Tag Archives | writing fiction

Wednesday Within: How I Get Derailed (You, Too?)

Lights_christmas_light_226586_l

My brain looks like these Christmas lights some mornings.

Another title for this post might be Why You Need a Routine.  Or more to the point, why I need one.

Here's the setup: A morning in December. After a busy weekend of Christmas parties (we survived hub's resurrected Christmas office gala!) and work deadlines (yes, on the weekend—it was for a special project that I will reveal soon), I woke up at 5:45 as usual.  (My eyes pop open any time from 5:30 to 6.  Don't shoot me, it's just the way it is.)

As usual, I went right to my computer, with one quick detour to grab coffee and a big glass of water, with the intention to get back to work on my novel rewrite.  It is cruising right along but last week I hit a bump of the my-brain-needs-a-break-to-think-about-the-story sort.  And it was high time to get back to it, because I've assigned myself a deadline of finishing by the end of January.

And so I opened the computer, with the idea to work on it.  And I didn't.  I checked email.  Looked at blog stats.  Opened the Buzzfeed story that featured photos of Prince George.  Clicked back over and answered an email.  Thought about a blog post I'd committed to write later in the week, and a student packet that was almost late, and a program I was doing about goal-setting.  Looked at email again. Checked what was going on over at Hootsuite, and tweeted my Tumblr prompt of the day.

Only after all that did it occur to me that I was farting around.  But that morning, instead of beating myself up about it, which generally leads to more farting around in a rather rebellious teenage, you-can't-tell-me-what-to-do-way (and yes, I do know I'm rebelling against myself), I paid attention to the conditions that led to this disorganized state.

I'd had a lot going on over the weekend, and didn't take time to clear the decks.  As I greeted the day, I had a gazillion tabs, including both email inboxes, open.  I had a to-do list with lots of left over items on it, and as I sipped coffee, I added more.  My desk was a mess, covered with the afore-mentioned to-do lists, a new calendar and journal to be made into a bullet journal, a notebook full of goal work, mailing envelopes to send books off in, and Christmas lists of presents I still need to buy.

So is it any wonder that my mind was just as messy as my surroundings?  Gee-sus.

My morning routine is theoretically that I go right to the computer and work on my novel.  Most days this happens.  But sometimes it doesn't.  On the days it happens, I'm happy.  And all day long the world flows around me peacefully.  Or even if it doesn't, I can handle things with aplomb.  And when I don't, I feel edgy and off all day.  Which is understandable–I've started the day with a massive fail.

So, I dunno the answer.  Because my early morning writing hours are often the only time I have to work on fiction.  And they are also the time when I think about it best.  But sometimes it seems like I need a lead-in, like morning pages for instance.  (I did them for years.)  On the other hand, if I spend time doing morning pages, then I have less time to work on my novel.  But on the other other hand, if morning pages would lead me into my writing, then working on them would be time well spent.

Many, many people (myself included) have written about the benefits of a morning routine, doing such things as yoga, meditating, or whatever.  And that appeals to me, yes it does.  But it also brings up the same problem: if I do yoga or meditate first thing, there goes my time to write.

Sigh.  Here's what I do know: I need to get into the habit of closing down distracting tabs and inboxes before I go to bed, so that all that is open is the one lovely file containing my rewrite.  I guess that's a good start.  Or I could just blame it all on Christmas and call it good.

Am I the only one who obsesses about such things?  Do you have a morning routine?  Give me some ideas, please.

 Photo by reuben4eva.

14

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.

9

Quick Bit: Writing Active Description

Your writing needs description to make the people and places you're writing about come alive in the mind of the reader.

Duh.

But opinions on how much description vary.  Some like a lot, some like a little.  I fall somewhere in between.  I like a lot of description–and I will admit to finding myself skimming through it upon occasion as well.

One way to make certain your description is palatable to the reader is to make it active.  I was reminded of this the other night when reading Stargazey Point by Shelley Noble.  Here's the sentence of active description that caught my eye:

She chattered on while Abbie followed a footstep behind her and tried to decipher the pattern of the faded oriental runner.

It is not the best sentence ever written in the history of the world, but it does illustrate my point nicely. And that point would be this:

The way to make your description active is to have your character interact with it.

As my grandchildren would say: Done! (This must be accompanied with throwing both hands in the air.)

So, have your viewpoint character describe the windows in the old house as she tries to open one.  Or your skateboarding protaganist wax poetic about a street fair as he zig-zags around people and booths.  

Simple and effective.  

And that is all I have to say on the subject.

Do you like a lot of description or a little?

 

9

How I Wrote (Almost) 10K Words Yesterday

I finally did it.

I cleared away appointments (except for one) and committed to participating in Milli Thornton's 10K writing day.  (Regular readers will remember the guest post Milli recently wrote for me.)

I've wanted to do this forever but other commitments kept getting in the way.  Until yesterday.  

And so, I rose at my usual time of 5:30 (I know, it's crazy to get up that early–but it's what time I naturally wake up) and started writing.  

By 8:30, I had amassed 3,000 words.  I took a break to shower and read the paper and drink some more coffee.

Back at it by 9:30–and by noon I was up to 6,000.  I'd finished a novella I've been working on and was ready for lunch.  Not just ready–famished beyond words.  Writing that much takes a lot of mental energy.

I have to admit, this is where my energy started flagging.  6,000 words and completing a project seemed like a good day's work to me.  And later when I thought back over the day, I realized that in a perfect world, if I were devoting every day all day to fiction writing, 3,000-5,000 words a day would be a great goal for me.

But I really wanted to see how far I could get, so back to the computer I went.  I took a break for a client appointment mid-afternoon and then continued writing, finishing up by about 5, when I needed to feed the cats, cook dinner, and get ready for an evening meeting.

My final word count? 9, 247 words.  

Yeah, I know, I was floored too.

And my head was about ready to explode as well.  I have a bit of a headache today and I suspect it's from staring at the screen so much yesterday.

Now, bear in mind–these are rough draft words, people.  Those 9K + words were pure glumping onto the page and will need rewriting and editing and polishing and all that stuff we do before we send our work out into the world.

But–I have over 9,000 more words on the page than I did on Tuesday.  And that makes me happy.

By the way–Milli is hosting another 10K day this Saturday.  I found the support of the blog and the others participating invaluable–and a lot of fun.  (I also learned about Bounty bars, which I am now desperate to try.)  I can't participate this Saturday, but I sure plan to set aside time to do another 10K day next month.  

What's the most words you've ever written in a day?  Does the idea of writing 10K words in a day sound like fun or make you want to run for your life?  Please share.

18

Point of View Tips and Tweaks

Look_close_macro_224801_lI spent yesterday afternoon reading a rewrite of a client's novel (at least the first part of it). He has struggled with point of view in the past, and I've nudged him mercilessly on it. So I was thrilled to see that he is mastering it!

Reading his manuscript brought to mind some tips on viewpoint that might be helpful to others. (Note: most people, myself included, use the terms viewpoint and point of view interchangeably.)Please note that this is not in anyway a definitive rundown on viewpoint. Volumes have been written on it.  If you need more info on viewpoint try this or this.  What follows are just some simple ideas that might help you if you get confused about it.

1.  Don't use omniscient.  Just don't, okay?  In my experience, most of the time the use of omniscient viewpoint turns out to be viewpoint violations galore.  Or laziness.  Whatever, omniscient viewpoint is hard to master and do correctly and it confuses the hell out of readers–which is a cardinal sin.  So don't do it.

2. I am a camera.  Or at least your character is one.  All he or she can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel is in her viewpoint.  It's in her head.  Not the other character's head, hers alone.  Sometimes I see subtle viewpoint violations, like, "Sandra noticed that Frank felt scared."  Sandra can't know that Frank feels scared because she's not in his head.  She can notice that he seemingly felt scared, or she can see an expression on his face that tells her he's scared.  If you get confused on this point, think back to the camera analogy.  

3.  Change viewpoints at the start of chapters or scenes.  It's fine to use multiple viewpoints.  All you have to do is be clear to the reader that you are doing so.  Don't switch points of view in the middle of a sentence or even a paragraph.  Do it at the start of a scene or chapter, and please also give us some hint of who we are switching to.

4. To denote a scene shift, use white space.  If you want to switch viewpoint in the middle of a chapter, its easy–just use white space to signal the reader.  White space is four single hard returns or two double hard returns.  If the white space falls at the top or the bottom of the page, show it with stars:  *  *  *  *  *, otherwise it might not be evident.  Note: you don't need to use stars or any other symbol to show white space if it falls anywhere else on the page.  That's why they call it white space.

5. If you struggle with staying clear on viewpoint, try first person.  This is a great trick, because first person is easy to stay true to–all you've got is that "I" viewpoint, after all.  You don't have to write a whole novel in it, but try a short story or a piece of flash fiction.  It will teach you the limits of viewpoint very quickly.

Okay, those are my quick tips.  Do you struggle with viewpoint?  How have you taught yourself to master it?

Photo by xptakis.

4

Reflected In You: The Hullabaloo About Erotic Romance

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine.

Reflected in You, by Sylvia Day, is currently number one on the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list.  The reasons for this are a mystery to me, but then so is the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray, and by many accounts the Crossfire Novels, of which Reflected in You is book two, is a Gray clone.

I thought it would be fun to review this book to see what all the fuss around erotic romance is about.  I do have a bit of experience with the genre, having endured a brief career editing it a few years ago, but I thought things might have changed since then. (Read a post I wrote about writing erotic romance here.)

As in, I thought maybe an actual storyline might have become important.

But, no.  Not so much.

Because in erotic romance, the story is all about the romance.  So once the two lovers have mated, there needs to be ways to keep them apart.  And therein lies one problem I have with this genre, which is that keeping two people who are attracted to each other apart can come across as contrived, to put it mildly. Very mildly.

The other problem is that the main story line is the romance.  All the rest of it–minor career issues, a roommate with love problems of his own–seems thrown in for seasoning, nothing more.  And honestly, watching two people histrionically come together and break up over and over again is not my exact thing.

But I am no doubt in the minority here, because erotic romance is a hot, hot genre.  If you're interested in writing it, I think the Crossfire series is probably an excellent introduction to the field.

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