Link Round-up: Writing the Novel

While I'm teaching writing in Europe, I'm mining my eight years of articles on writing for you.  Once a week I'm posting a link round-up on a certain subject.  I'll also re-post an oldie but goodie in full on a different day. And I've got a couple of new posts scheduled for you as well. 

Today's topic is writing the novel.  Scroll down for tons of links!

Work-in-house-1232248

Not sure what exactly is going on in this photo besides the writing. Are you?

 

Starting & Prep

 

Finding the First Line of Your Novel

A Novel-Writing Vision Board

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part One: Tools

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Two–The Ideas and the Process

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Three: Character

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Four: Story

 

The Long-haul (or, Sticking With It)

 

Making the Magic Happen: Committing to a Writing Schedule

Fast-Drafting Fiction (Or Any Other Kind of Writing)

Never Underestimate the Power of a Writing Prompt

Willingness: The Mindset for Writing a Novel

Writing Every Morning

 

Character

 

Characters at Cross Purposes

7 Ways to Get to Know Your Characters

9 Ways to Create Characters Readers Will Identify With

Creating Characters: Compassion and Conflict

The Ordinary Day

 

Setting

 

Building Your Fictional World

The Power of Place

Location, location, location

 

Structure

 

Overcoming Flat Scenes: Rising and Falling Action

Story Structure 

The Value of (Groan) Structure

Saturday Writing Tip: Scenes

 

Okay, that ought to keep you busy for awhile.  And remember, I'm teaching my novel writing class this fall, starting in October, if this has whetted your whistle for the process. 

Next link round-up is a week from today, Tuesday, September 8, on journaling!

 

Macaron Day (Or, Jour du Macaron)

So, last Friday, March 20 was Macaron Day worldwide. Macarons

What is Macaron Day?  It was started by the venerable Parisian baker Pierre Herme (his name has an accent mark, but I can never figure out how to do those) in 2006, and the way it works is simple: you drop into a bakery, donate money to charity, et voila, you receive a macaron in return.  This year was the first year that my fair city of Portland, Oregon, has participated in Macaron Day, and let me tell you it was a raging success!

But first, perhaps you are wondering why I am writing about macarons on my writing blog? Simple. My next novel, the one that is currently being readied for submission with my agent, is about macarons.  Or more to the point, a macaron baker.

Here's a brief synopsis:

 All Madeleine Miller wants is for her new Portland business, the Bonne Chance Bakery, to be a success. But things get off to a slow start when her husband Will runs off with an employee and starts his own rival bakery, leaving Mad in the lurch. Luckily she has the help of the bakery's accountant, Jack, and his precocious daughter Daisie. Portland foodies love the bakery's French macarons, but alas, their passion doesn't quite add up to financial success.

And then one day, world-famous entrepreneur slash actor Richard Bishop appears at the bakery and becomes smitten with Mad's macarons—and her. His offer to franchise the bakery concept feels like selling out, and Madeleine isn't interested. But then she learns of the shady financial dealings her ex-husband used to fund the bakery—and she's forced to accept his help. Soon she's catapulted into a world of luxury and excitement in Los Angeles as she supervises the opening of a second Bonne Chance in Hollywood.

But in her efforts to save the bakery, will she lose herself? Set in Portland, Los Angeles, and Paris, the novel illuminates the crazy path romance sometimes leads us on—and the circuitous route that will lead the way home. With its themes of identity, self-determination and following your dreams, The Bonne Chance Bakery is a feel-good novel with a serious message at its core.

(That description is taken straight from my query letter, by the way.  The very same query letter that got me a read of the full manuscript and a signed contract within one week.)

So, as you can see, attending Macaron Day was a must.  Luckily, my biz partner Debbie and I had scheduled a morning to do some planning on the workshop we held last weekend, and so we folded Macaron Day into it.  Our first stop was Nuvrei bakery, where rumor had it that they were giving out "starter kits."  And oh my God, what fabulous starter kits they were!  The most adorable tote bags imprinted with pink macarons.  I was so excited.  I needed one of those tote bags.  After all, I'd just finished a book about macarons!

We stood in line for probably ten minutes as person after person walked past us carrying the totes.  Yes–there were long lines for macarons!  The day for these luscious, pillowy pastel cookies has definitely come!  I got more and more excited as we neared the front of the line.  And then watched as the person in front of me got the last tote bag.

Wah wah wah.

Oh well.  I recovered.  A bite of a salted caramel macaron revived me.  After we sat downstairs and did some planning, we drove across the river to Farina Bakery, which is very special to me.  Laura Farina let me shadow her last year, back when she was still baking macarons in a commercial kitchen, so I could see how macarons are baked.  Now she has her very own place, complete with apron murals.  And she is pretty much acknowledged to be the premier macaron baker in town.  (One headline announcing the opening of her bakery read, "Portland's macaron queen gets her own palace.")

There, at Laura's place, were more people standing in lines with their cute little macaron-imprinted tote bags.   Only one sob escaped my lips as I gazed at the tote bags.  Debbie and I nabbed a whole passel of macarons in a rainbow of colors for our workshop the next day.  And I got to chat with Laura, who is probably the most cheerful, positive person I've ever met.  (Must be the macarons.)

I was going to write about how I discovered macarons and how I got the idea for the novel in the first place, but I'm already pushing 800 words here so I think I'll save that for another post.  

In the meantime, go get yourself a macaron (as they get more and more popular, they are more readily available.  Or, you can always mail order some here.)

Clearly, I've been writing about macarons.  What are you writing about?  Leave a comment!

I found the image of macarons on the Google.

Finding the First Line of Your Novel

Books_Olympus_ompc_79830_hI’m looking for the first line of my novel, the one I’m currently rewriting.  It’s funny, I have this unwarranted idea that the first line should spring, fully formed and perfect, into my mind and from there I will write the rest of the novel.

This is not what has happened with this current novel.  The current first line is kinda okay, and I actually like it, but all of my readers so far have told me that not only the first line but the first few paragraphs have to go.  

And I know they are right.  Sigh.

But I’m still superstitious about it. Because, here’s what happened with Emma Jean.  She started talking to me and the first line of the novel, Emma Jean Sullivan hated babies, sprang into my head and the novel went from there, much like I described.  It is a great first line, you have to agree. My writing group at the time loved it.  Until we got to the rewriting part and the doubts crept in.

“Maybe you’ll turn off agents with that line,” someone said.

“Or readers,” another chimed in.

And so I changed it.  I can’t even remember to what, but it was something lame and lacking in power. I submitted the rewrite to the group, and–you can see this coming, right?  They were all, “Why did you change the first line?  This one doesn’t work at all.”

And so the original, brilliant-if-I-do-say-so-myself line stood.  

I’m not an expert on first lines and I’ve not actually read much about what they should include, but here’s my idea: they need to draw the reader in.  I know, duh.  But what, exactly, will draw the reader in?

In my inexpert opinion, it is conflict.  If you have a weak, flabby first line try adding some tension or conflict to it and see what happens.   And now that I’m thinking about it, that’s one of the problems with the current first line of my novel–there’s no conflict in it.

On the other hand, I just found a site which lists the 100 best lines of novels, and guess what the first line is?  Call me Ishmael.  Not a lot of conflict in that, is there?  (Update: that site is dead, but here’s one that lists the 50 Best First Sentences in Fiction. It’s a little hard to read, but as far as I can tell Call me Ishmael is not anywhere on it.)  And by the way, here is my own favorite first line, which is really not the first line of the book, but of Codi’s viewpoint section, but anyway, I still love it: I am the sister who didn’t go to war.  Do you know what novel it is from? (I’ll tell you at the end of this post.)

One of my pet peeves is the opening a novel with dialogue.  I don’t mind it when others do it, but it never seems to work for me.  I know, weird.  But there it is and that’s not very helpful to you, is it?  So since this post is turning out to be exploratory in nature, in order to offer you some real assistance, I turned to the Google.  And found some good links!  Here you go:

7 Keys to Write the Perfect First Line of a Novel

7 Ways to Create a Killer Opening Line for Your Novel (This one is really helpful.)

Okay, and honestly, those are the only how-to examples I could come up with.  But I think they are good ones.  So now I’m going to slink away and ponder my own first line.  Oh, wait, I had one more suggestion about how to find your first line.  

Ask your subconscious to provide it for you.  

I do this when I’m full up and fed up with trying to figure it out myself.  It always works, it just sometimes (like now) takes awhile.  But I feel certain it will be here soon.

What do you think about first lines?  What’s your favorite?  And how have you found yours in the past?

*Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver, which also happens to be one of my fav novels of all time.  Along with Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.

Fast Drafting Fiction (Or Any Other Kind of Writing)

When last I communicated with you, I told how I was taking a hiatus to finish my novel.  As my grandbabies would say, done! (This must be accompanied with both arms raised in the air.)  I finished the first draft on August 31st, and seeing as how my goal was to complete it by the end of August, I was happy.

It took me nearly a year to write it.  I wasn't writing steadily the entire time–I took whole months off here and there while I floundered.  By the standards of the class I'm currently taking, that is an eternity.

I am enrolled in a class called Book in a Month.  The first two weeks you write a draft and the next two weeks you revise.  Candace Havens, who teaches the class, urges her pupils to commit to writing 20 pages a day, gasp.  But, to my great relief, most of us in the class are not doing quite that many pages.  The main rule seems to be that you must write something (and post it on the Yahoo group page) or she may kick you out.  So, since I'm in the midst of getting ready to teach in France, I've committed to 10 pages a day.

This comes at an inconvenient time, I will admit.  I have 50,000 things to do before I leave and all. But I hope plan to be getting in my word count on the plane and the train from Paris to Beziers.  And I really wanted to take the class because I've long suspected I can write faster, and I was curious as to Candace's techniques.  To nobody's surprise, the techniques are simple: write.  

Make a commitment and write.

Ha!  Would that it were that simple.  Oh wait.  It is.

So, I'm a few days in and I'm already learning a lot, mostly that I need to unlearn a lot of stupid rules about writing that I carry around in my head.  Though my rules are likely different than yours,  I thought I would share them with you as instructive examples.  

Stupid Writing Rules

1.  I can't write fast.  Instead, I must sit and stare out the window at my giant Kiwi bush that is slowly taking over my whole backyard and wish that the kiwis would tell me what to write next.  Also, accessing the internet for research periodically is vital.  And, of course, going on Twitter to report my progress (or lack thereof) is also essential.

2. I need lots of uninterrupted time to write. To nail 10 or 20 pages a day, one must have hours of time in which to get words on the page, right? Wrong.  You can do it in small increments and many people do.  Earlier this week I wrote some in the morning, broke to talk to a friend and eat lunch, went back to writing for a bit, went to a Labor Day barbecue, wrote some more, had dinner and watched a little TV and came back to finish my final two pages.  Worked fine.

3. I can't write at night. I am a dedicated morning person, up most days between 5:30 and 6, and it is in these early hours that I like to get my writing in.  I'm at my best in the morning, as long as I have some coffee to write with.  Because of this, I'd started to believe that I couldn't write at night. Wrong!  See #2.

4. I can't write after I've had a glass of wine.  Not true.  The other night I enjoyed Happy Hour with my husband, ate a bite, watched my current favorite TV show, (which is, embarrassingly, Running Wild with Bear Grylls)and then went to my office to get two more pages in.

5. I can't finish one novel and go right to the next. Um, no.  Finished the one I've been laboring over for a year and opened a new file and started the next.

6. I have to have an outline!  I am a confirmed plotter.  Anybody who has worked with me knows that I advocate the benefits of a loose outline, just because it really helps to know where you're going.  But with this novel, I'm running blind.  I had a vague idea as I started and I'm must following where it leads me.  I'm not entirely convinced it will all hand together in the end, but I'm willing to try!  So, for the moment, I've joined the ranks of pantsers.  (Which means, for those who don't know, writers who fly by the seat of their pants with little planning.)

7.  Writing fast produces crap.  This is maybe the biggest surprise.  I'm quite pleased with what's on the page so far. In many ways, I'm coming to believe that writing fast is better for getting your true voice and style on the page.

So that's it, that's what I've learned thus far.  And I really urge you to consider some fast drafting for yourself.  I believe it bypasses the internal critic that slows us down and allows us to get a truer voice on the page.  

What do you think about writing fast? Yes or no?  Have you tried it?

PS.–Guess what?  I can get Typepad on the new Surface tablet I bought to take to France so I'll be blogging from there (she said, hopefully).  Last year I didn't know that I couldn't blog from my Ipad until I got there, sigh.  And by the way, I'm in love with the Surface 2.  It is a tool for work, as opposed to an expensive toy.  Just saying.  For someone who travels as much as I do, it will be a godsend.

Finishing My Novel

Today is Tuesday and I usually post.  (I follow a loose, and I do mean loose, schedule of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday posts.)  I have a half-finished post about getting support, whether its for your writing or physical or emotional issues that I'm working on, but it is not resonating with me.

And I just realized why.

It's because I'm two chapters from finishing the first draft of my next novel.  And I've set myself a goal of being done with it by the end of this month.  Which happens to be in five days.  And the closer I get to ending, the more resistance I feel.

I've got a lot of work at the moment, including the best, most amazing coaching clients in the world! Truly!  So something has to give.

And guess what that something is going to be….this blog.

I'll be back as soon as I finish the novel with a full report on everything.  And it won't be long because I WILL make my goal.

In the meantime, I post a new writing prompt every day on my Tumblr blog.  (It doesn't take long to write a prompt.) And I'll have my usual round-up of writing prompts on Saturday.  Maybe I'll even be done with the novel by then.

Happy writing, everyone!  And if you want to, leave a comment telling us what you are working on.

Book Review: The Novel Writer’s Blueprint

Paperbackbookstanding-226x300I've got a new book for all you fledgling novel writers out there.  

It is called The Novel Writer's Blueprint: Start Writing Your Novel Today, by Kevin T. Johns.  I discovered the book when Kevin emailed me a wonderful query asking if I'd be interested in reviewing it. Since I'd just published a rant post about how often I got approached by people with terrible queries, I leapt at the chance.  

Kevin sent me the book, I read it, and now I'm reviewing it.

I like this book quite a bit.  It lays out in five steps the system that Kevin believes will allow you to write your novel.  (The genesis of the five-step system was Kevin's own struggle to write his first novel.  It took him eight years–and he swore he would not let that happen again.  Can you relate?)

The five steps are as follows:

1. Genre Selection–Learn to harness the power of genre.

2. Story Structure–Select a story structure already proven to work with readers.

3. Puzzle Work--Piece together your scenes into an indispensable beat-sheet.

4. Preparatory Regimen–Sharpen your writing skills.

5. Running the Marathon–Implement protocols to stay on track and beat the biggest challenges.

Not mentioned in this rundown is his introductory chapter, which has a lot of good information in it as well.

My favorite chapters were #2 and #4.  I love #2 on story structure, because I'm a story geek, and Kevin has a film background so he's well versed in various structures and he presents them clearly.  Chapter #4 covers a good collection of tips for writing, such as timed writing, mind mapping and brainstorming.  Kevin also mentions a technique called "Writing Down the Page" which it turns out I do all the time, but didn't have a name for.  It's when you write a sketchy outline of your chapter so you have the general flow down.

This book is perfect for the first-time novelist who wants a picture of the road ahead before launching onto the journey.  And seasoned novelists will find a few tips of use as well.  Check it out, guys.

Do you have a favorite book on novel writing?  Please share! 

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Viewpoint But Were too Confused to Ask

Antique-spyglass-small-1145005-lThis is the blog post on viewpoint I promised in my last post, wherein I talked about how I judged a writing contest and nearly all the entries had problems with sketchy world building and viewpoint.

Getting viewpoint wrong sinks your manuscript from the get-go.  Send an agent a story rife with viewpoint violations and kiss any chance of representation goodbye.   Viewpoint slips look amateurish and annoy the reader, who may not know exactly why they are annoyed, just that they are. 

And you do not want to annoy the reader.

I am the Chief of the Viewpoint Violation Police, much to the chagrin of my bi-weekly writing group that meets here in town.  You got a viewpoint lapse, even a subtle one, and I'll find it.  And I also have a simple way to master it.  Here goes:

I Am A Camera.

That's actually the name of a Broadway play based on a Christopher Isherwood book, but I've always liked it as a way to remember viewpoint.  Whether you are writing first person or third person, when you are in a character's viewpoint you are in their head and all the reader can see is what that character sees.

I am a camera, or he, she or it is a camera.

So, if you have a scene in which your protagonist (we'll call her Beth) talks to her mother and her mother is riled up about something, Beth can only intuit the upset from her mother's dialogue, facial expressions, body language, and actions.  But Beth cannot leap inside her mother's head and relate how mad she is.

Correct (if clunky): Beth watched as her mother furrowed her brows and tightened her lips.  "You must be joking," her mother said.

Incorrect:  Beth watched as her mother furrowed her brows and tightened her lips.  She felt so angry at her daughter.  "You must be joking."

The incorrect part?  The sentence that dives into Beth's mother's head:  She felt so angry at her daughter.

That's head-hopping, people, and it will make your reader feel they are at a tennis match, watching the ball bounce back and forth across the net.  Remember: your character has a camera in her head, and everything it records, you, as the author can record.  But nuttin else.

Employing multiple viewpoints

If you are using multiple viewpoints, make it clear to the reader when you switch heads, and do it either at the start of a chapter, or the beginning of a scene, i.e., after a white-space break (four single returns).

Remember that any character you choose to write in viewpoint will automatically become better known to the reader (we'll be in his head, after all) so choose accordingly.

Now comes the point where you ask me about using omniscient viewpoint and I say: Don't.  Just don't.  I don't allow any of my students or clients to use because I'm fussy that way and mostly because it is really damn freaking hard to do right and most people screw it up.  Omniscient viewpoint is the God viewpoint where you're jumping into characters' heads at will and done poorly, which it most often is, it simply looks like a viewpoint violation.  

Single viewpoint

If you're writing in first person, odds are good you'll stick to one character's viewpoint.  (It used to be a big no-no to have a multiple first person viewpoint novel but standards have relaxed lately.  It is still not as common, however.)  I'm a single viewpoint kind of gal because I love getting inside a character's head and getting to know her and her world view intimately.  I wrote Emma Jean in a third person singular viewpoint–we're in Emma Jean's head the entire length of the novel (which I admit can get a bit suffocating).  The novel I'm currently plowing through (almost done with the first draft) is written in first person, entirely in the protagonist's point of view.

By the way, most writers I know use the terms viewpoint and point of view interchangeably so don't let that confuse you.

Questions?

Okay, what have I forgotten?  (I always forget to mention things and then my brilliant readers bring those things up in the comments and that makes me happy.)  If you have a question or problem with viewpoint, leave a comment and I'll answer.  If you don't have a question, I have one for you: do you struggle with viewpoint?  How do you keep it straight?

 

Building Your Fictional World

Planet_earth_australia_264109_l

Recently, I was the judge in fiction-writing contest.  My job was to review the finalists in the novel first chapter portion of the contest, and select the top four winners.  It was fascinating because every entry had a good concept for a story.

But.

Every entry but one had viewpoint issues (a topic I'll address in a separate post soon), and the other big problem I saw in nearly every chapter was a failure to adequately develop the fictional world.  

While the set-up was interesting and the characters good (though also undeveloped) what I saw over and over again was not enough care taken to fully create the world of the story.  And I don't care if you are writing a contemporary novel, an historical story, or a science-fiction novel set on another planet, every novel has a world of its own that the reader will inhabit for the length of the book.  And it's your job to write that world so that we, the reader, truly feel as if we've stepped into it.

Some thoughts (in no particular order):

1.  Don't rush.  In many of the contest chapters, I felt like I was being escorted through the scene in a whirlwind.  Don't be afraid to slow down, to share description and details (see #4), to evoke the senses (see #7).  I guarantee that your problem is not writing too much, but too little.  Lay it on thick and write more than you think you should and you'll come out about right.

2.  Root the reader in the scene.  A simple technique is to continually hark back to the physical world in a scene to keep the reader reminded of where she is.  Otherwise, your reader will feel like she's floating in the air.   Use simple references to accomplish this–She leaned against the counter, or He set his coffee mug down on the table.  Doesn't have to be anything fancy.

3.  Fast is slow and slow is fast.  I learned this from a friend who learned it from the late Gary Provost. When you're writing a scene that would pass slowly in real life (such as an afternoon lolling on the couch) do it quickly.  We don't need the details.  And when you're writing something that would happen really fast in real life (like a car accident), slow it way down and note every detail.

4.  Telling details are your friend. Details are what bring a scene alive, such as the red rose petal on the wood kitchen table, or the solitary raindrop sliding down a window pane as a storm begins. But, don't include every single detail, the trick is to choose the ones that will illuminate the scene.  And that's something for you to decide.

5.  Setting is more than just location.  Setting is, of course, your friend when you're creating your fictional world, because it is what your characters walk through.  But it is much more than just the lovely ocean they live beside, it is all the furniture and accessories that fill the house they live in.  And guess what else it is?  Time.  Big difference between San Francisco 1906 and San Francisco 2014.

6.  Characters interact with their worlds in unique ways.  A man who grew up in Manhattan is very different than a farmer from Iowa.  The unique worlds of characters influence them in specific ways, and in return, causes them to exist in their worlds in certain ways.  Take advantage of this.

7.  Use your senses.  Obvious, yes, but also easy to forget.  One of the least under-used senses is smell.  Noting the aromas or odors of your world can be very evocative.  And how about touch?  When was the last time your character described the feel of a fabric beneath his fingers?  Or taste?  (Which reminds me, food can be very specific to different worlds also.) We get accustomed to our primary senses of sight and sound.  Adding in the others will bolster your world.

Okay, that's it, that's all I've got for you at the moment.  But do tell in the comments how you like to build your fictional worlds.

Photo by monique72.

 

Novel Prep: The Master Timeline

It's two days until Nanowrimo starts!  Are you ready?

You have two more days to write character dossiers, descriptions of locations, and figure out the plot. The rules of Nanowrimo state that you can do as much prep work as you like, so long as you don't begin the actual writing of the novel until November 1.

I highly recommend doing prep work for your novel.  As you might guess from this statement, I'm a plotter, not a pantser.  When I fly without a plan, I go off on tangents and my characters' motivations and actions tend to make no logical sense.  So I like to plan a bit ahead of time.  However, a bit is the operative phrase–I write character dossiers, figure out where they live and work and hang out and get a loose outline of the plot down on paper.  I like to leave room for the magic to happen–for a new character to walk on, or for an existing one to do something unexpected–and this method does that for me.

I've been puzzling over the plot of my WIP.  I'm not officially doing Nanowrimo because I've already gotten some words written, but I'm thinking I'll write along with those of you who are doing it as a way to kick-start this novel.

So I've been working on prepping.

And I've hit on what for me is a brilliant aid to figuring out the plot.

It's the master timeline, which is a timeline that mushes together all the events in all the characters' backstories.  I've made individual timelines for characters lives before, but never done it this way, with them all together.  For some reason, it works brilliantly for me to not only keep track of what happened in the past (when characters married, divorced, bore babies, etc.) but also to generate ideas for plot and character.

I've always had the theory that if you keep an idea book, the ideas in it mate and bear children while you aren't looking and I think the same is true with the master timeline.  The characters on it talk to each other and create activities and ideas when I'm not looking, I swear.

I started the master timeline to get a solid idea of the cast's backstories as I was finding myself confused with what happened when.  Now that I've gotten that all down on paper, I'm realizing I'm going to go even farther with the timeline, plugging into dates and events from the actual plot.

It's brilliant, I tell you, brilliant. 

So try it.  You've got time before Nanowrimo starts.  You can thank me on December 1st.

How do you prep for writing a novel, or any kind of book?  Or are you a pantser who just starts writing?  Leave a comment!

Everything Is Perfect

I awoke at 2:45 A last night (this morning, actually).

I lay there for a few minutes, wide awake.

I tried not to panic about not sleeping.  Because, the worst thing about not sleeping is the panic about it.  My mind scrolled through what I had to do today and how bad it would be if I didn't sleep.  What I'd have to endure in a groggy state.

It wasn't a crazy busy day, being a Saturday, but I had a lot of things I wanted to get done.

So I started to panic about being awake.

And then a soft voice said inside my brain, everything is perfect.

I listened.  And agreed.  Everything was perfect.  My achy knee that hurts at night.  The extra bit of wine I drank at dinner.  The work I was worrying about getting done.  The stress and anxiety and all the joyful moments of the week. 

Everything is perfect.

And it was.

Proof?  I got up and wrote 2,000 words on one of my novels.

There's no better indication to me that all is right with the world.

You?