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Posts from the ‘Craft’ Category

Planning for NaNoWriMo: Sketch out your novel’s setting

NaNoWriMo is two days away and counting down. If you’re going to use the month of November to write a draft of a novel, now is a good time to sketch out ideas so you’ll be prepared to dive in when the clock strikes midnight.

In the past, I’ve been tripped up when I started to write because I wasn’t grounded in the key elements of my story. A basic framework will propel you towards your NaNoWriMo goal.

In my last post, I wrote about choosing your novel’s story question. Today, consider how you can sketch out the setting of your story — the environment where your story takes place.

Besides geographic location, setting details include information about the time period your story occurs. What time frame does your story take place in — the present? Future? Past? Some novels take place over years and some the space of several weeks.

In your notes about setting, consider the time of year and the weather. Sometimes these details can drive your story in new directions and create complications that add conflict. The weather can also contribute to the mood and tone of a story. Your setting can even become another character in a story and create momentum that drives the action. Read more

Get ready for NaNoWriMo by choosing your novel’s story question

It’s that time of year when everywhere you look you can find pumpkins and things made with pumpkin. Pumpkins for carving, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes, and pumpkin ice cream. It’s also the time of year when writers everywhere are gearing up for Nanowrimo. That mad rush to write a novel during the month of November.

If you plan to get into the NaNoWrimo groove, you may find that a plan will set you up for success in making your daily word goal.

Some writers have an idea of what they’ll write about when Nov. 1 rolls around. Others dive in and just go for it. Sometimes not knowing where you’re going can make you freeze. While the writing starts Nov. 1, it’s fine to think through your basic plot, subplot, and cast of characters now.

If you’re starting from scratch and feeling stuck, begin with this step: Figure out your novel’s story question.

In his eight basics of creative writing, Kurt Vonnegut said that, “every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

A satisfying and successful story has at its core a question that must be answered by the end of the book. In its most simple terms, it could be a question such as, will Rose find her true love? Will Conrad the detective capture the scurrilous killer lurking in his town? Will Jamie find her birth mother, and will she find peace?

Your character was living life until something happened that changed everything. A state of equilibrium was disrupted. What will happen next?

Start with your protagonist and decide what he or she wants. Then inject conflict by making it very hard for that character to get it. Other characters will join your novel to help or hurt your character’s chances of getting what he or she wants. At the end, your characters will have changed and you will have created that change with all your many NaNoWriMo words.

Grab a pumpkin spice latte and stay tuned for more NaNoWriMo tips in future blog posts.

Five prompts to propel you into a writing zone

Do you ever feel a bit of restlessness about writing? It’s as though an idea or epiphany is dancing at the edge of your brain. You know you want to write but can’t quite settle down to do it.

Those are times when I like to pick a prompt and freewrite. The prompts put me in a groove and help work out the fluttery energy that’s holding me back.

If that sounds like something that might help you, check out the five prompts below. Set a timer and see what your writing reveals. You might turn your ideas and images into an essay, a poem, a short story, or a scene in a novel.

1. Write about something you lost. Don’t you hate it when you misplace something? I feel so out of sorts. Maybe it’s not a possession you lost, but a relationship or an opportunity. No matter what the loss, it can be painful in its own way. Note your emotions about the loss. What are the consequences of the loss?

2. Write a letter. Is there someone you want to reach out to? Maybe there’s something left unsaid to someone important in your life. Maybe you want to write a mash note to someone. Go for it.

3. Write about something that made you angry in the past week. Are you stewing about something that happened this week? What small or large injustice needles you? Write it out.

4. Describe the backyard of your childhood. What kind of games did you play. Did you have a vegetable garden? I remember my sister and I opening the windows and turning on the stereo in the house and dancing in the yard with our girlfriends.

5. Write about the place you love most? If you could live anywhere you wanted, where would it be? What is your definition of home? Where do you most feel at home? Where do you feel most at peace? Whether you’re there now or long to be somewhere else, write about it.

Think big as you revise your manuscript with these nine steps

You say you’re revising your draft, but are you really? In the past, I’ve thought I was revising a manuscript when in fact I was really just editing it.

A revision is just that: a “re-visioning” of the story – looking at it in a whole new way. It’s easy to think you’re revising when what you’re really doing is making small edits, reworking sentences, and tightening up scenes and dialogue. Those things are important but don’t go far enough to truly create a publishable manuscript.

Instead, when you’re ready to dive into revisions, think big. Open your mind and pen to rethink every aspect of your manuscript.

To move into re-vision mode, consider these questions:

  1. Use a logline to maintain focus. A logline is one sentence (at most two) that conveys the dramatic story of your novel or screenplay boiled down in the most succinct way possible. It presents the major throughline of the narrative without details about subplots or characters.  As you begin to revise, go back to your logline or create one if you haven’t already. Read more

Don’t miss a beat: Get into the heart of your character

In a previous post I wrote about a little technique I learned from author and writing instructor, Rhay Christou, who teaches for the online Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Develop your characters through dance” highlights a short video by actor Kevin Cox demonstrating how to unlock your body and mind in order to delve deeper into your characters.

Another tip I learned from Rhay is called, “Don’t Dance. ACT!” In this exercise, you pick a moment in your scene where your character is having (or is supposed to have) an emotional response to something. Choose one emotional beat. Now get up, stand in the middle of the room, and close your eyes. Picture yourself in your character’s setting. Become the character. What do you feel? Hear? Taste? Open your eyes. What do you see? Does your setting affect how you feel?

How are you holding your body? Tense? Relaxed? What is your body doing? Facial expressions? How do you feel? Angry? Sad? Frustrated? How does it show up in your body? Are you having a visceral reaction? A thought?

Now grab your journal and write as much as you can without stopping. If more feelings come up, write them down. Keep writing. Can you add anything to your scene to make it stronger?

In my chapter one, my protagonist, a veterinarian, struggles to save the life of a dog. Her boss forces her to use her mysterious powers that she has tried to run from ever since her mother died (she blames her powers for her mother’s death). When I close my eyes and become my character, I ask, “How does it make me feel that my boss has forced me to use my powers?”

Here’s what I wrote: “I’m angry. Pissed off. Want to hit something. My body feels tense, rigid, so tense my breathing is labored and tight. My chest feels like it’s in a vise, pressed together like a moth between glass. How dare she! She has no right to call on my powers. Total invasion. And what’s worse is she doesn’t realize the consequences. She doesn’t know that somebody could get injured or die. I never should have trusted her. Should have kept my mouth shut. Granddad was right—don’t trust anybody with my secret. Let this teach me…never again.”

Do I have any of these feeling in the chapter? Noooooo. After she saves the dog, my protagonist and her boss have a nice little chat about their dating life. Right. Revision time.

Ever notice how sometimes when you write, your brain kind of does a little hop-skip-and-a-jump ahead of itself? Mine does. Sometimes, I miss whole reaction beats. My character skips from one thing to the next without really processing what’s happening.

These exercises help me slow down and pay attention to how my character feels. They get me out of writer-brain and into the heart of my character.

I highly recommend any of the Lawson Writer’s Academy online courses. You’ll learn tons and meet some really cool writers. Check out their September classes here: www.margielawson.com or see the list below:

Master The Synopsis!
No. More. Whining.
MASTER THE SYNOPSIS! Starts Monday.
Instructor: RITA Finalist Jennifer Archer.
Sept 1-26;  Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/MasterSynopsis

Submissions That Sell
Make your query SELL your MS.
Instructor:  RITA Winner Laura Drake.
Sept 1-26;  Fee:  $40
http://bit.ly/SeptSTSell

From Blah to Beats: Giving Your Chapters a Pulse
In 14 short lessons, learn how to make your chapter a lean and mean beating heart.
Instructor: Rhay Christou, MFA
Sept 1-30, Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/GiveChaptersPulse …

From Homeroom to Last Bell:Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction
YA Writers: Fab class.
Instructors:  Jennifer McAndrews, Linda Gerber
Sept. 1 – 26;  Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/HeroJourneyinYA 

Story Structure Safari
Instructor feedback, priceless. You’ll find your Story GPS.
Instructor: Lisa Miller
Sept. 1 – 30; Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/SeptSSS

Getting Serious About Writing a Series
Lectures, plus tips from 18 fab authors.
Instructor: Lisa Wells
Sept. 1 – 26;  Fee: $40
http://bit.ly/WritingSeries 

Virtues, Vices, and Plots
Need a New Approach to Plotting?
Sept. 1 – 26:  Fee: $50
Instructor:  Sarah Hamer, MFA
http://bit.ly/SeptVVP

 

 

 

Deep editing: Make each word count

In July, I took Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class, an intensive three and a half day workshop on deep editing. My brain is still teeming with all the tips we learned to turn our manuscripts into bestsellers.

One day, as we reviewed one of my first-draft chapters in my current project, we came across a short paragraph about a character’s driving skills.

In the scene, my character is driving along a dark, windy road in the mountains at night when he comes across my protagonist walking along the side of the road after she’d just seen her maybe-boyfriend sucking face with another woman. (Every time I hear the words “sucking face,” I think of the 1981 movie “On Golden Pond,” where I first heard the term. The power of fresh writing!)

Anyway, the driver of the car offers my protagonist a ride home (she knows him—he’s the new man in town). She learns more about him and why he’s in town. He ends up giving her relationship advice and flirting heavily with her.

Here’s the paragraph in question:

“Hmmm,” he said, tapping his brakes before the next curve, then laying off them during the turn. He handled the vehicle as if he’d had years of experience coaxing the two-ton beast into compliance. “Any news on your grandfather?”

Questions that came up in class: Read more

Step away from your desk and fuel your writing life

It’s easy as writers to hole up in our writing caves. We’re busy operating under the influence of words and we don’t want to be interrupted.

But sometimes you have to get out into the world. It’s how you pick up telling details that add more authenticity and authority to your work. And then there are the times when you’re stuck. Stepping out just may spark an idea or epiphany.

Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy),wrote on her website about the act of trying to make conversation with a “living human” after a day of writing. She writes that if she could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, it would be this:

“Say yes.” The world is asking you to try new things, have fresh experiences, meet people, see foreign places, and learn things. Most of the time we say no. Say yes. Go for it. Try. Live. Dream. Refuse to be negative. Be generous with your own time and gifts. See what happens then.

Changing your routine routine can reveal unexpected insights. Read more

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