Posts Tagged ‘AmWriting’

NaNoWriMo: Preptober Week 3

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Welcome back, my pretties, to Preptober: Week 3! Last week, we discussed the who, what, and where of your story–your main character (MC), their Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts, and how to detail your setting.

This week, we’ll go a little deeper into the what. Namely, what happens in your book, the plot.

But first, it’s good to know that there are two basic different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Like it sounds, plotters plot out their “what happens,” while pantsers dive right in, writing away until their plot becomes evident. They “fly by the seat of their pants,” as it were.

Full disclosure: I’m a plotter with pantsing tendencies. That is, I plot heavily, using a structured outline, but if/when my characters diverge from that, I let them. Especially in the early drafting stages.

Why am I telling you this? Because my Week 3 is mostly about plotting. If that’s not your jam, don’t worry! There are plenty of articles out there for pantsing like this one from Janalyn Voight.

All righty, plotters, get ready.

Step 1: Write the short version

Through much trial and error, I’ve found that having a one-sentence pitch or summary is a great way to stay on track. It condenses your story, distilling it into its component parts.

So, write this first! In the dark of night, when you’re out in the weeds with your plot, you can come back to this to remind yourself “What in the heck am I writing again?”

I use the following template:

When [OPENING CONFLICT] happens to [MAIN CHARACTER], they have to [OVERCOME CONFLICT] to [COMPLETE QUEST].

Let’s try it for a few well-known books:

When Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the inhumane and violent Hunger Games to save her sister, she finds herself a pawn in the corrupt Capitol’s plan to pit teenagers against each other in a brutal game of death.

When Harry Potter finds out he’s no ordinary boy but a famous wizard, he must master the classes at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to fight the world’s most deadly and infamous evil wizard, Voldemort.

See? I told you it works. 😉

If you’re having trouble with this, go back to Preptober: Week 2 and review.

Another great side effect is that you can use the one-sentence summary to query agents, publishers, editors, etc. Also, say goodbye to dreading the question, “What’s your story about?” Now when someone asks, you have a ready-made answer!

Step 2: Outline

I know, it sounds like a horrible waste of time. I promise you, it’s not. To “win” NaNoWriMo, you have to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Even the most professional writer needs help to stay on task at that rate!

There are many different ways to outline, and I’ve found it’s more of a personal choice than anything else. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat: A bit dated, but this book on screen-writing is invaluable for breaking down story into its necessary “beats.” Its easy to read and concise, and the website has beat sheets from several famous movies like Guardian of the Galaxy, Jaws, E.T., and many other movies.

Save the Cat is what I use, but try it out for yourself. Every writer is different, and your mileage may vary.

2. Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel: This novel from an industry expert details all the necessary elements of a next-level story–from emotional impacts to universal appeals and ways to make your story rise above the crowd. There’s also acompanion workbook with exercises.

3. Robert McKee’s Story: A lot of people swear by this book, which is why I’m including it. McKee breaks down story structure and character and how they relate. Very intensive and exhaustive.

In addition to these fine sources, there are tons of sites and blogs about NaNo outlining like this one from Sofia Wren on using postcards to plot out your characters, setting, etc.

No matter what outlining style you use, there are a few things to remember when plotting your story:

 

1. Remember your favorite books? Chances are, the characters were interesting and dynamic, and the plot was filled with dramatic, memorable events

2. To hook readers, use universal emotions: love, hate, jealousy, hope, anger, fear, etc. Readers relate easiest to characters who feel the things they do.

3. Don’t be afraid to hurt your character. A story in which nothing bad happens isn’t much of a story.

4. Have internal AND external conflict. A story with only internal conflict will seem to happen only in the MC’s head while a story with only external conflict will make a character feel emotionally distant. Ask: what does the MC stand to lose–emotionally and physically? To gain?

5. Don’t be afraid to be original. This is often the challenge of writing–how do you create something original yet also appropriate for your genre? You learn the rules of your genre, and then you break them. Purposefully.

6. Keep tension rising. In Star Wars, notice how Luke fights Tusken raiders, then stormtroopers, and only AFTER THAT, he fights Darth Vader. If he fought Vader first, the rest would seem anticlimactic. The same goes for your story–keep the action rising, the stakes rising, and the tension will rise as a result.

 

And that’s plotting in a nutshell. Go forth and conquer, my pretties!

Slán go fóill!

~GIE

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NaNoWriMo: Preptober Week 2

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Hello, my pretties, and welcome back to Preptober: Week 2!

Last week, we went over a few things to prepare you for diving into NaNoWriMo on November 1st. This week, I’ll talk about my own process for outlining and developing a novel.

And now the obligatory credentials post: I’m a senior editor for a romance e-publisher, and I’ve helped hundreds of authors design, develop, and outline their novels.

I find it’s helpful to start basic: with the who, what, and where of your novel.

 

1. Who is the story about?

Every story needs a protagonist/main character (MC), and this is a great first step in planning. Designing your MC can help you nail other details down, too. As you develop her, you’ll naturally answer some questions that can be great fodder for conflict and development.

Let’s get started.

If you’re anything like me, it helps to have a few pictures for reference. I find working from a picture can give me things beyond a character’s appearance. It can inspire attitude, wit, strengths–three of the things that make your MC stand out.

My default is Pinterest, and you can see some of my Pinterest boards for Syl Skye, Rouen Rivoche, and other characters from CIRCUIT FAE here.

Once I have my picture, I start asking questions like the ones below. Feel free to skip questions entirely or skip and come back to them.

The idea is to kickstart your creative brainstorming by creating a “character sheet.”

Here are some of the questions I ask:

  1. What is her occupation? Does she enjoy this?
  2. Where was she born? Parents? Siblings?
  3. Where does she live? Does she like it there?
  4. Physical Description: What does she look like?
  5. How do her friends see her? Her enemies?
  6. Who are her friends? Her enemies? Why?
  7. Who are your real-life or fictional inspirations for this MC?
  8. What are her strengths?
  9. What are her weaknesses?
  10. What quirks does she have?
  11. What does she have to overcome in the story?
  12. Does she have a love interest?
  13. How is she better when she’s with her love interest?
  14. What’s keeping them apart?
  15. Describe her bedroom from her point of view (POV)
  16. Add any question you deem important

 

The goal is to create a memorable MC with strengths, weaknesses, quirks, wants, desires, and conflicts to overcome. To keep the reader’s interest, your MC must be interesting and out of the ordinary in some way, however small. 

For more on in-depth character creation, I recommend Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel.

 

2. What is your story about?

This one can be tough to lock down, but I find that if you’ve done your homework above, some of this is already taking shape, especially if you are writing a character-driven novel.

The “what” will be shaped by your MC’s Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts (GMCs).

This can be boiled down to three questions:

Goals: What does the MC want?

Motivations: Why does she want it?

Conflicts: What’s keeping her from getting it? 

 

Take Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: A New Hope

Goals: To join the Academy

Motivations: Tatooine is hella boring

Conflicts: His aunt/uncle need him on the farm

 

I know what you’re thinking: Luke’s GMCs change as the story progresses. That’s true! And it’s perfectly all right. As an MC grows, he’s bound to change. Thus, his GMCs change. For now, though, worry about starting GMCs.

NOTE: the more “universal” you can make your MC’s GMCs, the easier you’ll snag the reader’s sympathy/empathy. So use universal emotions: love, hate, fear, jealousy, desire, honor, sorrow, etc.

I’ve always said, No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m going to save the world today!” No. Luke wants to go to the Academy, to follow in his father’s footsteps. This is something most people understand. It’s also what leads him to saving the world.

Likewise, Rey wants to find her family, to find acceptance, to survive. Bilbo just wants to be able to have second breakfast in peace.

So, for GMCs, universal emotions are best. Your MC’s GMCs will form the backbone of your plot.

 

3. Where is it set? The time and place

Setting is super important! A good setting is like a character in and of itself, and it’s good to have a bead on this early on.

Again, go back to your character sheet. Have you designed a plucky space pilot? A New York caterer? A down and out gumshoe? An MMA fighter? A dark Fae exiled from her people? Likely, details from your character sheet will inform the type of setting you’ll want.

In addition, if you’ve done your reading-in-the-genre homework, you’ll have a good idea of what settings your genre supports. But don’t be afraid to mix it up! While many fantasies are set in a secondary world like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, others are set in near-modern times like Clare’s The Mortal Instruments.

The important part is to choose a setting the MC can have opinions and feelings about. The setting isn’t going to have dialogue. It’s not going to be overt. It’s subtle, and we learn about it THROUGH the MC.

Thus, we learn that Tatooine is desolate, sandy, and boring because Luke experiences it like that. Plus, it INFORMS his character and lets us relate to him. Being on Tatooine with him, we also long for excitement. That’s why maybe we don’t feel so bad when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru get turned into crispy critters–because we know we’ll be leaving boring old Tatooine for adventure!

All righty! You should have your who, what, where now. Come back next week for bringing those together to drive your plot and conflict.

 

Slán go fóill!

~GIE

 

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What Makes a Pro?

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

In my role as an author and editor, I am often asked, what do I consider to be the hallmarks of a professional writer? How do you tell the pros from the amateurs? And most importantly, how do you become a pro?

So, I’ve compiled this non-exhaustive-but-pretty-darn-close list based on my personal experiences and interactions on both sides of the publishing industry—author side and editor side.

Being a professional writer means:

  • Being creative when you’re down or sick or hungover or having a bad day.
  • Pushing words onto the page even when they suck. A pro writer knows you can’t edit a blank page.
  • Setting daily goals. Butt + chair = productivity
  • Meeting daily goals. Pros create a habit of writing, and the notion that pro writers spend all their time surfing the internet is largely inaccurate.
  • Writing in the small spaces– in the checkout line, in the bathroom, at an Idina Menzel concert, any time an idea strikes you.
  • Not really understanding those memes like “If you make me mad I’ll put you in a book and kill you.” Good writing is not about petty grudges.
  • Working a job to support your writing career. If you’re writing to “make money,” you’re going about it all wrong.
  • Getting up early and staying up late to make your daily word count.
  • Never getting to level 80 in World of Warcraft.
  • Realizing that “perfect” is the enemy of “good.” You can only obsess over a single word or phrase for so long before the ratio of impact vs. decline in productivity shifts out of your favor.
  • Reading, reading, reading. How can you write in your genre when you don’t read in your genre?
  • Accepting that you’ll be months, if not years, behind in watching the latest TV shows.
  • Being able to take and implement criticism. Treat your book like your baby, but let it get skinned knees, let it play in the dirt. It’ll be stronger for it.
  • Always seeking to hone your craft.
  • Being respectful of other writers and celebrating their successes. One writer’s success does not take away from yours. Leave your jealousy at the door.
  • Accepting that you can’t predict the market. Boy wizard? Sparkly vampires? Who knew? Answer: no one. So write what you’re passionate about.
  • Accepting that house-cleaning will probably have to wait.
  • Plotting, plotting, plotting. Plotting some more.
  • Pantsing at least a little. Even the most strict plotline needs wiggle room for magic to happen.
  • Revision, revision, revision.
  • Being humble and gracious. Without the agents, editors, readers, crit partners, bloggers, reviewers, etc, you wouldn’t be where you are.
  • Realizing there’s no one path to success. You can take every single step JK Rowling did and still not end up at Hogwarts. Own your path. Take whatever it brings and make the most of it.
  • Knowing when to take a break and step back. Writing at the cost of friendships or family isn’t healthy. Know when to unplug.
  • Giving back to the writing community. At some point, someone probably gave you a chance, an opportunity, a critique, a kind word, a good review, an “in.” When it’s your turn, give one back.
  • Making informed choices about your writing. Pro writers know when they’re breaking the rules and why.
  • Realizing you are your reputation and much of that comes from how you portray yourself on the internet. Maintain your integrity in your dealings with everyone.
  • Putting your writing over your hobbies. Do you write once/week but spend 40 hours playing video games or binge-watching Netflix? Maybe it’s time for a change.
  • Not needing a member of the Avengers or Neil Gaiman or anyone to tell you “You should be writing.” Memes are cute, but discipline is key.
  • Hustling and making your own opportunities. (see: there’s no one path to success).
  • Understanding it’s a marathon not a sprint. NaNoWriMo is EvRyDayO.
  • Practicing to condense your book’s plot into 1-2 sentences so you can intelligently answer the dreaded question, “What do you write?”
  • Getting used to disappointment. No matter how good, how thoughtful or engaging your writing is, some people will simply not like it. It’s okay. Let it go.
  • Forging on despite a bad review, a bad cover, or a missed opportunity.
  • Believing in yourself and the worth of your writing. If you don’t, no one else will.
  • Not waiting around for the muse to strike. Want inspiration? Go find it. Hunt the muse down and tie it to the desk.
  • De-ritualizing the act of writing. You don’t need special pens or a special notebook. The magic is inside you.
  • Not waiting for a special place or a special time. The place is wherever you are. The time is now.

 

As always, with any writing advice, opinions differ and mileage varies. Writing is one of those odd careers where there is no one decisive path to success. I hope some of this advice helps you find your path!

Until next time, slán go fóill!

~GIE

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Why Write Lesbian Heroes?

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

I’ve been asked a lot lately why I write lesbian heroes. The answer seems simple: I’m gay and I’m part of the LGBTQ community. Makes sense, right? But the more I get asked this question, the more I think that answer really is too simple.

It’s easy to say “Well, I’m gay,” and just leave it at that. But here’s the thing: Growing up, I never had any heroes who were like me.

Growing up, my favorite heroines were Princess Leia, Buffy, Sarah Connor, Eowyn.

I was a huge Star Wars fan. Epic fantasy has always been in my blood, and I was super excited to see a badass space princess alongside Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Princess Leia was out there saving the galaxy (and oftentimes, her male sidekicks). She was powerful, both on and off the battlefield, she was smart and sassy and spoke her mind, she was capable, and she didn’t settle for anything less than justice. She was a princess, but she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. In short, she rocked.

Then there was Buffy. I’m dating myself a little here because I’m referring to the movie starring Kristy Swanson (though Sarah MG’s Buffy was also tres cool). Who could forget the Buffster, half girly-girl/half badass slayer? She fought hard, loved harder, and pretty much smashed the patriarchy. She, too, rocked.

Sarah Connor. Who could forget Linda Hamilton’s transformation from plucky, determined heroine to gun-toting, muscle-bound babe? She threw down with Arnie and never gave up. Also, she totally Terminated that mofo.

Then there was Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings. She fought alongside all the fiercest warriors in Middle Earth. She singlehandedly slew the Witch-King of Angmar when no man could even touch him. She even dressed as a man. Then she married one.

And there it was.

I loved Princess Leia and Buffy and Sarah Connor and Eowyn, but at the end of the day, they went all went home with men. In many ways, they were very much like me. But they weren’t like me. Not completely.

Growing up gay, I was disappointed every time my favorite heroine ended up with a man. It seemed like everyone in my life was straight–from my real-life heroes right down to my fictional heroes. If the people I admired most were all straight, who was I to be gay?

So that, my pretties, is why I write lesbian heroes. So young gay women don’t ever have to ask that question.

Thank you for reading!

 

~GIE

 

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