Posts Tagged ‘plotting’

How We Write Wednesdays: Let’s #weWRITE our way to a new draft!

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

It’s been four months of HoWW craft talk, from characterization to planning to rewriting to drafting. Amazing! And Jenni and I are amazed by the growing enthusiasm for our #weWRITE Twitter hashtag. It’s time to put our money where our mouth is, and challenge our readers and fellow writers to WRITE EVERY DAY for a week. Not for a month. Not an entire novel or story. Not a perfect draft. Just write, fearlessly, until you plug into the energy that calls you to create.

This year, more than any other, that’s what this blog has been for me. If you follow my Revising a Yearseries, you know I needed something to daily inspire me to re-engage my creativity. I challenged myself to write something interesting and meaninful and creative, every day. And the various categories to the right have been buckets of inspiration that refuse to let me off the hook when I sit in front of a blank screen and the doubt demons begin to weigh in on whether I can put imagine on the page that anyone in their right mind would want to read.

Not just How We Write, though working with Jenni on this series has been an amazing experience. But talking about my teenager’s quirky view of life, and about the crazy things I hear throughout the day, and my shoe obsession, and how Publishing Isn’t for Sissies, and my personal challenge to visit all the waterfalls I can reach in North Georgia,  Tennessee, and North and South Carolina. And some of the most amazing mornings have been writing about the dream theories and psychic realm parapsychology that thrives in my psychic fantasy novels.

But… That’s not getting the next book written.

once upon a time

Sure, I’ve worked on several proposals that are now with publishers. Still, the need to write books is always there, waiting for me to dive back into that flow. And I know many of you are in the same place daily. Will I write today? Will I make real progress toward my daily goal? Will I make that book or story or whatever real, when it only exists for now in my head???

So. Here we are. We’ve talked the basics of writing craft. Jenni and I already have plans to cover more formal story structure, etc., because we get so many questions about the terms and techniques we use. And we’re approaching other authors to join us for guest blogs over the summer, to share how THEY write. But that doesn’t get those words on the page, and filling that page with amazing story is ultimately what HoWW and #weWRITE are all about. (more…)

How We Write Wednesdays: I Draft. You Draft. He, She, We and They Draft…

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

We all draft story differently. We all find our own way to create something magical from raw creativity and intuition. HoWW today is about finding your own way to draft AND helping each other grow!

Jenni shared last week all the amazing, structured, spreadsheet-y ways she keeps up with details while she writes “freely” during her drafting phase. It’s pretty impressive. I tried it that way for a few books–NOT a pretty picture, me drooling in the corner, clutching all my charts close and whining because I can’t be creative with the analytical part of my brain engaged…

But I’m REALLY glad it works so well for Jenni, and that she looks so cool and professional with all her screen shots and all. You know, while geeky little me left show and tell behind when I was talking planning and rewriting, and all I’ve got to share now is my, “I can’t do anything but free write when I’m drafting, or my imagination shuts down…” advice to share.

Let me look. Maybe I have an image to help you visualize what I’m feeling as I write this…


No, it’s not that bad.

But Jenni and I DO draft that differently. She has to keep up with the details or she shuts down. I have to write blind, or I never let the details of what I’ve planned and already written go long enough to actually create something new.

If you’re someone who starts a book and months (even years) go by and you never get any further than chapter three or four, you might be one of “my” people ;o)

More than that, if you find yourself stopping your forward momentum too often and never achieve a rhythm in the drafting phase of your process–if you never feel that swell of knowing you’re in the right place with your story and you could keep writing forever it feels so good–SOMETHING is stalling out the imagination and confidence that feeds you.

If that’s the case, then it’s time to take a closer look at how YOU’RE writing. (more…)

How We Write Wednesdays: The ONLY WAY to Draft Your Novel

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

As promised, today’s the start of our all-in, sure-fired, do it THIS WAY month of novel drafting instruction. Because if you don’t do it THIS way, you’ll fail. What way? YOUR WAY.


one way

Yeah, this month’s blog courses won’t be any more straight-forward than the last three (which are summarized at the bottom of the post). Jenni’s starting today with a great discussion of her drafting method. So NOT my method, because she’s still all about spreadsheeting and outlining when she draft writes, and geeky me can’t let myself go there while in this “in-between” creative place.

In between planning and rewriting, I have to stop thinking. No, I don’t actually turn my brain off. But I do have to tone down the analytical volume of my cognitive thinking, so that juicy imagination takes over. I’ve tried it Jenni’s way. And, I know you’ll find this hard to believe, her very structured method of drafting doesn’t work for me. Spreadsheets and outlines are like crack for a mind like mine. I’d be hitting that pipe all day long, while  never giving free rein to those characters and settings and turning points I planned for.  The creativity that comes second to my nature, behind the drive to understand EVERYTHING before I write anything, would never take the wheel.

Jenni and I aren’t polar opposites in our process. We share many of the same drafting techniques–and I’ll get to them next week when it’s my turn. BUT, we each have our own individual method. No matter how many times we talk and compare notes and critique for each other, we’re never tempted to trade in our individual approaches to writing story for the other’s. Because doing exactly what she does would stall my creativity, and vice versa. We have to understand and trust our own writing strengths and weaknesses and own the drafting approach that gets us to the end of that “ugly” first draft with the best story we’ve ever written.

And so do you.

stop signs

The only GUARANTEED method of drafting success is your method. Your way. (more…)

How We Write Wednesdays: Rewriting and Planning–Bookends for Drafting

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

I’m wrapping up revisions today and making plans for May’s Drafting HoWW lessons. Yes, Jenni and I taught planning first, then rewriting, and next we’ll do drafting. Messed up?  No. Why? Because your plans and your faith in your ability to deconstruct and rework a novel are the bookends of your process–mastering these first two techniques frees you to draft without constraints.


Think about it. Once you plan as carefully as time and tolerance allows, you have a game plan. If you’ve invested in your process enough to be confident in your skills as a rewriter–of anything, no matter what you come up with–then there will be no anxiety waiting for you at the other end of your drafting. So what’s to stop you from writing free, using your plotting work as a guideline?

I teach students at my workshops and weekend retreats that how we approach our writing is a metaphor for how we approach life. Everyone’s blocked by something. Everyone fears something. (more…)

How We Write Wednesday: Discovering What You Don’t Know

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Revision is discovery? Yes. Revision, once your manuscript is complete, is about understanding, FINALLY, what you didn’t fully realize about your novel while you were planning and drafting. Revision is getting it. It’s triumphing over the unknown that threatened to overwhelming your story while the big picture once eluded you.

Jenni has the reins today, and her HoWW blog post is a triumph of inspiration and mining deeper into her process. Which, I assure you, will be different than your revision process and my revision process and your critique partner’s revision process. But she’s as committed to revision as I am. As we hope you will become. We both see as much value in rewriting as we do planning and drafting. We both hope you’ll make it as much a part of your process as you can.


Don’t fear what you don’t yet know about your story. Embrace it. Dig deeper. Discover the revision adventure you’re about to embark on with your WIP. Understand more with each pass through your manuscript and your writing process. Make your creation even better. So your books will be even more amazing. So we, the readers, will take a more breath-taking ride with you than ever before!

Embrace what you don’t know at the end of your rough draft. It’s your greatest opportunity to create magic. Your instincts are honed. Your characters and plots and settings are finally on the page. All the raw ingredients are primed. It’s time to season everything and add just a dash more of what you held back your first pass through the story. Basically, to add just one more metaphor ;o)–when you revise, you’re cooking with gas! 

Don’t miss the power of this vital step to your writing process. Make the time. Revise and discover the amazing things you’ve yet to write in your WIP!

Once you’re finished reading Jenni’s post, catch up on the rest of our  HoWW lessons. The come back next Wednesday, when I’ll be wrapping up our revision discussion here and talking about what’s coming in May ;o)

April’s Revision Adventures:

March’s HoWW plot speak:

February’s Character (and critique/brainstorming) posts:

How We Write: The No More Excuses Approach to Rewriting

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Anyone–ANYONE–can deconstruct and rewrite a manuscript. Anyone can learn to rework a story one scene at a time. And we’re talking rewriting–NOT copy editing a manuscript to catch punctuation or grammar mistakes, or line editing to make sure prose flows beautifully. These techniques are important, but only after an author has dissected the first draft and rewoven it’s parts into the best story possible.

Today in How We Write Wednesday, we continue Jenni and my’s discussion of rewriting. I’ll do my best to cover the high points of a technique it takes me a two-day weekend workshop to teach properly. This is interactive stuff that I love to work with writes on, while they’re applying what I’m showing them to a work in progress. The result of one of these weekend retreats that I hope you’ll get after reading this post, too, is–

  • No more excuses for not rewriting.
  • No more hiding behind “not seeing” what needs to be changed in your story.
  • No more big, scary book that’s too complicated to rework.
  • You feeling in control of your creativity as you rewrite!

Once your draft is completed, the story can seem too complex to tackle, right? You feel too close to your work to be able to analyze and re-craft it. There’s just too much there, and it’s impossible to see where each change will take the story. It’s easy to find yourself rewriting in circles, never really getting anywhere. And who has that kind of time?


So, let’s talk revision technique. Not HOW to do the revisions themselves–that will be for later posts this month.  Jenni and I have already shared a little of the nuts and bolts of rewriting and there’s more to come (and, frankly, fully learning how to revise a scene or a chapter or an act or an entire novel is more about trial and errror and learning from experience). But how to deconstruct what you have, so you can get to work on what needs to be done–THAT I can show you today ;o)

My goal today is to show you how to challenge each story component in your draft. Whether you think you’ve nailed it or not, whether you love what’s there as a whole or not, you need to take your draft apart and look at its pieces to be sure you’re getting the most from them individually and then as a whole.

You want to layer as much as possible into each moment in your story, right? To do that, you need to look individually at–

The pieces of your plot:

  • Story Structure (inciting incident, turning points, midpoints, black moment, climax/resolution)
  • Secondary Plots
  • Chapter and Scene Openings and Endings
  • Conflict and Motivation

The characters in in your story:

  • Protagonist’s Arc
  • Antagonist’s Arc
  • Secondary Characters’ Arcs
  • Point of View
  • Conflict and Motivation
  • Backstory

And that’s just to start. (more…)

How We Write Wednesday: OUCH!!! Critique and Editorial Revisons

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Ouch! Other people’s revision notes hurt. A lot. No writer loves being told that what they’ve crafted doesn’t work for the reader. Even light critique or editorial revision comments can be painful to work through,  but WE NEED THEM. Eh-hem. Yeah, this is going to be one of those tough love HoWW posts I know you love so much…

Don’t think I don’t sympathize with a writer’s sensitivity to hearing constructive criticism.It’s never easy for me, turning a manuscript over to a beta reader (akin to dropping my creative pants in public) or my agent or editor and asking them to show me where the story breaks down (where I need to get back to the gym and work on the gushy parts). But I do it. Because I’m a professional writer, and I adore my readers, and I want every book to be the very best it can be. AND I can’t get the story and plot and characters and setting and theme and symbol and narrative structure, etc. there completely on my own.I know that while I draft, everything’s not always going to be perfect the minute my creativity poops it out ;o)

critique pig

We’re too close to our work once we’re in the thick of the writing. We’re no longer seeing the story’s journey from a reader’s perspective. At some point, our writer’s experience becomes the tunnel we see through. Which means, we’re in the tall grass (yes, I’m having fun with metaphor today, since Jenni’s doing the bulk of the HoWW post work), losing our way even as we write something unique to our voice that we want readers to love.

To be worthy of that love, we have to be willing to let go of a little of our creative control. At least long enough to ask the writing professionals we trust where we’re not getting the story right.

Enter the very necessary critique and editorial revision phases of your creative process. (more…)

How We Write Wednesdays: Draft Done? The REAL Work begins!

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Rewwriting time! Jenni  and I have been taking planning for two months now on HoWW. How to craft characters . And let’s not forget plot, because Jenni gets cranky when we do, and you won’t like her when she’s cranky. Now, it’s time to rewrite, because as David Kaplan says in A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction, “The purpose of writing a story is to rewrite it.”


Yep, that’s right. No book’s done with just a single draft in your pocket. Not even two drafts, if you aks me. You’re not done, just because you have your first thoughts down on paper (or in the computer). Once you’ve got that good stuff behind you, it’s time to make it even better!

Feeling a little cranky yourself yet?

Yeah, this motivational post is going to be a little heavier on the tough love than most.

Finishing  your first draft (and we’ll talk drafting in May), is just the beginning. It’s merely the end of your planning. For those of you who don’t outline your plot and character ahead of time (I’m shaking my head now. Can you hear the tense spots in my neck popping while I do it?), the draft is your only planning. But for even those of us who put serious thought into what we’re going to write before we actually do, we still don’t know for SURE what’s going to happen until that magical creative thing that is putting words onto paper happens, and the story itself takes over.

I’m a firm believer in the creative flow of drafting. The power of discovery. The synergy of planning and experience and momentum combining to create something magical. BUT… That something magical, that completed draft, is only the beginning. It’s not everything it could be. It’s not ready to leave your mind and your heart behind. It’s not all it can be. Which means, it’s time for the REAL work to begin…

Kaplan tells us that ”You need three things to be a good fiction writer…talent…a knowledge of craft…and just as necessary, a devotion to revision, to the merciless re-working of your writing until it is the best it can be.” And he (and Jenni and I) aren’t talking about looking for typos or grammar errors or tweaking your prose so it pops just so, though all that’s important eventually.

What I teach to craft students is re-writing, not copy editing or proof reading. Deconstructing what you’ve done. Figuring out why it works and why it doesn’t. Asking yourself questions like: (more…)

How We Write: Our Secret–Plot, Revise, Plot, Revise…

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

The REAL secret to writing best selling novels… That’s what Jenni and I are talking about on How We Write. And what we’re saying is, THERE IS NO SHORT CUT. Eh-hem. Sorry, didn’t realize I was yelling.You might have noticed by now that this sort of thing torks me a bit. Folks who give/sell sure-fired advice, keys to the kingdom, THE WAY to your published Eden. They don’t often work. They tend to demotivate over time, not lead us closer to our overall objective–success.

success failure

Too often once you follow these ten easy steps, you realize there’s nothing of substance on the other side. And the guru you’ve gotten the list from has mysteriously moved on to giving advice like “how to be the most popular tweeter on the planet,” and you begin to realize that this person’s objective is to give advice. Because THAT’S what he/she thinks will make them a best selling author. God forbid that the person giving advice about writing personally follow through on any of what he/she’s saying and get back to writing novels themselves.

I exaggerate. There’s some great advice out there, and you should soak it all in. But always remember that this is work. This isn’t a race. And you can’t force your way into being “successful” at it by following a set of rules that promises to be the answer to all your problems.

We’re not selling quick and easy in HoWW. We’re talking about our processes (because Jenni’s is different than mine), and how you need to discover your own. We spent a month exploring what character means to a real, in-progress novel. March has been about plotting and structure, and Jenni wraps up the discussion by touching once more on narrative structure, and going just a little deeper than before. But she’s also ranting, like me ;o) Because the point we try to make in each post is that narrative structure and conflict lock and character plotting and so forth are just frameworks in which your story needs to work. They’re NOT your story, and too many people will tell you differently, and that gets us cranky.

Your story is what happens on the page and in the reader’s mind, once the list of things that makes a good story, mechanically, are taken care of. (more…)

How We Write Wednesday: Conflict Box–Failing and Fixing

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Jenni made one thing clear about Conflict Lock last week: the conflict box seems simple enough, but when you try to chart conflict without motivation, which is essential to drill to the core of what drives your external story, things can get tricky. Lets get right to some examples to illustrate what we mean (review  our posts from last week again here and here  if you need to catch up), then I’ll wrap things up at the end of the post and get back to talking about what’s MOST important…character ;o)

My first pass at the conflict box for my WIP was a fail:

conflict box mine fail

Pretty good, right?

But notice the amount of yadda yadda. Never a good sign in a chart that’s supposed to be very simple. (more…)