Wednesday, June 22, 2011

10 Days Left!

The finish line is in sight!  (I find it kind of ironic that I'm continually using sports metaphors when I don't even like sports...)  I'm not sure if I'm more terrified by that or excited.  On the one hand, holy cow!  How am I supposed to write the rest of this book in 10 days!?  On the other hand, I'm going to have a finished (or very close to finished) manuscript at the end of this.  A whole manuscript.  One that I can print out and hold in my hands and carry around in my bag. Shoulder injury? Spinal curving?  Who cares!  What's a little damage to your body if it has been inflicted by a fatty manuscript that you wrote... all by yourself!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 6: Formulating a Fantastic First Line

Let's say you've been online shopping, looking to trade in your current boyfriend for an upgrade and you've found one you're interested in.  He's attractive, he sounds good on paper - screen - and he's not dead yet.  You decide to set up a date. Sitting at the bar of a fancy restaurant, decked out in you little black dress, you eagerly watch the door, waiting for his arrival. When he finally breezes in he walks over to you, smiles, and says, “You don't mind if I'm married, do you?”

How much longer do you think that date is going to last?

The same principle applies with your book. You can have an attractive cover and an enticing jacket description, but if your opening line doesn't match your book's exterior you may have readers abandoning ship before they've even reached the second paragraph. Or worse still, the readers never get a chance because you can't get an agent to read past the first line.

Let's look at some of the basic elements necessary in crafting a compelling first line:

DISTINCTIVE VOICE.  Using a distinctive voice means showing the original, entertaining way you or your narrating character plan to tell the story.  This could be comical, poetic, old-timey, historic... anything that would make the narration unusual and engaging to read.  A fabulous example is the opening line of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones:
"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie."
Sarah Domet says on page 40 of How To Write Your Novel in 30 Days, "The first lines of this novel instantly grab the attention of the audience.  First, we get a bit of insight into Susie:  She's young and naive enough to still introduce herself as 'Salmon, like the fish.'  ...[T]he line immediately lends the book a childlike narritave quality."

POINT OF VIEW.  This is, I think, pretty self-explanatory.  The trick is finding the right POV for your story.  If you're struggling with this one try reading other stories in your genre or books that seem similar to yours.  If you like the way the author has used a particular point of view consider it for your own story.  If you feel that important emotions or critical pieces of a plot would be limited by your current pov try writing a scene in a new pov and see how it fits.  For a better understanding of the different points of view and how they are best used I suggest reading "What Your POV Choice Communicates About Your Story," by Alicia Rasley.

BASIC PLOT.  How can you fit a whole plot into one sentence?  Obviously you can't.  But you can begin your story with a conflict or mystery that will make your readers eager to read on for the solution.  This line from Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find shows how conflict can be effective even if its subtle:
"The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida."
That's it.  That's the opening line, and yet we still get to see that Grandma isn't interested in Florida and that there is someone or something opposing her, trying to get her there.  Perhaps minor, but still a conflict that makes me curious to know why Grandma seems to have a problem with sun and beaches.

Laura Whitcomb's A Certain Slant of Light had me engaged from the first line because of the mystery it presented:
"Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you're dead."
She's dead?  How did that happen?  How is it that someone is able to see her?  All kinds of questions were raised by that simple opening line.  Laura could have started her story by explaining the nature and rules of ghostliness or how a ghost spent her typical day, but she began at the point of interest - the beginning of the plot.  Make sure you start your story at a moment of conflict, not a moment of routine that leads to the conflict.

HINT OF CHARACTERIZATION.  Giving a hint of characterization is basically showing your audience a little preview of your main character's personality.  Even if you prefer to read or write novels filled with action you would find the book rather flat if you never cared about any of the people in it.  (A lot like how I felt watching G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra).  This is why establishing the bond between character and reader is important enough that you want to begin the introductions with line one.

Using the previously mentioned novels we learn that Susie Salmon is probably a young, straightforward kind of a girl and that Grandma may have a bit of a stubborn side.  We may not be like these characters, heck, we may not even like these characters, but because their personalities are coming through already we have to admit that we're driven to find out more about what makes them tick.

ASSIGNMENT:  Making sure to incorporate the above elements, write out 10 to 20 possible first lines for your story.  Let your friends and family members read them and vote on which line strikes them as the most interesting and makes them eager for more.

For two more articles relating to formulating a fantastic first line check out "6 Ways to Hook Your Readers From the Very First Line," by Suzannah Freeman, and "10 Ways to Start Your Story Better," by Jacob M. Appel.

*Day by day assignments and worksheets given during the 30 day challenge come from the Writer's Digest manual "Write Your Novel in 30 Days."  Click here to purchase it!

MY DAY 6:  The real bummer about not writing a blog post every day is that I sort of forget what I did on day six.  My guess would be that I did a bit more research and worked on my outline a bit more.  

The good news is that I've finally figured out a good schedule for writing with kids. I write for two hours while son2 naps and son1 plays on the computer (awesome mom, I know), then I go to the library and write for two more hours after dinner leaving hubs in charge of the kiddos, and finally I come home to write a couple more hours after the boys have been put to bed.  Exhausting?  Yes.  But seeing the progress has made me so excited!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Please Excuse the Mess

I'm sorry that this site looks so messy right now; its currently under construction.  I hope to have it back to beautiful by this weekend.  Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 5: Turning Points

Door Number 1
When we begin a book or movie we always start with a setup of our hero's life.  We're shown how wonderful that person's family is, how fabulous his job is, how attractive his girlfriend is...  Sometimes we're shown just the opposite.  Maybe the person's life is terrible and they're just surviving from day to day.  Either way, the storyteller gives us a nice full picture of what "normal" life is like for the main character.

Then comes the turning point.  Something happens that makes your character's entire world change it's course.  (In a well-paced novel we should expect to see this at the one-quarter mark).  For Snow White it was when the hunter tried to kill her in the woods, for Belle it was when she decided to take her father's place as captive of the beast.  (I thought as Mommies we'd all be able to relate to Disney flicks....)  The Write Your Novel in 30 Days packet calls these points the first "Doorway of No Return," titled such because the change should be significant enough that our character cannot continue life as it was (even if they wanted to).  In the case of my own novel the doorway of no return occurs when she realizes she has fallen in love.

Paradigm Shift.
When we first meet a character we are allowed the opportunity to get to know them a bit before their Doorway of No Return hits them.  This "getting to know you" stage involves figuring out their goals and ambitions for the future.  Snow White's goals: find a hunky prince to marry.  But when (and this is exactly how you'll see it on the back cover of a novel.  "But when...") Snow White is about to be murdered, her plans for the future are dashed. She's not looking for a Prince now, she's looking for a way to survive her stepmother's wrath.  For Belle, her goals are to find a way out of her small-town life and find adventure.  But when (there it is again) she finds her father has been taken captive by a beast she must save him by taking his place as captive, forever giving up her dreams of adventure.  To her this isn't a castle full of a life of excitement, but a prison which she must endure - possibly for the rest of her life!  

In my own story my character's goals are to go to the royal court and seek out a potential political ally to assist in the release of a prominent leader of the Reformationist movement.  But when she finds herself falling for a peasant her dedication to the cause disappears and her only desire is to stay happily beside the man she loves.  

Door Number 2
You've finished the middle (occasionally termed 'the muddle') and have reached the final quarter of your novel.  Now to whip out Doorway of No Return number 2.  This is where an event occurs which will set the stage for the final confrontation between your protagonist and your antagonist.  Going back to our earlier examples:  Snow White has been hanging out with the dwarfs, rather content with her new life.  The queen has been enjoying herself as well until *doorway #2* the mirror informs her that Snow White is, in fact, still alive.  Can the queen just kick back and say, "Who cares"?  Only if she's had a significant change of heart since the first time she tried to off Snow!  But since we know she hasn't her character demands that she act, and as a result of her actions we get to witness the final showdown between herself and Snow White/ dwarfs.

How about Belle?  Do you think you understand these principles well enough to tell me where her second Doorway of No Return is?  I have my own opinion but I'd like to hear yours.

*Day by day assignments and worksheets given during the 30 day challenge come from the Writer's Digest manual "Write Your Novel in 30 Days."  Click here to purchase it!

MY DAY 5:  After day 4 I was feeling that my progress was far too slow, which I mentioned at the end of Day 4's post.  Fellow blogger Mallory Snow left a comment suggesting I take a break from the outlining and get to the actual writing part as it might be more motivating.  Initially I resisted the idea; I have the type of personality that thrives on order.  To not outline is like driving around Portland without a GPS.... impossible!

But as I thought on it longer I realized she was right.  The outline was becoming boring and I needed a rejuvenating writing activity.  So I decided to make a compromise:  Work on my draft until I get stuck, then go to my outline until I get stuck, then back to the draft.  Rotating projects like this allows my subconscious to think over the problem so that when I come back to it I've got a ready solution waiting.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Under the Tiki Hut: Creating: Writing Structure

Fabulous article on using your free time wisely.  Particularly relevant to the mommies out there...
Under the Tiki Hut: Creating: Writing Structure: "I still have some Wednesdays available for Guest Blogger posts. A couple of openings remain for June and August, and July is wide open.  Ema..."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Taking a Break

But I intend to keep my blouse closed when I do it.

Some of you might be thinking "Holy cow, this woman is only 5 days into this thing and she's already taking a break!?"  Have no fear.  The only break I intend to take is from blogging.  Coming up with a post a day is far too intensive in its own right, but doing that on top of attempting a 30 Day Book Challenge is killing me.  I hope to keep you updated on a weekly or semi-weekly basis, so don't think I've deserted you entirely.

Until next time... HAPPY WRITING!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 4: Developing Your Characters

I hope you find this picture as disturbing as I do.

If you are in the very beginning stages of your draft you may have a character, (or possibly two), that feels fully formed.  As for the rest of the people involved in your story.... meh.  You know they need to be included in the story to serve a specific function, but otherwise they have no back story, no unusual mannerisms, no driving goals.  In other words, they are FLAT.  At this point in your writing that's okay; but keep a blank sheet of paper available so you take notes about your character as he reveals himself to you during your upcoming writing journey.  For the basics of character development use the character sketch and character revealing scenes worksheets.  In addition, here are some tips to help you round out your paper cut-out characters.

1.  GIVE THEM A GOAL.  There are three main types of goals a character will have in a story:  Short Term, Medium Term, and Long Term.  Short term is what that character is trying to accomplish right now - the goal that they want to reach by the end of the scene.  Medium term goals are what the character is trying to achieve throughout your story; stop the bad guy, win the girl, whatever.  Long term goals are the goals a character has for their entire life which, though not necessarily driving the story at hand, will impact the way the character deals with their current situation.  (Click here to read a fabulous article by Jason Black expounding on goals).

A character can feel fuller and more complex if their goals don't always line up perfectly.  For example, the short term goal of kissing your trampy next door neighbor may come into conflict with the long term goal of finding the girl of your dreams with whom you can settle down and start a family.  In my own WIP my protagonist's medium term goal is to bait and marry a powerful man who will help her family with the Protestant cause.  This however, comes into conflict with her short term goal of spending as much time as possible with that attractive peasant man she just happens to be falling in love with.

2.  GIVE THEM CONTRADICTIONS.  No real person can be ALWAYS good (or bad, for that matter).  Make your characters more interesting by giving them surprising contradictions. I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, I've found an example of such a contradiction within my own WIP.  My character Margarete is a beautiful girl who hates and resents her beauty, but must flaunt and use it to attract a political ally.  She's conflicted and throughout the book her actions show that conflict.  Its what makes her a bit unpredictable for the reader and keeps them engaged.  

Also think about diverging from typical characterizations.  A pious nun, a vain supermodel, a happy-go-lucky clown... these all make sense to us, but aren't particularly interesting.  How about a jealous nun?  A depressed suicide hotline worker?  A bipolar college professor?  Atypical characterizations will supply your story with interest and a bit of the unexpected.

3.  SHOW THEIR WEAKNESSES.  Every hero has a weak spot.  For Achilles it was the heel; for Superman, kryptonite; for Po (Kung Fu Panda) it was food, (a weakness I can well relate to).  We not only like, but want our hero to have a flaw because perfection is boring.  How can a reader enjoy the way a character grows and changes if they're so perfect they have no need to change?  Flaws are the manure of character arcs.

In Larry Brooks' book Story Structure... Demystified he talks about the role weaknesses and flaws can play in the climax of a novel.  A weakness makes your characters (both villain and hero) vulnerable.  A good villain exploits that vulnerability and uses it to defeat the hero (however momentarily).  Then the hero rises again, this time having overcome his flaw and perhaps having learned the fatal flaw of his enemy. 

*Day by day assignments and worksheets given during the 30 day challenge come from the Writer's Digest manual "Write Your Novel in 30 Days."  Click here to purchase it!

MY DAY 4:  I'm beginning to get a little depressed about this whole process.  I think I'm just too slow and I procrastinate too much!  I STILL haven't completed Act III of my outline and there's an entire Act IV that still needs to be written.  *sigh*  I can only hope that all of the initial working and thinking and stewing will lead to more productive writing time.  Anyone want to attest to that?  Or should I be lectured into speeding up the outlining process and getting to the actual writing?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 3: Getting Your Ducks in a Row

*All information given during the 30 day challenge comes from the Writer's Digest manual "Write Your Novel in 30 Days."  Click here to purchase it!

Yes, I am aware the the first bird in that row is, in fact, a seagull.  Using  free stock images my selection of pictures is a bit low... these are the pictures, people.

Okay, first off I need to confess something.  I actually did Day 3 before I left for my vacation, but since I can't remember how it went.... well, I guess this will be a 31 day challenge :)

Today's assignment was to complete the At-A-Glance Outline and to take notice of topics that will need further research.  Oh, and to continue working on the scene cards.  Since I haven't yet completed my Structure Plus outline I worked on that until I realized I was having some serious issues with the timing and chronology of all of these events.  I decided to take Laura Whitcomb's advice from her book Novel Shortcuts and set up some kind of a timeline.

Laura suggests trying a few techniques for timelines.  First, the plot web.  A plot web is a way to visually link all of the major plot points and subplots to a particular character.  Place a character's name in the center of a circle and add a line for each storyline you need to remember.  Here's the beginning of my plot web for my character Margarete:
The advantage to using this format is that you don't have to slow down to make sure you're remembering each thread of your storyline.  Just glance at it before beginning a scene and take note of which items should be included or foreshadowed.  If you find yourself rewriting or reworking scenes so you can include plot points you forgot about, this is the method for you.

A second method: the timeline.  The timeline is a chronological list of dates and events in your story.  It can help you keep track of where in time your story takes place, thus avoiding "embarrassing mistakes like having your characters' kids going to school on a Saturday or having two full moons ten days apart" (Whitcomb, Novel Shortcuts, pg 155).  Because my book involves real people and events I made a timeline which includes the reality juxtaposed alongside my "creative interpretation" of when the events should have occurred.  
Here's a little sample of my timeline with the blue being fiction and the green reality:
     *Belinda's death
     *April 24thSamuel captured
     *Samuel returns – early summer
     *Friedrich takes Marg to his cabin and tells her the story of his mother – late summer
     *September 17th – Charles goes to the Brussels with prisoners in tow

Having exact dates isn't necessary.  Laura suggest dividing your story into major sections based on the events of the story.  For example, Section 1: Margarete doesn't love Friedrich.  Section 2:  Margarete loves Friedrich.  Section 3:  Margarete is trying not to love Friedrich.  Section 4:  Margarete and Friedrich admit they love each other.  With these major events in the book I can then categorize what types of this occur in each section.

The final suggestion for lining up your info is the Plot Menu.  This is a very basic method, taking your information, lining it up in (typically) chronological order, and crossing off each event after you've written about it.

MY DAY 3:  My marathon analogy from earlier proved to be only partially correct.  In reality I was totally pumped to get back to work and I spent the day neglecting my kids, house, and laundry.  However, at the end of the day I looked back at all that I had accomplished and it wasn't as much as I'd hoped.  Believe it or not I'm STILL working on the outline.  I got all distracted when I realized how much research I had yet to do, so yesterday was almost entirely a research day.  I'm still not sure if that was a good use of my time.... I've heard some people use research as a way to procrastinate.  For my part, it is probably true; but I still think that the most of the research I did yesterday will help me better capture the 16th century.

Another project of yesterday:  I printed off all of the photos I've collected in association with my book -  dark castles, green forests, dashing young 16th century men - and put them up on a giant corkboard above my writing desk.  Laura Whitcomb suggests using this method to help you get into the moods and emotions of your story more quickly when you sit down to work.  I'll let you know if it works :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I'm Back!

Hey all!  I'm home after my vacation and excited to get back to my 30 day challenge!  I am a bit nervous about how tomorrow is going to go...  Having been a distance runner in high school I know how hard it can be to sustain momentum when you're involved in something long-term.  That difficulty is only compounded when you take it easy for a bit.  Monday morning cross country workouts are always the hardest when you don't run over the weekend.  The 26 miles of that marathon are going to seem a cuss of a lot longer when you decide to take a break after mile number two.  Your legs feel heavier, your lungs burn more, and the lactic acid buildup makes your muscles hurt like heck.  In other words,
I hope tomorrow's writing workout doesn't hurt too much.