What happened to pen and paper?

Karalee’s Post #130

Jot it downLast week I had one of those aha moments, the kind that’s hard to admit because it is so obvious. The kind that the young these days call a brain fart.

It happened while I was driving around doing my daily work, fitness, errands and chores. A typical day until I actually noted and listened to that little voice in my head that kept whispering like a mantra of sorts.

“I can’t write right now. My computer is at home.”

It became painfully obvious that I’ve been using this as my excuse to NOT get my writing done. Throughout every day, and I mean every day, I have a few minutes here and there that I could be jotting ideas down. Heck, many of my “great” ideas come while I’m driving and my subconscious is diverted. It’s the equivalent to other people singing in the shower and the idea bulb suddenly lighting up in the mind like a movie set.

The thought can be so strong that it makes you rush naked and dripping out of the shower to write it down before it slips away down the drain along with your soaped up water.

Wait!

Did I say you rush to write it down? On what?

Do you risk dripping water on your computer? Maybe you grab a pen and write that brilliant thought down on good old-fashioned PAPER?

Aha! I  could do that in my vehicle.

I could stop at the curb, pull out pen and paper and jot my ideas down. Easy peasy and as obvious as a pimple on one’s nose.

Joe’s post this week If Writers Had Drill Sergeants was meant to be if you believe in Karma. Imagine what I can accomplish in a 45 minute burst with my ideas already written down and saved on paper, real paper, and not buried back in my subconscious. My pages could be pounded out so fast and furious that I’d burn my fingertips from the keyboard friction. I’d feel so euphoric that I would be Battling the Monster; writers and mental health like in Paula’s last post and I’d be cured of depression and self-doubts, and, and, and….

Can all this be because of pen and paper and simply saving my ideas? Intuitively I feel like a weight has been lifted and unhealthy ties severed between myself and having to have my computer handy in order to write at all. I don’t need to isolate myself in my office.

Also, I don’t need to take my computer everywhere with me, and find an outlet, and WiFi.

I could even go away for a weekend without it! My computer doesn’t rule all.

When I outline a novel idea I do it on a big roll of children’s drawing paper from Ikea. I use pencil. I draw circles and lines and write on the sides. I put in my timelines and dates and use different colors. I drink coffee and pace the floor. I walk outside to clear my head. I have FUN and it’s always with good old paper and pen ( or pencils).

It’s after this initial burst of creativity that I start to rely on the computer. I organize my chapters and research and character development using Scrivener. It’s a great tool and I love using it. I could also make Scrivener work for me when I’m not home and the ideas rolling around in my head start to surface. It’s easy to print out the last chapter I’m on, or a scene I’m fiddling with, or even the character development folder. I could take paper with me. I could jot stuff down on it. I could let my imagination go wild.

Then when I take those ideas and enter them into the computer it’s almost like the second draft. At this point Joe’s Drill Sergeant can take over.

Do other writers out there feel completely reliant on their computers to get any and all of their writing done? I think this is a mindset that many of us have fallen into.

I’m going to let go of my computer umbilical cord for a few minutes here and there every day and get back to keeping a notebook with me. And a pen. I know my creativity flows all day. I will jot it all down.

I will write on paper.

___________________________________________________________________

Productivity: I’m at the midpoint of my third short story. I will print it out and take my pen and some more paper with me from the house. I will let you know next week how it works for me.

Motivation:  I’m following The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. The book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is on my bedside table along with Dalai Lama’s book The Art of Happiness.

Happy Moments:

  • walking on the powdery snow-like beaches around Tampa Bay, Florida last week with my hubby and friends.
  • the heat in the sun in Florida
  • visiting the Chihuly Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida
  • my daughter dropping by with a list of recipes for us to bake for Christmas goodies. She has great taste.

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Perspective Photos:

 

chihuly glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

chihuly boat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

 

Keep your promise to your readers

Helga’s Post # 106: During our recent downsizing from house to condo I was forced to part with a multitude of boxes containing heaps of notes and articles about writing. I lovingly and dutifully collected this treasure trove over years at writing workshops and conferences. I had even hoarded term papers from writing classes of my university years.

A painful process, judging what to keep and what to shred. Most of it went to the shredder. I did not want some dumpster diver getting his hands on my early manuscripts, basic though as they were.

I still recall some of my creative writing classes at Simon Fraser University, and the first year I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Like a dry sponge I absorbed every word of dispensed advice! I made copious notes of everything my professors and workshop leaders offered. More importantly, I believed every word from my classes and conference workshops. Passionately.

Then came the second year of the Surrey International Writers’ conference, and the third, and more after that. They turned out to be still interesting, but much of the information was by now repetitive, and quite a lot of it contradictory. The most obvious that most of us are familiar with: Always outline. You can’t ever finish a novel without. Never outline. It will stifle your writing. Each camp has its devoted disciples.

Gradually, I sifted through all the learning from my early writing years and applied what sounded most practical for my style. Not only ‘applied’, but relied on it. But here’s the rub: I got increasingly stuck trying to squeeze the multitude of ‘rules’ into my writing. I tried to use them all. I spent more time trying to write to the ‘rules’ than letting my story flow. After a while I felt like getting buried in an avalanche.

Until I realized that it wouldn’t work for me. Time to change tactics. To find a better way.

I am not suggesting that new writers should disregard writing rules. Every writer needs some rules. But the key is to be selective. Just as some writers absolutely have to outline, it would stifle the writing process for others. We need to apply the rules that suit our individual style and preference. Cherry-picking, rather than one-size-fits-all.

Nonetheless, some cardinal rules apply that have stood the test of all writing styles. Take those related to starting your story. Mountains of books have been written about the pivotal ‘First Chapter’. If it doesn’t start right, nobody will read your novel. Those rules are ironclad. Ignore them at your peril.

Some of the cardinal rules that have been most useful for me are also the most basic. They continue to serve me well. Here they are, in a nutshell:

Start your story with an action scene. That applies to all genres from romance novels to thrillers. Start with the ‘real’ tension and conflict. Don’t start with the main characters reflecting on life, thinking about their current or past situation, or contemplating doing something.

First chapters are a bit like speed dating. A reader knows within a few minutes if they will be interested enough in your story to continue. They might hold a really good book in their hands, but your story has to grab them or they’ll drop it and never buy another book you wrote.

Avoid backstory on your first pages at the fear of torture. Don’t spoon feed your reader with detailed explanation. Let them guess – less is more. Use dialogue instead of narrative. And by all means, use conflict. Ideally the main conflict of your story should be clear at the end of the chapter.

In my early attempts at writing I made the mistake of introducing my protagonist in a way to ‘force’ my readers to like him/her. I did this either by ‘telling’ a heroic quality early on, or by giving her/him some kind of flaw, counting on the reader’s empathy. Reading through my first manuscripts I notice how hard I tried to have my readers ‘like’ my main character in the first few pages with all kinds of backstory, when instead, I should have focused on an action scene to keep my readers turning those crucial first pages.

Consider this: Your first chapter is a promise to the reader. It tells them what kind of story they can expect to get. Without going into details, or worse, backstory, the reader should know the main conflict of the book and have some sense of the main character’s personality.

headhunters

Headhunters: How did we get from this…

Keeping the promise to your reader is of utmost importance. We can all think of a book or movie that broke that promise, and we feel cheated at having wasted our time. For example, I watched ‘Headhunters’ on Netflix the other day, a movie based on Jo Nesbo’s book by the same name.

I was intrigued the way it started: Stylish Scandinavian setting and actors, beautiful house and art exhibits, great theme (high-end art thefts to support a lavish lifestyle), all the right things. Our protagonist gets in trouble, finds his wife cheating him, etc. But then the theme gets derailed and confused.

.... to this ?

…. to this ?

Suddenly I find myself watching a horror movie, with some disgusting scenes including when he has to hide inside the dump hole of an outhouse. All the way, deep down, and then we are forced to watch him emerge in glorious detail. And on it goes for most of the film. So where’s the theme? Suddenly the lavish lifestyle is gone, and all we get is blood and disgusting other stuff. To me, this is a good example of a broken promise. If the film had started differently, fine, I knew what to expect. But that way I felt kind of cheated. As an aside, book reviews praise this standalone work by Nesbo. I assume the filmmakers used his theme as a platform for the gory version.

After all the lectures and conferences I’ve attended over the years, the first and most useful rule then, is this: If you’re writing a murder mystery, don’t start your first chapter like chick-lit. Or vice versa. Set the tone and stick to it.

Once you got your first chapter down and you haven’t lost your reader, things will get easier. And more fun.

(Until you get to the sagging middle)

Chaos theory for writers

butterfly

Silk’s Post #109 — One of the light-bulb moments for me at this year’s Surrey International Writers’ Conference came during the terrific panel discussion, “Edge of Your Seat Tension” with bestselling mystery/suspense authors Chevy Stevens, Hallie Ephron and Robert Wiersema.

The inciting question was a perennial one: do you outline your stories before you write them? (The debate between OPs and NOPs – or planners vs. pantsers, if you will – never ends, does it? It’s the Mobius loop of writing.)

Three heads nodded in unison, well, figuratively anyway. Yes! They all outline!

Damn. The buoyancy leaked out of me like a deflated balloon. I hated to hear this endorsement of the dreaded outline, especially from these admired writers.

Why? I am outline averse. I’ve tried traditional outlining a few times and never could stick it out to “the end”. I’ve flirted with all sorts of other plot planning schemes – from the formulaic to the esoteric – and I just haven’t found a method yet for anticipating my way through the entire sequence of a novel-length story from start to finish.

I lack that crystal ball in my head. Damn. How do these people do it?

Then one of them (Robert, I think) gave the game away. He always writes an outline, he said, and then always departs from it fairly quickly. I had a vision of a happy train jumping the track and chugging off across the hills and dales toward some unmapped and unscheduled magical station. A railroad relative of the Hogwart’s train, perhaps. Hallie chimed in with her own admission of outline abandonment. Chevy noted that her publisher likes her to stick to an outline. She sounded a little sad about that, I thought, like a kid who has to stay inside and finish her homework before she’s allowed outdoors to play.

This was all very liberating. Pantsers unite!

But wait. These writers do still outline, even knowing their stories are, more likely than not, going to skitter off in some unanticipated direction later. Why do they do it? I sensed I was still not off the story structure planning hook (in fact, I’m now immersed in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, which seems a promising approach for naturally organic writers like me).

But I’ve been thinking about the tangled and dense issue of story planning for a long time, and there’s something that still bothers me about outlines. Something I’ve struggled to put my finger on. Something opaque that should be obvious, but isn’t (at least to me). Tonight I think I may have just conjured it to the surface.

It’s about predictability.

All writers (and readers) know that predictability on the page is a story-killer. A stone cold murderer of suspense. A fast track to boring oblivion.

But prediction is exactly what an outline seeks to do. It’s supposed to be a roadmap to a pre-determined destination. Just follow the map, strewing words about as you go, and you have a book. You don’t want the resulting book to be predictable for the reader. Yet the outline should do exactly the opposite thing for the writer.

Or should it?

We’re all familiar with the “Butterfly Effect”, a key element in scientific chaos theory. This charmingly named phenomenon comes from the title of a paper presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972 by Edward Lorenz, titled “Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” (Eat your hearts out, all you writers out there trying to come up with a catchy title for your new book.)

In more scientific language, Lorenz’s theory is defined in Wikipedia as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic non-linear system can result in large differences in a later state.” Basically it means that predictability goes out the window when many different forces begin interacting with each other in complex ways. Wikipedia goes on to note:

The butterfly effect is a common trope in fiction, especially in scenarios involving time travel. Additionally, works of fiction that involve points at which the storyline diverges during a seemingly minor event, resulting in a significantly different outcome than would have occurred without the divergence, are an example of the butterfly effect.

( Note: This is not all there is to chaos theory. In fact, it’s the simple-to-understand part. Understanding the rest of it probably requires two or three high level university degrees in mathematics.)

To my own (admittedly non-scientific) mind, chaos theory’s application to plotting practically jumps off the page. After all, what is storytelling, if not a “deterministic, non-linear system” for examining the unpredictability of cause and effect in the great saga of human behaviour?

And maybe that’s why outlines so often collapse somewhere along the way to getting a story written. It is hellishly difficult to predict all the twists and turns – the chaos – that will result from the interactions between all the characters and elements the writer brings to life on the page.

Perhaps a good story should be capable of surprising the writer by jumping the tracks envisioned in an outline. At that point, what’s a writer to do?

a) Drag the story out of inconvenient chaos and back to the original outline?
b) Stop writing and do a new outline?
c) Go with the flow?

Chaos theory for writers would suggest that c) is the best answer. Maybe writing is an art, not a science, but the best stories are the ones that reveal some kind of truth about the real nature of life. And life is both messy and precise at the same time.

Just like the unpredictable act of storytelling.

Is productivity only measured in words?

Karalee’s Post #93

siwc2014For the next four days our 5Writer member Silk will be attending the Surrey International Writer’s Convention for her annual mixing with authors, agents and fellow writers. This year Silk has a bent for learning more about publishing and social media as well as attending lectures on the craft of writing . And of course, much information is exchanged among the attendees after hours in the bar and at dinner.

Joe will join her on Friday to do much of the same and  I’m sure they will fill us in on their experiences next week.

In the meantime I will encourage them to tweet #surrey2014 about exciting news or such and I may join them for a drink one evening. The conference will be exciting and tweets are already rolling:

Hallie siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

sean cranbury siwc1

 

 

 

 

 

 

kc dyer siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Cranbury, author and presenter has shared his work re social media if you want to check it out.

I’m not attending as I’ve dedicated my time and funds to the Writer’s Digest course I’m taking: 12 Weeks to a First Draft. That brings me to a quick discussion on productivity.

 

 According to the MW dictionary, the word PRODUCTIVE means:

: doing or achieving a lot : working hard and getting good results

: producing or able to produce something especially in large amounts

: causing or resulting in something

 

To me writers inevitably measure their productivity in their word count. Is productivity only measured in words?

Undoubtedly that is what matters in the finale since words are what our end product is. But before The End is achieved, there is so much behind the scenes work going on before, during and after our first and subsequent drafts until the book is ready for publishing.

My course has me looking at many aspects that go into making a great story. It’s not simple characters, settings and plots, but rather layers of depth that create a complex story with compelling characters and plot lines. That means a lot of time spent on ‘What if’s’ and looking (deconstructing) other books to see how other authors achieved their goals for an unforgettable story.

This week my mind-mapping  has continued and expanded to include sub-plots and how my protagonist and antagonist can become more emotionally complex, which also makes the main plot more complicated too.

I am having LOTS OF FUN and making great progress in my story. To me I have been very productive this week, albeit much of my work hasn’t directly added to my word count. It’s work that is very important, the backstage work that Silk talked about in her last post. This has to be mastered too in this craft of writing that we have chosen to do.

So this week my productivity has been:

  • most of my mind-mapping has been completed
  • character development, setting and plot lines are being layered in
  • Word count: words cut 760; words added 1600; total in first draft 2500
  • Hours in my office: 30
  • Times I journaled my progress: 0. I suck at this and need to follow-through even if only to see if it helps. I won’t know if I don’t try it.
  • Pies eaten: 1/4 pumpkin. My favorite and there’s so many pumpkins right now….
  • episodes of Orange is the New Black watched: 0

If anyone is preparing for NaNoMo and want good advice, read Jami Gold’s blog on this topic. She talks about tracking two types of  arcs: a story/plot arc and a character/emotion arc. I found this blog also helpful in developing my own story and not only for the one month go-for-it for NaNoMo.

Happy writing!

Play Ball

file3371253285836

Paula’s Post #85

While I’ve been dithering, (trying to decide whether the laborious process of deconstructing a novel is a waste of time when we should be writing), a healthy majority of my hardworking 5writer colleagues have been doing just that.

Deconstructing.

So, since this is baseball season: and this is the opening night of the World Series, here is the box score so far:

Joe – hit a line-drive to left field and started deconstructing Gorky Park, Michael Cruz Smith’s novel of a Moscow police detective, drawn into a very political murder.

GorkyPark

Silk – slammed a long fly ball into center field, and is now flying around the bases on the heels of Shoeless Joe, as she analyzes the spare southern prose of James Lee Burke’s, Glass Rainbow (what a great title).

glass-rainbow

 

Karalee – is off to the races, er, I mean at the plate, after an injury time-out to care for her ailing husband, who is now on the road to recovery. Karalee has the bat on her shoulder and is taking dead aim on Dick Francis’ Proof. 

dick francis proof

Helga? Helga is on deck. For now, she’s just taking a few practices swings. In the next few weeks, her life will be filled with trade rumour turmoil as she packs her bags and looks forward to life in the Grapefruit leagues. (No, she is not leaving the 5writers but, like me,  is looking to enjoy some sunny weather in the south over the next few months. A 2writer subset of the 5writers will be playing winter ball.

Me? Yeah, I’m getting ready for winter ball, too. Only it feels like I’m still sitting on the bench while the game plays out before me. Self-benched. Sitting it out while I ponder the writers’ ‘C’ word: commitment.

This ‘deconstruction exercise’, as I’ve discovered, involves double-down commitment: not only do we need to each choose a novel to spend an agonizing number of hours ‘deconstructing’, for most of us, the warm up and first-innings also involve choosing a literary style or genre we plan to commit to until the last pitch is ‘pitched’. In other words, we not only need to choose the genre, style and type of the novel we wish to deconstruct, but it only make sense that this is a novel of same ilk as our novels-to-follow. A double – commitment.

It’s like being at Mike’s Gelato, faced with a dizzying array of flavours and choices. If only I could experiment a little more, taste a few more flavours, maybe order up a triple scoop, mixing up sorbetto and gelato, chocolate and salted caramel twisted sister, – oh wait – this is my baseball World Series post, – if only I could buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, too.

Okay, enough already. As the great Yogi Berra once said:

“If you come to a Fork in the Road. Take it.”

Time to “Play Ball”.

file000393008610

Later this week, I promise to ‘commit’ to deconstruction. Right now, I’m still waiting for a sign from ‘the manager’.

 

Productivity is habit forming

Karalee’s Post #92

Last week I made commitments to be productive in my writing and to keep a balanced life while doing so. I’m very glad of the list as it has already helped me focus my time and energy and get some writing and outlining done even with life’s priorities shifting temporarily in an unforeseen direction. My husband had emergency eye surgery a few days ago and I’m forever grateful for our medical system here in Canada. He is healing well and I’m settling back to my new routine.

I’ve also committed to giving back to my community this year and I will be volunteering with a teacher friend in her class of refugee students, especially helping them with written and verbal English. I know I will learn as much from them as they will from me.

dick francis proofI will be deconstructing a couple of novels during my 12 Weeks to a First Draft course (so I will be very busy), but for purposes of my own writing I’ve always been drawn into Dick Francis’s novels and will deconstruct Proof as my exercise to learn how his writing hooks me. I’m looking forward to this exercise and am positive it will help pull my writing to a new level.

So, my productivity this week has been:

  • I’m half-done mind-mapping my new story. I find this process very creative and I draw the interconnections of my story on a roll of craft paper and pin it on the wall of my office. I write my characters out too with a picture I find that looks like them. The visual references are invaluable to me as I write.
  • I’ve written my novel’s back cover plus the first chapter and some of the second. Total words: 900
  • Hours in my office: 15
  • Times I journaled my progress: 2

This isn’t writing progress, but is reality:

Pies eaten: half a pumpkin and half a strawberry-cranberry pie. Hey, it was Thanksgiving!

Special dinners cooked: 2. One for my son’s 19th birthday (8 people) and one for Thanksgiving (12 people).

Episodes of Orange is the New Black watched: 2

If anyone out there is using Scrivener, there’s also a quick way to learn the software as well as learning how to format everything for an eBook including the covers.

Happy writing!

 

 

 

Writing progress

Karalee’s Post #76

 

I’m in the East Kootenays for the next couple of weeks helping a friend on her hobby farm. I’m busy feeding horses and walking dogs and taking care of the house while she is away.

 

 

I’ve time to write and have been making headway on my new story. For the first time I have an overall feel of how a book needs to come together as I’m writing it. It’s like a breath of fresh air and I see it as a breakthrough for me. All the hard work learning this craft called writing is starting to become general knowledge that I can pull from instead of trying to learn it all as I go.

It feels similar to when I was learning to be a physical therapist in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. Learning every peripheral nerve, muscle and bone took months, but at some point became part of my general knowledge. This was the foundation though, upon which I could then start problem-solving orthopedic injuries, etc. and apply treatments and recommendations to clients.

I feel I am at this point in learning the writing craft and that I finally have a good foundation to build upon.

My foundation also includes an outline so I have an idea of where my story is going and I know where to aim for at the end. Some parts of my outline are in great detail as I visualize the scenes, but others are sketchy and open to my creative juices as I get there.

It is wonderful to have a feel for how the structure works, how the plot can unfold, and how my characters have to be realistic and have the reader care about or relate to them on an emotional level as I’m writing. Now I am more cognizant of not having the amateur information dumps and fillers like I have had before. Note Silk’s last post on this topic. Thanks Silk!

I’ve been concentrating on dialogue lately and this week Brian Klems, the Online Editor of Writers Digest, wrote a column The 7 Tools of Dialogue that is well worth the time to read. I am very glad to say that I am using some of these techniques automatically and that is also good for my confidence.

As I write I’m also keeping in mind what James Scott Bell put so succinctly in his book Plot and Structure. He says that the questions below are what all agents, publishers and readers think about when they open a book:

  • What’s this story about?
  • Is anything happening?
  • Why should I keep reading?
  • Why should I care?

Happy writing!


The outline advantage

Joe’s Post #81 – 

Vegas and writingThe good news/bad news about an outline is that you can spot a problem must faster than if you wrote out 500 pages, gave it to a critique group or an agent or your dog. By doing up an outline, sometimes you simply cannot make something work no matter how much you love it.

That was my experience this week.

I had a fantastic story idea, a great character, I had an epic story-line, good action, a great ending, some emotion here and there, and even a villain that I think would stay with everyone. But there was a big flaw. At least one I cannot overcome at this point.

thI may not have the right hero, the right protagonist, for this story. Oh, I love the guy, I really do, but his background, his job, his skills, well… let’s just say it pushes believability a bit far. Maybe too far.

I’ll do some brainstorming over the weekend, probably bug my CBCG (Chief Brainstorming Coffee Guru) and see if we can’t make it work, but it could be that I have to drop him and run with someone else.

You’d think that would be an easy fix. Take out Sherlock Holmes, insert Han Solo. But imagine how the story changes. Character is plot and if I have to sub out my lead, then the plot will surely change as well.

So the next question I have to ask myself, is the change for the better?

Either way, I saved myself a whole lot of writing doing up an outline. I suspect it’s not an uber outline like Karalee has done, but it’s good enough to spot the flaws.

I’ll keep you posted, but I want to start on that novel in March. I’ll set another 5 month deadline. In the meantime, more research (which I still suck at), more brainstorming and probably more lying in bed sorting scenes in my head.

*****

Number of Queries Sent: 5

Number of Rejections: 3. All were very nice and professional. Didn’t make me feel any better, but at least I know and man, they were fast rejections.

Number of Queries I’ll send next week: 10

Number of Other Blogs Written: 1 (About Older Brothers)

Number of Blogs Written About My Stupid Braces: 10 (all not posted due to an attack of shyness).

Temperature at Grouse Mt: -14. (-200 with wind chill.)

Number of New Coats Purchased To Combat Windchill: 1

Pictures Taken at Pond Hockey Tournament at Grouse Mt: 423.

The thrill of outlining – part 3

Karalee’s Post #65

outlining courseMy outlining course through Writer’s Digest University finished this week and I am well on the way to having a story I’m excited to spend the next few months writing. I I still want to do more characterization, especially of my antagonist. I also want to up the stakes in a few places for both my antagonist and protagonist and add them into my outline.

The outlining course began with my basic story idea, then moved to a premise sentence that introduced my story situation, the protagonist and antagonist, and the major objective. This process automatically encouraged my brainstorming process, all those ‘what if’s’ that I love (and I think most writers do) that push my creative spirit in any and all directions, some of which are outlandish, crazy, weird, and that might just work if this and that happens….. During this creative time, this course encouraged me to also try to think about my theme as well as character motives and conflicts. Looking back, this was something I hadn’t concentrated on as much before, and it was very helpful in coming up with bigger moments  with more at stake than I may have otherwise done. (Part 1)

Part 2 was exploring one’s characters and settings. All major characters need to be explored in depth. Whether you make a formal outline or not, writers need to know their characters as though they are “real” family, friends, or enemies. We need to know why they do what they do. This means, what has happened in their lives to make them think and act the way they do? This process is extensive and time consuming, but also a great time saver when it comes to writing scenes. For me,knowing my characters also adds to the pleasure of being “in my character’s head” while I am writing.

Settings must also seem real and knowing and feeling a country or a city takes more understanding than an office, kitchen or bedroom. Helga’s last post explores this topic well.

So what is left for Part 3?

outline endThis is where you take all the brainstorming ideas, the characters and settings and story lines, and organize them into possible scenes while still jotting down other ideas that may come to mind as you do this. I think of this like sorting “dots” into the picture that will come to light once they are all connected. This is the Extended Outline and depending on your writing style, it may be quite extensive to include ideas that both work or don’t seem to, or merely simple one-liners as a reminder for when you write the scene later.

At this point all your brainstorming ideas are recorded in whatever detail works for you. Most of us don’t want to trash any ideas as there could be gold to be mined later if we are stuck, but it may be quite onerous to wade through everything during your story writing. To help streamline the process, it is helpful to sort through everything at this point (especially since it is fresh) to make an Abbreviated Outline that is easy to follow as you write your scenes.

For me, this outlining process has been very helpful and definitely worth my time and effort. I am starting out eager to write my story with a much better feel for my story and theme, my characters and settings, and their conflicts and growth.

I don’t feel that my creative forces have been stifled at all since I’m keeping an open mind to the probability that some characters may try and take over and others may come on stage that haven’t shown themselves yet. I will let them do what they feel they need to, but since I have a good idea of where my story needs to go, if characters go too far in an unworkable directions, not too much time and effort will be given to them.

Happy writing!

The secret to a critique group

Joe’s Post #80

We had a chance today to go over our stories with the 5/5/5 group, today. Everyone brought their ideas. Everyone shared their thoughts, suggestions and advice. Each story was better off for the grilling. Way better.

It’s what makes our group work.

evolvedNot that we have great insights, probably a lot of writers do, but the real success is that we evolve.

I think that’s the toughest thing for a writer’s group to achieve. Longevity. Too often, they fade away. Sometimes they explode. Sometimes the one person, the driving force, leaves and the rest lose interest.

heartbreak ridgeBut we’ve survived because we adapt. We overcome. We improvise. (To quote Clint Eastwood from Heartbreak Ridge.) So, I wanna say we’re kinda like marines, but, you know, with less tattoos and missing limbs.

When we first got together, we looked at 30 page submissions. In all honesty, I learned as much from doing the critiques as receiving them.

Then we came up with the brilliant idea of 5 writers getting 5 books written in 5 months. Then added to that fun by critiquing the books. The whole books.

Now, it’s time for us to morph again.

Time to shake it up.

We’re all ready to start new novels. But if we do 30 pages, again, it could take 2-3 years for us to finish one.

Should we try another book in 5 months? We proved we could do it, but was it the best book we could write?

We could do more work on the outlines, but that would also postpone the actual writing we were all so keen to get started on today.

So we evolve.

We’ve learned that deadlines work for us.

So we’ll have those.

We’ve learned that we need to meet more than once every 4 months.

So we’ll meet more often.

We’ve learned that our books are always better for having the others take a look at them. But we write at different paces and not everyone has time and energy to pound out one if 5 months.

So we’ll all bring writing to every meeting. We’ll all be working on our next book. But what we bring and what we want from the group will be different for each person, for how fast they are writing, for what problems they are having, for input into what’s working and what’s not.

Maybe we’ll need to know if the opening works and get the group’s input. Maybe we’ll brainstorm a sagging middle. Maybe everyone will look at me and ask, why are you writing 50 Shades of Joe? Who knows? But the writer will dictate the focus of the group.

And hey, if it doesn’t work, we’ll evolve, again.

Next time, though, I want to evolve to be taller.

*****

Blogs written: 3 this week.

Blogs posted: 1 (the other two are lurking, waiting for me to post when you least expect it!)

Great Blogs to Check out: Janet Reid – Agent

Outlines Done: 1 Big and messy. Like me.

Queries Done: 0 (If this is 0 next week, someone kick my sorry ass.)

rabbitHoroscope: The more I work, the more money I’ll make.

Number of Teeth Removed: 4

Date For New Braces: Feb 3rd

Number of Tickets Bought for Spamalot: 2

Number of Months with the Amazing Blue-eyed Girl: 11