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

Giveaway – Win Tickets to the DIVERGENT European Premiere!

Divergent movie poster

Holy wow do I have something exciting to post about today dear readers!

If the title didn’t kind of give it away (I know, subtlety is my speciality), I’ve got two tickets to the European premiere of DIVERGENT in Leicester Square this Sunday to giveaway! How awesome is that :D I also have two tickets, so I’ll see you there! It’s always been a dream of mine to attend a red carpet premiere, and the fact that the first one (she says, like there’ll be more) I’ll be attending is a film adaption of one of the biggest YA series ever is pretty darn exciting. Here’s all the info …

On Saturday March 29th and Sunday March 30th Leicester Square will be transformed into the dystopian world of DIVERGENT, where fans will be invited to undergo initiation tests and, like Tris Prior, choose where they belong. Would you survive in Dauntless? Fans will be put through their paces with Dauntless training to see if you are brave enough to join their faction! (Free for anyone to attend.)

The European premiere of DIVERGENT is at Odeon Leicester Square on the Sunday at 1.30pm, attended by stars of the film Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet! So not only can you discover the world for yourself, you can walk the red carpet, mingle with the stars and watch the film before it’s released in the UK!

Enter here for your chance to win this once in a lifetime experience. If you aren’t lucky this time, you are still in with a chance – get down to Leicester Square early as there will also be a limited number of premiere tickets given away to fans on both days.

The Divergent Fan Experience Timings:

  • Saturday March 29th 11.00am – 6.00pm
  • Sunday March 30th 11.00am – 12.00pm and 3.00pm – 6.00pm

Premiere timings for the ticket winner:

  • Sunday March 30th
  • Doors open – 1.30pm
  • Doors close – 2.30pm
  • Film starts 3.00pm

DIVERGENT is released April 4th, and you can follow the news on Facebook, and Twitter. Look out for hashtag #Divergent

Sound exciting? Um, YES IT DOES! Enter via the below form to win. I’m running the giveaway in conjunction with my other blog Girl in the Lens so our followers over there can enter too. Good luck everyone! Hopefully I’ll be seeing you very soon on the red carpet :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Teaser for The Memory Keepers

I love it when other authors do those picture review teaser thingies on Goodreads, so I did one for The Memory Keepers (and yes, that’s a cheeky 5-star rating for myself, but hey, it’s got to be done!). Here it is – a few things you can expect to find within it’s pages …

Futuristic London

A cute, if a bit awkward looking boy with scruffy hair

A winter-themed ball

Memory surfing (though it doesn’t quite look like this)

A few stolen kisses

A cool water-boat-house-bus-thing

Some crawling through sewers

Pretty hairstyles

Secrets in the night

And the London Underground, hundreds of years on from now

I can’t wait to share this story with you all in September! For now you can read the blurb here, and hopefully I’ll have a cover to reveal very very soon! x

My Writing Process #mywritingprocess

The lovely Emma Carroll tagged me into the #writingprocess meme, which has got writers discussing the ways in which they work.

I love hearing about other writers’ processes. It’s strange, because writing is such a personal, unique thing, something that so many of us can barely describe or understand even ourselves, so you wouldn’t think there’s much to learn from hearing about how each of us does it. But for whatever reasons, I’ve always found it super interesting to hear from different writers’ perspectives. For those of you who are also interested, here’s mine!

1. What Am I Working On?

I’m busy editing away on The Memory Keepers, my second novel, about a futuristic London where memories are traded as commodities, and a boy who steals memories for a living has his world shattered when he discovers a stolen memory about himself.

I’ve also just finished a new book, the start of a YA urban fantasy series set in Cambridge (my old uni town).

Cambridge

2. How Does My Work Differ From Others?

My stories are a mix of all the things I love about the world and find fascinating – different cultures, morality, worldbuilding, scientific advances, falling in love, identity, betrayal, honour, freedom, faith … All writers have their own interests and opinions, and that’s what really makes each book unique, so I just try and write as honestly and openly as I can to allow my own perspectives to shine.

3. Why Do I Write What I do?                                

I write mainly fantasy and sci-fi because I love escaping into new worlds. It’s really as simple as that. Writing (and reading) fantasy is just such fuel for the imagination, and you can have a big exciting adventure story alongside intricate worldbuilding and exploring new worlds.

I write YA because I love the intensity of feelings teenagers have. Everything is new and exciting and important, and just felt so keenly. It’s also great to explore issues of identity, self-awareness, coming to terms with the world and your place within it.

4. How Does My Writing Process Work?

#amwriting

Scruffy notes. That’s usually how my books start – scribbled ideas, stolen scenes, snatches of conversation. I like to let the idea marinate for a while, which is usually fine as I’m always busy working on something else, and I don’t like to work properly on more than one novel at a time.

When I’ve finished with the previous thing (finished a first draft, done an edit etc), I’ll start a first draft of the new idea. By this time it’s fleshed itself out a bit, but I’m still hazy on the details. I like the skeleton of a story, flashes of clarity but the rest a murky, uncertain fog, so that when I write my characters can lead the way, and I can tell the story as honestly and true to them as possible.

My daily goal during a first draft is one chapter, but as long as I’m average around four chapters a week I’m happy. I’m so involved in my book during this stage that even when I’m not writing I’m thinking about writing, and so it’s a kind of intense, constant style of working even if I’m only actually typing a few hours a day. It usually takes me 4-5 months to finish the first draft, and then a month to let it sit for a while and then do an edit before it goes to my agent and editor. The first, big-picture edit with them also typically takes a month, and then it’s smaller line and copy edits on and off for the next few months before the book goes to printing.

And then? It’s straight on to the next one!

Find out next about YA sci-fi author Kate Kelly’s writing process over at her blog :)

Exciting News!

Drumroll please lovely readers, because I have truly exciting news that I’m finally allowed to announce! You might have heard already if you’re up to date on all things YA, but Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman has organised YALC, the UK’s very first young adult literature convention, and me?

I’m in it.

YALC will take place at the London Film and Comic Con 2014 (LFCC). The two-day convention takes place on July 12th-13th, bringing together the UK’s YA publishers to provide a host of author events in a dedicated Book Zone, with talks, workshops, signings, a book sales area and publisher stands promoting new and upcoming titles. Here’s the initial list of authors that’ll be there -

•    Malorie Blackman
•    James Dawson
•    Matt Haig
•    Derek Landy
•    Sophie McKenzie
•    Patrick Ness
•    Natasha Ngan
•    Darren Shan
•    Ruth Warburton

Yes. That is my name. Nestled there amongst – much bigger and greater – names such as Derek Landy and Malorie Blackman and Patrick Ness and Darren Shan is MY NAME. You know what I think about that?

Absolutely Fantastic gif

I’m the only debut author on the list. It was such a shock to find out I’d be selected to appear – I mean, Malorie Blackman herself is curating the whole thing! – and it was definitely one of those times when I took a step back and realised, man, I’m actually a proper author now. Because the truth of the matter is, sometimes, sitting at home day after day, night after night, writing and writing and writing away, it’s easy to forget that. But this was just a lovely little moment that reminded me people out there are actually reading my words, and one of them might even be Mrs Malorie frikkin Blackman herself.

If you’re in London in July then you must must must come to the convention! I’d love to be able to meet some readers and, let’s face it, with the calibre of authors on the list I’m gonna need all the backup I can get! You can get tickets already right here. I’ll update you when I know exactly what I’ll be doing at the event, but until then – squeeeeeee! x

Book Review: Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

A stunning novel about the power of hatred, revenge – and love.

Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

Goodreads | Amazon

They say I’m evil.

The police. The newspapers. The girls from school who sigh on the six o’clock news and say they always knew there was something not quite right about me.

And everyone believes it. Including you.

But you don’t know. You don’t know who I used to be. Who I could have been.

Told from the diary-style writings of Emily Knoll, a girl awaiting trial for a crime we don’t yet know, Heart-Shaped Bruise explores the story of two girls whose lives have been wound together by the actions of their fathers. Emily Knoll didn’t know she was the daughter of a gangster until Juliet Shaw stabbed her father. Now, Emily wants revenge.

This is a taut, immersive thriller with a narrator who is often despicable but at the same time, utterly utterly human. Byrne has crafted Emily masterfully – she’s an engaging character, complex and difficult, and you’re drawn deeper into her story and mind with every turn of the page. The diary-style format and short chapters, and the way Emily tells her story jumping back and forth between before her arrest and after all build the suspense. I read the book in two sittings, I was so immersed in Emily’s story and desperate to find out all the details, and felt ragged by the end of it.

Raw, tense, and powerful, Heart-Shaped Bruise will keep you thinking long after the last page – just how far will someone go to break apart the person who took away everything they love? And in the end – who is it they’re really breaking?

New Blurb for The Memory Keepers

Happy Wednesday all! Hope you’re having a great week so far?

Sorry I’ve been slow at posting lately. I blog much more frequently over at my fashion and lifestyle blog, and the rest of the time I’m just busy writing away! I’ve been a busy little typer. Last year I wrote two new books, one of which is with my agent to sell and the other – The Memory Keepers – will be coming out from Hot Key this September. Eek! I’m currently doing my big initial edit for TMK so am at that stage of oh god why did I create such a complex story what is this rubbish how on earth will it be ready in a few months to go to printing I’m the worst writer in the world ever. It’s not the prettiest sight. But hopefully soon I’ll progress into the actually this isn’t too bad I can sort of see this working now phase, and I can get even more excited for you to read it.

I really love this book. Like really really really. The main characters Seven and Alba just totally stole my heart, and when you finally get to meet them, I hope you fall for them as much as I did.

Anyway, my lovely publishers have written an initial blurb for TMK, so I thought I’d share it with you. Let me know what you think. And I should have a cover to share too very soon! I’ve seen the first mock-up and it’s definitely a winner :)

THE MEMORY KEEPERS

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pub date: September 2014 (UK and Commonwealth)

ISBN: 9781471401541

Goodreads

No one can take your memories from you… can they?

Seven is a thief with a difference – he steals downloadable memories to sell onto London’s black market, trading secrets and hidden pasts for a chance at a future of his own. He makes sure he keeps some special stuff back to ‘surf’ himself though – it’s the only real form of entertainment he can afford. But one night, as Seven is breaking into a private memorium in a wealthy part of London, he is caught in the act by one of its residents; Alba, the teenage daughter of London’s most famous criminal prosecutor.

Instead of giving him away, Alba promises to keep Seven’s secret – as long as he allows her to go memory-surfing herself. In doing so, they discover a hidden memory about Seven’s past, revealing a shocking secret about Seven’s childhood, the government and a mysterious experiment known as The Memory Keepers…

Now Seven and Alba will have to race against time to unlock the maze of The Memory Keepers – but can they keep themselves out of harm’s way before the London Guard – and Alba’s father – catches up with them?

A Few Thoughts About My Debut Year

2013

It was a year of many wonderful firsts. My first ever edit with an actual editor! My first ever page proofs! My first ever party at my publishers! My first ever cover! My first ever book launch! And of course – my first ever BOOK! So, so exciting.

I won’t ever get to experience my debut year again, and by the end of this year I won’t even be a debut author anymore. That’s kind of scary, but also great because it means I’ve got another chance with readers with my second book. And it’s also a little sad. My debut year was so much fun, and I’m so excited for those of you who have yet to experience yours – you have got so many amazing things in store. It’ll be overwhelming and crazy and such a whirlwind, but I’m sure you’ll love every moment of it (except when you get your first bad review. That’s kind of a bummer, fyi).

A few things I learnt in 2013 …

- Hot Key are the bosses of covers

- Twitter is the best place to chat to other writers

- Book launches are a b*tch to plan. Start early and don’t try and make 100+ cupcakes the night before

- Some people will really hate the name Butterfly for a male character …

- … And some people will really love it

- Emails from your literary agent will always make you feel better

- Take your time with edits. By the time it gets to the proofing stage it’s too late to make bigger changes

- A character that looks like Andrew Garfield will make his way into every book I write

- Writing doesn’t really get easier after you’re published. Each new book is it’s own unique beast. But you do get more confident in yourself, and so it becomes a little easier to deal with the difficulties of writing (which are just as difficult)

- Bad reviews suck …

- … But getting good ones is the best feeling in the world

Thank you so much to everyone who supported me and The Elites last year! I can’t wait to see what 2014 will bring :) x

How to Write a Novel in a Month for NaNoWriMo

It’s over halfway through November, which means longer nights and cold, winter-touched air, the start of Christmas present shopping, and also that it’s finally acceptable to have two cups of hot chocolate a day (or at least, to me it is). But it also means something else for a lot of people – they’re in the thick of novel writing.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, which has broken its US roots and spread across the globe – is in full swing. The challenge is to write a first draft of a short novel (5,000 – that’s half of my usual first draft lengths) in 30 days. If you’re giving it a go, hopefully you’re on target. If you’re not, good luck with picking the momentum up. To be honest, I wouldn’t be too worried whether you reach the 5k by the end of the month or not. It’s great enough that you’ve committed to writing, and hopefully you’ve got enough words to feel your story taking on a life of its own.

The advice I’d give to those of you wanting to ‘complete’ NaNoWriMo, or write a novel in any of the year’s other months (they’re all viable options too) is really the same advice I’d give to anyone wanting to write a novel, however long you want to take to do it. Though perhaps just sped up a bit.

1. Write the story that’s demanding to be told

Maya Angelou writing quote

A novel is a tonne of work, but what motivates me every time I embark on the journey with a new story is the fact that I feel like I’d go mad if I didn’t write it – and write it now. I need to be sure about a story. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have hundreds of different ideas all floating around in your head, trying to catch your attention. That’s great! Jot them down. Make notes. Test the waters by writing little scenes from each of them. But when you properly set aside a month – or however long – to write a novel, you’ve got to dedicate everything to that one story. So go forward with the one that’s screaming to be written, as that’s the one that’ll help push you on to the finish line.

2. Set aside time to write  

J K Rowling writing quote

It’s so important to carve out time to write from your busy schedule – and actually stick to it. If you’ve got a full time job, then write in the evenings or at weekends. Or even early in the mornings. Yes, it’s tiring. Yes, your social life will suffer. Yes, you probably won’t get much sleep. But you’re writing a novel! How cool is that! Give your words the priority they need. I like to get a first draft done in around four months, so I figure out roughly how much time I’ll need to write each day to achieve that and then build a writing schedule from that.

3. Write quickly 

Isaac Asimov writing tips

I think writing is one of those things that takes as long as you want it to take. I like to write a novel in four months or so because that’s how long I feel as though I can dedicate my time to one story, and there’s just so many more books I want to write. But I could definitely take a lot longer – and do it quicker, too. It’s important to balance quantity with quality of course, but if you’re dedicated to writing a novel in one month then you have to be fast. Keep the words coming, even when they don’t want to. Don’t edit. Don’t think too much. Just let the story unfold as naturally as possible, pushing it on towards the end.

4. Live and breathe your story 

Agatha Christie writing tips

One of the best things about writing a novel quickly is that you get completely immersed in it. You live and breathe it, every second of the day. It’s exhausting, yes, and totally distracting when you’re trying to engage with people in the ‘real’ world, but it’s an amazing feeling too. You just feel so connected to your characters, and having that emotion driving your writing is powerful stuff. So embrace the crazy! Give yourself to your story. Let it unfold in your mind as you’re going about doing ‘normal’ things, and it might just come more readily each time you sit down to write.

5. Trust your gut

Rules of writing quote Somerset Maugham

I say it every time I do a writing tips post, but it’s so true. Only you yourself can figure out how best you write. Only you know what works for you. So keep writing and writing until you find your own style and rhythm, and then stick to it. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. Your gut knows – it just does. So listen to it and keep the faith, and write the best way – the only way – you can.

Good luck NaNoWriMers! I can’t wait to hear how you all got on :)

What Happens After Your Book is Published

Short answer: Not a lot.

Long answer: A few things change, but mostly it’s back to the usual. And by usual I mean, more writing. EVEN more now, because you’re feeling the pressure from your publisher’s deadline (if you had more than a one book deal), and you have readers now who are waiting on you to write more.

Some little secrets -

1. Writing is no easier after the first book

In general, I’ve not found it any more or less difficult, though certain aspects have become easier. For example, I feel more confident about my own writing, which helps fight that annoying bugger I like to call The Fear (more on that here), and I’m more aware of the narrative structure of a novel, so can self-edit that as I go.

But in some ways, it’s harder too. Now I’m not just worrying about writing a book for myself. There are readers – real, actual people who thought my first book was ok enough to want more – waiting for book 2. And did I mention the pressure of writing to a deadline? Stupidly, I overcome this by taking back control and setting my own deadlines – closer than my publisher’s. TAKE THAT, PRESSURE. Weirdly, it works for me.

2. Bad reviews suck

Ughhh, it’s a horrible, twisty feeling when you come across these. But come across these you will. Look at Harry Potter, look at your most dearest, forever-in-your-heart books. They all have bad reviews too. So although it sucks, you’ve just got to learn to deal.

A little trick I use. After reading a not-so-great review, flick back to a good one. A really really good one. Read. Repeat. You’ll feel better in no time.

 3. Prepare for the post-publication funk

My wise, wise agent was the one who made me realise post-publication funk was a thing. I’d been struggling, really struggling, with my WIP in the weeks after The Elites came out. I doubted everything I wrote. Each day, writing was like tearing words from my eyeballs. I did everything I could to avoid it, even getting seriously ill and spending a few weeks bed-bound (ok, so that might not have been intentional. But perhaps it was my body saying, Hold the eff up! I’m scared! Don’t make me do this!). I emailed to my agent to explain how I was going to be late on the deadline we’d agreed on, and she wrote back a wonderful message that included this piece of advice (which hopefully she doesn’t mind me sharing) -

“Don’t underestimate the slightly blindsiding feeling of having THE ELITES out there, your first book on the shelves. It’s a dizzying feeling and can provoke all sorts of weird reactions.”

 I wanted to share that with you all because I think it’s so true. For many first-time authors – this definitely applied to me – having a book published is a dream. Maybe even The Dream. And when it’s out, the dream has come true, and it’s both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. Be prepared to feel a bit off. Be prepared to give yourself a break. Take time to let the reality of what’s happened sink in. Because -

You did it.

You did it.