Tag Archives: Writing tips.

#WritingTip: act, react and interact – breathing life into my characters

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Occasionally, I can see there’s no life in a scene. My characters aren’t acting the story out in a natural and logical way. It’s down to me to make them and I do this by making sure they act, react and interact.

React. I check that this will make my character do this or say this or feel like that. Then I check those reactions are in character because different characters react differently to the same incident.

React emotionally. Let’s take Charlie and Darren. Darren gives Charlie the bad news that Charlie’s wife has left. She’s taken the children. She’s asked Darren to tell Charlie that Charlie will never see any of them again.

Charlie should react to every blow that Darren deals with:

  • his words
  • his inner feelings/emotions
  • his physical manifestations of those inner feelings/emotions
  • actions

Perhaps Charlie’s a decent bloke and literally has no idea why his wife has done these things. How does he feel? Shocked? Horrified? Hurt? Desperate? What are his inner feelings? Does his heart sink? His guts twist? NB These are terms I use literally but they’re similes. People feel as if their hearts are sinking and their guts twisting but actually the organs remain in place. However, humans do have physical manifestation of emotion so I make Charlie break out in a sweat or his hands begin to shake, too.

Or maybe Charlie’s a drunken abuser. He knows exactly why his wife has taken refuge – she’s protecting herself and the kids from his fists and feet, from his vicious tongue, from a life of fear. Is he glad she’s gone so he doesn’t have to listen to her whining about him spending the family income on beer? Or is he furious and vengeful that she thinks she has the right to live her own life and abandon him to his? Do his shoulders relax in relief? Or his hands curl into fists as red edges his vision?

React via action. What action does Charlie take next? Does he cry on Darren’s shoulder? Biff him on the nose? Sit down with pen and paper to list all the places his wife might have gone? Cancel all the credit cards? A lot depends on who Charlie is and Darren’s real role in the story (because I’m wondering about Darren, to be honest). But Charlie will do something.

Interact. If Charlie knows Darren’s in some way responsible for the disaster he might just give him that biff on the nose and storm out in silence but it’s more likely that his actions and reactions will include dialogue. Use of dialogue’s one of the best ways I know of creating interaction. If Darren says, ‘Sorry, mate. Your wife and kids are on their way to a new life in another country,’ no matter how many inner feelings and physical manifestations I give Charlie, it’s going to be natural for him to say something. ‘She can’t have!’ or ‘But … why?’ or ‘Don’t be stupid,’ or ‘You liar!’ or ‘That bitch!’ are all starting points for Charlie’s verbal reaction. He might take action first by piling into Darren with a biff, biff, biff but this is likely to be followed by, ‘And what the hell do you know about it?’ Combining Charlie’s words with his emotions, inner feelings, physical responses, actions in reaction to whatever Darren says or does causes interaction and rescues the scene for me.

NB All of the above is based on me writing the scene from Charlie’s viewpoint. If I wrote it from Darren’s perspective then we’d get his thoughts and emotions and see Charlie’s reactions through his eyes – Charlie’s skin draining with colour or reddening with rage, tears boiling from his eyes or teeth gritting with rage. Maybe Darren would read Charlie’s clenched fists in time and avoid the biff on the nose.

NB2 If I’m really not ‘getting’ Charlie to the extent that I have trouble making him act, react and interact I write the scene first person, to burrow deeper under his skin. Then I convert it to third person (because that’s how I write my novels) but make sure I keep every thought, word, sinking feeling, sweaty palm and biff on the nose.

You may also like:

Should I write a prologue?

What happens in Chapter One?

Chapter Two and beyond

Final Chapter(s) and (possible) Epilogue 

My plotty head, Fiction Land and my dad

Descriptive writing

Learn about publishing

Agent or no agent?

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Writing tip: learn about publishing

I’m often asked for tips so I thought I’d post a few. In my view, at least as important as improving your writing is improving your understanding of publishing. There’s a lot you can safely leave in the hands of your editor or agent if you have one but an overview of the industry can make your expectations and approach realistic.

You can learn about publishing in similar places to those where you learn about writing:

  • talks (conferences and literary festivals have gone on-line during the pandemic, which often means they’re free – a bonus). The speaker can be an agent, editor, publicity guru, librarian, cover artist, author, media manager, sales manager, self-publishing specialist, journalist, ghostwriter or dozens of other roles but what they’ll have in common is a knowledge of publishing. Example: The Avon Lockdown Show features not just snippets from authors but advice from Avon editors.
  • newsletters. I think these are an underrated resource. I take free daily email newsletters from The Bookseller and Publishers’ Weekly. There are paid options too but even these free newsletters will give you insight into what’s selling, who’s buying, and, importantly, who’s moving. Why ‘who’s moving’? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about this agent or editor going into a new role and looking to acquire. ‘Looking to acquire’ means ‘taking on new authors’ if they’re an agent and ‘buying books’ if they’re an editor. It might tell you what is being looked for such as ‘authors from diverse backgrounds’ or ‘feel-good fiction’ or ‘psychological thrillers’. From there, it’s not too hard to find the person online and discover how they accept submissions. NB If you’re taking the free newsletter, read the headlines first to decide which articles are of interest because you can usually only read a couple of articles in full per day. Look out also for writing newsletters from your regional authority. You can often find these as a result of searching your local authority website under ‘arts development officer’ or similar. Example: Writing East Midlands offers a digital newsletter. Sign up by emailing marketing@writingeastmidlands.co.uk.
  • websites. Writing East Midlands is just one of many resources. Your search engine is your friend though, personally, I’d avoid all the entries with ‘Ad’ attached to them. Publishers’ and agents’ websites and blogs are full of information and so are those of writing communities and arts councils. The personal blogs of authors and other industry professionals can be useful too. NB Look for recent content. Publishing changes quickly but websites hang around for ages. NB2 Be aware of market boundaries. Something you read on a US site may not apply to the UK.
  • writing magazines. I’ve worked for both Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine in the UK and they’re both great for market news such as magazines accepting submissions and whether they pay. I don’t think there’s any substitute for keeping up-to-date with a market you might wish to submit to. There are also books that are guides on getting published. I would suggest you buy the most recent you can.
  • social media. Follow agents and editors! They give hints of what they’re looking for and you can often see what area they work in from the authors they already work with. Join writing communities. I’m part of an authors’ Facebook group where people share their experiences and I often hear news there first. By browsing around social media you’ll find a group to suit you.

These are just my favourites but maybe there’s something here that will work for you.

You may also like:

Should I write a prologue?

What happens in Chapter One?

Chapter Two and beyond

Final Chapter(s) and (possible) Epilogue 

Act, react and interact – breathing life into my characters

My plotty head, Fiction Land and my dad

Descriptive writing

Learn about publishing

Agent or no agent?

5 Comments

Filed under Sue Moorcroft

Sue’s seven useful things to know about writing for money

As I write novels, serials, short stories, articles, columns and writing ‘how to’, I’m sometimes asked for my tips. I’ve collected them together in this post:

1 You need to know about more than just writing.

2014-05-13 10.39.462 You need to know about publishing. Publishing is an industry and has to make money to survive. If you don’t learn something about how it works you’re making your life unnecessarily hard.

3 You may need/prefer to know about self-publishing. You get control and you get more of the cut each time your book is sold. And you get all of the work, or have to pay/persuade people to do some of it.

ios_homescreen_icon4 You need to know what ‘discoverable’ means. Promotion will almost certainly be part of your life. Website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, ELLO, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram … OK, you don’t need to know all of them but many publishers expect you to have a platform. Readers want to find you and tell you how cool you are. Journalists need to research you before interviews. If you’re self-publishing the need may be greater than if you’re traditionally published.

Group shot, Summer Party 125 Networking can be fun, if you enjoy parties, conferences, seminars, literary festivals, forums and classes. Or it can be a nightmare if you don’t enjoy parties, conferences etc. Either way, it’s almost always useful. You get your name in front of editors and agents and learn a lot from other writers. You hear about possible destinations for your work and a lot about what-not-to-do. Learning what-not-to-do is a lifelong process for me.

*You can network on social media, too.

Study6 You can’t be without self-motivation, if you want to be a writer, unless you’re already a staffer on a paper or magazine and motivation is provided for you in the form of ‘You’re fired!’ if you don’t write. In your study at home you can work in your dressing gown, you can drink tea all day, you can go on Facebook whenever you want. But a month’s work takes a month. If you want work done, you have to do it. Nobody will fill in for you when you’re sick or on holiday, either.

7 Rejection. (Cue scary music and a feeling like cold mud in your belly.) Almost every writer gets rejection. A lot of rejection. The trick is a) to learn from it b) not to let it stop you writing. Swear and throw something at the wall if you must (I must, personally) but then get back to writing.

Final tip: Become reasonably proficient with every piece of technology that will help you in points 1-7 or identify which skills you’ll pay for in others. Learn to type. Touch type. Yes, really! Your writing life will be so much easier.

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Familiar Blunders When Writing a Novel – revisited

This is how my head felt

This is how my head felt

I finished my first draft today. Yeah! I had such a reaction to my first post on the subject of blundering about when writing a novel (you can read it here) that I decided to celebrate by comparing how I feel now that I’ve written ‘ends’ with how I felt then, around 28,000 words earlier.

– Really thrilled that the first draft is down. Now it is, I can play with it and polish it and make it better. I love finishing a first draft and look forward to the second.

– It now seems perfectly reasonable that I had to rewrite the beginning when I got half way through. I knew my characters better by then and saw that some of the themes I thought would be important were not and that new themes took over.

– I’m a lot less bothered about whether I kept all my plates spinning, ie kept up with all my plot lines. When I begin to edit, the smashed plates will become obvious. Because of the miracle of working in a word processor, nobody will ever know whether I glued the plates back together and got them spinning back on their sticks or just quietly swept the pieces into the bin. (I work on a Mac so that should probably be Trash.)

Beta reader, Mark West.

Beta reader, Mark West.

– If I don’t notice a smashed plate then one of my beta readers or my agent will. Ditto holes in the plot. I’m blessed to have these people. Though I’ve been working alone on this for months and months they have been patiently waiting to help me. It’s kind of humbling, really.

– I’m much happier about the dynamics between certain characters now I’ve had time to think about them. And because I now know what every character does at the end. Once I know the answer, the questions seem clearer!

– I did, in the end, have sufficient ideas for my plot. I like to write between 85,000 and 95,000 words, and this book has closed at 91,850. I have no idea why I worried …

– OK, I did sweat over unknotting my plot lines and bringing the book to a conclusion that satisfied me. My brain hurt. A Facebook friend was an invaluable source of information on technology issues. But it’s done. It will probably have to be improved upon. Fine. Bring it on.

photo(53) copy 3– Yes, I do get in the same knots and snaggles with this book as with every other. I will no doubt get in them again when I write another book. Nobody said writing a book is easy. Or, if they did, it wasn’t me.

But the satisfaction now that the first draft is complete? Immense.

And my very first action after typing in the final line? (Apart from editing it and typing in a different one.) To back it up to my dropbox so that even if my house burns down tonight, my WIP is safe. Mwah. Love you, first draft.

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