Category Archives: Writing

My Writing Process

Thank you to Lori MacLaughlin  for inviting me to join in the writing process blog hop. I was fortunate to discover Lori’s blog while participating in A to Z in April. We share a fondness for Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, castles, the breathtaking views in Scotland and Ireland, and, of course, writing. I must also apologize to Lori. I had every intention of publishing my post on my scheduled day (July 7th), but was plagued by internet issues on the 6th and went on vacation the following day. I thought I’d hook up to a wireless connection at the beach house and publish my post, but it seems the internet issues followed me there as well. So, this post is a week late.

It seems I’m about the last person in the blogosphere to take part in this blog hop. The idea was to invite three other writers to participate, but with the exception of Kate Sparkes, everyone else I’ve asked has either already participated or declined. So thank you to Kate Sparkes for keeping this part of the blog hop alive!

sparkes profileKate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. Her debut novel, Bound (YA Fantasy), was released in June 2014 and is available in e-book and paperback. Please visit her blog (link above) to read about the writing process of a published author!

If someone reading this post wants to participate let me know in the comments below.

As the title indicates, the idea of the blog hop is to share your writing process with other writers. Here is mine:

MY WRITING PROCESS

My writing process has evolved over time. When I began writing in 2009, I had a story idea and simply sat at my laptop and wrote. No structure, no outlines, no character profiles, no timelines…nothing, zilch, nada. It was all in my head and I wrote furiously to get it on the page before the words escaped me. As I continued writing, I realized I needed to organize my thoughts so I didn’t contradict myself or commit other blunders in the story. So I prepared character profiles and a timeline. I also filled a three-inch notebook to overflowing with my research.

I edited as I wrote and continually re-read and edited what I’d written. Unfortunately, I edited so much I took my voice right out of it. When I wrote the last chapter in 2013, the novel clocked in at over 120,000 words. By some miracle or sheer dumb luck, it followed proper story structure, but unbeknownst to me then, it was sodden with other rookie mistakes.

After an unsuccessful search for representation, I realized I had much to learn about writing. Even though I’d read several books on the craft, I purchased at least a dozen more and dedicated myself to learning everything I could about it. Here are my top recommendations:

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Hook Me: What to Include in Your First Chapter by Rebecca Talley
Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
Breathing Life into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

My writing process is drastically different today for having read these books. I’m no longer a “pantster.” That’s someone who writes by the seat of their pants for those of you who may not know. Now, I’m more of a plotter.

While I learned a great deal from these books, it occurred to me as I thought about my writing process that there is a model for what we writers do that is older than time itself. It’s written in the book of Genesis. We are, after all, pseudo gods creating imaginary worlds filled with imaginary beings.

The Blank Page
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
All writers have hovered over the formidable blank page, struggling to find the right words to give shape to their story. As writers, we are natural creators. We have an idea for a story, probably hundreds if you think about it, but at this point, it only exists in our minds. That blank page will remain formless and empty until you choose to act.

“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov

The Words
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
Put simply, a story is a collection of chapters, that are composed of scenes, which are, in turn, composed of sentences, and it all begins with one word. This is the moment when the idea begins to take shape. Some of us believe we must wait for inspiration to strike. I say poppycock, or rather BICHOK. Put your little Butt In the Chair, with your Hands On the Keyboard and write. And follow my addition to this acronym: TAM. Type Away Madly. We have no one to blame but ourselves if the words don’t make it onto the page.
At first, I don’t worry about grammar, or creating a compelling opening line to hook the reader. In fact, I don’t follow any writing rules. I simply summarize my story idea in a few pages. I get a little crazy, but all writers are a little mad, right?
“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” ~ E.L. Doctorow

The Protagonist and Antagonist
“He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
We may believe our story idea has merit, but it will not be compelling until we have a clear vision of both the protagonist and antagonist who have conflicting goals. I get into the mindset of each of these characters. I contrast and conflict; separate the light from the darkness.
“A stage play is basically a form of uber-schizophrenia. You split yourself into two minds – one being the protagonist and the other being the antagonist.” ~ David Mamet

To read more about the antagonist and protagonist visit these posts: Creating a Credible Villain and Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need.

Story Structure
“Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”
Once I’ve summarized my story and have a clear vision of the opposing forces (protagonist and antagonist) and the goals they want to meet, I prepare a beat sheet and compare it to proper story structure to see what might be missing.
“It doesn’t matter if you outline your stories or not, or if your words make the angels weep or not, because if what you’re writing isn’t hitting the page in context to solid and accepted—key word there—story structure, it’s doomed until it does.” ~ Larry Brooks
To learn more about story structure and beat sheets read Building Your Story on a Solid Foundation and Just Beat It: Using a Beat Sheet to Plan Your Story.

Timelines
“Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years.”
When does the story take place? Does it occur in the future, the present, or the past? What period will the story span? A century? A decade? A year? Or maybe only one day? I create a timeline of the events in my story. Seeing a visual snapshot of the timeline helps ensure continuity of the story.

World Building
“Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky. Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.”
What kind of world will you create for your characters? Will it be a place of magic inhabited by dragons and unicorns? A subterranean refugee camp for those who survived an apocalyptic event? A dystopian where the earth and its inhabitants are downtrodden by an oppressive government? Or maybe a galaxy far, far away?

Whatever you envision, you should include description typical of  your genre to make it believable. I spend a lot of time thinking about the world my characters inhabit. While I compile tons of research to make it as believable as possible, only a small part makes it on the page.
For more about world building read What a Wonderful World.

Character Profiles

“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”

As writers, we infuse a bit of ourselves into the characters we create. We draw on our experiences and observations. This is an opportunity to explore the best and worst of ourselves and others. The deeper we go, the more authentic the characters become.

“The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented.” ~ Milan Kundera

“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

A writer must breathe life into their characters. To make them compelling, they must think and act like real living, breathing people. Otherwise, they are as one dimensional as a cardboard cutout. I create basic character profiles for the characters in my story. It helps me to keep track of physical characteristics and other traits so I don’t contradict myself. These profiles become much more detailed for the main characters as I write the story and get to know them better.

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

For more about creating characters read The Three Dimensions of Character, Writers: Don’t Forget the ICE, The Benefits of Being a Profiler: Creating Character Profiles, and What’s In a Name? Choosing a Name for Your Fictional Character

Feed the Muse

“I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.”

Inspiration is all around us. It can be found in news headlines, novels, short stories, poems, essays, movies, TV shows, the stranger we observe at the grocery store, our own life experiences, and so on. I draw from all these sources to feed the muse.

“A man will turn over half a library to make one book.” ~ Samuel Johnson

To learn more about feeding the muse read Find Your Writing Zen and Feed the Muse: Get in the Game.

Taking Stock

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Once I’ve planned my story, I review all that I have made and write a logline (a summary of the story in one or two sentences). If I can do that, then I know I have the main ingredients for a good story.

To learn how to write a logline read Writing a Logline That Hooks the Reader.

Post Planning
“God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”
When all the planning is complete and I have a compelling logline, I sit at my laptop and… write.
“Look, then, into thine heart, and write!” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Combating Writer’s Block

• Exercise or perform mindless activities like mowing the lawn or washing the dishes.
• Participate in NaNoWriMo, JuNoWriMo or other writing contests. It helps you develop a routine by having a daily writing goal. It establishes what I refer to as writing muscle memory.

It works for me every time.

Editing

I avoid editing until the story is complete. To see why, read the post Editing: The Risk of Overdoing It.

For more helpful tips on editing, read the following:

Words to “X” From Your Writing
Say You, Say Me. Say It Much Better…Grammarly
Can You Raed Tihs? Why Tihs Stduy Is Improtnat for Wirtres
Wordle: A Nifty Little Tool For Writers

So there you have it: my writing process. Everyone is different, but this is what works for me.

When it comes to writing your story, think and act like a god. Be the master of all you create.

 

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From the Archives: Had to Rush My Baby to the ICU.

To celebrate the one year anniversary of my blog (March 13th), I’m publishing select posts throughout the year under the title “From the Archives” for those who may have missed them the first time around. Next up…

Had to Rush My Baby to the ICU

“Oh my God! No! No! No!” My heart hammered in my chest as I watched my baby turn blue. I laid my fingers on her and tried to recall the technique. “Okay, on three. One, two, three!”

I pressed CTRL+ALT+DEL on the keyboard and held my breath.

Ctrl+Alt+Del (webcomic)
Ctrl+Alt+Del (webcomic) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nothing.

“C’mon baby!” I tried it again.

Still…nothing.

Why hadn’t I signed up for that CPR (Computer Performance Restoration) class? My baby, aka my laptop, had turned blue and no remedy was working.  I cradled her in my arms and rushed to the closest ICU (Inactive Computer Unit).

With my baby protectively held to my chest, I threw open the door and yelled to the man behind the counter, “I don’t know what’s wrong with her! I haven’t heard a sound from her in hours! She turned blue! Please help!”

He smiled and placed a hand over his mouth. Wait, was he trying not to laugh?

“Ah, the dreaded ‘blue screen.’ Let’s have a look.”

blue screen
blue screen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I gently laid her on the counter and watched as he worked. I drummed my fingers on the counter as I awaited the diagnosis. He was so calm. What was that noise? Was he humming? Seriously? How could he be humming at a time like this? My baby’s life was on the line! I couldn’t stand it any longer.

“What do you think it is?”

“Uh, the hard drive may be going out.”

“What?” I covered my chest with my hand. “But – but she’s only two!”

He seemed to notice my apprehension and said, “Or it could just be a virus.”

“Do you think she’ll be alright?”

“Don’t know. We’ll need to run some diagnostics. It’ll probably take several hours.”

“You mean I can’t take her home with me?”

“We need to keep her overnight, just to be sure.”

“But – but I’ve never left her with anyone overnight.”

He laid a hand on my shoulder and said, “It’ll be okay.”

If you’re a writer like me, you can relate to the fear of something happening to your laptop.  Without it we feel like a bird without a song, a bull without its horns, a cowboy without his boots, a jockey without a horse…you get the point. For writers, the laptop is our lifeblood. Fortunately my baby received a heavy dose of antivirus meds and now she’s as good as new.

Special thanks to James Ramsey’s post, Inspiration. I guess she was right. You can find the inspiration to write by surfing the net. Her post reminded me of the trauma with my laptop last week and inspired me to write this post. Check out James’ website. She has a new book coming out next month which I can’t wait to read.

Finding Your Writing Zen

ZZ is for Zen

What is Zen?

According to urbandictionary.com, Zen is “a total state of focus that incorporates a togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being. It also is a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.”

In his book, Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury tells us the following are necessary to achieve Zen as a writer: Continue reading Finding Your Writing Zen

You Are the Hero of Your Own Story

YY is for YOU

During this A to Z Blogging event, I spent some time on the central character of the story: the hero. I discussed the four main roles of the hero and how his progression from one role to the next is necessary for character growth. I discussed Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth (i.e., the hero’s journey): a story that repeats throughout history and deeply resonates within each of us. Now, I want to remind you of something so elemental, it’s often overlooked.

“You are the hero of your own story.” ~ Joseph Campbell

What role are you playing?

Are you the orphan? Do you feel abandoned? Outcast? Alone? Or are you the wanderer, unsure of your path? Are you searching for answers? Seeking help from others? Learning new skills? Facing obstacles? Reacting to the opposition? Have you transitioned to the warrior? You’ve acquired the necessary knowledge, skills, and aid to achieve your goal. Now you’re proactively pursuing it. Maybe you’ve matured to the martyr where you’re willing to make sacrifices to achieve what is most important to you.

Chances are you’ve played all of these roles at one time or another as you live out the mini-plots and subplots of your life. But…what role have you taken in the central plot of your life? Continue reading You Are the Hero of Your Own Story

Words to “X” from Your Writing

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know I’m a day behind on my A to Z posts. Shoot me. Go ahead. Put me out of my misery because I’ve hit a wall with three posts left.

 X
X is for…well, “X”

Let’s discuss words you should “X” from your writing. If you’re like me, you may have occasionally padded your writing in school to meet minimum word or page counts. No? Does this scenario sound familiar?

It’s 2 a.m. Your history essay is due in a few hours, but you’ve fallen short of the page requirement. You’ve racked your brain and can’t think of anything else to write. What do you do? Continue reading Words to “X” from Your Writing

What a Wonderful World

I stumbled upon a review of The Lord of the Rings several months ago where the reviewer gave the book one star. {GASP!} What? Who doesn’t like The Lord of the Rings? Down, Tolkienites. We’re all entitled to an opinion. This reviewer didn’t appreciate the detail, the lengthy descriptions of the settings, and on and on…

Okay, okay, I get that. I don’t particularly like it either—in contemporary fiction, but it’s expected in fantasy and science fiction genres because the story takes place in a world unlike the one we live in. The description of that world is integral to the story. It’s referred to as world building and The Lord of the Rings is a fine example of it. Some would say it’s the best example, like…evah.

WW is for World Building

What is World Building?

World building is the process of creating an imaginary world that differs from our reality by modifying elements such as climate, geography, history, races, beliefs, government, architecture, languages, and so on.

In his book, J.R.R. Tolkien fashioned an imaginary period in our world’s history where races of hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, and wizards existed beside men. He created a rich back story for the relations of these races and drew detailed maps of the realms each occupied. He invented grand cities and quaint villages with distinct architecture, governments, customs, etc. He blended mythical elements with the real world so seamlessly that you almost wonder if this period in time actually existed. He went so far as to invent languages. He did this last part so well that you can translate your name into Elvish at this site (my Elven name is Ireth Faelivrin, by the way).

Despite his attention to detail, some readers would’ve preferred if Tolkien had allowed them to use their imagination. So this got me to thinking. What if the world building was absent in The Lord of the Rings? What if it was left up to the imagination of the reader? How could the story vary from the original?

If the Prancing Pony had been referred to simply as an inn, where would Frodo meet Aragorn for the first time? Howard Johnson’s? The Holiday Inn?

howardjohnsons
hojo.com

 

 

 

 

 

tripadvisor.com

Please, no.

And Merry and Pippin: would they make frequent pit stops for second breakfast and “elevenses” at iHop? Jack in the Box? McDonalds? Taco Bell?

What about the Mines of Moria? What would they look like? A primitive mine from the California Gold Rush?

mines
commons.wikimedia.org

Gollum’s role as a guide would be obsolete with modern technology.  Frodo would just whip out his iPhone, type in “Mount Doom” and view a map of Middle-earth.  Done!

When Frodo and Sam are exhausted from traveling and weak from days without food or sleep, they would just pop the top on a 5-hour energy drink, chug it, and charge up the mountain.

5hourenergy.com
5hourenergy.com

Heh. Heh. So I’m exaggerating,  but Tolkien created such a wonderful world, I can’t imagine it without the elements he so painstakingly planned.

What do you think about world building? Do you appreciate the details in Tolkien’s work or would you have preferred it be left to the imagination?

To learn more about world building watch the video How to Build a Fictional World by Kate Messner

To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to link to their blogs.

U is for Uhh….

Yeah. I was at a loss again. What was I going to write about for U? I didn’t have a clue (hey that rhymes) what to do, but then I knew (okay I’ll stop). This A to Z Challenge is starting to have an effect on me. I’ll let you decide what kind.

Anyway, let’s talk about unreliable narrative.

UU is for Unreliable Narrative

What is unreliable narrative?

Unreliable narrative occurs when a character describes his experiences, but misinterprets the true nature of events. It’s accurate from his perspective, but distorted for reasons such as the following:

• Naivety
• Ignorance
• Prejudice

The author will often provide clues, if it’s not already obvious, that the narrator’s viewpoint is off.

Why use unreliable narrative?

Unreliable narrative can make your character more believable. A good example of this is a story told from a child’s point of view (naivety). If the child sounds like an adult, then the character doesn’t ring true to the audience.

Unreliable narrative can reveal the true nature of a character, be it the twisted mindset of a villain or the naive benevolence of a mentally challenged protagonist like Forest Gump.

In fact, let’s look at Forest Gump as an example of unreliable narrative. He is one of my favorite characters played by one of my favorite actors (I don’t know any actor except Tom Hanks who could pull off this role).

Here is Forest Gump’s perception of the following events:

On being named Forest:

“Now, when I was a baby, Momma named me after the great Civil War hero, General Nathan Bedford Forrest. She said we was related to him in some way. And what he did was, he started up this club called the Ku Klux Klan. They’d all dress up in their robes and their bedsheets and act like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something. They’d even put bedsheets on their horses and ride around. And anyway, that’s how I got my name, Forrest Gump. Momma said that the Forrest part was to remind me that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.”

On Jenny’s father:

“Was some kind of a farmer. He was a very loving man – he was always kissing and touching her and her sisters.”

On Jenny hiding from her father:

“Mama always said God is mysterious. He didn’t turn Jenny into a bird that day. Instead, he had the po-lice say Jenny didn’t have to stay in that house no more. She was to live with her grandma, just over on Creekmore Avenue, which made me happy, ’cause she was so close. Some nights, Jenny’d sneak out and come on over to my house, just ’cause she said she was scared. Scared of what, I don’t know. But I think it was her grandma’s dog. He was a mean dog. Anyway, Jenny and me was best friends all the way up through high school.”

On serving in Vietnam:

“Now, they told us that Vietnam was going to be very different from the United States of America. Except for all the beer cans and the barbecues, it was.”

“I got to see a lot of countryside. We would take these real long walks. And we were always lookin’ for this guy named Charlie.”

On being shot in the buttocks (you must pronounce that but-tocks):

“They said it was a million dollar wound. But, the army must keep that money, cause I still ain’t seen a nickel of that million dollars.”

On John Lennon’s assassination:

“Some years later that nice young man from England was on his way to see his little boy and was signing autographs – FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON AT ALL – somebody shot him.”

On John F. Kennedy’s assassination:

“Sometime later – FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON – somebody shot that nice young president when he was riding in his car and a few years after that, somebody shot his little brother too – only he was in the hotel kitchen. Must be hard being brothers.”

On purchasing IPO shares of Apple stock:

“So I never went back to work for Lieutenant Dan, though he did take care of my Bubba-Gump money. He got me invested in some kind of fruit company. And so then I got a call from him saying we don’t have to worry about money no more.”

On Jenny angrily heaving rocks at her father’s abandoned house:

“Sometimes I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Do you see how unreliable narrative shows the true nature of Forest Gump?  Can you think of other examples of unreliable narrative? Have you written a story from that perspective? If not, would you consider writing a story using unreliable narrative?

Now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite scenes from the movie. Actually, they’re all good. Maybe I’ll go watch it again.  🙂

 

 

To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to link to their blogs.

The Three Dimensions of Character

In his book Story Engineering, Larry Brooks says you should “imbue your characters with three very separate and compelling layers—dimensions, in this context—that are carefully crafted to bring your story alive with resonant emotional depth.” If you choose to wing it, you most likely will end up with characters who are as flat as cardboard cutouts.

 TT is for Three Dimensions of Character

What are the three dimensions of character?

Let’s take a look at the three dimensions of characterization as defined by Larry Brooks, using a character from Harry Potter—Severus Snape–to illustrate them. Continue reading The Three Dimensions of Character

Building Your Story on a Solid Foundation

According to Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, there are Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling. I named them in the post, The Writing Book that Helped Me Win NaNoWriMo. Today I’m focusing on the fourth competency: Story Structure.

S

S is for Story Structure

Brooks says, “it doesn’t matter if you outline your stories or not, or if your words make the angels weep or not, because if what you’re writing isn’t hitting the page in context to solid and accepted—key word there—story structure, it’s doomed until it does.”

Brooks defines story structure as “what comes first, what comes next, and so forth…and why. And no, you can’t just make it up for yourself. There are expectations and standards here. Knowing what they are is the first step toward getting published.”

This doesn’t mean you’re artistically boxed-in by the structure. Brooks uses the analogy of constructing a building to explain the concept of story structure. You must have a solid foundation (story structure) upon which you place your artfully designed building (your unique story).

solid foundation building Brooks says, “Story structure is the sequence of scenes that results in a story well told. Story architecture is the empowerment of those scenes through compelling characterizations, powerful thematic intentions, a fresh and intriguing conceptual engine, and a writing voice that brings it all to life with personality and energy.”

In his book, Brooks names the four integral parts of story structure. I hinted at this four-part story structure in the post Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need, when I discussed the four stages of the hero.

Four-Part Story Structure:

Part 1: Setup. The purpose of Part 1 is to set up the story. We learn about the hero; the world he lives in, his back story, and what he wants. At the end of Part 1 an obstacle to what the hero wants surfaces and the hero must go on a quest to overcome it.
Hero role: orphan.

• Part 2: Response. The purpose of Part 2 is to show the hero’s response to the obstacle that surfaced at the end of Part 1. He’s not heroic yet. He’s hesitant, fearful, and fumbles his way through a myriad of options, unsure how, even unwilling, to confront the antagonistic force.
Hero role: wanderer.

• Part 3: Attack. The purpose of Part 3 is to show the hero beginning to figure it out. He draws on what he learned in the wanderer phase and begins to apply it. He’s no longer reactive. He’s heroic and attacks the antagonistic force head on. Only the antagonistic force has become stronger and the hero must revise his plans.
Hero role: warrior.

• Part 4: Resolution. The purpose of Part 4 is to show the hero call upon all the knowledge, skills, and courage gained over the course of the story and use it to defeat the antagonistic force. He may even die in the process.
Hero role: martyr.

To learn more about story structure, read the post, Introducing the Four Parts of Story on Larry Brooks’ website, Storyfix.