How To Read While Doing Just About Anything

Read my latest guest blog post here:

Not to brag, but it’s been described as hilarious. (OK, maybe I am bragging a bit.) 


Two Pitfulls When Writing Historical Fiction- And How To Avoid Them 

The difficulty with writing historical fiction is that it’s far too easy to get bogged down by details. Some aspirants never get further than researching. Others do start writing, but get stuck in the Web halfway, never to emerge again. Even if you manage to avoid these things, you may still fall into the second big trap of wanting to include every one of the fascinating facts you’ve learned in your novel. This can lead either to massive chunks of description or, if you try to be clever, to your main character explaining at length to their best friend, brother, cat etc. the exact recipe for boiled sheep eyes or how to hold a proper wake. The problem with this is, unless the secondary character has travelled back in time, they would know all that already. The conversation feels forced and stilted. 

How do we avoid these pitfalls? 

Let’s start with over-researching. I’m going to pass on a tip I learned from best selling author Deanna Raybourn on her blog:

You do need to know a certain amount about your period. But you don’t need to know everything in order to start writing. Read one or two comprehensive books on the subject. I used Ruth Goodman’s How To Be A Victorian for my Victorian (obviously!) YA novel. Get a feel for what life was like. Then start writing. As you do you will come across things you aren’t sure of or don’t know. Things you need to check. Underline them, or put a big question mark there, or both. Do not stop writing! When you finish your first draft go back and fill these in. You’ll know exactly what you’re looking for and it will be much easier and quicker than qualifying for a doctorate on the subject before you start. 

This method also helps with putting in too many details. All too often you come across a passage in a historical novel that’s clearly only in there to highlight some piece of information the author has unearthed. I remember reading one in which an entire Georgian menu was included. Did I read it? Yes. As an interesting insight into history. It took me out of the story completely. That isn’t what we want to happen when someone is reading our book. So avoid become attached to information as you research. Never underline fascinating facts you just must include even if you have to force them to fit. And certainly don’t use them as a way to pad out your novel. 

So, to sum up: 

Have a well-rounded knowledge of your time period. But don’t feel you have to know everything. Fill in the gaps later, when you know what you need. 

There’s no need to include all your research. The reader will be taken out of the story. Don’t worry though, it won’t be wasted if it’s not in the book. It will come out in the atmosphere as you write it. 

How To Use Instagram To Promote Your Work

 Instagram is a great platform for writers. But, just like anything, there are things that work and things that don’t. I’ve created and organically grown my own account and other people’s. I hope my experiences can help you do the same. Here’s how to get started: 

Don’t use a personal account
 You may already use Instagram to post pictures of your cats, your shoes, or your scrabble parties. Fine. But don’t use this account to publicise your writing. It isn’t just a hobby, you need to view it as a business. So take it seriously enough to set up a professional looking account, and then post something on it every day if you can. 

Choose a theme and stick to it
 What do you write about? Fitness? Food? Flamenco? Great, you have a target audience. Name your account something that will attract them, and post pictures on that subject. What if you write fiction? Well, what genre is it? Whether mystery, romance, thriller or YA it will appeal to certain people. Even if you write in a mixture of styles and genres, there’s one type of person who will be interested in them all- the bookaholics. These story junkies are often writers too, which is fantastic. Support their work and they will support yours. 

 Once you’ve decided on a theme, stick to it as much as possible. For example, if you’re writing a historical fiction novel and you’ve decided to post interesting facts from the period, make sure you do just that. Of course, you can also post other things for variety, such as pictures of you writing in different places (coffee shops go down well), or doing research. But never forget, people who follow you do so because they like your content. If you suddenly start posting nothing but pictures of Larry the Labradoodle, when you promised tasty food, you’re likely to lose a lot of followers, no matter how cute Larry is. True, you might also gain some dog lovers. But they won’t be very interested in your writing. 

 A note of caution; if every one of your posts is an appeal to people to buy your book they will eventually get bored. Your aim is not just to tell people you’ve written one, you need to show them why they will love it. So post good photos with interesting captions. If you bore people on social media why would they not expect to be bored when reading your longer pieces? 

 Hashtags help others find your posts. Look at what people who post similar things to you use. #writer or #indieauthor is good. #writeroffantasyfictionsetintheottomanempire might just be a bit niche. 

 Between seven to twelve hashtags is a good amount- enough so you’re easy to find, not so much that you annoy people. Do also make sure they’re relevant to your post. 

Most importantly- be friendly
 There are rules of etiquette on social media, just like daily life. If someone comments that they like your post, say thank you. Follow back at least some of the people who follow you. ‘Like’ other people’s posts. Interact with them. They will soon notice if you don’t! 

 Those with loyal and supportive followers have them because they are loyal and supportive themselves. It’s easy enough to get the numbers. Indeed, there are many apps that can help you get more. But these followers are not friends. Friends are harder to get. But it’s friends who will read your blog, your poetry, your short stories. It’s friends who will leave reviews and buy your book. And wasn’t that the whole point in the first place? 
I hope these few pointers will help you create an Instagram account that will not only promote your work, but will help you discover some loyal followers, fans, and friends. 

This article has also been published on Invest Grow Repeat

The Three Act Structure- End

 Finally we’ve reached the end! Your main character has faced a succession of challenges, or crises, increasing in difficulty, and now it’s time for the climax of your story. The climax signifies that we’ve emerged from the muddle in the middle and a conclusion is imminent. In my last post I mentioned the importance of the protagonist facing the climax themselves. It’s something they must handle. We learn a lot about the character from their reaction. Their previous challenges have changed them, they deal with the climax differently to how they would have done at the beginning of the story. 

 I’ve used Pride and Prejudice as an example throughout this series of blog posts, so let’s stick with that. The climax of the story is of course Darcy’s second proposal and Elizabeth’s acceptance. She has changed- recent experiences have taught her to know herself and him better and her reaction to the proposal is the complete opposite of what it was a few months previously. 

The finale of the climax should give a sense of resolution to the story, but it’s not the final scene. 

A story has a circular feel to it. The end should reflect the beginning. A story with a beginning that states ‘a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife’ has to end with a marriage!  And remember the things you’ve set up throughout your story should be resolved by this point too. Your audience wants to come away feeling satisfied. The last image you create is the one that will stay in their minds. 

To finish this blog series off, let’s recap-

Lin Anderson’s Essential Checklist:

  • A story is a character in action. It’s all about do, not tell. 
  • Aristotle said every line should do at least one of three things. Define character, advance plot or create atmosphere. 
  • Does your story start in the right place? Perhaps the inciting incident has already happened and we’re reflecting on it. 
  • Why should your readers care about your main character? 
  • Are the protagonist’s motives clear? 
  • Is there enough conflict? Do the obstacles for your protagonist increase in importance? Do you really test them? 
  • Does the end reflect the beginning? 

The Three Act Structure- Middle

 Lin Anderson called this the muddle in the middle. Most writers will tell you it’s the hardest part to write. In my own experience that’s because the initial euphoria of the great idea has worn off. It’s hard work and the ending feels a long way away. You may not be quite sure how you’re even going to get there. Or perhaps you realise at this point that your 80,000 word novel is only going to be 30,000 words. What do you do to get to the end? 

 The middle of your novel must build to the climax. Your protagonist faces challenges in reaching their goal. The challenges should increase in difficulty. You’re basically throwing mud at your main character, a bigger bit with each throw. Show them struggling. You don’t root for someone to whom everything comes easily because that’s just not what life is like. Your protagonist needs to fight. All this builds to the climax, their hardest challenge of all. Your character must face this themselves! No acts of God- your villain should not be struck by lightning, a falling piano, leprosy etc. just as they are about to defeat your hero. 

 How about secondary characters? It’s tempting to pad your story out with lots of these, especially if your having trouble with length. And usually a story has an A story and a B story, the latter involving secondary characters. Major moments happen when the A story and the B story collide. So yes, put in those secondary characters with their own story. Just make sure they impact on the story of your protagonist (Think Jane Bennet and Mr Bingley.) And be careful not to use too many viewpoints. That’s confusing. 

I hope that helps with the muddle in the middle! The last post in this series will of course be about effective endings. We’ll discuss the resolution, pay offs, and how to keep people coming back for more if you’re writing a series. Also, Lin Anderson’s handy checklist! 

The Three Act Structure- Good Beginnings

First of all, I’m so sorry it’s taken so long to write this second post taken from Lin Anderson’s Story Workshop. Things have been crazy round here and hopefully I’ll have some amazing news to share with you soon that will serve as an excuse! 

So, how to create an effective beginning? Before you start, you should know the answers to these questions: 

Who is your protagonist? 

What do they want? 

Why do they want it? 

What’s stopping them? 

What’s the result? 

Now you can write your beginning! How? 

 Well, it needs to do three things:

1) Get the story going and show what type of story it’s going to be.

2) Introduce and categorise the protagonist. 

3) Engage the reader’s interest.  

It can do other things too, such as establish a setting or a mood. But it should always do the first three. 

The simplest way, though not the only, is to start with a scene that does all three. Think up a situation your protagonist could be in, which will lead to the final crisis. Remember to step into the scene late and leave it early. 

My last post discussed that story is a character in action. Keep this in mind when planning your beginning. Something needs to happen which will change your protagonist’s world. Something which will move them to action. This is called the inciting incident. So, in Pride and Prejudice it is Mr Bingley’s arrival at Netherfield with his friends. In some stories though, the inciting has already happened prior to our entry into it. In Emma we come into the story after Miss Taylor becomes Mrs Weston, which is what makes Emma look for a new friend in Harriet Smith. In my novel the inciting incident for my heroine is the death of her father. Even if you didn’t consciously think about it (I didn’t at the time) there will most likely be one in your story too. Try and identify it! If you can’t, you may need to put one in.

The inciting incident is a turning point in the story and leads to act 2- the middle. More about that in my next post.