It’s a trust thing…

So the good news is that I’m getting into edits and writing and thinking about writing etc. once more. Which means that I’m probably going to get back to posting a bit more regularly again. But then I have a bit less time than I’d like, so I might not. I am, therefore sticking to posting as and when I have something to write about. In the meantime, I’m trying to get around to visiting more of you.

In the meantime I’m going to draw some inspiration to an experience I’ve had while editing on Friday.

Just to recap: As some of you probably know, I had to split my first book into two in order to sign with my former publishing house. Which means that (even though I now have my rights back), I have to make sure that both halves have to stand on their own as stories.

See, for me to put the stories back into one book would require undoing a ton of work, and that’s just not my style. As a result, I’ve had to form a smaller story arch to carry the over-all story that runs through the whole series.

To a large extent, I did this already for the former publishing house, but basically I was told that the story-line wasn’t strong enough.

And if you read Wednesday’s post, you’ll know that I’ve been grappling with ways I could strengthen the story.

Believe it or not, I published that post, opened my manuscript and made the second change that occurred to me. Even better, I think it works. Better than that, it’s truly an elegant solution. It was a simple change, about 1500 words added in, and ever since, the repercussions of the addition have continued to improve the story.

Bet you want to know what I did.

Lucky for you, I’m awesome, so I’m going to tell you.

I took a bit of information that I’d kept for the big shocker reveal at the end of book four, and I put it:

Right. 

At. 

The. 

Start. 

Of book 2. 

Aaaaaaah… the lovely sounds of writerly minds screeching and screaming “what?!”
Now what could possibly incite me to do that? I mean, there’s the shock value. The horror. (Because it really is a horrible thing that’s going to happen.) All the emotional impact I could have gained! 
“Undo it,” some of you will be screaming at your screens. 
To which I say: “You of little faith.” 
See keeping information for a huge reveal has its places, I know. But darlings, if something really really big is set to happen, it might just be better for the reader to know it could happen, early on. 
Why? 
Stakes, darling. By showing what could happen, I’ve set up some huge ass stakes. I’ve also forced my character into doing something she might have done anyway, but some people struggled to understand before. 
“But still,” some might sob. “The big reveal!” 
And this is where the title for today’s post is from. See, sometimes, we need to trust that our knowledge about our stories isn’t finite. See, I know that by the time I’m at the end of book 2, I will more than set up other HUGE, SHOCKING, HORRIFYING things to happen in the sequels. So taking one and using it for all it’s worth isn’t a bad idea. 
In fact, it’s perfect. Exactly what I needed. 
So if you get stuck, think about revealing your “big reveal” sooner. I promise you that doing so will lift a saggy middle and set up something even better for the end. 
All you need to do is trust yourself. 
Anyone else notice a vast improvement in plot strength from revealing information sooner? 
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Plot and Kevin Bacon

Hey all! Today, I’m welcoming Elizabeth Seckman to my blog. She’s going to tell us what Kevin Bacon taught her about plotting.

Take it away, Elizabeth. 🙂

Thanks for having me over Misha! I feel a little like a kindergartener coming to the high school to share knowledge, but I will try to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

The most critical part of a good tale is the plot. The plot is the bones everything else in the story hangs on. No bones, no book.

And everything I learned about plotting, I got from Kevin Bacon.

Applaud me, Kevin. I am brilliant.

Yes, Kevin Bacon, the actor.

Ever heard of  the game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Here’s the game, in a nutshell: Link any actor to Kevin Bacon within six connections.

Okay, so here is how it works. Let’s take Madonna. How is she connected to Kevin Bacon? She was married to Sean Penn, who starred with Kevin in Mystic River. So, that’s a quick two degree separation. And the legend is you can link almost anyone in Hollywood to Kevin within six degrees.

Yeah, yeah…fun little party game, but what’s it got to do with plotting?

I say plots MUST also be that tight. Let’s pretend the plot is Kevin Bacon. Everything that happens in that story must, within six degrees, have something to do with the main plot. No tangents. No meandering. No superfluous characters to bog down the reader’s memory. Every conversation and every action move the story along.

For example: let’s say it’s a romance. A single dad and his son. Dad needs a love interest. Now, pick the kid’s sub plot…let’s say he’s learning disabled. Voila! Dad dates the teacher. Need some more conflict? Bring on dad’s ex-wife. Now you have an antagonist who is bringing back story. See? Subplots + Plot are connected.

Keep it tight. Keep it moving.  Kevin will applaud you too.

Fate Intended is the third book in the Coulter Men Series.  Trip is the last of the Coulter sons to find
love. He’s a handsome man with all the skills a young spy needs to succeed. But when it comes to love, he misses the target. Jane is a sweet beauty who may or may not be wanted for murder. She’s hiding out as a cleaning lady when chance brings her and Trip together. It looks like a happily ever after is in the cross hairs until reality tries to destroy what fate has intended.

Elizabeth Seckman is a simple chick with a simple dream…to write stories people want to read.

photo credit: titi- via photopin cc

Writing Books

Hi all! Today I welcome Steven J. Wangsness to MFB. Steven’s new book, TAINTED SOULS is available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and other e-readers. Check out his website at sjwangsness.blogspot.com. 🙂
Take it away, Steven.

Writing a book is like skinning a cat — there’s more than one way to do it.
Some authors map out their novels in minute detail before ever setting pen to paper, pinpointing every plot point with the precision of a military staff officer and cataloging every facet of their characters in encyclopedic fashion — their appearance, their manner of speaking, their personal histories. With plot and characters so well known in advance, the act of creating a book becomes giving a written account of what already exists.
William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie’s Choice) is supposed to have had such an exhaustive road map to his novels before him that his first drafts were his last drafts — by the time he started to write a novel, all there was left to do was craft the words; everything else about the novel was a known quantity.
Other writers prefer to fly by the seat of their pants or, as they might prefer it, to allow the book to grow organically with minimal direction from the author. In essence, as events occur and characters enter the scene, they determine where the action goes and how the characters grow and who they become. I recall an interview with a British writer a couple of years ago who said he was “too lazy” to write an outline; he just started with a simple idea and let the book go where it went.
Jack Kerouac portrayed himself as just such a writer, having claimed to have written On the Road in long sheets routed through his typewriter in one three-week-long burst of spontaneous fury. The truth is more complex, with the book going through many edits and revisions. (Confession: I’ve never gotten past page 20.)
As a writer, I lie somewhere in between these extremes, though I have tended more towards the seat-of-the-pants variety. My college term papers were rarely products of long research and carefully outlined prose but mostly coughed up in all-nighters while hunkered down at the typewriter with a few open books and several cups of coffee.
Before I sat down to write my novel Tainted Souls, however, I knew I wanted a detailed plot summary. For one thing, Tainted Soulsis a plot-driven mystery and I didn’t think I could afford to wing it. I plotted out all the scenes beforehand, using open-source “mind-mapping” software called FreeMind. I wrote a 15-page, single-spaced summary describing all the action in each of the chapters. Though I wrote down just a few bullet points, rather than detailed histories, I had a good notion of the characters and their motivations before I started writing.
Even so, the plot took twists and turns and the players took on characteristics I hadn’t anticipated. These developed out of the writing itself. Just one example: I knew that I wanted my protagonist’s partner to be earthy and buffoonish as I set out; but it was only as I was writing the first chapter that he revealed himself to me — that’s how I would describe it — as corrupt, too. His corruption became not just an interesting aspect of his character but crucial to the plot as it finally evolved; without it, Tainted Souls would be a different book.
For me, then, part of what gets written down grows organically out of the process of writing itself. Characters flesh out, events suggest themselves, sub-themes emerge, all giving the story new hues and affecting the course of the plot. Like real people, the characters reveal more of their true natures the better I get to know them. As in real life, the course of events may take an unexpected turn. It’s not for me to argue whether this is a better way of writing than asserting full control of the book from the get-go. However, for me, no matter how carefully and diligently I may pre-cook the final product, at least some of the book is going to “write itself.”
How about you? Do your characters take on aspects that surprise you and go down a road you didn’t see coming?
Thanks for this great post, Steven! All the best with your book sales.
Before I go, I just want to ask if there’s a kind and brave soul out there that would please book 30 March for a GPF? If you’re interested, please check out this post and contact me.
OK then! Have a great weekend! X

When Ideas Make Love

Hi all! I’m finally back on my own blog, but today I’m welcoming Tara Maya to MFB. Tara is the author of the Unfinished song series, which is available at Amazon here, here and here.

When Ideas Make Love

Recently I heard of the notion that progress is made when ideas make love.  

This is true of ideas in writing as well. 

One of the dangers in writing—any kind of writing, but, I fear, especially genre writing—is that you will settle for a cliché instead of a fresh idea. Orson Scott Card once warned that when you brainstorm for a new idea, the first couple that pop into your head are going to be clichés. Cliches are the low-hanging fruit of the archetypal world. In his example, he would ask a class of science fiction writers to design a race of aliens. Inevitably, in class after class, the first few “aliens” suggested would be reptilian or dog-based or cat-based…each class churned up the same tired ideas unless challenged to step past that first easy, over-obvious thought. Lazy thinking leads to stale writing.

One trick to overcome this is to mate two unrelated images. Let us say you have a story about three soldiers trying to make their way home after a war. You might allude to an archetypal antecedent such as the Odyssey, which is also about a warrior trying to make his way home after a war. Adhere to this too closely, and you’d just have a retelling of the Odyssey—which is fine if that’s what you want, but let’s assume you don’t want it that close. So maybe you also throw in an homage to the Zodiac. Your hero’s journey takes a year and in each month he encounters a monster or obstacle related to the astrological sign of that month. This is pretty absurd, but that’s what makes it work—especially if your story has nothing to do with the Zodiac. It’s not something you need, or want, to make obvious. You don’t have the hero say, “It’s time to meet the Embodiment of Pisces.” What I’m talking about is not the overt mythology or world-building in your story, but just the opposite. I’m talking about taking a wild card and throwing it in the mix.

What does this do? It forces your creative mind to get off the easy road of cliché and go to work. “Hm,” you think, “In Yawning Moon month, they should meet a element related to a fish. But they are traveling through a desert. How are they going to meet a fish? Hey, what if they come to a temple built from the fossils an ancient marine sea monster….” Until that moment, you might not have realized that there was a temple built from fossils in the desert!

You can use this technique for deepening characters too. It can help to have secret totems for your characters. These are metaphors that you don’t share directly with your readers, only indirectly. For instance, if you character is a were-elephant, that’s not a secret totem. You share that with the readers openly. But you might have a character who is not a were-elephant or directly related to elephants in any way, who is nonetheless elephant-like in mannerisms or body-build, etc. I’m not even sure what the distinctive mannerisms of an elephant are, but again, the point is that this absurd metaphor forces you to think about your character in an unexpected way, and you discover things about him that you didn’t know.

Some people will say, “Don’t use dragons,” “Don’t use vampires” or “Don’t use elves” because these are over done. I don’t agree. I think that such archetypes can still offer fresh and wonderful stories, if you shake off clichés and continually surprise readers. When you use this technique, you surprise yourself with what you come up with. If you, the author, are surprised by the twists in the story, chances are the readers will be too—surprised and delighted.

Thanks so much for the great guest post, Tara. So all, do you mix seemingly unrelated ideas to freshen up your writing?

You can teach me to plot? Thanks, but…

I always wonder why people think that there’s only one way to write.

Just today I read a tweet about how one can learn how to plot.

But then… why would I?

I mean, I do just fine pantsing (at two finished drafts and a third in progress). No one’s going to drop dead when I pants.

Why do people always think that plotting is better? The only thing that plotting does for me is give me an excuse to procrastinate while I write down what I already knew what was supposed to happen. Otherwise it discouraged me because I didn’t know every detail before I started writing.

You know what? It doesn’t matter not having all the details. That’s what the first draft is for: to find out what the heck is going on in the story.

Because there’s a big difference between what you think is happening and what happens when you write it down.

Still, I will never go as far as to say that pantsing is superior to plotting in any way. Pantsing has its own drawbacks, the main one being “painting yourself into a corner”. Then there’s also the blocks that happen because you don’t know how to start what happens next. Or the gaping plot holes. And so on and so forth.

But here’s the kicker: I enjoy fighting myself out of my self-created corner situations. I like not knowing too much about the story when I start. It gives me my sense of adventure. I enjoy the mental gymnastics involved in solving the plot holes once I get to them.

And no matter what, there’s one big reason why I don’t plot. I used to plot all of my stories. Every single one. Seven of them in total. How many did I finish? Zip. How many did I get half way? Zero. How many did I get quarter way: Two (I think) before I dumped them because they had no soul.

So I have no reason why I’d want to plot. Not even the smallest of reasons. The only thing approaching plotting that I do is making a point of knowing how the story ends.

So if you’re a plotter. Kudos to you. Especially if you’re good at it.

If you’re not. So what? As long as you get your stories done, that’s fine. And if you’re new to this writing business, don’t ever believe it when someone says it’s better to plot.

Unless you’ve pantsed for years and through many stories and failed to finish one.

What do you think? Is there really a better way to write a novel?

Are you a plotter or a pantser? What about your preferred style makes it suit you?

Blog Swap: Keeping Track of Plot Twists

Hi all! I’m doing what I call a blog swap today. I’m posting on DUO Says… on the topic of Keeping Track of Plot Twists. DUO is posting on the same topic on my blog. So today you get to read two different perspectives on the same thing. I must say that it was a lot of fun to see how different our posts were, so I definitely would love to do it again. If you’re interested, please let me know. ^_^ Take it away, DUO!


Avoiding Losing Track of Plot Twists

Compelling characters, complex plot twists, unexpected situations. Everyone loves them. So what happens if you’re writing a novel and get so into developing one plot thread that you forget the others? Or worse, neglect to link it back to the message or theme of your main story?

Plot twists can add great new dimensions to a story. Whether they’ve been pre-planned or have sprung up unexpectedly while writing, they add roundness and authenticity to a character or story sequence 

The challenge is for each plot twist to be realistic and move the story forward. If they’re random thoughts which don’t achieve this then they can be detrimental rather than beneficial. 

If done well, plot twists can also give the writer the opportunity to develop another novel altogether with characters that readers have gotten to know. This is what turns one novel into a potential trilogy, quartet, or long-running series. 

So is there a possibility to redeeming a novel if you’ve run off the boil and forgotten an essential twist? You’ve started it but not finished it? Left the character hanging with no satisfactory concluding? Absolutely. Everything can be rectified. As long as the novel hasn’t hit the line for its production run and is still on your laptop there’s no problem. 

However, being a firm believer that prevention is better than a cure, here are some tips that help me navigate the plot twist road before incorporating any into my story.

1. Keep a log of each new plot twist that springs up.

2. Make a note of which characters the plot twist will mostly affect and why.

3. Is the plot twist realistic? Will it add depth to the story? 

4. Make a note if any of the plot twists could develop a whole new story of its own.

5. If yes to number 4, will it be a strong enough premise for a new book.


Thanks so much for swapping blogs with me, DUO! It was fun. If anyone else wants to swap blogs with me for a day, please feel free to contact me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com.

How do you keep track of plot changes and twists? Do you keep track of them?



 

 




What I’ve learned from The Last Airbender

First of all! Happy 4th of July to my U.S. friends! Hope you’re having a great day.

Then, I also want to thank everyone who jumped to book Fridays. You ladies and gents are awesome.

So yesterday I (finally?) got around to watching M. Night Shayamalan’s The Last Airbender.
(Incidentally, he also wrote the script, but I don’t refer to him by name after this.)

And… as cool as the effects looked, I HATED it. Not a little.

A lot.

I mean… this movie had some serious potential for epicness. Huge scope. Many personalities… etc. etc. and somehow… it sucked.

Not a little.

A lot.

Why?

I got stuck on the outside of the story. I mean, when someone dies in a story and I don’t care, that generally means that the writer has lost the plot.

But that got me to thinking. Why? What got me stuck outside? I mean, I did like the characters, even though I didn’t really get close to them. 

I think that was the first problem. If I don’t have a bond with the characters, I’m not really going to be drawn into the story.

But the story itself had a problem. It lacked focus. A lot happened in that movie. That in itself wouldn’t be a problem to me. After all, I have a lot happening in my story too. I can’t even see that the events in the movie didn’t have a reason. (Because that would have been way too annoying.)

No. My problem is that things are dropped all over the place and I’m scratching my head as to why they’re happening. Not from the character view (that’s obvious) but from a writer’s view.

And THAT was my problem. The events were dropped into the plot with zero blending. I.e. things happened with very little reference or thought to it later – until it was needed to push the story forward again.

Now, this (in my opinion) could have been done right in two ways:
1) The events take on such a small space that the viewer hardly notices it there until something happens as a result. This gives a viewer that awesome “AHA!” moment.
2) The events have to be mixed in with others, so that the introduction feels organic and so that the thought of that event remains in the viewer’s mind.  

What you don’t do is cut from scene to scene (event to event), insert narration in the bits considered unimportant (i.e. the bits not containing the events mentioned above) and then come out at an end that no one cares about because not enough time was spent on making everything count.

While we’re at the narration point: TELLING me that one of the main characters cares for a new character does NOT make me care for the character too. So… that pretty much failed the ending.  

So basically, the scenes of The Last Airbender act like having clues in a mystery highlighted to say: “THIS IS A CLUE. REMEMBER FOR LATER.”

Not a good way to write a story, Movie or Book.

Still, I might watch the movie again, because this has some good case study pointers on how not to write duel storyline plots.

Have you watched The Last Airbender?

What did you think about it? What movies have given you some pointers on how (not) to write?