Meet Our Newest Resident Writing Coaches

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since we started the Resident Writing Coach program, but here we are! This program, designed to bring you high-level writing education from a variety of experts, has been wildly successful. We’ve had such a huge response to it that continuing the program was a no-brainer!

Being able to showcase the voices and viewpoints of different masters of craft for an entire year has been wonderful. Due to time issues, a few coaches are leaving us, and Becca and I would like to offer sincere thanks to Roz Morris, April Bradley, C.S. Lakin, and Michael Hauge for lending us their knowledge. It was an honor to have you part of our program!

We have a few new faces joining us, bringing considerable craft knowledge to the storytelling table. Check out this lineup:

Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. Her video tutorial Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story can be found at Lynda.com, and her TEDx talk, Wired for Story, opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference, Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.

Lisa has worked in publishing at W.W. Norton, as an agent at the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency, as a producer on shows for Showtime and Court TV, and as a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency. Since 2006, she’s been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and she is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts MFA program in Visual Narrative in New York City.

In her work as a private story coach, Lisa helps writers of all ilk wrangle the story they’re telling onto the page. For a library of her free myth-busting writing tips, and information on how to work with her one-on-one, you can find her at: wiredforstory.com 

 

Sacha Black is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain. Her blog for writers, www.sachablack.co.uk, is home to regular writing, marketing and publishing advice sprinkled with dark humour and the occasional bad word. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy, and her first series, Keepers, is due out in November 2017.

Sacha is also the founder of the Annual Bloggers Bash Awards, a yearly international event for bloggers, writers and authors.

Tamar Sloan really struggled writing this bio because she hasn’t decided whether she’s primarily a psychologist who loves writing, or a writer with a lifelong fascination of human behaviour. Somehow she got lucky enough to do both.

Tamar is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Tamar is also an award-winning author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. You can checkout Tamar’s books on her author website.

Gabriela Pereira is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who wants to challenge the status quo of higher education. As the founder and instigator of DIYMFA.com, her mission is to empower writers, artists and other creatives to take an entrepreneurial approach to their education and professional growth.

Gabriela earned her MFA in writing from The New School and speaks at college campuses and national conferences. She is also the host of DIY MFA Radio, a popular podcast where she interviews bestselling authors and offers short audio master classes. Her book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community is out now from Writer’s Digest Books. Join the word nerd community at DIYMFA.com/join.

These new coaches will be joining our returning writing masterminds:

jsb-author-photo_framed2James Scott Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure. Among his numerous thrillers are Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way, Romeo’s Hammer, Try Dying, and Don’t Leave Me. In addition to his traditional novels, Jim has self-published in a variety of genres. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books including: Just Write, Write Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structure, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense.

Read more about Jim here.

jennie-nash_framedJennie Nash has worked in publishing for more than 30 years. She is the author of four novels, three memoirs, and The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat. She has been an instructor at the UCLA Extension Writing Program for 10 years and is the founder and chief creative officer of Author Accelerator, an online program that offers affordable, customized book coaching so you can write your best book.

Read more about Jennie here.

jami-picture-200-x-300_framedJami Gold, after muttering writing advice in tongues, decided to become a writer and put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fueled by chocolate, she shares writing tools, presents workshops, and offers insights on her blog about the craft, business, and life of writing. Jami is the winner of the 2015 National Readers’ Choice Award in Paranormal Romance for the novel Ironclad Devotion in her Mythos Legacy series.

Read more about Jami here.

september-c-fawkes_3September C. Fawkes can scare people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. She works as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author and writing instructor, a job that includes editing manuscripts of both published and unpublished writers. She has published poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction articles, and her writing tips have appeared in classrooms, conferences, and on Grammar Girl. She holds an English degree, has served as the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal, and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on the worldwide appeal of Harry Potter.

Read more about September here.

sara-_framedSara Letourneau is a fantasy writer in Massachusetts who devours good books, geeks out about character arcs, and drinks too much tea. In addition to WHW’s Resident Writing Coach Program, she writes the Theme: A Story’s Soul column at DIY MFA and is hard at work on a YA/New Adult magical realism manuscript. She has also freelanced as a tea reviewer and music journalist in the past. Her poetry has appeared in The Curry Arts Journal, Soul-Lit, The Eunoia Review, Underground Voices, and two print anthologies.

Read more about Sara here.

We are looking forward to another incredible year of Resident Writing Coach posts. Is there a topic you’d like to see covered? Just leave us a comment below!

Happy writing,

Angela & Becca

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What Is an Emotional Wound?

If you’ve hung around Writers Helping Writers at all over the past year, you’ll know that Angela and I have been kind of obsessed with character wounds. For the better part of the year, we built our Emotional Wound Thesaurus here at the blog and talked quite a bit in individual posts about the topic—because there’s a lot to discuss. Wounds are complex and impact our characters on so many levels.

I thought it would be helpful to provide a simple explanation for emotional wounds and why they’re so important for us to know as authors, so read on for an excerpt from the  Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma.

Growing up, do you remember something happening that you didn’t expect, something that surprised you—and not in a good way? Maybe you came home with a third-place Science Fair ribbon, and rather than wrap you up in a breath-stealing hug and fawn over the yellow slip, your mother barely gave it a glance, declaring that you should have tried harder. Now, fast-forward to junior year. You auditioned for the lead in the school musical, but the part went to someone else. How did that feel, especially when you had to deliver the news to dear old mom? What about when you missed the cut for a university program that, as she likes to remind you, your brother got into with no problem, or the time you were passed over for a promotion and had to sit through an agonizing family dinner where your sibling was lauded for his accomplishments?

Chances are, this wounded past doesn’t match your own. But if it did, at what point would resentment set in over your mother’s love being withdrawn each time you failed to meet her unrealistic expectations? How long until you stopped talking about your goals or—even worse— refused to try at all because you believed you would only fail?

Unfortunately, life is painful, and not all the lessons we learn are positive ones. As with you and me, the characters in our stories have suffered emotional trauma that cannot easily be dispelled or forgotten. We call this type of trauma an emotional wound: a negative experience (or set of experiences) that causes pain on a deep psychological level. It is a lasting hurt that often involves someone close: a family member, lover, mentor, friend, or other trusted individual. Wounds may be tied to a specific event, arise upon learning a difficult truth about the world, or result from a physical limitation, condition, or challenge.

character wound, wounding event, backstory, story research, emotional painWhatever form they take, most wounding experiences happen unexpectedly, meaning, characters have little or no time to raise their emotional defenses. The resulting pain is brutal and immediate, and the fallout of this trauma has lasting repercussions that will change the character in significant (often negative) ways. As with us, characters experience many different painful events over a lifetime, including ones in their formative years. These wounds are not only the most difficult to move past, they often create a domino effect for other hurts that follow.

Now, you might ask why we should care about what happens to our characters before page one. After all, isn’t it what they do during the story that matters? Yes, and no. People are products of their pasts, and if we want our characters to come across as authentic and believable to readers, we need to understand their backstories too. How a character was raised, the people in her life, and the events and world conditions she was exposed to months or years ago will have direct bearing on her behavior and motives within the story. Backstory wounds are especially powerful and can alter who our characters are, what they believe, and what they fear most. Understanding the pain they’ve experienced is necessary to creating fully formed and compelling characters.

When we think of emotional trauma, we often imagine it as a specific moment that forever alters the character’s reality, but wounds can present in a variety of ways. It’s true that one may develop from a single traumatic event, such as witnessing a murder, getting caught in an avalanche, or experiencing the death of one’s child. But it can also come about from repeated episodes of trauma, like a series of humiliations at the hand of a workplace bully or a string of toxic relationships. Wounds may also result from a detrimental ongoing situation, such as living in poverty, childhood neglect caused by addicted parents, or growing up in a violent cult.

However they form, these moments leave a mark, albeit a psychological one, just as a physical injury does. Wounds damage our characters’ self-worth, change how they view the world, cause trust issues, and dictate how they will interact with other people. All of this can make it harder for them to achieve certain goals, which is why we should dig deep into their backstories and unearth the traumas they may have been exposed to…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I hope this clarifies what a wound is and what kind of aftershocks it can have. It’s SO important for us to know this important event from each character’s past, and The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma is now available (print and digital). We hope you find it really helpful!

To see a sample entry, visit this page, or to browse our online version hosted at One Stop for Writers, where we have all our thesauri in one collection (13 different subjects and counting!) plus a whole arsenal of writing tools.

 

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Posted in Character Wound, Characters, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 12 Comments

The 10 Key Scenes You Need to Frame Up Your Novel

Happy to welcome our editor and friend C.S. Lakin to the blog for a special post on story structure. Please read on!

“How do I write a great novel?”

This is probably THE question every aspiring novelist has asked . . . but maybe hasn’t had answered in a satisfying and clear manner.

There are plenty of techniques floating around that help writers learn how to structure solid scenes, craft compelling characters, bring setting to life, and pen engaging dialogue.

writing, plotting, story structure

But as far as the nuts and bolts go—meaning, where the nuts and bolts go—therein lies the challenge—and hardly anything has been written about it.

Novels are made up of scenes. Lots of scenes.

Where the heck do all the scenes go, once you’ve come up with them?

Pantsing and Plotting

If you’re a pantser, you wing it and write whatever scenes come into your head. If you’re a plotter, you sit down and make a list of as many scenes as you can think of, and then you try to put them in order as best you can, maybe create an outline, and then (cross your fingers) hope it works.

If you’ve written a lot of novels, you probably have a good sense where scenes need to fall in your story.

You may know that you need some initial disturbance (also called “the Inciting Incident”) to kick off your story somewhere near the beginning of your novel.

And you might also know that at some point your protagonist should be pursuing a goal (but, believe me, a lot of writers don’t even understand this is at the crux of plot and premise) that builds to a climax somewhere near the end. And then you figure you need to wrap things up and end the darn thing.

Many writers resist “overplotting” because they want flexibility. They want to allow their characters to come to life and take over (without overthrowing The Creator of the Novel) to some extent. I do too!

But novels are highly complex, and you cannot (she says adamantly, after having critiqued more than a thousand manuscripts) just write a bunch of scenes, stick them where they feel right, and call it good.

Most writing coaches will tell you: you must follow novel structure, very specifically, to craft a terrific novel. And that means understanding what types of scenes you need to frame your novel and where to put them.

The first layer of ten scenes is your foundation, your frame-up. It supports your entire story and premise. While I go deep into all of these ten scenes, as well as a variety of second and third layers (supported by many handy charts, such as the one in a post on layering romance you may have read on this blog) in my book Layer Your Novel, let’s take a brief look at the ten key scenes (and if you need more info on each of these, read the linked posts).

story structure, openings, writing a novel

#1   Setup. Introduce the protagonist in her ordinary life. Establish her core need. Set the stage, begin building the world, bring key characters on stage. You want to begin your novel right before the Inciting Incident.

#2   Turning Point #1 (10%) Inciting Incident. This starts the protagonist moving in a new direction. It’s the “opportunity” that arises that will shift the character toward the fixed goal.

Turning Point #2 (25%)  The visible goal for the novel is set.

#3   Pinch Point #1 (33% roughly). Give a glimpse of the opposition’s power, need, and goal as well as the stakes. Your protagonist may or may not be aware of this development.

#4   Twist #1. Something new happens: a new ally appears, a friend becomes a foe. New info reveals a serious complication to reaching the goal. Protagonist must adjust to change with this setback.

#5   The Midpoint – Turning Point #3 (50%). No turning back. Important event that propels the story forward and solidifies the protagonist’s determination to reach her goal.

#6   Pinch Point #2 (62% roughly). The opposition comes full force. Time to buckle down and fight through it. If the first pinch point introduces the opposing force (which could be a person/people, group, or force of nature, to name a few), the second pinch point brings this force to bear in all its power upon the protagonist.

#7   Twist #2. An unexpected surprise giving (false?) hope. The goal now looks within reach. A mentor gives encouragement, a secret weapon is presented, or an important clue is revealed (examples).

#8   Turning Point #4 – Dark Night Moment (75%). Major setback. All is lost and hopeless. The protagonist’s support system is threatened or even fails. Time to go all-in for the final push.

#9  Turning Point #5 – Climax (76-99%). The climax in which the goal is either reached or not; the two MDQs are answered. Everything from the 25% mark to this moment is about progress and setbacks toward the goal, and the climax should be the BIG event in which the protagonist faces her most daunting opposition.

#10  The Aftermath (90-99%). The wrap-up at the end. Dénouement, resolution, tie it all in a pretty knot. This is a brief final scene that brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion, without dragging on and on. (Live by the wise words: quick in, quick out.)

Take the time to learn just what each of these scene types are about. It’s important.

Sure, you can veer off track a bit. These scenes don’t have to be in exact places. And you’re not limited to two pinch points or twists. Remember: this is the basic framework to start with. And from here, you can layer your next scenes (I provide charts for three different second layers in my book).

This isn’t rocket science, but it’s also not something to rush through. Take the time to learn about these key scenes and understand why they’re important.

I will dare say if you use this chart when you begin to plot (or need to revise) your novel, you will see how much easier the process is than if you rely on guesswork.

Which scenes do you struggle with most when plotting out your novel? Does a look at this chart reveal to you what you might be missing in your structure?

C. S. Lakin is freelance book copyeditor, writing coach, and award-winning blogger and author of 30+ books, fiction and nonfiction. Her new release Layer Your Novel: The Innovative Method for Plotting Your Scene goes deep into this scene-layering method. Join Lakin’s Novel-Writing Fast Track mailing list to get free writing craft books (2 the first week!) and great tips on how to fast-track to success with your writing!

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Posted in Character Arc, Guest Post, Plotting, Story Structure, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 12 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Bartender

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. (See this post for more information on this connection.) It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

writing occupations, character career, characterizationOccupation: Bartender

Overview: A person responsible for providing alcoholic drinks to customers in a social environment. Bartenders are found in clubs, sports bars, pubs, restaurants, and at special events like weddings, private parties, or entertainment venues.  A bartender must be of legal age to distribute alcohol and there may be other conditions depending on the venue and security considerations.

Necessary Training: Some bartenders may attend bartending school, but others are self-taught. Having a wide knowledge of popular drinks (and how to mix them), understanding the many varieties of beer (lagers, ales, IPA, etc.) and being able to offer up recommendations is key. Some locations may require special knowledge of a particular beverage (say if one worked in a wine bar).  Depending on the location of your story and the type of venue, a bartender may have to obtain different certificates (such as a license to serve alcohol), or take alcohol awareness classes. They may also need a food handling permit if they are also serving food, or pass a security check if the bar-tending position is in a location where one is serving high profile clientele.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: charm, empathy, exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, hospitality, making people laugh, reading people, self-defense, strategic thinking, enhances taste buds, throwing one’s voice

Helpful Character Traits: adaptable, calm, charming, creative, diplomatic, discreet, efficient, friendly, organized, perceptive, hospitable, persuasive, flirty, spontaneous, talented, witty

Sources of Friction: drunk patrons, domestic abuse situations that play out in the bar, jealous boyfriends or girlfriends who view the bartender’s friendliness as flirting, patrons unable to pay their bills, patrons who have taken drugs or prescriptions that lead to accelerated intoxication, people who refuse to get a cab, disputes over bills, tip theft among staff members, arguments and fights when tempers flare among partygoers, dealing with threats and de-escalating potentially violent situations when patrons are cut off due to drunken behavior, witnessing someone attempting to dose a drink, underage patrons who have fake IDs, a robbery

People They Might Interact With: Servers, management, patrons (drunk, sober, high, amorous, etc.), delivery people, wait staff, cooks, police officers, bouncers, alcohol reps

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Safety and Security: bar fights, rowdy patrons, and possible illegal activities happening during one’s shift may create safety issues.
  • Love and Belonging: Relationships can be difficult to maintain in this career because one is always working during traditional “social time” like weekends and holidays, and the hours are often quite late, meaning one is catching up on sleep when others are awake. Partners of bartenders may also become jealous as flirtatiousness for tips often are at play.
  • Esteem and Recognition: This industry may cater to hiring women bartenders over men, as many establishments feel that beautiful women bartenders lead to more product being sold. If there is not a gender bias, there is still usually an appearance bias. This type of prejudice may cause people who do not fit the “ideal” feel held back if they are limited in hours or opportunities as a result.

Common Work-Related Settings: Restaurant, Bar, Pub, Black Tie Event, Casino, Cruise Ship, Nightclub, House Party, Wedding Reception

Twisting the Stereotype: Give a bartender (male or female) a specific personality trait, a flare for the dramatic, or a creative spirit when it comes to inventing new drinks that makes them exceptional, rather than the usual “good looks.” Maybe they know exactly how to handle difficult patrons, can read the minds of their customers, or they are known for sleight-of-hand magic tricks while they sling drinks. Think outside the box with this occupation and deliver something unique to readers.

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Is it a Flashback?

The incomparable Kristen Lamb is here today to talk about flashbacks. If you don’t know how knowledgeable Kristen is, you’ll know by the end of the post, where you can find information on her blog and craft classes, which I’m sure you’ll want to check out…

Angela and Becca were gracious enough to invite me to come guest post and lay out some truth regarding one of THE most controversial topics in craft…the flashback.

Usually when I blog on this a lot of folks wanna argue about breaking rules and non-conformity, and art, and how Such-And-Such uses flashbacks more than a Kardashian uses a Selfie Stick and Such-And-Such is a gazillionaire.

Here’s the deal. Professionals learn the rules first because we can’t break, bend or reinvent something we never even took the time to understand in the first place. Leave that to hobbyists and amateurs. Thus, before we address the flashback, I need to make something crystal clear:

Flashbacks are NOT a broad term universally applicable to every single shift back in time.

Thus, to understand the type of “flashbacks” editors like me hate and why we hate them, we must all be on the same page regarding “time travel” in fiction.

Flashbacks Versus Non-Linear Plotting

Courtesy: Sheila in Moonducks at Flickr.com

Not all plots are linear. Just because a story “goes back in time” doesn’t automatically mean the author is using a “flashback.” Often, it’s actually non-linear plotting.

There can be any number of reasons to choose a plot that doesn’t travel directly from Point A to Point Z in a neat orderly fashion. Perhaps the author wants to create an unreliable narrator as in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.

Another favorite? Vanilla Sky, which also used non-linear plotting as a diversion tactic for an unreliable narrator and to slowly reveal the TRUTH of what really was happening to protagonist David Aames.

Non-linear plotting is wonderful for misdirection.

Perhaps there’s an age-old mystery to be solved related to a current-day problem. Progressing linearly would reveal the culprit and “what really happened” and that the new and old are actually connected…as in James Patterson’s Murder House.

This type of plotting is highly useful in psychological thrillers, mystery and suspense…namely because you (Author God) are messing with time making it tougher for the reader to see your play. Literary sleight-of-hand, so to speak.

These plots seem to be chock full of “flashbacks”, but really they aren’t. If we cut the story up into pieces, we could line the scenes into a linear fashion and clearly see the standard three-act structure.

Flashbacks Versus Parallel Timelines

Again when I blog about the perils of flashbacks, protests like this inevitably appear in my comments:

Well, The Green Mile was a mega-hit book and movie and it was FULL of flashbacks.

The Green Mile was NOT full of flashbacks. It is what’s called a parallel timeline.

Another example of the parallel timeline structure is Nicholas Sparks’ The NotebookOne present story, one past story, both running parallel (like train tracks) until they converge at the point where the dominant storyline takes over and is resolved.

But remember: there is a purpose for the parallel timeline. The past is the past and cannot be changed. The current day protagonist and the problem he or she is facing, however, CAN be changed.

Thus the purpose for the past being revealed is to, in some way, solve the core story problem the current-day protagonist is facing.

A good example of this is the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. Evelyn Couch (protagonist) is a doormat who’s being ignored, disrespected and bullied from all directions. Even though Evelyn is doing everything she can to please (which includes wrapping herself in cellophane to entice her hubby into romance instead of watching football), she’s roundly ignored and abused.

Then she meets Ninny Threadgoode (inciting incident).

It is ONLY through meeting Ninny Threadgoode and listening to the adventures of Idgy and Ruth and the Whistle Stop Cafe that Evelyn learns and grows and matures to where she can conquer her CURRENT problem—lack of a spine.

In fact, in this legendary cinematic scene, we witness the PRECISE moment Evelyn “gets” it and understands what her matriarchal mentor has been trying to help her understand all along.

TOWANDA!

We know Evelyn has “won” when in the end she is fresh, alive and confident instead of a simpering weenie begging to be loved and respected.

But the story isn’t just a bunch of reminiscing. The story in the past is salient to the resolution of the current story problem. The past timeline also follows three-act structure. Additionally, without the past timeline, without meeting Ninny, Evelyn would have never had the catalyst to change her present situation and escape her personal hell. If we teased the two timelines apart, we’d see a clear, linear three-act skeleton.

Training Wheel Flashbacks

Okay, so today I’ve thrown down some seriously advanced stuff on y’all since linear three act structure gets most of the attention. There are other varieties of nonlinear plotting but we only covered two of the biggies today, largely for the sake of brevity…and also because when your brains explode, it makes a mess on the keyboard.

Nonlinear plotting is NOT what editors and agents want to stab in the face when they read it. Nonlinear plotting is the sign of a highly advanced writer, not a giant red flag screaming “ROOKIE!”

The time-shift-rookie-red-flag is what I like to call the Training Wheel Flashback (TWF). I call it this because it’s most commonly employed by emerging writers who are learning to write a novel.

Now, there is no shame in learning.

We all start somewhere and training wheels are a good place to start. But eventually we need to ditch the training wheels or it’s awkward for everyone (on a bike and in a book). Kids use training wheels on a bicycle to learn to balance and get strong enough to no longer need the training wheels to stay upright and out of the hedges. Training wheels are to prop up a weak/new bicycle rider.

Same with TWFs.

Why TWFs are a red flag to agents, editors and folks like me is because it’s glaringly obvious the time shift’s sole purpose is to prop up a weak story, undeveloped characters, or “explain” that which doesn’t need explaining. (Refer to my post, STOP KILLING YOUR STORY! Why Suffering is Essential for Great Fiction.)

Past Folded INTO the Present

Editors dislike shifting time to “explain” because it’s unnecessary and it wrecks the forward momentum which interrupts the fictive dream. Plain truth is that most relevant information from the past can be blended seamlessly into the present narrative. Also, spoon-feeding the reader is not what makes them turn pages. They LIKE working for the answers. Let them.

A made-up example of past blended into present narrative:

Bonnie wandered to the empty break room, praying strong coffee might burn away at least some of the constant fog in her head. Sure, the anti-depressants helped. Kept her from unraveling, even from maybe doing something stupid or possibly fatal. Yet, at the same time, the pills also made her tired.
All she wanted was sleep. Sleep. One of many luxuries she could no longer afford. Especially not now when she was alone, back working her old job in corporate sales instead of enjoying early retirement with Tom, her husband of twenty years.
How had she gotten here? A million miles from the private beach where they’d met in 1990, the beach where they’d built a condo. How had life gone so wrong?
The buzz of her cell phone snapped her hard back to the present. It took a long moment for her to realize she’d received a text. Her boss. The one who’d only rehired her out of pity. The same boss now texting her in all caps SHE BETTER GET HER ASS TO THE PRESENTATION.
Bonnie was late. Again. Of course she was. If she made it through today without getting canned, it would be a miracle.

See how we (readers) get a LOT of information about the past…yet not really. We don’t need to go back in time to when Bonnie and Tom met on a beach in 1990 to “get” they met on a beach in 1990. Additionally, in regards to the story problem, we “could” stop and go back in time and explain that Bonnie’s husband:

a) Was killed in a freak Fry-Daddy explosion.

b) Died of a heart attack (supposedly but was really murdered).

c) Left her for that slutty barista who always gave him extra sprinkles #FrappSkank.

Any number of things could be the reason WHY Bonnie is downing anti-depressants from a Pez dispenser and feeling scared and abandoned. Thing is, we DON’T KNOW anything beyond the fact that Bonnie is in trouble and there is a problem–A BIG ONE. There are also a lot of smaller, pressing problems that make us tense and…keep reading. We don’t know the exact nature of the core problem or even WTH happened before this moment we meet Bonnie in the break room… but we want to.

Less is almost always MORE.

Anyway, this is enough for today and thanks so much Angela and Becca for having me!

Hope y’all learned a lot and will visit my blog for all you wanted to know about craft, social media, branding and more. I also teach virtual classes over at my company W.A.N.A. International. If you’re ready to take that jump and seriously up your game? I’m bringing the ADVANCED classes, and if today’s post FIRED you up? I strongly recommend my upcoming class (an ideal compliment to our topic)— Understanding the Antagonist.

For those who’d like a peek at my fiction, I have a romantic suspense novella which is part of the Falling for the Billionaire Box Set. My contribution is Deadline. My romantic suspense The Devil’s Dance will be re-released within the next few weeks so I hope y’all stay in touch!

Kristen Lamb is an international speaker, award-winning blogger and creator of the top resource for author branding in the digital age, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World. She’s also the author of the #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.

Kristen has now returned to her first love…MURDER. Fictional murder. Jeez! Her debut romantic suspense, The Devil’s Dance is positive proof she watches way more Discovery ID than is probably healthy.

 

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Posted in Flashbacks | 17 Comments

Fast-Draft Writing for NaNoWriMo and Every Other Month

jennie-nash

I am an advocate of intentional writing, which almost always means slow writing, but sometimes it makes sense to write a fast draft of a book – if, for example, you are participating in NaNoWriMo, have a chunk of time with few distractions, or have a fast-approaching deadline you are motivated to meet.

Writing fast still requires intentionality. You still need a plan – a clear idea of the point you wish your story to make and a grasp of the best narrative structure to get you there. That is to say, you need to know what you want your reader to walk away feeling after they read your novel and what they will walk away believing about the world or human nature. You also need to know where the story starts and ends and what the reader will be tracking along the way.

Let’s assume that you know all those fundamental elements and you’re ready to write. How do you write fast?

writing a novel, nanowrimo, story writing, storytelling

Courtesy: Pixabay

The main idea is this: don’t get mired in too much detail. No long descriptive passages about places or people, no finely wrought dialogue (unless you happen to be able to write that fast), no clever turns of phrases that take hours to hone. Aim to get the bones of the story in place – the character’s motivation, the arc of change, the cause-and-effect trajectory that drives the narrative from one scene to the next – and leave everything else for revision.

If your novel incudes any world building – and almost every novel does, though of course some require much more than others – you absolutely must know the key physical, philosophical and psychological realities that inform the story you are telling, but you don’t have to know, say, the details of the monetary system or who owns the main media channels.

In NaNoWriMo, fast draft writing may mean sacrificing the NaNo wordcount and not “winning.” Winning NaNo with a manuscript that has to be slashed and burned is going to feel good for about a week, and then it’s going to feel really bad as you struggle to rescue the story. It would be far better NOT to “win” but to have 30,000 words that really work, or 45,000 or 51,000 or whatever. Remember that words on the page do not make a story.

What does fast-drafting look like? Let me show you—but first, a little context.

This is a first sketch of a scene in a fantasy romance by first-time novelist Leigh Robertson. In this scene, the main character discovers a rare breed of dragon egg that will change her fate when it hatches.

The author focused on getting the bones of the scene in place, and didn’t get stuck on the details. Instead, she noted where things needed to be added later. I asked Leigh to give a little commentary on what she was thinking as she whizzed through – and her comments are in the margin.

TK, which you will see used throughout the sample pages, means “to come.” It’s proofreader-speak for anything that needs to be added. You can use it to stand in for a detail, a date, a description, or even a whole scene or chapter.

• TK date
• TK name
• TK description of town
• TK dialogue that establishes character’s authority
• TK how hovercraft are fueled for a long journey
• TK geography that isolates these people
• TK scene where Joe declares his undying love
• TK chapter where Dad walks out and Cassandra vows never to marry

What’s great about using TK as a placeholder is that when you go back to revise, you can scroll through searching for TK – and nothing else in the English language will come up. You can skip from TK to TK filling in details, and adding flesh to the bone.

Some TKs will take a simple Google search to flesh out. Others will be meatier problems that require more thought. But as long as the missing information indicated by the TK doesn’t directly impact the trajectory of the story, you don’t need it in your fast draft.

Download Leigh’s sample HERE to see what fast-drafting looks like.

If you are interested in defining the bones of your story before NaNoWriMo so you can write fast and with confidence, Jennie is teaching an online Blueprint for a Book Sprint workshop the last weekend of October. It’s 2.5 intensive days of planning + you get coaching feedback by October 31. Click HERE for details.

jennie-nash_framedJennie has worked in publishing for more than 30 years. She is the author of four novels, three memoirs, and The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat. An instructor at the UCLA Extension Writing Program for 10 years, she is also the founder and chief creative officer of Author Accelerator, an online program that offers affordable, customized book coaching so you can write your best book. Find out more about Jennie here, visit her blog, discover the resources and coaching available at her Author Accelerator website, and connect online.

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Posted in NaNoWriMo Strategy & Support, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 14 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Glassblower

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. (See this post for more information on this connection.) It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

occupation, character building, background information, writing a story, novel writingOccupation: Glassblower

Overview: A glass-forming technique whereby the artist manipulates glass (either by blowing through a tube or relying on more advanced methods) into various forms, such as vases, dishware, jewelry, window panes, figurines, art, and other décor. Glassblowers can work in museums, universities, or factories where they might create custom glass pieces for customers (such as scientists and manufacturers), teach apprentices, or do presentations for visitors. Others occupy studios to create freelance artwork that they sell to the public.

Necessary Training: Classes can be taken at trade schools and some colleges, but an apprenticeship with a master is the best way to become proficient in this area.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Promotion, breath control, manual dexterity, a high heat tolerance

Helpful Character Traits: Patient, alert, cooperative, creative, focused, industrious, passionate, persistent, whimsical, extravagant, fussy, perfectionist

Sources of Friction:

  • Friends and families who want one to pursue a more lucrative or mainstream career
  • Competitive or jealous rivals
  • Unfair teachers
  • Limited opportunities for training nearby
  • A physical disability
  • Internal doubts about one’s abilities
  • Limited finances
  • A competitive market
  • A change that results in one having to work with inferior supplies (a depressed financial market, a monopoly on certain supplies, a change in manufacturer, etc.) 

People They Might Interact With: Other apprentices or students, a master glassblower or teacher, landlords, gallery owners and visitors, delivery people, customers

How This Occupation Can Impact the Character’s Basic Needs:

  • Physiological/Safety and Security: While it’s possible for a person to make a living at this occupation, it’s difficult. On average, artisanal glassblowers today make about $30,000 per year. As a result, they often endure many years of financial sacrifice so they can pursue their passion and try to build a livable career. This can impact their safety or even their physiological needs.
  • Love and Belonging: They also may forego relationships with others due to focusing on their career, which can create a void in the love and belonging department.
  • Esteem and recognition: This need can take a hit when criticism comes along from professionals in the field, loved ones, or even the artist himself.
  • Self-Actualization: If the artist takes on a teaching or manufacturing job to cover the bills, he may find himself in a career that he doesn’t enjoy, sacrificing self-actualization.

Common Work-Related Settings: art gallery, art studio, factory, museum, shopping mall, university quad

Twisting the Stereotype: The majority of glassblowers are men, so having a successful woman in this career would be a refreshing change. Because of the dangerous materials and amount of training required to do well in this area, glassblowers are typically adults. So creating the right circumstances for a teen or young adult to be involved in this trade could also add an interesting twist.

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Writing to the Beat: Translating Story Beats to Any Genre

jami-goldReaders of my blog know I’m a big fan of beat sheets, even creating a beat sheet for romance stories. Because of that, writers ask me what beats they should include in their mystery, thriller, or *insert any genre here* stories.

Unfortunately, I’m not an expert in other genres, but I can share a few guiding principles to help us apply the major beats to any genre.

Story Beats 101

Beats are simply plot events that change the course of a story. Some plot events change a story’s direction more than others, making the story turn to focus on a new conflict, obstacle, stake, or goal. The major beats serve an essential function—a storytelling purpose that applies to all stories.

To keep this post a reasonable length, we’re going to focus on the four major beats. These four beats are found in virtually every story of every length and every genre. By understanding the function of these beats, we’ll better know how to translate them to our genre.

Major Beat #1: A Starting Point for the Main Conflict

The first major beat occurs around the 25% mark of our story (the end of Act One in a three-act structure). The function of this story event is to drag the protagonist into the situation or force a choice to get involved.

In a romance, characters first have to get together. No one will believe in a romance where the characters don’t interact. Readers want to see the banter, the power struggles, and the sexual tension.

So this plot event forces the characters to spend time together. They could work on a joint project, be trapped in a snow storm, be chased by a villain, etc. Whatever the specifics, they’re dragged into a situation that creates an opportunity for romance.

Other genres drag the characters into different situations, such as:

  • Mystery: an event establishes the protagonist’s reason to take on the “case” (assigned, volunteers because it’s personal, etc.)
  • Thriller: an event solidifies the protagonist’s desire to stop the bad guy (expert, personally threatened, etc.)

Major Beat #2: The Midpoint

story beats, story structure, save the cat, plotting

The second major beat occurs around the 50% mark of our story. The function of this story event is to change the protagonist’s goals/choices or add new stakes.

In a romance, the characters often “commit” to the relationship at this point. They might say “I love you,” exchange their first kiss, or admit their longing for each other. Each of those options adds stakes to the potential relationship and likely changes the characters’ goals.

Other genres use events that similarly affect goals, choices, or stakes:

  • Mystery: a second murder occurs, the protagonist discovers a new personal connection, etc.
  • Thriller: the threat now has a “ticking clock,” the protagonist becomes more personally involved in tracking the villain, etc.

Major Beat #3: The Black Moment

The third major beat occurs around the 75% mark of our story (the end of Act Two). The function of this story event is to steal the protagonist’s hope for a solution.

In a romance, this is often the “boy loses girl” moment. They lose trust in each other and/or the potential of the relationship. They might break up, have a big fight, or lose each other a different way (kidnapping, etc.).

In other genres, an event similarly makes the protagonist give up or fear they can’t win:

  • Mystery: the protagonist is kicked off the case, the next victim in the murderer’s sights is friend/family, etc.
  • Thriller: the protagonist loses the trail, the villain has acquired all the weapon’s pieces, etc.

Major Beat #4: The Story Climax

The fourth major beat takes up much of Act Three, from the 80-95% mark of our story. The function of these story events is to force the protagonist to face the antagonist.

In a romance, the characters face and overcome their fear. They might reject their fear’s power over them by revealing it to the other, or they might change their priorities to sacrifice for the other. Whatever the specifics, readers are shown proof of how the characters are willing to fight for the relationship.

Other genres feature different styles of showdowns:

  • Mystery: the protagonist unravels the last clue, confronts the bad guy, solves the case, etc.
  • Thriller: the protagonist outwits the villain, stops the bomb, prevents disaster, etc.

Although this is a simplistic look at each beat (a character’s internal arc brings more layers), hopefully this helps us understand how we can structure our story. Whatever our genre, if we keep the purpose of our story beats in mind, we’ll know what we need to accomplish at each point of our story.

Do you have any questions about how story beats apply to your genre?

jami-picture-200-x-300_framedAfter muttering writing advice in tongues, Jami decided to put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fueled by chocolate, she creates writing resources and writes award-winning paranormal romance stories where normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Find out more about Jami here, hang out with her on social media, or visit her website and Goodreads profile.
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Posted in Character Arc, Characters, Conflict, High Stakes, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Story Structure, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 13 Comments

Introducing…the Occupation Thesaurus!

Let’s say you’re at a party, and you meet someone new. The small talk begins. If you want to learn more about them, what’s one of the first things you ask?

“So, what do you do?”

Asking this question can accelerate the getting-to-know-you process because the answer often tells you something about who that person might be. Nobody likes cliches, but careers can draw certain personality types. To test this theory, ask a handful of people what predominant traits an accountant, or preschool teacher, or artist might have. There are always exceptions, but many people within a given field share certain traits, passions, and abilities. True, the job may not be one they necessarily like or would have chosen for themselves, but that information can also tell you something about who they are and are not.

A career is one of the things that defines each of us, and the same is true for our characters. But as with most important aspects of your character’s life, a career shouldn’t be chosen randomly. Their job can play an important part in the overall plot and their character arc by helping them achieve outer motivations (story goals), providing natural sources of conflict, and allowing them opportunities to succeed and fail, grow and change, and learn about themselves.

character occupations, career research, character development character buildingThis is why Angela and I have decided that our next thesaurus at Writers Helping Writers will be about occupations. A certain amount of research is necessary for someone to authentically write about a character’s career, especially if it’s not one the author has personally experienced. So each entry will highlight a specific occupation and will contain information that you, as an author, might need to know, such as…

Required Training. How will your character go about becoming an athletic coach, astronaut, glassblower, or auto mechanic? If he’s already living his dream, what training did he have to go through?

Helpful Skills and Personality Traits. Every job includes areas of proficiency and personality traits that enable the person to succeed. Physical strength, dexterity, knowledge of higher mathematics, being able to sing or play a musical instrument, organization, charm, ambition—each of these can make a person much better (or really awful) at various jobs. Knowing which abilities and traits to give or withhold from your character will enable you to help him succeed or cause necessary stumbling blocks that can provide structure for your story and propel him or her along the character arc.

Sources of Friction. When it comes to sources of conflict, there are two biggies for most people: family and work. Workplace friction can be internal (feeling unappreciated, doubting one’s ability to succeed, being jealous of a co-worker) or external (having a boss who plays favorites, not making enough money, experiencing harassment on the job), and is often caused by the people we interact with on a daily basis. So knowing these possible sources can be especially handy when you need to amp up the tension in a scene.

Impact on Basic Human Needs. If you’ve been around Writers Helping Writers for any period of time, you know that we’re kind of obsessed with psychology and how it can be applied to characters. We’ve talked a lot about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how the needs that are missing in our characters’ lives should be a driving force in their decision making. Many times, a character’s job can cause a void in one of these important areas. Exploring this can help you see how the career you choose for your character can shore up your storyline and drive him toward the overall goal (or individual scene goals) that can keep your story on track.

We’re very excited about this thesaurus because, along with providing the foundation of research required for a slew of possible occupations, it also will explore how these jobs can contribute meaningfully to the plot and the character’s inner growth. We hope each entry will give you ideas on how to tie together the important elements of your story so they’re all working in tandem with the character’s inner and outer motivations, propelling them forward on their journey to wholeness and contentment.

We could use your help with something, though. In researching occupations, it quickly became clear that we’ll never be able to assemble a comprehensive catalogue of entries. One resource listed over 12,000 careers to choose from. So…not even close, lol. We want to showcase a variety of jobs, including the popular ones many authors will need and the not-so-common ones that can challenge you to think outside the box and pursue possibilities you might not have considered.

This is, hopefully, where you come in. If there’s an occupation you’d like to see us cover, would you please tell us in the comments? If the career you’re interested in has already been mentioned, do still include it; this will show us which ones are really popular and could increase our chances of writing about it. We have to take a lot of things into consideration when choosing which entries to include in a thesaurus, so we won’t be able to write about every occupation that comes up, but seeing which ones are of interest to you all would be SUPER helpful for us.

Can I just say Thank You, in advance? You all continue to be the inspiration behind our work as we try and figure out which resources and information will help improve your stories and grow you as writers. In short, YOU ROCK!

We can’t wait to see what you come up with. Look for the first entry next Saturday!

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Get Your Mind Right: An Easy Trick for Nipping Creative Fear in the Bud

The funny and talented Sarah Moore is back today to help us get over our fear of creating. As writers, we have a lot of challenges to face, and this is one that we really need to beat into submission or those stories inside us will never get out. Read on!

You’ve set the scene perfectly: a clean desk gazing out through a rain-filled window, a steaming mug of coffee, a fresh document open on your computer, gleaming white with promise. It’s all so perfectly writer-ish, isn’t it? Hemingway/King/Rowling would be proud. You are doing this.

After 5 minutes, the “doing this” has not much progressed. After 10, you have typed and erased a single sentence about eight times. You have also chewed a cuticle, wondered about lunch and suffered a brief, spasmodic panic attack when you imagine anyone, anywhere, ever reading what you write.

If you can even write it, that is. Cue additional panic attacks.

Fear of Reception (Or: That Thing You Shouldn’t Worry About)

Chances are, as a reader of this fine blog, you’re a creative type. That comes with many wonderful qualities and one big, giant, clawing foible: insecurity. Any writer who denies this should either a) stop lying to yourself or b) write a book about how you’ve accomplished that, because you’ll make millions.

The fear of how our writing will be received can become so crippling that it stops us in our tracks … often before we even put figurative/literal pen to paper. Instead of working hard and worrying about reception later, you spend minutes or hours or days fretting about what “people” will think when they read your work.

Because the assumption, of course, is your work will be seen by EVERYONE EVER. Then instead of writing your novel for fellow YA-lovers, say, you’re writing it for your mom, and your ex-boyfriend, and that one girl in high school who was mean to you at prom and you’d really like to show her … etc. It’s impossible to write for an audience like that, not least because those people probably don’t even like YA fantasy. Or perhaps you write only to achieve what another writer has, which leads directly to death by comparison.

So this is really a two-part problem: You write for the wrong reasons, which doesn’t inspire creativity; and you cripple yourself with fear by imagining all these people whose opinions terrify you instead of the ONE person who would love to hear/read/experience this story.

Whoops.

A Better Way (Or: Your New Writing Mindset)

Guess what? You don’t have to swim in that morass of creative fear. You don’t have to get all pruny while the water chills around you. You can get out, and here’s how.

Imagine Your Perfect Reader

I love this strategy. It helps me remember, whenever I start to worry that _________ is going to ridicule my work, that I’m not writing for _________. I’m writing for my perfect reader, someone I probably don’t have Sunday dinner with, or even know. That reader has a host of characteristics, which you can feel free to list out – finding your audience is a great exercise – but the most important characteristic is this: They enjoy your writing. That’s it. They love your subject. Your characters. Your slant. Your story. You’re writing for them.

This is a useful tool not only when you’re sitting alone and writing, but when someone asks you about your work and you feel troubled answering. What if they don’t like it? What if they raise an eyebrow, or nod uncertainly?

To that I say … who cares? You’re not writing for them. If you need to, you can even tell them that. Gently. Politely. Kindly. Just shrug and say, “Yeah, it’s probably not your cup of tea. But I’m really excited about it.” It’s the nicest beat-down ever, and your conversational compatriot doesn’t even know they’ve been beat down.

Focus on Your Sphere of Influence

When fear arises, we tend to catastrophize, then start trying to control all possible outcomes. Don’t tell this person! Don’t put that on Facebook! Spoiler alert: That’s nonsense; you’ll never manage it. So the question becomes, what is your sphere of influence? What can you control, and what can’t you?

Well, you can control what happens at your rain-glazed, coffee-fueled writing desk. You can’t control what Cindy from work thinks. You can control how much deliberate practice you put in every day. You can’t control what people will say when you publish the resulting short story or novel. You can control your work. You can’t control the minds of others.

… yet. I’m working on it.

Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario

I like to call this “writers’ exposure therapy.” *chuckles darkly*

Whenever you start to freak out, just close your eyes and envision the absolute worst-case scenario. Here’s mine: I will write a book that I believe in wholeheartedly. I will take it to a conference and pitch it to agents. I will get requests for partials from all of them. I will get signed on. I will almost have a book deal … and then the agent will drop me.

Oh hey, guess what? That happened. It sucked. Like, reaaallll bad. But no one is dead. The apocalypse did not ensue. No zombies. (My biggest fear is always the zombies.)

So what’s your worst fear? Chances are it feels pretty grim when you allow it to flit around in the back of your subconscious. But if you bring it into the clear light of day? Eh. You’ll survive it. Just give that fear a wave, remind yourself that you’re alive and, actually, you rock pretty hard … and get back to work. Even when all you’re doing is writing that first draft badly, you’re getting closer and closer to the goal of a beautiful, wonderful, finished product just perfect for your special reader.

Go, you!

Sarah Moore has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has worked as a professional writer for the last seven years. She is the owner and founder of at New Leaf Writing, working as a fiction writer by night, and with clients and other writers to help them reach their own writing goals by day. You can find her talking about reading and craft on Instagram, or read her new book about creative fear, Get the Hell Over It: How to Let Go of Fear and Realize Your Creative Dream.

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