Tag Archives: Novel Planning

Novel Girls: Starting to Write, Humor, and Too Many Characters

24 Oct

I wonder if Novel Girls is getting too social or if we’ve figured out the secrets of writing already.  There wasn’t as much to blog about that was discussed this week, but we had a great night!  We were in full force, with KK able to make it and SG’s conflict not conflicting.  Blog-able material aside, I think it was one of the best meetings we’ve had.

One of the things Nicole shared was some advice passed on to her from our friend MB.  MB has written (I think) six novels already and is going to pound out another with NaNo this year.  She was also an alpha reader on my first WIP.  Needless to say, she’s very respected in our small group of writers. Anyway, Nicole was itching to start on her novel (which is the one we’re reviewing in our weekly meetings) but had a few ideas and didn’t know which one to start.

MB’s advice was to write/type as much as possible about each story.  Nicole should include information about the characters, the plot, sub-plots, and any other details she could think of.  Whichever idea she could write the most about would be the best one to write in full because less planning is necessary.

We did talk about a technique Nicole used that we all enjoyed.  She had a scene in which a father is delivering difficult news to his daughter.  In the middle of the tense conversation, she threw in a line of humor to relieve the tension. I loved this because it’s so realistic.  I know I do it when I’m having serious conversations with my husband and I’m sure if you think about it, Reader, you do the same thing.  I thought it was a great technique to bring realism to the dialogue and to keep the novel from getting too serious.

The last point we talked about was a fear I had about my own novel. When do you have too many characters?  I got worried for a minute that I had too many minor characters in my book, but KK assured me that they’re different enough that the reader keeps them all straight and they’re all necessary.  I started thinking about them, and I do think they’re all necessary (maybe I can get rid of one, but I really like her!).  Reader, this is my question for you, what’s a good number of characters?  Assuming this changes for every manuscript, how do you decide this? When do you have too many characters?

Until next time, write on.

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6 Secrets to Pantsing (Article)

21 Oct

This will be a shorter post, but I wanted to address Pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants) again as we’re leading up to NaNo.  Nicole sent me this article that I wanted to share with you all.  It’s called 6 Secrets to Writing a Novel Without an Outline.  It’s well worth the read!

I think that even as an ourliner, there are some good things to learn from this article.

  1. Don’t be formulaic- there doesn’t have to be a standard story-line progression to your plot, keep it interesting.
  2. Make sure the things in your outline that you will introduce/foreshadow deliver upon the expectations you set for them.
  3. Re-Evaluate if you’re going in the right direction.  It was suggested to me that as an outliner, it’s good to stop half-way through and see if the plot is still heading in the right direction based on the first half.  Re-outlining might be in order.

I hope you enjoy the article and that if you are an outliner, you can still learn from it.

NaNoWriMo Pre-Writing Workshop Summary

17 Oct

I can’t believe NaNo is a short seventeen days away (I’m writing this early, 14 when you read it).  In the spirit of being a planner, I went to a pre-writing seminar put on by my local chapter, NaNoWriMowtown.  (How punny is that.)  A lot of the advice was really great and I wanted to share it with you all.  This may be a bit long, but here it goes!

Storyboarding v. Outlining

As a die-hard outliner, it was good for me to see what Storyboarding can do.  The presenter recommended using note cards to write down events, plot points, quotes, and even add pictures.  With these note cards, you can put them in order of how you want your plot to go, rearranging as needed for new cards or to make the flow more logical.  Once your note cards are in the order you want, number them to save the order and then you can put them into a formal typed outline.

I personally start with an outline in Word and slowly add to it as I think more about the story, but this might not work for everyone.

Exercises in Inventing Character, Setting, and Plot Mapping

One of the chapter members is a high school English teacher who every year has his class collectively write the 50K novel.  He went through his lesson plan for the first week of November when the students plan the novel they will write.

(1) Character Invention: with a large group of people, sit around a table with two cups; one for first names and one for last names. Give everyone a note card and have them write a last name on one and a first name on the other.  When everyone’s names are in the cups, draw first-name last-name combinations.  This exercises depends on some people coming up with weird names and some people getting the cups mixed up.  You want to end up with about 30 names.  Choose your 10 favorite.  Write 1-2 paragraphs of back-story for each one giving their job, age, dreams, etc.  After you’ve defined the characters, create relationships between them.  Pick a protagonist and antagonist.  Decide who will stand with each.

(2) Define your scenes: Think of  your story like a play with 3-4 Acts.  In the story, the character wants something, has to overcome an obsticle to get it, and takes actions to get around that obsticle.  Act 1 is exposition where your main character is taken out of the normal and thrown into the action of your story.  Here is where you define the wants and maybe the obsticles as well.  Act II is rising action where the wants are solidified and the obstacles become more obvious. Characters may try some actions that fail or succeed partially.  Act III is the climax where the character completes the action that will give the character what (s)he wants, or close enough to it to satisfy the reader.

(3) Mapping the Plot: Every scene should move your characters forward.  If it’s not, then you don’t need it.  The presenter recommended using a Star Novel Writing Mandala Schema, which I’m unable to find on-line and can hopefully link to in our NaNo forum soon (Link found!).  In essence, it gives you a basic 12 chapter novel and what will happen in each chapter.  You are taking the six star-points of Character, Theme, Action, Craft, Imagination, and Context and using them to create your story through problem, direction, organization, image, connection, and motive.  This will make much more sense if I can link to the visual.

Research for the Fiction Writer

I’m a big researcher so I very much enjoyed this session.  The speaker focused on four settings that will necessitate research.  The first being one I’ve done before, Actual Eras.  This is for all of the historical fiction writers who want to give that historically accurate portrayal of going to the bathroom in 14th century Germany: it’s a lot of details.  She recommended (in addition to libraries and Google) field trips to the place your writing about or going to museums with artifacts from that era.  The second research-worth setting is current places and cultures that the writer has not experienced.  The best way to do this (recommended by the speaker and myself) is to try to talk to people who live in that place or culture.  I’ve done this for my NaNo and it’s worked wonderfully.  People love to talk about themselves, you just have to ask.

The other two settings are not ones I’ve written for before.  One of is somewhat relevant to my WIP2, which is places that never existed.  This is more commonly known as worldbuilding.  When you create a fantasy world, you need to know as much about that world as the characters living in it do.  In essence, you have to write the history book on it.  It’s best not to do a complete carbon copy of Earth.  Add in some flavor which can play a big part of your story.  For example, the ‘What If’ game can lead you to some plot points like, “What if the birds hunted people and even a sparrow could kill?”  The Hunger Games is a good example of this.

The last one kind of ties in to the HG example as well: mythical or imaginary beings.  Like a setting you’ve created, you need to have all of the background story on how these creates have evolved and come to exist.  Collins created the mockingjay with a great back-story.  Your characters should have it, too.  Basing them off of defined mythical beings/real animals can help with this.

Planning for the Seat-of-your-Pants

In summary, you have to plan to fly by the seat of your pants.  Even if you’re winging the whole thing and don’t know where it’s going to end, there are still some steps one can take to mitigate the risks along the way.

The writer should still know a few things about how the plot is going to go. For example, are you going to travel to the moon? You might want to give your character a background or a world that would make this a little more plausible.

A good place to go for some support and to be able to bounce ideas of of people is Write-Ins. I’ve never done one myself, but from what I can figure, it’s a safe place for NaNo writers to come together and play fun word-count related games and bounce ideas off of each other. Not a bad place to be. The speaker recommended trying three write-ins before you pick your favorite. This doesn’t mean three of the same write-in group, but three different groups. Not all write-ins are created equal.

There are a few tips for pantsers.  The first is to know your characters because if you get stuck, your characters are what will push the plot forward.  Try basing one off of yourself.  Then you always know what the character would do next.  While you’re at it, base the other characters off of your friends.  Then, if you need to know what a character would do, you can call your friend and ask him or her.  As mentioned with write-ins, ask other writers what they would consider doing.  Who knows plot development better than other writers?  And lastly, if you don’t know how to move forward, do some back story.  Maybe something there will give you an idea for how to move forward.

Funny Writing

A good way to make people like you book is by making them laugh!  The speaker offered a few tips for quick one-liner jokes.  (1) stick to three characters or the listener will forget the first character.  (2) Keep it short.  (3) Surprise the listener so they’re not anticipating your punch line when you start.

Her other tips serve well for comedy of any type. (1) Be specific.  Don’t allude to your punch line, nail it on the head!  (2) Be relatable.  You don’t want to make a reference so obscure that no one or only a handful of readers think you’re funny.  You also don’t want the reader to feel alienated because they didn’t understand.  (3) Comedy serves a purpose.  Don’t throw comedy in for comedy’s sake; make it move your plot forward.  (4) Opposites attract.  If you can use comedy to set up drama it can be very impactful.

Tips and Tricks

The end of the seminar was past participants giving advice and this was extremely helpful!  The first tip was to find locations and times when you could be most successful.  The ML passed out a spreadsheet to fill in Date, time of day, words/hr, location, background noise, people present, music, food/drink, and WiFi?  If you do this repeatedly, you can find out where and when you are most productive.  Genius!  Some short tips:

  • Don’t write in order, jump around to where you want to write
  • Don’t delete anything (it all counts, just use strike-out)
  • Only edit spellings, nothing else!
  • Back -up often and to multiple places
  • It’s okay to fall behind, weekends are a great time to catch up.
  • Try writing for 20 minutes, watching a movie for 20 minutes repeatedly
  • Tell everyone so they will ask you about it and keep you accountable
  • Stop with something left to say so you have momentum when you next start up again
  • Do not use contractions (more words)
  • Use a font with straight quotes, not smart (curved) quotes.  Smart quotes count funny in the validator.
  • Validate on the 25th when it becomes available to see how far off the NaNo word count is from what you think you have
  • Open Office is good for word count consistence, Word is usually a couple hundred higher than the validator.
  • Pad the 50K by a few thousand for comfort
  • Remember that Thanksgiving is the last weekend of November!  Prepare in advance.
  • Turn your spell-checker off so you aren’t tempted to edit by squiggly lines.

Helpful Links:

Write or Die: $10 download.  Punishes you for not writing to a certain timed goal by deleting what you had written, playing bad music or annoying sounds.

Writing Prompts on Tumblr: Or WordPress or wherever you can find them.  Great things to keep you thinking if your brain is shutting down.

Written? Kitten!: In opposition of Write or Die, Written? Kitten will show you pictures of cats for every set number of words you write.  It didn’t work for me, but several people said it’s a good reward-based approach.

I hope these are helpful to you!  Let me know of your own tips and tricks.

10,000 Words into Pantsing

14 Oct

As of writing, I am 10,505 words into my second WIP. I’m really excited about this because I’m ‘pantsing’ my way through this novel, something I’m very nervous about. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a way of saying I’m ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ through this book, I didn’t outline it. I’m a big proponent for outlining. I feel it’s the only way I got through my first WIP. For this reason, I have an outline for NaNo and I feel confident about getting the 50,000 words in because I know if I get stuck, I can move on to my next plot point and pick up, avoiding the ‘dead end’ feeling. I was scared that with this pantsing exercise I would trap myself in corners and end up crying at my desk over my lost path to a coherent ending.

However, I feel confident saying ‘so far, so good’ about WIP2. I’ve introduced my main characters, given them a voice, and am following a coherent timeline.  I’ve even started introducing major plot points and developing the mindset of my world (it’s slightly Sci-Fi).  I see the end of my exposition in sight and my inciting incident is planned for soon in the future.

Readers, I’m curious about your technique.  Are you a pantser or a planner?  Have you tried both?  If so, which works best for you?

Have a great day!

Novel Girls: Ideas and Sidekicks

2 Oct

This edition of Novel Girls will be slightly different as Nicole and I didn’t come up with anything specific in our writing that we were struggling with, so instead we thought of some good topics to discuss and blog about.

The first is my interpretation of KKs suggestion which was “Empty space is the basis for all good ideas.”  What I want to explore is “Where in our brains do our ideas come from?”

I’ll talk specifically about where my ideas for my WIPs have come from.  For my first WIP, I got the idea from something that bothered me in a book I read (no, this is NOT Fan-fiction and I will explain why).  There were two characters, one a stereotypical good-girl and the other a stereotypical bad-boy, who never interacted in the series for good reasons and were my favorite characters for different reasons.  BUT, this got me thinking and I wondered what could cause two people so drastically different from each other to collaborate and work together.  I created my own stereotypical good girl and bad boy and put them in my own setting.  From there I was able to create a story line that’s all my own and watch my characters come together in the way I imagined.  So, bottom line, I got this idea from trying to read between lines that didn’t exist in a different piece of literature.  I used something that upset me (why the characters couldn’t get along) and created something uniquely my own that I’ve grown to love.  I think things that upset you or make you think in other books/movies/whatever are a good place to start, but a writer has to create their own characters and world.  This is kind of like the movie Finding Forrester where Forrester has Jamal start writing with Forrester’s own words, but then going wherever his own brain took him.  The same words can take people to completely different places.

For my second WIP, I was thinking about the recent trend of YA Dystopian Future novels and how I would write it if it were up to me.  My love of historical fiction kicked in and I thought instead of a Dystopian Past (which I know makes little sense) and how that would play out.  It’s more of an alternative history in a way.  I created a world where there is a social hierarchy that my character is thrust to the top of and has to deal with the consequences of that and also in which there is some serious corruption that she can help unearth and right.  It’s my first foray into Science Fiction at all and has been really enjoyable.

My NaNo story is not YA at all, more of Woman’s Fiction actually.  It’s about a young woman in her 20s who moves to Alaska to take care of her sick grandmother. (There’s a lot more to it, Reader, but I’ll save that for when it’s published and you get to read it.) I got this idea from a prompt I did in my Tuesday Prompt Group which was surprisingly “It tasted blue.”  I’ve gotten almost completely away from the original prompt, but the idea got stuck in my head.

So there are my three current ideas and where I got them; something that bothered me I couldn’t get out of my head, thinking about a genre and how I would tackle it, and a prompt.  Where do you get your ideas for stories?  How did you think of your NaNo plot for this year or in years past? Leave a comment and let me know, maybe you’ll give me another great idea!

The second topic that I’ll explore was something Nicole suggested: sidekicks.  Why do we need sidekicks and what are their various uses?  I can talk about my sidekicks and some of my favorite sidekicks as some examples.  Reader, please chime in with your own and your favorites as well.

My first WIP has two sidekicks, one for each of my protagonists.  My female protagonist has a male best friend who is her sidekick.  His purposes are various, from giving her an outlet for her thoughts that the reader would otherwise not know to being a voice of reason who gets her to realize when she needs to take action and also giving her self confidence that she might not have otherwise.  I really think my story would be incomplete without him.

My male protagonist has a male friend who serves as his sidekick.  His purpose is a little more vague and I’ve considered re-writing him out but ultimately vetoed the idea.  This sidekick serves to make my protagonist more likable.  If the stereotypical bad boy can’t even hold a real friend, why would anyone want to be close to him?  By giving him a friend, who fights for him and gives him a single person he can actually open up to, my protagonist has qualities that would make him the kind of person worth talking to.

My second WIP has one sidekick to my protagonist, Hope.  Her sidekick helps guide her through the world she has been forced into and will be her partner in crime as she searches for answers.  As I haven’t finished yet, I haven’t completely flushed out his role (any suggestions are welcome).

I said I’d talk about my favorite sidekick as well.  Well, being a huge Harry Potter fan, I’m going to talk about the lovely Hermione Granger.  She adds a lot to the series that make it as wonderful and well-rounded as it is.  I think the most obvious is the feminine touch.  Rowling took a lot on to write from a man’s perspective and has admitted that she interjected herself into Hermione.  I think Hermione helps the series appeal to girls from the very beginning when a story about a young male wizard might not have been as tempting.  Also, Hermione’s logic and intelligence allow Harry to be the reckless youth we all love while still behaving in a logical and thoughtful manor.  His recklessness sometimes gets him in trouble and sometimes leads him through to conquer his foes so he couldn’t get by without it.  However, with Hermione, he also behaves logically instead of impulsively when needed.  Think of The Prisoner of Azkaban scenes during the time turner to get an idea of what I mean.

So, Reader, I’ll leave you with a few questions about sidekicks to ponder and leave comments about.  What is the primary purpose of a sidekick?  Tell me about your sidekicks and how they help your protagonist on his/her journey.  Who are your favorite sidekicks and why?  What purpose do they serve?

Thanks for reading and take care!  Please leave a comment so we can start a dialogue.

Novel Girls: Two Writer-ly Questions

9 Sep

Today, Nicole and I met up at a Starbucks to do some writing reviewing.  I think we picked the world’s smallest Starbucks.  There was one free table when I got there and there were only five tables total!  Add in a co-ed bathroom and my vote is in for smallest.

Anyway, it’s good having someone to chat with who’s going through some of the same writer-ly problems.  I thought I’d enumerate a few here.  Leave a comment if you have some similar problems or any advice on overcoming them.

  1. Feedback from critique groups: This was a problem I proposed to Nicole.  I recently took the third chapter of my novel to a monthly critique group.  (Nicole has read my manuscript in whole and is usually the person I bounce changes off of before doing anything drastic.)  One of the critiques I was given at the group meeting was to change the ending of the chapter.  The father of one of my protagonists reveals a big plot element at the end, and the critique group said that he gave up the information too easily!  They were shocked that he would reveal this information to his high-school age children and a trusted family friend.  In the meeting, I told them that the children are going to help him solve the problem created by this plot element and their reaction was that these characters are children and they are too young to help.  I was appalled!  In the 1920s, most teens over 15 held a job and not many went to college.  Getting married at age 18 was common and many people were working in their career at the same age.  At 16 and 17, my characters are practically adults.  All the same, this group recommended I change it so that the father does not as quickly divulge said information.
    I had an issue with this.  If the father knew that his children were going to be helping, why would he hide the information from them?  Nicole knows what happens a few scenes later and agreed with me that I should keep it as is; it makes sense in the grand scheme of things.
    So this brings me to my problem, Do you ever get feedback from a critique that you completely disagree with?  Does it make you feel compelled to change something in your story?  When do you decide to ignore it or change your plot based on it?
  2. Planning a story:  This is something I’ve been toying with.  My completed novel, I wrote out a multi-page outline, complete with a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what was going to happen in each part.  I’m working on a similar outline for the story I’m going to write for NaNoWriMo.  Just to be different, there’s a novel I’m working on casually right now that I’m not outlining and trying to ‘fly by the seat of my pants.’  Nicole is in the middle of one story with an outline, and she hasn’t yet started outlining her NaNo, and isn’t sure if she plans to.
    Question number two: Do you have better luck outlining a novel before beginning, or figuring the plot out as you go?  Do you ever write yourself into a corner without an outline?  Do you find you lose plot points?  With an outline, do you find writing point-to-point is too boring and lose interest?

I’ve love to hear any and all opinions on these questions!  Dealing with feedback and planning are probably the two hardest points for me as a writer.  Thanks for taking the time to read!