After giving you a taste of Haunting Miss Trentwood, I thought it would be nice if I showed you one of the many ways I keep track of who I’m writing about, how they relate to one another, etc.
That said, I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I adore Post-it notes. The image in this post shows how I visualize the love triangle(s) from Haunting Miss Trentwood. I would make the image bigger but then it might spoil some of the plot twists!
You see, dear Reader, this is a sort of map for me. I use this to remind me where tensions occur between characters. I’m color code so I know which character is part of which plot or subplot, and then I draw arrows with visuals to tell me the generics about the relationships.
I was thrilled to read Deanna Raybourn’s blog when she said she does something similar: a collage of images that help inspire her current work-in-progress. I love learning other types of writing exercises that don’t—shock!—require you to write. I need to make things because I am a Maker. I need to use my hands while I’m figuring something out, even something as cerebral as a plot twist. And then after I’ve made the thing, I want to share how I did it. Like this.
How to make a Character Map
- Have a crummy day at work.
- Have an awesome conversation on Facebook.
- Grab a tabloid-sized sheet of paper, multiple colors of small sticky notes, a pen, and a pencil.
- Write the names of the main characters on different colors of the sticky notes. Try to group the characters based on their primary plot lines.
- Play around with the configuration of the character sticky notes on the page until you can get them to fit, and represent the relationships.
- Draw arrows from one sticky note to the other to show direct connections.
- Use dotted lines to show indirect connections.
- Use a pencil because you might make a mistake and try to draw one arrow over another.
- To keep the character map legible, try to arrange the stick notes so you won’t have to cross arrows.
- Have fun with it! I drew a funny angry face to show antagonists, hearts to show love interests, and broken hearts to show tragedy.
- Put the character map somewhere you can glance at when you need inspiration.
I had so much fun with this, I might do it for the relationships I have in my life, and use it as a sort of art piece in my apartment. Or as a way for me to remember who is who at work. Learning the organizational scheme of a new workplace is always so stressful…
All the best,
This is my first time venturing into the corporate world full-time, and let me tell you, it is a different sort of exhaustion than I was expecting. In order to fulfill my duties in my position at a large corporation I had to work a ten hour day yesterday and will do so again today. Add commuting time and I’m working two twelve hour days in a row.
Wait, I thought I wasn’t supposed to do that anymore now that I’ve left school? So far the only difference between school and work is that I have to make sure I shower everyday.
I’m not entirely serious about that.
Or am I?
Anyway, I’ve been determined to keep up with my writing, even with these long days. Living at home has been amazing, if only for that reason. I come home, exhausted, and rather than having to worry about what I’m going to eat for dinner, oh hey, Mom made spaghetti, sweet. I’ll eat, do the dishes, and then log into http://750words.com to get my quota in for the day.
It’s like NaNoWriMo, but without the stress. I just have to make sure I write 750 words. And that’s a far more manageable number than the 1,266 you need to do every day to win NaNoWriMo.
When you’re exhausted at the end of the day, what do you do to accomplish your writing quota? If you don’t have a quota, how do you make sure you keep writing even when it’s difficult?
As a published author determined to self-publish all future works, I always find it fascinating to read about others’ adventures in the self-publishing world. More people are doing it these days with the help of digital processing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a new trend. Many “established” authors self-published, such as Virginia Woolf.
Where do I begin?
Jumping into the self-publishing realm is not for the faint of heart. In fact, I would do a subsidy/vanity publisher first, just to get your feet wet. Something like Lulu would be a nice start as well, because they walk you through the process.
Once you’re certain you want to self-publish, subscribe to Publetariat. This is a blog peopled by a collection of self-publishers who write about everything, from hand selling your work to finding a good copy editor. They discuss the highs and lows, and provide resources to learn more about self publishing.
Then I would hop over to Dan Poynter’s website, which is chock full of free online resources for publishers.
Start watching Self-Publishing Review to get an idea of the quality people are looking for in terms of good self-published fare.
Listen to The Creative Pen podcasts on “writing, publishing options, internet sales and promotion – for your book.”
Most importantly, keep writing! If you don’t have anything to sell, what’s the point?
How are your projects going?
Have you decided if you want to self-publish, subsidy publish, or go the traditional route? Now that I’ve returned to the blogosphere, what would you like to see me write about?
“When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take–choose the bolder.”
- Ezra Pound
This month, you’re doing what many think is the impossible: you’re writing a novel-length book in thirty days.
Fifty-thousand words in thirty days.
Are you insane?
Yes, yes you are, and I love that about you.
I know many of you might be struggling at this point. This is the rough patch, really. You’re close to the end, but so far from it, you know?
So I’m sure you’re at a crossroads. You don’t know the next step your characters should take. You’re tempted to go back and edit what you have written. Whatever you do, don’t do that.
Here’s a suggestion: choose the bolder path. What would happen if, say, one of your characters died? Or did something almost as radical?
Maybe it makes sense, what you’re about to do. And then again, maybe it doesn’t. That’s not the point of NaNoWriMo. The point is to put pen to paper, and at the end of the month, have something to workshop. Get that? Have something to workshop by the end of the month.
Good luck. If you need a place to vent about your work, leave a comment and we’ll see what we can do about sparking your imagination.
“My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.”
- Anaïs Nin, French Writer
First, I need to say that last week the lovely Evangeline at Edwardian Promenade awarded the I Love This Blog to me, and I have to spread the love around. See the end of this post for the award, and my nominations. <3
This week’s exercise is to take a look around you. So often do we writers get lost in the act of writing, that we forget we are supposed to be writing about life. Who are these characters that we spend our every waking moments with? How can we possibly know who they are, and how to make them distinct, if all we do is sit around our houses dreaming about them?
NaNoWriMo is a difficult time for any writer, whether you have a plan/outline or not. I found that during the second week, I began to lag a little. Things weren’t coming as quickly, and I was losing some of my pep.
I knew I had to leave the computer. There was something about sitting in the same spot day in, day out, writing to fulfill the daily goal, that exhausted me. I took a digital camera and small writing journal, and went for a walk.
I took pictures of whatever I saw that inspired me, with the plan to print them out and tape them to the walls around my desktop. I sat by the little lake at the center of my campus, and absorbed. I never wrote anything.
Three years later (i.e. a couple of weeks ago), that moment crystallized into the following:
At Ohio State, my favorite place on campus was Mirror Lake. There are beautiful flowering trees there in the spring, and ducklings that swim in time with The Truman Show soundtrack on my mp3 player. In the winter, the lake freezes over and everyone tests their courage by walking across it. In the fall, the most zealous Buckeyes jump into the lake to show their loyalty against M*ch*gan. There are benches, and sometimes people play their guitars. I would walk around the lake, usually listening to classical music, and breathe it in. I’d stare at the fountain in the center, and how it sometimes made a rainbow on very bright days.
Simple, reminiscent, evocative. Do you have such a moment, and can you use it for your writing?
Awards to Blogs I Love
This month, I’m doing a series of short exercises, one a week, to help those of you who are stuck with your WIP. Maybe you’re doing NaNoWriMo, maybe not. In any case, it helps to have an exercise to spark your imagination.
This week’s exercise is a challenge in brevity. The goal of NaNoWriMo, for instance, is to write 50k words in a month. A 50k word work is about the length of a short novel, similar to an Avon or Harlequin romance. This can be a challenge in and of itself… how do you write a novel with developed characters and an interesting plot in 50k words? Some writers, who are cheating themselves, will litter their WIP with adverbs, adjectives, and unnecessary description just to make that word count goal.
Here is a popular and well-known writing exercise… Hemingway was once given a challenge to write an entire story in only six words. His answer:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Apparently, he thought it was his greatest literary work ever. It speaks to the audience, and pulls them in. We know the ending to the story, and can surmise how it began. Most importantly, we care.
Here are some of my six word stories:
He smiled, and her world ended.
She always hated writing the beginning.
Her lips were chapped. Damn frogs.
Required: knight in armor (shining optional).
There are many writers who practice this sort of flash fiction through their Twitter accounts, where each update can only be 140 characters long. Can you tell a story in a sentence? What is your six word story? Do you even count these micro-narratives as stories?
“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.”
- Ivan Turgenev
When someone finds out I’m a writer, I inevitably hear about how they have a couple stories of their own lurking in their head, or three novels half-started, etc. Which I applaud, because I’m always happy to hear about fellow writers doing their best to write.
Rarely have I ever heard a story where they finished the work.
Sometimes this is because they’ve lost interest. Sometimes they cite the dreaded Writer’s Block. Sometimes they just don’t know how to begin.
J.A. Konrath declares that there’s no such thing as Writer’s Block. He also says you shouldn’t listen to people who say you must write every day to be a writer. Which I agree and disagree with.
Writer’s Block happens to me, but only because of the quote at the beginning of this post: I suffer from perfectionism, which means there are times when I want everything to be ready for me to write. I want to write, but some part of my brain tells me that the conditions aren’t right, aren’t “ready,” for writing. So I stew, fuss, and complain until my brain figures out that I don’t need perfect conditions to write, I only need to make time to write.
So I do agree with Konrath’s point that you don’t need to write every day. I’d like to alter his assertion, however, by claiming that even if you don’t physically write every day, you do at least think about writing. While you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, ask your characters questions to know them better. Study the people around you and note interesting personality ticks that could help flesh out your characters.
There’s no such thing as perfect writing, remember. There is always room to improve. So don’t let your need to get it right the first time stop you from writing. Let me tell you that you won’t get it right the first time you put it on paper.
Don’t let that blank sheet of paper intimidate you.
If you feel like writing, but don’t know how to begin, write about that! Write about how you’re feeling about your work, or lack thereof. Write about what you did today. The point is to get used to writing, in any form.
Like musicians, writers can only improve by practicing. This includes reading and writing a lot. When you feel the urge to write, just do it. Don’t let your fears crowd your ideas. The moment you put pen to paper, you are ready. There is no better moment to begin than now.
Crazy as it may seem, I don’t worry about the first three chapters. Wait, I take that back. I do worry. I worry about them a lot. But at the same time, I’m not too worried about them.
See, the thing is, and I hope Jaye is reading this…
I almost never keep the first draft of my first three chapters.
“What?” you cry. “How is that possible? They are the foundations to your plot! They set up everything that will come, and has most recently been, in your work!”
And that is an excellent and valid point. To which I respond, “Yes, but since you wrote them first, most likely, I bet they’re a pretty bad example of your writing style, in comparison to later chapters.”
Your later chapters are almost always better, at least in terms of the first draft, because you…
- Know your characters better
- Know your plot better
- Know the overall purpose of your work better (a.k.a. theme or thesis)
So what do I do? I force myself to move past chapters one through three. When writing a first draft, or even a second draft, I focus on the end goals: Can I finish this work? Will it accomplish the themes, plot twists, emotions, and subtle messages I’m trying to impart?
What I really obsess about is the ending. It is the ending, I feel, that defines the beginning. To me, the ending is that sometime-heartbreaking goodbye to a friend. And when we say goodbye to someone, what is one of the first things we start to do? Reminisce about how that friendship began. We want to remember where we came from. That is how I know where my beginning should start. I need to know the ending before I can really understand and write the beginning.
Perhaps that doesn’t make any sense. So here is something else that you should always do with your beginning: Start with action. In fact, you should always…
Start with the action that jumpstarts all the other actions in your work.
This typically means meeting the hero for our heroine in romance. Or our detective finding our murder victim in a mystery. Or something catastrophic that will end the world as we know it in a science fiction.
So once you’ve finished writing the ending, go back to the beginning. Does the beginning make sense, in terms of the ending? Does the ending correlate/follow from the beginning? If not, you need to rewrite those first three chapters.
Does this help? Have I made any sense at all? I wrote this post in reponse to a question Jaye had about his first three chapters, both how to do them, and how to get past them. So if you have suggestions for Jaye, let us know in the comments.
Please excuse another post off the Tuesday/Thursday schedule.
From August 22 to August 31, I’ll be without ready access to the internet and I need guest bloggers! If you would like to be a guest, contact me by Thursday, August 21, with your guest post. Guidelines here. If I don’t use your post that week, don’t worry. I’ll definitely use it later and will notify you the week I use it.
Now that we’re all connected using Crit Partner Match (if you haven’t joined, you should!), it occurred to me that many of us are computer-based beta readers, which can be a monumental task. So today’s tidbit will provide useful tricks in Microsoft Word 2003 to help you become a more efficient and productive beta reader. If you use a different program, comment with your reviewing hints to help your compatriots.
First: What is a beta reader?
I’ll admit to not knowing what this term meant even a year ago. A beta reader is the new term for a critique partner, it seems to me, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Wikipedia states that a beta reader is a reader who looks over a written work with a “critical eye with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public.”
Some beta readers do more than others. Some refuse to edit your grammar, because that’s basic stuff. Others will get so nitpicky you’ll want to tear your hair out. So make sure to discuss your writing and editing styles with whomever you pair up with (and this can be a one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many relationship).
In comparison, the alpha reader is the writer or author of the written work.
Now onto the editing.
Microsoft Word 2003 is the software I’ll talk about today because it’s the one I have the most expertise in. For the record, Word 2007 has the same features, but the buttons to use them are in different locations (the ribbon).
Track Changes: Deletion
Sometimes when you’re reading through the work, you have to delete a sentence or paragraph. But how do you do this so the alpha reader knows the change you made? There’s this awesome module called Track Changes that will note every change you’ve made to the document by adding a sidenote that you can hide or show at will. See an example screenshot. To use Track Changes, do the following:
- Click View » Toolbars » Reviewing in the menu bar. This will give you a new toolbar that gives you the option to make comments, track changes, and highlight.
- Click the little icon that looks like a piece of lined paper with a tiny sun in the top left corner and a pencil in the bottom right on top of it. If you hover your mouse a little tooltip should appear saying “Track changes.” This is what you want.
- Now, any change you make to the document will be recorded.
- If you don’t want to see the tracked changes, you can click the Show button which allows you to select what is visible and what is hidden.
- If you hit Track Changes again, it will stop recording all your actions after you hit the icon. It does not get rid of the changes you made previous to hitting the icon, however, so don’t freak out.
Track Changes: Rewording, Reorganizing, Adding text
Follow the same steps as the Track Changes: Deletion section. Tracking the changes will also note any additions you make, and I think will also note if you move something. Maybe. If it doesn’t, then you always have the option to comment.
Commenting on the Work
This is my new favorite toy in Word 2003/2007. Using the same Reviewing toolbar, you can comment whatever text you’ve selected with your mouse. It adds a rounded rectangular bubble to the right of the page with a line to the text that you selected for the comment. See an example screenshot. To comment, do the following:
- Click View » Toolbars » Reviewing in the menu bar. This will give you a new toolbar that gives you the option to make comments, track changes, and highlight.
- Click the little icon that looks like a yellow/tan-colored Post-it note with a tiny sun in the top left corner. If you hover your mouse over the icon, a little tooltip should appear saying “Insert Comment.” This is what you want.
- Now, a bubble should appear to the right of your text, with a blinking cursor.
- Type your thought.
- When you’re done, click outside of the bubble. Now, if you hover over the text you selected to comment, you should see the bubble highlight itself. You might also see the text from your comment hovering above the text…it depends on how you do it.
The really neat thing about this is that if someone else opens the same document with your comments on their computer, and they start to add comments, Word will tell there is a difference. To account for this difference, the colors of the comment bubbles will change depending on the computer/owner of the Word program.
You can also navigate through the document based on previous/next comment. Pretty cool, huh?
A guest post from a new writing accomplice, Zoe Winters. She writes to encourage you to find your dream and follow through, using the television show The Biggest Loser as a classic example. So read on, and tell us your dreams!
One of my heroes is Ali Vincent. If you don’t know who this is, she was the winner of the last season of “The Biggest Loser,” a weight loss reality show. Midway through the season she was eliminated, though the show planned to bring back a couple of contestants from home who earned it.
In the elimination room right after she was eliminated she said: “I am going to be the next biggest loser.” And she said it with such conviction, that though most of us thought she was loopy, we believed her a little bit. She became the underdog. When she was brought back on the show, she became a favorite for the win.
As it got down to the wire, both she and Kelly desperately wanted to be the first girl biggest loser. Kelly talked daily about how badly she wanted to be the first girl to win and how cool it would be. But she never said any more than that she wanted it. No one doubted that she wanted it. And she worked hard for it. But she didn’t get it. Ali did.
Between the two, I can only find one difference. Ali kept saying “I am going to be the next biggest loser.” Going to. Not Want to. It stopped being a dream and started being a goal. Of course saying you are going to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.
If Ali had failed she would have had “I’m going to be the next biggest loser,” hanging over her head forever, because she said it repeatedly on national television. Some people thought she was “too cocky,” but I don’t see it that way. She was single-minded. This was her goal and it was happening one way or another and if it didn’t happen she would go down fighting.
If she had failed she would have picked herself up off the ground and kept going. “The Biggest Loser” was a one time opportunity, but she would have found something else impossible to do and would have done it. Because that’s who she is. We need more Ali Vincents in the world.
When approaching your writing, what are your goals? Do you see them as just dreams? Things you “wish” would or could happen? Things that would be really cool if they happened?
Do yourself a favor, decide what you’re “going” to do. Take your dream and own it. There are no guarantees that this will get you where you want to go, but when you take control and subtly shift a dream to a goal, it shores up your belief in your ability to reach that goal. And with strong belief comes creative ways to start moving toward the prize.
Zoe Winters writes paranormal romance. She can be found at http://zoewinters.wordpress.com Her novella, Kept, will be released as a free e-book from her website in October. Her novel, Save My Soul, will be released serially as a free podcast, release date to be announced.