Back (For Reals This Time) – and Description Advice!

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So… I fell off the face of the Earth. Again. Sorry about that, folks, but circumstances were not with me once again. Fingers crossed I can steam through any further problems life tries to throw at me. But, onto the main topic of this blog’s renewal post!

During my months lurking in cyberspace, haunting my usual writing forums, I kept coming across the same question raised in numerous threads: that of describing characters without being cliched or boring. Finally, I tore myself free and added my two cents. Here’s what I wrote:

Always try and find dynamic ways to introduce descriptions that are interesting and natural to the narrative.

For example, in my first MS I briefly introduced a policeman who was rather portly… But rather than coming right out and saying “Here’s a fat old copper”, I slipped lines like “bloated sausage fingers thumbed through a notepad”,  “he sat down as gracefully as he could, the unfortunate chair groaning under the pressure regardless”, and “he patted his stomach, which continued to ripple and bounce a good five seconds after” into the narrative, each hinting that he’s amusingly round yet not ashamed of his appearance.

If you practice this method of description, it not only seems natural as, just like in real life, the reader will notice different things about your characters over time, but it also allows them to fill in the blanks and personalise the characters – again, for example, I never mention what colour or style hair the policeman had, if any; that’s something minor left to the reader’s imagination.

Avoiding info dumps isn’t just a lesson in exorcising laziness, it also helps freshen narrative and pace. Gone are the days of Dickens & Austen, where one could get away with spending pages describing a miserly man or a pair of curtains. Readers don’t want to feel like they’re being forced to read a detailed biography before being allowed to go on enjoying the story, they want to enjoy it at a natural pace, and that’s what dynamic description can do.

Just be careful not to take it to the extreme and fall into the old trap of only mentioning something important about a character JUST when they need to utilise it, as that too can appear like a lazy cop out. For example, the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver: it was introduced years ago as a highly advanced multipurpose tool that can do just about anything (except work on wood), so we as the audience accept it when it’s utilised to deal with a situation or baddie. But if we’d never heard of the darn thing until the Doctor was faced with a room full of activating Daleks and a ticking timebomb, it comes across as a cheap trick, a deus ex machina, a storytelling cheat (of course, the screwdriver is so overused these days that it’s become just as much a lazy problem solution device, but it’s kinda earned the right by this point, even if it means the writers get a bit unoriginal. But I digress…)

Instead, try for the opposite effect, that of Chekhov’s Gun. It’s a term that means if a gun is shown in Act 1, someone is probably going to use it by the end of the story, and character description can utilise this. Give your character(s) a random, seemingly useless item, trait, skill, etc that appears to just be thrown in to make them original. Only, of course, you know differently, and plan to have said item/trait/skill come into good effect later down the line.

This can also tie into foreshadowing: if you mention in passing that “Character A was surprisingly strong for his age”, then maybe that could be a subtle hint that, sometime in the future, there’s going to be a serious problem that only Character A’s strength can solve. Maybe Character B falls off a cliff, and only A was strong enough to pull him back up to safety, you get the idea…

Anyways, I’ll stop rambling now. Hopefully I’ve helped a little bit in understanding ways to utilise more than just stock descriptions. But no matter what, just enjoy writing and it’ll show – that’s the most important thing 🙂

Take care,
Dave

…. So yeah, that’s my input. Hope it helped! I might make more advice posts like this in future if this proved popular!

Dave

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Blog Revival Plans & Novel Update!

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Hello, my little tiddlywinks! It is I, the Blogmaster General, here to inform all and sundry that I fully intend to return to this blog with a vengeance!

I’ll be posting reviews of not just the rest of the INVISIBLE FIENDS series, but the complete SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT and DEPARTMENT 19 series, too.

Why those two particular series, I hear you ask?

Because they’re awesome.

That is all.

No, really.

Oh, alright, here’s the secret: the good and kind people at HarperCollins Children’s Books have sent me copies of both the latest DEPT 19 book (BATTLE LINES) and the SKULDUGGERY spin-off, THE MALEFICENT SEVEN. Expect a rollercoaster of reviews to come!

Now, for the novel news: I submitted the first thirty pages of THE ENIGMA FILES to Brooks Sherman back in the middle of December, 2012 (as opposed to, erm, December 2013…? Eh, you know what I meant).

He finally had the chance to read it, liked what he read, and wants to read the entire thing! I sent it off this afternoon – fingers crossed!!

That is all.

No, really this time. You’re dismissed.

Dave

PS: Are you still here? Hmm, okay then, here’s some Super Saiyan French Fries:

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Happy? You may leave now.

My PitchWars Rollercoaster

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So, January 23rd is quickly approaching like a ravenous jaguar that’s just realised its prey got stuck in a bear-trap (this happens more often than you’d think. Seriously, watch Discovery once in a while), and I’ve finally finished the line-edits from all my betas, finishing with my mentor’s. It was a hard and informing journey, but now we’ve come to the biggest monster of them all: addition revision!

But Dave!” I hear you cry. “The agents will be reading your opening in just two days! Aren’t you worried that they’ll be reading one version and unknowingly making requests (hopefully) for an entirely different one?

Not at all, dear friends, and allow me to tell you why:

1) I’m smarter than I look, believe it or not: I’ve already edited the opening that the agents will be reading so it won’t be different.

2) There’s not exactly a mountain of changes to make, and seeing as how I’m practically snowed under, I’ve got all the time between now and the 23rd to slip in the additions. And seeing as how they’re not entirely game-changers, it won’t wreck the narrative one bit.

3) Don’t call me Dave. Only friends call me Dave.

4) … What’s that? I said you were my friends when I started this list?

5) Okay, then. Call me Dave.

Where was I…?

Oh, yes! The additions.

Well, they range from bit-parts to major character motives, scene changes or alternative versions, and the addition of new ‘casefiles’ pulled from the Enigma Files website itself.

That’s right; not only has this last month given me a huge, unique insight into both the agent-hunting life (my mentor chose mine from hundreds of other entrants submitted to her within a week), and the author-agent dynamic, but it’s also shown me how someone who shares the same passion for the future of your book – agent or beta – can only be a Good Thing, and will often lead to the improvement of the book.

In this case, the improvement came from my mentor Jennifer. Not only has she jumped at the sight of my ‘X-Files for kids‘ tagline, but she’s done everything in her power to eke out every last possible drop of X-Filesness… Which led to the casefiles.

These are the sort of ingenious suggestion that make you slap your face in disbelief; I mean, I’d always considered adding casefiles, but was worried that the inclusion of non-fictional segments would never work. Then along comes Awesome Malone, the Master Mentor, with the same desire to see more files explaining the paranormal and that, as they say, was that.

Now, whenever Karl Breslin – protagonist and administrator of the Enigma Files website – mentions paranormal phenomena, the reader can expect to see more information on the subject in a casefile at the end of the chapter.

It’s working out great so far, and I can’t wait for Wednesday.

Until then!

Dave

Do you have any special methods of revision? What about special features in your books? Lemme know in the comments!

PitchWars Update – It’s Good News!

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Update on the PitchWars contest:

*drumroll*

“THE ENIGMA FILES: PHANTOM THIEF” got picked by a mentor!

Woohoo!

This means the lovely Jennifer
Malone, my new writing mentor, will read over the book throughout December. Then she’ll send me the most masterful, in-depth critiqueI’m sure I’ll have ever seen.

But the fun doesn’t end there! I’ll then revise the book in answer to all her feedback, and re-present it for the final stage of the contest: so 15+ agents can read it, and request more.

I’m so excited.

Dave

Of Writery Things…

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Once again, a mix of flu, job-seeking, writing and general mobile app failure have postponed this blog. But LONG ENOUGH!

Today I just wanted to update everyone (read: you. No one else is reading this, let’s be honest) that I’ve recently submitted a sample chapter to Hothouse Fiction in response to their latest novel series brief. Can’t say more than that – some of you may know what I’m talking about, but confidentiality clauses mean I can’t discuss it any further. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun to write, and fingers crossed I land the gig!

In similar news, the second draft of the first Enigma Files book is nearing completion, and I’m up to chapter three of Book 2. It’s really fun to continue and expand upon the world, and to follow the adventures of the main characters as things keep getting weirder for them.

Watch this space for more news, involving the results with the few agents already interested in EF 1!

Dave

Judgment is Coming…

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Saw this poster upon stepping outside New Cross Gate train station…
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At first, I thought it was some sort of ‘End of the World’ notice. I thought it was nice they wanted to remind us ahead of time, but the Mayan’s predicted date was still a way’s off. Then, upon closer inspection (ie. spotting a release date and the Lionsgate logo), I quickly realised that this was a teaser poster for the upcoming ‘DREDD’, and that it was pretty spiffy, for more than one reason…

Firstly, it LOOKS GOOD, and draws your attention and curiosity. Judgement? Whut now? There is a city in the midst of fiery devastation, and surely that means this judgement is either a) the cause of said destruction, and not good, or b) the answer to this ruined city’s problems, in which case huzzah! It can’t come around quick enough!

Secondly, could have just shown a picture of Dredd himself, but then – other than to take in the costume – you wouldn’t give it a second glance. They purposefully left him out, along with any other glaringly obvious iconography from the movie or comics. Doing so is a very clever marketing strategy, if you think about it… Instead of thinking ‘If we don’t make it obvious this is advertising DREDD, how is anyone going to know?’ They instead went with ‘Hey, if we just have the ominous statement “JUDGMENT IS COMING”, it will confuse a lot if people, but in a good way – instead of shrugging it off, they’ll hopefully look into it online, and find out more about the movie!’

And they’re not the only ones to take this approach. Only recently I saw an advertisement on the tube for ‘Rekall memory services’. This was easier for me to place, as I’m a huge fan of the original TOTAL RECALL, but it struck me nonetheless as an ingenious marketing campaign – involve your audience, bring them into the world of your story, and they feel more affinity towards it.

And I’m sure it’s not just movies utilising this strategy – the card game ‘Magic: The Gathering’ did a similar postal campaign for their recent horror-influenced ‘Innistrad’ set, mailing postcards done in the olde English style of posters, declaring everything from witch hunts to monsters stealing children. They were odd and disturbing, and set the mood perfectly when the new range of cards came out.

I’m sure books can use similar approaches, if they haven’t already. I’m already in the planning stages of a HUGE publicity angle for the series I’m writing, but I can’t be alone…

What do YOU think? Are there any unique publicity/advertising campaigns for books I’d should know about? Maybe you have plans for the future, or would like to share a past success? Leave a comment!

Until next time,

Dave

Day 30 -An Odd End…

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So…

This is the thirtieth post, but obviously not on the thirtieth day (WP drafted this one, as well). I’ve hit a lot of obstacles along the way, but I persevered, and got out the other end alive!

Thanks to everyone who read the entries – I’ll try and be more frequent with future posts. So that means more book reviews, author interviews, and maybe some original short stories.

Stay tuned!

Dave