Category: Writing (Page 1 of 7)

#amwriting Couch to 80K Writing Challenge Rocks

With all the analogies comparing NaNoWriMo to running a marathon, I wasn’t surprised that the aptly named Couch to 80K Boot Camp with Tim Claire was good way to condition my writing muscles. What did surprise me was that his advice might have saved my novel.

The “Boot Camp” consists of listening to and participating in six sessions per week over the course of eight weeks. Each session lasts roughly 20 minutes, including ten minutes of guided writing time. The first exercises are deceptively simple, like making lists of character names. Each step builds on the previous. Gradually, you learn craft, sometimes without realizing you are learning.

At first I thought it might be too much to do both challenges together, but the timed Couch to 80K sessions were just what I needed to get the words flowing each day for NaNo.  The synergy was perfect.

After “winning” NaNo, however, I found myself stalled on the novel. The ending I had planned was dull and cliche, but I didn’t see any realistic fixes. I worried the whole thing was headed to the drawer.

In desperation, I went back to the Couch to 80K. I hadn’t finished all of week eight, largely because he said to use the time  to write scenes and I was already past that stage. Because it had worked so well during November, however,  I sat down and listened to the last few from beginning to end. At the end of the very last lesson there it was. He mentioned that to have a truly fresh novel you have to do research. Real, deep research.

Of course, what had been eluding me like a fluttering butterfly came into focus as if through a macro lens. NaNo conventional wisdom is to put off research and simply write, so that’s what I had done. I got into the habit of not doing research. N-o-n-e. Research was wasted time. No wonder my novel was flimsy and floundering. I delved into research and it is so refreshing. I already have a bouquet of new ideas. Although I feel like an idiot for not figuring it out earlier, I was smart enough to see the solution when it was handed to me.

Thank you, Tim Claire.

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Tim Claire also has the 100 day challenge. Anyone up for working on it with me?

 

#Mystery Writing with Megan Collins

We’re finding so much wonderful info for readers and writers online right now. For example, there’s a free series from Gotham Writers called Inside Writing.  In this episode we see author Megan Collins talk about writing her novels The Winter Sister and Behind the Red Door.

Favorite parts:

  • Megan reveals she is a fan of true crime. She considers listening to podcasts like My Favorite Murder as research for her novels.
  • Her agent Sharon Pelletier says a big twist at the end should be believable and satisfying, not simply a big surprise.
  • Sharon also says the little details have to be accurate/realistic or it will put off readers.
  • Megan suggests tuning out the pressure to create something completely new and fresh because it can be paralyzing.  Tell your story.
  • Sharon doesn’t want to see the ending/answer to the mystery in the pitch.

The Winter Sister* by Megan Collins

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Persephone died sixteen years ago and her murder remains unsolved.

When her sister Sylvie returns to her hometown to care for her mother, the mystery of what happened to Persephone is forced into her life again. She must deal with why her mother rejected her after her sister’s death. She also runs into Persephone’s boyfriend, who was the last to see her alive. Can she face the secrets kept all those years?

#Amwriting October 30: Ready to Write

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts Sunday November 1, but our preparation series ends today. Hopefully you have honed your tools and are ready to write. If you get stuck at any point, help is just a click away in the resources linked below.

 

 

Can you believe we’re finally at the starting line? Frankly, I’m a bit excited and frightened at the same time. I’ve done NaNo before, but this feels like it’s going to be an important year. Hope it is for you, as well.

Time to take a breath and get those last few things accomplished. I’m going to leave you with a list of a few writing  resources  in case you need assistance while in the throes of writing.

My last bit of advice, however, is to also be willing to ignore the advice. The most important thing is for you to write is your own unique story.

Resources

Visit the 30 Day Novel Prep Page for the links to all the posts in the series. Tip:  I’ve pulled out all the writing books I recommended in the various posts and have them together on a close-by shelf for ease of grabbing

My friend Shan Hays has some great suggestions about how to get into the writing habit. I’m going to try a few, like when I stop for the day I’m going to prepare a sticky with notes about where to start the next morning. Such a good idea. Now I’m wondering why didn’t I do that before?

 Blogs to Visit:

Anne R. Allen -writing and marketing tips by a variety of authors (plus awesome resources page)

Writer Unboxed

Jennie Nash Book Coach – often has free tips and resources in addition to her services

**Helping Writers Become Authors with K.M. Weiland – extensive resources on all aspects of writing, especially for the beginner. Excellent!

Darcy Pattison has a ton of writing advice that work for all writers, not only for children’s book authors.

Podcasts to exercise by (or do the dishes by):

Writing Excuses podcast  is like eavesdropping on a bunch of extremely talented writer friends.

The Bestseller Experiment podcast

Example podcast:

 

Write Minded – about inspiration and process, for example  NaNo prep with Alexis Daria

I’ve tried to keep the list short and to the point.

Do you have any writing resources you would recommend?

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Note:  I’ve been keeping these NaNo posts and some additional notes in a Scrivener file. I just looked and they add up to 49,986 words. With this post I will have written over 50,000 words about NaNo this month!

You can write 50,000 words, too. Now go do it!

Thank you for reading. Please stop by and let us know how you are doing through the month.

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#Amwriting October 29: Writing Process and Creativity

As we begin to wrap up the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, let’s talk about writing process and creativity.

Writing can be a real a mystery. Yesterday, while typing up a blog post about endings, I had an epiphany about the beginning line of my novel. Popped right into my head. What is up with that?

Because we are about to embark on what is the writing equivalent of a marathon, perhaps it is time to talk about the creative process. Where do these new ideas come from? How does imagination work? How do we encourage it?

Where do the ideas come from?

Experts suggest that ideas come from having a question in mind. Some problem — small or large — has caught the attention of your brain and now it is puzzling out the answers whether you are aware of it or not. The answer arrives in the form of an idea.

For my “beginning” example above, I suspect one of the articles I looked at while preparing the post on endings must have mentioned the importance of beginnings as well. Perhaps it was in a fleeting title in a related posts section that I barely glanced at. In any case, without conscious effort my brain began churning away at the problem. I didn’t even know it had been engaged until the answer arrived.

I like calling creativity a “muse” because it helps explain that sort of unpredictability. Elizabeth Gilbert has a wonderful TED talk about the fickleness of creativity, which I’ve shared in a previous post. It’s well worth visiting.

Tricking Your Muse

At some point during the course of writing your novel, your muse may decide to take a long vacation in Hawaii. Here are some ways to trick him/her/it back into the room.

1. Read over what you wrote the day before. Remember what you were thinking and what you were feeling, plus where it was leading you. If you can’t remember, don’t worry about it because that will take up more mental space. Ask yourself the question, perhaps out loud. “Where was I going?” Then play around with some of the other suggestions in this list.

2. Set a timer and free write for 15 minutes. During that time, send your inner critic on vacation, perhaps to Florida. No correcting yourself. Ignore spelling, punctuation, grammar. Also, no expectations. Write whatever pops into your head.

Recently, I was supposed to write a letter from one of my characters to another. It wasn’t working, so instead I free wrote a letter to my sister. Turns out I had been thinking about her. Getting my thoughts down on paper freed me to work on my novel again.

3. Move to another scene or plot point and reverse engineer the scene you are stuck on later (a suggestion from yesterday’s post about endings.)

4. Check in with yourself. Sometimes we get so caught up in writing, we don’t take care of our needs. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Too warm? Too cold? Need a trip to the restroom? Tired? Are you wearing comfortable clothes? Are there noises that are distracting you?

Be careful, however, that you aren’t using a trip to the fridge as a way of procrastinating. If you just ate 15 minutes ago, hunger probably isn’t the issue.

5. Take a shower.  A shower combines gentle physical stimulation with a retreat from the world. It is a mini-vacation that might bring your muse back from hers.

6. Change venue. Take a walk, take a ride, drive somewhere new, write in the park, write in the basement. Maybe your muse will be intrigued by the novelty.

7. Join other writers. Writing is a hard thing to do and writing alone can make it more difficult. Try to find other writers and spend time writing together. Share experiences. Bounce ideas off each other. These days the meetings will probably be virtual, but that works, too.

8. Promise yourself a reward for finishing something. Positive reinforcement is good and it can be a simple as a piece of chocolate or five minutes on social media.

If none of these suggestions work, it might be time to take a long look at your project with an objective eye. Is your reader self trying to tell you there’s something wrong that your writer self doesn’t want to face? I once spent several weeks rewriting the first four chapters of a novel, spinning my wheels over and over. I couldn’t get past those chapters for some reason. Then, I figured out the glitch. My main character had no motivation to stay with the problem I wanted him to solve. In fact, he had good reasons to walk away. I decided to let him go and set the project aside for the time being.

Recharge Your Muse

If your creativity battery is simply low, there are ways to recharge that don’t require vacations to Hawaii. The tried-and-true way is to do some reading. In addition to any book you have handy, I recommend Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. It is full of chatty, but genius gems about writing.

In addition, look at art, listen to music, attend a play, or watch a movie. Let the creativity of others spark something in you.

Happy writing!

Do you have any other suggestions for keeping your creativity flowing? I’d love to hear them.

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 28: Where and When of Endings

As we near the finish of our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, it’s time to think about endings.

Where and when do you bring about your ending? Sometimes you might want to put the cart before the horse.

Writing Your Novel From the End

Much of this NaNo preparation series has been oriented toward starting your novel from the beginning of the story. But what about approaching it from the opposite direction? What about nailing your ending, then writing to that goal?

In a recent Writing Excuses podcast, Victoria Schwab revealed she writes the endings of her novels first. To explain why, she uses an analogy of baking. According to Victoria, you need to know whether you are making an apple pie or a carrot cake to decide what ingredients to assemble (although to be fair, genre will guide you to some extent.) Her analogy makes a lot of sense. Having a concrete, well-made product in mind could give you a clearer sense of purpose.

Reverse Engineering in the Middle

On the other hand, for some people knowing the ending can kill creativity or motivation to complete the novel. Even if that’s the case for you, there are times it might be beneficial to work backwards. In a recent webinar, former Police Captain and author Isabella Maldonado suggested reverse engineering as a tactic to get around plot holes or being stuck. For example, if you get stuck at the end of the first act (or whatever plot point you have at 25%), move on to the midpoint. Once you have figured out what needs to happen there, then 25% should come together.

Reverse engineering can apply to any point in the novel. Skip ahead to get unstuck.

 

Public Domain image from publicdomainpictures.net

Prolepsis

You can also play with endings with prolepsis, which is telling the reader from the start what is going to happen. In this case the story generally follows a normal timeline, leaving the reader to wonder how that ending is going to be true.

A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife is a stellar example of prolepsis. In this case the protagonist states flat out in the second paragraph of the novel that she is going to kill her husband. The events then unfold in chronological order. It is one of my favorite novels (my review with spoilers).

Reverse Chronology

By definition, thrillers often reveal the killer(s)/antagonist(s) identity early on in the book and the central question is whether the protagonist will be able to catch them. However, we usually don’t know the answer until the end. Author Jeffrey Deaver wrote his thriller The October List with reverse chronology or what he called “a surprise beginning” (PW article). He disclosed the  ending at the beginning of the novel, then journeyed backwards in time to slowly divulge why things were not all that they seemed. That must have been incredibly difficult to plot, which is why he says, “Once is enough for me!”

Now that we are at the end of the post, I hope this has given you some ideas.

Are you going to apply any of these options to your novel?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

 

#Amwriting October 27: Ways to Outline a Novel

If you have been following our NaNo prep series, now you should be ready map out your novel. Yesterday we went over the pros and cons of outlining. Whether you plan to outline or not, it pays to investigate some of the different ways writers organize large amounts of information. One might be the best way for you.

 

 

Tried and True:  Index Cards

The most common way to outline a novel is to write on index cards and arrange them as needed. There are many articles how to do this, including Three ways to plot with index cards.

More modern upgrades include using sticky notes, for example, The wall of sticky notes, How to plot a novel.

You can also use stickies for revising:

 

Sticky notes don’t need to be limited to neat, straight lines. You can plot a rising conflict by adding lines with painter’s tape, then post the stickies around it. If you are on Pinterest, check out this plot planners for writers board. WOW! I like the ones that add photos of characters as they are introduced. I might add setting photos, too.

If you prefer to type, some software offers virtual index cards, for example Scrivener.

Beyond the Index Card

As I said previously, there are as many ways to outline as there are writers. Yesterday we saw Kat use the 3 Act/9 Block/27 Chapter method on a dry erase board. She writes more about it on Be Your Own Mentor.

Gabriela Pereira outlines her novels like a subway map. Rather than indicating locations, the diagrams show the flow of the plot and subplots. If you are used to reading subway maps, this could be incredibly useful.

Another popular method for non-linear thinkers is the Snowflake method. For this one, you start with a single idea and build outward. The author now has books discussing his method. Evernote has a checklist that runs through the steps.

I’ve been attending a number of webinars lately and have noticed a buzz about Plottr. I haven’t tried it yet, but the colors and neat look of the examples definitely attract my attention. Check out the Primer on Medium. Available to try as a free 30 day trial (and no, I’m not affiliated).

The Flashlight Method isn’t about the physical aspects of the outline, but instead consists of planning the first few chapters prior to writing. The idea is once you start writing, you won’t be able to see the entire path, but you will see ahead as much as a flashlight (or headlights) will allow. You basically outline as you go.

If this isn’t enough, Chuck Wendig has a quick list of 25 ways to plot and plan. He mentions a “crazy person’s notebook” where he prints out sections and tapes it into a notebook.

I really like that idea. Maybe into a planner, so it’s a timeline, too. With pictures of the setting and the characters when they are introduced.

Wait, maybe I should write the novel instead.

How do you plan your novel?

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 26: Outlining Or Not?

For the last few days of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep, we are going to consider how to best get your novel onto the page. Today let’s explore whether you want to outline or not.

 

Do you need to outline your novel? Do you want to?

Whether or not to outline a novel before writing it is a highly individual choice.

Pantsers

Some people avoid outlines at all costs. People who abhor advance planning call themselves discovery writers or pantsers (because they write by the seat of their pants). Pantsers find having an outline — or at least knowing the ending — kills their creativity. The advantage of the pantser approach is that the story builds on itself organically. The disadvantages are that pantsers can lose their way and get stuck in the middle, or have to rewrite extensively during revision.

Plotters

Others say they would never be able to finish a novel without an outline. Writers who outline prior to starting a novel call themselves plotters. They develop an extensive plan of how the novel will come together before writing a single word. The advantage is that they can focus on creating scenes rather than the whole story. In fact, with a good outline they can write the scenes out of order and still keep the story growing. They are also less likely to have to revise heavily. The disadvantage is that if they follow a plot structure too rigidly, the resulting novel may feel formulaic.

The two camps sound diametrically opposed, but if you look more closely you will see the two processes have a great deal of overlap. Most pantsers have done some planning, although perhaps only in their heads. Most plotters find themselves rewriting their outlines at some point and sometimes abandoning them altogether.

Here authors Kat O’Keeffe and Alexa Donne explain the differences in their approaches.

 

They both make some excellent points, don’t they?

I’ve started a few novels that I haven’t finished, not because they were bad, but because I lost interest. I am happy to work on them until I figure out a good ending. Once the ending seems concrete in my head, I’m done. The puzzle has been solved. Therefore, this time I’m going to side with Alexa and be a pantser. Perhaps if I can keep the ending a mystery for long enough, I will finish this one.

Exercise:  Are you a pantser? Want to give being a pantser a try?  Pick a bit of backstory that you need to flesh out or a scene that might occur in your novel but you haven’t done any planning for. Use it as a basis to free write for about half an hour and see where it takes you. Anything surprise you? Did you struggle because you didn’t have a plan?

Even though a certain portion of us won’t be doing any serious outlining, over the next few posts we’re going to take a look at how plotters create their outlines. It turns out that there are as many different ways to outline as there are writers.

Start with Kat’s videos:

Kat’s 3 act / 9 block / 27 chapter video 

Kat’s outlining example video

Alexa’s  “I Hate Outlining” video

Have you decided whether you are going to make an outline for your novel?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

 

#Amwriting October 25: Summaries and Half Scenes

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts in seven days. Yikes! Time to get your affairs in order, in more ways than one. Today let’s get our non-writing lives organized, pull scenes together more, and learn about the cement that flows between scenes:  summaries and half scenes.

 

Organization for Life and Novel

If this is your first NaNo, I highly recommend visiting the official website and signing up. Once inside, go to the Writer’s Resources tab, scroll down to NaNo Prep. Half way down the page is a button for downloading the NaNo Prep Handbook. Check it for great suggestions on how to get household chores done ahead of the writing marathon you are about to embark on. Now is the time to organize your space and take care of all the errands. I’ve been vacuuming like crazy — who knows when it will happen again — and stocking up on groceries. Any spare time you can open up by preparing in advance will be well worth it.

The good news is that while you are cleaning and running errands, you can also be planning your novel. Play with scenes in your head. Tell yourself parts of your story while you are traveling. Jot down notes while dusting. It will be time well spent.

Because we’re doing chores today, our lesson will be brief.

Summaries and Half Scenes

Scenes are the main building blocks of novels, but there are other formats that you may not have heard about. Summaries and half scenes can fill in between scenes to help carry the plot along.

Summary

If your story jumps ahead in time or has a series of events that would bog down your novel if you wrote each one as a scene, then it is possible to tell your reader about the gap as a summary.  A summary is a quick overview of what happened (not in real time), rather than the play-by-play drama of a scene.

Example:

During the ensuing five years, Carrie married her high school sweetheart. She still missed John, especially when she went to the movie house on Fifth Street, the one where they had had their first date. But over the years, the pain had faded…

Half Scene

A half scene is a mix of scenes and summaries. It may have short bits of action or dialogue interspersed with sections that tell more than show. Flashbacks often take the form of a half scene.

Walking along the park, the waft of jasmine in the air brought it back to me.

It was my freshman year of college and I was drowning. Few students were as ill-prepared for college life as I was, but then in Chem 101, I dropped my books and he — my knight in shining armor — helped me pick them up …

If you’d like to learn more, writing guru Marylee MacDonald has full articles about half scenes and summaries with some more advanced examples.

How is you preparation going?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

 

#Amwriting October 24: Thoughts/Feelings in Scenes

For our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, we are drilling into each of the components of scenes:  description, action, dialogue, and thoughts/feelings. Today let’s reflect on thoughts as a way to reveal feelings.

For our series, we have already mentioned the importance of incorporating emotions ( emotional content in novels) and that your character should react to events/action (reflection. )  Now let’s delve more deeply into the nuts and bolts of how to accomplish these things in a scene.

You can show how a character is feeling several ways.

1.  Simply say what they are feeling.

“I am sad today.”

However, “on the nose” dialogue is usually undesirable. Also, people don’t necessarily know exactly how they are feeling or don’t want to reveal it.

2. Add body language to the action beats.

“You were supposed to do that yesterday.” Jane crossed her arms over her chest.

Done properly, body language can be effective. On the other hand, it can be open to misinterpretation. According to The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, folding your arms across your chest can be a sign of annoyance or sadness.

“You were supposed to do that yesterday.” Jane crossed her arms over her chest, then stomped her foot.

Now we can clearly see Jane is annoyed.

3. Reveal feelings through thoughts.

“I’m sorry, I meant to do that last week,” John said. Too bad he couldn’t hit a redial button on his life.

A characters thoughts can give away his feelings. John regrets that he procrastinated.

Where do you add thoughts in a scene? In addition to sprinkling thoughts into dialogue (via action beats) or during action, larger snippets can be included in times of reflection.

Example of character naming her feelings in her thoughts.

Nova is a super-spy from the future. Nova’s mom has called and says she wishes Nova could come home. Nova responds:

“You know it’s only for three more months. ”
Nova had been proud when the admin picked her for this duty and it turned out she was good at it. If she admitted it, the best in the current year, with a 96% closure rate. The psych team had warned her it would be lonely. She’d be isolated for the most part. But she didn’t feel lonely. Instead she felt guilt, because she liked this streamlined version of her life. Only her work. No distractions. No responsibilities. She missed her daughter, but only when her past life intruded. Like now.

 

Tips for Evoking Thoughts/Feelings in Your Character

1. Trigger a feeling by having your character encounter a sound, smell, or visual signal. It can a direct response to the stimuli.

When I returned home, Todd was baking. I bathed in the soothing scent of cinnamon and pumpkin. Heavenly, All was forgiven.

2. Flash back to a memory that evokes emotional experiences.

The first church bell announced the hour. The loud clang shook me to my core. A fear from childhood. The church bells ringing had meant I was late. When I arrived home, she would be waiting. Angry and waiting.

Writing Tricks

1. You can use syntax and punctuation to further express feelings.

For example, a run-on sentence can show excitement.

“I knew it would be a long shot, but I went for it anyway and they really liked it and I can’t believe that they gave me the trophy.”

Pauses can add the feel of someone holding back their anger.

“You. did. not. do. that.”

2. Interjections are direct expressions of feelings.

  • “Phew, I’m glad that’s over.”
  • “Oops!”
  • “Whoa! I want to see that again.”

Exercise:  Go over a scene you’ve written and see if you can add more emotional depth using some of these techniques.

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

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