BlogFlash With A Difference 1

The next post to appear on the Heart Search Blog Tour was a little something different. The lovely Joy Keeney set me a challenge which was “Take your main
character and your favorite childhood character (book, cartoon…you pick) and
write them into a scene in Heart Search.” She was kind enough to allow me a little leeway with the word count (thank goodness)! Anyway, when I was a kid, my favourite book was Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild and the character I most related to was Pauline Fossil. So, I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to marry up Pauline Fossil with Joshua from Heart Search and here is the result:

Joshua walked at a normal human pace across the park; he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Although he didn’t feel the cold, he had the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his face; he wanted to be anonymous, to blend in.

The leaves on the trees were a glorious profusion of gold, red, orange and bronze. Autumn had arrived. As he strolled over the fallen leaves, he heard a faint sob from a female ahead of him. He didn’t think much of it at first until a little further on he saw the lone figure of a young girl sitting on a bench, tissues in hand, trying to stifle the sound of her misery.

He inhaled deeply. Her young blood had the sweetest fragrance and venom automatically pooled on his tongue. He’d fed before daybreak so wasn’t thirsty, yet her blood called to him. As he moved closer, there was something in her dejected demeanour which called to the human he used to be, so he went over and sat beside her.

“Why are you crying? What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice gentle and kindly.

She looked up at him, her eyes red and puffy. She seemed to be scrutinizing him as if working out whether she should trust him. After all, she’d always been told never to talk to strangers. Something she saw in Joshua’s eyes made her feel safe. “I’m lost and I’m late,” she sniveled.

He noticed the bag on the seat beside her; it was the sort dancers used. “Well, let’s see what we can do about that, shall we? What’s your name?”

She straightened her back a little, her eyes beginning to dry. “My name is Pauline Fossil,” she announced proudly, “and I’m a dancer and actress. What’s your name?”

“Joshua.”

“Joshua what?” Her eyes still on his face.

“Just Joshua, that’s all. But that’s not important is it? You said you’re lost and late – tell me where you need to go and I’ll help you,” he replied trying to change the subject.

She was much sharper than her gave her credit for. “So don’t you have a surname then? And why is your skin so white?”

“Look, I have somewhere I need to be so do you want my help or not? Where are you supposed to be going?” Joshua sidestepped her question and injected a little impatience in his voice.

“Madame Barnetta’s Theatre School,” Pauline replied automatically. She was a little taken aback by his sudden change in tone.

“Okay. Grab your bag and let’s go. The longer we sit here the later you will be.” Joshua began walking a little faster than normal human speed and even running she couldn’t keep up with him.

“Wait, please, you’re going too fast for me,” she gasped. Joshua turned around and walked back towards her.

“Jump on my back,” he commanded crouching down. She did as she was told, her arms clasped around his neck and her head rested on his shoulder. As he walked quickly, his nostrils were again assailed by the honeyed scent of her young blood. This was getting harder by the minute. He wasn’t one to feed from children, but the smell was too delicious. It took every ounce of his willpower not to bite into the flesh so close to his lips.

Within minutes they had arrived at the old building with the faded sign declaring the name of the school. He crouched again so she could climb off. “Good luck, Pauline Fossil”

“Thank you very much, Joshua,” she replied. She took half a dozen steps towards the school then turned around to say something more, but he had vanished. She shrugged her shoulders and ran up the steps. She had an audition to attend.

I hope you enjoyed reading that as much as I did writing it!

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Characterisation

This post was hosted by the lovely Madeline Dyer during the Heart Search Blog Tour. She asked me to write on something I’m quite passionate about – characterisation. Here it is:

There’s no easy way of saying it, so I’ll be as blunt as a spoon. It doesn’t matter if your story is character-driven or plot-driven; if you don’t breathe life into your main cast then your story is like a decapitated chicken – dead from the neck up! So how do we make sure our main characters come alive for the reader?

Okay, so here we have our two main characters. Let’s call them Paula and Fred. At the moment they are like cardboard cut-outs. Sure we could add a bit of colour by saying Paula has black hair and hazel eyes, and Fred has ginger hair and blue eyes, we could say they are tall or short, thin or chubby or variations in between. We could go one stage further and include that Paula has a tiny scar above one eyebrow or Fred has a wart on the tip of his nose; it’s a start – it gives the reader a little something to picture – but is it really breathing life into them? The simple answer is, no.

We need to give them personalities, emotions, hopes and dreams, in short we need to make them realistic and relatable.

You need to spend some time getting to know Paula and Fred; find out what makes them happy or sad, angry or soft and gooey, what their aspirations are, whether they are essentially good or bad and what makes them tick. Once you’ve gone through this process of building a personality profile for them you then need to make that personality come alive.

The most effective ways are through dialogue and through showing their emotions.

So if you were writing a scene where Paula was angry about something Fred had done and she was giving him a serious tongue-lashing, the worst thing you can do is just pen the obvious drivel some writers call dialogue. Put yourself in Paula’s shoes and make the dialogue realistic to fit the scene. It’s okay for Paula to stutter in her anger and call him names. It’s fine for her to get her words a bit mixed up in the heat of the moment. Isn’t that what happens in real life? Now think of how Fred might defend himself (if he does at all – that’s your call. He might be the type of guy who holds his hands up, admits he’s dropped the ball and wants to make things better) and make his dialogue as realistic as hers.

Now we’re getting somewhere. But what is the magic ingredient? Showing!

Think about the expressions on their faces and describe them. No you don’t have to go to the nth degree, but a phrase like ‘her flashing eyes narrowed and her voice was laden with venom’ paints a very strong picture for the reader to get hold of. Now think about body language or gestures they might be using. ‘Fred held his hands up as if to ward off her words, taking a step away from her’- again this allows the reader to form an image of what is occurring in the scene. Using small phrases to show how your character is feeling and reacting to a given situation makes them much stronger, which culminates in a story which is now much more interesting than two-day old dishwater.

The vast majority of readers want to connect with the characters in your story, they want to feel their emotions, be able to picture the scene and see how each person is behaving, some even want to imagine themselves as either Paula or Fred. But they can only achieve this if you bring those cardboard cut-outs to life.

A quick tip to help you with characterisation is to people watch (and no I don’t mean for you to stare at people until you get a punch on the nose or a visit from someone wearing a uniform and carrying a badge). Take snippets from what you see and hear around you. When you’re out shopping or at the movies or wherever, watch how people relate to each other and listen to extracts of their discussions. Make mental notes or even better, carry a notepad around with you and if you see or hear something you think you could use, jot it down.

All your characters need to be given life; they need hearts and minds to make them relatable and speech to make them realistic.

 

A Flash of Inspiration – Or Is It?

The next post to appear for the Heart Search Blog Tour was written for C M Skiera. He gave me the topic of inspiration to write about and I decided I was going to do something a little different for this one. Here is the end result.

Inspiration – what does that word mean to you? In the dictionary it’s defined as:            1. Stimulation to do creative work; stimulation for the human mind to creative thought or to the making of art [found inspiration in the landscape around her]. 2. Somebody or something that inspires; somebody or something that inspires somebody to creative thought or to the making of art [His book is an inspiration to all would-be travellers]. 3. Creativeness; the quality of being stimulated to create thought or activity, or the manifestation of this [a moment of inspiration].

As writers we all need inspiration to put pen to paper or our fingers on the keyboard. Yet there’s a missing ingredient here – imagination. To me, inspiration and imagination go hand in hand, like eggs and bacon or toast and marmalade. Yes you can have eggs without the bacon or toast without the marmalade, but will it taste as good?

So let’s explore imagination for a minute. As children we had truckloads of it; we would do drawing and paintings, play with dolls or toy soldiers making things up as we went along yet as we grow into adulthood our imagination seems to get stifled by life. Yeah, sometimes it’s hard to let our imagination run riot when we’re worried about paying bills, work, and maybe we’ve got kids and a spouse. But to be a writer we need to allow our imagination out of its box and go wild.

The dictionary defines imagination as: 1. Ability to visualise; the ability to form images and ideas in the mind, especially of things never seen or experienced directly. 2. Creative part of mind; the part of the mind where ideas, thoughts and images are formed.

Do you see the link between the two definitions?

Okay, so let’s put the two together and see what we get. Your scenario is – you’re out for a drive in the countryside and you come across a little church tucked away behind some trees or bushes. You’re intrigued so you stop for a closer look. It’s just a small abandoned church with weeds and overgrown grass in the yard. Or is it? Now let your imagination soar . . .

Why is the church abandoned? Perhaps it was used for pagan or satanic worship and a posse of god-fearing folk drove them out. Maybe there was a small town around the church at one time – what happened to the people and houses? Did a plague wipe out the town and the homes razed to the ground to eradicate the disease? Was there something supernatural which drove the people away, like a poltergeist? Perhaps a serial killer methodically wiped out the town, one family at a time. Did extra-terrestrials have something to do with it?

Going back to the church itself, is something hidden in the crypt, something magical? Is someone or something evil buried beneath the church? Is the crypt now used as a vampire’s resting place? And what about the churchyard – have the grass and weeds been allowed to grow wild to hide something? If so, what could it be? Do some of the gravestones hide clues to a secret treasure or symbols to summon demonic forces.

Now you’ve let your imagination picture all these possibilities for a simple abandoned church, you have created the inspiration to work some magic with it. Now you can grab your keyboard or pad and pen and begin to sketch out a story. Once you’ve decided which scenario you’re going to write about you can then start thinking about characters and building your plot.

Anything you see, no matter how ordinary can be made extraordinary just by using your imagination. This also applies to people. A man walking down the street looking shabby could be a millionaire, a celebrity in disguise, a spy, a witch hunter, a wizard or a homeless ex-soldier.

If you struggle to find inspiration for your writing it’s probably because you’re not allowing your imagination to feed it. So as you travel to work, walk down the shops or out in the countryside, or drive somewhere in your car, really open your eyes, let your imagination take flight and allow yourself to be inspired.

The lesson from this is that inspiration is all around us – we’ve just got to open our eyes and see!

Self-Marketing My Way

The third post to appear on the Heart Search Blog Tour was hosted by the lovely Maree Ward-Russell in New Zealand, home to the film sets of the fantastic Lord of the Rings films (among others, of course, but this series is probably the most famous one filmed in that lovely part of the world). Maree asked me to write about marketing tips and this is what I came up with.

Being an Indie published author means you have to do all your own marketing, right from day one and it’s a daunting task if you’ve never done anything like it before. Although I’ve done a great deal of marketing in my day jobs, marketing yourself online is a whole different story. However, some of the same general rules apply, which are:

1.         Word of mouth / recommendations are the best form of advertising

2.         All consumers (and books/e-books are no different) consciously or subconsciously have one thing in their minds when they see advertising – “what’s in it for me?”

3.         You need to create demand for your product

I’m going to start off with number three first (just to be different) as it’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last couple of months.

I’ve been talking about Heart Search a great deal on Twitter, Facebook and my blog. I’ve also had some really cheap but good quality postcards printed with the book cover on one side and on the reverse are the book blurb and my contact details. These have been handed to people during conversations – as soon as I find out they like to read they get the card shoved in their hands. Even during a recent trip to the hospital, I got chatting to some of the staff and ended up handing out about six cards and one said they would pin it on the staff notice board.

Secondly, I’ve been leaking teasers in advance of the book launch. About three or four weeks prior I revealed the cover and blurb and publicized it and two weeks before I revealed the book trailer, making sure I created anticipation with teasing blog posts leading up to it. But I haven’t done this alone. I decided, the best way to get a buzz going and get people to know about and talk about my book was to run a Blog Tour. I did this well in advance so the people who signed up could also participate in the pre-launch unveilings too.

Obviously, the more people who sign up, the more the word spreads and the more people get to hear about it. The majority of those who signed up for the tour, have also revealed the cover and trailer on their sites/blogs, and publicised it through social media channels. Now if we stop for a moment and think of reach, just from Twitter, let’s assume for a moment that every person who is on the blog tour has 1,000+ followers and there are twenty people of the tour, straight away you’ve reached twenty thousand people. Now if ten per cent of those twenty thousand retweeted the post(s), that has reached the followers of another two thousand people and so the cobweb or network grows of people who now know my book exists.

During the blog tour which is running from 8-31 October, there will be a minimum of two and a maximum of four different blog posts appearing every single day throughout the tour; reviews (which will be posted to Amazon and Goodreads as well), interviews, excerpts and guest posts like this one, plus a giveaway (and everyone loves to get something for nothing! Yes I’ve had to spend some money to put the giveaway together, but I believe it’s money well spent, especially if it has the desired effect of bringing my book to the attention of more people). Each posted blog item will be publicised and so the cobweb/network grows again.

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Okay, let’s now look at number one – Word of Mouth/Recommendations. This is something I have little control over. If people love my book, they will tweet about it or share it on Facebook/other social media platforms and they will tell their friends. Hopefully, this will result in more sales. What I can do is use social media platforms to publicise good reviews. If someone gives me a five star review, you can bet I’ll be sharing it on all my social media sites and the more I get the more I’m going to share it. I’ll be taking a key phrase from a review which showcases the book at its best and tell everyone what this reviewer said – after all, a five star review is a recommendation and I have to capitalise on it!

If I get messages from people saying how much they enjoyed my book, I’m going to ask them politely if they would recommend it to their friends and maybe even write a review. A review doesn’t have to be 200 words long; it can be one or two sentences just saying something like “I loved this book and would recommend it to everyone” and ask them to give me a star rating. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, right?

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Right, now let’s look at number two, which in some ways is the hardest. Everyone has different expectations from a book; some like lots of suspense, others like twists and turns, and some like lots of description so they can connect with the characters and scene. I have no way of knowing what people’s expectations are, what drives them toward a particular book so again reviews play a part in this. A well-written review is worth its weight in gold as it will usually say whether they loved the suspense/twists and turns/description, so by taking those phrases and publicising them, I’m going to be meeting the needs of those people who look for that particular characteristic.

The rest of this one is guesswork. I’m going to be picking out key sentences or phrases from the book which will address the main needs of the consumer and publicising them. I’ll be mixing them up so one day I’ll pick something descriptive, another day a little suspense and so on. One of those is going to strike a chord with someone who’ll be interested enough to want to look at the book blurb and then you have a potential sale.

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I think networking plays a large part in getting your name and your book out to a wider audience. I have joined groups who are only interested in Fantasy and Paranormal. I’m making friends within those groups and publicising my book with them. Lo and behold, I begin to create another set of cobwebs within each group, just like with the Blog Tour.

I also think making myself accessible to my readership is very important. I will never turn away or ignore a reader who takes the time to contact me. If they’ve had enough faith in me to spend their hard-earned cash buying my book, the very least I can do is give them some of my time in return. In fact I’m seriously considering setting up a page on my website for that very purpose.

Finally, I will be running a few special offers and doing a little bit of advertising on those sites where I feel I’m going to get maximum exposure without it breaking the bank!

This ‘list’ is not exhaustive and I’m sure I’ll learn more as I progress, but I happen to think it’s a damn good place to start.

What are your thoughts on marketing? Have you got any marketing tips you’d like to share?

Avoiding the Drama Queens

This post appeared on day 2 of the Heart Search Blog Tour and was hosted by the amazing Kathleen M Barker, author of Ednor Scardens and The Body Wars. She gave me a subject she wanted me to write about and this was the result.

I’m sure we’ve all been there; we’re engrossed in a book, we get to an emotional scene and the dialogue is so over the top it’s either like eating a whole jar of syrup or drinking a bottle of vinegar. At that point, it leaves you wondering whether it’s worth carrying on to the end or chucking it in the pile to go to the charity shop.

When we’re writing emotional scenes, it’s very easy to get carried away in the moment and swept up in the heartache or declarations of love, especially if you are a romantic at heart. Even some films have dialogue which is over-mushy so you can’t always rely on them to be realistic.

So how do we do it right? How do we keep our dialogue realistic and not over-blown in emotional scenes?

Primarily I would say drawing on your real life experiences. Have you ever had a friend cry on your shoulder over the break-up of a relationship? Have you ever had a friend jilted at the altar? Has a friend ever come to you describing, with excitement over the moment his/her partner first professed their love or proposed? Do you remember a friend coming to you for advice on how to break off a relationship? I’m sure 99% of you can say yes to at least one of those questions.

Think back and try to replay the conversation(s) in your head. Write down what you remember. Even if she was the biggest drama queen going or he was theatrical to the nth degree, it still happened which makes it real. I’m sure some of us can recall more than one discussion, so write down everything you can recall and what the situation was at the time. Now you have something to draw on when writing your own emotional scenes.

Another thing to think about is your own personal experiences. I’m pretty confident when I say the vast majority of us had more than one boyfriend/girlfriend before getting married. So cast your mind back to some of the times when you and your partner parted company or exchanged the ‘I love you’. Think about what you felt, but also what you said to your friends and family about it. Write it down, even if its fragments of dialogue here and there, every little helps.

Put yourself in the minds of your characters (after all, you created them, you know what they’re like and how they think) and write what you think they’d be likely to say. If your character is a toughie who normally rolls with the punches and tells it like it is, they are obviously less likely to be over-emotional and gushy when someone tells them they love them, but then again even the toughest nut can crack. But even if your character is a soft as marshmallow it doesn’t necessarily mean they will pull out an Oscar-winning dramatic performance. This is where knowing your character is key.

When you’ve written an emotional scene, bookmark it and carry on writing. Once you are well past the dramatics, after a couple of days, go back and read the bookmarked section and ask yourself, is this realistic? Would this character talk like this? Refer back to your notes if need be (remembering the age you were when the incident occurred as teens tend to be more melodramatic than adults as a general rule). If it’s over-done, you can scale it back. A good editor will look carefully at these types of sections and will be the first to tell you if there’s not enough or too much emotion and suggest ways to improve it.

In conclusion, if your dialogue isn’t realistic and relatable, your character won’t be either. And if readers can’t connect with your characters, it makes it very difficult for them to enjoy your work.

I hope you found this useful. What are your thoughts on this subject (either as a reader or a writer)? Let me know in the comment form below.

Mission

One of the challenges I faced when running the blog tour for the Heart Search launch was being asked to write a flash fiction Sci-Fi story for JB Lacaden’s blog. I’d never written in this genre before, but relished getting my teeth into something new. It’s good to step out of your comfort zone occasionally; it stretches you as a writer and give you the opportunity to explore your creative side in a different way. Anyway, here is the result. I hope you like it.

Mission

The ship landed in dense forest in the dead of night. They were safe in the knowledge the humans wouldn’t have been able to detect it on their antiquated radar systems or telescopes – their cloaking device and speed ensured that.

They had prepared well, studied the homo-sapiens and knew how they could blend in undetected. They pulled on their human skin suits, checking each other before exiting the craft.

Their mission was, to them, an easy one. All they had to do was obtain a particular stone and two humans carefully chosen from the millions inhabiting this tiny planet. Fortunately those they sought were in close proximity to each other, making their task that much easier. They held hands, concentrating on their first destination. A shimmering glow surrounded them and they vanished, reappearing in an alley in the middle of London just a few hundred yards from the building which was their target. They walked out onto the main street and gazed up at it.

The majestic towers and beauty of the ancient architecture were a source of amusement to the aliens; their world was so different with curved seamless buildings of white or silver, aesthetically pleasing to the eye, which glowed and glistened with light from the three suns orbiting their planet. The buildings all around them so dull in comparison; so laughable in the crude construction methods used.

“We must hurry. There is much to accomplish before their daylight begins,” the elder’s thoughts transmitted to his companion. The younger one nodded his agreement and together they closed their eyes picturing the room they needed to be in, another shimmer and they materialised in a room filled with locked cases containing crowns, coronets and tiaras which sparkled in the tiny nightlights in the ceiling. Spotting the sceptre, the younger alien smashed the case with his fist and grabbed it, a look of triumph on his face which quickly faded as a cacophony of sound assaulted their ears.

They heard footsteps approaching quickly and a jangle of keys, but the alarm made it difficult to concentrate; holding hands once more they closed their eyes and tried desperately to picture where they wanted to be next. Their attentiveness was compromised by the volume of sound around them and they pushed their powers to the limit. Just as the door opened, it worked and they disappeared right before the guard’s incredulous gaze.

Re-emerging in a quiet suburban street they breathed a sigh of relief; that was a close call and something they were totally unprepared for. They split up, one entering the home directly in front of them, the other a house further down on the opposite side of the road.

They emerged minutes later with sleeping children in their arms, one male and one female, both just pre-puberty. With victorious expressions they moved closer, closed their eyes and with the familiar shimmer vanished.

Laying the children in sleeping pods, they removed their human suits, and re-launched. They were returning home.

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My first ever Sci-Fi story! It still amazes me how I respond to having a maximum word count and it sure is a great way of teaching a writer about self-editing and cutting extraneous words.

On Editing part 2

On Editing, part II; guest post by Carlie Cullen

For those of you who enjoyed the first part of my guest post for the fabulous Connie J Jasperson, you can now catch up with part 2.

If you want to pick my brains about editing/the editing process, please feel free to leave me a comment with your question in and I’ll be only too happy to answer it for you.

Now click on that link and enjoy!