Keeping a Schedule of Events for your Novel

Following on from my previous post in which I said I would write more posts that fellow authors and aspiring authors might find useful, I decided to share my tips for keeping a Schedule of Events. Below is a sample of my Schedule of Events for the first few chapters of The Mark. For me this document is just as important as the manuscript itself as it helps me to quickly pinpoint exactly where I am up to in a novel without having to wade through pages and pages of text.

The ability to do this is particularly valuable if you have to spend long periods away from your work in progress (WIP), for example, if you go away on holiday or if you have other commitments which mean that you can’t always spend as much time on your WIP as you would like. For me, I can be writing one novel when my publishers come back with edits for the one that is currently in production. That means I might have to put my WIP to one side for a few weeks while I action the developmental edits so it’s useful to have a Schedule of Events when I eventually pick it up again.

Week Day/Time Chap Event
1 Ref jacket 1

 

 

 

7 pgs

Maddy is interviewing prostitutes in the Rose and Crown who are Crystal and some others. When the prostitutes become nervous of someone standing at the bar, Maddy packs up her things and goes.

 

Gilly the pimp is standing at the bar and he comes over to talk to Crystal, his girlfriend who is on the game. He spots Maddy walking away and asks Crystal what is going on. He starts to become curious about Maddy.

1 8pm

Finished with Rob 2 months prev

2

 

5 pgs

Maddy makes it home just in time before her ex-husband Andy brings her daughter Rebecca back. Maddy’s friend, Clare, rings and invites her to a night out. We find out a little about Maddy including her most recent eight month relationship with Rob.
1 Lunchtime 3

4 pgs

Crystal meets Gilly in the Rose and Crown and gives him her earnings. We see how badly he treats her. He tells her to go ahead with the meeting with the journalist.
1

 

 

1

4

 

 

4 pgs

Crystal’s 2nd meeting with Maddy, told from Crystal’s pov.

 

Gilly’s POV as he watches the meeting between Crystal and Maddy through the mirror at the back of the bar. He is becoming increasingly intrigued by Maddy. When she leaves the pub he follows behind her.

1 Late evening 5

5 pgs

Gilly follows Maddy home and then goes back to his seedy bedsit. We see the contrast and see him chasing the dragon.
2

 

 

2

A week later

 

 

Night after prev scene

6

 

 

6 pgs

Maddy goes on her night out with Clare. She meets a man called Aaron who is good looking, tall, slim and blonde.

 

Maddy gets a message from Aaron the following night asking her out and she texts him back saying she’d like to see him.

My Schedule of Events isn’t just useful for keeping track of where the plot is heading; it also serves several other purposes. You will notice that there is a Week column and a Day/Time column, and these help me to figure out my timeline for the novel. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that timeline is something I often struggle with so these days I keep a note of anything time related as I’m writing the novel.

I also keep a note of anything that might affect the timescale and these are shown in red italics, for example, the fact that she was wearing a jacket rather than a coat in the first scene of chapter one, indicating that it is unlikely to be mid-winter.  By keeping a note of all these time-related details it has made it easier for me to work out the timeline for my novel although I must admit that I still find it the most challenging aspect of writing a novel. That’s probably also down to the fact that all of the books I have recently written form part of a trilogy or a series of books, which complicates matters more than if I was writing a standalone novel.

In the Event column I have detailed what happens in each chapter with a separate paragraph for each scene in the chapter. You will also notice under the Chapter column that I keep a note of how many pages constitute each chapter. This makes it easier when I’m producing a second draft or doing the edits as I might want to extend some scenes, shorten others and maybe switch some scenes around. By keeping a note of the page numbers I can make sure that the whole thing balances overall and that there isn’t too much different between chapter lengths unless this is deliberate, for example, if I want to add a particularly short but impactful chapter.

I hope these tips help you in organising your own WIP. You might think of a few items to add to the Schedule of Events. If so, I’d love to hear your ideas as they might help me too.

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Useful Books for Authors

Taking a look at my recent blog posts, I have noticed that most of them relate to my own books. It’s been such a busy time that I’ve neglected to produce the type of blog posts that I used to write. I therefore decided to write a post that other authors and aspiring authors will hopefully find useful. However, if you would like to receive an update regarding my books, you are welcome to subscribe to my mailing list at:  http://eepurl.com/CP6YP and I will send you a copy of my latest newsletter giving details of all my forthcoming new releases in digital and print as well as a price reduction on one of my existing books.

I’ve mentioned the Writers Bureau a few times previously, and I would certainly recommend their course to anybody thinking about writing as a career or as a way to earn extra income. But what if you want to become a writer without committing to a lengthy writing course? That’s when books aimed at writers can be useful. As well as studying with the Writers Bureau I have read several books for writers, which I still refer to either as ongoing reference books or to brush up on techniques. Here are a few I have found useful:

How to Write your First Novel by Sophie King

Sophie King has produced an excellent book here and, although it’s aimed at someone writing their first novel, it’s a good guide for any author. I re-read it to recap on a lot of the techniques I learnt on my writing course. Some of the topics it covers include: finding ideas, voice, plotting, creating characters, viewpoint dialogue, setting, show don’t tell etc. etc.

Writing a Novel and Getting Published by Nigel Watts

This is another good guide covering many of the topics in the previous book. However, the writing style is not as straightforward as that in the Sophie King book. I also found that not all of the chapters appealed to me, especially the one about the Eight-Point Arc as I find this type of novel writing too formulaic. It includes a useful chapter on marketing at the end of the book.

Creating Suspense in Fiction by John Paxton Sheriff

This is a really useful book, which takes you through the various ways in which you can create suspense in your novel including creating atmosphere, building suspense through the prologue and first chapter, foreshadowing, hooks, cliff-hangers, time-limits and much more. I’ve actually begun reading this for a second time, hence the bookmark. When you are immersed in a novel, it can be easy to forget about creating suspense so it’s always useful to have a recap.

Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

I read a Kindle version of this book at the start of my independent publishing journey and found it invaluable. It is relatively straightforward to publish online these days and this book provides a starting point to get your book out there. The author has also followed it up with two further books about how to market your book once you have published. It was through reading one of David Gaughran’s books that I learnt how to run a successful promotion on Amazon which, in turn, led to me being spotting by my publisher.

Roget’s Thesaurus (or any good thesaurus)

I remember being told by my English lit teacher back in my sixth form days that Roget’s Thesaurus was the best thesaurus available and a must for anyone studying A level English lit. I therefore invested in a copy and have had one ever since.

This thesaurus should be read in a particular way i.e. by looking up the word in the back and then following the numbered alternative, which best matches the word. For example, ‘enchanted’ is listed with four alternatives, all of which are adjectives: pleased, enamoured, bewitched and magical. If you are using the word to mean enamoured, for example, then you will find number 887 next to the word ‘enamoured’. In the front part of the book you would then go to the number 887 rather than page 887. There you will find a huge list of words that relate to the word ‘enamoured’.

I don’t use Roget’s all the time as I often want just a quick fix alternative word which I can find by either using MS Word or my other thesaurus by Collins. However, there are times when only Roget’s will do and it will often throw up ideas that you haven’t even considered. For anyone who loves words and their use and meanings, I would strongly recommend a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage

I often use Fowler’s when I’m writing and want to check my grammar. It’s an excellent quick reference guide to grammar and invaluable to any writer.

I am sure that there are many more useful books on the market for aspiring or existing novelists but the above are just a few that I have personally found helpful.

 

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The Writers Bureau

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for some time to acknowledge the part that the Writers Bureau has played in my writing career as this is where I started out. I would therefore like to begin this post by saying a massive thank you to The Writers Bureau for all the invaluable skills that I learnt during the diploma course.

I studied with them between 1999 and 2002, and the skills and knowledge that I gained have been invaluable ever since. There are many people who say that writing is a skill that cannot be taught but I strongly disagree. During my studies I learnt writing techniques that have stood me in good stead not only as an author but also in my previous career as a copywriter.

In terms of fiction writing I learnt many writing rules and techniques including: viewpoint, creating atmosphere, building suspense, creating realistic characters, show don’t tell, writing good dialogue, outlines, pace, conflict etc. etc. There are many others but it was a long time ago and I can’t recall all of them offhand. I am sure they have stayed in my subconscious though so that I automatically utilise what I learnt on the course.

The Writers Bureau also suggests reading a wide range of well-written novels because it helps to improve your writing style. By doing so, you can see the approach that other authors take, and how they utilise their writing skills.

But the Writers Bureau diploma is much more than a creative writing course. It’s very comprehensive and also covers article writing, non-fiction books, biographies, writing for trade magazines, and journalism. On the fiction side of things, as well as novels, there are short stories, writing for radio, writing for the theatre and writing for TV.

What I loved about the course was that the tutors encourage you to submit your work to publications so that you can earn income from your writing while you are studying. In fact, the Writers Bureau guarantees that if you don’t earn the cost of the course back by the end of it, they will refund your fees.

The flip side of this is that I did become inundated with work at various points of the course. This is because, if you have an article accepted by a magazine, for example, then it makes good sense to follow it up with another article while your name is still fresh in the editor’s mind. That means that as well as studying for the Writers Bureau diploma you can also find yourself busy writing various magazine articles at the same time.

It can also become a little frustrating as the course introduces you to so many types of writing that you often only write the opening chapters and a synopsis before you have to push on with the next course module. Having said that, there is no time limit for finishing your diploma (from what I remember) and it means you have the makings of a large body of work, which you can return to in the future.

The Writers Bureau diploma is completed on a home study basis so students can study at their own pace. Each student is allocated a personal tutor who gives feedback on their work and makes suggestions regarding ways in which it can be improved. I found this personal touch very helpful.

It was while I was studying for my diploma with the Writers Bureau that I wrote the first three chapters of a book called Nightclubbing’, a chic lit novel about two twenty somethings with a colourful social life. That was a long time ago. At the time I sent it to various agents and publishers as suggested by the course tutors but wasn’t successful.

However, I did have some success with magazine articles so I put the novel to one side and pursued the magazine route for some time. Eventually, I stopped writing magazine articles and transitioned into a copywriter and proof-reader, setting up a writing services business. The diploma gave me the confidence to do that and to pursue opportunities for paid work.

I enjoyed my time as a copywriter and proof-reader but I discovered on the writing course that my forte and preference lay in writing novels and I always intended to return to that one day. As well as wanting to finish the novel, I wanted to finish a non-fiction book that I had also started during the course. Eventually I did so and, although I didn’t have much success on the non-fiction side of things, my first novel was well received.

By this time I had left the novel for several years and when I returned to it I changed it completely. What had started out as a chic lit novel entitled, Nightclubbing, became my first gritty crime novel entitled, Slur. I’ve since realised that gritty crime is definitely my genre of choice although I’d like to write at least one thriller in the future too.

Although I originally self-published Slur and the two follow up novels, A Gangster’s Grip and Danger by Association, I was lucky enough to be spotted by a publisher, Aria Fiction. The three books became The Riverhill Trilogy, which has been republished with Aria Fiction.

I have since written a further trilogy, The Manchester Trilogy, also available through Aria, and have just signed a contract with them for another three books. The first two books in The Manchester Trilogy, Born Bad and Blood Ties, have both become Amazon category bestsellers and reached the top 100 overall of Amazon UK eBooks with one of them reaching the top 50.

I am sure that without the Writers Bureau I would never have had the confidence to self-publish my first novel. They taught me many valuable skills, which I put to good use every time I write. I am now lucky to be earning a living doing something I love, and it all started when I studied for my writing diploma with The Writers’ Bureau.

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The Best Writing Advice Ever

There is one piece of writing advice that I have come across many times. The first time was during my writing course and I have since read a lot of blog posts and Internet articles giving that same advice, which is to ‘Show Don’t Tell’. I have found that piece of advice invaluable although I also find sometimes that I forget to heed it. When I do forget, I can often see that it makes a big difference to the standard of my work.  So, what exactly does it mean and how do you achieve it?

I think the best way to explain is by example. A simple example is to look at the way in which young children write stories. If a young child was writing a story about a girl going to the park, he might say:

‘The girl went into the park which had some grass where boys were playing football. There were lots of trees and a playground with swings, a roundabout and a slide. The girl enjoyed herself on the playground.’

Placing the Reader at the Scene

If you wanted to show instead of telling you would in effect be placing the reader at the park. The best way to do this is to try to get inside the girl’s head. Think about what it felt like being in the park. Was it a warm day or a cold day? Were the other children friendly? Did she feel nervous about playing among them or excited at the prospect of making new friends? What could she hear? Were the birds singing in the trees, was there laughter from the other children or perhaps squeals of excitement?

A good way to get inside your character’s head is to use the five senses i.e. think about what she could see, hear, touch, feel and taste. I have written about this topic before at: Writing Using the Five Senses.

It is also good to give the girl a name so that the reader can identify with her more easily. A name in itself can help to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. For example, the name Mabel would paint a different picture than the name Karen, which would also paint a different picture than the name Jessica. For Mabel I would imagine an elderly lady, for Karen a middle-aged woman and for Jessica a young woman or girl.  Try an Internet search for popular baby names in the year in which your fictitious character was born.

Exposition

Exposition is used to give background information and it does have its use. However, if you overuse it you can find that you are telling the tale instead of showing what is happening. Many writers do this without realising it, myself included, and a good editor can be helpful in spotting the overuse of exposition.

If you want to give some background information but don’t want to use too much exposition, you could try conveying it in another way, for example, through speech. If you are going to use this technique though, it’s best to ensure that the speech still flows naturally and doesn’t sound contrived.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have found this blog post useful.

Channelling my Inner Angst

During much of the writing of my current WIP I was going through a lot of personal trauma. Last year I went through a divorce after 23 years of marriage so things were never going to be easy.

medium-anxious-smiley-face-33-3-326211

While it would have been easier to hide away somewhere till the black cloud had passed, I had no choice but to continue writing. Firstly, I have a publishing deal to fulfil and, secondly, I had to think about my future income. At times I felt frustrated as my writing wasn’t flowing as easily as normal; I was too preoccupied with other matters and it made it really hard work.

With all this in mind I was dreading the edits, feeling that I might read through the book and think, ‘what a load of rubbish’ or words to that effect. However, I’ve now reached the editing stage and I’m glad to say that I’m pleasantly surprised. It seems that I have channelled my inner angst.

There’s no doubt that the writing of this book, more than any others, has been cathartic. It’s fortunate that I write gritty crime rather than syrupy romance as I think it would have been difficult to write anything sickly sweet given my frame of mind throughout much of the writing process.

I’m happy with the book’s content and feel that it’s my best yet although some may view it as my worst in terms of the level of brutality. As I enter a new year and the next chapter in my life it’s a relief to know that I have produced something that I’m not only proud of but that I also feel is marketable, especially as my writing now provides the bulk of my income.

So here’s to a better year ahead. This will be the year when my first book through my new publisher hits the market so I’m very excited about that. I’m also hoping to push ahead in my personal life too with just the small matter of moving home to attend to and sorting out my finances. Although I expect moving house to be a stressful process I’m viewing it as the start of a new phase in my life.

Here’s to new beginnings:

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Writer’s High

There’s a feeling that many authors are probably familiar with. I like to think of it as ‘writer’s high’ but others refer to it as having the muse. I also call it being ‘in the zone’. It’s that wonderful feeling when you enter one of those writing phases during which you’re on a roll and the ideas are spilling from you quicker than you can type them up.

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Unfortunately, it isn’t always like that. Sometimes it’s an uphill struggle, especially with a new novel, and it can take a while before you really connect with a piece of work and with the characters. You’ve got your basic premise for the novel and may have drawn up an outline but it feels a bit like painting by numbers as you try to fit each of the scenes into an overall framework. However, you’re not feeling a real spark and your writing isn’t exciting you.

Then, all of a sudden, something kicks in – one idea leads to another, scenes come alive in your imagination, characters become animated and you’re typing like the clappers, before you forget everything. You stop to make the dinner, you think of something else. You go for a walk, another scene comes to mind. You go to bed and the ideas still keep spilling out of you. By the morning you’ve got pages of handwritten notes ready to type up the following day. Your mind is alive with the thrill of it and you can’t wait to commit it all to the PC before you lose the feeling. Does that sound familiar?

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It can take over your life – a bit like a drug and, although it’s a good feeling, it can get in the way of so much. When I’m ‘In the Zone’ ideas usually come to me when I’m trying to relax so it can be while I’m trying to sleep, when I’m out for a walk or even when I’m taking a shower. I find it useful to have a notepad by my bedside and another in my handbag so that I can jot down ideas whenever they come to mind. When I’m ‘in the zone’ I find it difficult to concentrate on a film as my mind wanders. That’s the reason I watch a lot of trash TV; because I don’t need to concentrate too much. (That’s my excuse anyway.)

With my current WIP it was an uphill struggle for part of it but mostly because I was going through emotional upheaval in my personal life. However, I’m now in a much better place and back ‘in the zone’. This novel has two timelines running through it and, in order to write the later timeline, I had to recap on a lot of what had happened in the previous timeline. I was relieved to find that it read quite well. Perhaps my personal struggles helped me in dealing with much of the conflict in the book.

I’m almost ready to give the novel a good edit and hope to send it off to my publisher in a few weeks’ time. It’s been a challenge as it’s the most I’ve ever written for a novel, in accordance with my publisher’s guidelines. But this story has a lot of depth to it so I was confident of reaching the word count without any unnecessary padding. I’ll be keeping you updated as I progress further with the novel.

 

Using Images to Create Atmosphere

During the writing of my current book and the previous one, Danger by Association, I have found a technique that is useful in creating the atmosphere for a particular scene in a novel. I therefore thought I would share it. Here’s an example of how it works in practice:

If you are writing about an abandoned building, for example, type ‘abandoned building’ in Google images and you should be able to view a good selection on your screen. Next, select an image that you feel captures the scene you want to create. If one image alone doesn’t work for you, perhaps you could try combining two different images. Take a note of what you can see e.g. mouldy bricks, peeling wallpaper etc.

While looking at the image, and thinking about the atmosphere, don’t forget to use the five senses. So rather than just describing what you can see think about how the building would feel. Is it cold inside? Can you hear the wind rustling through the eves? What does it smell of – damp? mustiness?

Once you have typed up your notes you will have a good idea of the atmosphere you want to create. Next, put your character at the scene. How does he or she feel about the abandoned building? Why are they there? Have they gone to meet someone? Are they frightened? Are they distressed? Use powerful verbs to describe your character’s actions as they enter the building.

Here’s an example of part of a scene I created in Danger by Association using this technique:

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A few more seconds and they were all inside. Rita scanned the room as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Their makeshift entrance led into a classroom. The place had an eerie feel to it and Rita shuddered.

There were no longer any desks or chairs, but in the half-light she could see cupboards lining one of the walls. The doors of one cupboard were hanging off, its contents spilling out onto the dusty classroom floor. She was surprised the cupboards still contained old books and papers; this seemed to emphasise the state of abandon.

They crept through the classroom and into a long corridor. Here a strong smell of urine assailed them. The ceiling was high with small skylights. This meant that there was more light here than in the classroom, but in the gloom of night it cast strange shadows on the walls, which unnerved Rita.

In the distance she could hear weird noises; a tapping, and a faint gushing sound, perhaps from running water. She also thought she heard the murmur of voices but it was difficult to tell.

Hopefully by following this technique you will write scenes that capture the atmosphere you are aiming for.

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