Monday, August 30, 2010

Make a Sequel

Today I am going talk about contemplative scenes, or sequels as they are often called.

Jordan Rosenfeld has an excellent book called “Make a Scene” that talks about the different types of scenes—Action, Contemplative, Suspense, Dialogue, etc. She talks about the problems inherent in each scene (Contemplative tend to slow the plot, Action scenes can be confusing), and some tips and tricks for each type of scene.

You hear a lot of talk about what NOT to do during a scene. Unless you want to put your readers to sleep. You’re not supposed have a scene where the character sits in the kitchen and thinks, you’re not supposed to let your characters have coffee and talk, etc…the list goes on.

But this stuff happens in books all the time, and somehow, the book is not boring. How?

Because a sequel is not just a character soaking in the bathtub thinking about the new boy in school who happens to be a Yeti, and how their love would never work. Or a character sitting at the kitchen table, thinking about how awful it is now that the zombie apocalypse has occurred.

A sequel is:

*a scene that often follows action in the book. For example, a car accident. If you get hit by a car (the action) you are going to have a reaction to these events. Another way to look at a sequel is as a Reaction Scene. It’s my opinion that the heart of your book comes from these Reactions. How a character reacts and responses to the crap you throw at him is very revealing about his personal morals and motivation.

*A sequel can occasionally take place during an action scene. A great example is Star Wars: "Luke, I am your father." "NOOOOOOOOOOO!" That’s reaction, not action. And I suspect this Big Reveal is the entire reason for the scene’s place in the movie, not the cool lightsaber fight. Though the lightsaber fight doesn’t hurt.

*Another good use of a sequel is the How Are We Going to Get Out of This Mess? The classic scene of characters in the library talking. Sequels are a good way to show the character’s planning their next step, whether it’s how to get the handsome Yeti in school to notice them, or how they will survive the zombie apocalypse with only a Snickers bar left as food.

*Sequels are not an excuse to slow down the action, or a better word would be, tension of the book. Most writers fail a sequel where the character eats toast and thinks about their problems, not because there isn’t any explosions in the scene, but because there is no tension. You have a great book cooking, action is happening, things are moving, and then WAHM! A wall of boring happens.

The trick is to not let the tension drop during these scenes. If you can keep the tension going, you might even get away with the character taking a shower or doing some other boring task. I wouldn’t try this until you are REALLY confident though. I’ve seen it done well in books, and I’ve seen the scene fall flat on it’s face because there simply wasn’t enough tension to sustain the mundane task.

*A good sequel must continue to move the plot along. The character must make a decision, comes to grips with their crippling depression, realize they don’t want end up like their father, or something! Just like in a scene, the character must have changed from one state to another by the end of the sequel. They can go from scared of the zombies, to determined to kill them all. They could decide to change their evil ways and open up a bakery. They could realize they are madly in love with the Yeti boy and his copious amounts of hair, and decide to stop shaving as a sign of her affection.

*As you can see, the line between a Contemplative Scene, and a Sequel can be really blurry. Really blurry. Personally, I prefer to think of my sequels as Contemplative scenes. It helps me make sure they belong in the book, and gives me the piece of mind that I haven’t written a half scene that doesn’t belong in the book.

*When you’re writing a sequel, the main purpose or goal is the inner turmoil that leads to change. Luke being told that this evil man is his father is the entire point of that lightsaber scene. Notice how the action stops for a moment, while Darth Vader gives him the news. You don’t want external action to get in the way of the inner turmoil of your character, especially if this is occurring mid-action scene. Imagine what that reveal would have been like if Vader breathlessly intoned, “Oh” –duck—“By the way” –slash—“I am your father.”

This is why most sequel scenes have characters doing something boring. They don’t want to take away from the importance of the character’s reveal or decision or gut wrenching horror over what their life has become. So while you probably want to steer clear of super boring tasks like cleaning, washing the dishes, showering, etc, also make sure the physical action in your sequel isn’t too overbearing. Otherwise, it’s just unbelievable. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of reading an action scene where the character is having an emotional war with themselves while they are getting shot at, you’ll know what I am talking about. Hanging from a cliff isn’t a good time for the character to start pondering why they are attracted to abusive men.

*A good way to learn how to increase the tension in subtle ways is read a book that doesn’t have a lot of overt action in it. “The Lovely Bones” comes to mind…I was on the edge of my seat through the entire book, but there were barely any action-type scenes at all. No one got shot, no explosions, no zombies, and only one person died. But the entire book is fraught with tension. Other books that come to my mind are “She’s Come Undone”, “The Book of Ruth”, and “Midwives”. These books might not be your cup of tea, so try to find a book that doesn’t have an overly actiony plot that is. I am not saying read boring fiction that doesn’t seem to have a purpose, but a book where the tension is more subtle than A BOMB IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE! Figure out why you keep reading, and why the scene isn’t a snoozefest. If the scene IS a snoozefest, try to figure out what it’s not interesting to you.

*Finally, if you go through your conflict, specifically the organic conflict, you should have enough stuff going on in the character's life that the scene won't be boring just because they aren't getting shot at. Sequels are a great way to increase the stakes, or complicate the internal and external plot further.

So have some fun with your contemplative scene. It doesn’t have to be boring after all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Age

It’s happened again.

I thought I had grown out of it. I thought once I got married, and had a real job for a while I would no longer get into these situations.

I was wrong.

Mom and I were at Kmart, making a sock run for my Dad. While we were checking out, we were making conversation with the check out lady. She was a nice lady in her mid-forties. We talked about coupons and the unbearably hot weather, because Mom and I are the type of people who can have long conversations with complete strangers.

Then the lady asks me, “So how are you liking school?”

I cocked my head, momentarily confused.

“Are you a junior or a senior this year?” She continues.

I just grin at her.  Mom looks at me and shakes her head.

“Actually,” I said, “I’m 25 so…I’m not in high school. So school’s great!”

The lady laughed and apologizes. I shrug it off. It happens a lot.

I have decided it’s a matter of context. At work, most people know I can’t be in high school, so they correctly guess I am in my twenties.

Without the context of work, and the age is implies, I still look like I am 17. Dad says I will be thankful when I am older, but it doesn’t really bother me. I think it’s funny.

Now, when I have kids, it’s going to be extra interesting. People will shake their heads, silently thinking, “Teen pregnancy is on the rise.”

I wish I could blame it on being really short, but I know it’s not just that. I have a very youthful face apparently.

I wish I could say I made lots of progress on my WIP yesterday, but I slept terribly, so I went through the day in a haze. I was just tired enough to not be able to concentrate on anything, but not sleepy enough to be able to take a nap. Me and naps don’t get along. I usually just lay there, thinking about the things I could be doing with my day off. It feels like a waste.

Today I slept better, which is good because I have a very busy day at work ahead of me.

I hope everyone has a great weekend, and I shall see you all on Monday. In the meantime, try to have some fun!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wheee! Going to a Writing Seminar!

I am extremely excited to report that yours truly is officially going to a writing seminar two weekends from now.

Dragon*Con is hosted every year in Atlanta, and I usually don't have the money to go, even though I do love me some nerd conventions. This year I found out about their writer's track. They have three full days of classes on improving your writing.

I don't usually make a point to go to the local seminars here because they are very vague about their programming. They talk about teaching you how to be a better writer, and learning techniques on plot and structure, but I never know if it's going to be new information for me.

Not that I know everything. Far from it. But you reach a certain point where the plotting basics just don't teach you anything. It's what sucks about being in the intermediate stage of writing.

However, Dragon*Con has a list here about the different classes being held, and what each of them entails. It's three full days of writing goodness! I know for a fact I can use what they are teaching in those classes.

I managed to switch days with people at work, and I just paid for it. I am so so so so excited I can hardly sit still.

My only problem is I have an urge to cosplay. It IS Dragon*Con after all. I have to represent my fellow nerds. But I also want to look somewhat professional, and somehow, I am thinking dying my hair neon purple and wearing a costume doesn't exactly scream that.

I think I will compromise and wear my Full Metal Alchemist t-shirt. I would wear my Last Airbender shirt, but I am afraid of being stoned to death. That movie destroyed the tv series, and some of the fans are more angry about it than I am.

What do you guys have going on? Ever been to a writing seminar? Any tips for me?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Update and New Skin

I bet you can’t guess what I mean by “New Skin”. Am I talking about growing a thicker skin as a writer? Was I a burn victim, and now I have skin grafts?

No, but close. See, I was peeling potatoes yesterday. I am left handed. Let me tell you something: you right handed people have it made. You take so many tiny things for granted.

Like how your notebooks are bound (switch your pen/pencil to the other hand and see how much you like bearing down on a metallic spiral), what side of the car all the important stuff is (CD player, gear shift, the GAS PEDAL), all they way down to small kitchen appliances.

Like potato peelers. I can hold one in my left hand, but it’s always a little awkward, and when I get a particularly juicy potato, I almost always wind up peeling some of my skin off. Which is exactly what happened yesterday; I peeled part of my right pinky tip off. The peeler is relatively sharp, so I broke right into the nail and half way into the tip of my pinky.

It bled like a head wound. And it’s on the tip of my pinky, so a Band-Aid has no hope of staying on. The thing is, when you massage for a living, people don’t want you to touch them with your scabby hands (for some reason). My Dad suggested using New Skin. It’s from the makers of Band Aid, and it’s basically a liquid Band-Aid. It’s also antiseptic, and stings like a mother when you apply it to a fresh wound. But it did it’s job; the wound is closed and I was able to work today without having to massage with my pinky stuck up in the air, like we were having high tea or something.

I can also type without having an annoying lump on the end of my pinky and hitting all the wrong keys. Which makes writing this post so much easier, let me tell you.

In the progress front, I am doing very well. I seem to be building steam with my WIP, but I am neither frazzled with working on it, nor am I going so slow it threatens to become boring. This time around I am really paying attention to the pre-planning aspect of writing.

I am trying to find that elusive happy middle ground, between knowing nothing about the book, so when I get 30K into the book I run out of steam, but I don’t over plan the novel so much I don’t actually want to write it. Both of those scenarios have happened to me, several times.

The balancing act makes me a little nervous, but you don’t know until you try. I am trying to figure out critical information to make the plot run, and then I plan to drive right into writing.

The critical information, as I have deemed, is:

Main characters: The two protagonists, the antagonist, and two supporting characters.
Their compelling needs, what they would sacrifice anything for and what they wouldn’t sacrifice, names, and some basic description personality traits. Just enough to get a feel for the character, and be able to write a scene about them, but not so detailed that I can still get to know them through the story.

Setting: Since I am writing straight fantasy here, I have to do more worldbuilding on this project.
The city the novel will be set in, it’s basic cultural outlook, an extremely rough map, the overall climate and means of income for the population. I am avoiding, even though I am sorely tempted, of spending a month working on the planet, the city, the history, the flora, the fauna, and so on. I do have a basic idea of where the other cities are, but only because that’s relevant plot information.

History: Since the recent wars on the planet play a key part in the current events of the novel, I am also going to develop a rough sketch of key events in the past hundred years or so.
What war started when, and why. What affects this had on the population and the neighboring countries. When peace was declared and what fallout affects the war had on the subsequent generations.

Main plot: Summed up in one sentence including the protagonist, antagonist, conflict, setting, and one interesting detail that makes me excited about the plot. I learned how to do this sentence in the novel writing class I am taking at the moment, called How to Think Sideways, and it’s really helped bring my novel into focus without over planning.
I am also going to work out the key scenes that make the main plot run, the ending. For example, a murder mystery plot would have a few key scenes, the protagonist being assigned to the murder, two or three scenes of the protagonist trying to solve the crime, but being mislead/hindered, and when the protagonist captures the antagonist in the end.

Races: I have a slew of non-human races in this fantasy novel. But since only two races are featured prominently, I am just going to jot down some basics on the biology and culture of these races.

All of these categories are just broad strokes. The key is to figure out what you have to know to make the novel work. If you’re writing a haunted house mystery novel, you have to know how the haunting works. Is it sentient? Does the ghost of a child who died of Scarlet fever have to be put to rest? You don’t have to know the exact political hierarchy of the School Board for this particular novel (unless of course, the protagonist had something to do with it).

My goal is to have enough information to give me the barest of bones of a novel, while still allowing plenty of room for change and discovery. Then, after the novel is written, I plan to go back and flesh out what feels sparse.

It’s a little scary, honestly. I like to over plan, it makes me feel safe. There’s a stupid part of my brain that insists if I know the exact shade of blue the Crimiran Army wore three hundred years ago, my novel won’t suck. Pages and pages of character sketches, worldbuilding, plotting, outlining, maps, and drawings are my life raft while adrift on the ocean of writing.

But sometimes this planning turns out to be less of a life raft, and more a cement block.

We’ll see how it turns out. In the meantime, I am enjoying myself.

What about you guys? Have you tinkered with how much planning you do ahead of a novel? How did that turn out?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Blogging About Blogging

Good afternoon/evening/morning everyone!

Sorry I haven’t been blogging regularly as of late. I really try to blog on a regular basis, and every day that passes without a post I always give myself a horrible guilt trip for. It sort of spirals out of control until I am left staring at the computer screen with a voice in my head screaming, “You must write SOMETHING!”

But then I freeze up and I don’t know what to write, and I hope something will come to me, but nothing does, and it gets late, so I think I will write something tomorrow.

Lather rinse repeat until the guilt builds and I think I will just post: gkhdfgkjhsgkjrshgtkjgnfkjbghoitydklh,senke just to say I posted something.

But my friend Lena and I have brainstormed some topics for blogging, so never fear, I am now armed with blogging topics galore.

I think my main problem with blogging is I always want to write these long, informative posts. Which can be problematic, because most people don’t want to read long posts, and I don’t always have the time/energy to write long posts. So I think I should write something shorter, but in case you’re new to me, I am very long winded. I rarely say something in ten words that I can say in ten words, plus an interesting aside.

My other problem is I think what I have to say should be brand new and interesting. Even if I do have insights in characters and plot, I think to myself that it’s not exactly new information, so why bore my blog readers (whom I love very much and would never want to bore)?

It was pointed out to me that even if the subject itself has been done to death, it still doesn’t mean that I don’t have a different way of explaining it that could help someone else. Personally, I still read blog posts on character development and plotting, and all the staples of a writer, not because I don’t know, but because I am curious about that person’s process and take. If for no other reason, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of the basics.

So armed with ideas and knowledge, I now feel more confident about being able to blog on a regular basis. I think I will shoot for three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I might be able to do more. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I wondered how in the world you guys come up with stuff to blog about. How? Do you just sit down and write? Do you always have a subject in mind? Secret blogging genie? If so, where can I get one?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: Soulless, by Gail Carriger

Delicious Anachronism

Hello all!

Yes, my wisdom teeth are still bothering me, and yes I am still medicated. You have been warned!

But happy news today! I just read a wonderful new book!

The book itself isn't new, but it's new to me. I randomly picked up the second in the series in BAM, and was so intrigued I located the first book, and bought both of them immediately. 

The book is called Soulless by Gail Carriger

It's a wonderful alternate urban fantasy/Steampunk novel with a strong romance subplot. I finished it all in one day, if that tells you anything.

It's set in Victorian England, in a world where supernatural creatures are not only known about, they work with the Queen of England. Alexia Tarabotti is spinster of good breeding who is "soulless", and therefore able to negate the abilities of supernatural people/creatures when she touches them. It starts when a rouge vampire tries to kill her at a ball, and events spiral out of control from there. Highlights include a comedy of manners, and Alexia's gay vampire best friend, Lord Akeldama. I think he's my favorite actually, and calls her all sorts of funny pet names like, "my dove" and "my squash blossom".

The book is written in a wonderfully light, slightly sarcastic British tone, and from omniscient viewpoint, which works very well despite my initial trepidation. I laughed out loud several times, and couldn't put the book down. Honestly, I have been looking for a book just like this for a while, and am so happy to have actually found it. Ms. Carringer has several sub-genres going in the book; I was really impressed with how well she blended the various elements without it feeling forced.

I really enjoy steampunk, but some novels feel like the main thing going for it is the setting, the book virtually screaming, "Lookit me! I am steampunk and that's why you're reading me! LOOK AT MY DIRIGIBLES!"

"Soulless" manages to not only steer away from this plague, but to also make the steampunk elements work in a logical way in the setting. Even if romance-alternate histories don't seem like they would be up your alley, you might consider reading the book for no other reason that to look at how well Ms. Carriger blends the various pieces of her setting and plot so seamlessly. Ms. Carriger also characterizes very well, with every character feeling living and breathing to me. 

In all, there's really nothing I would say needs to be better. The pacing moves along swiftly, the plots events fresh and original, and the characters realistic and funny. I am half way through the second book in the series, Changeless, and the quality is just as good, so "Soulless" was no one hit wonder. 

Gail Carriger has a third book in the series coming out August 31st called Blameless, which fills me with so much joy I can barely contain myself. 

In short, this book was a breath of fresh air, especially since my own WIP has developed some decidedly steampunk elements. It was wonderful to find a fresh new take on elements of my genre that I have become very familiar with. I would use this book as an "icebreaker" to ease people into fantasy. 

But don't just take my word for it, go check out the series for yourselves! Who doesn't need to read an awesome new book? 

I would love to have this on my wall!
 (thank you Wikicommons for the pictures!)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rise of the Machines (and Teeth)

I have some bad news guys.

I've been reading the signs, and mankind's future isn't looking so great. I didn't suspect anything at first, but the signs became too loud to ignore.

My iTunes playlist keeps adding songs into playlists that I didn't say it could. My computer keeps running virus scans at random times in the day, even though I don't have it set to run such scans. 

Even simple machines are out for my blood. Yesterday in the shower, the razor took a huge chunk out of my ankle (naturally, the most tender part of your leg), and the gash bled for at least three whole minutes. It could have been five. I haven't cut myself like that since I was sixteen. I thought I had the hang of this whole "shave your legs" cultural thing we like to do.
Even the birds are out for me. While walking to my car this morning, I found it covered in bird poop, the offending avian flying away with a loud cawing sound. I am pretty sure it was laughing at me and insulting my mother in Pigeon (get it? Because Pidgin is a hybrid of two languages? And it's also a bird? Get it? Awww, it would have been more funny if you heard it out loud. Read it out loud to yourself. Go ahead, no one's looking.)

All of these incidents have led me to conclude there can be only one explanation: the machines are gaining sentience, as predicted by the Terminator franchise. Some stupid computer company even "ironically" named their program Skynet. Not the brightest move on their part, in my opinion. They were virtually tempting Fate to make their programs gain sentience (which, if the movies from the 80's are to be believed, will happen with a bolt of lightening).

As for my writing progress over the last week, it's hard to say.

On one hand, I've made some good progress. I've going back and forth between developing key pieces of the world, and the characters (because it seems to work better to do it that way, not because I have the attention span of a gnat).

On the other hand, I'm taking some pretty strong prescription drugs right now, due to my top two wisdom teeth coming in and, naturally, being impacted. I have to wait for my health insurance to kick in before I have have them removed, which should be any week now. Though I would be lying if I didn't also say I wasn't considering looking up a DIY solution on the Internet. I hear pliers can also be effective. Considering what even NyQuil does to me, I worry a bit about the sort of "ideas" my muse is throwing at me. Only time will tell.

The really crappy thing about my wisdom teeth coming in is...wait for it...I've already had all four of them removed when I was thirteen. My teeth come in really early, so I had them out right before Halloween (I remember because I couldn't go trick or treating). I assumed I would at least get to enjoy the benefits of having them out so early, and avoid this whole impacted-wisdom-teeth malarkey my peers have gone through in their early twenties.

I was wrong. My super power is I have shark teeth, since the top two have grown back. I am currently waiting for some other, more useful special powers to kick in. I won't be picky; I don't have to have adamantium claws like Wolverine or be able to charge kinetic energy like Gambit. I think pyromancy and shape-shifting will round me out nicely, thank you. 

So if you are reading this message, watch out for your appliances. Don't let your guard down, not even for a brief minute. Did you leave your toast down for too long, or did your toaster burn your toast on purpose? Learn how to tell time from the sun. Rub two sticks together to produce some fire so you can cook that squirrel you caught for dinner. You'll thank me when the machines take over. 

As for me, I shall remain connected so I can report from the inside. It might be a little difficult to get the message across since I am typing this from my computer, so I can upload it onto my blog, which is connected to the Internet. Which you all will then be viewing from your own computers. 

So if this missive comes across as the drug-fueled ramblings of a writer with too many ideas in her head, blame the machines. 

UPDATE: Apparently Blogger caught on to my plans, and gave me a hard time posting. Coincdence? Or machine conspiracy?

SECOND UPDATE: Apparently someone changed Blogger so that I can no longer copy-paste my blog entries from MS Word. Will the madness never end? I had to retype this entire post!
Don't worry, my loyal followers. They can't keep me from reporting the horrible truth!


Friday, August 6, 2010

Funniest Website (Maybe Ever)

So by the title you know I have commitment issues (don't tell my husband). I am not going to go so far as to say this is the funniest website ever,'s pretty close.

Hyperbole And A Half

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Critical Writing Skills: Originality

Today kicks off my new blog series, Critical Writing Skills. Each post will cover one skill that I think is essential to novelists. Feel free to suggest skills in the comments section. I would be really interested to learn what other people think is “critical” for a writer. Today’s topic, as you may have gleaned from the title, is Originality.

Ahhhhhh originality. The bane of all writers. Every single piece of information out there about writing says you need to have a good book idea. And by good, they really mean original. But what are we to do when it fells like EVERY idea has been written already? And by someone more talented than we are? And better looking? And richer? (maybe those last few are just my personal worries…)

It’s almost seems like a subversive form of torture, to tell us we have to write something original. There are only so many basic scenarios that people can get into, after all. Some experts claim there are as little as seven basic plots, and others say 20, and so on. The type of conflict your character will come up against can be boiled down in a few basic types.

On top of that, within each genre there are conventions that you are expected to uphold, so that further reigns in some possibilities. For example, in romance, neither the female love interest nor the male love interest can die. Period. It’s not considered a romance novel if one of the main characters dies (or so I have been told/read).

So what’s a writer to do? Imagine the horror of writing a query letter, which is boiling your novel down to it’s core components, and realizing the book sounds just like Romeo and Juliet, or A Farewell to Arms. That’s not going to catch the mailman’s eye, much less an agent’s.

I’ve talked to many different writers, and most don’t have a problem coming up with an original idea. A post man who lives underwater, let’s say. But my personal theory is most writers run afoul of the Cliché Monster by not pushing this idea further. Most writers, with that kernel of an idea, would move on to developing the underwater environment for their post man, and the post man’s family, and the kraken that is trying to swallow him whole before he makes his deliveries. After all, the post office’s motto is through rain or shine, snow or sleet…and kraken, apparently.

This starfish wants to grow up to be a kraken.

So today I am going to give you this suggestion. The next time you have a book idea, try to tinker with it some more. I know everyone’s process is different, so fit this in however you need to, but if you feel like your ideas are a little lackluster, then spend some more time with them. You’re heard a lot of different book ideas—there’s a lot of them out there. Some of these ideas are even published. Browsing your local library or bookstore will reveal that. But not every one of those ideas grab you, do they? Some of this is because it’s not your personal taste in reading material, but I think a good part of it is because the idea is similar to something you’ve already read. There’s no pressing desire to find out what happens.

I suspect people are feeling that way about paranormal-vampire YA. There could be the most original character hiding in the latest paranormal YA romance, but because it’s so very much like Twilight (normal girl meets hot abnormal guy who is a supernatural something or other. Normal girl is in danger, and hot guy has to protect her. They have a forbidden romance for various reasons.) the YA authors are either going to have to steer clear of that concept, or write something shockingly brilliant to break out above the slew of other novels similar to it.

On the other hand, look at Harry Potter. Most elements from the series are not original, but the way Rowling puts the “chosen one---boy finds out he has special powers---magical school of learning---secret magic world on Earth” elements together felt fresh and new at the time.

The idea behind originality is not coming up with something no one has ever thought of, but packaging familiar elements into a book that FEELS brand new.

How one goes about this is tricky. Personally, I usually make sure my ideas are “original” by combining them with other ideas I have. I have tons and tons of ideas floating around in my head. I think about them, play with them, wonder what would happen if I tweaked the idea slightly like so, and after a while I come up with an idea that feels new to me, and doesn’t sound like something I have already read. Sometimes the ideas will naturally do the Transformer thing where they merge into something awesome, and sometimes I have to intentionally nudge them.

I discovered a new way of nudging ideas into originality just this past weekend. If you’ve kept up with my blog, you’ll know that I have been struggling with ideas to write. I have plenty of them, but none of them felt so pressing that I had to write the book RIGHT NOW. I’ve looked at my idea folder dozens of times, and tinkered around with several ideas.

This flower is even more original than me!

 I decided to look at all the ideas I had at once, and in doing so, discovered magic.

I took four big pieces of white printer paper and taped them together. On one side I wrote down all the character ideas I had in green Sharpie pen, and circled their name like a cluster map without the center.

Next to the character ideas I wrote the basic plot ideas I have, as well as various elements I enjoy. Again, I just wrote a quick blurb and circled it, this time with a black Sharpie pen. So I had things like “characters forced to be together” and “walking into a gas station and everything changes” next to each other.

On the right side of the paper, in red Sharpie, I wrote down all the setting ideas I have, along with various character jobs and magic abilities. So things like “snowy ice world”, “hacker”, and “siren” wound up next to each other.

The end result was three different colored columns of several different types of ideas you can have for a story.

I was going to start connecting the ideas together using another Sharpie, but I was so pleased with the results I decided to leave it as it. Now whenever I need to brainstorm for a book, I can just look at my cluster map. It’s a really great way of connecting ideas you wouldn’t have considered before, because everything is right there.

Well, this entry is long enough, so we’re going to leave it here for today. What about you guys? Do you give thoughts to making sure your idea is a strong one or do you just trust everything will work out?

Monday, August 2, 2010

I Hate Coming Up with Clever Titles

It’s that time again folks. It’s progress report day, and I am finally starting to get back into a regular routine. The unpacking is nearly complete, and my new office is almost moved in. I am so excited about having my own writing space again, I grin every time I walk into the room.

I’ve gotten some writing accomplished during the past week. I am working on developing the characters and plot for my next book. Editing is still a pain in the neck, but somehow I feel less pressure to get everything perfect at one pass if I work on another book at the same time. I can only do the really hard core editing a few hours a day, so I finish my editing first, and then I work on my newest project.

I am also thinking about NaNoWriMo. If you’re never done NaNo, you’re really missing out. It’s a month of insanity. An activity that is normally as solitary as writing a book can be trying, so every year I like to participate in NaNo. It happens every November. It’s free to sign up, and the goal is to write a 50,000 words in one month. This puts you well over the half way mark for a finished novel.

Crazy, I know. It’s about 2,000 words a day, which can be difficult for some people. I am one of those typing freaks that can type quickly, and if I know what’s going to happen in a scene, I can really make the words fly. So the word count isn’t the reason I participate. I just love the camaraderie and the forums. A bunch of geeky writers get together and nerd-out for a month. What’s not to love? I also think it teaches writers discipline too.

Some people criticize NaNo for encouraging people to write crap, because the emphasis is on quantity and not quality, but I disagree. People will write crap no matter what month it is. NaNo encourages writers to finish what they start, and makes a lot of fledging writers realize they can actually write an entire book. Of course, they then have to edit the darned thing, but baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Besides, I never sacrifice quality for quantity in my books anyway, so it’s not a problem for me.

In other news, I am working on getting another blog series together, because I really enjoyed my last (and only) one. This series is going to be called “Critical Writing Skills” and going to highlight a skill we should have as writers each blog post. I have three or four skills in mind already, but feel free to leave suggestions of what you feel is a skill every writer has to have. The first post will be published this Wednesday, and it’s on Originality.

How was everyone’s weekend? Did we all make good progress on our various novels?