PD Martin's Blog

August 8, 2014

First draft, first 25,000 words

Filed under: Getting published,Writing — Tags: , , , — PD Martin @ 2:20 pm

I last blogged about writing my new novel in April. That blogged focused on some of the preparation work – plot development and character exercises.

I’ve spent the last four months refining a first draft of the first 60 pages for my agent to submit to publishers. It’s been a long and arduous process, but it also proves something I always tell my students…good writing is about editing, editing and re-editing. This is the twelfth book I’ve written (that figure includes early ones that didn’t get published) and the process is still hard and time-consuming. And, of course, incredibly fun and engaging.

So, what sorts of edits have I been up to:

  1. Character, character, character. It can be a hard thing to edit for, but it’s important to get it right.
  2. Internal monologue. I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to internal monologue (cut, cut, cut) but with this new genre there is space for a little more of the main characters’ thoughts. Problem was I took this ‘freedom’ and went too far. So I’ve been editing those internal monologues down.
  3. Beats. I’m a beat fanatic, but I often have to change my beats. During the first draft I often put place-marker beats in and during editing I work on improving them. Beats and character development go hand-in-hand, so I often use my beats to SHOW character traits.
  4. Tension. I’ve also been upping the ante when it comes to tension, and while I wanted my first pages to show my characters happy (before the bad xxx goes down), my agent still wanted conflict.

And that’s about it for this draft. The four elements above make up part of my Writing Rules to Live By, yet they’re still things I often have to edit for, things that tend to creep into my first draft.

So the motto is: edit, edit, edit!

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July 22, 2014

The ideal creative writing course format

Filed under: Getting published,Uncategorized,Writing — Tags: , , , — PD Martin @ 7:43 pm

What is the ideal creative writing course format? Is there even such a thing? Writing courses come in all shapes and sizes—from a three-hour workshop to a full-time course. What’s best? What course will help you improve your writing the most?

I’ve taught quite a few different course formats –the shortest would be a six-hour workshop and I’d class my longest as being my mentorship role in the tertiary system. What works best?

The truth is, there are advantages and disadvantages of different course formats. One of my favourite courses was the Year of the Novel course I taught at Writers Victoria in 2012. I loved the fact that I could help people improve their writing over time, and I could see their projects taking shape. This course was one Sunday a month for eight months. However, while the eight-month time frame held many advantages, there were also disadvantages. Part of my teaching ethos is to drive my students to write more and finish their novels. Which meant that in my eight-month course I set word counts that I wanted them to achieve before our next session. Problem? I couldn’t possibly fit all the writing craft, character development work and plot development work into the first day of the course. Of course, I’d structured the course to feed the relevant craft info into key points, but still, there are definitely advantages of doing a more intensive course upfront before you start writing the next novel (or while you’re writing it).

I’m now also running intensive, week-long novel writing sessions at the Abbotsford Convent. Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm. These are designed to set up writers with the knowledge and tools to start and finish their novels. Again, there are advantages and disadvantages of this format. On the plus side, after only one week I’m confident that these students will know everything they need to know to make their novel the best it can be. To increase their chances of getting a publishable novel at the end of the day. It’s also handy for my interstate students, who can take the week off work and fly in once and know they have improved their craft exponentially. But it is pretty intensive and there’s no room for workshopping a novel, chapter-by-chapter.

The ideal format? I think a short course of 4-8 days over a shorter time frame (e.g. all the days in a row or weekly) followed by a longer course/program to ensure you’re putting all the craft knowledge into action is the ideal combination. The longer program could be in the form of a detailed manuscript assessment, workshopping group, or a course. Or even giving your manuscript to a good editor. I’ve learnt a lot from seeing the skilful edits of my Aussie, UK and US editors.

It’s also important you choose a ‘good’ course. Of course, choose a teacher who’s a published author, and someone who’s an experienced teacher. One of my students who did one of my Writers Victoria courses (five-day course over five months) said she learnt more in those five days than she did in her one-year, full-time creative writing course. And while that’s incredibly flattering, it also appals me that a full-time course can’t deliver the goods. So choose wisely and research the teachers!!

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June 4, 2014

Matthew Luhn’s story structure workshop

Filed under: Getting published,Writing — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 9:33 pm

Last week I went to Matthew Luhn’s one-day story workshop in Melbourne. It was part of a three-day event on animation, set up by Pixar. Yup, the big guns!

I was pretty excited. It’s not very often that an author gets to do ‘professional development’ after a certain stage in their career (usually publication). You see, most courses are aimed at emerging writers—fair enough, that’s the students I usually get in my classes too. In fact, it was partly because I’m teaching so much these days that I thought I’d rock up to the event and see what one of Pixar’s Story Supervisors had to say about story structure. It’s always interesting to hear how other story pros approach their work. Matthew’s resume includes all three Toy Story movies, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, Cars, Ratatouille, UP, Monsters University and Toy Story of Terror. That’s a pretty good rap sheet :)

The morning focused solely on story, so it was this part that was most relevant to me, and that I thought I’d blog about. I find that often with story and character, it’s not that the content itself is new or provides some revelation, but it’s how it’s expressed.

As an example, I really liked the way he expressed the story structure:
• Exposition
• Inciting incident
• Progressive complications
• Crisis
• Climax
• Resolution

Of course, we often/usually see the words ‘climax’ and ‘resolution’ in story structure theory and the ‘inciting incident’ is part of a couple of plot breakdowns including Blake Snyder’s 15 beat sheet (mentioned in the Catalyst ‘beat’) and film’s eight sequence structure. But still, I like the simplicity of the expression above.

I also wanted to share some of Matthew Luhn’s character approaches and notes. I particularly liked the way he talked about showing your character’s passion and at least one major flaw during the exposition (story set up). The inciting incident is then usually about taking away that character’s passion or them committing to trying to achieve that passion. Nice, huh? I watched The Incredibles the other day with my kids and saw this story-character relationship. The hero’s passion was being a superhero and that was taken away from him when he was sued and the government relocated all superheroes under secret identities. He was no longer allowed to use his powers, in fact, he had to hide his abilities. Matthew’s example in the workshop was UP. Carl’s passion was his wife and their house was an extension of their relationship and all he had left of her. In UP, his house was going to be taken away.

It also got me thinking about my current work in progress. Interestingly, I went the other way around. I could easily identify my inciting incident but I hadn’t traced it back to her ‘passion’. Yes, I’d looked at how it (the inciting incident) would affect her, but not as a direct relationship to a ‘passion’ and therefore needing to set up that passion early on. I’ve just re-written the first chapter, brining her passion to the fore.

The second half of the day did focus more on animation stuff—composing story boards, cinematography in animation (camera angles), etc. Incredibly interesting but probably not that useful in the day-to-day life of an author.

Still, the day was definitely worthwhile and the timing was good, because it got me fired up again for my current work in progress! And Pixar does rock.

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April 3, 2014

Chapter 1

Filed under: Writing — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 2:19 pm

I’m about to start a new novel and I thought it might be interesting (especially for aspiring writers!) for me to blog about the process.  For a start, while I’ve titled this post ‘Chapter 1′ that’s not the first thing I’ve done.  I very rarely start a book by sitting down and writing the first chapter without some preparation. And this new novel is no exception.  I’m moving into a new genre (again!) and so my first step was to read some of the books selling in this space. What do I like about these novels? What do I LOVE about these novels? And what were the things I didn’t like so much?

Next I came up with about five ideas that would work as novels and wrote a paragraph or two about each one. Then it was decision time – I selected one idea to be the first in this new direction.

For this novel, my next step was to plot the novel out. While I don’t want to reveal the specific genre/style (yet) I will say that the most important element in the genre is to have a multitude of layers.  So, in this case it made sense to look at plot first. I decided to keep it simple. Rather than using a plot tool like Blake Snyder’s beat sheet, or even the three-act structure I simply wrote out each chapter/scene in bullet points. This is different to the plot tools and techniques I’ve used before, but somehow it seemed right. There are two viewpoint characters that I’m alternating between, so it was literally the person’s name, then a few bullet points on what happened and/or how they felt in that scene.

Next (and this is where I’m at now) is character development. I’ve started with my female viewpoint character and I’m on istock.com looking at images that look like the girl I’ve got in my head. I’ve set up a lightbox called ‘Jodi’ (yes, that’s my main character’s name) and I’m filling it with photos. Soon I’ll narrow it down to 3-10 photos that capture the character or her mood. Maybe it will be the hair of this woman, with the sense of carefree attitude in this pic, but with the ability to stare into your soul in her calmer moments. We all have different faces, so no ONE photo will be the one. My character is going to experience highs and lows in the novel, so I like to have visual reminders of how she looks happy, thoughtful, sad, etc. These pics come together with the image I already have of her to form MY Jodi. It’s visual, but it’s also more than that.

This is my current lightbox (still working on it though!). It gives a good idea of the visual element of my character development process.

New Picture (1)

Next stop: My character questionnaire!

And here’s a summary for the cheats/time-poor writers out there :)

1. Research genre.

2. Come up with several ideas in that space and select the one that’s calling to you the most. (Note: 1 & 2 are often/usually done in the opposite order to my example…the  idea comes first, then you research genre).

3. Use a plot technique that works for you to plot your novel (if you want to do it before you start writing).

4. Work on your characters – I recommend choosing photos that look like your projected image of him/her and also completing a character questionnaire to drill deep into the character’s personality and psyche.

I’ll let you know how I’m going on 1 May.

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December 9, 2013

NaNoWriMo round up

Filed under: Events/appearances,Writing — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 1:51 pm

It’s official…NaNoWriMo is done for 2013. This was my second time attempting NaNoWriMo and I’m afraid that once again I fell short.

Instead of meeting the 50,000 word target (or my personal target of 30,000-40,000 words), this year I managed only 20,212  words.

I have excuses, of course. Who doesn’t? But the truth is there were two days I had put aside for intensive writing sessions (two full days, the only full days I get each week) and instead of putting my foot on the accelerator I went for the brake. I’m still not sure why. Yes, it’s a crazy busy time of year for me. My daughter’s birthday is on 6 December so there are always celebrations to organise. I also went to the Clare Writers’ Festival from 29 November – 1 December and was busy preparing for that in the last week of November. (The Festival was fantastic, by the way!)

Also, the writing didn’t seem to flow as easily for this book (book 2 in a YA series) as it did for the first and I even wondered if the fact that I actually did some plot planning BEFORE writing made things worse. Instead of writing free-form, I was writing the scene I had designated as the next scene in Scrivener. But surely plotting should help move my writing forward, not hinder it.

The bottom line is I hit the brakes for some reason. But the good news is I got 20,000 words done of my next novel and if I hadn’t been pushing myself with NaNoWriMo perhaps it would have been a much less productive month.

Not sure yet if I’ll sign up in 2014, but I’m determined that one of these days I will do NaNoWriMo and actually finish it. Perhaps not when I’ve got a 2yro at home though       :)

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November 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo – take 2

Filed under: Writing — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 1:38 pm

This year I’m trying NaNoWriMo again. For those of you who don’t know, it stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s basically a whole community of writers (both published and aspiring) getting together with the goal of writing 50,000 words in the month of November.

I tried it for the first time in 2011 and unfortunately only made it half-way. This year, I hope to get a bit closer to the 50,000 word target, however I am trying to fit it in around fairly limited chunks of writing time.

This year, I’m working on book 2 in a new YA series. I recently finished the first book and am doing the agent/publisher rounds but I thought in the meantime I’d spend November to get a chunk of book 2 written. It’s especially important for this series, because book 1 does end on a cliff hanger. Yes, there’s some resolution, but I know if I was reading it I’d want to pick up book 2 pretty much straight away because while the lead character just avert disaster in book 1, the novel ends with her ‘going into the lion’s den’ shall we say.

In the lead up, I’ve been doing a bit of planning. I tend to be more of a plot-as-you-go writer, but I thought in honour of NaNoWriMo (and because I had no idea where the plot would go!) I might actually do a basic structure before putting pen to paper. And I’m using a new-to-me theory…I’m trying the Blake Snyder beat sheet, which includes 15 ‘beats’ in a story. It’s made for screenplays, and some beats only last one page (e.g. the Opening Image) while other beats might last 25 pages (e.g. Fun and Games).

PulsarsScrivener

I’m also using Scrivener (which I use for all my writing now) and so I’ve written up scenes on index cards in Scrivener and I’ve customised the ‘Status’ section so it says which type of beat the scene (index card) is. This is what part of my structure looks like.

First time using this method and obviously first time using it with Scrivener so we’ll see how I go!

So, that’s my November. I did miss last month’s blog (naughty me) but I’ll check back in with a blog on 1 December to tell you all about my NaNoWriMo progress. Or you can see it in real-time at www.facebook.com/pdmartinauthor

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September 5, 2013

A celebratory month

Filed under: Getting published,Writing — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 9:21 am

September is already a month of celebrations for me…and we’re only five days in! And maybe that’s why this blog is a little late, going up on 5 September instead of 1 September.

Anyway….

The first celebration was literally on the first of the month, when a large group of people gathered in the Yarra Valley to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday. It was a fabulous day and Dad had people from all different aspects of his life there.  We had a lot of speakers – yet everyone was so unique with wonderful insights that the day didn’t feel ‘heavy’ with speakers. In fact, it was fascinating. We had 14 people all up!

And 1 September was also Father’s Day, so we started the day with breakfast for my husband and presents from the kids.

everybreath01September is also another big celebration for me. As some of you know, in 2010 I started teaching at Writers Victoria. This month marks a huge milestone in my role as a writing teacher, with one of my students entering the ranks of  ‘published author’.   Congratulations to Ellie Marney on the release of her debut young adult (YA) novel, Every Breath – the novel she was working on in my 2010 class!

I have to say, it’s extremely rewarding to see one of my students’ manuscripts come to life not only on the page, but then on the bookshelf. The official launch is next week, but it is in bookstores now. Congratulations to Ellie, and I hope she’s the first of many of my students to break into this crazy world!

About Every Breath (from the back of the book)

What if Sherlock Holmes was the boy next door?

Rachel Watts is an unwilling new arrival to Melbourne from the country. James Mycroft is her neighbour, an intriguingly troubled seventeen-year-old genius with a passion for forensics. Despite her misgivings, Rachel finds herself unable to resist when Mycroft wants her help investigating a murder.

And when Watts and Mycroft follow a trail to the cold-blooded killer, they find themselves in the lion’s den – literally. A night at the zoo will never have quite the same meaning again…

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August 1, 2013

It’s all about the characters

Filed under: Writing — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 7:15 pm

Even now, on my new once-a-month schedule, it seems that blogging comes around so quickly. But that’s more about last month’s blog on the fluidity of time and not today’s!

peopleonchessboardToday, I want to talk about characters. You see, I do think different types of books need different levels of characterisation. My Sophie books, as most people reading this know, are what I’d called forensic-based murder mysteries with a good dose of criminal psychology in the form of profiling. They are essentially whodunits and why-dunnit and these two questions are the driving force to keep the readers turning the page. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can ignore character and character development in thrillers or murder mysteries — in fact, readers will quickly put down a book if they don’t feel like they’re connecting to the main protagonist. Characters can never be cardboard cut-outs or two-dimensional. Every character, just like every person, has a story. However, I do think that the importance of characters and the relationships between characters is much more instrumental in novels that explore drama or family dynamics as their central theme and plot.

Last year I finished a book that I’d describe as a mainstream drama, not that dissimilar to Jodi Piccoult. And while I finished it last year, it has literally been sitting on my desktop gathering bytes (manuscripts don’t gather dust any more, do they?). Finally, late last year I paid for an assessment/developmental edit. Probably not such a common practice for a published author, but this book was so different to what I’d written before I felt the need to dig deeper and I felt like I needed professional and objective eyes.

But the process didn’t stop there…then I needed to let it stew for a bit. For a lot. I needed to get more objective myself and I needed to go back to the drawing board in terms of characterisation. It’s been an interesting process. Armed with David Corbett’s book, The Art of Character, I started again, as it were. I dug deeper into the characters, deeper into their psychological motivations.

With the new character work complete, I started edited. The editing process is taking me longer than I’d hoped (it always does!), but I’m up to chapter 5 and really happy with the changes in the first four chapters. I feel like I’m transforming this book, and making it so much better in the process.

Good writing is always about characters…but to me it’s about the balance of characters and plot. It’s about knowing when you need character development and when you need something to happen—and preferably you can bring both to the page simultaneously.

It will still be a couple of months before I have another draft to show for this latest spate of work, but already I’m looking forward to seeing the transformation on the remaining 25 chapters. I know I’ve still got a long way to go, but this story is worth the time and the effort.

Originally called Crossroads and Deadends, through my psychological delving I’ve come up with a new title — Adrift. I like it and I hope that one of these days it will make its way to readers.

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March 28, 2013

What’s in a prologue?

Filed under: Murderati blogs,Writing — Tags: , — PD Martin @ 4:00 pm

For some reason, I think every book I’ve written includes a prologue. It just seems like while I don’t want to cram clunky ‘back story’ into my books, there is some basic information that’s needed before readers start on chapter 1. Know what I mean?

Couple of examples…my first Sophie book, Body Count, includes a prologue of Sophie as a child, so it’s 30 years or so earlier. Yes, the main story is complete without this prologue, but it gives readers some important character information (namely that Sophie’s brother was abducted when she was a little girl).

Another example is from my current work in progress. This book, tentatively called The Pulsars, includes a prologue from 18 years earlier when a woman (who’s the mother of my main character) finds out she’s carrying a Pulsar fetus. Again, while the main, present-day story works without it, there is scene-setting in the prologue. Plus, the reader discovers that the scans are compulsory worldwide and that if the fetus is a Pulsar, the governments around the world have enacted the Pulsar Termination Act, which means all Pulsar fetus must be terminated. So I guess the story works without it, but the short, two-page prologue also does a lot. Yes, as the reader moves through the story they would discover that the main character is a Pulsar whose mother and father went on the run so they could keep their child. But I do like the way the prologue, as it is, launches the reader into this new world.   

As you can probably tell, I like prologues. Like writing them, like reading them. Funny thing is, after I’d written about three books I met someone who said they NEVER read prologues. That they figure it’s not necessary for the story. This shocked me. I consider a prologue to be part of the story, and as long as it’s pretty short and tight (and well-written, of course) I think they’re a great writing device. Many novice writers make the mistake of packing in back story in large chunks in the first chapter or two. A prologue (as long as it’s bare essentials!) can get rid of this more clunky ‘reveal’. It can set the scene, deliver character motivation or back story. Ideally, a prologue should also capture a reader’s attention. Make them want to read on–instantly.

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March 14, 2013

Tricky research – the near future

Filed under: Murderati blogs,Writing — PD Martin @ 3:58 pm

I’ve always loved the research that goes along with being an author, particularly a crime fiction author. I’ve posted here on some of my different research subjects, such as cults (part 1 & 2), handwriting, Kung Fu and Dim-Mak, real-life vampires and being a hitman (or woman).

I’ve also mentioned that I’m currently working in another new genre, writing a young adult (YA) novel. But this little YA novel has been giving me grief. Like, quite a lot of grief. But it’s not the writing process (which has actually been pretty easy), it’s the research. And what makes it hard, is that the book is a pre-apocalyptic novel set in the year 2030. So, it’s the near future. And I guess I’m pretty hopeless at speculating what the world will be like in 17 years’ time.

A little background…the book is set in the US and much of the action takes place in the environment of the Secret Service. In some ways, I figure the near future setting means perhaps I’ve got a bit of leeway. If I don’t get a specific Secret Service procedure right, maybe it’s just that things changed from how it’s done now to how it would be done in 17 years in the future. Right?  

But there are so many little facts and questions that are bugging me. Here are just a few:

  • Will a new power source have been discovered by then or are we still talking the current methods, including nuclear power?
  • Can my main character raise her SIG 9mm to take a shot? Surely guns will still be around and SIG SAUER will still make them. Or will they?
  • Will the US election system still be the same?  
  • Will the President still fly on ‘Air Force One’ and ‘Marine One’? And presumably planes and choppers will still be our primary method of fast transport. Won’t they?
  • Will countries have merged to make new countries or super powers?
  • What will the world look like in terms of water shortage and greenhouse gases? Surely 17 years wouldn’t have much effect…or will it?
  • Will people be reaching for their phones and tablets or something entirely different?
  • What will the internet look like in 17 years’ time?

It seems this particular area of my imagination is pretty pathetic! Problem is, when dealing with the near future I think you tread a fine line between what’s plausible and what’s short-sighted.

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