Category Archives: Blog Posts

Mastering the art of writing serial chapters

A blog post for The Story Mint.

During a discussion with Suraya, she explained to me what the benefits are for writers that take part in the serials:
  • An ability to be concise
  • Improved research skills – very important
  • Skilled writing, because you become clear about what you want to say and know you have no room to waffle
  • An understanding of point of view and how to write from a character’s point of view
  • Understanding of tenses and how to keep it consistent
  • The skill of keeping a consistent point of view
  • The skill of keeping location descriptions consistent
  • Understanding of how to keep the story moving forward
  • An understanding of how pace affects writing.
My method of writing in the serials is to not read the serial until it is time for my chapter. This helps me in two ways. First, I don’t build up an expectation of where the serial is going, so no unresolved expectations remain in my mind when writing my chapter. Secondly, I’m reading everything for the first time so I pay attention to each word.
Another thing that I do is to copy the starter and all previous chapters into a document without looking at who the author is or the comments after each chapter. Once I’ve completed my chapter I go back to read it. This gives me an unbiased approach to writing my chapter.
By a stroke of luck, I got five chapter ten’s to write in succession.
What I’ve noticed before and again with these last serials are the following:
Logical errors
These are the features in the serial that makes the reader doubt the validity of the story. Let’s take an extreme example, if the serial is about a trip up Mount Everest, describing the scene when you reach the summit as a leisurely stroll isn’t logical. So how do you prevent making a mistake like this? Go through the previous chapters and your own, then ask yourself – Is this logical? If you take a day off before doing this it helps to give you perspective on your own chapter.
Continuity errors
This happens when you contradict facts that have been written in previous chapters. I found that I made these mistakes when I had preconceived notions of the serial or characters. That is one of the reasons that I stopped reading the serial chapters before my own. As an example; a character is described as clear faced in chapter one, but then described as having acne scars in chapter eight. Small contradictions that make the reader “hiccup” when reading the serial. Other types of continuity errors are unwarranted changes in point of view and change of tense.
Lack of pace
This is one of the more challenging problems. Each story has a timeline that varies according to the type of story. Some serials take place in the space of a day and others might continue over several months or years. The timeline of the serial is sometimes determined by the starter or the first two chapters. Again this is where you can ask yourself if it is logical to stay within the same day as the previous chapter, or if time has moved on. Don’t be afraid to add to the timeline with a few sentences if you think it is warranted.
Take into account that a serial about a journey would require a description of how the journey is progressing. But, if you are writing a chapter in a mystery you don’t have time to describe the journey from one place to the next in detail unless it directly affects the mystery. This is where you have to question where this serial is going. Are you adding to the main theme of the serial?
Lack of research
This isn’t always a problem when writing about something that you are very familiar with or is common knowledge, but when you are not and don’t do the research it can create questions in the mind of the reader. The first example would be Cold Courage one of the first serials, where I didn’t do the necessary research on how long a fissure takes to form on a glacier, or in House Hunting where I didn’t check how a whistling kettle makes a loud noise. Those were things that looked good to me in the chapters, but readers who had actual experience on those two aspects found it jarring.
Chapter framework
Preface and chapters 1 and 2 are setting the scene and introducing the characters. Background and character development are important in this part.
Chapters 3 to 7 should build the tension. These writers should also remember to keep their writing in character and follow up on the cues from previous chapters while leaving the chapter open for the next writer to follow on.
Chapter 8 starts to bring things to a conclusion/climax and chapters 9 and 10 tidies up loose ends and concludes the serial.
Therefore, these writers need to make sure that the story and timeline lead to a believable ending to the serial. This is also the reason why The Story Mint prefers that you don’t add new characters in the last three chapters. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but ask yourself if it is truly necessary or if what you want to achieve can be done with the established characters.
Cliff-hangers
This is another aspect that I’ve noticed and have found myself guilty of. I have learned to let go of my ego and write the chapter to fit in with the serial, to not try to add a cliff-hanger to every chapter just because I can. Sometimes a cliff-hanger adds to the story, but frequently it doesn’t, especially not if the next writer can’t figure out what to do with it.
With a 500 word limit on chapters, it is important to understand that the pace and objective is to add to the story in a way that is consistent with the type of serial you are writing. The 500 word limit is there because when writers learn to write 500 words well they will be able to write any length of story well.
Recently, Suraya pointed out the following to me. I believe it is very good advice:
  • Read and study the previous chapters – draw up a timeline or references if you need to. I’ve done it. Add questions to the chapters when you find something you don’t understand or want an answer to. If you have these questions, so will the reader. Try to incorporate these answers into your chapter. You won’t be able to include all but focus on the main points.
  • Strive for consistency – keep the protagonists in character, maintain point of view and tense.
  • Do your research – especially if you are adding information that can be checked online. I spent two days doing research for The Bal Maid of Great Condurrow.
  • Leave the chapter open for the next writer.
Some questions you can ask when reading the chapters:
  • Why?
  • How?
  • Is this logical?
  • Is this in character?
  • Did I check the details I am unsure off?
  • Is my chapter moving the story and timeline along?
  • Did I follow up or expand on cues in the previous chapters?
And the icing on the cake is the anthology of serials that The Story Mint wants to publish. Just imagine being a published author! Remember not all of us “old Minters” are published yet. We want this just as much as you do.  😀
Happy writing

How to create a believable character

A blog post for The Story Mint.

No matter what genre you are writing in, you will have to create characters that populate your story. Creating characters might sound easy, give them a name and carry on with the story, right? Ever read a story where the character seems like a cardboard cut-out? Or seems erratic in his/her behaviour? The main reason this happens is because the character wasn’t created ahead of the story.

I found a character worksheet on the Harlequin website many years ago that truly helped me with creating a believable character. Even the peripheral ones. The easy answer is that for any character to be believable, you, as the writer must know everything about him/her. If the character is real in your mind you will automatically show this in your writing.

Your first start is to capture the physical and emotional characteristics that you want this person to have. Add their age, colouring, height, emotional baggage (we all have it), motivations, state of mind, occupation.

Then you add their connections to other characters and how they relate to each other. These characters also need description so add that as well. Even if your character is a fisherman with five daughters, but his only part in the story is going to be a short interaction with your main character for two or three paragraphs. His family life shaped him and knowing this will define how he will react. This is called backstory and every character has this.

By building a complete history for each character, that person becomes real in your mind and the interaction with your other characters will reflect a well-rounded character even though you may not use ninety percent of his/her background in your story.

 

The character worksheet is no longer available on Harlequin’s website so I’m adding it here:

 

CHARACTER WORKSHEET

 

Physical Characteristics

Name:

Age:

Birth date:

Birthplace:

Height

Weight:

Body Type:

Hair:

Eyes:

Nose:

Mouth

Clothes:

Personality Profile

Strenghts:

Weaknesses:

Ambition:

Beliefs:

Self-perception:

How others see him/her:

Hobbies:

Moral values:

Eccentricities:

Most defining characteristic:

Current Situation

Marital Status:

Educational background:

Occupation:

Food preferences:

Drink preferences:

Car:

Pets:

Present Problem:

How does this problem get worse?

How does this problem get resolved?

Synopsis about childhood:

Relationships

Spouse:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Best friend:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Mother:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Father:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Child:

Age:

Occupation:

Location:

Spouse:

Grandchildren:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Sibling:

Age:

Marital Status:

Occupation:

Location:

Defining Characteristics:

History:

Effect on plot line:

Effect of previous relationships on present situation:

Genres and what they mean

A blog post for The Story Mint.

I have probably read every single genre there is. For me reading is a compulsion. I read notices, I read signs and one of the things I’ve come to despise are the advertisements in public toilets. Because I cannot not read them!

Since there has been a discussion regarding the genres of The Story Mint serials, I thought a brief overview might just be a good idea. This post will only focus on fiction. One thing that has to be remembered is that there is a fair overlap in genres. You might have a romance with elements of crime or a crime story with a bit of romance in between. The difference is usually found in the writing itself. Read a Harlequin book based on a crime, the story itself is romantic and the focus is on the romance between the man and woman, the crime is a secondary plot and is used to increase the contact between them. Then read a book like a Lee Child’s suspense and you have a crime story with a hint of romance. In this instance the romance is more a form of character building than anything else.

 

Chick Lit

Chick Lit is a sub-genre in Romance. It is written with female readers in mind, but always features a strong female character that is not going to fall for the guy as a matter of course. She is self-assured and comfortable with who she is. She also knows exactly what she wants and goes for it. Don’t be surprised if the woman does the chasing in this genre.

 

Contemporary

These are realistic books. Often this fiction fits into our current lifestyle. Included in this genre is the Slice of Life sub-genre where the aim of the story is to describe a slice of life. Contemporary books also overlap with other genres.

 

Crime and Mystery

These are your detective novels. It usually starts with a crime or mystery and the investigation into it. Think Patricia Cornwall or Dan Brown and you have a good idea of what this entails.

 

Espionage

These are the spy vs spy novels. My favourite espionage novels are the Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy and the Bourne trilogy by Robert Ludlum, but not the movies. The Cold War was a great time for espionage books. Current espionage books tend to go more into electronic espionage as the latest Tom Clancy novels are doing.

 

Historic

These books are fictional stories based in a historical time. The Bal Maid of Great Condurrow is a perfect example of this genre. Jean Auel’s books are also historical although quite a bit further back in history.

 

Literary

These books are the classics, the ones that are prescribed reading. Think Chancy, Dickens, Shakespeare, etc. My personal favourite is “Much ado about nothing” from Shakespeare. Oh and “Emma” by Jane Austen.

 

Poetry

This should be easy to spot. Poetry has many forms, but there are definite indicators that will show immediately.

 

Prose

These are written mostly for theatrical purposes. Shakespeare obviously also falls into this category. There is a lot of dialogue and action.

 

Romance

These are the stories where the main element is the budding romance between a man and a woman. Nora Roberts is probably one of the best known in this genre. But since romance has such a large sub-genre list, it would take a blog on its own just to explain the various sub-genres.

 

Sci Fi/Fantasy

These two I have to split because there is a vast difference between these two genres.

Sci Fi is any story based on elements of new technology, futuristic and quite often on space travel and other planets. One of the pioneers in this field was Arthur C Clarke. As you can imagine there are several sub-genres in this field.

 

Fantasy is a completely different genre. There are also a lot of sub-genres in this field. Probably the most well know author of High/Epic Fantasy would be JRR Tolkien with “The Lord of the Ring”. One of the aspects of fantasy is the ‘world building’ that takes place, making these types of books large in word count. Fantasy books are also quite often written in serials. Technology does not play a role in this genre. Fantastical creatures, quests and the Good vs Evil, with Good winning most of the time. Then there is also the ‘magical thing’ that Good has to master to be able to win usually against astronomical disadvantage. Since this is my personal favourite genre I can give you several authors that were/are masters in this genre: David & Leigh Eddings, Brandon Sanderson, Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Moon (who also writes great Sci Fi), George RR Martin, Margaret Weis, Pierce Anthony, Robert Jordan, Raymond E Feist, Robin Hobb, Terry Brooks and the fantastic Terry Pratchett.

 

Suspense

When the writing keeps you on the edge of your seat because you can’t leave the book before finding out what happens. “We need to talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver is an excellent example.

 

Thriller/Adventure

These two also need to be explained separately. Although they are very similar it still is two different genres.

The Thriller is the one where someone is being chased or threatened by violence and death. One of the sub-genres is the Psychological Thriller where the mental state of the person is being attacked.

Adventure is your typical Greg Bear novels. These are the stories that follow a person(s) to a place/event and the ‘adventure’ that they experience. A good example of this is the Deep River serial.

 

Westerns

Stories set in the American west during the late eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries. Cowboys, highway men and all around shoot outs in saloons and single street towns.

 

 

There are a few genres that are not on the profile selection. These are some of the more obvious ones.

Young Adult (YA) – These books are aimed at the younger reader, mostly the 16 to 25 year olds. Think “Vampire Academy” by Richelle Mead or the Martha Dyer trilogy by Michelle Hodkin.

Horror – The ultimate horror writer would be Stephen King. Until today I still don’t know what happened in “Pet Cemetery”, I was just too scared to finish. But I loved “Carrie”.

Erotica – This is a sub-genre of Romance and for obvious reasons will not feature on The Story Mint. It is basically porn in book form.

Children’s Books – This falls mainly into two categories, the picture story books for small children low on word count and always with interesting graphics (“The Gruffalo” is my favourite). The other is aimed at the child reader for example “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid”.

Comedy – If you start laughing after the first paragraph you are reading a comedy. These also have several sub-genres. I have to say that in my opinion, the British are the masters of comedy. Jeremy Clarkson, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman are the first that come to mind. My favourite quote is from the back blurb on “Mort” by Terry Pratchett – “Death comes to us all, but when he came to Mort he offered him a job.

 

New genres are constantly being added or added as sub-genres, because of the variety that gets added with each new author’s point of view. So don’t stare yourself blind at the genres that are listed. There is always a new way of telling a good story.