Category Archives: Writer’s Block

The Meat and Potatoes by Casey Wyatt

Woohoo! It’s Friday again. Casey here.

Mmm . . . bacon. Just try me. That whole pan is full of bacon.
Mmm . . . bacon. Just trust me. That whole pan is full of bacon.

Just a quick reminder, I’m participating in The Romance Review’s Sizzling Summer Reads. Not just me, but hundreds of authors, so be sure to check out the fun!

Finally, I’m going to share one of my favorite parts of writing – the meat and potatoes – creating plot points. But first, a recap of what I’ve shared so far:  Initial Premise, Shallow Character Development, and Three Act Plotting.

Now, all these seemingly pointless tasks are going to start coming into focus. Unlike the other parts of the process, which take little time, developing plot points will take effort and more concentration.

Everyone plots differently. I like to use index cards. They’re cheap (.47 cents at Target) and portable. Other methods include Scrivener, Post-its, outlines, keeping it all in your head. I strongly suggest not relying on the sheer power of your mind. For one thing, it’s easy to forget what you were intending to do. Free up the noggin and save your energy for the actual writing process.

If you’ve been wondering or chomping at the bit to start creating, here is the big moment. Brainstorming.

No holds barred. Whatever you want. No Doubt Monster allowed.

Tell the internal critic, editor, and English teacher to shut up.

In this step I jot down ONE (and I mean it!) plot point per card. If I have a scene to go

Find your happy place and let your imagination fly!
Find your happy place and let your imagination fly!

with it, I flip the card over and make a note so I don’t forget later. Keep doing this until you have all the cards filled (at least 25 – 30).

One caution – keep in mind these plot points are all on trial. Right now, they are auditioning for a part in your story. If they don’t fit, be prepared to ruthlessly discard them.

But not yet. For the moment, keep imagining and keep writing those ideas down. Next week, I’ll share how I wrangle them into a manageable plot line.

Where do you go to find your happy place? And what tools do you use for brainstorming?

p.s. Chocolate and wine count as tools.

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?

Banging My Head Against the Wall…

Hi friends, Sugar here and I’m banging my head against a wall. I’m 80,000 words into my current WIP and things aren’t going so smoothly. Maybe that’s not exactly true. I can see the end in sight. But maybe I’m just at that point in my WIP where I’m sick of it. Has that ever happened to you? I’m ready to dump my characters and move to a new city.

I’ve got another story brewing in my head and it’s itching to be told. I dream about those new characters at night. I can see the new setting. I imagine that new man that I’m falling in love with. My fingers are itching to pound out this next tale, but I know I can’t move on until I finish this book. I HAVE to finish this book. I’m on a deadline actually. So I can’t take much of a break or come back to it.

I’ve finally gotten to the stage in my writing where I realized that editing can be a wonderful thing, but the perfectionist in my wants everything to be amazing the first time around. But nothing or nobody is perfect and I just have to get it into my head that it’s okay for the first draft to suck a little.

I also have to remember that I get a little cranky with each manuscript I write.  I wrote this almost exactly a year ago when I was still writing book two in this same series.

Dear Misbehaving Manuscript,

 It’s not you it’s me. Okay, so maybe it is you. We’ve been together for two months now and honestly there were points when I loved you. Oh we used to be so good together! Remember that time we added 3,300 words to our word count in one afternoon? Remember that time we laughed over that little joke in chapter three? Or the times I thought we were going so strong that nothing could break us apart?

What happened to us? There are some days when I don’t even want to work on you. Days when you cause my characters to say boring things and do stupid stuff. Times when there are so many typos you could have been written by a sleepy second grader.

Le-sigh…Even though right now you are causing me to want to pull my hair out, I still believe in you. In us. And I won’t give up on you. At least not today. So please stop misbehaving or I might be forced to punish you by… inserting so much purple prose even Stephanie Meyer would be jealous? ( His eyes were like the clearest of diamonds, sharp enough to cut through her tender heart and bruise her sweetly innocent soul.)  Or  I could end every sentence with an exclamation point? You wouldn’t like that, would you?!!!! Maybe I should let my grandmother read you? “He put his what, where?! Really, Jamie!” (How does one punish a manuscript anyway?) Regardless of what I do, what I won’t do is give up on you, no matter how badly you tick me off. So shape up. Pretty please.

Love always,

 Your crazy writer.

Enough whining from me. How do you cope with it when you are banging your head against the wall?

I get by with a little help from my friends…

Hidey-Ho!  J Monkeys here.  So the other day I was having some food with writer friends and the BEST thing happened…we talked plot and worked out some kinks in each other’s stories.  Let me lay it out for you.

Suz Hardy has a story she’s been working on for a while, but she had hit a snag and wasn’t sure were to take the story.  She had some ideas but wasn’t sure if it worked and thought it needed a bit of something but she wasn’t sure what.  She told us the basic premise, and the changes from the parts of it we’ve read previously.  Casey Wyatt, Katy Lee and I threw ideas at her as fast as she could write them down in a very nice purple notebook.  She was thrilled and said the next day that she was rejuvenated and had thought up a bunch more ideas on the way home.

Since it worked so well for Suz, I told the group about the villain problems I’m having in my WIP.  Just talking about the situation aloud, with friends, brought me the solution to a major issue I was having.  I’m pretty sure this major issue is the main reason why I’ve been stuck at 7500 words for more than two months.  I didn’t understand the fundamentals of this story well enough to write it.

And another GREAT thing came out of our coffee klatch.  Casey totally called me on my recent slacker-ness.  Yes, I have every excuse in the book for why I haven’t been writing.  Some of them are good ones, many are bothersome issues going on in my life (the word “issues” seems too dramatic – I’m blessed with a charmed life these days and have no business complaining, but like everyone, I’ve got irritants.) and Casey called it like she saw it.  “Stop worrying about all that crap and write.  Move the laptop, go to the library or come to my house if there are too many distractions at home, but just do it!”

She’s absolutely right!  In the immortal words of Nike, I need to just do it.  So that’s what I’ll be doing next week – writing, finalizing those pesky edits that have been hanging over my head like a guillotine, and working with my new illustrator. 

Today’s Secret: Find yourself a network of like-minded folks and support each other.  It really helps!

Today’s Question: What do you do when you are stuck?

How Story Structure Saved My Sanity (and My Writing Career!) by Cathy Bryant

Hello, Katy Lee here. Today I have author, Cathy Bryant visiting the Scribes with some really great info for you! So take it away, Cathy!

Psst. Hey you. Yes, you. Wanna hear a secret? I have oodles of incomplete novels residing in my file cabinets. They started off as great story ideas—stories I was in love with enough to launch myself into the lengthy process of writing a novel . . . um, well . . . at least for the first thirty-thousand words.

So what happened between my optimistic start and the time where I threw my hands up in surrender, snatched up the stacks of finished pages, and crammed them in the dark depths of my desk? Simple. I hit the proverbial brick wall and couldn’t decide where the stories should go next.

For years, the same scenario would play itself out. Dream the story. Attack it with gusto. Write merrily. Hit the wall. (Rinse. Repeat.) Then once my kids were grown and on their own, I decided it was time to get serious. I voraciously studied the craft of writing using the internet, books, online classes—whatever I could get my hands on. Then finally, I found the cure for my ailment . . .

. . . Story structure.

All stories follow a tried-and-true formula (with minor variations). Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it. Read this post, then watch two or three movies—preferably in different genres—to see if you can find these elements included in each of them. And to drive home the point, I’ll also give you a few movie examples. (You can do this with books, but it saves time to watch a two-hour movie instead.)

Part One

-Regular World:

When the story begins, the main character is in his/her normal everyday world. (Examples: Mary is at the wedding of a client in The Wedding Planner; Frodo is in the shire in Lord of the Rings; George Bailey is in Bedford Falls in It’s A Wonderful Life.)

-Opportunity Knocks For A New Life:

The hero/heroine then has an opportunity for a new life. (Examples: Erinpersuades an attorney to give her a job in Erin Brokovich; Robin Williams’ character initiates a plan to see his children in Mrs. Doubtfire.)

Part Two

-Event That Changes the Plan:

Something happens to the main character that changes everything and moves them into the real story. (Examples: A tornado hits Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz; the ship hits an iceberg in Titanic.)

-The Point of No Return (midpoint of the story):

Our hero/heroine must move ahead knowing there is no turning back, with the stakes higher than ever. (Example: In an attempt to gather evidence, Mitch McDeere is forced to hide his activities from both the antagonists and the FBI in The Firm.)

Part Three

-Dark Moment Which Leads to the Final Battle:

The worst of the worst happens, but our hero/heroine has grown throughout the course of the story and is now ready to take on the antagonistic force. (Examples: in almost every romance, this is where boy loses girl, but then goes on to win her back; the oldest son of Mel Gibson’s character dies in The Patriot.)

Resolution & Aftermath:

The biggest scene in the story takes place, followed by the ending scene(s). (Example: Rocky defeats . . . well, depending on the number, you can pick your opponent.) =)

I hope this helps you in your own story-writing and saves your sanity in the process. And who knows? If you’re like me—and have a few dozen stories hidden in your files—it might be time to dust them off and see if we can get past that proverbial brick wall… ;)

 

Cathy Bryant’s first completed novel, TEXAS ROADS, was a 2009 ACFW Genesis finalist. In 2010, Cathy added A PATH LESS TRAVELED to the Miller’s Creek novels, and is currently working on THE WAY OF GRACE, book three in the series. Cathy, a native Texan, recently yanked up her yellow-rose-of-Texas roots to be transplanted with her husband of thirty years to Northwest Arkansas near the world’s cutest grandson. You can find out more about Cathy at www.CatBryant.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you, Cathy for sharing your secret with us. This was just the message I needed to hear today!

 

Readers: Cathy is giving away one copy of A Path Less Traveled for 25 or fewer comments and two eBook giveaways of the same book for more than 25 comments…so start commenting, asking questions, discussing problems in your WIP…you name it, let’s hear it!

*Enter your email in a safe format by 5/21/12 12:00PM ET if you want to be considered. The winner will be announced next Sunday.*

Something Old, Something New

Hey, friends, it’s Thursday again. Suze here.  They say everything old becomes new again. I think they, whoever they are, might just be right.

Have you heard about the new Disney movie, John Carter? Let me tell you a little secret. It’s based on a hundred-year-old story by none other than Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan fame.  The original story is called A Princess of Mars, and is the first of a series. When I heard about this, I just had to check it out on Project Gutenberg. (Click here if you want to read it).

Those of you who’ve been following the Scribes for a while may have heard me mention Project Gutenberg. (Click here to check it out) Thousands of books that are now in the public domain (copyrights expired) are available, free of charge, on the Gutenberg web site. There are books everyone knows, and there are some wonderfully obscure titles. How’s this for a great title? The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar. Most books are in several formats so you can read them on your computer, or load them onto your Nook, Kindle, iPad, or other device.

But let’s face it. The classics can be a little, um dry sometimes. OK, maybe most of the time. But there’s a wonderful solution. Many, many books on Gutenberg are also available as audiobooks, also in various formats. A project called LibriVox has brought together some extremely talented amateurs who will read these classic books to you. (LibriVox has its own site as well. Click here) I just finished listening to a book I studied in college, a Victorian thriller called Lady Audley’s Secret, and let me tell I was astounded by just how good the reading was.

The story was far more vibrant and engaging when read aloud.  Not only that, but as I paid attention to the structure of the story, I realized that my creative mind was working overtime imagining new “what ifs.” What if this story were set in the present? How would I change the ending? What if I made one of the minor characters the heroine? Just from this one not-well-known novel I had a couple dozen ideas that I might be able to use in my current WIP, or in future works.

So today’s Secret Unlocked? If you’re feeling short on inspiration and even shorter on plot and character ideas, why not take a cue from the classics? It’s legal, it’s not as intimidating as you might think, and you just might be surprised at what you come up with.

What was the last classic novel you read? Did you love it or hate it?

Dear Misbehaving Manuscript,

It’s not you it’s me. Okay, so maybe it is you. We’ve been together for two months now and honestly there were points when I loved you. Oh we used to be so good together! Remember that time we added 3,300 words to our word count in one afternoon? Remember that time we laughed over that little joke in chapter three? Or the times I thought we were going so strong that nothing could break us apart?

What happened to us? There are some days when I don’t even want to work on you. Days when you cause my characters to say boring things and do stupid stuff. Times when there are so many typos you could have been written by a sleepy second grader.

Le-sigh…Even though right now you are causing me to want to pull my hair out, I still believe in you. In us. And I won’t give up on you. At least not today. So please stop misbehaving or I might be forced to punish you by… inserting so much purple prose even Stephanie Meyer would be jealous? ( His eyes were like the clearest of diamonds, sharp enough to cut through her tender heart and bruise her sweetly innocent soul.)  Or  I could end every sentence with an exclamation point? You wouldn’t like that, would you?!!!! Maybe I should let my grandmother read you? “He put his what, where?! Really, Jamie!” (How does one punish a manuscript anyway?) Regardless of what I do, what I won’t do is give up on you, no matter how badly you tick me off. So shape up. Pretty please.

Love always,

 Your crazy writer Jamie.

Am I crazy? Absolutely. But all writers go through a time when they are just not getting along with their WIPs. So how do you renew the magic? I do what many writer’s are loathed to do. I stop wherever I am and go back. Sometimes all the way to the beginning(AH!) and read it all over to see what I liked about it, what I think can be improved and to check to see if things are going the way I planned. This way I can fix it before I do major damage.  But most of the time it’s not the big stinking mess I think it is. Having an honest critique partner you trust or a good mentor is also helpful. Sometimes just to cheer you on or the steer you in the right direction.

Sharing time! I want to know what you do when your manuscript is misbehaving. Do you write it a letter? Do you take a break? Move on? Cry a little? Drink? Play Angry Birds? Tell your friends. Any and all comments are welcome.