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

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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?

 

Torn Between Two Loves

(Scroll down for bonus video.  It's Mary McGregor singing "Torn Between Two Lovers."  You know you want to watch it.)

Please tell me this has happened to you.

You're happily writing, making good some forward progress on your novel when all of a sudden, out of nowhere one morning, comes an idea.   Inspiration for another novel.  An idea so beautiful and fully formed that you have no choice–none!–but to stop what you're doing and start writing it.

In this process, you decide that the other novel–the one you were making forward progress on, albeit a bit slowly–is crap, and that that is the obvious reason why you sometimes spin your wheels a bit.  It is all so clear to you now……

Old novel=piece of @%^&*

New novel=wonderful, priceless, shimmering jewel beyond compare

You dive into the new work.  Write some notes on chapter one, begin compiling characters, setting and plot lines.  The jewel glimmers brightly.

Until one day an idea for the old, piece of $(%^& novel sneaks through the consciousness and you open a file to make a note and accidentally start reading.  Hmmm, you say to yourself, it's really not so bad after all.  Perhaps it is not quite the piece of %^$&* that I thought it was.

And then you find yourself with two novels you want to write.

What to do, what to do?

Many writers, myself included, have written about how important it is to actually finish the things you start.  Half-completed novels and stories do not get published.   Some writers, like Dean Wesley Smith, have even gone so far as to state that the reason for their success is that they have learned to finish things.

Then there are those writers like Jess Walter, who says that the secret to his success is to have many projects going at once.  Then when he gets stuck on one WIP, he can switch over to another.

The latter idea appeals to me.  Because I balance multiple projects (ghostwriting, manuscript critiquing, teaching, blogging) in my non-fiction writing life, it doesn't bother me to switch back and forth between novels. 

However.

I am feeling the urge to finish something, and I had previously set a goal of completing the draft of the piece of %^#$% novel by the end of the year.  And if I switch back and forth that won't happen.  I barely have enough time to work on one novel as it is.

So at this point in the year, I really want to focus on one novel.  (And besides, there's nothing better than the feeling you get when you are totally engaged in writing a novel, and I doubt that happens when you are switching back and forth.)

I think I have come up with a plan.  But then again, I'm not sure.  Because things seem to change rapidly around here these days.  So I put it to you–what would you do?  Have you ever run into this dilemma?  How did you solve it? 

Please comment!  I'm all ears.

And let us not forget the video:

 

This Series on Writing Fast Will Blow Your Creative Mind–and Inspire You

This morning, thanks to Karen Woodward, I was introduced to a series on ghostwriting a novel in 10 days by Dean Wesley Smith.

Yes, I said 10 days.  As in, writing a full, complete novel in 10 days.

Dean Wesley Smith is ghosting a novel contracted by a major publisher for an author who is a bestseller and whose name would be recognizable to all of us.  (Yes, the world of ghostwriting is sometimes a shady place.)

He's set himself the goal of finishing the novel in 10 days, and along the way, he is documenting his progress with regular updates to his blog.  It's really worth reading.  Here are the posts so far:

Day one.

Day two.

And you might want to read this one as well:

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writing Fast.

When Smith says he writes fast, he means it–he gets up, gets to the computer (he uses two–one with no internet access and thus no temptations) and gets to work.  It appears that he writes in bursts, knocking off a 1000 words or so before taking a break to eat or answer email (at the second computer) or what have you. And then he rinses and repeats, on and on throughout the day.

But here's the deal: he's writing.  Not endlessly revising, not thinking about writing, not wondering if his work is any good (confidence is not this man's problem), but writing. 

I think we can all learn a lesson from this.  I know reading his posts  inspired me and afterwards, I polished off the first draft of a short story I'd been agonizing over.  I'm sure I spend way too much time pondering deep thoughts and not actually writing. Even if we don't want to emulate every aspect of his practice, we can learn from parts of it.

Oh yeah, and guess what?  He starts out with no idea where he's going.  And he doesn't rewrite.  This draft will be it.

Freakin' incredible.

Here are things I noted/wondered about as I read:

–When does he take a shower?

–When does he exercise?

–He has a wife to cook for him.  Or someone.  Dinner magically appears.

–He probaby has a house cleaner as well.  There's no attention paid to such mundane matters.

–He's able to set his own schedule (stay up until wee hours of the morning, sleep until 1 PM).

But even with all that being said, his accomplishment is amazing.

What do you think?  Does this appeal to you or do you think he's a hack (he's got a gazillion novels to his credit)?  Do you write slow or fast?  I'd love it if you left a comment.

Making the Magic Happen: Committing to a Writing Schedule

Writing is magic.
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We think up an idea, and put it on the page.  Whole worlds spring to life beneath our fingers.  And all we need to do this, at base, is a pen and paper.  Oh, sure, a typewriter or computer helps, but if worse came to worse you could do without one and still write.

What you do have to come up with is time to make the magic happen.  You have to sit at your desk, or your arm chair, or in the coffee shop, and put words on the page.  And that takes time.

And that is where many of us falter.  Me, too.  I struggle with finding time just like everyone else.  But lately I've realized that all my important non-writing activities stretch to fill the time I allot them.  So, if I give myself all day to read three manuscripts, that's how long it will probably take me.  And if I give myself all day to read said manuscripts, I won't get any writing done.

And therein lies the problem.

With the necessity of doing marketing around my book release, many days this winter I became a writer who didn't write.  Well, there were blog posts.  And there were guest posts and interviews and ariticles, all of which I love.

But in my heart of hearts, its not the same as working on fiction.  And if a fiction writer is how I identify myself, if that is what I truly want to be, then I need to find time to work on it consistently.

I used to get up and work on it first thing in the morning.  But that schedule no longer works for me–I simply have too many emails and other internet chores pulling on me to allow me to focus.  I'd sort of pretend I was writing and actually get about 20 minutes in.  Not conducive to making progress on a WIP.  I was working on it, but in fits and starts–a stolen moment here, a bit of time there.

Last week, in my travels around the web, I read an interview with an author said that she wrote every morning from 9 to noon.  (I wish I knew who this was or where I read it, but I can't remember.)  This struck me like a thunderbolt.  Bad cliche, sorry, but it did.  I realized that if I put myself on a schedule like that, I'd actually get my writing done. 

And so I did.  I'm now writing from 9 to noon every day.  I'm showered and at my desk by 9 AM.  No more stretching internet time until 8 AM, then working on the crossword puzzle for awhile and getting in the shower when I felt like it.  (Hey, its the benefit of working at home.)  Nope, I'm ready to write at 9 AM sharp.  And I'm getting a ton done.

What I wasn't so sure about was getting everything else done, but so far that hasn't been a problem at all.  I've always harped on said that when you make your passion your priority, everything else magically falls into place.  And it is true.  I'm simply much more focused.  Plus, the high that comes from fiction writing follows me all day, allowing me to power through dumb chores and errands with joy. 

I really can't describe how profound this change feels. 

I've got an exciting new ghostwriting job coming up, and a couple other things in the works, so we'll see how I stick to the schedule when those come in.  But in the meantime, don't call me in the morning, because I'll be writing.

Do you schedule writing time?  Are you able to stick to it?  What works for you?

True Confessions: I’m a Plotter, Not a Pantser

It has come to my attention recently that I am a plotter, not a pantser.
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In case you're not familiar with these terms, here's a rundown:

A plotter is someone who, well, plots.  He figures out the story ahead of time, outlining plot, designing characters, making copious notes.

A pantser flies by the seat of her pants, getting an idea for a story and flying with it.

It pains me to admit that I fall squarely into the plotter category.  Why does it pain me?  Because of my romantic image of writing, which I must admit is pure romance and very little reality.  It goes something like this: you get an idea one day.  Eureka!  It's brilliant!  Has the makings of a bestseller! And then you sit down at your computer, which is in your office overlooking a white sand beach, of course.  And you start typing.  Out pops the novel, which is then sent to a publisher post haste and voila, it becomes a bestseller, while you loll on the afore-mentioned beach.

I know.  I've been a professional writer forever, and I still fall prey in my mind to this fairy tale image of the writing life.  (If I'm still victimized by it, imagine how many others, newbies and pros alike are too.) The reality is that writing is hard work.  Wonderful work but hard work. 

And for me, if I allow myself to waft about and follow an idea anywhere I take it, i.e., the pantsing model of writing, there's no bestseller at the end.  Rather, disaster ensues and I get a lot of loose ends that go nowhere and a stalled novel.  Case in point: my WIP. It is strong for 70 pages, which happen to coincide with the 70 pages I had vaguely outlined.  After that, it all goes to hell.  And it's the after that part that I've lately been shoring up with a real outline.

Okay, let's be clear.  When I say "real outline" I'm not talking about the formal outline you learned to create in school.  (Are they still teaching that?) I never could figure out how those worked.  What I'm talking about is a document that reflects the fact that you have a firm idea where you are going.  This document could be a loose list, as it is so often to me.  It could be an elaborate road map complete with pictures.  I don't care.  I just think you'll do better at writing your novel with some kind of guide.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for magic happening in a novel, such as when a character walks on.  An example of that happened as I was writing Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  One of my favorite characters, a young girl named Ava, appeared one day and started talking.  But, for me, this is more likely to happen when I know where I am, when I have a framework to bump up against.

I'm also much more likely to make forward progress when I know where I'm going next. The best way to make forward progress on a novel is to always have a place to go next.  Ernest Hemingway was famous for stopping his work sessions in the middle of a sentence so he'd have a good starting point the next session.  The reason this story is told so often is because it's useful advice.

Besides my loose outline, I also write up character dossiers of varying degrees of complexity.   I'm currently going back to the well with this one in my WIP as well.  There were bits and pieces of backstory that I knew were important but hadn't figured out yet.  Once I figured them out, they changed not only the story but the character's motivations as well. 

And all this work got me VERY excited about my novel again.  I've got a bit more outlining and planning to do, and then I'll be back at very soon, which makes me very happy. 

So, there.  That's my confession.  I'm a plotter.  And proud of it.

What about you?  Which camp do you fall into?  (And don't worry, if you're a pantser, please let us know why and how it works for you.  I love hearing what works for people.)

**A lot of this is the kind of thing I talk about in my Get Your Novel Written Now class, which is currently underway.  (No link, as we're far enough in I didn't think anyone would want to join, and so I took it down.) The class runs five weeks and covers all the basics of writing a novel.  I'm actually thinking about running it again in June, in an expanded version, in which we'd have two calls a month: one informational, one Q & A, plus we'd actually write and get critiqued throughout the program.  There would also be a forum in which to share ideas, and the ups and downs of the process.  How does that sound?  Email me or leave a comment if you are interested or have ideas about such a program.

Photo by KrzystofB.