Books · Writing

The Importance of Characters in Fiction.

Ross & DemelzaAt some point in our lives, I’m sure we’ve all felt a special bond for a book character. It’s one of the great things about reading – it makes sure you never forget the book and makes you want to return to it again and again. It was not until I read the Poldark series by Winston Graham that as a writer, I fully understood the importance of characters within novels.

Set in Cornwall, England during the late 1700s, the story focuses on Ross Poldark, his family and the lives of miners within the district. Ross returns home after fighting in the war for American Independence, to find the woman he loves engaged to another man. So what is it about this character that drew me to him? Maybe because it was my first real introduction to a brooding male (I would later come to thank the BBC, Colin Firth and Toby Stephens in later years). It is this kind of character that attracts readers; a past that makes them vulnerable, that makes them see their flaws and are willing to learn from those past mistakes. It demonstrates that despite their faults, such characters are not entirely bad as we get to see the goodness in them as well.

I just adored the relationship between Ross and his wife, Demelza; both in the books and the original series (and that’s where I’ll stay). They came across as a happy couple with a good sense of humour and a strong friendship. Unfortunately, like all relationships, things did not always run smoothly. Their marriage became tumultuous on a number of occasions and they had come close to going their separate ways, yet they managed to work things out and over time, made their marriage stronger.

Back in my high school days when I read the series, theirs was the kind of relationship I wanted with my future husband (minus the mishaps, and yes, I believe I’m lucky to have found that). It is certainly saying something about fictional characters when you wish for such a relationship in your own life. This is because the characters within the series come across as real people (and it is said that the character Demelza was based on the author’s own wife), and this goes for all the characters within the books. Other characters such as Jud and Osborne Whitworth are truly unforgettable. This series is one that I come to again and again as it feels like I am visiting old friends and I am always learning from a master in characterisation.

We are drawn to particular characters because of their personalities, which in turn, create their stories. If writers can create characters that come across as real people or even leap off the page, then they have created something truly special.

And if you haven’t read the Poldark series yet, I highly recommend it. 😉

Are you a Poldark fan? What are your thoughts on the series remake? What are some of your favourite book characters? Is there a particular book or book series you enjoy coming back to?

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Horror · Movies/Television · Writing

What Writers Can Learn from ‘Misery’.

anniewilkesinspirationRecently, I watched the movie Misery, starring Kathy Bates in her award winning role as Annie Wilkes. It’s a film I have not seen in quite some time and it has been even longer since I read the book, yet it is undoubtedly a story that stays with you. Stephen King not only demonstrates his skills as a writer by building up the suspense while focusing on two main characters in a confined space, but he also plays upon the fears of writers.

By the end of the film, I couldn’t help but think of what writers can learn from Misery.

1. Routine

Author Paul Sheldon had the luxury of staying in a hotel whenever he needed to finish writing a novel. He would also celebrate typing ‘the end’ with a cigarette and a glass of champagne. Writers need to have some kind of routine in order to produce the words on a regular basis, however, a change every once in a while can also be beneficial. Write in a different location (like a coffee shop or find your own writer’s retreat) and treat yourself to something different with each milestone you make, like some chocolate, a new book or a night out. Routines are necessary, but they can make us stale. Add some spice to your writing life.

2. Keep a Backup

Annie Wilkes insisted that Paul set fire to his latest manuscript. He tried to make out it was no big deal, as he had other copies, but Annie Wilkes being the obsessed fan that she was, knew better. Keep backup copies of all your writing projects. Hard copies, hard drives, external drives and flash drives; it all might sound excessive, but it pays to be cautious. There is nothing worse than losing your documents to a virus or computer problem and having to write everything again; a great waste of your most precious asset – time.

3. Keep Your Readers Happy

Killing off the main character in a series? That’s where it all went downhill for Paul – he did not keep one particular fan happy. If we don’t keep our readers happy, then quite simply, they will stop reading our stories and look to other writers to help fill that void. Readers bring a level of expectation they want from us, with regards to both our stories and ourselves as writers. Don’t disappoint them.

4. Motivation

With an obsessive fan like Annie Wilkes who has control over you, as well as threatening you with a hammer, you would learn to type pretty quickly. No time to worry about writer’s doubt, writer’s block or procrastination. You would make sure you got the words down in order to try and save your own life. Thankfully, we’re not in Paul Sheldon’s shoes, so for the rest of us we have such things as deadlines, a timer and a great deal of persistence, hard work and determination.

One final piece of advice when it comes to writing:- if you ever become successful in this field, just be careful of anyone who tells you that they’re your No.1 fan. 😉

Have you read the book and/or watched the movie Misery? What do you remember most about the story? What did you think of Kathy Bates’ performance? What motivates you to write?

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Book Promotion · Writing

New Writers: Are You Worried about Marketing?

book daisiesRecently, I read a blog post on marketing for writers, which stated: ‘Experts agree – especially for self-publishing – that marketing thoughts should come before writing’. Okaay. Sure, this sounds reasonable advice for non-fiction writers, but not so much for those of us who write fiction (I later discovered this is pretty much what those ‘experts’ were really referring to). Thinking of marketing before or even while we write can kill our creativity.

When you read statements like these and that you should treat your writing like a business, it can stop you in your tracks. There is a lot to being a writer these days and it can become overwhelming for us new, unpublished writers, when we read things like that. We can get blindsided. This has happened to me lately and it has held me back from even getting stared (yes, I admit, I can tend to be a bit anally retentive when it comes to being organised). This then brings in the self-doubt and you end up going nowhere. Thinking too much about marketing before you’ve even written anything is just putting the cart before the horse.

Admittedly, there is a lot of the information out there about what is expected of writers once we’re published or those who are about to be published, but for us newbies, it’s best to stick to the basics. It’s good to be informed and have some knowledge of what’s in store for us on our writing journey, but there comes a time when we need to stop and remember why we’re doing all this in the first place – our writing. Without that, there is no point to thinking about marketing. When speaking to my husband recently he said the same thing – there’s no reason to think about that unless you have something out there. Do the writing first; then worry about all the rest later. From what I have been reading lately, more and more writers agree that the best marketing plan is to write more books.

Sure it’s good to be organised and to make plans for the future, but sometimes when we linger upon those things for too long, it can zap us of our energy and take away our enjoyment in the writing process. Yes, it’s good to keep a blog and be on some social networks in order to network with other writers and build a community, but our writing should be our number one priority. We should be writing because it gives us pleasure. So don’t rush – good things come to those who wait.

Are you unpublished and get overwhelmed by what is expected of writers these days? Do you think too much information can be a bad thing? As a new writer, do you find social media a help or a hindrance? Do you disagree entirely? Do you prefer not to let such things worry you?

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Authors · Writers

The Power of Words.

Colleen McCulloughLast week, both Australians and the writing community were saddened by the death of Colleen McCullough. Author of the bestselling novel The Thorn Birds as well as many others; she was regarded as Australia’s most successful author. Unfortunately, her passing has been marred by a piece of careless writing.

Within the opening paragraph of an obituary written in one of the country’s most prominent newspapers, The Australian, it stated:

‘Colleen McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: ‘I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.’

Yes, you read that correctly – plain of feature and overweight. Seriously, what has her appearance got to do with anything? It beggars belief that in 2015 we’re still having such discussions, but sadly, this level of journalism continues here in Australia and around the world. Understandably, there was a public outcry by both the media and social networks.

As a fellow writer and ex-University student, I know the importance of a good opening paragraph. This was an apparent oversight from those at The Australian in order to meet their deadline. An otherwise well written piece (that does go on to mention her many achievements) was in dire need of a good editor.

I’d like to look at that paragraph in a different way. Here was a woman that didn’t care less how she looked or what others thought of her. She was a warm, intelligent woman with a good sense of humour and men were attracted to her because of it. She was a neurophysiologist before taking up writing full-time. Her intensely researched, historical series Masters of Rome is indicative of that intelligence (yes, I struggled and anyone who has read them I applaud you). These books led her to be awarded a Doctor of Letters degree by Macquarie University in 1993. Colleen McCullough knew the power of words – sadly, a lesson those at The Australian have had to learn the hard way.

My dad had a saying: ‘We all come and go in this world the same way.’ It’s what we do in-between that’s important. Colleen McCullough was a strong woman who made a tremendous contribution to Australia and the publishing industry; her looks are therefore entirely irrelevant. May she rest in peace.

Have you ever been judged by your appearance rather than what you could actually do? Have you ever sent out work that you later wished you had more time to work on? Did you read the Master of Rome series or did you struggle like me?

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Books · Writing

The Writer’s Legacy.

My Classic Bookshelf.
My Classic Bookshelf.

Recently, the world heard of the sad news that author Iain Banks has only months to live and this piece by author Val McDermid actually brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t all that long ago that one of Australia’s favourite authors, Bryce Courtenay, died of cancer. It not only got me thinking on how short life really is, but also about the legacy we leave behind.

For writers our legacy is our writing; our books. Our stories can move people, get people talking, feel the need to read more of what we have to say, and perhaps even inspire them to tell their own stories. If we’re really lucky our stories will live on in film and on stage and even be talked about for generations to come. In a world where time is a valuable commodity; people are reading more than ever before. We may pass through this life only once, yet if done well, our stories can last a lifetime.

As I read some tweets written regarding Iain Banks, there was one other thing that struck me as part of a writer’s legacy and that was admiration by his fans. It wasn’t just his work they will always remember, but also actually meeting him. They considered themselves fortunate to have met their favourite author. Having had this social interaction will ensure his fans will remain with him long after he’s gone.

Interacting with our readers helps bring the author-reader relationship even closer. People remember those who are friendly and helpful towards others. It is believed that the way books sell more than any other is through word of mouth. Kristen Lamb fairly recently posted about the importance of writers building a rapport and community with their readers. In this selfish world, it is the little things such as common courtesy and politeness that people are remembered for. If we combine our efforts with producing good books, we can guarantee ourselves a loyal readership.

What do you hope will be your legacy? Are you making the most of your time? What steps are you taking towards building your community?

Image by Debbie Johansson.

Books · Writing

Reading – A Writer’s Dilemma.

This week, I’m going to talk about my reading addiction.  As I’ve mentioned before, with 2012 being the National Year of Reading in Australia, it’s a great incentive to encourage more to take it up. I’ve been encouraged to discover new authors, read books from authors I’ve wanted to try for some time and re-read old favourites until they begin to fall apart in my hands.  Being on Goodreads, I’ve taken up the challenge of reading fifty books this year alone.  Maybe a tad ambitious as I’m starting to get behind, but like any true addict, I just can’t help myself!

Now as a writer, we are told to read, study our genres and learn what’s out there.  It’s one of the ways we can help perfect our craft.  However, if you’re anything like me, one tends to out-weigh the other and therein lays the problem.

In her book, The Writer’s Workout, Christina Katz says to write more than you read.  Like everything else, balance is the key; be choosy about what you read.  That really hit home for me, because the trouble is there are so many books out there.  Admittedly not all of them are great and I prefer not to waste my time trudging through a book that doesn’t ‘do it’ for me.  As writers, it is best to know what genre/s we like and stick with them in order for us to write them well ourselves.  Writing our own stories should be our main priority if we want to make it in this business.  Perhaps reading should be seen as one of our rewards for a job well done.

I need to ease off on my reading addiction in order to make writing my No.1 priority.  Maybe then I can also reward myself with my other addiction – chocolate!

Are you addicted to reading? Do you read more than you write? Have you read any good books this year? Are you on Goodreads? How many books do you read a year? What is your favourite genre/s?

Free image by Anusorn P nachol courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Books

2012 – Australia’s National Year of Reading.

In Australia, 2012 is the National Year of Reading.  It’s a joint initiative of government, local libraries, writers, booksellers, schools and many other interested parties to get the nation reading.  It is estimated that a staggering 46% of Australians can’t read.  As a writer, reader, and concerned parent, this leaves me wondering what has happened.  It would seem that the days when we used to call ourselves the ‘clever country’ are long gone!

Personally, I think every year should be a year of reading.  In a household surrounded by computer games, game consoles and i-pads, it would seem I am a bit of a lone voice in preferring to have my nose more securely in a book, traditional or otherwise.  I spent the entire year of 2011 reading to my daughter the entire Harry Potter series – probably the last time I would actually get to sit reading to one of my children.  Just by taking that tiny initiative, she is more interested in reading books than her reluctant thirteen year old brother (and she’s probably read more than him, too).  All I can say is bless you J.K. Rowling!

I’m looking forward to reading books by authors I have never read before.  I’m also looking forward to watching my ever-increasing ‘to read’ pile get lower (yeah I know – that will probably never happen)! 🙂

Will you be reading more this year?  Read any good books lately?

Free image by David Castillo Dominici courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Books

Controversial Issues in YA Novels.

There has been a fair amount of controversy within recent times regarding the subject matter in young adult novels.  Being both a writer and a reader of young adult fiction, I tend to find myself giving it quite a bit of thought.

I was probably about eleven when I read the controversial book Go Ask Alice.  Of-course at that age, I had no idea that it was controversial, but I remember it to this day.  Did I want to go out and try drugs after reading the book?  No.  In high school I was fortunate to be with a group of friends that never did drugs and in all honesty, we weren’t interested.  Did reading the book help prevent me from doing drugs?  I can’t be certain, but after having read the book twice, it certainly stuck in my eleven year old mind to stay away from them.  Mind you, my parents were completely unaware that I was reading this book, after having sneaked it out of my older sisters’ bedroom!  Lucky for them, I’d like to think that I had my head screwed on.

Recently I read Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Yes, I found it disturbing, but at the same time I felt for Lia, as in my teenage years I was slowly working my own way towards anorexia.  The author evokes the reader’s sympathy; we don’t want Lia to slowly kill herself, nor does the young reader have to endure such pain themselves.  Without preaching, books can do what they do best – educate and entertain.

Way back in June, I read one of Lisa Mcmann’s posts regarding this issue and I completely agree with her.  Having two children of my own, it’s only natural I want to protect them, yet there comes a time when a parent has to learn to let their children find their own way in life.  It’s one of the hardest things a parent has to do, but it is necessary in order for their children to learn and experience the world around them.  Personally, I would much rather have my children deal with some of the realities of what life has to offer them through the world of books than face the alternatives.

What are your thoughts regarding young adult novels lately?  Have you ever read a controversial book that helped you make certain decisions?

Books

The Book Lives On.

A few weeks ago, in a discussion with my mother, she began talking about e-books.  Of-course she believed that the traditional book was ‘dead’, and since many people of her generation listen to talk-back radio, firmly believes that therefore, it must be true.  I should have known where this topic was heading; I’ve been there plenty of times before.  Never have I known my mother to be positive with any decision I make, so when she said ‘if the future of the book is dead, then we won’t need authors anymore’, I was speechless.  Here was a giant leap in logic.  E-books are still books; they are just in an electronic format, so surely, society would need authors to write these too?  They don’t just write themselves.

There has been plenty of discussion regarding e-books and the death of the traditional book.  I myself was a bit slow on the uptake in embracing this new technology, but since I now own a Kindle and have read some e-books, I don’t believe traditional books have ‘died’ at all.  When you think about it, have people completely stopped going to the movies because they can now watch them on DVD?  People still cook on stoves after all these years of having microwaves, just like they still hang their washing out instead of always using a clothes dryer.  Some of these points may seem a bit extreme, but you get my point.  Not everyone will always read e-books or buy a Kindle, so bookshops and libraries will still be popular.

We are fortunate that we live during a time where books have become more popular than ever.  Since the introduction of the Harry Potter series, children have become eager to read books, so too have teenagers become more willing to pick up a book due to the success of Twilight and therefore introducing them to some of the classics in literature.  The future of the book depends upon younger generations’ reading habits, whether it is in electronic or traditional format, and it is up to us as writers to create stories they will learn to love.

I know of no better way of reading to a child, other than by cuddling up with a book in its traditional format; it’s just not the same with an e-book.  If nothing else, that alone tells me that the future of the book is in safe hands.

Image by Debbie Johansson.

Books

Lessons From the Library.

I remember when I was about four or five years old being introduced to my local library.  I’m eternally grateful because it was here, more than anywhere else that I was introduced to the world of books.  I fell in love with Miffy books and the entire collection of Beatrix Potter.  I think it was the size of these books, as well as the illustrations which won me over.

These days, I regard my local library as my second home.  Some years ago, I joined the Classic Book Club.  It was the perfect way to get out of the house and actually talk about books.  We have since covered Jane Austen, the Brontes and Australian classics.  People may have come and gone, yet there are a handful, like myself, that have stuck with it and we have all become friends.

It is also at my local library where my writers’ group gathers to meet others to discuss writing.  Through author talks, it is here that I have met well known children’s authors Andy Griffiths and John Flanagan.  It’s always a pleasure to meet other writers and hear them talk about the writing process.

Along with any good bookshop, I enjoy going to my local library to meet with other like minded people and talk about what’s important – books.