Thursday, May 30, 2013

Temporarily Unavailable

I'm a bit stuck in my writing and a bit busy in life. The next regularly scheduled post may be a couple weeks in coming. I hope to be back soon. Meanwhile, read a good book and analyze it. :-)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Writer’s Guide to the Military

For years, I have been doing research into military and military training programs, just to get ideas as I formulate my own military. I haven’t done any primary research--it’s all been secondary (see April 22's post to learn why ;-) ), and I have been quite disappointed. The encyclopedia, non-fiction library books, and kids informative books have all lacked the information for which I searched. The Internet was even worse. I just wanted to know what basic training is like, what recruits learn, basic command structure, etc. The best books I found were written for those young people considering joining the military, but even they were somewhat lacking.

Then I stumbled on this book: <em>A Civilian‘s Guide to the U.S. Military</em>. That sounded promising. Flipping through, I discovered pretty much everything I had wanted to know, including a day-by-day summary of boot camp for the US Army. The book had been written as the author had me in mind! Then I noticed the publisher and realized the author <em>did</em> have me in mind--the publisher is Writer’s Digest.

So if any of you are looking for secondary source information on the U.S. Military, I would recommend this book. I can’t vouch for the accuracy as I have never been in the military, but since I’m making up my own military, accuracy isn’t a big deal for me. :-)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Suddenly . . .

In one of my writer’s workshops, a colleague pointed out a paragraph I began with the word “suddenly”. She cautioned usage of that word. Whenever it popped up in her writing, it usually meant she had neglected writing details in the previous paragraphs. I looked, and sure enough, she was right. I try to be conscious of that word now. Is it really necessary or would other details work as well? If something startles the POV character, I don’t need to spell out “suddenly” for the reader.

So when I was rereading my high school draft for fun the other day, I couldn’t help laughing my head off at these lines:

“Suddenly and without warning,”--what does “suddenly” mean if not “without warning”?

“He was very startled and staggered in bewilderment.”--ah, my fourth semester mentor would cringe. What does being startled or bewildered feel like?

Hope I brightened your life! Happy writing!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Save What You Wrote: Teenagers

I’m pretty sure my neighbors yesterday thought I had gone crazy, I was laughing so hard. For fun, I pulled out my old drafts to read. I had realized that my characters were acting entirely too serious. They weren’t like teenagers anymore, so I decided to read the drafts I wrote when I was actually around teenage boys regularly. I about laughed my head off. All of my character’s friends teased him so badly! They were so mean, but that is how teenagers are. I laughed until I cried.

I also enjoyed how my characters morph. Here’s another favorite cut line from the original draft: “Autographs after the show, boys, please,” from an overconfident, large boned, stunt performer at SeaWorld. That character morphed into a girl less than five feet tall who speaks in a timid yet refined British accent. How did that happen?

I about died reading the scene when three of the characters sneak the health nut’s low-fat ice cream from his padlocked freezer (a padlocked freezer???). I think I have some reworking to do. My characters should be teenagers and carefree. They can get serious after they go into battle.

This is a lesson in save what you wrote. If you don’t save the things you write, how can you go back and remember what being a certain age or at a certain place of life is like? I need to pull out my teenage journals, too. Don’t worry, they’re mostly fictional. :-)

Happy Writing!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Place Holders

Sometimes, we can get on a roll with writing, work up a momentum. Stopping to look up a particular word or to write a detailed description can interrupt the momentum for me. So I use place holders. For words I am unsure of, I use underlining with a ?.

Since I’m on a draft 542 (it feels like) of my work in progress, some things I have already described. Five hundred and forty-two times. After all of that, I did not want to describe the military base one more time. In typing my rough draft last week, I came across this place holder that made me smile: (in the margins) “insert description from another draft” (in the body) “He ascended the front steps and opened the great doors. (mess of cubicles, soldiers bustling about).”

I think I’ve mentioned before the placeholder for the description I just was not in the mood to write: “She had her first real view of the city. It was very large.”

:-) So don’t be afraid to stick in place holders when you need to go back over something or don’t want to interrupt your momentum.

One word of advice: be consistent. In one draft, I used an * for everything I had a question about or needed to go back over. When I was in revision mode, I just did a ‘find’ option with my word processor. For my current draft, I’ve been using (?). I just search for ‘?)’ and find all of my questions!

Another example:
“Before he could answer, the door opened and three soldiers came out.
(description of commander)
ruddy beard, well-built and muscled (in spite of age?) air of authority”

Happy Writing!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Changing Meanings

In one of my workshops, we were happily going over a friend’s excerpt, commenting on this and that when our faculty leader drew our attention to the first page. The time was predawn, the setting a city street. A gaggle of girls stood on the corner twittering. The sentences the author had written evoked such imagery, with the girls taking the place of dawn birds to greet the morning. Until our faculty leader said that he had thought all the girls were on their cell phones. Twittering.

Language has a way of morphing, which is good. Cultures grow and change and language should change with them, but sometimes the change is frustrating. Words we once enjoyed and loved can suddenly take on new meaning that isn’t always pleasant or destroys the word for its old meaning.

I noticed yesterday a phrase in my story. The characters were “writing on tablets of paper.” I thought, “My goodness, it’s a good thing I specified paper!” Writing on tablets has new meaning since the emergence of those tiny clipboard-sized computers.

So when you are doing revisionary work, remember to check your phrases and words to make sure they mean what you intend them to mean.

Happy Writing!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Circumstances vs. Relationships

I’ve mentioned before that I’m using two alternating POVs for my Epic Novel, Book One. When I first started writing the secondary POV, I had so much fun! Everything just flowed and came so easy. The character was mysterious, and that made him fun to write. However, the longer I wrote from his POV (and the more the reader got to know him), the more difficult time I had. I found myself floundering around for scenes to tell from his POV. What was going on?

My primary POV character, while daunting at times, has definite scenes and steady movement. The various trials he goes through during his military training move the story, show his growth, and set up future plot elements.

Since that worked so well for POV One, I decided to try it with POV Two. Except that it didn’t work. Every time I sat down to write, instead of marksmanship or marching or combat training, POV Two spent a scene during personal time to share a moment with his small group of friends. BORING. Or wait--is it?

You know those light bulb moments? I had one of those. And a flashback. (woah, light bulb and flashback at the same time!) I flashbacked to Lit class in college and those phrases:

     --Man vs. Man
     --Man vs. Nature
     --Man vs. Machine
     --Man vs. God

(my notes are in a box somewhere, so I’m just writing from memory.)

I realized that POV One’s character arc follows his circumstances. The situations in which he finds himself stretch and mold him; they move the story and show his growth. However, POV Two’s movement is more internal, more emotionally driven. Much of his growth happens within his own head based on the relationships he has. Ohhhh, personal time with friends. Relationships.

POV One’s character arc is circumstantial.
POV Two’s character arc is relational.

Ta da! Wish I could say problem solved, but as I have very little experience in relational character arcs, I may have to do some research. Too bad all those books and notes are in boxes as well . . .

Happy writing!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Hand Me the Sheers

Why is it that my favorite scenes always get cut?? I need to do a director’s cut of my story. Some of my favorite lines, too. And favorite characters. Here’s a tip from me: just because you cut them doesn’t mean you should throw them away. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve gone back through my “quotes” file and laughed my head off. Some quotes are accidentally humorous. Some just make me laugh. Most recent victims to the revisionist shears?

     --He knew what that answer would be: a stout “no” probably accompanied by a heavy tome of Algebraic equations.

     --“We’re taking every precaution. You all take your precautions as well. And, Rob, take off that hat!”
        “Sure thing, Chief.”

I also save typos or poorly constructed sentences which make me laugh. For example,

     --He set a waffle on her face (plate).

     --When his legs finally obeyed, he hurried to the end of the dock, jumped off, and ran.
        (I don’t know about you, but when I read, “jumped off,” I was expecting a splash.)

     --(perfectly deadpan serious)
        Over dinner, he told the story leaving out as much of the screaming, blood, and resuscitation as possible.
       (that one is a personal favorite :-) )

No matter how many characters, scenes, or lines I cut, though, one thing has never changed: they always eat stroganoff their first night in the military. :-)

Monday, April 29, 2013

MC/Author Similarities and Differences

So many times, I look at my story and think, “Wow! I hadn’t realized the main character was so much like I am!” However, I noticed last week one way in which we really differ. A lot.

I am a visual/book learner. In elementary school, while I always wanted to do science experiments, I never needed to. I would read the description of the experiment and understand exactly what was going to happen and what I was supposed to learn. I’ve never been very anxious to get involved, and often, I find the physical aspects of learning a chore.

My MC is the opposite. Books make no sense to him, but put him in the field and he’s good to go. He fails in school, but in the real world, life makes sense and he comes out ahead of the rest.

How did that happen?

Friday, April 26, 2013


At my free writers’ group a couple of weeks ago, only two of us showed up. We still quite enjoyed ourselves. One of our prompts was to look at one of the customers where we meet and then take ten minutes to write what she thought about that morning. I could only see the back of her head, but I instantly had an image in mind. As I sat down to write, I heard “lattice, lattice” over and over in my head. I thought, “That’s not a name.” Then, “Oh, Gladys!”

I put pen to paper and wrote about how Gladys spent the morning sipping tea in her comfy kitchen and planning her garden for the year.

At the end of the ten minutes, we always read our free-writes aloud. My writing companion shuffled her papers, straightened in her seat, and offered to go first. She cleared her throat and said, “I’m going to call her Gladys.”


Monday, April 22, 2013

On Target

When I originally started the Epic Novel (and I mean age 15 originally), I had five primary characters and used an (poorly done) omniscient narrator to tell the story. As the drafts went on, I gradually narrowed down to one main character and his POV. Now I still have that main character but I also have an alternating POV. As I switch back and forth, I find myself constantly wondering, what are the other characters thinking?

For example, the second POV character I use in Book Two--what does she think in Book One? What kinds of things does she go through? I find myself really wanting to add a dozen more POV characters because, to me, they are all interesting as well!

Now I have to answer some questions: Do I add another POV character? Do I add a secondary character book (an idea I’ve toyed with)? Do I write these other POVs just because they would be fun and might help me with the main story even if no one else ever reads them? Or do I follow the orders of Gold Leader in Star Wars?

“Stay on target. Stay on target.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

You Can’t Have Five Characters All Be the Same. Sorry.

I have a problem. All my commanding officers seem to be the same. The squad leader and the company commander, I realized, act almost the exact same way. They have this firm but genuine air. They don’t let people get away with things, but they care. They even look the same! Tall, thin, light hair. Hmm. This could be a problem.

Especially in basic training. I know my military isn’t as tough as our real military, but still, I think it needs to be tougher. For a little while, I was daunted. That almost gentle kind of CO seemed to be the only kind I knew how to write. But then, I remembered the drill sergeant from an earlier draft. Ta da! So, I resurrected him, and I’m really pleased. The problem I have now is keeping gruff drill sergeant different from unreasonably harsh disciplinarian commander.

Here’s an idea! Try putting a completely different character into a scene you already and see what happens. What happens if you add a tough drill sergeant in place of an encouraging mentor? What happens if the rowdy class clown is replaced by a mime or the meek accountant vanishes while a rough and tough cowboy appears?

Happy writing!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Inbetween Scenes

It’s funny how things go not all the way I intended.

All of my main climatic scenes, I plan out in my head weeks, months, even years before they ever make it to the page. I love writing those scenes. However, some of the most fun I have in writing is when I write the in-between scenes and have no idea what is going to happen next.

Last week, I sent my MC to boot camp. The first night, he paused to talk with a friend. I didn’t realize that would make him late to dinner. I didn’t realize he would get in trouble for being late. I didn’t know the drill sergeant would make him stand in front of the entire mess hall like a bad elementary school kid and watch while everyone else ate.

I didn’t know he would be sent to the CO’s office.

I love it when things work out. :-)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sick and SIC

Inspiration is wonderful. It motivates, it encourages, it deepens plot, story, character.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always come when we beckon. A couple weeks ago, I was sick. In a variety of ways. I had planned to spend the day catching up on housework and my to do list while carving out about two hours of writing time. Instead, I found myself on the couch covered in blankets sipping tea with honey. Well, I would put in my two hours of writing, and then I could accomplish at least some of my to do list.

When my two hours was up, I felt compelled to keep writing. Not that I particularly wanted to, but I knew should. I’ve barely written a thing in the past two months. What I’ve written has been mere pages a day and pretty poor stuff at that. One of my mentors called this SIC--Sit In Chair, which means sitting down and making yourself to write even when you don’t feel like it. Well, for me it was LOC--Lie On Couch, but same concept. You know what happened? Eighteen and a half pages, baby, that’s what happened! And not half bad either.

Moral of the story, sometimes, you just have to buckle down and work even if you don’t feel like it. The results may not be perfect or elegant, but they will be satisfying. Hard work usually is.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Don’t Hate My Babies!

I am currently writing in close third person point of view, which means I stick closely to my point of view character, almost as though I were writing in first person. If he doesn’t know it, then the narrator can’t know it, so the reader won’t know it. This poses problems for me in the motivations of others.

I just wrote a scene where my MC’s father said some pretty hurtful things. I caught myself starting to write, “Now, MC knew his father loved him and that he didn’t really mean those things . . . .” Really? If your father had just said some pretty hurtful things, would you really sit there and think, “Now, I know he didn’t mean that . . .” or would you go off and fume? (And remember, you’re a teenager at the time.)

Right. I catch myself doing this all the time, trying to explain why certain secondary characters are acting the ways the are because I don’t want my readers to hate them. Because really, my MC’s father does love him and is just under a lot of stress and is worried sick. But my MC doesn’t understand that, so my narrator can’t know it--so <em>I cannot tell the reader</em>. I just have to repeat that to myself over and over again.

So when eventually I publish something, you can always write me to ask why characters acted a particular way, and I would be happy to explain. Just don’t hate my babies!

Friday, April 5, 2013

One Scene, Three Ways

In switching back and forth between points of view, I sometimes write a scene several different times. One scene in particular kept switching back and forth between point of view characters. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it’s an exercise many writers do on purpose.

Try writing a scene (any scene, the opening, the finale, the climax) from the point of view of a different character. What changes? What other details do you notice? What do you realize about the different characters’ motivations?

Save this new scene for reference. This exercise can help you to realize you’re writing from the wrong point of view or it can simply give you better understanding of your story.

Here’s another option: Write a memory of your own from the point of view of someone else who was there (a sibling, a bystander, a friend). What kind of insight does that give you?

Happy Writing!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Breaking Out

So, I have once again embarked, starting over, with Book One of the Epic Novel. :::sigh:::: The great thing is that I believe I have broken out of the shell of Drafts 9-11, aka, the drafts I wrote in high school. That had been the way the story went for so long that thinking of other ways it could go was difficult. I felt as though I were inside a ball, bouncing around, trying to get out.

Finally, I did (helped along mightily by the brainstorming session). I can’t remember what did it exactly. I’m getting along very slowly. I was frustrated last week as I wrote only five pages, and those on Friday. This week, things are moving along better, but slowly. However, the few pages I have written are good pages. The story feels more authentic to me now. I’m excited to see where it goes!

But I really don’t want to describe the military base again. Maybe I’ll just snag that paragraph from another draft. :-)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

In observance of Good Friday and Easter, this post has been intentionally left blank.

Monday, March 25, 2013


When I first was writing as a teenager, I couldn’t imagine any of my stories changing as much as I heard stories often do in revision. This is my story, and that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

Now, I’ve come to realize that a story is more than just scenes strung together. A story is a character and his or her growth. Now, I’m revising my story again, and the particulars of plot are changing in order better to reflect the story of the character. My character and his growth have not changed, but the way that growth plays out--the specific details of scene and plot--have.

This is fun. :-)

Friday, March 22, 2013


So, at the young age I am, I’m still starting to feel just a leeeetle bit older. Formerly, I could come up with ideas upon ideas, jot down a title, and forever remember the entire plot of the story. Not so much anymore. I’ve started getting confused with all the revisionary ideas for my story. So, three weeks ago, I sat down with a blank sheet of notebook paper and titled it “What If?” I then asked all the questions I had been wondering. My page looked something like this:

What If?

. . . the hero and heroine don’t meet until later?
. . . the program the hero joins has ten times as many people?
. . . the war is less trench warfare and more covert ops?

In the margins, I jotted down other notes, for example, on the “covert ops” question, I wrote, “how would that affect the characters’ reactions in book two if they’ve been trained as spies?”

This brainstorming session was exceedingly helpful, inspired by my free writer’s group. As someone who was once skeptical of free writing, outlining, or brainstorming, I now know that you just have to figure out what method works for you, and these all can be valuable tools.

So give it a try! It’s actually kind of fun.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Second Best

I just had, I think, the second best writer moment of my life. One of the ladies at my free writer’s group stayed after for a few minutes to talk with me. She encouraged me to look into publishing something short, like an article or short story, to tide me while I finish (ha ha) The Epic Novel. Encouragement is always a blessing, but what made my day--made me almost cry, actually--was as she left, she gave me a big hug and said, “You <em>must</em> do something with your writing.”

And so, I shall. :-)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Typical Characters, Part II

Over the past week or two, I have been noticing people who look different or seem different than the characters I usually write. I’m starting to feel excited about experimenting with characters other than the same ones I’ve always written. I know this will stretch me and that I will grow. I’m looking forward to seeing what this does. Soon, I will give myself a challenge. I’m just not sure what that challenge will be yet.

Here’s a challenge for you: notice the people around you who are people you might not normally befriend, people who are dissimilar to you. Imagine why they are the way they are--what is their motivation? What is their past? Try writing a couple of pages about that person, and just see what happens!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Typical Characters

The other night, I watched the tail end of the new Star Trek movie. I realized with a start that Captain Kirk is a very different character than the main characters in most of the books I read. I’m used to reading books written for young adults and preteens. The protagonists I are usually unsure of themselves, a bit timid, slightly depressed.

Captain Kirk is self-confident, arrogant, and so sure of himself that he’ll talk back to commanding officers to make sure they do what needs to be done. Watching that reminded me of the dozens of different characters who could make excellent protagonists for books.

I think we often enjoy reading about characters who have weaknesses because deep inside, we know our own weaknesses. However, we are all in different developmental phases. Some of us have learned to trust ourselves if not others. Wouldn’t those people enjoy reading about a character with whom they can relate?

A few people have told me that when I draw, all my people look the same. There may not be much help for my sketches, but I hope that when people read my books, they won’t think all of my characters are the same.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Writing Psychology

Sometimes, for fun, I take personality tests, specifically tests on the Myers-Briggs types. The fun part is when I take the tests from the POV of my characters! This accomplishes several things:

  • It helps me to think like my characters.

  • It helps me to understand my characters.

  • The description at the end of the test helps me to figure out if I have a correct and clear picture of my character’s personality.

  • It provides insight in how a character of that personality might think or process things, which helps me to write a more believable character.

  • It’s just plain fun.

  • As with real people, personality tests are good only to a certain point. However, they can provide insight and inspiration. Especially for those of us who have a hard time imagining life from a different perspective. I’m a logical, introverted, semi-nerd who enjoys science and music. What if my character is a creative extrovert athlete type? Something like a personality test could help me to understand how a character like that might think.

    Monday, March 4, 2013

    Close Reading

    Recently, I read a book for fun. A very long book. I had a hard time getting into it because nothing happened for the first 15 chapters/144 pages. When something finally did happen, it happened to a secondary POV character, not the protagonist. The protagonist was still just wandering around eating leisurely lunches and being bored.

    Side note: Your MC may be bored; your readers should not.

    For awhile, all I saw were the mistakes in this book. I thought, “Why didn’t someone take the time to polish this a little, to clean it up enough for it to be a good book?” I was tempted to look down on the author as inexperienced (in spite of the fact that he is published and I am not--have I ever mentioned that I can be prideful? ;-) ).

    But then, I began to notice little things that the author did well. And then more things and more. The author crafted a complete world; he moved his characters through developmental phases; he used description that paints vivid pictures. He let the reader glimpse the inner workings of a character through a few short phrases.

    Yes, I have been to creative writing school; I have a degree. But as yet, I am unpublished. I need to remind myself that training is not everything. Experience counts. Also, when reading a book, I need to look at the things done well in addition to the things which could have been done better. Both will teach me how to improve my own writing.

    Friday, March 1, 2013

    First Writer’s Group

    You will be shocked and appalled, I know, but yesterday, I went to my first ever writer’s group. (Shocked because I’ve never been to one before, not because I went.) It’s a small local group and seems to be mainly just for fun. We spent the entire hour and a half responding to free-writing prompts. It was quite refreshing.

    One of the prompts was to give chapter titles to the different parts of your life. I found this helpful as I have often thought about recording my life, but I get too bogged down. So much has happened! Naming chapter titles helped me to organize everything in my mind.

    I think I will continue to attend this writer’s group. I would still like to find a good critique partner, but a relaxing afternoon of free writing can’t hurt. :-)

    Friday, February 15, 2013

    Character Arc

    I have finally discovered what is the main difficulty with Epic Novel Part One. Did I mention this is the messiest draft I have ever written? I was reading back through it this morning, trying to get the draft to a point where I can have someone critique it. I was tempted to start rearranging scenes again. Why can’t I get this right?

    Suddenly, it hit me: I’m having problems because my character is underdeveloped. He is the one who is messy. I have a basic idea of how his growth manifests, but the details are fuzzy. Before I can get this draft to the point it needs to be, I have to get my MC to where he needs to be. I have a tendency to get my characters’ points of growth confused or mixed up.

    If I had my lecture notes and writing books with me (I’m out of town), I would spend some time flipping through to refresh my memory on character arc. That will have to wait until I get home, so I don’t have much insight in how to fix this problem. One thing I do know: before I can write this draft the way it needs to be written, I must answer a few questions.

    • What is my character’s desire line for this particular section of the story?
    • What is point ‘A’, what is point ‘B’, and what does the journey between them look like?
    • What are the details of this journey--does MC have different friends than I thought he did?
    • How do I flesh out that journey in scenes?
    I’ll let you know once I’ve made some progress.

    Wednesday, February 6, 2013


    Still no Internet. I'm at a local cafe. I will have Internet access for about a week or so, so maybe I can get some posts scheduled. No promises as I'll be quite busy! I am making excellent progress on the NIP and have many things to say. But later. Right now, I have to go home and make supper.

    Happy writing!

    Friday, January 18, 2013


    This time I have a very good reason for being MIA: The week before Christmas, I moved into more permanent housing and have yet to set up any Internet. In addition, I have no way of getting around town, so my trips to cafes are few. I will attempt to get some blog posts written and scheduled, though, to slake your constant thirst for my witty words on writing. :-)

    Today’s theme? Outlines.

    I have never been much of an outliner, but I’m finding it somewhat necessary with this draft. This is positively the downright messiest draft I have ever written. I keep grabbing scenes and moving them. And then moving them again. I can’t decide in what sequence the scenes should take place.

    The day before yesterday, I was really getting confused, so I copied all of my scenes to a new document and saved as “Outline.” I then proceeded to delete each scene, replacing it with a two to three sentence summary. I’m a visual person and need to be able to see everything. With the scenes shortened thus, I can view more of them at once and get a better idea of how to arrange them. If I have my printer set-up (still unpacking), I would print this list of scenes out, cut each scene onto its own strip of paper, and feel free to rearrange to my heart’s desire.

    My second-semester English professor my freshman year of college had me do that with a research paper: cut out each paragraph and rearrange logically. I was amazed at the new clarity of my paper.

    Hopefully, this little tidbit will help you in your writing, too!