Fight scenes, both in film and print, are one of the cornerstones of great action. When done well, they pack a major punch and up the ante in any story. When they’re not, readers will be left skimming the page and viewers switching off. It may seem easy enough to do these scenes justice; punching, kicking, gun slinging — we’ve seen it all before. But writing a good fight scene is tricky, especially if your real-world combat or weaponry experience is lacking.
The good news is, even if you’ve never thrown a punch in your life, you can still write powerful and authentic fight scenes. Here are some starting points to think about while crafting your fictional violence.
Remember not to over-describe, especially if you’re not an expert. You can research until your eyes blur and your brain is filled with combat terms, but research isn’t first hand experience. If you’re not ready to start a brawl in a bar or go out hunting creatures of the night, you’re bound to make mistakes. And adding too much detail into your scene descriptions will make these mistakes obvious to your reader.
Secondly, don’t limit your descriptions to your characters’ actions. They have feelings too. Let your reader know what the character is experiencing, their physical sensations and emotional responses. Are they full of adrenaline and ready to take down an army, or are they terrified and looking for a chance to run? Did they roll their ankle, sending pain up their leg every time they move? Has their vision narrowed, leaving only them and their opponent? Have their fingers started to cramp and seize around the hilt of their blade?
But again, be careful not to overdo it. Your character’s physical and emotional state are important, but people in fight mode don’t spend much time ruminating. Keep it short and simple.
Keep track of all your limbs! Nothing will pull the reader out of the story quicker than if your character suddenly sprouts an extra arm to swing their double-handed sword while still holding a shield. Act it out. It’s better to look silly for a moment, rather than have your silliness immortalised on the page.
Remember fighting is hard, and it doesn’t always last long. The body can only take so much.
If your fight scene lasts for an entire chapter, and your character comes out of it feeling no pain, it isn’t going to read as authentic.
Does the weapon suit the story? The genre, world, and time period you’re writing in will have its own set of rules and conventions. You won’t see a pistol in high fantasy, a laser in historical fiction, or a mace in modern crime – unless your intention is to break away from these conventions. If you do, be sure you have a purpose for it and that it’s easily understood by your audience.
Does the weapon suit the character? Are they emotionally equipped to stab someone, or would they prefer something less up close and person? Can they physically handle a sword? And if so, what kind of sword? Maybe your character wants a less common weapon, like a bo staff or spear. Whatever weapon you choose, research is your friend. Find out why your character would use it, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and how it would impact the fight scene you’re writing.
Unless your character has incredible concentration and lung capacity, they won’t be able to hold a conversation during battle. Witty banter is entertaining, but not always feasible, so keep the quips to a minimum during the action. Think about your world building too and the rules that apply to your characters. Remember Buffy the vampire slayer? Audiences happily suspended disbelief about a petite teen girl flipping grown men over her shoulder, or knocking them out with one punch, because they knew she had all the power of the evil undead.
Recently, genre fiction has seen an upswing in ‘strong’ female characters like Buffy. These warrior women are often found sparring, verbally and physically, with opponents twice their size and wielding any number of strange and deadly weapons. But what do you do if your character isn’t mystically endowed with super strength? It’s important to understand the physicality behind the scene to ensure that each movement is achievable for your character.
If you’re looking to add strong female characters to your writing, whether they’re a vampire slayer, a mother of dragons, or something in between, come along to Aiki Flinthart’s Writing Fight Scenes for Women Masterclass on 11th May. This hands-on, physical workshop will teach you tips and tricks to help you master the art of writing female fight scenes in any genre.
If there’s one thing every writer knows, it’s that the internet is littered with tips, tricks, and how-tos that promise to turn you into an overnight bestseller. You can spend hours trawling through websites, blogs, and social media posts looking for guidance. Not to mention all the books on grammar, writing, publishing, marketing, and even reading. This cacophony of content can be confusing to fledgling and seasoned writers alike.
Occasionally, you’ll find a gem that will change your writing forever. Sometimes, you’ll learn, or re-learn, the basics. More often than not, you’ll come away with nothing more than a Stephen King quote about the dangers of adverbs.
The problem with most writing advice is that every tip can be countered with a contradictory trick. Below are just a few examples of how-tos that’ll have you turned around, upside down, and inside out.
Tip: Write Every Day
Writing is a numbers game. Editing and re-writing is important, but you can’t polish what isn’t there. If you put 250 words on the page every day for a year, you’ll find yourself with a 90,000-word manuscript. Knowing it only takes a paragraph a day can keep the process of finishing a manuscript from becoming overwhelming.
Trick: Take Breaks
Writing is work. It doesn’t matter if it’s a full-time job or a hobby on the side, it takes time and effort. Forcing yourself to work every day, on top of your other commitments, can lead to burn out. It can kill your inspiration, motivation, and joy for writing. If the words aren’t coming, shaming yourself in front of a blank page isn’t going to change that.
Tip: Kill Your Darlings
If it doesn’t work, kill it. Cutting beloved scenes, lines, or paragraphs is every writer’s worst nightmare. But if it doesn’t contribute to the flow, consistency, or quality of your story, it shouldn’t be there. No matter how much you love it.
Trick: Don’t Delete Anything
You never know what you might need later. Something may not work in one scene, but it may work in later one. It could even be perfect for completely different story. Instead of hitting delete, save the things you cut in a folder on your computer or hide it away in a used notebook. So, kill those darlings, but keep them backed up somewhere.
Tip: Never Use Said
Don’t use dialogue tags. We’ve all heard this advice, usually from our school English teacher. Cut them out, and if you can’t, switch them up. Throw ‘said’ away and replace it with more dynamic and exciting terms like ‘whispered’, ‘shouted’, or ‘growled’. Doing this can highlight aspects of your character’s personality and add emphasis to a particularly important pieces of dialogue.
Trick: Leave Those Dialogue Tags Alone
Tell us who said what. ‘Said’ is one of those nothing words like ‘and’ or ‘the’ that tends to fade into the background when we read. Cutting them out completely can be fine, depending on the story. But it can also confuse your reader. If they can’t understand who is saying what, without going back to re-read, they’ll be pulled out of the story. And overusing varied dialogue tags can have the same effect. If everyone is whispering or growling, your reader is going to notice.
Tip: Don’t Read While You’re Writing
Don’t read inside your chosen genre while you’re writing. Details from similar stories can leech into your own work and influence the story. No-one wants the word ‘plagiarism’ attached to their name, even if it’s just a whisper. On the flip side, reading outside your genre can confuse your voice.
Trick: Read Everything While You’re Writing
Reading is important for writing. Some say it’s the most important thing. It can help you better understand the rules and conventions of your chosen genre and give you an idea of what your readers want. Reading widely can help you learn new styles, techniques, and ideas.
Tip: Write for Yourself
Write what you want to read. Finishing a manuscript is a daunting task. If you don’t like the story or enjoy the writing process, writing is next to impossible. This disinterest or dislike will show and it can make your voice sound inauthentic, dull, or even petulant. And ultimately, if you’re not interested in what you’re writing, why would anyone else be?
Trick: Write for Your Readers
Books are made to be read. Authenticity is important, but you can’t disregard your target audience. Writing only for yourself can affect your chances of being published, which can keep your books from those who need it the most. And let’s be honest, writing may be a passion, but it’s also a business. If it is your job, you can’t always choose what you write.
Obviously, writing advice can be inconsistent and confusing, but it can also be invaluable. Take on as much, or as little, advice as you want. But remember, the number one rule is always do what works for you.
If you’re unsure of what works, looking for something new, or just wanting to cut through the noise and hone your craft, check out Eileen Herbert-Goodall’s eight-week Creative Writing Masterclass starting on May 1.
“We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.”
These are the words of Stephen Hawking and I’m not one to argue with genius.
As (aspiring) authors and writers we should take these words to heart. If we wish to make money from selling books we need to connect with readers, agents, publishers, and the broader community. In other words, we need to market ourselves online.
Many of us do this via social media which is an incredibly important component of any successful marketing strategy, but it has one major drawback.
When you’re using social media you’re using another organisation’s platform. You have to play by their rules, which can change any time.
The integrity of your brand, and the relationships you create you are, to a certain extent, in the hands of the social media platform. This limits your control over your brand and potentially even your ability to generate revenue.
On the other hand, your website is the one piece of online real estate you truly own and have complete control over.
For this reason, an author website is the single most important online marketing tool you can have, which is why it’s remarkable that many of us don’t have one.
Yet I’m not completely surprised. Over the years I have heard many reasons, most built on misconceptions, for not having an author website.
Let’s take a look at the most common reasons given for not creating a website, and why they don’t need to stop you anymore.
1. I Don’t Need One Yet
Many writers think they don’t need to worry about marketing until they have published a book.
Waiting until you have a book to sell to then create a website is far too late in the game. The earlier you get started, the more time you have to gain followers and develop other key marketing tools such as building a mailing list.
So by the time you are ready to launch your book, you will have an established online presence and a community to sell to.
A well-designed website will also give you credibility when querying agents and publishers, or booksellers.
You may not have a book yet, but you can still tell the world about yourself and your writing.
2. It’s Expensive
A professionally designed website in most cases is likely to yield the best results, but you will need to pay for it.
The cost of a professionally designed website can vary a lot. Some companies are more affordable than others, and it pays to do your research.
Unfortunately, not all of us have the budget to hire a professional website designer, at least not in the beginning.
To eliminate or minimise costs you can build your own website. A good starting point to create a simple website is using a free blogging platform like WordPress.
3. I Don’t Have the Technical Skills
Many writers when starting out, look for DIY marketing options but often avoid tackling a website because they believe it will be beyond their technical abilities.
The good news is that there are plenty of website building platforms available that are easy to use and don’t require any knowledge or use of coding. Many have simple drag and drop design options that anyone can master.
Like any software, once you get the knack of it, it becomes second nature.
So now I’ve cleared all that up, why not join me at my Build Your Author Website in a Day workshop at the Queensland Writers Centre on Saturday 8 June. You will walk away from this workshop with a published author website.
For the last 23 years, Kylie has worked as a Newspaper Journalist & Editor, Corporate Writer, and Marketing & Communication Manager, both in Australia and internationally. She is also a Content Writer, Certified Practising Marketer and Publisher of the business news site injust5.com.
How do you write an exciting fight scene like those in the movies? Bad news…you can’t, because movies are visual.
What you can do is leverage a book’s big advantage: deep POV. Sensory immersion.
Aaannnd now we get to the tricky bit. Because the big fight is actually a war between reality vs fiction. How much of each do you put in? How much action? How much deep POV reaction?
A truly skilled warrior won’t do a lot of thinking. Actions are reflexes and the onslaught of fear emotions are dampened. Boring to read.
To add a complication, most of your readers will have done nothing more violent than yell at someone who cut them off in traffic. For that matter, most writers probably haven’t been in a battle for their lives, either.
So, how do you write what you haven’t lived?
Again, you don’t. Real fights are messy, short, brutal, and mostly mindless. Humans are a chaos of instincts and chemistry. Real fights make no sense. In addition, men and women get into, handle, and react to violence differently.
You need to write something readers can relate to. It’s a juggling act which boils down to two familiar terms: “Immersion” and “the Feels”.
Immersion means knowing exactly which key details are important – even if they aren’t things a normal person would notice. It also means choosing which actions are important, where to keep the reader’s attention directed, and how much internal monologue will work without jarring the reader out of the scene. Once you understand those, it becomes a matter of practice and getting good feedback from beta readers.
The Feels means fulfilling your promise to the reader. Ramping up the tension instead of dissolving it. Then delivering the emotional payoff during, and at the end of, the scene.
To achieve both of those, you need to keep in mind the WHY for the action scene. What is your protagonist trying to achieve? Will she succeed or fail? How is she changed at the end? What emotion do you want to create in the reader?
The aim of the QWC Masterclass in Writing Fight Scenes For Women, is to help authors understand exactly how to keep the reader deep in the fight scene (applicable to male and female characters). With 18 years of martial arts and weapons training, and 11 novels on the shelves, you can leverage off my experience in both areas to get inside your protagonist’s head. Come and find out how it feels to put a wristlock on someone. Or how to escape a strangle hold. Hands on, if you wish.
Then take what you learn and apply it to your own fight scene.
But don’t get distracted by the techniques of fighting. They’re just cool window-dressing for the internal journey. It’s getting the balance right between the action and thought-reaction that’s the mark of a good action-scene writer.
Learn how to perfect the balance between action and reaction with Aiki Flinthart at our workshop on the 11th of May 2019, Writing Fight Scenes for Women: Masterclass.
Any time we think of the novella in terms of being between things – between the short story and the novel, typically – we miss what can be great about it and we miss a chance to become better at writing it. Take a good close look at it specifically, and at the tools that work best for it, and we maximise our chances of turning out compelling work.
For the reader, the novella is an evening away from Netflix and devices. It’s a plane flight from Brisbane to Cairns. It’s a movie-length read. It gets you in deeper than a short story typically can, it goes to work on you like a novel, but it lets you out the other end the same night. Two-thirds of Australians say they want to read more and here, in a hectic life with novels piling up on the bedside table waiting for holidays, is a way to do make it happen.
For the writer, if you’re like me, the novella is the biggest story you can keep in your brain in its entirety while you’re working on it. Wherever I am in a novella, I can look back and see the beginning and look ahead and see the end. With a novel, there’s that middle bit. Twenty thousand words in, the beginning’s no longer in sight, the end is a long, long way over the horizon and doubt can start to creep in. I have my notes, and some kind of roadmap, but I’ve left where I started and I can’t quite see where I’m planning to end up. With its surety of topography, the mid-novella writer can think through which levers to adjust, which strings to tweak, invisibly, to bring details to the surface at just the right moment and make the journey take the shape it needs to. The novella embraces detail. It’s great for subtle revelations about the inner workings of people, and for casting light on its themes from unexpected angles. It’s ideal for a single plotline needing more depth and elaboration than a short story allows, or for two plotlines in interesting collision. That is, it’s between the short story and the novel in scope and form as much as it is in mere length. And it occupies this space with sufficient clarity that it’s reasonable to see it, and plan for it, as a form in its own right.
The novella has always been contested ground. In 1992, Richard Ford edited The Granta Book of the American Short Story. It met with acclaim and Granta signed him up again, for a book that I’m betting was originally slated to be The Granta Book of the American Novella. Not in Ford’s hands though. Under his close scrutiny, the very concept unravelled and slipped through his fingers, admittedly in an erudite and quite scholarly way. The more he thought about it, it seemed, the less amenable the novella was to being pinned down. And the more he cornered academics in offices and hallways and demanded novella definitions, the more they shrugged their sloping tweed shoulders and mumbled into their beards.
‘I’m not mad at the word—I just don’t know what I might mean if I used it,’ Ford ended up saying, in his highly readable introduction to what became, wait for it, The Granta Book of the American Long Story.
I wanted to know what I meant when I used the word, so I made novellas my PhD topic. If Richard Ford turns up at my office door, I’m ready to talk. If he wants to turn up to my workshop, he’ll get two hours of it – an inventory of contemporary novella tools that get the best out of the form, useful info on willing novella markets around the world.
Yes, it’s possible to look at the novella throughout history, and to slice and dice 19th-century German Novellentheorie into smaller and smaller sub-particles and walk away shaking your head, but it’s also possible to take a clear-headed look at what works now. Don’t go nuts trying to make your definition bullet-proof – or, even sturdier, Richard Ford-proof – instead take a look at the tools that can make fiction great when it has a novella’s length and breadth and scope. There’s value in that, and compelling novellas can come from it.
Learn more about the compelling world of novellas directly from Nick Earls, in our upcoming seminar Writing Novella on the 1st of May 2019.
“History, it is said, was written by the victorious… the winners. But history is really a patchwork of stories about ordinary people whose daily lives and legacies have become the fabric of our world.” Nicole Christian, History and Social Sciences Educator
I hated history as a youth. I’ll admit it. Despite a strong educational beginning with a fascination for early Australian explorers, a monotonous history teacher in my middle school years was all it took to wipe that slate clean of any interest whatsoever.
It took another 35 years to be bitten by the nostalgia bug, and start my journey back into my city’s rich and fascinating historical past. This then led to a personal fascination with people’s historical stories, and then, finally, to my own ancestral journey.
I became an accidental historian the day I decided to look into the back-story of some old documents I’d found hidden under the Lino of my hundred-year-old home in Milton. When I shared my discovery on social media, the community’s response was astounding! So many people wanted to help me research, and answer the questions that arose from what I’d found.
Over the course of a year, we developed an online research group, establishing a safe space for sharing ideas and telling stories. We gathered over one million words about the people and times surrounding those hidden documents, and I was able to pull the most important words together in my latest book, Under the Lino.
Each of us has a lifetime of stories to tell, and behind that, is a rich and varied historical trail that deserves to be explored! We might have a chest full of black and white photographs, letters from our elders, video or audio recordings of events and stories, and perhaps, family keepsakes and heirlooms that are gathering dust on our shelves. What are we doing with it all? Will our children and grandchildren be able to decipher the background? Or will they have to embark on a journey of exploration after we’ve gone, and taken most of the answers with us? Or, even worse, will it all end up in a skip?
Collecting stories from other family members is not always easy, but if you use photographs and keepsakes to jog memories, while audio recording with a few well-placed questions, you’d be amazed at what you can discover.
History begins with us, always, and works backwards. Our family, our houses, our schools… there’s so much to discover about our fabulous heritage! I use mind mapping, family tree and journaling techniques to gather information, gleaning stories from old letters, and notate conversations and anecdotes I can remember from years gone by.
There are some wonderful writing programs, such a Scrivener, which can augment your information, and assist with organisation, or perhaps, you’d like to stick with paper scrapbooking. The new world of self-publishing and e-books opens up simple methods of sharing at reduced costs, so all family members and interested parties can access your work.
Family history research sites like are useful for building trees and making familial discoveries, and is just that, a treasure trove of online resources containing books, images, historic news articles, maps, music and other fabulous archived information that might lead you to what lies in amongst your family’s history.
If nobody else in your family is doing it, be the driving force that creates your family’s fantastic patchwork of history! They will thank you for it one day, I promise.
Get started with your own fantastic historical writing project by joining Caylie Jeffery at our interactive workshop, Under the Lino: Writing Historical Fiction on the 27th of April.
Eight to twelve year old’s are more mature than we were at the same age. More aware of world matters, and more astute about the environment, relationships and human rights. Research shows they have an eight second attention span, are image driven, and seek immediate gratification.
How can a mere book accommodate all this?
There will be exceptions, of course, but these basic rules might just help you nail that middle grade fiction you’ve always wanted to write…
- Develop a small number of strong characters. Say four plus a few secondary ones thrown in. Avoiding a large cast of characters whose names and roles can be confusing, will prevent our young readers losing patience. A quick way to reduce the cast is to merge any similar characters to make one. Resist naming the whole friendship group. Even if they’re in the story, do they all need names and roles? Ditto for that large family. Including (or naming) only one good friend, or one endearing sister/aunt/brother can work extremely well.
- Gone are the days of the shallow, dare we call them, ‘Enid Blyton’ style characters. Although having lots of jolly good fun, they can be hard to relate to. Genuine characters have flaws. For readers to identify and bond with the characters in your story, they need to see them struggling with some inner conflict. Is your protagonist shy, afraid of the dark, small for their age, big for their age, embarrassed about their accent, hair, big toes, or little sister? Surprisingly, even the slightest flaw can make a character more endearing, and seeing them overcome that flaw by the end of the narrative can make the story oh so rewarding.
- For this age group, the main character’s voice tends to be light-hearted and intimate, and is often the only voice we hear. That is, the story is frequently only told from one character’s point of view.
- Books of today, like those of yesteryear, involve little adult intervention. It’s the kids who solve the problems. Antagonists don’t even need to be too evil, but, like all good characters, they must have flaws.
- Readers of this age rely heavily on visual action. They like plots driven by conflict, which should be introduced early. Avoiding too much back story, info dumping and reducing long flowery descriptive passages will definitely help you achieve this.
- Avoid too many sub plots. Decide on one main problem and hook your readers from the start.
- Transitions are really important. Quickly anchoring and orientating the reader at the start of each scene will help keep them involved in the story.
- Humour: can you weave some in subtly (or overtly) through the story?
- Sentence structure: most kids can manage a few new, complicated words, but they can’t abide boring writing. Strong verbs, minimal use of adjectives and adverbs, and varied sentence length will help keep your writing interesting.
- Speech often lets us down when writing for this age group. Ten year old boys don’t talk like middle aged women, and since dialogue is so crucial for engaging young readers, keeping it real, and not using dialogue as a tool for dumping large chunks of information is important.
- Spoken language, not just accents or slang and trendy words, can tell us a lot about a person, and is a useful tool in the ‘show not tell’ Remember, less is more when it comes to dialogue (and for adverbs and adjectives for that matter).
- Avoid having your characters sitting around, making polite conversation. Boring! As well as developing characters, dialogue needs to move the plot forward, (but not in a corny, Agatha Christie kind of way).
- Beware long speeches. Use tags and beats to break up long dialogue, and weave in movement and small snippets of backstory as needed.
- ‘Said’ is okay most of the time.
- Internal dialogue is just as important as external dialogue
Lastly… my favourite part of being a writer…read, read and read. Find everything you can get your hands on, published here in Australia in the past five years, to help cement the points above and drastically improve your prose. Happy writing everyone!
For these ideas on improving your writing and more, join Samantha Wheeler on the 13th of April 2019 at her hands-on workshop, Writing for The Middle.
Your blanket was a cape. A stick was a sword. The table was your fortress.
Now, the blanket is just a blanket. The stick is thrown onto the roadside. And you write and write on the table.
Children say they want to grow up quickly. They want to experience our world of adulthood, but for us, it is the opposite. We want to go back to their world. A world where imagination is not bounded by reality.
Why does imagination get grounded as we age? Is it just reality reminding us of how cold this world can be? Perhaps it’s that we learn science, which inhibits us from imagining the answer to something we don’t know.
Maybe it is just that we have finally grown up. But have we?
We have books that tap into our inner child. Writers such as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter inspires children and adults a-like, despite being initially rejected as not being fit for children Roald Dahl’s wonderful world was written by the author in his most troubled-years as an adult. Jeff Kinney’s books were not published until 10 years after he had written them. The most wonderful stories we read aren’t written by children, but by adults, just like you and me.
So, the imagination is not lost after all. Don’t confine yourself to the limits of reality. Break beyond that. Challenge the things you see around you. Put colour into the most mundane objects. Bring out the five-year old in you that loved to tie on a cape, grab the sword, and march on to the castle to rescue your favourite teddy bear.
Adulthood doesn’t need to be just black and white. It can be just as colourful as a child’s world. We don’t lose our imagination. It is just hidden away, trying to survive the harsh reality of being an adult.
Tap into your childish ways and head down to our workshop “Writing for the Middle with Samantha Wheeler” on the 13th of April to learn more about how to write fiction suitable for young readers.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have exploded on the social media scene. Many industries depend heavily on these applications to share their products, updates, and messages to their customers. No matter what type of audience you want to reach, there is always a different category of customers for each social network.
As a writer, promoting your latest book is just the same as Nike promoting their latest footwear. You need to know and understand your audience – Where do they normally lurk? What catches their attention? By strategically choosing the correct social media platform, you can share your latest work to the correct audience.
We live in a border-less world. Your audience wants to know you personally. They want to interact with you. Gone are the days where idols are admired from a far. Many celebrities use social media to share their daily lives with their audience. They want to know who is the person that wrote their favourite book. For example, what does their favourite author do in their spare time? What kind of personality does the author have? Favourite animal: Kittens or Puppies? By establishing a personal connection with your audience, you can build a strong relationship with them and in turn, gain valued loyalty from that audience.
After all, your main audience will be your main customers, and using social media can assist in selling yourself to them. Convince them of your personality and your beliefs. When your audiences feel that they can relate to you, it will naturally draw them to your books. They will want to read inside the mind of the person that they know.
In the end, understanding the key differences between social platforms and utilizing those networks can help you to broadcast yourself to your audience. Remember, your audience doesn’t want to read a book written by a stranger, they want to read a book written by you.
Want more tips on how you can brand yourself as an author? Check out our event “Love Your Brand: Marketing Yourself As an Author” with Kylie Fennell by clicking here.
Words. Incredible things that aid communication.
We writers use them to paint pictures in people’s minds, to draw out emotions they never knew they had, to help them to walk in shoes they’ve never worn, and to give them a birdseye view of cultures, places and situations that are beyond their imaginations.
But what about our minds? The writers’ emotions, imaginations, thoughts? How can we tap into our own abyss when words fail us?
I once did a memoir-writing class with Kristina Olsson, and she said, quite wryly, that many memoirs should be classified as fiction while a lot of fiction is often based on fact, which was highly amusing to us all, and not a little bit ironic.
Mem Fox regularly shares how her picture book characters are based on true happenings in her life, some of them quite sad.
On the flip side, autobiographers are often hamstrung by living relatives who could take umbrage at the truth, thus the need to hide the worst of their experiences under blankets of alternative facts. And let’s not forget, time plays tricks with our memories, as do trauma and fear, so while it’s not a perfect recollection we might be reading, a memoir could very well be a justifiable alternate reality.
So where do we find the truth as writers?
In journals and in letters, that’s where.
I started ‘honest’ writing as a child (and then, later, as a parent) to connect with my core beliefs, my foetal intuition, my true self and my emotional barometer. Journal entries and letters allowed me to get to know what was truly going on inside my head and my heart, when I wasn’t able to share openly with the people around me.
I prefer to journal-write by hand as the pace of my pen (a fast-flowing one, mind-you!) matches the speed of my thoughts. The kinaesthetic value of pressing down harder when I’m angry and making BIG, FAT, CHUNKY CAPITALS when I’m FURIOUS, is enormously satisfying!
I use journaling to debrief, to reflect, to understand and to move on.
I rarely use a journal when life is happily busy, or at a status quo. I write in them when I’m at an emotional extreme, because I feel feelings so intensely at those times, there needs to be an overflow outlet to stop me imploding and exploding – my trusty pen.
For the most part, those extreme words don’t get to see the light of anyone else’s day. They’re private words, because they’re raw. They’re honest. They’re potentially hurtful to people I care about. But they’re true at the time and they’re real.
They’re so real, that when I read them back, days, months, years later, I am instantly transported to the time I last wrote them. The time I was so angry, I may have been bordering on insanity. The time I was so sad, I was living on a razor’s edge. The time I was so happy, I was maniacally unpredictable. Extremes that frighten others if they’re verbalised, but fall safely on the wonderfully deaf ears of paper.
Paper doesn’t judge you, berate you or cry when you’re angry with it. It doesn’t talk back, inflame or extinguish the words pouring out of your true self. It won’t mock or belittle, undermine or patronise.
Paper becomes a safe and empathic conduit, intent on helping you to rid yourself of unhealthy thoughts and feelings, in order to make way for rational thought, positive emotions and ingenuity.
And most importantly… paper burns.
When all has been said and done, there’s no need to go back, so after you’ve cathartically released those words into a fiery furnace, it’s time to move on.
The path to creativity has been cleared, and a fresh sheet of paper awaits your gentler touch and your excited scrawl as your ideas start to flow. Your memoir, your novel, your family history, your shopping list, or that letter you’ve been meaning to write.
I first learned about using letter-writing as a form of emotional regulation when Women of Letters came to Brisbane. Marieke Hardy and Michaela Maguire initiated soirées where influential people shared personal letters to small groups of social change agents, in a bid to open up a form of unconventional communication.
I listened in rapt wonder to letters read out to ‘my regret’, ‘a problem I never solved’, ‘my 80-year-old self’ and other non-human entities. What a thrilling solution to so many conundrums!
When you’re writing a letter to an idea, it suddenly becomes easy to use your imagination and emotional angst to tap into worlds that are no longer available to you. To open up conversations with people who have died or won’t listen, with your younger self, with your elderly self, with ideas like fear, anger and lost opportunities, is a breakthrough event for many writers.
And for those of us experiencing the dreaded writers’ block… why don’t you grab a pen and blank sheet of paper and write a letter to it explaining how it makes you feel. “Dear Blockage, What’s going on? You’ve been there for months now? Why won’t you leave me alone?”
Before you know it, you’ll have a cramp in your hand as those words rush out of you like an uncorked champagne bottle!
So come on then, finished the letter, pop some corks and celebrate the results!
To explore the joys of journaling further, join Caylie Jeffery at the upcoming workshop Journaling for Writers.
The target: A literary agent
Objectives: Finding a good one
Searching for the right agent can be tough as good literary agents are elusive. They don’t come easy and certainly not in high numbers. But what does an agent do?
Well, think of the agent as a messenger. Your manuscript will be pitched by that messenger to the publishers for production. They should have the right contacts in the publishing industry. A literary agent may help to promote your work, update you with the details of your progress, negotiate your contracts, offer advice for your following work or all the above. An agent is many things and finding an excellent one can really change things for you, therefore researching your target is important to ensure that you find the right one for you.
As such, your target should have the following expectations:
Your target should represent your genre. Most agents will explicitly tell their prospective authors through their website or social media outlets. Don’t find an agent that represents non-fiction when you like to write stories about the make-believe.
Find an agent that has a good sales track record. Chances are that the agent will have had experience and a certain amount of success in selling the books that they are representing. Finding an agent that has a good list of publishers that fit into the category of books you are trying to write can also help to boost your chances of getting published exponentially.
An agent should be well-versed in the ins-and-outs of a book contract. They need to know how to negotiate the proposal to the publisher and to advise you if there is something shady or unscrupulous about the organisation that you may be pitching to. An excellent agent should also help you to target your queries and proposals to specific publishers.
If you want more clues on the target, come along to our seminar “What To Expect When You Get An Agent” – with Justine Barker” on the 23rd of March to learn more.
Many writers understand writing a manuscript requires determination. You want to share your ideas with the world, but not many young writers know what to do with their manuscript upon completion. You can place your thoughts on pen and paper, but how can you convert that draft into a print or e-book? After all, a novel can bring great potential but only if presented to the right people. So, what options exist to get work published?
There are two main options for publishing your novel – Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing.
What is the difference between the two?
Traditional publishing, as the name suggests, is the traditional way of getting your book published. You send in your manuscript, along with a synopsis of the novel and the listed target audience to a literary agent or publishing company. If accepted, the publisher will offer you a contract and help to print and distribute your books to retailers. Often a publisher will also help you to promote and advertise your book as well. If your book is successful, you get to receive royalty based on the number of copies sold.
Authors can also choose to self-publish. Here you complete your novel and upload it directly to a platform or to a book manufacturer. From there, the manufacturer will print your novel based on the amount of orders received from their respective website. This method is more cost-effective and a quicker way to get your novel from an e-draft into a physical copy. However, the downside to this method is that the manufacturer will not help you to promote or distribute your work. You will have to depend on your online social platforms and invest your own effort into the promotion of your book.
Want to learn more on how you can take that step forward to publish your novel? Our workshop “Inside Publishing with Emily Lighezzolo” on the 23rd of March can help young writers, aged 16 to 25 learn the steps of getting their novel publish as well as learn the ins-and-outs of the publishing industry in Australia.