How??!!

How do you make your writing unputdownable?
How do you make readers fall in love with your characters or the world they are in?
How do you make the reader want to spend time with the story you have written?
In short, how do you make Readers want to read your books?

As a writer, one of the things that I do is read. I read Non Fiction for interest, research and inspiration. I read The Internet (which is an interesting mix of Fiction and Non fiction) for the same reason.
When I read fiction, it’s for interest & escape (genres in which I have no intention of writing in), to learn how other people write and finally, to try and piece together the answers to the questions that I started with.

I’ve read all sorts of books, all different genres.

The truly great writers all have one thing in common. They have (whether they know it or not) figured out those answers and are making use of them.

When I read a book where the writer has used these answers, I am sucked so deeply into the story that it’s an effort to get out of it. I have to be yanked out by the hair to make dinner or help PW go to the bathroom or go shopping…

I’d love to be able to make my own writing that compelling.
There are times when I read something that I have written and I think I might have it… and usually it all falls apart on me moments later.
So how do I do it?

Well I started by watching the work of some of the best writers in the business… yes, that’s right, I said watching.

When was the last time that you watched an animation? I’m not talking the nonsensical stuff that they put out for the littlest of children; I’m talking properly developed, well thought out animated movies.
Studio Ghibli, Square Enix, Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks – there are many others, but these are the biggest and they have the best writers that they can afford working with their teams.

It’s no secret that I’d love to work with any of them… if I ever had the opportunity.

The films that make billions in box office takings aren’t just because of the quality of the animation or the design of the characters and environments – it’s because the story sucks you into the film itself and you’re not just watching anymore, you’re living it through the eyes of the characters. A lot of that comes from the writing – the compelling stories and the inability to look away because even if it’s cringeworthy or a little scary, you watch from behind your hands… you have to because you want to know what is about to happen.

And when they’re finished, you feel satisfied but a little sad because you’ve had to leave the world.

I love animation because it gives me an escape that live action films rarely manage. The ones that we have bought on Blu Ray are the best ones, they’re ones that will suck me in and keep me watching. They’re the ones that give me that satisfied but sad feeling.
There are live action films that do it; oddly, they’re ones like the Marvel Comic Universe films, Star Wars films, the Potter Universe. Some of the DC Universe films have done it; the Michael Keaton Batman’s and the first two Christian Bale Batman’s, and I think that Wonder Woman might be another (I obviously haven’t seen it yet, but it looks like it might work!)

Obviously films (whether animated or not) are a tricky subject; so many things influence their success, so it clearly isn’t “just” the writing that makes them great. But great writing will produce at worst an “okay” film; at best it produces a “superb” film. The writing has to be there for the actors, directors, producers etc to work with.

So how do books and movies intersect?

Obviously they both need writers, but they also need writers who know their craft.
They need writers who know how to create a believable world, how to design a character that isn’t two dimensional and who can make the reader /watcher connect with the character somehow.
They need a story that draws the reader/watcher into the world and keeps them there with action that ebbs and flows, until the story has concluded and they can sit back and wish they were still in that world.

And how do you get to be that kind of writer? Let’s look at my original questions and answer them one at a time:

1) How do you make your writing unputdownable?
You craft your story carefully and make it draw the reader into your carefully designed world so that they don’t want to leave it.

2) How do you make readers fall in love with your characters or the world they are in?
See above… plus, world design and character design is a whole different blog post… I’ll do that another time.

3) How do you make the reader want to spend time with the story you have written?
I believe I have actually answered this – were you reading carefully though?
*peers at blog reader and frowns thoughtfully*

4) How do you make Readers want to read your books?
See #1…
*winks*

And the Question I finished the post with?

5) How do you get to be that kind of writer?
If you were reading carefully, you’ll see that I answered it… before I posed it. It’s what I have been doing for most of my life and always go back to when I am having a problem with my own writing…

I read. I watch. I study, I practise, I edit.

In Fiction; I read writers who have inspired me, I read writers that are considered classics, I read writers (and stories) that have been around for eons, I read brand new, barely discovered writers.
In Non-Fiction; I read subjects that interest me. I read subjects that are uncomfortable for me, I read new subjects that I haven’t tried, I read subjects that are old friends.

In TV; I watch Documentaries, I watch TV serials of all sorts of genres, I watch Kids TV, I watch Adults TV (yes, porn too), I watch Foreign Language TV (by subtitles).
In Movies; I watch Small Screen, Big Budget, Foreign Language, Animated, Live Action, Independent.

I study Writing; I read How To books, I take modules from Free Online Course Sites, I read the books that the Big Writers have written about how THEY got into writing.

I Practise Writing; I try writing Poetry (Different styles and Meter), I try writing Flash stories (there are different word lengths), I write different Genres (there are so many I can’t list them all), I write different lengths of story (Flash, Short, Long, Novelette, Novella, Novel, Epic), I write for different ages (Child, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult), I write for different audiences, I write inside and outside my comfort zone.

I edit… this one is the hardest of all.

I do a basic grammar and spelling edit, then I get people I trust to read what I have written and they comment on it (these are Alpha Readers). Then I re-read it and consider their suggestions as I go along. I adjust it if I agree, discuss it if I don’t – the discussions always help me to understand what they see – and change it if I can see what they are getting at and agree with them.

Then I get a second round of Reading done (these are the Beta readers) not always by the same people. If they throw up anything that needs adjusting, I re-read and adjust if I agree… if it’s something I didn’t agree with the first time, I take a long careful look at it.

Then I get someone to do a General Line Edit for Typos and plot holes etc. This is always someone who hasn’t seen it before and has Editing Experience. Sometimes they may have been an Alpha/ Beta Reader as well, but they have to have Editing Experience as well.

And no, not every Writer is a good Editor – I’m a prime example of that!

Once it’s Edited, then (and only then) I consider it ready to be published. And bear in mind that until I think it’s ready to be published, it may go back for Beta Reading or Editing again.

That’s how you get to be a Writer.

To be a Great Writer, someone who can write a Book or Movie that will draw the Reader / Watcher in and hold them there until they’ve finished; someone who can leave them with that “Satisfied but Sad” feeling; someone who can bring them back for more of their work, time and again?

That takes Talent.
Do I have Talent?
*shrugs*
I don’t know.

I know “some” people have enjoyed my work because they have told me so personally or they have written reviews on my books that have shown they’ve read them and considered it good enough to leave a comment about it. That has been enough to make me want to keep me writing and publishing.
But is that Talent?
You’d have to ask them or read my books to answer that for yourself; because as it is with every Artform, Art is subjective and personal.

You have to make your own mind up.

Homeless Thoughts

Homeless

Who loves a nobody?
Why does no one care?
Where will I sleep tonight?
How will I get there?

When will I find a home?
Who can tell me soon?
Huddled in a cardboard box,
In the evening gloom.

Food from a stranger,
In a moving van,
Wander in the daylight,
Sleep upon the strand.

Someone please help me,
For I really need a home,
Time waits for no man,
Again I’ll sleep alone.

* * *

First Published in:
‘LETTERS FROM THE SOUL’ ANTHOLOGY
ISBN: 0-7951-5160-8

That poem was written when I was a teenager, inspired by several news reports about Homeless people in the cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh… but mostly London if I’m honest.

I was innocent back then. I didn’t think that families COULD be made homeless. I thought that if a family was thrown out of their home, that the local council would sweep them up and drop them into a council house.
I had some justification for that view – it had just happened to me at the time; the USAF base I lived on was closing and one minute I was living in isolation in a tumbledown cottage on an airbase, the next I was in a brand new council house in the middle of a village with a shop and a school and people!

Back then – please remember that this was over twenty years ago… Yikes that makes me feel old! – there was a lot of nastiness in teenage society about how your parents got their money and where you lived. Living in a Council House was okay as long as you had both your parents and one of them was working (preferably your father) so while I was low on the scale, for a long while I wasn’t the lowest of the low.
When my parents divorced, I dropped down the scale somewhat. My Mum was still working, which kept me off the absolute bottom, and being sixteen and on my way to university by then, it didn’t matter as much to me.

As I kept getting told (by various “helpful” adults) I was working my way out of poverty, and one day I would have a highly paid job, a house and car of my own and be able to look after my own family in much better circumstances, maybe even living in London or New York .

I would never have to depend on benefits or the council ever again.

Being an impressionable sort of teenager (wonderful thing, Aspergers, huh) I believed what I was told and did my utmost to fulfil the fantasy they were spinning for me… but life being what it is, it wasn’t until I got halfway through university that I realised I was on the wrong degree course… and that it was too late to stop the course and start again.

But by this time I had changed and I knew that the life fantasy I had been fed was completely wrong. So I spent several years working out what I wanted from life and started working toward that. At the back of my mind however, was “I don’t want to depend on benefits or the council ever.”

It took me a long time to overcome that thought.

So here I sit… an author and mother of three gorgeous children, engaged to a lovely, gentle man with two fluffy master cats to entertain and soothe our souls. And yet again I am facing homelessness.

Only this time, I realise what my parents must have gone through when they were told that the base was closing and that my Father’s job was going to come to an end. That they would have to move our family to another house and he would have to find another job somehow. That they would have to go into a Council house because their credit score wasn’t worthy enough to buy a house of their own.

And now I realise quite how toxic that original thought of “I don’t want to depend on benefits or the council ever.” is. There are situations where you have to depend on the goodwill of other people in order to change your situation, like Homelessness. This is where the Council is supposed to step in.

Because neither of us is working (rather hard to be a full time Teacher when you can’t get to a school to teach) and because my partner’s back problem has become chronic enough to disable him, we are depending on benefits. Because our credit score is neither good enough to get a mortgage, nor secure us another private rental house.

Because the Insurance Companies believe that people on Housing Benefit are shiftless, unreliable and highly likely not to pay the rent – and insist that Landlords must pay another 40% on top of their premium to be able to rent to such people.

Because Private Letting Agents require Landlords to pay to have their houses managed and Tenants to pay for the privilege of even trying to find out if they are “worthy” enough to rent a house with them… and then make Tenants pay through the nose for paperwork, spare keys, visits to view the property, to maintain the property, to renew the rental contract, to pay for the damage that pets “might” do to the property.

Because those on Benefits are viewed as high risk tenants, no matter their previous working histories, current circumstances or actual personalities.

This is where Council Housing is supposed to stand. A place that anyone, no matter what their finances or situations or disabilities can find a house to live in for as long as they need it.

But…

The housing (in our area anyway) isn’t there. There isn’t enough of it, of a livable quality, capable of coping with all the needs of all the people. There are over 400 people on the Accessibility List that we’ve been put on – medical priority, top of the list, but needing special adaptations to be able to live.

So here WE stand. Waiting for a court order eviction to throw us out of the house we are in; waiting for a three bedroom bungalow or ground floor flat ( no stairs allowed essentially); Waiting for the nod to move into Emergency Housing that might not be suitable for all our needs (remember I have three aspies to cope with as well?) for an unspecified amount of time.

The stress is more than that of a normal move (done that a few times before) because it’s the uncertainty of knowing where we will be going, how much we are going to be able to take with us and if our Cats (who provide a much needed service in the form of bringing sanity and calm to a meltdown) are going to be able to come with us or if we are going to have to put them into a Cattery.

One of the ways I deal with stress is to write… and this morning I came up with this –

Homeless
Part Two.

Losing your home,
Is like losing a friend.
Is like being uprooted,
Again and again.

You sit and you worry,
About where you will go.
About how you will get there,
In a place you don’t know.

The more there are of you,
The more your mind flits,
From possessions to people.
All needing “their” bits.

Made homeless by paper,
Made homeless by greed,
Made homeless by people,
Who don’t see your need.

You’d be right in thinking it isn’t finished… there is no satisfactory ending to his one because, as yet, there is no satisfactory ending to our situation.

The thought that there are hundreds of people in the same situation as us, who need similar things and can’t get them because there IS NO HOUSING suitable for them… that is something that makes me hate the society we live in even more.

Dreams

A house by a stream in a wood.
A family loving and good.
A life where money isn’t the theme,
A world where peace isn’t a dream.

Words on a page in a book,
Pictures on a wall  where I can look.
Music running through my head,
Tummies all warm and fed.

Dreams of a world that won’t ever exist.
Entries at the end of a list.
Was I wrong to bother to dream?
About a house in a wood by a stream.

Copyright  – Mandy Ward, September 2016