Poll: Do you Write in Chronological or Non-Chronological Order?

A question that’s been on my mind today as I start work on a new novel (I know! Exciting! More on this later :)) – who writes their novels in chronological order? As with all things writing, there’s no right or wrong way, but I’m interested to know how many people prefer following their stories through from beginning to end, and  those who jump around from scene to scene.

For me, I always write chronologically. It’s important to take that journey with my main character. Especially when it comes to first person, which all my work  since my first two novels has been. I need to be right there with my protagonist, every moment, every step of the way, experiencing how they feel when they feel it – and as closely as they feel it – so their later actions and emotions are a direct result of what has happened previously. I’m envious of writers who achieve this even when hopping between scenes. Tell me your secrets! If I even skip a single scene I find I start feeling lost and unconnected with my character.

Of course I do sometimes tease myself by writing little tidbits of scenes to come, but these usually tend to just be glimpses or snatches of conversation that I’ll later expand on and edit to work into the novel. A few chapters in both The Elites and The Memory Keepers were done this way. And when I’m still in the research and ‘getting into the mood’ stage of writing, before I’ve started properly on the first draft, I’ll write scenes from all over the place. It definitely helps ground me in the new fictional world I’ll be spending the next few months in, and gets me excited to begin!

How do you write? Let me know in the poll below!

YALC Recap

YALC author signings

Last weekend I was at the UK’s first YA literature convention, an event organised by the lovely people at Booktrust and YA queen Malorie Blackman, and it turned out to be the maddest, most fun experience of my author life so far. It was just the best. There were tonnes of wonderful bookish people, and the atmosphere was practically fizzing with excitement. Loads of people turned out for the book stalls, author workshops, panel discussions and signings – as well as all the accompanying London Film and Comic Con craziness that was also going on at Earl’s Court over the weekend.

Exciting things that happened:

YALCYALC Art of Blogging wokshop

I did a workshop on blogging with author Holly Bourne, booktuber Sanne Vliegenthart and Macmillan’s marketing manager Kat McKenna.

YALC London Film and Comic ConHere I am obviously saying something very interesting and important here *cough*

Natasha Ngan book signingNatasha NganI did a two-hour book signing, and people actually came! (P.S. How awesome is author Lucy Saxon’s amazing Captain America costume?)

Author book signingLook how excited fellow writer and lovely blogger Marieke is to meet me! Haha ;)  If you look closely you’ll spot a copy of The Memory Keepers on the table. Hot Key were able to get a few advance copies there, and they completely sold out! Yay! I’m even more excited now for the official release date in September.

YALC cupcakes

Ooh, literary cupcakes!

Iron ThroneI got to sit on the world’s most uncomfortable throne. It was such a shame I haven’t got round to reading or watching Game of Thrones yet, because half the cast was at Comic Con, and as we shared the same chill out room as them there was much celebrity spotting to be done. I got rather excited about seeing John Hurt and Anthony Head there, and had a little fangirl over the wonderful Mark Gatiss (Mycroft in Sherlock).

YALC authorsYALC authors

I met lots of amazing authors who I’d only previously known on Twitter and had long admired, including Frances Hardinge, Matt HaigKim Curran and Rainbow Rowell. Everyone was so nice and made me feel like one of the gang, even if I do look at this photo of me squidged in with YA royalty and think what is my life. The same goes for all the wonderful book bloggers I got to meet, such as Charli and Lucy. I can’t get over how talented they are at such young ages to run such successful, interesting blogs, and I’m forever grateful to them for the support they’ve given me since debuting with The Elites last year.

All in all I had the best time at YALC, and can’t wait to hopefully do it all again next year! A huge thanks to Malorie and the Booktrust team for organising it all. The event was such a success, and just goes to show that teenagers do read – and can get damn excited about it all too!

Authors on Writing and Reading Interview Series: Philip Reeve

Oops, apologies I’ve not been consistent with posting these interviews each Monday! Just when you think life has calmed down a bit, it all gets crazy again. But I’m super excited to share today’s post with you – and trust me, it’s worth the wait. It’s not every day an author like me gets to welcome one of the UK’s biggest children’s and YA writing stars … but today is one of those days! Because here to share his writing and reading insights with us is the wonderful Philip Reeve.

I’ve been a fan of Philip’s writing ever since picking up Mortal Engines in my local charity bookshop. I bought it on a whim based on the gorgeous illustrated cover and took it away on holiday with me. After pretty much devouring it in a day, I went out and bought the next two in the series – and let’s not even go into how expensive books are in Malaysia! – and have been hooked on everything he writes since. It’s been a real privilege hearing about Philip’s own writing and reading habits, especially as he’s gone into such detail in each question. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing about them as much as I have!

TWENTY QUESTIONS ON WRITING AND READING WITH:

PHILIP REEVE

Philip Reeve Goblin Quest cover

WRITING

1. Describe your book in one sentence.

Goblin Quest is set in a fantasy world with obvious echoes of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, only the goblins get to be the heroes for a change, instead of just faceless minions of evil!

2. How did the initial idea come about?

I read The Lord of the Rings to my son a few years ago. It reminded me how much I loved Tolkien’s writing, and the world he created, but also how much I dislike the black-and-whiteness of it – the way all the orcs are irredeemably bad. Well, I don’t dislike it that much – I find it easy enough to ignore – but I wondered what it would be like if they were sympathetic characters too. So I set out to write something that would be a) a gentle parody of Tolkien, b) an homage to him and c) a bedtime story I could read to my son, with plenty of action and humour and poo. That turned into a book called Goblins. I thought it was just a one-off, but the publisher (Scholastic) asked for a second (Goblins vs Dwarves), and I thought that turned out pretty well – I think it’s better than the first book – so I went on and wrote a third.

3. Plotter or pantser?

Pantser for sure, I never plot anything out in advance. I usually have an opening image in mind, and a couple of ideas for things that might happen further down the line, and then I just start writing and see where it goes. Usually when I’m about two thirds of the way through the first draft, I start to understand what it’s about and what the ending will be. Sometimes I get an idea for a whole story, but that’s always a disaster, I never bother finishing those. Writing is boring if you know what’s going to happen next.

4. What was the hardest scene to write?

Goblin Quest was a surprisingly easy book to write. I know the world quite well after the first two books, and most of the characters are fairly familiar, too, so I just had to think up some new situations to drop them into. The most difficult scenes are always the ones where there are loads of characters running around and lots of things going on at the same time – it’s like keeping different plates spinning, you have to be careful not to forget anybody!  But some things you would expect to be hard – killing off beloved characters, for instance – is actually easy, those scenes are quite intense and seem to flow fairly well. The quiet scenes, the happy moments, those are more difficult – it’s easy to write about people having a horrible time, but keeping the pace right when everyone is content and nothing much is happening is much harder. I really admire people who can write well about happiness and everyday things.

5. What’s been the most surprising part of your publishing journey so far?

Getting published in the first place, I guess!  I wasn’t really expecting my first book, Mortal Engines, to be published, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be a success, so that was an amazing period. And recently, working with Sarah McIntyre on books like Oliver and the Seawigs, has been like starting all over again. I find myself on stage with her at festivals, wearing costumes, playing the ukelele (very badly), and I think ‘I used to write quite serious novels – how did this happen?’ But it’s all good, I’m enjoying the performance side of things, and I think that (along with Goblins) it’s freed me from my past to some extent.  I think it’s essential to take a new direction from time to time.

6. Favourite line from your book?

“Delia?”

7. If you could talk to one writer to get advice and insight, dead or alive, who would it be?

Well, the great thing about writers is that you don’t have to talk to them! Living or dead, you can just read their books, and learn from that way. I think when writers dish out writing tips it can often be quite counter-productive. You’re much better off just reading their stuff, and puzzling out for yourself how they handle certain problems.

8. Three words you couldn’t live without …

There are words I overuse terribly. ‘Dark’, ‘Vast’ and ‘Suddenly’ seem to crop up a lot! I usually do a search for them, and a few other offenders, when the MS is finished, and lop out as many instances as I can.

9. Give us a sneak peek at one of your ideas for a future book.

I try not to talk about future books, partly because it feels like bad luck to talk about them before they’re written, and partly because my ideas may change anyway: I’m forever scrapping things. I’m working at the moment on a new novel which I hope will appeal to Mortal Engines fans, although it’s set in a very different world.

10. What’s the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?

That hoary old piece of Hollywood wisdom: ‘If the second act isn’t working, change the first act.’

READING

1. When and where is your favourite time and place to read?

I read at coffee break in the morning, lunchtime, and teatime. I’m a creature of habit! Sometimes for a bit before bed, too. I go through phases when I don’t read any fiction – when I’m working on my own stuff it can be quite hard to concentrate on someone else’s.

2. What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just started The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which is very, very good so far. I was sort of underwhelmed by her earlier books (though everyone says The Secret History is wonderful, so I must give it another go), but I’m enjoying this one immensely, and she can certainly write. And I’ve been reading online some very fine science fiction stories by Bee Sriduangkaew, who creates these surreal visions of far future worlds – I’m not sure I fully understand her stories, but the images linger, like strange dreams. You can find links to some of them on her website: http://beekian.wordpress.com/

3. You have a book hangover! How do you cure it?

I’m not sure what that means! There are times when I don’t really want to read, but it always passes. And there are times when I get to the end of a book I really enjoy and nothing else quite seems to hit the spot in the same way, so sometimes, after a really good novel, I have to switch to non-fiction for a bit. (NN – That’s a book hangover, Philip!)

4. If you could date any fictional character, who would it be?

I have no idea! I never got the hang of dating in real life…

5. Favourite line from a book?

‘Later, Powers often thought of Whitby, and the strange grooves the biologist had cut, apparently at random, all over the floor of the empty swimming pool.’ That’s the opening line of a JG Ballard story called The Voices of Time. It’s intriguing, absurd, beautiful, and utterly distinctive.

6. Paper or ebooks?

It doesn’t make very much difference to me when I’m actually reading, but if I like a book I tend to want a nice paper copy sitting on my bookshelf. I guess that’s a very Twentieth Century thing!

7. As a child, who was your fictional hero/heroine?

I think my heroes were the writers and illustrators rather than their characters. I would identify with the characters, but from a very early age I was always aware that somebody was making up these stories, and they were the people I wanted to be! My heroes were Tolkein and Rosemary Sutcliff, Ronald Searle and Goscinny & Uderzo.

8. Which is the most-read book on your shelves?

I have a few books which I’ve owned since childhood, like the Searle and Willans Molesworth books, The Lord of the Rings, and The Eagle of the Ninth, and those have been read many times. The most read grown-up books I own are probably Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels, which are endlessly rereadable – I did a blog post about them a while back: http://the-solitary-bee.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/godfather-of-sail.html

9. Describe what reading means to you in one word.

‘Escape’. I think that’s the why most people read; to be lifted out of humdrum reality for a while. Literary types tend to get a bit sniffy about that, but who cares what they think?

10. If you could recommend one book to non-readers, which would it be?

A lot of adults I know don’t read fiction because they don’t enjoy it; it just doesn’t work for them. And that’s fine, it’s only an entertainment form, I get a bit tired of authors carrying on as though books are the lifeblood of a master spirit and you somehow become a better person by reading them. Watch telly instead if you’d rather! Of course, it’s important that children read, and I think that for the ones who find whole novels a bit of drag I’d recommend comics, like the ones the DFC/Phoenix has published, and also things like Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books. And there’s a lovely book which I’d recommend to everybody, The Arrival by Shaun Tan. It deals very movingly with the immigrant experience without ever being remotely an ‘issues’ book, and there’s not a single word in it, it just unfolds across page after page of beautiful pencil drawings, like a silent movie.

Authors on Writing and Reading Interview Series: Bea Davenport

Say hello to the lovely Bea Davenport (the writing name of former journalist Barbara Henderson). The Serpent House is her first novel for children, though she is already a published crime writer. Listen to how intriguing The Serpent House sounds – in this historical time-fantasy inspired by the medieval leper hospital once sited in the village where Bea now lives, a time-travelling girl must retrieve a book belonging to a sinister doctor and guarded by fearsome serpents. The book comes out next month, so there’s not long to wait now! Until then, let’s see what juicy insights Bea can clue us in on …

TEN QUESTIONS ON WRITING WITH:

BEA DAVENPORT

The Serpent House by Bea Davenport

1. Describe your book in one sentence.

The Serpent House is a historical time fantasy, set in the Victorian era and the Dark Ages – scary but exciting (I hope)!

2. How did the initial idea come about?

It came from three different ideas. In the village where I live, near Berwick upon Tweed, there really was a leper hospital in medieval times, and I because so little is known about it I always wanted to write something about that. I was also inspired by family stories about my three great-aunts, all of whom worked in service in large houses in Newcastle and Cumbria. They had very tough lives. And because I suffered from alopecia as a child, I wanted to explore that too. I wove the story strands together using time-travel.

3. Plotter or pantser?

Funnily enough, I’m a complete pantser when it comes to writing. If I plan ahead, I don’t enjoy the writing process so much. It’s odd, though, because in all other areas of my life I plan everything down to the last minute detail, to the point of being a bit obsessive.

4. What was the hardest scene to write?

There’s a scene where the leper hospital catches fire. I realised as I was writing that something awful was going to happen in this scene and it did upset me (and one or two people who read it!). But writers will know that sometimes, you lose control of what happens to your characters – strange as that may sound.

5. What’s been the most surprising part of your publishing journey so far?

Just three days after a major setback with an agent, the novel was accepted for publication by Curious Fox. They’d had the manuscript for so long I’d forgotten I’d sent it to them, so the offer came out of the blue. And because I was so low about being turned down by the agent, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I think it taught me that the publishing journey is something of a rollercoaster – and you need a strong stomach!

6. Favourite line from your book?

This is from quite near the end: ‘Maybe it was just time for things to grow again’. It will make sense if you read the book!

7. If you could talk to one writer to get advice and insight, dead or alive, who would it be?

I think Hilary Mantel is one of our most wonderful writers and I am in awe of her work. I’d love to ask her about recreating the past in a way that is so entertaining that it never feels like ‘teaching’.

8. Three words you couldn’t live without …

Hmm. I’m afraid I can’t answer this one. I’d like to think if you took one set of words away from me, I’m creative enough to find another way of saying the same thing.

9. Give us a sneak peek at one of your ideas for a future book.

I’m hoping to write a sequel for The Serpent House in which Annie finds herself in a different, but even more dangerous, period of the past. I’m also redrafting a contemporary book for older teenagers, with the working title Halloween. It’s very, very loosely based on something that happened to me when I was younger and it’s about a Halloween prank that goes horribly wrong – and all the consequences of it.

10. What’s the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?

I asked the wonderful Jackie Kay is if was okay to start off a novel without any idea how it was going to end, and she said it definitely was. She then told me that if I did have an ending in mind, to ‘hold it lightly’ – in other words, to be prepared to change. I have always followed that advice!

Bluebells

Bluebell woods

Had to share a pic from my fashion and lifestyle blog to show you one of my favourite writing inspiration locations (ooh rhyme). These bluebell woods are in Heartwood Forest, just a half an hour walk from my parents’ house. In the spring the wood turns purple with flowers, making it such a magical place to go for a slow wander and getting lost in daydreams about my latest WIP. It’s especially beautiful at sunset, when the sunlight filters through the high canopy and glazes everything in hazy, golden light. Bliss.

What are your favourite places to go for writing inspiration? x

The Memory Keepers Cover Reveal!

GUYS I’M SO EXCITED! Today I get to share with you the cover for my second novel, The Memory Keepers – and isn’t it absolutely beautiful! When Hot Key showed me the cover they’d made for The Elites, I didn’t think it could get much better. But then this came along. Huge props to Jan and the design team for such a great job, especially as they started the process a while before I’d even finished writing the book! It still amazes me how perfect the cover is when Jan et al had such little to go on.

Seeing the final cover is one of the best parts of the publication process. It’s when everything starts feeling as though it’s coming together, and you have little daydream visions of the book in readers’ hands, being eagerly opened, lovely paper-smelling pages thumbed for the first time.

Anyway, without further ado, may I present to you in sexy high-res (click on the images to see a bigger version) the oh-so-gorgeous cover for TMK

TA DA!

The Memory Keepers by Natasha Ngan cover MEMORY_KEEPERS backThe Memory Keepers by Natasha Ngan cover

*Oggles*

Isn’t it gorgeous! I just cannot WAIT to see it on the shelves in a few months time. If you’re super keen, you can pre-order it on Amazon here, and the first few chapters are up on Hot Key’s site if you fancy a read! x

 

Authors on Writing and Reading Interview Series: Bethany Straker

Following on from last week’s writing interview, today we have our first set of reading questions with wonderfully talented UK-based illustrator Bethany Straker. Bethany recently released a super fun little book written by Isabel Atherton, Zombie Cat: The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty. It somehow manages to be both deliciously gruesome and charming – clever work ladies! I loved reading through Bethany’s answers about her reading habits. It still amazes me how reading is such a different and personal thing to each of us. Read on to find out who Bethany’s literary crush is and how she cures a book hangover …

TEN QUESTIONS ON READING WITH:

BETHANY STRAKER

Zombie Cat by Isabel Atherton and Bethany Straker cover

1. When and where is your favourite time and place to read?

On holiday! But more realistically, it’s always at night before I switch off the light. This can sometimes be hard – I go to bed when I’m tired, so keeping my eyes open can be difficult. When I commuted to London I’d get through so many more books than I do at the moment – but it just means that now I’m more picky with what I read.

2. What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just started reading ‘A Pleasure and A Calling’ by Phil Hogan, a creepy and unsettling book about an over-familiar estate agent who seems to know a little too much about everyone’s lives. It is described as a ‘darkly comic social satire’, and is shaping up to be quite a good read.

3. You have a book hangover! How do you cure it?

I just had this, actually! I was reading two great books, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. The former was a wonderful, gripping book by the author of one of my favourites, ‘The Secret History’, and the latter was a fairly heartbreaking, nostalgic American retelling of the lives of a close group. After reading those, I just didn’t feel like reading anything! I wanted to live inside those stories a little longer. My advice is not the usual course of action, but it worked for me: give reading a break for a while. If I don’t do this after a good book, I read the beginnings of a few books and give up on them, disappointed. This time I waited until I was ready!

4. If you could date any fictional character, who would it be?

Oh dear – my favourite books tend to feature American misfits, depressives and murderers! I am a huge fan of American classics, the darker the better. So here we come up against a problem…I will go back to England and go with George Knightley, my favourite Austen love interest, from ‘Emma’. He is an intelligent, funny character who lets Emma know when she is being cruel, and shows us how deep friendship can be the start of great love.

5. Favourite line from a book?

The last few pages of ‘Sister Carrie’ by Theodore Dreiser affected me a lot, and broke my heart a little. Dreiser captures how it feels to have lost everything through the depiction of poverty and death, but contrasts it with the heroine, having seemingly achieved everything she wanted, but now disillusioned and alone. The last line reads, “In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.”

6. Paper or ebooks?

I’m an illustrator, so paper every time! I love the feel and smell of books, too. Kindles don’t smell so good.

7. As a child, who was your fictional hero/heroine?

When I was little, I would sit and copy Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland with mum. My sister was even named after her. Alice was always so brave to me – she seemed so nonchalant and willing to accept the most ridiculous scenarios. I get nervous all too easily, so I admired this. I used to wish the world was a bit more like her ‘Wonderland’.

8. Which is the most-read book on your shelves?

I don’t think I have ever read a book more than once – apart from at school – it would lose it’s magic, knowing what was to come. Some stories affected me so much that I would like to read them again one day though: ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen, ‘Return of the Native’ by Thomas Hardy, pretty much everything Jane Austen wrote and another look at ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway. Ooh, and ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier, although I am quite happy with the Hitchcock version!

9. Describe what reading means to you in one word.

Feeling.

10. If you could recommend one book to non-readers, which would it be?

The Great Gatsby. It’s a classic, it’s beautiful and it will make you want to read more.

Page Proofs!

The Memory Keepers by Natasha Ngan proofsLooky looky look! How beautiful do this bad boy look? Receiving page proofs from my publisher is one of my favourite parts of the process. It’s the first time you see your story looking like a proper book, and words you’ve read over and over again now look fresh and new. However, it’s also a sad time, because it means my work on this story has come to an end. I’ve enjoyed my time so much with Seven and Alba, and am going to miss them. At least, until we’re next reunited – when I receive the advance copies in a month or two!

Authors on Writing and Reading Interview Series: Kate Kelly

Hello lovely readers! Man has this year flown by so far. Big apologies for not writing on here more – it’s utterly shameful that we’re almost half the way through 2014 and I’ve posted less than ten times this year. *Claps wrists* I just don’t know where the months have gone. I guess that’s something I wasn’t prepared for about being published. There are periods of near-inactivity, or at least steady activity, when you’re getting on with writing a new book – and then suddenly WHAM, here’s a bunch of edits on that other book that need doing. And of course that’s when life decides to mess with you and you get a series of illnesses and injuries and personal problems, and basically just every non-writing related drama to add to the pressure.

But, fingers crossed, the clouds finally seem to be clearing on my horizon, so let’s hope I’m finally emerging from the crazy! And to celebrate the hopefully non-crazy months coming up (though I wouldn’t hold my breath) I have something exciting for you today. As hearing about other authors’ writing and reading habits and preferences is something I really enjoy, I thought I’d start a new interview series asking authors to share with us just that! There’ll be one interview a week, alternating between questions about writing and reading. Most of the authors will be fellow YA writers, since that’s what I write and enjoy reading the most – and what you guys are most probably interested in too if you’re here reading this blog :) Hopefully you find the questions insightful and inspiring.

Kicking off the interview series today is the wonderful Kate Kelly, a marine scientist and YA sci-fi writer right here in the UK! Her debut novel Red Rock is published by Curious Fox. Take a look at her blog for updates on Kate’s writing life. I haven’t gotten round to reading Red Rock yet, but it’s waiting patiently on my Kindle and I can’t wait to get stuck in! A fast-paced sci-fi thriller for teens with a touch of romance? Um, yes please. So let’s get strated with the interview and find out more!

TEN QUESTIONS ON WRITING WITH:

KATE KELLY

Red Rock by Kate Kelly cover

1. Describe your book in one sentence. 

The ice caps are melting and secrets are revealed – but what is so important about a small red rock…?

2. How did the initial idea come about?

Some years ago my work as a marine scientist took me to the Arctic. We steamed along the marginal ice zone just off the coast of Greenland and as I watched the ice slide past, the seals, the puffins and occasional polar bear, I began to wonder what the world would be like when the ice caps were all gone – and about how we don’t really know what lies underneath. At about the same time I read a paper speculating about a mysterious white rock observed by the Mariner 9 spacecraft of the Martian surface. The two threads came together and the idea for Red Rock was born.

3. Plotter or pantser?

I’m a mixture of the two. I like to have an outline to work from, and I definitely need to know how the story is going to end, but I also love it when my characters surprise me along the way. Often their ideas are better than my original plan, so my outline tends to evolve as the story grows.

4. What was the hardest scene to write?

I think the hardest scene to write was the scene where they meet with Lucy in Oxford (which won’t mean much to you if you haven’t yet read Red Rock). There is a lot of important information divulged and it was a tricky balance to stop it turning into information overload.

5. What’s been the most surprising part of your publishing journey so far?

When I was recognized in a shop in town by a boy who’s school I’d visited a few weeks earlier. He pointed me out to his mother and insisted she came over and talked to me.

6. Favourite line from your book?

Tricky one. I’ll go with the opening – “I’m not sure why I looked towards the window at that moment.”

7. If you could talk to one writer to get advice and insight, dead or alive, who would it be?

My late father was also a writer. In fact it was his example that inspired me to embark on this journey. Sadly he wasn’t around to finally see me published and I have so many questions I wish I could ask him.

8. Three words you couldn’t live without …

Only three? Chocolate, fantastic, axiomatic.

9. Give us a sneak peek at one of your ideas for a future book.

I’m a bit superstitious so I don’t like to say much about what may be coming next from me, just in case it doesn’t work out. Maybe I’ll write another Cli-Fi. Maybe I’ll do something completely different. There’s a good chance that there’ll be a bit of science in it somewhere – I do work as a marine scientist after all.

10. What’s the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?

Make sure each book your write is better than the last one.

Writing Description Checklist

(Originally posted over at Author Allsorts)

Every writer has a different style when it comes to description. Some use only a minimal amount, focusing instead on action and dialogue, with short, sharp bursts of description to ground it all. Others really build it up, winding their narrative around atmospheric writing that’s so alive it’s almost another character.

Personally, I’ve always loved description. Both reading and writing it. When it comes to writing, however, especially if you’re in the children’s/young adult arena, description is usually one of the things to cut back on. I often cut around 20k of words from my first draft during a first edit (!), and a lot of that come from description. But it doesn’t mean you can’t have any description – it’s just about being clever with how you use it.

Here’s a little checklist you can use when you’re writing or editing to keep your description concise but powerful. Of course, these are just a few things to look for, but hopefully they’re helpful!

  • Is the vocabulary you are using varied? We all have those crutch words and phrases. When you’re editing, look out for them and replace them where you can with new turns of phrases. Even just switching up the verbs can be effective. Eg. My heart dashed against my ribcage. You can replace dashed with crashed, slammed, smashed … the synonyms finder in Word is your friend!
  • Is your description active? Meaning, does it intertwine with the action and narrative? Eg. Leaves slapped my face as I ran, but I didn’t stop, feet slamming, beating on the muddy ground, the dappled golden light filtering through the trees just a blur around me. Think of how you can weave description in without slowing the pace of a scene.
  • Are you featuring all the senses? Don’t just focus on the visual – really immerse your reader in your world by using all the senses in your description. Smells and sounds are so evocative. And what’s the texture of the scene? If your character is scrabbling on the ground, describe the way the dirt feels under their fingertips, the rich, loamy scent of the earth around them. More on 360 writing here.
  • Have you relied on cliches? Again, something I spot when editing a first draft are instances where I’ve been lazy and fallen on cliched descriptions. Rewrite those parts with fresh, unexpected language. Play the scene over and over in your head to hunt for those interesting details you missed before.
  • Do you focus too much on description at the start of a scene? Sometimes I’m so excited about a setting I find myself wanting to lay it all out at the start of the scene. But hold back! Readers are clever. They can pick up and piece bits together as they go. If you find yourself writing a block of description at the beginning of each chapter, break it up and interweave it with the narrative.
  • Are you describing through your characters? Make your description more powerful by personalising it. Ask yourself what your characters are seeing, feeling, hearing, experiencing, and really sense the scene through them. Use those insights to add emotion to your description and keep it from feeling detached.

What are your mistakes when it comes to writing description, and do you have any tips to overcome them? Let me know in the comments below :)

Happy writing sweeties! x