Vote Now for Divided Elements | Resistance on Goodreads!

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Divided Elements #1: Resistance is now up on Goodreads! You can add it to your “Want to Read” shelf and join the conversation with other readers excited about its release on 30 January 2017.

While you’re over on Goodreads, I would love it if you would nominate Resistance as one of your 2017 Anticipated Reads by voting for it on these lists:

 

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Vote Now for Divided Elements | Resistance on Goodreads!

Website Launch & Cover Reveal!

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

The website is now LIVE! Check it out to catch the cover reveal and apply for an advance reader copy of Divided Elements (Book 1) | Resistance

cover-reveal

Website Launch & Cover Reveal!

Divided Elements (Book 1) – Resistance. Website Launch & Cover Reveal

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Break out the champagne! The official website for my author brand and debut novel Divided Elements | Resistance will be launched this Friday! Stay tuned for details and don’t forget to drop by and check out the shiny new digs on the day.

(Don’t worry – I’ll be maintaining my wordpress blog to dissect my writing journey as it continues over future works in progress).

A photo by Dave Lastovskiy. unsplash.com/photos/RygIdTavhkQ

 

 

image via unsplash
Divided Elements (Book 1) – Resistance. Website Launch & Cover Reveal

Time for Reflection (2) – What I learned about first drafts

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I was feeling all kinds of nostalgic about nearing the finish line for Divided Elements | Resistance, and decided it was a good time to reflect on all the big lessons I have learned as a first time author. Last week I talked about the very sage advice of setting up your author platform (seriously, if you haven’t already done this step, add “start wordpress blog” and “set up at least one social media account” to your list of things to do). This week, I want to talk about the lessons I learned (and some I should have avoided) and the things I figured out for myself in writing a first draft.

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Lesson 1: Gnothi seauton. (Or, for the non-ancient Greeks, “know thyself”)

This is a lesson I had to figure out for myself and one I’m still trying to fully figure out. Every writer is different – in what we write, in how we write, in why we write. Inspiration for story ideas will come to each of us differently. There are those of us that start with a character (e.g. I want to write a story about your average suburban girl who has found street cred and a way to brush off her legacy of schoolyard geekery via zombie hunting), those that start with a genre (e.g. I want to write a supernatural dark comedy), others that start with a theme (e.g. I want to write a story about love overcoming prejudice), those that start with a setting (e.g. I want to set my story in post-apocalyptic Australian suburbia), and those that start with a premise (e.g. I want to write a story about a  zombie hunter whose mum has just started dating a zombie).

Each of these starting points represents a key aspect of the story you are about to write. Regardless of whether you are a plotter (someone who structures their story before they write it) or a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants without a roadmap), figuring out each of these is important for determining your story’s trajectory. Knowing your character is a starting point. Knowing your character, and the setting, theme, and tone (indicated by genre) of their core conflict (indicated by premise) – that’s trajectory.

Figure out yourself, figure out the gaps, and figure out the story trajectory. A story about a surburban zombie hunter in a paranormal mystery is a very different story to a one about the same hunter in a coming of age story or a dark comedy.

Lesson 2: Don’t write shitty first drafts

The old adage ‘write shitty first drafts’ abounds in writer circles. I agree with its underlying sentiment – “just write!” – but don’t agree with its call to action.

For me, ‘write shitty first drafts’ belongs in the same proverb bag as ‘he who hesitates is lost’. But, for every pithy idiom is another to contradict it –

“Look before you leap!”

“Haste makes waste!”

“Measure twice, cut once!”

“A stitch in time saves nine!”

I am not one of those writers who can vomit out words and then spend an inordinate amount of time going back and editing that word vomit into shape. I prefer to get my stories mostly right and then undertake strategic edits to fix problems that are the exception and not the rule.

Having your story trajectory sorted will help with not writing word vomit – so will these other awesome tips:

  • Read and watch and listen to good stories. When I get stuck or feel that the quality of writing (or dialogue, or setting description, or exposition) is sub-par, I read a few pages of a writer I admire or a book that I see as a benchmark. It serves as inspiration, motivation and a quick ‘how-to’ guide.
  • Understand story structure. Regardless of whether you are a plotter or pantser, you need to recognise that the human brain is pretty much hard-wired to absorb a story in a very specific way. It seeks out certain patterns and conventions. It’s why romance readers demand their happily ever after, why thriller readers demand their moment of ascendancy for the antagonist, why mystery readers demand their subtle clues and red herrings.
  • Know your end-point and where you want to go. This one is a little trickier (as I note in the next lesson)

Lesson 3 – Don’t go in blind. But, don’t plan too far in advance.

Okay, hard-core pantsers, you may look away at this point – this is one for the plotter-leaning amongst us (like most things, I think it is more accurate to think in terms of a Kinsey-like scale of plotting/pantsing, rather than strict binaries).

I love story structure. I spend each new novel planning stage extrapolating an outline from the bare premise I start with. I think you need a game plan before you run out on to the field. That said, I don’t think you can anticipate everything in advance. If your story writing process is anything like mine, your characters will have a way with assuming control of your story and shifting it along unexpected tangents, or your research will uncover some new and exciting aspect to the story that seems to shift its tone or direction.

You need to have a plan, but you also need to be flexible and open to new directions.

My approach goes like this:

  • Figure out my story trajectory and use that to frame the broad parameters for writing. Everything should be consistent with the trajectory, and the trajectory should be wide enough to allow for some deviations within the lines.
  • Outline (and write) in stages. Typically, I outline (and then write) each gap between the five key turning points. This gives me some structure to write to (which makes for much more productive writing sessions), while also allowing for new tangents, developments and ideas to be picked up in the next part of the story. Outlining in stages also helps me to keep fresh the key points I need to be hitting in each part of the story.

 

Well, that was cathartic! Hope you found it helpful 🙂

 

Image courtesy of DangerPup via Flickr Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

Time for Reflection (2) – What I learned about first drafts

Time for Reflection (1) – What I’ve learned over the last three years

by Mikaheyla Kopievsky

Inshallah, I’ll be uploading my debut novel Divided Elements (Book 1) – Resistance to the cyber marketplace for pre-orders in the next couple of weeks. It’s a surreal feeling to even contemplate releasing the beast I have managed to tame over many late nights and sleepless hours. Sitting here, after a day spent fine-tuning my marketing plan, I realise just how far I have come since that first day, when a seed of an idea germinated in this chaotic brain of mine.

For some of you – you have seen my musings, trials and errors from the very first post. For others – you stumbled across my words a little later and joined the rest of us for the ride. I realise, however, that I’ve never shared with any of you the ‘real’ process behind this mammoth task of writing a book. Yes, I’ve shared bits and pieces (mainly the good bits), but never have I dished the dirt on the process. 

So, now, for those of you who are interested, I’m having a kind of pre-pre-launch party – a riding on the coattails of the ghost of Christmas past – and opening up the crazy history of a little book that changed my life.

So here is part one – I hope you enjoy it!

When it started…and why.

I had dabbled for years in writing novels. Actually, I was more interested in writing screenplays – I found them easier: the short, choppy exposition; the flurry of dialogue. (Interestingly, I still write in present tense as a throw-back to that habit, but struggled for a long time to find my voice in writing good dialogue). Anyway, back to the point at hand – I was one of those who started a lot of stories but never finished them.

I was a pantser (although, at the time, I had no idea what a pantser (or plotter) was) and a premise writer – what a terrible combination. Basically, I would come up with cool ideas for the premise of a story (e.g. a zombie gang member goes rogue and patches over to the vampires) and the just start writing the story – with no idea about where the story was going or whether it would even work as a story. So, yeah – those years were not my most productive.

And then I got so tired of reading bad novels. I love my literary fiction (most of my favourite novels are contemporary or classic literature), but I also like my brain candy reads. The literary fiction never disappointed, but my late-night chocolate snack of a book invariably would. After one too many bad brain-snack books, I caved in and decided I would figure out how to write a book and actually complete one.

In the beginning, without an idea or a premise, I still knew my writing goal – I wanted to write a book the equivalent of a good gastro-pub meal. Not the ultra-refined, sous vide ocean trout with pickled samphire and sauce vierge literary novel. Not the ‘I’m so very hungover and am dying for a greasy cheeseburger’ fast-food full-of-regrets meal. But the truffled mac n cheese with gruyere and jamon bliss-food that isn’t entirely nutritious or refined, but that feels good and looks good and tastes good, and that is the type of meal that turns a small, non-descript bistrot into your favourite weekend-special hangout.

My first lesson – golden drops of wisdom or a dead-end path?

I still remember that moment – that decision to actually write a real novel. A real novel – one people would read. And I still remember the first thing I chanced upon when researching my next move.

I love research – I am a HUGE research nerd. I love learning, what can I say? So, obviously, the first thing I do after deciding to write (and complete) a novel is consult my bestie, Dr Google, and ask “What do I need to do to write a novel?”

Interestingly, the answer I found (or gravitated towards) was this:

SET UP YOUR AUTHOR PLATFORM

I had no idea what an author platform was. (Remember, I had no idea what pantsing or plotting was). But, being the research nerd I am, I went about figuring that out. And that is what led me to starting this blog.

In hindsight, it was excellent advice. Setting up a blog was one of the best things I could have done as a newbie author – it instilled a much-needed ethic to write regularly, it gave me a place to reflect and report on the lessons I was learning as a new author, and it gave me exposure to you – my potential readers – and introduced you to my narrative voice. Win-win.

So, to all the new newbie writers out there – my first piece of advice to you is this:

Start a blog! Grab your free WordPress template. Introduce the world to what makes you tick creatively and tell it in a way that only your unique voice can 🙂

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And that was Part One. I hope you join me for the next installment…

 

Image courtesy of Aaron Davis via Flickr Creative Commons
Time for Reflection (1) – What I’ve learned over the last three years

The Denouement – what to do when the writing part is done

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Last week I finished the final round of line edits for Divided Elements (Book 1): Resistance. With only the proofreading to go and the cover artwork all but finalised, I found myself at my own creative denouement point. In terms of story structure, the denouement is the part of the book where all the plot threads come together and outstanding matters or conflicts are resolved. In terms of creating a book, I like to think of the denouement as the point at which the substantive work has been completed (writing and editing) and the support work begins its process of finalisation.

As an indie author going down the self-publishing route, the denouement stage is BIG. Self-publishing authors need to be consummate multi-taskers and jacks of all trades. Kind of like parents are…

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Some of the key roles you need to assume when self-publishing:

  • Business Manager: Yep, if you want this lucky gig called writing to be sustainable you have to think of the triple bottom line – Financial (bringing in the dollars), Social (maintaining your own creative sanity and the relationships with the people you love), and Ecological (supporting and giving back to the creative network around you). PS I love the concept of a creative ecology – might have to explore that further in a future blog post…

  • Marketing Guru: Writing (and polishing) a great book is only half the battle – people need to know about it before they can read it and see how great it is. Getting your story out in front of the crowd and into the hands of the adoring masses is HARD. Luckily in this age of the internet, there are some great resources around to help with this. My favourites:
  • Artistic Director: If you are one of those triple-threats who can write an amazing book, market the hell out of it, AND pull together a kick-ass cover – don’t tell anyone, they will lynch you. If you’re more like me, you’ll need to find a creative genius to help with book covers and promotional material. Providing them with clear, direct and useful advice on what you would like to see is crucial. Find your creative co-genius at:
  • Tech Genius: In this digital age you’ll need to be across a range of IT solutions, innovations and tools – from social media, to html, to mail list management, to website creation. Don’t stress – there is lots of help out there! Just figure out what is most important to your brand right now (for me, its the website), and start there.

 

Hope that helps! Good luck!! And don’t forget to share your own self-publishing journey in the comments. 

The Denouement – what to do when the writing part is done

Insert Break – when to start a new paragraph, scene, or chapter

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

When I first started writing seriously, I was surprised at how I suddenly started to second-guess myself about the most basic things. I found myself googling “What is a sentence?” and “When should you start a new chapter?” I was worried that the chunks of text that made up my story were too long, or too brief, or too convoluted, or too sparse.

Breaks are important. They create ‘white space’ – breathing points for the brain that reduce cognitive load.

There’s a lot of great stuff out there on the internet on cognitive load if you want more detail, but – to put it simply – cognitive load is the equivalent of asking you to carry 100kg in one trip or 10kg in ten trips. It’s the reason long number sequences, like phone numbers or credit card numbers, are written as smaller groups of numbers with spaces. Or why you can’t remember the order of the planets but can remember ‘My very educated mother just showed us nine planets’ (back in the day when there were nine planets…Ah, good times).

So, yes, breaks are important. But, just as important, is where you put those breaks.

You don’t want to just go

ahead and p

ut them anywhere.

(See what I did there? 🙂 )

Jamming some white space in a block of text just to free it up is a bad idea. At best, it’s mildly irritating, at worst it is confusing and exasperating. That’s because white space lessens cognitive load by separating and grouping elements into things that belong together and things that don’t.

Categorising is something we humans learn as early as eight months old. It is something we are conditioned to do – forks go together in that space, cutlery goes in that drawer, pants get hanged, jumpers get folded, white wine goes in the fridge, red wine goes in my glass, thank you very much 🙂

Humans love to categorise – we categorise everything from the smallest atom to the largest solar system. It can help us (when understanding why that crocodile is laying an egg instead of giving birth to live young) or can hinder us (when making us racist bigots because all we see is how that person or group of persons is different to us). We do it, because it helps us to identify and focus on something, it gives that element clear dimensions, which in turn allows us to understand how it is related to other elements.

Take the work of Ursus Wehrli, who ‘tidies up’ things:

Ursus Wehril

The picture of the left is chaotic with no white-space (because the textural depiction of the sand makes it a dynamic element of the picture, not just a passive background). Where do you focus? What is the story?

Now look at the picture on the right. It amazes me the physiological sigh of relief my eyes and brain take when I look at that picture. My whole body seems to relax when I move from the one on the left to the one on the right. Because I get it. I understand it. I can move my attention to parts of the picture and study each element in turn. Because the elements have been separated and grouped.

In the picture on the right, they have been grouped by function/shape. They could have just as easily been grouped into colour and I would have the same reaction.

What’s interesting about the picture on the right (to me at least), is that not everything has been tidied up. While the elements have been separated into columns based on function/shape, and the columns themselves are arranged from top to bottom in increasing size, there is still some ‘creative chaos’ in play. All the yellow buckets haven’t been grouped together. All the spades with circular/closed handles haven’t been grouped together. The columns aren’t arranged from tallest to smallest.

The marriage of structure and creativity is important – because as writers or artists, we need to be creative. As I’ve written before, the relationship between art and science doesn’t have to be antagonist. It can be symbiotic. The maths behind the music. The chemistry behind the colours. The structure behind the words.

So, for me, ‘tidying up’ a written work is all about introducing white space or breaks that separate out particular elements to increase reader focus on them.

Instead of a wall of text, I choose to insert breaks between sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters, and acts to ensure they contain one single element of focus:

  • One idea per sentence; e.g. Joan walked the dog around the block. (Joan is walking a dog)
  • Once concept per paragraph; e.g.Joan walked the dog around the block. The terrier was massive, its muscular body taut and heaving with barely-restrained energy. It occasionally growled, a low guttural sound that left Joan shivering despite the afternoon heat. (The dog is big and scary)
  • One situation per scene; e.g. (The dog bites a small child)
  • One conflict & consequence per chapter; e.g. (Joan is ordered to destroy the dog, the last link she has with her long-estranged and now deceased father)
  • One value transition per act; e.g. (Joan loses all tangible connection with her deceased father, goes from saddened at his loss to distraught that she has nothing that links him to her).

I’ll go into more detail about these breaks in future blog posts, but, for now, it is enough to recognise they each contain just one element and that each element is more complex than the one preceding it.

Yes, it is a hierarchy – the values range from basic to complicated and are interrelated: Every sentence in a paragraph must work to generate or clarify the concept of that paragraph; each paragraph must give colour and meaning to the scene’s situation; each scene must trigger and rationalise the chapter’s conflict and consequence; and each chapter must set up the various stages of the act’s transition.

What about you? Does a bit of structure help you to draft or edit your WIPs?

Insert Break – when to start a new paragraph, scene, or chapter