Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 39: 3 Big Questions That Demand An Honest Answer

Welcome to week 39 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting
  1. Continue writing the scenes or chapters of your book.
Breaking it down

1.  How well do you know your characters?
Earlier, we spoke about the need to know your characters better than they know themselves. This is so important – if you don’t see these characters as living, breathing creatures in your imagination, they won’t come alive for the readers.

If you haven’t already, this is the time to start working on your character sheets and get to know their back story. In Writers Write, we discuss the importance of building their socioeconomic, physical, and psychological elements.

You have to know the psychology of your characters, to understand what motivates their behaviour in the story. More important, you have to understand how they will be challenged and changed in the story – otherwise, you won’t get a character arc in the story. They’ll remain flat and two-dimensional.

For dramas, romances, and other genres a fully developed character is critical, so it’s worth spending the time on this before you commit to a final draft.

2.  How well do you know the world of your story?
At this point, you should be asking yourself: Have you done enough research to make your story world come alive on the page?  Setting is, if you think about it, another ‘character’ in your novel – it may stay in the background, like a watermark, but the reader is aware of it all the time.

In my book, I realised that I have maybe overlooked research in my setting.  I’ve glossed over some of the details that would make it more authentic. Luckily, we have access to some great resources on the internet.

If you want to know how long a journey will take by car – or even on foot or by bus – you can use Google maps to help you. Some authors will even print out a city or street map to help them build out the setting in their novel.

For houses, apartments, and restaurants you can use property sites, or review sites – these often have great descriptions of the places – and pictures too.

If you need to find out information on subjects that dominate your story – it could be horticulture or handguns, Mississippi mud pies or motorbikes, you may need to talk to some experts. Remember people love talking about their careers and hobbies. You can also email interest groups or societies to find valuable research material or even your first beta readers.

3.  Does your plot make sense?
One thing we can never forget is that plot is predicated on causality. Every plot point in your story is about cause and effect, action and reaction – it’s a chain reaction and you must understand the ‘chemicals’ causing it.

This ties back to character motivation. This is the big ‘WHY?’ question. At every point of your story, ask yourself: Why is my character doing this?  It must be very clear or otherwise you will lose your reader.

If you’ve done your homework on characters – see the first question – this will probably come more naturally. But it’s a good idea to go through your draft and interrogate the plot. Why? Why? Why?

As writers, we have to create that all-important ‘suspension of disbelief’. Yes, you make stuff up but it has to be believable – it can be improbable, fantastical, out there – but it has to be believable. You have to ‘sell’ the reader on your characters and your story.
Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

Spend a half hour or hour a day writing your scenes or chapters.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Imagine your characters are all attending a dinner party. Select a good venue and menu for them. Dress them.
  2. Instead of a back story, give your characters a ‘future story.’ Write about where they’ll be in five years.
  3. Could your story take place anywhere else? Write about what ties your story to your setting.
  4. Create mood boards for your setting – either on cardboard or on Pinterest.
  5. Write a book review for your novel. Would a reviewer find it plausible?
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.’ — St Jerome

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 38: 3 Criteria For A Perfect Scene
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 37: Rules Of The Game
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 36: 3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Plot

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

October Writing Prompts

Today is my one-year writing prompt post anniversary. From October 2015 to October 2016, I have published a list every month. Click here if you've missed any of them.

  • If you're looking for tips on how to make the most of your writing prompts, please read Mia Botha's post How To Use Writing Prompts
  • Remember that you can send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the words DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to the mailing list and you will receive a daily prompt.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Writers Write - Our Book Reviews - September 2016

We have 35 books for you this month. We hope you find one or two that you will enjoy reading from the list. If you haven't read our reviews before, we have a rating system, which is explained below. 

Our reviewers rate books from 1–5
  1. For use as a doorstop only
  2. Keep for publishers’ and booksellers’ strikes
  3. A great holiday read
  4. You’ll remember this with enthusiasm a month later
  5. Unforgettable

If you're looking for reviewing tips, read our popular post: How to write a great book review.

Here are the reviews:

  1. Baby Doll by Hollie Overton (Century) 5/5
  2. Baking With Jackie Cameron by Jackie Cameron (Penguin) 4/5
  3. Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson (Corvus)
  4. Bullseye by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge (Century) 
  5. Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves (Macmillan) 
  6. Die Laughing edited by Joanne Hichens (Tattoo Press) 4/5
  7. Entrepreneurship 101 by Joshua Maluleke (Blackbird Books) 5/5
  8. First Response by Stephen Leather (Hodder & Stoughton)
  9. Hide And Seek by M.J. Arlidge (Michael Joseph)
  10. Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Kak? The Zuma Years by Tim Richman (Two Dogs)
  11. Lyle The Crocodile by Dianne Stewart. Illustrated by Joan Rankin (Jacana) 
  12. Magic: A Novel by Danielle Steel (Delacorte Press)
  13. Miss You by Kate Eberlen (Mantle)
  14. More Easy Party Treats For Children by Janette Mocke (Struik) 
  15. Nwelezelanga: The Star Child by Unathi Magubeni (Jacana) 4/5
  16. Pleasure: A Novel by Nthikeng Mohlele (Picador Africa) 4/5
  17. Riverkeep by Martin Stewart (Penguin)
  18. Rushing Waters by Danielle Steel (Bantam Press)
  19. Selection Day by Aravind Adinga (Picador)
  20. South by Frank Owen (Corvus)
  21. The Apartment by SL Grey (Macmillan)
  22. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena (Bantam Press) 5/5
  23. The Daily Assortment Of Astonishing Things - The Caine Prize for African Writings 2016 (Jacana)
  24. The Girls by Emma Cline (Chatto & Windus) 4/5
  25. The Inheritance by Katie Agnew (Orion) 5/5
  26. The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter (HarperCollins) 4/5
  27. The Last Photograph by Emma Chapman (Picador)
  28. The Lemon Tree by Katherine Graham and Wendy Paterson (Struik Children)
  29. The Moment She Left by Susan Lewis (Century) 
  30. The Thabo Mbeki I Know edited by Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu and Miranda Strydom (Pan Macmillan South Africa)  4.5/5
  31. The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell (Corgi Books) 4/5
  32. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (Picador) 4/5
  33. Under Devil's Peak by Gavin Cooper (Mercury)
  34. Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves (Scribner) 4/5
  35. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (Picador) 4/5


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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Banned Books Week 2016 - The 10 Most Challenged Titles Of 2015

25 September - 1 October 2016 is Banned Books Week

What is Banned Books Week?

Banned Books Week is the book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. 

The ALA (American Library Association) says: 'A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. The number of challenges reflects only incidents reported. We estimate that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported.'

More than 11 000 books have been challenged since 1982. Have a look at the most frequently banned titles of these years:  2014,  201320122011

The 10 most challenged titles of 2015 were:

  1. Looking for Alaska by John Green. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, 'poorly written', 'concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it'
  3. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin. Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, 'wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints'
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, 'profanity and atheism'
  6. The Holy Bible. Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Reasons: Violence, 'graphic images'
  8. Habibi by Craig Thompson. Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter. Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. Reasons: Homosexuality, 'condones public displays of affection'

If you want to find out which books were the most challenged over the past 15 years, follow this link: The Top Ten Challenged Books Lists

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

Bookmarks: Quirk Books

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

If you enjoyed this article, read:

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

October 2016 - In Writing

Course

Description

October

Writers Write

How to write a book

1,8,15,22

Writers Write

How to write a book

17-20

The Plain Language Programme

Advanced business writing

11-12

Blogging and Social Media Course

Write for the web

25-26

Short Cuts

How to write a short story

9

kids etc.

How to write for children

30

Email news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

Join us on social media:

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Writers Write on Google 

17 Questions A Reader Needs To Ask To Become A Better Writer

Human beings read to escape and to be entertained, but we also read to understand and to learn. Stories are the way we make sense of our world.

When you read as a writer you become more critical. Why do you like this story? Why does a certain character enthral or enchant you? 

Here are 17 questions you could ask as you become a more critical reader. They may help you to pinpoint where your writing is going wrong and where it is going right. They will also help you if you write book reviews.
  1. What made you carry on reading past the first page? This is more important than you think. How many times have you thought that you couldn't bear to carry on reading past the first paragraph? Was there a good hook?
  2. Was there a moment when you thought ‘this could happen to me’ or ‘I know how that feels’?Because we read to feel less alone and to know that there are other people who go through bad and good things, this is good to have in a book.
  3. When did you first care about what would happen next? There is a moment in most books where you invest in a story. Was this gradual or did you have an 'aha' moment? 
  4. When did you first stop reading – not because you needed to do something else – but because you felt you needed a break from the book? Something happened at this point to turn you off the story. Try to identify what it was.
  5. Which book did you most enjoy reading before this one? Why did you enjoy it? This explanation could give you valuable insights into what makes a book good for you.
  6. Did you finish reading the book? Did you finish because you don’t like leaving books unfinished, because you were mildly invested in finding out what happened, or because you had to know how it ended?
  7. Which character will you remember five years from now? You may not remember his or her name, but there should be something unforgettable about this person. How did they make you feel?
  8. Which character annoyed you? If you could advise the author to get rid of that character, would you? List the reasons you don't think he or she is necessary for the story.
  9. What was the one moment when you could not put the book down? The moment you were literally on the edge of your seat? Was this level of suspense sustained? Did you miss it when it wasn't there?
  10. Which parts of the story did you skip or skim? Why did you do this? Maybe there were large blocks of boring backstory, dense descriptions, or too many unnecessary conversations.
  11. Which setting do you remember the most? Why do you remember it? Perhaps you could imagine being there. Describe it in your own words.
  12. Which setting is forgettable? Why do you think this is? Perhaps it doesn't add anything to the plot?
  13. Which character would you like to meet? This character does not have to be the hero. Who is the one person in the book that you would like to find out more about?
  14. Which character would you avoid in real life? Avoid including the villain here just because he or she is evil. Include the person you would avoid despite their role in the book. List the reasons.
  15. Does the marketing work? If you could change anything about the packaging/cover/blurb/title of the book, what would you change? List your suggested changes.
  16. Would you recommend the book to a friend? Why? And who would you recommend it to?
  17. Would you buy another book written by his author? As Mickey Spillane says, 'The first page sells this book. The last page sells your next book.'
This is not an in-depth assessment of the book, but it will help you to understand what you like to read and what you should be aware of when you start to write fiction. 

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this article, read:

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 38: 3 Criteria For A Perfect Scene


Welcome to week 38 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting
  1. Continue writing the scenes or chapters on your novel.
Breaking it down

1. A scene is perfect … when you get lost in it
When you’ve finishing writing a scene in your novel, you should read it again. But this time as a reader – not a writer. Read it for flow, for how it engages your senses, your imagination, and your interest – from start to finish. It must have its own mesmerising power.

I was reading Fitzgerald’s exquisite short story ‘Winter Dreams’  last night – the opening scene of an abrupt end to winter just sucks you in as a reader. The images of the ‘ragged sparrows’ and ‘crusted ice’ stir the senses. The ‘red and black balls’ the golfers use on the white snow are so unusual and vivid; you can almost see it as a movie. 

There is such confidence and style in this opening that you blindly follow this amazing writer into the story. You trust the narrator – you believe the viewpoint. You know that he’s going to take you into a new world, show you something you haven’t seen before. Stilted writing – or a writer who isn’t sure of his material – can break the flow of a scene.

In great scenes there’s a rhythm to the writing that doesn’t interrupt – it soothes and seduces, or shocks and captivates, but it doesn’t break. The tension – the single, invisible cord that holds the scene together from the opening to the end – is like a high wire in a circus. You watch the acrobat or character cross it with a sense of breathlessness, wonder, fear. 

A great scene is one that you get lost in – but never confused with as a reader.  You may be asking questions about what’s happening in the scene, or anticipating its hidden mysteries, but you’re not left scratching your head.

Be careful always not to repeat information or ‘over egg’ your scene. In screenwriting we call this ‘repeating a beat’ – it’s the kiss of death in writing. Be compelling and radiant when introducing a new plot point and the reader or viewer will get it. It will register with them. It will stay, stick, resonate.

So … a perfect scene is mesmeric.

2. A scene is perfect … when it feels natural
In the series, Mad Men, there’s a scene where Don Draper, a square-jawed serial womaniser, and his beautiful wife, Betty, a cool but insecure blonde, attend a party – they’re the perfect couple. They’ve arrived at the party in Don's brand new Cadillac.

At the party, a blunt shock comic and TV star, Jimmy, reveals to Betty that he knows Don had an affair with his wife – this revelation shatters Betty’s world.

One of the great things about Mad Men is its understated, elegant pacing and storytelling. It exposes its themes and surprises in a detached, restrained way – and eschews the obvious. So we’re wondering: Will Betty confront Dan?

Instead of a screaming match, we see a quiet scene in the new car as Don and Betty travel home. With an abruptness that shocks the viewer, Betty suddenly pukes up her champagne and canapés all over the pristine interior of her husband’s prized car. And the episode ends.

It’s the most natural ending to the scene – everything is spoiled for this couple, nothing is perfect. The revelation of his infidelity is literally sickening.

So ... a perfect scene has inevitability.
3. A scene is perfect when … you can’t wait to read the next scene (and the next!)
As readers, we’ve experienced those novels that kept us up night. I remember reading Sidney Sheldon or a Harry Potter, thinking, ‘Just one more chapter and then I’ll turn off the light … OK, just one more ...’ When you look again, it’s two in the morning.

As writers, we must become that legendary queen and storyteller, Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights, who had to tell a new story every night – and an even more exciting story – in order to save her life. Her life depended on captivating the king and holding his imagination for another twenty-four hours.

For me, creating the ‘page-turning’ scene isn’t about cliff-hangers. Well, it’s not just about creating cliff-hangers. It’s about creating an entire story world: one your characters in it can’t escape – and one that your readers won’t want to leave.

It’s important to create a compelling and extraordinary world that hinges on a single and believable situation for your characters.  It must be a web and not sieve: the story feeds itself; it doesn’t allow it to run out.

Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, for example, doesn’t only build a murder mystery but builds a shadowy world of the Opus Dei and conspiracy, one that throws a big question over Christian history – no matter how far-fetched. He holds us in the world in each and every scene. The same can be said of Psycho and the world of the Bates Hotel.

If you can’t wait to write the next scene, you can be sure your reader won’t be able to wait to read it.

So ... a perfect scene is — addictive.
Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

Spend a half hour or hour a day writing your scenes or chapters. 

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Choose three books you couldn’t put down? Write about why you couldn’t put those books down.
  2. Take a full two or three hours to write a scene from beginning to end. Don’t stop until you reach the end of the scene.
  3. Rewrite a scene from you novel in a narrator/storytelling viewpoint – tell the scene as if you’re telling it around a campfire or the water cooler at work.
  4. Rewrite the famous shower scene from Psycho. What would you do differently?
  5. Was there ever a time you had to lie to get out of trouble? Write it as a scene from a short story or novel.
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.’ — Alfred Hitchcock

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 37: Rules Of The Game
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 36: 3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Plot
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 35: 3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Character

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

5 Weak Words To Avoid & What To Use Instead

In this Infographic, Jennifer Frost talks about padding words, weak verbs and nouns, and how to avoid them. She even includes and references our famous post, 45 Ways To Avoid Using The Word 'Very' in the Infographic.

One way to weaken your writing is to add modifiers and qualifiers, as well as unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. There are times when they may necessary, effective, and appropriate. However, they mostly support weak nouns and verbs.Choose strong, appropriate nouns and verbs instead. [Read 10 Ways To Tell If You Are Writing With Confidence]

Another is to write in the passive voice. [Read From Passive Voice To Active Voice - How To Spot It & How To Change It]

Source: Grammar Check

If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme. If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

What Makes An Article Stick Around? 10 Reasons Why Your Blog Post Won't Die


Do you have a post or an article on your website that refuses to die? Four years ago, Amanda Patterson wrote an article about cell phone contracts and how the power of plain language legislation can help consumers. It is one of the most viewed posts on The Media Online to this day. In internet time, four years is a long time, so to say this article has done well is an understatement.

Last week I joined The Media Online for an interview to talk about what makes an article stick around. We often come across the term “going viral”. [Read The 18 Responses You Need For Content To Go Viral] There are many different definitions of going viral. Viral is usually something that is insanely popular for a short amount of time. This is more about longevity. A post that grows slowly in popularity and stays around for a long time. 

Any content that you put up on the internet should do at least one of these three things. It must:
  • Inform
  • Persuade
  • Entertain
Let’s look at Amanda’s post: Yes, you CAN cancel your cellphone contract and analyse why it works.
    Here are 10 reasons why people still read the post four years later:
    1. This article informs. 
    2. It was written in the correct viewpoint: It is written in second person, using YOU - the most powerful word in advertising. It is used in persuasive writing. 
    3. Timing is important. It was topical. The CPA had been around for about a year and people were figuring out it was for their benefit. 
    4. The readability percentage was high: It was written in Plain Language. It simplified complicated agreements. 
    5. It speaks to our emotions: It taps into an emotional trigger. We have strong feelings about our cell phone contracts. These emotions you evoke can be positive or negative. 
    6. $$$$: It helped the reader save money. We love saving money. 
    7. There is a call to action: It is action or solution driven. After reading it you know what to do. 
    8. The layout works: There is a lot of white space and it was written using The Inverted Pyramid
    9. The post speaks to the audience: This post directly benefits the reader. Often we write to get our message across instead of considering how this will improve the lives of our readers. What reward do we give them for clicking on our link? 
    10. The headline tells you exactly what the post is about. It makes a promise and then delivers on that promise. Headlines can make or break a post. 

    Watch the interview here:

    Happy writing.

    If you are interested in learning how to improve your business writing skills, join us for The Plain Language Programme. If you want to learn how to blog and write for social media, join us for  The Complete Blogging and Social Media Course

     by Mia Botha

    If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

    1. Why You Need White Space When You Write (And 5 Ways To Create It)
    2. Why You Need To Write In Plain Language
    3. From Passive Voice To Active Voice - How To Spot It & How To Change It

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      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

      Have You Tried The Most Dangerous Writing App?


      How desperate are you to write every day? If you write your best under pressure, Manuel Ebert wrote an app to help you. It's called The Most Dangerous Writing App and it's free to use.  

      You can choose to write for five, 10, 20, 30, 45, or 60 minutes. The catch? Your writing is erased - forever - if you stop for more than five seconds. A notification will appear telling you that you have failed.

      In a Wired article, Margaret Rhodes writes: 'The app doesn’t care what technique you use, provided you keep typing. If you stop, even for a second, the edges of the screen become tinged with red. The longer you go without typing, the redder the edges become, until, after five seconds of inactivity, your progress is unceremoniously erased.' 

      Try it if you're feeling brave. Click on the app below and it will take you to the site, but remember: Don't Stop Typing!

      If you want to learn how to blog and write for social media, join our blogging and social media course. If you want to learn how to write a book, send an email to  news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

       by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

      If you enjoyed thisyou will like:

      1. The 9 Best Apps And Tools To Help Writers Boost Productivity
      2. 30 Ultimately Effective Social Media Tools For Writers
      3. The Top 7 iPad and iPhone Apps for Booklovers
      4. The 5 Best Online Tools to Help You Outline Your Novel
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      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.