Posted by: Jodi | November 19, 2014

NaNo 2014 – Keeping Momentum

Congratulations, if you are still keeping up with NaNoWriMo you are entering the home stretch. For those who are keeping up with the daily goals, today you should be passing the 31,000 word mark – way to go!

If you are behind, don’t despair, don’t stop. There is still time to catch up.  Find yourself a few undisturbed hours and crank out as much of the story as you can, remembering not to stop and edit. Your goal is to create a complete story, not Shakespeare.

Today we are going to talk about keeping momentum. If you have survived the first two weeks then you are doing well, but chances are you are starting to get tired of forcing the writing process day after day.

It’s the same with any project or goal – think New Year’s resolutions. The first week you are still motivated to see things to the end and have the energy to do so, you reach or even exceed your goals. The second week is when you start slipping and cheating a little, you still reach your goals or come very close but it’s harder. Here in the third week is when many people quit, either because they have fallen behind and don’t feel they can catch up, or they have simply run out of energy.

The third week has other challenges as well.  In a 50,000 word book this is when the main character is starting to gear up to face the climax of the story.  If you are plotting the key points of your story using the Hero’s journey as your template, your main character will be entering the part of the story when he must face daunting challenges that change his outlook and transform him so that he can face his final battle.

In Frozen, this is when Hans reveals his true sinister nature and Anna must find another way to survive. In Cars, this is when Lightning decides to stop being a jerk and do a good job fixing the road.

While this is tough writing, it is also rewarding because this is when the character goes from interesting to awesome.

So keep going!  The work you do this week will be hard, I’m not going to lie, but it is definitely worth it. Identify how your main character must change, and place him into a scenario that forces the change to happen. Only 11 days to go, you can do it.

Gif created by nulty102 at deviantart.com

Nail it like Anna nailed Hans! [Gif created by nulty102 at deviantart.com

 

Posted by: Jodi | November 12, 2014

NaNo 2014 – Beating the Murky Middle

Saturday marks the halfway point for all you NaNo writers out there, that means you should be nearing or hopefully passing the 25,000 word mark in your new drafts.  It’s usually around now when the story starts falling apart and writers get frustrated. It even has a name, the murky or muddy middle.

There are several reasons this can happen.

The first of these reasons is poor planning. Now I know that there are lots of people out there prefer to create as they go, and there is no problem with that. Many best sellers out there do the same thing. This becomes a problem when we reach the middle and need to know where the story is going, so we can figure out how to get there. Without an ending there is no goal to be reached and the characters simply don’t know what to do.

Another reason the middle gets murky is when there isn’t enough conflict. The main character has overcome the initial conflict and it’s not quite time yet to build up to the ending climax in an interesting way.  There has to be some problem that the character needs to overcome in order to be ready for the ending conflict.

The last reason has nothing to do with the story, but with the writer.  It is typically around this point in the story where the excitement of the story has worn off and the writing starts to feel like work.  The momentum slows down and self-doubt creeps in. We start wondering why we even started the project in the first place.

There are a few things that you can do:

In your story -

  1. Introduce more conflict! Kill someone off, get lost, get stuck, get in trouble, find a way to challenge your character.
  2. Change the setting into something more intriguing. Drop your characters into a lion den, a mad scientist laboratory, or a zeppelin and see how they react.
  3. Write from a different character’s point of view, perhaps your villain. What do they have to say about the situation?
  4. Go to Random Topic Generator and write a scene about the first prompt that comes up, if anything it will give your character something to do.  Use your creativity to make it work in your story.

As a writer -

  1. Write somewhere else.  In you have a laptop or tablet, grab it and go somewhere new. A change in your writing atmosphere is often all it takes to get the wheels turning.
  2. Challenge yourself to a writing sprint – set the timer and go for it.  Many times writer’s block is not because we are stuck but because we are reluctant to write what needs to be written.  We worry that it won’t be good enough so we put off writing about it.
  3. Enlist a friend, ask them for some advice. A fresh perspective can be all you need to take off once more.
  4. Take a break and read a chapter from a favorite book. Our creativity needs time to recharge and reading is a great way to do it.

writing

 

Posted by: Jodi | November 5, 2014

Inspiration for all those NaNo’s out there

It’s day five of NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) and it’s fast approaching the time when people are starting to fall behind and get discouraged.  I’m here to pick you up by your bootstraps and give you the support and encouragement you need.

My NaNo journey this year is different, like I said in the last post. I’m in the process of revising my novel so that I can present it to beta readers and get that crucial feedback. It needs one additional pass after this one before I can feel comfortable with doing that. My goal for NaNo is to get in at least one hour a day and push through the draft one tiny piece at a time.

I know this sounds like small peanuts, it is.  My kids are off track and still too young to leave me alone for longer than a few minutes at a time. I get this hour in twenty minute chunks.  If I’m lucky I’ll only get interrupted one or two times during each chunk. It’s a perfect recipe for insanity.

Even still, with these micro chunks I’m doing more every day than I’ve done in the past because I’m actually working on it. Sure, having several hours to work is fantastic, euphoric even, but if I have to wait weeks to get one then I forget what’s going on in the story and have to spend valuable time rereading and backtracking and double checking before I can even start.

I almost wish I was writing a first draft…

But you, dear NaNo writer, dash out the words like a crazed mad man. Find every minute you have and just let it flow out.  Don’t look back, don’t worry about the stuff you might be messing up.  The purpose of a first draft is to find the bones of the story, not create a masterpiece.

With that in mind, here’s your inspiration:

dragons

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Now get off of the internet and get writing!

Posted by: Jodi | October 29, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

NanowrimoThe time has come for writers the world over to decide if they will take part in this year’s NaNoWriMo, National November Writing Month.  This event encompasses sheer lunacy, the over consumption of coffee and chocolate and the wearing of comfy pants while desperately trying to reach that golden apple of writing the first draft of a 50,000 word novel.

Have I done it? Yes. Once.

Four years ago when I thought I was invincible and could do anything in terms of writing, I set out to write an urban fantasy thriller.  I got my 50,000 words by the skin of my teeth, punching in the last few thousand on the last day, at the last-minute. It was a huge educational experience. Not only did I learn that it was possible to do it, but I discovered that when you are forced to write so much in such a little window, the story and the characters tend to stay alive in your mind during the entire month. They have to because your every thought during each waking moment centers around what is going to happen next in the story and how to translate those thoughts onto the page.

So, am I going to take part in NaNoWriMo this year? No and yes.

No, I will not be thrashing out a first draft of a new idea. Although the idea of doing so is enticing, I really need to get through this current draft of work in progress.

Yes, in honor of NaNoWriMo I want to finish what I started last year when I set out to finish the revisions of my WIP.  I’ve been chipping away at it ever since.  My goal last year was to get through the first 50,000 words of the revision during the month.  I wasn’t successful. Turns out revision takes a whole lot more time than barreling through a first draft. However, I did fix all the broken bits in the first 30,000 words, which was a massive feat.  I had made more changes to the characters than I realized.

During this entire last year I’ve been trying to work through the rest of the manuscript and I would love to finish it this November.  There are still around 40,000 words left that need revising and it will be a lot of work to get through it all. The current total word count sits around 125,000 words.  It’s been a very long process bringing this story from concept to finished story.

Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

Posted by: Jodi | October 22, 2014

The Art of the Short Story with Paul Genesse

CrimsonPact1This month I attended a lecture presented by the animated and hilarious Paul Genesse, editor of the Crimson Pact Anthology series and author of the Iron Dragon series.  In this lecture we learned the ins and outs of how to create a successful short story, and he should know, he’s had over a dozen published.

Here are some of highlights from the lecture:

First and foremost – the story can’t suck. The reader must feel engaged and emotionally connected right from page one. This might seem like stupid advice until you read several dozen stories that don’t capture the imagination.  With books, readers are more willing to read several pages to see if they are going to like it. They have made an investment in either purchasing or finding the book at the library and because of this will try harder to like it. Short stories on the other hand, are short. If the first page isn’t interesting, chances are the rest of the story won’t be either.

One of the best way to engage the reader from the first page is to start the scene during a critical moment.  If your story is going to start with a truck bashing through Stanley’s bedroom wall, you could start with Stanley waking to the noise and seeing the truck coming at him.

Stanley rested peacefully when suddenly he heard a terrific crash.  There, coming through his poster of Van Halen was the front end of a truck. He struggled to free himself from the tangled bed-clothes but was too late. The truck lifted his bed and him and crushed them through the wall and into the adjoining bathroom.

Or, you could start here -

Gypsum dust and chunks of drywall rained down and the air smelled of diesel. Stanley tasted blood and when he wiped at the wetness on his head his hand came away red. A crumpled bumper hung inches from his face and someone he couldn’t see cussed and spat.

The two moments happen within moments of each other, but the second example strips away the fluff and buries the reader in the middle of the action. The second also pulls in the senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound, which also makes for better, more immersive, reading. The goal is to make the reader care right from the beginning.  It has to be immediate, drawing, and fast.

Although this is true with all writing, in short story writing it’s even more important to avoid telling and show everything. Become a “was” Nazi.

The beauty of short stories is that they are short and they can be FINISHED. That said, the first draft is going to stink, and that’s okay.  One of the perks of short stories is that you can have lots of drafts.  Think of your first draft as a summary, not a story.  It tells you where everyone needs to go and why.  In subsequent drafts you can go in and bring it all to life.

During the writing process be sure to consider the following:

Scope: Can your story be told within the confines of a short story or is it meant for something longer?  If you need to go longer than your word count allows, double-check with who you intend to submit your story to if it’s alright. Usually they will be fine with longer stories if you have a good reason and they have room in the book.

Hooks: After the story is all figured out go back and tweak and add a few hooks to increase tension and keep the reader engaged.

Conflict and Tension: This has to be on every page, no exceptions. If there are passages that don’t further the story they have to go. This can’t be wishy-washy, it should be gripping.

Ending: These are tough.  They can’t be predictable, too stupid, or silly. Plan on tweaking it over and over again until it reads right. That said, in horror writing you can get away with really horrible endings.

Number of characters: There should only be a handful, ideally 2-3.  If there are too many characters, the reader can’t keep track of who is who. Also, each character needs space within the story to be introduced and described. It’s possible to have one character, but it’s hard.  They won’t have anyone to talk to.

Point of View: A short story is a great place to experiment with a POV that you don’t usually write in.  There is a greater emotional punch in writing 1st person which is why most shorts are written in it. The other option is 3rd person limited.

Try/Fail Cycle: Yes, this still exists in short fiction, it’s just condensed. If your character succeeds right away then the problem was trivial. Ideally there should be three failures before your character solves his problem.

Get Feedback: We write in a bubble and sometimes our ideas don’t transfer to the page as well as we think they have. This is where getting outside feedback is crucial.  Readers will catch what you can’t because they can’t imagine anything than what’s written on the page.  This feedback will open new opportunities for growth in your story.  If you can’t get another reader to give feedback, the next best thing is to set the story down for a while and then read with it with fresh eyes. It is guaranteed you will find things that need tweaking.

To write short fiction successfully you must read it.  Go to your library and find anthologies and educate yourself on what makes the stories successful. Think about short stories you’ve read that have stuck with you over the years.  I’m sure everyone remembers the Little Match girl.  It sticks with you because SHE DIES. One of the stories that has stuck with me ever since I read it is Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron.

You have to know what you want from your story.  How do you want the character to change? What do they need to learn?

In the end it all comes down to one thing – writing the story that you want to tell.  Write to please you, no one else matters. If you aren’t excited with your own work, it will show.  Find that passion, that jewel of an idea, and go make something awesome.

***

PaulGenesse

Paul Genesse: I’m a fantasy author and registered nurse. My first novel, The Golden Cord, Book One of the Iron Dragon Series came out in hard cover in April, 2008 and became the bestselling novel my publisher has ever had. Book Two, The Dragon Hunters came out in May of 2009. I’ve sold a dozen short stories and counting, such as The Nubian Queen in Steampunk’d from DAW Books, and Almost Brothers in Fellowship Fantastic also from DAW Books. I’m also the editor of The Crimson Pact anthologies. Visit my website for all the gory details and to see maps to where the bodies are buried.

Just for fun, Paul was kind enough to hook us up with a free short story!  Here’s the opening:

When I was a young man I sold a pair of Tasmanian tigers to a woman claiming to be the fourth wife of the Turkish emperor. Selling them was the worst moment in my life and I have often wondered if the price of my soul was indeed fifteen thousand British pounds. If I had kept the animals in Australia, perhaps I would not consider myself the man most responsible for the extinction of the entire species, though that is not the worst of my crimes.

To read the rest, go here!

Paul also has some terrific stuff on his website and blog, go check them out!

Posted by: Jodi | October 15, 2014

Debate: Linear vs. Non-Linear Writing

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Does your story look like this?

There are several debates when it comes to drafting a novel. The most well-known debate is usually between plotters and pantsers. Plotters being those who outline and plan each chapter in advance and pantsers being those who wing it and see what comes out.  Turns out most writers I know do a bit of both.

A lesser debated issue is that between linear and non-linear writing.  Linear writing is when a writer starts at the beginning and plows through to the end without going back to change or fix things. Non-linear writing is when the story is written out-of-order. The writer might have a stroke of inspiration and envision an awesome climax and write that first and then they go through and write the events that lead up to it. Non-linear writing also includes writers who start at the beginning and then loop back to fix or adjust earlier scenes as the writing continues.

There are pros and cons to each style of writing.

Linear writing tends to be the more standard approach to novel-writing.  It tends to be more organized than non-linear writing and will create a finished product in less time.  Because it forces the writer to figure out all the ins and outs of their story as they go, there tends to be less massive revision and changes.  However, since the writer needs to work where they are and not skip ahead, when inspiration strikes for a different scene they tend to wait until they get there to write it.

Non-linear writing is a slave to inspiration.  This is when the writer gets a brilliant idea for a scene and writes it and then has to to build a story around it.  Writing when fueled with inspiration lends itself to awesome prose and satisfying creative experiences.  However, a non-linear writer will shy away from scenes that they don’t feel the inspiration to write and stick to the ones they are passionate about. When it comes time to assemble these scenes into a story there tends to be a disconnect between them and it takes lots of hard work to bring the story to completion.

I’ve been both.  Back in the day when I started my story and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t know where I was going with it and so I wrote it in a non-linear style.  It was fun and self-indulgent and I felt like I was putting some terrific words to paper.  It wasn’t until almost a year into the process that I realized that I had many major problems that had to be fixed before the scenes could be strung together.  It’s taken ages to correct the problems I caused for myself.

I learned my lesson and now work strictly from beginning to end.  This way it’s clear when a draft is completed.  When I find a problem I flag it for the next drafting pass.  I know when a story is getting close to being finished when all the problems have been addressed.

What experiences have you had with linear vs non-linear writing?

Posted by: Jodi | October 8, 2014

Grammarland – The Comma Splice

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Comma Ninja does not appreciate being misused.

After some soul searching, erm I mean blog searching, I discovered that it’s been way too long since I’ve tackled a grammar subject here at My Literary Quest.  Today we learn about the dreaded comma splice. Earlier this year I discovered that I am a repeat offender when it comes to creating comma splices. A dear friend, who also happens to be a grammar guru, critiqued one of my chapters and found dozens of the little monsters.

Turns out what I thought was a legitimate way to write a dramatic descriptive sentence was completely wrong.

A comma splice is when two independent clauses are smooshed together using only a comma. An independent clause is usually a simple sentence. He went to school. She ate a banana. The aardvark hates socks.  It can stand on it’s own without any other clauses. One or both clauses can also be a compound or complex clause as well, but it doesn’t happen as often.

 

The following sentences are comma splices (and may or may not have been taken from one of my chapters).

1. Perhaps we can figure it out together, tell me what you were doing.

2.  Something is different about you, you are sad.

3.  She had never made the journey to his mount before , she had never needed to.

4. Something has changed within me, I’ve discovered something new.

 

The simple fix is to break the sentences back into two sentences.

1. Perhaps we can figure it out together.  Tell me what you were doing.

2.  Something is different about you.  You are sad.

3.  She had never made the journey to his mount before. She had never needed to.

4. Something has changed within me.  I’ve discovered something new.

 

Simple short sentences can read a bit choppy. Another way to fix the sentence is to use a comma and coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) or subordinating conjunction (see this handy list)

1. Perhaps we can figure it out together, if you tell me what you were doing.

2.  Something is different about you, for you are sad.

3.  She had never made the journey to his mount before, because she had never needed to.

4. Something has changed within me, now that I’ve discovered something new.

 

Some grammarians will say to use a semicolon, and this is correct if the two clauses are related to each other.  However, most publishers shy away from the semicolon between clauses because modern readers don’t like them.

While these are still not stellar sentences, they are technically correct. This is why editing is so gosh darn important. In the revision process they will most likely be changed entirely to read more smoothly.

 

More helpful links:

Purdue OWL: Comma Splices

Wikipedia: Comma Splice

 

Favorite Grammarland posts:

Insubordinate little devils, um I mean Clauses

That dratted “That”

“Dialogue punctuation?” he asked, “But why?”

Get your Dangling Participle out of my face!

Posted by: Jodi | October 1, 2014

The Tragic Backstory – When is it too much?

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The other night hubby and I were debating over Doctor Who’s tragic backstory.  Hubby believes that having the Doctor be the last of a murdered species is over the top and unnecessary.  Having there be a possibility that there might be other Time Lords out there is a much more interesting prospect and would give the Doctor more dimension.

I believe, however, that his backstory is fine as it is.  Having the Doctor be the last of his species is poignant and makes everything he does more noble.  There is nothing compelling him to continue governing time and that he still continues to do so adds a lot of unseen strength to his character. If there were the possibility of there being other Time Lords it would reason that many of the episodes would revolve around him trying to find them instead of embarking on new adventures.

Daleks_2005_and_2010Our debate raised another question that hopefully one of you can answer.  It’s clear that the Doctor can reincarnate when he dies, seeing as he already has done so on numerous occasions.  Why didn’t the other Time Lords reincarnate?  It stands to reason that because of this unique ability there very well may be other Time Lords out there simply because they just keep coming back.  My best guess as to why this isn’t so is that the Daleks kill in such a way that it prevents the reincarnation process, but I could be totally wrong.  I’m still only in series one and there might be a better explanation when Doctor 9 becomes Doctor 10 at the end of the season.

Back to Tragic backstory.   Many of our favorite characters have tragic backstories.  Harry Potter’s parents were murdered in front of him when he was a baby and he was raised by the horrible Dursleys.  Luke Skywalker’s mother died in childbirth and his uncle and aunt were slaughtered by the Imperial forces.  In Wreck It Ralph they hang a red flag on Sergeant Calhoun’s tragic wedding where her fiancee is eaten in front of her because she didn’t perform a perimeter check.  In almost all Disney movies the main character’s mother is dead, think about it, the only one I can find where the family hasn’t already been ripped apart is The Incredibles.

Most tragic backstories start with the main characters family enduring a crises where some of them die.  Usually it is a parent but the death of a sibling can also be very scarring. Then, depending on the needs of the story, there are a series of other events that add to the depth of the character which include but aren’t limited to: slavery, abusive relationships, physical disability, mental illness, crime, confusing magic powers,  imprisonment, and more death.

When is it too much? Each story has a tone, some are serious and somber; some are lighthearted and funny.  Serious stories lend themselves to a more tragic backstories where a lighthearted story would be weighed down by more than a few unfortunate events.

And the truth is none of it matters.  I’ve seen characters with minor tragic events turn them into these massive stumbling blocks all because the reader is exposed to the characters huge internal turmoil.  Everything that the character must overcome is measured against this one painful event.

Then there are characters who walk on the page with so much baggage that it seems impossible for them to bear it. Their families have been murdered, their home burned, everything has gone wrong for them, but regardless of everything that has happened to them they are still grimly working towards their goals.  They’ve buried their pasts so they can survive the present.

Now, writer be warned.  There is such thing as making a character so tragic that they actually become funny.  If this is your goal go for it.  Otherwise, keep the tragic events to exactly what’s needed to make your character realistic and interesting.

It all comes down to the personality of the character.  There is no requirement for any character to have a tragic backstory, but history shows that readers empathize with characters who have struggled and still struggle with their past.  If anything, it makes them more relatable to real people.  No one likes a character who has had it too easy in their life.

So, there it is.  Doctor Who has a tragic past because it makes him more interesting, more personable, and more noble.  Whether his past is considered too tragic is up to the viewer.

dr_oz_320_wktv

Poor Dr. Oz got himself into trouble a while back because he shifted his focus from real medicine and health issues to promoting unproven weight loss supplements.  His reason? He was trying to engage his audience.  There’s no doubt that having a highly reknowned medical authority come out on national television and tell about a new “magic” cure to the obesity crisis would lead to higher ratings and therefore more cash for the network.  But, when those products aren’t proven or regulated, it’s not the best idea to back them with your mouth or your money.

Even then, I was nearly convinced to try a few of the so called miracle pills to shrink off my stubborn belly roll. Everytime I see the chocolate covered acai berries I want to buy them, and have bought them, because perhaps it will help. Note to self: chocolate covered anything will not lead to weight loss, duh.

One of the most sensitive topics for people these days is their weight.  It’s sad, but true.  The American lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to a trim midsection by any stretch of the imagination. Anything that talks about weight loss is a guaranteed success, whether it be a TV show, book, or even this blog.

What got Dr. Oz in trouble is that he was standing in the role of a medical doctor and using that to legitimize the products he was promoting and he did it because he knew that people were hungry to hear about it.

You can engage your audience without stepping into this trap.  For those of you who use social media, what was the last thing you clicked through to read while on Facebook or Twitter? For those of you who don’t, what was the last thing that caught your attention, that made you want to read more?

Some things are universally engaging, human interest stories, cute puppies, and celebrities doing naughty things tend to catch our attention. For sports fans it might be news about the last big game, or perhaps an in-depth feature of a favorite player. For writers it can be links about how to better our prose or find a publisher. The point is you can find interesting things that are engaging to write about whether it be in a piece of fiction or a blog post.  The trick is to identify those things that you are interested in and would want to read about and then put your own spin on it.

What will you do to engage your audience?

***

This post was inspired by the always funny John Oliver on the Last Week Tonight Show, when he tackled the Dr. Oz issue. Here’s the video if you want to see it:

Posted by: Jodi | September 17, 2014

Writerly Quote of the Day – Asimov

Asimov quote“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers” – Isaac Asimov

In Hamlet, Shakespeare said “brevity is the soul of wit.” Today, and quite possibly for the next unforeseen future, I will be brief. It turns out that blogging, especially when you are working hard to create new and unique material on a regular basis, takes hoards of time.  That’s time that I don’t have, and to be honest, haven’t had from the beginning.  I will continue to post here on Wednesdays but the posts are going to be shorter for the most part. (I am a novelist at heart, writing short can be a challenge).

Why the change? It keeps being pointed out to me that I spend more time on the blog than on my fiction. If I put the same effort into my novel it might actually get finished.  Also, cue the happy dance, I received my first official acceptance letter telling me that one of my short fiction pieces won a place in the 2015 Fantasy Anthology by Xchyler Publishing. Receiving this validation has kickstarted me out of the rut that I’ve been stuck in and now it’s time to get out there and get the work done.

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