Writers’ Block: Keep The Car Running

Writers' Block: figment of an anxious writer's imagination or a terrifying urban legend that could swallow your writing career whole? So, if writers' block is real - and many writers swear that particular bogeyman is lurking in their closet - how do we identify the causes and manage them so that this ghost in the machine doesn't stall our writing engines? This post is brought to you by a very large to-write pile and an overextended car metaphor. You're welcome. Hunger strikes! Fuel your writing If the car has no fuel, it ain't going nowhere. This is my personal number one cause of writers' block. Are your basic human needs met? Are you well-rested, with a full stomach, quenched thirst and an empty bladder? I need a cup of tea by my elbow if I'm going to be writing, or strong, sugary coffee if my brain won't kick into gear. Learn your body's signs that you need to refuel. Life charges the battery Writers are solitary,...
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Writers’ Tools: Expert Opinions

Expert opinions are the gilding of the lily in writing fiction. They turn a piece of entertainment into an accurate piece of entertainment, less likely to make irate professionals scream at the TV and ruin the emotional death scene for everyone else in the living room. (Yes, I have done this. Many times. We don't watch hospital dramas in my house anymore.) While I hesitate to call experts "tools" - because I want them to still speak to me - they fit into this character because this knowledge is an optional extra that makes a writer's life easier - or turns it into a total bloody nightmare. What is an expert opinion? An expert opinion is research involving a living, breathing person, as opposed to a book, documentary, website, journal article, etc. That person may be a universally-recognised expert (e.g. an academic specialising in forensics) or may have gained knowledge through personal or professional experience (e.g. a police officer working a rural beat). Why use...
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Are My Book Sales Good? Data for Novelists

Every debut novelist asks "what are good sales figures?" and every seasoned novelist/agent/publisher replies with "it depends". While this is undoubtedly true, it's not very useful to the novelist trying to work out where they fit in the world of books. We know who's at the top - bestsellers are determined by The Sunday Times, The New York Times, USA Today and more recently Amazon. These folks are selling 2000+ copies per day, depending on the season. Newsflash: most novelists do not sell thousands of books per day. Reports on author earnings can be useful, but they are difficult to apply on an individual level. Also, earnings =/= sales. Traditional publishers pay in two main ways - advances, where you get money before you sell anything, and royalties. Some publishers, like my publisher Carina Press, don't give advances but give higher royalty rates. However, royalties are only paid once you've "earned out" your advance (i.e. accumulated royalties are more than what was paid...
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Writing Battles: Making Death Personal

What do war films, comic books, high fantasy and epic poetry have in common? Their writers must hold our interest through long battle scenes. I love a good explosion, mech fight or horde of screaming orcs as much as the next geek. But I struggle with large-scale senseless violence if it doesn't make a point. Do I care about the giant who just swept aside fifty nameless, faceless barbarians? Of course not. It looks cool for five seconds, makes a nice trailer shot, but leaves no impact on me. SPOILER WARNING: This post uses examples from Edge of Tomorrow, Game of Thrones Season 4, Blood of Tyrants (Temeraire series), Avengers Assemble, Man of Steel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Iliad. These spoilers include major character death. You have been warned! So, how do you write an exciting, enthralling battle sequence, while marking the tragedy of death and ensuring...
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Crime Cymraeg: A Tour of Welsh Crime Fiction

Forget Nordic and Tartan Noir. From drug dealers in Cardiff to PIs in Aberystwyth, Crime Cymraeg is a broad church with something for everyone. Wales is curious mix of busy port cities, kooky university towns, coastal tourist traps and rural isolation. It has a thriving capital city next to some of the most deprived areas in the UK, the post-mining legacy of the Valleys. It has a glorious national park, with mountains and lakes, award-winning beaches, and a heavy reliance on state jobs, manual labour and hill farming. It has a rich cultural history, from bardic poetry to male voice choirs to the Welsh language revival during the latter half of the twentieth century. It is the birthplace of Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and the peerless Aneurin Bevan, founder of the National Health Service. No wonder this varied nation has produced such a diverse range of crime fiction. I've been reading a lot of Welsh crime fiction while researching The Amy Lane...
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Would I Follow Me? Twitter Tips for Writers

Twitter: the networking, promotional and procrastination hub for writers everywhere. But how do you make it work for you? How do you persuade your fellow writers, industry professionals and consumers that you are someone they want to follow? I tend to look at my new Twitter followers in one big batch, so I've noticed a few trends in what turns me on or off a potential new Twitter friend. I don't get it right a lot of the time. Which is why the examples of Twitter faux-pas showcased here are all from my own timeline over the past month. Learn from my mistakes, friends! Here are my five biggest Twitter mistakes: Retweet Central When I'm short on time, I tend to check Twitter, flick through the latest updates and retweet one or two things that interest me. I become a consumer, not a creator. There are accounts that very skilfully curate content from throughout the Twittersphere and are sources for the best articles out there. If that's...
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10 Writing Career Lessons from Disney’s Frozen

Frozen, as the highest grossing animated film of all time, has commanded the attention of filmmakers everywhere. There have been in-depth analyses of what makes a successful animated film and how Frozen hits those buttons. This is not that kind of post. Instead, let's imagine the characters of Frozen have turned writing coach - what words of writing advice can they share? What do their life anecdotes teach us about how to be better writers? How can we learn from their mistakes? Here are 10 writing career lessons out of the mouths of Frozen characters: Don't let them in, don't let them see - be the good girl you always have to be. Most writers start out writing for themselves, for the joy of it. Because they can't not write. However, there will come a point when someone will ask why you spend all your time with a computer screen and may ask to see the finished product... I have always been something of an exhibitionist,...
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Writers’ Tools: Plot Hog

This post was brought to you by April Fools Day 2014 Plot Hog is a unique writers' tool that I am proud to unveil for you today. Unlike previous writing aids discussed on this blog - such as Story Forge and Google Maps - this is a revolutionary technique of my own invention. I can guarantee that incorporating Plot Hog into your work will change your writing forever. You will never look at an index card the same way again. What is Plot Hog? Currently in its fourth month of development, Plot Hog is a relatively simple technique which capitalises on the prior successes of notable individuals like Punxsutawney Phil and Paul the Octopus. It is particularly useful for those times when you haven't a clue who the murderer is but you have a deadline tomorrow. It's also fantastic for choosing which character to kill off in your season finale (If you're feeling particularly Whedonesque, you can use this every couple of episodes or so). All...
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Location, Location, Location: Choosing Settings for Fiction

Location - every writer's delight and every producer's bane: ME: "I've written a thrilling chase scene set in Paddington Station at rush hour!" PRODUCER: "Could it be Gunnersbury at 3am?" In this blog post, I'm going to talk about the use of location in novels, low/no budget screenplays and stageplays - and how to make the right choices for your project. First, what is a location? This may seem like a stupid question, but I want to emphasise that locations are not just externals - fields, castles, deserts, mountains. Locations are office buildings, hotel rooms, toilet cubicles. Anything you would put after EXT/INT in a screenplay. Locations are also towns, countries - or planets. Space, The Final Frontier. A hotel room may look the same in London, Paris and Dubai, but the context of being in that country may determine the action of the scene - in fact, I would argue that it should. Locations are not incidental. Setting your film in Australia for the...
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Dynamic Duos: The Crime Fighting Partners Formula

What makes great crime fighting partners? One mind, two bodies? Opposites attract? An office romance - or bromance? Or do you simply need a yes-man for your genius? I explore what makes crime fighting partners successful and compelling - and the building blocks required for writing a solid partnership. As the old Hollywood maxim goes: "The same, only different". But first, a little background... Crime Fighting Partners: A History From the very beginning of detective fiction, our heroes have worked in pairs. C. Auguste Dupin and his anonymous narrator friend, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson - a great detective can hardly impress if he has no one to question him. Early cinema derived heavily from detective fiction, including Dupin and Holmes, and brought Lord Peter Wimsey and his camera-wielding valet Bunter to screen. In the world of comic books, Batman Issue #1 introduces both Caped Crusader and acrobatic sidekick Robin. In the world of television, the 1960s brought an explosion of crime fighting partners in...
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