Unfortunately, the project only required me to submit the opening few chapters of my novel. But I believe that the first 5,000 words gives the reader a taste of the plotline. As I have gone through rewriting parts of the novel, more ideas sparked for later on and I ensured to jot the ideas and edits down to make sure they would be featured. 

I have evolved as a writer and rediscovered my love for writing fantasy-fiction, and developed techniques through the module that I keep in mind when editing the rest of the novel series and elsewhere. Feed the reader spoonfuls of detail, hunting and intriguing the reader being sure to introduce themes as I go to make each novel distinct to the others.  

My writing process has allowed me to establish the main characters, along with some vital settings to entice readers. I have been able to hone my skills of showing and not telling readers, which is something I have struggled with in the past. I am so pleased with seeing the worlds and characters come alive and cannot wait to develop it more.

Research & Editing

For this semester’s project, my first instinct was to develop an existing series of novels called Realms of Magic. Not only did this have a lot of content already, but it was also something that I started writing when I was a young adult, which is my target audience’s age.  My aim was to gradually mature the novel and add darker elements as the reader moves through the series. As I grew, so did the story, in the words, the detail and the way it is delivered and I hope to develop it more, not only in the course of the semester but in the future. Throughout the process of writing this novel extract, I have been learning how to keep a balance between new improvements and original ideas. I hope to combine the fantasy elements with drama, betrayal and romance. 

My main challenge has been editing the novel so that it becomes a more polished piece of fiction. In the time I have been creating the worlds in Realms of Magic, I have found out more about the worlds and characters so I weave in extra material, while trimming the fat elsewhere. Consequently, I  sacrificed some parts of the novel that I initially really enjoyed writing but I knew these were sacrifices that were needed for the progression of the novel series. 

I developed a plan that would ensure my extract would be enticing. The first week’s plan for me was to go through the writing I had already, breaking them down to the core elements that I wanted to include such as the family life, the encounter with the stranger, the fight in the field and finally the introduction to the Archangel Academy. The second week was for me to put all the pieces together and fill in any gaps in the extract. I discovered that I wanted to include more of the emotions that my protagonist felt after witnessing the fight of mythical creatures. The third week was to develop the piece to get feedback before I moved on with finalising the extract. I feel confident in saying that I stuck to this plan and it really helped me to stay focused.

Researching the creative writing process, I read Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Ned Stuckey-French’s book Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft and the book stated that with patience and experimentation, we as writers could carefully craft our work so the story slowly reveals itself to the reader with more finesse. I just needed or need to trust my instincts when it comes to showcasing my creative flair.

Some of the novels that I drew inspiration from were the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The novels have a similar target audience to my book and wonderful fantasy themes, including magic and exciting lands. I looked to these books to ensure that Realms of Magic was appropriate for young adults. One idea that I wanted to incorporate, described in Leone Ross’ chapter in The Art of the Novel, was dramatic, sudden events that catch the reader by surprise. My idea was to have Nancy going about her normal life, dreaming about the world in her fantasy book. Then in the blink of an eye, the reader is transported into the magical world.

I know that I need to research locations in more detail; to me, locations are one of the key elements in the fantasy genre. Although it’s about building worlds out of the ordinary as well, it is important to research normal locations which you can base it off. I tried to research and include contemporary settings to show the juxtaposition between the world and the magical realm. I think I have done this well, but I most definitely need more research to make the realms more unique.     

I wanted to ensure that all of my characters were developed and multi-dimensional to influence the reader to consider these characters to have their stories outside what is told in my Realms of Magic books. Stephanie Kay Bendel enforced this idea of developing the finer details of a character and their back story, in her chapter in the book The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing. Bendel expresses that a great story adds depth to characters, displaying different parts of their personality and behaviour. I hope that by creating detailed characters my novel will improve.

To ensure the story is believable and it holds up, I need to pay close attention to the relationship between characters, forming the rift between Nancy and her parents and emphasising my protagonist’s loneliness both physically and emotionally. If I create such a rift, it will make her more likely reflect on her wishes and self-esteem enough to go on the key journeys.

Writers Block

At some point, every writer goes through a rut where you cannot even put pen to paper. You feel overwhelmed and pressured. The pressure may be coming from others and their opinions of your work, but more commonly we writers put too much pressure on ourselves. High expectations destroy our creativity. Especially with the presence of social media, we begin comparing our work to others.

In order to get out of this writer’s block, I decided to go back to basics. Writing things simply. I believe it is better to value quantity over quality when you are in writer’s block. As long as you have some material to work with, you can always polish it later on into a quality piece of work. I also needed to communicate my artistic vision, not necessarily other people’s interpretations of my stories. I found that when other people involved themselves in my work, they began to direct my writing and overrule my artistic independence.

I think it’s important to ask yourself why you write. Do you write for the acceptance of other people? Do you write to be accepted into a certain industry? Or do you write for yourself? In hindsight, I lost my way and began to tell my story the way others wanted it to be told. There is no shame in this, indeed there are many writers that want to fit into a specific genre or bracket. However, the fantasy novels I have been writing for years mean a lot to me personally. I would like for the stories to be published one day, but even if they do not, I will still value my work.

I think as much as writer’s block is frustrating, it is an opportunity for you to reflect on yourself and your work. Maybe you do need time away from writing to come back and realise that you love your work. You decide what opinions and feedback you take on board. Ultimately, writing is subjective. One person may love the way you write and others will struggle to understand it. The thing that really matters is whether you like it.

Examples of Microscopic Detail

I wrote two separate pieces, one with a lot of detail to immerse the reader and one with refined detail. I think they immerse the reader in different ways, but I understand how the microscopic details are impactful.

Lying on the Beach

Peace and serenity. My eyes close as my mind goes blank. The burning sun rays attempt to pass through my eyelids, the heat settling on my skin. It gently warms me from the outside in, like a comforting embrace. I don’t want to return to the material world yet. With every crash of a wave, I am forgetting my woes and responsibilities.  

A seagull lets out an echoing cry, forcing my eyelids to slide backwards. All I see is white. My eyes refocus and the world takes shape again. The sky is clear, not a cloud in sight. The sea blends in with the distant horizon, creating a watercolour of blue. I wonder if I kept swimming, where would I end up? 

A light breeze caresses my face, spraying the salty air on my sand-covered skin. I catch the musty scent of pages from a book buried in the sand. The tide begins drawing closer to me; the wet sand feels heavy as it swallows up my limbs. Head numb, I reach for a drink of water. It soothes my throat and cools my entire body. Slowly slipping out of a daze, I notice people strolling in the shallow waters, others with their faces planted into the ground, sweat rolling down the backs of those playing volleyball. As they walk past, the smell of sunscreen saturates my nostrils. The midday sun has claimed victory over those with reddened faces. 

I perch under a large palm tree, swaying in harmony with the wind. Nature communicates with me without speech. Lost in this fascination, I begin writing in my notebook.

The Marina

The marina stretched out as far as the eye could see. The sun shone low in the sky, its reflection magnified against the clear water below. It was blinding. Boats- big, small, with sails, without-lined either side of the marina, still on the water’s edge. A light breeze glossed over the marina surface, the boats bobbed, the sails wafted. The sound of a seagull’s call echoed through the empty air as they flew overhead into the distance, right over the marina out toward the end of the Earth.

Microscopic Detail

I created the worlds in my fantasy fiction novels and I was proud of what I was able to create. However, reading back and having a new perspective helped me see which elements of the piece were vital to the story. I had to cut off the excess to focus on microscopic details. I realised that this would help me immerse the reader more in the worlds I have created and zero in on the detail and emotions to make the world alive.

One of the feedback points that I received was that my character seemed to be reacting to events as opposed to leading them. At first, I didn’t know what this meant but then I was advised to look at the action scenes in my creative fiction and strip back to elaborate how my characters would respond to these events, rather than just focusing on action. This would allow the reader to imagine their own conception of the world

I think I need to remind myself to take a step back and think about the microscopic details more often.

Ernest Hemingway’s Ice Berg Theory

It is important for writers to build up an engaging story and immerse readers into a world from which the story unfolds. The core principle of Hemingway’s Iceberg theory is that not everything should be revealed to the readers; writers must know 100% of their story and world, but 90% is hidden below the water for readers to come to their own conclusions.

I have been working on my fantasy fiction series for many years now. It is a project that I have put my blood, sweat and tears into and it has provided me with great joy. I wrote some material for it when I was young and the story has grown and developed with me. I realise now that I’ve only scratched the surface of the world I’ve created. Using the iceberg theory, I have stripped down the novel series and the worlds to recapture their essence and build it back up again. I have delved into the matrices of the realms and how everything originated. I have also discovered a few elements of the story that I overlooked, which has prompted me to enhance the novels, to make them more enjoyable.  I want to make something out of this book series. I plan to write a spin-off of Realms of Magic, creating my antagonist’s story, similar to The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth. Roth published a novella called Four based on the main male character. 

The iceberg theory will prove my most helpful ally.

The Worlds of Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction

From the start of the module, I knew that I wanted to write my fantasy-fiction novel. One that I have to pour my soul into. I aspire to publish Realms of Magic one day. The assignment brief was tailored with three opening chapters, a synopsis and a letter to a publisher. Realms of Magic was the perfect fit, as I have been working on it for many years. This assignment would give me a push to refine the novel and help me improve my work ready for publishing.

I know my characters and their stories nearly as much as I know myself. It has brought me immense joy and is an escape for me even in the darkest of moments. It would be impossible for me not to use Realms of Magic for this assessment. I prefer to write fiction, it’s a very flexible style to write in. Therefore, I was hesitant to write non-fiction because there are many rules and restrictions. The ethical implications of non-fiction intimidated me.

At the same time, I wanted to get a taste of writing non-fiction. A side project of mine has always been to write a series of autobiographical adventures based on my own life.

Due to my disability, Cerebral Palsy, I have had many experiences and been in scenarios you could not imagine.  When I tell people these stories they always say, “You need to write this down!” So that’s what I have started to do. I have used the activities set in class to start building these different stories which will contribute to my overall autobiography.

An example of such a piece is here…

Life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns and I have been on my fair share of rollercoasters. Doctors would say I would never be able to go into mainstream education…Unfortunately, I started to believe these assumptions and started to live my life in a shell, scared to talk to anyone or push myself out of my comfort zone. This was until I was contacted by PHAB camps. They would take a group of disabled and non-disabled group of people and do different activities, swimming, archery, rock climbing. My favourite most meaningful activity was abseiling. I was lifted free of my wheelchair and swung around the edge of the cliff. Of course, I was held by a harness with my helmet on, but I was free of my wheelchair and restraints and had to rely solely on myself to propel down the cliff. This was when I realised that my wheelchair wasn’t my restraint: it was my mind that was the restraint.

This piece has been so well received and I was truly touched by the response I got. I was asked to continue writing this in more detail and describe what it felt like using all my senses. 

Too Many Voices

A new semester brings new challenges and a new module. The Novel & Creative Non-Fiction

Last semester I wrote the start of a new creative piece Imogen’s Dark Secret, a crime-thriller novel. It took me a while to feel comfortable writing this character and her story, but slowly I got inside her head and I really enjoyed it.

Becoming a more experienced writer is hard and taxing. I have tried to relax my mind and write what comes naturally and in doing so, I soon discovered that my characters speak to me as well.

 It sounds bizarre but my characters speak to me just as much as I speak to them. They guide me as I write their story. This complements the advice I received from tutors as to build the plot around the character, rather than the other way around. As the characters speak to me, I am able to tap into their heads and get to the heart of their story. I am a slave to them in a way. However, whenever they go off on a tangent I have to work hard to accommodate what the character is saying, whilst still injecting my version of events. I love lying awake and listening to my characters. Sometimes they go silent which is very helpful- not!

These voices can often argue with each other, prying for my attention. There are always many stories to tell. I make sure to have a notebook handy to jot words, phrases and ideas down.

Now with the onset of a new module and a new project, I had to listen and choose a voice.

Imogen’s Dark Secret Revamp Plans

Recently I had a tutorial with one of my tutors, regarding my last submission ‘Imogen’s Dark Secret‘, a crime thriller novel that I started. I’m pleased to say I got a high grade, but I still wanted feedback to improve the opening to be able take the story forward. Here are some of the points mentioned by my tutor and my thoughts on them. 

Be careful when mixing chronologies 

‘Imogen’s Dark Secret’ was the first creative piece and novel that I wrote that had flashbacks within it and my course tutor said that I needed to keep an eye on the clarity of the story as he didn’t understand when I went back into different time periods. As advised previously, I formatted my character’s flashbacks in italics and asterisks and this is what I did. There were suggestions of how to make this clearer, but I didn’t think these suited my story.  

However, every reader is different and other people said it was clear to them on which part of the story was which and followed the story easily. Sometimes it can be clear to the writer where we are but it is hard to communicate with the reader when these events are taking place. It is difficult to find the balance between making something complex for the reader or too simplistic. I want to be flexible. But maybe, making a clear distinction between the past and present versions of my characters will help and it would add to the psychological thriller aspect of the novel.

Incorporating subtitles or dates was one suggestion made to improve clarity to make the different time periods more cohesive with the story. However, I felt that adding dates would break the flow and immersion in a story like this. Then there were the suggestions to add extra sentences e.g. ‘It was two years ago when…’ it may become too repetitive, so I don’t think I will be using this suggestion.

Changing the Narrative/Perspectives 

A difference in narrative may make the timelines clearer. In my submission, Imogen’s story was told in third person in both timelines.  Having a narrator that comments on Imogen’s past is not as powerful as having Imogen dictate her own thoughts. In hindsight, first person and present scene flashbacks make the scenes more personal and accentuate Imogen’s PTSD. 

Another suggestion which I’d love to experiment with is after introducing other girls within the story is to change to their perspective, in first person to see how they react to the events and their own state of mind. These may be girls who have just joined the ring or ones that have been in this situation for a long time. I can showcase more key events or repercussions that I have managed to research . This technique may or may not work, but if I can do it I think it would be very impactful and enhance the novel. I found the opportunity could open up multi-dimensional issues these girls can face. Nevertheless, it will be challenging to write these accounts especially if they are in different time periods during Imogen’s story. But I am willing to experiment. These avenues will hopefully draw the reader in even further and dramatise the novel.

Diary Entries

Alternatively, diary entries with dates could be used to reflect the characters age and secrets of what’s happening to Imogen as she may not voice these out loud. I want to experiment with different narratives and using diary entries will allow me to create a more personal account from Imogen. The emotional impact of the story will be enhanced with diary entries.

Character Arcs and Psychology

Another change advised by my tutor was to ensure I differentiate between my protagonist’s two mindsets. By making present Imogen naive and present Imogen more hostile. I thought I had started to do this but re reading it, I see where I could build on it. This is something I think is important because sexual trafficking has a massive impact on girls mentally and emotionally. It’s important to show the personalities of the girls before and the lasting impact of abuse. To create dynamic character arcs I will need to emphasise the psychological age of Imogen and the other girls. 

My plan is to show the control and influence Alessandro still has over Imogen in the present scenes and  in the 10 months gap where she’s been away from him. There is no black and white in a story like this and there is this duality to Imogen and Alessandro’s relationship. It is an accurate depiction of abuse as many victims have an attachment to their abusers, making the story more psychologically accurate.  Showing the psychology and the vulnerability of the characters, particularly the girls, will make my character arcs more credible.

My tutor agreed with me on this point so I am enthusiastic about taking this part forward.

Refining Important Events

Now that I have more time to work on this novel, I need to look at what is important to the story and what can be edited out. This story’s main focus is Imogen’s path forward after being groomed and I need to plan the relevant flashbacks brought on by the protagonist’s PTSD and what can be featured in snippets projected by the protagonist. To refine the story I need to strip down each event, see what is important for the progression of the novel. Prioritising some events over others adds momentum and it will highlight the important themes. I aim to keep the past scenes I have already written as  they are vital in showing how Imogen found herself being sucked into the ring. I hope to use other past scenes which she can relate to in the present when she tries to help other girls in the ring. 

Something else that was advised and I’d like to do would be including newspaper articles of some events made public and letters given to her by Alessandro. It would show smaller but significant events within the letters as her mind thinks back to that time. The newspaper articles and letters could highlight the seriousness of what happened to her which could also induce flashbacks. I also plan to refer to these if she starts to fall in love with Alessandro again.

The subject matter of the novel is based on true events that happen in society, so it needs to be credible as well as creative. It’s about finding that balance and this can only be done by refining my creativity, writing and research.

Final Thoughts

The feedback I received after my first submission was really helpful and there are some definite points I will take on board and experiment with. Right now, I’m not sure where to take Imogen’s Dark Secret exactly. I have done more research on shows like The Bill to see what episodes I can find with similar storylines. I found several on rape, obsession, domestic violence and drug addiction. Research has opened my eyes and allowed me to write with accuracy. I want to take it further and write it into my own novel. In the meantime, I am taking a break from it so I come back to it with a clear mind and tell the story the way I want it to be told.

Genre vs. Me

I want my stories to be recognised by publishers and for them to take an interest in me and my work. I suppose that this is less likely to happen if I use elements from all different genres into my novel, as a publisher may struggle to sell my book to bookshops. All this has meant that I have had to be very strict with creativity in my work. Although I understand why this needs to be done, I am also fighting the battle with wanting my novel to stand out amongst others in a genre. Therefore, I have to be very watchful of the originality I have included in my novel.

Considering all of the elements above, it is a lot to think about and frankly, it gives me a headache. One thing is clear though, genre has evolved over time and the industry is expanding by the day. Genre still has rigid rules and this, I don’t think, will ever change. Some make the argument that all fiction must have a genre. I can understand this, although genre can harm writers by restricting their creative flow, they can take away their freedom of expression. However, writers must make a decision whether to keep to genre conventions or to venture into the grey area that separates genre into the unknown. Writers need to decide what impact they want to make on the industry and whether they are brave enough to break the rules to publish the novel they desire.  At present, I am still discovering the challenges of being a writer, but I have found my passion and will continue to work towards my goal of publishing a series of novels. Genre or not, I will keep an eye on current and upcoming trends on the market. I am prepared to do whatever it takes to make my stories and writing style unique.