Monday, 28 October 2013

Marissa de Luna on How to Get Detail into Your Writing

As promised last week, I am hosting talented fellow Abingdon Writer Marissa de Luna as she celebrates her recently published second novel, 'The Bittersweet Vine'.

Continuing her blog tour, Marissa reveals her tips for keeping your novel full of interesting detail and description so that your characters become more developed and your scene setting sparkles. Take it away, Marissa!! 

It’s All About The Detail

Not long ago I read in interesting article by Dona Levin on what she calls incorporating ‘Killer-Diller’ details in to your novel in order to bring your characters to life.

One of her suggestions is to keep a little journal so that you can write down interesting descriptions as you come across them.

I have tried this and it is immensely useful. I must have started doing this in winter because the other day when I was trawling through my notebook, most of my references were to ice and snow.  But now as we are in the tail end of summer when I want to write a wintery scene and all I can see outside is glorious sunshine or miserable rain, I can just dip into my ‘observations’ book and find some wintery inspiration.

Before I started writing, I have to admit, I had the observational skills of a bat. I was useless but now I have started writing I am more observant. Now I walk around observing different aspects of people, their habits, and their mannerisms. I take a twitch from one person, a dimple from the other and make characters that come alive on the page.

But why are writers so hell bent on the detail? It’s simple. It is our job, as writers, to create a reality in fiction. The only way we can successfully do this is by describing scenes and characters that ring true. And this is where the detail comes in.

So here are my top tips for honing those observational skills and using those annotations in your writing.
  •  Keep a journal in your bag/on your desk at all times. You never know when you will observe something of note. Divide the book up into vocabulary, personal detail, nature, rooms and objects. If you don’t do this, it’s going to be hard finding that description when you are looking for something in particular.
  • Set yourself a goal of how many details you want to put in your journal everyday. My goal is three a day. In reality, I barely manage three a week. I have to remind myself to observe like I remind myself to drink 8 glasses of water a day. Like water, this exercise is good for you. Stick a post-it note on your desk prompting you to do this.
  •  When you get a moment to yourself, instead of checking your social media on your smart phone, have a flick through your little book of descriptions. It might provide inspiration for a new scene or provide that all-important detail for one of your characters.
  • Another great way to hone your description/observation skills is to take a journal and go somewhere like a garden or a park. Then describe what is closest to you. What can you see 1) Near your feet - say 1 meter around you. Describe it all - take five minutes to do this. 2) Then describe everything within 6 metres – keep increasing your vision. 3) Then describe what you can’t see. Behind the line of your vision. Go crazy – be imaginative.
  • And remember all the other senses as well. It’s not all about sight! In the best books, description will get all the senses going. Smell a flower and describe how its smells. How do you feel when you smell that flower? Describe emotions and feelings brought about by that smell. Your characters may use it someday.  And not just flowers. You'll have to describe malodourous smells too. New tarmac being rolled out, for example. Petrol stations, butchers – wherever you go – have a sniff and describe it. Smells evoke feelings and memories and have a great effect if they are successfully described in novels. 
  • Textures… It’s all about the texture! Touch some fabric and objects around you - what do they feel like? Jot it down! 
  • Taste - give your taste buds an explosion. Write about foods with a flavour that will ignite your reader’s senses. Make them want to Google the foods you talk about just so they can go out and try it. I always think if your reader searches on-line for something in your book it’s a successful novel as you are really engaging them!
So, how do you use this detail to its full potential?  I believe you can really crystalize what you are trying to describe in a few words. Cut the waffle and mix a little show and tell to create the perfect scene. For example, if you are talking about how cold it is you could talk about the crunch under foot from the leaves, the pavements sparkling with frost, the cobwebs on the traffic lights frozen like silly string, the fog thick and oppressive covering the town like a blanket. Those are just a couple of my observations from the weather earlier this year from my little notebook.

Using your ‘observations book’ you will be able to describe things with fewer words and with such clarity that your books will be simple to read. Which leads me on to having a vocabulary section in your notebook as well. Call it your own little thesaurus. For example, there are several ways to say someone sat down on a sofa. They could slump, lower themselves, fall into.

If you are like me, when you write you just want to get the story out. But when you are editing there is no harm in reading your description/observation book intermittently, just for a bit of inspiration or to change a few words around here and there.
As writers, we are lucky. We are surrounded by inspiration and experience and it’s free! We just have to know how to use it.
Thanks for the great tips Marissa! 

Marissa de Luna is an author with a passion for adventure and travel. 'The Bittersweet Vine' is her second novel.

'The Bittersweet Vine' is available now.

The Bittersweet Vine (ISBN: 978-0-85728-094-7, Thames River Press, paperback and e-book) at
Amazon or other on-line stores and in selected bookshops.  

For more information about 'The Bittersweet Vine' or the author see

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Does self-publishing kill you for traditional publishers?

Before we begin, I just have to bring to your attention a lovely crafty site that I have just discovered called Sew Sweet Violet and her beautiful giveaway she is doing - gorgeous advent Christmas bunting. The giveaway ends on Tuesday 29th October and she will post to ANYWHERE in the world so, quick, go and leave a comment on the appropriate post and come straight back here. I'll wait for you... 

Okay, entered the giveaway? Cool. Let's continue. 

So, next week I have a guest blogger, Marissa de Luna doing a post here on the importance of detail in your writing. Marissa has recently published her second book 'The Bittersweet Vine' with a traditional publisher, having self-published her first book 'Goa Traffic'. 

Marissa's story is really interesting, not least because she got herself an agent and a traditionally published second book after self publishing her first novel. It seems to be commonly accepted that if you have self published, traditional publishers won't touch you (unless, of course, you have phenomenal sales like E L James). But Marissa proves this wrong and I'm sure she isn't the only one as traditional publishers slowly become more accepting of Indie authors. 

Indie published authors haven't always been treated with disdain and scorn though and today's self publishers are in good company. Recognise these names?
  • Deepak Chopra
  • Charles Dickens
  • Mark Twain
  • Anais Nin
  • Virginia Wolff
  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Alexandre Dumas
  • Beatrix Potter

They all self published at some point in their careers and some of them self-published their most famous books too. 

I can't deny that some Indie authors are, quite frankly, not up to scratch and it's easy to see why publishers would have rejected them. Novels full of cliches, clunky dialogue, meandering plots, under-developed characters. Yes, lots of Indie books are truly bad. But, then again, there are many bad traditionally published novels out there too.

So, is it sometimes luck and timing that can get you a publishing contract? Maybe your novel captures the zeitgeist of the moment? Or you just so happen to have a complete manuscript ready to go that can piggyback on the success of a similar 'latest big thing'. 

The originally self published 'Fifty Shades of Grey' has spawned a whole raft of erotica, not that it wasn't there before. It's just more mainstream now. Of course, e-readers have a lot to do with the rise of erotica sales. No longer is it confined to bedroom reading. It can be read anywhere you like - buses, trains, in the supermarket queue. Nobody has to know that the colour in your cheeks has nothing to do with the over heated coffee shop and everything to do with Stavros having his wicked way with prim and proper Phillipa al fresco under the stars. 

Both self-published first before being picked up by trad publishers
As a writer, it's really hard to decide which route to take but if Kathryn Stockett can weather 60 rejections before finally getting 'The Help' accepted by a publisher, then maybe I should have a little more patience and faith in myself. 

My personal feeling is that traditional publishing gives you more kudos as an author and the knowledge you acquire through working with editors and agents is really valuable. HOWEVER, the money is not exactly great for a debut author.
I suppose the real question is, do I want to go into a bookshop and see my book on a shelf or am I happy with just seeing the cover on Amazon?
Finally, here's a really interesting article with New York Times bestselling author C J Lyons and why she both traditionally and self publishes. What are your thoughts on Indie and traditional publishing? Have you made an absolute decision on which way you want to go? 

Friday, 4 October 2013

The greatest book that never was... 5 cures for Writers' block

Ah yes, writers' block. The horrible blankness inside your head, the desperation clawing at your brain, the internal harpy-like shrieking of:
Fear wraps his talons around your now cold heart and whispers in your ear *give up, you loser. Writing is for imaginative people. You're just a pretender. A useless hack. Give up now. Quit while you're ahead. It's the smart thing to do.*

No? Just me then? Well, anyway, however it makes you feel, it seems to catch us all out during our writing life and the Internet is chock-full of ways to cure it. Or at least postpone it until the next delightful muse-kidnapper appears. 

Here are five ideas that could help you banish it. For a while anyway:

  • Get out in the fresh air. Take a walk (or a run if you're that way inclined...). Or, if you're really, really lazy, just stand in the garden for ten minutes and stare at the sky. Don't think about that pesky storyline that's going nowhere or that piece of dialogue that 's horribly clunky and stilted. Take a few minutes to get a bit zen. Zone out. Enjoy the flowers, kick up those autumn leaves, lift your face to the rain. As the ever awesome En Vogue would say:

Free Your Mind
  • Do something creative that's not writing. Drawing, crochet, sewing. Bake a cake, which has the added benefit of providing important sustenance ready for your mammoth writing session where you not only smash writers block into the ground like the Incredible Hulk but write your BEST EVER Scene. One that would make Angels weep and Shakespeare cry in his grave. Ahem. What I mean to say is - force the creative buzz to get going by doing something else and maybe that impossible chapter ending will just pop right into your head. 
The Incredible Hulk. Smash!
  • Organise your bookshelves. Or go to your local (hopefully independent) bookshop and take a look at their tables or staff pick titles. Read the blurbs, peek inside. Take inspiration from what you read and use those ideas to kick start your own work. 
  • Try free writing for fifteen minutes. Write whatever comes into your head and don't stop writing until the timer goes. If you start to freeze up, write your thoughts. Put onto paper the actual words 'I don't know what else to write. I can't think of anything', etc until even the tiniest grain of an idea pops into your head. Run with it. Let your mind wander and go off on tangents. Write everything that comes into your head. The idea is to build up your momentum and get you into the flow of writing again. You never know what these raw, in-cohesive ramblings might inspire.
    I'm not suggesting this was the product of free writing... 
    But this one might have been
  • Or go to this super awesome site. It's the Holy Grail for writers suffering from the dreaded BLOCK. Writing prompt generators, articles on famous authors, creative writing exercises and more. Beware though. It is a serious time suck. Don't get stuck on the character name generator. You have been warned.