Monday, July 27, 2015

Figuring Out Your Writing Process

We have a very special guest with us today, Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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Figuring Out Your Writing Process
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Blue_Fire_72.jpgEvery novel needs a story, but how you develop that story can happen any number of ways. For example, I'm an outliner who likes to know what happens in every scene before I start the first draft. One of my critique partners is a pantser who prefers to have a general idea of the story and jumps in with little to no preparation. She figures out the plot as she sees what the characters do in the novel. Still another friend writes her novels completely out of order based on what scenes come to her and stitches them together afterward to form a cohesive story.

All of these are perfectly valid ways to write, and they couldn't be more different.

Darkfall_72.jpgUsing a writing method that contradicts or doesn't support your process might cause you to focus on the wrong things or stymie your creativity. You might feel compelled to stick to an outline even when your characters want to take the story in a different direction, or you could find that plotting the story in great detail beforehand makes the novel no longer fun to write (and thus it feels mechanical and boring).              

To help understand how your own process works, grab a pen and paper (or screen and keyboard), and answer the following questions:

1. How many important events do you like to know about your story before you start writing?

This can help you determine where on the outline to pantser scale you fall. If you know you lean more toward one side, you can focus your creative energy in ways that support that.

Do you like to know just the inciting event? Only the ending? Do you know just two or three big moments? Do you like to know every chapter goal? Every scene goal? Or maybe you go in blind and the fun is seeing how the story unfolds. You might even focus more on the individual scenes vs. plot turning points, and you can immediately picture several scenes you're already dying to write. 

Think about the novel you're currently writing. What are the key moments you know you want in the book? What scenes do you know you want to write? When do you reach the point where you think, "now I'm ready to write!"?

2. Do you need to know your character arcs?

If you're a character-driven writer, your stories might come from seeing how your characters grow and change, and you'll crafts plots that allow those changes, or happen organically as you write.

Do you know how your characters change? Do they change? Do you consider their emotional journey or focus more on the external plot events? Do you use the character arc to create conflict in your plot arc?

Think about your characters and where you'd like them to be by the end of the novel. Do you have character arcs in mind for them, or would you rather see how they grow as you write the first draft?

3. Do you plot off your reveals?

If you’re writing a mystery or thriller, the story might hinge more on when information is revealed. If events need to happen in a certain order, they can guide you through your plot.

When do clues need to be found? Secrets revealed? Secrets discovered? Are there any reveals that affect how the story will unfold?

Think about what information you want to reveal to your readers and when that information needs to come out. Does a large percentage of the plot depend on these moments?

4. Do you write towards a theme?

Themes are a great unifying structure for outliners and pantser alike. Major thematic elements can guide a story as easily as character goals. What problems best exemplify your theme?

Are there recurring themes that connect characters or story ideas? Do multiple scenes, conflicts, or goals all focus on the same theme? Do your scenes mostly explore the theme?

Think about how strong theme is in your storytelling drive. Is it something that's determined afterward, or is the entire story an illustration of this theme?

5. What stops you writing?

Now that you have a better idea of what you need to start writing, look for the things that stop you writing. The places you struggle with, the moments that drive you away from the keyboard.

Where do you often stall in a story? Do you find yourself having to go back and research something? Figure out a major plot point in the same basic area every time? (Like middles bog you down, or that next big moment right after the inciting event) Do you need to work on character arcs before you can move forward?

Think about the things that stop you. You might consider spending a little extra time on them at the start and avoid hitting a wall later. Make them part of your process so the writing itself goes smoothly.

Putting it all together

You might be the type of writer who needs just a general idea before diving into a novel, or you might mix and match any of the above--deciding on a few major plot events, the basic character arc turning point, and the big reveals to create a rough outline. You might only know your theme and your protagonist and run with it. Take a little time to think about how you’ve crafted your novels, what worked, what roadblocks you hit and when, and discover the process that works best for you.

For those who aren't sure how much planning they need, try this basic six-point outline for a little structure:

  • What's your opening scene?
  • What's the inciting event?
  • What is the first major event that goes wrong or changes the path of your protagonist?
  • What major surprise can happen in the middle?
  • What is the moment when it all looks hopeless?
  • How does it end?

A writer’s process is a personal thing. A cookie-cutter template might not work for you, but it doesn’t take a lot of work to create a guide that fits your style and guides you onward.

Looking for tips on planning your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions! 

Leave a comment and you might win a copy of Janice's book!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Stgructure by Janice Hardy

When I first started writing my work in progress, I had an idea, a beginning and ending.
Do you see anything missing here, like the middle?
That is why it took me years to finish the first draft!
I liked to write but other than poems that I would not dare share with anyone and a few short stories, I had never written a novel from beginning to end.
Then came the NaNoWriMo.
And I wrote garbage and it felt good. No one will ever see that mess! But it proved to me I could write and finish a novel. So the next year came around and I did NaNoWriMo again, and this time I finished my WIK. It wasn't too bad either. There are a few structural flaws and a lot editing yes, but I have the backbone down. The elusive middle has been filled.
So what does this "Planning Your Novel" have to do with this post,if I figured it out on my own?
For one thing, I could have saved myself years of going round and round in circles trying to figure out how to make the middle stand up and not lose track of where I wanted to go.
Why didn't I just outline and be done with it? You think I didn't try that? Ha!
At the Florida SCBWI Mid Year Workshop, Sara Pennypacker said that she writes her stories and then goes back to check to make sure it is structured correctly. That made me feel somewhat better, and that is how I will be using this book, this time. Hopefully the next novel won't take nearly as long as I will have found my writing/planning process.
In her book, "Planning Your Novel,"Janice Hardy says there is no right way or wrong way to plan your novel. Some writers use a mix of outlining, freestyle and panster. That was good news to me!
Now that the novel is written there is this thing called "theme". I was having trouble figuring out what my theme is for this novel, a mystery. In workshop number four, she gives clear instructions on how to define your theme, and yes you can do this after the story is written, and yes it would be easier to do before your story is written (hint for next novel).
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is written in workshops, so you can go directly to the workshop you need to work on. Each has an exercise for you to do.
Janice Hardy also has a website in which she interviews authors on their writing process at Fiction University. I have found this book so helpful I'm keeping this one but have another one ordered and on the way for some lucky reader!
What is your writing process?
What are some of the problems you have or have resolved?
Please leave a comment to be eligible to win this book.

Next week Janice will be doing a guest blog here.
See you next week,

Sunday, July 12, 2015

July Books Giveaways Plus Study in Plotting a Chapter Book

The winner of last month's Where Do You Get Your Ideas? by Fred White is Courtney Rene.
Please contact me to collect your prize.

For July we have All the Answers by Kate Messner AND

Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure by Janice Hardy.   

Janice will also be joining us Sunday July 26 for a guest blog.
Mark it on your calendar.
More about this next week. But be sure to leave a comment to be eligible to win.

Now on to my self study for plotting a chapter book.

I've been reading Barbara Seuling's book on How to Write a Children's Book and Get it Published.
In Chapter Ten- Writing Early Chapter Books  Ms Seuling suggests reading a chapter a book and then write a one sentence summary for each chapter. By doing this I discovered how a plot and subplot coincide.
Each chapter mentions both the plot and subplot even if it is only a sentence or short paragraph.
Since I'm interested in writing mysteries I chose Oh No, It's Robert by Barbara Seuling. In the first chapter, Robert wants something to go on his family's award shelf. We learn about how Robert is not good at anything.
In chapter three the mystery is revealed: Who's scribbling in the books.

This exercise showed me how to plant clues, red herrings and how many and tie it in with the main plot.
What are you working on?
What do you struggle with?

See you next week!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Write Yourself Out of a Corner and Winners Announced!

I hope everyone had a happy and safe 4th of July. We spent ours in the comfort of the movie theater with friends watching Jurassic World.

I had just finished reading the article: Creative Under Pressure (How to Write yourself Out of a Corner) by Steven James in the July/August 2015 Writer's Digest magazine.  I was watching for the corners the screen writer's wrote themselves in and out of.

Steven says to take advantage of those times when you have written yourself in a corner. That no matter how experienced you are it can be a daunting task. You want your story to be memorable and the only to do that is to put your protagonist in a situation they can't get out of and then to brainstorm until you find a way for them to get out.

Many times in Jurassic World the characters found themselves backed up against a wall with nowhere to go.
This increased my heart rate not to mention theirs.
But time and again the author did find a way to get them out of trouble.

I don't want to give too much away, but I will just say this about Jurassic World: Not everyone survived. Not even the animals.
So how do you write out of a corner?

The first step is limiting yourself. He gives the example of using an empty cardboard paper towel tube. Hold it up to your eye. You begin to notice things in more detail, then the next step is to brainstorm.

So write your self into a corner and have fun mapping out the possibilities.

Now on to the winners of June's book giveaways!

The winner of Where do You Get Your Ideas? by Fred White is drum roll please; dum, dum, dum, dum:
Courtney Rene!

The winner of Clementine ad the Spring Trip by Sara Pennypacker is : E. Arroyo
Please send me the addresses you would like these mailed to
Next week I will announce the books given away for the month of July. But don't wait! Leave a comment and you will entered for a chance to win.
See ya next week!

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Insecure Writer's Support Group

The purpose of the Insecure Writer's Support Group  is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time. Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.
Clicking on the link above will take you to the sign up page and you can also read other bloggers that participate.

So for this month I wanted to share my writer's journey.
My New Year's resolution (yes I actually made one and so far have kept it) was to blog at least once a week.
Finding something to say that is of interest to others every week is hard! But I forced myself to send it out regardless of whether anyone left a comment or not. Just the writing has helped.

The second thing I'm doing (and this is the really hard part) is to send out submissions.
I have entered 2 contests (won a door prize from one) sent in one nonfiction article.
Within the week it was back: Rejected!
So I feel as if I'm earning my 40 lashes. I really didn't expect to be an overnight sensation (hahaha).
But I am developing the thick skin needed to be in this writing market.
So what are some of your rejection stories?
You're in good company!