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Category Archives: Craft

Perfecting Your Pitch

writers blockWe spend hours, days, months, and sometimes years writing our stories. One idea turns into many and we write them down to create worlds and adventures that allow people to escape and believe anything is possible. After all this work, we’re then asked to shorten our story into a few paragraphs, then one paragraph, and finally, into a single sentence. The one sentence pitch.

Some people find this easy, while for others, this takes a lot of time and thought. I’m one of those for whom it took some time. Instead of telling you how to write yours, I’m going to leave you a map of the sites I utilized to figure out the puzzle.

The first site I found is a blog by Nathan Bransford. He’s a published author and former literary agent. He’s got a great website, full of helpful information: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/how-to-write-one-sentence-pitch.html 

The next is a website written by agent, Rachelle Gardner. Her post isn’t very long, but it does give a good overview: http://www.rachellegardner.com/2012/11/writing-a-one-sentence-summary/ 

Querytracker’s blog was another helpful resource: http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2009/02/writing-loglinethe-one-sentence-pitch.html

Here’s another from Writer’s Digest: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/thrillerfest-2011-pitch

Elana Johnson is an author who wrote a post about this very subject and included several links to help people craft their pitch: http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/2010/04/one-sentence-pitching.html 

I’ve given five different sites that I used and found helpful. The web is full of information, some of it more useful and true than others. I tend to stick to names I know and recognize when I’m looking for help. I wanted to use links, instead of putting it into my own words, because I can’t give you the magic formula for writing the perfect pitch for your story – only you know your story well enough to narrow it down to a few words.

If you’re feeling up to the challenge, post your one sentence pitch in the comments for critique. Please be sure and identify the genre and myself or one of the other writers will tell you what we think. Good luck and keep writing!

Join us on Wednesday when guest writer, Vaughn Roycroft, will be discussing the technique of using multiple points of view!

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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Craft, Critique, Pitch, Uncategorized, Writing

 

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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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Stepping into POV

20130208-163533.jpgThanks for continuing to follow us through our February workshops. A special thanks to those of you who have been brave enough to share your work with us. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity offer up some of the things we’ve learned over the years, but also the chance to learn from you. If you haven’t yet, be sure to enter to win a 25 page critique from Month9Books editor, our very own Courtney Koshel.

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
— Roger Miller

Today I’d like to talk about point-of-view, something that has always been highly important to me and something that has evolved in my writing over the years. For those of you who have read my stories, you know I like to dig my heels deeply into my characters’ hearts, set up camp, and then invite you in for a hot cup of coffee. It’s the best seat in the house.

There are three common points-of-view used in fiction: 1st person, 3rd person limited, and 3rd person omniscient. Two things usually dictate which one you choose: your writing style or your story. For me, first person is a choice I’ll make 9 times out of 10 because that’s how I connect to my characters and that’s what shapes the tone of my story. It’s a stylistic thing.

For others, it may vary from story to story. For instance, fantasy is often written in 3rd person because of the vast amount of world building that needs to be done, while Young Adult is commonly 1st person to create the familiar emotional intensity of adolescence in the reader. I’ll let you Google the many articles out there about which one is right for you, but no matter your choice, there are some common tips that mean the difference between watching the story play out on a mental screen and stepping into the character’s shoes.

Eliminating Filter Words

Courtney already gave us a wonderful post on filter words and in it she says, “They distance the reader from the story. It’s one extra step the reader has to take in order to experience action with the character.” There’s no better way to say it so I’ll leave it at that and encourage you to check out her post again for a list of common filter words.

Sensory Details

Including the five senses is essential in each scene yet it often gets overlooked. I think we’re so used to experiencing the world through them, we take for granted that without them I wouldn’t be able to feel the warm blanket over my legs right now; I wouldn’t hear the space heater running beside the couch; I couldn’t see the screen in front of me to type this, or taste the remnants of the Granny Smith apple I ate a few minutes ago. I could have simply said I’m typing this on my iPad in my living room but don’t the use of my senses create a much clearer picture?

Character Thoughts and Feelings

In any given moment, a person has an emotional reaction or thought about what is happening around them, or what happened earlier in the day or week or month. They have feelings about what other people say or do, or what might happen in the future. It is a rare moment when we aren’t reacting to our surroundings. Bring your character to life by giving us a glimpse into his or her mind and heart with internal monologue, skillfully included using the POV of your choice. Make us feel it too.

There are many ways to put readers behind the eyes of your characters but these are just a few. They say you don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, and a novel is a cross-country trek. Bring us along.

In the comments, I would love to see a few paragraphs of your work-in-progress where you might need a little help with implementing these techniques. The ladies and I here to support you and speaking from experience, nothing helps your grow in your craft more than trial and error with an encouraging group or writing friends. 🙂

Photo by Newtown grafitti

 

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To Great Beginnings!

I just liked this picture. Photo courtesy of:http://www.flickr.com/photos/cloppy/8444077598/

I just liked this picture. Photo courtesy of:http://www.flickr.com/photos/cloppy/8444077598/

Writing the beginning to a story is hard. There are so many things that have to be just right. Are you starting your story in the right place? Will it grab the reader’s attention? Is there too much detail and description or not enough? Is there conflict? But most of all, will your beginning make the reader want to keep reading to chapter two and beyond?

One of the problems a lot of writers run into is where they start their story. Every story and character has a background and the writer knows this world so well and they want to share it, so the reader can experience everything the writer intended. However, too much detail about the setting or character can slow down the story. The reader doesn’t need to know everything the character has done leading up to the starting point, weave it into the story. Too much setting has the same potential to slowing down the story. Give enough setting to make the story come to life and let the reader feel as though they’re with the character. If the first five or so pages consist mainly of describing the school and playground where the main character attended fifteen years prior, that’s a good clue that rewriting may be in the near future.

A lot of craft books talk about creating conflict and showing what’s at stake. That’s something that’s extremely hard to do in the first few pages, because a lot of times, the character doesn’t know enough about their situation to realize what’s at stake, unless you’re writing a crime novel that starts off in the middle of a burglary gone bad. With bullets flying and a police chase, we can all see what’s at stake. However, most other genres don’t have this luxury. The writer has to be creative and come up with ways to integrate it into the beginning without being so blatant. Though, of course, there are exceptions.

Research has shown that if a reader reads through the first paragraph, they’ll read the first page. After reading the first page, if you’ve kept their curiosity  they’ll continue through the first chapter. If the story holds their interest and they want to know what happens to the characters, they’ll read the second chapter and beyond. This is what every writer wants, someone to read their book from start to finish because they genuinely care about the characters and their situation. If large blocks of description interrupt the flow of the story, they’ll skim over it. Use dialogue to interrupt description. Move the story along. Go for emotional impact. Create a connection between your readers and your characters, give the reader a reason to care what happens, particularly in the beginning.

I think we’ve all read books that don’t follow the rules. I know that I tend to skim if there’s more than a few paragraphs of nothing but description without a break. It doesn’t matter what it’s describing; a dress, a new car or a high school. Unless you’ve got a killer description that somehow becomes a character in and of itself, it doesn’t move the story along. It lets the reader see what you see, but you can lose them if you don’t pick the story up again. Remember to show, not tell.

A few little things that you can watch for are:

  • Overuse of adverbs – examples are lazily, slowly, happily, etc. Show in your dialogue instead of telling the reader what and how the character responds. A few adverbs are fine, but if every dialogue tag has one, that may be something to watch for.
  • Pacing and flow – does the pace of your story make sense? Does it flow from one scene to another? Is the reader going to have and stop and go back to see what happened? For example, if your story starts with a daydream, will the reader know when real life comes back into play?
  • Give life to your settings. Make the reader feel a part of the world you’ve created. For example, “it was a small town, like any other.” Umm… I’ve been to lots of small towns and they were all different. Give the reader a little more to go on, weave it into the story with dialogue and action. Keep it moving.
  • Keep your dialogue clear. Show the personalities of your characters. Make sure the readers knows who’s talking. Make them interesting and let them fly.

In doing research for this post, one of the most common things I read was that the first five pages can make or break your manuscript. I guess I’m not surprised considering one of the books I use frequently is Noah Lukeman’s, “The First Five Pages.” He’s a literary agent and his book is quite helpful when zeroing in on problem areas. I’d highly recommend it.

As part of the workshops that we’re offering this month, I’m going to offer critiques of the first 500 words of your novel or work in progress. If you’re up for it, copy and paste the first 500 words (give a take a few, if you need to finish a sentence or paragraph, feel free) in the comments section and myself or one of the other lovely Hugs and Chocolate writers will critique your work. Please tell us your genre and feel free to ask any questions that you may have, we’re here to help you.

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35 Comments

Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Craft, Critique, Writing

 

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How to Cure the Sagging Middle

Subplots. There. That was easy. Oh, you want to hear the whole explanation? Fair enough.

For those of you who read my personal blog, you know the obstacles I overcame to win National Novel Writing Month this year. For those of you who don’t, it was an insane combination of two kids under 3, out of town guests, and several emotional breakdowns. Yet, I would call this year’s NaNoWriMo the most successful yet and not just because I overcame those obstacles, but also because I regularly hit word counts I’ve never accomplished before while fighting through that “sagging middle.” How did I do it?

The Power of Subplots

The problem with most of my outlines (and all of my first drafts) is that I have only a few scenes planned when I start writing. I know the major plot points and the first act is always crystal clear. But after that, things get fuzzy and I have a hard time getting from Point B to Point C, which means I’m clueless as to how I’ll ever get to Point D. Usually I do it with a bunch of random scenes like dinners–lots of them–and my characters doing dishes (you can’t have one without the other, right?). But then I get to the end of that outline or draft and realize there are a lot of boring scenes I’m not interested in writing (or rewriting), which means there’s no way anyone is going to be interested in reading them.

It took me a while to figure out why I was flailing and then it hit me–I’m not digging deep enough. Not digging deep enough into the story, into the character’s lives, into their friend’s and family’s lives. I was only thinking of the main plot. But if you’re writing a full-length novel, your main character is about more that just that single conflict. Just like you, he or she is juggling relationships, family, friends, work, personal goals, and more.

Breaking It Down

I’ll use my novel as an example.

The main plot/conflict is between my main character and her failing relationship.
But my main character also has issues with the expectations her mom still has for her.
And her father, who she hasn’t had a conversation with in seventeen years.
And then there’s the damage her career is doing to her personal life, no matter how much she loves it, as she reaches a crossroads in her professional life.
And her closest friends are getting divorced.

And to think–when I first thought of this novel, I only had the main plot in mind.

So think of it this way: My novel has about 60 scenes. Since my main conflict is the most important, let’s say it fills half the scenes–30. These scenes include things like the issues my heroine and hero have that are keeping them apart, the one major issue that is the catalyst for their growth, the scenes my main character spends trying to come to terms with it, the scenes in which they take turns trying to fix it, and the scenes where they’re sure it’s over. My MC’s career is also important so we’ll say that’s 10 more scenes. Then, take the other 20 scenes and divide them by the 4 remaining conflicts and we have 5 scenes each.

Now we’ll do the math. And remember, this is just a rough idea just to illustrate my point, not a concrete outline.

Act 1
8 scenes for the main conflict
3 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Act 2, Part 1
7 scenes for the main conflict
2 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Act 2, Part 2
7 scenes for the main conflict
2 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Act 3
8 scenes for the main conflict
3 scenes for the secondary conflict
1-2 scenes for each remaining conflict

Some subplots won’t require 5 scenes, while some will require more. Sometimes you’ll have two or more conflicts within a single scene. But try to come up with at least 5 situations to put your character in which will show the story arc for each subplot. For instance, the conflict my MC has with her father would go like this: them not speaking, revealing why, show the misunderstanding, exacerbate the misunderstanding, and then resolve the conflict. Once you have similar snapshots in mind, sprinkle them throughout your novel, weaving them with the other plots, and you’ll never be short on scenes to write.

A Well of Scene Ideas

It may not always be clear at the beginning of your novel which conflicts your character will battle (mine don’t usually make themselves known until after the first draft) but if you’re having hard time coming up with them, start by thinking of your own. If your life was a novel, what would your plots and subplots be? And then, go from there. Because your characters are just people too (for most of you).

What techniques have you used to get through Act II?

Photo by barockschloss

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Characters, Craft, Editing, Plot, Revision, Writing

 

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Why Character Archetypes Aren’t Just About Commercialism

What a coincidence that Heather brought up the subject of personality types when it is something that has been at the forefront of my mind recently. It is something that has become a part of how I approach every situation in my life and has helped me better understand myself and those I interact with on a frequent basis. Today, I would like to talk about the personality types of your characters, but if you haven’t taken a personality test yourself, either the DISC that Heather mentioned or the Myers-Briggs test that I’m more familiar with, I highly recommend it. I guarantee that it will change how you view people.

I’ve said it time and again but I’ll say it once more: I am a student of human nature. I’m sure, as writers, that’s something we all share. By ten years of age, I had already given up my seat at the kid’s table at family events to get involved in the gossip and philosophizing at the adult table. I soaked it all in, which is probably what drove me to write in the first place. My novels are a place for me to understand and pass on my observations about human reactions, relationships, and the reasons behind the choices we make. I love it.

Personality Types

I was first introduced to personality types a couple of years ago when I attended a personal growth seminar and since then I can’t help but try to place everyone I meet.
Also, knowing my own personality type has given me insight into how I best work and I have been able to use that to my advantage to be as productive as possible in the short period of time I have each day to focus on my writing.

When I came home from the seminar, I wanted to delve deeper and searching led me to the Myers-Briggs test, which looks at four different aspects of the personality. Once each person’s four traits are correctly identified, it is shockingly accurate. Looking at my personality profile again last week, almost two years since I took it the first time, I still nod the entire way through. But it isn’t just me. Everyone I have shared personality typing with has found their profile to be a very accurate description of them as well.

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator is broken down into sixteen personality types that take into account your Attitude (introverted/extroverted), your Perceptions (sensing/intuition), how you Judge those perceptions (thinking/feeling), and then which of the two functions–Perceiving or Judging–you most often use when dealing with the outside world. This breaks the population up into 16 personality types that indicate how people interact with others, how they are in relationships, how they handle tasks, and what is important to them.

Creating Real Life Characters

After researching personality types to the point that I could identify all of my closest family and friends, I decided to extend it to my writing and identify my characters. Being that I’m nearly done with the second draft of this novel, I’ve spent a lot of time with them and was able to identify my main characters easily. I also labeled my secondary characters–especially the ones who are highly influential to my main character’s journey. In the profile of each type, it lists that personality’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as all the things I listed above.

Why am I in love with this?

  1. Understanding how characters react with each other makes scenes so easy to write. For instance, my main character is thought based as opposed to feelings based so when her mom gets emotional with her, I know my main character is going to be rational when talking her down. In the same vein, my main character responds better to people who approach her with facts, rather than opinions.
  2. It creates consistency. Have you ever read a book where the characters are all over the place from one minute to the next to the point that it doesn’t feel like you’re following the same person anymore? Knowing your character’s type will help you create a believable hero’s journey that develops smoothly and steadily and yet, is still true to their ideals and values.
  3. It makes your characters easy to relate to. My main character is the same personality type as my mom. My main character’s mom is the same personality type as my best friend. Using this knowledge helps me create characters that are true to life, and chances are, your readers will know people with the same type as your characters too.

Archetypes and Publishing

One thing that I have heard frequently is that character archetypes (as well as story structures–but that is a different post) are just another way of conforming our work to the industry standards. As artists, we want to be unique and we want to express ourselves without being reined in by rules, the publishing industry, or what is popular. I hope you’ll allow me to play the devil’s advocate today because my thought is that if real people can be identified by sixteen categories, why not our characters too? I would certainly never suggest that each character shouldn’t have his or her own backgrounds, culture, class, personal preferences, quirks, and conflicts–that’s what makes us all different. But at the core, we are all human beings, and we all want health, love, and happiness. It’s those similarities that connect us to each other and to the characters in the novels we love.

But don’t take my word for it. Your challenge, if you should accept, is to try the test yourself. It takes about ten minutes and you can find the online quiz at humanmetrics.com. Then, look up your personality on personalitypage.com. You might just be surprised by what you discover…but then again, maybe not. 😉

Have you ever used personality types to create your characters? What is your personality type? Can you guess mine?

Photo by Crystl

 
14 Comments

Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Characters, Craft, Publishing, Writing

 

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Synopsis Fundamentals

Mono_pensador     “The synopsis conveys the narrative arc of your novel; it shows what happens and who changes, from beginning to end.”

     ~ Jane Friedman

I did some research and found out that, indeed, synopsis is not a synonym for “a brief journey into writer hell.”

A synopsis is a 1-3 page summary of your novel. Simple. But, if you’re anything like me, simple tends to get complicated, especially when we factor in its importance in selling our story to an agent or publisher. That’s when we start acting like contestants in a greased pig wrestling match.

Beginning next month, we’re offering our readers a chance to receive feedback on synopses, among other tricky beasts like the first 500 words of your novel and the query.For more information about our newest endeavor to help motivate and inform our readers, go here.

I wanted to take a moment before the full furor of the holidays takes over and introduce a few basic components and principles of the synopsis. Like you, I’m learning more about the craft of writing every day. If after reading, you have any questions, or would like to add something valuable you’ve learned, or any experience, please join us in the comment section. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I’ll find it for you.(Or any member of our tribe may have the information/encouragement that you need. The H&C tribe is awesome like that.)

Format

*Always check submission guidelines with any agent or publisher you’re seeking*

Double space

1″ margins

standard font like Courier or Times New Roman

Header on each page- book title in upper left corner, your last name and page # in upper right corner

Do This:

*Start with an energetic, bold hook

* Be precise; keep it tight. Every word matters.

* Focus on what the story is about.

* Use an active voice.

* Use third-person, present tense.

* Set up the story in the first paragraph

* Clearly show the core conflict and how it is resolved.

* Include characters’ reactions- their feelings and emotions- this will give the story color and life.

* Use your distinct writing voice

* Research your market and aim your pitch for that market(i.e., what is the agent/publisher looking for?)

Don’t do this:

* Tell the story and how things happen (Re: Show the story, just as you do in your manuscript)

* Passive voice

* Forget to include the ending

* Don’t turn the synopsis into a list (First, Marie woke up. Then, she brushed her teeth while contemplating how life is like a tube of pink lipstick…)

* Don’t write copy- “incredible, heart-stopping action”…Don’t editorialize.

* Ask leading/empty questions- “Have you ever had to kill a vampire with only a bottle of rum and a roll of toilet paper?”

* Include too much or unnecessary detail. (Again. Precision. Precision. Precision.)

Relates Links:

http://www.longridgewritersgroup.com/rx/wc01/the_novel_synopsis.shtml

http://janefriedman.com/2011/10/25/novel-synopsis/

http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/how-to-write-a-synopsis.html#

http://www.charlottedillon.com/SynopsisSamples.html

http://writerunboxed.com/2012/12/03/synopsize-me/

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Craft, synopsis, Writing

 

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