Writing Tips, Part III: Outlines and Structures

Now that I finished my first manuscript, I figured it would be better to just keep on writing. I cannot look at the text yet as if I’ve never seen it before; therefore, I cannot start the editing process. In fact, editing now would hinder my ability to keep up the pace. Once I’ve written enough, I’ll return to where I once started and polish it. However, that moment is not here yet. For now, I’m simply going to outline my second manuscript. For others struggling with the same – which I personally find rather hard – here are a few tips.

One: start out with brainstorming. This probably seems like a logical step, but you’ll need it. Write down whatever comes to mind. See which ideas you prefer. Some might work well together, while others don’t. Choose with a basic idea and stick with it. Once you’ve done so, do not go back to creating new ideas – no matter how tempting it is. If anything else seems interesting, write it down – then forget about it.

Two: now that you have a basic idea, come up with the ending. This might seem like a strange leap in thought, but knowing the ending definitely helps in the process of fleshing out the story. The more detailed it is, the clearer the path becomes that needs to be taken in order to get there.

Three: which characters, changes in attitude, attributes and scenes do you need to get to the ending? Let the story revolve around – that does not sound like the right word, though – obtaining those essential elements. That way, every step and every action will bring the story closer towards the ending and there will be no unnecessary elements to it.

Four: this is where the actually outlining begins. Write down everything you know so far and try to create a structure for the story in which every single elements fits. You could do this by writing a synopsis or by creating a chapter-by-chapter outline, whatever works better. Make sure not to include anything but short descriptions of the scenes.

Five: by now, you should know your story’s main points and main scenes. This is the time to start writing, to bring your world and its characters alive. Following the steps, it should not be hard to write down the entire story from the beginning to the ending. After all, you know what needs to happen. However, this is definitely the fun part. Outlining a story before writing it does not take the creativity out of the process, because there is more than enough left to be creative with. Make the characters speak. Make the characters act. Although you know what is going to happen, the way in which it is going to happen is not set. Play with that.

This might seem a boring technique, but many beginning writers get stuck because they do not want to create an outline; they just want to start writing. However, if you have no idea where your story line is going to take you, chances are you are lacking a plot. A manuscript without a plot can never be called a book – unless you are a famous, established writer, which I am not.

The Last Chapter & Statistics

I finished the last chapter of the series’ first book today. It may not be perfect yet and I may have to rewrite it another thousand times, but for now it is done. In my opinion, the last chapter always is the hardest to write. That is when the enthusiasm starts to fade, as all of the interesting and adventurous parts are over and all that is left is finishing up the manuscript. No one has died, the characters are stuck with memory loss and the village is safe again.

Although I spent some hours a day on writing this, it never really felt like a chore. For me, that is why children’s books are so much fun. They can be exciting and adventurous and the story never really has to come to a halt.

 

I think it is time for some statistics!

Starting date: May 7th

Finishing date: May 31st

Word count: 19761

Character count: 84688

Number of chapters: 18

Average chapter word count: 1098

Shortest chapter: 591 words

Longest chapter: 1745 words

Flesh-Kincaid grade level (according to Word): 2,2

 

Now, when I was writing this, I was aiming at an eight year old audience, looking at the Goosebumps statistics to see what would be a nice word count to aim for. However, now I’m starting to doubt those numbers. The story might be too long. Still, I do not think I can cut anything out. I’m just going to keep on writing, and then we’ll see how this turns out.

My Sources of Inspiration, Part IV: Fantastic History

As a student of the English language and culture, I am confronted daily with the tumultous history of the British Islands. The political entriges, the dire economic situations and many illnesses might not seem a great setting for the supernatural – unless, of course, you are George R. R. Martin and you manage to recreate the Wars of the Roses in a setting so terrible that not many people would ever link it to the British history. I am not George R. R. Martin. I am not a fantasy writer. Still, I allow myself to be inspired by the many superstitions throughout history.

First of all, there is no doubt that the witch trials took place. They are a very real part of history, yet they were based on a lack of knowledge and thus a deep-seated fear of the unknown. As a writer, playing with the unknown definitely is fun. The witches were just poor herbalists, right? They could be; poor people followed by the inquisition for their knowledge. They also could be time travelers, using their real magic to escape their prosecutors. Both are ideas for relatively solid tales, but as a writer of fantastic (as in, fantasy – I’m not going to call my own work fantastic) horror, I prefer the latter. In fact, it is part of the series I’m working on at the moment. This is one of the reasons I love history: it allows me to combine the real – the witch trials – with the supernatural.

Secondly, and this is just what my geography teacher told me, the political situation in China once was so bad that the people desperately tried to grow their crops as big as possible. When they realised they could not grow them any bigger, they started creating them out of paper-mâché, just to show the emperor how much they loved him. I once tried to write a story about this strange tale, combined with the fact that the Chinese at that time definitely did not like the English colonists. I created a world in with a non-existing country’s emperor would come and see if the crops were already big enough, just to find out they were eaten by rabbits (the villagers did not look after their crops, as they were too busy creating fake ones). From that moment on, people started to disappear or be killed. Immediately, all the blame was placed on the one foreign boy in the village – who I imagined to be British – as he was said to be a werewolf. Plot twist: the boy did not have any magical abilities at all. Instead, the emperor was the werewolf, killing of the villagers one by one as he was disappointed by their lack of hard work. It was definitely a strange story, but part of me feels that it could work… If only I knew how. My imagination sure was a lot greater when I was younger.

My history-based stories surely are the ones I enjoyed most coming up with, although I doubt most of it would be publishable, even if I wrote it down. Still, the writer’s imagination should never stop working. Whether it is a fleeting thought or a page-long idea, just coming up with anything stimulates the brain. Thankfully, I enjoy doing research. Otherwise, writing could not be the best idea.

The Moral Compass

Back in the day when children’s fiction first originated, moral lessons where what counted when it came down to writing for children. In my last blog, I talked about Hans Christian Anders, who is an excellent example in this case. His horrific fairytales were supposed to serve as lessons for children: “If you don’t behave, it won’t end well for you.” Now, I might have a slight problem. My manuscripts do not contain the slightest bit of moral lessons. It itself, that wouldn’t matter, if it weren’t for the fact that my characters steal, swear and basically appear very rude. It’s all for a cause, but here I’m left wondering if I shouldn’t get them punished one way or another.

As for the stealing, it happens twice in my first book. The first time, my main character finds a device in his friend’s shed that he believes may help him solve the mystery. She won’t give it to him because she doesn’t know how it works and is afraid he will break it. The main character steals it, uses it for his cause and then accidentally breaks a part of it. His friend ends up screaming she does not want to be him around him ever again, but ends up sticking around as she wants to help solve the problem that’s affecting everyone in town. In the second instance, the main character needs some bags of salt in order to build a trap. However, he does not realise there is more than enough left at home and breaks into a restaurant, ran by a nice, old lady. In both instances, he definitely feels bad for stealing, but it won’t have any lasting consequences: in the end, it all literally will be forgotten, thanks to the fact that the main character is fighting a magical monster with the ability to erase people’s minds.

As for the swearing, I am not sure how bad it is. My main characters do not go around cursing, but some name calling definitely happens. Most of it is taken from children’s cartoons, to make sure it is acceptable. However, I personally do not have a clue, as I am writing for an audience that I am not part of. What is offensive in The Netherlands is not necessarily offensive in Great Britain, and the other way around – at least, this is what my teachers explained to me. Not to insult anyone, but I’ve heard that the word “shit” is considered very offensive in Great Britain, while around here, people don’t even say it anymore because it is such a weak insult. I would not use the word in a children’s story, but I feel the cultural difference is important to the explanation. I’ve had my characters say “moron” and “crap”, however, mainly because television has taught me those are generally considered alright. Correct me if I’m wrong.

As for the rudeness, the story mostly entails a group of children running around, trying to catch a face-swapping monster before it is too late. They bump into people and often tell them to look in a mirror – not because they are ugly, but because they have become the monster’s victims. Other than that it angers some people, there are no repercussions for it.

My dilemma as a writer is if I should try to be a moral compass. I personally feel it is not necessary – adult intervention would ruin a story driven by children – but sometimes I wonder if the stealing should not be overlooked. I figured that the main character’s guilt would be enough… but is it? Should a writer be clear about morality?

My Sources of Inspiration, Part III: Television Magic

As a child, I loved cartoons and admittedly, I still do. My favourites were the fantastic stories in which anything was possible; children could run wild and free, magic was ubiquitous, life was carefree. Anything resembling reality too strongly was completely unappealing to me. I wanted to have fun when watching, not be transported in another world that was exactly like my own. Of course I know plagiarism is strictly forbidden, and I am not talking about that, but the cartoons I preferred when I was younger definitely inspired my writing. As long as there was adventure – real adventure, not the kind of adventure that comes along with puberty – I was happy. My manuscripts are supposed to pass that same wonderful, adventurous feeling to my readers. The problem with cartoons is, though, that what works on the screen does not necessarily work in a book. Cartoons are typically strange, colourful and wild. The audience I am writing for is a little too old for picture books – and in all honesty, picture books do not enough plot for me to enjoy creating them. There has to be a way to transfer that cartoony mood into another medium, without the story getting too crazy. That is the second problem I have when using cartoons as my inspiration. What is shown on screen often is so strange that it would not work in a book. It would require too much explanation for it to work, which is not desirable at all in this age group. It has to be fun and mysterious, yet also explainable.

Another source of inspiration for me is anime. Like I said before in another blog, I am not afraid to place the words “cartoon” and “anime” in one sentence. Sure, cartoons are animated shows aimed at children, but anime consists of Japanese animated shows aimed at all age groups. While gruesome, I personally loved Elfen Lied, the Higurashi series and Death Note. These tales are definitely inappropriate for children, considering they contain many gruesome deaths, so why would I use them as inspiration? Well, it is because anything can serve as inspiration. No matter how inappropriate, I still allow myself to be inspired by the mystery, the background stories and the ambience of the fantastic. That is all that matters when it comes to inspiration. As long as it triggers the brain’s gears, it can and should be used.

My Sources of Inspiration, Part II: The Masters of Horror

In every writer’s life, there are other writers who serve as his or her highly esteemed examples. In my case, these people are writers of the fantastic and the horrifying. Not all of them are technically specialised in horror as a genre, but the ones on this list certainly know how to give children the chills.

Hans Christian Anders is the first person on my list. This nineteenth-century author is mostly known for his terrifying fairy tales, that used to spook children all over Denmark and later the world. Fairy tales are tales with a moral, but the only way to impose a moral on children seems to be by frightening them – or that is at least what Anders’ work implies. In his The Red Shoes, a girl loses her soul when she decides to put on her red shoes for her communion. She has to dance until she dies. In The Little Mermaid – and by that, I mean the original tale – a young mermaid trades her voice for a pair of legs in order to charm a human prince. However, part of the trade was that she would die if she could not win the prince over. The mermaid dies. These moralistic tales contain very macabre concepts, as they all end with young girls dying due to pacts with what is most likely the devil. Sure, they had a function in the nineteenth-century society, but they were pretty horrific as well. I loved them.

R.L. Stine, writer of the famous Goosebumps series, is the second person on my list. Second because he was the second writer of horror I can recall because of the impact he had on my life. He was the one who caused me to hate ventriloquists – such a shame – , made me believe my neighbours were vampires – I didn’t even know who they were, how spooky! – and above all made me want to scare children the way he could. I still have some of his books standing in my bookcase. Especially The Ghost Next Door left an imprint on me. Not because of its surprise ending, but because structure. The reader should have seen the ending coming… But I didn’t. I loved the feeling I got when I finally connected all the pieces of the puzzle. I am not good at writing mystery, though.

J.K. Rowling – apparently pronounced like “rolling” – is not really a horror writer, but she definitely knew how to create some terrifying scenes. I absolutely hated her Dementors, long before I saw them on screen. Her description of those soul-sucking creatures gave me chills that lasted for a long time. In fact, I think the Dementors from the movie are not anywhere near the picture in my mind. Sure, they were scary, but the power of imagination sometimes is much stronger. I feared the cemetery scene of Voldemort’s resurrection, I always dreaded the moment where Sirius would fall through the portal – I think I read the books about seven times – and I wanted to throw out the book during the lake scene with the zombies. The books may not have been scary in the startling sense, but they sure filled me with dread.

Darren Shan is the last writer on this list, because he was the last one I discovered. I originally started out reading his The Saga of Darren Shan, the story about a boy who became a vampire. I later went on to read his The Demonata, a series about werewolves demons and magicians. Both series were awfully dark and detailed and haunted me in my nightmares, yet I read them over and over again. They kept luring me back into their strange worlds of daylight-loathing creatures. My target audience is slightly lower than that of these series, but they probably are the most terrifying books I can think of.

All in all, reading horror as a child turned me into the person I am nowadays. While I definitely love to be frightened by a nice horror movie or book, I prefer to be the one to scare others, no matter how impossible it may seem.

The Liebster Award

As a quite new blogger, I was pretty surprised when I found out I had been nominated for the Liebster Award by fadingpoetic. Thank you so much for this! In all honesty, I had never heard of this before… I’m feeling slightly stupid now, but hey, I’m still happy!

Part of this award is having to answer eleven questions as given by the nominator, state eleven facts about yourself and nominate eleven other bloggers… I’m afraid I do not know that much, but I’ll give it a try.

Let’s start out with the questions. I love them!

I. If you could merge any two animals together and have it as a pet, what would they be?

This is hard… I am going to give quite a boring answer, but I would merge a rabbit with a stoat. Hopefully it would turn out to be fluffy and non-aggressive…

II. If you could turn into any inanimate object, what would it be?

I feel like any answer to this question would sound perverted, so I’ll try to answer it as cleanly as possible. I would probably want to be a book. That way, at least I’d contain a (hopefully interesting) story!

III. Would you rather face a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion? Why?

I would pick the zombie invasion if the zombies involved were the slow kind from old movies… Aliens seem a little to unpredictable to me.

IV. You’re stuck on a desert island and you can either take one item or one person with you. What/who do you choose, and why?

I am not going to hurt anyone by forcing them to be stuck on a desert island with me, so I’d probably take my laptop (as long as I am allowed to attach a solar panel or something like that to it). That way, at least I’d have some contact with the world until the day I die of starvation. I’d not survive long, that’s for sure.

V. Tell us about your most embarrassing moment.

I had to get surgery for my toe, but since I was so afraid of going to the doctor’s, I was prescribed some kind of tranquiliser. I had to take one of those pills at home, but according to the doctor, it would be better if I took one and a half. Little did I know that this stuff would cause black-outs and make me behave like I was high… I have no memory of this, but my parents took me to the doctor’s clinic and I got the surgery. When we arrived back home, they showed me a taped of drugged me shouting at them, almost falling down the stairs and mumbling about fairies on a red planet. Apparently, I had been acting like that all the way through the surgery. Nice.

VI. Rich or famous?

I’d rather be famous than rich, as long as being famous also means that I make a decent amount of money.

VII. You can only eat one food for the rest of your life. What do you pick?

My first thought was some chicken from the KFC, but that would not be such a great idea… I’m going to pick bread (but I hope I can still use different kinds of filling).

VIII. Would you rather only speak in riddles, or only speak in rhymes?

I’d rather speak in riddles, since I already seem to be doing that.

IX. Your life becomes a movie. What genre is it and who plays you?

It would probably be some kind of dramatic comedy about a lonely college student who keeps bumping into everything all the time and still lives with their parents (although not for long anymore). I would play myself. I know that is the wrong answer, but I do not know anybody who could play the part.

X. Instead of skin, you are made of fabric. What kind? Flannel, silk, corduroy?

I know absolutely nothing about fabric. I’m still picking chiffon, since it looks soft and like it would make for a nice skin.

XI. What is the meaning of life?

We are all characters in a book, so we’ll just have to wait for the ending to see what it all was about! (No, I do not seriously believe this, thank you very much.)

 

Now, it’s time for the eleven random facts about me!

  1. Even as a writer, I do not like the university’s courses about literature.

II. I used to take a course in Latin at secondary school.

III. I am a Dutch person who knows nothing about football – which seems to be the nation’s pride.

IV. I love anime and cartoons – and I’m not afraid to use both words in the same sentence.

V. I have a strong hatred for anything plastic – especially spoons.

VI. I’ve been in at least ten different countries, not counting my own.

VII. My pseudonym, A.G.R. Rosewood, actually stands for two entirely different names.

VIII. The Dutch Crown Princess was born on my eighth birthday – so I hated that birthday.

IX. I love spicy foods, while I really cannot eat them without getting sick for days.

X. I actually do not like talking about myself that much.

XI. I once dropped a baby hamster. I am a horrible person. Don’t worry, though; it survived.

 

After answering these questions about myself, I realised I did not know a single blogger who did not have at least 200 followers. Still, I decided my nominees to be the following people: Crazy Inkslinger, Bookish Nerd, Unearth|me, Baburoy, Writesy, Innate Wanderings, Lorraine Loveit and Peppered Pot. Sadly, I do not have time to look up any more, so here are your eleven questions:

I. Do you have a phone case? If yes, what colour is it?

II. Look to your left. What is the object nearest to you (that is not part of a computer)?

III. What is your favourite kind of soda?

IV. Would you eat insects? If yes, what kind of insects seems the tastiest to you?

V. What colour is your favourite chair?

VI. Would you like to travel to North Korea?

VII. What does your ideal vacation look like during a zombie invasion?

VIII. What would you run across the airport for if it was about to be loaded on the plane?

IX. What is your favourite word?

X. Does it bother you that there is no eleventh question?

Lastly, I would like to say: keep wring!

Thank you for reading this and remember to stick to the rules!

  • Recognize the blogger who nominated you
  • Answer the 11 questions your nominator asked (see below, guys!)
  • List 11 fun/random facts about yourself
  • Nominate 11 bloggers with less than 200 followers who you think deserve to be recognized
  • Inform the bloggers you’ve nominated them
  • Give your nominees 11 questions to answer

Writing Tips, Part II: Time to Write

Time may be one of the most critical aspects of writing or becoming a writer. It probably is the most important aspect of life. However, in order to reach the goal of becoming an author, one should probably stick to a couple of rules.

One: write as the first thing you do in the morning. This tip belongs to several of the most successful writers, who know how hard it is to keep up with this. However, writing in the morning, as soon as you get out of bed, certainly is a good way to keep going. The earlier you get started, the easier it is to keep going. It does not even have to be a manuscript. It could also be a dream diary, as a way to keep track of all wonderful ideas that come to mind when sleeping. They may be crazy, but not all of them are worthless.

Two: write as often as possible. This is partially a follow-up on tip one, as writing in the morning surely helps with writing more often, but it entails something more. Write whatever comes to mind, whenever that is. Make sure to keep a notebook close, or whatever else you can use to quickly write down ideas. Especially when working on a manuscript, the more you write on a day, the sooner that first draft is done. It is the fun part, but also the difficult part. However, when the words have been written, it becomes much easier to see what should stay in there and what should be changed. Nothing can be analysed when looking at an empty sheet.

Three: editing takes times. Do not rush this aspect of creating a manuscript, because this is what determines the eventual quality of the work. Sure, it may sometimes be boring and it may be very tempting to just skip certain parts, but this is the moment to be careful. The words are there; now take the time to read them, to feel them, to analyse them. Editing is not an easy process, but in the end, it should be worth the time it takes.

Four: learning any profession takes time, and so does learning to write. Nobody can learn how to play the piano in only one day. In order to become a true author, one should write many manuscripts, each one slightly better than the one before it. This process cannot be rushed or forced. Taking writing classes might help, but in the end, it all depends on the willingness of the person to learn. Without failure, no one can ever get better. Time is needed to bring out the best of anyone. Just keep going on.

I may not be a professional author myself, but I do know these tips contain the truth. Not all are for everyone, as tip one may not be useful for night owls. However, the gist of the tips is what really matters. Keep writing and do not be disencouraged by the time it may take to become good at it.

Why Children Love The Horrific

Some adults make the mistake of believing children are fragile little human being. While they may be little, most of them are not nearly as fragile as adults make them out to be. Typical school-aged children are already bombarded by the horrors of their daily lives. Not all of them are that serious – not being allowed to watch a certain television show or buy a certain toy – while others certainly are – like being bullied, excluded from the group or even abuse. Sadly, these are all part of reality. Most children already know about the horrors of reality; therefore, the horrors of fiction might be much more appealing.

As a child, I was bullied by the other kids. It was not that severe – some teasing, some provoking, some exclusion – but it still caused me not to like my classmates very much. For me, fiction was a way out of the stress of daily life. It was not harmful or permanent in any way, yet it allowed me to feel free. Especially horror and fantasy fiction did the trick, mainly because those genres were not based on the reality. None of the things that happened in the stories would ever happen to me – and that was good. It was nice to read about people who got themselves into absolutely crazy situations with witches, fairies and werewolves. Sure, the main characters were children like myself, so I could still pretend that I lived the wonderfully unreal lives they did.

In all honesty, I do not quite understand why the most popular genre – at least in the Netherlands – seemed to deal with whatever gritty ideas writers could come up with, ranging from bullying to sexual assault and dealing with anorexia. I am also not so sure if those subjects truly should be read by children. Sure, they are not fragile. They know what is going on in the world, thanks to the news, the movies and the talks of the day at the school yard. However, I know many that were absolutely shocked when encountering any of the aforementioned subjects. Not all nine-year-olds need to know about sexual assault, especially not in a way that hits as close to home as a book character.

I may be contradicting myself, but truth is: children love the horrific, whether it could happen in reality or not. It is forbidden, it is unknown and therefore, it is alluring. While I sometimes doubt if certain subjects really are appropriate for children, the children are the ones who pick these books up to read them. There must be a reason for that. For me, I preferred fantastic horror to escape this world; others might prefer the real horror they luckily have not encountered for themselves yet.

Writing Tips, Part I: Some Rules Are Relative

The thing about rules is that they often are relative. While there is a reason for their existence and one definitely needs to know them, there often are exceptions to the rule. I looked up lists of writing “rules” and picked a few I do not personally agree with.

According to Elmore Leonard, one should “never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue”. I assume this is directed at fiction as a whole, but I do not think this should just be accepted as the truth. While it is true that these interjections are the author’s voice, sometimes it is needed to mention who is saying what. Often, the word “said” is not sufficient to carry the entire meaning of a spoken sentence. Imagine two characters are huddled together behind a haystack, fearfully waiting for the villain to pass by. One of them tries to “say” they are sorry for their former mistakes, just in case they will end up getting killed. Would they really say that? I do not think so. To me, the word “say” implies stating something in a neutral voice at a neutral sound level. If someone is so close by, you would not say anything. You would whisper it. Of course, many writers abuse the power of the words by using anything they can think of at the moment. I believe Leonard is right in thinking that words like “lied”, “cautioned” and “asseverated” (whatever that may mean) are unnecessary. They do not imply anything in tone that is not already mentioned in the speech itself – hopefully. However, never using any other word than “said” is nonsense. At the very least, allow them to scream and whisper, and do not take that ability away from them. The thing about lists like the one I took this advice from, though, is that they only state very black-and-white rules. I doubt the writer himself meant it to be taken to extremes.

Another example about rules I do not agree with is the following, by Rose Tremain: “In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” Maybe this works for seasoned writers who know how to create a story of which the beginning, middle and end go together perfectly, but I personally would not advise this. A story without ending might as well never end – and the Neverending Story has already been written. I would actually say, start in the plotting phase with two important aspects: one of these is the beginning… but the ending is more important. Of course, the beginning is what grabs the reader’s attention. However, the ending is what makes reading worth the time it takes. If the ending is not thought out properly, it probably is not going to turn out to be satisfying. Think before you write, especially for those without experience. If you know the ending of the story, you know what needs to happen to get there. Start from there, not the other way around.

Writing fiction is a very personal business. Everyone has their own tactics to make it work. Some write even when they do not know what they should write, others drop it for the day until they know how to further the story. Whatever works for them is the rule that fits. Rules are personal as well, therefore. Do not feel limited by rules imposed on you by others – unless those others are part of a publishing house you signed a contract with.

 

Works Cited

Dyer, Geoff, David Hare, AL Kennedy, Neil Gaiman, and Anne Enright. “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.” Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 19 Feb. 2010. Web. 23 May 2014.

Mantel, Hilary, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Philip Pullman, Rose Tremain, Jeanette Winterson, Will Self, Annie Proulx, and Ian Rankin. “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction (part Two).” Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 19 Feb. 2010. Web. 24 May 2014.