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?

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
Part Four (coming soon)

#Bookadayuk

October is by far the best month of the year.

There’s #stoptober to stop smoking, #soberoctober raising money for Macmillan Cancer Research, not to mention my birthday.

I’ve also just discovered Books Are My Bag, a campaign celebrating brick and mortar bookshops. They’ve come up with the fairly catchy #bookadayuk meme for October – and I’ll be taking part.

For October 1st – a book to curl up in front of a fire with – I am going to go for one of my all-time favourites: The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman.

What’s yours?

(Psst! Follow me on twitter @am_harte!)

bookadayuk

Enter This Micro Fiction Competition Now

The lovely folks over at National Flashfiction Day are running an 100 word flash competition.

Entries are £1.50 per story and the deadline is this Sunday March 9th.

There are a LOAD of prizes to be won: books AND cash AND eternal fame (maybe).

Whoever is lucky enough to come second place will become, amongst other things, the proud owner of a copy of Hungry For You.

I am planning on submitting an entry of my own, but knowing my distinctly un-Irish luck I won’t get anywhere. That, or my house will explode and I’ll miss the March 9th deadline.

You, on the other hand, have no excuse.

So get writing!

Charity Anthology: Christmas Lites III

If you’re anything like me, you’ll already have 95% of your Christmas shopping done.

I know what you can spend that last 5% on.

For the third year running, Amy Eye (of The Eyes For Editing) has organised a Christmas Lites anthology.

As with previous years, all profits go to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

After spending an hour last night battling with the tree lights and fluffing some artificial branches, I can’t think of anything better than to curl up with a good book for a great cause.

Christmas Lites III anthology

Christmas Lites III The Christmas season is upon us yet again. Yes, my friends, it is a time of giving, loving, and sharing. Within these pages is a way you can help many people desperately in need of love, support, and goodness: the victims of domestic crime. By purchasing this anthology, you are sending every last dime made off this book to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The NCADV is an amazing charity that saves these people and lets them know there is still hope, still goodness, and still a reason to carry on.

Twenty-one authors have joined in this year, giving their time and their stories to these people – and to you. We all hope you enjoy our holiday tales captured in bite-size pieces. Whether you read this on the bus, before bed, or snuggled by the fire, please, do read – and share.

Grab your copy today:

A Senseless Ending

Senseless ChallengeI admit it: I suck.

The past few weeks have flown by and it completely slipped my mind to do a final wrap up post for the Senseless Challenge. So first and foremost: I’m sorry.

Truth is I was overwhelmed by how many people took part. I’d assumed only three or four other people would join me – making the weekly round ups and the final voting for best story completely manageable.

Instead I was blown away by the number of people who took part and who took the challenge to places I had never imagined.

In total over 14 people took part, producing more than 57 stories.

Participants: thank you. You rock.

It would be impossible to pick one deserving story out of the 57. ALL of you deserve a prize for taking part. I would like to give you an e-copy of Above Ground or Hungry For You – drop me a note with your email and format preference and I’ll send it along.

The fact is that lately I’ve been remiss with my online presence, and the Senseless Challenge not only rekindled my love for the online community, but also reminded me what I’m missing out on.

For anyone who missed the challenge, here’s a long list of excellent short stories to check out.

SOUND

Amber’s Unseeable Eyes by Laura Besley
Eye Contact by Peggy McFarland
Vision by Christopher Munroe
Gold by N.M. Martinez
Fun Is Not Blind by Kelly Stapleton
Rita by Laura Amos
Eye Spy by Tim VanSant
Aura of Gold by Brinda Banerjee
Sight by JP West
Sights Unseen by Shelli Proffitt Howells
City of Ghosts by A.M. Harte

SOUND

Beyond The Thin Blue Line by Laura Besley
Deaf Ears by Peggy McFarland
Fireworks by The Lord by Deanna Schrayer
Noise by Chuck Allen
Noise by N.M. Martinez
Thub-thub, Thub-thub by Tim VanSant
Stephanie by Laura Amos
Antichrist, Interrupted by Kelly Stapleton
Silence, Sound by JP West
Silenced by Shelly Proffitt Howells
Bunty hears a snake by Brinda Banerjee
Sound By Christopher Munrow
War On Noise by A.M. Harte

SMELL

Private Nose by Peggy McFarland
Smell by Christopher Munroe
Sweet by N.M. Martinez
Mouse by Shelly Proffitt Howells
StorySkippers Anonymous by Laura Amos
Making Sense by Chuck Allen
Bottled Shame by Kelly Stapleton
Oh, Nose! by Tim VanSant
A Great Story by Laura Besley
Fumes of Love by Brinda Banerjee
The Hunter by A.M. Harte

TASTE

Hunger by Deanna Schrayer
Lollipops In The Snow by Laura Besley
Taste by Christopher Munroe
Life, on the Tip of my Tongue by Tim VanSant
Of bubble gums and other cravings by Brinda Banerjee
Best Served Cold by A.M. Harte
The Taste of Water by Lee-Ann Khoh
Leila by Laura Amos
With Syrup by Shelli Proffitt Howells
Taste Test by Peggy McFarland
Homecooked by N.M. Martinez

TOUCH

To Scorch in the Sun by Brinda Banerjee
King-sized Bed by Deanna Schrayer
Touch by Christopher Munroe
Red Lipstick by Laura Besley
Raine by Laura Amos
An Unexpected Storm by Shelli Proffitt Howells
Fragments by N.M. Martinez
To Touch, Perchance to Feel by Tim VanSant
New Sensation by Peggy McFarland
The Ghost of Uncle Bud by Lee-Ann Khoh
Heartbeats by A.M. Harte

The Senseless Challenge: Taste Round Up

Senseless ChallengeThe celebrations for National Short Story Month continue with even more #flashsense stories this week.

Missed previous weeks? Check out Sight (May 3rd), Sound (May 10th), and Smell (May 17th).

The second to last Friday of the month, May 24th, was dedicated to taste.

Here’s a round up of week four’s stories.

* * *

THE SENSELESS CHALLENGE: TASTE

Hunger by Deanna Schrayer
I swiped above my lips with the back of my hand and tasted dirt.

Lollipops In The Snow by Laura Besley
Danny from down the road said they taste like lollipops.

Taste by Christopher Munroe
A letter to local Viet restaurants.

Life, on the Tip of my Tongue by Tim VanSant
Metallic. That’s the only way I can describe it.

Of bubble gums and other cravings by Brinda Banerjee
Within five seconds the flower was gone.

Best Served Cold by A.M. Harte
Beneath the decay, he tasted of guilt.

The Taste of Water by Lee-Ann Khoh
Water wasn’t supposed to taste like anything.

Leila by Laura Amos
You know you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

With Syrup by Shelli Proffitt Howells
The smell of bacon pulled Kaylie from a restless sleep.

Taste Test by Peggy McFarland
Not that she expected a free meal, but dating involved food.

Homecooked by N.M. Martinez
Salt mixed with her saliva.

* * *

Did I forget to include your story? Drop me a link in the comments.

This Friday 31st is dedicated to touch – it’s yoru LAST chance to join in and tweet your story with #flashsense!

It’s not too late to get involved – just tweet your story on Friday using #flashsense.

The Senseless Challenge: Smell Round Up

Senseless ChallengeThe celebrations for National Short Story Month continue with even more #flashsense stories this week.

Missed previous weeks? Check out Sight (May 3rd) and Sound (May 10th).

The third Friday of the month, May 17th, was dedicated to smell.

Here’s a round up of week three’s stories.

* * *

THE SENSELESS CHALLENGE: SMELL

Private Nose by Peggy McFarland
It’s going to rain today, mark my words. I can smell it.

Smell by Christopher Munroe
A month after you quit smoking, you get your sense of smell back.

Sweet by N.M. Martinez
Blanca’s nose burned as if being licked by a little flame.

Mouse by Shelly Proffitt Howells
You are such a mouse, Harold.

StorySkippers Anonymous by Laura Amos
Bars didn’t smell like cigarettes anymore.

Making Sense by Chuck Allen
She loved the smell of being clean.

Bottled Shame by Kelly Stapleton
I smelled Missy before I saw her.

Oh, Nose! by Tim VanSant
There was something rotten in the state of Denmark.

A Great Story by Laura Besley
The only smell in the tiny dark room was her own.

Fumes of Love by Brinda Banerjee
It was dank, reminiscent of the garbage landfill nearby.

The Hunter by A.M. Harte
The air was sweet and cold, moonlight-sharp.

* * *

Did I forget to include your story? Drop me a link in the comments.

This Friday 24th is dedicated to taste – join in and tweet your story with #flashsense!

It’s not too late to get involved – just drop me a comment on the challenge post or tweet your story using #flashsense.