Faking Originality – June Round Robin 2018

IMG_1806Slogging through the middle of my current work in progress I ran into a wall.

Not just a wall, but a fortress insurmountable complete with lichen-covered stones and drizzles of what is likely the dumpings of the privy pot. I think my Muse lives up in that tower and takes great pleasure in the fact that I keep smacking my nose into her waste.

The book that I have loved for twelve chapters suddenly feels bland, lacking all sense of originality, and it is a chore to sit down and open the document every day.

Wherein we come to the tragic but predictable plight of the author and I begin to wonder why I bother with this writing thing. What could I possibly have to offer the world by way of this story, or any story ever?

This is a normal thing and I thank every author who has revealed their own insecurities regarding the writing life. You give me hope.

I actually just got to spend some time with a local author (L.J. Cohen who writes amazing science fiction and you should totally check her out) and we discussed this very issue. Most authors hit this wall in the writing process and, for some of us, it only seems to get worse with each project.

So what do I do when I hit this wall?

Well, to be honest, this wall was different from the others. All the other walls I’ve hit have been about the language and the writing style and all those things I knew I could clean up in the next draft.

This one…

This refuse-drizzling, moldy fortress wall barring my path insists that medieval fantasy novels are so last century.

“Nobody wants to read another Kid in King Arthur’s Court. Ugh, everything is so grey and blah and already done, and there’s no amount of editing that’s going to cure this thing. ”

It is possibly the hardest wall I’ve ever come up against.

And the only way I have been able to barrel through is my outline.

That’s right, my outline saved my butt. Because I put my headphones on and pulled my manuscript up and read through the whole of my outline, start to finish, and it made me remember why I started writing this thing in the first place.

Because I love Kevin and I want him to survive. And I want him to come to that moment in the end where he confronts his own grief and learns how to live with it. Because the genre may be tired and maybe some people will groan at the idea of another medieval fantasy, but there’s enough new in it to breathe life into the setting.

And if, when I’m revising, I feel like it needs something more to set it apart, then yes, I can still do that.

Check out what my fellow authors do to keep moving forward in those tough moments…

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1gQ
Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

 

 

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Confessions of a Northwesterner in New England

IMG_1675I meant to title this “Confessions of a New-New Englander” but since I’ve only been here for about two months I don’t think I qualify for the title. I’m pretty sure I need to survive at least one winter before I can even come close to that.

Since the move, I have been to Northhampton Beach and a couple others – and wandered through Purgatory Chasm. (No joke, it’s actually called that.)

I have also visited Boston and wandered through the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown. And before you squint at me for visiting a cemetery, I will have you knowIMG_1699 that I saw Robert Gould Shaw’s gravestone along with Faulker’s – they’re pretty close together, actually.

The place is beautiful and respectful and full of history and I loved it. I look forward to future visits because it’s too large to take in one night.

Now then, I do have to complain about the state of the roads. They are simply too small for all the cars and the light systems are weird. Furthermore, particularly in the larger cities, people seem to have no sense of self-preservation.

By that I mean they don’t use crosswalks, they simply make their way across the road whenever they like and pay no mind to oncoming traffic. And the best part… If they make eye contact, they grin and wave at you like it’s no big thing that they were nearly your first ever manslaughter.

IMG_1701I lived in Hawaii for a time and not even Waikiki Beach was this bad.

That said… it rains a lot. And there are tree frogs every night because we live in a remote area. And it is so very, very green.

Which brings me to my writing, because as much as I might have said I pay attention to my worldbuilding and things, I can tell you that I missed a lot in my work. There’s something to be said about not hammering too many details into a reader, but there’s something else to be said about digging deeper and finding the details that matter.

Such as the feel of arid summers against humid summers. Or the prominent smell of IMG_1708wildflowers against localized gardens. Or desert bugs against verdant bugs – HINT: There are more of them here than I recall in Idaho.

Or even the light, which is different here. I’m still working on how to describe that, but the basis I think is in all the greenery and tall trees versus the wide open blue of Idaho.

Suffice to say, I am paying better attention to the right details for my settings now. And I challenge any writers out there to go somewhere and make a note of the differences you find.

The 3/4 Mark – May Round Robin

This month’s round robin is open for a bit of interpretation. The main thrust of the question is how you maintain continuity from start to finish in a novel. Which brings me to the title of the post – The 3/4 Mark.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that my personal writing process requires a break in the rough draft that comes about the 3/4 mark. This is the point where I stop writing and I go back and start revising from the start, making little notes along the way.

I know a lot of people will boo and hiss at this, saying I need to get the first draft done and then go back and edit lest I suffocate my creative muse.

However, I’ve found that this process fuels my muse more than hinders it. And to be fair, most of the naysayers are focused on writers who have yet to complete a novel because they continually go back and revise rather than completing a draft.

If you happen to be a writer who falls into this category – don’t do it my way. Finish a draft and then go back and revise. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you finish a book and you owe it to yourself to push through.

Now then, a lot of things happen at the 3/4 Mark Break, which isn’t really a break.

At this point in the book, I have a deeper understanding of the characters and know what the story is really about. This allows me to go through the beginning of the book and edit the character voices, sharpen the focus of each chapter, and move things around.

Which adds to the flow and sense of continuity for the book as a whole.

This also allows me to make notes in the margins, pinpointing subplots that I need to either remove or complete in the last quarter of the novel.

And then, when I go to write that last quarter, my brain has had a nice refresher of the novel as a whole. More often than not, the outlined ending is drastically changed because of this. Which is a GOOD thing because my first draft endings are always horrid.

Take a look at what some of my fellow authors do to keep continuity from start to finish in their works…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Anne de Gruchy  https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/

April Round Robin Discussion – How do you establish a story/character/setting?

When I started Tapped I knew I was going to be working with a larger series. I knew I wanted religion outlawed and an underground railroad put in place for refugees. I wanted to pose questions that would take more than one book to fully answer.

But I wanted it to mean something.

You can run out and find thousands of essays on the subject of religion, but those can only touch the surface and very rarely come with the emotional impact one can find in fiction.

Thus entered Devon Barlow, a young man travelling with his parents on a hauling vessel called Zephyr. I knew he was young enough to still be considered a minor, but old enough to chafe under that restriction. And I knew his parents were hiding big secrets.

Beyond that, Devon showed me who he was with each draft. I didn’t know he was courageous until the end of the first draft, when he insists on saving his mother against hopeless odds.

Once that first draft was finished, I had the basic shape of the story, so the only thing I can say about establishing a story is to write the rough draft. Once that’s done, you have round upon round of editing to help tighten and sharpen the story until it resembles something decent.

Establishing the character is a little different. The rough draft is a first date, so to speak. You have coffee or a light lunch with your main character, listening to them as they give basic highlights of who they are as people.

With Devon, learning he was courageous meant I had to show that possibility earlier in the book. Thus entered the spelunking scene on Pluto where we get to see him react to a horrible accident.

The second draft is like reaching the third month of a relationship. You know their basic personality from before, but now you start to find all those quirks that seem to have no explanation.

Devon noticed ships and blueprints in the first draft, but it wasn’t until the second draft that I understood why. He wants to learn how to design space vessels, which leads to a conflict over schooling (aka – a major plot point) and reveals his talent as an engineer.

By the third draft you’ve entered into the permanent status of your relationship with this character. You not only know who they are, you can anticipate what the absolute worst scenario will be for them – and if you’re evil like me, you then plop them in the middle of that scenario and watch them scramble.

Establishing setting is an altogether different beast. I confess that this is a weak spot in my writing. I am working to remedy that and envy authors who are able to describe their settings with a few brilliantly placed words.

That being said, a trick I often use is to make sure the settings are described in the character’s POV. For example, Devon views Zephyr as a labyrinth of secrets. His parents are hiding things from him and that is proven even in the vessel’s blueprints.

But when Jorry (his mother) describes the ship it is always in terms of a safe haven, and a home. She lingers on the notches in the wall where she measured Devon’s height as he grew up, and the security measures put in place to keep him safe.

Take a peek at what some of my fellow authors do to help establish their characters and stories…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1eg
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/ 
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

The Hateful Synopsis

Nearly every author I know bemoans synopsis writing. This is the part of our job that isn’t the red-headed stepchild, but rather the creature we keep locked in a closet, too ashamed to call it ours.

Which I know is a horrible analogy, but we’re trying to be honest here.

None of us enjoy this part of the process.

We skirt around that closet door for as long as possible. Sometimes we even skip submitting to certain places that require the synopsis and move on. (Though I suggest you take a long hard look at places that do not require it before hitting that “send” button.)

In the end, most legitimate agents and publishing houses require this 1 to 3 page summary of your 75 to 120 thousand word novel. So we find ourselves cracking the door open on that dreaded closet to try wrangling the beast that is our synopsis.

This is not for the faint of heart.

There are any number of agents and editors out there that have examples of synopsis writing to help us along the way. In particular, I like to frequent Writer’s Digest. They have a whole section of this stuff. Go check them out.

Now then – assuming you’ve glanced through the sundry of articles Writer’s Digest has to offer and you’re still intimidated by the roar emitting from your personal synopsis closet – I do have one or two tips that have helped me in the past.

Before you write the synopsis, have a separate sheet of paper (or Word document) with the following information clearly defined:

  1. Main character, their motivation, and something that marks them as unique. EXAMPLE: Tessa Pines is a veteran trying to overcome the trauma she endured in Afghanistan. 
  2. Major characters and how they intersect the main character’s life. EXAMPLE: CORDON MORANT is Tessa’s ex-fiancee and high school sweetheart. He shows up unannounced at the bookstore Tessa has been frequenting since her return home and forces her to confront both the distant past of their relationship and her more recent losses. MARISOL WILLIAMS is Tessa’s roommate at the university and a psychology student who seems to have chosen Tessa as a subject to observe and learn from. 
  3. Inciting incident. AKA – What pushes your character out of status quo and into the main story. EXAMPLE: When Marisol’s lab partner leaves her hanging with a large paranormal investigating project, Tessa finds herself volunteering to help. 
  4. Twist moments/Game Changers/Major Plot Moments. Call them what you want, there should be two or three of these in the book. These are the moments in the story that push us toward the ending. EXAMPLE: Oops, this place is really haunted and now everyone is in danger. 
  5. Climax. I’m pretty sure we all know what that means. EXAMPLE: Tessa faces off against a possessed former comrade in the middle of the investigation, who is rightly upset by her avoidance tactics throughout the book. (If this were the real thing, I’d explain exactly what happens here. No cheap withholding of information, agents/editors want to know that everything makes sense.)
  6. Resolution. EXAMPLE: Tessa admits that she needs some help facing everything that has happened – from Afghanistan to the incident at the investigation – and prepares to move forward. 

OK. With all that information already scribbled on a separate piece of paper, you know the bare bones of what your synopsis needs. Different agents and editors want different lengths, so I write three; a one page, a two page, and a three page.

The bare bones I have on the sheet can pretty much boil down to the one page synopsis already, so that one is easy. I just have to go in and clean it up. For the two and three pages I go in and add pertinent elements and important character moments, which tends to fill up the extra space.

Anyway, that’s my tip. The bare bones sheet has helped me in recent years so maybe it can help you too.

Don’t sweat the beast in the closet, guys. As hard as it is, writing a full novel is harder and you already got through that. I promise, you’ll get through this too.

What I Learn from my Characters – February 2018 Round Robin

Characters are a bit like the writer’s pox. Instead of itchy red dots all over our skin, we have itchy personalities peppering our minds. Some are louder than others and we end up scratching those first because no matter how many times we’re told we shouldn’t scratch, the itch cannot be ignored.

As we scratch, fleshing that character out on the page, their voice becomes clearer and their story apparent. Often the process draws blood, a mix of fiction and fact that bleeds onto the page until it is difficult to distinguish between character and author. Neither would exist without the other, after all.

In my novel Deviation I have two women abducted through space and time, one a writerdeviation-510.jpg and one a mother. The writer finds herself being hailed as a prophet for things she wrote in her fiction, which was a horrifying thought for both the character and me, the author.

If you’ve read any of my work, you’ve seen the horrible things I put my characters through. I’m pretty sure most would want to kill me if they were real and standing in my apartment.

The other character, the mother, is desperate to get home to her family. She has a young son who needs her and she has to get back.

Midway through my revision of the novel I realized I had written my real life struggle into the plot. You see, at the time I was a new mother. My son was only months old and I felt like I was two people – a devoted mother who wanted nothing more than to see to the needs of my son, and an author who needed to carve out time to write.

As I completed my revision of the novel, I came to an understanding that has carried me through the last ten years of my son’s life; both the writer and the mother are essential parts of who I am as a person.

While the novel never addresses this personal journey, the ending still reminds me of the lesson Reesa and Kate taught me. I will always find a way to write, and I will always be a mother.

See what lessons my fellow authors have discovered through their characters in this month’s round robin…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/  (YOU ARE HERE)
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1c1
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/

The Hardest Part of Writing…

A few years ago I would have said that editing was the hardest part of writing. Today, however, editing is one of my favorite parts of the process because I’ve learned how to accept that a rough draft is crappy no matter what.

296311_500604823329356_837081728_n
So much red ink…

Accepting that fact has freed me to laugh at myself when I find typo’s in a work, and to scratch out passages that aren’t fitting right.

So, editing is not the hardest part of writing anymore. (At least for me, other writers may feel differently.)

Writing the synopsis is and always will be a freak show that makes me hide under my desk. Crunching down a novel into its bare essentials and trying to make it sound interesting at the same time feels a bit like taking a potato peeler to raw skin.

But, the synopsis only comes toward the end of the writing process. I’ve heard of people who write them first, but my endings are always up in the air when I start so that doesn’t work for me.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that my “muse” has to be present in order for me to get work done, so catering to her (I’ve always imagined her as a glittery wood sprite hiding in my plants, don’t ask me why) isn’t a part of my daily writing regime either. I put my batoosh in a chair and I start working. Sometimes she shows up. Most of the time I’m just arranging words on the page and praying they make sense.

10676192_782868888436280_3445750894630733710_n
The Pest who probably ate my muse.

Finding ideas isn’t hard either. Ideas are everywhere, I just have to pay attention.

So what is the hardest part of writing?

Today I’m going to say… beginnings.

Beginnings have to engage the reader and convince them to keep reading. They have to set the tone of the story, introduce the main character, hint at the main conflict – or at least a starting conflict – and avoid backstory like the plague.

Endings are hard too but beginnings are what make or break you.

And nobody can agree on how to successfully begin a story, either.

“Start in the middle of the action!”

“No! Don’t start in the middle of the action! Give us some set up so we care about who the action is happening to!”

“Do both at the same time!”

“Start where the story begins.” – AKA – No prologues, please.

Now, if you’re an author, please don’t feel discouraged. Beginnings are hard, but they are also editable. So if you begin your story and it’s not doing what you want it to, revise it on the next round.

Sedition went through five beginnings. FIVE.

Persona had three.

And right now I’m dealing with a new novel that has managed to go through two beginnings already and I only started working on it this month. (Hence the blog post about beginnings.)

So if you’re struggling with your beginning today, rest assured that you’re not the only one. We all go through it. The difference between a writer and a hobbyist is whether or not they’re willing to scratch it all and rewrite.