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Got Flat Characters?

7 Jun

Before you ask where you’re going, know where you’ve been.

Everybody has a past. Including fictional people. And that’s always easy (for me at least) to forget. You aren’t writing about a person in a single moment in time. They didn’t suddenly appear simply to exist in that one moment, or series of moments, you are writing about. Before whatever is happening in your scene other things happened.

I used to find it really difficult to construct characters. I didn’t know how to make them 3D, heck the word 3D was foreign to me. I wrote characters about as spicy as oatmeal, and much less interesting. The only reason my stores functioned at all was because I’d stolen the construction of a story from other novels. I understood what a story was supposed to look like, but not WHY it looked like that. This left me with a couple of servings of oatmeal and some were-wolves. Yeah, I wrote were-wolf novels when I was 13. I admit it. Really BAD were-wolf novels.

Anyway, as I grew as a writer I discovered something about people. At first I didn’t even connect this to writing, I just started musing about it one day. Probably in church or math class and realized that people- who they are inside and out- are created through memories, and experiences. It wasn’t until later that I connected that idea to writing.

Soon I started to realize how flat my characters were,and that’s when everything fell into place, I suddenly knew what was missing: their pasts! And that idea right there is how I build characters.

The easiest way to discover a character- for me- is to discover their past.

What I’m saying is if you had grown up in a third world country, as an orphan, wouldn’t you be different from who you are now?  Even if you maintained your personality (whom many will argue is in-part genetic) being in that situation would change your outlook on the world. It would effect EVERYTHING about you. And different people will take it differently, for some it would turn them bitter, others would only appreciate what they had more.

And that’s one of the things I love about writing. I get to look into these peoples minds and pick at them like last nights leftovers! It’s awesome! I love being able to explore the situations they were in and understand why they handled them the way they did, and how it effected them.

It’s gorgeous! I think I’m geeking out right now… let me just take a minute to calm myself.

*one minute*

Okay, I’m good now. *Ahem* As I was saying, understanding characters is about knowing where they come from, what they’ve seen, and what they’ve done about it.

For example, I’ll use my MC from my novel CARVE (whose trailer you can see in THIS POST.)

Her name is Sage Mason.

Background situation: grew up as an invalid, with a terminal disease.

So, this above situation is what’s going to shape her character. From here you just have to ask yourself what kind of person she is. Will growing up isolated make her bitter, angry, or will it make her fearful of the outside world? Will she yearn to leave her home or resign herself to die? What does she do when she sits in that house all alone? How does she react to others? Is she afraid of strangers, intrigued, or just jealous?Does she believe their will be something after her death?

Once you understand how she has reacted to the situation, and how she feels about growing up in that situation you know who she is. You understand her core character traits, and BAM! You have a person. Not a character. A freakin’ person! Awesome right?

Maybe I’m over simplifying this. How do you all build characters?

 

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Why I Left, and Why I’m back.

6 Jun

Wow, embarrassing this absence has been. (Yikes Yoda sounding! ) I think it’s time I explain myself.

So, it’s mostly because I was sacred. Scared out of my freakin’ mind. I was in a slump and a bad one at that. I have been for something like 3 months now.  I’d written scarcely anything and the longer I went without writing the more scared I got that I couldn’t do it. There was no way I could write, could get words on paper like I had before.

I spent every afternoon staring at a blank screen for at least ten minutes, and the closing it down. It was too empty. There wasn’t any way for me to fill that page, it would just swallow all my words up! 3 MONTHS… 3 MONTHS! I felt useless.

Then I would open WordPress, but I couldn’t write a post. How could I write a post to you all when I couldn’t even write a simple paragraph in Word? I can’t tell you how many drafts of posts I have piled up on here, 6 or 7 I think.  I would start one but I couldn’t finish. I felt like a hypocrite. Here I was trying to tell you all how to write, when somehow I wasn’t even a writer anymore.

Then yesterday, around 5PM I opened up word again. I began writing my new novel (forced myself too,no matter how bad I knew it would be), but something was wrong. I couldn’t get into that ‘writing groove’ you know the one. The one where once you find it you can just roll along indefinitely in it, with words flying everywhere. So, instead of closing down that document I opened up some old files. I went through the second draft of Before This Ends as it now stands (unfinished), then I stumbled around some other files until I found last years NaNoWriMo disaster Ablaze (an unfinished first draft that involves phoenixes, fire, and castles). And suddenly I got that shine in my eye. I could feel it.

This piece that I’d given up on, it wasn’t so bad. Actually, it was… dare I say, kind of good ( in a first drafty way of course)? So, I started. I had left off right in the middle of a conflict. I don’t remember what pulled me away, but I just started and then I was going, just going. I didn’t want to stop. It was like all the writing had built up in me and I was just flying away at the keys. Why had I thought this was going to be hard?

Granted my writing skills are a bit rusty, but a little elbow grease and a couple thousand words can fix that! So yesterday I pumped out something like 4,000 words and am quite happy with myself. Yeah Ally! You aren’t in the writing pit of despair anymore.

My point: Novel Ideas will be getting better because I no longer feel like a hypocrite. See, I’m writing this post right now! :)) So for those of you reading this (if there are any left… haha) thank you so, so, SOOOO much for sticking with me. You will never know what your support means to me.

And for those of you in a writerly slump. Believe me when I say I understand, and it WILL get better.

 

Update:

When I published this post this is the quote WordPress gave me:

The desire to write grows with writing.

-Desiderius Erasmus

Ironic.

How I Edit

16 Mar

I edit others work. A lot. A lot, a lot. Did I mention I do edits a lot? No? Well I do. I’ve always loved going over others work, combing through it, making it better.  Helping great writers get even greater. (And in the process it makes me a better writer too) It’s awesome. And so, I thought today I would share how I edit.  I’ll be demonstrating how I crit using an entry from the ‘On Thin Ice’ Flash Fiction Contest’ I hosted back in January.

This piece is by one of my lovely followers. Rae Ann. Who asked me to critique her piece for her, and was lovely enough to volunteer to be featured in this post. You can find her blog  HERE.

The first thing I do when reading a manuscript is do line edits. Oh how I LOVE LINE EDITS! (Some of you call them track changes). The thing is, I don’t like doing just global editing. Sure global editing is important, but if I can’t get all the little nuances out-of-the-way how can I focus? So, I go in and do cross outs, (add a comma or period here and there), but mostly, as I go I make comments about mood, character, and what I’m feeling (or worse, not feeling) while reading here is a photo of Rae Ann’s piece all marked up (you can select the photo for a zoom in):

To get a better look at what my line edits look like i’ll give you some specific examples:

EX 1:

Like pins and needles, it stabbed, pricked and pierced * into my  feet. it seared through my soles and to the nerves,** slowly but mercilessly ***scorching my spine, burning into every fiber of my body.


And this is what I said about my edits in the comments:

*I would use only one of these. Using all of them adds a lot of bulk to the sentence that it doesn’t need.

**If your saying that it’s making her feet prickle/stab/ etc. then they are obviously tender. I would recommend cutting this.

***I would choice either slowly or mercilessly both of them make the sentence sound too clunky in my opinion.

EX 2:

My muscles squealed with a throbbing ache* as I forced myself **to take a few more steps. The cottage swam shakily into view, and I blinked my eyes a few times to make sure that it was still there.



I chose this one because it gives a good example of how I add in writerly tid-bits. I always feel like I should put one of those cheesy “tips” columns in like they do in how-to books when I write something like this. These are the corresponding comments:

*Not sure how I feel about this sentence. I would cut or change it. It reads awkwardly to me.

** Sorry… freaked for a minute there, but you want to stay away from using as if at all possible. As it stutters the ‘time stream’ that I was talking about earlier. As, is… well, how do I explain this?

As says that your character is doing something at the same time as they are doing something else, usually this isn’t good to put in because it causes the reader to have to add something to their mental image, instead of naturally flowing into the next sentence… does that make sense? I hope so… I’m not very good at explaining this am I?\

Anyway, after I do line edits/track changes, I always do an ‘Overview’ letter. If I’m doing a novel edit I sometimes do this for each chapter. Basically this is where I try to lay out the big picture issues and high points of the novel/story. This needs work, but this is awesome, kind of thing.  Here is what Rae Ann’s overview letter looked like. It was rather short since I only had four pages to edit.

I guess that’s about it.

How do you all do edits? Any tips?

Novel Anatomy: Bones

11 Mar

Plotting. Cringe, go ahead, do it and get it over with. I shudder even thinking the word, but it’s a necessary part in building a novel. Up until about … say a year ago I considered myself a pantser (you know no plot, just write). Huh! I was an idiot. I spent so much time wondering why my novel’s were epic fails that I couldn’t see the fact that they had terrible structure. Sure, I could write line to line in a way that sounded pretty good, but having it all come together? Nope, wasn’t working.

So, for those of you who saw the pieces of my novel I’d posted on here last year and made lovely comments about how un-first drafty they were. You are wonderful, but had you seen the big picture you’d sing a different song. Anyway, lately I’ve been working on a new novel, and I started doing a structural outline. It involves what I call “layering”. You start with the bones, then the muscle, and finally the nerves and skin. So we are metaphorically doing novel anatomy.

I’m now going to share with you part one in Novel Anatomy: The bones.

If you all recall I had a post up the first month or so I had this site called “The Golden Ring of Moments” it was an incoherent thing that listed the 7 key moments readers have to have in a novel. If you’d like to interpret that you can see it HERE.

The Bones of novel anatomy is loosely based on that. I really like plotting this way and find it easy and really direct, because you’re giving yourself a specific set of questions that have specific answer. I set this up in a word document (or in OneNote if you have it, OneNote is awesome by the way).

Here it is:

1. You have to ESTABLISH THE WORLD (if your writing contemporary you don’t really need to worry about this, but in fantasy/dystopian/etc. this is key!) You have to do this with in your first chapter or two (depending on their length) so your reader feels like they understand there surroundings.In this bullet, list things you’ll do to establish your world, specific details, situations, time, place, etc.

2. At the same time as bullet one you also have to do bullet two, which is ESTABLISHING YOUR MC’s RELATIONSHIPS with close family, and or important characters. While you are world building we should be seeing how and who your MC relates to. (if anyone) so in this bullet, list key relationships and how your MC feels about them.

3. Finally, with in the first couple of chapters, and this goes along with one and two, you need to establish WHAT YOUR MC WANTS MOST and why they want it, and most importantly (to the plot) why they can’t have it. So for this bullet just list those. What do they want? Why? And why don’t they have it?

These first three bullets can really go together, but I separate them. Otherwise bullet one get’s really lengthy.

4. After the set up you need to establish your TURNING POINT. I’m sure you all have heard this term before, but it’s basically the point in the novel that springs the character into action. Forces them to change, or go somewhere, or do something. Basically just fill in the blank for this bullet: And then everything changed because________________

5. Then, logically of course you have the characters REACTION. How do they respond to the turning point? What do they do?

6. Everything has changed, our character has reacted and is now hurdling head first into solving the issue (whatever it is), so it’s time for a PINCH POINT. This is a moment in the story that ‘ups the stakes’ something needs to happen to make the character realizes how serious the conflict is. Something needs to scare, shock, or hurt them so that they kick it into full gear. Things need to get more dangerous. So answer this question: What happens that makes the conflict more difficult to solve or more scary to face?

7. Now things are dangerous, your character feels like they are deep in the woods of the conflict and then…. A BIG SECRET IS REVEALED. Now, that  the character realizes how bad things are they need to discover something. SOMETHING BIG. Something that will totally turn the novel on its head. In this bullet tell us what changes the conflict for the character, what do they realize/discover/ or are told that makes them think differently about the conflict.

8. Armed with this valuable piece of new information your character once again attempts to solve the conflict and then… ALL SEEMS LOST. The antagonist in one last-ditch effort seems to vanquish your MC. They were so close and then it is swiped away from them. What does this moment look like in you novel? Why does everything seem lost? When does it happen?

9. Finally, we get to the SOLUTION/RESOLUTION. Basically this is how your novel ends. How does you MC get out of bullet 8? How do they solve the conflict? What relationships do they mend? Which do they destroy?You’re briefly wrapping up your novel in point 9.

Yikes! That was a long post… sorry about that! Anyway what do you guys think of outlining this way? Like it? hate it? How do you all outline?

Because It’s a Balancing Act?

16 Jan

I get asked a lot how I keep myself in check. How I manage to do all this ‘stuff’ I do, and not pull my hair out and fall apart, or you know, faint. I guess I’m suppose to tell you all how it is that you can balance writing,running a blog, critiquing others manuscripts, being in school, having a social life, playing a sport, playing music, writing music, reading, writing reviews on what you’re reading, doing art, and selling said art. But, honestly I can’t tell YOU how to do all that.

I can only tell you that I do, and it’s not without effort, or struggle, or sometimes collapsing on my bed, and wondering why I even bother because there is no possible way that I can accomplish it all without screaming.

Sometimes I DO scream…

Life in general is a balancing act. everyone has things to balance. Their work, kids, school, training their dog, running marathons. And everyone manages to do it in a different way.

WE ALL BALANCE DIFFERENT THINGS.

WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT.

I for instance am an insane procrastinator, so I know I have to get things done early, shut down my internet, smile, grin and bear it until I’m done. Other people (who are not cursed with procrastination) don’t have to do those things.

The thing is that we all need to prioritize. Realizing what is most important and divvying out your time accordingly. You need to understand that YOU CAN”T DO EVERYTHING. I have a problem with this as you can see from the above list of things I do. But, if you can believe it, I actually have rounded myself in by cutting out DeviantArt, a personal (non-writing) blog,photo a day photography challenge, and peer tutoring. Unfortunately I still have a lot to do.

So being honest with yourself is a big thing. Can you really make time to do all these things? Can you really manage another beta partner right now?Will adding another blog on WordPress really help you reach your goals? Will it make you a better person? Will it change you for the better? Will it change others?

Now, if you are being honest with yourself, and you know all the things you simply can not do without and have accepted that you can’t do it all then it’s time to look at how wisely your spending your time now.

Browsing the net for an hour is fun, sure. But is it helping you do any of those things?

ARE YOU WASTING YOUR TIME?

And I guess that is the whole point of this post. Don’t waste your time. You only have so much of it. In fact it’s the only thing you can’t get more of. EVER. So ask yourself this:

Is your balancing act really a balancing act? Or, are you forcing it to be one? Are you stealing half-hours to catch the end of that re-run of Burn Notice instead of writing/exercising/ playing piano/etc.?

My life isn’t a balancing act.

I make it one.

You make your life one.

Drop what you can, but ask yourself do you have to?

 

UPDATE: On Thin Ice FF Contest Results will be up this Week! KEEP ON THE WATCH

Will We Work?- Critique Relationships

16 Nov

Some people are just difficult. There is no way of getting around it.Through out our lives, we all have to work with people we’d rather push into the mall fountain, but fortunately that isn’t so with Critique Relationships. You have complete control over who you work with, how the relationship will go, and for how long.

But, how do you know if you should work with a writer? How do you know if it will be a good match for you?

That is what we’ll be addressing here.

You see, I’ve critiqued quite a few manuscripts thus far in my life (a very hefty volume if you compare it to my age), and I’ve discovered a couple of ways to avoid getting involved with writers who you’d rather see all soggy in some seriously penny tainted water.

My friend Gabby over at her amazing BLOG (that you should go check out if you have not yet!) had some issues with this recently and it got me thinking that I should share what I know, and so here it is.

First off, let me say that critique relationships are a lot like friend relationships in person. You are not going to become friends with someone you know nothing about, so before you consider critiquing someones work, check them out. Follow their blog, send some emails, talk on Skype. develop a base relationship! This will let you know if your personalities are compatible. Even though, critiquing someones work doesn’t require you to be E-harmony soul mates, it does require a certain level of common ground. After all, it’s a lot easier to take criticism from someone you like than from someone you know nothing about, or worse, don’t like at all. This makes the relationship flow a lot smoother both ways. They like you, you like them!

So, you are acquainted , great! The next step is to look at their writing. ask for the synopsis of their novel that you’ll be looking at. Not only will the actual writing tell you a lot about the person’s skill level, and show you if they know their way around a keyboard,(i.e. if they have issues with grammar, or just generally don’t have a grip on craft). but it will tell you a lot about the person themselves.

If the person acts professional, and sends the email promptly with a polite response, you can pretty much assume that the rest of the critique relationship will be a happy professional experience. professionalism is definitely something you want to look for in a person you’ll be critiquing, as these people will be the ones who take criticism well, and try to apply it as best they can instead of making excuses, and generally being un-accepting of any critique you give.

What i’m saying is that if you get an email that looks like this:

Hiiii!!!

Im supr exxcited to do this myy novel is awesome and here is the synopsis it be in the attach file up thr. I hpe you like it lotzz!

Suzay

END IT THERE.

Okay, you now have their synopsis, and you are feeling pretty good. You like the premise, and the person seems professional and nice.By this point, if red lights are going to be flashing they would, but I have one more thing I do before fully committing to the relationship. I have them send me their, novel, but tell them that I will send them the first edited chapter within in 2-7 days, and that they can look over it. If there are any issues, and things just aren’t working, I make it clear that we can end the relationship there, no hard feelings. This not only gives you a chance to look over what you will actually be working with, but it also gives the author a chance to give you a pass/fail and helps them to feel comfortable with you working on their piece.

These are just my tips for working with others. Anybody have critique relationship troubles before? Have any tips that have helped you out?

PS: Sister’s Red review should be up by tomorrow night.

Collage Brainstorm Your Novel!

13 Nov

Hey all, today I thought i’d do a post on a plotting/brainstorming system i’ve been messing around with.

I call it Collage Plotting.

People learn and perceive things in a lot of different ways, and that leads to different ways of processing information and, thus to different ways of plotting/brainstorming. No two brains work in exactly the same way, and so i’d thought i’d share a method of plotting/brainstorming that is a bit different from the norm.

I started using the collage for my novel CARVE. I was finding it very difficult to write out what was happening. With CARVE, I had a ‘feeling’ for the novel. A kind of atmosphere that I couldn’t project properly into an outline, and so I took the age-old saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words, and began (unknowingly) creating a cool method for plotting.

And here is the result of CARVE’s growing Collage outline:

So, as you can see it is pretty self-explanatory, you COLLAGE YOUR BOOK. For me it’s taken out a lot of the pressure of planning, it allows me to free form my ideas and just slap ’em on there! It’s more or less the inspiration page for your book!

I’ve found that this is really good to do if you’re stuck planning, or if your stuck in the middle rut of writing. It helps you remember why you wanted to write the book, and does a really good job of inspiring you!

I use OneNote from Microsoft 2010 to create my collage from photos I see online, or from quotes I hear that I think go well with the book. But, if you don’t have OneNote I would recommend going to pinterest.com. This site is basically a collageing site that allows you to snag photos from other people’s collage’s or just anywhere on the net (giving the rights of those photo’s to their respective owners of course!).

It’s been a great resource for inspiring me, and always has something  new to see whenever you log in.

So, check out pinterest.com and if your feeling very generous, add me as someone you follow (nkeda14) and I will add you. The inspiration will just keep growing!

I hope you all try this out!

What do you all think? Yeah or nay?