Tag Archives: #writetip

Heroes and Villains part 3 – Drawing on the Shadow Within #amwriting

Today we’re continuing to explore character creation and the dark energy the villain of a piece brings to a story.

WritingCraft_Dark_EnergyIn his book, The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler discusses how the villain of a piece represents the shadow. The antagonist provides the momentum of the dark side, and their influence on the protagonist and the narrative should be profound.

The shadow character serves several purposes.

  • He/she/it is usually the main antagonist and represents darkness(evil) against which light (good) is shown more clearly.
  • The shadow, whether a person, place, or thing, provides the roadblocks, the reason the protagonist must struggle.

The shadow lives within us all, and our heroes must also struggle with it. The most obvious example of this in pop culture is that of “Batman.”

About the original concept of Batman, via Wikipedia:

Batman_InfoboxBatman is a superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The character was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, and debuted in the 27th issue of the comic book Detective Comics on March 30, 1939. In the DC Universe continuity, Batman is the alias of Bruce Wayne, a wealthy American playboy, philanthropist, and industrialist who resides in Gotham CityBatman’s origin story features him swearing vengeance against criminals after witnessing the murder of his parents Thomas and Martha as a child, a vendetta tempered with the ideal of justice. He trains himself physically and intellectually, crafts a bat-inspired persona, and monitors the Gotham streets at night. Kane, Finger, and other creators accompanied Batman with supporting characters, including his sidekicks Robin and Batgirl; allies Alfred PennyworthJames Gordon, and Catwoman; and foes such as the Penguin, the RiddlerTwo-Face, and his archenemy, the Joker. [1]

Bruce Wayne is a flawed character. He is both a generous benefactor of many charities and a vigilante with little or no remorse for his actions. As Batman, he is a hero, a defender of the weak and defenseless. Much of what makes his story compelling is how he justifies indulging his darker side.

The story of Batman is complex, which is why so many movies have emerged exploring his story. We sit in theaters and applaud Batman’s dark side because it’s confined to taking on criminals.

The evil in a narrative is not always represented by a person. Sometimes war is the villain. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires—nature has a pantheon of calamities for us to overcome and no end of stories that emerge from such events.

True heroes don’t necessarily wear capes, and the evils they fight against are often disasters of epic proportions. Ordinary people can become heroes when faced with disasters of any sort.

Consider the true-life events of April 11 through the 17th, 1970. Via Wikipedia:

Apollo_13_liftoff-KSC-70PC-160HRApollo 13 (April 11–17, 1970) was the seventh crewed mission in the Apollo space program and the third meant to land on the Moon. The craft was launched from Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 1970, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank in the service module (SM) failed two days into the mission. The crew instead looped around the Moon and returned safely to Earth on April 17. The mission was commanded by Jim Lovell, with Jack Swigert as command module (CM) pilot and Fred Haise as Lunar Module (LM) pilot. Swigert was a late replacement for Ken Mattingly, who was grounded after exposure to rubella. [2]

The villain in that epic space adventure was mechanical failure. The heroic efforts of the ground crew to brainstorm ways to get the astronauts home is one of the most powerful stories of the 20th century. We were glued to the television, watching as remedies for each disaster were devised, celebrating as the crew made their way home safely.

The villains we write into our stories represent humanity’s darker side, whether they are a person, a mechanical failure, a dangerous animal, or a natural disaster. They bring ethical and moral quandaries to the story, raising questions of morality, dilemmas we should examine more closely.

When the protagonist must face and overcome the shadow on a profoundly personal level, they are placed in true danger. Which way will they go? This is where my characters have agency, and they sometimes surprise me. They may unknowingly offer up their souls if they stray from the light.

Every character has a different personality and should respond to each event differently. The freedom you allow the protagonist and antagonist to steer the events is crucial for them to emerge as real to the reader.

Sometimes my characters make their own choices. Other times, they go along as I, their creator, have planned for them. Ultimately, they do things their own way and with their own style.

Our fictional heroes must recognize and confront the darkness within themselves. As they do so, the reader also faces it. The hero must choose their own path—will they fight to uphold the light? Will they walk in that gray area between? Bruce Wayne is a good example of one who walks the gray area.

The reader forms opinions and makes choices too, and these subliminal ideas sometimes challenge their ethics.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Batman,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Batman&oldid=1135964072 (accessed January 30, 2023).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Apollo 13,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Apollo_13&oldid=1133889788 (accessed January 30, 2023).

Image: Batman, drawn by Jim Lee for the cover of Batman: Hush. Created by       Bob Kane and Bill Finger. DC Comics; 15794th edition (December 6, 2011) (Fair Use) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Batman&oldid=1135964072 (accessed January 30, 2023).

Image: Apollo 13 Lift off, Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Apollo 13 liftoff-KSC-70PC-160HR.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Apollo_13_liftoff-KSC-70PC-160HR.jpg&oldid=560250836 (accessed January 30, 2023). Public Domain.

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The Business Side of the Business: Managing Inventory #writerlife

Today’s post is a follow-up to Monday’s post by Ellen King Rice. It is tax season, and many people will begin trying pull together the numbers needed for their federal tax returns. If you sell books at book signing events or trade shows, you are in business for yourself, and Ellen’s post details what your responsibilities are.

Its a BusinessAuthors make readers when they do in-person book signings. We have the chance to connect with potential readers on a personal level, and they might buy a paper book. If we are personable and friendly, they might tell their friends how much they liked meeting us. Those friends will buy eBooks. (We hope!)

Most shows and events will require you to have a business license if you intend to sell books in person. This means you will have a small amount of paperwork after each in-person signing, so I am revisiting a post from 2022 detailing how authors can manage an inventory of books and have the right numbers for tax purposes.

For eBook sales, you have no obligation to report sales taxes, only your royalties as listed on the 1099 issued by Amazon or Draft2Digital, or other eBook sellers.

Whether you are traditionally published or indie, if you intend to make personal appearances at local bookstores, fairs, or conventions, you will have an inventory of books on hand to manage and account for at the end of the year. But more importantly, even if you are traditionally published, you pay for the books you sell at shows. 

The good businessperson has a spreadsheet of some sort to account for this side of the business, as it will be part of your annual business tax report. An excellent method for assembling the information you will generate for your tax report is discussed the previous post, The Business Sequence for Writers. Ellen King Rice has given us a great framework for keeping our business records straight.

There is only one more skill to have, and this is only for those who intend to sell books in person. A wise author understands that good records ensure a successful business and sets up the bookkeeping system before they go to book fairs. They have a list of the stock on hand, what books are on reorder, the day they were ordered, and how long it takes for them to ship. Also, you should keep an account of your cost for each book, both for tax purposes and insurance purposes, just in case the stock of books is lost or damaged in a house fire or flood.

You can do this on notebook paper with a pencil, a ruler, and a calculator.  I began working as a bookkeeper in 1982, using the industry-standard tools of the trade for the time. We noted each transaction with a red or black pencil in a green or yellow ledger book of varying sizes (2 to 32 columns). Then, we used rulers or yardsticks to ensure that we tracked a particular item on the correct line across all the columns. The handiest electronic device on my desk was the calculator with a printout tape.

The tools for this method of accounting are still available in the stationery section of any store and are quite affordable. I have used Excel since 1993 for all my accounting purposes, but no matter how you create your spreadsheet, each title you have on hand to take to book fairs or shows has several costs associated with it.

What follows are several screenshots of a simple way to organize a spreadsheet:

Picture1

The first column contains the heading Titles: under that heading, list each book you take to shows by the title. We will use Huw the Bard as our example book.

On the same line as the title, working to the right in column 2, write unit cost. This is the price you pay for each copy you must take to a show and varies from title to title by the length of the book and the trim size. On the same line as the book’s title, write the cost you pay KDP or Ingram Sparks or your publisher for that book: $4.99. (edited, thank you Judy!)

Column 3 is the current stock-on-hand at the end of the taxing quarter: Quantity in stock: 19

Column 4 is the sum of column three times column two: Inventory value: $89.11. That is what you would have to pay to replace those books. It is also what some Departments of Revenue may tax you on at the end of the year if the value of that stock is over a certain limit, say $5,000.00. My stock on hand never even approaches that limit.

This is why retail stores have end-of-the-year sales. They need to offload their inventory to keep their taxes low.

Column 5 is the retail price. This is what the book sells for at bookstores: $12.99. You set your retail price to cover the cost of replacing the book, with some revenue to cover table and vendor fees at shows and conventions, and still allow for a small profit.

Column 6 is the special show price (if you discount your books at shows): $12.00.

Column 7 is the retail value of your stock on hand. It is the sum of column 3 times column 6: $228.00.

Were you required to collect sales tax from your customers? When you apply for your business license, you will receive a pamphlet with all the taxing jurisdictions in your licensing area and their tax rates. These range between .08 and .11 here in Thurston County. Washington State has no income tax, so all our state’s revenues come from businesses and sales taxes collected at the time of purchase.

Make a note of the city or county where the books were sold, as you may be required to forward the taxes collected to the Department of Revenue or your local Business and Occupation tax collecting agency. If you are smart, you will make a second page with these columns:

Picture2

At the bottom of the page for both spreadsheets, total each column. That will give you the stock expenses for all your titles. There will be no scrambling at the end of the quarter for Business and Occupation taxes if you live in a state like Washington State or at the end of the year if you live elsewhere. Be smart and set the money collected as sales tax aside because it is not yours and shouldn’t be considered part of your income.

That way, you will have it at the end of the year if you only do a few shows a year like me, or quarterly if you are out there doing shows and signings every week.

The bookkeeping side of your business should take less than an hour after each show. If you have kept your spreadsheets updated, filling out annual business tax forms for your state and federal agencies will go quickly. You will have all the numbers you need to back up your reports if you are audited.

Also (and this is important), you will know the exact number of books you have on hand in each title. You will know when it’s time to reorder more stock. There is a two-to-three-week lag in printing and shipping time, so ordering books in advance is critical. You don’t want to waste money purchasing stock you have plenty of, but you need to have a supply of your better sellers.

My personal spreadsheet is a little more detailed and is saved in the cloud as are all my business and other records. It looks like this:

Dummy_Inventory_Spreadsheet

Something we rarely consider is the random natural disaster, but we must be prepared. If something should happen to your stock of books due to theft, fire, or flood, you will be able to claim your business loss. Many authors are more prolific than I am.  For most of us, replacing the stock of 1 to 30 titles is an expense that is difficult to carve out of the family budget unless we have sold enough to cover that cost.

Theft is rare, as people are usually quite decent at conventions and trade shows. I’ve only had one book stolen from a table at a show in all these years—a $15.00 (show cost) loss (or $6.80 my cost).

While it disturbed me on one level, I was a bit honored that someone wanted my book that badly. The experience left me confused as to how I was supposed to feel. But on the good side, it was nice to know that shoplifters are readers too!

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Revisiting the Business Sequence for Writers, guest post by Ellen King Rice #writerlife

Today I am revisiting a guest post from last year, written by Ellen King Rice. She has great advice about the business side of this business, and information we all can use. Ellen is a successful indie author of an engrossing series of mushroom thrillers set in the Pacific Northwest.

Its a BusinessShe also wrote the brilliant, hilarious standalone novel, Larry’s Post Rapture Pet Sitting Service. If you haven’t read that book, I highly recommend it. I laughed out loud and couldn’t set the book down.

And now, here is Ellen King Rice and her advice on how to treat this business like a business.

*** *** ***

Moving from hobbyist to professional can be challenging in any field. For indie authors, financial numbers and formal paperwork matter. There are several steps, and the sequence of them can make life easier or . . . not.

The first step in finding a path through the thicket of “business stuff” is to remember past challenges conquered. For many people this may be recalling a first bicycle ride or an early cooking effort. For others there may be a wince as we remember that first round of playing “Hot Cross Buns” on an instrument. Whatever your early challenge was, you didn’t know everything when you started, but you learned quickly.

Today, let’s build a ramp up to a business set up, including tax prep work.

  1. Author’s name.

Search your name on the internet. Make sure you are aware of other writers, activists, artists and business people who share your name. In my case, there were several, including one who shared my middle initial. After some agonizing, I decided my author’s name would be Ellen King Rice even as my friends and family know me as Ellen Rice.

  1. Publisher’s Name

I highly recommend that you chose something other than your author’s name. This gives the writer flexibility to write in more than one genre. There are also times when the publishing house name gives a bit more cachet to projects. I chose Undergrowth Publishing.

  1. Tax Number

This requirement will vary by nation. In the United States, you will want an EIN tax number from the Internal Revenue Service. There is an on-line application here: IRS EIN application online.

The EIN is a Federal Tax ID number used to identify businesses.

Having a Publisher’s name and Tax number helps with getting a business license and a bank account. Of course, I didn’t know this, so I did things backwards and sideways. I tried to get a tax EIN and failed when I was faced with the question “What is your name?”  I highly recommend brisk walks and much chocolate to break up paperwork-filing sessions.

  1. Business license

Again, requirements will vary by location and jurisdiction. If you are resident of the State of Washington, you can find the details here:

https://dor.wa.gov/open-business/apply-business-license

I chose Sole Proprietor for my business, but some writers choose to form a Limited Liability Company.

Do you need city or county licenses? In my area, obtaining a state business license triggered a letter from the city demanding I purchase a local license. It took some research, but I determined that the local vendor’s license did not apply to my circumstances (I live in the county, and I sell books on-line).

It’s wise to learn about your community rules, but often these rule sets only apply to those who are selling in person (i.e., your online sales aren’t part of the local tax structure). Even then, there are times when small vendors or special events like an arts fair are exempted.

  1. Bank account

With your writer/publisher names sorted, a Tax EIN and your business license number, getting a business bank account should be straightforward. Mine is with the Washington State Employees Credit Union. I was able to open the business account with $50 and a $5 savings reserve. This gives me an account for Amazon expenses and deposits. I also asked for a dozen checks, which the credit union provided as a courtesy.

Credit card? A business debit card is easy to request once your account is set up, but a business credit card is hard to get. So far, I’ve managed without one.

  1. Spreadsheet and Tax Forms

Last steps! At this point, it is wise to print off the small business end-of-year-tax form that you’ll be using so you can see the information required.

In the United States, this is the Schedule C “Profit or Loss from Business” form from the IRS website. We can use this form to set up a spreadsheet, by category.

We want things set up so a “Sum this category” command will make it easy to fill out the Schedule C at the end of the year.

Details matter. Take some time looking over the Tax form for your situation. Think of it as your End-of-Year Party destination. A party in the tropics requires different prep than a party with penguins. Knowing the lines to be filled makes for clever spreadsheet set up. And, yes, it feels wonderful to be fast and accurate at year’s end.

For Americans, pay attention to Schedule C, Part I which asks what your “gross receipts or sales” are (line 1) and your “cost of goods” (say, printing 30 copies of your book) for line 4.

Next look at Part II. Lines 8 to 27 list different expense categories you can report. Line 8 is Advertising, so I want an “advertising” category when I set up my writer’s spreadsheet for the year. Line 11 is “Contract Labor”, so I’ll set up that category too. My book cover designer fees can go here. Line 18 is “Office expense.”  I set up Office Expense as a category and that’s the designation to house all my paper and printer cartridge charges.

DEFINITELY check in with a qualified tax advisor (which I am not!) to make sure what you are doing is correct before you file your taxes. All I’m encouraging here is to use the Schedule C as a guide to setting up bookkeeping for easy end-of-year number crunching.
Once you have slogged your way through all six of these steps, you should be well on your way as a writing professional. Be sure to celebrate!

Footnote for American tax filers: What happens if I don’t make money? After filling in Part I (income) and Part II (Expenses), I typically show a Net loss (line 31).  That loss amount will go onto a Schedule One form, and from there to Line 8 of the 1040 form as a negative number, which will lower my taxable income.


Thank you, Ellen, for allowing me to reprint this wonderful and enlightening post. If we intend to sell books at book signings and conventions, we have a business. If we want to avoid problems with our respective taxing agencies, we must jump through the proper hoops.

The next post in this series will revisit my post discussing book signings and book fairs, and tracking inventory for both tax and insurance purposes. The pandemic has eased, and many authors have held signings and in-person events. It doesn’t matter if we are indies or traditionally published – if we sell books in person, we need to manage our costs and protect our investments.

This something we all need to consider no matter where we live in this ever-smaller world.


EKR_author_photo_2022About Ellen King Rice:

I am a wildlife biologist who suffered a spinal cord injury many years ago. Although my days of field work are over, biology continues to intrigue me.

I am fascinated by sub-cellular level responses to ecosystem changes. I also like the predictability of animal behavior, once it is understood.

A fast-paced story filled with twists is a fun way to stimulate laughs, gasps and understanding. I work to heighten ecological awareness. I want the details and your new insights to remain in your thoughts forever.

You can find me and my books at www.ellenkingrice.com

​Please join me on Instagram at:

https://www.instagram.com/mushroom_thrillers.

And on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/mushroomthriller/

EKR_3book_covers_01162022LIRF

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The Business Side of the Business – managing submissions #amwriting

Do you consider yourself a professional writer? If writing is your real career (regardless of your day job), this is a good time to consider your path. One of the best ways to get your author name out there is by having your work published in magazines and anthologies.

Its a BusinessA new year has begun, and open calls for spring and summer contests and anthologies will start appearing in various forums that I frequent. Finding places to submit your work can be challenging, but here are links to two groups on Facebook where publishers post open calls for short stories.

Open Submission Calls for Short Story Writers (All genres, including poetry)

Open Call: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Pulp Market (speculative fiction only)

  • You must apply to be accepted into these groups and answer specific questions to prove you are legitimately seeking places to submit your work.
  • Once approved, the rules of good conduct must be followed for a happy coexistence. Troublemakers and trolls are unceremoniously ejected.

Some will be open calls for anthologies that are not paid, and others will pay royalties. Be wary and carefully research the unpaid ones to ensure that the publisher is reputable and that there is a good reason why you are being asked to donate your work for no compensation.

Don’t get sucked into submitting to “charity” anthology mills, no matter how fancy their website is. These publishers give legitimate charity anthologies a bad reputation. The only cause these vanity mills support is the publisher’s pocketbook, so they are thinly disguised vanity presses.

Despite their claims, many charity anthology mills are for profit, with less than 10% of any royalties going to the specified charity and the rest remaining as the publisher’s source of income. The only volumes they sell are the ones the individual authors can pressure their friends and families to purchase.

Epic Fails meme2

For those authors new to the mean streets of publishing, vanity anthology mills seem good because they’re guaranteed to be published by these predators. The publishers do little to no editing. So, you must ask yourself this: do you want your author name listed on the cover and forever associated with that pile of awfulness?

We must do a little research and only submit our work to publications that respect both the work they publish and their authors.

And on that note, be sure any contracts you sign limit the use of your story to that volume only, and you retain all other rights.

  • You should retain the right to republish that story after a finite amount of time has passed, usually 90 days after the anthology publication date.

SFWA has a list of predatory publishers you should avoid doing business with. They also have useful information on things that might be found in predatory contracts. You don’t need to be a member to access these. https://www.sfwa.org/

But there are legitimate calls for extremely short fiction by highly reputable publishers.

These publishers pay for the work they publish and offer reasonable contracts. The compensation will be small as the work they are buying isn’t long, but it is payment. Sometimes reputable publishers have open calls for charity anthologies and those are worth submitting to, with one or two well-known authors donating a short story and the rest will be work by up-and-coming writers.

You could be one of those up-and-coming authors–but you need to have written something that you can submit.

Writers gain proficiency in all aspects of writing fiction by writing short stories and essays. We increase our ability to tell a story with minimal exposition and learn ways to use intentional prose.

For practice, try picking a theme and thinking creatively. Think a little wide of the obvious tropes (genre-specific, commonly used plot devices and archetypes). Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme, and then go for it.

theRealStoryLIRF01102021My problem is this: all my stories want to grow longer than 1,000 words. It requires weeks of effort to get my work to fit within that parameter. So, I often write practice stories, limiting myself to telling the whole story in 1000 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes:

  1. I have a finite amount of time to tell what happened, so only the most crucial information will fit within that space.
  2. Space is limited, so the number of characters is restricted to just the important ones.
  3. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or influence the outcome.
  4. The fewer the words, the more important the theme becomes. One learns how to use a theme to their advantage.

Best of all, writing a new short story each week builds a reserve, a “bank” to draw on when I need a good piece to submit to a contest. If you select a different theme for each tale, and you may have just the right story in your files to submit to a themed anthology.

When you choose to submit to an open call for themed work, your work must demonstrate your understanding of what is meant by the word “theme.” This is as important as skill as your ability to write clean and compelling prose.

When you submit your work to various places, you need to keep a record of it. Most publishers won’t accept simultaneous submissions. To avoid that, you should list:

  • what was submitted,
  • links or email addresses of where it was sent to,
  • when submissions close,
  • what date the contest ends,

To that end, I suggest you create a database for your work. I use an Excel spreadsheet that lists the title, word count, completion date, where and when I submitted the work, how much I earned for it, etc.

Below is a screenshot of what my list of submitted work looks like. I started this file in 2015 and am still using this spreadsheet to track my submissions.

List of Submitted Work

I also suggest you track your productivity by keeping a daily log of your writing sessions, a writing journal. Each time you sit down to write, make a little note to yourself of how long your writing session was and your word count at the end of the session. Make a note of the time of day you were writing as well.

It’s fun to look back and see the ebb and flow of your productivity. It’s also an excellent way to determine what time of day is your most creative.

Writing is my job. I see this little productivity diary as my way of clocking in to work. It inspires me to develop a writing routine and encourages me to write at least 100 new words every day.

In extremely short fiction such as drabbles and other flash fiction, you must include only the most essential elements of a story.

Drabble_LIRF_1_jan_2018_cjjapAs a poet, I find it far easier to tell a story in 100 words than in 1,000. That 100-word story is called a drabble and is an art form in itself.

You can find publications with open calls at Submittable. Unfortunately, that site is not as useful regarding speculative fiction as it was several years ago. However, I have seen anthology calls for spec fic there. Still, poetry collections, literary anthologies, and contests use Submittable, so that is an option. https://www.submittable.com/

Some more suggestions you could implement during the forthcoming year that fall under the heading of the business of writing are:

  • Find time for education—I attend writing conferences and seminars.
  • Find time for reading—I read for two hours every evening, often longer.
  • Follow editors on Facebook, Instagram, and also their Twitter feeds if you are still using that platform. Consider following the magazines you submit to (or would like to send work to) on each social media platform you use.

This is something a fellow author suggested: keep a networking notebook. It should include the names of people in the industry you have spoken to, who they work for (if an agent or editor), their emails and/or business cards, etc., as you never know when that contact will come in handy.

Finally, you must invest in your career, and that does require a little money. You must develop the habit of saving for future expenses, so I suggest you set aside two dollars for every day you write. That isn’t much, but it adds up and can help pay for a seminar or a conference, or any number of expenses that will come up.

coins That way, you won’t be left wondering how to attend a conference and still cover your household bills.

This list of suggestions is meant for authors who intend to write professionally. It’s a business, so these little bookkeeping habits help keep me focused and on track.

In my next post, I will explore the various forms of short fiction publishers are looking for and how the market drives what they will buy.


Credits and attributions:

Coins, courtesy of Microsoft content creators, accessed December 31, 2022. Non-commercial use.

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Revisions #TheStruggleIsReal #amwriting

Making revisions is quite different from editing, although some people don’t see it that way. Editing is a process that begins when I send the final draft to my editor, usually a year or two out from when the story first lands on paper.

depthPart1revisionsLIRF05252021For me, revisions begin with the second draft and sometimes involve radical changes to the storyline or character arcs. I may take a manuscript through many drafts before finally getting the story right.

The process of revision starts when I write the final lines, finishing the first draft. I’m smarter now than I used to be, so I let that mess sit for a few weeks.

Then I go back and begin reading what I have written. As I read, I make corrections to typos and garbled sentences that I come across, although I miss as many as I catch.

I also notice plot holes, and this is where the second draft becomes work. This is where I might discover I have written myself into a far-fetched corner and my original solution was less than graceful.

Or I may find there is no tension, and the story is nothing but a series of character sketches.

Fortunately, much of what I have written can be recycled into a different project, should the need arise.

fileFolderNEVER DELETE months of work. Don’t trash what could be the seeds of another novel. Save it in an outtakes file and use it later. I give the subfile a name like HA_outtakes_20Dec2022. That file name tells me the cut chapters were last changed on December 20, 2022.

The old manuscript, version 1, will also be in that file in its original entirety.

FileDocumentThen, I give the second draft a new file name: Heavens_Altar_version_2, which becomes the version I work on out of the main file folder.

Why not just delete it? When I get to the second draft stage, I have accomplished many important things with the 3 months of work I might cut from that novel.

  • The world is solidly built.
  • The characters are firmly in my head, so their interactions will make sense in the new context.
  • Some sections I cut can be recycled into the new version, just in a different place.

Sometimes when I’m involved in creating characters, I overlook the misfortunes and struggles that create opportunities for growth. A good storyteller places obstacles on the path, events that must force a transformation upon the protagonists and their companions.

Catastrophes, even small ones on the most personal of levels, are the fertile ground from which adventure springs. When making revisions, we must ensure these growth opportunities are clearly defined, logical, and in the right place.

Events from which there is no turning back are the impetus of change, and that change is what the book is about.

Midpoint in the story’s arc is often a place where a choice is made from which there is no turning back. From that point, the narrative rises to the third plot point, an event that is either an actual death or a symbolic death. If either of these events is a non-starter, I have to either improve them or find better catastrophes.

This major event is critical because it forces the protagonist to be greater than they believed they could be. Conversely, it can break them down into their component parts.

Author-thoughtsEither way, the characters will be profoundly changed from who they thought they were on page one, becoming who they are when the final sentence is written. The character arc is formed by their experiences.

How do I find those catalysts for change? Sometimes I need an external eye to point out where I have gone wrong, and I seek ideas from my writing group.

However, most of my writing disasters are preceded by one or more points of no return. Identifying and rectifying those moments takes time. It’s why I take so long to write a book.

When I finally see what must be changed, it may take several days to visualize how to resolve it. But that time spent mind-wandering on paper is not wasted. I will have a better plot arc for my characters and still arrive at the ending I want.

I believe in the joy of writing and the elation of creating something powerful. Sometimes we lose our fire for a story because another story has captured our imagination. If that happens, set the first one aside and write the story you are passionate about.

We who are indies have the freedom to write what we want, when we want. The only deadlines we have to meet are the ones we set for ourselves.

Book- onstruction-sign copyTrue inspiration is not an everlasting firehose of ideas. Sometimes there are dry spells. If you take another look at the work you have cut and saved in an outtakes file, you might see it with fresh eyes. You might see the seeds of a different story, and the fire for writing will be reignited.

I may take my first draft through many versions before I have the story written the way I want it. The end result should be worth it—I hope.

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The Author’s Toolbox – Stylesheets #amwriting

We are approaching the last days of NaNoWriMo 2022. If you haven’t already, now is an excellent time to think about creating what I think is the most helpful tool in my toolbox—the stylesheet.

toolsWhen a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a stylesheet.

The stylesheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or keep minimized until needed. Some editors refer to it as a “bible.” Sometimes it will be called a storyboard if it also contains plot ideas or an outline.

Nowadays, I make a new stylesheet at the outset of each writing project, even for short stories. I copy and paste every new word or name onto my list, doing this the first time they appear in the manuscript. This is an essential tool because if each name, place name, and made-up word is listed the way I originally intended, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale.

Some people use a program called Scrivener, which is not too expensive, but which has a tricky learning curve. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it and found it quite frustrating. Nevertheless, I understand that it works well for many people, and you might find it works for you.

Myself, I don’t want a fancy word-processing program. I use MS Office because I have been using the programs that come with that software since 1993, and I’ve been able to adapt to each upgrade they have made. It’s affordable, so I use Word to write and edit in and Excel to create stylesheets.

Mac ComputerFor short stories, the stylesheet will probably be a Word document. I have written them out by hand on occasion. You can create them in Google Sheets or Docs, which is free.

And free is good! Everyone thinks differently, so there is no single perfect way that fits everyone.

In Excel, the storyboard for my ideas works this way:

At the Top of page one: I give the piece a working title.

When I have an idea for a short story, I include the intended publication and closing date for submissions (not needed if it’s for a novel). I make a note of the intended word count. Having a word count limit keeps me alert for unnecessary backstory. For most publications, you must keep strictly within their word count requirements.

Page one of the workbook contains the personnel files.

Column A: Character Names. I list the essential characters by name and the critical places where the story will be set.

Column B: About: What their role is, a note about that person or place, a brief description of who and what they are.

Column C: The Problem: What is the core conflict?

Column D: What do they want? What does each character desire?

Column E: What will they do to get it? How far will they go to achieve their desire?

IBM_Selectric (1)Page Two:  The projected story arc will be on page two of the workbook. I list each chapter by the events that need to be resolved at various points in the manuscript.

Page three of the workbook is the most important—the Glossary. This list of made-up words, names, and places is crucial for the finished product. The way words appear on this list is how they should occur throughout the entire story or novel. This page ensures consistency and keeps the spellings from drifting as I lay down prose in the first draft.

I update the glossary page whenever a word or name is added or changed. I do this even in my non-fantasy work, as it helps to have a quick, easy-to-access reminder of how real-world names and places are spelled.

Page four will have maps and a calendar for that world. The calendar is a central tool that keeps the events happening logically.

The workbook shown below is the stylesheet for the Tower of Bones series and has been evolving since 2009. It has grown since this screenshot was taken.

neveyah stylesheetWe never really know how a story will go, even if we begin with a plan. We will probably deviate some from the original outline. Usually, for me, the major events will remain as they were plotted in advance, even though side themes will evolve. The outline keeps me on track with length and ensures the action doesn’t stall.

When I know the length of a book or story I intend to write, I know how many words each act should be and how many scenes/chapters I need to devote to that section. I like to keep my chapters at around 1600 – 2000 words. Sometimes they go longer, and other times shorter.

PinocchioThe plot usually evolves as I write each event and connect the dots. In one instance, it was completely changed. The original plot didn’t work at all, so drastic measures had to be taken.

Making that course correction was less work because I had the stylesheet with the outline. Events were easy to cut and replace or move along the timeline.

As we near the end of NaNoWriMo, we are beginning to dig deeper into all aspects of the story. We’re still writing the basic first draft, but emotions, both expressed and unexpressed, are growing more apparent.

Secrets characters have withheld from us emerge now as we write. Perhaps some ugly truths have been discovered. These details arise as I write, reshaping how the characters react to each other. In turn, these interactions can alter the plot.

Even though each manuscript starts out linearly, I work “back and forth” when writing rather than in a linear fashion. I work from an outline, but each section of my novel is written when I am inspired to work on that part of the tale.

The central plot points get written first. Then, I write connecting scenes to ‘stitch’ the sections together when the draft is complete, like assembling a quilt.

A detailed outline ensures I won’t get lost in the weeds of wacky side quests.

Book- onstruction-sign copyOnce the first draft is finished, revisions will mean updating the stylesheet, but that’s part of the job. This ensures my editor will have less work when we get to the final draft.

In the process of editing for me, Irene will find things that didn’t get listed but should have been and will update the stylesheet.

Writing a novel is a process of growth and development. It doesn’t stop until you sign off on the proof copies and the book is on sale.

And even then, you will think of things you could have done differently.

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#NaNoWriMo prep part 6: How the Story Begins #amwriting

Today we’re continuing to prep for NaNoWriMo by thinking about the plot and the story our characters inhabit. In post one, we thought about what kind of project we intend to write—novels, short stories, poems, memoirs, personal essays, etc.

Post two of this series introduced the protagonist(s), giving us an idea of who they are and what they do. Post three explored the setting, so we know where they are and their circumstances. Post four detailed creating the skeleton of a plot. Post five jumped to the end, giving us a finite event to write to.

beginnings are endingsToday, we will pinpoint the moment in our protagonist(s) life where the story starts. We’re locating the point where this particular memoir, poem, novel, or short story begins.

The day that changed everything should open the story.

We see the protagonists in their familiar environment. By evening, a chain of events has begun. A tiny, insignificant stone rolls downhill, the first incident that will soon precipitate an avalanche of problems our protagonist must solve.

When we are new in this craft, we have a burning desire to front-load the history of our characters into the story, so the reader will know who they are and what the story is about.

I am the queen of front-loading. Fortunately, my writer’s group is made up of industry professionals and one in particular, Lee French, has an unerring eye for where the story a reader wants to know begins.

I have to remind myself that the first draft is the thinking draft. It’s where we build worlds and flesh out characters and relationships. It’s also where the story grows as we add to it.

We need a finite starting point, a place of interest. Have faith—the backstory will emerge as the story progresses. If we have our world solidly in our heads as we write, the reader will visualize a version of it that works for them, without our info dumping the history.

Let’s plot the beginning of a medieval fantasy:

Act 1: the beginning:

lute-clip-artSetting: Venice in the year 1430.The weather is unseasonably cold. A bard is concealed amongst the filth and shadows in a dark, narrow alley. Sebastian hides from the soldiers of a prince he has unwisely humiliated in a comic song.

Opening plot point–the hook: the soldiers surround and capture Sebastian, and he is hauled before the angry prince. The trial is brief and painful. Beaten and bloody, Sebastian is thrown into prison and sentenced to be beheaded at dawn.

That moment of despair is the end of chapter one.

You have done some prep work for character creation, so Sebastian is your friend. You know his backstory, who he is attracted to (men, women, none, or both), how handsome he is, and his personal history.

You know who he will meet in prison, someone who will help him escape. Depending on Sebastian’s romantic preference, Chance (an assassin’s professional name) will be male or female and dislikes the bard on sight. Still, Chance needs Sebastian’s help to escape as he/she/they will also die at dawn.

You have decided that the prince is a dark-path warlock. His brother is a highly placed cardinal who intends to become pope, protects him.

You have designed Sebastian and Chance’s escape, which is the first pinch point— the place where what they learn from each other fuels a quest: that of killing the Warlock Prince. Each has different reasons for this, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that.

But now they are on the run and have no idea how to accomplish that task. Circumstances force them to work together despite their clash of personalities.

And we all know how friction heats things up. Romance or no romance, this tension is crucial.

We (the author) know the Warlock Prince must die if they are to save Venice, but who will be willing to help them, and what roadblocks stand in their way? These people will emerge as you write the first draft.

You’ve written down some ideas for the ending, so you have a goal to write to. At this point, the middle of the story is murky, but it will come to you as you write toward the ending. Every event and roadblock that happens to Sebastian between his arrest and the final moments of his victory will emerge from your imagination as you write your way through this first draft.

Mardi_Gras_mask_cateyes_iconBut the opening moment, the scene showing a lowly bard hiding behind a rubbish heap, is the moment in Sebastian’s life where the story the reader wants to hear starts. That scene is where this story begins regardless of how interesting Sebastian’s story, Venice’s story, or the Warlock Prince’s story was before that day. It is the beginning because this is the point where all the essential characters are in one place and are introduced:

  • The reader meets the villain and sees him in all his power
  • Sebastian knows one thing—the Warlock Prince must be stopped. He can sink no lower—he has hit bottom, and from there he can only go up.
  • Chance is in the same low emotional place, but he/she/they have an escape plan.

The story kicks into gear at this pinch point because the assassin is at risk on two fronts, which means Sebastian is too. Chance’s original task of killing the prince has failed, so now they must avoid both the prince’s soldiers and the mysterious employer‘s goons. For Chance, it’s a matter of pride that the original commission must be fulfilled despite the fact there will be no payment. Sebastian agrees to help ensure it happens because he has a conscience and wants to protect the people of Venice from the prince and his brother.

Attraction often grows in the most unlikely of places. Will it blossom into romance? It’s Venice, a city filled with romance and intrigue. But you’re the author, so only you know how their relationship grows as you write their adventure.

What else will emerge over the following 40,000 or more words (lots more in my case)?

  • Who is the assassin’s mysterious employer and what is their agenda?
  • Who is Chance really, what is their true name, and how did he/she/they become an assassin?

Sebastian will find this information out as the story progresses and only when he needs to know it. With that knowledge, he will realize his fate is sealed—he’s doomed no matter what. But it fires him with the determination that if he goes down, he will take the Warlock Prince and his corrupt brother with him.

If you dump the history at the beginning, the reader has no reason to go any further. You have wasted words on something that doesn’t advance the plot, doesn’t intrigue the reader.

Finding the beginning of the story

The people who will help our hapless protagonist will enter the story as he needs them. Each person will add information the reader wants, but only when Sebastian requires it. Some characters, people who can offer the most help will be held back until the final half of the story.

By the end of the novel, the reader will have acquired the important history of Sebastian, Chance, the mysterious employer, and the Warlock Prince. With the last bits of information, the final pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.

Gaining all that knowledge is the carrot that keeps the reader involved in the book.

Next up, in post 7, we will talk about resources for beleaguered writers. Memoirs, poems, essays, novels–every author needs handy resources to bookmark.

The final post in this 8-part series will be on how to carve out time for writing whether you are participating in NaNoWriMo or just writing for fun.


Posts in this series:

#NaNoWriMo prep part 1: Deciding on the Project #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 2: Character Creation #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 3: Designing Worlds #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 4: Plot Arc #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 5: How the Story Ends #amwriting

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#NaNoWriMo prep part 5: How the Story Ends #amwriting

Today we’re continuing to prep our novel by thinking about the plot and the story our characters inhabit. In post one, we thought about what kind of project we intend to write—novel, short stories, poems, memoir, personal essays, etc.

nano prep end this messPost two of this series introduced the protagonist(s), so we have an idea of who they are and what they do.

Post three explored the setting, so we already know where they are and their circumstances.

Post four detailed creating the skeleton of a plot.

Now we’re going to jump to the end. I know it’s rude to read the end of a book before you even begin it, but I am the kind of writer who needs to know how it ends before I can write the beginning.

Don_Quijote_and_Sancho_Panza

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Gustave Dore PD|100

Julian Lackland was my first nano novel. In its proto form, it was my 2010 NaNoWriMo project. That novel emerged from my mind because I had written a short story of about 2500 words featuring an elderly knight-at-large. Julian was a Don Quixote kind of knight, returning to the town where he had spent his happiest days in a mercenary crew.

He enters the town and finds it completely changed. The town has grown so large that he becomes lost. Julian talks to his horse, telling him how wonderful the place they are going is, and all about the people he knew and loved. When he does find the inn he’s looking for, nothing is what he expects. The innkeeper he was so fond of has died of old age, and stranger still, the old innkeeper’s middle-aged youngest son, is the man behind the bar. Most of the friends he’d ridden with are dead. The story ends with Lady Mags, the third leg of his love triangle, entering the tap room and their reunion.

On October 28, 2010, I was scrambling, trying to find something I could write, but my thoughts kept returning to the old man’s story. The innkeeper had referred to him as the Great Knight, stupidly brave but harmlessly insane. Had he always been that way? Who had he been when he was young and strong? Who did he love? How did Julian end up alone if Julian, Beau, and Mags were madly in love with each other?

What was their story?

Excalibur London_Film_Museum_ via Wikipedia

Excalibur London_Film_Museum_ via Wikipedia

On November 1, I still had nothing for a new novel, but I had committed to writing 50,000 words. The short story nagged at me. I found myself keying the hokiest opening lines ever, and from those lines emerged the story of an innkeeper, a bard, three mercenary knights, and the love triangle that covered fifty years of Julian’s life.

That book spawned Huw the Bard and Billy Ninefingers. While Julian Lackland was the last book in the Billy’s Revenge trilogy to be published, it was the first to be written.

The trials and tribulations of that first novel’s publishing path, the title change, and the numerous reasons it took so long for Julian to make it to the finish line is another story, but he did eventually make it.

If I know how the story will end, I can build a plot to that point. So, let’s look at my current project. I have one book that has been languishing for 5 years now because I don’t know how it ends. Unfortunately, the ending I’m detailing here is not for that book.

For my new novel, I have my characters in place. We’ll call them Marco and Dinah for this post. In reality, they have other names, but I am using their situation to show how I brainstorm my plots. I have my setting, and I know their place in that society.

This story is a murder mystery with no title as of yet. The exact details of solving the murders are still a bit murky. However, I know who is dead, how they died, and who the murderer is.

Right now, the end of the outline just says, “Marco and Dinah prevail, Klaus dead. Sarie and Jon safe.” That isn’t a lot to hang a story on, and when I begin writing the novel, I will need to know a little more, or I will lose the plot.

What I do is write an outline that will become the final chapters. This is what I came up with:

Klaus ties his barge up at the pier and goes to the inn while his crew offloads the cargo. He overhears that the mages have repaired the Temple. He decides there is only one way to end it: to take out the healers who had failed to save his daughter.

Dinah spots Klaus entering the Temple and is surprised because he didn’t pass through the gate. She recognizes him from down at the docks and wonders why he’s there when he’s been so anti-Temple. Something about him bothers her, so she follows him.

CAUTION INFO DUMP ZONE AHEADMarco arrives at the inn. The innkeeper mentions Klaus was there, but now he’s gone. Marco sees his barge is still there, and the deckhands don’t know where he is. He goes to the gatehouse where Dinah is supposed to be on duty and immediately knows something is wrong. He fears Klaus has gotten to her, and instinct tells him to go to the Temple.

Dinah tracks Klaus toward the infirmary, where Sarie and Jon are working, treating an elderly man. They’re in a healing trance, unaware of anything other than their patient.

Loren is working in his study, unaware his wife and her journeyman are in danger. He glimpses Dinah sneaking through the shadows and knows something is wrong. He follows her, meeting up with Marco as he leaves his study. The two confer and move on to the infirmary.

Klaus senses he’s being followed. He steps behind a pillar, ambushing Dinah. He attempts to strangle her, but she grabs him by the hair. Her feet slip out from under her, and she falls, pulling him down to the floor. Twisting around, she pushes him away with her feet and manages to grab her staff as she stands. Klaus has also regained his footing and is coming for her, but as she swings her staff, she slips again, cracking his skull, just as Marco arrives and fires off a lightning bolt, killing Klaus.

Or something like that. I’ll choreograph the fight when I get to that spot, but I guarantee it will be quick. I dislike reading drawn-out fight scenes and usually skip over them.

Anyway, Sarie and Jon have no idea what has just gone on, and the patient is healed. Loren agrees the new floor is too slick after all, but at least it won’t burn. Dinah finally tells Marco she’s expecting, and they all live happily, at least for a while.

30 days 50000 wordsIn real life, people live happily, but no one really lives deliriously happy ever after. But that’s another story and a different genre.

So now I know how the novel ends, and I thank you all for listening to my mental ramblings—I hope they help you. All I need are a few paragraphs, a skeleton to hang the story on, dots to connect, and I can write the first draft.

Next up, we will decide where and how the story begins.

Posts in this series:

#NaNoWriMo prep part 1: Deciding on the Project #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 2: Character Creation #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 3: Designing Worlds #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 4: Plot Arc #amwriting

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#NaNoWriMo prep part 4 Plot Arc #amwriting

Today we’re continuing prepping our novel by thinking about the plot, the story our characters inhabit. In post one, we thought about what kind of project we want to write–novel, short stories, poems, memoir, personal essays, etc.

Post two of this series introduced the protagonist(s), so we have an idea of who they are and what they do.

In post three, we explored the setting, so we already know where they are and what their circumstances are.

plot is the frame upon which the themes of a story are supportedNow we’re going to design the conflict by creating a skeleton, a series of guideposts to write to. I write fantasy, but every story is the same, no matter the set dressing: Protagonist A needs something desperately, and Antagonist B stands in their way.

What does the protagonist want? Everyone wants something. The story is in if they acquire it or not. Doubt, uncertainty, the unknown—these nouns comprise the story.

This is where we have to sit and think a bit. Are we writing a murder mystery? A space-opera? A thriller? The story of a girl dealing with bulimia?

Let’s write a historical fiction.

My uncle fought in WWII in Ardennes and was wounded. He never discussed his wartime experiences, but I like to use that battle as my example for plotting. Here in the US, that battle is referred to as the Battle of the Bulge. A book about that battle may be compiled from personal accounts, interviews, photographs, and diaries. But the author must build the events of Ardennes in December 1944 and January 1945 out of words that express memories, opinions, and wishes.

Even though your novel about this battle may explore an Allied soldier’s experiences, in reality, this narrative is a fantasy because the events it explores have disappeared into the mists of a long-ago time. They now exist only in a few places:

  • military archives
  • newspaper accounts
  • history as written by the victors
  • the memories of a dying generation
  • the handwritten diary of the soldier
  • the author’s mind
  • the pages of the book you are constructing
  • the readers’ minds as they are reading

Plot-exists-to-reveal-characterWhere does our soldier’s story begin? We open the story by introducing our characters, showing them in their everyday world, and then we kick into gear with the occurrence of the “inciting incident,” which is the first plot point. That might be their arrival at their first camp in the Ardennes region.

For our soldier, the inciting incident might be the orders that transfer him and his unit to Ardennes. After that, many things will occur before he and his fellow soldiers return home. Each event will range in intensity from the inconvenience of filthy living conditions to the unavoidable confrontation with the horror of war.

We will make a list, a ladder of events that give us landmarks to write to, like a connect-the-dots picture.

First, how long do you plan the book to be? If you plan to write 50,000 words, take that word count and divide it by 4. The first quarter opens our story and introduces the inciting incident. This is the moment of no return, even if our characters still believe they can salvage things.

The following two quarters are the middle of the narrative, exploring the obstacles that our soldier faces. If you are writing a historical novel, your plot will follow the historical calendar of actual events. The Battle of the Bulge was fought between 16 December 1944 and 25 January 1946, and reams of documentation still exist about that terrible month.

117th_Infantry_North_Carolina_NG_at_St._Vith_1945

117th Infantry North Carolina NG at St. Vith.

Your plot arc might include these events, but in chronological order:

  • Initial German assault
  • Attack on the northern shoulder
  • German forces held up
  • Germans advance west
  • German advance halted

Attack in the center: our soldier will either be with the US 30th Infantry Division at the Battle for St. Vith (Americans) or the Meuse River bridges (British 29th Armoured Brigade of 11th Armoured Division). He likely couldn’t be at both unless he was in the US Army Air Force.

  • Attack in the south
  • Allied counteroffensive
  • German counterattack
  • Allies prevail

You will connect those dots. Take each incident and write the scenes that our soldier experiences. You might also write scenes showing the commanders planning the offensives and switch to show the enemy’s plans.

No matter what sort of book you plan to write, this is all you need at first. It’s just a skeleton of the plot. You will write the scenes between these events, connecting them to form a story with an arc to it.

As we write, our soldier’s thoughts and interactions will illuminate and color in the scenes. His encounters, how he saw the enemy—were they people like him or were they faceless—all his emotions will emerge as you write his story.

No matter what genre we are writing in, you must introduce a story-worthy problem, a test that will propel the protagonist to the middle of the book.

300px-SCR-299dooropen

US Army Signal Corps photo of SCR-299 radio set in operation 1942, US Army Signal Corps

This event is the hook. We raise a question and set the protagonist on the trail of the answer. In finding that answer, the protagonist is thrown into the action.

  • If you are writing genre fiction, get to the action quickly.

Drop the protagonist into the soup as soon as possible, even if the conflict is interpersonal. Some books open with a minor hiccup that spirals out of control with each attempt to resolve it. This is the place where the characters are set on the path to their destiny.

Some plots are action and adventure. Other books explore a relationship that changes a character’s life for good or ill, while others detail surviving hardship.

When do the protagonists first realize they’re utterly blocked from achieving their desired goal? Note this event on your outline somewhere in the first quarter. This is the moment our protagonist realizes their problem is much worse than they initially thought.

At this point, they have little information regarding the magnitude of the trouble.

This is where the skeleton list comes in handy for me. Crucial knowledge that affects my characters’ choices, the information they don’t have, should be doled out at the point in the story arc where they need it. If I give all the information in the first 10 pages, there’s no point in reading the book any further—the reader knows it all.

plottingLIRF07122020One thing that I do is make notes that help limit my tendency toward heavy-handed foreshadowing. I try to keep it brief, but what will be enough of a hint, and where should it go?

Subplots will emerge as we begin writing. It’s a good idea to note them on the outline as they come to you. In my opinion, side quests work best if they are presented once the book’s tone and the central crisis have been established. Good subplots are excellent ways of supporting the emotional parts of the story.

Now is the time to read in your genre and let your ideas simmer for a while. If you are writing in a fiction genre, read the bestsellers so you know what kind of plot the reading public is looking for. Don’t worry about inadvertently channeling their ideas—there is no such thing as a story that has never been told.

Whatever you write, you will take it one step further and give it your own spin.


Posts in this series:

#NaNoWriMo prep part 1: Deciding on the Project #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 2: Character Creation #amwriting

#NaNoWriMo prep part 3: Designing Worlds #amwriting


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:117th Infantry North Carolina NG at St. Vith 1945.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:117th_Infantry_North_Carolina_NG_at_St._Vith_1945.jpg&oldid=661386897 (accessed October 14, 2022).

 

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October is #NaNoPrep Month #amwriting

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is approaching, and October is NaNo Prep month. I have participated in that annual writing event every year since 2010. For the past 11 years, I was one of my area’s Municipal Liaisons for NaNoWriMo as a way of volunteering in my community.

nano-computer-word-count

November’s Goal

Usually, I have earned my “winners’ certificate” by the day they become available, but even so, I continue writing on that project every day through November 30th. I update my word count daily because using every moment available in November is a personal challenge.

I say this every year because it’s true: NaNoWriMo is only a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have your word count validated through the national website, you ‘win.’ It is simply a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing.

This year, my personal life has taken a left turn for the different. I stepped back from my position as Municipal Liaison. I will still participate, but I can no longer serve my region as they deserve.

My husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in June and will be starting an intensive physical therapy regimen in the middle of November: Big Therapy For Parkinson’s – ParkinsonsDaily.com

I am already seeing improvements from the medication and the PT he has already been given. We’re fortunate to have good health insurance, an HMO providing us with a terrific neurologist and cutting-edge physical therapy.

An immediate effect of that diagnosis was that his doctor said he was not to drive. We live south of Olympia in an area with no public transportation and no uber or even a taxi.

StarshipHydrangeaLIRF072022So, for the two final weeks of November and the first two weeks of December, we will be firing up the Starship Hydrangea (our hydrangea-blue Kia Soul) and driving 30 miles a day to and from the clinic. This will happen four out of five days a week, barring snow.

Then, I will have an hour or two to kill at the clinic. I could take a laptop and write, but I find that more disruptive than waiting until I get home. Instead, I will probably read or daydream and make notes for possible plot twists.

And that’s not terrible. Taking a break from the grind helps spur creativity.

Usually, I end November with around 90,000 words on two or three projects. But twice I’ve finished with more than 100,000 words. Most were crap—I wrote them, cut them in December, and used them as fodder for other projects later.

50,000 words is an acceptable length for YA or romance. But for epic fantasy or literary fiction, it’s only half a novel. But regardless of the proposed length of their finished book, a dedicated author can get the basic story arc down in those thirty days.

Alice in Wonderland Tea SetI have no problem getting the first draft done with the aid of a pot of hot, black tea and a simple outline to keep me on track. All that’s required is for me to sit down for an hour or two each morning and write a minimum of 1667 words per day.

So how do we find time to write daily? I plan ahead and use my time wisely. Cooking and cleaning are things we all have to do. I think simple is best when it comes to food and housework.

I have a crockpot that gets a workout every winter. I use it two or three times a week for soups, chilies, and stews. I’m a fan of meals that can be cooked in the oven, and also of dinner salads. I serve tasty and eye-pleasing meals that don’t take much time to assemble.

We all have to live in a home, which means we all have housework. It’s not my favorite thing, but it’s how I get my exercise. I zoom through the house daily, wiping down surfaces and vacuuming.

When the holidays approach, I locate the cobwebs, spray them with hairspray, toss a little glitter on them, and presto! The house looks festive with little effort on my part.

(My mother’s ghost just fainted.)

(Did I mention I write fantasy?)

Anyway, as in many good things, there is a downside to November’s intense month of stream-of-consciousness writing. Just because we sit in front of a computer and pour words into a document doesn’t mean we’re writing a readable novel. Many cheap or free eBooks will be published every year, a testimony to that fundamental truth.

to err is human to edit divineThe real work begins after November. After writing most of a first draft, many people will realize they enjoy writing. Like me, they’ll be inspired to learn more about the craft. They discover that writing isn’t about getting a particular number of words written by a specific date, although that goal was a catalyst, the thing that got them moving.

For a few NaNo writers, writing becomes about embarking on a creative journey and learning a craft with a dual reputation that is difficult to live up to. They will find that we who claim to be authors are either disregarded as arrogant ne’er-do-wells or given far more respect than we deserve.

More people write during November than you would think. In some previous years, half of the NaNo Writers in my regional area devoted their time to journaling, writing memoirs, or even writing college papers.

For a few people, participating in NaNoWriMo is about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years. These writers will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing. They may find the courage to go back to school and maybe even get their MFA.

steering the craft leguinA good way to educate yourself is to attend seminars. By meeting and talking with other authors in various stages of their careers and learning from the pros, we develop the skills needed to write stories a reader will enjoy.

One good way to polish your work (which costs nothing) is to join a critique group. Be bold—ask the clerks at the local bookstores in your area if they know of any writing groups that are open to new members.

Every year, participating in NaNoWriMo will inspire many discussions about becoming an author.

Books contain ideas, and ideas are the most dangerous magic of all—a magic that topples kings and gives rise to great civilizations.

Dare to be dangerous.

Go ahead and write that book.

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