Friday, October 30, 2015

Someone Has to Die

Outlining my story has been a blast this past month. It’s also been fascinating, since I’m letting my characters have a bigger say in their lives than I usually do. In fact, half of the time, I couldn’t finish the outline until I figured out who my characters truly are.

I was having a fairly major problem with my climax. I had two villains, and I wasn’t sure who the truly evil villain was. I knew one of them was responsible for the endemic, I wasn’t sure who. Then I worked on fleshing out my characters, figuring out what makes them tick, and their inner secrets. Once I did that, the climax started to come together.

The biggest surprise came when I worked on one of my secondary characters, the brother of my main character. I knew he was always there, he was supportive, got into my main character's schemes, but I didn’t know anything else about him.

Then I asked him his deepest secret.

Wow, was that an explosive question. Actually, with all of my characters. None of them wanted to tell me, but at the same time, once I found out their secret, I discovered more about then than I expected. This character had fallen in love with a girl and his father got rid of her because of it. Once I found out about the girl, I started exploring her storyline, and I discovered that she was in the story as well. She was a major part of the story, and I hadn’t even known who she was.

I fell in love with her almost immediately. She was cute, she was spunky, and she had a tragic backstory.

Just as soon as I decided I liked her, I discovered the next part of the plot. She dies. It was devastating. She didn’t deserve it. I searched for any other way to keep her from dying, but it kept circling back to the necessity of her death.

I’ve had a hard time killing off characters, and this is the first time that I knew it had to happen, to move the story forward.

How about the rest of you? Do you find it easy to kill of your characters?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Character Bios

I’ve been waiting for so long for November to start. To get myself through October, without starting any new projects, I’ve been working on prewriting. To say that I’ve done more for this book than any other would be an understatement. My Bible is filled. Background stories, setting, culture, maps, outlines, and yes, character bios.

When creating a character, I usually say that all I need to know is the most important event in their life so far and how it affected the character. I usually steered clear from the character questions and interviews because I never thought they were that relevant. I mean, I have characters living in a fantasy world trying to survive. Who cares what their favorite color is, right?

But since I have so much time, I figured I would actually try them out and see what happened. I went through multiple questions and picked the ones that I thought would apply the most to my characters, and yes, I left the question about favorite color in there. There were times that I really got stumped.

What kind of music does my character like to listen to? I have no idea.

What time do they go to bed or wake up? Does it matter?

Apparently, it does. I found out that one of my character loves to go stargazing, which means he stays up late to look at stars. I have another character who like silence, no noise, no music. Things I would not have known if I’d just focused on the most important aspect of their lives.

It doesn’t feel like I’ve gotten everything about the characters figured out, but there are small details that separates them from all of the other characters. It’s not a replacement, but I will definitely be using it in the future.

What do you do to build your characters? How do you get their backgrounds and personalities figured out?

Monday, October 26, 2015

NaNoWriMo Prep

I love autumn. It’s my favorite time of year, the anticipation for Halloween, and Thanksgiving, then Christmas. It’s the time that people start gathering indoors, drinking hot chocolate and snuggling up in blankets.

Recently, there’s one more thing to add to the anticipation, and that’s NaNoWriMo. It’s my favorite month of the year now, and preparation sometimes takes up an entire month as well.

Every year, I try and do something different. I try and push myself into doing something that I haven’t necessarily tried before. My first year, I wrote from the point of view of a male main character. Last year, I wrote a contemporary about a middle-aged woman dealing with her father’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Every year, I learn something new about myself as a writer, and about writing in general.

This year, I’m trying to write a series. Not just one book, but the beginning of a story, one that ends with a cliffhanger and everything. The preparation for this one has been brutal.

I’m a planner, and I have to know where I’m going. When I’m planning a series, it’s not just about this book, it’s about the entire story arch, so that when I start, I know what I need to add in the beginning to make the ending fit. When the ending’s three books away, that can be kind of daunting.

The only thing that gets me through this is outlining. My outlining process hasn’t changed too much over the past few years. It really depends on time, if I’m crunched, I might do a general outline, but when I really want to sit down and do it right, I go through a 3-4 step outlining process.

All of my outlining is handwritten. I feel much closer to my creative juices when I can use more than just my fingers on a keyboard. I start with notecards, writing down the basic plotlines that I hope to skip through. Once I finish those, I flip them over and add more detail to those specific plot points.

Step 1

Then I type it all up and add triple spacing, and print it out. That’s when I either do two or three more drafts. Since I’m crunching on time, I suspect I’ll only get one draft finished, but that’s okay. It’s the same basic idea. I take the outline that’s printed out, and I add even more plot points to it, more explanations as to why it’s important.

Step 2

Then I type it up.

Step 3

Since this is a trilogy, and since November is fast approaching, I’m actually doing all three processes at once. I’m trying to get all of my basic plotlines (the green draft) finished before November starts. Then I’m trying to get at least half of the back of the notecards (the yellow draft) finished so that I have the basic idea of at least where the next book is going.

And then I’m trying to do the fine detailed outline (pink draft) for this book.

How about the rest of you? What kind of preparation are you making for your NaNoWriMo novel?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Just Write!

This month, I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot more writers than I normally do. It’s amazing to see the different levels that writers are in. I’ve seemed to spend more time with brand new writers, ones on the very beginning of the journey.

What’s really surprised me, is that many of these writers find that the prewriting process, the idea, is much more important than the writing. One young man told me that he’s found that the writing part is most difficult. He told me that he’s written about five pages in the past six months or so. I had another writer tell me that she’s hoping to use NaNoWriMo to finish her novel, since she’s been working on it for about five years.

I don’t know that I’ve ever had that issue. I hear the excuse of ‘no time’ a lot. To me, that seems like an excuse for those who doesn’t make writing a priority. My senior year of college, the last month, right before finals, and before I took one of the most important tests of my life, I wrote an entire novel. Three weeks, while studying for finals, and I wrote over 50,000 words. My Co-ML has 4 kids. Last year, she worked full time, took care of her kids, and finished her 50,000 words in almost 20 days.

It’s possible. Time is something that everyone struggles with. We all get the same amount. 24 hours in a day. What we do with it really shows what we find most important.

This month, I’ve realized how much I’ve let my own writing slip. It’s not been a priority, even though I say that I want to be a writer. I want to write.

I’ve been adjusting my schedule, making sure that I put the time into writing so that I can’t use an excuse when I realize I haven’t been as productive as I meant to be.

How do you find time to write? What kind of sacrifices have you had to make so that you can get writing in?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What makes a Story?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about story. Not just plot or characters, but story itself. Last week, I attended a Storyteller’s Symposium, where I attended classes about photography, about film, other forms that I haven’t worked in, or that I hadn’t even considered for storytelling. 

I also went to a concert by performer Lindsay Sterling, who is a YouTuber who writers her own music and creates videos for those songs. She even said that often, before even writing the music, she has an idea of the video she wants to create.

I’ve had the opportunity to experience story in a completely different way. Through music, through video, photos… and I’ve learned a lot.

Out of all of them, there were some of the stories that really touched me in a way that I didn’t expect. There were some that drew me in so that I could use my own experience, my own thoughts to build the story into something that I can relate to personally.

Story, no matter the medium, needs to draw the audience in. It needs to speak to the basic human needs and emotions, to make them feel something that they haven’t felt before or to remind them of something they’ve already experienced. Whether it’s five minutes or 500 pages, there’s always something that the artist needs to say.

What have you learned from other art mediums? What kind of art do you enjoy beyond prose?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Storyteller's Symposium

Last weekend, I was able to attend the first ever Storyteller’s Symposium in our little town. It was a fantastic event, and I was very impressed by the number of would be artists that appeared. What I really hadn’t expected was that the storytellers included all facets, including photography, writing, film, and everything in between.

 What I loved was that even though I’d heard most of the advice already, it didn’t mean that there wasn’t something new for me to learn. For the majority of the month, I’ve been working on prewriting and preparing for NaNoWriMo, which means that I’m going back to the beginning. It’s been a year since I’ve started a first draft, and I feel like I’m relearning and revising how I start out a novel.

Probably what makes this ‘novel’ so difficult is that it isn’t a novel. It’s shaping up to be a series, which means that there’s even more plot points, even more characters, and even more planning so that the story arch follows a clear trajectory from start to finish. I’d gotten about two thirds of the way through the rough outline when I got stuck. I needed a large and satisfying climax, but I still wasn’t sure who my actual antagonist was. Or if the two potentials were working together.

During the symposium, I was thinking about this issue, and there was one lesson that really stood out to me. One of the presenters talked about the Dramatic Structure, the need to have a clear protagonist and a clear antagonist, and to have the two confront one another during the climax. He also mentioned that if there are two protagonists, then they both need to be present during the conflict.

You’d think that would be obvious, but every single climax I’d run through hadn’t included one of my characters. She was just as important as the other, but somehow, I hadn’t thought to make sure she had a clear reason to be there as well.

Once I figured out that both protagonists needed to be present, the dynamics changed, and the plot opened up again.

How’s your prewriting going? Ready for November?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Don’t Even Try

This month, I’ve been gearing up for NaNoWriMo, and since I’m ML of my region, it means that I’m trying to get a hold of other writing groups and find those who would be interested in writing a novel in one month. The town I live in is almost half students. When they’re off track, it’s like a ghost town, which means that the largest potential candidates for NaNoWriMo are students.

My Co-ML and I have been attending the school’s different classes, seminars and clubs, looking for writers. I’ve also been listening and participating in each club and seminar, because I want to know what writing students are being taught in college.

I haven’t been super impressed.

The advice that astounded me the most came from a student leader in the Writer’s Critique group. She started out the meeting by teaching all of the writers about publishing. She premised by stating that she didn’t know very much about publishing, but since they asked, she got the information from her teachers. She taught them about how to find small press publishing, to find publishers who are willing to take unsolicited queries.

She taught them that it was the only way to get published. One of the girls asked what to do if she wants to be published by one of the big five. She had no idea. She told them that it would be impossible to be published by one of the big five without an agent and it’s harder to get an agent than to be published by a small press. She said that an agent wouldn’t even look at someone who hasn’t published.

I was stunned. Basically, writing students were being taught to not even try. It’s too hard, so take the easy way out. Everyone says that it’s better.

I’m so grateful that I’ve learned about querying, and about publishing from those who’ve actually experienced it. In different online communities, I’ve met those who have published without using small-publishers. Those who spent years of querying before actually succeeding. With an agent who landed them the big five. Those who decided to self-publish and have already sold an entire series on their own, no publishers needed. I’ve even read stories of those who have already published with small press, but don’t have enough sales and actually have hurt their chances in the future to publish with bigger press.

What about you? What kind of advice would you give the girl who wanted to publish with one of the big five? What kind of experiences have you had with publishing?