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/

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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.

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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.

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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.

Book Release Mayhem!

UC front cover-sample-2Usurper has made its way to virtual shelves! You can find it on Amazon in both eBook and paperback.

This is the third installment in the Sedition series that follows Trenna Dyngannon and her husband Nelek as they struggle to find peace between humankind and the Eldur nation.

Fans of the novels – who may or may not have threatened to hunt me down if I didn’t stop writing other things and finish this book – will be pleased to find Nelek and Trenna in fighting shape. The quirky pair were left in exile in the second book (Saboteur) so I know a lot of you were left hanging.

In my defense, the reason this book took so long was because I discovered that I was Saboteur-WEBtrying to fit two books into one.

Why yes, this means there is a fourth book.

And yes, that book is already underway. It is in the outlining phase and I’ll be rolling up my sleeves to work on it later this year.

Sedition was my first published work so it holds a special place in my heart. I remember floundering with that first draft, trying to piece together things on 3×5 cards and make a sensible plot out of the personalities on the page.

Sedition-WEBWell, I remember coming to terms with what a plot was in general. When I started it was just a bunch of characters doing different things that occasionally intersected. It wasn’t until I joined a writers group (The Dreamers from the Forward Motion for Writers website) that I was able to see the work as a bigger picture.

At the time I had no idea there would be more books coming. Now, as I begin the process of ending this series, there is a part of me that dreads coming to the last page. Trenna and Nelek, and now their children, have become a part of my daily life.

As strange as it sounds, it will be difficult to say goodbye, no matter how the story ends.

 

Naked Characters – January Round Robin (2018)

Among the very first decisions I have to make when I come to the blank page is what point of view to use. Some people come up with a cool idea for the world their building or a new technological advancement they want to display, but for me it is always the character.

Normally I go with third person limited, because that is what I enjoy reading. I like knowing exactly whose head I’m in and learning more about that particular character in the scene. To me this just seems orderly and natural.

I have great respect for people who can write in the Third Person Omniscient (aka – they can be in any character’s head at any time, even in the same scene) but my brain simply can’t focus when there’s all that head jumping. Sadly, this includes reading.

With the exception of Dune, I haven’t been able to read anything Third Person Omniscient. It confuses me.

Third Person Limited gives me the freedom to explore multiple personalities in a given story and allows me to “zoom in” with the narrative, which I really enjoy.

This idea of “zoom in” with the narrative is relatively new to me, in my early works I was… Well, I was winging it, to be honest.

But to give a running definition of how “zoom” works in a narrative, anything that the character is doing (running, kicking a computer, glaring at their partner) would have the “zoom out” and anything that deals with the internal aspects (why they are kicking said computer, imagining themselves strangling said partner, and all the reasons why they have to run because they absolutely must not be late… Character B will be dead if they are late… Character B, who knows exactly how much honey to drizzle on their oatmeal and labels their socks for each day of the week and life would be sucked dry of all meaning and hope if they are dead…)

OK, I got carried away there, but I think you get it.

Zoom Out = Physical world

Zoom In = Internal world.

If you read any work of fiction you will see a dance between this “zoom in” and “zoom out.” For me, I’m still learning how to balance this out. It’s something I end up layering during the editing process, but I try to have fun with it.

How much of my characters do I expose?

I strip them bare. I want their naked thoughts on the page as much as possible. I want everything that makes them uncomfortable and why.

Because that’s when I know I’ve got a real character. That’s when I know I have touched on something true. If I’m not digging into their guts then they will always be a two-dimensional bit part in a shallow story.

Check out what my fellow authors have to say about how they reveal their characters on the page in this month’s Round Robin…

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ag
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/  (YOU ARE HERE)
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com