Posted in writing

Learning from Past Projects

penHave You Written Any Books?

I can’t tell you how often I get asked this question–probably as often as I tell people I’m a writer. And the answer to the question is yes, I’ve written a few books. Quite a few, actually, as I’ve been writing since I was ten.

This past week, I decided to reread a story I wrote five years ago. After sitting for so long in my computer, I’d forgotten all about it. It took me a good two days to get through it, but that’s not surprising considering how long it was. 215,000 words. I’d completely forgotten how long the thing was.

But in spite of the length, I had a blast reading it. I was good and didn’t do any editing on it, though that meant I had to sit on my hands to keep myself from correcting all the mistakes I saw. And boy, did I see mistakes.

What is the story about?

Let me tell you a bit about the story.

Tales of the O.S.O revolves around six characters in high school. The Orphan School for Otherworldliness takes in orphans of all kinds–Pixies, Sirens, Elves, Minotaurs, just to name a few. Over the course of the story, these six characters become friends, overcome their personal problems, defeat an evil stepmother and save a kingdom from the Shadow Eaters.

Cassie is a Pixie who wants to be a godmother. She’s 11 years old, has skipped three grades, and is four inches tall. On a daily basis, she dodges feet and bullies alike in her quest to survive in a land where everyone is bigger than her.

Kabecka is half Siren and half Sea-Serpent. She has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up, but she has a temper and serious anger management issues.

Ferdinand is half Minotaur and half Giant. He looks like a cow, but all he wants to do is dance. Unfortunately, his family wants him to go into the family security business.

Mot is a troll, and he’s studying to be a healer. Like Kabecka, he has his own anger issue problems to work through, and wants to discover why his parents abandoned him as a baby.

Colt is a long lost prince hiding in the school from his evil stepmother. His one goal in life is to break the curse his brother suffers under, but how can he do that when everything he touches blows up in his face?

Law was turned into a hawk ten years ago and unless his brother breaks the curse, he’s going to lose his mind. Literally. In the mean time, no one can know his secret. His world is a lonely one with brother as his only friend.

What did I learn?

As I said before, this sucker was 215,000 words. If I learned anything from reading the story, it was not to repeat myself. I repeated so much in the course of this story that if I cut out just the repetitive stuff, I could cut at least 15,000 words from the story.

Something else I realized I have learned since writing this thing is the art of plotting. I wrote this when I was a younger writer, before I knew about plot arcs or the three act play. I wrote this thing by the seat of my pants, not knowing where the story was going until about 75,000 words into it. I just had these characters I wanted to play with, give them issues and then solve them. It was an exercise in character development. That turned into a much longer project than I could have ever imagined.

If I were to rewrite it, I don’t know if I’d go about it the same way. I think I would have organized it better, perhaps turned the huge novel into two or even three books.

I’ve also learned a lot about editing since then. I remember how reluctant I was to cut scenes, as it would mess with the structure of my chapters. As I reread the story, I began considering which scenes were crucial to the story and which weren’t. I even started thinking about cutting scenes and how I could fix the story structure. Don’t get me wrong–fixing the story would be a monumental task, but it doesn’t scare me nearly as much as it used to.

Am I going to edit and fix it? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m already working on a project. I don’t think I can start another. I might, one day. This world I created is so much fun, it just might be worth revisiting. And who knows–I might one day write the sequel I’d always thought about writing.

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Posted in writing

How to Find Nothing to Write About

What do you do when you hit writer’s block?

penLet’s pretend you have this burning urge to write something. You don’t know what. You just know your fingers itch to dance over the keyboard, to feel the rough, woody texture of a well-chewed pencil against your palm, and to smell the crisp coolness of new paper.

You don’t know what you want to write about. You just know if you don’t write something, you’re going to go stir crazy.

So you decide to write something. You get everything set up. Your computer is booted up, your paper and pencil is in your hand, and you’re sitting in a comfortable place. You’re all ready to write, and you settle your fingers over the keyboard to key the first stroke of genius and you wait for the words to come.

And you wait.

And wait some more.

Still waiting . . . .

What’s this? Oh no! You can’t think of anything to write about! What are you doing wrong? You don’t know. You’ve got everything set up. Why aren’t the words coming? Hm. Maybe you need to brainstorm.

Good idea!

But how?

Let me tell you. Follow these methods, and you will never fail to find nothing to write about.


Brainstorming for a Novel

  1. Stare at the computer. Wait for inspiration. You’ll eventually think of something to write about. And while you’re waiting, make sure you take frequent potty and lunch breaks. Oh, and don’t forget to plan for your many birthdays, because you probably won’t think of anything to write until you become old and gray.
  2. Pick up the phone. Call your significant other. Then your friends. Next your writing partners. Get on Facebook and talk to acquaintances you barely remember becoming friends with. Ask them for their opinion about what you should write about. Take lots of notes. Repeat this step as many times as needed until you think of something to write about. Remember to pay your phone and internet bill.
  3. listen-to-mozart-while-workingDig out all your story idea notes from all the nooks and crannies you’ve crammed them in. Pull out the boxes from under your bed, the ones full of files from high-school and college. Sort through them. Spend a week sorting them. Throw away half of what you find. Put away the files you decide to keep. Keep out the story ideas you find. Then go to your computer and print out the notes you stored on the computer. Next empty out the desk. Throw away all the old receipts you discover in there. Oops—dig out that one receipt with something scribbled on the back. It could be a gem. Finally go to your bookshelf and pull out the books with pieces of papers crammed in them. You know. The ones you wrote daydreams in. Take Advil and Benadryl for the headache and allergies the dust stirs up.
  4. Take all these scraps of paper and dump them in a pile on your bed. Make sure all the laundry is put away first and the bed is made before you do this. Look at your pile of paper. Suddenly, it hits you that you need some way to organize all these pieces of paper. So you decide to go to your nearest Staples store and pick up a few supplies. You leave with a hundred dollars of three ring binders, boxes, file folders, tabs, and those clear plastic protector thingys. Oh, and a bunch of plastic recipe card holders, because it occurs to you they are the perfect size to hold the giant stack of index cards and napkins with story ideas written on them. Spend another week organizing your ideas pile by paper size and subject. Take more Advil for your headache.
  5. Repeat step two and tell them all about the story ideas you found. This time, eat a tub of ice-cream or comfort food of your choice to counter the wave of anxiety you feel over your indecision of what to write. There are just so many things in the pile to write about!
  6. Look through your stack. Enni Minni Miney Moe . . . . eh, that doesn’t sound good. Let’s try again. Enni Minni Miney Moe . . . . nothing appeals!
  7. Take out a sheet of paper to start afresh. Brain storm. Write out whatever comes to mind. List the contents of your stack of ideas if you have to. Raid your kid’s school supply paper stash. Crumble and throw away whatever you don’t like. Use up your trashbags. Buy more as needed.
  8. Brainstorm some more. This time draw out idea webs. You discover this to be rather helpful, but you can’t find any piece of paper big enough, so you decide to tape lots of pieces of paper together. You do so until you have a sheet of paper covering the living room floor. Kneel very gently and, using a crayon, draw out your idea web. Get very excited, because now that you’ve gotten going, you’ve discovered you’ve hit on a great idea. Now you just need to follow it through and finish it. Which you do.
  9. sidewalk-chalkNow jump up and down. Do a dance. Now, look down. Oh, no! You’ve torn your paper. Hmm. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea. So you go to your daughter’s room and steal her sidewalk chalk. Don’t have a daughter or sidewalk chalk? Buy some at Wal-Mart. The chalk, not the daughter. Now, spend all day drawing out your story idea with sidewalk chalk. Go back into town and buy knee pads. Make changes to your web as inspiration hits you. Have you finished it yet? Good. Now, hurry up and take pictures of it before it rains.
  10. Take your pictures and put them up on the wall. Stare, think and make notes. Get your outline ready. Talk it over some more on the phone. Repeat step two.
  11. Having done all this, you feel ready to tackle your New Great American Novel. So now get ready to write. Get a glass of water, reorganize your notes, boot up your computer and get comfortable. Put your fingers over the keyboard and wait for inspiration. Wait for it. Wait for it . . . still waiting . . . . Now, conclude that after all this work your idea sucks and you need a new one. Repeat steps one through eleven until something materializes on the screen by magic.

Congratulations! You have now succeeded in finding nothing to write about. Wasn’t that easy?

Seriously, though. There are a few good ideas in this list. Try them. Just not the sidewalk chalk idea. Too hard on the knees.

 

Posted in daily life, writing

My favorite places to write

Every writer has a method that works for them. Me? I’m a laptop person, and I have two favorite places to write.

The first is here, on the couch in the living room. The couch is comfortable, and allows me a perfect view of my bird feeder. Though if I need flat surfaces for the spreading out of notes, there is always the nearby kitchen table to write at.our apartment

My second favorite place is this chair outside in my backyard. It looks over my garden, so I can watch my veggies grow while I daydream. Also, I can watch over my cat and make sure she doesn’t try to eat my tomato plants. The chair is comfy, and the garden is cool in both the morning and the afternoon, thanks to the big holly bush.cat in garden

Posted in writing

What I learned about character development from the X-Files

mulder and scullyLast week, my husband and I started watching the X-Files for the first time. Not the new remake, but the original series. Neither of us has ever seen it, though I’m old enough to remember when they first came out. I didn’t expect to like it–and I didn’t at first. But by the third episode came around, I was hooked.

The Characters

Character development isn’t something you see much in TV anymore–or even in a lot of books. Which is a shame, because it can contribute a lot to the plot and conflict. I’ve found that flat or cookie-cutter characters to be boring. They just don’t hold my attention.

The X-Files did more than develop characters. From the moment we meet Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, we aren’t just meeting cardboard cutouts. They stand on their own two feet, as real and complex as the writers could make them, with obvious weaknesses to balance out their strengths.

Dana Scully is logical, clear-headed, and intelligent, but she also has a tendency to be closed-minded. Fox Mulder is just as intelligent, but because he believes in the unbelievable, has a tendency to come across as being crazy. He’s also reckless, a workaholic, and so focused on his goals and beliefs as to wear blinders. It doesn’t take long before they both respect each other’s abilities, and later–if what I’ve heard about the series is correct–come to love each other. Mulder and Scully are as opposite as two people can be, but is it any wonder they come to love each other when they complete each other so well? No.

What I took from the series

We haven’t finished watching the series yet, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to add to this before it’s all said and done. What they writers did with Mulder and Scully is basically my new writing goal. To somehow create compelling characters that you fall in love with–if not on first sight, then second–with strengths that aren’t completely unbelievable or over the top, while weaving in obvious weaknesses without driving people away.

Sounds difficult? You have no idea. And I want to do it. If I could do that with my books, then I could create a story that readers will want to go back to time and again.

Posted in daily life, writing

My first meeting with the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of ACFW

Yesterday I attended the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of ACFW for the first time.

BeckyWade_Photo_1_26_16Yesterday was a day of firsts for me. First time to attend the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of ACFW. First time to drive into Arlington by myself. First time to get lost in Arlington. But of course I was going to get lost in Arlington. This is me we’re talking about. I get lost in Wal-Mart, for cryinig out loud.

Oh, and yesterday was the first time to walk into Chick fil A and decide I don’t want to eat at Chick fil A. Too crowded. But that’s beside the point.

Yesterday I attended my first writers meeting since moving to moving to Waxahachi back in December. It felt good to be back among writers, and I’m looking forward to making some friends. They look like a great group of people, and, since they have a new speaker ever month, I’m bound to learn something from them.

I definitely got to learn something this go round. They had Becky Wade come by and tell us about Taming the Social Media Beast. She told us about her experience with social media, and gave us tips for how to get the most out of Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She made it sound easy, and I have to say, she almost convinced me join Twitter. Almost. She did, however, tell us about making your own pins for Pinterest, and that is something I want to learn. Eventually. After I dig up my notes from the black hole in my purse.

Which goes to show you that not only am I a little introverted and antisocial, I tend to put things off, too.

I don’t know if my social media skills will ever get me published. Honestly, I doubt it. My skills aren’t the best, and neither are my number of followers. Some days, I think I’m doing fine. Then I compare myself to other people and get depressed. It makes me want to hire someone to have them look at my stuff and tell me what I’m doing wrong.

Maybe some of Beck Wade’s tips will rub off on me.

I don’t know. If I ever do get published, it will be because of two things: one–the quality of my writing, and two–the goodness and grace of the Lord. Not the number of followers I have. But numbers can’t hurt.

Posted in writing

What Music I Listen to While Writing

listen-to-mozart-while-workingEvery writer likes to write in a different environment. Some like to write in a busy cafe, surrounded by the smells of coffee and the sounds of people. Others have to write in complete quietness. Others put on music or the TV.

While there is absolutely no way I would ever be able to write with the TV going–I only end up watching it–I like to write to music. Three or four laptops ago, I had all my favorite CDs on my computer, and I’d listen to music for hours while I typed. Nowadays, I just put on Pandora.

For example, right now I’m listening Riverdance. I find that the uptempo fiddling music helps stimulate my brain cells so that my fingers fairly dance to the music. They stimulate my feet, too. It’s a good thing I like to write alone, because no one needs to see me dance.

When I’m not listening to Riverdance or other fiddle music, I’ll listen to movie soundtracks. Other times, especially if I need to especially concentrate on what I’m writing, I’ll put on classical music. Classical pieces composed by people like Mozart and Beethoven work especially well for background noise.

I do not like listening to music where people sing. This weeds out most everything you’d hear on the radio–pop, metal, rock and roll, blues, country. I find the human voice to be too distracting. I find myself paying too much attention to the words, trying to figure out what they’re saying.

Now, I can make exceptions to songs I’ve heard so many times I have their words memorized, or perhaps opera, where the words are sung in another language and I have no chance of understanding what they say. Thankfully, Pandora only plays things I like to listen to, so if I don’t like it I don’t have to listen to it.

Posted in book critique, writing

Critique of Curt Benjamin’s Seven Brothers Trilogy

curt benjaminSince I decided to write fantasy, I’ve made it my mission to read more fantasy books. This weekend, I snuggled down and read Curt Benjamin’s Seven Brothers trilogy. I have to say, it was pretty good. Different, but a great read.

The back blurb said that Mr. Benjamin took “legends, cultures, and traditions of the East to create an epic tale.” I could definitely feel the Eastern influence in the story in the cultures of the different people the main character, Llesho, meets. But instead of turning me off, as some stories influenced by the east have done, I was caught up in Mr. Benjamin’s coming-of-age quest.

During his quest to find his lost brothers, win his country back from invaders and free heaven from invading demons, Llesho crosses deserts, grasslands and a sea. He meets princes, emperors, “mortal gods,” and slaves. He begins his life a boy and a slave. By the end of the tale, he’s not only free, but much more than he ever thought he could be.

Normally, when I do one of these critiques, I include a link to the author’s website. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find one. I’ll just have to settle for pointing people to amazon. If you like coming of age stories and quests against oppressive invaders, I recommend these books. You’ll cry and throw tantrums (I did!), but the ending satisfies. Well done, Mr. Benjamin.