Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Rules of Writing.

There’s always a lot of talk about the rules of writing – in social media – on writing forums. More often than not it consists of people shouting that the rules are nonsense, that the rules don’t apply to them. After all, writer X breaks this or that rule all the time and they’re a bestseller!

So I’m going to explain to you why the rules are important and why they do apply to you. But first of all, let’s get one thing straight – they’re not really rules – they’re guidelines! But for the sake of simplicity I’ll carry on referring to them as rules for now.

The second thing you need to be aware of is that the rules are there to help you.

Writing is a craft, and as such we need to study and lean about the tools we can use and how to wield them. In this case our tools are words. An artist first leans how to mix the colours on his pallet, how to apply the paint to the canvass to obtain different effects, how to work in different sorts of medium. Once the craft has been mastered, then is the time to push boundaries. Writing is no different.

Let’s take the often cited rule about adverbs that can prove so contentious. “Avoid using adverbs”. There’s a reason behind this. New writers often use adverbs as an easy way to qualify a verb, but the danger is that their writing can become lazy and too reliant on the one technique. Avoiding adverbs forces the writer to think about different ways of expressing things, using stronger verbs and different means of expression.

But once the writer has mastered this and is no longer dependent of adverbs in their prose they can look again at where an adverb might be the most suitable tool to use. After all that’s what adverbs are – another tool in the writer’s arsenal. “Avoid adverbs” doesn’t mean “Never use them”.

So when people say “But writer X uses adverbs all the time” be aware that writer X has studied the craft and knows precisely when an adverb is the best tool to use.

So my advice to you is this. Listen to the rules. Learn them. Understand them. And only then, when you really start to understand your craft, can you start to look at how you can bend them for maximum effect.

Learn the rules before you try to break them.

After all, they’re not really rules. Only guidelines.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The importance of Research

I recently spotted someone on twitter bemoaning the fact that people weren’t taking her seriously as a SF writer because she didn’t have a science background. And it got me wondering why that would be.

The wonderful thing about SF is that it explores the possibilities – the “what ifs”. It may involve an element of pseudoscience, it may take real science and technology and extrapolate these to a possible, if frightening, conclusion. It may suggest concepts that haven’t yet been thought about; Solutions to real world problems that for now seem unsolvable.

Having a scientific background isn’t a pre-requisite for writing science fiction. Of course it isn’t. But it can help. Because it’s essential that the science is plausible. Pseudoscience, by its very nature, is of course, pseudoscience, and science fiction is full of it. But even the pseudoscience has to be convincing. Many SF readers are themselves scientists, or potential scientists, as was my own case – reading SF was what first inspired me to follow a career in science!

And this is where research is so vital. Especially for authors writing in the genre who don’t come from a scientific background. There are no shortcuts and lazy assumptions and blatant impossibilities will soon be exposed. The excuse “Well, it’s fiction. I can do what I like” does really work. Never under-estimate your readers.

If I chose to write historical fiction the fact I’m not a historian shouldn’t be an issue – so long as I did my research, immersed myself in the time period, knew it inside and out, and ensured I didn’t make any glaring errors. SF is no different.

So I couldn’t help wondering if this was the problem with the lady on twitter? Had she done her research?

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Review - Telesa: The Covenant Keeper by Lani Wendt Young

At the moment the YA market is crying out for diverse books by diverse authors, and yet, here is an amazing YA series set in Samoa and written by a Samoan author which appears to have slipped through the net and I can’t begin to imagine why.


The series has been self published, but I have to say the quality of the product is very professional. I also loved the story, the characters and the blend of Samoan mythology. I’ve never been to Samoa but I have been to Fiji so I do have a sense of Pacific island culture, but this book took me in further and I loved that – discovering the people and their legends.

There is a definite nod towards the American market. The main character, although Samoan born has lived most of her life in the US and so she comments on some aspects of Samoan life, such as the boys playing rugby (well of course they do – it’s Samoa) from an American perspective.

There’s a lot to love about this book. The mythology was fascinating and totally new and fresh to me. The characters were engaging and I could feel the pull of their passions. And it even has a bit of geology in it – the icing on the cake for a geo-nerd like me!

I do think it’s a shame that the mainstream markets in the UK and US have missed out on this one. It deserves a wider audience. Samoa may be on the other side of the world but we need more books from different countries and cultures – and isn’t that what this recent push for diverse books is supposed to be about?

This has to be one of the best YA books I’ve come across. I’ve only read the first in the series so far but the rest are on my kindle waiting their turn. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Here are links to Lani Wendt Young’s Amazon pages
In the UK
In the US
And her blog – Sleepless in Samoa

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Girls in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Maths)

As a female scientist I’m used to being the only girl in a room, or ship, full of men. It’s never bothered me, and in fact I rather like it. I’m also not sure I could handle the politics if I worked in a women only office!

When I first started work, the graduate intake I was part of was very male dominated. But I firmly believed that all this was going to change. I thought I was simply part of the first wave. After all – how can anyone NOT be fascinated by science.

It didn’t happen. For several years the graduate intake was only male. For no other reason than that the female science graduates simply weren’t there. It’s a recognised problem. Girls are not taking the science options in school.

But things are starting to shift. Many technology companies are starting to run STEM days with the local schools, and insisting that both boys and girls are equally represented. It will take time, but it will change.

So I found myself wondering what I could do. One of the things I noticed when I was doing school visits as part of the promotion for Red Rock was that the teachers were often very interested in the fact that I was a scientist and liked it when I talked to the kids about some of the science behind the concepts in the novel.

Plus the main character is a girl – and girls can have adventures too!

So maybe writing about girls in STEM is what I should be doing. After all, it was reading SF that first inspired me into science. Perhaps if I wrote something along these lines it might help inspire the next generation of budding scientists.

And this was the starting point for the YA novel I’ve just competed. The novel I’m about to start agent hunting for. Is there a market for such a thing? Who knows! But I’ve really loved writing it, reading up on the science and thinking “What if?”

Thursday, 15 November 2018

When Science and Fiction collide

(Originally posted on the Author Allsorts Blog in January 2016)


When science meets fiction something amazing starts to happen.

As our understanding of the universe expands so do the possibilities. Even before the first rockets launched into space we were already pondering what wonders might exist on distant worlds. Was there life on Mars? Was it hostile?

What better way to explore the possibilities than through fiction. In fiction the limitations in technology that stop us doing something can be easily overcome. There’s no point in telling an author that faster than light space flight isn’t possible. Certainly it isn’t with our current technology.  But in fiction this isn’t a problem. Bring on the hyperdrive, the warp drive, stargates and cryosleep.

In the world of fiction anything is possible.

But science fiction isn’t just about technology and engineering, Any branch of science is fair game, the recent rise in Climate Fiction or Cli-Fi being a fine example. Yes, the science is real, the effects of anthropogenic climate change extrapolated to its logical and potentially terrifying conclusion. Some Science Fiction provides a salutary warning, exploring the dangers as well as the positives.

Of course the science has to be plausible. Your readers need to believe in whatever technology or innovation you’ve come up with, and often those readers will themselves be scientists, or budding scientists. They wants innovations and technologies, scenarios and situations that extrapolate the possible, rather than the ludicrous or implausible. The reader has to think – this really could happen. We could be living in this world someday.

In some cases we already are. (In fact I sometimes feel that we might already be living in one of those dystopian novels that have been so popular of late!) Ideas and technologies that started out in fiction have become science fact. We’ve all seen Jean-Luc Pickard using an i-pad on the Star Ship Enterprise, men have walked on the moon, and we all have computers and use robots to help us with our daily lives. I have one that washes my dishes, and I really fancy one of those little hoover robots!

Science fiction is also the inspiration for the next generation of scientists. I’m not the only person to follow a career in science, influenced by the books I read when I was a child. And the authors of these books were often well renowned scientists in their own right, Isaac Asimov and Fred Hoyle being two that spring to mind.

This is what makes science fiction so special. The ideas and possibilities it allows us to explore. Let today’s science fiction become tomorrow’s science fact! (The good bits that is! I’ll pass on the dystopias!)

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Shiny and New

I wasn’t going to write any more Young Adult books. That’s what I promised myself when the novel I was working on ground to a halt after ten thousand words. I was going to concentrate on adult thrillers and reinvent myself!

Fine words that didn’t last long. For along came a shiny new idea, seeping into my conscious, pestering me like a hungry cat that wants to be fed.

So for the past few months I’ve been scribbling away at something new. Something different. And now the first draft is complete. The tweaking and editing begins.

Is it something that will actually sell? Will any agents be remotely interested? Maybe it’s a bit too different? It breaks the mould, doesn’t follow conventions, and I’ve not seen anything remotely similar on the book shop shelves. So maybe there simply isn’t a market for it.

There’s only one way to find out.

I’m glad I wrote it. I love my characters. But soon I will have to leave them and turn my attention back to my thriller – and a different set of characters who are stamping their feet and feeling unloved.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Giving and Receiving Critique: A few Dos and Don’ts

Eventually you will reach a point in your writing journey where you expose your words to the world. Perhaps you have joined a writers group or online critique club. Either way, giving and receiving feedback is essential if you wish to continue to learn and improve. So here are a few tips for anyone about to take this step.

Giving Critique: 

Critiquing other people’s work is one of the best ways to learn the craft. When you start to see issues in other’s work and the possible solutions it becomes easier to spot the same problems in your own work.

It may feel daunting, you may not feel qualified, but all insights can be helpful to an author. So don’t be afraid and here are a few tips to help you on your way.

Do

  • Do try to find something positive to say, even if the writing is awful there will be something good that you can point out. 
  • Do give examples to clarify what you mean. For example if your feel something is overwritten give an example of what you understand by overwritten.
  • Be honest about what doesn’t work for you. Don’t just say nice things because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. This rather defeats the point of a critique.
  • Do make suggestions if you can see how something might be improved.
  • Do point out what doesn’t work for you, even if you can’t quite put your finger on why. 


Don’t

  • Don’t make it personal. Keep your critique purely to the writing.
  • Don’t try to rewrite. Leave that to the author.
  • Don’t be overly negative or discouraging. Remember that authors are sensitive creatures.
  • Don’t concentrate solely on the minutiae. The big picture stuff is often more important.
  • Don’t get drawn into an argument if the author gets defensive.
  • Don’t expect the author to act on your suggestions. It’s their work after all.
  • Don’t criticise or argue with other critiques. Remember that all feedback is subjective and what one person loves another may hate.


Receiving Critique: 

Receiving critique can terrifying at first. It’s easy to take it personally. It’s easy to get upset. So here are a few dos and don’ts to help you keep your cool the first time you hear that your writing is maybe not as perfect as you hoped.

Do

  • Do thank them for taking the time and trouble to critique your work.
  • Take some time to think about the feedback, even if initially you don’t agree with it. This is particularly true if more than one person raises the same point.
  • Do keep your earlier drafts. You may decide that what has been suggested doesn’t work and wish to return to your earlier version
  • Do keep an open mind. 
  • Do get feedback from more than one person. Look as where the feedback differs as well as where it agrees. 


Don’t

  • Don’t take it personally. The critiquer is commenting on your writing. Not you.
  • Don’t argue with your critiquer, even if it’s obvious they’ve completely misunderstood what you are trying to say. Instead try to think about why they might have misinterpreted your words.
  • Don’t make every change suggested. It’s your work. Only act on the feedback that resonates with you and you feel makes your work stronger.
  • Don’t completely ignore negative feedback simply because it’s not what you want to hear. It may be what you need to hear.


Happy Critiquing.