Posts Tagged ‘book post’

Writing Around Life Organization

Hello, squiders!

We’re going to start in on the writing around life nonfiction series. This is going to be a bit different from previous nonfiction topics since there’s going to be some overlap between sections. We’re going to organize the subject based on the major life event that’s getting in the way (or some combination of major life events).

Right now this looks like:

  • School
  • Work
  • Kids
  • School/Work
  • School/Kids
  • Work/Kids
  • Kids/School/Work

I am also pondering a General Tips section that can be applied to any of the above, perhaps first, so people can look at the general tips, and then, if they feel like they need something more, go to the appropriate section for additional strategies to use.

(Reminder: If you’d like me to include some other major roadblock, please let me know so I can outline it in!)

As usual, I’ll probably also include a troubleshooting section, and I might also do a section on when it’s okay to let writing fall to the wayside. Not sure whether I’ll blog those or leave them for the book.

(Oh! And I finished the draft of my rewrite! It’s 116K, which sounds massive, but is fairly reasonable for high fantasy. Still got to read through it and hopefully catch crutch words–I’ve already identified “seemed” and “that” as problems–and other issues, but it’s essentially done and I can focus on other things. This week I’m working on two shorts–though the second may end up being a serial–and my monthly serial and I feel so very free.)

Let me know how the organization sounds and if you want/need something else included, and we’ll get into the meat of things next week!

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Writing Around Life Introduction

Well, squiders, I think I’ve finally gone mad. Writing around life (work, school, kids, etc.) won the poll, and I was super excited, because I would have sworn that I already wrote, or at least started, this book.

Sworn in a court of law.

However, I can’t find said supposedly written (partially or fully) book anywhere.

I’ve checked my external hard drive of back-ups, which has the contents of at least three different computers on it. I’ve checked the cloud. I’ve even gone through a full year of email, just in case.

It’s vanished into thin air. If it ever existed.

I still feel like it does. I would have sworn that I had started it, run into issues, stopped, and then eventually turned to the idea of blogging the nonfiction books here, where we started with submission and publication.

(The first book in the series, about working on multiple projects at the same time, I wrote completely off the blog and already have had it beta-ed and whatnot.)

I found the outline for the book. All my outlines are numbered, and it’s number 2, so I should have started it after I finished book 1.

I thought I had.

But that doesn’t change the fact that it is undeniably missing. Or that I am crazy and never started it.

There was a laptop in there where the screen shattered, and I don’t know that I ever bothered to back it up (since I tend to double store everything important locally and on the cloud), and I suppose it’s possible that if I hook that laptop up to a monitor, that it might be on there. That seems like a real stretch however. I don’t remember when I was using said laptop, and if it lines up with the time line for when I started the nonfic series.

So, ANYWAY, we will be going over ways to fit writing in around the rest of life, specifically the big things, like work, school (high school and college specifically), and kids. If there is another section you think should be included, please let me know!

I’m still working on the organization of the information (a lot of things are applicable across the board). I’m not sure if it’s better to go through methods to work writing in over all, or focus on a specific area (kids, for example) and just reuse methods through the different sections.

I’m sort of leaning towards the latter, since that way people don’t have to read the whole book if they’re only looking for solutions for one thing. Any thoughts?

We’ve got a review on Tuesday, so we’ll dive into the meat of this subject next Thursday. Let me know your thoughts on organization/other things to include!

All and Sundry (and Your Favorite Poll)

Hi Squiders! We’ve almost run out of March already. How does that always seem to happen?

(We got a ton of snow yesterday, and our power’s been flickering on and off all day, which is very annoying, especially when one is trying to write a blog post.)

I finished the short story collection I’ve had since forever from the library last night, so now I’m down to three books! \o/ But I’m going to start another one later today. Whoops. I must stop checking things out from the library. Except we all know I won’t.

The collection is First-Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg, which is a collection of science fiction short stories told in first person from the last fifty years of his career. Never read anything by him otherwise (my husband picked up the book because he thought I’d like it) but it was pretty good. Some of the stories I thought were quite excellent, such as “Now Plus N, Now Minus N” and “The Secret Sharer.” So if that sounds like your sort of thing I’d recommend it. It came out in October of last year, so it’s only a few months old.

Writing-wise, I’ve hit the spot near the end of a book where I’m so close I can’t seem to properly focus and get the dang thing done on the Book One rewrite. I mean, I am writing, but it feels like I’m getting nowhere. I need to figure out a way to get through this part of the process in a way that is less taxing to my psyche, because it happens every book and drives me mad each time.

On that note, it’s hard to focus on the CoHaR sequel because I’m so close on Book One. Yet Siri’s waiting on me to finish my part, so…

And, probably thanks to First-Person Singularities, I’ve got a short story itch. I haven’t written one since the end of October and there’s one I’ve been wanting to write for probably five years, and maybe I should just sit down and do it…? I’ve got two coming out in various publications in April and I don’t really need any more to stick into my portfolio, but there’s something very satisfying about getting a story done in 2 or 3000 words, especially when your main project is up to 110K and probably has at least another 5K to go.

And it’s been a bit since our last nonfiction series here on the blog, so let’s get one going. We’re down to our last few topics.

Common Writing Mistakes: Lack of Conflict

So I lied, Squiders, and found one more common writing mistake.

Today we’re going to talk about conflict. Conflict in the writing sense is when something stands in your protagonist’s way of getting what he/she/it wants.

(NOTE: The protagonist of a scene may be different than the protagonist in the book.)

Conflict breaks down into external (forces outside the protagonist standing in the way) and internal (forces inside the protagonist standing in the way).

In elementary school, you probably learned a conflict breakdown that included Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, etc. That’s just a further breakdown of external conflict, for the most part.

Stories need conflict to be interesting. The tendency for some beginning authors is to think that means they need exciting things, like battles and car chases and gunfights, etc. While these things can all be good in the right circumstance, without an emotional tie to the plot, they fall flat.

A conflict does not need to be big, but it does need to be present. This is why scenes where the character brushes their teeth or takes a shower so often fail. Now, if they’re taking a shower to wash off the blood, or if they notice their canine teeth don’t look quite right…

Kit! I hear you shout. But what about slice of life stories? Or literary stories? Those don’t have conflict.

Sure they do. They might not have “Evil shall descend on the land and destroy all life” levels of conflict, but they have it.

The best book I read last year was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. It was originally published in Swedish and was translated into English in 2013. The main conflict is that Ove wants to die, and things (mostly people and cats) keep getting in his way. It’s a lovely book and I highly recommend it if you have not read it.

Is this an earth-shattering conflict? No. Does it matter to anyone except Ove? No. But it is there.

A story needs an overarching conflict that drives the plot, but each scene also needs some form of conflict. These can be directly related to plot, or they can be related to characterization or a subplot. And, as I noted above, the protagonist of a scene (the one who has a conflict thrown in his way) does not have to be the protagonist of the book. In some cases, the book’s protagonist can be the antagonist in a scene.

There can be the urge to include scenes just because they’re fun, or they’re exciting, or they’ve got the coolest bit of worldbuilding in them. But ask yourself two questions:

  • Is this scene telling me anything about my character?
  • Is this scene driving the story forward?

If the answer to both is no, the scene’s doing nothing, and it either needs to be removed, or it needs to be reworked.

Thoughts on conflict, squiders? Tips on making sure you’ve got the right amount/the right type of conflict?

Common Writing Mistakes: Wrong Audience

Good morning/afternoon cusp, squiders! I think this will be the last post in this series, and I’ll save the rest for the book. Also, it is cold and I forgot to put a coat on like an idiot.

Today we’re going to talk about audience. A story’s audience is the type of person that is likely to read a particular story.

This is more of a marketing issue. It can be hard to match the creative flow and inspiration necessary to make it through writing/editing a story to the marketing box a writer is trying to fit into. Most don’t try, figuring they’ll write the story as it needs to go and the marketing aspect can come later.

It can be a writer’s first instinct to say “My story is amazing and it will appeal to everyone!” but this is patently untrue. People like different things. I’ve certainly read bestselling books that I thought were horrifically bad, and I’ve read books I loved that seemingly everyone else hated.

It’s part of the reason genres exist. People experiment, discover what sort of stories they like, and then they look for more stories like that.

Some people recommend inventing a “reader”–a fictional person who would fall into the prime audience for a story to use as a stand-in for the entire audience so they can personalize things for marketing purposes.

But during the writing process, do you really need to worry about your audience? The answer is: to some extent. Some genres have strict conventions that you’re going to run into issues with if you circumvent them. For example, it’s really hard to get romance readers to buy into a story that doesn’t end with a happily ever after, or a happily for now. Most romance readers are looking for an escape; if you provide a story that doesn’t match what a reader is expecting, you’ll run into readers not finishing the story or leaving bad reviews. Mystery readers expect a murder in almost all cases; thriller readers expect twists and turns at regular intervals. It is possible to successfully break a genre convention, but you’d better know what you’re doing.

But in a lot of cases, as long as you’re not wildly outside of what’s acceptable for your chosen genre, your audience can be mostly forgotten while writing.

Revision is where your audience starts to become more of a focus. There’s a saying that the first draft is for the writer, and the revision is for the reader. Things that might be confusing need to be clarified, plot or character issues will need to be fixed, and if something has been consistently pointed out by your beta readers/critiquers (who hopefully are regular readers of your particular genre in most cases), it will need to be looked at.

And if you’re planning to sell or publish a story, you will need to be able to choose a marketing category for it, which tends to include age ranges (children’s, middle grade, young adult, adult) and genre. A story that is not easily classifiable might be a hard sell.

Have anything else to add about audience, squiders? Examples of stories that went horribly awry on estimating who their audience was?

Common Writing Mistakes: Ending in the Wrong Place

Good morning, squiders. Last week we discussed starting in the wrong place. But one can end a story in the wrong place as well.

(To be fair, there are a lot of issues that have to do with what scenes are chosen to be included in a story. However, whole books about structure have been written if this is an issue you would like to explore further. My personal favorite is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.)

Ending in the wrong place typically falls into two categories:

  • Going too long
  • Going too short

You can probably see what I mean by either of these, but for the sake of completion, let’s use examples. The Return of the King movie is commonly brought up as a story that goes on too long. Part of this is because there are so many characters in so many places and they all need resolutions.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where Arthur and his remaining knights are just about the reach the Grail–and then the police show up and the film is shut off. Yes, it’s purposeful, and yes, it falls in line with the Pythons’ humor, but the story cuts off abruptly and can be unsatisfying.

(NOTE: TVTropes has a whole page of different unsatisfying ending types. You can find it here.)

Endings, like beginnings, are highly subjective, and invariably, you can’t please everyone. If you conclude quickly after your climax, you’ll have people who wanted more. Did the sister end up with the lawyer? What happened to the corrupt mayor? Did magic return to the land? But if you make sure you wrap everything up, people will groan about the story being never ending. So, to some extent, the ending that feels right to you is probably best.

On a related note, there are unsatisfying endings. These typically occur for one of the following reasons:

  • The story seems to be foreshadowing something that doesn’t happen
  • There’s too many loose ends
  • A deus ex machina comes in last minute, robbing the main character of their agency
  • The ending doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the story
  • The ending doesn’t fit with the main character’s personality
  • The ending dumbs everything down too far

This is not to say that unexpected things can’t happen in your ending. They certainly can. I think we all appreciate a truly great twist, one that we didn’t see coming and yet falls in line perfectly with what’s come before. In fact, you need to have some surprises in your ending or you run the risk of your readers being disappointed by things being too predictable. They may know a battle is coming, and who the main people in that battle will be, but they hopefully won’t know how it’s going to play out.

And, lastly, let’s talk about epilogues. An epilogue is usually (hopefully) a single chapter at the end of a book that shows the main character’s life after the climax. Usually some time has passed (years, in some cases) and they’re used to show how the effects of the story have changed (or not changed) the character.

Epilogues can be fantastic or be mistakes, depending on the story and how they’re handled. Look at how much controversy has surrounded the epilogue from the Harry Potter series. But they can be useful, especially if the climax doesn’t allow for an easy transition into a resolution chapter (such as when something traumatic has happened, or the main character has died, or if it’s important to the emotional arc of the story to show the impact of the characters’ sacrifice, etc.). I sometimes write stories with and without epilogues to see which works better.

Thoughts on endings, squiders? Ideas on how to tell where’s the best place to stop?

Common Writing Mistakes: Starting in the Wrong Place

Trucking right along, squiders.

(As an aside, Pinterest now allows you to create sub-boards, so I spent a lot of yesterday organizing my most problematic board, unhelpfully called “Your Pinterest Likes” and left over from when you could like pins. I, unfortunately, would both like and pin some pins, which has resulted in a lot of duplicates across boards, but I have gotten it straightened out now. Bwhaha. I wonder how the sub-boards affect the feeds of anyone who follows your boards. Anybody know?)

Now that we’re into story mechanics issues, let’s talk about what might be the most common issue of all: starting your story in the wrong place.

This is ridiculously easy to do. You can start too early. You can start too late. You can pick the wrong character to focus on, or have them do something completely useless in relation to the rest of the plot.

And the most annoying thing is that, a lot of the time, it’s not obvious that you’re starting wrong until the rest of the book is written.

Stemming from this issue is that starting in the wrong place can make it hard to get the rest of the story to flow, which means that you might languish at the beginning of the story, trying to beat it into submission.

Has that happened to you? You just can’t seem to get going because something’s obviously wrong.

(Ask me how many times I rewrote the beginning of my fantasy trilogy before I found a workable beginning spot. I dare you.)

Starting Too Early

This may be the most common of this common mistake. Your character does things, sometimes for chapters, before the story manages to get going. Some people will argue that you have to show what’s at stake for the character to lose before you have them lose it, but this can be done without three chapters of watching someone go through the daily routine.

Starting Too Late

You can get away with starting in the middle of the action, or even working backwards from a later plot point. You can even show a lot of earlier story through conventions such as flashbacks. But you can start too late, and if that information doesn’t come out in a timely fashion, then it feels like you’ve walked into a movie five minutes too late and are missing key information for the rest of the story.

Starting with the Wrong Character

Even if you have multiple viewpoints, there is still usually a “main” character, someone whose stakes are higher, someone who has a bigger journey to go through, to get through the completion of the book. You don’t always have to start with your main character, but realize that readers tend to bond with the first character in a book unless something is obviously a one off (a prologue, or a chapter from a murder victim’s point of view, for example). There also can be the problem of you trying to focus on the wrong character in general, and changing to a different character might make the story work better.

Starting with Useless Actions

Every scene counts in a story. It has to explore characterization, or move the plot along, or introduce new information, or some combination thereof. Yet many authors make the mistake of starting with something that does none of the above, such as going through their character’s daily routine. Can you have their daily routine mean something? Of course. But you do have to be purposeful with your intent. Even an exciting scene, such as a character getting carjacked, is useless if it doesn’t provide something larger to the story.

So, how do you fix this? Look at the story you’re trying to tell. Are you trying to stuff too much in the beginning? Are you leaving out key information? How does your opening scene work with your intended plot?

Some people recommend thinking about where you want the story to end instead, or even writing the ending first. By knowing where the story needs to go, it can help you understand what’s necessary to have it start.

What do you think, squiders? Other ways beginnings are wrong? Ways to fix them?