What has reading taught you about writing?

Jul 28, 2011

So I've always been a huge reader. Like, ALWAYS. When I was about six, I was desperate for "chapter books," so my mom took me to the bookstore. She picked out an early-reader book for me, the kind with about twenty words per page. I picked out a YA book called Megan's Ghost. She didn't think I'd be able to handle it, but I was determined it was what I wanted. I devoured it in a few days. In fact, I read so much as a kid, my parents had to actually cut my reading time short and make me play outside.

My love of reading is what gave me a love of writing. My first stories were mostly copies of whatever I was reading at the time. You've got to start somewhere, right? Katrina Lantz recently did a post on the importance of reading for writers. And it is SO IMPORTANT. In reading so many books, I absorbed most of my early writing knowledge without ever cracking a book on craft. Reading so much gave me an instinct for some of the smaller things like grammar, and even some of the bigger things like plot structure. Sometimes, I'll re-read my favorite books on purpose with an eye toward improving things like my own character development.

That's not to say you don't want to study craft. But reading is not only good for learning story craft. It's also one of the best ways I've found to get creative. Reading opens your imagination to a new world, and while your imagination is open, it's more receptive to knew ideas. When I'm not entirely sure what the plot of my Shiny New Idea is going to be, or when I'm stuck on revisions, I read.

So, my friends, what is one of your recent favorite reads? (I loved Divergent by Veronica Roth.) What has reading taught you about writing?

Book market trends and other things you have no control over

Jul 26, 2011

One of the most popular questions I heard people ask agents when I went to a conference back in May was about trends-- were the agents still looking for this trend or that trend, what trends were over, what trends were predicted to be next. Many writers want to write stories we love that will also fit into the marketplace, and knowing trends can help with that.

Unfortunately, the thing about trends is that they're not something we can control.

Trends are determined primarily by readers, and then by publishers trying to flood the market with what readers seem to want. It's possible to predict that because readers want dystopian, they may want science fiction next because they're related, but who knows. Maybe somebody will write an amazing book about a schizophrenic teenage elf, and readers will go nuts looking for more fantasy with mental health themes.

The advice professionals give out about trends and writing for them is usually the same: don't write for the trends, because by the time you hear about it, publisher's lists are most likely full of it. Just write the best book you can, one that you completely love, and if it's amazing, it'll find a home.

The thing about trends and hitting them or missing them is that it's almost purely based on luck. James Dashner mentioned at that same conference in May that when The Maze Runner was being published, it was around the time when The Hunger Games was getting popular. His publishers were excited to have another dystopian/post-apocalyptic story, because the market was primed for it. He was lucky, he said.

I've been thinking about trends a lot because I'm currently querying a dystopian novel. I wrote it before I knew much about the trend, but I'm not quite as lucky as James Dashner. While the trend is picking up in the reader's market, publishers have dystopians planned on their lists for the next few years. This doesn't mean I have no chance. I love this book, and I think it's pretty darn good-- otherwise I wouldn't have the courage to query it.

Here's the thing about trends though-- and about selling your writing in general. It's all about preference. It's about other people and what they like and what they're sick of and what tickles their fancy on a Wednesday at two p.m. when they read your query or pick up your book. And you really have no control over that.

What you do have control over is writing something that YOU love, which is why that's the standard advice from agents about trends. The other thing you have control over? Studying and applying writing craft and a hefty dollop of imagination to make your book amazing. Because everybody prefers amazing.

So, my friends, what are your thoughts on trends and writing?

Who's your favorite character you've ever written?

Jul 22, 2011

So I lied. I said I was going to do a post analyzing a popular movie with the plot structure I talked about on Wednesday. My brain is not functioning well enough on a Friday to pull that off, so instead, I want to ask a question.

Who is your favorite character you've ever written? Or, if that's too hard of a choice, who is one of your favorites?

I love all of my characters a lot, so it's a tough choice for me. But one of my favorites is Quinn from Devolutionaries. He's a smart, tortured pain in the rear. He spent most of his childhood as a science experiment, which explains the tortured part. He's bossy, secretive, and works his tail off to defend a cause he thinks is right. Though he isn't the main character, he is extremely important in the story. I think I love him so much because even when he's being stubborn, he's managed to struggle above his circumstances to try to do something good.

So, my friends, I repeat the question: who's one of your favorite characters you've ever written?

Story Structure Tips for Pantsing-- and Plotting-- Your Way to a Better Novel

Jul 20, 2011

I've been yammering a lot lately about the amazingness of plotting/outlining. Most of this yammering comes because, after hearing Larry Brooks speak at the LDStorymakers conference, I read his book Story Engineering and it changed my life. I kid you not. Best writing craft book I have EVER read. I highly recommend you go buy the book for yourself.

Today, let's talk about how learning the story structure mentioned in this book can change your life even if you're a pantser. I know, it seems at odds-- structure? Pantsing? Never these twain have met. Or have they? In essence, pantsing is a way to create a long, rambling outline for your book. I was a pantser for quite a while, and found this to be true. And whether you plot or pants your novel, in the end, we're all striving for the same thing: an engaging, fabulous story.

One of the best ways to do this is using the three-act structure. In order to achieve that story and structure, there are certain plot points you MUST hit. Go watch your favorite movie, and you'll find all of these points exactly where they're supposed to be. Being aware of them can help you either outline beforehand, or guide you as you pants, so your novel can be more satisfying to readers. I'll do a post on Friday outlining all of these points in a well-known book, but for today, let's look at the basics.
There are FOUR PARTS to a story separated by THREE POINTS, and they fit roughly into the typical three-act structure.

Part 1 (Act 1): The setup. This is where you explore what the character's life and world is like before the story starts. You set the stakes-- what does the character have to loose? Obviously, you don't want to ramble on about the random nothings of their life. You want a HOOK-- a compelling moment that hints at the inciting incident and the first plot point. You want an inciting incident-- a moment that can help launch the story. You want specially chosen moments and details that lead up to the point where they get a full-frontal view of how their life will change. And that point is called...

Plot Point 1. Plot Point 1 is where the goal, the journey, and the conflict all become clear-- the first full-frontal view of the conflict, stakes, and opposition. This can be, but doesn't have to be, the inciting incident. The inciting incident is more often earlier in Part 1. The key here to determining that is to look at what the character learns when the inciting incident takes place. If the inciting incident is an intriguing moment that sets the character on a new path that they and the reader don't quite understand, then it is NOT Plot Point 1.

Also keep in mind that PP1 come approximately 1/4 of the way through the story-- about page 100 in a 400 page novel. And yes, the timing is important. If it comes too early or too late, your reader, who has unconscious expectations of when certain moments will come, will either be confused or bored. Moving on, PP1 launches the beginning of

Part 2 (Act 2): The Response/Wanderer. It's important to remember that this is a reactive, not proactive stage. This is where the hero is running, or floundering in some way as he or she responds to what they learned at PP1. It generally covers about half of Act 2, and transitions to the next stage at the

Midpoint. The midpoint is, predictably, right in the middle of the story (about page 200 in a 400 page book). This is where the hero learns something new and empowering in the context of the story. This new thing gives them what they need to start fighting against the antagonist, therefore launching

Part 3 (Act 2): The Attack/Warrior. The character can now jump in, guns blazing, and start attacking, acting the warrior. Here's the thing, though-- they can't win yet. They don't have enough information to defeat the antagonist. They can try, but inevitably they fail simply because they are missing a vital piece of information. And that moment comes at

Plot Point 2. This is where the hero learns that vital piece of information that will allow them to triumph over the villain. It's the moment that launches the final conflict, which takes place in

Part 4 (Act 3): Climax and Resolution. At this point, no new information can enter the story-- it all must have been hinted or foreshadowed at previously. The hero can now take everything he/she has learned and meet the villain for the final showdown. Because of what he/she has learned and how he/she has changed, they are now able to triumph. After the triumph, they have a short resolution time to tie up loose ends, and then their story has come to a heroic end.

You'll also notice two smaller pinchpoints. These are moments right in the middle of Part 2 and Part 3 that remind the reader and the hero of the threat of the villain. They can be small or large, but they also are important to the flow of the story.

So, my friends, questions? Comments? Concerns? Did that help you understand story structure? Is there a structure you yourself like to use that's different than this one? Are you opposed to structure and want to explain why?

Enjoy an Awesome Contest

Jul 18, 2011

So yesterday was my birthday. It was fun and relaxing, but today is when we're going out to celebrate. So, while I enjoy Harry Potter, I hope you will enjoy this awesome contest.

Editor C.A. Marshall (who helped out with the African Education Raffle) is giving away a full manuscript edit-- and a free query critique! She's also just released several of her short stories, so go check them out.

Working on Multiple Stories, or What to do with a Shiny New Idea

Jul 15, 2011

And, I'm back! The draft is done, I've written lots of letters to my bro, and I haven't finished the huge work project (darn). The fun summery adventure is taking place next weekend in the form of a zoo trip, and I'm ready to jump into edits for TUGL.

I mentioned in my last post that I got a shiny new idea for a story I'm calling Perception. I used to just write down SNIs and leave them alone until I was done with my current project. This time, though, I've let it simmer in my brain during this last week when I took a short break from TUGL. That means I'm currently querying one book, editing another, and planning a third. I never thought I'd be able to handle three stories in my head at once, but it's amazing what you can get used to. In fact, I'm finding that I kinda like having stories in different stages.

I've discovered a lot of benefits of working on more than one project. For one, it helped get my mind off TUGL this week as I worked on Perception. I always try to take small (and sometimes large) breaks from my WIPs between different stages, and having something else to work on really lets my brain clear of the story so I can go back to it with fresh eyes.

Another thing I've figured out is how much it helps to let new ideas simmer for a few months at least. With Devs, which I'm querying now, I got the idea and immediately jumped into the planning and writing. Then, at 30,000 words, I realized I was writing the wrong story and started completely over. When I got the idea for TUGL, I was still in the middle of rewriting Devs, so it percolated in my brain for months. I considered and rejected multiple ideas-- before I ever put them on the page. I got all that figuring out of the story done before I started writing, making the writing so much easier.

Percpetion will go back to simmer mode for the next few months as I dive into rewrites for TUGL. In dull moments, my brain will play with it, think of new ideas, throw them away, and find better ones. Then, when I'm ready to send TUGL to beta readers and take a break from it, Perception will be waiting for some action.

So, my friends, how do you handle shiny new ideas when they come at an inconvenient time? Are you working on multiple stories, or do you prefer to handle one at a time?

Brief hiatus interruption because the draft is done!

Jul 9, 2011

Just sneaking in to announce that last night, just before 10:00 pm, I finished the first draft of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee! In seven weeks, I wrote 76,525 words. WOOT.

Like a typical first draft, it's a lovely disaster-- I'm already planning to rip apart the ending-- but it's actually the best first draft I've ever written. It won't need nearly the overhaul Devolutionaries got when its first draft was done. By comparison, that first draft took over four months, and included a complete re-start around 30,000 words. Why the difference? Obviously JuNoWriMo helped, but the biggest change was MORE EXTENSIVE OUTLINING. Give it a try, my friends.

Also...I might be having a shiny new idea. Tentatively titled Perception, I'm still brainstorming, but I've got a fabulous protagonist, a terrific setting, and a twisty-turney plot all in embryo form. And, because I got all excited about it, it also has a mock cover.

Sigh. SNIs have such terrible timing. Maybe the first draft of this one will be a NaNo project this year.

Okay, sneaking quietly away again...see you July 15th.

Busy-ness and a Blog Break

Jul 6, 2011

So the next week or so is kind of busy around these parts. In no particular order, I will be:

Finishing the first draft of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee.

Writing oodles of letters to my baby brother who is leaving for two years to serve as a missionary for our church.

Crying just a little because I miss said baby brother already.

Taking the Kiddo to fun, summery places of adventure.

Having a party/playdate with the ever-awesome Michelle Merrill, who's coming into town.

Working on a new and rather large work assignment.

And so, my friends, I won't be around the blogosphere much for the next week or two. I should be back around July 15th. I hope you all have a splendid first few weeks of July!

Be Bold and Independent

Jul 4, 2011

As a proud citizen of the United States of America, I will of course be celebrating the momentous occasion of July 4, 1776.

Today, whether you are American or not, I invite you to go read what I believe to be one of the most eloquent, bold, and important pieces of writing in the world: the Declaration of Independence. Let it inspire you to be bold and eloquent and independent in your own writing and in your own life. And if you're American, let it inspire you with love for your country.
Happy Independence Day, my friends!

Favorite Writing Moments, and the end of JuNoWriMo

Jul 1, 2011

Happy first day of July, friends! With the beginning of July comes the end of June, and that means the end of JuNoWriMo. I'm going to admit to slacking just a bit for the last week-- a few days, I only got up to 1,000 words a day. But at least I was getting them in! I got in nearly 50,000 words in the past month, and I'm more than 3/4 of the way through my story. And it ain't over yet! I'm still going to aim for 2,000 words a day until I finish the book, hopefully in the next two weeks.

Today, to celebrate the awesomeness of everyone who sits their butt down at a computer/notebook and writes books (that's you, friends!), I'm sharing a few of my favorite moments in my writing. You're welcome to join in. I'm not talking about things like getting full requests or meeting awesome authors/agents, I'm talking about favorite moments while you were actually writing.

My absolute favorite memory, and one that will probably remain so for a long time, was finishing my first novel. It was pretty crappy, but of course I didn't know that at the time. I was a sophomore in college, and had dragged my laptop to the empty front room for a final push to the end. As I typed, my roommates came home. With them came friends, and an impromptu party began right in front of me. I barely noticed. For the next hour, I kept writing until it came. The end. I even typed the words. Full of the emotional ending of the book and the euphoria of having finished it, I threw my hands in the air and shouted, "Yes!" I don't think anyone even noticed, but in celebration, I put my computer away and joined the party.

So, my friends, it's your turn. What are your favorite moments from your writing?

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