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Keep Writing: The Importance Of Finishing Stories, by Andy Briggs

I always feel awkward when I meet a budding writer. Most of the time people tell me they have a great idea for a book or, worse, they have started writing a book. Actually started it. What is very rare to hear is the phrase I have written a book. Everybody can start writing a book. Very few people ever finish it.

It sounds like the most obvious advice in the world to finish your story, but it’s difficult. Try it and prove me wrong.

Perhaps you already have proved me wrong and are clutching your precious manuscript in your hands. If so, have you edited it? Have you been through it three or four times and surgically remove chunks that don’t work and fine-tuned the rest?

Much “How To” advises you to let a friend read your manuscript. I never let them do that. Family and friends are the worst critics and will often let things pass that should have been hacked from your manuscript before another soul sets eyes on it. There are also many services that charge you for reading your work and giving you feedback. Personally, I think you should avoid these. Worst case, they are run by people who can’t get themselves published (or editors who can’t get a job with a publisher), best case, they are driven by opinion. They might not like vampire stories so will tear yours apart, whereas an editor in a real publishing company might be waiting for just that idea.

Or, are you one of these people who has reread your work and changed it time-and-time again? You have been rewriting it for the last 10 years. Well done, you have probably destroyed the very thing that made it unique. I know a few people who fall into this hideous rewriting free-fall and never recover. They have polished their idea to death.

So what do you do with your precious manuscript?

In an ideal world, you will lock it away in a draw (in the days of good ol’ paper), or back it up on a hard drive (preferably more than one, just in case). Then forget about it and write something else.

Then repeat the above steps several times.

Now you have four or five manuscripts. Go back and read the first one. Is it anywhere near as good as number five? Probably not. You would have got better and saved yourself a lot of angst when book one kept getting rejected. Or is book one still strong? In which case, send it off, because you have a solid, well-written story.

The more you write the better you will become. The more you write the more stories you have to sell. The more you write the more professional you will become, regardless of whether you ever publish any of the books.

More importantly, the more stories you write the more you have finished. Finishing the story is the real battle every writer, amateur or professional, has to face.

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

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Tarzan: The Savage Lands     In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's StoryCode Name VerityAcross the Universe

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Tarzan: The Savage LandsDark Hunter (Villain.Net)     SparkShock PointSaraswati's Way

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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

***

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)     Deadly Little GamesBoys without NamesTorched

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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

***

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)     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerRooftopThe Repossession

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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

***

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)     Girl, StolenSaraswati's WayAcross the Universe

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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