Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Novel in Progress - Getting the right word-count

My Psychological Thrillers tend to run to around 92,000 words. This creates a book with around 380-450 pages in a paperback format, depending on the type face. It's the sort of length I've been advised to aim for by agents and publishers. But how do you know when you start, that the story you have in mind is going to run for that number of words? How do you know that the storyline isn’t going to be all over and done with by 50,000 words?

Desk - with timelines, character profiles and inspiring books!
My immediate answer is I have no idea. I think it’s about reading a lot of books in the same genre, getting a feel for themes and their duration, finding several threads that will run the course of the book and ultimately making some kind of judgement when I write the initial plan and synopsis that there’s enough material to flesh the whole thing out without drying up too soon. I've been lucky so far - my story ideas have gone the distance...

I’m on the final run with my latest one, having reached 83,000 words yesterday. I tend to write fairly quickly in the first draft  (30,000 words in the last three weeks). All the remaining scenes are sketched and now my concern is: Will I fit it all in?! But it’s a good feeling, because I usually spend most of the novel from around 40,000 words onwards fretting that I will not have sufficient storyline to fill out the rest of the novel.
I usually think of a book in three acts, with high points towards the end of each act.  At 60,000 words, where the third act is kicking off, I start to hold my breath. Has the storyline got enough depth? Enough body? Is the dramatic twist and/or powerful denouement going to wing it? Have I undercooked the last section?

The Finishing Line
I’m now at the stage where I can allow myself to get really excited. The end is in sight and up to this point, it’s been touch and go. It usually is – because it’s a creative entity in process and has so many directions it could go in, even though I've sketched a comprehensive outline. Books still have a life of their own, they can drag you and swivel you all over the place. That’s why they feel so dynamic and the writing of it feels so alive. Now I can breathe again and enjoy it, knowing that it’s going to go the course and ‘fit’. Whether it ‘works’ or not is another matter!
Once it's finished...
After the first draft, where my focus is to 'get the story down' (thank you, Stephen King), I will leave it in a drawer for a week or so and shift to other projects. I have no ideas yet for the ‘next one’, so I’ll give some thought to that. I also have a completed book that’s just gone through the structural edits, so I will be liaising with my Agent re publishing on that one. Then I’ll return to the novel and go through it several times, looking first at the structure and plot: Do the threads follow through? Do they all get tied up? I’ll check for continuity - sometimes characters shift from blonde to brunette through the course of a story! 'Living rooms' become 'sitting rooms', or entrances develop front steps...

The nitty-gritty of first revisions
I usually ask myself at the end of each scene – what is the role of this scene, what has it told us? And at the end of each chapter: what does the reader know now and what do they want to know? I’ll check the characters – are they rounded enough and believable? Are they striking and compelling? I’ll also look at setting (is there enough atmosphere?), and openings of chapters (are they grabby?) and do the cliff-hangers at the end of chapters make the reader want to turn the page? Finally, I’ll look at language and style, these are the easiest to play around with, in my view.

Recruiting fresh eyes
After that, I’ll send it to my lovely beta-readers. I now have four with sparkling credentials, who will hopefully give me honest and specific feedback on all aspects of the book. Then I’ll revise again responding to the comments. I’m not precious, if I can see a criticism has some validity, I’ll  make changes. Then it will go to my Agent. She will read it and possibly send it on to one of her trusted readers for another round of feedback. Then more revisions and edits – and back it goes until we get to the point where it feels ‘ready’ to go out into the world.

How do other authors judge the length of their books? How do you get to the finishing line? I’d be interested to hear from you.
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Guest Author - Kathryn Croft

Time for another Guest Post and a very warm welcome to Kathryn Croft, who has given me this exclusive interview about her new psychological thriller, The Stranger Within...

About the Author

Kathryn is always seeking new challenges and has had a wide and varied career before writing her first novel. After gaining a BA Honours Degree in Media Arts with English Literature, she worked in human resources and management training. But it wasn’t long before her passion for literature led her to train as a teacher and study for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education. She then spent six years teaching secondary school English; a job she believes was invaluable to her writing career. In December 2013, her debut novel, Behind Closed Doors, was published and reached number one in the Amazon psychological thrillers chart. Kathryn now devotes all her time to writing and is currently working on her fourth novel.

Here's the Story:
Be careful what you wish for.

On the surface, Callie Harwell has it all. Newly married to James, she finally gets the family she has longed for and becomes a mother to his two sons.

So why is she arrested for murder?

Things are not as Callie hoped they would be and she struggles to be accepted as part of James’ family, and to keep hidden the secrets that could destroy her future.

As her life spirals out of control, setting in motion a chain of events with devastating consequences, Callie is forced to question how well we ever really know ourselves.

Now over to Kathryn:

Who is your favourite character in The Stranger Within and why?

This is a difficult question! I really enjoyed writing from Callie’s perspective and seeing
how she deals with all the issues she’s facing.

How did you settle on the title for The Stranger Within?

Initially I had written a completely different version of the book, which was told from the
alternating perspectives of Callie and James. But once I’d finished it, it occurred to me
that I could create even more intrigue and suspense if I only told the story from Callie’s
point of view. So I set about doing this and it meant the plot had to change significantly. It was quite daunting rewriting the whole thing as it meant a huge delay in publication, but I trusted my instinct and I’m pleased with the new version! Anyway, the old version was called A Stranger Beside Me, so I just adapted it slightly to fit the new story.

What's the nicest thing anyone has said about the book?

It’s still early days but it was great to hear from a reviewer that they finished the book in
two sittings!

What alternative title did you consider?

I was lucky that this title actually came to me quite easily. However, this hasn’t been the
case with my third book, and even though it’s with my agent now, I’m still trying to think
of a darker title for it!

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

I’m a planner, so I don’t start writing until I’ve planned each chapter, but it’s really exciting when the characters or plot do something unexpected, enhancing
the story. In fact, it’s not often that my novels turn out exactly as I have planned them!
I also love being able to create different worlds, situations and lives, and hopefully
entertain people in the process.

Which novel do you wish you’d written?

What a great question! I would have to say The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It’s
so hard to pick an all-time favourite book because there are so many amazing novels and authors out there, but if I had to pick one this would be it.

Can you list 3 of your favourite reads, this year?

I have read so many fantastic thrillers this year but three that stick in my mind are The Lie of You by Jane Lythell, The Telling Error by Sophie Hannah and The Book of You by Claire Kendal. I love the atmosphere and style of these well-written books.

In the reviews and feedback you’ve had for the book – what has surprised you most?

For this book it’s hard to say yet as it’s only just been published, but one thing that sticks in my mind from my first book, Behind Closed Doors, is an email I had from a reader. She explained how the book really touched and affected her and she could relate strongly to Olivia. It surprised me that this reader had taken the time out to write such a personal email and it meant a lot to me.

Which authors would you invite over for dinner to get to know better?

Another superb question! I would definitely invite Stephen King, Paulo Coelho, Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling and hope that some of their greatness would rub off on me!

Which one question would you want to make sure you asked them?

I would ask them the question I’m waiting to ask myself: when did you get to the stage where you truly felt that you were a ‘real’ author?!

A big thanks to Kathryn for sharing her thoughts with us!
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Liquid Feared by Criminals

Crime writers are always on the look out for tools they can include in their books - new poisons that are untraceable, new forensic advances that the police have introduced. For procedural crime novels this kind of research is essential - no point in writing a story that is full of holes, because the forensic techniques are completely out of date!

I don't tend to write police procedurals - partly because I don't know enough about police methods and also because I'm more interested in the kind of suspense stories where the 'detective' could be you or I, an ordinary person caught up in a mystery that compels him or her to find out the truth.

But - I have come across this - which may be of interest to crime writers (and home owners!) It's a security marker pen, but as well as marking the item to be protected in the home - it also 'leaves its mark' on the burglar. Nifty...

It's called 'SmartWater' and is a colourless, odourless liquid that has the ability to security mark valuable items of property with a unique DNA style chemical formula.

If the tiniest spot is transferred to clothes during a robbery, it will show up in ultraviolet light and ensnare the culprit. It can be used for all valuables such as computers, Wiis, playstations, electrical equipment, cameras, DVD players etc. It can also be used on furniture and jewellery. Once applied, it is virtually impossible to remove and can only be seen under UV light. If a burglar gets SmartWater on them, it immediately shows up if that person is examined with ultra violet light in a custody suite.

Essex police are apparently routinely screening every suspected crook arrested at Basildon Police Station for this invisible crime-cracking liquid, which could link them to offences. A mark the size of a pinhead is enough for that person to be linked to a crime scene.

74% of burglars (not sure how this information was obtained!) said they would not break into a property with a sign indicating that belongings were marked with the substance.

So there you go - this marker pen might be the key factor in your next novel that foils the culprit!

By the way - not to be confused with the 'other' SmartWater - advertised here by Jennifer Aniston! An unfortunate advertising clash...

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Much needed TLC for Authors!

Authors spend a great deal of time alone and most of that time is spent sitting at a desk. I've discovered to my cost that a bad back is often the end result, but I've come across a much needed piece of equipment that makes sitting at a desk just that little bit nicer. And - if you've got a bad back like mine - it's a real soothing treat.

CL Taylor (author of the excellent thriller, The Accident) posted about it on Twitter. Having met Cally and judged that she's a trustworthy kind of gal, I decided to look into it and found mine on Amazon:


Sometimes Amazon are brilliant. I know they are allegedly ethically unsound re tax etc, but you look for what you want, find out from reviews what a whole pile of folk think about it and then buy with one click. Mine arrived the next day.

It's a slightly 'dangerous' bit of kit in one way - you are supposed to only use it for 15 minutes at a time, but it allows you to switch it back on again once it cuts out... I don't know if with continued successive use the engine eventually burns out (I've been very good so far - and not succumbed to chain-sessions), but it's tempting... Moreover, the 15 minutes goes past SO quickly, but it is pure heaven as the hot 'thumbs' roll around my shoulders, lower or middle back. I've tried it on my neck too, lying on the floor and that's great - only not much writing gets done in that position.

The other thing I need to remember (and perhaps you do too), is to still take stand-up breaks away from the chair every 30 minutes. Sitting feels comfy, but it's a killer for the back - just ask every GP, physiotherapist or acupuncturist. Spines are meant to be mobile and as long as I keep moving with stretches and Pilates every half an hour, I reckon I'm allowed my electronic masseur!

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

To get regular posts SIGN UP in the side bar --->