Friday, 22 August 2014

Make Your Middle Sing!

Recently, I attended a sensational workshop given by James Scott Bell. It was at the Romance Writers' of Australia conference in Sydney.

A seriously helpful how-to.
JSB is a huge fan of structure, which greatly appeals to me. One of the topics that resonated with me at this workshop was the "Mirror Moment". Up until now, I've always known it as the Midpoint in story structure. It happens pretty close to the middle of the story itself. To me, the Midpoint is where the character cannot go back to their ordinary life, they absolutely must take stock and take charge of their destiny.

You think it's a coincidence there's the Intermission in Gone With The Wind, right after Scarlett O'Hara stands there declaring she'll never go hungry again? Course not. Until this point, Scarlett has done her best to adapt to the perils life has thrown at her. But she's done with the world telling her what to do, she's taking matters into her own hands. Even if she has to lie, steal or kill. Tara (the family home) is the most important thing in the world to her, and nothing is going to take it away from her.

So to me it was the Midpoint, but James Scott Bell called it the Mirror Moment, because it's often that moment in a book or film, where the main character looks deep inside themselves and has to decide how they're going to go on. In an action story, it's where the character thinks they are going to die. Or, it could be the moment the character actually looks into a mirror and sizes themselves up. Silently, they face their deepest fears, knowing they have to be hero of their own story.

He goes into this in excellent detail in his book Write Your Novel From The Middle.

Which is pretty darn awesome.

So then, freshly fired-up, I came home and grabbed my first Ondine off the shelf and had a look at the very middle of the book. It's 292 pages long. The Absolute middle is therefore page 196. Did I have a Mirror Moment or a proper Midpoint? Did I have a main protagonist looking inside himself or herself, declaring how they were going to go on?

Why yes. Yes I absolutely did!

Seriously, my brain did me a solid. Thank you brain!

I'm not even sure I really knew what a Midpoint was, let alone a Mirror Moment when I first wrote this book waaaaaay back in about 2007/2008.

Sure, I loved structure, I loved characters being confronted with all sorts of issues, both external and internal. I also loved the way a character reacted against things for a little while, before pulling their boots on and standing up for themselves. Becoming an advocate for themselves.

But I don't think I understood structure properly. There was something subconscious about this writing that I must have picked up from a lifetime of reading.

Honesty time: I don't think I quite made enough of this Midpoint, but it is there. Hamish has come to the decision that he has to be a man, he has to finally grow up and be worthy of Ondine. Ondine too has seen Shambles/Hamish as the man he could be, and has decided to do whatever she can to keep him Hamishly human.

Those with eagle eyes will note this is 46% of the way in, because it's the ebook version. The reason this is not exactly 50% is because I placed sample chapters for book 2 at the end of this one, so that skewed the percentages. But hand on heart, this is the exact middle of the first book. The pages preceding and following are all about Ondine's need to help Hamish, and Hamish's need to be good enough for Ondine. I'd call that a pretty good Midpoint.

Do you have a favourite Midpoint in a movie or book? Share your moments in the comments. I have heaps of favourites but I've done enough talking. Now it's your turn.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Ondine's going on tour!

This is a thing! A proper thing! The Summer of Shambles is going on a blog tour. October 20-25.

Would you like to be part of it? Sign up here and join in the fun. You get a copy of the book in exchange for your honest review.

I'm organising giveaways to coincide with the tour, which will include fun things like copies of my ebooks, post cards and cute little ferret pins. You can never have too many ferret pins.

Oooooh, what about a certificate welcoming people into the Loyal Order of the Ferret? That could be a thing too. What fun!

I'll get on that, while you get on to signing up for the blog tour.

Off we go!

I may have used up my daily quota of exclamation points.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Back to Basics: What is a scene?

I presented my workshop on The Staircase of Turning Points at the Romance Writers' of Australia's 2014 conference in Sydney this past weekend.

I talked about creating lots of forward momentum by making sure each scene has turning points.

Afterwards, I was chatting to a writer who'd been in the workshop, and she admitted she wasn't entirely sure what a scene actually was.

It really got me thinking. What is a scene?
Not only that, but how much happens in one scene? How many people are in it? How many pages long should they be? How many scenes are in a chapter?

My definition of a scene at its most basic is 'something that happens'.

 Making a scene from Ondine 4,
The Spring Revolution 
A character discovers something, has a win or a loss, makes a compromise, becomes angry, becomes jubilant etc.

So something has to happen and there needs to be some kind of MOOD or EMOTIONAL change taking place.

Have the character happy at the start of the scene and miserable at the end, or vice versa. If they have the same emotion the whole way through, it will feel like nothing is happening.

A scene should have two or more characters. It might have only one character, but that's harder to pull off because this one character doesn't have anyone to talk with or react to. Or lie to.

Then there is the sage advice of "get into the scene as late as possible, get out as early as possible".

The above scene card is from a major turning point in the fourth Ondine novel, The Spring Revolution (out later this year folk). The O and V are my quick reference of who is in the scene. O is Ondine and V is Vincent. I also know Hamish is in the scene too. This scene is from Ondine's point of view.

Her emotion at the beginning of the scene is nervous excitement. She's nervous for her sisters, hoping they win a song contest. Hamish decides to take her home.
They run into Lord Vincent (of course they do) who asks them for their help.
This gives Ondine a new emotion, one of REVULSION. As if she'd ever want to be near Lord Vincent again, let alone help him.
BUT, as it states on the card, Vincent promises to help Margi and Cybelle win the contest if Ondine will help him. Now Ondine's feeling torn and conflicted. Vincent could destroy her sisters' dreams of making it big in the music world if she doesn't comply.
This in turn means Ondine ends up doing pretty much the one thing she never would have done. She's going to help Vincent.
Her emotion is now one of fear and apprehension. Will Vincent honour his word? What repercussions will arise from Ondine helping Vincent?

This particular scene is a crisis moment for Ondine. By helping Vincent, she's become embroiled, yet again, in royal intrigue.

After a few drafts of any book, I go back to the beginning and read through my manuscript. I write down what happens in each scene on a separate scene card (or sticky note, depending on what's to hand).

I write the sketchiest details on each card:
Characters + whose point of view (POV) I'm in.
What happens
I'll often jot down emotions and motivations as well

All the while I'm thinking about how each scene is vital to the overall plot.

Which ends up on the kitchen table looking like this:

These are the 'three acts' (although it's really four) of The Spring Revolution.

So in a nutshell, a scene is where something happens to keep the story moving forward.

Yes, it is time consuming, but writing scene cards is also one of the best visual ways I know of being able to 'see' the whole novel.

Scene by scene.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

No new problems after the midpoint.

That sounds like a pretty hard and fast rule, but it's something that became glaringly obvious to me during revisions of Ondine 4.

Yes, I'm still revising Ondine 4. It will be ready when it's ready.

As you know, I love structure. As I was revising book 4, I knew something wasn't working, yet I couldn't really put my finger on it.

It was too loose and took far too long to get going. And then it hit me. I had created a whole new 'problem' for Ondine to solve, which was not really related to her existing issues. Nor was it a true complication of an earlier problem. It was a plot thread that would not fit in.

OK, it sort of was, but as that problem was something only mentioned in book 1, it was a problem most people wouldn't even remember.

Resurrecting that old problem into book 4, which in structure terms is the final act of the four novels, meant I was bringing in a whole new complication far, far too late in the piece.

If you think of a novel in the '3 Act' structure, the midpoint is about half way through the second act (hence its name) and from then on, there's no turning back. For example, in Gone With The Wind, there's a really good reason why they put the intermission after Scarlett comes back to Tara and declares she'll never go hungry again. This is the true mid point. Scarlett can't go 'back', the past is gone. She can only move forward, and if she has to lie or cheat or kill, yes, even if she has to kill, she'll never be hungry again.

I love that scene SO HARD!

All the problems Scarlett faces after this incredible mid point are not new. They are further complications that have continued to fester from the beginning.

I love it when my brain does me a solid.

Happy writing everyone.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Win Stuff and be Awesome!

Hey everyone,
time to ramp up the ferrety fun with a competition.

HUGE prizes!
Post cards!
& A pewter ferret pin!

First prize is:

  1. A fine pewter ferret pin, made by George G Harris, valued at $11 US (plus the postage from Australia, which is anyone's guess!)
  2. Two rare postcards from Brugel, which I'll post via air mail to the winner's nominated address.
  3. The first two ebooks in the Ondine series, The Summer of Shambles & The Autumn Palace.

(If the winner already has these first two titles, I'll send the ebook of The Winter of Magic.)

Second prize is:
Fine pewter hand crafted in the USA
From the George G Harris
Wildlife Collection
"Wearable art for the outdoor enthusiast"
The first two ebooks in the Ondine series, The Summer of Shambles & The Autumn Palace.

Third prize is:
The first ebook in the Ondine series, The Summer of Shambles.

"Shut up and show me where to sign?"

Starting June 10, and running until July 17. Tell your friends. In fact, if you do, you'll stand a better chance at winning. It's that insidious easy!

Click away below and you're in with a chance. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Update - as you can see, the comp is closed and I've announced the winners.
Congratulations to Rae, Vivianne and John, and happy reading :-)

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Beat Sheets

Handy things those beat sheets.

The awesome of clip art
Before I jump headfirst into revisions of Ondine 4, I used the 'Save The Cat' Beat Sheet created by the very talented and dearly missed Blake Snyder.

As structure is my friend (as it is yours) the structure can show a writer (i.e., ME) where I'm hitting my marks and where I'm way off.

Snyder has a sensationally useful beat sheet for film scripts.

Novels are a little different in that you aren't restricted to 110 pages, so with added waffle and whacky magic, my beat sheet looks like this:

Act One:
Opening Image
Theme Stated
Introduce the "Six things that need Fixing" (sprinkled throughout Act 1 and beginning of Act 2)
Hero/Heroine's Goals - state them up front so the reader knows where we're going.
Set up
Debate (should I do this or not? Obviously, the character has to do it, or there is no story)
Break into Act 2.

Act 2: (which is broken into two parts)
B Story
Increase in Tension
"Fun & Games" in which you deliver on the "Promise of the Premise". (ie, if you're at a wizard school, show some wizarding. Like, mebbe a game of quiddich!)
Midpoint - where it all becomes very real and there's no going back.

Act 2 Part 2:
Chase Scene
Bad Guys Close in
"The Shopping Montage" which may or may not involve shopping. Mine is a street riot, involving a chase over rooftops. Each to their own.
All is lost
"Dark Night of the Soul"
Break into Act 3

Act 3:
Finale/ resolution
Final image

This book will have an epilogue, because the emotions need an 'aaaahhhhhh' moment to make sure that all is in fact right with the world.

I love Snyder's "Six Things That Need Fixing" (I broke this rule and I'm up to seven, but hey ho.)

The things that need fixing need to be fixed by the end of the book. I like to introduce them fairly early on - but not all lumped in together. If they are introduced too late, it feels like 'and another thing, and this thing' and it makes me feel like the story is never going to take off. But that's just me.

So, introduce all your 'fixer uppers' early on and then have some payoffs along the way. Don't wait until the very end for everything to pay off, or it will feel contrived.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Using All 11 Senses

Want to really get under the skin of your characters? Then do it. Get in their heads and get sensory.

You know the basic senses:

Sight - but some people are colour blind while others “see” the word Monday as red. (This is called synaesthesia).
Sound - and the direction of where sounds are coming from.
Smell - evokes memories as well. This is the first sense that develops - even before a baby is born.
Touch - a strong sense from birth. Babies use touch to see (putting things in their mouths) because their eyes aren’t fully developed yet.
Taste - we have between 2,000 and 8,000 taste buds each. Taste is also strongly linked with smell AND taste doesn’t work if our mouth is completely dry. You need saliva to taste anything. This is probably why, when we smell something delicious, our mouth starts watering.

Often my first drafts are a huge mess. The only senses I generally use are basic sights and sounds. Just to get the main story down. In the next drafts I go deeper, layering smells, tastes and touches on the pages too.

1) Have some fun writing a story without using sight. What other senses do you use instead? 
2) Write a story all about tasting new things. What do they taste like? Do they remind you of other foods? Do they bring back memories?

We have so much more than the basic five senses. All of these are senses too:

Balance - ie, falling over or keeping your balance.
Stand up, put your arms out, then raise one knee. You will find your bady can still balance on one leg. 
Now do it with your eyes closed. How hard is it to balance? That's because your sight also helps you keep your balance. The other part is the inner ear - there's a tiny amount of liquid in the inner ear that gives us balance - or vertigo if it’s damaged.

Temperature. We can touch something and feel how hard and soft it is, but we can also feel the temperature around us all the time. Is it hot or cold in here? Mum’s always telling you to put your jacket on but you don’t feel the cold???

Proprioception - this is a big fancy word to say we know where our body is in the space we’re taking up. Without having to look, we know our arm is leaning on the table, we know where our feet are. We can cross our feet without having to look at them first to make sure they’re going the right way. Some people can type on a keyboard without having to look where the letters are because they know where their fingers are in the ‘space’ around them.
Close your eyes and touch your finger to the end of your nose. You don’t have to see it to do it. This is where your senses step in and help you.

Pain - we have pain receptors in our body that tell us when something is wrong with our body. We fall off the monkeybars and our foot is killing us. It’s our body's way of making us take the weight off and rest our foot until it’s healed.

Time - you know how sometimes time flies or it drags? This is also a sense. It’s our brains processing the passing of time.

Not strictly a sense, but everyone feels various amounts of:
Emotions - Our brains process emotions and feelings. We’re happy when we see friends and have a good time, we’re miserable when we’re hurt. We also have mixed emotions when we remember events from the past, or anticipate what’s coming up tomorrow.
For example, an assignment is due tomorrow, you’re nervous about whether the teacher will give you good marks. On Tuesday night you’re having a sleepover, so you’re excited about staying up late and playing Plants vs Zombies all night.

By using more than our basic senses in a story, we create a real world for the character and the reader. Too many senses all at once can become confusing, but not enough can make the story feel underdeveloped.
 It's up to you to find the balance.

Animals and plants with extra senses:
Echolocation - bats and some other animals can sense where they are - even in flight - by detecting the speed of soundwaves bouncing off cave walls.
Electroreception - sharks and platypus can sense changes in the magnetic fields around them - or even create magnetic fields.
Magnetoreception - birds migrate using this - aligning themselves to the earth’s magnetic fields.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Parlay with Pirates

I hit a milestone in my writing career yesterday.

All three of my Ondine novels were on a torrent site. Or a pirate site. Or a 'pay us a monthly fee and we'll let you download whatever you like but we don't give the content creators any of that money and by the way you can't sue us because we don't actually host anything' sites.

Yeah, them.

I was furious and also ... kind of excited. I'd seen all my author friends deal with this over the years and felt a little left out that my books weren't good enough to get pirated.

But it finally happened, and I wasn't going to let someone else make money of my hard work.
And before you ask; NO, I do not download Game of Thrones illegally. I am reading the books, but in previous seasons I've watched it via purchasing the downloads on appletv. Which left me behind everyone else and couldn't go on social media for fear of spoilers.

Anyway, here's what you as an author can do.

This is how the google alert shows up in my email
 Step 1: The most important step. Finding out if your book is on a free site.

Set up a google alert. You will be able to do this at

This way, if your book ends up available as a download, you'll get an email notifying you.

Also, try a general search of *My Book Title* and *download* or *free* or *torrent* etc. You might be surprised and appalled at what you find.

If you find your book on a site, step away from the keyboard, scream silently to yourself and make a cuppa or have some chocolate or go for a walk. You need to be calm and practical to deal with this.

It looked so inviting and free . . .

Step 2: Another very important step. Contacting the website/host/pirates.

As much as it might burn your retinas, do your best to find a contact link so you can contact the people who will be the ones removing the links. Believe it or not, some, like Download-genius, have a DMCA link and state that they take copyright seriously!

It doesn't matter what the site itself says about DMCA and copyright and take down notices. They could create an enormous list of legal-sounding hoops you have to jump through, but it's meaningless. They're just trying it on.

Step 3: A hugely important step. Write your DMCA Take Down notice.

Up until yesterday, I didn't even know what DMCA stood for, or How to write a Take Down Notice. (DMCA is Digital Millennium Copyright Act)  So I typed "DMCA takedown notice template" into a search engine and came up with plenty of formula emails that I could use. This one from EPIC is very user friendly and has all the legal requirements you need to use in your contact with the pirates.

Step 4: Send your DMCA Take Down notice and .... wait.

It could be very quick (in my case, it was about an hour! RESULT!) but they could just as likely ignore you.
That's OK, just send them another one in a few days. Also, let your writer friends know of the site, and get them to check if their hard work is being abused on the site. You'd be surprised what a torrent of DMCA take downs can achieve.

Good luck and keep writing.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Slow Going

I'm not enjoying this, and that's not like me.
But the truth is, I'm not enjoying writing the final Ondine novel.
It's written, but it's in seriously bad shape, and now I'm revising it and I don't think I've ever been so slow.

Is it because I can't bear to say goodbye to these people (who are so real to me)? Yes.
Is it because there is so much work to do? Very yes.
Is it because I set the bar so high with the first three books I feel like I'm trying to catch lightning in a bottle one more time? Much yessness.
Have I forgotten how to write? No.
Have I become lazy? Not exactly ... but reluctant. For all the reasons state above.
I don't have writer's block, but I have a bad case of the doubts and it's slowing me down. I'm more easily distracted than ever before. I'm tetchy and grumpy and distracted. Did I mention I'm getting distracted? Ohhh, look, a thing!

I suspect this is all normal, but now that I've admitted I have a problem, perhaps I can push through it and get this darn book written!!!!!

Monday, 24 March 2014

How many books do you have to sell on Amazon to make a Bestseller list?

This book is officially
an Amazon Bestseller.
Not that many as it turns out.

The numbers are in from my recent promotion. Through the Ereader News Today link, I sold 45 copies of The Summer of Shambles for US$0.99c through Amazon in one day.

I probably sold another 15 or so (I don't have the exact numbers for this yet) through my fabulous friends promoting the book on the same day, who linked directly to the book.

So let's estimate I sold 60 books in one day on Amazon.

Those 60 sales were enough for Amazon to create those subset lists where the book went from #600,000 in Paid Kindle to #37 on Paid Kindle > Young Adult > Romance > Contemporary.

What did I earn from this? About $20.40 in royalties, or $0.34 c per book.

How much did this promotion cost me?

An absolute pittance. Get your jaw supports in place because this one is a doozy.

$3.90 US.

So my 'profit' for the day is $16.10

In the grand scheme of things, these are miniscule numbers, but it shows how affordable some promotions can be, and how with less than 100 sales in one day a writer can get into a Bestseller list.

Have you had promotions that yield great results? What's worked for you?

Information is like chocolate. Sharing the goodness brings people together.