What’s Up Wednesday: Sep 5

Oh hi blog world!

So I’m a bit out of practice when it comes to this whole blogging thing. But here’s what I’ve been up to since we last spoke:

1. Still not dead. Yep, alive and kicking

2. I finished a major rewrite of a YA Thriller that takes place in Tokyo. My writer’s group’s frequent feedback was it wasn’t following enough of a thriller track and after some hard looks I had to agree with them. So I pondered and pondered for months. Part of my process is basic outlining, because then I know where the paths lead and if that’s the path I want to take or not. I feel like it’s a combo between plotting and pantsing.

It didn’t turn out exactly the way I had thought, which was fun. And I ended up creating a new character because of it, but I think it made sense. Plus I seem to have a habit of creating characters and then not really using them, but in this draft I brought an underutilized character to the forefront. I understand the appeal in imagining you can get it right the first time, but when you realize that writing is a journey and rewrites are going to happen if you want a good story, you sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Well, okay, most of it. There are those moments where you want to pull your hair out because the rewrite still needs some tweaks. But overall, worthwhile.

3. Finished a short article for a magazine. Another writer friend of mine said she thought it was the best thing I’d ever written. I’m going to submit it to the magazine this week and see what happens. Fingers crossed. And of course I’ll keep you updated.

4. The hubs and I are trying something called My Miracle Tea which is supposed to be like a major detoxifier. What does that mean? You get to poop, a lot. But it’s supposed to help with your liver and kidneys which, if too junked up, may contribute to stomach weight gain. We both feel like our stomachs could use a little extra help. I’ll let you know more about that as we go along. Why did I even get on this tea in the first place?

5. Foot zoning! It sounds like witch doctoring, but I feel like it’s legit. What is it? Someone gives you what is likely the most painful foot massage of your life and is able to tell you what’s going on in your body. I might still be skeptical of that much, except she knew stuff I hadn’t even mentioned. But to add to that, I also went to see a hormone specialist and they pointed out and recommended the same things.

Now granted, I’ve only been one time, so I can’t attest to the validity of all of it. But the friend who recommended me has personal stories of migraines going away after drinking teas this lady recommended, as well as discovering the lactose intolerance of a kid that doctors hadn’t pointed to. You can still skeptic away if you want, but I’m keeping an open mind after hearing and experiencing all of that. Besides, I’m more of the homeopathic mind when it comes to health these days.

That is NOT to say I think all pharma is bad. Some people really do need the medications they are on. Are we overprescribed in general? I think so. But does that mean all pharma is bad. Nope.

And that about covers it. I’m letting the rewrite of item 2 get cold before editing it. So in the meantime I’m kicking around another idea. I don’t know if you’d call it urban fantasy. Or steampunk futuristic, but it’s more of a middle grade story. And it’s weird. But I’m really liking it.

Okay, that’s what’s up with me? What’s up with you?

Valuable Scenes

Several months ago on a blog just around the corner, Alex and I were discussing writing as we usually do, and she mentioned—nay requested—a post on value shifting in scenes because I hit that up every other second when it comes to feedback.

So, my people, I give you my own personal interpretation of Robert McKee’s value shifts. And hopefully this will give you enough reason to go buy this book already and hold it fast like the writing bible it is!

WHAT DO YOU MEAN VALUE?

It doesn’t mean morals, if that’s what you’re thinking, although it could be related to a moral. This is part of the real guts of the scene. Think of it as what the character values most in that moment. It might be freedom, In some cases it will be the stakes of the story. Often it will be just the stakes of that scene.

How does Mr. McKee define it?

Story Values are the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next.

I often think of it as the goal of that moment for the character or perhaps something that will create a goal. Take, for example, Ghostbusters. The big goal of the characters is saving New York from utter destruction from a Mesopotamian god (NEGATIVE).

It just popped in there.

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League of Utah Writers Conference

Over the weekend I attended the League of Utah Writers Conference. We have quite a few authors out here in Utah, many of them who were members of the League or attended some of our Utah conferences before getting published (and still come back as visitors).

I decided to attend this year and lucky for all of you, I took notes which I will now share. So put on a lanyard, go into a crowded hotel with your laptop and pretend your right there with me.

PRE-CONFERENCE WORKSHOP

This was basically a grammar and other tips session. I guess in previous years they did a boot camp where you get to work on your pages. While I thought much of the information I received was helpful, I still wish it had been the boot camp. If you already have a strong grasp of grammar and the industry, I would skip things like this at your own conferences. But if you can do a boot camp on your work, sign up for it. Super helpful (I’ve done a few in the past). And now onto the notes.

KNOW YOUR GENRE

Definition of genre:
1. A loose set of criteria for a category of composition. Genre can be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even (as in the case of fiction) length.
2. Genre is often used for marketing purposes

Genre in Fiction. There are two major groupings: realism and fantasy. Realism is stories that could have really happened (Like The Help). Fantasy is stories not possible in the real world, and they often follow the quest pattern. Of course there is genre blending these days, but it’s still important to know where your story lies in genre.

Themes in Fiction/Non-Fiction.

  • growing up/coming of age
  • individual
  • man vs. man
  • man vs. nature
  • man vs society
  • life, alienation, death
  • relationships
  • peer relationships
  • family relationships

Target Audience. Know your audience. These serve as guides for approximately how many pages your story should be, especially if you’re interested in traditional publishing. These are based on manuscripts in the traditional format of Times New Roman 12 point font, double spaced with 1″ margins.

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SMC: Triple Duty Writing

This brings us to the end of the Storymakers Conference notes. I hope you’ve found something helpful from reading these. Polish up those manuscripts, peeps, cuz I wanna read about how you landed agents or sold a bajillion copies on Amazon in the near future.

I’ve mentioned Clint Johnson before, who any of you can hire to critique your stuff via his site. He really knows his stuff and his forum was no exception to helpful tips. I give you last NOTES of the conference:

What is actually happening or going on in a story? There are three actions that generate what happens in a story.

  1. Advance Plot
  2. Setting Scene
  3. Revealing Character

Learn how to do all three of those motions simultaneously on the same page, in the same paragraph. Plot is not just a chronological unveiling of the events in your story. You can change the chronology to change the revealing of your story.

Setting limits within the scene dictates what can happen there. When you pick a place, remember that different places have different characters, your establishment of setting is going to affect those.

Revealed character is what makes your story matter. You can have set scene and have a plot that is completely advanced, and your story may still not matter. Characterization is the meaning..

Sometimes writers feel like they need to give us a block of backstory or a block of internalization. But anytime you have a block of anything, it’s a speed bump. The bigger the block, the bigger the bump, the more inertia you’re going to take away from your reader. Doing any one narrative action is bad.

Even if you know something that invests you, you’re using your previous knowledge to wade through the block. If you’re only using two of the three actions (from above), it’ll feel disembodied, or it’ll feel like nothing is happening or readers just won’t care. (And because I thought this next bit was especially good, I’m putting it in a block quote.)

Your story is not what happens. Your story is how your point of view character reacts to what happens.

Action only reveals so much meaning. Reaction is where the greatest amount of meaning comes from—especially in prose. Different mediums have different strengths, and what written prose does better than any other medium is it gives you access to the mind. We can slip into the mind any time we want. And we can’t escape the mind.

Your use of point of view is the key to being able to make everything you ever write matter.

It’s personalities that move an age, not politics – Oscar Wilde

If you begin with an individual you will find you have created a type (I think what he means by this is create an individual and let that individual reveal themselves to you and use what you have learned about the individual to create legitimate reactions within your writing). Begin with a type and you will find you have created nothing. (If you start with a characterization and don’t delve into what makes that character who he/she is, you will have a cliché and a flat character.)

The more we create an authentic individual we’ll find we’ve created a type. (And to go further into this, types in this sense are the Jack Bauers, Darth Vaders, Sarah Conners, i.e. the memorable characters).

In setting, you only record something important to the POV. Use POV to help it mean something. Two people can witness the exact same thing and have a completely different understanding of it. What you choose to describe tells you about the character.

WRITING EXERCISES

At this point he had us do some exercises. He had us look at the room we were in and pick out a detail about it to describe in prose. So, if you want to play along, look at the area where you’re seated and pick out a detail or two to describe that area to readers. Why did you choose the details that you chose?

Now imagine an old woman were to come into your area. What would she notice that would reveal to us something about her? Modern, uncomfortable furniture. Loud, obnoxious music? Etc? What about the main character of your novel? What would they immediately notice about your space? Use their reactions to what they see to tell your readers something about them without actually “telling” them.

After a little discussion on our choices, we moved to another writing exercise. He split us into groups and gave us a specific topic to write about. For our group the set up was this: a reporter at the beach discovers a dead body. We had to describe the scene pulling out details that would tell us our character was a reporter and also show our reporter’s reaction to finding the dead body.

Once we had written and discussed this, he had us switch the POV to a homeless man finding the body on the beach and his reaction. Then to compare and contrast the differences between the POVs encountering the same exact beach and the same exact situation. If you do this exercise, you’ll be surprised with how the story reads (or at least should) very differently for two different characters walking into the exact same scene.

CONTACT INFO

If you liked the sample of what you read here, you should really check out Clint’s site, especially for those of you thinking of self-publishing in the near future. I worked with him on the first 2 pages of my manuscript and found his insights to be extremely helpful and was astounded at how much he was able to read into the story with only 2 pages.

What do you think of Clint’s advice? Are you going to try the writing exercises? Have you considered approaching your writing in the way of your character’s reactions?

SMC: Powerful First Pages

This breakout session was taught by Josi Kilpack, author of the Culinary Mysteries series and several other books. Check out her author website here.

And now, THE NOTES.

If we want other people to read our books we must fulfill their expectations. We’ve created a sort of reader contract with them. The first chapter is your first chance to fulfill or fail those expectations.

OPENING HOOK vs BOOK HOOK

The book hook is what your book is about. The opening hook is getting right into the story and making sure right away that it is interesting to your reader. So while your whole book must have an interesting premise and blurb to entice readers to read the book, the first chapter must have it’s own mini-hook that drives them to proceed anxiously to chapter two.

A side note: A lot of people will point to other authors who break the rules as their excuse for breaking the rules in their own novels. But here’s the thing: In order to break rules you must 100% absolutely understand why that rule is in place and know exactly why you’re bending it. Otherwise it’ll likely turn into a gimmick—and you’ll push potential readers away.

HOOK vs GIMMICK

Your goal is to gain the reader’s interest. You will lose most readers after the first chapter if it’s not good. However, sometimes things we think must be interesting aren’t if we allow them to become a gimmick and not a hook.

For example, let’s say there’s great action in the first chapter, but it didn’t match the book. The rest of the book was more of a careful, slow build to a different kind of story—more like a Steel Magnolias tone vs. Die Hard. It didn’t fit, it didn’t give you a good idea of what this story is about. It’s become a gimmick if you’re trying to manipulate readers into reading the book and setting up a false hope of what the story will be about. Not every book must be an action story, nor should it, but don’t set up false expectations of what kind of story your reader will be getting.

BEFORE YOU START

1) Mood/Tone – What do you want your reader to feel when they read this chapter? Sympathetic? Anxious? What feeling do you want your readers to take away from this first chapter?
2) Goal – What’s the goal of this chapter? What’s the character’s goal? What’s the plot’s goal? We need to know the starting point, and why it’s important we chose it. Do it in the present. We’re often tempted to do backstory and a lot of setting, but we must start our story now, where the story begins.

Tips for Starting Active:

  • Have dialogue
  • Have movement
  • Have momentum
  • Create tension
  • Show interaction
  • Have action (though this doesn’t necessarily mean guns blazing, just that something is happening)
  • Show conflict
  • Enter at the middle of the scene

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Weekend Struggles

This weekend was all about Pitch Wars, or more specifically, making needed changes to SHADE to get it ready for the final round of Pitch Wars. But good gracious, was SHADE frustrating the jujubes out of me!

I had lots of ideas, but was lacking in the rights ones for the first chapter. I know I could work on other parts of the book in the meantime to give myself a rest (and I did do a little outlining) but here’s the thing for me: I have to have at least scaffolding up in the beginning so I can see where the story is going in later chapters. Editing is like time traveling, alter one thing and the future may be completely different.

A lot of changes hinged on the first chapter, hence the frustration. Something I like to do when I need to change up a scene, is outline a bunch of different possibilities and see where they lead. It’s kind of like pantsing before the writing. I follow the path until I hit a roadblock, something that must be altered in the future to make sense. Then I have to decide if I want the story to head in that direction or not.

Now this isn’t my first fight with a story. This is usually what happens and certainly what happened over the summer. So I knew eventually something good would come of it. But it was getting frustrating, I think, because Saturday was my big free day for writing and as the evening wore on and I realized I probably wouldn’t get beyond Chapter One, my frustration level rose as well.

The trouble is it’s hard to ask for any kind of advice on these sorts of things. Who knows your story better than you?

Needless to say, after more than 12 hours of struggle, I pulled something out, some scaffolding I’m fairly satisfied with. It was odd, because it was a direction I’d wanted to implement over the summer, but it never quite came out, so I didn’t go with it. This time I think it may work better and will make my MC’s reactions a little more logical.

So the struggle, in the end, was worth it.

Fortunately I have the day off work tomorrow for New Year’s, so hopefully I can move forward in more significant ways—at least significant in writing vs. plotting. There may be another struggle ahead, but the nice thing about overcoming one challenge is you know it’s possible to defeat the next one.

Have you had any struggles in your writing lately that frustrated you to the max? What do you do when you have a challenge you need to overcome? If you ask friends for advice, what do you find is the best way to ask for it?

Novel Christmas Party

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Thanks to Pitch Wars, life, and lack of good time, thethings i love post I intended for today just isn’t going to happen. But fear not, lovelies. I think you’ll still find today’s post fun, at least I hope you’ll participate.

On the Pitch Wars hashtag chat a few of us, just for kicks and giggles, picked the Christmas carol that best described our books. It rely makes you get creative and I think reveals a lots about how well we know our stories.

Now for many of us we might have to think dark carol mash up, but I think if we ponder it long enough we can come up with something.

For SHADE a tweep helped me realize the best carol for me is Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Sure, I have to stretch it a little, but the lyrics, You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why… 🙂

So, I’m putting the question to you. What carol, even if you have to stretch a little, best describes your novel and why?

For SHADE my carol works because my MC is raised to view emotions as something to be suppressed or bad things will happen.

But that’s not all. I also want to know one more thing. Imagine all your characters are attending a Christmas party (and they’re not allowed to kill each other). Answer the following questions:

1. Who’s the first to show up and who’s the first to leave? Why?
2. Who’s the first to start a fight? Why?
3. Who’s the first to get drunk? Why?
4. Who will enjoy the party most and who will loathe being there? Why?

Big enough challenge for you? You can either tell me in the comments below or create your own post. If you do a post, Call it My Novel Christmas Party, and pingback to this post so we can come read it.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to tell us which carol best describes your book and why as well as answer one or all of the questions. I want to know, so get on it.

Use my Next Big Thing Post for character details. My answers:

1. The first to show up would be Iris because she would be preparing the food and probably organized the party. The first to leave would be Logan’s mother, the Queen because she would hate bring around so many commoners.

2. The first to start a fight is a character named Briggs who likes Vera. I’m certain he’d see Vera and Logan kiss under the mistletoe and he’d throw a big fit.

3. I nominate the Queen again. She loves her wine and it would probably make being around the commoners more tolerable.

4. Vera’s father Balfour would enjoy a party like this most, especially with good good and friends. I imagine his it would be his favorite holiday, if he lived in our world. For loathing, it comes back to a tie between the Queen and Briggs for the same reasons as above.

All right, now you’ve seen it done, do now you can do it. What do you say, are you in?

By the way, I was away from my computer for this post, so this was all created via the WordPress app. It’s a pretty handy app, I recommend it if you haven’t snagged it yet.