Inciting to Read

What incites you to read? Why that book, that magazine, that comic? Why keep on reading?

With comics and magazines there are the graphics, photos, drawings , knowledge of the type of magazine and its content that you are buying; the same goes for comics. But what makes you choose a particular book? Read that particular story?

There are so many to choose from and not just the printed version (which I prefer) ebooks, audio books. Books, books, books.

When faced with rows of books, table of new arrivals, three for the price of two offers, the reader faces a daunting prospect which can at times be off-putting. Unless you follow the author and all they write, have seen the reviews, read suggestions written by the bookshop staff, the other options at your disposal are: -The book cover which can initially attract you to it. -The blurb on the back of the book. -The first line, paragraph, page, to see if you are hooked and reeled in.

I’m a terror for reading the first line and paragraph to see if it interests me. One of my favourite first lines is from a children’s book, Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

‘The journalists arrived before the coffin did. They gathered at the gate overnight and by dawn they were a crowd. By nine o’clock they were a swarm.’

What a terrific hook. It offers so many questions to be answered that it makes you want to read on.

So I’m hooked. I buy the book. I read on. Why?

a) because I’ve bought it and b) to see if the hook fulfills it promise.

Now this is the exciting, inciting bit and, the point of this blog – sorry if it’s taken me too long to get here…. but have I hooked you enough to read on?

A story needs characters, a plot, subplots, an arc, a theme, and what we are going to look at here – the inciting incident.

The call to adventure.

What causes the hero to start their journey/quest/adventure.

There may be minor inciting incidents along the way but there has to be the main, major incident that sets the protagonist along their journey.

Without the inciting incident there is no exciting story, no drama, no jeopardy for the protagonist to face and allow them to change. And without those elements, without a bold, thrilling, inciting incident, a reader may be lost.

Classic examples are:

Harry Potter finding out he is a wizard, but that is a minor inciting incident, the main one is when Harry chooses to leave his world to face the unknown and thereby increase the adventure and his jeopardy. Harry could have chosen to stay at home and conform, but he didn’t, thank goodness.

Katniss Everdeen takes the place of her sister, Prim, in the Hunger Games, changing Katniss’ fate and entering her into a dangerous arena where her very existence comes into question. Katniss had a choice. She could have refused the call to adventure and, long story short, Prim dies and Katniss lives a life of regret. Not much of a page turner by comparison.

An inciting incident leaves the protagonist with a choice to enter the adventure or, not. If the protagonist takes up the challenge, you have a story, a story in which they must learn and change because of their journey. The conclusion does not have to have a happy ending but change should be evident in the protagonist by the end.

In a three act structure (story formatting) the inciting incident should happen in the first act (first third of the book) to hold the reader.

In my novel, ‘Anne, a Queen for a King’, Anne of Cleves’ main inciting incident is her acceptance of a marriage between her and Henry VIII. It may not have been of her choice and she had little say in the matter but it was her journey to England to consummate the marriage that incited the rest of the story. Similarly an inciting incident, was Henry’s first disastrous meeting with Anne at Rochford which damned the marriage and changed Anne’s life forever. But this is a minor incident as she is already upon the chosen path. In all this, she, as a woman of her time, had no real choice but, in her acceptance, her choice lay in how she dealt with it and how she learned and evolved and survived.

The inciting incident may drive the plot but it has closer links with the theme. It is the theme that drives the inciting incident rather than the plot.

In Harry Potter it is building friendships, belonging, doing what is right. That is the drive to accept the inciting incident which is theme rather than plot based.

In Katniss it is family. She is protecting her family , her sister, even at the cost of her own life

In Anne she is supporting her family, her country. It is a matter of loyalty to those she holds dear.

If the promise of the hook, within the first opening lines, is not kept because the inciting incident is not strong enough to hold the complete novel together, you will not hold your readers.

For more on inciting incidents see Jerry B Jenkins video:

Happy writing. Happy reading.

Show or Tell

In the writer’s world, this is a question that is regularly raised in discussions, blogs, newsletters and advice columns for writers. And here I am about to do the same.

I have puzzled over this subject and read many articles about it over the years. Telling is an easy trap to fall into. It’s a quick way to download information. “She ran out to meet him in the car park”, but it lacks the spark needed to keep the reader engaged with what is happening, as in showing the same scene – “She ran barefoot across the wet grass ignoring the unevenness of the ground, skirted round a car reversing into a parking space and threw herself into his arms.” The show version is longer but more impactful, therefore more immersive for the reader.

That’s not to say Telling isn’t important because it is as it can impart knowledge quickly, succinctly. If you want to get through a lot of facts, or backstory, Telling is your go-to.

Telling is for the efficient delivery of all the non-dramatic information your book requires. (Jericho writers)

I recently received feedback from a competition I entered in which one judge commented that I was telling too much. It is written in the first person and I perhaps had fallen into the trap of telling, as we the reader are seeing the world from her viewpoint and impressions. Telling has it’s place in the story but I may have overstepped the limit.

Telling can be an information dump if you are not careful which will dull the action and switch off the reader, but it can also encompass a time span neatly and concisely.

If you want to plough through a time period without the day to day toil, telling is the perfect medium. “A week passed in a swelter of worry.” But if you try to show it day by day you could bog down the action, the shared journey for the reader. “On Monday Laura paced, wringing her hands and sobbing as she read his letter. Tuesday came, still no news. She drummed her fingers against the side of her cup as steam rose filling the air with the scent of mint from her early morning tea.” See what I mean? It becomes, perhaps, too elaborate for the need. That’s not to say this cannot be done in some stories if the plot/tone, calls for it, but if you want to speed through a time period, Telling is the one to use. But always use sparingly.

Telling is: Factual. Brief. An efficient way to communicate data.

Show is: Necessary to produce an exciting and engaging story.

Showing is the fun part of writing where your descriptions and dialogue bring the characters and situations to life. It is essential to a story – to show what is happening, describe action, enabling the reader to immerse themselves in the world of the book, be that person, share the adventure.

Showing is drama and a story must have drama.

Drama is shown in dialogue, descriptions, action scenes. It propels you into the story so you can touch, taste, experience it.

Example of showing: “Darkness surrounds her as she floats towards a glowing light.  I stagger after her, barefoot on the cold stone floor, my head a sea of candyfloss”. (Excerpt from my novel ‘Shadows’).

Same example, but this time, telling: “I follow her”.

Often the narrative can be a combination of the two with the dose of show being heavier than the tell.

Dramatic scenes are the stones in the wall, but for the wall to hold together, to be intact, it needs a little bit of mortar too. The mortar is the glue that holds all the good stuff together.(Jericho Writers)

Telling is the mortar, bricks the Showing. You need both in your novel.

Are Children Reading for Fun?

A new statistic mentioned in an article in the Guardian newspaper, states that the number of children who are reading for fun is at an all time low. Blame is laid at the door of school curriculums which instead of encouraging children to read, actually drains the joy and makes it a chore. Also there is so much to distract children, mobile phones, computer games, TV and the after-school activities.

One woman wrote, commenting on this article. “We didn’t have all day TV, fun hand games that drew you in so you didn’t want to stop, computers – and in the middle-class families, non-stop swimming lessons, chess, gym, etc etc after school and all weekend. I can recall long, long, long times with nothing to do.

I have to disagree with that last sentence. Though born in a different era when TV in a home was a rarity, we were never bored for long. We made our own entertainment. I was one of four children so we made up games and stories to enact. I could cycle for hours by myself or with friends – as I say a different world. I have seen the technological developments and enjoyed the birth of many of them. But it never stopped me reading.

Life was not easy. I won’t say we were hungry but in the winter, cold, yes. Few clothes and a pair of shoes twice a year as we grew out of them. We were never read stories at bedtime although we told our own. School story time in infant school was the weekly treat. Learning to read opened a whole new world for me into which I could disappear, be someone else, be somewhere else, away from angry parents and competing siblings: the library card was my ticket to those places.

Sad to say, we have advanced technologically but we still have children who are cold, who are hungry, and who have little to call their own. And they do not have the freedom I had, to roam the streets and countryside with a bottle of water and a jam sandwich. But they can visit worlds, be someone else in books, comics, graphic novels. It doesn’t matter what is read but if it transports them from their worries, even give them hope, a promise of better things, then let them browse the library shelves, encourage them to read.

Without books and comics, giving the chance to escape the real world for a while, my childhood would have been an empty place on many occasions. Head under the bedclothes with a book and a torch even in the cold of winter I entered my own secret worlds. I wanted escapism, not reality and for those times, embedded in a book, I had that.

Here are two quotes I saw today, which together with the Guardian article prompted this post.

Reminder to anyone who needs it today: Reading is a pleasure. Not a duty. Not a performance. Read what you love, whatever that is; and read for yourself, not for those who tell you what you *must* read in order to fit their model of what makes a reader. Joanne Harris

Why read books? Because books open our eyes & hearts & minds. They help us to see & feel & experience the world from other points of view. They are the greatest EMPATHY ENGINES ever invented. S.F. Said

Read to children. Let them choose what they want to read. Let their minds be free to imagine. Take them to the library. Get them their own library card. Open their world and let them soar.

A Taste of Honey

When you are constantly sucking on the lemons of rejection a taste of honey is so unbelievably welcome.

In an earlier post I mentioned entering competitions and failing to be acknowledged by any. Well… I entered Ink & Insights competition last year.

I submitted my adult historical fiction, Anne, a Queen for a King. I had never written adult fiction before as my writing is primarily for children. A writer friend who wasn’t into this kind of novel read it for my sake. She loved it and was hooked. This set me on the road to seek more feedback.

Feedback is a life-line for any writer and Ink and Insights offered a golden opportunity. Money is always tight for a writer (We often, well I do, spend far more than we earn). I decided to take a chance and fork out the fee. I am so glad I did. For the first time I received fabulous feedback, worth the money, even if I wasn’t in the top three winners.

Out of 117 entries I was placed 16th. Amazed and delighted at that but even more by the judges’ comments on my work; a reward all its own. AND THEN … three of my judges picked my submission as their favourite. A sample of my submission is now on their website.

Honoured, pleased as punch, bursting my buttons, you name a cliche to do with pride and I’m using it!

My four judges, listed below, gave such supportive critiques. I have attached their final comments.

Visnja Murgic. Editor, Proofreader, Writer.

“I have never given a perfect score in all the six years I’ve been evaluating submissions for this contest but your writing is deserving of it. I would love to read the rest and look forward to its publication. It was a pleasure to read, thank you for your submission!”

Hadiqa Inam. Hadiqa is a published poet, writer, freelance editor and beta-reviewer.

“Historical Fiction is a popular genre, and what makes it interesting is the author’s original spin into the historical events. I’d like to see more of those in your submission too.”

Melody Quinn.  A professional freelance writer and editor with a strong background in manuscript copyediting.

“The author has provided an interesting lens through which to view this historical tale. I hope that their story finds its way into readers’ hands soon. Hopefully, the feedback they receive this year will help them reach their goals. I look forward to potentially reading more of their writing next year. Good luck, and keep writing.”

Iris Psyche. Editor, Writer, Mentor.

“Congratulations on a solid submission! I enjoyed reading it and travelling back to this era. I honestly had a hard time finding any fault to this submission except for some minor proofreading mistakes in capitalization and some missing commas. Other than that, I think this story is ready for publishing. It was perfectly smooth, intertwining logic and writing skill that carries the mind of the reader with both clarity and subtle force that doesn’t make it feel like reading but rather like watching the story unfold. It wasn’t a chore to read and I enjoyed it very much. Thank you for sharing this with us. I look forward to reading the rest of the story!”

If you take one thing from this, and you are keen for feedback, at least have a look at what is on offer. It’s worth it. I have submitted two of my children’s novels this year. I don’t expect to win but I do expect to get great feedback. I want to learn how to improve my writing, where I’m going wrong; their feedback sheets will help to provide that. Submissions for this year closes on June 30th.

Now where does this get me? I don’t know. Submissions to agents so far have hit the the slushpile pit and sunk without a bubble or a burp. I shall start again, but now with something new to add to my covering letter. Who knows, maybe this time…

Written from Hope Springs, that overpopulated writers’ haven. May 26th 2022

To Trad Publish or to Self Publish That is The Question

You know that’s a difficult question. I have pursued, for many years, the idea of getting an agent for my novels which would of course inevitable lead to me getting published by a traditional publishing house. I see/saw it as a validation of my talent/ability to write a story worthy of consideration by these giants who rule the writer’s world.

BUT it’s just not that easy is it? Enter catch 22 – or Watch the dog chase it’s tail.

You write a story you believe in be it for adults, children or YA. It may not be a literary work of art but it’s exciting, pacey, all the things you like in a book that you would read yourself. You get it to the best draft you can. Checked, edited, critiqued and still it fails. Why?

Subjectivity. I have looked on agency websites, checked out the agents, all saying we are looking for the next best thing since Dan Brown, Hilary Mantel, JK Rowling. We need you. Do submit to us.

Here’s another but – They have a preconceived idea of what they are looking for, what they like. Like fantasy but not science fiction, Like literary but not popular romance. It doesn’t matter what you submit if it doesn’t fall into their ‘like’ category you need to be Charles Dickens to be taken on, although now, who knows, he may not even make it past the slushpile.

I am not saying this in anger but in resignation. An agent has a living to make and must believe in their client, their clients work, and their client’s projected ability to sell. Yet, if a manuscript sings to them, they will take it on no mater what. This is rare these days. So many good novels get passed over because it doesn’t fit current trends or will be difficult to sell. As pragmatists, agents will agree with that statement.

The same goes for the publisher. An agent submits your book, having picked the ones they believe the editor at those publishing houses will like. Then the editor, who may love your book, has to sell it to the marketing team etc. The manuscript is passed around and taken on or rejected. The giants are playing footballing your novel.

The next pass, well maybe not the next, but it’s in there in the scrum ready for the kick-off.

‘I like the manuscript but I don’t think readers will buy it.’ – Who says? Who makes that decision? They do.

No discussion with the readers. Decision made. One more manuscript kicked into touch.

Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize. Publishers are in the market to make money but, for example, the children’s book market is huge but the returns for the writer, without whom there would be no life-blood for the industry, gets little out of the money pot.

So onto Self-Publishing. When I started writing, self-publishing was classed as vanity publishing. Only for the wannabes who were never going to make it via the traditional route. Even then for most writers it was an unfair assumption. Now, however going down the self-publishing route is looking more and more favourable. Those good writers out there have a new avenue to try.

There are so many ways to get your book out in the world. Online with Kindle, Apple, Google to name but a few. Print on demand is also available via Amazon. Amazon has played a huge part in the legitimization of self publishing. Ingram Spark is a company that deals with book distribution. There are many reputable companies who will assist or do the whole production and marketing of your book such as Matador.

The magic wand is your time and your money. You are writer, editor, publisher and marketeer all wrapped in one bundle. There are also the pitfalls – rogue companies out to make money but not delivering the service they promise. It’s another minefield to tread with care. The Alliance of Independent Authors can assist in many ways if you are a member. They have a list of companies offering to help publish your book. Well worth a look.

I am just starting my journey and it is an uphill climb and costly. If you want a good end product you need to consider so many things. Pay for editing, critiques, illustrators for book cover design and so many more things I haven’t even looked into. But is it doable?

The answer is, yes, for many it is yes. Hard work which doesn’t end with the novel but the financial rewards are greater for the self-published writer. And for me, I will at last get my stories out there where readers will hopefully read them and enjoy them. That is my goal.

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook have articles on self-publishing and so much more. Well worth a read.

I am currently reading through ‘How to Self-Publish and Market a Children’s Book’ by Karen P. Inglis. It is an easy read full of information and advice. Well worth reading if you are seriously considering going along the self-publishing route.

Whichever route you choose, good luck and take care. And keep chasing your tale. I will.

Book Review

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

The Last Bear is a perfect read for 8+. It is a tale of its time. April is lonely, especially as her father has taken her to isolated Bear Island off the Norwegian coastline for six months while he works at a weather station. She is left to her own devices and wandered aimlessly until she meets Bear, also isolated, alone, the only polar bear left on the island.

This is truly a heart warming story of friendship which draws our attention for the need to save our planet for all creatures who share the seas and lands and call it home. Star rating: Ease of reading ***** Immersive world building *****

Appendix Versus Writing

I’m back after over a month’s absence. I appreciate you may not have realised I’d even gone. In a month some writers could have written half a novel (first draft), edited their book, submitted it for the round of agent’s slush piles, been accepted, rejected. or in limbo waiting. A writer can be doing none of the above but their minds remain active and any incident can motivate fresh ideas.

So are any of the above me? No, in a word. Well, nearly no. I hadn’t felt well for a while, then a pain in my side kicked in. I left it for a week believing it would go away until my husband and daughter badgered me into dialing 111. From there I went to the NHS Call-in-Centre who then sent me to A&E. I met a lovely consultant with an engaging smile who told me I was special. Most people had an appendix that was the size of a thumb nail but mine was huge and in the wrong place and he would be operating the next day.

Transferred to another hospital for the operation, a couple of days in intensive care, and then transferred to the surgical ward, my waking hours had a clarity that surprised me. Like most writers, who are people watchers, I logged the daily running of the four bed ward and the other patients with me. My post anaesthetic induced sleep and also perhaps the drips and injections produced a whirlwind of images. With no notebook and really no inclination to find one, I thought, I’ll remember that and will write it down later. Wrong. Like the old ether, they evaporated leaving little to no residue.

However, watching the nurses, the doctors and my initial three fellow patients kept me occupied. There me – unable to get out of bed – nil by mouth – drip-fed and bombarded with antibiotics to stem the building infection in my body. One young woman, unable to communicate fully owing to her life-long condition and another lady who spoke no English and whose language no one was able to translate.

I cannot fault the nursing care; the kindness of the staff. I spent twelve days in hospital and was discharged with tablets, an open wound to be dress by wonderful District Nurses at my home, and Covid!

There are stories of the patients and the nurses and the doctors but I would be recounting real lives and do not feel it is my place to do so. Suffice to say my care was and still is excellent.

The real biggy I am coming to terms with is, I can’t write. My mind won’t accept that I can and must. I hover at the edge of the ballroom, wanting to return to the floor, wanting to get in step, but as yet there is no tune drawing me in. That’s why I’m writing this in the hope it will trigger something, get me back into those dancing pumps. Meanwhile I am enjoying family, who have and are wonderful. Friends have rallied and I feel loved.

My two dogs were overjoyed to see me when I came home but now I get the looks when I cannot take them for their walks, even though we have arranged for a dog walker and my son comes over regularly to take them out. I’ll be back to normal one day soon and then hopefully back to business as usual.

Enjoy life and keep writing. Success comes to those who work for it.

Pick Yourself up,🎵 Dust Yourself Off, 🎵and Start All Over Again🎵

Disappointment is definitely better set to music; it soothes the savage breast. The sentiments of the song are easier sung than done. Once again I put my self on the line, submitted myself to potential rejections, and have not been disappointed.

Rejection is a writer’s shadow, whether rain or shine that shadow stalks the day and midnight hours. I should be used to it.

Take a break from the round of agent submissions. Try competitions instead. You never know. You gotta be in it to win it. All meant well, good suggestion, so I did. Got one rejection last month and two this month.

Why do we do it? Why do we subject ourselves to this endless wheel of torture?

Two children’s stories and an adult historical fiction, which I had submitted for competitions, were not even considered. I didn’t make the long list let alone the short. And the children’s competition, in order to be kind and as inclusive as possible, had even put a list together of those who were rated by the judges but hadn’t made it to the long list. I wasn’t on that one either. I know it wasn’t meant as another nail in the coffin of hope but it was. I found it harder to cope with than usual. I hit the pit and let it swallow me for a few days.

I suppose at least they let me know I had failed. Many, many agents these days don’t even do that.

But you know what. Emails are telling me of new competitions and The Writers and Artists Year book is citing agents who are looking for submissions, so once again I am thinking of doing just that. The cliched spring of eternal hope is again rising.

I know many of you are going through the same emotions as me. And you will pick yourself up and dust yourself off and together we will start all over again.

I have one more competition result to await. Who knows this time…

Feedback for Beta or Worse

As writers, apart from chocolate, cake, biscuits and tea – okay I’ll concede – and coffee, we crave feedback. We will actively seek out critique groups/partners with whom we can share our work and talk about theirs. My critique group has not met for nearly two years (Covid) and I miss them. We were always ready to work on each other’ writings, give out excellent notes and suggestions. I have learnt so much from their generous help.

I have exchanged chapters with others on line, particularly during lockdown, swapping thoughts and opinions, spoken to friends who are writers and been given feedback. I have paid for 1-2-1’s to get the precious feedback and editorial services/mentoring to learn more.

We all need this and I cannot think of a writer who has not sought such a partnership.

Beta readers are another mode of getting feedback. Family and friends often volunteer, sometimes pressed to the cause, although my family are reluctant, for fear of not liking it and having to tell me. My shoulders are broad. They have to be as a writer, but I understand. A beta reader, that first person(s) who takes the time and care to read your story and give you honest feedback is like a blood donor giving us fresh juice to our depleted brains.

We love our stories, we have nurtured them through the teething process, the mid-life crisis, to the triumphant last word, so we may not always see the bad teeth, the crossed eyes, the saggy plot. A good beta reader will, and tell you. What you choose to do with the information is up to you but you have at least something to work with, and it’s often given for free. Well you may have to buy them a coffee.

If you are fortunate you may fall into a symbiotic relationship with another writer, to share and exchange your writings.

Build a good relationship.

Don’t be afraid to share.

Don’t ignore the suggestions because they are not what you want to hear. You may need to hear them to become a better writer.

There is a huge network out there in the big wide world from which you can pick and choose. Choose wisely, choose well and good luck however you gain your feedback. And don’t forget to eat cake and drink tea: It’s obligatory. End 10.2.2022

Competitions: You have to be in it to win it.

You do. I know you do but it’s hard. Every competition I have entered I have failed (writing ones that is), although I’m not lucky with raffles or lottery cards either. I rarely win anything. But still I try.

I entered the Myslexia novel competition last year and received my rejection this year. I have entered WriteMentor’s, Children’s Novel and Picture Book Competition and Skylark’s, Marvellous Middle Grade Competition and await the results. History has told me to expect nothing so I won’t be disappointed. But it hasn’t and won’t stop me hoping.

Last year I entered the Ink and Insights Novel Competition. I submitted the first 10,000 words and a short synopsis of my adult historical fiction. Each entry is allocated four judges who have 250 points a piece to award, making a total of 1,000 points. Three writers in two categories will win prizes, but different to all others I have entered, in this competition everyone’s a winner.

Each judge gives you a critique on your work and completes a score sheet with helpful comments to aid your writing. I have paid for 1-2-1 critiques in the past and have not received such a well rounded crit sheet and comments.

The response last year was so great that they are still judging entries and we all await our final placings. I have already received my personal scores and comment sheets which are amazing.

This year, whilst still waiting for my final position in the rankings for 2021, I have submitted two more entries. Two children’s books this time for which I need feedback, constructive criticism. I know I will get it, no matter my placing. It’s worth the money and the wait.

Have a look on their website. This could help you on your road to success

I’ll let you know how this month’s results pan out. End 8.2.2022