Orca Rogue Agent

Hey everyone,

Really excited to announce that the follow up book to Orca Rising–you remember? That teen spy thriller shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize!– is ready for publication!

Orca Rogue Agent will be released on 30th November – more details to follow about pre-order and the cover reveal – so stay tuned.

Chris

Writing Hack #17: Introduce new characters with their own individual dramas

There’s a scene in the film I Heart Huckabees where Mark Whalberg’s character, (a secondary character) is about to be introduced to viewers. Two things happen in sequence to introduce him. We’re currently absorbed in a different scene with the main protagonist and his drama with two other people. A phone rings and we hear Mark W’s voice, ‘…got a serious situation happening over here…’ the scene is broken up and we cut to…

Introduce your character’s with their own individual drama
Photo by Daniel Tausis on Unsplash

Mark standing on the lawn of his house as his fire crew buddies apologetically help his wife move out of home with his child. Mark W is berating them all with nihilistic ideas. A sub-plot is introduced, a new character is introduced and right now, it has nothing to do with the main drama in the book as experienced by the protagonist.

Introducing new characters in this way is a great way of bringing verisimilitude to your fictional world. Your protagonist isn’t operating in a vacuum, other people exist with their own feelings, issues and dramas. Next time you watch a new TV show, movie or new book, keep an awareness for how a new character enters the story and you’ll notice it happens a lot AND that it’s good!

Happy writing

CH

Writing Hacks #16 Dialogue: communality, reciprocity and dominance in relationships.

One of my favourite quotes about dialogue is that it is two monologues clashing. It really gets across the idea that there are things said and unsaid which tell us competing wants and frustrations from two (or more) different characters at the same time. I don’t think that this quote applies to every piece of dialogue though and today i want to talk a little about the hidden nature of the relationships behind the people speaking and how as writers we can adapt our dialogue to reflect the changing nature of those relationships. Let’s get to it.

Dominance!
Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

Two people are talking. Let’s say the nature of their relationship falls into one of three camps; Communality, Reciprocity and Dominance (This comes from a Stephen Pinker talk: will share link at end).

Communality – a relationship based on kinship and mutualism, dialogue and action will be engendered by what is ‘acceptable amongst friends’.

Reciprocity – a tit for tat relationship. How a diner may talk with a waiter for example.

Dominance – characterised by an understood power imbalance, for example between a boss and a worker.

Reciprocity
Photo by noodle kimm on Unsplash

When relationships fall neatly in these categories, the dialogue will follow quite predictable patterns in their nature. Friends will teach other more or less as equals, a buyer and a seller will haggle over a price, and a boss will tell his workers to get back to work! From a writer’s point of view, it gets interesting when there is movement between these categories. For example: there’s a great moment (so many!) in the comedy I’m Alan Partridge where bored former TV presenter Alan is feeling rather lonely and walks to the petrol station to buy a chocolate bar. He engages in some small talk for a little too long, then, as he prepares to leave, casually asks if the attendant wants to go out for a drink? It’s awkward, Alan is refused and hiding his embarrassment, leaves. What’s happening here is there is an established relationship of reciprocity: the attendant at the station and Alan, the customer. It’s a tit for tat exchange. Pleasantries about the weather are fine, but when Alan asks the attendant if he wants to go out for a drink, he crosses a line and we understand how lonely Alan really is deep down (even though it is a comedy!).

When you don’t know whether to call someone sir or by their first name it’s a sign you are caught in the fuzzy line between a dominance and a communality relationship. When the person pulled over for speeding offers a bribe, we’re moving from dominance to reciprocity. The thing I notice is that when a relationship changes from one characterisation to another, something interesting is happening – and that is what we are striving for!

Communality
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Understanding the hidden nature of relationships between your characters can help unlock some magical moments in your writing. I highly recommend checking out this short Steven Pinker talk where he goes into a lot more detail about why we use the language we do and why, particularly the way we use indirect speech to protect ourselves from mutual knowledge. Plausible deniability can help maintain the fiction of many a relationship! https://www.trendhunter.com/keynote/steven-pinker

Happy writing

CH

Writing Hacks #14: Where to find the best writing prizes and competitions!

Alright, hands up, slight ulterior motive to this intro. My book Orca Rising is up for the People’s Book Prize and has made the final few – thanks to the good folks at Thistle Publishing for sticking my name in the hat! It’s a prize voted for entirely by the public. If you’ve enjoyed reading my blog and want to give something back then help me out in April by voting for my book here It only takes two secs and you’ll get good vibes in return that last muuuuch longer 🙂

Brown Wooden Floating Shelves Mounted on Beige Painted Wall

I’ll keep the rest of this short and sweet and get to the links for some amazing opportunities to showcase your writing. Applying for prizes, be they short story awards, flash fiction or longer form awards they act as a really good way to get exposure as a writer to agents and publishers. More than that, they can often be a target or deadline and provide much needed motivation to finish your work. Here are some of my favourite sources for finding out about what prizes and competitions are out there. This is by no means exhaustive and if you know of any other good ones then go ahead and post them in the comments for everyone!

Sources to follow for Writing competitions

I love New Writing South (there are other regional partners wherever you are in UK) they are a great organisation and regularly post competitions and opportunities on their website or mail shot. Check them out here: https://newwritingsouth.com/

Check out this excellent blog from JesDavidson for a well thought out list of writing comps and their respective fees. https://jesdavidson.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/novel-writing-competition-list/

The Big List of UK Writing Competitions

Some of my writer friends have had success with Mslexia, note that it is female authors only. https://mslexia.co.uk/writing-competitions/

https://thewritelife.com/writing-contests/ are good at listing prizes with cash prizes and some good advice about avoiding scams.

https://www.ukwriterscollege.co.uk/Resources/Writing+Competitions+and+Events.html

Writing Competitions Event Calendar 2019/2020

https://intercompetition.com/writing.html

This is the one Orca Rising is up for: https://peoplesbookprize.com/

Check out Sharpe Books for their unpublished novel award too @sharpebooks on twitter

I also recommend following author Paul McVeigh on twitter, he seems like a great guy and often posts comps and opportunities. His handle is: @paul_mc-veigh

Peoples Book Prize Finalist

Vote here

Writing Hacks #12: Understanding the true work involved beyond the first draft will prepare you for success

So you’ve finished your novel. Whatever happens now, take a breath because you’ve done something truly amazing! The hard work and effort that goes into it, only you truly fathom (but other writers will have a pretty good idea)! Do something to mark the moment, I love to go out for a meal with my wife and son. We aren’t celebrating exactly, more acknowledging a milestone. A first draft is definitely an achievement, but if you think 80% of the work is done then you’re in for a shock.

Picture this: you’re running a 10k race, you train for it, build yourself up mentally for the distance. You feel ready and are in good condition to run a good time. On race day, you’ve run 9km, it’s gone well, you’re tiring but that’s okay, you have only 1km to go and you’re positive you can do it. Then you realise it’s not a 10km run, but a full marathon of 24+ miles.

For a lot of people, that’s what they find out when they finish a first draft. A bit of tinkering around the edges and some light editing and it’ll be good to go right? Sorry! That’s the 9km point right there, and a marathon awaits. I think of the first draft as a third of the work done. The second third is editing and redrafting. And third, promotion and publication time.

Drafting and re-drafting : During my Masters we learned about the number of drafts done by bestselling author Kate Mosse (author of Labyrinth), to paraphrase; expect to write the thing two or three times over at least. So if you’re novel is over 100k words you might end up writing 200k-400k words before finding the 100k that make the final version. I experienced this a little with Orca Rising, i rewrote the final third of the book maybe four of five times (complete rewrites), not to mention the redrafts in the rest of the novel. Feedback from your agent or publisher is invaluable here, my agent was great at getting to the heart of what needed to change succinctly and why. Yes, its a lot of work, but also a lot of fun! If you expect to do it, then it doesn’t feel like a chore, I now look forward to redrafting as much as the creative process of coming up with a first draft.

Publication time: If you self publish, as i did with my first novel Perry Scrimshaw’s Rite of Passage, then this is even more work; you need to proof, do the formatting, design or arrange for a suitable front cover and organise all of your promotional activities. You can pay for people to do this for you, it depends on your financial situation. I actually enjoyed doing this myself, it was really exciting to have total end-to-end creative control. If you’re lucky enough to have a publishing house behind you (as I did with Orca Rising), you benefit from their experience and contacts. The work you can put in here is totally up to you, whether you do blog tours, radio shows, book signings, workshops, school visits, contacting local press, entering competitions, sending out copies to get reviews, organising ads on platforms like Goodreads, Facebook, Kindle etc. There’s so much you can do, and I am certainly no expert here, but I have tried all of those things and the only absolute about them is that they take time, effort and in some cases money. If you’re mentally prepared for these things then you are more likely to meet the challenges they bring with success.

So that’s today’s writing hack; go in with your eyes open, be prepared and be positive; your first draft is a massive achievement, it proves you’ve got what it takes to go all the way, however long the way may be!

Happy writing, editing and publicising

CH

Writing Hacks #11: Keep your Character point of view tight

One of the things I underestimated most when I started out writing was the importance of point of view (PoV) in writing fiction. In fact, I didn’t really give it much thought. After learning about it and re-reading my old work, I quickly realised that sloppy PoV writing undermines the rest of your story, its clarity and impact. With PoV our job as writers is to make clear which character the reader should be identifying with and when. Once you know to look you’ll probably spot it a lot and although the principle is basic, following it all the time is not as easy as you’d think!

Point of View

Here’s a short passage written in third person from my book Orca Rising, here we can see there is a clear and tight point of view character, called Ocean. We are ‘with’ him the whole time and nobody else.

There were no revision classes that afternoon, so Ocean went home. Though it was Wednesday lunchtime, the time zone at home was set for Saturday night. The curtains were drawn and Match of the Day was on playback. Lager can. Smouldering ash-tray. Cigarette gasping out its last grey breaths. And there he was, tarnishing the sofa like a spilt drink. Andy. He had a hand down his trousers, cupping rather than scratching.

What are you doing home?’

Without taking his eyes from the screen Andy lifted up an arm in a cast.

‘Ouch.’ Ocean resisted the urge to smile. ‘How did you do that?’

Andy liberated his good hand, reached for his lager, saw it away and belched. ‘Rather not talk about it. Fetch us another would you?’

Fetch it yourself you waste of space. But no. He’d promised to make more of an effort, so off he went.

How is this tight to Ocean’s PoV? Well, we begin the paragraph establishing that it’s his PoV with the words ‘so Ocean went home.’ We then get some of his thoughts and impressions on his mother’s boyfriend, Andy, who tarnishes the couch ‘like a spilt drink.’ Andy certainly doesn’t think that, it’s Ocean. We get his internal thought ‘Fetch it yourself you waste of space.’ again this is Ocean. You might point to this sentence, ‘Without taking his eyes from the screen Andy lifted up an arm in a cast.’ or indeed the next sentence about Andy drinking his lager as PoV slips… but these are things noticed by Ocean, still from his PoV even though Andy is doing them. I didn’t bother saying ‘Ocean watched Andy liberate his good hand….’ because I don’t need to, it’s implicit that it’s him and more direct to just say what he is seeing.

PoV Slips

PoV slips are what happens when we depart from the point of view character, briefly enter the mind or PoV of a different character and then return to the main PoV character. I’ll stick with Ocean to invent an example of what not to do.

Ocean scaled the wall, paused at the top and looked down for Claude.

‘You can do it Claude, jump up! Quick!’

Claude was shorter than he was. He took a good run up but he flailed at the wall, catching his fingers painfully against the brickwork at the top.

‘I can’t do it!’

This is quite a subtle one, on the face of it you might think, that’s okay, we’re with Ocean, aren’t we? He’s the one observing Claude, watching him take a run at the wall and fail. And you’d be right but for one word. Painfully. Think about it…how does Ocean feel that it’s painful if we’re with him and it’s his PoV? We could maybe hear Claude cry out, observe him shaking out his hand, wincing, cradling it in his arm, see the scratch redden with blood, whatever – that would all be observable from Ocean’s PoV…but Claude’s pain is not Ocean’s PoV, it’s Claude’s.

Writing Hacks for maintaining PoV

  • Mentally, be inside your character’s head as you write
  • Use words that your PoV character would use
  • If you’re writing a story with multiple PoV characters, try keeping their chapters distinct. If you can’t do this, you need to make an extra effort to be clear about which PoV we are with, when and flag when there is a change.
  • Get a good proof-reader on your work, you won’t always spot everything.

Happy writing

CH

Orca Rising up for People’s Book Prize

Hey everyone,

TPBP LOGO in blue

Great news! Orca Rising has been long listed for the People’s Book Prize (Children’s Category). It’s now up to the public to vote for their favourite book, so please vote for Orca Rising here (because it’s your favourite right?!).

 

Halfway down the page, under “Reviews” is a field to put in your name, email address (don’t worry they won’t spam you!) and Submit to vote. You can only vote for me once, but can vote for up to 3 books in any category.

Thanks for your support!

Chris