The Importance of Proofreading

Everyone bangs on about the importance of proofreading. But why does it matter?

The most important part of an author’s job is to tell a brilliant, gripping, powerful story. No one cares about a few misplaced commas and typos! True readers can see past those minor niggles and appreciate the author’s storytelling genius… right?

Wrong.

The last couple of Kindle titles I’ve bought have contained mistakes – minor annoyances such as missing punctuation and the odd misspelled word. But every error is a distraction from the story.

An author’s job is not simply to tell a story, but to do that story justice.

How can you claim to have given your story every chance in life if you haven’t bothered to proofread it?

Everyone makes mistakes – even the big publishing houses. But indie authors have more at stake. The naysayers who think indie means unprofessional are still out there; don’t fan their flames.

So: Proofread your work. Read the story backwards paragraph by paragrah to sense check every line. (That’s my technique.)

Then get your friends/beta readers to read your work. If you can afford it, get a professional editor involved.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on MS Word’s farcical grammar/spell checker.

Once you accept that Microsoft did not invent grammar, it’s amazing how many mistakes you can find.

7 Benefits Of Keeping A Writer’s Notebook

“But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.”
– Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

If I have been a quiet on the blog lately, it is because I’m focusing heart and soul on my next novel, Darksight.

The writing process for this project has been very different from my first novel, Above Ground, which ran as an online serial. I don’t have a weekly posting schedule to stick to. I don’t have readers debating the story’s progression.

It’s just me… and my new-found best friend: my notebook.

This is the first time I’ve kept a project-specific notebook, and I’ve come to realise that the physical process of writing is crucial to the development of a story.

I used to think that those who carried around fancy *coughmoleskincough* notebooks were pretentious. A part of me still does: I’m using a bog standard spiral-bound affair.

But my new companion has taught me that what exists in our minds is formless, mutable. Only when it has a physical permanence can we build upon it to take the story further.

Not convinced?

Seven Benefits to Keeping a Notebook

  1. Memory aid: Have you ever thought of something great, told yourself you’d write it later, only to find it has slipped away like a dream? Keep your notebook close and it’ll never happen again.

  2. Stimulate thought: Do policemen walk around without their uniforms? No! Well, you’re an author. Carrying a notebook means that a part of your mind is always subconsciously in writing mode, seeking new ideas.

  3. Evaluate progress: You can track your ideas as they develop over time, and remember how you ended up where you are now. Particularly useful for character development and back stories.

  4. Ask questions: Why does your protagonist hate chocolate? How did the submarine end up in the zoo? A notebook allows you to jot down questions – even if you don’t have the answer.

  5. Focus: Your mind can only handle so much at any one time. Dump all of your thoughts into your notebook, so you can pick and choose what to work on.

  6. Gain perspective: Having a notebook puts your ideas outside of your head. The separation will allow you to look at your thoughts from a different perspective, helping you spot flaws or plot holes.

  7. Solve problems: Sometimes your story isn’t quite working, and you can’t figure out why. Instead of moaning about it in your head, moan about it on PAPER! It’s therapeutic, and you may find the answer somewhere amidst the scribbles.

Do you keep a writing notebook? Why or why not?

The Day Is Here

SOLID MOMENTS is out now!

Woop woop woop!

Solid MomentsThe collection has also had its first ever (5 star!) review – check it out:

A collection of short stories that define fragments of life. A blind girl, a brother meeting a sister he never knew, a boy hooked on video games, a women in a loveless marriage, a soldier’s story, just to name a few. Each story was unique and touching in its own special way. I liked every story.

What I also like (and found unique and a very great concept) was at the end of the book, the author tells us what inspired her to write each story. I found that to be interesting. I often wonder how an author comes up with the ideas behind each book. Those who love short stories should read Solid Moments.
Goodreads reviewer

Order the ebook now!
Smashwords $2.80
Kindle US $3
Kindle UK £1.99
Kindle IT €2.68
Kindle DE €2.68

…did someone mention PRINT?
Amazon US $6.30
Amazon UK £4.50

Need some convincing?
Read an excerpt now or add on Goodreads for later.

Cover Reveal: Solid Moments

Solid MomentsIntroducing SOLID MOMENTS, a short story collection which will be released on January 9 2015.

I am thrilled to be revealing the cover to you today – once again designed by the inimitable MCM – and very much hope you’ll enjoy these stories.

What’s this all about?

As you may recall, in October I set myself a two months, one book challenge. While I’m running a little behind schedule, Solid Moments is the result of those two months’ work.

Collating 23 short stories of varying lengths, Solid Moments captures the precious minutes when we are most ourselves.

Add it on Goodreads – and stay tuned for updates!

To Read: In The Spirit by JC Hart

To distract from my lack of posts (I’ve been working, shhh!) I’d like to give a quick shout out to fellow author JC (Cassie) Hart.

Cassie is one of those people who — even if you don’t speak to them very often — you just know is a great person. She helped me out with my Above Ground blog tour, was one of the editors of charity anthology Tales for Canterbury, and has done innumerable other things I cannot recall but know are Cool Things.

Which is why the latest addition to my to-read shelf is her new release In The Spirit, which I’ve nabbed from Amazon UK for only £0.77!

Check it out:

In The Spirit by JC Hart In The Spirit by JC Hart

When Alyssa returns to Kotahi Bay for her Gran’s funeral, she finds herself in possession of the house of her dreams and apparently, a centuries old ghost itching to escape its bonds.

Still, the house has given her an escape route from a dead end job and a nasty break-up, so perhaps dealing with a ghost might be worth it.

But between the residents who think she should step into her Gran’s role as the town witch, a suspiciously nosy neighbour, and increasingly threatening occurrences around the house, Alyssa must decide whether this new home is worth it, or whether it’s safer to leave the Bay for good.

Available from Amazon US | iTunes | Amazon UK | Kobo

The Power of Storytelling Part Three: The 7 Steps of Character Development

“If conflict drives drama, then what drives the character is inner conflict.” – Adam Lebor

In the first session of Adam Lebor’s storytelling course, we covered the the basic framework of a story, and how conflict is a key element to narrative drive.

Conflict, however, does not exist in isolation; it has an effect on and is affected by your characters. By understanding what drives your characters, you can bring the conflict — and therefore your story as a whole — to life.

In the second class we examined character development and the seven steps to creating a strong protagonist or antagonist. By exploring our characters’ backstories, we can understand their motivations and goals, and therefore make their actions more believable.

THE SEVEN STEPS OF CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

  1. Biography
    What’s in a name, you ask? Only cultural associations, and indications of a person’s background, education and ethnicity. Where and when were they born, what was their family like? All of these details will influence your character.

    I’ll be honest: I regret picking Lilith as a name for the protagonist of Above Ground. But it seemed fitting at the time since it conveyed a demonic aspect of herself related to leading men astray.

  2. Key events
    Certain moments in our lives shape the person we become. Maybe it was getting that lucky break and being forever grateful, or missing by a hair and becoming bitter and twisted. What moments define your character?

    Silver, the male protagonist of Above Ground, was abandoned by his parents as a child and brought up by a monastic wolf pack. The one time he let his guard down to love someone, she left too. Needless to say, he has serious trust issues.

  3. Inner conflict
    How have the key events in their life created inner conflict? Perhaps your character gets that lucky break, but thinks someone else deserved it more. They don’t want to give up what they have, but are insecure of being revealed as a fraud.

    Because of Silver’s childhood, he struggles to trust people. However, his bond with Lilith forces him to feel something towards her, and the dependency frightens him.

  4. Motivation
    What does the character want or need, and why? Character motivation is central to any story, and it is a good idea to ensure that your characters have a personal stake in what will unfold.

    Lilith’s main motivation is survival, which is a strong, personal want. But Silver’s motivations run deeper: he is driven by the need to help his ailing alpha, because if she dies, the entire werewolf pack will fall apart. Family ties are excellent tools to up the stakes for your character.

  5. Expert or everyman
    How does the character fit into the story? Are they an expert at their job, like Sherlock Holmes, and therefore driving the story? Or are they an everyman like Frodo, reacting to what is happening?

    I’d never seen this distinction spelled out before, but it offers food for thought. Lilith is an every(wo)man, Silver an expert. The type of character you choose will affect how they behave in the story.

  6. Plan of action
    How does the character plan to achieve his goals? Your character needs to make plans and take action to drive the story forward.

    A problem I had with the first draft of Above Ground was that Lilith was little more than a pawn being tossed around. When revising, I made her make decisions and find her own path — even if it often led her astray.

  7. Obstacles
    What is blocking the character from getting what they want, and how will they (try) to overcome them?

    While Lilith is battling werewolves and demons to stay alive, she also must overcome an second, inner obstacle: herself, and the realisation of who she really is. These external and internal obstacles make her life hell, but make the story that much more thrilling.

As someone who generally operates under the “make-it-up-as-I-go-along” technique, I found inventing character backstories surprisingly inspiring — particularly when exploring the key events and how they fuelled inner conflict.

Some authors write diaries for their characters, or letters between characters, to help further build their backstory. I found jotting down notes against each of the seven steps enough to get the ideas flowing.

What about you? What tricks do you use to get into your character’s head?

WE MEET AGAIN

He didn’t know her.

She saw it in the blankness of his eyes, the numbness of his cheeks. Or maybe that was the drugs, spiraling away every trace of his intelligence.

Eva repeated her question: “Excuse me, do you know where the train station is?”

The binoculars slipped from his fingers and cracked against the pavement like a gunshot. Feodor jumped, spun in circles looking for an assailant. The streets were cold and quiet, steam rising from the gutters. Eva suppressed a sneer as he scuttled to collect the binoculars.

“That… that way.” He pointed down the street, then returned to spying on his own house.

By then it was too late: her men had done their job.

Inspired by the storytelling course I’m attending.

The Power of Storytelling Part Two: The Basic Framework of a Story

As mentioned, I’m attending a three-evening course on storytelling taught by Adam Lebor, a published author and journalist.

The first session examined creativity – and in particular, the key elements of a good story.

The session kicked off with us reading excerpts from our favourite books to get a feeling for different writing styles, as well as what draws us to particular tales. These excerpts were then used as a launching pad to discuss story structure.

THE BASIC FRAMEWORK OF A STORY

Adam Lebor has a tidy, memorable formula: COCR.

You may think I (almost) typed a rude word — in which case, go to the corner of your room and have a quiet giggle.

Immaturity aside, it stands for Conflict, Obstacle, Climax, Resolution.

These four elements are the key to narrative drive; they make your story compelling, addictive, and just generally awesome. If you are struggling with your WIP and the story seems flat, it could be missing one of these elements.

Let’s start with conflict.

In order to have conflict, you need a protagonist and an antagonist.

In my novel Above Ground, the protagonist is clearly Lilith. The antagonist, however, is not a particular individual but society at large: the hatred and separation between humans and those living above ground is the source of tension in the story.

So what’s Lilith’s obstacle?

What does Lilith want or need — and what’s stopping her from getting it?

Lilith wants to get home alive, and the dangers she faces are the obstacles preventing her from returning safely. As she surpasses each obstacle, a bigger one shows up, driving the story forward.

Here comes the climax!

At the climax, all the events in the story come to a head. It’s the turning point in the story, and often a key moment in the character arc. (More about character arcs next time.)

If you’re anything like me, the climax is one of your favourite bits to write.

In Above Ground, the climax is when Lilith is offered the chance to go home whilst having to confront who she really is. The self-realisation puts her main objective of getting home into question — and she has to decide where her priorities lie.

On to the resolution

How does the story end? How does the protagonist overcome the obstacles and where does he/she go next?

In Above Ground, Lilith reaches her new home. It is not the home she was aiming for at the beginning of the novel, but it’s a home that suits the person she has become.

Conflict. Obstacle. Climax. Resolution.

A simple yet effective framework to get the creative juices flowing.

NEXT TIME

The next session of Adam Lebor’s storytelling course will look at clarity, focusing on character development of both protagonists and antagonists. I’ll let you know how I get on.

In the meantime, what’s the COCR in your story?

The Power of Storytelling: Part One

Human beings are hard-wired to tell stories. From the first caveman recounting his adventures through grunts and signs to his fellows sitting around the campfire, to the literary pyrotechnics of a David Mitchell novel, storytelling touches something deep inside all of us.

These are the opening words to Adam Lebor‘s crash course on storytelling — a course I will be attending next week.

All my previous invitations to similar courses have come from aspiring writers who can only write when drinking coffee, facing east on a rainy Thursday afternoon. The thought of being stuck in a room of similarly impractical artistes fills me with dread.

Needless to say, I have never accepted an invitation.

This time is different: my company has organised this course as a form of “personal development”.

Across three sessions, Lebor will cover the narrative arc, key elements of a good story, narrative building techniques, and how to use storytelling in everyday and business life. Participants also have to write a short story to present to the rest of the class.

The first session — next Monday — will kick off the course by looking at creativity and narrative drive. I’ll report back with my findings.

Have you ever been to a writing course, and would you recommend it?

Adam Lebor is an author, journalist and teacher of creative writing. He has written eleven critically acclaimed books – three novels and eight non-fiction works – including The Geneva Option, Tower of Basel and City of Oranges. Two have been shortlisted for literary prizes, and his books have been published in fourteen languages, including Chinese and Hebrew.

UPDATE:
Part Two: The Basic Framework of a Story
Part Three: Character Development