Tag Archives: writing a novel

Dec 17

All the Way from the UK, Mike Angley Welcomes Author Ian Barker

MA: All the way from the UK, please help me welcome today’s guest-blogger, Ian Barker! Ian has always dabbled in writing since leaving school. However, he spent almost 20 years working in IT before he discovered that writing about computers was easier than fixing them. He is now editor of PC Utilities magazine and lives and works in Greater Manchester, UK. Fallen Star is his début novel. Tell us more about your background.
IB: I was a voracious reader as a kid and have always been interested in writing. I repressed this for quite a long time, however, and it expressed itself in the odd comic poem for birthday cards but not much else. It was only once I’d turned 40 that I started to take writing more seriously and that led me to combining career and interest and getting a job on a computer magazine. The idea of writing a novel came around the same time. Maybe it comes of a desire to leave something permanent behind.
MA: Why did you choose to write novels, and not poetry?
IB: I’m not sure you ever choose to write novels. The call of the story simply becomes too strong to resist. I’d done the usual thing of writing a semi-autobiographical first novel and consigning it to the bottom drawer. The initial idea for Fallen Star I thought might make an interesting short story but it quickly turned into something bigger.
MA: Tell us about Fallen Star.
IB: It’s about the shallowness of celebrity culture, the price of fame and how, almost inevitably, we find ourselves living in the shadow of our parents and often repeating their mistakes. It’s an adult/young adult crossover – the protagonist is 21 – and at its heart it’s a love story.
Karl has been a member of a boy band since leaving school and at 21 knows no other life. When another band member dies of a drug overdose he’s forced to readjust to real life. To further complicate things he falls in love with Lizzie, but she’s the daughter of an IRA terrorist and that makes her someone Karl’s ex-soldier father is bound to hate.
All of that might sound a bit grim but there’s a lot of comedy in the book. Although it’s been described as a modern day morality tale it doesn’t hit you over the head with a message, it’s an entertaining, fun read.
MA: Where did the idea for the story come from?
IB: Appropriately enough the idea came from watching a reality TV show. Around 2003 the BBC ran a series called Fame Academy with a group of would-be pop stars trained and forced each week to ‘sing for survival’ to stay on the show. It was around the time that digital TV began to take off and this was one of the first shows to have live ‘round the clock feeds. I started to think about what would happen if you reversed the situation – what if you removed someone’s fame when they were at their peak? The story grew from there.
The terrorism angle came later but I think it adds an extra dimension to the book and makes it more relevant to today’s world.

MA: How hard did you find it to write the two main characters?
IB: I found Karl relatively easy to write. I don’t think men ever grow up much beyond the age of eighteen anyway! It was much more difficult to get inside the head of a 25-year-old woman for Lizzie’s parts. I was constantly hounding female writer friends to read sections and tell me if they rang true.
MA: How does the hero’s develop through the book?
IB: A key part of the book is Karl’s growth as a character. At the start he’s shallow, immature and somewhat vain, the world has always come to him. That made for a tricky first few chapters as in the beginning he’s not especially likeable. As the story progresses he comes to realise that he must take responsibility for his own actions and take control of his own life. He also finds that he has more in common with his father than he ever thought possible.
MA: Does Fallen Star have its own unique bad guy?
IB: Not in the usual melodramatic sense. Patrick, the closest the book gets to a bad guy character, is dishonest rather than outright bad. He’s also a rather peripheral character. His impact is felt in its effect on other characters but he only actually appears in a few scenes.
The real villain here is the way that terrorism affects people’s lives even one generation removed.
MA: Did any of your real-life experiences influence the plot?
IB: In terms of the main plot points no, but as always there are certain incidents and conversations that are rooted in things that have happened to me or to friends. There are also the inevitable snippets of overheard conversations and such.
MA: Beyond this novel what are your future writing plans?
IB: I’m working on a sequel which picks up Fallen Star’s characters a few years on from where this book ends. I don’t see it turning into a long series, however, there probably won’t be a third book on this theme. I’d like to revisit the idea of my bottom drawer novel. I think the premise – a coming of age tale set in the mid 1970s – still works but I know that I could write it much better now. One of Fallen Star’s characters does appear as his younger self in my original version though so it wouldn’t be a complete break.
MA: Would you do it again?
Yes. Writing a novel and getting it published is a long and often frustrating experience but you only appreciate that when you’ve tried it. If I’d known at the start what I know now I might have done a few things differently but it wouldn’t have stopped me.
MA: Ian, thanks for traveling so far to visit with me today (wink). I recommend my readers check out Ian Barker’s website for more information about him and his novel: www.iandavidbarker.co.uk.
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Sep 15

Mary Deal Outlines “Outlining a Story”

Outlining a Story

Writing a novel, even a short story, and keeping details and action in some semblance of order can be a daunting task. A loose outline, even a simple list of occurrences, can be the best aid to keep you writing on track.

I began using a structured outline but have since been able to keep facts in order by making a running list of plot points and anything else I need to remember.

We all remember learning about outlines in school. To me, they were rigid with a lot of requirements and I spent more time trying to remember how to title the information than getting the data on paper.

As a writer, you will have had more experience with keeping an accumulation of facts in your mind as you pound the keys. Or maybe you’ve gotten lost in all the twists and turns of your story. Here’s some easy help. For example, let’s say your story is about a woman searching for her abducted daughter.

Keep in mind that all stories need the following:

Setup (want)
Rising Action
Reversals
Recognition
Climax
Denouement

Here’s a simple outline to keep the plot on track. My notes in parenthesis are for your understanding and need not appear in your outline unless they further help you.

Title at the Top

1-Abi’s daughter was abducted (told in present time, with some back story (SETUP)

2-Abi learns of a young woman her daughter’s age on Death Row (Rising Action)

a-The inmate faces lethal injection for a crime she didn’t commit

3-Twenty-three years have passed but similarities exist between the inmate and Abi’s daughter

a-Abi begins an intense investigation, including DNA, to learn if the inmate is her daughter
b-Abi pays to restore the sight of the only eye witness.

4-While Abi investigates; her home is torched, as is the sole witness’s home (Reversals)

a-With restored sight, the sole witness skips town.
b-Abi discovers an undercurrent, one to get the inmate to pay for crimes of others

5-DNA proves the inmate is Abi’s daughter (Recognition)

a-Abi fights to prove the innocence of the inmate

6-The case goes all the way down to the needle (Climax)

a-The lethal injection chamber

7-How the story ends after all the action plays out; how the characters’ lives are affected by the climax. (Denouement)

For the sake of this newspaper column, everything begins on the left margin. When you make your list, you can indent the a and b lines to set them off to detect them easily.

It’s as simple as that. The Setup should be brief, intense so the reader is drawn into the plot and can’t leave. The bulk of your story will be contained in Rising Action, Reversals and Recognition. The Climax should be unexpected, brief and stunning, or stinging. The Denouement is a wrap up and should never be more than one or two very short chapters. It can also be handled with anything from a few lines to a paragraph or two.

As you work with your outline, you can lengthen any area. I make more notes for the middle portions because that comprises the bulk of the story.

Another form of outlining: Many people prefer to put each new scene on a 3×5 card and write each scene before going on to the next. I prefer to have a running outline which I sometimes print out so I can see the whole story at a glance.

By the way, the story I’ve just outlined is from my latest thriller, “Down to the Needle.” If you read it, you will see most of the book is NOT included in the outline. Outlines are merely the main plot points but can be as detailed or as simple as you can work with. My outline here is simple. The story itself has so many twists and turns that could only happen by not tightly structuring the creativity of my muse. Read More

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Dec 25

Hard-Boiled Mystery Writer Debbi Mack Guest-Blogs With Mike Angley Today

I’m joined today by mystery author Debbi Mack who has one published novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, which she describes as a hard-boiled mystery. She’s also had short stories published in the CHESAPEAKE CRIMES anthology in 2004 and in Vol. II, No. 3 of The Back Alley, an e-zine at http://www.backalleywebzine.com/. Her latest short story will appear in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES 4, to be issued by Wildside Press in March 2010. Debbi also works as a freelance writer and researcher, and was a reporter for one of the Dow Jones news wires. Before that, she practiced law for nine years. Read More

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