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Category Archives: Organization

Use Character Arc To Improve Your Story

Not all characters change for the better...Al Pacino in Scarface

Not all characters change for the better…
Al Pacino in Scarface

“A character arc is the status of the character as it unfolds throughout the story, the storyline, or series of episodes.”

~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_arc

“In real life we each regard ourselves as the main character.”

~ On Writing, Stephen King

As part of our workshop series, I wanted to take a look at the concept of Character Arc, and how it can enable us to write characters that:

                                    * Make the story better

                                    * Are plausible

The Character Arc, explored in Chris Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey, is a framework. Are there flaws? Yes, I believe so. Characters don’t always need to change to grow. Some grow in their resolve. They remain steadfast in their beliefs.

When I first committed to writing, the only book on craft I’d read was Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s an excellent book, and I referenced it a few times for today’s post. So, I dove into writing my first book. I had great fun, and only a vague vision of where my story would go. But I got stuck. When a girl from mudding and four-wheeler country says she’s stuck, she means mired in muck up to her elbows.

The second book on craft I read was Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. Here’s what using the framework did for me:

It enabled me to learn to ask the right questions of my characters, and move the story forward. I began to understand how to connect-the-dots. Using the Hero’s Journey, as Vogler suggests, as a guide to creating a realistic Character Arc, helped me create a cohesive beginning (Act 1), middle (Act 2), and end (Act 3). 

I still write the first, even second draft from an organic mindset. One of my great pleasures in writing is the feeling of awe and adventure as I listen to the whisper of my subconscious. I live a safe life with my remarkable husband and children; writing is my great road trip.

It’s awesome to hit the road and words in the spirit of spontaneity and telling the story as honestly as we can, but if we get lost, there’s nothing wrong with referencing a map.

 I encourage you to further research character arcs, the three- act story, archetypes,  as well as  steadfast characters. I’m using my notes taken from The Writer’s Journey. I’ve broken down the Arc into three acts. The words in parentheses reference the Hero’s Journey.

Act One:

1. Limited awareness of problem (Ordinary World)

2. Increased awareness (Call to Adventure)

3. Reluctance to change (Refusal)

4. Overcoming reluctance (Meeting with the Mentor) 

Act Two:

5. Overcoming reluctance (Crossing the Threshold)

6. Experimenting with first change (Tests, Allies, and Enemies)

7. Preparing for big change (Approach to Inmost Cave)

8. Attempting big change (Ordeal)

9. Consequences of the attempt (Reward)

Act Three:

10. Rededication to change (The Road Back)

11. Final attempt at big change (Resurrection)

12. Final mastery of problem (Return with Elixer)

Here are some examples of questions using this framework can help us ask:

* How does the character become aware of conflict/ problems?

* How will the character initially react to the conflict?

* Can the character turn to anyone for advice and honesty?

* What motivates the character to a.) change or b.) remain true to their belief system?

I would love to hear your thoughts on character arc, the Hero’s Journey, or the three-act story structure. How have they affected your writing and storyline, or have you found another system that works for your manuscript?

Thank you for participating.

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Even if You’re not Doing NaNoWriMo: A Challenge

It’s almost November, and for many writers, the beginning of a month filled with too much caffeine, frozen pizza, and questionable hygiene. That’s right–NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. If you’ve never joined in the madness, you may want to look into it. But, just like everything else in life, it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay.

One thing I really love about NaNo is the sense of community and excitement. Those two things alone are so inspiring. And let’s face it, there’s something comforting about knowing there are other writers out there who are working toward the same immediate goal as you.

Some writers use the month of November to edit instead of draft. Some use it to finish a manuscript they’ve been holding on to for a long time, but have never gotten around to finishing. What I’m getting at is, even if you don’t want to participate in NaNo, I encourage you to use the 30 days to do something with your writing. Take advantage of the NaNo atmosphere and energy. Thousands of people do NaNo each year–make them your accountability partners for a month.

I have some hefty goals for the month of November. I plan on finishing my revisions on my YA horror novel and hopefully drafting another novel. We’ll see how much I get done, but I’m hopeful 🙂

What are your goals for the month of November?

 

What’s So Good About Goodreads Anyway? Part 1: Using Goodreads as a Reader

I don’t know about you, but most of my Twitter, Facebook, and other social media connections revolve around other writers. I’m sure I’m not alone. 99% of the friend requests I get come from other writers. We share a common passion and that’s what brings us together. I LOVE my writer friends. We challenge each other, support one another, and keep each other sane. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They are each integral to getting through rewrite hell and on the road to publication. But what do you do when the book is finished? Promoting to the same circle that helped you on your journey is futile. As much as they might love you and your book, other writers are not your primary audience. It’s time to connect with readers. REAL readers.

‘But writers ARE readers,’ you cry. Yes, we are, but we’re also busy getting our own books out there, being critique partners, bloggers, publicists, editors, social media guru’s, ect. Let’s be honest. How many of us have as much time to read for pleasure as we used to? I know I don’t. I still read every night, but instead of a book a week, I’m now lucky if I get through a book a month. I study books, looking for what’s working, what’s not. Books have unconsciously become more of a learning tool instead of something that relaxes me. These days, a book has to be exceptional to make me forget I’m a writer. I am no longer an average reader and average readers are the ones that will want to read your books.

So how do I find my audience? The good news is it’s easy to connect with average readers. Most of you have heard of it and I know a lot of you already have accounts, but are you using Goodreads to its full potential? In my opinion, you should all but forget Twitter and Facebook in your search for an audience. If you want to connect with real readers, you need to go to them, and let me tell you, the real readers are on Goodreads.

Now, before you start preparing your marketing blitz, stop. I said Goodreads is where you go to CONNECT with readers. It is not where you go to sell your book. It’s not a spamfest or a place to drop your book title or cover in every conversation. It is true social media built around a common love of reading. To make Goodreads work for you, you have to be prepared to participate in conversation. If you love books, this shouldn’t be hard.  On Goodreads, you should always be a reader first and a writer second. And you know what, it’s so much fun!

What’s so great about GR?

1)      It’s an amazing research tool. Seriously, this is the best place to go to find out what readers in your genre are reading, what they like, what they don’t, and why.

2)      Helps you keep the pulse of what’s going on in the market. Forget what industry professionals say, it’s all about readers. They drive the market. Why wouldn’t you want to find out what they’re saying? Use GR to find what real readers think about current books.

3)      It’s fun and brings the joy of reading back. Nobody cares about market trends, editing, agents, or the publishing industry. Readers care about stories and their love of the written word and it’s refreshing to stop being a writer for a while and to be a reader again.

4)      Groups, games, finding new authors and books, making new friends.

Tips for adding books:

1)      You can add books you’ve read by either typing the name of the book or the author in the search bar, or you can download the GR app for your smartphone. This allows you to scan the barcode on all the books on your real bookshelf and it will automatically add it to your GR shelf. How cool is that?

2)       As you add books, GR will give you the option to rate and review each book. I didn’t have time to write reviews for every book, but rating is easy and only takes seconds. You can also add the dates you started and finished each book. I didn’t bother with this for my older books, but started using this feature for everything I read going forward. It’s a great way to keep track of what I’ve read and when I’ve read it.

3)      You can also re-order the books on your virtual shelf anyway you like. Do you like to keep your genres separate? You can add shelves and title them anything you wish.

4)      Once you’ve added books you’ve already read, you can start adding books you want to read. This is a great feature to keep track of books you’re interested in. Again, type the title or author into the search list and add to you ‘to read’ shelf.

Tips on adding friends:

1)      Obviously you want to start with people you already know, but don’t limit yourself.

2)      Look at your friend’s lists. You’ll be able to compare books with each person on their list. If you see someone who reads a lot of the same books as you do, send them a friends request.

3)      Mention that you noticed they like George RR Martin or that you have a lot of books in common. This helps make the connection more personal.

4)      Add people that you see participating in the same conversations as you do.

Tips on joining groups:

1)      Join some groups that read in the genres you’re interested in.

2)      Click the ‘groups’ link and type in your interest into the search bar.

3)      Once you found a group that looks good to you, join it. Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself and start adding to the conversation. Some groups will have a special folder for authors to add their book titles, but they don’t tolerate spam in any other discussions.

4)      Games. This is a quick and fun way to get to know others. Most groups have a few games they play. You’ll see them listed as a discussion. Be sure to read the rules before you play. J

5)      Group reads are popular. Most groups I’m a part of will choose a book to read for the month. You don’t have to participate, but it’s another great way to connect with readers.

Tips for joining conversations:

1)      GR will display ongoing conversations about books you’ve added to your bookshelf on the left hand side of your homepage. If a conversation looks interesting, join it. This is another great way to start making friends and adding to your friends list.

I know I’ve focused on how to use Goodreads from a reader’s perspective, but I feel that’s the first step to connecting with your audience. As an author, Goodreads has some amazing tools and I’ll be talking about the GR author platform, using Listopia to gain exposure, creating events, linking your blog, and more. Join me for part 2:Using Goodreads as an Author on the 7th of November.

Do you use Goodreads? I would love to hear about your experiences.

 

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Common Comma Issues

A lot of people seemed to like my post on how to use past perfect tense, so I wanted to continue today with another grammar rundown. I’m going to go through some common comma issues I see in manuscripts. I know we are getting into the weeds a little with grammar, but it’s amazing how some small tweaks to your manuscript will help sentence structure, story understanding, and an overall better reading experience for your reader. Misplacing or misusing a comma can alter the meaning of a sentence, so yeah, they’re pretty important.

Comma Splice: Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet). A comma splice is when a comma without a conjunction joins two separate sentences. A comma splice is incorrect. There are a few ways to correct a comma splice. One way is to use a semicolon to connect the two clauses without using a conjunction. You can also break the sentence into two separate sentences.

Examples that are all correct:

  • My favorite book releases soon, and I am so excited.
  • My favorite book releases soon; I am so excited.
  • My favorite book releases soon. I am so excited.

Serial Comma: Use commas to separate words and groups of words with a series of three or more.

Examples:

  • This book has awesome dialogue, plot, and characterization.
  • Sebastian, Biggie, and Loki are my four legged babies.

Using commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun: This is a big one all writers should pay attention to. Use a comma to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun. Be careful not to add a comma before the final adjective and the noun or between non-coordinate adjectives. Here’s a helpful hint: if the word and can be inserted between the two adjectives, use a comma. If you can swap the adjectives around and they still make sense, use a comma. A coordinate adjective separately modifies the noun that follows it. Cumulative adjectives do not modify the noun that directly follows it.

Examples:

  • This is a strong, funny manuscript.
  • He wrapped me in an amazing power hug.  *You do not use a comma here because they are non-coordinate, and you can’t say, “He wrapped me in an amazing and power hug.

Comma to separate essential phrases and clauses: An essential phrase or clause is used to modify the noun. It also adds critical information to the sentence. You do not set essential phrases or clauses off with commas.

Example:

  • The people who work in publishing are awesome.

A nonessential phrase or clause adds extra information to the sentence. The phrase or clause can be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence. You should always set nonessential phrases or clauses off with commas.

Example:

  • Hugs and Chocolate, an awesome blog, is a great community. *Hugs and Chocolate is named, so the description is nonessential.

I could go on and on. There is so much information out there, but this is a good start. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll answer them in the comments.

 

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Writing in Past Perfect Tense

Naturally occurring iron springs in Telluride, Colorado.

First off, look at the gorgeous picture. I took that a few weeks ago in Telluride, Colorado. It’s naturally occurring iron springs. Stunning.

Okay, now we get into the fun stuff.

Regardless if your book is written in present tense or past tense (also referred to as simple past), there are times in your story when you’ll probably refer to something that has already happened. Sometimes a flashback is necessary to the story. When going into a flashback, or describing something that has already happened in the past, you’ll want to use the past perfect tense.

Well, when/how do you use past perfect?

Believe it or not, there’s a formula for past perfect: (had + past participle = past perfect). I’m not sure about you, but I learn better when I have an example in front of me, so here we go. I’m going to start off in past tense, go into a past perfect to describe something that has already happened, and then transition back to simple past.

Sebastian meowed over and over, trying to get my attention. He either wanted food or love. (Notice this first sentence is in simple past. The reader knows it’s in past tense, all the events that are happening in the story are told in the past.) I’d just graduated from college when I’d made the decision to get my very own cat. I’d always wanted a pound kitty. (Going into a flashback, switch to past perfect. Make sure your reader knows you’re talking about something that has already happened.)

Sebastian picked me as much as I picked him. (Here’s where it gets fun. When you go into past perfect, once you establish that it’s in the past, you switch from past perfect to simple past tense, because the word “had” becomes quite cumbersome, even when used in a contraction. The thing to remember is, when we come out of the flashback, make sure the reader is aware by, and the transition to “now” is clear.) He was such an energetic kitten. He played with my roommate’s cat and loved sitting in my window seat. Now (I’m establishing that the flashback is over, making the transition from past perfect to simple past tense), he’s (notice this is in present tense. That’s because it’s an absolute. Sebastian is still alive and kicking, therefore we use the present tense. I’ll have to do another blog post on absolutes, if you’re interested) fat and lazy, but full of personality. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hopefully that wasn’t too painful, and yes, I do love my animals an absurd amount.

The key to using past perfect is transition. You have to clue your reader in on the timeline. Make sure it’s smooth. This will eliminate confusion, and it allows you to tell more aspects of your story by using things from a character’s past.

If you have any questions, ask away, and I’ll answer in the comments.

Useful links:

This is a great article about writing effective flashbacks.

Visit this page for more past perfect examples.

 

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Riding the Revision Coaster: Completing My 30 Day Deadline

Time’s up!

 Exactly 30 days ago I received my editorial package from my editor complete with editorial letter, manuscript filled with comments, and a 30 day deadline. Let the challenge begin.

 

 

 

 

This is how I felt on Day 1:

This is how I feel today:

And this is how I survived:

Despite the late nights, the hair pulling, and the stress, I have loved every minute of it. It’s my calling, my passion and even when it’s hard, even when I want to call it quits and scream out the window into the raging storm “I can’t do this anymore!”  deep down, I wouldn’t trade one minute of it for all the chocolate in Switzerland.

Here are some things I learned along the way.

Mistakes, I’ve made a few:

1) Do not, I repeat, do not read through the entire manuscript and comments before you start revisions. That’s what the editorial letter is for; it gives you the breakdown on what to concentrate on and how the changes work for the overall arc of the story. Reading through the manuscript and picking apart every comment, like I did, is not helpful, and in my case, only overwhelmed me and set me into a state of panic before I had even begun. Lesson learned. I won’t be doing that again.

2)  Don’t panic. I admit that after reading through the comments and the editorial letter, the thirty day deadline freaked me right out. To battle that fear factor, I had to ride my dragon, as Tonia so elegantly puts it, take a deep breath and take that leap of faith. I’m a professional now, dammit and it’s time to stop saying it and started believing it because it’s true. This is not a dream, this is reality.

3) Don’t jump around. I started in chapter one, but as I went through reading the comments, I would stop to correct things here and there, losing focus and making it harder to know what I’d changed and what I hadn’t. I only did this for an hour or so and found out it wasn’t working for me.

What I learned: (Can be applied to revisions from critiques and used for self imposed deadlines)

1) Read the editorial letter first, in its entirety, let it simmer for a day, think through the suggestions in your head as you think through your story, but don’t open the manuscript and start working. The next day, read through the editorial letter again. Take a deep breath and then open the manuscript and look through the comments, but don’t dwell on them, look for themes, or big issues that you want to keep in your head as you work through the revisions. Don’t start changing anything yet. Again, let things settle into your brain before starting.

2) Schedule a call or meeting with your editor right away. You’re not alone. Your editor is there to help. Make sure you let them know how you’re feeling.  Write a list of questions as you go through the editorial letter and track changes comments. Include anything you’re unclear about and everything you disagree with and why. You will need to justify your reason for not changing something, but don’t be defensive. You both have one goal, to make your book the best it can possibly be. You might disagree on some things, but building trust and learning to listen and negotiate is important.

3) Set a revision schedule. Think about how many chapters you need to revise, how many days you have to do it, and what other commitments you have in your life that you have to fit in along with your writing.  How many chapters do you need to average a day in order to make the deadline? Simple, right? Breaking it down helps the task seem less overwhelming. It’s easier to think about revising an average of 1.3 chapters a day than it does 39 chapters in less than 30 days.

4) Use a calendar to schedule your time and set a goal for each day depending on your commitments. Some days you might be able to get more than 1.3 chapters done while other days you won’t. Developing a plan for the entire month helps keep the balance.

5) Be flexible. Your schedule isn’t set in stone. Things come up that take your time away, other days you might have more free time than you thought, use it to your advantage, but keep your average up. Re-evaluate your schedule daily. Some days I would do over and above my goal and some days not, depending on how difficult the changes were for that chapter.

4) Take it Bird by Bird.  (If you haven’t heard of the book Bird by Bird: Instructions for Writing and Life by Anne Lemont, I highly recommend it.) Ann Lemont explains how her ten year old brother was trying to get a report on birds written which was due the next day. He was frustrated and overwhelmed, close to tears when their father sat down and told him ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ Best advice ever and this became my mantra.

5) Give yourself a deadline before your deadline so that you finish early and can complete a full read-through and clean up before sending it to your editor.

6) Ask for support. I explained to my hubby that this month was going to be difficult and I would need him to make dinner and do the laundry and that I wouldn’t be able to go out on the weekends as much because I had a deadline. I couldn’t have made it through the month without him.

7) Most importantly, reward yourself daily. Work for something good. A piece of chocolate? Reading? Playing a video game? Watching your favourite tv show? You put in the work, you get the reward.

In the end, I finished the revisions a full 5 days ahead of schedule, leaving me time to read-through, tweak, and clean up. Now I’m anxious to see what my editor has to say about the changes. Have I done enough? *bites nails*

On to round two!

What have each of you been up to in your writing journey? Are you drafting, plotting, revising? I would love to know more about each of your projects.