Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Outlines, Pantsers, Organic, Linear--What's Your Method

Outlines and other methods of organizing writing is a perennial discussion among writers. There are nearly as many opinions as there are writers. I've been known to talk about the topic a few times. (Check out How the Writing Minds Works or Terra Incognita.)

While I don't use a formal outline to write fiction, my master's thesis, on the other hand, was meticulously outlined. I do use a rough storyboard/table of scenes that allows me to write where ever my mood or muse takes me.
But as I get closer to completing the rough draft for FRIENDLY FIRE, I think I need a little bit more organization, so that I can see the remaining holes (or to be honest, the gaping canyons) I need to fill in. ; )
There's a great discussion of how other authors write starting with outlining on Barbara Rogan's blog, In Cold Ink. The post is In Praise of Outlines. As a member of the Books and Writers Forum, she started a corresponding discussion that got a lot of great comments, too. In fact, many of the writers involved described how their minds work with some amazing analogies.
Diana Gabaldon who is known for her historical novels with a twist uses the kernel method and added the following analogy.
"I just tell people I'm a network writer; i.e., my brain is not wired linearly, but hooked up as a network. Imagine one of those Christmas-light things that's like a net, with bulbs at each juncture. When I get a kernel and start working, one of the bulbs lights up--but often, so do other bulbs in the network, often ones that aren't anywhere physically near the first one."
Beth Shope described her organic, linear method in the following way:
"I was just thinking yesterday that organic writers plant the seeds of future plot development as they write, sometimes all unknowing. Anything, however innocuous at the time--an event, a line of dialogue, an observation, an object--can end up producing fruit. If you look back along the trail of the story, you can see which seeds grew and bloomed, and which turned out to be weeds. Those you yank out."

The truth of the discussion is that whatever method works for each writer is what they should do.

Do you outline, write in chunks, or use a linear format?
What works for you?

Who knows you might help me find some enthusiasm for this next, necessary step in my journey to completing FRIENDLY FIRE.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It's the Little Things that Count

copyright Zan Marie Steadham 1977
Have you ever noticed that the little details in a scene really are the ones that make the scene come alive? They aren't mentioned for more than a sentence or two, but you see into the character and into the setting because of them.

An example of one such small detail is a wedding ring. I haven't been able to wear my wedding ring for over ten years due to over-active nerves that is a side effect of my Fibromyalgia. Since I started taking a new medicine for it, I'm less achy and find that I can wear my wedding ring for at least a few hours instead of a few minutes.

Once I discovered this happy side effect, I realized that the scene I'm working on was missing something--Laura Grace's wedding ring. In the scene, Laura Grace has just suffered a mild heart attack and after an ambulance ride to the ER and being admitted to the cardiac intensive care unit, she realizes that she isn't wearing the wedding rings she's worn for over forty years. Including that little detail makes the scene more real and reveals that she was a devoted wife and as a widow hasn't forgotten her husband.

I rubbed my face trying to dig up some semblance of alertness. Jerking my hand away, I stared at it. "Where are my wedding rings?"

Another such detail is the fact that Laura Grace is nearsighted and can't read the clock she can see as a blur on the hospital room wall. She can hear the tiny clicks of the second hand, but can't tell the time. That makes her distinctly uncomfortable while revealing her need for glasses. Here's a sample.

How long had I been here? I knew I was in a cardiac care ICU room, but without my glasses, I couldn’t read the blur of a clock that floated on the wall in front of me. I could hear the seconds hand’s movement, tiny click by tiny click.

How do you include the tiniest of telling details that open the window into your characters?
What detail have you included that comes from you life experience?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Genre...again and Mini-Reviews III

It seems that everything is based on genre these days--finding an agent, pitching publishers, and marketing. That can be limiting to writers who write stories that cross genre lines or take on characteristics of several genres. I'll admit to being a omnivorous reader who will read anything. ; ) If it has a strong main character, I'm happy. All of these books have main characters who come alive. You won't forget them.

CASTAWAY DREAMS Darlene Marshall (romance)
Award-winning author, Darlene Marshall's latest at first seems as frivolous as Daphne Farnham's wardrobe. But like the frilly dresses, lovely hats, and perfect shoes hide the truth about Daphne's true nature, Marshall's light romance hides deep character development. It's a delight to see what's at the heart of the story. Castaway Dreams is a light and racy romance full of wit. Great read.

PAINTING NAKED Maggie Dana (literary women's fiction)
This one is racier than my usual read, so be forewarned.
The MC has a coming-of-middle age story. Jillian Hunter will win you over and make you think about the assumptions we all make about life. Good read.

TAI-PAN James Clavell (historical)
I periodically reread Clavell's Asian Saga for the amazing stories and vivid characters. TAI-PAN is the second in the series and is set during the founding of Hong Kong. With a tightly plotted story and an unforgettable main character--Dirk Straun--Clavell proves he is a mastery storyteller. Good read

Julia Spencer-Fleming--the Clare Ferguson and Russ Van Alstyne mystery series:
Not only are Spencer-Fleming's books wonderful, intricate mysteries, she also creates deep, rich characters. The developing relationship between Clare Fergusson, the Episcopal priest, and Russ Van Alstyne, the police chief, is amazing for it emotional reality. If you read mysteries, read these books! If you love real characters, read these books. I've read the first four--In the Bleak Midwinter, In a Fountain Filled with Blood, Out of the Deep I Cry, and To Darkness and To Death. I can't wait to read the next three books.

Do you have a favorite genre? What is it?
Or do you join me in the omnivorous reader group? ; )

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Planning a Plot

It's a new year and I have big plans for it. For one thing, I want to finish the rough draft of FRIENDLY FIRE. I'm about 85% done, but I know there are many holes and discontinuities in the story. So, how to writers figure out what goes where?

Some writers outline an entire book before they begin writing. Others start writing at the beginning and go to the end. I can't do either of those. I did try to create a story board for the first Cherry Hill book early in the process, but quickly put it aside when the characters' development began to take the story in unforeseen paths. ; )

Now I've got nearly an entire story that needs to be trimmed and fluffed into shape. There are two books on my shelves that have come highly recommended when working on plots.
  • THE WRITER'S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler
  • PLOT AND STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell
The subtitle of Vogler's book--Mythic Structure for Writers--is a window into plots based on Campbell's The Hero's Journey. Its multi-layered pattern is very good for fantasy and science fiction stories.

Bell's subtitle--Techniques and Exercises For Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish--is also a clear indication of the plan Bell sets out. Based on the classic three-act story pattern, Bell shows various ways to plot a book to keep a reader in the story.

After working with both books, I think I can say, Bell's is a better fit for my stories, but I'll certainly keep Vogler's ideas in mind if I ever finish my science fiction novel that I've worked on for over twenty-five years.

What about you? Do you have a preferred reference on plot and structure?
Have you read either of these two books?
If you've read both, which do you prefer?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Quotations to Kick Start the New Year

Happy New Year!
Do you need a kick start? I sure do. Here's some thoughts from various writers for inspiration.

Which is your favorite?
Have you heard any of them before?

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof crap detector.
--Ernest Hemingway

If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
--Stephen King

I believe more in the scissors than in the pencil.
--Truman Capote

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
--Scott Adams

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.
--Stephen King

If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought.
--Dennis Roth

I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.
--Peter De Vries

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
--Elmore Leonard

The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.
--Robert Cromier

Happy Writing in 2013! ; )