Using Real Life In Your Writing – Places

real life - placesLast week, I spoke about using real life people in your writing. THIS WEEK: PLACES!

Obviously, we all live somewhere. Be that in the middle of a city, the outskirts of a town or in the middle of the countryside, either isolated or perhaps in a little hamlet. So, why not use that setting in your writing? Just go out, soak up the atmosphere. Listen, really listen. Do birds make sounds? Are there lots of shouting kids, or is it quieter in a more elderly area? Look around: what colour is the sky? At night? Are there lots of bus stops? Even the littlest thing can make it seem the most realistic to your readers. Even if most of the place you live in is grass or gravel! – note it. It’s ideal if you’re writing somewhere where you live, because you can just go out if you need inspiration.

Okay, perhaps you hate it, and don’t want to write about. Fair enough. There are other places you can use in your settings.

If you’re on holiday, and you find somewhere you love, why not write about? It’d be perfect, no? Just remember that no where is idyllic, and people who live there probably hate it too! But note the same things as you did for your own hometown. Have a look down some narrow alleys where your MC might walk down to get home, for example. See what the weather is like. If you’re not there all year round, can you talk to some locals? Eat in a local cuisine shop, visit museums, shops, see where your MC might work or go to school. Yes, it sounds very long-winded and difficult, but it’ll be key in convincing your readers about the realism of a place.

If you’re writing a setting of somewhere you can’t get to, why not look it up online? Use Google Earth’s awesome Street View feature. It’s actually pretty cool, and quite interesting. Look for weather news, go on the country’s main news website, you could even find some books based in that area, even if they’re non-fiction (probably especially, actually). Check out the wildlife online. Ask people who’ve been there, if you can find anyone.

And obviously, if you’re writing about a fantastical world or an alternate universe, things are going to be a little different, but you could always try and find somewhere as close to our world as possible, like New Zealand for Lord of the Rings. If you can’t, though, at least try and think of the same things as you’d notice if you were in the place for real – wildlife, the smell of the air, the language or many languages spoken, if people interact in the street or if people only leave their homes if they have somewhere to go.

The setting is so incredibly important in writing, and yet it is often overlooked. You could even try drawing a map and plotting out everything. Perhaps just writing notes, or finding pictures (try Pinterest).

Good luck with your settings! Don’t overlook them, and make sure you’ve done all you can. If you can get to your ideal setting and stay for as long as you can, do it! It’ll benefit you greatly.


Using Real Life In Your Writing – People

real life - peopleReal life and writing correlates quite a bit, even if you’re writing fantasy, for example. Obviously, you’re writing in a language you know, so there’s a point – you’ll probably use your own language tics in your work (such as the main character dropping articles, for example). Your characters are probably also influenced by people from your real life and conversations. Have you ever read a character and thought, “Hey, my friend does that…”?

Obviously you can’t completely copy people in your real life – there’s probably a law against it, or something, and you wouldn’t be creating your own characters. But, there’s nothing against you using aspects of people around you in your writing. If your friend has a really funny sneeze, or they have a catchphrase that they say all the time, then why not magpie it and use it in your own work? Even if they noticed, they’d probably be happy that you thought that that part of them was good enough to be used in your novel!

Bit how do you know what type of stuff to take and what type of stuff to leave? Well, you can keep a writing journal, obviously, and write down everything (a really great exercise for this is sitting in a coffee shop or on a train for example, and writing about the people around you). Then, you can flick through and find out the things that best fit your characters. Alternatively, you can just notice around you, and write it down later. Or, not write it down at all, and hope you’ll remember! If you use something in a close friend, you’ll probably know it anyway.

Even if you don’t write anything down, you probably will realise that some aspects of people around you in everyday life will come through in your own work subconsciously. This isn’t a bad thing! Even published writers are still influenced by people around them – take JK Rowling, for example! Besides, it gives you some great ammunition for writing and it means your characters are likely to seem realistic to the reader, because they have characteristics from real people!

Therefore, using real life people in your writing is a pretty good idea – just, don’t copy them completely. Otherwise, I guess you’re writing fanfiction about your own life… now there’s something for you to think about!

Know Your [Writing] Limit

writing lmitrfs hgftmsaLike anything in life (even bananas – apparently, eating 480 of them will kill you), writing has its limit. This limit varies from person to person, and from time to time. For example, on good days I can write around 10000 words. On bad days, I might struggle with 100 or none at all. On mediocre days, I might write a couple of thousand, but I might run out of inspiration or steam faster than I normally would.

Writing is like using a muscle. And it’s great when it’s working well. But if you strain it, it hurts for the next few days: if you sprain it, it can take weeks or even months (I should know, I have a permanent swelling on a 4x sprained ankle). So basically, uh, don’t sprain your writing muscle.

“BUT HOW DO I KNOW?” I hear you cry. “How do I save myself from this terrible pain of not being able to write?” As aforementioned, the limit of the writing muscle varies from person to person. So, for one person writing 1000 words in a day might cause them to burn out and not be able to write the next. For someone else, it might be 5k or even 25k. (Which is pretty good if you’re the latter, because I guess it means you’ll almost never burn out. Uh… touch wood.) So I guess you might want to try seeing just how far you can stretch your limit before it’s terrible the next day.

On the other hand, you can under stretch your writing muscle. Like, if you don’t walk around for one day, and then the next day your joints are stiff and it just takes longer to get moving. This also varies from person to person. Some people can take maybe a few days or a week or so before they have to write again, but for others they have to write every day or the next day it just takes twice as long to get going. Once again, try figuring out your limit.

So, if this whole article is me basically telling you to do something which probably seems useless right now, why am I doing it? Well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you never know when you’ll need it. For example, you could be on a great writing spree, but you’re nearing your word limit. What do you do? Stop writing, or carry on? If you carry on, then you’ll probably be burnt out the next day. If you stop, you might desperately want to go back, but that means that you’ll be fired up and raring to go the next time you sit down with your novel. Why do you care why I’m saying this? I’m not saying you have to stop, but I’m giving you an informed decision, so that your novel can continue. It’s horrible to be burnt out and hating what you’re writing when you force yourself to, so unless you have an urgent and unmovable deadline, I’d stop at my limit, personally.

Secondly, if you know what your under-limit is, it gives you a great excuse to get away from social occasions.

In conclusion, it’s not necessary to know your writing limit. You don’t have to know if you’re going to struggle to write the next day (there are ways around this, and I’ll probably discuss helping you get started in another post) but it sure helps. Likewise, if you know there’s a really important scene coming up next and you really, really want to write it, sometimes it’s best knowing that if you leave it, it’ll still be awesome the next day, instead of a forced load of drivel from the over-written mind.


Deadlines: WHOOSH!

deadlines; whoosh!As Douglas Adams once said: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” (The Salmon of Doubt)

I am terrible at writing to deadlines (unless it’s college work), and I’m even terrible at being in the right place at the right time. It kind of sucks when I am selling commissioned stories and writing for a blog, which I do once a month (although due to exams I haven’t over the last couple; I am working on an article at the moment, though), and sometimes, admittedly, I do struggle a bit (or, a lot).

I’ve recently gotten better keeping to dates and remembering stuff by using my iPhone’s calender to record what I’m doing, and when. Sometimes reminders help me, but I often forget to actually put them into my phone, and I’ve actually gotten pretty good at ignoring them.

But one thing does work, and that’s remembering what I’m doing and how it’s going to help me. No one is going to employ you if you turn up late to work every day, are they? No one’s going to buy your writing if you don’t deliver it on time, either!

That’s what I want you, dear reader, to take away from this: ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS deliver your work when you say you will! Word of mouth might seem like something people shrug at and don’t take seriously, and perhaps this is true for mediocre work. However, if something is really good or really bad, it tends to get around quickly. You want to be in the former category: that’s really good. Deliver on time, and it’s only when you’re a seriously renowned author that you can put your own deadlines on your work. I mean, c’mon, that’ll be awesome!

So, all in all: deliver on time, even early if you can. Be prompt in responses to work messages too. But don’t lose the quality of your work, which is something you’re going to have to compromise on. Quality, or speed? I say, settle for both. Take half of your “writing” time to write, and half to edit; then you’ll have something which works pretty well, and delivers pretty well too.

Using Music For Inspiration

Music! Hans Christian Anderson famously said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” I agree, in some respects, but disagree wildly in others.

Music has been a source of inspiration for me for, well, as long as I can remember. I have songs downloaded onto my iPod which were used to inspire some of my earliest works. I still use music now, to accompany my writing, set the tone, inspire me, give me a time scale to stick to when I’m getting my stories from brain to paper.

Have you ever tried using music as you write? Some find it distracting, but that’s probably to do with the lyrics. Why not find a sound you like – white noise, 3 hours of jazz music (actually very relaxing), dolphin sounds – and listen to that as you write? It can block out other sounds as well.

If you’re stuck for what to write about, why not listen to a song? Lyrics alone are usually enough to inspire something, but set against the melody of the song can make them mean something else entirely. Perhaps it stirs a memory you can harness and put into words.

Now this point deviates away from “music” and goes to “why Hannah shouldn’t have YouTube”. If you need a sound effect of something you have never heard before in your life, it can be quite hard to write about… so search it. Search “machine gun fire sound effect” or “knitting needles” or “sound of a tattoo” (yes this is actually a thing and it made my brain hurt). Then put what you hear… into your writing! Simples! – well, simpler than making it up and it turning out you think getting a tattoo sounds like a lawn mower instead. Which, I think we can all agree, would be much more terrifying as it came into contact with your skin.

Perhaps it has never occurred to you to use music, or perhaps you didn’t like it. If you’re either of the two, I urge you to just try it once more. If you get distracted by lyrics, try an instrumental. If you’re still distracted, try listening to it before writing and then writing after. Music will probably relax you, so you might even find writing easier!

Music is a great source of just about everything: love, sex, hate, death, war, life, soul, animals. There’s something out there for everyone, and according to this website, around 2,100,000 songs have been released since 1940. That’s a lot to choose from – and that’s released. You may find your new favourite song from a teen artist who just stuck it up on YouTube to see what would happen. And perhaps that’ll be the story of how you’re next best seller was born: a musical prodigy.

Using Images For Inspiration
Using Words For Inspiration

Characterisation Ideas

Characters are the obvious backbone to your writing, no matter what the style is: play, novel, film or TV script, even a simple comedy sketch. So getting them right is clearly the thing you should be working on.

Characterisation is something I am notoriously bad at. In my novella, An Icy Collision, the characters feel like people I vaguely know as opposed to BFFs. My NaNoWriMo 2014’s downfall was, in my opinion, not knowing my characters well enough – I didn’t even know my MC’s skin colour!

I haven’t tried all of these tips you’re about to read, but I would suggest giving them ago. If you want, you could always let me know what happens, because I always love to hear from you. I’ll have a go at these, too, perhaps in one of the exercise books I recently bought. Let’s see what happens, eh?

  • The name game. I saw this in Writing Magazine. Write out your character’s name vertically down a page. Then, next to each letter, write something they like that begins with that letter! (Good luck if their name is Xander.) After you’ve done that, write something they dislike next to each letter again.
  • Go character image referencing. For An Icy Collision, one thing I did do was go picture hunting and now I have various files with captions like ‘Ariane’s eyes’ or ‘Meryll’s mouth’. Pretend that you’re trying to recreate their face for a police investigation and enjoy finding different parts of them you might not have thought of before.
  • Make a meal in their style. Even go out shopping for ingredients. And, though this bit may make you sound crazy, talk to your character/s as you go around the supermarket or even as you’re cooking, get their hints and ideas, whilst learning how they talk to one another and to you as the author. Do they become incredibly sarcastic when you mess up? Perhaps you would never have known this if you hadn’t had dinner with them!
  • Talk to them. Preferably alone. Why preferably alone? Your friends can’t communicate with your characters in the same way you can. Just get a list of questions, sit down and ask aloud what you want the answer to. It might take a while for you to get into your stride, but you’ll make it.
  • Write short stories about them. Say your character loves Harry Potter. Put them in Hogwarts! See how they react, what happens. You’ll learn a lot and it’ll be great fun too.

So here you are, just some ideas about your characters that you might want to use.

I’m going to start planning my second novella in the series from the 16th February (half term here!) – it seems like I’m going to have some fun with my characters that week! Why don’t you join me? We can have a week of character development!

Questions, thoughts? Shoot! 😀 

5 Tips to Have An Alongside Romance Story

Romance is such a huge part of our lives – I mean, would any of us be here without it in some shape or form? – that it’s obviously going to be in most texts. But not everyone likes to read romance stories, and sure there are some novels that don’t feature a slither of kisses. Sometimes, however, romance can help ’round-off’ a story and it’s nice to put it in, both for the writer and the reader; although, you don’t want it to overpower the narrative and take over your story. Balance is an important part of anything, and here are a few tips for you to balance the romance and action in your story.

  1. Build up the romance. Like any romance, if it’s not realistic and happens suddenly, the reader won’t believe it. But people don’t happen to fall in love in a war zone or whilst tackling demons. You have to build up the romance using the things around you – perhaps they meet in a safe zone or one saves the other. Do something to bring them together, rather than have them fall.
  2. Make the romance relate to the main plot, but also separate it. Katniss and Peeta wouldn’t have fallen in love if they hadn’t been in the arena together. Hermione and Ron wouldn’t have met if they didn’t go to Hogwarts. Having your character suddenly meet another in the most unexpected place could make for an interesting twist, but is it ‘realistic’? – for example, if Hermione had met Ron, somehow, on holiday, would they have remained friends? Probably not.
  3. Make sure the problems of the main plot still affect the relationship. Back to The Hunger Games, but both of the star-crossed lovers think that they’re going to die when they go back into the arena for the second time. Hermione and Ron can’t be a normal couple because of the Second Wizarding War. The main plot should bend your characters and mould them, but the plot should bend the relationship too, or just both of the characters separately which affects them together.
  4. Make sure both of the characters are separate from one another. “But he’s a boy and she’s a girl,” doesn’t count. They have to have separate identities, lives, personalities. This is obvious but even more so when it’s a sub-plot and there’s less focus on it. For example, (yes, THG again) Katniss aims to survive her first bought in the arena by being on her lonesome and fighting for herself; Peeta uses strategy and joins the Careers. Would Katniss have done that? No! Would Peeta have survived five minutes on his own? The Nightlock says not.
  5. Let them enjoy themselves – at least once. Writers these days are so into suffering they’ve forgotten that romance can be happy. Even if they’re just sat by themselves for a moment in a corner of the trench, or steal a kiss before wrestling trolls, there should always be a little part of the reader that roots for the partnership and enjoys seeing them together.

Have fun with romance! Questions, thoughts? Shoot! 

Music and Writing

Music is fantastic. It can give you chills and inspire you; not to mention be a great thing to bring people together. Listening to music can be a great way to help you write as well, or even before you write as inspiration.

However, some people get distracted by listening to music whilst writing. Perhaps it’s the lyrics or maybe you just need complete silence. It doesn’t mean you have to be in the no-music club though!

If you find yourself getting distracted by the lyrics, an obvious answer would be instrumental songs. But that makes it really hard, right? They’re generally from musicals (although Coldplay does some instrumental songs) and then they’re made for the musicals, so can be difficult. But can I recommend the Doctor Who soundtrack. Sure, some of it is a bit ‘Who-y’, but some of it is really great, and there is plenty to choose from.

Another thing you can try is making a playlist of every story you write. If it’s a short story, I guess you could listen to one song on repeat (sorry to distract, but I think I’ve got deja vu. Have I written about this before?). But it’s fun to make playlists for your stories too, as well as being helpful! I don’t know about other phones/music players, but on the iPod Nano that I have, you can’t name playlists (so I have about 10 that are just ‘Playlist 1’, ‘Playlist 2’ etc. And yet I still know which each one is!) so I’d suggest trying to plugging it into the computer to name the playlist. However, make it on your music player. Then you can scroll through, see each one in a small group or even individually, and it’ll make you think about it more.

Finally, if you get distracted whilst writing, do what I mentioned before and listen before you write. If you know there’s a certain scene you’ve got to write today, try and think of a song to fit it and listen to it just before you write. Sit back and truly listen to it. That way it won’t distract you when you’re actually writing, but you’ll be in the mind set for the scene.

Music can be a great help to you when you’re writing, so use it! There’s no point in overlooking tools that are right on your doorstep.

But, if music doesn’t help you, that’s okay too. There are, of course, many other things out there that can aid your writing. You just have to find them!

Hope that helped! Comments, questions? Shoot! 😀 

Some of my favourite albums for writing are Doctor Who (Instrumental) for Doctor Who fanfiction and general tone setting, Up All Night by One Direction for upbeat and happily romantic stories, Mamma Mia! (musical) for upbeat stories and ones with a positive message and In My Dreams by the Military Wives for ‘slow’, romantic and sad stories. If those help then that’s great! I also listen to a mixture of songs by different albums and different artists and stuff too.

Find a Way To Relax

I know that writing can be stressful. More than stressful: sometimes it even turns into a chore. Characters are temperamental, the plot just isn’t working and despite the five cups of coffee you’ve had, the caffeine just isn’t kicking in.

Miraculously, though, you don’t have to write every day. Well, most of the time. Some times you can have a day off, even two days, or maybe just a morning if that’s all it takes.

When you do relax, distract yourself, completely, from your writing. If, for example, you find baking relaxing but you know it so well that your mind wanders, then try a new recipe that you really have to concentrate on. Not only will you be pleasantly pleased with the brand-new end result, but you’re distracted!

Why distract yourself? Because if you’re thinking about your writing, chances are you’ll still be stressing about it, and wasn’t the point of this whole thing to take a break?

If you want/need to take a break, though, and you can’t get away from your laptop (for example, if you go down stairs you’ll be trapped by a well-meaning but incredibly annoying relative) then why not try writing something else instead?

This article was originally going to be about fanfiction, but I did a series of articles on that not long ago. However, fanfiction can be a fantastic way to wind down, or, indeed, wind up if you’re trying to get your mojo working. The characters are already 3D and completely mapped out for you, you don’t particularly have to think about it, and you can write as much or as little as you want. I’m actually writing a fanfiction at the moment, because it makes me happy and helps me to destress. Simples!

Another thing you could do is simply write something else: an article, a blog post, a couple of fillers for magazines (which can then be used in the real world!), even a short story about something random on your desk or outside your window. And then these things can kind of just disappear into the void of writings if you want them to, so they can be as terribly hilarious as you want.

One of the worst things you can do when you’re stressing about your work is procrastinate: go on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and just sit and scroll. It’s incredibly difficult to break the loop, because you think to yourself, “Oh, I’ll just read the next post…or the next one…or the one after that,” and before you know it you’ve wasted an hour looking at cat videos! Even baking would at least give you a decent finished product. Procrastination is my writing fatal flaw, and it’s something I am trying to work on!

Remember that writing is meant to be something that you love, not something that you detest. Start each session with a smile and make sure it ends that way, too. Most of all, enjoy it!

Questions, comments, thoughts? Shoot! 😀 

For and Against a Happy Ending

When writing, two (or more) characters often start to look at each other a little bit, then a little bit more and a little bit more and before you know it they’ve had sex in the closet and are declaring their undying love leaving you in front of the keyboard with your hands in your hair and screaming wildly, to which assorted family members and friends just think, “I knew it,” (which can also happened with two (or more) real life people too, I guess).

So you have characters in a relationship. But do you let them keep it? Some readers live for romance, and others would rather cut it down with a scythe. What do to, what to do?

For a Romantic, Happy Ending

  • It’ll leave you with a warm, bubbly feeling in your stomach (well, hopefully).
  • Your readers might love you for it, especially if the characters are great (*cough*Percabeth*cough*) or fit well together even if one sucks.
  • All characters deserve something nice.
  • If you’re finishing off a series, it might round it off nicely.

Against a Romantic, Happy Ending

  • You have a heart of cold, cold ice.
  • The characters are horrible to each other (such as Paul Marshall and Lola in Atonement). Or, one is just horrible to the other. Uh uh, not a happy, nor healthy, relationship.
  • Your characters are dead, which isn’t completely unusual.
  • You’re setting them up for another story, in which they are going to get together.
  • The romance just doesn’t work out. Sometimes it’s like that. They fall out, find someone else, or maybe just don’t love each other like that, or that much, any more.

Romances are great fun to write, and can be great fun to destroy (even though they might break my heart). And if characters unintentionally end up together (it’s happened to me before. I was thinking about them and BAM the two of them decided they wanted to get it on) who are we to say that it’s impossible?

Questions, comments, thoughts? Shoot! 😀