Posts Tagged ‘WritersLife’

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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NaNoWriMo: Preptober Week 1

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

Hello, my pretties! November is coming up fast, and we know what that means–NaNoWriMo!

For those who might not know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It happens in November, and it challenges writers of all skill levels to complete a rough draft of approximately 50,000 words in one month.

That’s one huuuuuuuuuge task! But I’m here to help you break that huge task down into smaller, more manageable chunks, and soon, you’ll be on your way to completing that 50,000 word draft.

But first, we have to prep. And that, my pretties, is what October (Preptober) is for.

I know, I know. It’s awfully tempting to just wait until November 1st and then dive in all gleeful and in love with the shiny newness of writing our novels. But what I’ve seen is that people who don’t prep don’t finish. They lose the shiny about a week in.

Why? Because writing is hard work. It’s wonderful, but it can be very isolating. The blank page can seem like a monster just waiting to eat up your writing time and leave you with nothing but self-doubt and discouragement. Middles can sag. Endings can elude us. It can seem impossible to even start!

If you really want to hit the ground running on November 1st, then Preptober is essential.

Good news: I’m here to guide you through it!

Being successful at NaNo depends mostly on developing a habit of writing. After all, if you can’t get your butt in your writing chair, you’re not going to get many words on the page.

So say it with me: butt + chair = word count

It sounds silly, but if you’re serious, this will become your mantra in the next few months.

Okay, down to brass tacks: How do you start?

1. Learn more about NaNoWriMo

If you’re new to NaNo, head on over to the NaNoWriMo website and poke around. Start an account if that appeals. If not, no worries! The key to your best productivity is not going to be Use All the Things! Instead, it’s going to be: Use the Things That Work For You.

2. Start brainstorming!

It’s never too early to start brainstorming. If you’re lucky, you might have that awesome novel idea that’s been burning in the back of your brain–the one you just can’t wait to get out on the page. If you’re like that, great!

But if you’re not, you’ll want to start with some questions: What are my favorite books? Why did I enjoy these books? How did reading these books make me feel? Is that what I want my readers to feel? If not, then what emotions do I want to get across to my readers? If I could write any one novel and it’d be an overnight success, what would I write about?

This blog post by Denise Jaden gives some more ideas for harnessing passion to get you through your draft. I love her idea of creating a mission statement!

The key is to jumpstart your brain and your creativity. Ideally, you want a project you’re not just excited about but THRILLED about. That’s what’s going to keep your butt in the chair when the shiny wears off.

3. Gather Supplies

Whether it’s in a notebook or an app, you’ll need somewhere to jot all these ideas down. It’s a good idea to spend some time checking out the different systems like the Bullet Journal for Writers or apps like EverNote.

I use a Bullet Journal spread for monthly word count calculations along with EverNote. Since I’m often away from my desk when inspiration strikes, it’s good to have a note app that syncs across all devices.

You’ll also want to decide whether you’ll be using an app, MS Word, Scrivener, or some other program to do your daily writing. Try them out and see what works for you. There are countless programs. Some, like Scrivener, are very robust. Others are much simpler.

Again: the key is what works for you. After browsing Bullet Journaling for five seconds, you can see how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole. You can spend entire days doing Scrivener tutorials.

I probably don’t have to tell you that the time you spend checking out cool BuJo spreads and playing around with Scrivener is time you’re not writing. And that’s the whole point of NaNoWriMo, right?

To write a novel!

So I caution you to choose something that fits your needs over your wants. Trust me, you don’t need all the bells and whistles. Too much, and it’s just another noisy distraction.

My advice is: use the simplest solution that fits your needs.

4. Read in Your Genre
If you haven’t already, start reading in your genre now. Go online and search for the most popular books in your genre. See if any appeal, and start reading! The best way to get a sense of a genre is to read in it.

If you’re already pretty well versed in your novel’s genre, I recommend re-reading an old favorite, something that gets you fired up and excited about the genre.

Begin reading like a writer. Notice the cadence of the words. Note when you feel excited and when you’re turning the page. Try to see how the author accomplished that. Also note when you’re bored and skimming. Unpacking other authors’ techniques is a next-level writing skill that takes time to develop, but being aware is step one!

5. Come back next week for Preptober: Week 2!

That’s all for now, my pretties! Go forth and conquer. And if you’d like to find me on NaNo, I’m GirlyEngine. 🙂

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