Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to Write

I'm thinking about starting another fiction writing project, and I'm wondering to myself, how did I actually write a whole book before? If the truth were known, as it should be because I consider myself to be an honest person, each time I have written fiction, it has come out differently, and I've decided that each of these ways have their own benefits. They are as follows:

1. The I've-never-written-a-novel-before-so-I-really-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing method. My first ever novel started with a wisp of a story line. I had written the whole story, everything in my mind from start to finish, and it was only 74 pages long. Well, I knew that novels were longer than that, and if there was any hope to getting it published, I needed to make it longer. Then a subplot idea came to mind, and I worked that in through the pages. By the time I was done, it was around 70,000 words, and it took roughly six months to complete it. (However, it never did get published.)
~Pros: I was able to crank this work out because I first focused on the base plot, then subplots.
~Cons: I feel less creative when I write this way because so much of what I write just comes as I'm typing.

2. The I-can't-type-the-words-in-my-head-out-fast-enough method. My second novel just came to me one day, and I had all these scenes rolling through my mind. I jotted them down on paper, then started typing at the beginning of the story and worked my way up to those scenes. It took about a year to finish it. I say finish, because I thought at the time that I was. In reality, it was just a rough draft I had completed, and it took a great chunk of time to learn about editing and other tools to turn my draft into something publishable.
~Pros: This worked well for me because there was a great deal of passion to help me get the story out.
~Cons: I fear that I was almost obsessed with this story while writing it, and probably bored many a people in my family with talking about it all the time.

3. The This-is-a-really-cool-story-but-I-have-no-idea-how-to-develop-it method. When my third story came to mind, I had a rough idea of some scenes and where I wanted the story to go, and I began typing, again, jotting down specific scenes so they wouldn't be forgotten. But this one was really different for me because so much of the story, subplots, character quirks and other things, just fell from my fingers as I typed. Often times I would sit at my computer at the designated writing time, with absolutely no clue what to write, and the words just came. I still don't know how.
~Pros: Allows for a great deal of random creativity. I was guessing how it was going to turn out. It was almost like I was reading it, only I was more actively involved.
~Cons: I still don't know how to end it just right.

4. The My-brain-is-aching-from-thinking-about-how-to-work-plots-so-I'm-going-to-write-with-two-other-brains method. My fourth fiction work was different than them all, because I wrote it with my two sisters. It was pure fun (something that's an absolute must for me in writing.) While writing it, we would each take a turn creating and typing a chapter, then we rotated through like this until it was complete. It was so interesting to see a plot and subplots unfold as we wrote and added onto what the others had written.
~Pros: There is no brain wracking, trying to think of a way to finish things off or tie them in.
~Cons: If you are stubborn about how you want the story to go, then this method won't work. But if you can create, type, and let go until it's your turn again, it's wonderful.

Now with this new work I would like to start, I'm thinking of typing up certain main scenes, kind of like a skeleton, then adding muscle and flesh with subplots. It's very similar to the first method I used, when I didn't realize that writing that way was actually a method.

So, what works for you?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Are Creative People Disorganized or Is It Just Me?

I'm in the process of cleaning, re-organizing, and de-cluttering my home room by room. The reason for this is 1) to give my children responsibilities and something productive to do during the summer, 2) to help my household (and hopefully my life) run smoother so I can make time to write each day, 3) because I'm tired of the little white dust that has settled on top of my curtains, and 4) to prove that not all right-brained creative people live in chaos. (I've heard the definition of CHAOS is: Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome.) That's way too stereotypical, and it certainly doesn't apply to me.

So, while I was going through a room the other day, I received a phone call asking if I would please send a baby picture and a recent school picture of my daughter with her to YW that night. Sure, I could do that. Eager to get it done, I set off to find her pictures, which I knew exactly where they were. (See, I am organized.) Only the box they were in was completely stuffed full of pictures, so it took a while to go through all my "organized" packets to finally find a baby picture. (I think the baby in it was her. It wasn't labeled, so it could have been a picture of my other daughter, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.)

The whole time I was looking, I kept coming across pictures and thinking, "Oh, I remember this. I remember when my kids were that young. Oh..." When I finally found the picture I was looking for, my leg was numb from sitting on it so long. But the weird thing was, my daughter's current school pictures were nowhere to be found. Then I remembered that there was a stray picture of her by my computer desk. I found it in less than two minutes. Aha! But it was crinkled and unusable.

Alas, I did have a picture of her on my computer that I could just print out. That would be the best solution under the circumstances. Once I logged on to my computer and scanned through the hundreds of family pictures saved on Picasa, I finally found it. But when I went to open the picture to print it out, it disappeared as soon as it appeared, over and over, and over again. This was really annoying because I was trying to get "organized" and still had a number of things I needed to do.

I thought that maybe my mouse was going haywire or perhaps my computer had gotten one of those viruses going around. I tried exiting or logging off, but everything I clicked on disappeared as soon as it appeared. Somehow, though, I managed to restart my computer, and while it was restarting, I went to work in another room. When I returned, with a fresh pair of eyes, I noticed the source of my computer's haywire-ness. It wasn't the mouse. It wasn't a virus. The corner of a book on my desk had fallen onto the escape key of my keyboard, so every time I had clicked on something, that book was escaping me out of the program as quickly as I had entered it.

Now I agree, as most book lovers do, that books are a great way to escape, but lets face it, maybe I am a little disorganized and have just a tiny bit of the right-brained creative chaos thing going on.

When I really think about it, could living in a slightly chaotic condition be preventing me from writing as I'd like? I believe so. When my time and home are not organized and scheduled, I constantly feel that there are more important things that I need to be doing than writing. For me, I need to be relaxed and feel it's okay to write. When I'm thinking about all there is that needs to be done, it squashes my creativity. So with that in mind, because I believe in personal growth, my goal is to have more order and organization in my home and in my life so that I can crank out more books and have fun while I do it.

So, are creative people disorganized or is it just me?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Manuscript Makeovers

Makeovers are awesome, especially on people, cars, rooms (before decorating and after). Manuscripts are no exception. Some people may refer to this as editing (which can sound a bit painful and boring) but I like to call it a manuscript makeover. To make my point, I would like to share with you some before and after shots of something I wrote a long time ago. It's an excerpt from my very first--and never published--novel.


That night, Mathew came up behind Liza in the garden, and took a seat next to her. They began to read together, but Liza was extra quiet as they read.

“What is wrong, Liza, you seem so quiet tonight?” Mathew asked.

“Nothing, I am just thinking about things.” Liza answered.

Mathew smiled and said, “Tell me what you are thinking Liza, we are friends, remember?”

“I am afraid you will not like what I am thinking about.” Liza said coolly.

Mathew looked at her in surprise. He had never seen Liza so distant and cool before. Something was definitely bothering her. He thought for a moment then asked, “Liza, we are friends. You give me advice, and I can give you advice. Tell me what is bothering you and perhaps I can help.”

Liza could feel her emotions welling up inside her. Mathew was making a horrible mistake, and she couldn't let him do it. She was afraid he would never forgive her for the things she might say. After Mathew asked her again what was wrong, Liza let all her feelings and emotions come out. “Mathew, you are making a big mistake. Don’t marry Miss Rachel. She doesn’t love you! But I do.”

In the time since I wrote this manuscript, I have read and studied and learned a lot about writing and editing. (One great source is "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Rennie Browne and Dave King.) The things I have learned have helped me become a better writer and manuscript makeover-er, knowing how to utilize characterization, show vs. tell, strong dialogue, beats, tags, plot development, and everything else that goes into making a good book.

Now here's a view of this same section of manuscript with my suggestions on how to make it better and more engaging:

That night, Mathew came up behind Liza in the garden,(no comma) and took a seat next to her. They began to read together, but Liza was extra quiet as they read. (Okay, how are they reading outside in a garden at night? I don’t think the moon was that bright. Maybe change to something else. Also, what’s the setting like? More detail.)

“What is wrong, Liza, you seem so quiet tonight?” Mathew asked. (No need for these two characters to call each other by name all the time.)

“Nothing, I am just thinking about things.” Liza answered. (Could use a beat instead of tag.)

Mathew smiled and said, “Tell me what you are thinking Liza, we are friends, remember?” (More natural dialogue.)

“I am afraid you will not like what I am thinking about.” Liza said coolly. (Okay,it's becoming apparent that all the dialogue going on needs to be more natural, and here’s a good place to really bring to life.)

Mathew looked at her in surprise. He had never seen Liza so distant and cool before. Something was definitely bothering her. (Add some show vs. tell.) He thought for a moment then asked, “Liza, we are friends. You give me advice, and I can give you advice. Tell me what is bothering you and perhaps I can help.” (Clean up dialogue.)

Liza could feel her emotions welling up inside her. Mathew was making a horrible mistake, and she couldn’t let him do it. She was afraid he would never forgive her for the things she might say. After Mathew asked her again what was wrong, Liza let all her feelings and emotions come out. “Mathew, you are making a big mistake. Don’t marry Miss Rachel. She doesn’t love you! But I do.” (Lots of narration here, could be shown better with action or dialogue.)

(Overall, punctuation could be cleaned up, I could use more show vs. tell, more emotion, more beats instead of tags, better dialogue, and way less usage of the name Liza.)

Now, we can take these suggestions, plug them into the manuscript, and see where that takes us. (Keep in mind this was a quick revision. It still isn't there yet, but good enough to illustrate.)


The stone bench in the garden seemed extra hard and cool tonight. Had it always felt that way, or were Liza's thoughts influencing her surroundings as well as her emotions?

“Can I have a seat?” It was Mathew, standing behind her, so close she could almost feel him.

She slid over, pulling her dress alongside so it wouldn’t snag on something, but said nothing. Her dampened neckline was evidence enough of the warm night, so making an effort to count the chirps of the crickets hidden in the surrounding hedges wasn’t necessary. Still she counted, though. Anything to keep her mind off her thoughts.

Mathew pulled a leaf off a nearby hedge and twirled it between his fingers. “You uh, seem a little quiet tonight. Is something wrong?”

“I’m just thinking.”

“What about? You can tell me.”

She pushed the breath she had been holding through her teeth. “I don’t think you would like it.”

Mathew dropped the leaf to the ground and looked at her with widened eyes. “From the look on your face, I would almost mistake you for a hardened criminal.”

The corners of her mouth twitched somewhat like a grin, though she still felt more like scowling.

“Come on,” he said. “You can tell me. Maybe I can help you.”

Emotions welled and swirled inside her, surprising her with their intensity. How could this man make such an obvious, horrible mistake? And he couldn’t even see it! “Don’t marry Miss Rachel, she doesn’t love you!” Liza shifted back, taking in the shocked expression of his face that matched the feeling inside herself, then, letting her voice and emotions soften, said, “But I do.”

Incorporating these different techniques and suggestions into the manuscript, so that it can be it's best, will hopefully not only engage your readers and keep them turning the pages, but also catch the eye of a potential publisher. :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Core is Sore

Yesterday, I did some P90X core strength training with my friends. Today, I'm feeling sore every time I move, twist, bend, or do any other kind of movement. Probably because I've never actually done this particular workout, which is more than just simple crunches and other exercises I'm used to doing.

But with that lovely soreness comes the knowledge that my core is getting a workout, and with repeated usage of these muscles they are becoming stronger. Maybe someday I'll even have the female version of a six-pack. Maybe.

So why even worry about working the core muscles of my body? Because strengthening the core, not just abs, brings better flexibility, better body posture, lessens back pain, and can even help diminish love handles. The important part here, though, is that it's not just abs I'm working, it's also the back and side abs that create a balance of strength in the core.

Is there a core for writing? I believe, for me anyway, that following Gerald Lund's suggestions of the three E's, Edifying, Excellent, and Entertaining, is the core to good writing. If there's a core for writing, then there must be a way to exercise that core to make it stronger, and it comes with practice and learning.

But what happens if my writing is really edifying but not entertaining? Or what if the writing is excellent, but the flow of the book is just really boring and cheesy? Big problems arise when balance isn't achieved.

My first novel manuscript, which was thankfully never published, has a weak core, so unless I do some major revamping on it, it will likely stay on the shelf of my desk forever. My second novel, which did get published, has a stronger core, a better balance between these three things, but it's certainly not where I would like to be. I keep strengthening and practicing and using those core writing muscles so that each work I produce is hopefully better than the previous one. That is what strength training means to me.

Dear Mr. Bad Guy

The subconscious mind is amazing. This past week, I came to another block in my current work in progress. It came to the point where it was essential to know the next move of the bad guy in order for me to know the next move of my heroine.

But as any author knows, characters actually live in your head, often communicating to one another and to the author, letting you know where to take the story. (At least that's the way it is for me, and I've heard a few other authors mention it as well so I hope I'm not some freak of nature.)

As I was pondering this situation, and wondering how to get into the mind of the bad guy so I could finish my story, a thought came to mind. Why don't I just write a letter to this person?

So I sat down at my computer and typed the following words:

"Dear Mr. Bad Guy,

Would you please let me into your head?

You have done a marvelous job at making the life of the heroine in my novel miserable. With your illusive nature and evil ways, she has been on her toes for several chapters. But now what? What is your next move? It’s imperative I know your motivations, not so that I can destroy you, but so I can know how this will impact my heroine.

If you know that yada yada yada...(I won't disclose all the words of the letter in order to protect the innocence of the plot) are you going to try to yada? Do you just yada and leave the country? Do you send one of your monkey men to yada yada or do you take satisfaction in doing the job yourself?

And how did you yada yada?"

And then this really weird thing happened. Just after I typed the sentence above, my bad guy answered, giving me a direct name in response to the question, that in essence, was like a missing piece of the puzzle.

"That was weird...and cool," I thought. So I typed out another question. "When did he find out?"

Another answer came: "When she yada yada'd."

Whoa, that was amazing.

So I wrote another question, and it too was answered. I did this several times, like an interview, until I had all the puzzle pieces in place, and I felt satisfied I could continue my story with the information I had received from my subconscious mind. It was incredible.

Before I sat down to write the letter, I had hopes that my subconscious would think about the questions overnight and that I would receive new inspiration in the next day or so. I never thought my questions would be answered so quickly and to the point. Now I'm excited to have the rest of my plot down and a new way to communicate effectively with the other characters in my mind.

Developing a Character Arc

The character Mulan has to be one of my all time favorites because of the transformation she goes through during the story. She begins the story unsure of who she really is inside, but through joining the Imperial Army under the pretenses of a man, she discovers her self worth.

The development Mulan undergoes is called a character arc. What weaknesses, imperfections, or incorrect beliefs, or circumstances does the character possess or experience? How can the character overcome and learn from these weaknesses and imperfections, and experiences? Most stories or movies have characters who change or grow under certain circumstances, usually for the better, though sometimes they can become angry or bitter and wish to destroy the world.

In the novel I'm currently writing, my main character recognizes, through the development of special gifts, who she really is. This is achieved through the unusual and dangerous circumstances she finds herself in.

Sometimes, when I look at my own life either through willful analysis or experiences, I recognize my imperfections, weaknesses, and other things that I can improve upon. Recognition and willingness to change is good, because in a way, I'm developing my own personal character arc. How have I grown since I was an teenager? How has becoming a mother changed my outlook on life? How has coming to know Christ helped me to become a better person?

I hope by the time my life on earth is over, I can look back and see a character arc in which I can be proud.

Click here to listen to "Reflection" from Mulan.

Writing Goals (Originally posted Dec 31, 2009)

Whoa! It's halfway through the last day of the year and I'm just barely blogging. I guess I've been too busy thinking about lots of things; my new year's resolutions, what my plans are for tonight, and what I was doing ten years ago today. (Because ten years ago today was the last day of the last thousand years, and I wondered what would happen with all the Y2K hype going around. I was also ten years younger, and ten years less wise. I had two less children as well, and the idea of becoming an author one day hadn't been sparked yet.)

But somewhere along the line between ten years ago and today, I decided that I wanted to become an author. So when a story idea came to my mind, and I wrote it all down, I had dreams of seeing it in a book one day. When that didn't happen, I gave up my dream of becoming a published author for a while, until my next story idea came to mind. This time around, though, I was determined to see it published, and I dreamed about what it would be like to see the contents of my brain's imagination in a book that I could hold in my hands.

But whether or not I realized it, I set goals to see that happen. For four years, every time a new year came, I would write as my new year's resolution, "Finish my novel and get it published." Finally I did accomplished my goal, but it took longer than I wanted.

As I reflect back on how it all happened, I realize there were some different ways to set goals that would have made my journey a little smoother. Maybe even chopped off three years. (I guess I won't really know, because it all worked out and I learned a lot along the way.)

One thing I learned about setting goals is that they need to be attainable, by breaking a large goal down into smaller goals. For example, I would like to have another novel completed and in the works to be published by the end of 2010. I first need to break it down into smaller, more attainable goals, like completing a chapter a week. That way I can feel satisfaction in accomplishing a mini-goal, and that sense of accomplishment is something that keeps me going. Otherwise, I think I would feel overwhelmed and just give up.

My goals also need to be flexible. For instance, is it reasonable to expect myself to keep my writing goal during Christmas? Not in my case. I decided to take the week off. I have also found that my goals need to work for the type of person I am. Everyone is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.

It also helps to write goals down. There's a sort of magic feeling that's generated when you write a goal on paper and an even better feeling when you can cross it off after it has been accomplished.

This concept of goal setting carries over into any goal, no matter what it is; getting into shape, learning something new, or achieving exaltation. When you look at the big picture, look at the little steps that need to be taken in order to get there, and recognize that accomplishing little goals along the way brings a whole different kind of satisfaction that helps to keep us moving to the big picture.

Now, I better get back to my goal of making New Year's Eve plans so I'm not doing nothing all night, and I wish you all a happy New Year!