box, info online (a lot of safety instructions are hidden in a MSDS on some website these days), ask the retailer or manufacturer for advice, watch some videos online  – every step you need to take to make sure you are fully informed.

Hair at Home Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleAnother important point that many forget it have a ‘get out’ plan. If things start going south, what are you going to do? A chemical burn, the wrong colour, crooked bangs; have some sort of contingency in mind as a just in case.

Some may view everything I’ve just pointed out as scary… and my advice to you: if anything I’ve just raised about D.I.Y. hair care gives your concern, you should be finding yourself a professional stylist. Hair does grow back if you screw things up, but who wants to go through that pain. But if you do something like a chemical burn, or a violent allergic reaction – that may be something your hair (or you) don’t recover from. Chemical hair services generally release oxygen as a part of the process, so for goodness sake, do not smoke and be sitting around candles. Why would you want to risk setting your hair on fire?

That’s a very general discussion on home hair styling coming from a professional stylist of over 25 years. For me personally, I do all of my hair colouring, styling and cutting at home. But not only do I have the dexterity and know-how, I also have a very easy to maintain style. It’s long, choppy layered and all one colour. If I had a more precise cut, short hair or multi coloured hair (like foils) I’d be visiting a salon.

Hair at Home Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleAnd hey – I still learn tips and tricks from Youtube videos and other stylists. You never stop learning. So if you want to save some dollars and have more control over your hair and choose to do it at home, it is possible as long as you are realistic about your skills and your #hairgoals.

You don’t have to be a maverick or take big risks, simply get informed and follow instructions and you’ll have salon perfect hair everyday straight from your bathroom mirror!

Coiffed Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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.