It Is Finished...and a Hint of Upcoming Awesomeness

Jan 26, 2011


Whew! As of 12:43 a.m. this morning, Devolutionaries is finished and ready for beta readers. Which of course means it's not really finished, but it's finished enough that I'm calling it done. I celebrated with an exhausted "woot" and went straight to bed.

But now I'm awake enough for a full-on WOOT!!! And even a YAY!! And I'll add a YEE-HAW!! for good measure.

I'm afraid that's about all the blog post you're gonna get from me today...except for me to casually and slyly hint that there is much upcoming awesomeness on this blog. Featuring awesome prizes. And warm fuzzy feelings. And you.

It's gonna rock your socks off.

Reading Til My Eyes Bleed

Jan 24, 2011

I'm reading Devs out loud right now, trying to hone my sentences. It's completely exhausting, and it's taking much longer than I expected. So if I'm sparse on the blog this week, it's because I'm reading 'til my eyes bleed.

And yes, it's worth it. I've made so many tiny changes that I never would have caught otherwise, and the book is all the better for it.

Here's my favorite line of the day:

Lainey glared at him. "You’re better than this, Quinn."

"Maybe I am," he said. "But maybe, to make the world safe, I have to be worse than I am."

The Show Must Go On

Jan 22, 2011

So I've got to admit, I'm at that point where I'm totally ready to give Devs a month break when it goes to beta readers. If I have to read/edit certain sections one more time, I'm going to rip my hair out.

Well, probably not. I kind of like my hair.

Regardless, I'm finding it hard to push through my last few edits. I'm pushing it, though-- I've got to finish my plot chart, fix any holes I find, and do an out-loud read through. The show must go on, right?

I'm allowing myself little breaks, though. Last night, I worked some more on TUGL, and I'm getting more excited about it the more I figure out. I've got my setting planned-- there's two main settings that simultaneously echo and contrast with each other, and are symbolic of the society itself. I've got my character relationships starting to work themselves into lovely complicated little knots. I've got my plot beginning to rise from the mud. I can't wait to give Devs a little rest and work on this one.

With any luck, once Devs is back from betas, I'll be eager to jump back into it. I do really love the story, after all. We just need a little space to redefine our relationship.

So, my friends, have you ever had to muscle through a story? Rediscover your love for it? How is your writing going right now?

And now, before I go, I'd like to say thanks to Rachna Chhabria for the Fair Dinkum award, and to Jodi Henry and Margo Kelly for the Stylish Blogger award! You ladies are awesome.

The Writing Process: Revisions

Jan 20, 2011

Well, I think the What's Your Process blogfest was quite a success! Thanks so much to all who participated-- I learned so much from everyone. It was fascinating to see the differences and similarities between everyone's writing processes.

And now, here's the last from me in this series on the writing process: revisions. I've been steeped in revisions for Devolutionaries for the last four months, and I've discovered a lot of new ways to make it work.

My first step after finishing the first draft is to let the story sit for AT LEAST a week-- longer if I can make myself. Then I read it from beginning to end with the eye of an editor. I look for inconsistencies, plot holes, pacing issues, character problems, setting issues, etc. I try to focus on the three "biggies"-- plot, character, and setting. I note all problems I find using the Comments feature in Word.

Then, I take those scene headings I write in the first draft and put them into a new Freemind document. I use the same basic outline form I mentioned in the first draft post. Looking at my story unfold that way, I can see where the big plot and pacing problems are. I start dragging and dropping scenes around, and even add some or make note of scenes to delete or extensively re-write.

Then I save a new version of my actual story draft (I like to keep each draft so I can go back if I need to), and start making all those big plot changes I noted in both my read-through and my new outline. This can take weeks/months, and gets complicated, but it is SO worth the trouble to get the story flowing smoothly.

Once I'm done with that, I go back to my character sketches. I tweak them so they better reflect the character they have become, and I make sure to fill out the 3-2-5 section that is often blank up until this point. I look at places in the story where my character needs to be more unique or strong, or take a different action, or where his relationship with another character changes. I often tweak a lot of dialogue here, too. Setting changes typically go along with this part of the revision-- I try to make sure the setting is well set, and that it is a stronger part of the story.

Then I go back to Freemind. I list out each plot and subplot, and then list every single event that happens in each one. With each one mapped out individually, I can see where one might drop off for a while, or where one might be weak for a few chapters. I go back in and add/edit/delete to make each subplot work.

Then I pull each scene AT RANDOM out of the larger document and paste it into another document, and check it for story flow. I figure out if it starts and ends in the right place, and if it functions as a sort of story-within-a-story (character wants, pacing, dialogue, all that jazz). I tweak it and paste it with changes back into the larger document.

After I've done all my big changes, I let the story sit again. With Devs, I sent it out to my crit group for a Full Novel Review (we all read each other's books, got together on a Saturday, and critiqued the entire thing). After getting their feedback, I've been once again entrenched in rewrites-- smaller, more specific changes this time. I listed the changes out on a 3x5 card and am going through the story from beginning to end to make those changes.

I'm still in those revisions, and once they're done, I'll be doing another plotting sequence to make sure every plotline flows properly-- in more detail this time, chapter by chapter like this. Then I'll do another read-through, out loud this time, to trim, tighten, and otherwise make my prose flow better. And then it's off to beta readers, then a few more tweaks, and then I'll start to query!

So, for what it's worth, there's my revisions process. It's long, complicated, and very apt to change, but so far, it's worked for me.

So, my friends, how do you do your revisions? Do you plan it out, or just dive in and tear the whole thing to pieces immediately? Do you simply scrap the first draft and rewrite the whole thing? If you're doing rewrites and revisions now, how's it going?

The Writing Process: The Outline and First Draft

Jan 18, 2011

Today is the What's Your Process Blogfest! Be sure to check out all the other great entries below to learn more about how other writers work their magic.

As mentioned in this post, I have to have some idea of my characters before I start a draft. I also have to have a basic plot outline. I use a tool called Freemind to map out my plot (see image). I have one main "bubble" with my title that leads to three other bubbles-- Act I, Act II, and Act III.

Act I leads to 2 bubbles: 1) snapshot of hero's old life/opportunity offered, and 2) hero resists opportunity.

Act II leads to: 1)Learning about new life/villain setup, 2) build to climax/try-fail cycles, and 3) climax and ultimate fail.

Act III leads to: 1)Ultimate climax and success, and 2) wrap-up

Then, under each of the bubbles listed above, I write a basic paragraph of what happens in that section. VERY basic. I've been known to write such epic statements as "more bad things happen."

Once that's in place, I begin the writing of my first draft. It usually completely terrifies me. I write from beginning to end--I can't jump around and write scenes out of order. The outline gave me an idea of how to structure the plot, and now I let the actual events of the story work themselves out. It tends to be very messy, but not nearly as messy as when I have no outline to give me a general plot arc.

Sometimes I get a quarter or more through the writing and realize I'm telling the wrong story-- it happened with Devs. So I go back and rewrite it. Sometimes I'll write a scene and realize I took the story in the wrong direction, so I'll cut and paste it into a "cut scenes" document and write a scene that goes somewhere else. Yup, sometimes I edit in my first draft. No point in finishing a story that's wrong, right?

I write in Microsoft Word, and I turn on Document Mapping as I go. I create chapters that at this point mean nothing except as navigation points. For each scene I write (sometimes there are several per chapter), I write a brief description of what happens and put it at the top of the scene as a header. I use Heading Styles so the descriptions show up mapped in order to the left of my document. This makes it easy to jump around to certain points in my document.

It also serves another purpose-- when I'm done with my draft, I take each of my scene headings and make an outline of them in Freemind. There, I can see my storyflow from beginning to end, and see how I need to fix it.

But that's a discussion for the next post-- rewriting.

Now go check out what everybody else has to say. And enjoy!

What's Your Process Blogfest Tomorrow!

Jan 17, 2011

Hey folks, just a reminder that the What's Your Process Blogfest is tomorrow! You can still sign up if you want, or you can sit back and soak in the knowledge of how other writers do it.

Have a great MLK Jr. Day, and I'll see you back here tomorrow. :)

The Writing Process: Creating Characters

Jan 14, 2011

I had planned on doing three posts on the writing process this week, but my Blogger dashboard crashed! It seems to be back, and hopefully won't crash again before the What's Your Process Blogfest.

So now, let's talk about characters. I always have to do some character sketching before I can really move on to writing my story. Of course, my characters ALWAYS change throughout the course of writing, but I have to have an idea of who they are before I begin.

This is the character sheet I use, created by Anne Olwin. It's one of the most complete ones I've ever found. I love that it contains various traits and characteristics.

However, I add several other things to this sheet. Sometimes, if I have a vague idea of the type of person my character is, I start off with the color code personality profile and the Myers-Briggs personality profile. Sometimes I do these a little later, if I'm not really sure yet who my character is going to be.

The last thing I add to the standard character sheet is the 3-2-5 questions. Who is this character? Who are they becoming? What stands in their way? How are we like them? How do we want to be like them? What are their flaws, handicaps, strengths, quirks, and motivations?

I do this one last because it's hard to do it without knowing a few things about my character first. Sometimes, I don't even complete it until after the first draft.

I keep all of this in one document labeled with the character's name. Then, I do a Google search to find a face that could be my character, and sometimes do a Polyvore wardrobe set. All of this is kept in a file within my story file labeled Characters.

And voila! It can sometimes take a while to do all this, but I've found if I at least do the protagonist and antagonist before I start, I can write a much stronger first draft.

So, my friends, how do you create your characters? When do you design them? Do they come to you fully formed, or do you have to drag information from them kicking and screaming? Share with us-- or sign up for the blogfest and share it then!

The Writing Process: Developing the Idea

Jan 10, 2011

With the What's Your Process Blogfest coming up next week (sign up here!), I thought I'd do a whole series on the writing process (or rather, MY writing process). On blogfest day, I'll do the biggie-- my process for rewriting.

But today, I wanted to start at the beginning: the idea.

There are a million ways an idea for a book starts. For Devs, it started with a quote from a movie. For BaB, it was another book I read. For TUGL, it was a conversation with my dad and husband about an article I'd read online. The point? Ideas can come from anywhere.

I've tried to train my brain to look for them. With every new thing I find fascinating, with every odd person I see on the street, with everything I read, I ask myself this: Where is the story in this?

Once that little spark of an idea takes root in my brain, it percolates for a few days-- or sometimes much longer. My subconscious works at it even when my conscious brain doesn't. I start to form a story from the initial concept. Who is my main character? A girl or guy? What's the setting? How does this, that, and the other work-- what are the rules?

After my brain has hashed out some of the basics, I create a new file under my "Shallee's Stories" file. The very first document that goes into this new file is my idea dump. I type out all the things my brain has come up with, and then I just let it go. I ask a million questions about all the details I've come up with so far, including a lot of "whys" and "so whats." I start developing the world. I start finding out about my characters beyond their gender. I try to figure out where the actual STORY is in all this mess of questions.

This usually takes days, at least. The very last thing I do is something new I'm trying out with TUGL. I got it from this amazing article by Donald Maas. I ask myself the questions he says to ask:

"The gift: Think about your favorite fiction…what element unifies it? In other words, what do you love best about the novels that you love?...Make sure that element’s strong in your WIP.

The challenge: What is it that you—yes, you—least want to accept, refuse to feel, fear is true, find unbearable, feel angriest about, or avoid at any cost? What do you see around you that makes you sick? What in yourself makes you terrified?

Go further: What’s the truth that underlies all things? What principle guides human behavior? What’s the greatest insight you’ve even had about yourself? Or even just this: What do you know about anything that nobody else does?"

I was amazed at how much of my actual story became more clear once I answered these questions, and how strong it made my initial story concept. Once I have this all figured out, I separate out the different parts of my idea dump into new documents so it's all organized.

Then I'm ready for my next step: characterization. We'll talk about that on Wednesday!

So, my friends, how do your ideas come? How do you develop them? Share with us-- or sign up for the blogfest next Tuesday, and give us the nitty-gritty details then!

Social Networking for Writers-- If Facebook Exploded Tomorrow

Jan 8, 2011

Don't forget to sign up for the What's Your Process blogfest-- share your writing process and learn from others!

I read an interesting article last night on CNN that stated Goldman Sachs' investment in Facebook is a sign of the beginning of the end for the social networking site.

I don't know if this has any merit, but it made me think. As writers and aspiring authors, we are encouraged to use Facebook as a marketing tool. What would happen if Facebook, or Twitter, or Blogger-- the trifecta of social networking-- were to collapse tomorrow?

We debate all the time about whether we should tweet, and if we should have a fan page on Facebook, and how often we should blog. One expert says do it this way, and another says to do it differently. You MUST post more than once a week, you MUST interact with others on Twitter, you MUSTMUSTMUSTMUST.

No, my friends, you musn't.

What you MUST do, if you plan on selling whatever fabulous book you are writing, is to connect with people. Oh, you must write a fabulous book, of course, but that's just a given.

Social networking is just what it claims to be: networking. Making connections. Reaching out to one person at a time and saying I understand you, or we are the same, or let's learn from each other, or millions of other things. People once did this by talking to other people, like in person, maybe at a grocery store or a bus's sort of cool, if you want to give it a whirl.

So stop stressing about whether you should Facebook, Tweet, or blog, and start focusing on making connections. Where and how you do it is up to you, but keep in mind that these sites are just tools. If social-network-site-Armageddon came tomorrow, you'd find another tool to reach those people you've connected with.

As long as you're making those connections.

So, my friends, how are you making connections? Any thoughts on the demise of Facebook? Who will you talk to/tweet/blog comment to today?

P.S. For the best book I've ever read on marketing/networking/sales, check out The Greatest Salesman in the World. It's not even boring, I promise-- it's fiction.

Announcing the What's Your Process Blogfest!

Jan 6, 2011

So, I'm starting a new novel. And no, it's not the new novel I've been talking about for a few weeks (BaB). It's...another one. A three-million-times-cooler one. It's tentatively titled The Unhappening of Genesis Lee (TUGL), and I'm really stoked about it.

As I've been hashing out the idea, coming up with characters, and formulating a plot, I've thought a lot about my writing process. It changes a little every time I write a new book-- hopefully for the better. I started out years ago as a die-hard pantser because I didn't know there was another way to do it.

Since then, I've learned about and tried many different tools for planning my novel, and I've learned something important: I don't have to do it like everyone else. And I shouldn't do it like anyone else. My brain works differently than someone else's, and that's okay. That's really good, actually!

All writers have different process for different parts of their writing, and I have learned a lot about what works for me and what doesn't by trying out other writer's processes. So...I'm hereby announcing the What's Your Process Blogfest!

If you want to participate, sign up below. On Tuesday, January 18th, blog about ANY part of your writing process-- how you create characters, how you plot your novel, how you organize your rewrites, your whole writing process from start to finish, anything. Even if you're a complete pantser, tell us your pantsing process. Do you write chronologically? Jump around? Edit as you go, or just dump it all on the page? Let us know!

Hopefully, we'll all be able to see how other people write, and pull out a few new gems to help us with our own creations! Sign up below, and pass the word around. The more of us there are, the more we can learn from each other.

Strengthen your Story Through Your Character's Wants

Jan 4, 2011

Over the Christmas holidays, I watched Disney/Pixar's Up with my in-laws. I'd seen it before and loved it, and since the story was no longer new to me, my brain did what it always does with a familiar story. It dissected it.

One of the biggest things that stood out to me was how the story was driven so clearly by the character's wants-- their desires. Those are what motivates them to action. It's one of the most common pieces of writing advice: define what your character wants in order to drive the story forward. It creates a stronger story to have characters who act rather than react all the time.

But let's dig a little deeper. I'm going to be using examples from Up, and there may be spoilers, so if you haven't seen it, you have been warned. Let's break down wants into smaller, more useful bits.

Unique and specific wants - Say your character wants to find adventure in South America. Cool. Say instead your character wants to take his whole entire house on an adventure to South America to fulfill a promise to his wife. Way cooler. A lot of the uniqueness of Up is in the uniqueness-- and specificity-- of Carl's wants. What he wants drives him to find a fantastic and original solution: he flies his house to South America with helium balloons.

Emotional wants - Carl's desire to fly his house south isn't just a whim. It's a very deep, emotional want. He feels as though he broke a promise to his wife by never taking her to have an adventure in South America. The guilt and sorrow he feels strengthens the emotional ties to the story, and makes the ending that much more cathartic. It makes it easier for the audience to be connected to the story when there's emotion involved.

Complex, multiple, and hidden wants - Russell, the young stow-away on Carl's flying house, has one initial want: to be of service to Carl so he can earn a badge for his Wilderness Explorer group. As the story progresses, Russell also wants to help Kevin (the giant bird) get back to her babies. This want echoes the deeper desire underneath Russell's initial want-- he wants his final badge so his father will come to the badge-pinning ceremony. The intertwining and hidden wants make Russell a more complex character than just a boy scout trying to do some good.

Changing wants - Near the end of the story, Carl finally acheives his want: His house sits in Paradise Falls, just where his wife always wanted it. However, feeling somewhat unfulfilled, he pulls out an old scrapbook his wife made and realizes their adventure was in their lifelong relationship. At that moment, Carl's wants change-- he wants the adventure of an unselfish relationship again, starting with his new friend Russell. This change of his want is the change in his character that drives the satisfying end to the story.

Every character in Up had desires, from Kevin's desire to get back to her babies to Dug's desire to bring Kevin in so his doggy-friends would like him. (I can't even tell you how long it took me to catch my breath after laughing over Dug's "please, oh please be my prisoner!" line.) All of these wants are what made this story-- one that could have been small and unimportant-- into a story I fell in love with.

So, my friends, what do your characters want? Is it unique, emotional, complex, or changing? Is it strong enough to drive your story? How do you determine your character's desires?

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