Julia Lye recently published her first novel Anelisha Knight In The Yarns Of Gods through DeeBee Books. Here is my interview with her.
Where did the idea for Anelisha Knight and The Yarns of Gods come from?
The Yarns of Gods technically began on my 12th birthday, way back in 2009, when my aunt and uncle gifted me a 320-page journal. As soon as I ripped off the wrapping, I decided to get writing, mid-party. At the time, it didn't matter what came of it. I just didn't stop, not even to this day.
After the success of that present, I started to receive journals from my family every birthday and Christmas, even my friends took up the new tradition, and I made it my mission to fill every journal to the last page. The Anelisha Knight books turned into a six-book series (now reduced to a three-book trilogy) and an entire universe was formed in ten other journals with several different main characters. But Anelisha Knight came first.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing The Yarns of Gods?
Time management was a big one. I wrote the majority of the book over the summer break between my third and fourth year at Carleton, but once I was back in classes, it became difficult to focus on editing the book and I had to extend some deadlines. Having daily goals and a plan to finish however many pages within a certain amount of time made it all more manageable, and having a forgiving publisher kept the stress off my back. Finally finishing the book felt even more rewarding after working on it for so long.
Are you a pantser or a plotter?
When I first began Anelisha Knight back when I wrote the first version in a journal, I was a pantser, writing whatever came to mind in a very stream-of-consciousness fashion. However, after I had that first edition out, I became a plotter, working with what I had already written. I tweaked it to omit the parts that the story didn’t need and expanded on the bits that kept my interest. Now, when I write new stories, I walk the line between pantser and plotter. My outlines are more like guidelines giving me an idea of where the story is meant to go, but I also let my writing take me by surprise as I follow winding rabbit holes.
Where do you find your inspiration?
For the most part, I like to incorporate the little themes and quirks that impact me most from my favourite movies, books, TV shows and even every-day life into my writing and make it my own. The bigger the emotional roller coaster, the better.
Now that The Yarns of Gods is out, can you tell us what’s next for your protagonist Anelisha Knight, or would that be giving away too much?
If I go into detail, it would be too easy to spoil the end of The Yarns of Gods, but I can speak about Anelisha, herself. After all, these books are first and foremost about her journey as a character through thick and thin. The end of the first book sees a big change in the life of Anelisha Knight, that forces her to face new dilemmas and hardships which threaten to consume her in the next book of the trilogy. She has experienced, firsthand, what it is to feel utterly alone, but has also fallen victim to devastating betrayal. Now, she needs to find her footing on new ground while measuring how much of her broken trust she is willing to give to others.
Do you have any tips for writers who want to write their novel?
The best advice I can give is to write. For a lot of people, that can be the hardest part of writing, but even sitting down for ten or twenty minutes a day and getting out whatever comes to mind will help oil the engine of your creativity. A good way to do that without distraction, I’ve found, is to write in a journal and then type it up later. That way, there’s no option of the internet to steal away hours of your writing time, as it so often does for me. And if you think of something in the shower or on your commute or at work, write it down, compile it, and use it however you can. Those little moments of inspiration are some of the best motivators to get you working on the story unfurling in your head.
Julia Lye is a writer living and working in Ottawa, Ontario.
Claudia plunged deeper underwater, staring up at the flickering starlight and the moon shadows blinking under a veil of the cleansing water. She held her breath, her heart beating the only sound, moving her arms and legs in slow motion. The burn in her lungs began as a memory of her father, when she was four and he pushed her on the backyard swing, his tie loose at the collar, gray flannel pants billowing in the breeze she made as she flew past him. Then, when she closed her eyes, the sensation of movement made her feel like she was flying like Wendy through the clouds to Neverland.
The burn continued, more strenuous now, vying for attention. It grew into a dull, penetrating ache. She released some air and watched the bubbles float above her face, drifting toward the surface, merging with the dappled light like a Monet seascape. Deeper, and a little deeper yet. More bubbles rushed to the surface. The ache became an urgent scream in her brain, and just when she thought she would black out, in that thin space between consciousness and some other realm, she kicked hard and torpedoed up, breaching the surface in a midnight explosion of splashes and sloshes and eerie echoes and great inhalations.
Crickets still chirped in the background and there, across the bay, fireflies danced in the darkness of the marshes. As she swam quietly, calmly back to the shore, feeling the water caress her naked body, the decision that haunted her for the past week solidified in her mind. It was time.
Cold sand pinched between her toes. Claudia gathered her clothes and climbed the stone steps to the cabin. Everything made sense now. Everything so clear. On the porch surrounding the wooden structure, she stopped to gaze across the mirrored water. The moon’s reflection and winking stars rippled across time, across the lives of all her generations. She shivered as droplets of water fell from her skin. She touched her belly softly, dead fingers trembling. Then, swallowing a deep breath, she turned and stepped inside.
- from a writing exercise in one of the Ottawa Writing Workshop sessions. Interested in writing? Come join us Saturday March 23 for the One Day Writing Blitz!
Like the name suggests, this prose is passive, the literary equivalent to a shrug of the shoulders. Let's take a look at what it is, and how to reduce our reliance on it.
The Passive Voice
By definition, passive voice occurs when the noun of a sentence that is being acted upon, becomes the subject of it.
Example: The building was destroyed.
Here, the it is the building that is being acted upon since it was destroyed by something. However, the way the sentence is written, we have no idea what caused the destruction. We've made the object being destroyed into the subject of the sentence. In other words, by saying "The building was destroyed" we are stating a fact. That is, we are telling the reader what happened, not showing the reader what happened.
A better way to show that the building was destroyed is to make the object of destruction the object again. We need a new subject for this sentence. Perhaps a bomb (subject) destroyed the building (object). Or spaceship (subject) blew up the building (object). And if we don't want to give away just yet who did it, we can write "An explosion destroyed the building", which is clearly just as effective. By adding that subject in the sentence, we instantly improve our writing by moving away from the passive voice and toward the active voice.
When To Use The Passive Voice
There are times when it makes sense to use the passive voice. Here's a hint: it's not when you're writing an action scene. Instead, we can use the passive voice for dramatic effect. In other words, when we're writing passively by intention, then it can be quite effective as long as we don't overdo it.
One of the more famous passages is Charles Dickens' introduction to A Tale of Two Cities.
"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." and so on. By any definition, this is telling the reader, not showing. This has the passive voice all over it. And yet, in this context, along with all the other "It was" sentences he uses, a dramatic impression is left with the reader because he writes this intentionally.
But can you imagine how boring a fight between Captain Kirk and Darth Vader would be if it was filled with lines like:
- The phasor cut into Vader's cloak.
- A lightsaber fell to the ground
- A rock was thrown across the starship.
So if you're not thrilled with your writing, especially your action scenes, take a look to see if you've been using the passive voice unintentionally and, if you have, make the necessary change to the active voice and watch your prose come alive.
Have you ever tried to write a novel only to find yourself getting frustrated and giving up after a few thousand words? Perhaps you've done some plotting and worked out characters, but can't quite bring yourself to ever finishing the thing?
Writing a novel is a huge project, a massive undertaking, that is always much harder to accomplish than we ever think. One of the reasons for this is the North American myth propagated by television... you know the one, where the writer sits down at her laptop one evening, opens the screen, types out "Chapter One" and within a day or two she has a full novel manuscript ready to become a best-seller.
Alas, the craft of writing, especially writing a novel, doesn't work that way. It is a lot of thinking, of practicing, of trying new things, of failing, of revising, editing, deleting, starting over, plotting and so on.
But if you're willing spend one or two hours per day for 90 days, I can show you how to write the first draft of an awesome page-turning novel. Here's how.
1. Plot your story from start to finish before ever writing
There are plotters and there are writers who write by the seat of their pants, without a guide or outline or anything. Very few can actually write that way. Most of us need to plot. So the most successful way I know of writing a story is to plot it out scene by scene, section by section. For example, in my Write Your First NOvel Now course, we use a plotting tool based on the Hero's Journey to map out an entire story before we ever start writing. And it works. Every time.
2. Write every day, no exceptions
Consistency is more important than time spent writing. If you only have an hour a day to write, make sure you honour that. Adjust your schedule for the next 3 months so you can get your writing in. At first, it will be difficult, but within a week or two, you'll be writing up a storm, getting into the flow of the craft, and generating amazing prose.
3. Don't stop to edit or revise... just keep writing
This is an important point because far too many of us start editing and revising each page we write. It's a sure fire way to get bogged down and to convince yourself that you're a bad person for thinking you could write, shame, shame, tut tut.
So the key here is to keep writing. This is your first draft, remember, so it's going to have inconsistencies and problems with sentence structure and such. That's okay. Tell that voice in your head - you know, the one that says, "You should use a semi-colon instead of a colon there!" - to relax. There will be time to edit and revise AFTER the first draft is done.
4. Embrace the process
The most difficult part of writing is actually sitting down and writing. It's not how great your characters are, or how well you plot, or anything else like that. If you can't get the story out of your head and on the paper, all those other things don't matter.
So for the next 90 days, embrace the process. Give yourself 2 weeks or so to plot out your story from start to finish (write me if you'd like a novel planning template), then jump right in! Remember, you won't be doing this for the rest of your life, just the next 90 days. You can do this!
By following those four tips above, you'll be writing a novel of 60,000 - 75,000 words in about 3 months. Yes, it's possible to do... I see it all the time in my novel writing workshops. And yes, there will be more work to do after, like editing and revising. But you'll get it done, which is more than most people can say who want to write a novel.
Feel free to comment on this article and share your own experiences with the process! And, if you liked this, please share it with your friends on social media.
If you'd like more info on how I use this process in my workshops, check out these current offerings.
There are several affordable apps available to help writers self-edit, like Grammarly and ProwritingAid among others. They all more or less do the same things but some are a little more user friendly than others.
I tried Grammarly, for example, and found it too invasive and annoying. That's why I use ProwritingAid, but I learned quickly that if I just followed what the app suggested, my writing would look like soup. You have to be smart about any of these apps, and trust your own instincts.
The best way to show you how to use PRowritingAid effectively and efficiently is to show you the demo and exactly how I use it for the "heavy edits" in my own writing. In this demo shown here, I walk you through a piece of my draft novel and illustrate the most important tools to use.
If you'd like to try this app out for free, just click this link and sign up.
Got an opinion on this? Leave a comment, share the link, and start the conversation...
I remember it was around this time last year when Nick Forster asked me if I thought he was ready to tackle writing a novel. He’d participated in several of my 4-week workshops (mystery and suspense, sci fi and fantasy, young adult) but tackling a 75,000 word novel is a much larger project than a 3,000 word short story.
Well, I encouraged Nick to take the Write Your First Novel Now workshop because I knew he could write in sections and I knew he was able to write without letting fear get in the way too much.
Before the workshop was over, he’d written the first draft of his novel Marine Space: The Fury of Xero Nekton. It was so much fun reviewing his sections in the workshop, and everyone loved this high-action space opera romp through the galaxy.
I'm thrilled to say that Nick’s book is now available on Amazon. He went from a story idea to a first draft in about 10 weeks, and now the finished story is out there in the world.
It’s time to celebrate… congratulations Nick!
I asked Nick if he would share his novel-writing experience with the group... here's the interview:
What inspired you to try writing a novel?
I have a lot of ideas that I wanted to share. A novel is a good way to do that. Nobody else is going to tell me what to write, just me. Although I started a book in 1999 called The Tired Guy, it was not until a couple of years ago that I decided to start writing again. I started another novel but very quickly wrote myself into a corner. It was then that I saw an ad for one of David’s science fiction short story workshops. I promptly signed up, and after enjoying it so much, took a few more that year. I was going to continue with short stories for a while, but gambled on the novel workshop instead, even though I doubted my abilities. In fact, even after signing up and starting to write, it wasn’t until I was well into the first draft that I really started to believe I could actually do it.
What was the hardest thing about writing a novel?
The hardest things about writing a novel were overcoming doubt and finding enough time to write. Days off writing tended to take the story from my mind and made it harder to return. It was in these times that I doubted myself and the story, whether it was good enough, or if I was wasting my time. Sometimes I would hit a rough patch, a poorly-planned section, and it would be very difficult to write. That’s when the self-doubt would kick in. Also, a few days off meant re-reading everything you’d already written to get back into the story.
Can you describe the habits or things you did that helped you finish your story?
Stick to it! I started getting up early and writing for at least an hour before work. This got easier because I found I would wake up with ideas and want them to get them down before forgetting. Also, I replaced bad habits with good, writing instead of watching TV, for instance. Replacing weekend chores with writing also helped tremendously, as getting two or three sections in a row really helped build momentum. Luckily, I don’t have kids, so I have more time for this kind of thing. Heh heh. It sounds pretty cliché, but the more I did, the easier it got, and the faster I became. I also had mini deadlines for myself. Like I wanted to have the first draft done before the workshop was over, and I also wanted to have the second draft done by July 1st. I luckily had a week off work in June which helped me accomplish that, but it was mainly by getting up early anyway. The more I wrote, the less I was able to sleep, which also helped with the getting up early part. The help, feedback, advice, and encouragement given by fellow workshoppers was also a very key piece of the puzzle.
What advice would you give to those who are thinking about writing their own novel?
Think of an idea and do it. Planning is key. Know your characters. Invest time in the plot/section planning. Invest the time daily. My biggest stumbling blocks occurred when I came across a poorly-planned or vague section and had to come up with 1250 words on it. A well-planned section practically writes itself, and I could do the first draft of it in one session. But my biggest advice would be to have fun. Pick something that interests you and will enjoy spending time thinking and writing about because it takes a lot of time! But if you like it, then it is like recreation, not work, so it doesn’t matter that it takes time. Also, don’t dwell on quality when you are writing the first draft. Speed helps (not the pills :). Type fast, get the story down in black and white. Fix it later. Get involved in a workshop or group of writers and meet regularly to help each other.
Some sound advice on getting that first novel written... thanks Nick!
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One of the more common things I see new writers do is to try telling the reader every single detail about a scene or a character or a theme. They think the reader “won’t get it” if they don’t include all that information. This implies the reader isn’t clever enough to understand your brilliance, so you have to insert yourself into the story and walk them through it. But readers don’t like this.
I'm not talking about Kurt Vonnegut inserting himself as the creator in a story to make some metafictional point. That is something different. What this is about is the belief that unless you explain things to your reader in great detail, they won't recognize your brilliance.
I don’t think writers intentionally do this, but I know there are times when we all want to show readers how brilliant our prose is, or how sharp our plotting is. Sometimes, we can’t help ourselves.
Why not trusting your reader is problematic
The problem with not trusting the reader is two-fold: first, it insults them. As readers, we love to figure things out, to make our own connections, to visualize what the characters look like and so on. One of the reasons why mysteries are so popular is because the reader gets to figure out who dunnit too. By telling readers too much, writers take that level of engagement away from them.
Second, it breaks the flow of the story. Readers know when you’re inserting yourself into the prose to teach and preach. And if the flow of reading is broken, your reader engagement is lost. When readers become disengaged, they put the book down and may never pick it up again.
How to identify when you’re not trusting the reader
Sometimes it’s difficult to notice when you, as a writer, aren’t trusting the reader. It’s like everything else with our stories: we become attached to them, and blind to the errors we’ve made. So the best thing to do is to make sure others read your story. If they’re honest and sincere, they will tell you when they recognize a certain preachiness in the writing.
Whenever the narrator or a character goes over the top explaining something, you know you’re not trusting the reader. As a writer, you may think you’re doing the reader a favour by telling them how all the dots join up, but readers don’t like this. We like to figure things out on our own.
So, if you find your explaining too much or getting preachy and teachy, that’s when you should have a close look at your prose and start cutting words out.
The story is never finished until it’s read
Lastly, trying to tell or explain to the reader everything that’s going on is impossible. As a writer, you may have a certain idea in your head about what’s going on, but every reader will pick up something a little different that you never thought of. It’s because each reader brings their own personal and unique experience to the story when they read it. They create the theatre of the mind based on places they’ve been, and people they know. In fact, the reader completes the story you began writing.
Because of this, it’s impossible for a writer to portray exactly everything they want in a story. It’s why describing someone as a “tall, brown-eyed woman with shoulder-length hair” is far more effective than describing every single detail about what she looks like and what she’s wearing.
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