Sunday, April 29, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday #2!

Outside his dressing room, Neal met up with his roadie Phil, coming from the opposite direction.

“Now you’re cool with everything?” Phil said. “Not nervous?”

Neal laughed. “What for, she’s just a woman, right? All she can do is turn me down in front of fifty thousand people.”
Continuing my Six Sentence Sunday from two weeks ago. While the sentences involve characters from my novel WIP, I’m not currently planning to include the scene in the novel. I’m just having fun seeing where the scene goes.

About the characters: Neal roadied for the band then was asked to join. He started as drummer but has been learning guitar. He’s outgoing, has been involved in a charitable foundation in the city where he lives, and loves attention. His girlfriend was raised in a small town, works happily out of the public eye as a chef, and takes pains to avoid attention when she travels with Neal. Yeah, life for these two is not smooth sailing!

Thank you to anybody who stopped by today. I appreciate it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

When to skip the garlic

The little light on the front of my muse's Magickal Crockpot of Ideas has finally come on, indicating that something's ready. My muse forces me to wait until the time has come, for she will give me nothing before its time.

Royalty Free Stock Photography Cook with crockpotJust as well, because premature, green ideas don't taste right. They're crunchy when they should be soft and smooth, bitter when they should be sweet. It's hard to wait for the "done" light to come on when you have a writing craving that lasts for months. I've been trying to figure out how to make the plot work for my novel-in-progress, but that's been the problem: I've been trying to make it work when I need to let it work itself out.

So a few days ago, totally out of the blue when these things often happen, it occurred to me that the place to end the novel is right after Neal confronts the mayor about why rebuilding hasn't happened yet. The mayor, the city council, and maybe other groups will act when before they weren't willing to work together to solve problems.

Readers will see how Neal has grown up and become completely comfortable with who he is, and that he's become a galvanizing force.

And he really doesn't like that description. He's always listening in when I blog. "Somebody has to set a fire under the political machine to get it to do something useful. Lots of people can do that. You just have to get up and do it."

Eavesdropper. Anyway, I'm going to try breaking the plot into parts. I've come up against a period of time (or two) in which the natural forward momentum of the plot sputtered. Because the members of Critique Circle can be so helpful, I posted a question about handling plot issues and one person (I believe it was Clarksvill, so I owe her a lot) said not to be afraid to consider using parts.

That had never occurred to me before. I'd been operating under the assumption that I had to show every major step of Neal's journey to the end of the novel. I realized that by trying to find something to fill that plot void, I was trying to do something I've said never to do: force the plot.

So I'm going to use breaks but judicious ones. Only two or three. I also need to cut some stuff from near the end which is already painful and I haven't even started yet, but it goes back to something else I've said that I got from Robert Kernen's Building Better Plots - not every good idea has to be used. It's true. Garlic is a wonderful thing but it doesn't belong in every dish. The reason that some of the garlic in my muse's Crockpot has settled to the bottom is that it doesn't belong.

It's up to me to find all the stuff at the bottom of the Crockpot. Now that I know about it, I feel better able to tackle the issue.

Tomorrow, I'm back on Six Sentence Sunday!

Neal wants me to close today by asking everybody to remember the Los Angeles riots of 20 years ago. It wasn't just a race problem, it was very much a class problem and it hasn't gone away. Prejudice, hate, and fear are alive and well in the U.S. Let's all try a little harder to get along, because to quote Neal, we're all in the same band.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


A great big welcome to Jess, Elin & Willowlive/Teresa! Thanks so much for joining my little blog. Hope you like the site as you look around, and if you'd like to leave any comments, remember I love hearing from readers! J

I'm getting back to Six Sentence Sunday coming up next week so hope to "see" you here on April 29th.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The happy post

Reading some older posts over at Nathan Bransford's blog I came across this one Ten commandments for the happy writer that bears calling attention to.

It's easy for unpublished writers to get discouraged. You join a crit group and somebody rips your work to shreds, others tell you to make these and these changes that would drain the soul from the piece, and on and on. Me, I've been mired in plot problems for several months. That's frustrating and makes me angry as well. I feel I should be able to work this stuff out if I'm going to call myself a serious writer.

image photo : 3d man angry on his laptop - isolated on whiteNathan's post reminds me of a story I read in Writer's Digest magazine a couple decades ago about a woman who had a day job as a secretary and wrote stories every evening. Never able to get published, she gave up writing, threw herself into her day job and earned her boss' praise of "the best damn secretary."

I remember that story because my day jobs have mostly been of the secretarial sort; even a couple decades ago I knew that writing well is usually hard. There but for the powerful voice of my muse go I. It's easy to give up and sometimes it's even understandable. Since I've re-discovered my characters and have decided to seriously pursue publication, I've become happier.

I define myself primarily as a writer. I feel particularly guilty today because I've wasted much of this week playing a computer game instead of writing or plot wrangling. Okay, but what's feeling guilty going to get me? Nada. I have a piece to crit for my local writers' group meeting coming up in a few days and there are a couple of stories I should crit at the online site I'm a member of, Critique Circle.

Nathan's post is a reminder that while we need to stay connected to family and the people who matter to us, writing is what makes me happy. If I'm mopey or angry or resentful, I'm not going to write well. Maybe some people can channel negative emotions into good writing, but I'm sure it makes the process harder than necessary.

I love that I've found a local writers' group that I click with. I love knowing that they understand my writing gripes. It's a big positive in my life that I'm very thankful for. These people are all active writers and as a member, I feel like a Real Writer. Everybody out there who can't finish projects, can't start them, can't seem to plot out stories but pantsing doesn't really work either: look for a local group that accepts you for who you are. It's worth it. When you find that magic connection, you will become happier, and you will write more and eventually better.

image photo : Happy summer sun
I've promised myself that next month I'll have something ready for critting from the short story I'm trying to pull together. To that end, I go to refill the coffee mug and pull out my plotting notes. Let's all get back to writing, shall we? Do you prefer dark roast or french vanilla? Here, I'll set out the mugs, you pull up a chair, and we'll have at it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday! My first time!

Somebody knocked then stuck a head inside Neal’s dressing room. “Five minutes,” the roadie shouted over the band’s encore.

Neal nodded and got up from his practice drum kit. How many other guys were lucky enough to wind up with a girlfriend who didn't mind him drumming in the house and learning guitar? She’s got to like what happens tonight, she’s got to.

He took a final swig from the tequila bottle, made sure the ring was inside his shirt pocket, and headed into the hall.
This is the beginning of a scene I'm playing around with while my Work In Progress is undergoing a renovation. My WIP is categorized as Rock Lit. I don't think the scene will wind up in the story because it takes place years after the planned ending of the story, but you know what they say about best-laid plans. I may post a bit more of the scene for Six Sentence Sunday in the coming weeks.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Catchy opening line of story? Catchy post title? Both hard!

A recent post at Magical Words (which has nothing to do with fantasy-type magic, it's a writing site) talks about that old stand-by thorn-in-our-sides, the Opening Line. One of the things I like about the post is that it focuses on the beginning sentence from a reader's perspective: why some lines make you think "oooh, cool!" and keep you reading.

image photo : Magic bookKalayna, who wrote the post, offers this example of an opening line that hooked her into the story: “The fact I had killed a man was really putting a crimp in my love life.” –Doppelganster by Laura Resnick. Kalayna says this is a strong example of voice, the unique way a character comes across. The sentence comes right from the character's head. That line all by itself doesn't have quite the same effect on me, because I have trouble connecting killing somebody with your love life. My first impression is more of apples and oranges than "wow, I wish I'd written that sentence."

But that's not so bad. Kalayna also mentions that while opening lines can hook her, she also reads more of the first page to see if it yanks her into the story. I do the same thing. I read a bit of the back blurb, the first few paragraphs, parts of the middle; never ending paragraphs because I don't want to spoil the story if I do decide to read it.

Still, you can't overlook the importance of that first sentence. I agree that having it convey a sense of your MC's basic nature, or a sense of the story's primary theme, are what will encourage readers to buy. For my own WIP, I've spent a lot of time developing Neal's personality and his voice. He's the one who undergoes the greatest changes so it makes sense to open the book in his POV. And if I'm going to do that, Neal better grab people right in the first sentence.

image photo : Book GirlI feel compelled to add this thought: no matter how much blood, sweat and tears go into your opening line, please be sure the rest of your story doesn't let the reader down. I'm sure we've all read things where the first few paragraphs or pages really swept us into the story, but then left us high and dry. That's a huge disappointment and may sour readers on you. When you ask readers to step into your story, you're making a promise that it will be worth their time. A readership, a fan following, is a gift--they don't have to like you.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

another writing course: Plotting

I've just come off a four-week course through Writer University, with Laurie Schnebly. Writer U always has a great selection of courses. My four-week course was $30, peeps, and Laurie knows her stuff. As of this writing, other classes are $50 and $75. It's pretty hard to find writing courses with knowledgeable instructors for prices that reasonable.

The particular course I took was "Plotting Via Motivation". It's just what you might think: your characters' motives drive the plot. Something happens at the start of your book, or your main character thinks something happens, his instincts take over, things get worse. The plot expands from there.

The perennial challenge for writers is to have characters who react in ways that make sense to readers yet are unique. Laurie encouraged us to delve into our characters using specific questions.

The idea is to figure out a character's long-term motive and what their goal is at the start of the story. Their motive (say, fear of change) is something that stays with them throughout the story, but their goal is something achievable. We might have a guy who wants everything to stay the same and hears that a a big developer wants to turn his country town into a huge resort. His neighbors seem to like the idea, but he stumbles on the real reason why the developers chose the town and it's some deep dark secret.

So he starts with the goal of wanting to keep the developers out of his town. There are a million things you could do with that. It could turn into a romance, an international spy thriller, a sort of "Cowboys and Aliens" tale, on and on. The possibilities ought to wake up anybody's muse.

We started with that basic, overarching idea and gradually narrowed our focus to various sections of the story. There were several homework assignments which actually functioned on two levels. We had to come up with answers to the character questions, keeping our answers within a set word count. For verbose people like me, that really helped with not wandering off on tangents or unncessary explanations. Plus, it was a great start toward an outline. Laurie is one smart cookie!

The thing I had the most trouble with was deciding what descriptors to use. Is his motive Validation, or Acceptance, or Belonging? That was the first place using existing characters made the process hard. I didn't know when I signed up for the course that Laurie wanted people to use new characters so I started with the most basic concept of my story and the two main characters, and wiped out all other previous info on them.

I got an interesting new take on Neal but I have to say, using the method this way is harder. I have to decide whether to use this somewhat different version of Neal or work the new aspects in to the existing character. That doesn't even address Sandy, because he started going in a really different direction. So if you don't mind extra work and sweating more bullets, you can adapt the method to existing characters but I agree that it works best for totally new concepts.

If you often have trouble seeing a project through to the end because of plot problems, a course like this might help. And don't forget: write, every day if at all possible. Doing it well takes practice.