Monthly Archives: May 2015

Adding Complexity to Your Novel

When writers first get their idea for a novel, that idea ends up being the main plot. The main plot is extremely important because it’s what the novel is about. Without it there would be no story. However, only having a main plot leaves for a simple story. That’s where subplots come in.

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Explore all the layers in a novel.

Subplots are very similar to the main plot except that they are smaller in scale. One of the great things about subplots is that they are woven into the story, so if you have moments within your novel where the main plot is slowing down, you can use your subplot(s) to bring tension back into the story.

Another thing that subplots add is believability. Real life doesn’t always move forward. There are constantly twists and turns. How many times have you made long term plans only to find yourself on a very different course? Something nearly always comes up to interrupt your plans, but that adds tension, excitement, and challenges…and, many times, you find you’ve learned something you otherwise won’t have along the way. Plus, subplots are a great way to learn more about the supporting characters.

If you’re a plotter, someone who plots out their novel, even if just in synopsis form, you’ll want to think about subplots as well as the main plot and interject them into your story. If you’re a panster, someone who writes by the seat of their pants (no plotting), you may end up with subplots during your first draft or you may not. Likely you’ll have to go back and fill in your draft with subplots.

Something to be aware of is to make sure that your subplots don’t overwhelm your main plot. The main plot is still the star of the show. Let it shine.

How do you go about handling subplots?

(Photo courtesy of The WVb.)

Getting Your Review On

book-reviewI’ve always wondered about how people review books. From The Guardian and The New York Times to Amazon and Goodreads (which is owned by Amazon but has separate reviews from it) reviews of novels are prevalent.

How do people go about rating a book or writing a review of it? I’ve seen reviews that are thorough and go through both the positives and negatives of novels, reviews that are no more than giant rants or superfluous praise, and reviews that are either so skeletal that they provide nothing constructive or have nothing to do with the novel.

When I review books, I find that I have two parts of myself: the writer half and the reader half. The writer half is a harsh critic. It nitpicks, deconstructing the novel and examining it on a more academic level. Is the writing good? Are there plot holes? Are the characters flat, stereotypical, believable, etc.? Is there sentence variety, correct punctuation and spelling, metaphors?

The writer half of me will rant about books that are poorly written and go off on tangents about how books like such and such should have never been published because they are everything agents and editors say they don’t want.

However, the reader half of me will look at those same books and love them. Because although they may be stereotypical, have poor world building, have characters you want to smack for either their (1) lack of intelligent decision making skills, (2) jerk behavior, or (3) some combination of (1) and (2), and are overall horribly written, I still get pulled into the story. I find myself laughing or rooting for the characters. I want to know what happens next.

pile-of-booksIf I didn’t have these two parts of myself, my reviews would be quite different. If only the writer half existed, I would have a lot more one and two star reviews (one being absolutely atrocious and five being one of the best books I’ve ever read). If only the reader half was there, I’d have a ton of five star reviews. The writer and reader parts of myself balance each other out. I have very few five star reviews and even fewer one star reviews. The vast majority of my reviews are either three or four stars, and then I get into the meat of why I’ve rated a book what I’ve rated it.

How do you go about reviewing books? You don’t have to place your reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, or other review sites to appraise a book. Every novel you read you form an opinion about. How do you mold the opinion you have?

(Photo courtesy of inkspand and pinterest.)

Don’t Careen Off that Ledge: Keep on Track with Your Writing

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It can be a challenge to stay focused on your writing, especially if you don’t have anyone helping to keep you accountable for your novel. So what do you do when you’re sitting in front of your computer, staring at the word document in front of you and feeling like you would rather be anywhere else but working on your novel?

One thing to do is to give yourself some space from your writing. If you’re sick of your novel and are being unproductive, then it would be better to take some time off from writing. The trick here is to give yourself a time limit. Whether its three days, one week, or two weeks, you have a set date at which you’ll go back to your writing.

Another option is to make a writing schedule. This has two parts:

  1. Set dates for your writing, such as when you plan on having the first three chapters written by or when you want to have the first draft of the novel written.
  2. Know your most productive writing time. Are you most creative and focused in the morning, afternoon, evening? Try to work your schedule around to be able to write when you’re most productive.

Join a critique group. This is a great way to be held accountable for getting pages written by a certain date. Plus, you’ll be getting feedback on your writing and you’ll have a support group made up of other writers, who understand the frustrations, high points, and pitfalls of writing.

Break the novel down into scenes. Sometimes thinking about how you have to write an 80,000 word novel can be daunting, and discouraging. So rather than focusing on the big picture, think of the novel in terms of scene. A scene isn’t that big. It’s typically a chapter or part of a chapter. Before you know it, your scenes will add up to that 80,000 word goal (or whatever word count you’ve set for yourself).

Probably the most important thing to remember is that writing should be fun. It’s so much easier to write about something you enjoy, and since writing a novel is a huge endeavor, why would you spend so much time writing something you didn’t enjoy?

How do you keep yourself on track?

(Photo courtesy of Pixshark.)

The Art of Metaphor

In its most basic sense metaphor is a figure of speech where something is used as a representation of something else, particularly when that something else is an abstraction. An abstraction is an idea that isn’t concrete or tangible. We can’t see, hear, smell, taste, or touch it. Freedom, absence, and truth are all abstractions.

In a broader sense metaphor is part of imagery, using words to evoke specific sensory experiences. Metaphor compares and links an unknown to something known, so that readers can understand the unknown. In essence, metaphor helps to bring insight into some aspect of the human predicament, the deep thematic truths that are the heart of a piece of writing.

There are two parts to a metaphor:

  1. Tenor– this is the thing that’s unknown; the abstraction; the truth/ideal to be illuminated and made concrete/tangible; the subject of the piece
  2. Vehicle– this is the image that’s created to make the unknown (the subject of the metaphor) known

Quick tidbit: Every simile is a metaphor, but not every metaphor is a simile. A simile compares two unlike things using “like,” “as,” or, “seems.” For example, “He was like a wet dog,” or, “She was as angry as a hurricane.”

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Personification and allusion are both types of metaphor. While personification attributes human qualities to inanimate objects/ideas, allusion makes unacknowledged references to famous literature, art, mythology, politics, places, events, etc. With allusion, authors expect readers to pick up on and understand the reference without being overtly told it. In order to successfully make an allusion, you must know your audience.

An example of personification is, “The flowers danced in the wind.” Dancing is a human attribute. To describe the movement of the flowers we relate it to something humans understand and can picture: dancing.

An example of allusion is, “Don’t be Romeo.” Romeo is referring to the protagonist, Romeo, in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

As much as metaphor can be explained, recognizing and creating metaphor is not something that can be learned from others. In order to create metaphor, a writer must be able to perceive similarity. He must be able to see correspondence, the perception of similarity where there isn’t any.

Metaphor is a great way to boost your writing. Done well it can take your writing to the next level.

How do you use metaphor?

(Photo courtesy of Marketing for Hippies.)