Slow Reveal


One of the things I love about having a writer’s critique group is the learning opportunities it provides. I learn by reading the work of my CPs, through them critiquing my work, and through critiquing them. I’ll be the first to admit some of the things they suggest to help me strengthen my work are things I already know. Every now and then I’ll let a passive sentence slip by when it can easily be converted to an active one. Sometimes, I don’t dig deep enough because writing can feel like frothing egg whites by hand. It takes concentration, dedication, and by the end you ache from the effort.

Photo credit: Jon Rieley-Goddard aka baldblogger’s photostream

During a recent review of my current WIP Dark Intent, an adult paranormal romance, one of my CPs busted me on this very thing. My main character has a severe fear of the dark. I established my MC’s distress by showing her emotional/physical reaction to darkness. After watching her internal struggles for a while and not understanding the root cause, her responses lost impact. To avoid ‘info dumping’, the source of her terror must come out in bits and pieces.

The ground work for this was already there, I just didn’t dig deep enough. My CP helped me see how I could use the existing framework to strengthen my story. She recommended I go back to all those places where my MC attempts to confront her fear and reveal snippets of the inciting incident of her anxiety. Nothing major, just incomplete glimpses because in the dark, its often the thing we can’t fully see which scares us the most. It took my story from ‘can relate’ to ‘now I have goosebumps’.

Have you come across something similar in your writing/revising/editing process? Do you have any tips on slow reveals? Do you have character(s) coping with phobia?

The Voices Told Me To Write It


 

If other writers are anything like me, they write what characters tell them to write and don’t always immediately understand why things unfold the way they do. This happened with my current adult paranormal WIP, which is 87% complete. I knew my human heroine possessed otherworldly abilities, yet I didn’t know where those powers stemmed from, only the cost she paid for using them. I also knew her fate was tied to the immortal hero’s and that their first encounter would change both of them fundamentally.

It wasn’t until my critique partners (CPs) Dawn Allen and L.L. McKinney sent a tidal wave through my WIP that I fully understood how deep the characters’ connection ran. Immortals have a lot of history to sift through. Sometimes, its tough to decide which part of their past is pertinent to the current plot. I knew something major in my hero’s past was coming back for him and that it was somehow connected to the heroine. My CPs helped me dig deeper with the hero to learn how his actions in the past could affect the heroine centuries later.

The fun part? The foundation for our discovery was there all along. The new information we uncovered fell into place like lost puzzle pieces.

I LOVE my CPs, which includes Nicole MacLaughlin who meets with us once a month. They are my girls and without them, I don’t know where my writing would be. They challenge me to push harder, dig deeper, stay true to my characters, etc.  We don’t always agree with one another, but when we do…magic! And goosebumps.

Have you experienced and “AH!” moment in your writing? Do you push yourself to dig deeper? How do you know when you’ve gone deep enough? Do you have awesome CPs you want to give a shout out to?

 

Reading Like A Writer


I spoke a couple of weeks ago about a method I use to take the sting out of query letter rejection (here). Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to read a few books. While I await the release of Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole and Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter, I’ve selected a few free ereads.

Photo by Jessie Harrell

For a while now, I’ve been reading like a writer. Sometimes it takes the joy out of a book, other times it adds a whole new level of appreciation. This month, I read one book in each category. Overall, I enjoyed both of them. However, one author has me willing to pay money for the next book, the other not so much.

Here’s what did/didn’t work for me:

The Book I’ll Pass On

  • I have to admit, I loved the premise of this story. It was well into the genres I like. The author had a strong grasp on the paranormal creatures in the story and did a wonderful job of staying consistent with the supernatural powers in the world created.
  • There was tension and conflict in the story, but some of it felt orchestrated and much was resolved through hap and circumstance.
  • This one was a YA book and the author nailed the age and attitude, but it was a little over board.
  • The author used regional slang and clichés to the detriment of dialogue.
  • Plus, and I might be guilty on this one, the author had multiple scenes of every day things with no underlying tension. For example, the MC was getting ready for a date and that was it. No underlying emotional or mental tension.

The Book That Hooked Me

  • LOVED the heroine and the hero.
  • The voice hooked me right away. The MC is funny and relatable and freely admits her faults without out sound too self-deprecating.
  • The world building is wonderful and information about the setting is doled out in small digestible doses.
  • The supporting cast a.k.a. minor characters are intriguing in their own way.
  • I cared about what happened to the MC if she failed to reach her goal.

Have you ever picked up a free book which hooked you so well you purchased more from the author (if it’s paranormal romance, I want titles and names, please and thank you 🙂 )? What drew you in? Have you picked up one that turned you off, and if so say why (out of respect, please KEEP TITLES and NAMES ANONYMOUS)?

[Update: Look what I found. Free Kindle books here.]

How to Write A Book


Focus.

That’s all it takes.

Focus on writing everyday, no excuses because even five minutes of active writing will increase the word count of a book. This may require rising before the sun, or burning the midnight oil, but if that’s what it takes to get hands on the keyboard or pencil/pen to paper, then commit to it. If it’s too difficult to get in touch with the muse early in the morning or late at night, sketch out the scene (or tell) what’s supposed to happen and use it as a guideline to flesh it out (or show) as much as possible during a lunch break, during the train/taxi ride home, or whenever time is available. If it’s a too busy family life that interrupts writing time, create a writing schedule, bargain if necessary so that each partner gets equal free time, even if it’s only half an hour.

Photo by Frank Selmo (frankselmo on Flickr)

When that free time is available, whether or not the muse is talking, make sure each scene has focus. These are the things I aim to include into each scene:

  • Conflict. Gotta have it, otherwise why are people reading the book. The main character (MC) has to have a goal from the very first page. Something is bound to stand in the way. I invite Murphy’s Law to stomp all over my characters life. I love when I’m reading a book and the MC gets backed into a corner from which I can see no way out, yet I know they get out cause there’s still 72 more pages left. In each scene, I focus on making my MC work toward her goal, ensuring the things she need don’t happen to fall into her lap, and amping up the conflict.
  • Character. In order for readers to care about said MC getting out the corner, they need to care about said character(s). I try to fall into my characters. Instead of observing the scene unfold as if watching it on the big screen, I imagine myself in the scene and employ all the senses to make the characters’ reaction to the setting real. I focus on staying in the MC’s POV throughout the scene, and if the POV changes, I add an extra space and stay in the other character’s POV for the remainder of the chapter. Continuous head hopping can be disconcerting.
  • Setting. Have a clear understanding of when and where the story takes place, but don’t try to include everything. Focus on a few select things which breathe life into the setting. There’s always time to build in more elements of the environment in the next scene.

Focus on the endgame. Figure out the common word expectations for the genre/target audience because it’ll be hard to sell a low word count sci-fi novel or a high word count realistic middle grade novel.

Last, focus on having fun and enjoying your characters and the world you’ve built for them.

What do you focus on when writing? What elements do you try to work into your scenes? How do you find time to write?

For a humorous take on How Not To Write A Novel, check out my crit partner’s post here.

Related Articles
Make Your Writing Time Matter
Novel Word Count
Genre Novels – Word Counts Rules, Subgenres, and Guidelines for Getting Your Book Published
Wordcount Dracula

The Ripple Effect


It’s been a while since I started a blog chain and what more appropriate post than this one about the ripple effect to start one. I’m kicking off this chain with the following question:

Has your manuscript (WIP or completed) experienced a ripple effect, where one change affected the manuscript from beginning to end? If so, how?

The premise behind the blog chain idea is for you to write this question at the top of a post, link it back to the person whose blog you read it on, answer the question, and invite others (consider this your formal invitation) to participate. Last, post a link to participant(s) who link back to your blog to complete the chain.

Photo Credit: jeuxsansfrontieres

The other day during my critique group, we discussed how making changes to a story can have ripple effects. Sometimes, those ripples are small. For example, during one of many revisions to my YA dark paranormal EDGE OF TRUTH, where I’ve created a futuristic, dystopian world I realized my characters spent a lot of time outside without eye protection from their too bright sun. Everyone running around with sunglasses was too Agent Smith from the Matrix so instead, I added something more durable and literally flexible: sun hats. OMG, Rena’s (the MC) love interest Nevan looks so hot in a his hat.

As I moved through the manuscript finding scenes where hats were needed, I discovered how much something so simple enriched the world building. It gave my characters something to hide their face behind when embarrassed or angry, it gave them something to hold for comfort, it gave them something to wring in worry. Plus, something so normal helped make them feel real.

I’ve had stronger ripples as well, especially when I brought in a new character who I had to seamlessly work throughout the entire manuscript.

The movie Butterfly Effect is an extreme example of how one change can affect the future.

I’m interested in hearing whether you’ve experienced the ripple effect in your work and if so, how? If you decide to participate in this blog chain, please let me know so I can include a link. If you just want to leave your comments below, that works for me, too. Note: There’s no timeline on this, so link whenever you want.

Please visit these blogger(s) too to see how they answered the question:

∞ Dawn Allen at Write On
Consider yourself linked:

Keeping the Short in Short Story


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Ever sit down with the intent to write a short story only to have it turn into a novella? Or even a full-blown novel? In my recent preparation for the OWFI 2012 conference contest, I re-discovered how difficult it is to keep the ‘short’ in short story. This year, I wrote a piece for the young adult short story category which had a limit of 1,200 words. Eeek!

My characters wanted me to write a story slightly outside my genre, they demanded a novel length story (which they deserve at a later time), and they had no desire to live confined within the contest guidelines. I knew going into it, they were going to be unruly. Usually when I write, I’m not concerned about word count.

In order to keep it short, I had to change my mindset. Here’s what worked for me:

  • Let the story title work for you. Choose something creative and short that fits the genre of the short story. For tips on attention grabbing titles, check out this article.
  • Strong, fleshed out characters help hook a readers’ interest. Character development is important, because even though your characters are part of a short story, they deserve full attention.
  • Don’t let backstory side track you, no matter how tempting or interesting. There’s no room for it in short fiction.
  • Stay focused on one plot, one event. The more linear time you try to cover in a story, the more complicated the story becomes which may increase word count. This one might not apply to short stories with a word count above 1,200.
  • Limit the number of characters, for the same reason listed above. More characters equal a more complicated story equals more words.
  • The story must have a complete story arc, no matter how limited the word count. The story must have a beginning, middle and end. Lesann Berry, one of my fellow campaign bloggers, recently wrote a post on story structure.
  • Make sure every word belongs. This applies to all fiction. Vanquish weak words.
  • Every item (backpack, gun, frying pan, etc.) you mention should add value to the story somehow or reveal something about your character. For example, if your character uses a frying pan as a weapon in addition to a cooking utensil, it demonstrates that the character is practical and resourceful. Also, if the character doesn’t aim, shoot, and/or threaten someone with the gun by the end of the story, the reader may not need to know about the weapon.

Do you write short stories? What technique works for you?

Three Act Story Structure


At the OWFI Conference, I attended an impromptu workshop by our keynote speaker Steve Berry. Even though he gave the presentation at 7:30 a.m. his enthusiasm for the craft was both obvious and contagious. I found his explanation of story structure clear and hope I can do it justice in this blog.

ACT IThe inciting incident which throws your character’s world into chaos. No sub-plotting at this point.
ACT IIMajor events which change everything.
ACT IIIIncident resolved in climax. Don’t carry the subplot past the mark on the “main plot” line.

Character – the people in your story.
Okay, I admit, I missed the first few minutes of Steve’s presentation, so I’m winging it on this one. Hey, no one’s perfect, but it provides a great transitions into the part of the workshop I walked in on…  Flaws make characters more interesting, complex. Physical, mental, emotional it doesn’t matter, give your characters something to deal with. I’ll write more on character when I get to my notes from Charles Sasser’s “Building Life Into Your Characters” and William Bernhardt’s “Character Driven Novel”.

Conflict – the struggle between two forces.
Whether conflict is internal, external or even a mixture of the two, a good story starts with a strong, interesting action which draws a reader in and hooks them. If you begin with something that complicates your main characters life, and then complicate it even more, it’s a great way to accomplish this. It’s taking a simple idea and exaggerating it to the extreme. Just think of the car rental episode of Seinfeld. Classic case of a simple idea, complicated and exaggerated to the extreme.

“The human heart being in conflict with itself is a conflict everyone can relate to” –  Steve Berry

Cruciblethe thing which would make your character do something they usually wouldn’t do.
In other words, the thing which makes them leave safety, and head toward danger.

Complicationthe thing(s) which stand in the way of the main character achieving goal.
This is where you complicate your main character’s complicated situation.

Subplotthe supporting side story for the main plot.
Avoid dull linear writing and try to keep subplots to one or two. Subplots must emanate from the main plot and help resolve it.

Crisis the place where all complications meet.
I think of this as the story climax. This is the turning point in the plot after which nothing will be the same for your main character.

Conclusionthe denouement.
This is what happens after the conflict resolution, or in other words the conclusion of the story. All loose ends should be resolved by this point.

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After I returned home, I put one of my stories to the test with this diagram and discovered a way to improve it. I hope this information will be just as helpful to you.

Are you already familiar with the three act structure? How do your stories fit within this template?