Sunday, 22 February 2015

Reading Outside the Comfort Zone

So I'm still in the middle of my MS rewrite, and to save myself from going insane I decided to take a couple of days off to just READ. My TBR pile is getting out of control, so it was time to put a dent in it. Some of the books I've accumulated are totally outside what I'd normally read, but I'd heard great things about them. So I decided to give them a go.

I am SO GLAD I did. For context, I usually read YA fantasy and happy-ish contemporary when I feel like a break from magic/strange creatures/quests and the likes. This time I decided to delve into...darker books. One is a dystopian (I think - it's so BOLD I'm not entirely sure if this is the right category) and the other is pretty dark contemporary*. What did they teach me? That there are so many amazing books out there that I otherwise wouldn't have tried because they aren't 'my usual type of book'. They also taught me some writer-type things.

I have a couple of characters bouncing around in my head, and before reading these books I couldn't find their story. I've hammered out so many drafts, and scrapped each one in frustration. Why? These characters have a darker story to tell than I normally write, and I didn't appreciate that until now. The book won't be anything like the books I've just read, to be clear, but the point is I wouldn't have known what was missing without opening myself up to new reading experiences. How to explore themes and characters that don't have their HEA. How to capture deep, dark feelings and do them justice.

This doesn't mean I'll stop writing my usual style of fantasy by any means. It isn't always 'happy', but it isn't particularly dark. But now, I'm open to exploring new dimensions in my writing. All thanks to a simple little step outside my comfort zone.

If it isn't clear by now, lol, I HIGHLY recommend you read outside your normal spectrum. You'll learn so much in the process, and might find some unexpected gems to love.

*If you're curious, the books I'm referring to are ONLY EVER YOURS by Louise O'Neill, and FORBIDDEN by Tabitha Suzuma. They aren't easy reads by any means and they will NOT be for everyone, but they are amazing. Just saying.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Writing a Query and Synopsis Before Drafting

Let me start by saying that this is how I feel when I know it's time to write a query or synopsis:

BUT, as all writers know, they are a necessary evil. I've always attempted to draft a synopsis before tackling the first draft - it helps keep me focused on the major plot points, and I can identify any fatal structural problems before I begin. One time I also drafted my query before writing, but it was for a WIP I have for the moment lost interest in. However, I am totally in favour of attempting both a synopsis and query before drafting.

Right now, I'm in the middle of a rewrite. I originally *hoped* this latest manuscript wouldn't need it, but I can't deny my 'writery' instinct. It needs work. Substantial structural changes, in fact. It has the right heart, but it lacks...too many other things. So I decided I was going to get serious about keeping myself on track. I took the bold step of writing a synopsis of all the major plot points, which I'm filling in with other developments as I draft. I have a timeline, and also all of my major plot and character arcs written down. And as much as I hate writing them, I spent quite a bit of time drafting a query letter. It's by no means perfect - I am definitely not the best at queries - but it serves a really important purpose.

It's keeping me interested in what I'm writing. I actually love my new query. It'll no doubt get ripped apart and stitched back together when I start getting it critiqued, but all the elements that make me love this manuscript are in it. Rewriting is draining, and it would be easier to shelve this manuscript and turn my hand to any one of the other little plot bunnies harassing my brain. But I don't want to do that now.

So whenever I get stuck on a scene, or have a moment of weakness, I can look back at the query and think YES. This is why I want to tell this story, and I WILL tell it. I also have an - admittedly flaky - pitch crafted, which I can tweak and polish as I go. When this manuscript is ready to query, I already have the foundations for my submission package.

Give it a go - cramming a 60-100k manuscript into a little query and synopsis is far less daunting when your mind isn't cluttered by what you've drafted. Write down the core of your book, remind yourself of it constantly, and you won't forget it even when you're drowning in subplots and line edits ;)