Happy Wizarding, Harry, um, I mean Writing

MamaAndBaby

I feel like I have nothing to say today. My munchkin got me up at 4:30 this morning. I just want a nap. So, I give you a poem I wrote when she was a new baby that seems rather appropriate and a link to a favorite inspiring LiveJournal post from Jim Butcher on The Most Important Thing An Aspiring Writer Needs to Know. May the weekend find you time to write.

A Mother’s Weary Vigil

Just after midnight

small heels beat a Morse code

of defiance into the mattress.

I am not tired.

I will not sleep.

Even though

mere moments before

or perhaps after

chubby cheeks and hands

folded in repose on mama’s lap

angelically spoke of

sweet dreams.

Oh, but what transpires

between the rocker and the crib?

Eyes and mouth pop open,

screams or laughter,

legs kick.

I am not tired!

I will not sleep!

Mama returns to the rocker

her weary vigil to keep.

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Finding Your Best Time To Write

ManageYourDayToDay

 

I’ve been pondering how to find time to write, and my best time to write. I guess we all struggle with that. For me, the demands of being a mom with a full-time job and a long commute make it hard to get any time in, let alone my best time.

For me, part of it is just staying in that creative part of my brain. I frequently refer to this as story brain, keeping the story I’m working uppermost in my brain as I go throughout the day, focused on the story even though I’m doing other things.

Sometimes I worry that doing that makes me less present in my life but I can clearly remembering sitting in my camp chair outside this summer while my daughter played on her swing set and I wrote in my journal, both recording the moment and coming up with a piece of the short story I was writing. So maybe it isn’t staying in story brain but just creative mode. It definitely feels different from normal, going about the routine of the day, brain.

Another part is scheduling. My husband gave me a book for Christmas that he heard about on the Chiot’s Run organic blog, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind. It’s a collection of essays on the topic, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. I’ve started reading a bit of it every day. Just the simple admonishment to do the thing that is most important first in your day instead of trying to get all the other little things out of the way first, is so obvious and yet counter to my typical thinking.

I can definitely say that I’m actually a morning person. Oh, not that I want to get up in the morning, but when I do get up early, in the neighborhood of six o’clock, I find myself feeling better and being so much more productive. When my daughter was going to sleep at midnight and getting up at 9 am with her father, I couldn’t do that. I was lucky to get myself to work on time. I love having my husband on first shift because it means I can get to bed earlier and get up at 6 am. I know it won’t last but I’m loving it and plan to make the most of it.

My challenge then is to make time for the morning pages (doing The Artist’s Way with a workshop group) and then write creatively. I can get up and do the morning pages then write in my head on the way to work and just use the voice recorder to catch anything I’ve worked through enough in my head to bother recording. That’s my best plan so far. Otherwise, I’m just going to have to write at night, which is fine but it’s definitely not my best time to write or my most creative. I’ll just have to edit more.

What are your challenges? How do you get your writing in? What’s your best time to write?

NaNoWriMo and Cafe Press

Lifeisstrangeandsowewrite

Happy Post Thanksgiving/Last Ditch Effort at NaNoWriMo! I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving and you’ve already “won” NaNoWriMo.  I enjoyed my Thanksgiving tremendously with both families this year but, as for NaNoWriMo, I’m still running behind. I am still running though. I have come a long way with this novel and I will finish.  I have today off and a write-in planned for tomorrow.  I know I can do it! Good Luck to all.

In other news, I’ve put my first Café Press selection of items together and they’re on sale today! I had posted this thought on Facebook, in the box above, that “Life is Strange, and so we write.” Several friends liked it and one said, “Bumper Sticker!” I thought, hey, I could do that. So I did a search online to make sure someone else wasn’t already using it. Then I went into Microsoft Publisher and made a text box, typed in the text, chose my font, chose the font size, chose the alignment and decided to put a border around the text. I saved it as a .jpeg and uploaded it to Café Press. They chose which items to place it on, including several types of mugs. I hope somebody out there likes it.  The design is labeled Life is Strange – Write.

One good thing about being forced to write a little slower this month – I’m going to “win” but I won’t be finished and that’s okay because I don’t feel burned out on it. I’ll keep going until it is then I’ll do a basic clean up edit and put it away for a month or so while I work on other things. I want to finish this book and try to sell it but I’m not going to rush it. I also have my second novel ready to be written (first five chapters are already written.) And I actually had an idea pop into my head that may become my third novel.

I don’t even remember what I was doing but I began to wonder what our society would be like if we had grown up around a more nature centered culture. Could we have industrialized under those circumstances?  If we did, what would it look like? Yes, it’s more questions than anything else at this point but it’s an intriguing line of thought for me and I think it may turn into something.

Life IS strange, and so I write. That is the great mystery and fun of it all.

NaNoWriMo and Word Choice in Characterization

HPIM1437

NaNoWriMo and Word Choice in Characterization

As I sit here, we are anticipating some winter weather tonight and I am looking forward to it.  There is nothing like sitting inside on a snowy day with a fire in the wood stove and a warm mug in hand to write.

I must confess that I am well behind in my NaNoWriMo word count. The goal is 50,000 by the end of the month and I am just around 25,000. Yes, I am well behind but there is still a chance I can catch up, though it is a small one.

Basically, I would need 25,000 words in eight days. That works out to over 3,000 words per day. Granted, this is the weekend, so I will intersperse writing with everything I do. However, the 3 year old may have some different ideas of how we should spend the day and Daddy will be off hunting a good bit of the time.

Another confession, I have been going off on some mighty big tangents, working on short stories, and just plunking the thoughts down inside my NaNoWriMo document at the end.  It’s not my novel but it is adding to my word count. With my limited writing time, I just can’t afford to ignore the short stories when they show up.

Anyway, I picked up an interesting book on Southern writers and artists yesterday at the library for inspiration. Of course the thing that caught my attention was a well known picture of Eudora Welty on the cover. I leafed through it then listened to the first part of the CD interviews on the way home.  I’ve always enjoyed southern writing, the characters are so vivid, and I love listening to writers and other creative types talk about their craft and world view.  If you’re interested, the book is The Storied South .

Characterization keeps coming up for me this week. Characterization through word choice was a major topic in writer’s group last night. Afterward, as I was sitting down to work on my novel, I wrote the line “I don’t know, but I kinda doubt it.” for my Professor character. As soon as I was close to done typing it, my brain had already edited to read, “I don’t know, but I rather doubt it.” (Yes, contrary to all admonitions to keep writing, I do edit little things like that as I go.) Just a simple word choice can make such a difference in a character and I think I was aware of what I was doing because of the discussion in group.

Then today, I had a library patron ask me what the most commonly used silent letter in English was. He amended that to be British English. Hmmm. That sent me researching only to find out that there is Received Pronunciation, also known as The Queen’s English, and Estuary Pronunciation, which is all the dialects that change every 20 kilometers and is how most people speak. That really gave me some insight on how hard it is to right proper dialect. Having an ear for that must be very difficult. (It also makes me think of the Car Talk guys on PBS radio who could guess where people were calling from a large percentage of the time after just a sentence or two. )

So, the answer?  I didn’t come up with a definitive one. My best guess was that it was e.  I said they’d have to consult a linguist.

What do you think?  Do you have any tricks for bringing your characters to life?  I could use some tips to keep me thinking.

Running Behind, But Still in the Running (NaNoWriMo)

Marathon

Well, NaNoWriMo is one week underway and I’m running behind.  I’ve written about 9,300 words at this point, though I’m not done for the day.  Unfortunately, my daughter and I both got a nasty little cold last weekend and the first week it was  rather difficult to write anything much, between being tired with taking care of her at night and getting sick myself.

Thankfully, NaNoWriMo is more of a marathon, a race of endurance, than a sprint, so there’s always time to catch up.  In fact, I don’t recall them offering it before, but I see in my stats on NaNoWriMo.org the breakdown of how many words I would have to write daily in order to finish on time.  It turns out it’s only about 100 words more per day than the original 1,667.  Doesn’t seem so terrible when you think of it like that.

This past week I’ve had a couple discussions with people about what 50,000 words means.  It’s not really a whole book, is it, they would say.  Perhaps not, but it certainly can be.  I listened to Neil Gaiman read The Ocean at the End of the Lane some weeks ago on audio CD and it was brilliant! The other day I received the hard copy so I could write a review and stared at it in shock.  This is a very small book, but it certainly didn’t seem that way when I listened to it. It’s only 178 pages, probably somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 words.

That seemed particularly significant in the midst of NaNoWriMo where those 50,000 words are the goal. I looked at the book and thought, here is an example of something of that length.  It makes me wonder how many words were in the first draft, whether it was longer and edited down or shorter and added to in the rewriting and editing phase. Yes, I’m still getting over my shock.  It does not read like such a small book.  It is very much a big book.
May we all write big books this month.

Let the NaNoWriMo Festivities Begin!

2013NaNoWriMoCalendar

Okay, so I’ve been shocked at how much attention my NaNoWriMo calendar has gotten but I’m glad people are enjoying it. I’ve set it as the background on my own laptop, as one poster said he was going to do with it.

Last night I submitted my entry for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition.  I wanted to let go of it before I started NaNoWriMo.  To be honest, I was utterly sick of it and ready to be done.  I’ve been editing it and nitpicking for the last two months, but it taught me a lot.  I think one of the failings in my writing has been my lack of follow through in editing to that degree.  I’ve written some good things and I’ve had some good ideas, but to really create something someone is going to want to publish, you have to be willing to go the distance with the editing.  I did that and let the story go. We’ll see how it does in the competition but I’m not going to hold my breath, I’m on to the next thing.

This month is all about creating without editing.  I’m about 2,300 words in and so far it isn’t really flowing, it doesn’t feel inspired.  I have an outline so I’m working with that but trying to remain flexible.  I’m working on a re-imagining of my Biomalware story.  I have two story summaries that are guiding the idea.

“As genetically modified crops take over and biodiversity dwindles, a menacing reality looms.  For half the world’s population these crops aren’t food at all.  They are… Biomalware.”

The other guiding idea is more human centered.

“When Sam’s two-year old daughter, Maddie, becomes sick he must find answers before it’s too late, but can he succeed when the opposition is a huge corporation with the full weight of the U.S. government at it’s disposal?”

Of course, these are just ideas and the story is changing along the way and as I learn more about the topic.  It’s science fiction but also a medical thriller and, of course, there’s a bit of a romance in there too.

And – to kick off NaNoWriMo on the right foot, I received my rejection e-mail from the Sustainable Arts Foundation today.  *sigh* I suppose it doesn’t mean much one way or another – they received over 1,500 applications and only give out half a dozen, with giving concentrated in the San Francisco area.  It was a long shot but I’m glad I did it.  I might try again next time.

Right now I’m licking my wounds and trying to concentrate on NaNoWriMo.  I believe I have a good idea and a good outline if the writing can live up to it.  That comes in time, though.  Right now it’s all about getting the words on the page.

It was definitely heartening to have EIGHT people at the kick-off write-in at my library.  That’s the best turn out I’ve ever had for a write-in.  It was inspiring to look at so many people sitting there just creating.

Happy writing everybody!

Inspiration and my Favorite NaNoWriMo Pep Talks!

Marie Lan Nguyen

If you’ve found this page in my blog then you’ve likely already made the decision to join NaNoWriMo and write a novel in November.  (Thank God!  I don’t want to be alone in this!) 

Seriously though, I really believe that everybody has a story to tell.  I’ve met so many people who tell wonderful stories but most have never bothered to put them down in writing, like my father, and it’s really hard to write someone else’s stories down for them.

How you tell that story is up to you. I also very firmly believe in NaNo Rebels – write poetry, a memoir, short stories, a script, whatever you fancy, just write those words down.

For some of us, writing is what we we felt we were always meant to do for the rest of our lives, but that isn’t necessary to NaNoWriMo.  It’s okay if you’re doing this because you want to get your memoir down or just want to give it a try. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, or a right or wrong reason for doing it.

It doesn’t matter whether the manuscript ever sees the light of day, just joining us on this endeavor is going to put you in touch with your creativity in a way you’ve never experienced before. 

There have been quite a few official NaNoWriMo “Pep Talks” over the last six years.  Sadly they are not all created equal.  Some ramble, some need editing, and some have really good advice.  The advice can be useful but when I want a pep talk, I want a PEP talk! I’ve been making a list of my personal favorites.

(2009 was a short list but the two I chose are some of the funniest I’ve read.)

Obviously, the best inspiration comes from reading material that directly relates to your novel in November. For me, I’ll be looking at articles and books, pro and con on GMOs, that inform my fiction. I’ll also be watching movies that are in the same genre I am writing. 

(Where will you glean inspiration from? Please take a minute to comment and share!)

Whether you’re getting ready for Nano and want to procrastinate a bit, are looking for some much needed encouragement or want to bookmark this page to pop back in when you’re two weeks under way and feel like you’re foundering, here they are – my favorite pep talks in all of Nano land.

2007

Author – Neil Gaiman

Favorite line –You don’t know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began—a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read—it falls so painfully short that you’re pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.” Sounds SO cheerful, doesn’t it?

Link –  http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/neil-gaiman

Author – Sue Grafton

Favorite line –Perhaps you’re suddenly uncertain your immediate family will appreciate your rendition of their annual drunken Christmas antics that result in all those accusations, renunciations, and slamming of doors. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/sue-grafton

Author – Sara Gruen 

Favorite line –But today, I am going to jump around and write only the fun bits! I’m going to write about food fights, and disastrous sex, and escaping in-laws, and apes with unlimited credit! “

Linkhttp://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/sara-gruen

2008

 Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line –November 16: The second half of NaNoWriMo dawns. Writerly confidence builds. Your book comes to life, and characters start doing interesting, unexpected things. Nice. Weird.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2008

Author – Meg Cabot

Favorite Line –But how long until some other story idea comes along and twitches its enticing little characters at you, and you decide to abandon this new one for it? How many words will you have then?”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/meg-cabot

Author – Janet Fitch

Favorite Line –When in doubt, make trouble for your character. Don’t let her stand on the edge of the pool, dipping her toe. Come up behind her and give her a good hard shove. “

Linkhttp://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/janet-fitch

Author – Jonathan Stroud

Favorite Line – “This wasn’t the moment for genteel self-editing. This was the time when the novel had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into existence, and that meant piling up the pages.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/jonathan-stroud

2009

Author – Maureen Johnson

Favorite Line – “What’s nice about NaNoWriMo is that you are traveling with a posse of thousands, all of you making your way over the mountains, through the valleys, across the creeks. You are fighting off the beasties.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/maureen-johnson

Author – Gail Carson Levine

Favorite Line – “My techy friend spent hours tinkering with my computer. She’s assured me that it will combust if I try to reestablish connections to the internet and email. The single thing I’m keeping is my cell phone in case I start to go into cardiac arrest, but the keys are smeared with battery acid, except the 9, the 1, and send. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/gail-carson-levine

2010

Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line – “Incite change. If your story is losing momentum, juice it up by inflicting some major changes on your characters. Crash the spaceship. End the marriage. Buy the monkey. Change is scary because we have to figure out what comes next. But feeling afraid is ten times better than feeling bored, and your book will benefit from your risk-taking.”

Link – http://http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2010

Author – Lindsey Grant

Favorite Line – “All together, let’s laugh in exultation at our total domination!/ MuahaHAHA!/Now let’s go do some writing.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/lindsey-grant-2010

Author – Holly Black

Favorite Line –There aren’t good books and bad books. There are finished books and books that still need more work. Please don’t let wondering if there’s a market for your book or wondering if the book you’re writing is genius or evidence that you should be heavily medicated get in the way of the writing. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/holly-black

Author – Lemony Snicket

Favorite Line – “Think of all the things you could do with your time instead of participating in a noble and storied art form. There are things in your cupboards that likely need to be moved around.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/lemony-snicket

2011

Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line – “Sadly, the older we get, the harder it is to find time to visit these wild places within. Between school, work, and family, the days just get away from us. There might be an hour of writing here or a few minutes of dreaming there, but it’s usually sandwiched between tasks and errands. The roar of that creative ocean becomes a distant sound that occasionally drifts in through our windows at night, reminding us of a place we once loved, and keep meaning to get back to./ But you know what?/ This November, we’re going to the ocean.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2011

Author – Rachael Herron

Favorite Line – “Every day I white-knuckled it, and on November 30th, I wrote my 50,006th word. The words The and End were two of those. After a few months of lying in dark rooms recovering, I picked it back up and gave it a real ending. “

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/rachael-herron

Author – Erin Morgenstern

Favorite Line – “I want to mix you each the beverages of your choice, cocktails or sodas or tea or foam-topped espresso drinks that all magically maintain perfect drinking temperature. Bring you truffles or tira misu or chocolate-covered popcorn and give you wrist massages while whispering these encouraging, fortune-cookie bits of wisdom-esque whatnot garnered in my years of NaNo-ing”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/erin-morgenstern

Author – Lani Diane Rich

Favorite Line – “You’re not signing up for this challenge because you want to type a lot in November./ You’re doing it because you have a story to tell, and that’s a big deal.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/lani-diane-rich

2012

Author – Chris Baty

Favorite Line – “…we’ve realized the whole “fair fight” thing was a dumb idea, and partly because we blew all of our harassment budget on yesterday’s spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to crash every word processor in Manitoba.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/chris-baty-2012

Author – Grant Faulkner

Favorite Line – “It resembles a canvas that a gaggle of preschoolers are fingerpainting on together. Then, while the teacher isn’t looking, the ornery little devils find a box of feathers, glitter, Cheerios, pasta shells, and they toss it all into the mix.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/grant-faulkner

Author – Marissa Meyer

Favorite Line – “The trick to landing an excellently unexpected insertion is to not go with the first idea that pops into your head—too often, that is the domain of clichés and the all-too-expected. Rather, try making a list of at least twenty things you would enjoy writing about right now. It doesn’t matter if it has anything to do with what you’ve written so far (you can always drop in some nice foreshadowing during revisions), and the whole point is that you’re about to insert something fun, unique, and exciting into this draft.”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/scott-westerfeld

Author – Scott Westerfeld

Favorite Line – “Make a list of all the varieties of aliens you can come up with. (And if it’s less than 3,000, then THE PEARS ARE LAUGHING AT YOU, MY FRIEND.)”

Link – http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/scott-westerfeld

Building a Better, Smarter, Faster NaNoWriMo

Biohazard_orange

I’ve done NaNoWriMo a number of times over the years, under a few different names.  For the past few I’ve done it under MeloraJohnson. (Feel free to add me as a friend!) My novel is Biomalware.

“In the near future a new line of disease and pest resistant genetically modified crops is being aggressively marketed, claiming to bring an end to world hunger.  As biodiversity dwindles, menacing secrets lurk beneath the perfectly red tomatoes and ultra-sweet corn. But for many, these crops aren’t food at all.  They are… Biomalware.

As I mentally prepared for this November, I started thinking about the past few attempts.  What have I learned from the numerous runs at NaNoWriMo?  A few things.

Four years ago I started writing a novel about a girl who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, and NaNo got interrupted when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant around the seventh or so of the month.  (Yeah, one of these days I’m going to write a novel about a woman who wins a giant lottery jackpot.)

That time I learned that life can get in the way, if you let it.  There was really no reason for me to stop writing other than the fact that I was tired.  I could have kept writing, maybe not with a view to winning, but to get the most out of it that I could.  As Garrison Keillor says, “Nothing bad happens to a writer, it’s all material.” I let life get in the way. Now, I really wish I’d at least kept a journal of that time.

Last year I tried picking a different prompt every single day to see how far I could get on any particular day and if I could generate some solid short stories or story ideas.  I found myself focusing on one particular idea for about a quarter of the time.  What have I done with that idea since? Forgot about it, until this very paragraph. (It was actually a decent idea about time travel that I may have to dig out.  Strangely enough, our writer’s group prompt for this coming week is time travel.  Maybe I can turn it into a short story. Now, where did I put it?) I may do this again in the future, but with a plan, the prompts chosen and a filing system so I don’t just lose track of what I did.

Just over a year ago I wrote my first draft of Biomalware for Camp Nanowrimo in August of 2012.  I tried to edit it but I just felt like it wasn’t up to my usual strong vision of a story. It seemed more like a giant outline. I’ve resolved to plan ahead this time so I can really bring every scrap of talent and skill I have to bear on this project. I want this to be a book people will buy, enjoy and think about. (Not to mention talk about.)

Right now I’m trying to tie up a few loose ends before NaNoWriMo starts.  I have three short stories that I want to finish. The first is for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest and is on it’s very final edit before I send it off. The second is a rough draft for a Christmas competition that will benefit from being set aside for a while.  The third is a short story that I wrote as part of my writer’s group weekly challenge, which I’m editing to post here on Halloween.  This will all happen this weekend because, come Monday, I plan to delve into preparing for NaNoWriMo. 

I have job applications to fill out for all of my characters and the story arch to fill out for the overall plot. I want to spend the next couple weeks watching movies that tell their stories the way I want to tell this story and reading everything I can get my hands on, pro and con, for genetically modified organisms.  I’ve been doing this right along but now I’m going for an intensive preparation.  (Wish I’d started at the beginning of the month.)

It’s true, there’s no telling how real life may get in the way but, to my mind, the idea is to prepare and plan so that you can dive in and immerse yourself in the pure creative process for November.  Really have fun and enjoy it.  I think that’s what keeps me coming back to NaNoWriMo time after time.  It’s not really because I think I’m going to suddenly write the Great American Novel.  It’s because there’s nothing like being given a license to immerse yourself in the creative process. I love to write, not just to have written. 

If anyone gives you a hard time you can tell them that, well, it’s only for a month.

Organizing a NaNoWriMo Novel The Jim Butcher Way

Open_book_01.svg

Okay, first of all, do you know who Jim Butcher is? He writes this fantastic series of urban fantasy books based around a wizard named Harry Blackstone Dresden in modern day Chicago. If it sounds interesting, there’s already something like 12 books in the series. Check him out at your local library or on Amazon. Here’s Jim Butcher’s Amazon page.  

Okay, he also writes another series called Codex Alera and I’m sure the writing is just as fine but I haven’t read it so I can’t say I love it, like I can the Harry Dresden series. They are fun, fast-paced action but also really good writing and he always hits me with something deep somewhere along the way. Love it!

Anyway, he also wrote a a LiveJournal where he shared information on writing. I’ve been looking at distilling it down to steps I can use to plan my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.)

Here’s what I came up with. If it looks interesting, check out Butcher’s LiveJournal for more in-depth and better explanation. Be warned, it goes backward. You have to scroll to the bottom to the see the first entry then work up. 

Some of these were good reminders for me but some were new ideas that make good sense, like the Stimulus-Response Transactions.

  •  Conflict should exist in one form or another in every single scene. 
  • All of your characters need to have a goal
  • Use “Stimulus-Response Transactions.” Something happens to your character and he/she reacts. If you reverse that, it can confuse the reader so don’t do it unless you are very confident.
  • Write in either first or third person, especially if you’re just starting out. It keeps things much simpler.
  • Choose your point of view character based on who has the most to lose.

Write a Story Skeleton description of the main plot of your book in two sentences.

“*WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS*, *YOUR PROTAGONIST* *PURSUES A GOAL*. But will he succeed when *ANTAGONIST PROVIDES OPPOSITION*?”

Characters

What is (or what makes) an interesting character?

  • Exaggerate a feature – physical, mental or emotional.
  • Give them an interesting position, whether it is a social, geographic, intellectual or moral.
  • Introduce your character with a solid Characteristic Entry Action that is typical of who and what he is.
  • Make sure they act believably.
  • Make your character a whole, full person by showing his or her emotions, reactions and decisions.

I love the idea of Tags and Traits. It can help make your character unique if you pick the right combination and it helps solidify the character in the reader’s mind.

  • Tags are a few specific words you use to describe your character, and as much as possible, only your character.
  • Traits are unique items like a prop.

The Big Middle seems to be Butcher’s way of thinking of the climax. If it’s different, I’m not sure how. Maybe it just arrives earlier. (If somebody has a different understanding of this, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.) Basically, Butcher recommends creating a great big dramatic event for the end of the middle of the book which will lead directly to the homestretch.

The organization of scenes the way he explained it makes a lot of sense to me and really helps in plotting and organizing a story. They have to include –

Scenes

  • Point of View Character
  • Goal
  • Conflict (scene question)
  • Setback (scene answer)
  • Possible scene answers include
  • Yes! (but that gets you no where so) –
  • Yes, but..
  • No, and furthermore!

Sequels

Sequels are what happens after a scene. A character reacts emotionally, then thinks about it logically, considers possible outcomes to actions he could take and makes a decision. It’s simple and this is how people react to events so it keeps the reader moving forward quickly.

A Story Climax is the answer to the story question. It should include –

  • Isolation – friends can’t help him now.
  • Confrontation – obviously, with the antagonist.
  • Dark Moment – Confrontation did not go well.
  • Choice – between something good and something really bad.
  • Dramatic Reversal – poetic justice.
  • Resolution – keep it short.

Organization – The Basics

  • Write down your protagonist, his tags and traits, and how you intend to introduce him.
  • Ditto, but for the main opposition.
  • Create a story arc on paper or somewhere and fill in the opening scene, the big middle at the top and the climax on the right.
  • Fill in any scenes that you have in mind.
  • Add in phrases describing scenes that lead your character from one to the next.
  • Do Story Arches for all of your subplots.
  • Profile every significant character on his own sheet,
  • Outline scenes and sequels.
  • Repeat until climax.

As I said, this is the basics, Butcher’s (very entertaining) LiveJournal is something like 47 pages long and remember, this is one way to do it. Maybe it looks good to you, or maybe parts of it do. Take what works and leave the rest.

Happy Novel Planning!

Creative Writing While Still Planning (or) Planning for a Pantser

David_Malo's_map_of_the_world,_1832

By nature, I’m more of a pantser than a plotter.  (Okay, maybe it’s because I was never taught to plot.) Recently, however, a writing friend looked at one of my story ideas, proceeded to twist it on its head and challenged me to write a short story using the idea of a bridge burning at both ends then suggested a few elements to work in, however I chose.  I thought when I gave him the finished draft that I had gone too far afield of what he had “assigned” me.  He emailed me back quickly and told me, “You nailed it!”

That made me start thinking about how you plot and then work the elements you’ve decided on in, but also have room to make the story whatever it might be.  I have started several short stories since then, and also pulled out several that I started some time ago, but haven’t yet finished ANY of them.  Normally I get started and sometimes I finish and sometimes I get lost along the way.  With the framework that he gave me, I plowed right through writing but wasn’t too stifled.  It was something of a revelation.

How to create that framework to work within on my own? I’ve heard and read lots about outlining and planning but I’ve never really managed to grasp it.  Maybe I’m older and wiser but it’s beginning to make sense to me.  I really enjoyed Chuck Wendig’s post in 2011 on 25 Ways to Plot Plan and Prep Your Story, but I can’t say I was able to apply it that well.  (I think that was my shortcoming, not his post.  I’ve always been that way, I could memorize formulas in math, no problem, but applying them was a whole other quadratic equation.)

I like Wendig’s ideas of “The Vomit Draft” where you just write down everything you can think of and “The Bring Your Flashlight Draft” where you only outline a chapter or scene in advance.  (Is that really plotting?  I guess so.)  Anyway, give his ideas a read.  (He’s hilarious.  Seriously, I now must go read some Chuck Wendig.  However, there is at least one thought that made me say, “Oh, ish.  No, it wasn’t the pants comment, it was before that.)  One of my favorite thoughts, “The key is not to let this – or any planning technique – become an exercise in procrastination.  You plan. Then you do.  That’s the only way this works.”

I’ve been hearing a lot from people about using the Snowflake Method to organize their thoughts about a story.  I’ve looked at it and found the originator’s articles online about how to use it for both novel plotting and short story plotting so I’m going to give it a try and see if it helps me finish these short stories I have started.  I suspect it will.

At the same time, I’ve started turning Jim Butcher’s LiveJournal blog into something that I can hit point by point in plotting out my novel for NaNoWriMo.  He says himself that this is information he learned, not something he came up with, so I plan the distillation once I have it finished.  I figure, if I use the Snowflake method then fill it in just a little more using Butcher’s methodology, the novel is going to be a lot easier come November 1st, as long as I can stay in story space.  I’ve been out of that part of my brain for a week at least and I’m looking for the door back in.

In the meantime, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  It really reminded me of books by Madeline L’Engle that I read when I was growing up, though with a bit more adult content.  There was the same wonderful young main character, the magic and yet the feel of the Time Lords.  I’ve always enjoyed stories with a young protagonist.  I suspect that’s because we’re all a child inside, as he says in the book.  Or as another author put it, we never lose all the ages we’ve been.

Anyway, reading a slightly older collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman now, listening to Anansi Boys in the car, working on applying the Snowflake Method to my short stories in progress, and distilling the LiveJournal entries from Jim Butcher.

Right now I have a story to write and I need some coffee.  I’ve already written one scene last night, two scenes this morning, and I have two more to write then I can start editing and turning it into something that makes sense.  Wish me luck.

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