Put Your Legos to Good Use

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I am sure you have seen scale models of subdivisions in offices of new housing developments. These usually depict lots available for building, green belts, water features, even planned schools and businesses.

While writing a chapter in my “upcoming” book last week, I needed to describe, in detail,  the street on which a character lived. Since this is a book in a series, I recalled doing a similar description in an earlier book a couple of years ago.

It would have made my job so much easier if I had actually sketched the street layout, much like a map, and kept it in a file to refer to at a later time.

And, now that time had come.

But, since I didn’t do that, I had to reread that portion of my previous book and draw the neighborhood, including streets, which characters lived where, and the location in which certain scenes took place. 

No, I will not be building a full-scale model of the neighborhood. (I will leave that task to you overachievers.) But I guarantee that I will save it so that I can refer to it when writing future books in the series. 

Models and/or maps are good reminders—as are notes of characters’ descriptions, facts about their lives–even as detailed as ages, eye color, and so on.

The more information you retain in your files NOW, the more time it will save you in the long run.

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Stand-Alones, Series, or Both?

8271351214_7c6f31f870I know of a guy who wrote a Letter to the Editor. His writing was so good that he was offered a position with the newspaper writing his own column.

He started out writing a letter and found himself doing something much more than what he originally intended.

I relate to that guy. 

I started out to write “stand-alone” books.

However, readers liked my characters. They wanted to read more. I was soon hoodwinked into writing a second book—and now a third.

I’m not complaining, though. I’m glad people want to read more about Marcus, Simon, and the others.

An author has choices when writing a series. 

First choice: build successive books on the previous ones and simply continue the story. In this case, the reader would need to read from Book 1 through the entire series for the progressive story to be understandable.

Second choice: continue with the original characters in Book 1, but be careful to use epilogues and/or prologues—and effective beginning chapters—to make sure important information from previous book(s) is passed along throughout the series. Essentially, books like these can be read as stand-alones.    

Each book can be devoted to a different character, keeping them in the same setting (Ex. On the farm).

Or, each book in the series can focus on the same main character, but in different settings. (Think Gulliver’s Travels).

Or, change the characters, but keep the ongoing theme. (Stories about near-death experiences or angel sightings…)

The possibilities are probably endless. You just have to find that common thread and begin to weave it throughout your series.

In the series I am writing, currently, each book is based on a childhood game, thus the titles Simon Says, Truth or Dare, Tug of War, and so on.

The commonality isn’t just found in the games, but—more importantly—in  the way they make their life choices, the result of those choices, and how each one affects their future.

Surveys tell us that readers latch onto a series or a particular author and will follow them until they become tired or disappointed.

So, writing a series can be an effective way for an author to gain a following—and keep them following—if you give each book your very best effort.

Then—and only then—will they keep coming back for more.

Drafting Can Be Rough

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Drafting is the next step in the writing process. Whether you use a computer or a steno pad, whether you write with a pencil or pen, call it a “sloppy copy” or use another form of reference, you cannot escape this step in the writing process.

Using what you’ve accomplished so far in the prewriting process, drafting is the actual writing, chapter by chapter, of your book.

With a few tweaks here and there, all writers vary this stage of writing to end up with what works for them. Whether it is a program, such as Scrivener, or your own version of something else you’ve seen out there, now’s the time to get the old creative juices going. You can use a combination of approaches. After five books, I am still changing mine. 

What I am going to share, now, is how I approach the drafting stage of writing. If it is helpful as a whole, or only in part, use what makes sense according to your writing style, your organizational methods, and so on.

I use my computer at home almost 100% of the time. I found, early on, that using Mac’s “Pages” wasn’t the universally accepted format. You’ll need WORD. You can purchase WORD for Mac from the internet or Apple store, if you, too, own a MAC.

After closing my office door to insure quiet, I consult what I accomplished in my prewriting. I used to use giant Post-it’s of about 18” by 30” or so to keep my timeline,  characters and their descriptions straight. I have recently found it just as effective to use a spiral notebook and list these important details chapter by chapter. Clutter on my walls tended to make me nervous, whereas a simple notebook can be closed and stored in the closet for the next writing day.

Next I write … and write … and write …

I may finish and entire chapter or not, depending on the amount of time I have allotted. But, here is where I differ from most writers. After taking a short break for lunch or even overnight, I re-read my chapter, doing a quick edit of anything that stands out to me. These may be typos, mistakes in point-of-view, changes in scene order, or even sometimes deleting entire sections. These pre-edits serve two purposes: 1) Reading through the chapter gets my head back into the story so that I can continue my writing and 2) Just like the Post-its that previously cluttered my walls, it is a way of reducing what isn’t needed and getting down to story basics. 

(Most writers will tell you to keep writing all the way to the end of the book before going back to tackle any kind of editing. That would be ideal, if I could do it, but I just cannot…sorry, my mind just won’t get going unless everything else is cleared up, first).

Although I might do a little revising in the drafting stage, I find that it is wise to wait to do anything major until I have finished the entire book. Too many things can happen in the course of writing that might seem wise to revise early on; however, lots of difficulties will work themselves out in the course of writing. Save yourself a lot to time and work by sticking to your outline closely. Let your story “simmer” for awhile.

Before closing, I want to mention that I give my book, chapter by chapter, to my critique group. I rely on their comments heavily when editing. If there is something that these other writers do not understand (or like), then I am certain that my readers will not, either.

Next week- revising.

Think About It

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One of the things that makes our writing strong is sharing our character’s thoughts with the reader. This is done in two main ways: by indirect and direct thoughts.

Thoughts are simply a character talking to themselves. We show this inner speech by using italics instead of quotation marks.

For example,

Indirect: He thought his friend’s remark was funny.

Direct: Now, that’s funny!

Most narrative writing is in the past tense.

But, characters’ inner thoughts are written in the present tense.

Here is an example:

Indirect:  He refused to give up.  (This comes from the narrator. Past tense- third person.)

Direct: I refuse to give up.  (This thought comes directly from the character. Present tense- first person.)

So, when should you use indirect thoughts and when should you choose to include direct thoughts?

Ask yourself two questions:

1) Does it feel like it’s in third or first person?

2) Does it feel like the character is saying this?

It’s just that simple. 

Or, at least I think so…

The Plot Beneath

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I was experiencing plot problems.

I went back to the Prologue and reread my manuscript. Yep, all the way to Chapter 14.

I had to think of something. Rearranging scenes was a possibility to consider. Still…

I went to the internet for help. I read several articles. Could the answer to my difficulties really be as simple as adding a subplot? 

A subplot is a story strand that runs alongside the main plot and supports it. It mirrors the main plot, but is shorter than the main story.

To accomplish the creation of a subplot, the writer must create and separate story and connect it, at two or three points, to the main plot.

The purpose of a subplot isn’t to cause the author additional work. It’s to strengthen, or enhance, the main story. It can make it more exciting, add tension, as well as increase the overall length of the book.

With good planning, creating a subplot is so much easier to do when you are just beginning to write your book. If you wait (like I did) you will find it can be a tedious task of weaving characters in, adding conversation and action, and finding just the right places to interject these things.

Adding a subplot can be done—and it may be worth the time and effort to do so.

Writing Flash Fiction

 

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My last blog post talked about Flash Fiction and got us ready to address the “How-To-Write-It.”

So, here we go with what I’ve learned about writing Flash Fiction from a real-life pro, David Gaffney:                                                                                                                                      1. Start your story in the middle of the action. You don’t have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.

 2.  Don’t use too many characters. Excess names and places eat up your word count.

 3. Make sure the ending isn’t at the end. (What?) Give almost all of the information in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take the reader on a journey beneath the surface. This will help you avoid stories with punch-line- type endings. 

4. Make your title short and sweet. Give it punch.

5. Make your last line ring. Remember, it’s not the ending. – but it should make the reader continue to think about the ideas in the story and speculate about what it all meant.

6. Write long, then whittle your story down to the essentials. When you edit, don’t decrease the impact of the story. Choose your words carefully and sparingly. Make each one count!

Next week’s blog post: Flash Fiction Tips.

Letting Characters Write Their Own Endings

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You’re writing along. Things are going pretty well. And then the unthinkable happens.

Your character doesn’t want to cooperate. He doesn’t want to die or lose the battle or watch as someone else “gets the girl.”

And, you say to yourself, “Just who does he think he is? I created him. I gave him thoughts, ideas, friends, goals, depth. Who is he to tell me here, in Chapter Nineteen—at the climax of the story—that he doesn’t agree with the way I’ve written it?”

I feel your pain. No, really I DO because it just happened to me.

My main character and I are having a meeting of the minds…a war of the words. 

He’s going to win.

I know it. I just know it.

Because he’s REAL. 

He’s lived and breathed life into this story for nine months. 

Who better to tell me how things should end?

In order to change the outcome, it will be necessary for me to go back to Chapter Fifteen and start rewriting.

So, I yell out to him, “Why did you wait until now to tell me this? Couldn’t you have clued me in a little sooner?”

He just laughs and tells me to get back to work.