Thursday, February 27, 2014

Should I Write in the 1st of 3rd Person?

This week, 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block is free on the Kindle. To celebrate that fact, we're going to look at some of the basic questions new writers ask. In this post, perspective is the name of the game.

Should I write in the 1st or 3rd person?

It's a question a lot of new writers ask themselves. Sometimes, they might not even know the difference. So first, some clarity:

The 1st person consists of the narrator telling the story from his or her own perspective. For example: "I walked to school", "It occurred to me", "The world is mine".

The 3rd person consists of the narrator telling the story from an outsider's perspective. For example: "John walked to school", "It occurred to Jane", "As far as Alex was concerned, the world was his".

There is the less-used 2nd person to consider, in which the narrator is telling the reader everything they're doing. For example: "You walked to school", "It occurred to you", "The world is yours". However, it's a more difficult perspective to get right, and the least popular among readers.

As to whether or not you write in the past or present tense, that's up to you. The past tense is most commonly used, even when referring to events that take place in the future (the narrator is, after all, referring to it as a history). However, the present tense can still be used to great affect. Darren Shan, a Irish children's author, writes predominantly in the present tense, and in the first person, keeping the interest of the reader by making the risks real and in the moment.

But which should you choose between 1st or 3rd person?

Personally speaking, I stick to 3rd person. I like to show the reader who my characters are from the outside, as they might see them if they met on the street. It also allows me to switch between characters in the story, to show the various sides of what are inevitably stories more complicated than who's right and who's wrong. (Taking a published example into account: Fionn in Balor Reborn can be perceived as the "hero", but that doesn't mean that Stephen - the other predominant character the narrative follows - is the "villain", even considering the events that happen in the story.) 

That's the big advantage of the 3rd person: you can show more than one point of view to the events of a story.

When it comes to the 1st person, you get inside a single character's head more than you would otherwise. While you can't jump around to different places in the story without dragging your protagonist along with you, you are granted a more consistent observation on the events of your book, open to speculation, commentary and doubt by your narrator.

The main concern you should take into account is this: do I need to show more than one perspective in my book? While some authors switch characters between chapters, it's not common practice when writing in the first person (and only lends itself to two or three points of view in that case.) Look at your favourite books to see which way it's done, think about the story you want to tell, and make your decision based on those observations.

(Note: Don't let your desire to write like another author determine which point of view you write from. Write from the perspective that best suits your story.)

Find out more about 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block below:

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? Have you sat at your desk, looking at your work in progress, wondering what to do with a character who just won’t budge, or a poem that just won’t take form, or an article that just won’t work for you? Have you ever joined thousands of authors in the search for a way to beat writer’s block? 

From the author of Planning Before Writing comes a solution to the problem of writer’s block: 25 ways to tackle one of the biggest issues facing writers, each with an exercise to help you to develop as an author and improve your writing skills. 

With exercises to suit every writer, and drawing on over ten years’ experience in the craft, 25 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block is a must-have reference for your collection.

Available on

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How Long Should My Book Be?

This week, 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block is free on the Kindle. To celebrate that fact, we're going to look at some of the basic questions new writers ask. I've addressed this next question before, but things have changed.

How long should my book be?

Figuring out how long a book should be is one of the more complicated aspects of starting out as a writer, by and large to the amount of varying sources online. Let's look at it this way:

A novella is anything from 15,000 to 40,000 words. Most publishers of novellas actually expect them to be in the region of 25,000 to 35,000 words. It's more obviously a book than a short story, but not long enough to be a novel.

A novel is, technically speaking, anything longer than 40,000 words. (This is the adult market, by the way. Books for young readers have considerably less words.) In general, publishers look for work that's at least 65,000 words in length, but different genres look for different word/page counts.

A safe bet is to aim for about 90,000 words for a novel. It's on the lower end of expectations by a lot of publishers, but still long enough that no one will turn their nose up at it as being a "short book". (Take this from a guy who works in a bookshop - the reading public expect shorter books to be cheaper, when that's very rarely the case.) Keep in mind, some books you'll see on the shelves are near or beyond the half-million word mark.

It really does come down to one thing: how long is the story you want to tell?

There's no point writing a longer book for the sake of writing a long book. It will become painfully obvious that you're writing just to add words, and most publishers would require you to cut out anything like that before publication. Write the book you want to write, and see how long it ends up being afterwards. If you want to write a long book, then make sure you have the story to back up your aspirations.

For a better idea of how long other books are, I'll point you in the direction of this website:

But what about non-fiction?

Typically, non-fiction books are shorter than fiction (though, again, it depends on how much has to be said on a topic.) To put it simply: depending on the field you're writing in, your book could be extremely long (History books tend to be quite long) or short (short for a novel, typically looking at some health or relationship books.) Books at about 50,000 words are common - shorter still when they're from dedicated ebook publishers - but they tend to target a more niche market.

The best thing to do is to consider how much you have to say on a topic, and write the best book you can. Plan it in detail, do your research, and let the word count figure itself out.

About 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block:

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? Have you sat at your desk, looking at your work in progress, wondering what to do with a character who just won’t budge, or a poem that just won’t take form, or an article that just won’t work for you? Have you ever joined thousands of authors in the search for a way to beat writer’s block? 

From the author of Planning Before Writing comes a solution to the problem of writer’s block: 25 ways to tackle one of the biggest issues facing writers, each with an exercise to help you to develop as an author and improve your writing skills. 

With exercises to suit every writer, and drawing on over ten years’ experience in the craft, 25 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block is a must-have reference for your collection.

Available on

How Do I Start My Book?

This week, 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block is free on the Kindle. To celebrate that fact, we're going to look at some of the basic questions new writers ask. We've looked at planning, but now for the age-old question:

How do I start my book?

Different writers have different things to say about this one. Some suggest writing any scene first, just to get yourself going. I prefer to follow a more linear route: start at the beginning. Don't worry about making it perfect. Find a point to start. One of the following usually works:

- Describe the setting, if it's important for the book. In terms of plot, this is only a useful way of starting if something significant is going to happen at the very start of the book that you'll then go on to describe.

- Describe an important character while they're doing something of significance to the plot. The fun thing about this is, they don't necessarily have to be doing something remotely similar to what they'll do in the rest of the book. Having the "ordinary life" before the events of the book is important, if that's the sort of story you're going to tell.

- Describe an event that's of importance to the plot, but that doesn't focus on your main protagonist. In Eragon by Christopher Paolini, the book opens on a woman walking through a wood about to be attacked - not the "hero" of the book.

- Introduce your protagonist. The reader should know who they are at some point, anyway, so why not from the word Go? Again, focus on the plot. If your protagonist is at school, there needs to be a reason. If they're on the bus, there needs to be a reason. Make your protagonist do something while the readers gets to know them.

The important thing is to start as you mean to go on. Keep the tone consistent. Establish certain rules that will be kept - in Harry Potter, the rule is that magic exists. Just because Harry doesn't know that, doesn't make it any less true. The rules are there, to be discovered if they're different to what we currently understand about the world.

Think in terms of how the world works. If your character goes to school, there has to be a good reason why they're suddenly abandoning their studies for a great big adventure. If your character has a job, they have bills to pay and can't just up and leave without consequences. If your character has a family, how will they feel if they leave? Those are all "rules" to be kept - not every hero in every book is a loner without a family or friends. Use your opening chapter to establish what's important in the regular life of your protagonist, and/or establish something important to the plot.

The most important thing, no matter how you start your book, is to give people a reason to keep reading. Make them want to know about your protagonist, or about the world you've created, or the events that open up the book. Read the first chapters of your favourite books for some clear examples of how others do it, and try figure out what made you want to keep reading.

Don't forget, you can get 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block for free at the moment! Read more about it:

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? Have you sat at your desk, looking at your work in progress, wondering what to do with a character who just won’t budge, or a poem that just won’t take form, or an article that just won’t work for you? Have you ever joined thousands of authors in the search for a way to beat writer’s block?

From the author of Planning Before Writing comes a solution to the problem of writer’s block: 25 ways to tackle one of the biggest issues facing writers, each with an exercise to help you to develop as an author and improve your writing skills.

With exercises to suit every writer, and drawing on over ten years’ experience in the craft, 25 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block is a must-have reference for your collection.

Available on


How Do I Plan My Book?

This week, 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block is free on the Kindle. To celebrate that fact, we're going to look at some of the basic questions new writers ask. Previously, we looked at whether you should plan your book. If you're going to, let's now look at how you might do that.

How do I plan my book?

While I have a whole book on this topic - I'm that much of a fan of planning a book before writing it - this post can serve as a short master class for beginners. This practice works for more than just novels, too. All we're going to do is break down your book into scenes.

Step 1, figure out some key events in your book. These are the ones you most likely thought of when you were thinking about your book. Before I plan a book, I can already see some scenes in my head, like two characters meeting for the first time, or (as is the case with many short stories I write) a setting that sticks out because of how unusual it is.

How many key events you can imagine depends on how many ideas you've had for your book before this point. Don't worry, we're going to fill in the gaps soon. What we need before we do that, though, are a beginning, and an ending.

Your book will fill in the events between what happens at the very start, and what happens at the very end. If you're planning to write a series, it helps to know how the whole thing will end before you begin, and how many books you want to write. 

Say, for example, you're writing a trilogy. You need three powerful scenes to end each of your books on, that are natural endings to each part of the story, as well as concluding the individual tale contained in the book.

When you have your beginning and your ending(s), then we can move on to Step 2: filling in the gaps. Start with the scenes you have already. What needs to happen for your story to progress from one scene to another. For example, in the first Harry Potter book, we begin at Privet Drive, and later find Harry at Hogwarts. If we took those two key events/scenes to begin with, we then need to figure out what happens between each point.

Do that with each scene or idea you have, jotting down briefly what sort of event would lead to the next scene. Harry needs to get his invite to the school, so that has to happen. But, because we know the Dursleys don't want him to be a wizard, they'll try to keep the letter from him. To deal with that, the invitations keep coming, pushing the family away from the house, to the cabin where we meet Hagrid. You get the idea: each time you decide what needs to happen next, figure out what other steps need to be taken to keep the story moving from one scene to the next.

By the time you reach the end of your book, you should have a lot to work with. Break it up into chapters - use the larger events as a guide to where the chapter breaks will be.

Step 3: write it out neatly, and add in more detail if needed. I usually write out a paragraph for each scene in the book, but that's up to you.

If you want more information on planning a book, you can check out my ebook Planning Before Writing.

You can also find 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block on Amazon, currently available for free download while the promotion lasts. Read more about it below.

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? Have you sat at your desk, looking at your work in progress, wondering what to do with a character who just won’t budge, or a poem that just won’t take form, or an article that just won’t work for you? Have you ever joined thousands of authors in the search for a way to beat writer’s block?

From the author of Planning Before Writing comes a solution to the problem of writer’s block: 25 ways to tackle one of the biggest issues facing writers, each with an exercise to help you to develop as an author and improve your writing skills.

With exercises to suit every writer, and drawing on over ten years’ experience in the craft, 25 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block is a must-have reference for your collection.

Available on

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Should I Plan My Book?

This week, 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block is free on the Kindle. To celebrate that fact, we're going to look at some of the basic questions new writers ask. Let's start off at the beginning:

Should I plan my book?

This comes down to the individual author. Some people never plan a book before writing, and others don't write a word without a plan. Personally speaking, I have to have a plan. Sometimes it'll be a mind map. Other times it'll just be a list of chapter titles. But I have to go in with a plan.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I like having a guide to keep me going even when I start to lose my focus. The plan is done in a moment of inspiration - or drawn up from ideas that came to me in a moment of inspiration - and it's enough for me to know that what I'm going to write had some basis to it beyond "I need to keep writing."

The second reason I write with a plan is because I live in a house full of distractions and interruptions. Unless you have an ideal set-up that allows for a lot of peace and quiet, you can't guarantee that no one will burst in on a writing session.

Alternatively, you can write when, and only when, you feel the inspiration to write without a guide. Plenty of authors do that, especially when working on their first ever book, because they find it much more enjoyable. I did the same thing when I wrote my first novel nine years ago, but through a combination of only average writing ability at the time, a lack of focus in the book, and a lack of interest in the existing draft, that book won't see the light of day without a complete re-write.

At the time, however, it felt right. That's what you need to think about when deciding whether or not you're going to plan your book: does it feel right to use a plan, or do you feel better writing without one? For a first-time novelist, that's the only thing that should determine whether or not you should plan your book.

That said, and this is important, if you want to write a series of books, you need a plan. A series should have a longer story than any one book can tell. If you don't plan for the earlier clues as to what the rest of the series is about from book one, you'll struggle to sell your manuscript.

Think of it like a television show. Each episode is a story in itself, but they build upon each other towards the series climax and finale, when all the little pieces come together and make sense. Trying to write a series of books without a plan, without anything in mind for how to tie the whole thing together, is like a television show consisting solely of stand-alone episodes that aren't related to each other enough to keep an audience interested. Those shows get cancelled.

Keep that in mind if you want to write a series, but otherwise the decision of whether or not to plan is down to you. (For the record, I'm so pro-planning that I wrote a whole book on the matter. If you disagree with this blog post, it's probably because I focus so much on why it's important.)

About 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block:

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? Have you sat at your desk, looking at your work in progress, wondering what to do with a character who just won’t budge, or a poem that just won’t take form, or an article that just won’t work for you? Have you ever joined thousands of authors in the search for a way to beat writer’s block? 

From the author of Planning Before Writing comes a solution to the problem of writer’s block: 25 ways to tackle one of the biggest issues facing writers, each with an exercise to help you to develop as an author and improve your writing skills. 

With exercises to suit every writer, and drawing on over ten years’ experience in the craft, 25 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block is a must-have reference for your collection.

Available on

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Subject to Change

I have dreams. I have big dreams, and I have little dreams, and I have dreams inspired by books that I read. I aspire for things now that I didn't think I would ever aspire to ten years ago, and almost every new book I read makes me want to do something else amazing. My dreams are subject to change.

When I read The Millionaire Messenger, I decided to become an expert in writing. I made a conscious decision to publish an article a week on my website on the subject, and I've been keeping to it. I built a schedule to publish new material across my three main sites regularly: my writing website, my personal blog, and my poetry and prose blog. I haven't missed a day all year. I'm still on the path to establishing myself in the field.

As part of this, I wanted to write and publish three books on writing that go a step above and beyond Planning Before Writing and 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block. I planned all three, and I still intend on writing them. Today, I drew up the schedule for completing a novella, and then beginning the first of these three books.

When I read The $100 Start Up, I decided that it wouldn't be too difficult to start a publishing house. I drew up lists of ideas to get things off the ground. I drew up lists of what people I knew had experience in. I ended up with two potential publishing houses that I could, in theory and with some persuasion, follow up on.

One of these has been on my mind for a long time. The other first came to mind last summer. I still haven't followed through on either idea beyond the lists, because I have to acknowledge something: there's a time to start a business, and a few months before planning to begin a one-year, full-time Masters is not that time. In the interim, I still have books to write and publish myself, giving me a full 18 months to develop:

- My publishing prowess
- My ability to market, including cover design and through video
- My plans for publishing
- My audience
- My ability to guide writers in the right direction

The dream job of working in publishing still exists, and there are some things I can only learn through experience. That said, there's a lot to learn before I start out trying to publish others on a regular basis. I don't know that I would do anybody justice taking control of the publishing of their books right now, not on a professional basis. (I can offer help, or give it if asked, but I can't be The Publisher.)

When I started reading Teach Yourself: Make Money From Freelance Writing, I decided that I could build upon existing ideas, and work from previous research. The world of established publishing is looking more appealing. It's also reshaping the three books I've planned. By the end of the month, I intend on having an established plan set out - or at least a new name for the first of the three books I have planned on writing. (I need to re-visit the plan before making a decision on whether to change it entirely or not.)

When I read The Curve, I had an idea of how to actually do all of this in a changing world. A publishing business can't exist in a vacuum. If I pursue digital publishing, I need to be prepared to offer alternatives, and I need to find ways to make everything more appealing than just another ebook on the virtual shelf. I decided I wanted to be more than a publisher, and more than a writer. I wanted to be the go-to guy that The Millionaire Messenger was encouraging me to become, but with a more direct focus on how to it in the face of the future.

I have big dreams, and I don't know how long it'll take until I start ticking them off the proverbial list. I aspire for great things, and all the time my aspirations are subject to change. Every book I read, every experience I have, that's relevant involves a degree of fine-tuning, or gear changing, or adding a whole new perspective on the unseen potential at hand.

I'll talk a lot about how I want to do X, Y and Z, but you've probably noticed by now that a lot of the time the talk remains that way until I'm actually ready to do something about it. I know how quickly life can change and how that affects even the simplest ideas, and I'd like to say I'm doing everything I can to anticipate those changes before they do any real damage.

Here's how I see things right now: I want to write professionally, and I want to do it as a hybrid writer - part Indie, part Traditional. I want to see a novel in the bookshops, a book on writing on a nearby shelf, and articles in the media, and I want to put more work online by myself, managing those decisions myself until or unless someone else decides they look like something they want to publish. I have dozens of ideas to work with, and I don't want to limit myself.

By mid-April, I'll have a lot of freedom in my life, and a lot more time to spend on different tasks and challenges. Between now and then, I need to finalise the next step. I let life get in the way a bit too much, lately - life and procrastination - and I think it's about time I did something about it. I have a book to publish in the next couple of weeks, another I want to write - both novellas - and a third, a book on writing, that I need to get a start on, bit-by-bit for the next few weeks.

Everything is subject to change, and that's the challenge of trying to write for a living. But like anything that involves money, starting out is often the hardest part.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wonderful Procrastination

On Valentine's Day, people began posting up pictures of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. This made me feel nostalgic for the original Final Fantasy XIII, a game which I abandoned some time ago when I felt like I wasn't doing anything in it any more. (Then my brother bought a new PS3 and my save data was erased forever. It's a long story.)

With all of this nostalgia kicking my ass, I started a new game.

And I haven't stopped playing since.

Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. I mean, I've attempted to maintain a social life since I started playing. And I've been writing and reading and watching Grimm (I got Season 1 for my birthday!) but other than that I've been returning to the game. It's been wonderful.

I forgot an awful lot about the game, and replaying it is giving me a chance to see why I loved it so much to begin with. I think I appreciate the battle system a little more, now, than I used to, too. I like the Paradigm Shift. I like the need for strategy and forward thinking and focusing on different skill-sets and techniques.

Most of all, I love the story. I love how complete the religion feels in the Final Fantasy games. I like how expansive the worlds are, and how everything fits together wonderfully. I like how much the characters are forced to grow, and how the dynamics of the game are affected by the relationships between characters.

Case in point: Eidolon battles. Each is based on the type of person the character is. I've done three so far, and what I can determine already is: Snow has a need to protect people, and so the Shiva Sisters needed him to be defensive; Lightning felt guilt about Serah and Hope, and so had to help Hope to beat Odin; and Sazh felt anger at Vanille, and so was required to help her while she helped him in the battle against Brynhildr. (Those make more sense when you play the game, but to avoid both spoilers and the need to explain how to play the game, let's just leave it at that. Essentially, what was happening in the story determined how to defeat the Eidolon.)

It's been wonderful, and I'm determined to play until the end, this time. I want to finish the game, and give XIII-2 a try, before moving on to Lightning Returns. To give people an idea of where I am in the game, I'm still on the Fifth Ark.

This isn't the first time I haven't completed a Final Fantasy game, of course. I gave up on Final Fantasy IX back in the day, because I couldn't figure out what to do. It was as simple as that. This was in the days before Internet access was common. (I also technically abandoned Final Fantasy VII, when I couldn't defeat the final boss. I also couldn't go back and train more, so I was essentially screwed, and returned the game to my older cousin who had given me a loan of it.)

Eventually I'll play it more regularly and less sporadically (you know, I'll play for an hour a day or something, not for several hours some days and not at all on others) but for now I'm just going to enjoy getting back into world that's been built up around the series. Sure, it means not doing other things, but getting to play a game I couldn't play a few years ago because of college is important to me, too. One of the few reasons I actually want to own a PS3 is for the Final Fantasy games. (And just for the record, I think I prefer them to the The Elder Scrolls games!)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Birthday Blog

It's official: I'm 23 years old. I'm beyond the age of realising I'm no longer 21. I'm no longer required to carry I.D. with me everywhere, even though I will anyway because bouncers everywhere are suspicious of anybody who doesn't have some form of identification (and even those that do.)

I'm at age where I should start making some of the biggest choices of my life. (You know, the ones that are left after deciding what to study in college.) This time last year, that would have terrified me. But I have a degree. I've graduated. I've gone on the job hunt, and I've been told that - because of my experiences in and out of college - I would have been hired on the spot for a dream job...if the company were hiring. (It was still awesome to hear that.)

And, I've changed dirty nappies. Nothing's really so bad after you've seen the contents of a dirty nappy.

I've been out of college and working on a more-or-less part-time basis for about nine months now. Give or take a few weeks. I've avoided schools, and I avoided making any major decisions in a rush, because I've realised the importance of making my mind up properly. This is the year I plan on beginning my Masters course. I took a long time to mull it over, and to earn the money to pay for it, and I actually made up my mind on something that I fell in love with the moment I looked at the course description.

It's a big step in the right direction.

The only other major decision I've made before now has been to actually set up the publishing house I've been talking about with friends for a year now, and been planning to do since...2007? Around then. I've taken my time to really consider that one, because it's a lot to take on. Obviously, it'll be a small operation to begin with. I need to be able to run it part-time while doing my Masters.

I have plans for it, though. I've considered the easiest ways to run the business while also doing a lot of other work, and all things going according to plan, I'll be laying the foundations for it over the next few months. It's incredibly exciting, and I finally feel like I understand enough about publishing and business to make a decent attempt at starting this thing.

I don't think I could have done it even a few months ago. The world seemed too...intimidating? I don't know if that's necessarily the right word for it, but things were definitely different. A birthday wasn't the big change I needed, of course, but I like to put a date on things. It's like how I use New Year's Day to make a fresh start. I would have used February 1st if I needed the extra month to prepare for what I had planned for the year, but I was good to go earlier.

To be perfectly honest, I don't see much else changing now that I've turned 23. I don't see myself suddenly dressing differently, or acting differently, or changing the plans I began executing only 6 weeks ago. I'm still going to be publishing the books I wanted to publish this year. I just feel like maybe I can live up the whole "must be mature" idea that I've put in my head.

And, just for the record, having Saturdays off work is amazing. This is the first time I've had one off since November, and that was because I had graduated the day before. And, well, I didn't want to risk having "grown-up problems" in work the next day. But today was just about lazing around the house, and having pancakes for breakfast, and getting to play Final Fantasy 13.

Then again, maybe turning 23 doesn't mean being mature.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Short Story Writing for Leaving Cert Students

Last night, a former teacher of mine reminded me of a couple of things. Firstly: I'm a writer who knows things about writing. Secondly: I'm a teacher who has some experience teaching creative writing. And thirdly, I'm old.

Okay, not that old. But I'm old enough to have sat my Leaving Cert and to have written and published several books since. I'm old enough to have gone through college. And I'm experienced enough to have written a lot of short stories in my time.

The point is, I was asked for advice, and I was able to give it, and I think it's about time I put together a post on this for all the English teachers (and English students) out there.

1. Keep it simple. You have a limited amount of time and space in which you must write your story. You can't create an in-depth universe in the few pages at your disposal. You can't write a story spanning, in detail, a few years. You don't even have weeks. Try to fit the action into one day - two or three at most. Other things to avoid include: acts of terrorism, natural disasters, or mass murders, especially as a means of ending the story. (The old favourite, it seems, is to kill off everyone in the story with a volcano exploding.)

2. Plan in advance. Before you write anything, plan the story. Figure out your primary characters. Jot down 2-3 keys scenes you'll include, and know your ending. I can't stress the importance of this enough. You'll have a limited amount of time to write your story, so knowing how it'll come to an end is important. Otherwise, you run the risk of simply writing until it's finished. That's fine if you don't have a time limit, and if you have the patience to rewrite anything to make it more coherent, but in an exam situation, time is precious.

For a recommended break-down on how to spend your time in the exam, see this page:

3. Have some ideas before you go in. Knowing what sort of story you could feasibly write before you go in is a good idea. (Writing it all beforehand and trying to reproduce it under pressure is not.) Have a look at different photo prompts online if you need ideas. Getting used to them beforehand is also a good idea, given the trend of there being a photo prompt question on the paper. Look through news stories for inspiration, too. You never know what will peak your interest and what you can use in your exam. Remember, in typical situations only one person will read your story.

A weekly photo prompt blog you can check it (run by yours truly) can be found here:

For easy to read, and sometimes ridiculous, news stories, I regrettably point you in the direction of the Daily Mail:

4. Know your characters. One of the easiest ways to prepare to write a story without knowing the exact conditions of the story, is to prepare a few characters in advance. Create a protagonist in love; create a protagonist who wants to travel; create a protagonist who wants revenge. Mix things up a bit. Write male and female characters. Write characters of various ethnicities. Don't be afraid to create a genre-defined character. Give your characters depth, a background, an attitude, a way of looking at life. When you get the question - sometimes a line to include, sometimes a photo prompt, sometimes a lot more open than that - you could include one of your prepared characters. If you can't, create one on the spot. You should have plenty of experience in creating an interesting character. The most important thing to remember is that how your characters act and think is more important than how they look.

5. Know how to create interesting settings. A room isn't simply defined by what you can see. Think about the other senses we possess: hearing, smell, touch, and thermoception (the sense of heat and cold) are perhaps the most relevant here. Use them to create an atmosphere in a room, a depth beyond what we can see. When you've figured out how to use those properly - I advise describing your bedroom using those six senses (the five listed above, plus sight) and try describing others areas, like a nearby park, a shop, and a restaurant - it's time to turn to the cultural and social aspects of the setting. Paper 2 in Leaving Cert English deals with the Comparative Study. One area of this is the Cultural Context question, in which you need to dissect a piece for the culture created. The greater your understanding of factors such as religion, employment, crime and education on an environment, the better. You won't necessarily need all of the information, but it helps to create a more interesting setting (and write a more interesting story) if you can make use of them.

Above all else, practice.

Going into your Leaving Cert only ever writing stories (or essays, for that matter) when your teacher tells you to isn't necessarily a good idea. You should practice writing in your spare time - call it studying, if you have to explain it to a parent or guardian. You should aim to write a story at least every couple of weeks. It counts for half the marks of Paper 1, and deserves the attention. (As a further bonus, developing your writing skills will help you across the board, science and maths based subjects aside.) If you want a change of pace from trying to come up with your own ideas all the time, try out some fan fiction.

If you have access to a Kindle (or Kindle App on a smart phone or tablet) and you want to read more from me on this area, you might consider my two books on the matter:

Available on
Available on

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Graphic Content

Back in September, I stopped being able to go into town every week to buy comic books. There are two reasons for this: time, and money. I was minding my niece twice a week, and couldn't always arrange to get out on the other three days of the week when I wasn't minding her. I sometimes had to go into work, or help around the house. Life got in the way, and by October I stopped trying. The money side of this was my plan to save. It turns out it's impossible to save money when you're buying a lot of comic books every week on a small budget.

I decided I would finish reading Young Avengers, because it was ending. Aside from that, I was turning to graphic novels and trade collections.

This began with one I'd wanted to read for a while: Morning Glories. Alongside that, I had Preacher. I've read a lot more of the former than the latter, but I have volume 2 of Preacher waiting for me to get around to.

It wasn't enough, though. I needed more titles, more variation, and not the standard Marvel and DC Superhero stuff. I was beyond superheroes, because reading the older stories would only remind me that I wasn't reading the newer stuff. Plus, I wanted to try something new (to me).

Enter Sandman. Enter Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Enter Haunt and Y: The Last Man.

I've finished the first volumes of Sandman and Buffy, and I'm currently reading Y, and I can safely say I'll be returning for more in the very near future. But they're not all I've got. I have a volume of The Unwritten calling my name from my shelf. I have the first volume of The Walking Dead to read. I have a couple of stand-alone graphic novels that are crying for me to read them.

I am turning to graphic content.

Sometimes, I mean that literally. Let's look at it this way. Of the ones I've read in the past few months, Y is the least violent, Sandman the least obviously violent (because, well, people going a bit mad in it... and stuff.) Buffy is necessarily violent, given the titular character's titular role. Morning Glories is outright insane, and people usually get shot or get ghostly-demon-weirdness hands forced into their brains. Because FUN!

And Preacher? Well, it's emotionally disturbing on a whole new level of violent. When the Word of God is taken literally in the first volume, things get messy pretty quickly. And it's wonderful.

I've found that reading graphic novels is a lot more relaxing that anything else at the moment. It's easier on the eyes, in terms of the density of the text, which is good for me. With a lot of morning traffic outside my bedroom, I don't get too many lie-ons. My eyes end up tired by, like, eight at night, and that's on the days I don't end up in front of a screen all the time.

The problem is that I'll very quickly run out of things to read. So, I need suggestions. If it hasn't been mentioned above, I probably haven't read it. If it's a particular arc in a superhero story (for example, World War Hulk, The Dark Phoenix Saga, etc.) I'm not interested. I want to be able to pick up volume one and enjoy for what it is, not for where it fits into a whole other story.

So, what do you recommend?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

All You Need is Love

Late last month, I got the idea to post a "love" poem every day in February. Thinking about it, I realised that 95% of my poems that could arguably be considered a poem about love aren't romantic. I just don't write romantic love poems all that often. I think I've written maybe three, ever, and I don't know where two of them are. (One of them ended up in Poetry Against Cancer.)

This, I decided, was perfect.

I'm not a fan of Valentine's Day. I find the idea of giving someone a five euro card and a box of chocolates or flowers and rushing out to an expensive restaurant to prove to other couples that you're in love a bit...odd. Especially since Valentine's Day seems to be some "romantic" competition. Everyone in a relationship has to do something on Valentine's Day, or no one will believe they're in love, or in a relationship, or whatever the heck sort of excuses people use to go out on Valentine's Day.

Frankly, it bewilders me. I don't think I'll ever celebrate it in the typical way. I don't think I'll buy someone a card produced en masse by a company who says it's romantic. I'd prefer write a poem that says how I feel.

Still, I think 28 poems on the theme of love is a suitable substitute. Even if they do cover a lot of the issues in a relationship that aren't necessarily romantic, like not talking to each other, struggling to understand each other, breaking up, trying to get back together, and not really fitting together.

Why am I posting them, then, if they're not romantic? Because they're real. I'm not about to write 28 poems that you could find inside a Hallmark card. Most of these poems only make perfect sense when you've lived my life. But they're about love. They're about the love I've felt, love that hurt, love that wasn't fair, love that still bothers me and love that fills me with joy.

I'm not Adele. I'm not putting these poems out there to make someone look bad, because the reality is they tell a story about relationships, from the bad separations right up to making up again. The first dozen poems or so cover an interesting arc in my life, and they'll continue on like that, taking snippets from my life when things hurt a little too much to celebrating moments when life just felt wonderful.

These aren't poems about me being in love. These are poems about how I experience it. Some will read angrily. Some will read pleasantly. Some will be sad, and some will be happy.

The Beatles once said "All you need is love." In a sense, that's true. But it doesn't have to come from a Hallmark card. It doesn't have to be limited to the person you share a bed with. Love isn't romance. Love isn't perfect. But, I think, if you really want to experience life, you need to recognise that you love someone. Love someone who hurts you sometimes. Love someone despite their flaws - because you stop noticing them. Love someone because they make you happy. Love someone who makes you feel confident.

And if you're feeling brave, tell them how you feel.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Process of Writing a Book

I have seven books available on Amazon. Seven. While each is different - though, obviously, Balor Reborn and The Hounds of Hell are somewhat similar since they're part of a series - there's a process that comes with writing them. Even when I wrote a book in a week, I stuck to this process. It just so happened to be on fast-forward. Here's how I do things.

Step 1: The Idea

I start with an idea. For the Modern Irish Myth books, it was simple. I wanted to write a series of books about the return of gods and fairies to Ireland, and I wanted to start with one of my favourite villains from Irish mythology: Balor of the Evil Eye. For Planning Before Writing and 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block, the ideas came from wanting to write about writing. I wanted to share what I knew, and from a list of topics that I thought I could feasibly write something about, they stuck out off the page.

Step 2: Planning

Not every book I've written has been planned in the same way. The Modern Irish Myth books have a chapter-by-chapter summary written as the plan. They're usually 7-10 pages long, typed, and go into quite a bit of detail.

Planning Before Writing was planned with a mind map on a small piece of paper. I literally just wrote down different ways to plan a book, and different reasons for planning.

25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block was simply a list of chapters before it was written. I decided upon an order for them to appear in, but after that I was writing what was necessary for each chapter, as it came. I didn't necessarily have to write the book in order, but I did.

My other books fell into similar patterns, either a list of a detailed description of each part of the book. The important thing, for me, was to get together even a small document about the book that I could work from.

Step 3: Time Management

This doesn't always happen for me, but it certainly helps. Balor Reborn was written in a week. I needed to  have the time set aside to do it. Planning Before Writing was written while I was on Teaching Placement. I had to have time in the evening to write a chapter, but after my preparation for lessons the next day. 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block was written, largely, during my niece's nap times while I was minding her, or in the evenings. It was affected by Christmas and a suddenly increase in working hours.

When I really get going properly, I have a system in place for writing a book regarding time management. I give it priority over anything else I have to write that day. If I need to have a story written for the next day, it means I have to write the book without distraction. I write every day, without exception, and I make sure I have the time to do so. No excuses, no exceptions.

Step 4: Writing the First Draft

I write rather quickly. This is due to a combination of the previous three steps - the idea keeping me interested, the plan helping me go without stopping, and the time management allowing me to work uninterrupted by other duties - and my ability to type fairly quickly without error. I picked up the latter skill over the years when I was writing my first book. Between the ages of 12 and 15, I started the same book four times. We didn't have an Internet connection in the house, we didn't have USB keys, and we didn't have a way of transferring old files over to a new computer. The final first draft I wrote had to be written from scratch, but that allowed me to develop my typing abilities while doing something that interested me.

With that to back me up, writing the first draft of a book is relatively simple. I could, if I had the inclination, write a full length novel in two weeks. I would need to have the time away from other responsibilities like child minding or bookselling, but I think it could be done. (The maths involved in this speculation: 90000 words, divided by 14 days = 6430 words per day, which is less than 6 hours work at a rate of 1200 words per hour. That's my rough average, taking tiredness into consideration for longer writing periods.)

I follow my plan for the first draft, deviating only if I think the book could do with some padding out and I have an idea beforehand. The last thing I ever want is to expand a book for the sake of it, so any additional extras are there for a reason.

Step 5: Editing the First Draft

For me, editing is an annoying process. I don't like changing my book too much. I always do a proof edit, to make sure there are no typing errors, but when I have my doubts over a story I have to get someone else to read it. Since 2012, I've relied on a friend who reads spectacularly fast. He read and commented on Balor Reborn in an hour. I attempt to remove as much necessity to change a story as possible by working on my plan in detail, sticking to it, and playing out questionable scenes in my head before writing them. (If you ever see me talking to myself walking down the road, that's probably what I'm doing. I can't help myself sometimes, and other times I just like the sound of my own voice...)

Step 6: The Cover

I always need a cover. Since the days of self-publishing technology becoming available to me, I've needed to know what my book would look like with a cover. I've even done covers for books I don't plan on releasing. I just enjoy making them.

Step 7: Formatting the Book

When the editing has been done - and you can include rewrites in there - I also format my book. This involves either preparing it for publication, or just readying it for when I print it off for myself. I like the book to look neat, and to read easily. I even print the cover onto a sheet of photo paper for a nice glossy effect. (Seriously. Even if I don't keep a printed copy of the book nearby, I print the cover. Right now, I have the cover for 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block beside me at my desk.)

Step 8: Celebrate

I have a ritual when I finish a book of getting a cup of tea. I leave my tablet in my room. I don't watch the television. I just sit at the kitchen table and enjoy my cup of tea, and maybe tell a couple of people via text message that I finished the book. That's it. That's how I celebrate. It's not the spuds-and-beer stereotype we Irish are known for, but it'll have to do!

When everything else is done and I've got this new book written and ready for me to do what I will with it, I can start all over again. I'll pick another idea, maybe even a different genre, and I'll write another book. It's my favourite past-time. (Publishing is a different matter. That's business. The writing is for fun.) If I could, I'd just write all the time. Someday, I hope that'll be the reality for me. For now, though, I'll just have to stick with my 8-step process and enjoy writing for the sake of it when life allows.