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Struggling with the Internet at Days Inn – Summit in Birmingham

For my May 13 minimum GOAL: 3 hours YES! I DID IT! But just barely, and not as productively as I would have liked. I worked on my story for a while, then did something drastically wrong which took out ALL the spaces between words for over 30 pages. I didn’t notice what had happened until it was (I thought) too late to “undo” the damage. So I started working through a word, a sentence at a time. I added to that time the time I spent reading some more of the stories in the book GRIM, and actually had my 3 hours, but it didn’t produce NEARLY as much “new” writing as I had hoped! Then, problems with the Internet . . . AGAIN — so I didn’t post this. I’ll just combine it with what I do today, Thursday May 14.

For my May 14 minimum GOAL: 3 hours. YES! I DID IT! Wrote some new material for my WIP. In fact, I put in some 5.5 hours between reading and writing. That totally makes up for the lost time day before yesterday. And I managed it, in spite of the Internet connection being even worse than yesterday. Now need to work on melding that, what little I did yesterday and the two chapters I’d written previously together. New fairy tales I read brought me to having finished all the short stories in the book GRIM. There were about three that I really detested (two for gross and/or gruesome elements and one for the modern-day frat boy talk which I didn’t think worked well n an “old” fairy tale. But most of them were good and two or three I ABSOLUTELY LOVED!

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Picture This!

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

At times in the past, I have modeled characters’ looks, fashion sense, even personality on unknown models in magazines. I’ve even cut them out and then built characteristics for that person on the same page or on a 4×6 card. Or I’ve envisioned an old time actor (or a current one, for that matter) as my “hero,” “villain,” “sidekick,” or whomever.

I’m going to suggest another way to utilize pictures of unknowns from magazines or books to help your writing (and the above paragraph has some good ideas too: if you’ve never tried it, give it a go and see what you think). Look through a magazine or illustrated book, preferably one you haven’t read already, or an old one you’ve forgotten all about. Find a picture with at least two main “characters” on it. THINK of these two as major characters in a story you haven’t yet thought through.

Just allow them to begin interacting with each other. Don’t “plan” ahead (this will be a good one for all of us ‘pantsers’), because this is designed to give us practice in a more “organic” method of plot construction. Just start “recording” the story’s events and let them spin out in front of you. Pay attention to other props or objects that appear in the ad or picture. If there are other people in the picture, ignore them for the moment. See how or why the two might interact with the props, objects, bits of scenery, in the picture with them. Record items and events as faithfully as possible without thinking about the “rules” of story plot structure.

Once you’ve recorded the scene, note whether your characters interacted with or used any of the props, etc., given them by the picture. What did they do with items there? Twiddle nervously with papers on a desk? Pick up a coffee cup and look for a refill? Grab a hammer or bucket of paint, intending to use it as a weapon?

How did your characters interact with each other? Were they friends or strangers at the start? What relationship was forged during the scene: adversarial? Conciliatory? Pleading? Helpful? and so on.

Go ahead. This is just a writer’s PLAY ground. Have FUN in it ! ! !

(And, at the end, is there anything salvageable there? Can it be incorporated in your current WIP? Is it the beginning of a short story? An article? An editorial? A children’s book? Even a brand‑new novel?)

See you next for Saturday’s Spellbinder!

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Tips on Tuesday: I Dare Ya!

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

I wanted to share with you the introduction to a fabulous book: No Plot? No Problem! A Low‑Stress, High‑Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by the originator oChris Baty founder of NaNoWriMo in his Berkeley apartment.f the National Novel Writing Month [NaNoWriMo], Chris Baty. Here’s how he explained his “in the beginning” . . .

The era, in retrospect, was very kind to dumb ideas.

The year was 1999, and I was working as a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area, drinking way too much coffee and watching the dot‑com boom rewrite the rules of life around me.

Back then, it seemed entirely feasible — nay, inevitable — that my friends and I would spend three tiring years in the workforce throwing nerf balls at each other and staging madcap office‑chair races. And then we’d cash in our hard‑earned stock options, buy a small island somewhere, and helicopter off into blissful retirement

It was a delicious, surreal moment, and in the middle of it all I decided that what I really needed to do was write a novel in a month. Not because I had a great idea for a book. On the contrary, I had no ideas for a book.

All of this made perfect sense in 1999.

In a more grounded age, my novel‑in‑a‑month concept would have been reality‑checked right out of existence. Instead, the very first National Novel Writing Month set sail two weeks later, with almost everyone I knew in the Bay Area on board.

That the twenty‑one of us who signed up for the escapade were undertalented goofballs who had no business flailing around at the serious endeavor of novel writing was pretty clear. We hadn’t taken any creative writing courses in college, or read any how‑to books on story or craft. And our combined post‑elementary‑school fiction would have fit comfortably on a Post‑it Note.

My only explanation for our cheeky ambition is this: Being surrounded by pet‑supply e‑tailers worth more than IBM has a way of getting your sense of what’s possible all out of whack. The old millennium was dying; a better one was on its way. We were in our mid‑twenties, and we had no idea what we were doing. But we knew we loved books. And so we set out to write them.

I’m here to tell you, what Baty and his cohorts began in 1999 is alive and well. Internationally. On every continent. With thousands upon thousands of participants. Not to mention the school programs NaNoWriMo has instituted: free materials for teachers at both elementary and secondary levels. His organization is mentoring children and teens, and the program continues to grow.

The book, from which part of the intro you read above, is hilarious and inspiring. They now also run Summer Camp programs a couple of months in addition to the regular November effort.

If you want a quick and fun read to find out “how” to do this, go ahead: read No Plot? No Problem? But that’s not why I’m saying all this.

You don’t need to DARE to write a novel. Maybe you want to write a short story, or a poem, or lyrics to a song whose tune won’t leave you alone. Maybe you want to visit all 50 of the states in this great country. Take up knitting. Learn to speak a foreign language. Tour the British Isles and parts of Europe on a mo‑ped! Go ahead! (I did THAT one, way back in the late ’60s.)

What I’m saying, what Baty was saying, is DARE. Dare to be your most authentic self. Dare to make your life what you want it to be. I know all about stability, family, circles of friends, responsible jobs. I get it. Been there, done that. But don’t let all that keep you from being the best, most evolved and satisfied YOU!

What’s your “pipe dream”?

Go ahead and just do it: I DARE YA ! ! !

See you next for Thinkin’ on Thursday!

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Edits, COLD and HARD, Can Be Good for You!

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

At the recent five‑day Writing and Illustrating for Young People [WIFYR] workshop/ conference, several author/volunteers were subjected to a Cold Hard Reading, run by Cheri Pray Earl — who was joined by various editors and agents who were there. It’s a very scary thing to go through. They put one page for each volunteer up on screen where everyone can see it, then the panel subjects the piece to a searing, if not brutal, review.

But, I’m telling you: let your ego go, and see what you can learn!

I happened to be in Cheri’s morning class all week, so the day of the whole‑group effort, she practiced in our class on all of us! I’m pretty picky with my word choices, and some review edits on my part would have caught some of the things she did in my page. I wouldn’t want to expose anyone else’s “messes,” so I’ll only tell you a few she found in mine:

Using –ly words:

Adverbs. To avoid them, use stronger verbs

A hiatus:

A pause in the narrative, often indicated by a blank space or a symbol like an asterisk, etc. In my case, the end of the first part and the beginning of the next part did not mesh well together.

Repetitions:

“She, herself, had become lost.” Simplify: why not just “She became lost.”?

Rhythm:

I love to use rhythm in my writing – even much of my prose is “poetic” – but it’s jangling when the rhythm is “off”.

Few, very:

Any repetitions are off‑putting, but when they’re small, inconsequential words like “few” or “very” and don’t add to the story, cut them.

Favorites:

What I refer to as “faves” ‑ we all have favorite words which we use over and over. Become aware of what yours are. Some common ones, in addition to the two above, are that, it, there. Timeline words, too, can become “faves,” especially then and now. Trust your reader more: if you are telling things in a logical order you almost never need to specify “then” or “now.” And we tend to compound the problem by using those words over and over.

These ideas are only a small part of what happened to be touched on in my one page. Take a look at your own: avoid adverbs (especially the –ly ending variety). Be sure your narrative makes sense from one section to the next, whether you’ve used hiatus or section or chapter divisions. Watch out for repetitions words: and the culprits aren’t always your particular “faves”: any word repeated within a few lines or paragraphs begins to stick out. If you have a good ear for rhythm, and you use it in your writing, be sure to make it consistent.

See you next for Saturday’s Softcover!

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Starting Over — in the Middle!

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Just after the first of the year, Brian Klems (on‑line editor for The Writers Digest) threw out a quote by Joyce Carol Oates: “The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.” I sort of nodded in affirmation and moved on. Only later did I really start to think about it. I’ve written here before that I am now more convinced than ever (note: that was well after the succinct Oates quote should have given me pause for thought) that I should start writing and write to the end before letting anyone read, comment or critique what I have.

Now, if I could just convince myself to do it, instead of rewriting the first chapter, then writing a little more; rewriting the first three chapters, then writing a little more; rewriting the first 5 chapters, then writing a little more. As a result, I’ve covered the south end of my dining table with two Girl Scout cookie boxes (they’re the perfect size for filing) — full of papers, and a pile of 4 full loose leaf folders, the contents of which are critiqued, or not, and include multiple versions of several chapters, on my “current” WIP. When the boxes were full, I just piled more on top of them. Well, only a little more. About three inches worth. Each.

Oh, I have written the last chapter. And I love it. I just wish the eight or so before it were finished too!

What was I thinkin’?

Well, I guess I wasn’t. Thinkin’. Fortunately I went to the WIFYR class taught by Cheri Pray Earl: The Muddled Middles. Well, mine wasn’t exactly the middle — but pretty close.

I am going to start over . . . on chapter 17 (or whatever it happens to be). Again. I’ll fill in that gap in the story. Then I’ll examine everything, one chapter at a time, beginning to end. Then I’ll write (or rewrite) Chapter 1.

DONE ! ! !

See you next on Saturday’s Spellbinder!

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Thinkin’ Up More Mayhem

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Did you try it? What??? Writing tense, exciting, possibly even mayhem-filled chapter endings?

This past Tuesday, I suggested that you do so and gave you examples of several books which used this technique to carry you past the last line of a chapter and into the next chapter — whether you wanted to go there or not!

I also quoted a number of ideas which ending each of many chapters in his The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner. This set was literally a group of three books you could not put down at the end of a chapter. And THAT’s how to keep your reader, well . . . READING!!!

Here are more of Dashner’s examples ‑‑‑ but hopefully, no spoilers. I’ll name several types of events at chapter ends — not in order and not telling you which of the three books they’re from. Additionally, I’ll keep them as general as possible. Think about what you can dream up to do to your characters that will hurt them the most, that will keep the reader going, even if it IS time for dinner, or bed, or (maybe) even homework! If you end each chapter with ideas like these, you may have a real page turner, or even that page burner:

  • a kid wakes up, in a huge “elevator:” NO memories of any past life (I know, I gave this one Tuesday too, but I sets the stage)
  • a kid fighting a losing battle with a mechanical monster is caught in a lightning storm which morphs into an invisible power field leaving him vulnerable to a white heat
  • a kid is promised a place of safety, but when a group gets there, they are met with only a sign that this is the right place: nothing else is there.
  • a kid is told that all current test subjects may be given their memories back; they must choose to participate or not; then choice is taken away
  • a kid discovers a small insect‑like device which spies on all of them in this strange place — meaning someone is watching them, probably 24/7
  • a kid in the midst of battle is hit with a burning power equal to 1,000 bolts of lightning, falls convulsing and with a total loss of vision
  • a kid finds out survivors have to go back to the beginning where they all met, were challenged, tortured, intimidated or even killed
  • a kid is frequently dazed by a rapid changing of loyalties among friends: who can he really trust?
  • a kid, after horrendous battles and fatigue, is warned in a dream state that things are “about” to get bad for him
  • a kid sees that everyone who’s been here for a while picks on the newbies ‑‑ even a sweet little kid who becomes his only friend
  • a kid is made to choose which of two friends will die immediately: he chooses, knowing the enemy will do the opposite — only he doesn’t
  • a kid is attacked, seriously injured by another boy who seems to have gone completely crazy
  • a kid, in an audience of survivors, is told that the rampant disease affecting and eventually killing much of the population also affects many of their number
  • a kid notices frightening sounds and smells, confronts a mechanical monster with the fate of another boy in his hands

If you didn’t try to write compelling chapter endings before, get to it!!! (And how do you accomplish this kind of angst in romance? Or fantasy? Or historical? Etc., etc., etc.?)

See you next for Spellbinder Saturday!

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Tuesday’s Tips: So You’re a Beginning Writer?

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Just starting out on the road to become a writer, or even a “Published Author”? The good news is there’s a lot of help out there – you just need to look for it.

Local writers are a good source of help. Check out Utah Childrens Writers (UCW) and/or The Author’s Think Tank where local authors abound.

Janette Rallison once wrote to a worried wanna-be author on the UCW: “I was a stay at home mom too when I started writing professionally. It can be done, and it can be done without a lot of expense.” She recommended starting at the local library.

They usually have a good number of books on various phases of writing. She recommended looking for Gary Provost’s books on writing, or people like Noah Lukeman, Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, Donald Maas, and Scott Bell. Though I don’t normally read horror books, one of my favorites about writing — part how-to and part memoir — is Stephen King’s On Writing. Another is Terry Brooks Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life.

Note quite sure of yourself when it comes to grammar? I’d recommend getting hold of the old standby, Elements of Style by Strunk and White; or see if your local high school still has copies of the old Warriner’s Grammar and Composition text books, or whatever text they may be using. Those will give you a handle on basic style and grammar questions.

When you have something written you’ll be ready for something like Self Editing for the Fiction Writer by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Sometimes, beginner writers have been waiting a long time to start: waiting to finish school, get married, start a career, retire . . . whatever. “Now, I’ve feel I’ve lost the ability,” “the drive,” “the incentive,” and so on.

You may be putting too much pressure on yourself. When I was still in elementary school, I wrote poems all the time. Then I wrote “plays” (today, I’d call them “skits,” but I didn’t know the difference then). Where is that incentive now? Where is the “fun” in doing it? Try to remember what sparked your imagination? I was such a ham, even then, I suspect it was the performing for the class even more than the writing that attracted me. Either way, try to capture that carefree, “If I write it, they’ll come,” or “read it,” or “congratulate me.” You’ve still “got it!”

Think you’re writing sounds trite or old hat or over-used? Everything sounds trite if you’re looking at or coming up with a basic synopsis. Rallison even pointed out that “Anna Karenina is a book about a woman who cheats on her husband and throws herself under a train. Doesn’t sound like masterpiece material does it?”

Brainstorm for ideas, dig up some of the ideas you had way back when and still had that “wild imagination.”

The most important thing is to allow yourself to write that bad first draft. Everybody does that. A good book written by changing that draft until it is no longer “bad”.

Go ahead: START! I dare ya!

Just a few of Rallison’s books:

Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List – IRA Young Adults’ Choices List 2007

It’s a Mall World After All – IRA Young Adults’ Choices List 2008

My Fair Godmother

My Unfair Godmother

See you next time  for Thinkin’ on Thursday!

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