Thursday 30 January 2020

Serial writing by Penny Alexander part 2

Today's guest is Penny Alexander, who is back with part 2 of her very useful advice on writing serials for The People's Friend – although actually a lot of it applies to all types of womag writing. (Comments in purple are me interrupting.)

You can read part 1 here. 

 by Penny Alexander
part 2

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS...  cutting and shaping

So.  You've done the brainstorming, and the research (especially for anything historical),  created a list of fascinating and fully-described characters and perhaps kept going even after several rejections. Your waste-paper basket is overflowing, but your outline has been accepted. (See here for exactly how to submit your outline, and all the other technical details you'll need.) Now comes the hard bit!

In contrast to working with spidergrams and sticky notes everywhere, now I aim for a little coherence.  I divide each episode into scenes, and decide which character will take the point of view in each. Then I outline each scene in four or five complete (this is important) sentences. Since actions speak louder than words, I want these sentences to show the character doing something. Or perhaps more than one 'something.' For example, the heroine may be combing her hair, but she's also waiting for a knock at the door -
why? (Exciting delivery?) Or the hero may be discussing a project at a meeting, but with his mind still on that row he had with his wife earlier - how is he feeling? It depends on what best moves your narrative forward.

I also spend time choosing my characters' names carefully, and I like to feel I've given them the only name they could have.  But be aware that if names or titles are changed on publication, there's always a reason.  Perhaps there's a clash that week with two characters called by the same name, or there are two titles that sound too similar.  You just have learn to love your character's new name!

KEEP COUNTING...  size matters.

On the website, the length given for a first serial episode is 6000 words. This allows space for the introduction of the main characters, with 5000 words specified for subsequent episodes.  But my latest serial was a sequel, re-introducing existing characters, and I was asked to keep to 5000 words for each episode.  

It's your editor's job  to make final cuts or additions, of course, but it's far better if you can submit a story that is as close to the agreed count as possible. Most writers would prefer to decide for themselves which words to add in or leave out before submitting their work, I think. (I certainly do!)

NOT EXACTLY ALIKE...  a serial is not a short story.

A serial has to tell a story at a different pace, with different ups and downs within it. Each episode will carry narrative threads over to the next, and some of these may not be resolved until the final curtain. Added to this, each episode must somehow entice the reader onwards – the so-called 'cliffhanger' in the final paragraph.  Exciting endings are a good thing, but make sure they grow naturally from within the story. I feel it's best not to overdo the dramatics every time you come to the end of an episode. Keep it real. 

SLOWMAIL NOT EMAIL... don't worry, it'll get there!

These days, serial episodes printed by you are posted to Dundee. It's important, as with all submissions, to pay attention to layout (plain fonts and double spacing) grammar and spelling.  A computer spellcheck can prove a false friend. If in doubt about anything at all, look it up. (Old school grammar books have their uses!) Check you have the correct postage for its weight and size, and wish it good luck as you send it away.

WHY WRITE A SERIAL?... there must be easier ways to see your name in print!

It takes anything from eighteen months to two years (sometimes more) to complete a serial.  There will be email discussions and rewrites along the way.  You have the great advantage of professional help, but you need to accept that help willingly and be prepared to work with it.  

Incidentally, writing my current serial saw me through one house-move, one hospital stay, one family wedding and one horribly leaking roof. Thankfully, nothing worse!  But my impression has always been that once an outline is approved, your editor's commitment to your story will be solidly in place for as long as you wish. 

So, eat up those cornflakes to give you energy, and put the empty cardboard packet to good use!

Why write a serial?    Because human beings – readers and writers - need stories. Because you will learn a great deal. Because you will have time to develop your characters. But most of all, because writing a serial is fun!

Penny's serial, 'The Quest for The Dove Tree' is published by The People's Friend in seven parts from January 25th, and is the sequel to The Flower of Hope. Follow the adventures of Luke Hathern, a Victorian plant-hunter, and Caroline, his very practical and artistic wife, as they travel to the Far East in search of the Davidia Involucrata.

 Pictured is a real Dove Tree, which helped inspire Penny's writing.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Serial writing by Penny Alexander part 1

Today's guest is Penny Alexander, who has kindly offered to give some very useful advice on writing serials for The People's Friend – although actually a lot of it applies to all types of womag writing. 

I simply couldn't resist talking Penny into splitting this up into a mini serial. Here's part 1, the rest will follow in a few days. (Comments in purple are me interrupting.)

 by Penny Alexander
part 1

Thank you, Patsy, for inviting me onto your blog!

Hello, I'm Penny Alexander and I write for The People's Friend.

The magazine already offers clear and helpful guidelines on their website (you can find them here). I've been writing fiction for them for only 20 years, while the magazine celebrated its 150th birthday last year. Still, I hope my thoughts will be useful.

Before anything, read the magazine! The Friend has a distinctive, traditional style. I'd suggest also taking note not only of the short stories but also of the non-fiction articles and advertisements. Do they indicate what kind of readers you may have? Keep them in mind, because without readers there would be no magazine. Hint: your readers are not all Ladies of a Certain Age... (This applies to all types of womag writing. Do make sure you're reading current issues, not some you found in the loft. Things change.)

MAKING A START... or, writing it all down isn't scary, really!

Now, with possibly more than one suitable storyline whirling in your head, I'd suggest pinning down a few ideas. Don't worry about the order. I invariably grab a pencil (a lovely, soft 2B for me, please) and start scribbling. At this stage, I also like to have a decent-sized box handy in which to keep notes, drawings, photos, maps, or to corral conkers and pebbles as, believe me, round things will roll and erasers will bounce away across the floor whenever you're not looking.

I also like to grab the largest empty cornflake packet I can lay my hands on. Cut along one edge, squash it flat and use for spidergrams, useful words, sticky notes, plots and plans. In between scribblings, it can be kept in view while propped sturdily on your desk. (Well, every writer has their eccentricity, and empty cardboard (serial?) packets are mine!) (That's terrible – I love it!)

The point is, at first I do not aim to write in sentences. I like to make my own notes, drawings (luckily no-one else sees them) and maps, and to collect relevant photos or objects. For me, a picture or a diagram is worth a thousand words as well as an inspiration if the narrative gets stuck later on. We all know that can happen!

Every writer has their own methods, of course. Some prefer not to invite chaos by spooling out lots of ideas at once, but instead will expand their story from one specific point. But however you write, I strongly suggest that if tackling a serial you make A Plan. This is because at The People's Friend your editor will want to see, and approve, a detailed outline before going ahead with the first episode. Each episode is accepted and paid for separately, so it's difficult to change afterwards. A clear idea of where your story will end and how your characters reach that destination is essential.

IF YOU'RE NOT SURE... you can take the shorts route.

Uncertain what kind of theme will suit? Then you couldn't do better than first submitting a short story. It's true, a serial will have more characters and more narrative threads, as well as a rather different pace or rhythm. (More on that later.) But there's no better way to find out if your ideas work for this market. Another bonus: even if at first unsuccessful, you might gain valuable feedback from a Friendly editor. Inwardly digest all advice, and remember your editor is wiser than you are about the magazine they work for. To coin a well-worn phrase (naturally, you'd never use such hackneyed words in your own highly polished submissions!) you have to be in it to win it.

If there's one thing writers have, it's persistence. So I'm sure you won't think of giving up!

Penny's serial, 'The Quest for The Dove Tree' is published by The People's Friend in seven parts from January 25th, and is the sequel to The Flower of Hope. Follow the adventures of Luke Hathern, a Victorian plant-hunter, and Caroline, his very practical and artistic wife, as they travel to the Far East in search of the Davidia Involucrata.

The photos are of a real Dove Tree, which helped inspire Penny's writing.

Sunday 26 January 2020

The Weekly News Fiction Submission Guidelines

The Weekly News is a weekly publication which is technically a newspaper (the clues are there in the name!). That means you'll need to look in a different section, from where the magazines are displayed in the newsagents, to find it. Often it's amongst Auto Trader and fishing publications. This classification also means you can't claim ALCS for work published in The Weekly News.

Other than that technicality, it's quite like a womag in style, with a range of articles on health, real people, gardening, entertainment and royalty. There are recipes, readers letter and of course fiction. It labels itself, 'the paper with the feel good factotr'.

You can find the full, official fiction guidelines here. I'm not being lazy in not reproducing them here. At least that's not my only reason for not doing so! Whenever possible it's best to refer to a publication's own guidelines as these are the most likely to be current.

Anyone may submit to The Weekly News. If you've not previously had work published by DC Thomson, you'll be asked to sign their contract on first acceptance. The same one applies to My Weekly and The People's Friend (but the guidelines and submission requirements are very different!). They do ask for quite a lot of rights, but NOT all rights. (Always read any contract thoroughly and be sure you understand and agree before signing.)

I'll have a story in the 22nd February issue of The Weekly News.

If you'd like to read more about me and my writing, have a look at this interview on Pen to Print.

Friday 24 January 2020

How to find magazine submission guidelines, or anything else on this blog.

I sometimes get emails and messages asking for information that's already available on this blog. I'm hoping this post will save people the trouble of asking, and my time in replying!

In order to view the guidelines for any magazine featured on Womagwriter, scroll down the page until you see 'magazine guidelines - quick links' in the right hand column, and click on the title you're interested in. 

You can opt to see relevent posts in date order, which should help ensure you're looking at the latest information. Don't forget to read the comments too, if there are any, as these my provide further information and updates.

You can also use the 'search this blog' facility and look for 'guidelines' or anything else you're interested in.

Alternatively, find any post mentioning the magazine (or subject) you're interested in and click on the link below the post. That will bring up all posts with the same tag.

Thursday 23 January 2020

My news

Few bits of news from me –

1) My story The Perfect Bakewell is in the current issue of The People's Friend. Isn't the illustration lovely?

2) My latest short story collection A Way With Words is on sale at the introductory price of 99p (99c).

3) This week I've had an acceptance from Allas (for a story subbed this week!) and one from Take A Break for a 2,000 worder subbed 10 days ago.

Do share any success or news of your own – and if there's anything you'd like posts on, other than my bragging, please let me know here.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Over to you

Please share success (or otherwise!) report any womag news, tips, advice you may have, make womag related comments or observations and ask questions – and answer them too if you can help.

If there's anything you'd like me to make a post about, or you have other ideas for this blog, I'm open to suggestions – although I can't promise I'll be able to implement them all. I'm also happy to hear from people who'd like to write relevant guest posts.

 (If you have news or a question relating to a particular magazine, it's also fine to add it as a comment to the latest post for that magazine.)

Thursday 16 January 2020

The new People's Friend fiction editor has been announced.

Lucy Crichton has been appointed as the new fiction editor at The People's Friend. (More details here.) 

I know we're all going to miss Shirley, but I've no doubt Lucy will do a great job. I met her briefly last year and just like the rest of the team, she's very nice.

Congratulations, Lucy. 

Sunday 12 January 2020

Glenda Young's back – with answers!

Thank you all very much indeed for the lovely response to my Womag blog post earlier this month. As Patsy mentioned at the end of that blog post I’ve returned to answer questions raised, It’s a daunting task, especially when I recognise many of the names of those asking questions and they’re writers I admire, Gulp. Here we go!

Elaine Everest asks: I've really enjoyed reading your books, Glenda. Can you tell us if you envisaged a time when you move your stories to another town?
Hi Elaine and thank you very much for your kind words. I’ve been given two three-book deals with Headline to write novels set in the village of Ryhope where I was born and bred. It’s a dream come true to set the novels in Ryhope and I have no wish to leave that setting just yet. It’s rich in characters, in history and gives my saga novels a very strong sense of place. It’s a village of two haves with the gritty coalmine and the pastoral farming community plus there’s the beach, a railway and lots of opportunity for drama. So for now, I’m more than happy to keep on writing about Ryhope. One review said that Ryhope came through as one of the characters in the book, which was a huge compliment.

Patsy asks: How far ahead do you plan the soap, Glenda – and do you stick rigidly to that plan, or can you be flexible if an interesting idea presents itself?
Hi Patsy! For my weekly soap opera Riverside that I write for The People’s Friend magazine, I keep a list of important events I’ve introduced that will need repeating, e.g. birthdays and wedding anniversaries. Added to that list are national days such as Mother’s day, Valentine’s, bank holidays etc. These provide a good framework to help planning but apart from that I … dare I admit it?.... don’t plan at all. I sit down each week, eager to write Riverside, it’s my writing highlight of the week. But as for what is going to happen, I have no idea until I sit down and start typing! I’ve just written an episode which will be published in May this year and at the end of it, one of the main characters says something like “Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan!” and I have no idea what that plan will be to solve the problem I’ve created until I start typing on Wednesday this week. Sometimes if I have a brainwave about a storyline for a particular character I’ll add it to my ideas list for the soap, where it might stay for a few weeks or even months before I use it.

Kate Blackadder asks: Where your Ryhope novels are concerned, Glenda, are you a plotter or a pantser?
Hi Kate! As mentioned above, when I write Riverside I’m definitely a pantser but when I write my novels I’m firmly a plotter. I plot the overall arch of the story and then break it down into 16 chapters. I give each chapter at least one (and usually two or even three) dramatic, emotional events, whether good or bad, and a couple of gentle laughs too. I plot each chapter with a few paragraphs, so I know where I’m going when I sit down to write. But the plot isn’t written in stone, it’s more like a framework on which I weave my story. It needs to be flexible because I’ve learned that once I start writing, characters appear I haven’t planned, stories will go off on tangents I never saw coming and I embrace these changes as I go. As the story moves and finds its own way, subsequent chapter plans need to be changed, it’s always evolving. But I find a do need a plan of some kind so that when I sit down to write, I’m not faced with a blank page. I know what I’m doing and that fuels me on.

Eirin Thompson asks: What an interesting and inspiring post. It sounds like your writing output is immense! This must require quite a bit of juggling. How do you manage to get so much done? And, working from home, how do you protect your writing time from domestic demands?
It's not easy, that’s for sure. But writing is my full-time job now and I treat my days as if I was in any other job. Fortunately, it’s not a dull 9-5. My day can start as early as 7am and finish at 1pm, for instance. I break my day down into writing chunks. A couple of hours of solid writing is enough for me each day, otherwise it feels like I’m just filling space for the sake of it. I’m fortunate to live right by the sea and can take a walk on the beach to clear my mind after writing. I allow myself Mondays off to go shopping and visit my mum who is in a care home with dementia. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings are for novel writing. Wednesday afternoons are for writing my weekly soap opera Riverside. Fridays are also a break too, when my husband and I go off walking or sightseeing or go out for lunch - our Friday adventure we call it! Saturdays and Sunday will see me tinkering away at short stories for women’s magazines or competitions if the mood takes me, and if it doesn’t, I’ll use it as thinking time for my novels. And as for domestic demands, I’m very lucky indeed that my husband does a lot of the housework while I’m writing my novels. I lose myself to the page and he’ll knock on the door of the study (aka our spare room) where I’m locked away, typing and shout: “Want a cuppa?!?” I’m very lucky indeed.

Carrie asks: A very interesting post to read, Glenda, and congratulations on all your wonderful success. Do you find writing novels very different to writing short stories? And how do you idea in mind that takes a journey of its own?
Thank you, Carrie! I find that writing novels aren’t so different to writing short stories – and here’s why. When you think of writing a novel, you think of writing say, 100,000 words (which is what the publishers ask for). That’s a terrifying number. What I do to make it manageable is break it down into 2,000 word chunks. Each 2,000 words is the length of a short story I’d write for a woman’s magazine and psychologically, for me, that makes it much more manageable. Once I’ve got my 2,000 words to write I treat it exactly the same as a short story. It needs a strong intro, good characters, dialogue, and a satisfying conclusion… of sorts… before it goes into the next 2,000 word chunk and the next. Saying all of that however, there is a different kind of joy to writing a short story that’s say 700 words and it just flies off your keyboard after an idea just won’t leave you alone. As for ideas and inspiration, they can come from everywhere and anything. When I have an idea for a short story I write it down on a list. Some ideas work out as stories but some don’t. And if I get very stuck and want an idea for a story, this is a very useful website I sometimes use. (Note from Patsy – you may also like this book which is full of story ideas and writing prompts.)

Sharon Boothroyd asks: Great post. How do you find the stream of plot lines and ideas for Riverside on the TPF? I'd be totally stuck, I wouldn't like the pressure of committing to producing an ongoing weekly serial! I admire your output, Glenda.
Thank you Sharon and hello! For my weekly soap opera Riverside in The People’s Friend, it’s all about knowing who the magazine readers are, what kind of things they’re interested in. I’ve been writing for the magazine since 2015 and attended one of their fiction writing workshops (highly recommended, by the way) so I think I’ve got a good feel for what the magazine are after in terms of fiction. However, although Riverside is a soap opera, it’s not Coronation Street or EastEnders or any of the TV soaps we know. It is unique, written solely for the readers of The People’s Friend. At its heart are Mary and Ruby, two women who’ve been friends since they were girls. I love writing Riverside. It makes me chuckle when I write it and feedback from readers is always warming to hear. When you love writing something so much, whether it’s short stories or a novel, when your heart is in it and your head is engaged, there’s no pressure at all. Writing really is the perfect job for me and I couldn’t be happier.

You can buy Glenda's books here, or you make like to follow her Twitter account or visite her website.

Sunday 5 January 2020

I'm an expert!

The front cover of the current issue of Writing Magazine refers to publishing experts – and one of those is me! I was asked to write a short round-up of the womag market in 2019 and give my predictions and hopes for this year. 

I also have another piece in there about the iminient editorial changes at DC Thomson – see here, here and here if you missed the news.

Of course I'm just one of many people who know something about the womag market and how to write for it. Glenda Young is another. If you've not read her recent guest post and taken the opportunity to ask her a question, you can do so here.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Guest post by womag soap writer Glenda Young

Today's guest is womag short story and soap writer Glenda Young.

I began writing fiction in 2015 and since then have had stories published in The People’s Friend, My Weekly and Take a Break’s Fiction Feast. I’m also in the rather wonderful and unique position of writing a weekly soap opera, Riverside, which has been published in The People’s Friend since October 2016. I love writing short fiction and away from the Womag world, enter much darker, quirkier stories into competitions. I’ve had some success in winning or being highly placed in national and regional story competitions too (and I’ve a lot of failures, but let’s gloss over those, ahem). 

On the strength of all of this I plucked up the courage to approach a literary agent and was signed up by Caroline Sheldon of the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency in London. Caroline secured me a three-book deal with Headline in 2017 to write historical novels set in the northeast coalmining village of Ryhope, where I was born and bred. My debut novel Belle of the Back Streets had three publishers fighting over it and in 2019 I was offered a second three-book deal with Headline.

After a life-time spent working in University admin, I’m now working full-time as a writer. This might sound glamourous and yes, it’s true there are trips to London and lovely long lunches with my editor and my agent (I’ve always wanted to say that line ever since I was a little girl writing dotty poems in my pink glittery notepad). But the truth of it is, when you’re a full-time writer it means sitting down at home and Getting On With It, while wearing comfortable trousers and eating too many biscuits at home. I love writing, it’s what I have always wanted to do, ever since I was a child and I couldn’t be happier now. I’m in my mid-50s so novel writing has come fairly late to me in life, but it’s here and I’m making the most of every day.

Before writing fiction, I had written non-fiction books, TV tie-in books about Coronation Street for ITV. This all came about as I’m such a huge fan of the show and have watched it since before I can remember. The Coronation Street books were a passion for me and I was very honoured and proud to be asked to write the official tribute book to the character of Deirdre Barlow after the actress Anne Kirkbride who played Deirdre, passed away in 2015. I’ve also ‘written’ Coronation Street’s official colouring book in that I had to choose 45 iconic images from the show’s 60 years and write descriptions of each one for the book. I continue to run the Coronation Street Blog fan site and edit a team of 16 bloggers.

I continue to bring my love of TV soap and drama to Riverside, the weekly soap opera I write for The People’s Friend. Riverside is a great deal of fun to write and remains the highlight of my writing week. I can take a step back from my historical novels, return to the contemporary world and write funny scenes and poignant stories. I love it!  

Glenda has kindly agreed to answer some of our questions on writing short stories and longer works for the womags. Please leave any you have as comments to this blog, and she'll be back later this month with her replies. In the meantime you make like to visit her Twitter account or visit her website.