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Posts tagged ‘Andy Briggs author’

On Writing Self-Contained Novels In A Series, by Andy Briggs

When does a story end? At what point can you confidentially type the words ‘the end’, and not be forced to use ‘to be continued’?

There is a trend at the moment to push everything through as a series if possible (and, as a writer of two series, I’m as culpable as the next author). This sometimes results in stories that could have easily been condensed into a single volume. The worst culprits for this are graphic novels, in which writers are ambling their way through multiple books to tell their tale.

As a consumer, I find this highly annoying. When I buy a book, I want to be able to enjoy the full story. I’m quite happy to have a few unresolved strands that lead the way to future books, but I do want some form of resolution. I have paid good money to be entertained, not left on tenterhooks for a year before the author publishes the next part.

Harry Potter was an enjoyable read because each book was a self-contained story, with just enough to propel you on to the next book, but not so much to make you feel you had been cheated.

I try to make sure my series have books that are self-contained stories, something you can pick up without the need to read any other book in the series and walk away having read through a complete story. I aim to make the characters evolve enough through the books so the casual reader feels happy, and leave just enough ‘extras’ so that the fan can get even more from the story because of the subtle ways it connects to the other books. When I write graphic novels I refuse to make a series that runs across multiple books. Each one must be a satisfying self-contained story with a solid ending. Otherwise, why buy it in the first place?

Speaking to many budding writers, I often hear the phrase it’s part of a series of X books, with X usually spanning between 3 and 7 for some peculiar reason. I think their reasoning is that it proves their story is worthy and complex, when in actuality they will end up padding the prose out with extraneous details that slow the pace down to a crawl. I have read many series that could have done with a pair of editor’s scissors slicing through the pages. People don’t like to admit their story is only suitable for a single book. For some reason they feel that lessens the quality of their work, when in fact it simply proves that they have no idea when to stop. Many times I have read a book and thought I have reached the end only to flick through the remaining pages and wonder what could possibly happen next. The answer is usually: nothing. Or, worse, some surprise ending that makes no sense at all and would have worked better as a separate story.

One of the hardest things I have been asked to write was a short story. Warrior Number One is aimed at reluctant readers, so brevity was the key. It’s incredibly difficult! Cramming a whole story into 3,000 words is a more difficult task than expanding it into three, 500+ page volumes.

So, when you have completed your story and typed the exciting words ’the end’, go back and read your story with a sense of urgency. Could this have ended several chapters back? Your readers are busy people. They have lives. Maybe they’re reading your book while on vacation so need to finish it before returning home, or they have a stack of other books vying for their attention. Don’t be greedy. Respect your reader’s time. They will thank you for it and come back for more.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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On Age Ranges For Novels, by Andy Briggs

In the UK, publishers had a terrible idea: why don’t we age-range the books? What this meant was a book for a 14-year-old would have a large 14 on the back so everybody would know, and the poor uninformed reader would know that they’re not reading a book for a 15-year-old lest their head explodes.

It also meant that a 15-year-old would pick up the book, get interested in the blurb and then put it back on the self because it’s aimed at younger kids. Telling a child a book if specifically for them is not necessarily the correct thing to do because you are now ruining a world of literature they may no longer bother accessing.

Harry Potter was so successful because it was suddenly okay for adults to read children’s books. When was it never okay to do so? If a child has a strong reading ability, they should read any age group they can. There is more gore in a Darren Shan book than Stephen King – both are great authors, and both can and should be read by all ages.

So, that was my rant about the readers but how does this translate into writing?

I write for just one target audience. Me. Sometimes stories simply work better because the protagonist is a child, other times an adult is an equally appropriate lead character. I don’t write with my readers in mind, because I want readers of all ages to enjoy my work. Of course, some adults won’t want to pick up my superhero books. They are probably the same people who won’t read a Spider Man comic either, but, oddly, still go the cinema to watch the film.

I believe writers should concentrate on getting the story onto the page to the very best of their ability. Not once should they worry about who is going to read it. I don’t use swearing very much – none in my books, and only a trickle in my screenplays (some of which are quite gory horror). I do this, not because I am a sensitive soul, but because my characters never feel the need to curse. Does that make my books children’s books? I have just read BZRK by Michael Grant which has more swearing than a recent Clive Cussler novel I finished. Grant’s novel was a teen book, Cussler’s an adult one. In fact, there was more sex in BZRK too.

Teenage readers are much more sophisticated than many people (read that as parents and teachers) often give them credit for. As long as the story is strong and the characters fascinating, they will read. Of course, it’s nice to read about people just like you, but that doesn’t mean you have to exclusively do it every time. Teenagers don’t have to read about teenage protagonists – younger or older characters are all equally enjoyed.

Write stories that you enjoy. Don’t force them to be teenage books or adult books. They will find their own path and their own audience.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

***

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Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Tarzan: The Savage LandsDark Hunter (Villain.Net)     HappyfaceA Coalition of LionsThe Hunting

Writing Teen Novels
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Creating A Realistic Story World, by Andy Briggs

I think we’ve all read a book or watched a film and been immersed in a story that had fascinating characters and a plot that takes you on a rollercoaster ride, but you still felt strangely empty once you reached the end. Perhaps that was because the world inhabited by the characters felt flat and slightly unreal. The details were missing.

Personally, I’m a huge believer in research. I read, watch and absorb as much as I can when writing a story. I talk to people who may have had similar experiences to those my characters are about to endure and I travel the world to experience the locations.

The internet is a vast research tool and I use it extensively – but there are many other avenues you should take, because the Internet is just the tip of the research iceberg. Whatever you read on several pages of Wikipedia may give you a basic understanding of the subject but there are probably many books on the same topic, each hundreds of pages long, that give you a deeper insight. They present you the details that could bring your story to life.

I have stood on the edge of an active volcano in the name of research. You can pretty much imagine what it was like – and I could use those obvious details in my story but it wouldn’t challenge your imagination. Things like the smell, the effect it had on me physically, the taste the gases left in my mouth and the soundscape around me all add up to a more detailed picture. These details often stick in a reader’s mind.

Naturally, if your story is about the 15-year-old king of a fantasy epic, then it is difficult to research that and you could write pretty much anything you like. But, again, it’s the details that matter. If you invent things, make them stick in the reader’s imagination. Look at Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books – a flat word on the back of four giant elephants, carried through space on the back of a giant turtle is very memorable. Oddly, what makes those stories work is not only the wild concepts that imprint on your imagination but the familiarity of it all. The Discworld has its quirks but we can all relate to it. The characters in the books may be wizards or trolls but they all have relatable details that draw us closer to a character or story.

If your story is set in the real world, try to visit the locations. I recently enjoyed reading an adventure thriller. The story took me in unexpected places that I desperately wanted to experience for myself and I turned the pages eager to know how things would resolve. Then the story led the characters to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, a place I had recently been to – but apparently the author had not. I spent the rest of the chapter thinking – no, that’s wrong. That’s not at all what it’s like. How did that happen there?

I was yanked out of the story with such force that the rest of the book felt very lackluster and it made me suddenly question what other falsehoods the author had thrown at me. The author had broken a bond of trust. This detail would have passed over most readers, but for me it ruined a perfectly good book. Perhaps a chapter I enjoyed would have had another reader thrown off track – all because of a tiny bit of poor research.

For me, poor research is akin to insulting your readers. Never treat your audience as fools, especially because most of the time there are readers already a step ahead of you…

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

***

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Writing Teen Novels
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Vocabulary And Word Choice In Teen Novels, by Andy Briggs

How do you know exactly what kind of language to use in a novel for teenagers? You may know the slang and jargon, and have a good feel what most teenagers vocabularies are like. Don’t be fooled. It’s not that straightforward.

Despite your best efforts, your editor will come back to you with a note on the manuscript telling you that a teenager would never say that. Worse, they will tell you a teenager won’t understand a phrase you’ve used. Worse still, they will tell you that a word is too difficult for a teenager to understand. I have had all those comments from people. I could have easily edited them out, but I would recommend you don’t completely back down.

In one story, my lead character – who is British – said, “My bad.” Just to clarify, in case your street cred is not all it should be, it means my fault. It’s an American term. I never thought it would result in a salvo of emails, then actual conversations, with my editor because I didn’t want to change it. Their excuses ranged from, “I haven’t heard it” through to “a British child would never say such a thing”. I just felt it was the correct, light-hearted response my character would say, so it stayed. I got an email back from my editor a few months later telling me they had now heard the phrase everywhere.

Was it an important line? No. Did it matter? Probably not, but my protagonist would never have said “my fault”.

These minor things can get out of hand. I used the word hawse in a line of description. My editor wanted it cut – nobody knows what a hawse is, apparently. If you don’t, then see my next point below. But the hawse was the precise name of the thing I was describing. Instead of “the chain rattled through the hawse”, they would have preferred “the chain rattled through the hole in the side of the hull”.

Using such words is important when a character is supposed to be knowledgeable about something and where someone knowledgeable would use such a word. A pilot is less likely to say, “pull back on the control column”. They would most likely say, “pull back on the stick”. Using the right word adds an extra layer of believability to your story.

There is an execrable trend amongst some publishers to dumb-down the language in stories just so they can make sure it works in the 9-12 or YA sections of the bookshop. We don’t all have the same vocabulary. I know you use words or phrases that I have never heard before – in which case I would look them up. As a writer, I feel it’s my duty to throw in one or two words that would perplex the average reader. Usually the meaning of the word can be guessed at in the context of the sentence. If you didn’t know what execrable meant when I used it above, you most likely still made a correct guess. If a word can’t be figured out, then that’s what dictionaries are for.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

***

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Characters And Story, by Andy Briggs

Your characters are one of the most vital components in a story. There has been a lot written about characterisation. Whether your main character is a pirate, an astronaut, a teenager or a dog they will be the focal point around which your story will unfold. The conduit between the page and your reader.

The problem here is that people then automatically write a story from a first person perspective. That is absolutely fine and a wonderful way in which to tell a story, but some writers have used this device to create an emotional bond between the reader and the character at the expense of the story. With a first person perspective you don’t necessarily need to worry about what the other characters are doing at any one given time because you are not going to cut away to them. Fine. However, there is a tendency for some of these stories to have the most wafer thin plots because the author thinks the character is more interesting.

I have had many discussions with professional storytellers who assert that characters are the most important things in a story. I have listened, in stunned disbelief, when they say, as long as you have interesting characters, interesting stories will unfold. I have even seen this written in books that allege to teach writing. It doesn’t matter how fleshed out your character is, without an interesting story they are nothing.

Imagine, Albert Einstein, Elvis and the Pope are sitting in a room. Three strong characters about whom entire volumes have been written. Now imagine none of them can think of anything interesting to say to one another, and imagine nothing happens to the room they’re in. Nobody else enters. You just have three amazingly interesting people doing zip.

The story is what drives your characters to walk, talk and be. People don’t watch the news because they think the teenager running down the street chased by a police helicopter is an interesting character. They tune in to find out what the story is; what led to this moment. During this process we find out about our character – is he a murderer? A thief? We now stick with the story because of the characters. But wait, something else has been discovered: he had left a bomb in his house. The story is re-engaging with us and may well bring in other intriguing characters to help it along.

Back to Einstein and co. The room they are in could be spinning through time and space but without a character to witness and interact with the momentous events outside, we still have no story.

What we have here is a delicate balance: Interesting characters in an interesting story. Like yin and yang they propel your story to the bitter end together.

This brings me on to another bugbear of mine. Character arcs. The notion that a character has to go on an educational or spiritual journey through the story. That they must end up as different people by the end of the story, and through this, we need to learn about their backstory: what happened in the past to shape them into the person they are today. That is not true for all stories.

There are numerous characters who have started with one opinion and finished the story as a whole new person – Ebenezer Scrooge being the first example that pops to mind. Likewise, there are fantastic characters who are perceived as heroes but have broken all the rules. Let me jump from literature to film – it’s still the art of storytelling. Indiana Jones is a modern iconic hero. Go away and watch the first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’ll wait for you. What a hero, eh?

He starts the story losing the golden idol to his rival. Then he searches for the Ark of the Covenant, loses his leading lady, finds the Ark, loses the Ark, finds the girl, finds the Ark – then loses both the girl and the Ark. Then ends the movie tied to a pole as all the bad guys are killed. He gets the Ark back. Oh, and in the story’s coda, he loses the Ark again. I present to you Indiana Jones, the world’s greatest loser who starts and ends the story as exactly the same person.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

***

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Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Rise of the Heroes (Hero.Com)Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerRooftopThe Repossession

Writing Teen Novels
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Getting An Agent And Publisher For Your Novel, by Andy Briggs

For the purposes of this article, I am going to ignore self-publishing and focus on mainstream publishing.

There are plenty of “How To…” books out there. I had read a lot of them myself and I grew convinced they all deliberately left out vital chapters or included information designed to lead you down the wrong path. I mean, why would the author want any more competition from the likes of you?

So, here are a few tips I stumbled upon. Tricks that would be obvious in any other business, but people never apply to publishing. And that was the first tip. If you want to write for the sake of the art, then do so. Don’t expect to get published – and if you do, then you have reached creative nirvana. I don’t write for the art, nor do I expect to be published – I write because I enjoy extracting stories from my head and getting them on the page.

If you want to be published, get an agent. Most professional writers have stacks of rejection letters from agents. I had so many I could wallpaper my house. You must remember that it is, initially, a numbers game. If an agent works with 100 clients, then they will not look at your work because they simply can’t cope with 101 clients, no matter how masterful your work is. You will automatically receive the dreaded rejection letter.

Agents don’t like you approaching more than one agency at a time. This is because they don’t want the risk of a rival getting hold of your work first. So ignore their request – but if they ask you, of course they are the only ones looking at your work. You wouldn’t send a job application to one company at a time, so don’t do it with agents.

Once you get a rejection, don’t worry. Send your submission off again a month or so later to another agent within the same agency. Repeat. What you are looking for is a chink in their submissions wall. If one of their clients leaves and another dies – then there are two spaces suddenly available. Sometimes agents upscale. They drop the bottom 10% of clients who are not earning and take in fresh talent. In any of these instances, the work that now comes across the table will be read – probably by an intern, but read nevertheless. This is when you generally get detailed feedback. Sometimes the criticisms can be stinging – so ignore them. Unless you get the same criticism twice, in which case you might need to open your eyes and address it. If you are exceptionally lucky, they will take you on, or you might get the annoying: I love this, what else have you got?

That is a phrase that can kill a career. That is assuming you want a career, in which case you need to write more than one thing. If you have spent years peddling your teen-zombie novel, then the chances are that the market is now awash with similar novels and they’re looking for something new. You should have written something else – preferably something very different. If your teen zombie novel isn’t working, then don’t bother with your teen werewolf book. The more you write, and the more varied the subjects, then your chances of getting published increases. It’s just like the lottery – more tickets does statistically improve your chances, but not if you have two tickets with the same numbers.

Ideas are cyclical. Your teen zombie novel might not sell now, but shelve it and watch – zombies will be back in vogue in maybe a decade or so.

Finally, never pitch your opus as a long running series. It is fine to say your books can become a series, but publishers are looking for each book to be self-contained. If your story is a twenty part series, why would any publisher commit to buying them all if book one doesn’t sell?

Imagine, an agent finally bites and says: “I love your writing, but we can’t sell teen zombie books right now, what else do you have?”

If your reply is: “I have the sequel!” – then head shame-faced for the door.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

***

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Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Rise of the Heroes (Hero.Com)Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)     Girl, StolenSaraswati's WayAcross the Universe

Writing Teen Novels
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Overcoming Writer’s Block, by Andy Briggs

You’re hammering away at your story. The words tumble from your brain, excite your fingers, and the resulting text on screen is pure gold. You’re unstoppable.

Until writer’s block looms ahead or, more likely, suddenly appears as you slam into it and stop dead. Now, no matter what you do, you can’t progress with your story. The ideas simply won’t flow, so you decide to write another scene – but, strangely, that won’t work either because your thoughts stray back to your original problem. Worse, you put in a lot of time writing future chapters – then, when you finally crack the block, you discover that your future work doesn’t fit your story and you’ve wasted a lot of time.

So writer’s block is an unavoidable peril. After all, it happens to us all. But there are ways to manage it without wasting your time. In fact, writer’s block could make you even more productive.

So, in our scenario you are writing a chapter and your brain suddenly gets stuck in molasses and the story won’t come. First of all, check what kind of block you are facing. If it is a simple matter of not finding the right phrase, or making dialogue sound just right, then add some placeholder text. I tend to write the blandest text and mark it in a bright red font so I can come back to it and massage it later. Writer’s block has now been successfully skipped over. I have witnessed many great writers agonize over a couple of sentences, then lose the thread of their story, and take months or years to get back on track. All because of an irritating sentence.

However, some blocks are more immovable. Your plot comes to a tangled stop or you have painted both yourself and your characters into a corner that you can’t get out of. These are the worst situations, and sometimes it’s like being trapped in a labyrinth as you follow the same old routes in a circle. Best case, you are wasting time – worse case you have blown your deadline. If this happens to you – stop. Turn off the computer and go do something else. This simple act of not thinking about the story allows your subconscious to solve the problem for you.

This sometimes works, but if not – never fear. I have found the best way to beat the block is to start writing something else. As I write these words, I am having problems writing a chase sequence in a screenplay. It’s a key plot point to the story so I can’t just get away with glossing over the scene. I could spend hours, or days, staring at the screen – or I can write this article. If the solution is still not forthcoming when I next open the file, then I will go to work on something else. I have three books, a couple of screenplays to adapt from graphic novels and several other screenplays I could be getting on with. And I do. I make writer’s block work for me. By the time I hit a block on the new prose I am writing, then I’ll switch back to the original problem and marvel how suddenly easy it is to continue on as if the block had never intruded.

One final thought:  I believe writers sometimes bring writer’s block on themselves by sitting at their computer, opening the previous day’s work and reading it. That is the kiss of death. You will find faults. You will find better ways of constructing the scene – so you do. You go back and change the previous days work. Believe it or not, you are not improving your story, you are trapped in a form of writer’s block – unable to move forward.

I never re-read my work while drafting. That’s what rewrites are for. Never go back!

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Rise of the Heroes (Hero.Com)Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)     Black Storm Comin'The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Keeping Corner

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

On Story Development, by Andy Briggs

As a writer you should be reading and watching as much as possible. Not just teen books, but every kind of book – fiction, non-fiction – and genres outside your target audience. This is research, one of the most overlooked aspects of writing the humble book. Movies and TV shows should fall under this banner too.

Now, I’m not talking here about researching your subject – I will do that in another article. (For my Tarzan books I travelled to Africa and talked to zookeepers, conservationists and just about anybody I could to further both my knowledge and experience of the subject matter.) I’m talking about story research.

When I wrote my Hero.com and Villain.net books, which are superhero stories, I made an effort of reading comics, other superhero books and every superhero based movie I could. I was looking for specific things to improve my own stories. What reoccurring tropes were used? How could I avoid using them. If every superpower came from radioactive insect bites or discarded biohazard waste, how could I do things differently?  In my case I had my Supers download their powers from a website.

By absorbing other people’s worlds I was able to create something that felt reasonably fresh. I also managed to avoid the horrible trap of accidentally duplicating other people’s stories – it happens.

It also happens with characters. I often hear people wax lyrical about a fresh new character, and the author goes on to sell a bazillion books – whereas a portion of the audience is open-mouthed thinking “but that is just this other character with a hat on!” or “that bestselling book is just this cult Japanese movie with a different name!”

The trick in this situation is the ‘hat’ – or the way you present your character to the world. That slight change is often enough to create something similar – but, crucially – not identical to the idea you’re attempting to capture. The only safe way you can do that is by exploring the work of others.

The last thing you want is a reader picking up your book then putting it back on the shelf because the opening chapter (or character) is exactly the same as a TV episode they had watched.

Duplication happens more than you realize. Ideas are viral. Whatever stunningly original concept you have now – somebody else came up with it last week. Or they’re about to. Your idea is in a race to make it out into the world. You discover this after a couple of days pitching stories around Hollywood. Executives will stop you mid-pitch and tell you they’ve “heard it all before”. The novice will panic and know they are being ripped off, especially when they see their story on the silver screen a couple of years later. The more jaded amongst us simply acknowledge that we’re in a story-race.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Rise of the Heroes (Hero.Com)Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)     The Dog in the WoodRaven SpeakThe Hunting

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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