Great post for authors prone to writer’s block.
In 2007, I visited my GP to have a medical for a taxi license driver’s badge. During the medical I had my blood pressure tested and, without me knowing at the time, my life changed the moment the doctor informed me of my blood pressure results.
Had I realised at the time that my blood pressure being at such a dangerous level would put me in the position I am now, and would also change the lives of my wife and everyone around me, I would have done something about it. Or so you’d think. But no; I’m a man. Most of us men think we are indestructible, but listen to me very carefully: we are not. We are delicate, vulnerable and easily broken – to the point of no return, in some cases.
My advice to you, whether you are a man or a woman, is to get yourself checked and look after yourself. It may be as easy as shedding some weight or taking one tablet a day, but the other option is tough. Trust me; spend a day in my shoes. See what my life is like now, with only one functioning hand, walking with a stick and my self-employed career as an ADI (Approved Driving Instructor) over. I have a life of being reliant on others; my life is certainly not over, and I do have a great deal to be grateful for, but it could have been different so easily – as yours could be too, if you do the right thing.
So why did I write my e-book, Tiny Steps will be Better than None? While in hospital, I spoke to the staff about coming back to hospital, when I was well enough, to talk to the stroke survivors about their stay in hospital. I wanted to give back and pass on my wisdom that I had picked up during my time in hospital, to answer questions that I asked. I hoped to be a sounding board for their worries and concerns.
But I never got round to it, which is why I chose to write it down. I would like my fellow survivors to read it, so that later on they too can visit survivors to pass on their wisdom. Use this book as a guide as a template; it’s difficult to know what to say to a stranger in hospital, once you’ve covered the food and how wonderful the staff are. I know many do go back and chat; it’s something I have not got around to doing yet, but it’s on my list to do.
John P. Murphy’s Tiny Steps will be Better than None will be available in e-book formats from the end of March. For more information on this title, please visit our website or even contact us directly via the links below. Your favourite Bite-Sized Writing Guide will be back next week with some ever-helpful hints on finding inspiration for writing, so make sure you pay us a visit! As always, feel free to get in touch and let us know what you thought of this week’s blog – we always love to hear from our wonderful readers.
Writing great fiction isn’t just about having the right ideas, as much as we may wish it could be; it’s about having your audience emotionally invested in the story. It might sound like a herculean feat, but creating believable and engaging characters is never as difficult as it first seems. Take into account the following points and you should see a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Sympathy. The first step in involving a reader emotionally is to create some level of sympathy for your characters. If you look back at the greats, even the crooks invite a sympathetic reading (think Dickens’ Fagin) that keeps us forever interested in what becomes of them. In this light, sympathy isn’t about admirable characters, but about something to feel sorry for. Loneliness, poverty, humiliation, repression – just a handful of ideas that writers have drawn on to create a bond between reader and character.
- Identification. Easily confused with sympathy. Identification comes from not only feeling sorry for a character but from really wanting them to achieve something, and supporting whatever goals the novel has set out for them. There are obvious limitations: for example, readers aren’t likely to identify with a vicious killer. They may, however, identify with a killer reacting to a traumatic event – or even to the victims of that character who are setting out to escape their fate.
- Empathy. A more powerful emotion than sympathy, empathy is the real clincher in securing emotional attachment. It’s about more than just feeling sorry for a character, but about imagining yourself in that position, and knowing what that character must be going through. We can achieve this not only through regrettable situations but through the power of suggestion. Use sensuous and emotion-provoking detail to suggest what your character is feeling, for example describing the sights, sounds, and smells that connect with the emotions felt at that moment.
- Inner conflict. To take a reader from invested and empathetic to totally absorbed, writers often create a level of suspense (to be examined in detail next week), ideally by introducing some inner conflict. Doubt, guilt, remorse and indecision may come into play and leave your character warring between two voices, the protagonist and antagonist, keeping your reader in suspense until a climactic decision is made.
So you’ve written your first draft! It’s now time to begin self-editing, which can be a lot trickier than it first seems. Effective self-editing means looking at your manuscript objectively, and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, which is a difficult feat when you are already all too familiar with the work at hand. Below are some tips for changing your perspective:
- Read somewhere unfamiliar. If you are used to walking into the study, sitting down at your desk and writing, then using that space for anything other than writing will be difficult! Try and take the manuscript somewhere you don’t associate with writing or with this book at all, but rather to somewhere entirely different where you can be comfortable and read the work as if for pleasure, as any reader would.
- Don’t rewrite straight away. Try to resist the urge to start rewriting scenes as soon as you find fault in them, the editing process is for making notes and nothing else! If you stop and try to rewrite during this phase, you lose the chance to assess the novel as a whole. One of the key stages of the editing process is evaluating the overall pacing and flow of the writing, a factor that will be surely ignored if you are continuously stopping and starting.
- Read off the page. Try and mimic the book-reading experience as closely as possible by printing off your manuscript (remember to use double spacing so as to leave room for notes) and binding it together. If you are used to reading off the screen or you prefer to use an ebook reader, try to tear yourself away from these options when editing. You will have been staring at your writing on a screen for the past few months, so try to separate the reading and writing experience by moving to print.
- Give it time. Leave a little while between finishing your first draft and picking up the manuscript again for editing. You need to feel as if you are looking at the story with fresh eyes, and so must leave some time to defamiliarize yourself with the novel. There is no optimum length of time, so just go with your gut feeling – it may take a couple of months but you will thank yourself when the work is finished.
Next week we’ll be giving you a quick update, before we move on to tips on Engaging Your Reader.