Thursday, 27 November 2014

4 Things To Remember About Characters When Writing A Novel

Why are characters important?

Characters are vital to a novel precisely because they give the plot and setting a human touch that the reader can attach themselves to and follow. Without these novels would just be a mash of descriptions, concepts, and words. Characters give stories depth; they make your tale more readable, not less. So just as you put great thought into the plot and the world that you are creating you should also put a lot of work into your central characters, since it is these that the reader will fall in love with and tell other people about.

Read a lot

It goes without saying that before you write a novel you should have read a lot. This way you can see what kind of characters you like, which characters work with the reader and which don't, so that when you sit down to write you have a pretty good idea about what your target audience is looking for. One of the many reasons why J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series was so successful was because Harry Potter was so likeable, with many children (and even adults) readily identifying with him. Of course you can't write a new Harry Potter - he's taken - but you can use him, or any other character for that matter, as inspiration for your own protagonists, so long as your take care to make them sufficiently different and original.

Make them believable

There are no two dimensional people in life so why should there be two dimensional characters in books? If there's one thing that annoys me about contemporary Young Adult (YA) literature it is the predilection of some authors (you can make your own minds up as to who I'm talking about here) to place 'sexy', young, American teenagers within their novels, without bothering to think how their world would shape them. You can't live in a dystopian, Orwellian world, half-starved from Monday to Sunday and grow up into a strapping six foot jock just dripping with sexual appeal. It's not realistic. He or she would be barely even healthy never mind a mini Mr.Universe. Use your empathy. Walk for a minute in their shoes, in their world, and see how they would feel and think. Whenever I sit down and write a Jack Strong adventure, the computer screen is merely a window to Jack's soul. I follow him wherever he goes, and see whatever he sees. I am him.

Use your experience

Your experience as a human being is the greatest tool that you have when it comes to writing a successful character. Use your life experience as a guide for any and every character you write. Stephen King says that to greater or lesser degrees he is every character that he writes (especially Jack Torrance in his novel The Shining). My experience being bullied as a child certainly helped me to write Danny Moo, my main character in Dragon Rider, who is being victimised at school on an almost daily basis. Ultimately, the more believable you as a writer find your character the more believable they will be in turn to your readership. If they don't make you laugh and cry you shouldn't expect the reader too either.

Speak the truth

When writing dialogue (whether or not you are writing in the 3rd person is irrelevant) you are the character, so it is important that the words that come out of their mouths are both realistic and believable. And that means colloquial English. Since in a sense I grew up with most of the characters in my books I know exactly how they would speak and how they wouldn't. If your characters would swear in a certain situation then make them swear, or if they would abbreviate a lot of their words then make them do that. Don't be shy. You're writing literature, not propaganda, and your readership knows the difference. At the end of the day, the more believable your dialogue is the more real your character becomes in the eyes of your readership.

Final Word

Writing novels is not rocket science. As a human being with an above average vocabulary range and an all-too-human experience you have the tools to create likeable, believable, well-rounded characters that will have us turning the page or tapping the screen for many years to come. All you really need to do is put a magnifying glass to your soul, add a dash of imagination, and then write them.

If you want to read my novel about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below:

Thursday, 20 November 2014

How To Write Without Distractions

     Finding a place to write

     One of the keys to a successful writing career is for the writer to find a place that they are comfortable writing in. It doesn't matter where, so long as the writer can feel a) relaxed and b) churn out a decent amount of words. Some writers prefer libraries, coffee shops, fast food restaurants, public transport (I used to write poem after poem on the trains when I used to live in the U.K), a room within their own home (Stephen King has a purpose built study where he writes his novels), or even their desk at the office. It doesn't matter where so long as you are comfortable and it's free of distractions. Myself, I prefer to write in my tiny studio apartment in Beijing, not more than a couple of strides away from both my kettle and the bathroom. This way I can provide myself with endless cups of tea, not to mention the odd toilet break, but more than that I just feel so relaxed and stress-free that sitting down in front of the computer to write a novel seems like the most natural thing in the world. If you're not sure where to write at first try a few different places and see what works best for you.

     Keeping it tidy

     Whether your writing space is all clean and spotless or (rather like mine) a bit of a pig sty is up to you. It all depends on what works best for you as a writer to get those words down onto the page. If you find an untidy room to be too much of a distraction then clean it, but if the opposite is true perhaps you should leave the cleaning until after you've finished writing (or if you're like me never).

     Setting Aside a Time-slot 

     Writing is a whole lot easier with less distractions if you set aside definite periods and time-frames in which to write. These can be every day or on a few set days every week, but again rather like your writing room you must be comfortable with the time-slot that you've chosen. There's no point trying to write in the evening if you are a morning person for example. Being comfortable with when you write is often just as important as where you write. Usually, I write in the early mornings (except for Saturdays when I write all day), though my current schedule being what it is I've had to be more accommodating with my time, and so I now write on one or two evenings a week. It's not ideal but I'm comfortable enough with it to keep churning the words out.


     Don't procrastinate. Ever. You can answer all the phone calls and text messages that you want after you've finished writing (I do) and not before. Don't let temptation get the better of you either. It won't take "just a second" for you to check your phone or to go to this or that website. As well as the actual time it takes to go online etc there's also the lost time spent re-checking and re-reading your work as you try to get back to speed and back into some kind of writing rhythm. Nothing's that urgent that it can't wait an hour or two for you to finish writing. Remember that your friends who are sending the texts etc aren't writers and they don't truly know all the hard work and sacrifice that it takes to hammer a novel into shape. They're texting and calling etc precisely because they're NOT writing.

    Final Word

    Writers don't have to be literary recluses tapping away at the computer. You can and should have social lives too (how else are you going to write dialogue but through social interaction?) and you can make that easier by apportioning your writing time appropriately in the proper environment and by eliminating all unnecessary distractions. Writing is as much about finishing a project as it is about the daily grind and if you're spending time surfing the internet and texting your mates then you're NOT writing which ultimately means that it will take longer (if ever) for that great idea of yours to make onto the page and to finally find its way into print.

     If you want to read further of my work check out my book Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space:


Thursday, 13 November 2014

4 Things To Do Before You Write

1. Read a lot

Before you start writing your best-seller it goes without saying that you should have done at least some reading around your chosen genre. Before I started to write Jack Strong and the Red Giant (a Young Adults/Sci-fi novel) I had read the entire Harry Potter series about 2 or 3 times, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, George R.R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, a lot of Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell novels plus an absolute tonne of modern and classical poetry. Not a great amount of course but certainly enough to give me a decent idea about how to write a novel, what kind of book I was looking to write, and a more than considerable amount of vocabulary. Without these books I would have had an insufficient literary foundation to base my book on - T.V and movies after all can only take you so far and are a poor guide to what works with the modern reader and what's currently getting published etc.

2. Use Your Imagination

Before I started writing my current novel, Dragon Rider I was constantly toying with the universe and the main plot threads in my mind, chipping away at them, and moulding the story and the characters into something that I wanted - no needed - to write. It was then and only then that I decided to sit down and have a go at writing the novel. Of course you can also jot down some notes about your novel - I do occasionally - though I find that my notes are never an adequate representation of my mind so I spend most of my time daydreaming about my future projects until a time comes when I'm satisfied with what my mind has come up with.

3. Make Notes Before You Write

Once I've actually sat down in front of my computer and decided to write a particular novel, I ALWAYS write down a few brief notes about what I'm going to write before I start tapping away at my computer (I never use a pen to write unless it's poetry). This acts as a kind of road map for my imagination to follow, so that I always know where I'm going, what's going to happen and when. This has two immediate benefits: first, I don't get stuck in any literary cul-de-sacs - I always know what comes next and if I get lost I can always go back and look at my notes, and second it allows me to pump out anywhere between 1000 and 3000 words in any one sitting (I typically write one chapter at a time). Of course I almost never stick to my notes absolutely - my imagination is an untamed beast apt to wander - but it is an invaluable guide nonetheless and one that I am loath to do without.

To give you a better idea check out my notes for Chapter 1 of my novel Dragon Rider:

Danny eating cornflakes. Pours milk – sour – throws it away - picks up a handful of cornflakes - Hears his mum calling for him (tired voice) what time is it? - Leaves and goes outside – gets on the bus after the driver decides to let him on. The bus rumbles along. Then the bully gets on. They laugh at his mum. He ‘s silent Jane (Chinese) sticks up for him. Time for school. He looks up at the grey school. It begins to rain …

It's all very basic as I'm sure you'll all agree, but it helps form an important conduit between my imagination and the keyboard, resulting in approximately 1000 words of manuscript.

4. Don't Be Afraid To Make Mistakes

Don't expect to be a great writer overnight. It takes work - a lot of work - and writing is a process of making mistakes, learning from them, and then (after remorselessly reviewing your work) getting gradually better. So don't let the fear of being no good paralyse your creativity - it might not be perfect initially but no one's is (Stephen King puts all of his books through 3 or 4 edits and my first book went through at least seven or eight before I was even remotely satisfied with it (and I've tweaked it a few more times since then). What matters most though is that you DO write and have the courage to go through it again and again, thus making it more readable and more publishable, because ultimately that's how all the great writers are made.

If you want to read my book Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space check out the link below:

Monday, 10 November 2014

Chapter 1 from Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Chapter 1: School’s Out

Jack slammed the front door shut and quickly ran up the stairs. He went straight into the bathroom, locked the door, and looked into the small mirror by the sink.
It was worse than he feared.
There were swishes and squiggles of red, black, blue, green, and orange marker pen all over his face.
He panicked.
Not wanting to be seen like this by his mum and dad he turned on the taps and frantically began to scrub his face with a large, yellow sponge. It took almost twenty minutes of feverish scrubbing to remove every last mark.
After he finished dabbing himself with a towel, he walked across the landing, entered his small, sparsely decorated bedroom, and slouched down upon the bed.
He had lost another pen fight.
When it was other children fighting though, they didn’t seem to come away as badly as he did. It was supposed to be one against one, yet as soon as he said he wanted to fight there were five or six boys and girls holding him down, scribbling and scrawling all over his face. He kept shouting at them to stop, but they just laughed and giggled, their pens thrusting and jabbing.
Jack looked into the mirror one last time. Just for a moment he half-hoped that his birthmark had been washed away too, but it was still there: stretching all the way from his forehead to his chin like a big red smudge of tomato ketchup. Wiping his blue eyes dry, he put on his glasses, neatened his short brown hair, checked his face again for pen marks and left his bedroom.

The smell of food was now emanating from the kitchen and wafting up the steep flight of stairs.
Eager to see what was for dinner, he quickly rushed down the stairs, almost tripping over on the way and ran, much to the consternation of his Mum, through the living room into the kitchen.
He was so hungry.
His mind raced with the many possibilities: hamburgers, roast chicken, pepperoni pizza, sausages - anything so long as it was delicious, and what was more - lots of it!
His heart sank.
Upon the kitchen table was a pan of burnt pork chops, along with some equally burnt stringy onions as well as what looked like a big dish of rather lumpy mashed potatoes and a pile of heavily-buttered white bread. His dreams of coming home to a plate of crisp, chunky chips and a moist, oven-cooked pizza, or else a plate of yellow, creamy curry had vanished yet again. Why couldn't he get something better for a change?
But he was hungry, and so he sat down across from his mum and dad and said nothing. He then grabbed a knife and fork from a small pile on the table and began to eat. Though as the gravy lacked salt and the mashed potatoes well everything, his dinner mainly consisted of making some rather messy pork chop sandwiches. This was of course after he had spooned-off the black onions, given the pork chops a good helping of brown sauce, and pulled off some little bits of mold from the bread.
A few minutes later and it was time for dessert.
His mum, cheeks reddening, put on some ragged, grey oven gloves and brought out a hot, steaming dish of …gooseberry crumble!
He couldn’t believe it.
Not gooseberry crumble again!
Jack hated gooseberry crumble. As far as he was concerned, it was quite possibly the most disgusting thing on Earth, being nothing better than sour, green, slimy goo.
“Why can’t we have something else for a change?” he suddenly shouted out loud, anger rising in his chest. “I hate gooseberry crumble. It’s horrible!”
“Nonsense Jack,” replied his mum, in a soft, kind voice. “It’s good for you. It helps you grow into a big, strong lad.”
“No, it’s not!” he spat, getting angrier “I hate it, why can’t we have something different for a change?”
“Now Jack,” interrupted his dad in a stern voice “Be nice to your mum, she’s been cooking your dinner for a long time.”
“I don’t care! I’m sick of it. All we ever eat is gooseberry and rhubarb crumble. Why can’t we have some ice cream for a change?”
“It’s healthy,” his mum continued. “Besides we’ve loads of gooseberry bushes in the back garden. We can’t let them go to waste. You don’t know how lucky you are. People would love to have what we have!”
Jack made a face, grunted again, but thought better about answering back.
Besides, he was still hungry and there was a red hot jug of steaming yellow custard on the table. Still not wanting to eat the gooseberry though, he got hold of a large, wooden serving spoon and attempted to scoop off the top of the crumble from the green goo underneath.
Immediately his dad stopped him.
“Jack, what have we told you about taking all the crumble?” Leave some for us.”
“But daaaaaaad!” he whined.
“But nothing,” he said, his brown eyes almost poking through his glasses “Stop being selfish, and think about other people for a change.”
And that was the end of that. Sulking, Jack dejectedly put a small dollop of gooseberry crumble in a chipped dessert bowl, followed by a couple of large spoon-fulls of hot custard.
He ate it in silence, gulping it down, mouthful after mouthful. The quicker the better he thought. In order to avoid tasting it, he tried to surround as much of the disgusting gooseberry as possible with either the custard or the crumble. This didn’t work very well however and every now and again a big, slimy wedge of gooseberry goo would get stuck at the back of his throat or else at the top of his mouth, causing him to wince and grimace.
Once he had finished, he got up and tried to leave the table, eager to watch some T.V, only for his dad to stop him. “Jack, don’t forget it’s your turn to wash up today.” he said, irritated.
“Oh, come on dad,” he said. “Give me a break. I want to watch some TV.”
“No, it’s your turn. Your mum has cooked the tea, so now you must wash up after her. Besides, it's the summer holidays now; you’ll have plenty of time to watch TV in the coming weeks.”
“Okay, whatever.” Jack muttered under his breath.
“What did you say?” barked his dad.
Jack made his way to the kitchen sink and gripped the washing-up bottle tightly, squeezing out a green jet of washing-up liquid into the sink. He then turned on the hot water, and watched as a mountain of frothy, white bubbles arose like an island from the foaming sea.
“Jack,” his dad said again, “Don’t use too much washing-up liquid. It all costs money. You only need to use a little.”
“I knooooooooooow!” he bellowed back sarcastically.
Still his dad continued. “Well then, make sure you wash them properly this time. Last time you didn’t do a good job, and your mum had to wash them all again.”
With that they both left for the living room.
Still annoyed, Jack began to wash-up, flinging the cups, plates, pans, and cutlery into the sea of bubbles. Not wanting to think about the pen fight again he did the wiping and scrubbing as quickly as he could. He didn’t care about any correct order or way of doing things; he just wanted to get it all done, and to get out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. He just flung them in the drainer one by one, stacking them haphazardly on top of each other until eventually a Mount Everest of pots, plates and pans arose from out of the drainer at least a foot high.
As soon as he finished, he burst into the small living room, eager to watch some TV, where a man in a grey suit was talking on the news about the latest tourists to blast-off into space.
He was just about to plonk himself on the sofa when a sound like thunder came from the kitchen.
Everybody sat up and turned around.
“JACK, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” his mum and dad bellowed at once.
They all rushed into the kitchen like a herd of stampeding wildebeest. All over the sticky, yellow, lino floor were an assortment of broken cups and plates as well as several pans and a great many knives and forks.
“Oh, Jaaaaaack!” his mum whined, “How are we going to replace all these? We haven’t got the money.”
Even he for once was lost for words.
“B-b-b-but I didn’t mean it!” he finally stammered, embarrassed, feeling sorry both for himself and for them.
“Didn’t mean it?” His mum bellowed back, “I’ve told you before about not rushing the washing-up and stacking them properly. Why can’t you listen, you STUPID boy?”
“I’M NOT STUPID!” He yelled back, the anger now becoming a flood. “I was only trying my best!”
“TRYING YOUR BEST!” she spat. “You never try your best. All you do is please yourself and make excuses.”
“No, I don’t. I’m always helping out with the washing up and making cups of tea. Why can’t we have a dishwasher like everybody else?” He demanded.
“Because we can’t afford it. I’ve told you bef..”.
“RUBBISH!” He shouted. “I’m SICK of being poor! I’m SICK of living in this run down house! I’m SICK of these second-hand clothes! I’m SICK of not going abroad! I'm SICK of SCHOOL! I'm SICK of this FACE! But most of all I’m SICK of YOU!”
He didn’t mean to say this. It just slipped out. He couldn’t help it.
“That’s enough, Jack!” demanded his dad “Stop shouting at your mum. Apologise to her at once. She does a lot for you. Clean this mess up and then get to your room!”
“NOOOOOOOOO!” He roared suddenly, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back!”
With that Jack stormed past them, knocking over a potted plant on the way, and left the house, slamming the front door behind him. They tried to follow, shouting and bellowing. But it was no use. Like a fox he ran away into the evening as fast as he could and didn’t look back.

He would never see his parents again.

If you want to read what happens next check out this link:

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

How to Price Your E-Book

     Setting an Adequate Price

     When you are writing, editing, and even promoting your e-book setting an adequate price can often be the last thing on your mind. Do you fix it at closer to $10 and thereby get the maximum amount of profit, or do you veer more towards the lower end of the scale and set the price as cheap as Amazon and Barnes and Noble etc will allow or do you aim for somewhere in the middle?
     Firstly, I think that you'd be mad to price your book anywhere over $5/6. That price bracket is the preserve of the mainstream author at best, with the full weight of a tyrannosaurus-like publisher behind them. George R.R Martin's latest book for example, The World of Ice and Fire is priced at £12.99 ($17) on, but of course such is the fame of his Game of Thrones series that this book will pretty much sell itself. Other mainstream authors however aren't so lucky. All of the current best selling e-books on are priced at between $1.23 and $5.02. This is who you - as an unknown writer - are competing with, so setting a price above that of a more widely known writer would be a grave error in my view. After your close family and friends have bought your book sales will dry up because there are very few (if any) people who will spend a considerable sum of money on an unknown literary quantity, particularly if there are few positive reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble etc and if no one is recommending it to them. Getting members of the general reading public to purchase our books is hard enough without a large price tag dangling in front of their eyes to put them off even further.

     Bargain Basement

     My book Jack Strong and the Red Giant is currently priced on Amazon at $1.23 which is their lowest possible price (and if I could price it even lower I would). When I first launched my book however, I set the price at a far more expensive $4.99. Why? Because I had delusions of grandeur. I honestly believed that if I could sell enough books that I could actually make a decent amount of money from my book. The problem was that after the initial period of promotion petered out sales flat-lined. After having reduced the price to $1.23 sales have picked up a little and I've been able to maintain an average of 1.8 downloads per week - not great but an improvement on zero for sure, and a figure that nonetheless keeps on ticking over. Of course the reason for the pick up in sales lies not just in the price change but also in the fact that I've been promoting my book via this blog and other places which has in turn led to further downloads. However, I think that it is far more likely that a casual browser of my book will make a purchase if he or she sees it as something close to a bargain, hence the $1.23 price tag. I can't take the chance that people will be put off buying my book on account of price. If they like it I want them to buy it.

    The Publishing Ladder

    There aren't any millionaire authors on Amazon's and Barnes and Noble's books - they are all happily and comfortably ensconced in the major publishing houses, so don't expect to make much money following your book launch. You should however, be aware of the publishing ladder and where it can take you. If you can sell enough books and if you can get as many positive reviews as possible then you should either catch a small (or even bigger) publisher's eye or you should be able to put a convincing enough pitch together to pull yourself up to the next rung on the publishing ladder. Luck's got nothing to do with it - it's all about hard work and being dedicated to the craft.

     Final Word

     If you are wondering at what price you should set your book at (you don't have to go as low as mine though I wouldn't go much higher) you may also like to ask yourself if you'd buy it under similar circumstances, especially if there are little or no reviews for you to gauge the quality of the book. You could also take a look at your competitors on Amazon and Barnes and Noble etc and see what the prices are for their books and how yours compares to theirs.

    If you want to read my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below: