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Entries in plotting (8)

Wednesday
Nov302011

Slow Writer Reform School

 

So we writers can sometimes be a superstitious bunch. We make up stories for a living and many times that creative thinking bleeds into our real life. And one way we do this is by placing some mythical or magical significance on our "process."

 

Shh...don't disturb the Process. Don't try new things. This is working for you. You ARE a (insert appropriate designation: a plotter, a panster, a fast drafter, an edit-as-I-go writer, a morning writer, a midnight oil burner.)

I know I've done this. I read writing craft books like they're going out of style, but I quickly discard suggestions that may go against my Process. I can't write shit down on notecards! *gasp* That will send my pantsing brain into a tailspin. My muse will curl up into the fetal position and weep in a corner!

Okay, maybe you aren't as melodramatic as I am. But I know I'm not the only one who is scared to change things around too much because it might just suddenly steal our ability to write. Like our creativity is made of some delicate blown glass that will shatter if jostled.

Here are the things I've told myself: I'm a slow writer. A thousand words a day is about what I can do. I'm a panster. Planning ahead will kill my passion for the story. I will hit writer's block at some point in every one of my stories. I'm a morning writer. I must blog brilliantly every day and must be on Twitter all the time.

Well, guess what happened though? I sold two more books which have tighter deadlines than I've ever worked under before. My kidlet switched preschools and now goes in the afternoon instead of the mornings. And I fell in love with the Save The Cat! technique.

My Process has been tossed into a blender. Everything I was doing before isn't going to fit into this new setup. I had to figure out something different.

So for book 3, FALL INTO YOU, I've changed up the sacred process. I'm calling it Slow Writer Reform School.

 

Slow Writer Reform School Procedures

 

  • I've dialed back my online time to free up more hours for writing. I don't need to be constantly available online.
  • I wrote the synopsis of this book before starting to write it. (Something you have to do, btw, if you want to sell on proposal.)
  • I wrote out a sentence for each of my major scenes and turning points on (ack!) index cards
  • I'm holding myself to a 1k a day minimum goal
  • I'm writing in pockets of time I usually wasted doing something unimportant
  • I'm am not tying my ability to write to a certain time of the day
  • And when I want to make a major change in the story, I just make a note and don't rewrite the whole thing right then.


And you know what? In seven days, I've written about 12,000 words. Now that may not seem like a lot to you fast drafters or Nano-ers (congrats, btw, to those of you who won Nano), but for me, that is a revelation. I even had an afternoon where I wrote 3200.

 

And it's been fun. Refocusing myself has helped me remember how awesome it is to get lost in your story and to be itching to get back to it. And having those simple plot points already sketched out has kept me moving forward instead of taking a day off to figure out what happens next.

So if you are feeling stuck or not as productive, consider throwing a few curve balls to your sacred Process. If it doesn't work, you can always go back. You never know what you might find.

And if you need more inspiration, there have been a number of posts recently about how others have sped up their writing:


So how about you? Do you see your Process as precious? Have you told yourself that you can only do things a certain way? What have you changed up in your process that's helped you? What hasn't worked?

 

 



"Revved up and red-hot sexy, CRASH INTO YOU, delivers a riveting romance!"
--Lorelei James, NY Times Bestselling author of the ROUGH RIDERS series

 

CRASH INTO YOU is now available for pre-order!

Read an excerpt here.


All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|

 

Monday
Nov142011

Letting Your Character in on the Secret by Ashley March

It's Monday again and time for one of our regular guests--the lovely and insightful Ashley March. Today she's giving us a great idea on how to turn some tropes on their head.


Take it away, Ashley...

Letting Your Character in on the Secret 
by Ashley March

Awhile ago I had the pleasure of reading Julie Anne Long’s most recenthistorical, What I Did For a Duke. I say it was a pleasure because not only amI a huge JAL fan (if you haven’t read her work already, please do so—you’remissing out), but also because this was the first book I ever remember readingwhere as soon as I finished I wanted to start over again.
Butthat’s from a reader’s point-of-view. From a writer’s point-of-view, whatreally struck me about this book is that although it could have been a typicalrevenge plot where the hero gets back at the heroine’s brother by breaking theheroine’s heart, (warning! partial spoiler below)

Ms.Long instead surprised me partway through the book by having the heroinerealize that this was the hero’s intention. I admit it, I was stunned. Here Iwas, sure that the hero would succeed in his plans, make the heroine fall inlove with him (while he falls in love with her, of course), and then at the endwhen she finds out what his true intentions were from the beginning, therewould be drama (!) and angst (!). Yet Ms. Long completely turns thatpredictable plot upside down by having the heroine figure out the hero’sintentions before he could break her heart.

Whatdid this do?
1)     Mostimportantly, I was even more excited to continue reading than I had beenbefore, because now I had no idea what to expect.
2)     Itmade me believe that the heroine was an equal match for the hero, which isn’talways the case with plots like this.
3)     Itmade me even more envious of Ms. Long’s genius.
Italso, however, made me wonder why we writers sometimes choose to take the easyway out. Is it because we’ve read certain tropes before and know that they cansucceed, thus we want to emulate their success for ourselves? Or is it becausewhen we brainstorm ideas, we choose something from the first three options,never daring to explore beyond the predictable?
Icould challenge you to copy from Ms. Long by choosing a common plot device andthen turning its on its head to make it unique—and I’m sure each of us couldfind a way to do that without much effort. (Throw in a rabbit here, a redherring there.)
Butinstead, I’m going to challenge you to dig a bit further. Specifically, whatcharacter(s) can you give knowledge to of an event/person/thing, etc. that iscurrently ignorant of that event/person/thing as the story stands? For you see,giving your character knowledge—whether he chooses to reveal it to anyone elseor not—makes him stronger and smarter in the reader’s eye, and it also makesthe story more complex and fresh.
Thinkof the heroine dressing up as a man and becoming the hero’s best friend. Whatif the hero knows the heroine is pretending, instead of questioning why he’ssuddenly experiencing sexual awareness toward a member of the same sex whenhe’s never done so before? (I have to admit, I like my heroes to be smart,too.)
Thinkof two ex-lovers reunited by circumstance. Instead of them both being attractedto each other still and constantly questioning whether the other person lovesthem, have one of the characters confident of their love being reciprocated.What other reason would they have to keep them at a distance?
Theseare just a couple of examples off the top of my head, and I’m sure you can comeup with better ideas when you look at your specific characters. Figure out whatthey currently don’t know (this could be about anything), then change it so thatthey do know. This can deepen notonly your characters and your story, but also create something that might oneday make your readers stand in awe and rave about your incomparable genius.(Here’s to you, Ms. Long. J )
What other book(s) can you think ofwhere a character’s knowledge turned what could have been a predictable plotinto something astounding?
AshleyMarch is a historical romance author who lives in Colorado with her adoring (oris that adorable?) husband, her two young daughters, and their dog. Her latestbook, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS, was released by NAL Penguin in September 2011,and she is currently psychoanalyzing the characters of her next two projects:the story of Joanna and Ethan, two secondary characters from her Victoriandebut; and the first book in a series set in 1920s Long Island.

 

 



“...a sexy, sizzling tale that is sure to have readers begging for more!"
–Jo Davis, author of I SPY A DARK OBSESSION

 

 

CRASH INTO YOU is now available for pre-order!

Read an excerpt here.


All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|

 

Monday
Oct312011

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: Plot Building for the Character Driven Writer by Ashley March

It's guest Monday and today Ashley March is not only going to give you a peek inside her newly revised writing method, she's also going to get Ice, Ice Baby in your head for the rest of the freaking day. You've been warned. :)

 

Characters andPlot: Can’t We All Just Get Along?
by Ashley March
 Iam a character-driven author who recently decided that I needed to learn toplot. Oh, the agony! The despair! I cannot tell you the turmoil this created(or, to put it bluntly, the general suckiness of my writing as a result). OnceI plotted the story, suddenly I couldn’t get into my characters’ heads. I hadan outline of where I wanted the story to go, and the characters had to followalong like the good little puppets that they were. Of course, they refused.Imagine it as a movie set and I’m the director. The actors knew the script, butthey kept trying to improvise their lines, while I lurched out of my chair andcut them off on a continual basis. The movie (or, rather, the book) got made,but in the end it was uneven and lacked substance because the characters andthe plot were at complete odds the entire way through production (which, yes,meant major revisions—also not fun).
This is not an experience I ever wish to repeat again. Honestly, I’d rather have mytwo-year-old throw a tantrum every hour on the hour for a hundred days ratherthan go through something similar with another story. Since I’ve now finishedthat book and turned in edits, it’s time to move on to a new one! And I thoughtyou guys might be interested in seeing the change in my process from the oldstory to the new, as well as what I’ve learned as a result. I’m calling this my“Ice Ice Baby” remix, now more appropriately named: “Write Write Baby”.

 
*waitsfor eyes to stop rolling* :D
Ashley’s “WriteWrite Baby” Process
1)      Find the hook.
Quite simply,every story begins with an idea. I don’t care if your hook is “high concept” ornot. All you need to know at this point is the basic idea—what about this storymakes you get excited and want to write it? For my September release, ROMANCINGTHE COUNTESS, the hook is about a widow and widower who fell in love aftertheir cheating spouses died. For SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, my 2010 debut, the hookis about a duke who kidnaps his wife and tries to get her to fall in love himagain. This doesn’t have to be an agent pitch. It’s not fancy. It’s your idea—your wonderful, unique,I-am-a-Mensa-genius idea, and that’s it.
If you’llnotice, this hook/idea features two very important components, both of whichare equal in significance: the characters and the plot.

 
2)      Then STOP, collaborate, and listen.

a)     STOP.
Now, if we wereplotting this baby out the way I plotted the previous monstrosity mentionedabove, then we’d start at Point A (otherwise known as The Beginning) and workout what happens in general synopsis format until we reach Point B (The End).We’d think about our characters and maybe draw up their backstory so we canfigure out what their emotional investment and motivation is in the plot. We’dwrite about what we foresee happening throughout the story; we’d come up withclever scenes and cool twists and end with a fantastic climax and neat littleresolution tied up in a bow. And after that’s done, voila! We have everything we need to start writing…right? Wrong (at least for me).
This is going tosound a little…well, I suppose insaneis the most appropriate word to use, but since we’re all writers here, I trustthat we’ve each already reached that stage of madness. :)
b)     Collaboratewith your characters to begin the book.
After you findyour hook, you don’t start plotting. No, you find out who your characters are(do whatever you must to find out their backstory, their GMCs, etc.—whateverworks for you; I’m a big fan of opening a blank document and free writing asthe characters tell me who they are). Once this is done, you look at your hook,your idea, and as the author you keep this at the back of your mind. But withthe character whispering in your ear, you let them dictate where to begin thestory. They can’t tell you anything else about the story, because they don’tknow what’s going to happen yet.
Note #1: Withthe book that I had such troubles with, everything I wrote was from an author’sPOV. I decided how the story was going to begin, and I wrote the scene thatway. While I have to be honest and tell you that the scene isn’t terrible atall, it didn’t satisfy me because I dictated what would happen. In contrast, Idid these first steps with my debut, SEDUCING THE DUCHESS (hook, stop,collaborate), and I’ve had multiple readers tell me it’s the best openingchapter they’ve ever read. And when I wrote it, all I knew was that the dukewas going to kidnap his wife. The difference? I wrote that scene from thecharacter’s POV, from the man I knew him to be. The conclusion? This canactually work. (By “author’s POV”, I do not mean it as a literary term, i.e.“omniscient”. I mean that you’re writing as if you’re the dictator pulling thecharacter-puppet’s strings. “Character’s POV”, then, means that you’re so deepin the character that you’re writing it as if the character is truly in charge.) 
Note #2: I knownot everyone writes in a linear fashion as I do, and that’s perfectly fine! ButI stress starting at the beginning at this point because I believe that how youstart the book influences everything else that comes afterward. Mostimportantly right now, it influences the tone and your immersion into thecharacter’s POV.
Note #3: I knowsome people are going to read this and think that it might sound good, but haveabsolutely no idea how to “collaborate with your character”. Let me put in adifferent, applicable way: Answer the following question. What is the firstthing your character sees or knows at the beginning? In SEDUCING THE DUCHESS,the duke saw his wife and knew he intended to kidnap her. In ROMANCING THECOUNTESS, the heroine saw the canopy of her bed overhead as she waited for herunfaithful spouse to return home. In the new story I’m about to write, the heroknows that someone is watching him. In each of these examples, we start thebook off immediately in the character’s head. As a result, the tone of thescene, your character’s voice, and the tone of that book (usually) can also beestablished inside your head.
c)     Listen.
Once you writethat first scene with the knowledge of the idea for the book in the back ofyour head, you can start brainstorming how you want the plot to unfold. Buthere’s the really important part: don’t stop listening and collaborating withyour characters. Don’t plot out the entire book all by yourself after thebeginning. Instead, listen for ideas from your characters for scenes you mightwant to include. If you come up with a great idea for a twist or the ending, beprepared to ditch it if the characters don’t lead you down that route. Thedeeper involved in the story you become through the characters, the deeper intothat world your readers will fall, too.
Conclusion, or What I’ve Learned
Here’sthe truth: I think you can write a terrific book without doing this. If you wereborn a plotter, this is probably advice that you’d be better off ignoring,anyway. But if you’re character-driven like I am and you’ve always longed forthe discipline of plotting, here’s a chance to learn from my experience as apantser and then a plotter, and how I’ve discovered to combine the two.
AsI said before, I’m sure you can write a terrific book without this process. Butfor me, the difference between doing what I suggest above and what I did before(focusing more on the plot than the characters) is the satisfaction with thestory. To me there is nothing to describe the joy I get from writing when I’mdeep in the characters’ heads and am discovering everything from theirperspectives. I become emotionally invested and pour my heart into every word.But when I plot everything out and then tell the characters what to do, I feeldetached. It’s no longer a joy, but just work. I don’t care about the words; Icare about finishing the book. And in my opinion, that’s not what writing issupposed to be at all.
Afterhearing back from several readers who read the book I just finished, they allsaid they loved it, but I know I will never be satisfied with it, no matter howmany edits or revisions I make. It will always be the book I wish I could havescrapped and started completely fresh. Even though I’ve spent several monthswriting and editing/revising, I still don’t feel emotionally connected. This iswhy I knew I had to try something different, and if you’re faltering betweenwanting to focus on your characters and thinking that a “good” writer plots, Ioffer this alternative. It’s already made a world of difference for me, and Ihope it does for you, too.
Have you ever found that a certainprocess takes away your joy in writing? What did you change to get it back?

 
AshleyMarch is a historical romance author who lives in Colorado with her adoring (oris that adorable?) husband, her two young daughters, and their dog. Her latestbook, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS, was released by NAL Penguin in September 2011,and she is currently working on the fabulous beginnings of her next twoprojects: the story of Joanna and Ethan, two secondary characters from herVictorian debut; and the first book in a series set in 1920s Long Island.





Everyone have a safe and happy Halloween!

 


"Revved up and red-hot sexy, CRASH INTO YOU, delivers a riveting romance!" --Lorelei James, NY Times Bestselling author of the ROUGH RIDERS series

 

 

CRASH INTO YOU is now available for pre-order!

Read an excerpt here.



All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|

 

Monday
Aug152011

Deep Characters for Plot-First Writers by Suzanne Johnson


-->

Welcome to the first week of our new feature--genre columnist Monday! :) Today we have the lovely and talented Suzanne Johnson talking to us about developing characters when plot is what comes easiest to you.
Already, this makes me happy that I'm bringing in others to post here because this is a post I could never write. Characters are what come easy to me and plot is my challenge, so I'm the opposite of Suzanne. That's why this is going to be so helpful. Different perspectives open up a whole new slew of topics to cover. 
Also, you'll notice at the bottom of the post that each Monday columnist is going to give you their monthly suggestion of a great read in their particular genre. This recommendation may or may not be related to the post, but I hope it gives everyone some great new books to check out! :) So now, over to Suzanne...

 


Deep Characters for Plot-First Writers
Writing craft is a process—we’re all learning as we go if we want to take this business seriously. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m trying to excuse my penchant for taking online writing workshops or buying yet another book on technique and craft.
My latest read, bought to help coalesce my thoughts as I developed my own online workshop on plotting, is Jeff Gerke’s Plot versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction. I haven’t gotten far enough along for it to impart some revolutionary new approach for me to try, but I was struck by something he hammers home early in the book, and which I believe to be true:
He writes: “I believe there are two types of novelists, i.e., two archetypes into which all fiction writers may be grouped. On the one hand you have those for whom plot ideas come naturally. On the other, you have those for whom characters arise wih ease. … Rarely do you see a novelist who is naturally good at both. I have never met one.”
Neither have I.
I’m a plot-first novelist. I come up with a big What-If idea, spin a story around it, and then go searching for characters to do my bidding. The result, as anyone who read a first draft of my first novel would agree, is a rambunctious story peopled by characters so cardboard they barely qualify as one-dimensional. Some books like this get published and widely read (clears throat and mumbles *da vinci code* mumbles), but not many, at least not outside the thriller genre.
One of the writers in my critique group is a character-first writer at the other extreme. His writing is lyrical and mouthwateringly rich. His characters are deep and I want to know them and learn more about them. But they don’t actually DO anything, and I worry that his book will never get written because he can’t wrap his head around the plot to sustain them for 300 pages or so.
The ideal, I think we’d all agree, is a book that combines the best of those two. It’s just that we have to work extra hard to make up the shortcomings on whichever side of the plot-first/character-first spectrum we fall on.
For my workshop “textbook,” I deconstructed the plot of J.R. Ward’s Dark Lover, the first in her wildly successful paranormal romance series, the Black Dagger Brotherhood. I chose this not because it’s my favorite series (it is), and not because it’s the best book in that series (it isn’t, at least not to me), but because this book—this whole series—is such a perfect blend of plot and character.
In her Black Dagger Brotherhood Insider’s Guide, Ward talks about the series, and about her process. This whole empire, whose tenth book will be released next spring, came from a group of characters formed inside her head, who wanted out on paper. Wrath and his “brothers” came first, because Ward is a character-first novelist.
She’s also incredibly disciplined, and compensates for her character-first nature by serious plotting. Her “outline” for Dark Lover ran forty-four pages.
So, how do plot-first and character-first authors compensate for the part of their writing that don’t come easily to them?
As a plot-firster, here are some techniques I use to get to know my characters:

 

 

*  The interview. Ask them questions. Don’t filter their answers but type them out as they come into your head. It’s a great way to find a character’s voice. Don’t just ask deep, meaningful things like “What do you want most in life?” Ask them things like “What did you eat for breakfast this morning?” or “What kind of underwear are you wearing?”
*  The character sheet. One of the best books I’ve found with character questionnaires is Noah Lukeman’s The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life.
*  Visual cues. Look in magazines or online to find people who look like the people in your head. Having a strong visual reference as you write can help with better descriptions not only of appearance but actions.
*  Narrative shifts. If you’re writing in third-person POV, shift to first-person for a while (it’s easy to shift it back). If you’re writing in first-person, shift to third for a chapter or two. If you’re writing from the POV of one character, rewrite a scene from another character’s POV. The change of perspective seems to plug into different parts of the writing brain and help you figure out how your character would respond to plot points.
*  Find your character’s type. I discovered Enneagrams about a year ago and never looked back. This is a great tool for finding which archetype your characters fits into, and how he or she will respond to different scenarios based on type. You can find online info at http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/ but I ended up buying a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Power of the Enneagram.
*  Think like a Shrink. In generic terms, this is just studying your character’s psychological makeup to look at past events that contribute to behavior. But there’s also a great book by this name by Dr. Harold Rosen.

Suzanne’s Recommended Read for August:
Dark Lover, first in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, by J.R. Ward
In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there's a deadly turf war going on between vampires and their slayers. There exists a secret band of brothers like no other—six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Yet none of them relishes killing more than Wrath, the leader of The Black Dagger Brotherhood. The only purebred vampire left on earth, Wrath has a score to settle with the slayers who murdered his parents centuries ago. But when one of his most trusted fighters is killed, leaving his half-breed daughter unaware of his existence or her fate, Wrath must usher her into the world of the undead-a world of sensuality beyond her wildest dreams.
Suzanne Johnson is an author of urban fantasy “with romantic elements.” Her first book, Royal Street, a magic-based fantasy set in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina, will be released by Tor Books on April 10, 2012. Two more in the series will be released in Fall 2012 and Spring 2013. Find Suzanne online at her Preternatura blog, or read about her books at her website.

 

*Look for more from Suzanne here every 3rd Monday of the month!


So, are you a plot-first or a character-first author? If you’re character-first are you a pantser (usually character-first writers will be)? Or do you, like J.R. Ward, compensate by rigorous outlining?

 

All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|

Thursday
Jul152010

Three Ways To Avoid Pantser Pitfalls

 

I've talked in the past about my pantsing tendencies.  No matter how hard I try to outline or be a plotter, I always end up sliding back into my deviant ways.  So I've learned to accept it (mostly) at this point and try to work around the weaknesses of this method.

 

Here are three things that have helped me avoid some of the pitfalls:

 

Don't hit delete even when you HATE the scene.

Sometimes, the only way for me to move forward is to try a scene a few different ways to see where it goes.  That means I end up with a lot of words I can't use.  I used to just discard the version I didn't end up going with.  But that was NOT bright.  Oftentimes, I realized later that parts of the other version would've worked better or could've been used somewhere else.  And you know how words are, it's almost impossible to recapture them the exact way you had them the first time.

 

So now, I don't delete anything--even if I'm only going to play around with a scene to see if an element can be shifted, I cut and paste the original in my "cuts" file in case I decide I want to go back to it.  My cut file for this current WIP is 23,000 words.  Ugh.  I know.  But I'm glad I have that file.  This week it helped me out.  I had one scene that I thought I hated and never thought I would use, but then it ended up being just what i need in another part of the book.  I was so happy I had saved it.

 

Anticipate unscheduled vacation time for your muse.

Goals are great.  500/1000/whatever words a day.  Terrific.  BUT be careful about the goals of, I will have this book finished by said date.  Don't cut it so close that you haven't planned for road blocks.  Everyone hits blocks, but I think pantsers are even more at risk for it because we really don't know what's going to happen next so we lean very heavily on our muse.  And sometimes, that muse goes on a bender to Cabo.  So make sure you give yourself some cushion so that you can take a few days off here and there to let your mind rest and your creativity return.

 

 

Make notes (and remember where you put them).

Plotters tend to know their plot threads before they start.  They make these beautiful charts, usually color-coded, with each of the different plot lines and subplots and characters.  They mark where they need to drop in each respective thread within a chapter.  *turns green with envy*  I, on the other hand, come up with terrific ideas for new plot threads fifteen chapters in.  Therefore, I end up having a number of threads, clues, logic details that I need to add into the earlier chapters after I finish drafting the book.

 

All these little things can add up and are easy to forget.  So have ONE place (a word document, specific notebook, post-it notes to put on a paper manuscript) where you keep all of those reminders, so that when you start revisions, you know what you need to add in and fix.

So those are three simple things that I've learned the hard way.  Do you have any other tips that help you work around your weaknesses?  And if you're a plotter, what are some of the pitfalls of that method?  What are some of your tricks?

**Today's Theme Song**
"Once Bitten, Twice Shy" - Great White
(player in sidebar, take a listen)