Tag Archives: Writers

3 Steps Fiction Writers Should Take

Work In Progress Sign Held By Construction Worker

Always take time to check these 3 steps before declaring a project ready for edit. They save so much time for the fiction writer.

  1. Whether you’re an outliner or not, create a list of all the major plot points which must be in place before the conclusion.
  2. Each time you finish a revision session, save the manuscript in at least two places.
  3. Always run your final copy through beta readers.

Let’s look at the logic behind each of these steps individually.

Plot Points

Outlines consist only of a story’s signposts; a series of events which must occur between the opening sentence and the last words of the story. It really is that simple. You don’t need details of how, where, why, etc. You need only those signposts in your outline. The list helps keep your story train on its timeline track.

director-chair-business-cartoons-vectors_GyG7my_OFor instance, the movie Ghostbusters was very simple from an outline perspective. Premise: scientists/researchers come together because of a flurry of apparition sightings in New York City.

Outline:

  • Researchers create special equipment for use at sightings if needed.
  • Scientists verify a sighting in a public library.
  • More sightings occur.
  • They hang out their shingle and go to work as independent contractors in ghostbusting
  • EPA steps in to control researchers’ activity
  • Situation with EPA devolves until the city’s government is involved
  • Researcher’s love interest is taken over by evil entity, along with another person
  • Researchers must discover identity of evil entity and devise way to dispel evil’s control
  • Researchers fight entity and entity’s minions in the Empire State Building, climaxing with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and win.
  • Possessed humans are released and rescued
  • Boy and girl declare their love
  • Everyone prospers

An outline can get even simpler, but doesn’t have to. You only need an intro, an middle with action development and a climax/conclusion. The twelve outline points above don’t take up much space on paper, but getting from the first point to the last gets filled with tiny details that take up two hours of viewing time.

Revising for Results

Once your rough draft is done, the fun begins. Mistakes photoRevising allows the writer to catch and fill in all of those amorphous details that color the story with rainbows and leave the scent of fresh-baked bread behind. And that’s what many readers look for. Unless, of course, you’re dealing in horror.

Before beginning your revision, make a copy of that rough draft, with a new title, to work from. Then, each time you finish a revision session, be it an hour’s worth or a day’s, save that baby in at least two places. Try on your hard drive and a flash drive, or the cloud and a flash drive. Whichever method you use, do it. Don’t forget.

It only takes one glitch to leave you with nothing but sunshine and a rough draft. It happens all the time to writers everywhere. You don’t want to have to begin a revision from scratch from the rough draft again. The frustration and lost hours aren’t worth the risk.

Use Beta Readers

Book and knowledge conceptUnless your story is flash fiction, send your baby to a solid list of beta readers for review. Try to get a mix of “strictly” readers and a few actual writers. You get something special from each side of the house.

The beta reader can find all those flaws that the writer misses during revision and edit. You can guess the ones; continuity errors, name changes, characters’ unexplained dialect shifts, timeline anomalies, word misuse, the dreaded word-of-the-day, and more. (Word-of-the-day refers to those common words we end to use unconsciously far more often than necessary.)

Once you get those copies back with comments, corrections, and suggestions, you’re ready to tackle the final edit and spell check. You editing task will take less time and be more accurate after having so many sets of eyes on it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The writer who takes these three steps to do each of these steps eliminates greater timewasters and frustration in the long run. A brief but pointed outline is your train’s engineer and keeps you on your time table. The revision conductor makes sure you always have a second secured, current revision copy to safeguard your work. Beta readers act as brakemen to keep you accountable for the quality of your work. Your manuscript is better for the steps taken throughout the process.

Cooking Ingredients for the Mind

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The compelling, music of Kitaro fills my ears, while I sit in an unstable desk chair procured from a former tenant, of another apartment, years ago. My hand-me-down desk and a found, handmade shelf unit act as my work space. These are the ingredients of my office.

Why do I talk about these things? I suppose it’s because I don’t particularly care where something comes from, how little I paid for it, or how strange it looks, so long as it functions in the job I’ve assigned it.

I had an eight-foot counter top. I traded for the desk when we switched apartments. Uniform file boxes, filled with items not in use, stacked to a convenient height and covered with a tablecloth, functions very well as a table. If I’m going to stack them anyway, they might as well serve a purpose.

Right?

I think most of us think along these lines sooner or later. I simply prefer thinking like this all the time. Being a writer only encourages the practice.

stock-003-007How can I say that? Well, examine our daily work.

We create stories. In other words, we’re cooks, disguised as builders. We stake our reputations on our ability to utilize disparate ideas, words, etc. for the purpose of telling stories or relating information. That’s our job in a proverbial nutshell.

Except for verifying information used in said stories and articles, we don’t care where we get our ideas. The same idea could have been used before for something else, dozens of times. I’m not referring to plagiarism here. I’m talking about taking a bit of information or sparked idea gotten from reading a newspaper, magazine, or another book and putting together our own unique scenario using that information.

001-bonus-things-jAn example here is Matthew Bennett’s break-out bestseller for expectant mothers, “The Maternal Journal.” He certainly couldn’t use personal experience for his book, for obvious reasons. He could take information found elsewhere, add opinions and insights from obstetric specialists, as well as experienced mothers, and tie it all together into an easy-to-follow pregnancy guide. Of course, smart marketing helped sell the book, but the idea was built on a personal question and information gathered from elsewhere to answer it.

007-stock-photo-bAbove all else, writing begins with tiny particles of dreams; put together in a blender half-full of words; adding splashes of character-driven action; a nebulous theme that peeks out at the reader at unexpected points in the story; teasingly rambunctious characters who play with the reader’s mind; and pressing the pulse button until all ingredients are smooth and ready for the palate.

The end result depends on the cook, not on the origins of each ingredient. Like the workability of my office—with its quirky desk, computer, headphones, and workspace—the story has arrived on the reading table because of how I use the makings I can find and how I combine them for that purpose.

Writing is hard work in the murky, ever-shifting tides of the publishing industry. There are no clear-cut answers. Many of the deciding factors about who’s published and who’s not stems from an editor’s gut reaction upon reading the manuscript.

stack-of-books-on-white-background-vector-illustration_z1m6_xvdLike all writers, we each have our cookbooks and our kitchen equipment. A good toolbox helps, too. The age/ source of an ingredient or building material isn’t as important as the purpose for which it’s used. Good writing doesn’t depend on how good the computer is, or how fancy the office looks. The expert chef can make use of simple ingredients to make a fantastic dinner.

How do you cook your stories and serve them up? Care to share? Feel free to tell about how you find your ideas, combine your ingredients, or market your wares. I’m always interested in learning another’s techniques.

 

At Home—Writers, Readers, and Characters

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If you’re a reader, you aren’t necessarily a writer. But, if you’re a writer, you’re always a reader. Between the two are the characters of whatever story is in view.

Writers may have penned their stories since childhood, as I did. Others come to it later in life. All read books early, and for many like me, the choice of reading material wasn’t dictated by genre or age group. At age ten, I was reading my mother’s lit book from high school. My favorite selection in it was Tennyson’s Lady of the Lake.

By age twelve I’d moved to Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. Thirteen brought on the complete works of Shakespeare, thoughtfully provided by my father, who’d never read of word of the Bard’s work. Other masters from around the world followed the Bard. The one, though, that stayed closest to my heart was Omar Khayyam’s The Rubaiyat, which was later supplanted by The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

Because of the era in which I grew up, most of the main characters were male. I longed for female characters that went on quests, made serious decisions, etc. I’d long written my own heroines, but the desire to read those written by others kept the spark of writing alive for many years until such characters began appearing in books and films.

stock-photos-v2-004-008Now, this is my question for you. Whether you’re a reader or a writer, which types of female main characters do you prefer in books? Is she the gentle-souled, romantic who lives the good life, working hard to bring harmony to her world? Is she the Lara Croft type, who wades in, guns blazing, ready for any event and then some? What about the girly-girl, who’s more interested in her appearance at the next event, but who can’t change a light bulb to illuminate her surroundings?

It’s my belief that we all have a favorite type of female lead, just as we have a favorite male lead. The question is: what does that say about the reader?

For me, I like strong female characters; strong in personality and in body. Why? It could be vicarious in nature. I was always strong in both. I was the protector of weaker kids on the playground and the school bus. It was a role I took on voluntarily. I still do it to some degree.

stock-photo-2-011I crave the adventure and excitement of the hero’s journey, regardless of story setting or timeframe. I also enjoy the intellectual stimulation of who-done-its. Truth to tell, I’ll read just about anything that can’t move faster than my questing hands. It was a joke during my adolescence that there was a dictionary in the bathroom for my benefit.

What about those girlie-girl characters? If they’re being put into situations that require stamina, intelligence, and a Wonder Woman outlook, no problem exists. If she’s going to whine through the whole story, this reader lays down the book, never to return. Call it a personal quirk. Like most readers, for me to enjoy the story, there must be character growth along the plotline.

Now, after all this discussion of my personal preferences, have you taken a moment to compare yours? What conclusions did you draw?

Tell me, what type of female characters do you prefer and why do you like them? Leave a comment and tell me. I can’t believe I’m the only one out there with character preferences.

Above all else, readers enjoy reading for the sake of the mental pictures, the characters, and the possibility of learning something. Enjoy a story today.

At Home—Virtual Blog Tour and My Writing Process

Carved Door

This post is part of a virtual blog tour to which Patricia McGoldrick, an Ontario writer/poet, invited me. I’ve come to know and admire Patricia’s work and her enthusiasm over the past couple of years. She adopted a quote from Joan Miro for her own–I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music” She shares many a poem and photos on her blog at http://pm27.wordpress.com/. Drop by for a peak!

And now on to my questions and answers.

1)     What am I working on?

The easy answer would be—a juggling act. At present I am writing the following:

  1.  A sci-fi novella—to be ready for submission by June 30th
  2. The development stages of a fantasy series—1st book to be started in July
  3. A chapbook of Flash Fiction pieces on the theme “Careful what you wish for”
  4. A poetry chapbook—sorting through hundreds of contenders is a bear of a job
  5. A cookbook that I’d really like to complete and get out this summer. (This is my procrastination project that must find closure soon before I go mad.)
  6. A redesign of my author’s website

Yep, I’m keeping busy this summer.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In poetry, I follow a lot of prompts and forms. I’ll try anything once—in writing, that is. I do a lot of free verse, but I’m moving into prose poetry too, now. I found a publisher who only works with prose poetry and found the challenge irresistible. Readers of my work soon notice that I don’t do a lot of rhyme or iambic work. I tend to be more an impromptu/accidental poet in that vein. If I have to think about it, I’m lost.

I tend to work with large themes, anchored in the philosophical frame of mind. I might write a piece of flash fiction around an early historical fact but frame it as a warning from the future about the disastrous aftermath of that event, invention, etc. As with my Flash Fiction Chapbook, the tiny stories twist in the middle to reveal the darker side of wish fulfillment.

I don’t often “go to the dark side,” but when I do, it stays with me for just a little while until it drains away and then sunshine and happier writing can return. I figure using the mood and getting it out is better than holding it in and letting it create a deeper pool.

 3)     Why do I write what I do?

 I don’t know that I can answer that. I get inspiration from anything/everything. Sometimes it takes only a word from someone else and it sparks an entire scene in my mind. Sometimes it’s as simple as a memory from childhood—a person’s face or circumstance, for instance—which triggers a cascade of what-ifs.

Writing about things that hold no interest for me is nigh-on to impossible. I can’t write about things that bore me. In the end, I write because I can’t stop myself. I discovered Tennyson when I was ten. All bets were off after that.

4)     How does my writing process work?

 When an idea whizzes through my mind, it does a ricochet act until it’s gathered enough auxiliary details to fix itself into memory. That’s when I write it down in a notebook or .doc file of story ideas. (I’ve learned that distraction is my memory’s nemesis.)

Many times the poem or story writes itself, beginning to end, with little help from my conscious mind. I don’t know precisely how it works when it does that. It’s as if the whole piece was there, waiting for release, and my fingers just happened to be available for use.

When writing doesn’t come easy, more thoughtful and deliberate word work results—at least for me. I’m a better poet for the experience.

My fiction usually goes through my fabulous face-to-face critique group. We meet each Friday to go over everyone’s submission for review. I encourage every writer to join a critique group, in person or online. They’re well worth the time and effort. The learning potential is enormous.

I give most pieces time and distance between revision and final edit to ensure perspective. My articles are often done on a short deadline. I do initial quick and dirty writing, revise at least twice, and the editor who receives it has choice of final edit, as usual. It works well for me that way. It reduces the overthinking factor that could waylay the original article idea.

Brainstorming, mind-mapping, and careful editing are my best tools. Having honest critiques on rough drafts saves months of work. Otherwise, I allow the world around me to flash ideas in my face like neon signs.

Having said all that, I’d like again to thank Patricia McGoldrick for asking me to participate in this blog tour. It’s been fun.

Connie PietersWriter/poet Connie Peters will follow me on this blog tour. She’s one of those truly unique writers who don’t have an active blog. I do believe I’ll host her here and consider it an interview. In the meantime, I’ll give you a peek at her face so you can get a feel for this marvelous lady. You can find her work at Creative Bloomings and other poetry sites as well as many print venues.

I’ll be back in a day or so with more Haiga and another pep talk for those reluctant verse magicians out there. Until then, happy writing.

And don’t forget to stop in at the other blog venues on the tour, like:

http://wordrustling.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/the-writers-blog-tour-my-writing-process-3/

http://pm27.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/virtual-blog-tour-writing-process/

http://www.hearearthheart.com/blog

http://www.drpkp.com/2014/06/june-9th-welcome-to-2014-virtual-blog.html

http://whenthepenbleeds.blogspot.ca/2014/06/from-lip-of-arctic-circle-one-of.html

http://whimsygizmo.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/my-writing-process-blog-tour/

At Home with Yourself and What You Write

Hands on Computer

A few days ago, I posted a piece on my blog at 2voices1song.com/ about patience and how difficult it was for me at times. What I had to say probably wasn’t earth-shattering for anyone, but it brought a few issues to the surface for me and this career that I choose to pursue.

Most writers I know, regardless of genre or experience, contend with similar issues. The learning curve is too great some days. The field is shifting too fast. I can’t keep up with what I want to do; much less what the industry expects me to do.

Raise your hand if you’ve used this mirror.

Winding through each of these areas of concern is a single thread—patience. Most importantly, patience with ourselves. We tend to treat ourselves with less regard than we do others.

The how-to of applying patience to you is manageable.

Whether you’re a teen or octogenarian, you know how your mind operates. You understand the method of learning that works best for you. You also recognize where you have stumbling blocks. Take all of that self-awareness and create an educational package just for you.

I’m not talking formal education degree here. I’m referring to an individual, doable learning experience that you can carry with you anywhere.

  • Decide if you need more complete instruction in grammar or other writing skills—there are plenty of free courses online or inexpensive formal classes at community colleges everywhere. Check out short writing courses taught by working writers. There are many excellent ones to choose from, especially among specific genres.
  • Determine how best you learn new material—here’s a Learning Style downloadable PDF to help you. Some of us use multiple styles, according to type of material.
  • Do you have a problem getting comfortable with new or specialized computer software? Tutorials for most software are available online—even on YouTube for programs like Scrivener and other writer software. Remember—Google is your friend.
  • Are you unsure how to proceed once you’re at a certain stage of your writer development? Join a writer’s forum. If it’s a good one, recommended by other writers, you’ll learn many useful tips, tricks, etc. You can ask your questions and get options from those who’ve been there already.
  • Most of all, take to heart this one reality and repeat as affirmations each day. I am one human being. I can accomplish several things in one day. I can work on my writing each day by learning new ideas and skills. I can learn what I want to learn. All learning takes time and practice. Perfection is not my goal. I learn from each mistake and each struggle. To compare myself to other writers is futile. We each have our learning curves.

Struggling with what should be.

How often do you think something like, “It shouldn’t be this hard to figure out ‘X’”? Or, “I know I’m bright. I should get this in no time.” If you return to this thought pattern, ask yourself one question. Who said you “should” understand or master this in an instant?

I have little patience with my own stumbling efforts to learn as fast as I think I “should.” Beware the tyranny of the “should,” as it’s known in Psychology circles. The “should” is my primary nemesis. Some days are worse than others for me.

Why? Because I tend to pile on far too many projects at a time to work on, complete, and get out into the world. It’s the completing phase that takes the longest time and it’s the most frustrating for the perfectionist in me. Patience with myself flies out the window on wings that could carry the mighty albatross.

I’m getting better in the patience department. I’ve dubbed it part of the learning curve of writing. I’ve accepted the fact that no one is perfect at all activities. I don’t have to expect perfection as the final product. Also, I don’t have to make excuses for not being perfect.

Mistakes photoMistakes are learning tools that I carry in my memory. Each mistake not only teaches me something critical, but also gives me the opportunity for greater advances than I would have made without it. They have become friends in a larger sense.

Give yourself a break today. Relax. That really is something we “should” all do on a regular basis.

“Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.” Terry Pratchett

This quote applies to writers as professionals, too. Inside every old writer is a beginner who wonders how she learned to write as well as she does with so many constantly shifting tools.

Be sure to tell me your own struggles with patience, if you have any.