The Case for Genre: Why Reader Expectations Matter

Believe it or not, one of the best ways to make an original, creative story is to use a unoriginal premise. Sound crazy? It’s not as weird as it seems, and here’s why.

Readers use their knowledge of other stories to form expectations about yours as they read. If these expectations are met with no surprises, they’ll come away viewing your story as bland and uncreative. If you subvert (that is, challenge) their expectations, readers will think your story is unique. Simple, isn’t it?

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Editing Tip # 3: Change your Font to see your Story through Fresh Eyes:

The key to editing lies in being able to read your work with fresh eyes. You can attain emotional separation and thus objectivity in several ways and I’ve written about one possible method before.

However, there’s a ridiculously easy way to boost your objectivity, which is so ridiculously easy that I am likely to be discharged from the Shadowy Cabal of Writers for disclosing such a secret. Prepare your soul, writer, for this tip:

change your font.

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Don’t Aim to Write a Set Number of Words each Day

You’ll often hear famous writers discuss how they try to write a set number of words per day. Setting a word target for your day’s writing can be useful. If you stick to it, you’ll complete your first draft in a reasonable time.

But you must make sure you don’t fall into the trap of writing words just for the sake of writing words. This is an easy mistake to make.

It boils down to this: you want to write 1000 glorious words by the end of the day. But you can only think of, say, 493 words that actually progress the plot. Those other 507 words become padding; bubble-wrap that bulks up your story without contributing any value. Apart from a few hours of popping the bubbles, but let’s ignore that for the purposes of this metaphor.

I made this mistake with the first draft of The Aeon Academy, my work-in-progress novel. I measured my day’s success by the number of words I spewed onto the (digital) page. Sure, this is a good way to get into a writing habit. It will help you finish a first draft. But once you finish the draft, you’ll probably find lots of unneeded scenes. And by unneeded, I mean that you could cut them out right now and the plot wouldn’t change.

So how do we fix this problem?

The solution is simple. Rather than aiming to write a set number of words each day, aim to write a set number of scenes each day. Now, I say scenes, but even one scene a day will get your first draft finished in a reasonable time, although you’ll sometimes take a few days to write longish scene. The details aside, having a scene/plot-orientated goal beats a word-orientated goal, because you’re more likely to write relevant rather than unneccesary stuff.

“Rather than aiming to write a set number of words each day, aim to write a set number of scenes each day.”

Another nice bonus of having a scene-based aim is that your writing gets more concise. Why? Well, you’ll try to use less words to write your scene, because that’ll make it quicker and easier to meet your writing goals! Having a word-based target, on the other hand, bloats your writing as you desperately try to fill the pages of your novel with mind-numbing prose about nothing that just goes on and on and leaves your readers wondering if you will ever stop or if you’re ever going to write something that actually affects the plot and –

Okay, I’ll stop there. See, if I wanted this article to be, say, 600 words, I could’ve kept rambling. But because I just want to finish the article, I’m glad when I fall short of my word target. I hope you’ll feel the same way.

What are your thoughts on scene vs word-based writing goals? Think I’ve lost my marbles? (I haven’t; they’re in a big jar on my desk). Do you have a better way to avoid writing unneeded scenes? I’d love to hear your opinions!

Another Unmarked Grave published in Down in the Dirt Magazine

Greetings, writerfolk!

My historical short story that explores the horror of the Holocaust, Another Unmarked Grave, has been published in Down in the Dirt‘s online magazine and will also appear in their August print issue. Check it out here or read on for the first few paragraphs

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Editing Tip #2: Cut the Redundancies using 1 simple tool

Redundancies are not very useful, make your writing bad and hurt your sentences. It’s easy for redundancies to creep or sneak or wheedle their way into your writing and your stories.

As you can probably tell, I went overboard with redundancies in the above paragraph. Most of the words didn’t contribute any meaning or value. Here’s the same paragraph without redundancies:

Redundancies make your writing bad. It’s easy for them to sneak into your writing.

Fewer words. Clearer meaning. Direct, powerful language. Your prose will be transformed when you cut out redundancies.

Types of Redundancies

Redundancies fall into two categories:

1. Redundant Phrases: 

These are unnecessary phrases which are added to reinforce meaning. For instance, in this sentence:

It’s easy for redundancies to creep or sneak or wheedle their way into your writing

“sneak” and “wheedle” aim to reinforce the sense of intrusion. However, these phrases are redundant because “sneak” and “wheedle” are synonyms for “creep”. Thus, they add no extra value to the sentence.

2. Redundant Modifiers: 

These attach to other words like parasitic blood-suckers, such as ‘absolutely essential’ or ‘armed gunman.’ I refer to Redundant Modifiers as parasites because they’ve wormed their way into the public consciousness. Next time you watch TV keep a count of how many times a product is called ‘absolutely essential’, even though ‘absolutely essential’ is the same as ‘essential.‘ By it’s very definition, you can’t make something that’s ‘essential’ more essential.

Why we use Redundancies:

Redundancies are like clichés. We hear them so often they ingrain themselves into the fabric of language like termites burrowing into an improperly treated 4 by 2. I’ll level with you: I hate redundancies. They’re unneccessary, clog up your writing and ultimately show a lack of creativity.

Chances are your first draft is littered with redundancies. Fear not: it’s easy to eliminate redundancies – provided you know what to look for.

Eliminating Redundancies:

Redundant Modifiers are easier to eliminate than Redundant Phrases, which typically require close editing to identify and destroy. This is because Redundant Modifiers tend to be commonly used, which means that a list of common redundancies will help you find them. I would write a list for you, but why bother when you can just use this list.

To tighten up your writing, pick one of redundancies on the list and use Word’s find feature. This will search through your story for instances of this redundancy. Once you’re done deleting one type of redundancy, pick the next one of the list and repeat the process. It’s a simple fix that requires little brainpower, but will do a lot to take your story to the next level. Happy editing!

What’s your opinion on redundancies? Do you tend to overuse them or are they not a problem for you? Is it ever okay to use a redundancy? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Reader’s Poll: What do you think about Prologues?

In a recent post, I discussed my love hatred for prologues. Now it’s your turn. Do you love prologues or hate them with a passion?


3 Things to do after you finish your First Draft

Completing an entire novel is an amazing achievement, but if you’re serious about getting published, finishing the first draft doesn’t mean you’re finished working on your novel. Here are three things you must do after finishing a first draft.

Step 1: Let it rest.

Like any decent roast, you must let your novel rest if you want it to gain quality flavour. Now, you’re probably wondering how not working on your novel will help. Here’s how: the novel in your head is not the novel on the page. The novel in your head has perfect dialogue, realistic characters and no plot holes. Unfortunately, the novel on the page doesn’t – and that’s okay! By leaving your novel alone for at least 1 or preferably 2 weeks, you’ll gain distance. This will let you edit more objectively. You’ll also be able to see things you haven’t noted before.

Step 2: Read the whole thing.

Once you’ve had a break from writing, you must read your entire first draft. Why, you ask? For the same reason the above step is important: the novel in your head is not the novel on the page. By reading through your novel you’ll know what’s actually on the page rather than just assuming.

After I’d finished the first draft of The Aeon Academy, I didn’t read it. I stupidly assumed that, as the novel’s creator, I knew exactly what happened in it! I couldn’t have been more wrong, and failing to better understand my novel meant the second draft was a tough, drawn-out edit. With subsequent drafts I’ve made sure to read them before diving into edits, and this has made editing way easier.

And if that argument doesn’t sway you, chew on this: if you can’t be bothered to read your own novel, why would anyone else read it?

Step 2.1: Take notes as you read:

As you read, you’re going to find parts you want to change. Take a note so you don’t forget about this when it comes time to edit.

Step 3: Edit

Once you’ve re-familiarised yourself with your masterful or not-so-masterful creation, it’s time to edit. Editing can seem like a chore, but in reality it’s quite liberating. You can edit your novel any way you want and if you find something you don’t like, you can change it!

Focus on one type of edit at a time. Rather than trying to improve dialogue, enhance characterisation or delete needless phrases at once, do each style of edit by itself. This will help keep you focussed and let you be more effective.

Always remember that a first draft is exactly that: a first attempt. Don’t worry if your novel seems bad compared to a published novel: that published novel would’ve gone through several drafts and professional edits. Your first draft is just you shovelling sand into a sandpit. Editing is where you build your castle.

Have you finished a first draft? What are your thoughts on re-writing and editing? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

Why Prologues are Pointless

Full disclaimer: I hate prologues. This isn’t to say I’ll hurl a book into a shark tank if it has a prologue*, but in most cases I’d prefer it if the author stripped out the prologue like the unnecessary husk it is.

(*Mainly because I don’t have a shark tank. Sigh.)

So, why do I think prologues are pointless? Let’s start by defining what a prologue is.

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Editing Tip # 1: Why your Pet Phrases might need to be put down:

Pet phrases are frequently-used expressions that slip into our writing without us even noticing. These repeated phrase are at best unnecessary and at worst distracting to readers.

Pet phrases are words that we like to write. A lot. Most of the time we don’t even notice writing them. Even if you’re looking out for them, they can take a lot of discipline to find.

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Choosing your Tense and Point-of-View – Part 2

Yesterday we looked at the different tenses and point-of-views (POVs). This week I’m taking some time to evaluate the pros and cons of each tense and POV. If you haven’t read part 1 of this article, check that out before reading any further. 

Again, let’s start with the Point of Views (POVs), using ‘John’ as our main character. I’ve given the most time to first person and third person limited, as these are the two most common POVs:

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Choosing your Tense and Point-of-View – Part 1

Your story’s point-of-view and tense has a huge impact on your novel’s structure and feel. Done well, your POV and tense will work seamlessly together to create an engaging tale with compelling characters. Done poorly, the reader can be left feeling disjunct from what’s happening. This article is a short introduction to the main POV’s and tenses, as well as tips for using them.

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What ‘Write What You Know’ Really Means

Like ‘Show, don’t tell’ (a hypocritically telling phrase in itself), the ‘Write What You Know’ mantra is often thrown around with no explanation.

So what does it mean? Does it mean you can only write about your own experiences? Does it mean your story should be an autobiography? Does it mean you can’t have a female narrator if you’re a male writer?

Nope. ‘Write What You Know’ isn’t about limitations. It’s not there to stop you writing cool stuff. It’s there to make your writing more realistic. Because ‘Write What You Know’ really means: ‘Write What You’ve Felt.’

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The Most Important Trait of Compelling Protagonists

Your protagonist must grip readers. He or she must yank readers into your story and drag them along the twisting track that is your plot, never weakening their grip for a second. Under his/her spell, readers should have no hesitation about skipping meals (or sleep) if it means they can be with the protagonist a little longer.

Obviously there’s no one way to achieve this. You need to do a few things to make a captivating protagonist. But if you want your protagonist to be gripping, captivating and compelling, your protagonist must have one essential trait:

Your protagonist must make unusual decisions.

Your story will be staler than month-old bread if your protagonist makes predictable choices. You just can’t create suspense if readers know what’s going to happen.

So how can you get your protagonists to make unusual decisions?

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