Interview with Brandice Snowden author of Demon’s Veil

DemonSynopsis:

Powerful veils hold Earth apart from realms mortals believe are merely tales of myth and legend. They are opening again, leaving humans vulnerable, and the monsters ready to strike.

Marie Leveau prefers to remain alone and anonymous, for she knows what goes bump in the night, and sacrificing others isn’t part of her personality. But life isn’t always about getting what you want.

Contracted by The Organization, a shadow government agency, Marie is assigned a new Special Ops team, one she must introduce via Paranormal 101 to the very monsters they didn’t believe existed. Marie and her team are sent to Asia in search of an ancient relic, leading them into the jungle and tests of a fragile new bond. Despite the initial distrust, and an unholy battle with a demon-god, the team survives, their lives forever changed and woven into an unbreakable tapestry.

Returning home, the new friends sense the very people responsible for their safety are willing to sacrifice them all in the name of power.

They learn of a prophecy, and The Paladin, the one person able to close the veils and keep the mortals safe.

With few clues, the team must unravel the prophecy and figure out how to close the veils. Or the monsters will use Earth as ground zero, innocents be damned.

About Brandice:

brandiceI grew up around the tall tales and history of Texas. I worked my way through college just because I was told it was out of my reach; earning a degree in Literary Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas. Along the way I learned to shoot, wield a sword and even met a family ghost or two.

I have been an artist, teacher, military wife, mother and now novelist. I spend my free time indulging in my fantastical side, learning first hand skills my characters use in my books. I have a passion for history and mythology and use much of what I learn to create new worlds.

I currently resides on the Texas/Oklahoma border with the love of my life and my children of both two legged and four legged variety.

 Interview.

Tell us a bit about who you are and your publishing journey…

I am a 34 year old wife and mother.  My friend would say I am quirky; strangers would probably call me weird.  But I’m okay with that.  I enjoy thing like the Society for Creative Anachronism, art, history, and mythology has always appealed to me.

My publishing journey literally started with a dream; actually it was a nightmare.  I had this emotionally wrenching nightmare and turned it into a short story to get it out of my head.  My husband and friends badgered me to give them more of the story, which was how I found NaNoWriMo.  I hadn’t actually seriously considered writing a novel until that point.  One I got started the story just grew.  After winning NaNo, I saw a Curiosity Quills Press contest announcement in a facebook group and thought what the heck.  I had nothing to lose.  Low and Behold, here I am, winner of the contest with my first book “Demon’s Veil” published and the second book in the series nearly completed.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I just finished the newest Jim Butcher, “Skin Games”  and a cute little romance called “What Stays in Vegas” by Beth Labonte.

What is the best, and worst, thing about being an author?

The best thing about being an author is twofold…creating these characters that become such a major part of your life and then sharing them with others.  The worst thing for me at least is the marketing, especially with social media.  I can charm the pants off of you if we are in the same room, but I am still learning the ropes when it comes to charming people via a computer interface.

If you could add one more bit to Demon’s Veil – what would it be?

A holodeck program like you saw on Startrek.  I wish in some scenes that the reader could see what was going through my brain because words fall short sometimes.  But as far as the story, I wouldn’t add anything extra yet.  Once I end the series that may change though.

What was the hardest part of writing your book, and how did you overcome it?

The hardest part was my own self talk.  It’s a huge time commitment to write a novel and I often found myself saying, “I don’t know if I can do this.”  But in the end I barrelled through with “just one more page” or “five more minutes of writing.”   It’s amazing how those little goals can add up to such a big goal.

If Demon’s Veil was to be made into a movie – who would be your leads and why?

I would want Hugh Jackman for my Morgan.  He’s buff and sexy but also has a down to earth kind of quality that I like.  Marie is a little harder to cast.  Her character is Creole from Louisiana.  When I was writing her I thought mostly of a cousin of mine (My great grandparents were Cherokee and Creole French).  So I would love to see a Native American actress like Maija Tailfeathers in the part; but I also think there are some really talents African American actresses that could do well also.  I think Alexander Skarsgard would make a great Keiron. I’m not sure who to cast for Alejandro and Milana Delgado. Maybe give a talented newcomer a chance.  I know five leads is a lot, but this book is more of an ensemble cast.

I’m an evil villain taking over the world!! Are you with me? Or against me?

Well that depends….are you Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, or Chaotic evil? (Yes I know my nerd girl is showing LOL)

What’s your next project?

For the moment I am concentrating on completing the Veil Prophecy Trilogy; but I have also begun plotting an epic fantasy series based on Arthurian legend as well as two romance novel series.  One being a steampunk/mafia series set in the distant future one a new planet.  The other being a a series based on my own take of mythology from around the world.

Where can fans find you online?

Follow me on:

https://www.facebook.com/BrandiceSnowdenWriter

https://twitter.com/brandicesnowden

http://www.brandicesnowden.com/

Demon’s Veil on Amazon:

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YA vs Adult

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Writing for the puppy, not the wolf.

Writing for both YA and adult markets, I’ve discovered the line between these two target audiences is very slim indeed. YA is typically about 13 years and above, and as sad as it is, teenagers seem to grow up much faster nowadays. Gone are the days of Enid Blyton and Narnia, these wholesome books are now only taken up by a much younger audience than they were originally written for. The generations behind us are still avid readers, but you need to appeal to the modern youth adult which has not only moved on, but is consistently evolving their tastes.

So, what are the rules and differences between the two? I’ve put together the sum of my knowledge on this below. I’m sure there’s more to it than I’m putting down here, but to get you started, here’s my opinions:

Talking down:

Your work should not talk down to your YA reader. I would never sugar coat my plot or characters for a younger readership. Subjects such as: drugs, sex, violence and horror, should be confronted, but not glamorized or endorsed – remember your responsibility to your reader. Also its good to remember that most YA readers like to read about characters who are older than them – so typically your characters should be late teens/early twenties.

 Let’s talk about sex:

Your YA audience will be more than aware of sex. God forbid, some might even be having it already. However you should always leave your YA reader at the bedroom door. It would be boring and unrealistic to not have it at least mentioned between characters in your story, however there should be no graphic descriptions and certainly nothing kinky going on; these guys are just getting their heads round vanilla, let’s not introduce them to whole ice cream menu so soon.

 Horror:

I always love the warnings on movies that say ‘Contains mild peril’ – I mean, really? How do you measure peril? It’s the scary things that people love – young and old. And it’s always the most imaginative and well written horror that stays with you once you turn off that TV, or put down that book. Dr Who is designed and aired specially for a young audience, but can be quite scary (even for adults) Those Weeping Angels were a particularly gruesome concept that made me look at statues in a whole new light! Dracula and Frankenstein are now taught in school and some of the most popular YA books are packed with supernatural creatures, deadly deeds, and peril-a-plenty. So desensitizing your work could be a big mistake. I’d recommend writing your YA story to your own boundaries then letting your publisher/ editor lead you to tone down, or crank up, where appropriate.

 The Super – Supernatural:

One word: Twilight. It certainly wasn’t an original book or a pioneer in the industry, but it did appeal to a massive market and got a huge amount of teenagers reading again. I personally didn’t mind the books, Stephanie Meyer can certainly spin a good yarn and although her main character was a bit wet to begin with, she came good in the end. It re-vamped vampires and made werewolves hot – in simple terms it reignited people’s interest in the supernatural and carved a path for other authors to follow suit. The supernatural has never been so popular with both YA and adult audiences and really, anything goes here in terms of horror and sweet romance.

 The Series:

YA audiences read quickly and can get addicted to good characters, so bare this in mind when writing your novel. Either leave it open so you can pick it up again in a second book or have a series in mind when you’re writing it. A note of caution here though…when writing a series don’t hold back action or information for an explosive finale – if your first books are boring, you’ll never get to show off that great ending. Make sure that each book has a main story line that can end, but a consistent story arc that can carry on. This keeps your readers engaged and desperate for the next one. It also means there is a definitive ending for each book, rather than just letting it go on and on – something I particularly hate as a reader!

What’s your favourite YA book series and why?

 

Publisher Call-Outs and Resources

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So, OK one of the most confusing things about being a writer, is the amount of advice and information there is out there.  Everyone has a golden nugget they want to pass along – however, not all of it will apply to you and of course even make sense to your personal ambitions. So I want to make this really easy for you…start looking at publisher call-outs.

Publisher call-outs are just that, publishers seeking specific stories and novels for their stable, or a certain anthology. The trick to them is to thoroughly read through all their requirements and give them what they want. Don’t send them a Western Thriller if they’ve asked for a Paranormal Romance – unless of course you’ve done some serious genre mashing up with a werewolf rustler falling in love with the new vampire sheriff who’s in the middle of solving a serial killer case – hang on, that almost writes itself!

Below are some links to publisher call out sites. Now these tend to run to the more horror and paranormal romance side (because that’s what I use) so if you’re more generic in your writing you might have to google farther a field to find your nestled nugget.

Duotrope – by far and away the nest generic call out database online. Contains lots of horror and romance publishers. now as of Jan 2013 it is a paid for site – however $50 a year for this kind of information is an investment in your writing career. Great for all genres!

British Fantasy Society: this links you directly to their call out pages.

Absolute Water Cooler:   This takes you to a forum where publishers will list their paid call-outs.

Dark Markets:  careful with this one as they list alphabetically, so always check every page, as you might miss something.

The Horror Tree:  Soooo one of my favourites! Fab listings and updated daily, and still blissfully free!

Ralan:  This is heavy on the Sci-Fi and Fantasy side – but definitely one worth keeping an eye on.

Worlds Without End: They have a great list of publishers on here and the whole website is a fantastic resource for this genre.

Remember when sending your manuscript to check:

1) You’re sending the right manuscript to the right editor/ contact.

2) You’ve formatted it to exactly the publisher’s guidelines. That includes right spellings and terminology for the right country. And you’re sending it in the right format – RTF DOCX etc.

3) You’ve included all relevant information about you in your covering email – contact info, previous publishing credits, links to your websites etc. Also anything the publishers have asked for: e.g. summary, one line promotional blurb…

4) The work you’re sending has been checked for any glaring errors and it’s the best work you’ve ever done!

Good Luck!

Killing off your Characters

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Killing off your characters.

As a writer, I find this surprisingly easy to do. I write horrors and paranormal romance, so a few deaths here and there are kind of expected. The real heartache is when you kill off your main characters…

If you’ve gone to the trouble of really creating your character: they have a back story, they have links to other characters, they have plot devices and really intriguing personalities – well obliterating all that work in a final death scene can take nerves of steel and a heart of ice. Sometimes though, it has to happen. The reasons to kill off a character are many, but here are just a few to think about:

1)      To move the story on.

2)      To cement the antagonists’ presence

3)      To move the protagonist into action

4)      To generally shock or move the reader

5)      To get rid of a character you no longer need

6)      The death could be the cataylst of  the overall story

7)      It could be a death that brings two main characters closer together

8)      It incriminates another character – either justly or not

9)      It ramps up the tension

10)  It throws the safety of the other characters into question

11)  They’re the antagonist and have to die to finish the story

Recently, I even created a complete character who is dead from the beginning of the story, he’s just referred to quite a bit by the other characters and is the reason for one of them to be bitchy to the protagonist – as she took over from him.

How you kill them is pretty important – a good character deserves a decent death. I found the death of Rue in the Suzanne Collins’ book The Hunger Games quite upsetting – when translated to film they changed her death scene somewhat (I presume to keep their 12 certificate) and I felt they robbed the character of her dramatic tear jerking final scene – which was far more graphic in the book.

Writing horror, the deaths are numerous but still must be honoured. Simply saying that ‘Bob was shot and died’ really degrades Bob’s existence as a character – even if there are a lot of death scenes in your piece, Bob should be allowed a decent farewell – ‘He fell back against Sharon, his hand feeling the new flesh rimmed hole that Todd’s bullet had created. Blood oozed between his fingers. He looked up, then slumped to the floor, dead.’ Poor Bob. Well, fortunately in my mind, Bob will come back as a zombie – but for characters that are staying dead – you really need to give them a good sending off.

 I found a really interesting diagram online by Benjamin Star:

This shows all the major themes and plot points for the books nominated for the 2011 Man Booker prize – unsurprisingly, killing off a main characters is the most popular theme in all the books – I was surprised at the one cannibalism theme one though!

So why not kill off a few of your characters off – just make sure it’s a worthy death and that there’s a decent reason behind it. Unless you’re writing Grindhouse – then have at it!

Monsters – Part 2

Dragons

Many years ago ‘Here be Dragons’ was written on maps to indicate unknown areas of land and sea. Frightening creatures, Dragons are so similar to Dinosaurs, Crocodiles and Alligators that they could easily be turned into a horrific monster who stalks your protagonist with the echo of a hungry growl. Lots of publishers are out there now putting together Dragon anthologies and they are pretty easy to make work in horror.

Fae

Ok, the Fae have started to creep into the mainstream, after all Sookie in TrueBlood is part Fae and Karen Marie Moning has been using Fae as evil alien like god creature since her Fever series. But I feel that they still haven’t really hit their stride yet. Faeries and Fae creatures dominated old English folklore – even, when I was a little girl, I was told by my mum not to dance in mushroom circles lest the Faeries take me! They are a massive race of lots of different creatures, they even have their own vampires and werewolves, so exploration of these creatures is actually fairly top of my list of research. Remember though, don’t feel you have to stick with tradition here – what’s to stop you from creating your own race of Faeries?

Gargoyles

Supposedly so ugly that they scare away evil spirits, Gargoyles are either guardians or rogue monsters. I have read stories that interpret them as both, but these guys are still peripheral to all other monsters and, to be honest I can understand why. Unlike Vamps and Weres they don’t have the handsome side that can be used in paranormal romance, and being made of stone their scare factor can be a little bland – although the stone Angels in Dr Who are pretty darn scary! If you want to utilise these bad boys in your work you’re going to have really think hard before putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard.

Incubus

Perfect for paranormal romance – a bit of a problem for horror. Most publishers in their guidelines state that there should be no rape scenes in your story, and as Incubus feed off sex, well that can be a problem; if its not consensual it can’t go in. These guys are beautiful and fantastic lovers, so for supernatural erotica they’re right on the money. Of course there are Succubus  as well – Bo in the series ‘Lost Girl’ is a Succubus and also Fae in origin – so really the world’s your paranormal romantic oyster when it comes to them – but be careful though if you’re looking to include them in horror.

Doppelgangers

I find these monsters very nasty indeed. Exact evil identical twins who want to kill you and take over your life. All your friends and family would think you’re mad and, quite frankly they could cause no end of French Farce type situations. For me – worse still, if they managed to kill me, they’d probably do a better job in managing my life than I’m doing! Doppelgangers are not used enough in horror or paranormal romance – so roll the idea round in your imagination and see what sticks!

Sirens

Also known under the broader Fae family and even Merfolk, Sirens are wonderfully rich in their history and have the capabilities of both paranormal Romance and horror – depending on how you write them.  In my opinion, to come into their own they really need to have their story line out of the ‘attack the ship’ box and perhaps should be updated into something more modern – what would happen if a Siren got an audition at X Factor?

Willo-the-Wisp

OK – not really a proper monster but the Willo-the –Wisp cartoon in the early 1980s was my very first introduction to the world of weird and when I was small I loved it! Kenneth Williams rocked!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willo_the_Wisp  But hey looking at the legends they could be manipulated into something quite nasty and, with a bit of creativity, even something ghostly romantic too…

Monsters – part 1

 

As we rapidly approach Halloween I’d like to talk about…monsters. They really are the main ingredient in the majority of horrors so I feel like now is the perfect time to talk about them, not just about the ones the we all know, but also about the lesser used creatures who rarely grace our books, TV and film screens and seem destined to wait on the literary side lines.

First things first, let’s look at the ones we all know and love? Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, Ghosts, and Witches. Next blog will cover some of the lesser known entities that still deserve a mention.

 Vampires:

These guys have been in the forefront of horror and paranormal romance for the past couple of decades. We all know the legends, starting of course with Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the book rather than the film). Many historical figures were rumoured to be Vampires and remains of ‘Vampire burials’ have been discovered all over the world. These blood suckers have, in fact, been haunting our nightmares for centuries. The science of Vampirism is even more interesting with ‘Renfield Syndrome’ now an official clinical term.

Only recently have they been morphed into more romantic figures and, in my opinion, lost their scare. When monsters are humanised and romanticised like these guys, well it’s hard to feel that sense of dread anymore. I remember watching Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot’ when I was little – when that little boy tapped on his brother’s first floor bedroom window, I decided to ask for a cross that Christmas! Nowadays I leave the cross at home to make my neck more enticing!

So OK, let’s be realistic here, the only way these guys are ever going to be scary again is if they don’t look like Alexander Skarsgard! Think Nosferatu rather than Edward Cullen. But rather than ruin anyone’s day dreams Vampires do still firmly belong in paranormal romance (I’m guilty of using them as such myself) but make sure that when you write their characters, you give them a bit more grit and lot less maudlin – remember they are still monsters!

 Werewolves:

The two-natured beasts have also been somewhat muzzled in recent years, perhaps not to the extent as the Vampire, but still they’re certainly not what they use to be. Werewolves have been with us just as long and were, more than likely, the supernatural explanation for some very real psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia, and lycanthropy. Being a ‘Werewolf’ was a handy excuse for townspeople that couldn’t believe that the ‘nice bloke down the road’ had murdered his wife and children. Here’s a handy link to a list of 10 real life historical Werewolves:

http://listverse.com/2012/01/25/10-true-life-werewolves/

These guys definitely need a re-vamping (pun intended) they have so much that could be explored and of course have the capacity to still be bloody scary. One need only read Angela Carter’s ‘In the company of wolves’ to see how both their violent and sexual natures can be combined into a terrifying story.

A good Werewolf tale (I punned again!) can be a number of things: an out and out stalking monster story, a who’s the Werewolf Cluedo game or of course you can keep them as romantic figures – but hey let’s at least give them their claws back!

 Zombies:

People take the piss out of me when I say that zombies could happen, but you only have to read this article:http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/neurophilosophy/2012/may/03/zombie-ant-parasitic-fungus to realise we are just one mad scientist away from an un-dead apocalypse.

Zombies are one of the few monsters out there today who still retain their scare factor. You can’t reason with a Zombie and well, they’re pretty up front with what they want from you. This might change with the cinema release of ‘Warm Bodies’ next year, based on the book of the same title by Isaac Marion; as this firmly puts a romantic spin on the whole Zombie/ human relationship. Still, if Zombies where behind door number one, then I’d choose the box every time!

When writing Zombies, it’s really down to the gross factor. You can’t write a polite Zombie story. Pick a scenario that screams outrageously hard to escape, throw in a ravenous Zombie hoard and prepare yourself to kill off your characters!

Ghosts:

Kind of the poor relation of the supernatural at the moment, but I truly think that they’re ready for a comeback. I remember listening to ghost stories when I was a little girl and thinking they were the best entertainment ever, that was until nightfall and I started rolling around their existence in my mind,whilst sitting up wide eyed in bed! Everyone you know, and care to ask, knows at least one ghost story – they really are universal.

One thing to remember with ghosts is that they are the ethereal manifestation of people – so are neither good nor evil – in theory. The key here to writing a cracking ghost story is the actual back story of the ghost itself, who they are and why they’re trapped.

 Witches:

Hubble Bubble Boil and Blah! In my opinion Witches are so old big black pointy hat nowadays. To get these guys in the forefront would take a truly magical idea and a new spin on a tired stereotype. Now, in saying that I’ve seen the trailer for ‘Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters’ which is coming to a cinema near you early next year and it looks pretty good – the witches are more scary than sexy and it has a kind of dark gothic feel to it. Let’s hope it inspires us to take Witches and place them firmly back into the horror genre.

Again Witches can work well in paranormal romance, they are human after all and so side step that awkward mix of species – just as long as you stay clear of the whole Love potion Number 9 malarkey!

Inspiration

There are two key ingredients to being a good writer – skill and imagination. You can be the most accurate and precise writer in the world but if your stories are boring and predictable you’re not going to wow publishers or readers. In my little ol’ personal opinion I think that inspiration and creativity in writing is what makes a good writer – the editing process can be taught, but being creative – well that spark has to be there in the first place. So here’s how to fan that spark into an out of control forest fire that consumes all it touches…

Spit Balling

Talk to other writers and creative individuals. Yet another reason to join a local writers’ group. Chatting through ideas and generally debating current topics can spark creativity beyond your wildest imaginings. If you are struggling on the end or beginning of your story – throw it out there, a new perspective will help you get where you need to be. But don’t just be a taker – make sure you give as much creativity as you’re getting. I regularly spit ball with fellow writers and love nothing more than to float ideas and see where they take us.

Dreams

Your unconscious mind is veritable cornucopia of crazy – perhaps the only thing that links all the people of this world together is that we all have strange disjointed dreams. Taking a note of your dreams can birth stories – obviously trying to get them down verbatim is not going to get you anywhere, but using images and especially certain feelings and concepts can grow into a seed of an idea. I actually got inspiration for my story ‘Letting out the Heat’ featured in Blood Bound Books’ Night Terrors 2 anthology by having a rather nasty dream on a hot restless night.

Write what you want to read

Read. Read. Read! I cannot stress this enough…READ! A writer who doesn’t read their genre is like a chimp in a tutu –only funny once, and God only knows how he got in it. You must read the books in your chosen genre. Only by having an appreciation for the authors already mastering this industry can you then embark on conquering it yourself. You could also put it down to the old adage ‘Know your enemy’. Knowledge is a powerful thing and only by knowing what is already out there can you write something different (or with a twist) and compete with your competitors. You’ll also then get a sense of what’s missing – a story you would want to read. Write the story that you long to read, but no one has conjured up yet.

Eaves dropping and people watching

This sounds awful – but it really works. It’s one of the main reasons that a lot of writers tend to favour coffee shops as their primary writing location. Listening to snippets of conversations then imagining the people behind them, and how things continue, can help to create facets of your work and even become main themes. The other bonus is that you can base characters (loosely) on the people you see and hear. Your characters then automatically have a sense of realism without you having to flesh them out too much.

Photos and paintings

Going to galleries and searching online for images can really focus your mind. They say that pictures are worth a thousand words and I believe that this is down to the fact that they are subjective to the beholder. We could both look at the same painting but both see two entirely different story lines being played out. Try to avoid famous paintings or photos that you have knowledge of; instead seek out the unknown and let your imagination wander free.

Journal

Do keep a journal of all your ideas and writing thoughts. This sounds a bit pretentious and time consuming but, believe you me, you’ll forget something if you don’t. Storing up all these ideas means that you have a larder to go back to when you need something. I tend to use a folder on my laptop for this rather than physical journal that can be lost or destroyed. I come up with an idea, create a word document and copy and paste info in there along with my thoughts. I then back this folder up on a memory stick along with all my other work.

Write to order

This works wonders. Have a look at publisher call-outs and editors’ wish lists and see what they are looking for. Not only does it instantly give you a possible home for your work, but also a deadline in which to get it across. I do this a lot and find it really motivates me to ‘think outside the box’. My story ‘Fountain of Flesh’ included in Dark Moon’s ‘Vampires!’ anthology was down to them specifically asking for something that, so far, had not been done with vampires – a hard task right? So I pondered it for a bit, then wrote a story that featured a vampire that wasn’t actually a conscious participant in the tale but was still the catalyst for the bad thing to happen.

Looking at the current call-outs fairy stories are a real favourite. Once upon a time there was a blog….

Drafting and editing

Oddly drafting and editing has become one of my favourite parts of writing. Polishing that little diamond of work can be fulfilling and, let’s face it, help to get you published. Long gone are the days where just the skill of creative writing will get you by, now you must be adept at editing and re-drafting your work – the less work your publishers need to do on your manuscript, the better.

So there’s a massive amount of books out there that will tell you intricate and annoying ways of doing this, some might even wimp out and tell you get someone else to do it – the fact is, most writers don’t have the money to spare on a professional editor and, to be frank, you are the most passionate advocate of your work so you are really the best polisher to make it sparkle – at least in the first instance.

It took me many attempts to perfect this process, and to be honest it’s still an ongoing challenge, however I can tell you what I’ve learnt along the way with working with editors and give you a starting point to perfect your own way of editing and proofing.

What I do is have a 8 check system. Each time I read through my work I’m specifically checking for one thing. This makes life much easier and also ensures you are more likely to spot a mistake rather than just keep reading over and over again.

1) Check for consistency of story – Check that all your questions have been answered, all your important plot points are lined up and that characters are described in the same manner – it’s confusing to the reader to have their protagonist described first as blonde an then as a red head in the next chapter – of course, unless you want to include a dramatic hair dying scene!

2) Flourish – I add descriptions in poignant parts of my story and cut down on bits that are overtly flowery and take the reader off point. Descriptive prose is how you express yourself as a writer however a whole manuscript in this style can make for an acrid style and can quite frankly annoy the reader. Only using this technique on scenes that matter will ensure that your reader enjoys the story and focuses on the plot points they need to.

3) Tenses – you can’t always have the same tense, if you talk about the past then obviously you need your tenses past, however you need to pick a long term tense for your manuscript. The usual is past – although sometimes present helps more with tension. It really depends on what you are writing – horror tends to work better in present tense as it can help to ramp up the scares. Personally I’m partial to my romances in past tense as it eludes to that happy ever after ending that goes hand in hand with a good romance.

4) Perspective – You really can make a rod for your own back with this one if you’re not careful. Pick the perspective (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and for which character, and stick to it. When you look back you need to be aware that, depending on your perspective, you’ll have limitations and so check that these are adhered to in your manuscript. For example, if your character is taking first person you need to make sure that the action is limited to their presence – they can’t talk about something they didn’t hear about or witness.

5) Cliches – ahhh, lips like rose petals. We hear cliches all the time and so its natural that they should creep into your work – however they should never stay there. Take the time to look through and check that you are not falling into cliched chasms in your prose – dialogue is up for grabs as people do talk in cliches, but your prose should be blissfully cliche free.

6) Info Dumps – We have of course covered these, but I really feel strong enough about them to dedicated a whole draft to checking for them. Identify them with a highlighter and then re-write that information back in in a less obvious way.

7) Grammar – This is one of the most important drafts. Grammar can change the structure and meaning of a sentence. Without the correct grammar your manuscript will not make sense! Seriously! You need to take sometime and learn the proper usage of grammar and ensure that you’ve checked for it in one of the final sweeps. OK you probably will miss some mistakes, but by ensuring the majority are caught you retain some semblance of respect for the English language.

8) Format – Just before sending your manuscript off, change your font, spacing, tabs etc. to the format your publishers ask for. They are all different so do double check this. You don’t want your amazing story overlooked just because you didn’t send it in the right font?

Let me know if you think of anything else that should be included on this check list and of course don’t get hung up purely on the editing process – make sure that you keep writing. Your first draft is just that, a first draft. It will not be perfect. Even Hemingway said that ‘The first draft of anything is s**t’ – so dig up that diamond first, then polish it.

But how do you get that cracker of an idea in the first place? I feel a next blog coming on…

Information Dumps

Information Dumps – Don’t be a fly tipping writer!

What’s an Info Dump? Well they’re the paragraph, usually at the start of story, which gives lots information about what’s going on in one big vomit-like spew. The physical equivalent is – going on a first date, shaking hands and saying, “Hi I’m Nicky. I’m a shopaholic horror writer with control issues who loves dogs, hates politics, is obsessed with nail polish, and will only eat yellow food on a Friday. I have an awful sense of direction and drive a lime green car. I dress up at Halloween to scare little children. I own a twelve foot snake called Hubert and can’t walk in heels higher than an inch.”  (Only my best friends can tell you which of these statements are really true!)

TOO MUCH INFORMATION! In one long drawn out speech I’ve revealed so much that my poor date will be either physically taking notes or scanning for an exit (depending on how good I look that night!)  The same is true in stories. If you feel the need to set up a scene with a mass of information at the front of your story by all means do this in your drafts – but they should never slip through the editing process and end up in your final manuscript. If they do it’ll make your story seem amateurish and worse, boring. A clever writer weaves the information through the story allowing the reader to naturally pick it up as they need it. An easy way of doing this is using dialogue and action. Here’s an opening scene to a story as an example of how this can be done.

INFODUMP

Lance and Cindy hated it when their parents would leave them alone at night. Ever since Cindy was little and had imagined a monster in the closet she had been afraid of the dark. Fortunately her older brother Lance had always been there to protect her, although he too had a feeling that the monster in the closet was simply bidding his time. Through the years their fears were found to be irrational and now they were teenagers studying Maths and Science they rarely gave the closet monster a thought, unless Lance felt like teasing Cindy.

WEAVING IT IN WITH DIALOGUE AND ACTION

“Hey, do you remember when you were little and scared of the dark? Oh and the closet monster? You have to remember him.” Lance smiled at his sister over his maths book.

“Shut up! I was little and everyone’s afraid of the dark, and monsters, when they’re little,” Cindy yelled back.

“Don’t be like that sis, I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Sorry Lance.” Cindy looked thoughtful, “I remember you always being there to protect me.” Cindy glanced at the closed closet door then picked up her science homework.

Lance nodded his acceptance of the apology and his eye caught the closet door, which somehow had now come ajar.

See the difference? The Information Dump is clunky and heavy handed – lots of information to set the scene up but giving too much away in an obvious intelligence insulting manner. The second still gives all the information of the first but in a much more readable way that is fluid and leading you into the story in not such an ‘in yer face’ way. It’s kind of like the old ‘Show don’t tell’ writing rule. If you read back an Information Dump in your manuscript – re-write it to weave that information in; don’t be lazy folks, think of your reader.

This brings me nicely to my next blog…a writer’s responsibility to their reader.

 

Include a Theme

 

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So why should you be bothered to include a theme in your work? Well mainly because, without a theme, most stories will come across pointless and boring (unless of course pointless and boring is your theme) Theme is the key to your work being interesting. 

A theme is really the reason for the story’s existence whether it is ‘good VS evil’ or ‘love conquers all’ it doesn’t matter – what matters is that its there and can be identified. Strangely most writers will subconsciously weave a theme into their work without even realising it – or even, when drafting, discover a whole new theme that they never even intended to write. This happens a lot to writers who are avid readers, to quote Hannibal Lector, ‘you covet what you know’ so by reading themed stories you naturally echo this through your own work.

There are literally hundreds on themes to pick from but here are some examples to get the ball rolling:

In Suzanne Collins’ ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy the main theme is about political oppression. The Capital created the Hunger Games to manipulate the other districts into doing what they’re told, to flex their power and prove they are in charge.  

Charlaine Harris’ ‘Harper Connelly’ series was all about facing adversity and using a negative to an advantage. Harper is struck by lightning in her teens and can hence forth find dead bodies – she uses this skill to forge out an unlikely career for herself and ultimately achieve her own goals.

‘The Morganville Vampire’ books by Rachel Caine start with our protagonist Claire being mercilessly bullied because of her nerdy ways, pushing her to find a new home in the Glass House and start her epic vampire riddled adventure. Her brain becomes her biggest asset and throughout the series it’s held in higher esteem by the vampires than even her blood – theme here – be yourself, don’t hide who you are. It’s only when Claire truly accepts herself that her real adventures begin.

So the big question…how do you ensure your theme is identifiable and present in your work? Well it is simpler than you might think. Firstly, identify the theme or themes you want to include. For example let’s say I’m writing a story about a boy goblin that falls in love with a girl elf (I know, this would practically write itself!) so my main theme here is the old ‘love conquers all’. So I’d have my basic story down then make sure that some of the key events lend themselves to this theme – for example: Boy goblin has a long-standing best friend who hates elves and desperately tries to turn him against his girl – boy goblin won’t be turned and says to his friend, ‘a true friend would stand by me no matter who I love’ – he’s willing to give up his best friend for his elf lady-love – all together…Aaaah! The key to this is to link your theme to scenes in your story that have to happen anyway and move things along; what’s a good love story if there are no obstacles.

My short story ‘For Audrey’ that’s included in the zombie anthology ‘So long and Thanks for All the Brains’ is all about a zombie dog who goes above and beyond to protect his young owner Audrey from the rampaging flesh hungry hoards. My theme was loyalty – everything the dog did was out of loyalty and even though he was a zombie too, he was caretaker to her safety first and foremost. To highlight this theme through the story I had numerous incidents when he could have eaten Audrey or could have sided with his zombie brethren – but didn’t.

So OK, you have your theme that you are going to weave into your story – but whatever you do, do not fly tip masses of information in there! No Info Dumps! What’s an Info Dump? Well, I’ll talk about these in the next blog, but I promise I won’t include a horrible photo of a rubbish dump alongside!