Category Archives: pantser

Starting Over

Welcome! It’s another steamy Tuesday in the Berkshires. My garden is well in bloom and loving the sunshine, warmth, and afternoon thundershowers.Garden

PJ here, and I am about to embark on another journey–both on and off the page. I’ll be leaving next week for Atlanta for the National Romance Writer’s Convention. I look forward to filling you all in on the action while I’m away (check out tweets by following me @pjsharon and using hashtag #rwa2013, or catch up with me on Facebook @pjsharonbooks for pics of who’s who and what’s happening). Although I’m looking forward to all the workshops, networking, opportunities, and fun with my writer buds, what I’m most looking forward to is a boost of enthusiasm to dig into my next project, book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Though conferences can be exhausting, I always come home energized and raring to write, so the timing couldn’t be better.

Most writers will agree that the happiest words we write are “THE END.” At the same time, I think many will also agree that the most daunting words we write are “Chapter One.”

It’s hard to believe I’m starting over yet again. I can honestly say it’s still as bitter sweet and anxiety provoking an endeavor as I have ever faced. Sitting in front of a blank page can be the most exciting moment for a writer, or the most terrifying—usually both in equal measure for me. So here I find myself having to put another 80,000 or more words on the page in some semblance of an entertaining tale. Being that this will be the final in a trilogy, I have a lot riding on making this my best story yet. As added pressure, I need to write it and publish it in the next nine months so as not to lose readers who are awaiting the final installment, and to meet the general standards of the publishing industry. It’s tough out there, and to compete in such an overcrowded market, I have to continue to produce quality fiction in a timely manner. That’s the business woman in me speaking—the grown-up.

But when I break down the details of all that needs to go into making that deadline, I immediately want to take another week off and rest up a bit more (my inner teen in total rebellion). “It’s summer vacation,” she whines. “All work and no play…,” she cajoles. I let her have her way for another day and then my inner mom grounds her and takes away her TV until she gets that blog post done and starts outlining her scenes. It’s hard being the grown-up, but somebody’s got to do it.

Since I can ignore the publishing/promo part until about 3-5 months out from deadline, I can focus just on the task of writing the book. Easy-peasy, right? I’ve done this a few times before. A thousand words a day and I’ll have my first draft done in three months. That leaves six months for multiple edits and all that goes into polishing a manuscript before it goes to print. I don’t know about you guys, but each book has been a completely different process for me. Hopefully, my process has evolved enough that this time it will be easier. Of course, this is my first trilogy so that makes it more complicated…a lot more complicated.

I have tons of loose ends to wrap up and have to find ways of weaving bits of backstory in so readers aren’t totally lost if they missed something in WANING MOON or WESTERN DESERT. I have to up the stakes, force my characters to face their demons, and carry them through their arc to completion in this book. They must overcome their fatal flaws, win out over the villain, and find their hopefully ever after, maybe even saving the world while their at it. I could easily stretch this into a series of four books, but since I marketed a trilogy, I’m stuck, LOL. So a lot of what I’ need to do in the planning is narrow my focus to what absolutely has to happen in this book. There will be NO tangential literary diversions!

Luckily, I have a lot of tools to get me started and keep me on track. Casey Wyatt has outlined her method, which appears very straight forward and doable. I am anxious to try her approach, although I’ve learned from so many other great teachers in this business that my process will surely be a hybrid of hers, theirs, and mine. A quick breakdown of my plan looks like this:

1) Summarize the story/create tag line- I totally agree with Casey on this one. It is really helpful to understand the bare bones of what your story is about before jumping in. It saves a lot of writing in circles and editing later.

2) Identification of characters-I know Casey likes a very superficial view at this point, but since I’ve already written two books about these characters,  I’ll use this step to update and add details to my Series Bible (a notebook I developed to keep character traits, appearance, weapons, and world building details straight). I will also take time during this step to begin working on my character grids (outlining each character’s internal and external goal, motivation, and conflict, the inciting incident, fatal flaw of each character–what they must overcome within themselves to find their HEA). By now, I should know my characters well enough that these questions shouldn’t be too hard to answer.

3) Three Act Story structure-Like Casey, I learned the three act play story structure that outlines the beginning, middle, and end of every story, but after taking a Michael Hague workshop several years ago, I had the opportunity to delve a little deeper into how to progress through those three acts. His technique helped me to better understand the structure behind the stories we create. He breaks  it down into stages consisting of SETUP, NEW SITUATION, PROGRESS, COMPLICATIONS & HIGHER STAKES, the FINAL PUSH, and the AFTERMATH. He also taught me that pacing is controlled in part by appropriately placed turning points (a sure cure for the sagging middle). The first turning point, he describes as the OPPORTUNITY (aka: inciting incident), followed by a CHANGE OF PLANS (aka: call to action), POINT OF NO RETURN (about half-way through), MAJOR SETBACK (Dark Moment), and CLIMAX. Working this all out on index cards, a poster board, or in an outline combines Casey’s step four (the meat and potatoes of plotting), and step five (scene development on index cards).

Being a pantser by nature, all of this plotting, planning and prep work requires a bit of self-discipline and a tight rein on my inner rebellious teen, who would like nothing better than to jump in and write willy-nilly in complete denial of the consequences (such as dead ends, tangential diversions, and lots of unnecessary editing later on), but it’s a good thing that grown-up me is in control, right?

Hmmm…maybe I’ll just wait to get started until after I get back from Atlanta. After all…it is summer vacation and all work and no play…well, we all know what that does. I hope to see some of you at the conference!

I’d love to hear your feedback on my plan. Any tips, suggestions, or questions are welcome.

Topped Chef–Interview with Author Lucy Burdette

 

topped-chef-185x300Hey, everyone, Suze here. This week I’m thrilled that mystery author Lucy Burdette is back to chat with us. I’m even more that she has a new book coming out in just a few days. Topped Chef, Book 3 in the wonderful Key West Food Critic series, releases on May 7. Here’s what Lucy has to say:

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a clinical psychologist and the author of eleven mysteries (eight of them written as Roberta Isleib.) I love to eat, talk, and write food, and I spend part of the year in Key West. Throw in a couple of cats, and all that combines very nicely in the Key West food critic mystery series.

Tell us about your latest book, Topped Chef.

Topped Chef is the third book in the Key West series–which I am having an absolute ball writing! In this installment, Key Zest food critic Hayley Snow is tapped as a judge on a reality TV  cooking show. But when another judge turns up murdered, she must figure  out who’s taking the contest too seriously before she becomes the next  victim.

If you were casting a movie, who would play the characters in your Key West Food Critic series?

I am dreadful at casting movies and if this dream of one of my books becoming a film ever comes true, I will leave the details to the professionals. That said, I would love to cast Amy Adams as Hayley, and Meryl Streep as her mother! There is a drag queen character in this book too–for that I would suggest using the actual person, Randy Thompson. He’s a fabulous performer!

How do you market your books? Do you have any marketing advice for our readers?

Oh sigh, this is so hard because you can get sucked into the vortex of marketing and forget to write. I use Facebook (www.facebook.com/lucyburdette), Twitter in a half-hearted way (www.twitter.com/lucyburdette), Pinterest for generating book ideas and collecting food photos (www.pinterest.com/robertaisleib), and I blog with two wonderful groups of writers, Mystery Lovers Kitchen (www.mysteryloverskitchen.com) and Jungle Red Writers (www.jungleredwriters.com). When I’m approaching a book launch, I do as many guest posts as I can to spread the word. I try pitching magazines and radio shows. And since there is nothing better than talking with real readers in person, I schedule appearances at book stores, libraries, and conferences. And I also have a website: www.lucyburdette.com

Do you see what I mean about that vortex??

My advice is to pick a few of the many promotional options–the ones that suit your personality–and ignore the rest. And start early. And have fun at it! And try to give something to the readers–they won’t come back if your posts and updates are all about you and your newest release.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a little of both. I have to turn in a synopsis to my editor at NAL as part of my contract. But it usually turns out that when I begin writing, the book takes all kinds of U-turns in unexpected directions–which can be exhilarating, but also scary. In the book I’m writing now (or should be), the plot is kicking my butt.

How long does it take you to turn out a draft of a book? Is it an easy–or agonizing–process?

For this series, I have about nine months in between books. The first draft is always agonizing. While rewrites to me are fun!

What made you want to write cozy mysteries? Who are some of your favorite authors?

I’ve always read mysteries and I don’t like gore and violence so this genre is a natural for me. My first culinary mystery idol was Diane Mott Davidson. You might be able to imagine how thrilled I was to land a blurb from her about AN APPETITE FOR MURDER: “What fun! Lucy Burdette writes evocatively about Key West and food–a winning combination. I can’t wait for the next entry in this charming series.” DMD  Wow!

When you’re not writing, what’s your favorite way to spend your time?

I’m a huge reader, of women’s fiction as well as mysteries. I enjoy cooking, my pets, spending time with my family, and enough exercise to overcome the effects of all that good food.

How do you battle the Doubt Monster? We define the Doubt Monster as: the nagging feeling that your prose is terrible, your plot is silly, your characters are insipid, and no one in her right mind would read this drivel, let alone buy it.

My best advice on that came from my writing pal Hallie Ephron: Hold your nose and write. You can’t fix something that isn’t written! And I love my writer friends who understand how hard this work is–they are always available with a crying towel if needed…

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

I’m in the middle of MURDER WITH GANACHE, the fourth Key West food critic mystery, which will be out in February 2014. The deadline is barreling down upon me! thanks so much for inviting me to visit! And best of luck with your writing Suze :)!

Thanks, Lucy! Lucy’s on her way to Malice Domestic today, but she’ll pop in from time to time and answer your questions.

How Writers are Like Gardeners

I hope you all had a wonderful Earth Day and that you did your part in saving our beautiful planet. I spent a much needed day off in the garden this past weekend and it felt wonderful. Every drop of sweat, speck of dirt, and brutal scratches from wayward forsythia brought me closer to Nirvana. Crazy, I know. But how many writers love puttering in their gardens and digging in the fresh dirt? PJ Sharon here, sharing some of my interesting observations from my time with the earth. IMAG0023

While deep in thought as I toiled away, my mind could not fully escape my writer’s life, and lo and behold, I began to realize that writers are much like gardeners. Here’s how.

Writers start with a seed of an idea—a beautiful spark that takes hold deep in the fertile soil of imagination. The roots begin to spread, fashioning a network of connections to other characters and relationships, the story unfolding in our minds and shooting to the surface in search of the light of day and discovery. Our fingers dig away at the keyboard. Eventually we bring to life the intricate buds that seem to come from the cosmic funnel above—too perfect for our mere mortal ability to create without acceptance of divine intervention. Most days, I feel as if I’m a spectator in my writing process just as I understand that I am merely an extension of the Divine when I am in the garden–that I am ultimately not the one in control. That leaves me free to play, unencumbered by expectation. It would be nice if I could be so yielding in my writer’s life.

Interestingly though, even the technical aspects of writing mimic the gardener’s habits. As we writers plot and plan before we begin, so the gardener takes stock of their canvas. They prepare the soil, gather their tools, and imagine the larger picture and end result of the task ahead. They come to know their plants (characters), see all the necessary pieces (plot points), and work to put them in place with some semblance of order. Just as authors must balance narrative, dialogue, description, and backstory, the gardener must seek that same perfect balance, sometimes having to rearrange the plants and bulbs to assure proper flow of colors, textures, heights and compatibility.

Where the gardener adds water and fertilizer, the writer layers in depth of character and adds important details to show growth and development. When weeds invade the space, the gardener ruthlessly plucks them out in order to preserve the harmony of the whole. As such, writers too, need to be willing to be ruthless in their edits. As Stephen King says, we must be willing to “kill our darlings.” Although some weeds can add lovely color or thick greenery, left unchecked, they will infiltrate and destroy the harmony we seek to bring about, distracting us from the vibrant beauty of the flowers we plant.

Ultimately our reward comes when we share our story (garden) with others. Each story is unique to the writer as each garden is unique to the gardener. If the job is well done, the onlooker can see the soul of the creator on the page or in the beauty of a flawlessly designed garden. The love and care that goes into creating—whether it be a novel, a quilt, a beautiful painting, or a colorful garden—is what sets us apart in the animal kingdom. Our ability to create and enjoy beauty is a gift that we humans share, and it should not go unappreciated no matter if you are a novice or master–writer or gardener.

One of the wonderful lessons I have learned from working in a garden is patience. It’s easy to become discouraged by rejections, but just like rainy days, the harsh weather is sometimes necessary to bring the needed motivation for plants to grow and writers to forge on. Recognizing that we need both sunshine and rain to fully mature, the gardener takes this understanding in stride much better than the writer, who often becomes frustrated by those seemingly endless weeds and rainy days. A great review, a contest win, or kind word from a critique partner are sometimes enough of a reward to keep us going when we feel overwhelmed by the tasks ahead, but as any gardener will tell you, the greatest satisfaction comes from basking in the joy of knowing that you have co-created something magnificent that grew from your own soul and from the hand of God.

But that’s just me.

So, dear readers, does this resonate with you? Are you a gardener, quilter, painter, or creator of some kind? Can you see how writing mirrors so many other creative endeavors? Kind of fascinating, isn’t it?

Word Count Vs. Word Perfect by Katy Lee

Hello all, Katy Lee here. I wish I could say I was a natural speed writer, but alas, I cannot.typer Actually, though, I’m okay with that because for me it’s more important to know I have a strong, healthy story concept that will hold its weight during the writing process and not get shelved halfway through. The story may not get written lightning fast, but it WILL get written.

Are you with me?

Great, because I’m about to bring up the concept of plotting. Now don’t runaway yet! Here me out. I used to be a pantser, thinking all I needed was inspiration, creative juices, and a hero/heroine that would tell me their story along the way. Well, that worked for the first book, but when I was presented with an opportunity to pitch to a big publisher, I knew I couldn’t let it pass me by—even if the story didn’t exist yet. (Shhh…don’t tell anyone) But it was because the story wasn’t written that I knew I didn’t have all the time in the world to get the word count on the page this time around. This time, I only had eight weeks to complete it. It was time to get serious as a professional writer.

Now this doesn’t mean writing had to become so strict that I didn’t enjoy the creative process anymore. I may plot out the skeleton form of my story with all its plot turns and dark moments, and I may write the opening and closing scenes before I begin, but I’m open to surprises along the way to keep it fun, too.

E.L. Doctorow once said plotting is like “driving a car at night, when you can’t see beyond the headlights but somehow you get through the night.” When I’m plotting, I plot ahead only as far as the “headlights” shine. Typically, about three scenes in advance. All my turning points guide me along the way, but I still have flexibility for when those delightful surprises pop up. Plus, I know I’m not leading my characters off a cliff. But wait, actually, that’s not a bad idea. I could use that. (Just kidding…sort of.)

Anyway, the point is you will stay on track, and because you know what’s coming, your excitement to get your characters to those moments—so they can become larger-than-life and shine for your readers, too—pushes you like no other motivation to type through to The End.the end

Now plotting has not made me type faster, as in words per minute, but I don’t get “slowed up” as much as I used to. I don’t have long stretches of wasted time because of not having a clue where the story is going. Now when I start a story, I feel very confident that it will be completed in a professional amount of time.

Of course, there is a downside to all of this. It might mean more book contracts each year, and editors calling when they need a special project in a pinch. But, I’ll let you make that call for yourself.

The Unlocked Secret: Make those words count. It’s good to have a daily word count, but wouldn’t it be grand if those words on the page were word perfect right from the start? Are you still with me?