Tag Archives: writing tips

Rest, Change, Revive … Seasonally

One of our greatest statesmen has said that a change of work is the best rest.  So it is. – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four

Changes in season bring with them some excellent thinking time.  Schedules change up in these months, and sometimes ideas for projects shake loose at the same time.

As well, new genres may present themselves.  An essayist writes a song.  A literary master finds the gateway to speculative fiction.  A mystery writer pens a thriller or a romantic comedy.  Maybe it’s just the slight lifting of the heat, or a lightening of the load that a change in the weather brings, which frees up a mind’s busy section to think about something new.

Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes. ― Walt Whitman

I love my genres, and I’d never change permanently for change’s sake, but only to pursue other passions.  And, returning to paragraph two of this post, maybe that’s the only song the essayist will ever write.  Still, that song changes forever the way the writer approaches essays when he or she returns to them.

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours.  And the people there see you differently, too.  Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers Mel


If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get her pocket-sized writing guide, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume here. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires you through 30 days of hints and help with narrative structure.

From Pulp Literature Press

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.

Outlining, a Fractal Approach

Outlining is fractal, like a rocky coastline. The jagged water’s edge looks similar—not identical, just very like—if seen from space, an airplane, a tower, a rooftop, or from a crouching position at the water’s edge. Story sections also look similar at different planning elevations.

Outlining Sections

Whether it’s the 7-volume arc, the single novel, the act, or the scene, it’s the same from varied perspectives. Great stories include the set-up, hard choices and sacrifices, learning and transforming, transfers of power, darkest moments, and great rewards.

Outlining Time Savers

Because sections are similar in structure, we can save  drafting time by carrying outlining templates. These might be graphic organizers we’ve developed ourselves, or various outline styles we’ve learned from experts, or a combination of the two.

Outlining Math

“1,500 to 3,000 words a week drafted to your outline, gives you 70,000 to 140,000 words a year.” – The Writer’s Boon Companion

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.

Cheers, Mel

Note: map detail from Allaigna’s Song: Overture, by JM Landels.  Get this marvellous fantasy read from Pulp Literature Press, here.

You can’t escape magic when it’s in your blood …

When Allaigna was seven she almost sang her baby brother to sleep — forever.  She may not be heir to her mother’s titles and secrets, but she has inherited her grandmother’s dangerous talent for singing music into magic.  As her education proceeds from nursery to weapons ground to the rank of royal page, it becomes increasingly hard to keep her heritage and abilities hidden.

The original map was created by world-builder Scott Fitzgerald Gray and illustrated by Mel Anastasiou.

If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

Designing a Great Life Plan

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan.  And guess what they have planned for you?  Not much. –Jim Rohn

In every profession, success experts agree:  set your course.  If not, not only do we writers not get done what we dream of doing, but we end up engaging in a lot of peripheral activities we don’t enjoy.  That won’t get us far.

Daily Life Plan Design

That means writing out goals.  And authors do. But how many of us write our goals every day?  Long term and short term.  We’re all different, but one powerful daily practice is to

  1. Visualize the highest, grandest dream in a writing career for a moment.
  2. Identify with painstaking accuracy the very next 20-minute step in that direction.

It’s a shiny bit of knowledge to carry about, that one small but vital “next thing”.  And of course our “grandest dreams” are completely portable.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.  Cheers, Mel.


If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

The Writer’s Boon Companion is a quiet, thoughtful chap.  Boon offers daily hints and exercises to support your narrative along its road to completion.  You’ll also find generous servings of motivation and philosophy to help you forge ahead over 30 days of drafting towards a completed novel or novella. This writer’s journal offers space for goals, reflection, outlines, and offers what no other writing guide can, the future visions of a steam-powered robot.”

And, coming soon, The Writer’s Friend and Confidante, paperback version. This new 30-day guide from Pulp Literature Press was inspired by the editors’ admiration for the strength, endurance, and talent of NANOWRIMO writers, as they rock Novembers from year to year.

 

In the Mood to Write, Simply Because I Have Coffee

Self-discipline rarely goes amiss, but what if a writer examines a great writing mood and figures out how to encourage it. This way we can plan not only a time for writing but a practical strategy for getting in the mood for writing as well.

Getting in the Mood

Everybody is different, of course. I’ve heard good writing moods encouraged by:

  1. Spending time alone in a cafe, a huge hot drink to hand, with instrumentals playing
  2. Drafting an individual project in good company, (with writing friends, my personal favourite, using Dale Adams Segal’s The Hour Stories)
  3. Leading into writing time by writing out a favourite poem or paragraph
  4. Going for a walk to the library, taking a single task and no more, and finishing the walk after that bit is written
  5. Phoning a writing friend to encourage and be encouraged, having set a date to do so
  6. Placing stickers on a calendar
  7. Setting a timer for 30 minutes, and pressing the start button at the moment we begin typing
  8. Chunking down the next step in a work-in-progress to its next step, so that it appears ridiculously easy and pleasant

Keeping Control of Days and Moods

Each of these spirit enhancers have in common the feeling that we are in complete control of our days and our moods. Not a bad way to live our writing lives.

“Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.” – Henri Matisse

I hope you’ll have another great week in your writing career.  Cheers, Mel.


If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens.

The Next Step in a Writing Project

For those of us attempting to fit our full-time writing careers into our full-time lives, one great two-step strategy may help.

  1. Ask What one important step comes next?
  2. Chunk this next segment of work down, to the smallest possible size.

Of course, we keep the big picture—the whole book, series, career— in mind.  But when there are only 10 minutes to spare in a working day, it’s worth asking “What’s the one thing that comes next?” If the answer is “Chapter Three”, we’re not about to write Chapter Three in ten minutes on a Thursday afternoon.

Chunking Down the Next Step

What really comes next may not be Chapter Three itself, but a design:

  • on outline of the general action
  • an arc for the POV character
  • a design for an exchange of power through dialogue or action
  • a sketch of the central image,

Any one of these small steps may be taken towards Chapter Three in 10 minutes.  Whether we think it through, draw a snowflake, or write a quick outline, we’ve gone a long way towards writing that chapter.  It’s a mighty satisfying way to finish busy Thursdays, too.  Or crazy Mondays.  Or fly-by Wednesdays…

I hope you’ll have another great week in your writing career.  Cheers, Mel


If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

“The Writer’s Boon Companion is a quiet, thoughtful chap.  Boon offers daily hints and exercises to support your narrative along its road to completion.  You’ll also find generous servings of motivation and philosophy to help you forge ahead over 30 days of drafting towards a completed novel or novella.

This writer’s journal offers space for goals, reflection, outlines, and offers what no other writing guide can, the future visions of a steam-powered robot.

The Practicalities of Thinking Big

Thinking Big: Career Scope

A friend of mine, a wise and lovely woman, filled to the gills with integrity, and inspiring to all, says this about thinking big:  Say you’re making a huge income through your writing every year, what would you do?

Thinking Big: Questions

  • Three thousand words a week to a cogent outline = one long or two shorter novels a year.  Would that be enough for a busy, successful career?
  • What if one wrote double that, would it be too much to deal with, for revising, editing, proofing, promoting?
  • In an ideal career, how much of the day should go to writing?
  • How much of the week?  Seven days writing sounds like a recipe for burnout to me.
  • There will be lots of proofs to look at, and signings.  How many signings a month would be reasonable?  How many readings or workshops?

Thinking Big:  An Ideal Day

Here’s another big scope question for a writer:  What does the ideal day, week, year in an ideal writing career look like?

Imagine that ideal day in a satisfying and successful writing career.  I’ll bet it’s not as frenetic as all those questions in the previous section make it sound.  Still, those big ideas are fun to think about.  And it’s nice to know that already we do, now and then, have that perfect day in our ongoing writing careers as well.

Great dreams combine with concrete goals to fuel our writing energy.

I hope you’ll have another great week in your writing career.  Cheers, Mel

“Learn how to be happy with what you have while you pursue all that you want.”  -Jim Rohn


If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

Stronger Narrative Structure, 3 Ways

art by Mel Anastasiou, narrative structureOn a panel at this year’s  Creative Ink Festival, three of us talk about planning processes for strong narrative structure.

The first describes himself as a “pantser”.  He writes what comes next, and doesn’t worry about outlines. He thinks hard about his story and its turnings; he doesn’t write it all down.

The second is a “move sections around” writer, who, like Truman Capote, believes in the scissors over the pen.  She writes great scenes, trusting her inner writer that they’ll fit into the plot and move it forward.  Her inner writer doesn’t let her down.

I’m the third writer on the panel. I’ve tried pantsing and moving scenes around. These approaches brought me no success, because I needed to strengthen my understanding of storytelling.  I read, digested, applied and analyzed everything available on narrative structure.  Now, I outline everything.  Story, scenes, character arcs for everybody.  I do this partly because I want to go to my drafting desk ready to write, partly because I love outlining like the first Greeks loved Prometheus’s gift of fire, but mostly because the criticism that I used to get from editors was, I can’t tell what this story is about.

As I gaze at the two gifted writers beside me I reflect that each of our approaches to story planning involves a confident understanding of narrative structure, and careful use of available writing and planning time.  What a pleasure to know that some aspects of writing come naturally to each of us, and that the rest may be learned.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.

Cheers, Mel

From Pulp Literature Press:

If you’re a fan of Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you may enjoy her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

 

Creating and Sustaining Suspense and Tension, Part 2

If we create suspense and sustain tension during the plotting and drafting stages, then we save truckloads of time on revisions.

Try one or more of these to sustain tensionWriting tips from Pulp Literature
  • Keep the story goal and central conflict front and centre, with a hint at the start of each scene, so readers remember what matters most deeply to our point of view character.
  • Within the parameters of genre, establish that anything can happen.  If the author has something unthinkable happen at the start, within the genre’s context, that raises the tension.  Readers never feel a hopeful young squire is safe just because he’s young and hopeful.  See the first scene of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones.
  • Remove tension killers.  Capote said, “I believe more in the scissors than in the pen.” Check ends of scenes and chapters, make sure there’s no sentence that seems to finish things off.

More on tension and suspense next post.  In the meantime, I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers, Mel.
The Writer's Boon Companion, Thirty Days Towards and Extraordinary Volume

If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press

Creating Suspense and Sustaining Tension, Part 1

At the wonderful Creative Ink writing festival I sat on panels on creating tension and suspense.  I have been thinking ever since about ways to accomplish these.  And, from the point of view of time management for writers, if we can create suspense and sustain tension as we plot and draft, then we save a crazy amount of hours on revisions.

First, it’s worth taking the time to develop a protagonist the reader will care deeply about. We’ve heard of the Monkeysphere — the theory that humans can only keep a certain number of people close to their hearts.  Along with family members and friends, we appear to have  room for fictional characters as well. Right, Netflix?

To develop engaging characters, it’s worth taking the time to list flaws and balancing strengths.  I see so many flawed protagonists in our subs box, but few of them achieve the balance that helps the reader take them to their hearts. Balance involves developing

  • inner and outer longings.
  • kindnesses and sacrifices.
  • falls and redemptions.

Look at the extraordinarily flawed and engaging Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  She’s not all flaws; in fact, her ferocious loyalty, physical strength, and world-beating intellect balance all the imperfections that make us love her.  Looking at my submissions inbox, it seems that there’s a lot of great work on developing flaws in characters, but not much attention to the strengths, as if somehow strengths were old-fashioned.

Once we create that engaging character, half our work in sustaining tension is done for us as the readers bring their own anxiety for the protagonist to the page.  The stakes, depending on our genre, may be survival, love and belonging, power, or freedom. These same stakes resonate with us all, through a character readers can believe in and take for our own.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week.  Cheers, Mel.

Read more about Creative Ink

Four Quick Fixes for Chapter Starts and Finishes

galaxiesmallMost writing exercises are useful in some way or other, but some take us so swiftly and directly towards our goals, that they’re worth identifying and emphasizing. For example, taking a close look at the beginnings and endings of chapters.

  1. When changing POV character, it would seem a no-brainer that you want to get the new character up and identified as soon as possible. However, setting the reader directly into the character’s skin is more important still, while they’re learning whose skin they’re now wearing. The reader is naturally reluctant to leave the previous POV, and to name the new one too soon may cause the reader to set the book down rather than read on. To settle, see the next point.
  2. At the start of every chapter, and arguably every scene, we want to cover time, place, setting, tone, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict.
  3. At the end of every chapter, it’s worth making sure that it doesn’t actually “finish.” A great sentence that feels like an ending to the conflict may cause the reader to close the book. Sometimes the sentence must be removed; sometimes it works to move it to the next chapter.
  4. Watching out for rhythms in positive and negative starts and stops is a subtle way to establish storytelling authority. As author Beverly Boissery once put it to me, chapters that always begin positively and end negatively, read flop flop flop. If a chapter ends negatively, consider beginning the new chapter negatively as well, and end it positively, with a hint at future conflict.

Chapter starts and endings set us up to keep reading, keep invested in the characters, and love the book. Whether drafting or revising, these are fairly easy fixes to create even greater narratives.

I hope you’ll have another great week in your writing career. Cheers, Mel


If you enjoy Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, you might try her pocket-sized writing guide The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume. Motivates, organizes, encourages, inspires.

From Pulp Literature Press