Category Archives: writing exercies

A Hockey Lesson by Casey Wyatt

Happy Friday! Casey here!

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So much snow…..

I read the most interesting quote by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky -  “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Now, I probably missed this very cool piece of wisdom because I don’t really follow sports. At all. Other than wondering how the Red Sox are faring, I leave all the sports love to my hubby.

Once I read this quote, it rattled around in my head for days. There are so many ways that this is true for writers as well. The first, most obvious comparison is the question a lot of us ask – should we write to the latest market trends?

For me, that is a big, resounding no. Chasing trends, for most writers, is an exercise in futility. By the time you finish your book and get it published, chances are high, the trend has passed by already. Write what you love.

Instead, I’d rather apply Mr. Gretzky’s wisdom to another lesson in plotting. If you’ve been following along, here is where we’ve been: Initial Premise, Shallow Character Development, Three Act PlottingThe Meat and Potatoes and, GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). Since I addressed GMC last year, please check this post out too (really, it’s an important part of plotting).

However you arrive at your plot points, either on index cards (like I do), sticky notes, Scrivener, outline or whatever – they must be arranged in a pulse pounding, forward moving direction. Like a hockey puck!!

Your job as a writer is to move that story along and chuck anything that doesn’t meet that goal. So like the hockey puck, your job is to see the reader to their final destination – an engaging, page turning story.

<and the crowd goes wild>!!! <Insert your own imaginary victory crowd here>

As stated last week, the reason I use index cards is because they are cheap and I can chuck them without remorse. The other nice thing is they can be pinned on a big board or laid out on a table or floor. And don’t be afraid to number the cards or create categories (like main plot, romantic subplot, back story, etc.) Use different colors of ink or highlighter (whatever floats your boat).

Once, I’m sure I have all the major plot points jotted down, I sort the cards into piles for each act. Then once I have the cards into Act 1, 2 or 3, I order them sequentially. At each pass, I read them and determine if that plot point fits. If it doesn’t I remove it. If I notice something is missing, I may add a new plot point.

If I know something is missing but don’t know how to fill the gap, I keep a running list on a piece of paper. Later, I can add another plot point, either before or during writing.

Keep in mind, that while I think this is what the story will be, it’s not final until I start writing. Nothing is set in stone. I can (and will) modify the plot during writing or editing if warranted.

Now, the fun part (for me anyway). I lay out the cards starting with Act 1 and read through them paying attention to the “action”. Do I have too many scenes with talking in a row? Not enough romance? Do I have try/fail moments? Too much action for long

Seriously? Who can write with so much cuteness nearby?
Seriously? Who can write with so much cuteness nearby?

stretches? Did I remember the black moment? Are all the subplots wrapped up? And my favorite question – how can I torment the characters more?

The beauty of the cards is that I can move things around. I add and subtract plot points as needed. This activity allows me to see the plot as a whole in small, manageable chunks. And if there’s a sagging middle, I’ll see it here.

Overall, this is a great way to visualize pacing and ensure that you’ve cut out plot points that drag. This process can take me days or weeks. Depends on the story and the complexity. When I’m sure I have the plot I want, I take the cards and type them into a synopsis and use it as the basis for writing the story.

If at any point while plotting or writing, you get stuck, make sure  you have your eye on the end point, not just the immediate moment. That way, you’ll make it to your destination, and for a writer, that is typing – “the end.” Or if you are a hockey player – you shoot. You score!!!

What method do you use to order your plot? Anyone have any fascinating quotes to share?

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.

Once More, with Feeling by Casey Wyatt

Happy Friday Scribesters! Casey here.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading again lately. Frankly, my brain needs it. I have to gorge on other people’s stories so I can approach my own with a clear and joyful mind. Or maybe I’m just avoiding writing!

IMG_0427One of my favorite blogs is The Passive Voice blog (I highly recommend it for all writers or anyone interested in what’s happening in publishing). This post caught my eye – Good Writing vs. Talented Writing (the link is included at the end because I want you to finish my post first!)

The concept kind of struck me between the eyes: Writing can be technically good – excellent grammar, well-constructed sentences and still be lackluster. Or the writing can be good, but it’s missing that zing – the energy and zest that makes a story great.

Like many writers, I’ve read a lot of fiction. Some of it memorable. You know, the kind that gets under your skin and sticks with you a long time? More often than not, the stories are like chocolate: enjoyable at the time, but totally forgotten once the last page is read.

Sadly, I can tell (usually when the series goes beyond a couple of books or into the double digits) when the author and the storyline have lost their joie de vivre. Their enjoyment of each other has entered the toxic phase.

Why does this happen?  For a lot of reasons. But I think one culprit is that the author starts phoning it in either due to fatigue or even boredom. I recently read the conclusion of a very popular vampire series. I’ve been following it since the beginning, long before it made the leap into pop culture.

I’m sure some of you know what series I mean and the author. Now, I’m not going to mention names or anything because I’m not going to trash talk the writer or her work. And I would appreciate it, if no one else did in their comments either (and I will zap it, if I see it).

No, no, no. That is not the reason for this post. Instead, I’m going to make an observation. Writers are people. Like anything in life, we can get sick of too much of anything – even a good thing. I imagine the lure of a popular series is too good for publishers to pass up so they keep contracting more and more books. Even when it’s clear to the reader that it’s time to wrap it up.

This happens a lot. Especially with paranormal and mysteries series. In fact, you can often see the “fall” coming when you see comments (on Amazon, Goodreads, forums, take your pick) like – “I’ve read every single book, but… (insert reason here) and I won’t be reading these anymore because (litany of complaints).”

You get the gist right? My other observation is that this is not always because the quality of story or writing slips, sometimes fans just feel like they “own” your world and characters and don’t like the decisions you made. IMG_0465

Back in 2007, I remember a lot of anger and outcry in my reading circle about the death of numerous characters in a certain series about a boy wizard.

Why did she have to kill off (insert names here)? She didn’t need to do that.

Since I sit on both sides of the fence, as a reader and a writer, my view has always been, it’s the writer’s world. They can kill off who they like. Or in the case of the recently departed vampire series, pair off the love interest however they want.

But, conversely, as a reader -  if I really don’t like your stories anymore or I find that I don’t care about what happens to the characters or if I feel like I am reading the same story over and over, I won’t buy any more of your books.

Writers – all I can suggest is write every book like you mean it. With energy, with love and heart. If you don’t feel the love anymore, it’s time to say goodbye and let your characters go with dignity.

As Forest Gump famously said, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

The promised link: Good Writing Vs. Talented Writing from Brain Pickings

What say you all? Do you sometimes wish your favorite author would move on to something new? Or do you have a different take? Please share (remember, be nice!)

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Are you repeating yourself?

PJ here. I love the editing process. Well…love might be too strong a word. What I do love, though, is learning my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and layering my story with the fine brush strokes that hopefully make the characters leap off the page and the plot keep readers riveted.

As I’m reading through a printed copy of WESTERN DESERT, my editor’s voice rings in my ear.

Coming June 24, 2013!
Coming June 24, 2013!
She has pointed out a specific weakness many times, but I couldn’t see it for myself until I read it on a printed page. There are just some things my eyes don’t pick up on the computer screen. In my case, it’s the glaringly repetitious -ing sentence structure that results in lots of “telling”. It seems I have a habit of structuring my sentences as follows:

We stopped only when necessary and took turns driving, making good time and closing in on our destination.

All in all, it’s not a horrible sentence, but repeating this pattern frequently can really bog down the writing. This is clearly a case of “telling”–beginning with a subject/verb construction, using –ing words, and making it a weak sentence that is unnecessarily long. Ooops! I did it again! Did you catch it? I’ve used two phrases connected by a comma, requiring me to use the gerund form of the verb in the second phrase. Darn it! I did it yet again! I can’t seem to help myself, LOL. Believe me, it was an eye opener when I finally saw it. Hopefully, I’ve taken care of the problem through most of the manuscript. If not, I’m certain my second round with an editor will catch it.

As for strengths, I’ve been told I have a knack for description. Here’s an example of using description to ground the reader in place and to paint a picture of the scene.

In the distance the Western mountain ranges turned a deep purple under clouds of smoke from wild-fires gone unmanaged. The coastal winds from the ocean beyond carried the wayward flames toward the desert, but with nothing but sand and cactus, they would die of starvation long before they reached us or the city of Las Vegas.

Although this could be considered telling, in just a few sentences you get a clear picture of the environment and lots of information about what’s happening. Like most writers, I struggle with brevity—the art of saying more with fewer words—but I’m definitely improving.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Do you have any particularly stubborn habits that bog down your writing?

Tick Tock Goes the Clock – Are you Managing your Time?

One of the biggest reasons for not getting writing done is that we don’t have enough time. But time is one of the most democratic of commodities. Here’s The Unlocked Secret right up front today: Everyone gets the same number of hours a day. 24 hours for everyone! Yay! But it’s how we use them that make the difference.

Author Terri Main coordinates the Book in a Month group at the American Christian Fiction Writers site, and for the past two months I have enjoyed hearing all her wise words and inspiration. Today I thought I would pass along some of her tips for managing our time in order to get in more writing. 

 
1. Understand how you are already using your time. For one week, record what you did in every 15 minute time segment throughout your day. Some can be easily designated like 11 pm – 7 am sleep or 9 am – 5 pm work. But even there, you might put 9 am – 12 pm work, 12 pm – 1 pm lunch and 1 pm – 5 pm work. Others may change every 15 minutes or so. This will help you identify how you are using your time. 
 
2. Check your priorities. Looking at the time log you made, highlight in different colors different activities by priority. Use three priority levelsHigh – Must do for survival. Extremely important to family life. Something I’ve committed to as a moral, spiritual, physical, family priority. Something that I would sacrifice lower priority items to do. 
 
Medium – Of importance, but would sacrifice, if reluctantly for a high priority item, but would sacrifice a lower priority item to do. 
 
Low – Enjoyable, habitual or dragged into by others, but not personally important. Would not knowingly sacrifice anything else to do. 
 
Look at the colors. Is a lot of your time taken up low priority items like watching a TV show you were only moderately interested in seeing. Going to a Tupperware party for someone you don’t really know that well. Reading a tabloid story about some movie star who may or may not be seeing another movie star behind her movie star husband’s back who in turn is seeing another movie star. 
 
Those low priority squares are the first place to look for writing times. Then check the medium priority stuff. This is where things get serious. Giving up the low priority stuff is easy, but when it comes to something in the middle, you have to think a bit more. For instance, there is a sale on at the mall. There are some good deals. Not great, but you might save a bit. On the other hand, you are getting close to the end of your novel and an extra two or three hours would make a difference. There is no easy answer. You simply have to weigh the pros and cons of each and make a decision. But be sure you make the decision and don’t let the decision make itself. 
 
3. Beware of the Tyranny of the Urgent. I forget who coined that term, but I like it. Sometimes we do something because it must be done now and not because it is actually important. Don’t let a low priority item get in the way of your writing plans simply because something has to be done quickly or not at all. When faced with something urgent, ask yourself if it is also something important and if it is more important than anything else at that time. It might be a one day only sale, but is there anything at that sale which is actually a high priority thing you need to buy? 
 
4. If you can’t write an hour, write for what you can. This is sometimes a sticking point for people. Someone looks at the clock and says, “Oh, I have to leave for work in 20 minutes, I can’t write.” Sure you can. Writ for 15 minutes and then gather your stuff and head out the door. You may “only” get 300 words written, but that’s 300 words you would not have otherwise. Consider this. If you write 300 words a day five days a week that’s 1500 words a week or 78,000 words in a year. That’s a good sized novel from just 15 minutes a day and taking weekends off. 
 
5. Use the “in between times.” Sometimes, I think I spend half my life waiting for something. I may be waiting for a doctor’s appointment, a phone call, a business appointment, a train or dinner at a restaurant. With the various small computers like netbooks, ultrabooks, tablets and Chromebooks, you can spend that time writing, outlining, editing, researching or making notes. 
 
Consider writing during commercials on TV. Every hour of television has, on average, 20 minutes of commercial time. Just mute the TV and write during each commercial break which averages 3-5 minutes. 
 
6. Word sprints. A word sprint is a short time of concentrated writing. You set a timer and write for 15-30 minutes. You do nothing but write. You don’t have soda, coffee or snacks. You don’t listen to music. You turn off the phone. You just write and write as fast as possible. It’s amazing what you can do in 15 minutes of concentrated writing. 
 
A useful tool for this is Write or Die. It has both online and desktop versions. The program begins to flash and play screechy music if you don’t type something for a few seconds. Their motto is “It puts the prod in productivity.” 
 
Well, those are a few of Terri’s favorite tips. Hope they help you. 

But wait …!

This is the TVholic’s strategy for sagging middles

Hi everyone. Thea here today, but really, as you read this, I’ll be in KC at the RT Booklovers’ Convention and not in my usual position, rooted at the end of the couch, with tv on and WIP at the ready. So forgive me if I’m not posting an immediate response. (Full report on the conference to come, of course.)

So I want to talk about sagging middles — the kind you delete with a key stroke (oh, if only — ). I’ve said during workshops that “what if” is your single most powerful writing tool. Anything can happen in “what if.” It’s no-commitment plotting. It frees your mind. You can let go, make lists, let them take you to the most improbable plot places.

But wait …! It would be even more productive if at the moment when the plot seems to be chugging along, you stop yourself with those words. But wait …! The juicy incentive used by telemarketers to make you buy (can you tell I watch too much tv?). But wait — maybe your reader isn’t buying a smooth, unfurrowed plotline. Maybe your reader is waiting for something juicy to happen.

But wait …! What if your characters are afraid of losing something? (Love, fame, fortune, respect, family secrets, inheritance, friendship …) Make them lose it. Ask what lengths they’ll go to to get it back. What they’re willing to risk.

Because the more they risk, the more that stands in their way, the more conflict, the greater desire they’ll have (at greater cost) to reach their goal, and so, the richer the plot.

In the simplest terms: Get them in trouble and keep them in trouble. Keep throwing in obstacles, complications, repercussions and don’t let up.

But wait …! What if you don’t know exactly where the plot is going?

Write the NYTimes log-line. That hones it down nicely to two or three lines: Danny Jones has everything he wants, until a secret from his past threatens everything.

Or write the cover copy. That will focus you on the set-up, conflict, and what drives the plot.

But wait …! What if it’s still not working?

Make the problem personal and current. Someone is out to destroy Danny Jones and make sure he never is elected to anything.

Give the protagonist two villains and a moral choice. A childhood friend and his own brother are separately threatening Danny Jones. No matter what decision he makes, he will lose everything, including his friend and his brother.

Up the ante. Not only does a secret from his past
threaten Danny Jones personally, but also his burgeoning political career, his marriage, and his inheritance from a famous relative which comes along with a list of moral stipulations he may not be able to meet.

Add suspense by turning “what if” into “if only.” What could his enemy have against him? If only, all those years ago, he hadn’t — but then there was this other moment when — But nobody knew about that, did they?

Give your protagonist a moral dilemma that forces her to compromise either her beliefs or her values. If Danny Jones is up front about his past, then he will never ever be able to run for office, he’ll lose the love of his life, the inheritance from his famous relative, and he’ll never be able to see his children again.

Try reversing things. Make the hero the heroine and vice versa. Danny is Danielle, a powerful CEO who is courting politics and who has a secret she thought was buried deep in the past. Lovers? Liars? Friends? Family? Who is plotting to betray her?

Keep the reader guessing. For Danielle any of those people associated with her could be her enemy; any one of them can say or do something that would lead her to believe she is on the verge of losing everything. She has too much at stake. She has to be careful not to rock the boat. What is she going to do? (I love this; I think it works even better!)

But wait …!

But I can’t. I have to go. But you can. What juicy incentives would you add to the list to entice your readers to keep reading?

Thea Devine is currently working on a new erotic contemporary romance, and enjoying the release of five of her backlist titles, Reckless Desire, Ecstasy’s Hostage, Relentless Passion, Montana Mistress and Angel Eyes in Kindle editions.

Blogs to Help Enhance your Work by Katy Lee

Writing fiction is more than getting your character from point A to point B. Your characterpics needs to experience the world and everything in it just as we do in our everyday lives. Our days are filled with intrusions like weather and sickness, but there are also things in the world that have the ability to cultivate us like the arts and architecture around us…most times when we’re not even looking for it.

Now I could spend a lifetime reading and studying the things in our world just so I can write them into my stories, but if I did I’d never get anything written. As much as I would love to spend my days at the library, or better yet, traveling the world to experience everything in it, it’s just not possible. But I also can’t neglect the fact that these things exist in my life and in the lives of my characters. So what do I do?

Well, while I wait for my cruise tickets to come in the mail, I have found a group of blogs that offer little tidbits of information a little at a time. Ideas and information that I can file away to use in moments where my stories are flat and are in need of some excitement or detail.

So today I wanted to share some of these go-to blogs that help enhance my work. I hope there is something in here for you, too!

1)      http://www.redwoodsmedicaledge.com/

stethsThe Redwood’s Medical Edge Blog is medical facts for your fiction. Jordyn Redwood, a nurse by day, author by night, designed her site to help both historical and contemporary authors learn methods to write medically accurate fiction. She fields medical questions from followers, analyzes medical scenes, and posts on topics that can increase the tension and conflict in any story. No one person can be an expert in all things so she also hosts medical experts in other areas: EMS and obstetrics to name a few. Historical authors who have done research in a particular medical area such as civil war medicine are also featured. You want to know the protocol of an accident with injuries, or an illness a baby could have but go undetected? Jordyn is your woman.

2)      http://gailingis.com/wordpress/

Gail Ingis is known as a “Renaissance Woman” for her varied accomplishments. She is a professor of history of architecture & interior design, photographer, artist juror, writer, design critic, and founder of the nationally accredited Interior Design Institute. On any given day, her blog can be about how lighting affects a room, drinking coffee in a café in Portugal, or a description of a Victorian era chair. You never know when your character might need to sit in one. Whatever the topic may be, Gail’s information can bring a flare for the exotic into your stories.

3)      http://www.dailywritingtips.com/

Not just for writers. Whether you are an attorney, manager or student, writing skills are essential to your success. The rise of the information age – with the proliferation of e-mails, blogs and social networks – makes the ability to write clear, correct English more important than ever. (See my blog from last week about good writing here.) Daily Writing Tips is about that. Every day they send out a grammar, spelling, punctuation or vocabulary tip. And we can all use extra tips.

4)      http://www.romancingthepalate.com/

Finding a passion for food in every love story is R.L. Syme’s motto for her blog. I took a heart applefood class with Rebecca Lynn last year and she helped me learn how to use food like another character in my stories. She brought life to cooking and eating and encouraged us to incorporate the feelings we experienced into our books, so our readers could feel them, too.  *This blog is in the process of being changed, so not much is going on there these days. I’m looking forward to her updated site soon.

Until then, I recently found this one and it has the same premise:

5)      http://platedromance.wordpress.com/

Romance on the Plate: Taste the Emotions…Feel the Food. Here is a quote from the site to show how food helps to bring your character to life:

“He could not control his curiosity; he could smell the delicious aroma of caramelizing onions wafting from the copper vessel that was fired up on the stove. He stood upon a chair in the kitchen and watched as his mother evoked the magic of food……”

I feel like I am standing on that chair and inhaling right along with the child. Which is what we want to do for our readers, so they can get a taste, too.

The Unlocked Secret: Experience is key, but if you can’t experience it yourself, find a source that has. It will make your writing authentic. Check these sites out for ways to enhance your writing. If not these, I’m sure you can search for sites that meet your genre and style.

Question: Do you have a go-to blog or website for expertise or vicarious experience? Please share in the comments below.

And as always, thank you for your Tweets and Shares.