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Writing Check In- April

2 Apr

One of my goals for this year was to write more. My husband had the suggestion of making a monthly feature to talk about my writing and how it’s going. I’ve decided to make this the first Tuesday of the month so you can all look forward to these posts with bated breath and get a little update on where I am.

I had a major breakthrough with a character a few weeks ago. Her motivation was weak and she is (on purpose) quite an annoying character so I needed to give her a great reason to act the way she does and I hadn’t been able to figure it out. It finally came to me in the middle of one of my weekly writing sessions and I immediately started adding it back into the novel. It was almost like starting over each scene she came up and it took a lot of work but I’m almost caught up again to where I was when I had this idea. It feels so good. I ran the idea past my husband and my beta reader and both loved it. I’m so glad!

Once that’s worked in, I’ll continue working through the feedback my friend and beta reader Kristine Kruppa gave me. This will probably take me a few more months since I’m going at it a bit slowly. Once that’s done, I had another beta reader give me some feedback that’s a bit more topical and stylistic than plot. I’ll go over that quickly I expect. I have a book to work through after that, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I read the book that came with a workbook a few years ago and it seems like it’s time to go through the workbook. After that, I’ll send it to two beta readers again and then I think it might be time to query. It also seems too soon, but I know it has to happen at some point!

I have a few other stories started, but no more novel ideas at this point. My second completed manuscript isn’t something I love and I’m not sure I want to go through the extensive editing process with it if I’m not super passionate. Maybe I better start again fresh with another idea. However, that seems too far off to worry about just yet.

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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Writing Check In- March

5 Mar

One of my goals for this year was to write more. My husband had the suggestion of making a monthly feature to talk about my writing and how it’s going. I’ve decided to make this the first Tuesday of the month so you can all look forward to these posts with bated breath and get a little update on where I am.

I’m working through the fifth major re-write of my novel. It’s a YA novel set in the 1920s. I sent it out to some trusted friends to beta read about 18 months ago and I’m still working through their feedback. After this round of editing, I think it’s time to start sending queries. You only stop editing when you publish, right?

My friend Kristine Kruppa gave me feedback that I’m working on now. She had some major plot suggestions that I’m working in. I’ve decided to do this by going through the story, scene by scene, and asking myself at the end, Did this fit the new goals I have for my book? Often, the answer is no and I make some major edits. As I get farther and farther into the book, the edits are becoming more and more time-consuming. This has become a really fun process and I’m looking forward to my writing time each week. When the timer goes off after an hour, I’m usually disappointed and hoping to squeeze in a bit more.

My biggest focus now is my female protagonist. (I have a male and female protagonists. One guess what happens.) Kristine’s feedback was that my male character had strong motivation and dominated the story while the female character seemed to take a back seat and be more easily influenced. That was not my intent by any means and I was glad to get that feedback. I’m adding in some motivation for her and ways she can take a stronger stance when she is questioned. It’s been fun so far.

I’ve got a lot of work to do with a minor character in the next few scenes. Her motivation is a bit muddled so I’m trying to clarify that and make her a little less annoying but just as despicable. It’s going to be a challenge for sure!

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: Short Stories and Metaphors

25 Feb

I almost skipped my writers’ group meeting, I’ll be honest. I wasn’t feeling great, I worked late, and I thought I needed a break. But I picked myself up and went and I’m so glad I did. And yes, having something to write about here was a part of my motivation. Blogging to stay honest with my writing goals. I counted this meeting as my hour of writing for the week, too. Double dipping?

We first talked about the differences between short stories and novels. Short stories are sometimes seen as a warm-up for a novel when they’re very different writing formats and success in one may not mean success in the other. Novels have a lot more room to explore a character or story. A novel is not a collection of short stories and a good short story should not read like part of a novel. Novels utilize the familiar three-act structure while a short story only has room for the third act. In a novel, the subplots often make the book enjoyable and added exciting depth. In a short story, they muddy the message so it’s recommended you have one or none. While a short story may not have the real estate to be deep, that doesn’t mean it lacks meaning. A short story can be very impactful and have a lot of meaning though it is often more implied than a novel on a similar topic may leave it. A short story is usually confined to one location while the majority of novels utilize many settings to tell their story.

The second focus was on metaphors. Metaphors are a great way to emphasize an important concept or object. While often done, not all metaphors are well done and writing a good one can be a big challenge. There are two parts to a metaphor, the tenor and the vehicle. To give an example, in Shakespeare’s famous metaphor “All the world’s a stage,” the tenor is world, the subject of the metaphor, and stage is the vehicle, the comparison. Metaphors are most impactful when they are simple, thematic, original, relevant, and important. Putting the focus on an important concept is, again, key. However, metaphors are most impactful when used sparingly. Consider if it’s a good time to add a metaphor each time and realize that the answer may sometimes be ‘no.’

We had some open discussion after these two topics. One of the items that stuck with me was when talking about introducing characters. It’s important to give a snapshot of the character when they’re introduced. It helps readers visualize your character, see them in the movie playing in their head. If you fail to give a brief snapshot of them, you may be fighting an image in their heads when you add more detail later. This struck a chord with me because I’m revising the beginning of my novel now and I can think of a few characters who aren’t described well in their opening scene.

That’s all for this month. I’m really glad to have learned so much from my fellow writers! 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: Symbolism, Copyrights, and Research

28 Jan

My lovely writers’ group met again a few weeks ago. We had a number of new faces and I hope they were intrigued by our unusual format. We all prepare 5-10 minutes of material to share with the group over an aspect of writing that we are interested in or are working through at the moment. This month, we were able to go through three different topics in our time.

First, Rachel talked about symbolism. A symbol represents something other than what it is. Symbols are usually universal or can carry meaning for a smaller group. They are a concise way to communicate an idea. She gave the example of a national flag and all that the symbols on a flag represent about people and what they find important. There are two types of symbolism, figurative and literal. Literal symbolism isn’t exactly symbolism as I’ve described it. It’s something that only has one other meaning. For example, if I type the word ‘tree,’ those characters are symbols that represent a wooden plant with leaves. Writers more often focus on figurative symbolism, where one thing represents the idea of something else. Good symbolism is usually less obvious and takes a deeper read to find it. It avoids clichés and obvious symbols (a rose for love). Instead, it has a lighter touch and can be open to interpretation. A figurative symbol usually takes some building so that it’s clear to readers that there is symbolism. It must be repeated, given a position of importance, and emphasized so that the reader can gather that the symbol has a meaning different from itself.

Another writer, Jason, is pursuing self-publication and shared with us what he’d learned about copyrights while trying to get ready to publish. Copyright attaches the author’s name to the work in the public record. This allows you to defend your created work should someone try to lay claim to it later. This can be done via a form online with a small fee. Some writers warned against copyrighting your work if you plan to pursue traditional publication as many will not accept work that has been copyrighted. For self-publication, it’s a good move. We cautioned that posting writing on a blog can count as ‘published’ for some literary magazines and publishers, so to be careful what you share of your work. Jason shared a sample permission form that he’d used to try to obtain some permissions for statistics in his book. You can avoid using permission forms if you use work that is fair use or public domain, such as government publications.

Finally, Gary shared some of his research on research. Doing research on a topic or setting adds accuracy and credibility to a writer’s work. Doing research from books or articles that were published through a university of college press usually means that an academic wrote the work and is likely an expert in his or her field (not always true, though!). Doing research is harder the farther back in time a person reaches. Visiting the location where something happens can be very helpful as many times atmosphere is hard to gather through reading alone. Research should include the genre you are writing in which will help with publication ultimately. Also, consider the perspective of the character and if it could be different from your own, research differing opinions or views on that topic.

We’ll be back at it again next month! I’m glad I don’t have a conflicting class anymore. 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!

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!

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!