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Posts Tagged ‘writing process’

 

Through Writer’s Digest, I signed up for a webinar given by Cheryl Klein, a senior editor at Scholastic. First, let me say that Cheryl didn’t waste one second of her 90 minute slot and delivered a specific and interesting set of ideas about how to structure and plot your novel. She has a book out, Second Sight, which I don’t yet own, but judging from the table of contents it covers what she covered in her presentation, and much much more!

Cheryl’s analysis of the three act structure and ways to employ it, her thoughts on emotion and action plots, and how to create interesting characters were all top-notch.

Another cool thing about Cheryl’s presentation was that while she did give many points and tips on plotting a novel from beginning to end, she also pointed out the myriad ways to get from point A to point B, the different avenues to explore. It’s like, okay, here’s a map with dozens of intersecting roads and trails, and based on the story you want to tell you need to pick the route and the person(s) traveling the route. So, while she emphasized structure and offered very specific techniques, her ideas were in no way limiting. In fact, they were expansive. Here’s a link to Cheryl’s list of questions to ask yourself about your plot.

I’’ve been to several writing conferences and own over a dozen writing craft books, and I’d definitely take another workshop from Cheryl, and I’ll probably buy her book.

Three ideas she discussed toward the end of her talk have stayed with me:

Truth and emotion are more important than a perfect plot.

Characters need to breathe—they are real.

Strive to tell the story as honestly as you can.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Thanks for stopping by last week and learning about the awesome MG novel The Boy Who Howled by Timothy Power.

The lucky winner of a beautiful hardcover copy, chosen by a random number generator, is Terron James. Congrats!!

I spent the winter revising two novels and now, after a two week break, am starting a new book.

You know how sometimes a premise strikes you like lightning and you are off and running….or sometimes you have to write around an idea for a while before the real idea makes itself known?

Whether you’re a plotter or panster, or, like me, you fall somewhere in between, starting to write a new book can be both exciting and daunting.

At a conference a few years ago Will Hobbs said that writing a novel is an act of faith. When I think about what Will said, two things come to mind:

1.  Go into the process with an open mind. I won’t know how it will turn out unless I try.

2. Keep pushing ahead, not with the belief that I’ll definitely come out with a viable story even though I obviously hope I will, but with the idea that I’ll just continually strive to do the best that I can because that is all I can do.

So, if you see me walking around talking to myself this week, don’t worry, it’s just part of the process. Sometimes I burn things on the stove, too.

Happy Writing, friends!!

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I’m about halfway through rewriting my newest WIP. One of the things I’m doing is changing from past to present tense. It’s a tedious job but so far, I’m liking the results.

My reasons for making the change:

1.  While writing the first draft, I kept breaking into present tense.

2.  My WIP is a survival story and I was looking for more of a sense of immediacy than I was feeling with the first draft.

3.  I’ve never written a novel in present tense and thought it’d be a good learning experience.

When I started my rewrite I had some major resistance to changing tenses because it looked like a huge job and I wasn’t sure it’d be worth the time. With writing, and teaching too for that matter, I’ve found that sometimes the things I feel resistance to are the very things I need to be working on.

Have you pushed through any resistance lately? How did it go?

What factors help you to determine the right tense for your novel? Have you ever rewritten a novel in a different tense? How did it turn out for you?

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"Hmmm... I need to make a decision soon. I mean, I won't live forever."

One of the things I’ve been doing in my current rewrite is looking at backstory.

Here’s my little off-the-cuff definition of backstory:  events that take place before the story that are potentially part of the story because they influence a character’s motivation and actions.

In my revision I’m both eliminating and adding backstory. I’m also moving it around.

Here are a few of the questions I’m asking myself (in no particular order) as I consider cutting or adding or moving backstory details:

Does the backstory detail in question move the story forward in some way?

Does the reader learn something that makes what is happening in the story more meaningful and/or intense?

Does the reader learn something that helps them indentify with a character?

Am I inserting the backstory details at the right times, i.e. just as the reader needs to know them?

Does the amount of backstory I’m including fit with the style and rhythm of the story? And, does the way I’m including it fit?

I don’t want to gut my story to the point where it is just a series of events happening in the present without context, but I don’t want to bog it down with unnecessary details either.

I took a workshop with YA author Jeanette Ingold a few years ago and she recommended using an eye-dropper (as opposed to a shovel) to insert backstory, and that image has stuck with me.

(And, just to bend your mind a little more in regards to backstory, Jeanette left a thought provoking comment below. Thanks, Jeanette!!) 

How do you make decisions on where and how to include backstory details?

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I’ve been happily buried in a revision/rewrite for the past ten days on a WIP I hadn’t picked up for over a year.

I remembered writing the first draft of LAST CHANCE, that’s the working title, in about six weeks. Then over the course of a year I revised it half a dozen times and finally gave it to one person to read. I had two other books I was working on, so when the critique came back I read it and then set it aside. I continued working on the two other books, and wrote a first draft of another book.

When I finally picked up LAST CHANCE, I was a little overwhelmed. I remembered being really excited by the story and then deflated by the critique. The critique did a good job of pointing out LAST CHANCE’s weaknesses which was what I wanted, but it also fired a couple of personal jabs my way which kind of threw me off balance.

Now I’m a guy who taught in a school for behaviorally challenged students for 15 years. I’ve been cussed out, lied to, and threatened too many times to count. I’ve even been punched and kicked a few times, but none of it was personal. By that, I mean those kids were going through tough times and for whatever reasons that’s how their anger, fear and frustration manifested.

My point: when someone is supposed to critique your writing, when that’s the understanding, and they start critiquing you instead, it’s not about you, it’s about them. Don’t take it personally.

Is this hard to remember? Sometimes.

Do the memories of those personal comments still get under my skin? A little.

Am I putting to use some of the comments directed toward the book? Yes.

Will I ever seek out this person for another critique? I haven’t decided.

Have I spoken to this person about where I thought the critique went astray? I haven’t and don’t plan to.

Since I started blogging—the above critique pre-dates my blogging-days—I’ve had the pleasure of trading manuscripts with some really great people who’ve totally focused on the writing.

Have you ever received a critique that crossed the fine line between the writing and the writer? How did you handle it? How would you handle it in the future? If you’ve never experienced this, what do you think is the best way to handle this type of situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(This weekend I was interviewed at Frolicking Through Cyberspace. Here’s the link if your interested: Frolicking Through Cyberspace)

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"Okay, just another minute of Twitter, then I'll get back to that novel."

I signed up for the writing-time log experiment for two reasons. I thought it would be fun. And, I thought I’d learn something.

Here’s my log for the past week:

  • Sept. 27  4 hours
  • Sept. 28  3 hours
  • Sept. 29  2 hours
  • Sept. 30  5 hours
  • Oct. 1     5.5 hours
  • Total      19.5 hours

I logged the times I left my writing to do other things for more than five minutes. So, October 1st’s entry looks like this for writing time:

  • 5:00 to 5:20
  • 5:30 to 6:20
  • 6:30 to 6:50
  • 7:30 to 8:15
  • 10:45 to 11:40
  • 12:45 to 2:30

A couple things I learned:

  • Twitteruptions last longer than I thought they did.
  • When I know what I’m writing toward, I stay at the keyboard longer.

The middle of my week I had some very light writing days. I’d lost my way in my story and needed to find it again. I spent more time on Tuesday and Wednesday walking, running, and doing other life chores that I knew had to be done anyway.

I do think you have to put in the time in order to produce the words.

But sometimes backing off and giving the story some space is more productive than pushing forward.

Friday was my longest writing day, but it felt like my shortest because I knew where I was going. I think backing off on Tuesday and Wednesday helped me to see more clearly where I was going.

My word count on Friday: 4200. 

I’m pretty sure that Friday’s words made up at least a third of my word count for the week.

If you want to see more writing log blog entries go to Patti Neilson’s blog. She has a list.

This week I hope to finish this first draft I’ve been plugging away at since mid-May.

What are you working on this week? And, have you ever kept a writing-time log? If so, what did you learn from it?

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For me, plot and character are interwoven like the DNA strands in a Double Helix. I map out character arcs and plot arcs, but end up looking at them together more than separately because the story has to work as a whole.

That said, here are few things I do to develop character:

1.  I write my MCs life story up until the book starts. This helps me to develop his voice for the actual novel. Nothing beats voice when it comes to story-telling. Your character can be doing something as boring as changing a light-bulb if he’s got a great voice.

2.  In the first draft I ask questions like this continually: What does my character want? What does my character need? What are his internal conflicts?

3.  And all throughout the revision process I keep asking myself: What is my character feeling right now? If I know his back story, I can usually get in touch with what he is going through. Often those feelings make it into the story as thoughts, actions or gestures. And these are the things that show who he is and what he is struggling with.

In one of my manuscripts, I totally changed who the MC was during a revision. I gave him a completely different back story even though in the book he still had to get from Point A to Point B.

I made him both more sympathetic and larger-than-life in a good way. Hopefully he does things that you wish you’d done if you were in his situation but you’d have to be pretty brave to try. At the same time he battles with guilt, anger, lack of self-worth, and helplessness. I think he’s a better fit for the story I’m telling.

So, my final thought on writing compelling characters: Have them take risks. And to have them take risks, put them in risky situations.

Thanks for stopping by. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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