As I mentioned in my review of Save the Cat!, the value of any how-to book is whether it inspires you to take action. For the past several months, I have been stalled out and completely avoiding working on my werewolf novel, The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. After drafting about two-thirds of the book, plot problems proliferated and I didn’t know how to move forward toward the ending. Since a lot of my fellow writers have been recommending Save the Cat! recently, it seemed like a good idea to give it a read and see if it sparked the flame of progress once again.
It did just that.
Here are a few of the tools from the book I’m using to try to build forward momentum.
Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder provides a guide to screenwriting from an industry perspective, focusing on what a writer needs to do to prep for the act of writing. These techniques include creating a logline (or one-line), watching and analyzing movies in your chosen genre, creating a beat sheet, and building a board to layout scenes as a form of outlining. Skipping over actually writing process, he then reveals some screenplay “rules” and somethings to look for during edits if the finished draft isn’t working.
While scrolling through my blog cue today, I noticed two very good blogs that talk about why stories work and why they don’t. Both posts look at how to approach plotting, coming to similar, but slightly different conclusions. Each has me thinking about my current stories and how I approach them. Hopefully, you find them helpful as well.
“While a story can have any number of events, for it to be interesting and complete, it must have three event points on its plot. Less than that, and the story is either incomplete (a vignette or character study) or it usually fails to be interesting. Often, a plot with fewer than three events is both incomplete and boring.”
“What I learned from working with the incredibly dedicated teachers, the curriculum, and the state mandated tests is that the “story is a bunch of big, eventful, unusual things that happen” idea is firmly planted in kindergarten and nourished from there on out — which is why it can be so damned hard to uproot. It’s at the foundation of how narrative writing is taught, and a major reason why so many kids (not to mention former kids) hate writing. And, for those of us former kids who love to write, it’s a major reason our manuscripts fail.”
Lisa Cron’s post also have me think about how the idea of plot/story being problems can also help writers in another area — creating dynamic characters. Often characters will be seen as too being too passive in stories. However, characters are likely to be less passive, if they have a problem that requires them to act in order to resolve it. So, thinking of story as problem provides a solution two two writer dilemmas — plot and character — with one stone. Very cool.
If you’re a writer, tell me what you’re writing these days? Did these articles help you?
If you’re a reader, what are you reading? Is it well plotted, or does it fall flat in the way these articles describe?
Reality has been kicking my ass lately, but I’m managing to get a few swings in finally. Bits and pieces of life are starting to fall into place, resembling at least an amalgamation of order.
The sun dappled through the trees as I took my run this weekend, a little more warmly than I would normally like, but it was lovely out nonetheless. Since falling off my running habit a few weeks ago, I’m not quite back to where I was in terms of distance. I only have the rest of this week to train, because the She Is Beautiful 5k is on Sunday. I’m sure sure the adrenaline and energy from my fellow runners will help me get through race day with a smile.
Writing progress has been minimal at best. I opened up my laptop this weekend with the intent to write new chapters for The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter (formerly Under the Midday Moon), but couldn’t jump into the groove of words and sentences and paragraphs and all that lot.
So, instead I gathered all my printouts and started putting together a spreadsheet of chapters written and chapters yet to write and problems that still need to be addressed — which I consider to be good progress. I have more work to do on the spreadsheet and it’s helping me to wrap my head around what I need to get done and how I might approach things, which is a relief.
To Do This Week
Finish the novel spreadsheet
Edit “The Shadow’s Flight” short story to meet flash fic markets and send it out
EDC = Every Day Carry, or the things you always take with you no matter what.
“The things a person always has on them tells you what kind of person they are. A sentimentalist? A minimalist? A survivalist? All those people will have different things.”
This immediately had me thinking about the characters in my novel and what they always carry with them. Claire, for example, always carries the keys to her dad’s cage around her neck, even though she only needs them at home. So far, I’ve only referenced the keys a few times in the story, the times when she’s needed them. But since she always wears them, even when she doesn’t need them, I can see her wearing them as a kind of charm, a comforting talisman when things are going wrong.
Now I’m going to have to think about other characters and what they carry around and what it means to them, even if they’re not conscious of it.
As a writer, point of view (POV) or perspective can have a dramatic impact on how characters are judged by readers and on the overall story. One of the first choices to be made is whether the story should be told from first person, third person, omniscienct, or maybe even the dreaded second person POV. In this regard, Writer’s Digest fortunately has a great post with six tips for choosing POV in a story, so I’ll just turn your attention there for those interested.
Instead, I’d like to talk about other ways perspective can have an effect on characters of the overall story.
How Does Reader/Writer Perspective Alter How A Character is Perceived
Cindy Angell Keeling wrote about visiting Chicago’s famous sculpture, The Bean, which casts shifting reflections back at the view from a variety of angles and perspectives.
“It occurred to me that we writers get to know our characters by viewing them from different angles and perspectives. As we polish them into being, what is reflecting back? From here, Bob seems affable and responsible. From there, we see an angry side with a tendency to shove problems under the rug. From fifty feet away, he’s helping an old lady cross the street. From ten, he’s threatening a neighbor. Standing underneath, we see a scared little boy, bruised and hiding in the closet.” (Source.)
People are multilayered and complicated and contradictory. But from the outside, if you see only one moment, one angle of their lives, it’s easy to make judgements and make assumptions about them based on that limited perspective.
Likewise, readers only have access to the perspectives writers choose to include on the page. If a character is presented from only one side, then the reader will make assumptions based on that information and may begin to see the characters as flat. Therefore, it’s up to the writer to provide multiple
Prompt: Take a look at your characters. Consider them from another angle, maybe as seen from a grocery store clerk, or the neighbor across the street, or their mother. Is there a side to them you haven’t seen yet? Is there an aspect of their lives that will grant greater intimacy or distance?
How Does a Character’s Perspective Alter Events
Years ago I read and loved The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The story is about a missionary who brings his family to the Congo. One of the aspects I loved about the book is that it is told from five different POVs, each with their own distinctive voice. In an interview discussing her book, Kingsolver said that she essentially wrote the entire book five times, once from each POV, which allowed her to consider events from every angle and choose the best perspective for a specific moment in the novel.
“I conceived the structure this way from the very beginning, even though I knew it would be quite difficult to pull off, from the point of view of craft. I spent almost a year just honing the different voices, practicing telling the same scene from all five different angles, until I had differentiated them to the point that the reader would instantly know who was speaking, just from a sentence or two. So yes, it was hard, but it had to be so. The four sisters and Orleanna represent five separate philosophical positions, not just in their family but also in my political examination of the world.” (Source.)
The perspective of each individual character in the story is a really powerful instrument, because each individual sees the world a little bit differently.
My mom is fond of saying, If three people witness a car accident, each one will tell a different story of how it happened. A police officer may describe the scene with precision because his career requires it. A young student may describe it from a place of anger because they had a friend die in such an accident. An old man may tell it from a place of panic because of the shock it caused it. Each of them will have their own stories, memories, experiences, passions, and fears that colors how they view any given moment or event.
Prompt: Write a scene fives times, each time from a different character point of view. See if you can give them each a unique voice of perspective. (This is could be good for trying to add depth to side characters.)
This post was loosely inspired by The Daily Post prompt: Perspective.
Along with two strength training workouts and a couple of walks with my sisters and niece, progress continues on the novel. I fell behind on the word count after skipping a couple of days, and so have been playing catch up over the weekend. Now, I’m just about on target again. I would prefer to be ahead of the game, but really it doesn’t matter, because I’ve written more words in this week than I’ve done in months. I have high hopes that I might actually be able to finish the entire draft by the end of the year, if not in November.
Current Project: Under the Midday Moon
(Novel Word Count Before Starting Nanowrimo: 13,010)
Goal: Complete 50,000 New Words and Hopefully the First Draft New Words This Week: 6,920 Total NaNoWriMo Word Count: 14,555
Random Rough Sentences: The cold was soothing. The sky was black, stars hidden by clouds that smelled like coming snow. The trees beyond the porch light were full of shadows and it would be easy to imagine some creature hiding out there, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting teenagers. But all I could smell was mud and dead leaves and the leavings of a moose that must have passed by hours ago.
Novelling Notes: Ever since I decided to make a massive plot change to my story, I’ve been seeing a domino effect going through scenes both before and after the plot point that was changed. I was just thinking back to a scene in Chapter Two, which I was particularly fond of, and realized it would have to go, because now it that scene impossible.
I feel like things are progressing well though, even with all the rewriting I’ll have to do, I is a wonderful, wonderful thing to see the story coming together and taking a kind of shape I can work with.
Sophie Masson wrote a lovely post about a home she grew up in, which seemed to possess the soul of a good fairy. It was a home of secrete histories and ghosts and wild places to explore (and I recommend reading it, rather than taking it at my sparse description).
Her post immediately reminded me of the park and little woods in Anchorage, Alaska, where I used to live when I was a kid (seven-ish). The park across the street looked out over Cook Inlet, the water grey and, in the summer sun, sparkling. Two sides of the park were framed with little woods, patches of trees that separated the park from other peoples homes. I remember running through those woods and believing them huge, giant forests almost filled with wonders and strange creatures. I remembered looking up at the tall trees and feeling very far from home. I remember stepping only a few feet inside the little woods and feeling as though I could become utterly lost.
As kids exploring the little woods, we once stumbled upon a tree house — just a platform, really — that sat perched at what seemed to be the tippy top of a tree, which we were never brave enough to climb. But we imagined the kind of strange, brave person who would live at such heights.
Another time we discovered a cement slab (something industrial) hidden in the trees. It became the framework for an invisible house in which we pretended to live. It became a stage upon which we pranced and gave our bows. It became the home of an evil man who kidnapped good children and hid them away. It became so many things.
A few years ago, I was remembering the little wood and wondered what would happen, if such a small wood, the kind it was impossible to become lost in, actually hid in its heart an older, much greater wood — the kind one might never return from. That idea inspired a a short story, called “The Witch of the Little Wood,” grew into a novella, which transformed into part one of an unfinished novel that I plan to finish eventually.
My life inspires my writing quite a lot, usually in unusual ways. “The Witch of the Little Wood” makes use of several moments from my life, all unconnected. A phrase shouted at me by my sister during the middle of a fight (which made us laugh at the time) becomes barbed cruelty tossed at our MC by a bully. The awkward feelings of junior high, in which several people whom I thought were friends suddenly changed and became bitter enemies, makes it into the story. Bits of life here and there, hurts and loves and joys, travel through me and become new unrecognizable scenes in my characters lives. Bits of myself show up in everyone, from the heroes to the villains.
Writing is a fascinating process that way. Reading is, too. How you can look at a story just discovered and realize, oh, this is me, this is my life, here is everything I love and hate and need and feel all right there on display.
When you write or read do you often discover yourself in the stories? Does it surprise you?
For those who are not aware, I am participating in both National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)* and National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) this November. If this sounds like madness to you, that’s because it is, my lovelies, it is.
I’m finding the dual challenge fun, at least in these early days of the month. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far.
1. Exceed the Daily Minimum.
I kind of knew this one from the previous years I’ve done Nano and it feels like it should be obvious, but I feel like it’s something I always end up learning all over again. If you just meet the minimum requirements of the challenge, then you can get in trouble if life gets in the way latter down the road.
I try to at least get a few hundred words over the 1667 minimum required for Nano, that way I’m not stressed if I don’t feel like writing one day.
For the blogging challenge, this sometimes means I’m writing two blog posts a day, one for the day I’m on and one in preparation for the day after. It’s the same amount of words, but helps me have all my bases covered. In some cases this has resulted in two posts in the same day, because something new and relevant has come up. So, at the end of the month, I may have more than the minimum 30 blog posts (way cool).
2. Write First. Life Second.
Simple, and something I’ve known for a long time. Get the work done that needs getting done first and use the time left over for cleaning your room, chores, errands, watching TV, reading, friends, family, etc.I think this works best for the craziness of these writing challenges, since it only has to be sustained for this short period of time. During the rest of the year family and friends are the priority; cleaning, errands and chores end up on fairly even keel with my writing activities; and play (i.e. TV and movies and such) should be lowest, but isn’t always.
For day to day life, I won’t be able to keep this manic energy up, but I can set aside specific days where I come home from work and make writing my priority.
This work first attitude is also helping to build a habit of getting stuff done, which I’m hoping will carry over after the November challenges are completed.
3. Get Out and Do Things.
Once the day’s goals have been met and exceeded, get out, get away from the chair, go do something. It’s kind of like a reward for the hard work done that day, but it’s also a way of maintaining mental order.
Last weekend was perfect. I got up early (but not too early), had some tea and toast while doing my Nano Novelling, and then went out and took walks with my baby niece and sisters, went to the farmers market, played with the baby, watched some movies. I
I have also been keeping up with my exercises, which helps keep me physically capable of sitting there and writing without feeling like I’m going to fall apart at the seams. And it also helps clear my head and exorcises stress.
These kinds of challenges require a lot of endurance, especially if you are combining them with full time jobs or education activities (and btw, parenting counts as a full time job, for realz). With the combination of work, life, family, friends, and the challenge, I’ve experienced serious Burn Out before, where I realize I’ve taken on too much with the result that I start to get physically sick or I get to the point where I don’t even want to look at a computer. Maintaining a sense of balance by stepping away from the challenge, taking a break, is a good way of surviving the month.
4. Don’t Be Afraid of Going for the Gut.
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I discovered over the course of this week that I’d been taking the easy way out in regards to my novel, playing it safe for both me and my characters. But it’s so much exciting for both readers and the writer to go for the gut and take risks. It can be scary, but it has the potential for better writing.
Taking part in NaBloPoMo has had me reading more blog posts this month than I normally would, and I’ve been struck by the honesty and courage of my favorite posts. I haven’t managed this much in my blog, as I tend to avoid writing posts that could be the least bit controversial or argumentative. I’m trying to put more personality into my posts and would like to get into more creative nonfiction, adding stories from my life in (hopefully) interesting and creative ways. It’s something for me to work on.
5. Work Breeds Inspiration.
I rediscover this every time I find myself enmeshed in a big project or doing a lot of writing or a combination of writing and other creative things. The more I write, the more I feel inspired to write, the more easily new ideas and words come, the more quickly I can get those words on the page.
To me, writing kind of like having a big round stone in the middle of a field. You know you want to roll the stone over to the other side of the field. As you stare at the stone sitting there, the idea of moving is looks daunting. The stone is too heavy. It’s too much work. Then, you start pushing the stone and it’s hard, but slowly it starts moving. As it starts moving, it starts to pick up momentum and that momentum makes it easier. If you stop, the momentum stops; you have to start the hard part over again. But if you keep the stone rolling until you reach the end of the project, then the momentum makes the work so much easier.
Nano-ing and other such challenges are huge massive heaps of potential and momentum. They start a pace, which the writer can either keep going or not.
For me that momentum is invaluable. It gets me going and keeps me going, and the sheer act of writing is what keeps my inspired.
Since we’re on the subject, my lovelies. Are you doing any personal challenges this month? What have you learned in the process?
Since today marks the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) — that delightful challenge to complete a ridiculous 50,000 words in a single month — I thought I would pull out an old video for today’s Friday Five.
Don’t Delete Anything
Dares and Prompts
Plot Ninjas Are Your Friends
While I will be attempting to write 50,000 words this month, I will not technically be doing Nano because I will be working on an old project (the rules of Nano say that it should be a new project). I will be attempting to finish draft one of Under the Midday Moon, so that I can use 2014 to edit it.
The key to Nano, really, is the community and that you are not in this alone. I really appreciate that a lot, especially at moments like now, when I haven’t been feeling very motivated.
For those like me, not technically following the Nano rules, but still wanting to participate in some form, you can do an anti-Nano project. Set your own goal and then post updates on your blog, or if you’re on livejournal join the squidathon and post updates there (they do check-ins on Mondays and Fridays).
I will, however, be updating my progress on the Nano website, under my username blythe025. You are welcome to join me there, if you’d like.
Are you participating in Nano this year? What will you be working on?
Last week was starting to shape up into another nothing-gets-done kind of week, when BAM! I somehow got smacked with some determination and began cleaning out my shelf, adding items to my Goodwill pile, tossing others, and reorganizing the rest. I even created an itemized list to go with the receipt and then took the bags and boxes to the donation station (follow through? what?).
This new sense of order inspired me to go a step further and attack the craft, writing, and office supplies in my closet. I went through every random box in there, from empty shoe boxes to big bins to get a sense of what was where. I kept finding surprises — stuff I’d shoved into boxes because I didn’t know what to do with it or knew what to do with but didn’t have a place for. I kept asking myself over and over, why? why on earth would I have put this here. I have no easy answer.
My closet is now the most organized it has been since, well, since I’ve had it. I now have access to my painting and art supplies, which have been placed in plastic drawers and easy to reach bins, while putting the things I don’t need as often out of the way.
Goddess, that feels good.
With my exercise goals accomplished and the organization done, I feel good about last week, even if I didn’t move my writing goals forward.
Organizational-wise, I have to get some tools to get my shoes and jewelery under control, but that’s a small thing. My next big hurdle will be to try to bring order to my writing projects (various short stories, poetry, etc.), and I don’t have the foggiest how to do that.
Any suggestions on how you keep stories, novels, and all their notes and drafts in order (both in print and in the computer) would be greatly appreciated.
To be accomplished in the coming week:
– Finish second half of Chapter Six of Under the Midday Moon
– Submit something (poem, story, whatever)
– Workout at least three days with two workouts being running training (0/3)
– Do three morning yoga workouts (1/3)
– Practice my Spanish
– Finish stenciling on art project for niece’s bedroom
– Make Progress on Organization (do one or more of the following):
• Buy shower curtain hooks for organizing scarves
• Find a way to better organize shoes with double shelf or slots
• Buy a tie hangar for necklaces and create rack for earrings
• Shred papers and dispose of them
• Measure pictures and buy frames
Or, How I Learned to Stop Lamenting and Enjoy the Process
I managed to get myself into a funk last Friday, I was finding myself despairing over my rarely completed to-do lists and my languishing novel, which is suffering through first draft blues. As much as I keep plugging away at the book, there is a deep, ugly, grumbling that believes I’ll never finish the novel or any novel and even if I do, none of them will be worth reading.All this tied into the fact that I had picked up 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma (my review is here), which was blowing my mind with awesome in terms of both writing style and storyline. Normally, I don’t bother with being jealous of my fellow authors, but on this particularly day, I felt it and it layered onto my anxieties. I began to spiral into doom-gloom with “I’ll never write like this, never this good” and “My writing sucks” and “I’ll never inspire or move someone the way the writing of this author does for me.”
Dwelling on this kind of stuff is less than helpful and can lead to an avoidance of writing and/or feeling blocked when staring at the blank page. At least, I know this can happen for me. So here are a few things I’ve done and that others can do to let go of all the negative gobbledygook.
1. Remember that Every Voice Isn’t the Same
I can thank my mom for reminding me of this when I was despairing on Friday and it’s important. No two voices are the same. Every writer has their own stories to tell and their own way of telling it. Therefore, it’s not necessarily an issue of better or worse, but just about being different.
Just because one author writes an amazing book, doesn’t mean that your own story, words, and thoughts are not valuable in their own right. If you have a story to tell, then tell it. Your words are unique to you, and chances are someone will find them valuable.
2. Keep in Mind that Drafts are Called “Rough” for a Reason
I think Anne Lamott says it best in her essay, “Shitty First Drafts” (link to a pdf). Most drafts suck the first time around, and they many continue to suck after the second or third go throughs, but somehow a good story gets drawn out in the rewriting/editing process.
It doesn’t really how many books an author has published or sold, or how great their writing, chances are that author has been through bouts of despair and flailing over the suckage of their own writing at various stages of the process. For an excellent example, check out Libba Bray’s fantastic post on writing despair.
So, be gentle with yourself. Be forgiving of your early mistakes. Be forgiving of your later mistakes. You have to work through each mistake to learn how to write, and every word you write gets you to the next one. You can’t get to the finished story/book/poem if you don’t walk through the tangled, mangy woods of the first (and sometimes second, third, fourth, etc.) drafts.
3. Do a Writing Analysis on the Book
So you’ve found a book you love, with writing you adore, with delightful worldbuilding, compelling characters, and a smooth plotline. Instead of feeling inadequate in all its glory (as I did), use this as an opportunity to learn something.
Once you’ve finished the book take a look at what it was about it that made you love it. What is the plot structure or how it launched immediately into the fray? What it the eloquent scene descriptions? How about how the characters were portrayed?
Create a list of what worked for you and what didn’t. What techniques can you use to improve your writing? What can you try to avoid?
I don’t tend to get too heavy handed with these sorts of analyses, as I don’t want to overshadow what naturally comes out when I’m writing and it’s important not to try to force your writing to fit a mold that doesn’t work. But I’ll often keep these kinds of lessons sitting in the back of my mind while I write and will draw on them when I’m challenged on how to handle a certain aspect of the story.
4. Practice Celebrating Your Fellow Writer’s Successes
Both Justine Larbalestier and Seanan McGuire have posts about how life, art, and publishing are not a zero sum game. One writer or artists success doesn’t take success away from you.
I’ve heard some people say that books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey should never have been published and lamenting about how many people were taken in by these horrible books. But my sister hated reading, mostly because high school taught her to, and it wasn’t until she read Twilight that she became a reader. That book series taught her that reading could be fun, and that enjoyment has led her to read a multitude of other books in a variety of genres.
What authors like Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James have done is manage to tap into their enjoyment of their readers in such a way that lots and lots of people wanted to read their books. They may not be perfect books, but I salute both authors for their success. Hats off to them, and I’ll keep writing the stories I feel compelled to write.
It’s even easier to salute the writers you love, because their success means more great books for you to read.
But more importantly, if you’re sending out joy and good wishes, then you’re not bogged down by jealousy. Personally, I find it much harder to write when I’m in a fowl mood, so keeping positive (if I can) helps me.
5. Just. Keep. Writing.
Just that. Keep writing.
There’s a momentum to the writing process. I find the more I write, the easier it is to keep writing. If I stop and let myself fall into a mood, it just makes it that much harder to come back to the blank page.
And whatever else is going on around you, whoever is on the bestsellers list or winning awards, one thing you know you can control is the work you put into your own stories and and effort you put into making them the best they can be. That’s a powerful thing.
How do you handle little writing jealousies? What do you do to keep from despairing about your writing?