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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Just where should I begin… ?

beginning

Around Chapter 6 of my-adventure-in-writing-my-first-novel, it became clear I had not started my story in the right place and time.  My MC  (main character) has developed quite a bit, thanks to lessons I have learned along the way, and I can see I have made a miss-step or two…or three… okay, way north of a dozen… in introducing the reader to my little world. While I have resisted rewriting the first chapters in favor of plugging away at the first draft, I could add at least three chapters to the beginning that would make the book flow much better.

When I first started on this journey, my process began with an outline. I thought the plot and character arc(s) and theme were pretty well established, and I was ready to flesh it out with a first draft. But I had not thought my story all the way through.  I discovered this during a conversation with my hubby ~~ by the way, he is far from a gentle critic, which makes for lively interchanges!  I was telling him about a plot problem, and he asked some basic questions I hadn’t even considered.  Along with a not unfamiliar nod to my hubby’s intellect and my own lack of discernment, the discussion helped me take a step back from the story and begin to think more as a reader would. Help them to attach to the story and characters right in the first chapter. When I make some progress on that, it’ll be another lesson to share.

SaveTheCat

Meanwhile, back to the books to see what an expert says about fixing the problem at hand. Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat,” Chapter 7, presents basic problems with a script (book) and how to work through them.  My particular issue is shared on page 155, in what Snyder calls “Take a Step Back.”

To paraphrase and summarize, when your writing just isn’t coming alive, seems flat or plain isn’t working, sometimes you’ve got to take a step or so back in time and action to find the inciting incident for conflict, growth, or change that will make your story “pop.”  Make that the beginning point. Some indictors you may have to move your beginning point back: needing too much backstory in the narrative; little or no change in your MC (main character) or other characters — lack of conflict or growth; and by the end of the book you still haven’t told the whole (or real) story.

Better to attend to this problem now, methinks, rather than waiting until the end of the first draft.  By going back in now I have a better grasp on the characters that pepper the text, and the beginning chapter needs to introduce not only the main character(s) but the problems that will unfold throughout the book.

No more having to be creative in disguising the “backstory” so it slips in without boring the reader.  Hmm.  That last sentence indicates I am still such a baby in writing fiction!  On the other hand, now that I see how I was missing the point (again!) on some of the lessons I’ve been studying, I am so glad I am writing a “real book” to learn how to write! The adage “Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” is so true.

Writing is something I HAVE to do, like eating and sleeping and breathing.  There are days I think this little book is only than exercise for learning how to write;  and then there are days when it excites me because there is a story unfolding. The longer I work on it, poke and prod and carve and pinch it like a lump of clay, the more it begins to be interesting.  And on a really good day, I start to imagine sequels, and prequels needing to be written after I get this one done. I am really falling in love with the characters and the world!

Yes, I have likely gone around the bend, fallen off the truck, got a screw loose.  So what else is new?  Doesn’t someone have to be a bit crazy to want to live a life making up stories!

 

Today’s SUMMARY: being added to my blog page:   “Lessons I am learning… on my way to becoming an author.”

#9   Finding the point where your book should begin– doesn’t always happen upfront when you write the outline or the first draft.  Sometimes you’ve got to take a step or so back in time and action to find the inciting incident for conflict, growth, or change that will make your story “pop.”  Some indictors you may have to move the beginning point back: needing too much backstory in the narrative; little or no change in your MC (main character) — lack of conflict or growth; by the end of the book you still haven’t told the whole story. This is the exact opposite of needing to cut the first two or three chapters that don’t move your story forward!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Writing the Book

 

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Setting vs World Building

world building

In my study of developing characters in fiction, I have come across many wonderful worksheets and tips on getting to know my characters.  Today I  read an article on Novel Rocket  by guest blogger Cindy Woodsmall , dated 8/12/2009,.  She introduces the concept of the “4-B’s of Character Development–  Before, Behind, Between, Begin.”

It got me thinking and looking deeper into the subject of knowing your characters. What she was describing sounded like world building, not just scene and setting development.

Building a scene or setting is necessary to story writing, but taking the time to build an understanding of the world they live in seems overwhelming. It makes sense to do so, however. If you know what molded your character, their history, unique genetics, family and cultural background, they become more alive and complete. Characters can gain richness and authenticity. Plus, consistency in speech and action as well as dialog should flow more naturally.

SciFi and fantasy writers aren’t the only ones to benefit from world building. I believe what Ms Woodsmall is advocating is similar.

To become an author is relatively easy if you keep at writing. But to develop into a “good” author requires learning the craft and how to make the “magic” happen. That requires perseverance and dedication.

 

Here’s the summary of this lesson learned, and I am adding it to my page: Lessons I’m Learning… on my journey to becoming an author.

 

#8   World Building isn’t just a SciFi writers thing.  In order to have depth, and have your characters truly speak for themselves — you must know what makes up their world. Scenes and settings should be a reflection of their world. Where did they come from culturally? What were their parental and familial influences? Genetic hereditary? Geographical, spiritual, historical, political  influences? How did their specific background mold them into the unique individual they have become? Add to this their present situation and circumstances, what they look like– their habits, pursuits and activities, likes and dislikes,–and you will know them deeply. Once you have built “their world,” they can spring to life and speak for themselves.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in Writing the Book

 

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Is it a good idea to put aside my main work, while learning new lessons?

takebreak

I’ve heard — and read — that the only way to learn to write a novel, is to write a novel. Appears this, my first attempt at writing a novel, is going to arrive in a series of fits and starts. I’m fine with that.

While studying newly learned concepts, and to help me resist the temptation of reworking the beginning chapters of my first draft to apply new lessons, I’ve resurrected a flash fiction piece I wrote last year.

Flash fiction uses all elements of fiction, but in a very brief form, and I’m finding it to be a valuable writing tool.  Working within the well defined word limits of this genre forces me to be economical in word usage and to examine each scene to bring out its strengths. I find it is intensive training!

I’ve been writing fiction now for less than a year, but when I put this particular piece aside a few months back, I thought it was pretty darn good.  I had put it through the critique process twice, and got a lot of valuable suggestions that I gave my best to incorporate. But… it is still rough and has the obvious marks of novice writer all through it. Even I can see that.

I’m now in my fourth revision of it, in as many days. I have restructured, cut words, worked with my characters on developing their own voice, incorporated physical senses into scenes, and still have a long way to go. I’m finding the real treasure of applying lessons I’ve learned since putting this piece aside, is discovering some of my most recent epiphanies are only half baked. Putting words on paper (or on screen) helps me understand the theories better, and I keep playing with them as I apply specific lessons. Working with this piece is like kneading bread dough or beating cake batter. That’s where the magic happens.

When I get to the point I think it’s pretty good (hahaha), I’ll put it through critique again. I know the value of having other people read my story —  and not close family and friends who think my writing is really, really, really great.  That’s when I will know if it works, and how well I’ve done —  this time.  I just might make this a frequent practice to resurrect early work!

I am itching to get back to my novel, but I know I have profited greatly by putting it aside. I’ve written a lot of notes on characters, scenes, and redesigned the plot outline for it during this past week. Taking a break re-energized me and helped me sharpen tools.

All of my learning has been “independent study,” and I’ve no idea if my approach is typical or common. But as with most things in life, undoubtedly I’ll be sensitized to seeing approaches others use from now on, and see more clearly what I had previously not understood or only glossed over. There are so many wonderful layers to this process, it is work but also a joy learning to write.

 

Here’s the summary of this lesson learned, and I am adding it to my page: Lessons I’m Learning… on my journey to becoming an author.

 

#7  It’s not only okay, it’s a good idea to put aside my novel while I’m learning a new concept. But only if I keep writing during that time. Lessons must be applied as I learn about them. Writing flash fiction, short stories, or just writing ideas and notes for my main project, not only helps me absorb and better understand ideas I am learning, but also builds excitement for getting back to my novel.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2015 in Writing the Book

 

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Learning to let my characters talk

 

CharacterTalking

 

In my journey to becoming an author, I’ve struggled with dialog that is typically cold and flat. The character’s words may be nice, polite, or sometimes downright rude, but personality doesn’t come through on the page. There is nothing likable or detestable about them, no way for the reader to love or hate them.

This past year, I’ve read and analyzed other people’s successful work, listened intently to dialog in movies and in real life. I’ve tried using character development charts for plotting out unique personalities, made long lists of likes, dislikes, and challenges each faces so I can get to know who they are. Yet I have not been able to apply these lessons to my character’s dialog.

Bottom line, I still suck at writing dialog. What am I not getting?

Nothing clicked for me until I got a suggestion last week – over at Critique Circle – on a piece I submitted for review. The “critter” used a military commander I had written for my story as an example. He pointed out this man is used to being in charge and in control, and therefore needs to speak directly, decisively, and to the point. The way I wrote his dialog, he sounded just like all my other characters.

Yikes. Someone reads my story and sees my characters better than I do. Humbling.  All the reading, studying and writing I’ve done over the past year didn’t expose what that one comment did.

Now I get it.

Bingo!

Duh!

*Slaps self on forehead*  

I have been doing the talking FOR my characters. I move them around like a child playing with paper dolls. Sure, I build a story for them, give them a history and fairly well define personalities, but I never let them spring to life. I fail to let them speak for themselves, as themselves. Basically, that boils down to: I have been using dialog to TELL rather than SHOW.

*Shakes head at the now-oh-so-obvious revelation

Why didn’t I see that myself? Most likely because I haven’t been looking in earnest, just waiting for an answer to magically work itself out. And we all know the chances of that happening!

I bring a lifelong (and it’s a pretty long lifetime) habit of expository writing to the table. Using those skills in narrative fiction yields flat, cardboard, unanimated characters. Yup. There is an upside – I am learning this before I put anything out for publication.

Expository writing taught me to state facts, give supporting evidence, cite sources, and then wrap up with repetition of the pertinent, now supported facts.  It also taught me not to editorialize, and never put myself – and certainly not my opinions – into what I’ve written.  I have been utilizing that same formula in my new venture into fiction. Even though these are my stories, I have edited and reduced them to “just the facts” as my default.

I am amazed and confounded when the solution to a problem, as most often is the case, turns out to be simple and obvious. My tendency in personal matters is to dodge around the simple and obvious, preferring to search for a myriad of odd and sundry conundrums instead. I have come to understand that behavior allows me not to change, lets me remain in my safe habits. I am more of a hobbit than a warrior.  My experience in business let me put on my “suit” of armor, replete with expository writing skills, and I became capable of fearlessness, able to re-orient to new situations and marshal others to follow my lead. Course my personal stakes were not life and death, and if I made an error – I would regroup and attack it again.  Writing fiction, on the other hand, has great stakes.  Strike out or make grievous errors, and memory is long and tied directly to my name. Yikes!

When I retired a few months ago and hung up the power suit, that didn’t mean I hung up old habits, especially those dealing with writing. Well, I am bringing out the mothballs and intend to wrap the ones that don’t serve me well up now and store them away! And I’m excited and more than ready to see what I, and my characters, come up with from now on! ~~ Or ~~  alternately, I’m ready to find out what my stumbling block may be and get to work on that!

 

Summary being added to my page: LESSONS I’m learning on my Journey to becoming an author 

#6.  Let my characters speak. I have learned that narrative fiction uses a different-skill set than expository writing. Everything I write comes from my thoughts, feelings, beliefs and I need to develop my voice. But the characters in my story must have their own voices, and it needs to match their personality, situation, and lifestyle. I have to know them in depth, and make sure they come alive with conflict and have a stake – something to win or lose. If my story’s dialog is dry and lifeless, there’s a good chance I am putting words in their mouths, and not letting my characters speak.

 

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2015 in Writing the Book

 

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When should you write your “elevator pitch?”

SaveTheCat

Developing an “elevator pitch”  for your novel  makes a lot of sense. The “elevator pitch,” also called a one-line or log line, is a one to two sentence statement that describes EXACTLY what your book is about. It got its name from the scenario: you have just entered an elevator along with an agent/publisher, and you only have a few seconds to pitch your book.

I know I would not be prepared for that opportunity. When should you start writing your elevator pitch?

When I started each of my not-finished-books, I had a great story line and a generalized idea of how to structure my book. I’ve already told you how those languish in my I-want-to-be-a-book storeroom. So this time around, I figured creating a detailed outline and using a story board was the next big step in my growth toward successful fiction writing. And it has helped.

But finding the premise – the pitch – and establishing the genre, I figured, came much later. There was plenty of time for that as the story wrapped up.

My first draft is clicking along, but I already know it’s a flat read. There is some nice writing, but as pointed out when I posted the first chapter for review this week over at Critique Circle, my beginning has no “stakes” for the protagonist. There is nothing to lose, nothing to gain. I have missed the boat on making my characters appealing, and don’t present conflict until far into the story. And they are right on. Pinpointed my main weakness in writing.

I anticipated major rewrites when I went into this,  but I have learned there is a method that can bring more clarity and better writing.  It won’t produce a polished piece right off the bat, but if I heed the advice in, “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (recommended by a blog post on Critique Circle), I can save myself a lot of time and produce better and more solid work in that first draft. While Snyder teaches about writing screenplays, the theory he presents also applies to novel writing.

His requirement is to work on your “log line” or “elevator pitch” BEFORE you begin to write your first scene (or chapter). That took me by surprise.

His first major lesson, and this is my paraphrasing from my own experience: writing without knowing your story’s premise, and being able to sum it up in a one or two sentence statement is like going on a vacation without having a destination in mind. I actually did that ONCE, and it didn’t turn out well. Just sort of rambled around and I never “arrived” anywhere until I got back home. I did get a few nice pictures, and learned to decide where I wanted to go the next time.

Snyder also says a log line can’t be written until you have thought your story all the way through. By starting with a pitch line BEFORE I begin writing, I begin to see what I am aiming for, and it serves as a guide for keeping my story on course. Instead of just going for it and “hoping the spaghetti sticks on the wall,” it should help me see if a scene or portrayal of a character fits, and is good for the story.

He gives a lot of specific advice on developing your log line, and great tips on what works when you go to present it to a producer/publisher. This is a great book, and lessons stated in a straightforward, conversational read.

This approach may not work for everyone, but I am choosing to take Snyder’s advice to heart. I’m working on my story’s log line now, even though I’ve banged out five chapters. While the pitch isn’t perfected, I am gaining more clarity on the story’s purpose, and can already see a better layout and places where I need to work on my character conflict and development. What I won’t be doing is rewriting those first five chapters. They are just going to sit there as is, for now. I’ll work on them after the first draft is completed.

Here is my understanding of the four components, paraphrasing the major components Snyder says must be included in a successful  log line (elevator pitch):

  1. Must show the main conflict and be emotionally involving.
  2. Must give a picture of what the story is about, and be easily visualized
  3. Must target a specific, defined audience (genre).
  4. Must be accompanied by a “killer title.” (hopefully, more on that at a later date, as I still have no clue!)

 

SUMMARY: being added to “Lessons I am learning… on my way to becoming an author.”

 

  1. The time to develop a log line (elevator pitch, one-line)  is BEFORE you begin writing your story. It can assist in building your outline, and developing your characters and ideas.  A log line can’t be successfully written until you have thought your story all the way through. Only then begin writing your story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2015 in Writing the Book

 

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LESSONS I’m learning on my Journey to becoming an author.

In today’s world, anyone can be published, whether their work is good, not so good, or just plain bad. If I can’t convince an agent or publisher my writing is fantastic and saleable, I can always and easily publish independently.

I’ve got books inside me, just waiting to be written. But I like to do things well, and I want to succeed.  I’ve got a long history of starting books that stall out after a few chapters. They still call out to me to be finished, but I have not known how to translate my thoughts and ideas into a finished project that, with just a bit of tweaking, will become that perfect novel or story. Each story attempted began to wander and finally peter out at some point.  And I found convenient excuses for letting them languish, the most common being:

I don’t have time, because I have responsibilities… there’s the kids, … the job, … the {insert here whatever else is a regular part of living}.

There’s something alive inside me that tells me I have to write. I have always seen stories around me, just begging to be written. When I was much younger, I spent a few years writing weekend features for a small newspaper. Those were easy. Always a well defined amount of space to fill,  a few pictures to snap for illustration, and guaranteed publication. So it’s not surprising, with my background, that the first serious book attempt – with no excuses – would be a “how to” book. This blog was born as a place to collect my thoughts. The process was clear to me:

I know I can write non-fiction.  I have a grasp of language, and this is a subject I am passionate about.

But as anyone who has followed my journey has seen, there was that STORY waiting to be told —  and it demanded my attention and let me know it needed to be written. I am still writing a much shorter “how-to” non fiction book to accompany my novel that  “shows and not tells” the experiences of mature women including choosing, and learning to shoot a firearm safely.

WizardOfOz

Courtesy of pamela-p.deviantart.com

 

 

While it’s easy to be witty, easy to amuse and even amaze your friends and family with short spurts of original writing, a novel is a horse of a different color, and it doesn’t take long to realize  you’re “not in Kansas any more.” No yellow brick road or wonderful wizard behind a curtain is going to provide you with the heart, the mind and the courage this process is going to take.  It’s work. Amazingly difficult at times, but filled with joyful growth if you persevere. It will require adjustment of your self image and development of a “thick skin.”

I’ve shared the first lessons of my journey in the “Writing the Book” category of this blog, and may include a few of them here. My intent with this page is to summarize and share the resources and lessons I am learning along my way as they happen, rather than trying to categorize them.  My plan is to add to this with the newest discovery, lesson or resource entered at the top of the list.

If you have discovered things and resources on your own journey, I would love to hear about them. Sharing what we learn is important!

 

 

Here are the first lessons I’ve learned from the new page on this BLOG, just launched: LESSONS I’m learning on my Journey to becoming an author.  


4.  Find a group of other writers to discuss, review and critique your work. If you have a writer’s group close to where you live (I don’t) – go meet with them regularly.  If you don’t, online help is available.  I discovered the  “Critique Circle” through a comment here on WordPress.  Good, solid, constructive critiques and sharing of technique happens in this environment. The “cost” of these groups is typically giving critiques to other writers.  It’s writers helping writers and sharing what they have learned. I was very surprised that reviewing and giving help to others is one of the best ways to grow in your own writing and self editing!

3.  First drafts are meant to suck.  Go ahead and finish them, even if your chapter/writing is flat or just plain bad. This is you getting your story out, you’ll work with later to polish it and make it shine. Nothing springs forth fully edited and complete. That’s what revisions and drafts #2 – #9999 are for.

2. Study fiction writing from successful authors. I have found these resources here on WordPress and other Blogs, browsing through amazon.com, Goodreads. Start following and forming a community- of other authors on Twitter.  Look at the “creds” of those supplying lessons.  I am wary of those wanting to “sell” me lessons, many of the truly great authors have written books generously sharing the craft, and many blog freely.

1. Read a lot and constantly.  You’ve got to have a rich background and love of reading: the classics, and particularly in the genre you want to write.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2015 in Writing the Book

 

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Who’s To Blame For The Accidental Gun Death Of An Idaho Mom

Who’s To Blame For The Accidental Gun Death Of An Idaho Mom

The tragedy in Idaho could have happened anywhere, and this post brings up some good points for anyone who carries or knows someone who carries a gun for self and family defense.
Straight talk with good points to consider, no matter which side of the discussion you find yourself on.

Limatunes' Range Diaries

Authorities: 2-year-old boy accidentally shoots and kills his mother inside Idaho Wal-Mart | Fox News.

The above story has been shared with me no less than six times over the past twenty-four hours. I’m sure in the next twenty-four I’ll get another ten links, messages, tagged in a few more Facebook comments or asked, “Did you hear about the woman who’s son shot her in Wal-Mart?”

While I initially balked at the assault to my inbox I suppose I understand it.

I’m twenty-nine years old. The same age as the mother. I have three children. One of them just days past her third birthday. And I carry a gun.

I’ve carried a gun longer than I’ve been a mother. In fact, day in and day out since the days my three little ones were born my children have spent more time in the presence of a gun than they…

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Posted by on January 1, 2015 in General Discussion