Monday, 11 November 2013

So, you want to write a novel?

I've had so many people ask for advice or tips on writing a novel lately, I thought it might be easier to put my comments into a blog post. Disclaimer: this is by no means "Writing A Novel 101" - these are purely my comments, as this is how I do it.  I'm sure if you ask other writers, they'll give you totally different information, but as you asked me (or some of you did, at least), here's my two cents worth.  In no particular order:

Read anything you can get your hands on in the genre you want to write in.  Take notes, mentally or physically. You might want to note how characters are introduced, what takes place on the first page of the book to drag you into the story, how much or how little background information is relayed to the reader in the first chapter, the amount of scene-setting that takes place - whatever.  Just familiarise yourself with other ways of doing these things.  You will have your own way of doing things, but like anything, there is always room to learn.  The more you read, the more you learn.

Decide who your characters are and then write back stories for each of them.  By the time you come to write the actual novel, you'll know your characters inside out, which will make it easier to know how they'll react in any given situation. Your characters become your friends, and when you know your friends really well, you can write about them with confidence.

Plan your beginning and your end from the outset.  The middle usually happens all by itself (and you want to leave yourself some playing room to brainstorm etc along the way).  If you don't know where your story starts and ends, it will make figuring it out as you go a long, tedious process.  Been there, done that.  Of course, you can change either of these things (beginning or end) - this is only your first draft.

Get in there and get that baby written!  The first draft will probably suck - although at the time, it won't feel like it does.  Even if it does, stick with it - finish it anyway.  Do not - I repeat DO NOT - edit as you write.  Just write, plain and simple - you can edit later, and you don't want to get bogged down with getting it perfect the first time.  Trust me, that won't happen so let go of that right now!  As an aside, I tend to pre-plan my chapters as soon as I have an idea of where I'm going.  I write a few lines per scene, and then work on fleshing out each scene when I sit down to write again (I usually only get small chunks of time to write, so I don't want to forget any ideas I had from the last writing session).  When it comes to the middle, I will usually pre-plan each of the remaining chapters, fleshing them out as I work my way through the book.  This usually helps me see ahead and make sure the story will work out the way I want it to.

Once the first draft is done, put it away for a month.  You can put it away for longer, but a month usually does it for me.  Allow your brain to NOT think about it every moment of every day.  Relax.

Once the month is up, dig out your manuscript again and look at it.  You'll see it with fresh eyes - try not to cringe.  Edit it to within an inch of its life - change it, improve it, play with it.  Then when it's done, put it away again for a couple of weeks.  Repeat the process until you're happy with it.

Give it to someone you trust to read - one who will give you honest feedback and (here's the key) IS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE.  Listen to what they say but only take on board the advice you believe will improve the story.  Everyone has an opinion but YOURS is the only one that matters here.

If you feel it needs it.  Show it to someone else and repeat above process.  If the same feedback keeps coming up (ie: unlikeable hero), you should look at this seriously.  If more than a few people bring up this point, it might be they are seeing something you are not.  Take another look.  You may also consider gaining feedback from one of the many online writing communities -, or  Feedback is valuable!

I'd love to give you advice on publishing, but I don't have any at this point.  "Absolution" is my first published novel, so I'm a complete amateur in that field, however I've written several novels so I feel able to share the above with you with some measure of confidence.  Like I said at the beginning though, this is what I've found works for me.  What works for you may be different, but you'll only know that once you get your head down, your butt up and WRITE!

Oh and one last piece of advice: stay focused and believe in yourself.  It's a marathon not a sprint.

Good luck!

~ Amanda

Monday, 4 November 2013


This past week has been a whirlwind.  Anxiety, relief, fear, joy - multiplied to infinity.  As the reviews for "Absolution" slowly filter through, the anxiety has eased slightly and the fear, although still there, is no longer so overwhelming.  Apparently, my baby might find an audience after all.  Despite not being able to be pigeon-holed in any particular genre, despite being on the long side and being a first novel, people seem to like it (well, the ones who have reviewed it anyway).  I'm fully aware that it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but my expectations were always fairly low: as long as no one flames it for no good reason, I'm willing to take notes.

So, while one baby has flown the coop, it's time to get the next baby ready for it's solo flight.

Three years ago, I finished writing "Anniversary", with the intention of going back to it "at some stage".  I use this term, "at some stage", a lot.  I know this.  I'm an impatient person.  I'm usually in such a hurry to get the next story out, I'm happy to leave the last one behind (and all it's problems).  But, well, there comes a time when you need to just put on your big girl knickers, hike them way up and just get on with it.

So, after a week of throwing around possible new titles, I've settled on one which:

A) I like.
B) Hasn't been used a hundred times before (courtesy of an Amazon search).

So, now "Anniversary" has become "Between Before and After".  In typical Amanda Dick style (procrastinator extraordinaire), I then created a playlist (very important - need mood music).  Then I mocked up a cover with a print I found online (to set the mood).  With all of this important (hmmm) ground-work laid, it was time to get down to the business of writing.  Or editing.  The lines tend to  blur, especially with this story.

I've decided to split the story into three parts (not books, parts).  Each part covers the same weekend - the anniversary of Danny's death - one year, two years and three years on.  Effectively, this means I have to re-write the manuscript, as it wasn't written this way initially.  I was afraid that this would end up being a LOT more work, but as it turns out, it's not going to be as time-consuming as I thought. 

Why not?  Well, I think because I spent a year with these characters when I wrote the initial draft.  I know them now.  Also, I'm seeing them with fresh eyes.  I have had the luxury of distance (three years of it!).  As far as self-editing goes, this is a bonus.

Today, I wrote the prologue and beginning of part 1, chapter 1.  Almost 1,000 words, which doesn't sound like a lot, but if I can do this each day, this thing will be ready for beta-reading in no time!  There is a lot in the first draft that basically makes up the final part of the story, so most of the new writing I need to do covers the first and second parts.

Changes.  Yes, there are a lot of those!  I've changed the setting back to New Zealand (Auckland, Wellington - briefly - Picton and the Marlborough Sounds).  I wasn't totally sure about this to begin with, but now that I've given it a lot of thought and had a play in that sandbox, I think it's going to work.  I hope.  I'm also changing the ending (those who read the original will probably thank me for that!).

As for the title, "Between Before and After", it means many things.  Mainly though, it refers to the time after a loved one dies, when you're in limbo. You're waiting for the world to right itself again, for life to pick you up and dust you off and send you on your way.  You're wanting to be a human being again, to leave the pain behind, but you don't know how and you don't want to lose any precious memories in the process.  It's a balancing act.

I'm looking forward to sharing it with you, maybe giving you a few teasers along the way.  If you want them, that is :-)

~ Amanda