Ask the Author – H.S. Cook

Yay! It’s time for another Ask the Author post.

This month, we have exciting new author H.S. Cook with us. Working in a world of logic and reason, while dreaming of one filled with magic, Ms. Cook lives between her scientific research and her fantasy writings. A molecular biologist by day, she finds ways to inject the magic of her worlds into daily life, making time to write. She is currently working on an epic fantasy series: The Blood King Chronicles.

Here are some snippets of our conversation:

KS:  What is the easiest thing about writing?

HS.Cook: World building is the easiest part for me. I am always imagining fantasy realms: geography, races, the languages, treaties and wars. When I find a world I particularly love, like Cyrell and the Known World, I am in a much better place to write about the history than the story I’m currently working on. My plot bunnies turn into spin-off ideas set in the world’s lore and history.

Krisna: What inspired the world building for your current novel?

HS.Cook: It is hard to pinpoint anything exact. I draw on other fantasies I have read, maps I have seen and places I have visited. For example, the Forest of Dean has played a large role in creating the elvish country of Eihäldär. Ancient/archaic language then adds to the linguistics of the world – the main language of magic was originally inspired by Old English, though much of the dictionary is now more unique.

Krisna: That’s really fascinating! Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing as far as content?

I really struggle with dialogue – particularly informal dialogue. I can speak with kings and distant lords, but when two friends lay into one another, I cannot get it quite right.

Krisna:  How long on average does it take you to write a book?

HS.Cook: Ask me again when I’ve finished.

I have previously written some complete novels, but not gone further with them. They were both YA Fantasy and the first took me six months, the second a little more than a year and the third never made it past the first draft.

My current WIP has been brewing for years, though I have only been actively writing since April and expect to need around three or four months more. Depending on work commitments, of course. I can churn out a first draft in a month thanks to NaNoWriMo, but I rarely take those books further.

Krisna: What advice would you give to your younger self?

HS.Cook: Do not try for stupid NaNo Word Counts and take it easy! My wrists have never recovered that crazy year of writing!

Krisna: LOL!  I haven’t tried NaNo yet. I joined the NaNo Camp this year, but had to drop off due to family commitments. Thanks for the warning 🙂

Now for the last question, something other than writing… What is your favorite movie and why?

HS.Cook: That’s a hard one to pin down. I like so many films for many different reasons. The film that had the biggest impact in recent years would be Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies. It was really moving and is definitely on that list. Bicentennial Man is also up there as a film that really made me think.

Krisna:  Thank you so much, Ms. Cook, for your insights into your writing process 🙂

HS. Cook:  Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. By the Blood, may the Fates show mercy.

Connect with H.S. Cook:

Check out her website

Follow her on Twitter

Like her on Facebook

Check out my next month’s Ask the Author post on August 20th.

 

ELEMENTS OF A STRONG HOOK

FICTION WRITING TIPS #2

What makes a gripping hook?

What is it that grabs the reader’s attention to our books, enticing them to pick it up or borrow it from Kindle library? Is it just an intense and perfectly-written chapter 1 or Prologue?

I think it takes much more to create a gripping hook. If the reader is not hooked into picking our book first, the question of a perfect chapter 1 doesn’t come to being.

Let’s look at this from a reader’s perspective. He walks through the aisle of a book-store or browses through amazon. What is it that grabs his attention first?

  • AN CAPTIVATING BOOK COVER

An alluring and professional cover goes a long way to grab the reader’s attention.

It is our first sales pitch.

A well-designed cover assures the reader that the author is meticulous enough to ensure that all aspects of the novel are as perfect as possible. It also gives him hints about the tone of the book (humor, dark/ horror, romantic, fantasy, sci-fi etc.) And if the cover is intriguing, he picks it up.

Now what is it that is going to entice him to look deeper?

  • A CATCHY TITLE

The title of the novel gives him information of what the novel could be about. For example: Let’s say the story is about a boy who enrolls at a magic school. He fights against the teachers who turn students to the dark side of magic. Below are two possible titles:

* School of Dark Magic

* The Courageous boy

Which one grabs your attention and why?

When combined with an alluring cover, the title will give the reader a better idea about what the book is about, make him turn the book and read…

  • A GRIPPING BOOK DESCRIPTION

If the cover and title hooks the reader, an amazing book description reels them in. It reveals hints about the story world, the characters, internal conflicts/ obstacles, the stakes and the consequences of failure.

A well-written book description makes the reader feel the need to read more, find out what happens in the story. So he turns the page or clicks on…

  • THE BOOK EXCERPT (CHAPTER 1 or PROLOGUE)

Now comes the part where the readers goes through the first chapter and prologue. The chapter 1 or prologue is a powerful teaser that should be able to help the readers connect to the characters or the story line enough to continue reading. But is this all that is required to hook the reader? Again, no. We need…

  • SUCCEEDING CHAPTERS THAT DEEPENS THE HOOK

Many readers (like me) read at least four or five chapters before deciding whether they want to continue reading the story. There have been books which have a spectacular Chapter 1, but the succeeding chapters don’t keep the promise/ expectations raised by the chapter. And the book ends up in the DNF list. Why? Because I was not invested enough in the story-world, characters or plot. Or there were so many logical holes at the beginning that I got frustrated and kept it aside. So the book grabbed my attention, but failed to hook me in the succeeding chapters.

So to conclude…

Technically, the hook could be defined as a strong beginning.

But, according to me, a gripping hook has stages. It starts with the element (mostly the cover/ title) that catches the attention of the reader and makes him read the enticing chapter 1. But it doesn’t stop there. Like the hook has to be attached to a rope/ thread, the strong beginning should be connected to well-written, intriguing chapters that keeps them turning the page, eager to read each scene till they reach the end.

And if they’re invested enough in our story, they’ll hopefully leave a review and buy the next book in the series 🙂

Look out for a detailed post on each of the above elements every week.

Next post on Fiction Writing Tips: ELEMENTS OF A CAPTIVATING BOOKCOVER

*Pictures in CCO domain taken from Pixabay (Foundry)

 

Ask the Author: Kristen Kooistra

I’m spinning the silk threads of my story,

weaving the fabric of my world…

  • – Laurie Halse Anderson

Great stories are like a magical hook. They reel you into their fantastic world and hold you prisoner until the whole journey is over. Ask the author is a tribute to talented authors that weave an awesome story. Today’s spotlight is new author, Kristen Kooistra.

Kristen’s exciting debut novel, The Heart of the Winterland, released today. I’m a great fan of the way she weaves her fantastic tales and creates awesome characters that are very realistic and multi-dimensional.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had the honor of interviewing her on her book and her writing process. Here are some snippets of our conversation:

Krisna: Kristen, congrats on the publication of your exciting debut novel, Heart of the Winterland. Could you tell us a little more about yourself and how you ended up writing such wonderful stories?

Kristen Kooistra: Thanks! Let’s see … about myself. I’m a stay-at-home mom. My husband and I have been married six years and we have three kids. I’m a bit dull, to be honest. I like doing things that put me squarely in the boring category: gardening, sewing, cooking. I love reading and spending time with my family.

I have to admit, that I haven’t written that many stories (wonderful or otherwise). My favorite part of creating a story is the imagination part. I’ve always loved daydreaming and inventing stories to play in my head like a movie. Books helped me fuel my imagination and I’ve been a book-aholic all my life. The writing was something I enjoyed, but it never progressed far in terms of fiction. I often found myself frustrated with the imperfectness of what I wrote(I guess I expected a perfect first draft!), and so I’d quit.

Winterland was different in the sense that I decided not to plot it out. I didn’t want any expectations set before me. Without that perfect picture in my head, I didn’t feel like I was failing.

Krisna: That’s a very insightful tip for aspiring writers. Just free-write while doing the first draft and then worry about analyzing everything. 

From what I’ve read of the novel so far, the thing that really hooked me was the amazing characters. Each one has distinct nuances and a depth that is a pleasure to read. What inspired you to create such realistic, human characters?

Kristen Kooistra: Funny you ask in that way, because the answer is in the question. People inspire me. They’re so diverse, unique, and with such a large “cast” of people to observe, it was easy to take pieces of real people and mix them up to form my characters.

For one of my antagonists, I wanted to touch on what a person might do if they were in a place where they were noticeably different than everyone around them. Then I wanted to heap on more. What if the character didn’t have good, supportive people in their life? Or maybe they lost those people. What might that person feel, what might they do? I tried to think of what I’d do to the person who took everything from me, and in a lot of ways she is the villain I can see myself being if I was to “go to the dark side”.

A large part of the cast were inspired by real people and some of them retained more of their “doppelgangers” qualities than others. Later in the book, readers will meet Kaya and Rose. They were created when I took various traits from my sister-in-law and a friend of mine (who has the same name as my SIL) and gave a little to each character. My friend’s one request is that her character found a chance to dance on a table, and you’ll see, I did manage to meet that.

Krisna Starr: That’s an amazing way to come up with characters. Of course your characters are multi-dimensional because they’re inspired by real-life people with all the things that make them awesome and all the quirks and defects that they struggle with. 

If you could describe the essence of Heart of the Winterland in one sentence, what would it be?

Kristen Kooistra: Oh this is hard! I’ve never been good with one sentence things. The essence of HotW is that it is a journey that touches on so many important things.

  • Sometimes what we wish for isn’t always what we want.
  • Don’t miss out on the good in your life because you’re striving for something that doesn’t matter.
  • People change.
  • Sometimes we don’t know the ending to everyone’s story.
  • Don’t try to be someone else. Rather, strive to be the best you.

Maybe one sentence would be, “HotW is about a princess on a journey who discovers the flaws and merits of humans.”

Princess Cali has grown up without human interaction. People are intriguing to her. She doesn’t know what to do with anger, frustration, deception, wickedness, humor, etc. So she’s struggling to fit and learn about people, but she’s also very interested in everyone and I think that shows in the story, because a lot of characters do share pieces of their lives and each one is special.

See, that so didn’t end up as just one line. 😀

Krisna : LOL! Princess Cali is a really intriguing character. I can’t imagine how she must have felt feeling all those emotions for the first time. What was the most surprising thing that you learned when you wrote this novel?

Kristen Kooistra: That I actually had a story! To explain, I started this with no real seriousness. As I mentioned, I’m not that great with fiction and a finished novel was a first for me. But as I wrote, I was so inspired by other writers and what was unfolding in the story that I started getting serious about it and when I realized I was actually “doing it” that was my wow moment.

Krisna:  What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Kristen Kooistra: Oh gosh. I’ve never really given much writer advice. It seems like there’s so many people more qualified to do that.

First, find what works for you. Sometimes another person’s method will be a match for you, but overall everyone’s unique and that means you need to do what inspires you and gets you writing. Don’t try to fit yourself into someone else’s box.

Second, don’t worry about all the do’s and don’ts that exist. Write a compelling story that you love. If you create a story that grips your readers and intrigues them, who cares if one person gets fussy over an adverb or some such thing. Whenever you start getting paranoid about if you’re not doing it right, pick up an old favorite. You know, the book you’ve had for years that’s got creases everywhere and tape on the binding. See how many “rules” it breaks. And yet, you still love it.

And last, write what you love, because at the end of the day you can’t guarantee that anyone else will ever read, or like, what you created. Instead of trying to please everyone, writing what you love guarantees that at the end there’ll be at least one person who is happy with the product. And really, you’re the writer, the person who slaved over that story for countless hours, days, months (or like me, years). You should be happy with what you wrote.

Thank you so much for the interview, Krisna. I’m so excited for “Heart of the Winterland” to come out and I’m looking forward to your thoughts on it.

Krisna: Thank you, Kristen, for taking the time to share your experience and insightful tips. Publishing your novel must be really exciting. We wish you all the very best in your endeavors.

ABOUT KRISTEN:

Kristen-KooistraKristen Kooistra fell in love with reading at a young age and never resurfaced.

“Heart of the Winterland” is Kristen’s first novel, and though it started as a whim, it grew into so much more and has inspired a sequel (in progress), “Heart of the Sorceress”.

Check out her awesome book in amazon. You can also connect to her through her blog, website, Face Book, Twitter and Goodreads.

 

FICTION WRITING TIPS #1 

ELEMENTS OF A GOOD SCENE

While writing a novel, especially the first draft, our creative mind takes the lead. The scenes and chapters flow very easily and some of them are so fantastic (at least to our mind 🙂 ) that we fall in love with them. Then comes the revision phase and the internal battle to decide the scene that needs to go to ensure that the flow of the story is tight and gripping.

The first draft of my novel, Dragons of Atlantea, is roughly around 105,000 words. Much, much higher than the industry standard. I’m going to have to be ruthless and cut all the scenes that are unnecessary. So I did some research on novel scenes and here’s what I’ve learnt.

USE SCENES TO CREATE  A GRIPPING STORY…

A gripping novel is a string of relevant scenes that take the characters seamlessly from the start to the climax. A good scene that can be retained during revision has at least some of the following elements:

  • It reveals a character’s motivation or goal (Eg: Emma wants to win the Olympics)
  • It gives us more insight into the character’s backstory (Like: She is from a family where women are expected to marry and look after children. But she has bigger dreams)
  • Introduces more conflict and obstacles for the character to overcome (Emma has an accident)
  • Show us the consequences of the character conflict (She becomes temporarily blind)
  • Reveal a plot point or introduces a plot twist (Help from an unexpected source)
  • Increase the tension of the plot/ raise the stakes (Her mother has used the money meant for her medical expenditure to fund her daughter’s dream. Emma has to win to the Olympics and get the prize money to save her mother.)
  • Give a solution to a conflict/ problem (Absolutely no idea how she’s going to do that 😀 )

In addition to this, the scene can also give more insights into the following story elements:

  • World building
  • Story theme
  • Character traits
  • Leading hints to the plot

If a scene includes more than a few of the above points, it’s great. Scenes with just one or two of elements mentioned above might be weak and should be considered for being cut/ modified.

In fact, one of the plans I have for revision is to cut out the unnecessary details from weak scenes and combine it with others to make it more gripping while at the same time keep the charm and essence of what needs to be conveyed.

Since, as the author, we could be a little biased about our story and scenes, it might be good to get an impartial third-party (friends, beta-readers, critique partners etc.) to help us identify scenes which are weak or irrelevant to the plot.

But in the end, the decision always rests in our hand.

To cut or not to cut….

Chop, chop, chop! 😀

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

 

Book&CoffeeIn today’s post, I’d like to talk about one of the most dreaded word in a writer’s life – writer’s block.

It ranks right up there along with rejection and bad reviews. And once we’re caught in it, it’s like a steel trap around our mind, suffocating it’s creativity.

But how do I overcome writer’s block and get back on track again?

I started writing my novel, Dragons of Atlantea, back in August 2014. And after a couple of months, my personal life took on a very drastic turn. Life threw me curve ball after curve ball and I scrambled to get my bearings. I was forced to take a break from writing for several months. At one point, I even thought of totally giving up on writing. But my characters haunted my dreams and wouldn’t let go.

So in April 2015, I started writing again. Only now, when I looked at the screen of my laptop, my mind went blank. All my ideas drained away like sand from a broken sieve and no matter what I did, I couldn’t write anything worthwhile.
But this time, I wasn’t ready to give up. So I researched on ways to overcome writer’s block and tried different ways till I was back on track again. Here are some things that I learnt:

THE FIRST AND MOST CRITICAL POINT – DON’T GIVE UP!

Whatever happens, how many ever times you look at the screen resisting the urge to fling it at the wall, don’t give up. Keep trying all the ways that inspires you to overcome your writer’s block.

INTROSPECT ON WHAT IS CAUSING IT:

If we research on the internet, there are hundreds of exercises and ways. Trying them all will take a LOT of time. And when we’re already frustrated, trying so many things that reiterate our problem will only make us more demotivated. I made this mistake and lost a couple of months. Instead, if we introspect on what is causing the writer’s block, we can try out exercises that are targeted to help us break out of that particular shackle.

In my case, it was grief for a personal loss that I wasn’t able to get out of. For some others, it could be problems at work, stress, worry that the novel isn’t going to be something people like, depression … In fact, the reason for a writer’s block can be anything and only the person suffering from it can really know what could be causing it.

Once we’ve a list of possibilities, we can try the activities/ ways/ exercises that is geared to help us out of the cause of the writer’s block. Here are all the ways that really helped me to break the suffocating and frustrating cage that trapped my story and my characters:

  • TAKE A BREAK

    • Effective for blocks because of stress, worries in work/ family, worrying about how the novel will be received by others, that it is not meeting our own expectations, pushing ourselves to meet our planned targets and deadlines

If you feel your writer’s block is because of stress, problems at work or family, take a break. Your work and family is a critical part of your life. Let it settle down a little and then continue with the novel. It is not going anywhere. If you feel writing your novel will be a stress-reliever from all the problems, then let go of all your expectations and worries and write freely. Don’t worry about grammar and plot and character arcs. Just write and let it all come out.

Another thing that causes a writer’s block if worrying too much about the novel. Many times (especially during the first draft), we might feel that our story and characters are falling short of our own expectations. How are others going to like it? Worrying too much or over-taxing our creative brain can also create a writer’s block. In such a case, take a break and do other fun stuff. Come back a week later and try again. Block still there? Then try some of the below ways, anything that inspires you.

  • DO CREATIVE WRITING EXERCISES

There are a lot of creative writing prompts on the internet geared to overcome writer’s block. Find one that piques your interest and just start writing about it. Don’ t think, just let the words flow. Your writing need not be perfect, gripping or even readable. Just write whatever comes to mind. Once we do this a several times, the block just disappears. And we even get loads of ideas from the prompts for our novel. So it serves a double purpose.

Another method is to pick 3 or 5 words and make a story about it. This jump starts the creative part of our brain and helps us beat the writer’s block. Pick any words that come to mind and start writing.

Here are also some great sites offering loads of writing prompts to beat writer’s block:  My favorite of them allWriter’s Digest Writing prompts, 365 Creative Writing Prompts, Reddit

If you are a visual person, then you could try out some sites that provide visual prompts to overcome your writer’s block. Here are a few: Write Practice, Slideshare, or you could just search for some pictures in google image search and write what it inspires in you 🙂

  • BREAK THE ROUTINE:

One of the common causes of writer’s block is too much organization. Our mind has two modes to it: the creative mode and the analyzing/ organized mode. Sometimes, if we follow a fixed routine, our mind gets set and creativity reduces. In such a case, try doing something different. If you usually write on your tab or laptop, pick up a pen and write a scene in a book. Or vice versa. This method worked wonders for me. Go out to a different place and write. Find a place that soothes and relaxes you (like the beach, the park, or your favorite seat at home etc.) and try writing there. When the mind is relaxed, the words flow like water and the scene writes itself.

  • RE-READ NOVELS THAT YOU LOVE, THAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE

I love Harry Potter, Julia Quinn novels (they are hilarious!) and most fairy tale adaptations. I found that taking a break from my novel and re-reading these books really rejuvenated my mind and spiked my creativity.

  •      DO OTHER THINGS THAT REDUCES STRESS AND INCREASES POSITIVITY:

The mind gets blocked mostly because of worries, stress, self-doubt and other negative things that weigh us down. Throwing them off from inside us will free our mind and push it to be more creative.

I’ve found two things that really helped me in this: Listening to inspirational music and meditation. Both calms me down, helps me shed all the negative things that assail me (at least for a few hours) and brings about a state of balance in my life. I found meditation especially helped me a LOT in freeing my mind, making me feel refreshed and light. I could balance my creativity with practicality in a very natural and easy way allowing me to write a much better first draft.

Try things that inspire and center you. It has worked wonders for many writers.

  • FREE WRITE FOR FIVE MINUTES:

Though this method hasn’t helped me personally to overcome my writer’s block, I’ve heard that this has helped a lot of other writers. How to free write? Just pick a sheet of paper and start writing whatever comes to your mind. It could be about your day,  your family, food, cats, cars, whatever. The ideas don’t even need to be connected. Let go and just write. Let whatever is in your heart flow out. Many writers feel that, when done regularly, this flushes out whatever caused their writer’s block. Their mind becomes free again to create new scenes and continue with their novel.

  • STEP AWAY FROM WRITING AND DO OTHER CREATIVE THINGS:

Not able to write the perfect scene and don’t have the inclination to write anything at all? No problem. Step away from it for a time and do other creative things like painting, handicrafts, make a cover image for your novel in Photoshop just for fun, make character profile pics for all your characters … or any other hobby that inspires you. Do that for a few days and come back to writing.

  •       DREAM ABOUT YOUR NOVEL

This might sound funny, but this method works wonders for people who find inspiration in their dreams. My entire novel was first written in dreams before they were transferred to my laptop. In our dream state, creativity is at its peak. While going to sleep, just think about the scene that you are stuck in and dream about the various ways it could go 🙂

It’s a fun way to overcome our writer’s block.

  •      POSITIVE SELF-SUGGESTIONS

The power of positive suggestions have been scientifically proved and accepted world-wide now-a-days. Need to see the proof? Have a look at this video about Dr. Emoto’s world-reknowned experiment on water and how it is affected by thoughts.

What has really helped me besides meditation is the positive suggestions that I give to myself at night before I go to sleep. I suggest to myself that my mind and heart are free of all things negative, that they are filled with creativity, happiness and love. If done with a strong belief, the effect on our psyche is amazing!

That’s it for now … 🙂

If there are some other ways that have worked for you, I’d be delighted to learn about it and update this list. Hope the above ways are of some help to you.

Happy Writing!
Krisna