Monday, March 2, 2015

Three Basics to Setting

As storytellers we want to ground our readers in the setting of our story. Setting is a necessary tool to help our readers relate with our characters. It can also increase suspense of conflict.

1. Always give a location.
Is your story in a room? Which one? A bedroom and a living room are vastly different. Make sure to mention the city, state, or general area. In fantasy, describe the landscape or lack thereof to familiarize the reader.

2. Seasons and weather can increase your reader's association with the story.
Weather allows the reader to experience the sensations your character is feelings in whatever setting you have placed them. We can all relate to rain and cold or a sunny day and heat. A little extra description of the temperature or season can go a long way. Season can also show your story's time length.

3. Time is important!
All people associate time with their own lives. We all feel different at different times of the day. Time can show your character is a morning person or a night owl. Hunger at breakfast, lunch, and dinner are also ways to bring an extra layer of believability to your character.

The ticking time bomb approach can also build conflict and suspense in a story. For instance if a bomb is going off in 24 hours, you've got a new challenge for every hour.

So check out your manuscript and make sure you have offered a location, time, and described the weather surrounding your character's story. We all experience these aspects of life at all times and it is important for your reader to associate these within your story world.

How have you used setting to increase the reliability in your story? Any struggles in building a realistic fantasy world? We love to hear from you!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Comparison Game (Spoiler Alert: No One Wins)

So. A couple weeks ago, I was chatting with someone on Twitter about how easy it is to get swept away in the comparison game. You see amazing things happening to other writers—heck, to your friends—and sometimes, all you can think is, “Why not me? I'M DOING MY BEST, HERE."
Look, I get it. I know what it’s like when your story more closely resembles a 1,000-piece puzzle that just spilled onto the floor (and a piece has disappeared under the couch, and your dog has eaten a piece, and your kid swiped a couple…), and then you read someone’s post on how they wrote a book in two weeks. I know what it’s like to feel completely lost and wonder whether or not you should keep writing or hop on the next bus to join the circus, and then you wake up to someone’s 6-figure book deal announcement.
But here’s the thing: Comparing yourself to others can be a dangerous game. It hinders your work. It stunts your growth. Because in this crazy writerly world, there are so many different paths to get where you need to go. The path set out for you may not even be on another person’s map. That person who wrote a book in two weeks? Sometimes a story simply pours out of you. Or maybe that person is a pro at fast-drafting and this is their method. And the one who got big bucks for their book? There's no telling how long, or how hard they worked on that book. While it may look like these things happen overnight, they don't. I know it's difficult to see that when you're trudging through the mud of a difficult story (believe me, I KNOW), but they just don't.

It’s been said time and time again, but I’ll say once more, with feeling: Eyes on your own paper. If that means taking a Twitter break, do it. If that means cancelling your Publisher’s Marketplace account, do it. My motto lately has been “head down and WORK,” and let me tell you, it’s been a sanity-saver. I love when great things happen for even greater people. And when I take regular breaks and focus on my own work, I find that I'm able to be even happier for them. Sure, jealousy may flare once in a while - we're only human. But it's possible to turn that into motivation to work harder on my own stories.

There's no way to win the comparison game. When you compare yourself to others, you take away from the amazingness that you have to offer. No one can write the book you’re writing. So don’t shortchange yourself, ‘kay?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Is It Done Yet?

Why is overediting not recognized by MSWord? Does that mean it's like drinking water, eating vegetables, and walking--it's pretty dang impossible to do too much of these things?

My second manuscript got some early attention from some very kind persons in the agenting and publishing world. They only saw ten pages mind you. But something about my words sparked their interest. The novel wasn't completed yet, so I was encouraged to take my time and send it to them when it was ready.

Well, once I typed The End, I sent the novel off to my Beta Readers and went over it line, by line, by line...  I made sure it was grammatically and mechanically shiny. I took all the feedback I received and implemented it. Without question. I even cleaned those first ten pages because, hey, even though they were liked, surely they weren't pretty enough.

I never heard from the publisher, but the amazing agent (who had it in her heart to look at the full on two different occasions from me) nicely told me that somewhere in all those edits, I quit trusting my character's voice. I had to separate myself from the book for several months. Then, I took out the ten pages I initially wrote and compared them to those edited pages. They were as if they were written by another person. I'd turned my snarky teen and her slightly uptight boyfriend into a butterfly and a marshmallow.

As I pound away at my work in progress, I try to implement the things I've learned through trial and error on my other manuscripts.  Now that I'm older and, hopefully, slightly wiser, I will edit, edit, edit... but I'll also remember why I wrote something a certain way to begin with.  

photo credit: Proofreading marks example via photopin (license)

Monday, January 26, 2015

You Got This

There are times, I believe, that we all think, "Why am I doing this?"

Besides the fact that I love to write stories, writing isn't always fun storytelling and creating. It's rewriting, revising, and killing your darlings. It's going back after rewriting the entire novel four times and rewriting it again because it's not good enough yet.

Recently, I received some rejections on my first YA fantasy. I was bummed so I shelved it until I can get a fresh perspective. I switched gears and have honed my focus on last year's NaNo novel. BUT. Doubtful feelings still creep up when I read a spectacular book. I think, "I can never write a book this good." And I'm probably right.

I couldn't have written that beautiful book because someone else already did.

My writing won't be the same as anyone else's. It will be mine.

This weekend I went to one of my family's favorite parks and saw something new. Something that encouraged me to stick with what I love. To never give up. To keep pressing the boundaries of words and stories.

A wonderful, creative Canadian sculptor, Eric Lapointe is featured right here in Texas! These are a couple of the sculptures featured on the park trails near my house. Super cool, right?

It's a... 

My son getting a glimpse of...
Neuschwanstein Castle!

This was such a lovely treat for me and my kids. When I got home, I googled Eric and truly enjoyed his artistic profession quote:

"Through my work, I rebel against the evidence that clouds our ability to question our habits. I try to give things perspective, to take my subjects out of their ordinary aspect in order to reveal their hidden reality."

So be encouraged writer of tales and artist of words! Look beyond your current perspective like so many other writers have in our past and press on! 

You got this.

Please share your thoughts with us! Have you sunk low after a rejection? How did you cope? What has encouraged you to keep on writing?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

4 Tips To Get Your Story Back On Track

Every choice your character makes leads to whatever is going to happen next. As an author—the evil mustache-twirling mastermind behind the story – figuring out what that thing is will undoubtedly fall somewhere between semi-perplexing and bang head against the wall until your eyes cross. And it will happen over and over and over again, because what are stories if not a constant string of What Comes Nexts?

So how do we wade through the murky territory of story decisions without turning into Artax in the Swamp of Sadness—overwhelmed and despairing that we’ll never come up with a kick ass plot?

I won’t tell you that I know the 7 words that will make a woman love you* how to eradicate Swamp of Sadness Syndrome, but I can share a few tips that may help you out if your story gets stuck.

1)      Goals & Motivation.

In the current scene, what does your character want and why do they want it? This is the first thing I look at when my characters start bumbling around and the plot feels like it’s going nowhere. A good amount of the time, I’ve lost sight of what the characters want and why any of it matters. Making sure this is clear on the page and focusing your scene around it will go a long, long way toward getting things back on track.
2)      Conflict.

If you have lost sight of your characters goals and motivations, chances are there’s not a lot of conflict going on either. Things can’t really oppose your characters in a meaningful way if they aren’t actively working toward something. Once you’ve reacquainted yourself (and the story) to # 1, it’s a lot easier to find inherent conflicts to torture your characters with.

3)      Stakes.

Your characters can have a goal and firm motivations for achieving it. Things can stand in their way — even big scary things with lots of sharp teeth – but if your characters have nothing to lose if they fail, any conflict you establish will feel contrived. The reader won’t care whether the characters achieve the scene goal. So, if  you don’t a ton of work setting up Goals, Motivation, and Conflict but you feel like your scene is still falling flat, it might be time to reexamine what your characters have at stake if they fail and make sure that it’s coming across on the page.

4)      Putting it all together.

In my opinion, this can be the hardest part because on the scene level, there might be several options goals, motivations, conflicts, and stakes. If I’m going to get really, truly stuck, there is where and when it happens.

So how do you decide THE BEST course of action? If you’re anything like me, it’s right about now that you:

* stare at the screen
* write a few words
* stare anxiously at what you wrote
* pound the delete key
* gorge self on *insert favorite snack and/or wine here*
* wash, rinse, repeat, and/or decide that you totally suck at life and go watch TV instead
* sink into the Swamp of Sadness

Here’s what I’ve figured out, though. Your stuckness (yeah, I know stuckness isn’t a real word) isn’t for lack of NOT know what comes next. Which, is actually a pretty awesome problem to have, because nine times out of ten there are bunches of possibilities floating around in your head. I call this brain freeze. It’s a state of being overwhelmed by too many potential story paths, and the only solution is to sit down and sort it all out.  

This is when I bust out the pen and paper and move away from the computer. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time for the What If list.

I don’t why, but I have to write “What if…” before every idea I have, like a promise to myself that whatever I come up with is only a suggestion that I’m in no way obligated to run with. Now I’m ready to put it all down, bullet point style. What if character makes X decision? Then I note the possible outcomes. Or what about if she makes X decision instead? Then I note those outcomes. I do this for all the possible choices I can think up.

Next, I pick the most intriguing options and bullet point their consequences, conflicts, and what my character stands to gain or lose from making that choice. Eventually, I find myself with one or two options that really take off. Connections between what I’ve already written and what I’ve outlined for future chapters are made.

If, by the end of this process, there’s still more than one really good choice, I evaluate each based on steps 1, 2, & 3 in relation to the current scene and also the story as a whole. Which path aligns itself more closely to the direction I want the plot to take?  99.9% of the time, I’ve not only worked out what I need to happen next, but I can’t wait to start writing it!

*Bonus points if you get the reference and say so in the comments. J


Monday, January 12, 2015

Recharging the Creative Brain: TV and Movies

I will sing the praises of Netflix forever, and ever, and ever. Just meet a deadline? Binging on your favorite show is the perfect reward. In the middle of a deadline and your brain’s locked up and if you stare at that screen one more minute YOU WILL SCREAM? Please, just turn on Netflix. Please.

But. Is it possible that watching TV or movies is actually good for your creativity? I’m in the “yes” camp. As writers, reading refills the creativity well in an irreplaceable way (in my opinion). But actually seeing a story play out on screen brings its own form of magic. And it’s not always about the actual plot or premise of the show—sometimes it’s the relationships, or the settings, or the pacing, or the style of storytelling.

Examples, you ask? Gladly.

How to Get Away with Murder (ABC) quickly became one of my favorite new shows this past fall. The show used a unique style of storytelling, weaving flashbacks with present day events in order to keep us in suspense, while also building up to the big Whodunit reveal.

Supernatural is about demons and angels and monsters under the bed (literally), but what drew me into an auto-obsession was the relationship between Sam and Dean. The show also does an amazing job at showing that family isn’t always about blood.

And that brings me to Friday Night Lights. If you’ve ever asked me for a show recommendation, there’s a solid chance I mentioned this one. FNL is my go-to when I’m working on a Lewis Creek book, because it showcases so many things I hope to accomplish: the friends who become family. The teammates who always have your back. The mom who sits on the floor with her daughter, who's crying after her boyfriend leaves town. The beauty, and sometimes-ugly-side of small town life. And if you’re looking for parental inspiration for your YA family, Coach and Tami Taylor are quite possibly my favorite couple in TV history.

(“Will you take me to Philadelphia with you, please?” <-- This line. Watch the show and wait for this line. Trust me.)

Those are just a few of my favorites. Are there any shows or movies that recharge your creativity? Let us know!

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Resolution of Routine

Hi, January! Nice to see ya. I'm not really sure what happened to November and December. I vaguely remember NaNoWriMo writing sessions, wrapping presents, a few holiday parties, and now I'm sitting here with new slippers on my feet so I must have survived.

I don't think it's possible to approach the new year and not think about Future Self: our goals, obligations, and, maybe more uncomfortablea few moments of reflection. Free from the sparkly haze of the holiday season, I see all of my future obligations staring at me. They are waiting, eyebrows raised and tapping their feet. 

I feel the need for a little more structure. I think I’m ready to start implementing a routine.
I've never considered myself a very regimented person. Somehow just going with the flow seemed to work. But the duties of a parent-writer-person can, at times, multiply like rabbits. Yet the number of hours in the day remains the same. 

This year I'm embracing the planner. Not just weekly, I'm thinking daily. With two little kids and going back to work full time, I need the clarity/relief/sanity of seeing my day in black-and-white, outlined and ready to roll.

Not only will maintaining a planner help keep me organized, I think there's something motivating about seeing your goals written out. All those little jobs I keep pushing back until "later in the week", well, now I can see if I've accidentally planned seven things for Thursday AM before the kids get up. Because that's not happening. I need to delegate time for my WIP, for beta reading, blog writing, and of course, READING.

I also know myself, and I know the occasional deviations are going to happen. Some nights I will accidentally start binge watching Supernatural. Or one of my kids may need extra cuddle time after a lousy day.  But just attempting to get little more firm with my time will be a big change for this free-wheeling family. 

They say art reflects life, right? When I think about it, I was a total pantser while writing my first novel. Now working on its sequel, I've got most of that book outlined. So, here's to rolling with the times! As long as they're scheduled.