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Write-Ins When You’re Not Doing NaNo

27 Nov

I was so excited to be back to my monthly writers’ group. This month, the group merges with the local NaNo group and participates in a Write-In. As I’m not doing NaNo (and using grad school as an excuse one last time), I wasn’t exactly ‘on task’ at this one. I used the first half hour to write yesterday’s blog post. But once that was finished, I had to find another way to entertain myself.

A week before, I’d had a line come to me. I’m still unsure if it’s a novel or a short story, but I wrote it down either way. I decided to use a Word War to see where it took me.

I got about 2000 words into this story. The way it’s going now, it’s a short story. It could turn into something longer, but I think I’ll start here. It was really nice to write again. I missed feeling like I’m creating something out of thin air; like I’m meeting someone for the first time as I write from their mouth.

I want to get back into doing this. More on that later this week. For now, I just wanted to report on a successful one day of NaNo. I even won a Word War. I still got it.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Writers’ Group: Scenes

6 Sep

It’s finally time for the long-awaited follow-up to last week’s post about my writers’ group meeting. OK, maybe I was the only one anticipating it. A girl can dream.

The last person to present at our meeting talked about scenes. I loved that this came after the discussion of chapters because it helped me understand the difference between the two. There can be multiple scenes in one chapter or a scene can span several chapters. The two do not have to be linked in any way.

A scene requires three things that advance the plot: a goal, a conflict, and a resolution. Sometimes the resolution is a disaster but it should still advance the plot. A scene is followed by a sequel. These are always done together and shouldn’t be split. This involves a reaction (usually emotional), a dilemma, and a decision.

So, here’s an example that happened to me before writing this. My husband is on his way to work (goal) and realizes he doesn’t have his name tag (conflict). He calls me and we realize it’s still on his dirty work shirt from yesterday (resolution). He’s frustrated (reaction) but knows that his boss will be more upset if he’s late (dilemma) so decides to forgo the name tag and be on time for work (decision). Simple but real. You can see how it would work out in a novel. One writer recommended highlighting all of these points in different colors if a scene feels like it’s missing something. Also, she recommended putting the dilemma and reaction right next to each other. They can be odd when spaced out.

The decision should bring bout the next goal. In my example, I’m dropping off his name tag before heading to a friend’s house (goal) at which point I have to decide if I’ll have a drink from the bar before leaving (conflict). TBD how this will resolve!

Much less frequently used are incidents and happenings. Incidents are when a character attempts a goal and accomplishes it with no resistance. This doesn’t make for very good reading but can advance a complicated plot. If my husband had found a spare name tag in his car, his problem would have been solved. A happening is when people are brought together or something for a later time is set up. A scene last week of him having another name tag made wouldn’t have had an immediate effect on his life then than but would have built well to today’s scene.

Quick reactions can help keep pacing fast. There are several different kinds of reactions. All or one of these can be included but they need to be done in this order if more than one is included.

  1. Visceral
  2. Physical/involuntary
  3. Voluntary

If you think about it, any other order wouldn’t make sense. I’d never considered this before but now I keep thinking about it every time I do anything!

Thank you to everyone who stuck with this through the prolonged name tag example! I think I’ll have that drink after all.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writers’ Group: Chapters and Editing

28 Aug

We tried a new format in my writing group and I have to say, it went really well! Instead of a single person talking on a topic of their choice for an hour, we had a few people talk about a topic they wanted for about ten minutes. With the discussion that came after, three people filled up our hour! I’m going split this up over two posts because I have so much to say about each one.

First, Rachel talked about chapters. A chapter is a narrative unit of a larger story. It helps to facilitate the transitions in the story. Historically, chapters divided up non-fiction works so they could be referenced for particular subjects without having to read the whole book. Later, they were used to show a change in time or place.

Now, chapters move stories along in many ways. They help with pacing, point of view changes, time jumps, location changes, dividing events, and moving to different storylines. Chapters are only one way of dividing a story. Writers can also use volumes, parts, and sections.

Rachel presented some tips about chapters as well. Some that stood out to me were:

  • Chapters don’t have the be the same length
  • Ending chapters with cliffhangers keeps a reader’s attention but don’t do it too often.
  • Numbering chapters is not mandatory

Our next mini topic was editing types. There are three major types: developmental (also called structural), copy, and proof. Developmental focuses on the story arc and contents and should be pursued before the other two. Copy edit deals more with accuracy and readability of the material, also looking for consistency of things such as tense and characters. Finally, a proof edit is a grammatical read-through to make small changes for linguistic accuracy.

Clearly, doing a proof edit before a developmental edit isn’t going to help anyone. Doing edits in this order is important or else you’ve erased the impact of earlier edits which will have to be repeated. There are several places online one can find editors such as Fiverr and Upwork. Be sure you understand fees and the type of edit you’re going to get from a freelance editor before working with them.

We had one more topic to discuss but I’ll save it for next week to keep this post a reasonable length. Besides, I’ve got something special saved for Thursday!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writers’ Group: Culture

23 Apr

Somehow I convinced my writers’ group to let me lead them this month. I didn’t drug them, I swear!

I had a flashback to my semester of sociology in college and remembered the seven elements of culture. Well, I couldn’t find a list of seven and my Google searching gave me ten. When you’re writing a historical setting or a fictional setting, it can be really helpful to think more about the background of your setting in terms of these elements. There’s a lot more to creating a world, race, or religion than you’d think!

  1. Economic System– We’ll start with the boring ones. Well, probably the borning ones. If you’re writing about a currency revolution, this might be really exciting. Normally, this is more of a background element to a culture. It sets up how goods and services are exchanged. Currency and bartering would be most common.
    • Example: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter uses galleons, sickles, and knuts. Not our filthy Muggle money.
  2. A Form of Government– Again, this could be exciting or boring depending on your story. The government in A Song of Ice and Fire is central to the plot while The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t mention who’s president. If you’re writing about royalty or politics, this is a big one to think about. Otherwise, it’s likely a background element that you should give a few second’s thought to.
    • Understanding the legal system and how corrupt it was in the 1920s is helping me with my novel set in that time period.
  3. Symbols– Now we’re getting to it. A symbol is a visual that stands for something. It should evoke a reaction from the members. It’s a form of nonverbal communication or a material object. The meaning one group attaches to the symbol may be different from another group which makes a symbol unique to each culture.
    • US President Richard Nixon made a hand symbol while visiting Brazil that means ‘OK’ here but meant something very rude to Brazilians!
  4. Language– This one may seem obvious. For people to share a culture, they need to share a language to communicate. However, language can also divide cultures. Think of different regions of a country. How I speak in Michigan is going to be different from someone in Texas. Meanings of words vary by country (chips) and region (Coke).
    • My first conversation after landing in London was with the woman at the coffee counter. She asked me if it was “For here or take away?” I stared at her for twenty seconds before responding, “To go.” My jet lag brain didn’t process what had happened until the next day.
  5. Rituals– These often mark a transition in life and many are religiously based. In the US, the Super Sweet Sixteen is a non-religious ritual. Rituals often have established procedures or ceremonies, like a wedding or funeral.
    • Again to Harry Potter, having the trace lifted is a ritual that signifies someone has grown up.
  6. Artifacts– An artifact is an element of material culture that holds meaning for that culture. In modern times, our artifacts change quickly because of technology. My simple Nokia phone from middle school seems like an ancient artifact next to my iPhone 7. These can include the household tools and clothes of a people and are very important to visualizing and describing the setting.
    • A book set in ancient Rome wouldn’t have watches but the togas and shoes the people wear are going to be essential in setting the scene.
  7. Social Organization– This mainly covers family patterns and social classes. Does my imagined race of blue centaurs live in herds or do they hunt alone? Would the poor and the rich be able to eat at the same restaurant? How people interact and who they interact with defines the social organization.
    • In The Space Between Us, Serabai lives with her mother in law because of the traditional family patterns in Mumbai.
  8. Customs and Traditions– This is a big one. I’ll break it into two major groups, values and norms. Values are judgments of good and bad that a society has. They define something as desirable or undesirable and shape the way people act. Norms are these ways of acting. They are accepted standards and expectations for behavior. They can be formal norms which are strictly adhered to and called mores. The most important norms are made into laws and enforced with a punishment for breaking them. Informal norms are called folkways or customs and do not carry a strong stigma if they are violated.
    • Because American culture values individual achievement, it’s a norm that we don’t use all of our vacation days (unfortunately).
  9. Religion– While not every person practices a religion, most societies (especially in past times) have one. Before modern science, people answered the questions of the universe with a supreme being, be it God, Zeus, or Krishna. While a culture might not have a god, chances are they do.
    • Many wars are fought over religion. There are too many A Song of Ice and Fire examples to count.
  10. Art and Literature– The best for last! Art and literature might be a subcategory of artifacts, but they’re not always material. Stories can be passed on orally and many times these stories reinforce customs and traditions. They’re also an example of entertainment in the culture.
    • The Tale of the Three Brothers in Harry Potter warns young witches and wizards about the dangers of power and living in the past. And it tells the origin story of the Deathly Hallows

I hope I haven’t bored you too much! My group assured me this was helpful but they’re too nice. Until next time, write on!

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Sense: Smell and Taste

30 Nov

Welcome to the last installment of the Book Sense series. We’ve already covered touch and sound and today I’ll cover the last two, smell and taste.

Here are the four I want to focus on today:

  • Unpleasant smells
  • Smells that invoke memory
  • Taste of something unknown
  • Tastes that invoke a sudden emotion

Yet again, please add more in the comments as you see fit.

 

Unpleasant smells: We tend to notice smells that are extremely pleasant or extremely unpleasant. I think the unpleasant ones are more striking and tell more about a story. The smell of decay can depict death. Fires have a distinct smell. There are a lot of negative smells that can help set a scene without having to describe it. The smell of a sweaty sock is bad but what about a neglected patient in a mental institution?

Smells that invoke memory: There are smells that will always remind me of things in my past. The laundry detergent my host mom used in Mexico is one I still remember eleven years later. Lilac will always make me think of my parents’ house and the old lilac tree in the yard. I think these memories can be very powerful and if used sparingly (maybe once or twice per story), can be very effective.

Taste of something unknown: I remember my first time trying Vegemite and (apologies to any Australian readers) how salty it was! I think descriptions of a new taste can help frame a character’s reaction. I think this is especially important in fantasy if an invented substance is being tasted. What does Mars vodka taste like if they don’t have potatoes?

Tastes that invoke a sudden emotion: Tasting bile in your mouth is a sign of great discomfort or dread. A mouth watering is a sign of hunger. A dry mouth can be fear. There are a lot of ‘tastes’ in our mouths that can show how a character is feeling without having to state it outright. And it’s always better to ‘show’ instead of ‘tell.’

There we are! Are there any other smell or taste sensations you think are important (or overused) in writing? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Sense: Touch

28 Nov

Welcome to part two of the Book Sense series. Yesterday I talked about sound, today I want to talk about touch.

Here are the four I want to focus on today:

  • Character-to-character connection
  • Feel of an unknown item
  • Touch-induced emotions
  • Temperature sensations

Yet again, please add more in the comments as you see fit.

Character-to-character connection: This is probably the most important use of this sense I can think of. The feel of a friend’s hand on your shoulder, a creepy stranger’s bump against your hip, or a lover’s caress of the hair are all very important ways of experiencing touch in writing. It drives relationships and, thus, plot.

Feel of an unknown item: I have fantasy writing in mind when I think of this. I know what a wool blanket feels like. I don’t know what a blanket feels like when it’s made from the hair of a fictional llama-bird. When something is not commonly known, a description of it is very helpful to build a fictional world and physical touch description should be a part of that.

Touch-induced emotions: I talked about sounds that evoke memories yesterday and this falls into the same category. I also think a touch can induce an emotion. Personally, slipping into a pool to swim laps is one of the most calming things I can imagine. Once I’m underwater, I’m instantly at peace. I think slipping into bed can have the same effect. These shouldn’t be very common but they can be used well.

Temperature sensations: Changes in temperature are very noticeable so characters should experience them as well. Walking in on a winter day has an instant warming effect. Being outside after a run can start to feel cold in November (personal experience). Change in seasons or time of day can be marked with temperature instead of overt statements and I believe this is one that can be used frequently and still be effective.

There we are! Are there any other touch sensations you think are important (or overused) in writing? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Sense: Sound

27 Nov

With a lack of topics and a need to write the posts for this week well ahead of time, I’m embarking on a series for this week that will focus on the sounds books can (and should) include. I’m going to skip sight because so much of a book is describing a picture (and because of my number of posts per week). Today, I’m going to start with sound!

I’ll pick four to start with.

  • Sound of a speaker’s voice
  • Background sounds for a setting
  • Sudden or startling sounds
  • Sounds that provoke a reaction or trigger a memory

If you have more, please add them in a comment.

The sound of a speaker’s voice: Now, this can be great if a character is going to have a unique way of speaking such as an accent or vocal tick. I really like it when used sparingly. For example, I could tell you my husband’s voice raises when he’s about to make a bad pun and then if I ever talked about his voice starting to rise, you could imply he’s about to make a bad pun. (Note: you could guess this every five minutes and be correct.) I think this can be used well to show the age of a character, too. High voices for a child or cracking voices for an elderly person. However, if used for every character or too many in a single scene, it can get old fast. Sparingly, it’s a great tool.

Background sounds for a setting: This is on my mind now because I have the Rumba running and clothes in the dryer. So before you picture me sitting alone in a quiet apartment, realize that the Rumba got stuck in my bathroom and the dryer buzzer is about to go off so I’ll be stepping away to unload the clothes. Little touches like this can make a scene. I’m writing this, but I’m busy! Maybe there’s a peaceful background noise if I’m writing out on the porch with the wind chimes blowing or I’m hiding from my husband’s friends if I can hear a football game. I like these touches when they add to the mood. If they don’t, they’re distracting and unnecessary.

Sudden or startling sounds: When a sudden action happens, I find a sound is usually attached. A gun going off, a door slamming shut, a car crashing, a glass shattering. These all have very jarring sounds associated with them. If I’m napping and my husband comes home, the door jerks open and I wake up. (Note: The dryer buzzer just went off. Timing.). Because a lot of fiction focuses on an inciting incident, I think the sound of that incident can be a great way to punctuate the action.

Sounds that provoke a reaction or trigger a memory: This is another one I’m going to say is best used sparingly. If there’s a memory that a character needs to share, sense memory is a great way to bring it forward. A sound like a baby crying or a balloon popping can trigger an emotional time for a character. When this memory moves the plot forward, I think it’s a good technique. If it’s building a character arc, I think it could be OK. If it’s filling paper, it’s a waste.

What are other times you like sound description in a book or story? Leave a comment and let me know!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Why I’m Not Doing NaNo And How I Feel About It

24 Oct

For the first time in four years, I’ve decided not to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) at all. I had a traditional ‘win’ in 2014 and in 2015 and 2016, I started participating after my school semester ended in the middle of the month and I did a time-based editing commitment. It was a bit more like camp NaNo but it still allowed me to participate and enjoy write-ins.

This semester, my class doesn’t end until early December and I’ve decided not to commit myself to any participation at all. It’s hard to step away for a year and I’m really going to miss the way NaNo makes me so excited about writing and the friends its introduced me to. I usually have the energy to write from NaNo that extends until February. But this year, I won’t.

This comes at a hard time for me because I’ve stopped feeling like a writer. I write this blog, but I’m not working on my short stories and I haven’t touched my novel in a few months. I’ve had a few acquaintances ask me lately how my novel is going and my answer is ‘school.’ I feel like I’m not a writer now, I’m a student. I don’t feel like I have time to be both.

With a graduate date of December 2018, I’ll have at least another year of feeling this way. I made a running analogy about this for my husband that I feel works well. Writing this blog is like training for a 5K. It’s short, small runs, that keep me in shape and keep me feeling good. Working on my novel is like training for a marathon. It’s completely different and a lot more commitment. Running 5Ks puts you in a good position to start training for a marathon, but it’s not in the same league. This blog keeps my muscles loose, but they’re not ready to jump into a novel.

I hope none of you are having writer doubts like I am. It makes me all sad and mopy. I’m really hoping that when I’m no longer a student, I can reach some other goals I have for myself. One is to finish a half Ironman triathlon. The other is to finish my book and start querying it. I’ll start January 2019 but that seems a long way off.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writers Group: The Hook

25 Sep

My fellow group of writers met last week for our monthly meeting. I was so glad to go because I’ve been forced to miss meetings for one reason or another the past two months and I’m glad we are back at it! Our topic this month was the hook, the first sentence (or paragraph) of the story that draws the reader into the book.

We looked at two writing coaches and their advice on the hook. K.M Weiland suggests that there are five elements.

  1. It asks an inherent question. This may be explicit or, more likely, implicit. It should make the writer wonder. The reader should be left wondering ‘Why?’
  2. Introduce a character. One is ideal, but sometimes more. Sometimes a name is given, other times it’s more general.
  3. Provide a sense of setting. This helps place the story in the reader’s mind and makes the first scene more interesting.
  4. Establish a voice. This may take more than one sentence to develop, but it can be done in a single sentence. This is more important in first person narration but is necessary for other POVs as well.
  5. Make a sweeping declaration. Some will say never to do this, but if done well, it can be great.

Some say you need to pack this into one sentence, others that you have a paragraph or page or chapter to do it. It depends on your audience and genre as well.

The other coach we looked to for advice was Suzannah Windsor Freeman. There were a few ‘don’ts’ she provided.

  • No dialogue. The reader doesn’t know who’s talking or what is being talked about.
  • Avoid excessive description.
  • Avoid irrelevant information.
  • Don’t introduce too many characters. Each one will not be memorable.

Freeman has six ways to hook a reader and some of them are similar to Weiland’s.

  1. Make the reader wonder.
  2. Begin at a pivotal moment.
  3. Create an interesting picture.
  4. Introduce and intriguing character.
  5. Start in an unusual situation.
  6. Begin with a compelling narrative voice.

Some other advice included asking questions as the story goes along, but not answering all questions before asking more. This builds tension and plot. All questions should be answered by the end of the story.

We spent the remainder of our time looking at famous first lines and seeing how they covered these elements. We also looked at the books we were currently reading to see if they fit the mold. I really liked this exercise and it has me feeling good about my opening line.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers Group

4 Jul

The amazing Maria led our writers’ group this past month and concentrated on Tense and Point of View in writing. Let’s start with POV.

There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to certain POVs. In some cases, the genre dictates what is normally used. I write YA and I know first person is most common and I know that my 3rd person book might have to be completely rewritten at some point (I hope it never comes to that) because it’s YA. We talked about times books are written in two points of view and how that works. Sometimes, the writer will combine first and third person POV. Some chapters are written in first from a certain character’s perspective and others from 3rd, following one or more characters. Most commonly, this is done with two 3rd person POVs.

There are some major disadvantages of 1st person. You are limited to what the character sees so you can’t write about anything outside his or her vision. This can result in a lot of ‘telling’ and not enough ‘showing’ which makes a book drag.

Second person is not as common. Maria found an example in How the Mistakes Were Made. The character Laura is represented in sections of the book written in 2nd person but this isn’t the whole book. Second person creates some distance from the reader so a whole book in this format might be tedious. I’m always reminded of the Choose Your Own Adventure series that I read in elementary school. Those were so fun.

Third person unlimited can head-jump too much if the writer isn’t careful. This can be confusing to follow. The suggestion is that you write like the piece is a play. Too many soliloquies can be annoying! This style is common in romantic intimate scenes. It can be tricky because it can confuse who knows what information and what each character can act on.

Third person limited is more common. It can feel distant and narrative distance from the action becomes possible. To limit this, a writer can use words that match a character’s personality. Maybe a character scowls but he thinks it’s just a frown. Maybe someone with anxiety is panicking not fidgeting. The tone of the writing can match the character as well to limit narrative distance.

There are four people involved in any third person narration: The protagonist, the viewpoint character (if different), the narrator, and the author. Think of The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is the protagonist, Nick is the main character, there is a narrator, and Fitzgerald is the author. How the narrator describes something and how Fitzgerald might describe it could be different from how the narrator describes it, thus creating the different people.

The most important thing to do is stick with the POV you’ve chosen. Even if it’s an unreliable narrator, the key is to be consistent. Maria recommended the website http://www.novel-writing-help.com for more information on POV.

The second part of our discussion was tense. Past and present tense can give writing a very different feel. Present tense can be restrictive. It’s good for action books and jokes but it can be hard to reflect on past events leading to the present action. Switching from past to present tense is more than changing ‘was’ to ‘is’ and so forth. There’s adding more thoughts and description that’s being noticed at the moment.

We did an exercise where we chose a piece of our writing (or a sample from the book) and changed the POV and tense. It’s fun to try if you want!

We’ll be meeting again next month. Until then, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!