Thursday, 28 June 2012

Making use of detail

Years ago while driving along a country lane I spotted a white plastic bag being blown in the wind over the hedgerows. It inspired the start of a story, in which an impressionable young woman driving at night saw a similar sight, and believed she’d seen a tiny angel. The angel (or was it just a carrier bag?) hit her windscreen. My character, Nina, went home and told her husband what she’d seen. She was worried she’d injured the angel. He, of course, told her not to be so silly, and they had a bit of a row about it. Nina went off to bed, still worried.
Then I got all lyrical and, keeping with the angel theme, had Nina put on a long white satin nightie. She was upset, mopped her tears with a tissue which she then shredded, into feather-like pieces.
And then I was stuck. Had no idea where to go next with the story. I took it to my writing class and read it out, as far as I’d got. Those people were amazing and came up with lots of inspirational comments which gave me an idea for how to finish the story. The class tutor, Della Galton, said something I’ve never forgotten and which is the whole point of this post – she picked up on my bits about the white nightie and shredded tissue and said although these were lovely details I should only keep them in the story if they were important – they couldn’t stay there just for the sake of it. It’s the old adage – kill your darlings. If a bit of writing has no purpose in the story, ie doesn’t move the story on in any way, then however beautiful it is it should be cut because it isn’t earning its keep. This is especially important in a short story where there’s no room for superfluous words.
I ended the story by having Nina so worried about the angel that she went back out again in her car, dressed in her nightie, to the spot where she’d seen it. And there, in the ditch beside the road, was a cyclist who’d hit a pothole, broken his leg and was in a bad way. He mumbled something about ‘his angel’. Nina’s husband turned up – he’d discovered her missing, and got worried. He’d seen the shredded tissue and remembered her story about having seen an angel, so he had followed her to the spot she’d described. He had a phone so was able to call an ambulance for the cyclist. When Nina told him what the cyclist had muttered about also seeing an angel, Nina’s husband laughed. The poor cyclist was delirious with pain, and seeing Nina standing there in her long white nightie he must have imagined she was his guardian angel. Which actually, she was, in her way, as she was the one who found him.
I sold this story twice – to My Weekly and to Australian That’s Life. The story worked – you could side with Nina and believe in angels or side with her husband and accept the rational explanation. The details I’d put in were all used again later in the story. The story ends in a satisfying way – Nina and her husband make up, as he realises that her instincts helped save the cyclist, and she accepts that her vision of a tiny angel might have been a touch fanciful after all.
Since writing that story, I’ve often thought about what I learned from it, particularly regarding making good use of detail. Those little details like my white satin nightie and the shredded tissue can bring a story to life, but they’ve got to be there for a purpose, not just as pretty prose. By all means write them in on the first draft, but if they don’t end up adding anything to the story, chop them out later on (or, change your story so they do become essential). I try to keep this in mind always, even when writing my novel. Obviously in a novel there’s more space for description and you can include some which is just there for scene-setting, but it all works so much better if every single piece of description also helps add to the story in some way.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Alfie Dog - online market

Alfie Dog is an online market for short stories, which plenty of my womag-writing friends have been submitting their stories to, judging by the number of names I recognise in the list of authors!

The site allows single stories to be downloaded for a small fee to the reader. The author gets royalties of 50% of the download fees after banking costs are deducted. Not much but better than nothing. They'll accept previously published stories, as long as you own the copyright.

They'll take stories of any genre except porn, erotica or excessively violent. 500-15,000 words.

Free ebook and upcoming events

Writer Linda Gruchy's anthology, Wargeld and Other Stories, is available for free for Kindle until 26th June. She describes them as 'a little too risque for womag' - sounds intriguing! They're not erotica though - but do cover subjects some womags steer clear of.

With all the hype surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey erotica seems to be the way to go at the moment. If you can write it without giggling, that is.

Sally Quilford has so many workshops and events coming up that she's added an Events page to her blog. Worth checking frequently for her workshops on writing for the womags and writing pocket novels. Some of her course are run online, so are open to anyone whereever you live.

Della Galton also has several workshops planned, including one on writing erotica if you want to jump on that bandwaggon! See here for details.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Bits and pieces

It's been a while since I did one of these posts, and I am aware that lately I have become a Very Bad Blogger. Blame my new novel which is taking all my spare time. I'm about half way through the first draft, so I will continue to be a VBB for some time to come. Sorry about that.

Anyway, here are some interesting snippets for you to follow up.

1.  If you're considering submitting stories to the US magazine, Woman's World (guidelines on this blog are still correct), then do go and take a look at Kate Willoughby's blog. She reads the magazine every week and analyses the stories in them. She's sold quite a few to them herself, so has a very good idea of what they take and what they don't. With thanks to Rena George for reminding me of this link.

2.  If you write children's stories, here's a possible market for you. The Knowonder website aims to help literacy in children by providing great stories they can read every day. There's a small payment for stories published, too.

3.  For all you pocket novelists out there, go and take a look at Sally's blog where she has posted the latest guidelines for My Weekly pocket novels. There's a lovely colourful flyer - it won't copy too well to Blogger so please go to Sally's blog and download it from there. My Weekly want novels in the Murder, Modern and Medical categories. I guess you could have a contemporary story in which a doctor murders his patients then falls in love with a nurse to cover all the bases... Looks to me like they're trying to muscle in on the Mills & Boon market a little. Well why not? And don't forget if you sell them a pocket novel, you can usually sell the same novel again to the large print publisher, Ulverscroft, then happily receive PLR payments for many years to come. As long as PLR is not scrapped, of course - talking of which, have you signed the petition yet?

4. Do you ever feel as though there's too much to do and not enough time? Well, I have the answer. Buy a copy of Peter Jones's book, How To Do Everything And Be Happy. It's just been re-released as a second edition, after selling 10,000 copies of the first edition. Not bad for a self-published book! I have a copy, personally signed by the author no less. He's a lovely chap, and the book is full of great advice on how to enjoy life to the full. There's a short interview with him on Della's blog. For today (and I don't know how much longer), the book is free to download to Kindle, or buy an audio version (read by Peter) or a paper version.

(The book I really need to read, is Peter's second, coming soon, entitled How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim. It is co-authored by Della Galton. You can read the opening chapter here.)

Right, that's me done. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Public Lending Right petition

Please take a look at this petition to protect the organisation which handles Public Lending Right in the UK, and sign it if you agree with it.

Public Lending Right is money collected from libraries for each loan of a book. An author whose books are in libraries registers with PLR, and will then get a once a year payout, the amount depending on how often their books are borrowed. It's an important source of income for many writers, but now it seems the government want to scrap it.

Please share this with your writerly and other contacts, thank you!