My Writing Process · The Scribbling Student · Writing · Writing Advice

The Art of the Title

Picture the scene. You’ve spent months on your latest work – the plot flows perfectly, the characters are engaging, and you’re now ready to send it out into the world. But there’s one problem.

Try as you might, you just can’t think of a good title.

The title is something that writers often neglect until the very end of their writing process, and it’s not hard to see why – their focus is rightly on the content of the actual story. However, a good title is more integral to a story than it might first appear – it tells potential readers about its tone before they’ve even read a word. The feeling that title evokes is crucial in deciding whether or not those potential readers will turn into actual readers.

So, how do you go about choosing a good title?

In my experience, one thing that’s important is knowing the genre of your work. Early in Blood Devotion’s writing process, when I was writing large parts of it in my school lunch breaks, I vividly remember having a teacher of mine see the title page on a computer screen and, curious about it, ask if it was a detective story.

His confusion wasn’t a huge issue per se, but it was my first step to realising that my working title was more ambiguous than I’d originally thought. That’s also a pretty good way to describe the novel in general at this point- as I’ve talked about before on the blog, I didn’t have an outline sorted until much later. This had the knock-on effect of me not really knowing what sort of story I was creating – which lets you know where your work fits in with its competitors. If, for example, a romance novel has a title more befitting a gritty psychological thriller, that may turn longtime readers off your work.

If you’re thinking of publication, there’s a difficult balance that you have to strike between a title being indicative of the type of story you’re writing and not so complex that readers don’t pay you a second look. The books that do this well span genres and time periods – from Gone with the Wind to A Monster Calls. How far you choose to lean to one side or the other is largely a matter of personal choice. Sometimes a short title is enough to spark interest. but other, longer titles can work; think So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

However, titles aren’t things that should be rushed. I used to spend far too much time obsessing over what to call my stories, often before writing one word – and looking back, I can see that this wasted time and energy that could’ve just as easily gone into the writing itself. Remind yourself that it’s okay to use a placeholder for convenience’s sake – “untitled sci-fi epic” might not look that appealing on the shelves, but it’ll help you tell it apart from other documents without sapping your creativity.

One major advantage to taking this approach is that, often, something can pop up in the writing of the story that inspires a title. This has happened a number of times in my standalone pieces, and can come from anywhere – whether that’s a line from a character, or something from outside your story that describes it (I’ve used poker phrases in a story where the game is a main plot point, and another that was inspired by a song had a snippet of that song’s lyric as the title). Don’t be afraid to cast your net wide, and play around until you find what works.

In summary – yes, a title might not be the first thing on your mind when you’re preparing your magnum opus. But it will be associated with it – and you – for years to come, so the least you can do is give it some love. If you do, it might just give you some back


What are some of your favourite (or least favourite) book titles? How do you title your stories? Let me know in the comments!

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Books · The Scribbling Student · Writing

The Future Of Books: Where Have We Been, and Where Will We Go Next?

First appearing in tablet form as early as the 3rd millennium BC, books are almost as old as language itself. They’ve undergone many changes in that time, but even more may be coming.

Often, these may not be as ground-shaking as they seem. Take e-readers, for example. A decade ago, commentators were lamenting how the Kindle would spell the end of traditional publishing; on the contrary, figures now show that, at least in the US, sales of physical books are now overtaking those of ebooks.

However, one thing that definitely draws people towards ebooks over their physical counterparts is convenience. Nowadays many people don’t have room for a big bookshelf in their home (I can only assume their lives are incredibly boring). Ebooks allow for the same content, but take up no space – in the case of some classic books, this equates to more people having access to books they wouldn’t otherwise.

That same philosophy underpins a more recent bookish innovation. In 2018, the startup company Serial Box was created. It’s an online subscription service that gives people access to serialised versions of books by popular authors and screenwriters such as Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes. It takes its cues from the world of television (which is, incidentally, also going from strength to strength), capitalising on the anticipation of weekly instalments to being books and reading to people in a way that might not be so daunting.

Looking further into the future, it’s only natural that books as we know them now will co-exist alongside newer technologies. A unique example of this that I’ve seen over the last week is a cover for Allowah Lani’s latest book I am love.

In an interview with VRScout, Alexander Ward, the artist who created the cover, explained his process.

“I wanted to give the illusion of looking into the cover itself,” Ward said, “as if the book cover is a window or portal into the artwork.”

“I achieved this by separating the artwork and text into many individual layers, that I placed in receding layers of 3D depth, in a 3D program on the computer.”

Alexander Ward’s VR cover, shown separated into several layers of text and images.
Alexander Ward’s VR book cover, separated into several layers.

An immersive experience has always been integral to the quality of books, but with technologies like this that will only become more important.

On the other hand, a big part of our future involves looking back at our past to see what we can learn. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Future Library – or, to give the project its Norwegian name, Framtidsbiblioteket. The premise is intriguing: every year from 2014 until 2114, one author will submit a work. These works will not see the light of day until 2114, where they will be printed in an anthology made from paper supplied by a a specially-planted forest. Only those holding one of 1000 certificates will be able to see the works – which is the opener to a new discussion – but one of the anthologies’ authors, Margaret Atwood, brings up another interesting point. Speaking about her contribution, Scribbler Moon, she noted that readers from 100 years in the future might need “a paleo-anthropologist to translate some of it for them”, because “language of course will have changed over those 100 years. Maybe not so much as it changed between say 1400 and now, but it will have changed somewhat”.

The culture, too, may be unrecognisable. Atwood has refused to divulge any details about her contribution, but the 2015 nominee David Mitchell accidentally revealed to The Sydney Morning Herald that his work, From Me Flows What You Call Time, would contain lyrics from Beatles hit “Here Comes the Sun”, which will enter the public domain late in the 21st century.

It’s inevitable that books, and even reading itself, will change as the world around it does – but all these examples show something universal, that will never change. Books give us a window into knowledge – whether of ourselves, our surroundings or even our past. That satisfies an inherent curiosity in humans, and though the medium through which we do that may be wildly different in the future, that drive is likely to remain the same.


How do you think books will change in the future? What are your thoughts on some of the technologies featured in this post? Let me know in the comments below!

My Writing Process · The Scribbling Student · Writing · Writing Advice

Setting a Path: Outlines, and Why They’re Important

Writing circles place a lot of focus on outlining. Commonly, you’re seen as either a plotter (creating detailed plots before sitting down to write), or a pantser (with no defined ideas, who lets the story unfold as they write).

If I had to put myself into one of these categories, I’d probably be a plotter – though it wasn’t always this way. When I started considering a writing career in 2011, I was obsessed with the end product, and wanted nothing more than to start typing as soon as possible. This led to my becoming an out-and-out pantser, and for a while, it felt great. There was something exhilarating about letting my whims guide me, and in the moment, writing became a very fun process.

However, as the years went on and I matured, I looked back on my old work – particularly Blood Devotion’s first draft – and found it didn’t sit right with me. There were many reasons for this. Yes, the prose was terrible, but from a plotting standpoint…well, it just didn’t have anything. There were a series of scenes, but no overarching plot, nothing stringing them all together.

I’d love to tell you about the one moment that I looked at this pile of words and decided that an outline was exactly what I needed – but strangely enough, I didn’t have one. In fact, my decision to completely redraft the novel from the ground up happened a few years before I began work on any physical outline.

But it wasn’t as if the groundwork wasn’t laid before then. Aside from that first draft, most of my later works had some degree of planning involved, even if it was only bullet points to remind me of where the story was headed for the next few pages. What made me start to seriously consider the merits of a traditional “beat sheet” – where a story’s main flashpoint are mapped out act by act – was seeing a friend use one with great results. The world she created is far more expansive than mine, which makes the presence of a story outline even more important, as you can easily see who’s come into contact with who, if there’s any opportunities for worldbuilding, et cetera.

With this in mind, I set about turning the informal plot points scribbled in my notebook into a clearly structured plot outline. This is much easier said than done, especially when you’re attempting it a full twelve-and-a-half chapters into the draft. The pantser in me reared its head more than once when I was putting this together, and sometimes I wondered if it was really the best use of my time. By the time I finally caught up to my current chapter, though, the reasoning was clear.

Compared to before I did the outline, I now had much more of a sense of where my story had already gone, and crucially, where it could go next. I continue to build on this knowledge even now – my most recent short story marks my earliest experiment with an outline based on the three act structure.

Despite all this progress, I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’ve abandoned pantsing completely – or at least, not the key principles of it. When you’re outling, there is a tendency to overplan chapters – and that opens you up to arguably more complications than going in blind. Knowing where you’re going is great, but there are times where you’ll need to change tack. This is something I’ve kept in mind throughout Blood Devotion, and my other works too, keeping my notebook and other resources close to hand in order to make this easier.

Additionally, sometimes it’s just fun to write with no plan at all. When you’re working on a huge project, you can get wrapped up in its details – and when this happens to me, I allow myself time to write without a roadmap and see where I end up.

The question of whether you’re a plotter or a pantser isn’t a simple one. They’re on a spectrum, rather than being two seperate boxes; wherever you are on that line, chances are it’s the most fulfilling place for you.


Are you a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between? What impact has your outlining style had on your writing process? Let me know in the comments!

Writing

Breaking the binary: my journey to writing rounded LGBT+ characters

As I write this, we are reaching the tail end of 2019’s Pride Month. LGBT people are more visible than ever before, and much of that is down to their representation in arts and media.

Some of my earliest exposure to story writing was through fanfiction, often of involving LGBT couples. At 12 years old, I saw these stories as the pinnacle of the writing that I wanted to achieve, and so I set about trying to emulate them. However, in hindsight, these attempts were highly problematic.

In the past, LGBT+ People were used for two purposes: as the butt of jokes, or for heterosexual titillation. The latter was something that I never really got away from in my early fanfiction, and that led to characters that were essentially defined by the fact that they were gay, lesbian etc. This isn’t how anyone works; we’re all people with many facets to ourselves other than our sexualities. As a heterosexual woman, I’m not part of the community. I don’t have firsthand experience the struggles that LGBT people face. But that doesn’t make any ignorance justified.

So, later in my writing career, when I was older and had been more exposed to the varieties of people that existed in the world, I took great pleasure in research more into LGBT issues. This armed me with the information I needed to do something deceptively simple, something that I hadn’t been doing before: I treated my gate characters in the same way I treat my straight ones. I won’t more fanfiction of course, but recently I’ve branched out into making more original characters gay. A great example of this is a piece of work I submitted in my second year of university and am looking to continue into my third, called A Star to Steer Her By.

My main character in that story, Agnes McGilvray, breaks people assumptions about gay characters as her personality does not revolve around her coming to terms with her sexuality, at least not in the main. She has dreams, goals and motivations, the biggest of which is a desire to become a seafarer like her legendary father. It is only later, when she meets the selkie Callie, that she truly begins to reassess what her new feelings could mean for her dream. The lesbian relationship is central to the story in some ways, but so much more filters into it for both my protagonists, similar to Julian and Katrina in Blood Devotion.

There’s a temptation to write LGBT characters as victims. I’ve fallen foul of this before, but have come to realise that not only does that characterisation rob readers of an interesting person to follow through a narrative, but it also cuts off a lot of the avenues for progression as a writer. LGBT people do have concerns related to their sexualities, but they also have lives outside of that. Dillon, a character I’m currently using for a role play, is completely assured in his identity as a gay man. His big issue going into the story is his trying to adjust to being a full-time graphic designer, in a world that brings out his snobbish nature more than he’d like to admit.

LGBT people are as loud, quiet, rude and flawed as anyone else. What people see has been shown to impact how they respond to others, and while LGBT+ communities may seem outwardly different, the biggest step I took in writing nuanced characters from that background was realising we’re more alike than we know.

Guest Posts · The Scribbling Student · Writing

Getting Inspired After Writer’s Burnout (Guest Post by Patrick Bailey)

Hi everyone! This week on The Scribbling Student, I’m excited to publish my first guest post from a new collaborator – Patrick Bailey. He’s a professional writer specialising in mental health, addiction and recovery, but has written on other topics too – and in this post, he gives his take on the writer’s burnout, and how to deal with the aftermath effectively.


Losing inspiration through writer’s burnout is a discouraging process. Writing is emotionally and intellectually draining, and sometimes you need to take a step back and recharge before moving forward. Next time you suffer from writer’s burnout, be sure to reflect, change your environment, and challenge yourself to find new inspiration.

Reflect

Writer’s burnout often happens during times where you create great work, but may not experience the payoff you thought would come. Perhaps your progress isn’t as far as you want it to be, or the idea felt like it would come onto the pages differently than it has. Feelings like these make authors discouraged after consistent hard work, associating your time and energy with a negative payoff. One way to redirect your energy into positive inspiration is to reflect on your progress as an achievement. Did you dig deep into a character’s development? Did you spend more time than usual proofreading and editing to near perfection? Taking a step back and giving yourself the credit you deserve can reignite your pride in your work and get you optimistic about continuing.

Change Your Environment

Because writing can cause you to work inside or in the same spot for most of your time, cabin fever is common among writers. Your stories are inspired by your experiences and you may need to change your environment or take care of your health to refuel your energy. Perhaps you need to take a holistic approach with your mental health or take a few days away from writing to enjoy life simply. Spending time outside, meeting with friends, and even taking a vacation can recharge your energy and make you feel less burnt out when you return to your projects.

If you want your environment change to focus on writing still, consider writer’s retreats where you can connect with others and learn how to manage the burnout. Your brain is the most active when you are learning something new, so take the time to experience new places and things when you need inspiration.

Challenge Yourself

Writing exercises exist specifically to help you prevent burnout and challenge yourself to think differently in your writing. Mental rehearsals, visualization, and meditations are all free, flexible exercises you can practice to think about your stories and characters. Consider reading blogs for writers with creativity exercises for topics you struggle with, such as character development or building a complicated storyline. Reading other written work challenges you to understand other authors’ writing skills and translate them into your own. A final idea for challenging yourself to avoid burnout is to share your work with editors or friends for feedback and new ideas to improve your writing continuously.

Getting inspired after writer’s burnout requires understanding how writing affects the rest of your world, including your creative energy. Knowing what boosts your motivation and challenges you to continue creating allows you to take a realistic approach to continuing your work well. By following these tips the next time you suffer from burnout, you can be confident in your ability to bounce back with better writing than ever before.


You can follow Patrick on Facebook, and Twitter @Pat_Bailey80. Many thanks to him for the great guest post – let me know what you thought of his ideas in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to pass them on!

The Scribbling Student · Writing

Writing and Elitism: What can we do to Diversify?

Hi everyone – I’m back!

This latest post focuses on some startling figures released at the beginning of May from the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society’s annual report into author earnings. It states that average income for “primary occupation authors” (i.e those who dedicate 50% or more of their working time to writing) has dropped significantly since the first survey in 2006. Whereas median earnings then were just over £18,000, in 2018 it amounted to just under £10,500.

This is nowhere near enough to earn a living on, and that’s backed up by the amount of writers who say they have to go into other fields in order to stay afloat.

The survey found that, out of all of its respondents, 70% supplemented their income through non-writing sources. 11% of these lectured, and 4% were paid grants and bursaries. The earnings from this fell from £4,960 in 2006 to just £730.

However, the overall household income for writers has increased – from £81,261 to £81,448. That may seem like good news for authors, but according to the ALCS it indicates a problem. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have means for extra household income, and therefore might not want to chase a career in the writing industry.

And that’s not the only diversity-related problem the survey reveals. The gender pay gap may have improved since the survey began, but women authors still earned 74.5% of their male counterparts in 2018. Furthermore, demographic data from the survey shows that 94% of respondents were white, with many living in the south-east.

Of course, none of this implies that BAME/disabled/working class authors don’t exist. But they’re definitely less visible in the industry – and as Cathy Rentzenbrink points out in conversation with The Guardian, this has the knock-on effect of robbing readers of diverse, representative voices. As a result, they only see writing as achievable by those who are white, able-bodied etc – and so the cycle continues.

So, how exactly do we break it? Well, in my opinion much of it is to do with outreach – bringing literacy and storytelling to children and young people who may not have otherwise been engaged with it. In Nottingham (a UNESCO City of Literature) this is currently being utilised to great effect, with a National Literacy Trust Hub and several related school initiatives being launched last Spring in a joint effort by the local council and charities.

In the same vein, the big publishers have a responsibility to nurture all talent. This has been getting much better in the last 10 years – case in point, rapper Stormzy’s writing prize – but there’s still a way to go when it comes to the authors we read being representative of the people who read them. During an event I went to last year, it was said that the traditional publishing houses were generally unlikely to take risks. Though I can see why this is the case, I feel as if it would be beneficial to both authors and publishers if they were more open to the ideas of authors that are somewhat outside of the norm. Readers know when they’re being given the same thing; trusting these newer writers allows for their ideas to come to the fore. In a time where the publishing market is more crowded than ever, that may be just what’s needed to draw readers back in.

Lastly, it’s partly a matter of teaching these writers to own their identities. I don’t tout myself explicitly as a disabled author, but I’m aware of how my being disabled changes my experiences, enriching my writing in the process. That can be hard to do when you seem so invisible in the industry, but it’s through knowing your difference that you can access these new ideas.

In writing, as in most other areas, diversity isn’t something we can create overnight. The ALCS called their findings a “wake up call to the industry”, but the buck doesn’t stop with them. It’s an issue that involves education, employment, and a whole other range of complex social issues.

As for whether writing is truly elitist? Personally, I’ve always been drawn to its open nature, so I disagree…but I’d love to hear what you think.

The Scribbling Student

My content writing internship (or, the post where I explain my absence)

Hi everyone! This is just a quick post to explain to you all why I’ve been inactive on this blog for so long.

Of course, uni work has been really ramping up over the last few weeks, but I’ve also been privliged to be accepted as a paid creative content writing intern for Derby driving school WrightStart! I’ve been writing blog posts for their site since the start of April, and have really been enjoying it, as they’re a company that share a lot of my values and have allowed me a huge amount of creative freedom. However, this has meant I’ve focused less on this blog – apologies to anyone who’s been waiting for posts!

If you want to see what I’ve written for WrightStart, you can check that out here (my first post is dated 8th April). I’ve covered a host of things, from intensive driving courses to why British motorway names are so confusing , and more is coming in the future!

In summary – don’t panic, I haven’t abandoned this blog! Once all my assignments are submitted in about a week, I should have more time to devote to this and my internship.

Thank you all for your understanding and patience!