NaNoWriMo Is Here

Yep, we have reached that time of year some writers love, and some absolutely dread with every fibre of their being. A few times in the past, I’ve sworn off doing NaNoWriMo – “I don’t have time this year!” – but by the first, an idea has festered in my brain and demands to be written. This year, I actually am resisting the temptation, because I do have a lot going on that will, unfortunately, keep me away from my own writing anyway. I’d rather use what time I have to work on going stuff, than force something else in which will just end up sitting in a virtual drawer until I eventually, one day have time to edit it.

Anyway!

As it is the first day of NaNoWriMo2019, I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks and a bit of advice that’s gotten me to the 50K word goal in the past.

1. Remember: It’s a First Draft!

This is important. The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to end the month with a polished, ready to submit draft. It’s to get the ideas and characters down on paper, and give you something to work with. If you find yourself struggling, not sure what to do next, throw in a flashback. Use the opportunity to explore the characters a little. Write those aspects of them that will get cut later on – those little bits you should know about the character, but the reader doesn’t need to see. And if still get stuck, do something random – aliens appear in the room, a unicorn emerges from the woods, Godzilla starts attacking the city. See what your characters do if put in an unusual situation, and it might help work through writer’s block.

2. Use Dialogue

To extend the word count, use dialogue. Have a character who speaks formally, not using a single contraction – I have instead of I’ve, it is instead of it’s, do not instead of don’t. Maybe a character says like, well, ummm errr I dunno a lot? Little marks of speech like that, again, will help with the word count, and maybe you’ll find out a bit more about the characters, too.

3. Use Music

If you are able to write to music, use that to your advantage. Put on some fast paced, tense music, and it might help your fingers flow that little bit fasted across the keyboard.

4. Change Font

Yep! One thing I was really surprised at by switching from Times New Roman to Comic Sans when drafting was how much flowed out. Like a switch turned in my brain, unleashing a bit more creativity.

5. Get Ahead

On the days where you can, don’t just stop at the target word count. Use the time you have, get as many words down as possible. If you can double your word count on one day, it gives you more leeway later on. Even if you can only write 100 or 200 more words, it all adds up.

6. Don’t Panic About Word Counts

And if you can’t hit the word count every day? Don’t panic! Even if you only write 10 words on some days, you’ve written ten words! Don’t fall into ‘I ONLY’ or ‘I JUST wrote … words’. Life can get busy, and you may fall behind, but 50K isn’t the only goal of NaNoWriMo. If you end the month with something to work with, you’re still a winner!

7. Have Fun!

Seriously! NaNoWriMo is a really great time to unleash your creativity and really play around. Get involved as much or as little as you like, take part in sprints or use prompts or just do your own thing – whatever your preferred approach, don’t forget to take breaks, to look after yourself, and enjoy it! Go wild with your novel, and have fun learning about the characters and worlds you’re creating.

Are you taking part of NaNoWriMo? Any tips you’d like to share?

Hi, How Can I Help You?

There have been a couple things I’ve being doing recently, which could be of help to some writers.

Firstly, prior to publication.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big advocate of getting feedback on writing. I’ve written a post about it in the past, which can be found here, and I have a page on the website all about finding readers for your work. Feedback is crucial to a writer – without it, not only will you not improve, but your work is unlikely to find publication – a beta/proofreader/editor will help identify typos, awkward phrases, plot inconsistencies etc. Every piece of fiction goes through some sort of editing, but if a slush reader sees a story – whether it’s short or long fiction – littered with typos, they’re not going to bother reading it, no matter how good the actual plot and characters are.

So yes, get feedback. How intensive the feedback is, and what you need in particular, are answers only you know. I give a variety of ways of getting it on the page mentioned previously, but it is a service I offer through Fiverr. I pride myself on being fast, honest, and encouraging, giving detailed critique regarding whatever story I’m working on. I have almost 30 five star reviews at this point, a number of repeat customers, and some of the authors I’ve worked with are currently self-publishing their work, have had short stories published, or are working towards querying. You can find out more details through Fiverr or contact me on Twitter (@elleturpitt). If you’re on a budget, just let me know, as I am able to do custom orders, as well.

And, secondly – reviews.

I started this blog to both promote my own work and writing, and others. I’ve done a number of reviews on here, and glancing over them, it’s easy to see how varied my tastes are. But I’ve recently started specifically reviewing horror for Dead Head Reviewswhere I’ve reviewed collections, anthologies, and a couple of novels, as well as my favourite podcast, Calling DarknessIf you are a horror fan, definitely check it out.

These reviews also go up on Goodreads. Though not all my reviews on Unwrapping Words are on there as well, if you want me to review your (non-horror) book for this blog, I’d put the review on Goodreads as well. If you’d like to contact me about reviewing your book, whatever genre, and whether it’s an anthology you’re featured in, your own short story collection, or a novella/novel, again, just DM me on Twitter. Let me know the genre, so I know if it’s for Dead Head or this blog.

Both the service & reviews have allowed me to read some absolutely excellent fiction, and discover new authors – and honestly, especially with the Fiverr service, championing these authors is something I really like doing, helping spread the word about their work and seeing them grow as writers. So why not contact me, and let me do the same for you?

PROMPT #1: The Egg, Part 2 (Fantasy)

Part One

Vetta lay before the fire, stretched out with her great head on her huge paws, looking every bit the house cat, if she weren’t ten times larger. Shadows flickered across her black and orange stripes, as Kas held up the egg.

Eggs liked heat. So they kept this one as close to it as possible.

The house was small, barely big enough for two people, let alone a man and tiger, but for now it would do. They never stayed long in one place anyway. Too many other places, too many jobs. A lord here needing someone to track down a wayward child, a lady there needing someone to put fear into those who tried to take her land. Rogue vampires who couldn’t seem to remember the agreements, and feral werewolves without a pack.

Dragons.

Nasty creatures with more smarts than Kas liked. But he’d seen plenty of dragon eggs, nests of them at Lyrana’s sanctuary, and this wasn’t one of them. It was too bumpy. Dragon eggs were smooth, and glistened. This…didn’t.

Kas sighed, lowered the egg to the ground and nestled it against Vette. With the fire and Vette’s fur, the egg would be safe enough. He ambled to the back of the small house, to the bed against the back wall, and fell into it. His eyes closed, and he fell asleep quicker than he was used to.

* * *

“Kas! Kas, wake up, you stupid oaf!”

He woke, emerging from a dream in which a child dragon roared and spat fire at him, crying all the while. “You killed my mama!” And, indeed, he had, before taking the boy to the sanctuary and leaving him with Lyrana, despite the boy’s claim he would come back and kill Kas one day. Perhaps when the boy did come, Kas would be ready for death.

Vette tugged on his sleeve. “Kas! You awake?”

“I’m awake. Was going on?” He reaching for the drawers, and his sword on top, fingers clasping around the hilt.

“It’s hatching!” The tiger grinned, turned and bounded back through the door, Kas scrambling out of bed, forgetting the sword, and following.

Vette had gathered a few sticks, placing them around the egg to stop it rolling too far. It sat, nestled before the fireplace, trembling. Kas knelt before it, reached out, and placed his finger against the shell. He drew it back quickly; the shell was not just warm, but hot, hotter than it should have been, considering the distance between fire and egg.

Dragon-egg hot.

Perhaps, really, that was all it was. A misshapen dragon egg, about to reveal the small lizard-like creature curled up inside. They should have taken it to the sanctuary, at least there it would have been properly cared for, and they could have contained the first fire bursts to come from the creature.

Vette padded forward, and Kas grabbed the scruff of her neck, pulling her back.

“Don’t,” he said. “We have no clue what’s inside.”

“It’s a child,” Vette replied, “whatever it is. It’s going to need-”

“It could be a dangerous child, Vette! A dragon, maybe.”

“That’s no dragon egg, you can tell, it’s-”

She fell silent, as a crack appeared in the top of the egg. It shook again, this time so hard it knocked in the makeshift nest. Sticks scattered across the floor and the egg went down, smashing against wood.

“No!” Vette cried, eyes widening. She had never been the maternal sort, but protective? Always. And her tiger form, the form the witch had trapped her in, brought that out even more. She skidded forward, then stopped, looking first at the egg, then at Kas.

He knelt, looking at the crack running along the shell, and gently poked it, before putting his hand over one half, and lifting it up.

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay. I think…” He removed the half-shell, and stared at the stunned, dazed figure lying against the other side. The size of his hand, a humanoid body, arms spread and wings stretching out from a tiny back. They fluttered, and the figure sighed, opened her eyes, and grinned.

“Mummy!”

Kas staggered back, as the small creature threw herself into the air, tumbled, and came straight at him. Vette watched, gaze following the darting, dancing thing as it came after Kas. He knocked into one of the chairs, almost fell, but managed to keep himself upright, as the small, flying girl hit his chest and stuck there, arms stretched out.

“Hello, Mummy!”

Kas sighed, closing his eyes as he exhaled. He’d seen them, before; tricky, nasty, mischievous little beasts, never had a single pleasant experience with one of them. But they’d found the egg, they’d taken care of it, and he’d been the first thing she’d seen when hatching.

She snuggled against him for a moment, before climbing onto his shoulder and settling there, small wings fluttering, a contended smile on her face as Vette bit her lip, suppressing the urge to laugh.

“Well,” Vette said, “go on, Kas. Name your daughter.”

Kas rolled his eyes. Fairies. Of all possible things that could have been waiting in the egg, it had to be a damn fairy.

“Kas,” Vette urged.

On his shoulder, a small voice squeaked, “Kas! Mummy!”

Vette burst out laughing, and Kas sat on the nearest chair, the fairy giggling, like a child who didn’t understand what they were laughing at, but who found the whole thing hilarious, all the same.

END

PROMPT #1: The Egg (Fantasy)

Prompt taken from website Self Publishing School. More details on why I’m doing writing prompts can be found on this post.

Write about a character who finds an odd-looking egg in the forest. When they take it home, they never could have predicted what was inside it.

Characters: Kas (human) and Vette (witch turned tiger). Hunters for hire.

Vette pounded in the air and landed, paws either side of the misshaped object nestled in tree roots. Kas stood back, watching her as she batted it, leapt away, then crept forward, body low to the ground.

He rolled his eyes, approached, and before she could do anything else, scooped up what he took to be a stone.

“Hey!” Vette said, a touch of a growl beneath her words. “I was going to get that!”

“You were playing with it,” he drawled, turning the stone over in his hands. It was not, actually, a stone. Just a little too light, for starters. Similar colour though – grey, with darker patches across. But it felt warm, and when he tapped the side, it almost sounded hollow.

Vette cocked her head. “Egg?”

“Seems like,” he grunted. “Too small for dragon though. Ain’t anything round here lays eggs like that.” He lifted it until it was eye level, studying it as he frowned. “Don’t seem right.”

To Kas’ eye, it looked too misshapen for an egg. The ones he was used to were smooth, but this had ridges and bumps. Still, he couldn’t see how it would be anything else.

“We taking it?” Vette stepped forward, eyes fixed on the object, and Kas sighed.

“Don’t look like it got no one else.” He looked around, staring at the spot where Vette had found it. “Don’t look like a nest here, either.”

“No. It doesn’t.” She pushed up onto her back legs, staring up into the tree. “Can’t see one up there, either.”

Kas sighed, turning the object over, before shrugging. “Well. We’ll take it back then go see Myri. He might know what it is.”

* * *

Myri cupped the egg in his hands, frowning as he judged the weight, tilted it, then placed it slowly on the counter. His shop was small, but full, a variety of objects stacked high on shelves, squeezed onto every surface. A small collection of books nestled in one corner. A range of weapons hung on the walls. And everywhere else were objects Kas did not recognise, and could not name even if he tried. Long, hollowed out sticks, thin circles of metal, trinkets and jewellery and other assorted goods.

Myri sighed and scratched the back of his neck, flakes of skin drifting off. “I actually have no idea. I think you’re right, and it does seem to be an egg of some kind, but I’ve never seen the likes. You been keeping it warm?”

Kas nodded, glanced down at Vette. “She kept it against her all night.”

“Good idea.” He crossed his arms, leaned back and glanced down at Vette. “How goes the quest?”

“Err,” Vette shrugged her big cat shoulders, rolled her eyes to look at Kas. “It’s…on hold.”

“She doesn’t know if she wants to turn back,” Kas grumbled, and Myri laughed.

“Can’t fault her for that. Imagine having that kind of power.”

“She has more as a mage.”

“Okay, Kas.” Vette rolled her eyes. “I still haven’t made up my mind, that’s all.”

“Well, when you do, let me know.” Myri leaned over the counter, staring down at her. “I’ve been making…enquiries. Getting in touch with some contacts. We might be able to help you with the next steps.”

Kas slid closer to the counter, squaring his shoulders as he stared at the shorter man. “Tell us what you know, Myri.”

“Nothing yet, my dear friend. I’ve just been…scoping, that’s all.” He tapped the egg. “Take that home. If it hatches, come back and let me know. I’d love to find out what’s in it.”

Before Kas could say anything else, Vette leapt up, putting her great, big paws on the counter and nudging the egg with her nose, before opening her mouth and gently setting her jaw around it. Kas turned and strode of the shop, the tiger following close behind.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

If you’d like to read more of my short stories (unfortunately none feature Kas & Vette, yet…) please check out links and details here.

 

Writing Prompts

I have a stack of books and booklets with writing prompts in. I love them – always have. It’s great to mull on an idea, have a scene sparked off by just a line or image. A good writing prompt can lead to a great story. In a way, it’s always why I sometimes like themed competitions or submissions. Writing to a prompt or theme really gives me a chance to exercise my writing muscles.

Problem is, sometimes the story ends up being a little…long. Which in some cases is fine. But I used to be able to write shorter short stories quite a lot, and I need to try that more, need to try to pin it down.

So, here’s the plan. Now and then, I am going to pick out a prompt, and post it here as a small extract. They might contain characters from current WIPs, or even ‘lore’ relating to those worlds. We’ll see. And if a prompt intrigues you, too, please feel free to use it and let me know how you got on. Once I’ve got a few posted, I’ll  add a page to list them all. And please remember, these will be unedited, rough pieces, but I always welcome constructive criticism! Every post will be prefaced by PROMPT #. Let’s see how this goes. Like my own mini-writing challenge!

Damn Fine Story – Chuck Wendig [Books]

damn fine storyI love books about writing. I love reading about the craft, seeing different ways of doing the same thing, taking notes so I can look back over them later. Stephen King’s On Writing is probably the most well known, with good reason. It should have pride of place on any writer’s bookshelf. But so should Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story.

There’s a definite wit and charm to this,  with asides and jokes guaranteed to make you smile. Concepts are explained easily, with examples mainly from film, including Die Hard, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games. The book isn’t a massive tome detailing the technical aspects of writing. It’s fairly small (my copy is 226 pages), but goes more into the actual storytelling side, as indicated by the title and subtitle.

The ideas explored in the book focus on plot and character, examining how a writer can make things more exciting for the reader, less boring, while also giving them time to breathe between scenes. Wendig is honest with the reader, outlining exactly what we, as writers, need to keep in mind as we work on a project. And the tips inside aren’t just relevant to prose, but to scripts, comics, and any other story-driven medium one can think of.

If I find myself struggling with my WIP, I’m definitely going to refer to this book. It’s a great collection of advice, written in a friendly, easy-going style, and I’d highly suggest anyone interested in writing picks this up. It will, without a doubt, help next time you’re struck by the dreaded Writer’s Block.

You can find out more about Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds.

Are there any particular books about writing you enjoy, you’ve liked, that you’ve referred to over and over again?

To Plot or To Pants [Writing]

plot or pantsFor a long time, writers have referred to themselves in one of two ways. As a plotter, or a pantser. The discussion around both appears in interviews, articles, on social media…anywhere you get writers talking, the question comes up.

Are you a plotter, or are you a pantser?

Personally, I’ve always been more of a pantser (the term comes from ‘flying by the seat of your pants’). I rarely plan things out, though I do ruminate on a current WIP, picture scenes and work through the story in my mind (usually before going to sleep). But as for fully plotting it? Nah, not for me.

See, I tried plotting. A long time ago, when I was still in secondary (high) school. It was coming up to NaNoWriMo, and I had an amazing fantasy idea that was going to blow everyone’s minds. Because I was 17 and of course it was. I plotted and planned and wrote up character sketches and when November hit I just…lost…interest.

It was like, because I knew the story, I no longer wanted to discover it. That was the excuse I told myself at 17, anyway, and ever since. I don’t plot. I just write. And sometimes it works. But more recently, I’ve started plotting a little more. I still pants, for short stories mainly, but even then, I at least have some idea of how I want it to start and end.

But the ideas I’ve had recently require more. They require more research, more careful consideration, more solid ideas of where and when A, B, C and D are going to happen.

In doing this, however, I will also give the story – and characters – room to breathe. I might have a particular scene planned for a certain chapter, but I know sometimes the story takes a turn even I might not expect. Ideas arrive in the shower, characters whispering in your ear, and sometimes, you just have to go with the flow.

So maybe I’m moving away from pantsing? At least a little. The WIP is currently in research stages, so we’ll see how it goes, but I’m interested in how this turns out, if plotting will work properly, or if it’ll end up in the air, and I’ll return to pantsing. Though maybe for me, the trick is to find the sweet spot between the two. We’ll see.

What about you? Are you a plotter, a pantser, or a bit of both?

 

Images

Rose & Book -Image by Daria Głodowska from Pixabay

Pencil & Notebook – Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Post It Notes -Image by Pexels from Pixabay

No Killer, No Filler

writing doesn't need fillers or killers

Ah, writing. It comes so easily, doesn’t it? The words just flowing from your fingertips, the wonderful sound of keyboard keys clanking, being hit, one after the other, over and over until you have a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter…a book…

Full of the same words.

Just. Very. That.

Suddenly. Started. Then.

There are certain words, known as filler and killer words, likely to drag your writing to a grinding halt. Not to say they should be avoided entirely, but if you have the word ‘that’ multiple times in the same sentence, it’s going to make the reader cringe. Writing flows much more smoothly without filler and killer words.

Consider the following sentences –

Just then, the doorbell rang suddenly. She started to walk towards the door, her heart beating so hard that it felt like it would burst from her chest. In order to collect herself, she paused, staring through the obscure glass and picking out the tell-tale blue uniform of a policeman. Then, she opened the door.

Clunky, isn’t it? The prose reads stilted and too lengthy, words jammed in and draining the paragraph of any tension it could create. So, amending it –

The doorbell rang. She walked towards the door, heart about to burst from her chest. Pausing, she collected herself. On the other side of the obscure glass stood a man, in the tell-tale blue uniform of a policeman. She opened the door.

Filler words tend to be exactly that, words which fill the prose without actually contributing anything. Killer words slow it down, make it seem stilted. The best rule of thumb, if you find yourself using them, is to read the sentence with and without a particular word. If it makes sense without, drop it.

Filler words: Just. Quite. Rather. Very. perhaps. Stuff. Really. In order. Had. Literally. Actually. That.

Killer words: Suddenly. In order to. Started. Sort of. Used to. So. Kind of. As. A lot. Out of. You. Then.

Remember, these words can be used, and can, on occasion, prove to be useful. But make sure if they are used, they’re not over-used, and they’re put in sentences only when necessary.

 

Images Used 

Serial Killer – Image by Republica from Pixabay

Notepad – Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

Books – Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

Publication Updates

So seeing as this blog is supposed to be as much about my writing as it is about other’s, I thought I’d just drop a quick note to confirm my latest publication updates. Details of my short stories can always be found on the About & Publications page, but I know maybe not everyone visits that when they come to the site.

So, since the start of the year, I’ve had three short stories published. Two in anthologies, and one as a digital standalone in Alban Lake’s Infinite Realms bookstore.

January saw the publication of the final Seven Deadly Sins YA anthology, LUST.  The fact this anthology has come to an end makes me feel sad – the WRATH volume was my first ever in print story, Dying of the Light, and I feel really proud of the story itself. Ashworth Manor was in the AVARICE volume, and actually got me the number one spot in the competition run on Scrib to find stories for the anthology. And, finally, in LUST, there’s Nina and the Raging Hormone Buffet. The fact I found a place among a group of talented writers is always a reason to smile, even if there won’t be any more of the series. You can check out LUST on Amazon US here, and the UK site here. The profits for SDS do go to First Book, so please check out any of the seven volumes!

Also realised in January was CURSE OF THE GODS, from Fantasia Divinity. My short story The Most Valuable Possession appeared in their previous anthology, OUT OF YOUR SHADOW, and will be my first paid story. Worshipped, appearing in this anthology, will be my first contributor’s copy. Worshipped shows Aphrodite, trying to navigate a modern world, and the perils that come with it. The Fantasia Divinity site (linked above) is worth checking if you want to get a copy, as they often have discounts.

And lastly, through Alban Lake’s wonderful Infinite Realms bookstore, there’s Night of the Loving Dead, published in February. I had so much fun writing this story, and hopefully that comes through in the fiction. It’s flash, coming in at little under 1000 words, and follows a zombie as he tries to navigate his new living deadness. It’s also a zombie love story. Another great publisher definitely worth checking out, and there’s plenty in the bookstore to keep you entertained.

Thoughts on Italics

unwrapping words italics (1).png

When it comes to italics, there seem to be two camps. Love them, and hate them. It can sometimes feel like the Marmite of the writing world, and just like marmite, personally, I hate them.

just can’t stand reading something when every other word is in italics.

Of course, italics do have a place. If something isn’t dialogue, but isn’t part of the normal prose, they are needed to differentiate whatever it is we’re reading. So a sign, or a note, or, in general, something the character is reading. But a letter doesn’t have to be in italics. It can be, of course, but usually if the prose switches to a letter format, we know what it means.

However, my main issue with italics is when they’re used to emphasise. For some reason, something about their use has the potential to completely jerk me out of the story (depending on the quality of writing, anyway). If I’m wrapped up in the plot, I’ll skim over it, otherwise it’ll make me pause.

The best way to explain it is to repeat the words of a tutor at uni, during one Creative Writing seminar. Italics, when used for emphasis, show a lack of trust in the reader. It means the writer doesn’t think they can work out for themselves how the words are spoken (if in dialogue) or read. And they can be jarring. Everyone will read in slightly different ways, and if the way a person reads naturally puts the emphasis on a different word, seeing it in another place in the sentence can jar them out. For whatever reason, an emphasis on word three in a sentence, as opposed to word five, might just not make sense to them.

So, basically, to me, italics for emphasis = underestimating the reader.

And then there are direct thoughts.  Something else that can, if not written well, really get under my skin. To me, too often, the character’s ‘thoughts’ don’t read like actual thoughts, and feel too much like over-explaining, too much like telling rather than showing.

It’s having a character think, Oh, I’m so frightened, as opposed to saying goosebumps scattered across their arms, hairs stood on end, they were frozen, their heart thumped, their pulse raced, etc. Or, describing the fear, then having a character think that. Once more, underestimating the reader, not trusting them to understand something they’ve already seen.

So that’s my main ‘issue’ with italics, really. The things they’re used for tend to lean towards the idea that the writer doesn’t trust the reader or, perhaps, they don’t trust their own writing to speak for itself. They have their place, and can be used for good, but should be used sparingly.