Posts Tagged ‘writing advice’

Can Your Characters Save Your Plot?

June 10, 2019

Author, instructor, and former agent Nathan Bransford suggests journaling about your plot from your characters’ points of view when the words stop flowing (read his blog post here). When I read this, my first thought was, “Brilliant!” When my second thought was equally positive, I knew this was advice I could use.

That isn’t always the case – not in writing, quilting, or home decorating. I watched too many home improvement shows where my first reaction was, “Who the heck is going to clean a [room of your choice] with all that stuff in it?” I even worked up an idea for an anti-improvement show called “Like You’re Really Going To Do That.”

I’ve nodded appreciatively when writing friends share their spreadsheets for character development, or their flip charts for braiding plot lines. That’s not for me. I can’t even manage to keep a simple filing system going, so how am I supposed to keep programs and charts in order? For me, the best solution is one I can keep on scraps of paper, because I can always find a scrap of paper and a pen.

Luck and wisdom!

Disaster and Character Development

April 22, 2019

I noticed a plane flying low into the local airport and, as I am wont to do, started thinking of the disaster story I could weave around that plane. That got me thinking about how any characters in my story might respond, and that got me thinking about whether I really need a disaster to fully develop my characters. It occurred to me that a poke is as good as a punch to get my characters to change, learn, and grow if I write it correctly. I suddenly realized why some novels and movies bore me – it isn’t despite any pyrotechnics in the plot, it’s because of them. If the plot is pushed along so quickly that the character doesn’t have time to respond, if the disasters are piled one on top of the other and the character seems to skate effortlessly through them, then I feel less tension, not more. So, on my next pass through my stories, I intend to look for evidence that the character is adapting to this particular situation in a way that will make the final resolution satisfying to the reader. I’ll write a disaster scene if that’s what’s needed, but I’ll look for simpler obstacles – on the order of a paper cut – if I can make that work.

Luck and wisdom!

Hearing My Own Advice

April 1, 2019

My husband is writing an article he hopes to publish soon, but it is fighting him. The basic information is mostly there, but he isn’t happy. I assured him that once he got the bones in order, everything else would fit, or be recognized as irrelevant. His face lit up, and he thanked me for telling him what he needed to hear. I went about my morning, when suddenly I heard my own words. My outline for The Captain and Chenille is fighting me because I don’t have all the bones in order.

I have known for a long time that I have to wrestle with all the subplots that are popping out, lest this one book turn into a three-volume novel, but I haven’t had the energy to start the weeding process. I told myself it was because I needed time to think. While that is true, and while I recognize I’ve been using my lack of time as an excuse, for the first time I realized I don’t have all the bones of the novel in place. There is still more information I need to put in the outline. This requires far less energy than taking out story lines that I’m finding interesting, and once I do that there is a better than average chance the subplots that don’t work will fall away of their own accord and become short stories, poems, or perhaps a series of quilts. That’s the wonderful thing about the stories in your head – they really don’t care how they’re expressed, as long as they get a chance to come out and play.

Luck and wisdom!

Our Story-Saturated World

October 15, 2018

We see stories every day. Movies, television, sometimes even advertising informs our potential readers. When there are so many stories floating in the air, how can we make our work stand out?

The short answer is write your best; the long answer is more complicated. Perhaps we start by losing our fear of the story that’s been told before. I’ve critiqued dozens of short stories and several novels. All of them had been told before. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the story in front of me.

When Ann Anastasio and I started on our first novel, Death By Chenille, we knew we would be following a familiar plot – unsuspecting heroines save the world from space aliens because they are the only ones who know about the invasion. Rather than worry about it, we reveled in it. We both love a good monster movie, and 1950s sci fi movies, so why not use the formula?

The essence of a good story is that it grabs the reader and propels her into another reality. She may recognize the thwarted love story, the unfair accusation plot point, even the journey of the villain-as-wounded-everyman. If the story is compelling (or even a little goofy), the reader will continue turning pages.

Luck and wisdom!

World-Building Through Cheese

September 17, 2018

Cheesehenge

The local paper ran an article about cheese not being the source of all evil for anyone worrying about cardiovascular issues. My inner cheese-hound yipped and yapped and chased its tail, because I adore cheese but there is a history of heart disease on both sides of the family. While rescuing my recipes for cheeseballs, cheese sauces, fondues, savory pastries, souffles, and quiches from the dusty corners of the cookbook shelf, I thought of how I’ve used food in my sci fi stories. Ann Anastasio and I have featured food in each book of the Chenille series. We’ve also made a subplot out of Earth foods that are similar to products on our imaginary planet, Schtatik. Reading the article about cheese reminded me of all the nutrition advice I’ve followed only to be told later that the studies were wrong, which illustrated a hole in my world-building. When I think of what my aliens might eat, I’ve always envisioned their diets as an ideal, or bound by ritual. I don’t think I’ve ever given my aliens a chance to cheat on their diets, or indulge in comfort food, or visit the junk food aisle in their groceries. I’ve never even considered what their groceries would look like. Ever. From now on, however, I’m going to spend a little time imagining what my aliens think they should eat as well as what they do eat, and why it matters. World-building through cheese – yeah, that’s a thing now.

At the Beginning

May 28, 2018

Whether I am writing or quilting, the first hurdle is always the same – the beginning. No matter how wonderful my idea is, until I get the first line of a story or the first fabric in the quilt established I flutter around like the butterflies in my backyard.

Ready for the first line to reveal itself

When the first line flows easily, I can convince myself that the rest of the story will spill out as if by magic. It rarely happens, but the joy of a good beginning can carry me through the hard work of creating a decent middle and respectable conclusion.

Even if the first line comes easily, it might not be what the story requires when I finally reach the end. The hardest thing about rewriting for me is reworking the beginning. I can gleefully slash whole pages in the middle, but cutting my first line is painful. That’s when I pull out the advice Mary Ellen Hopkins gave to quilters: “If your quilt isn’t working, take out the fabric you love the most.” When I find myself protecting that first line as if it were a cherished heirloom, then I know it is probably time to let it go.

Reality Is In The Foot Of A Cat

April 23, 2018

One day in an antique shop, I noticed a simple but elegant bookcase filled with beautiful linens. On top of the stack on the highest shelf I saw a very realistic toy cat. I had to stretch to reach it. I tugged on its foot to determine if it was stuffed with kapok or buckwheat.

The foot was warm.

The cat’s expression was not.

 

 

Donovan the cat (not the one in the antique shop)

 

I considered myself lucky that a killer stare was the only thing the cat threw my way. It settled back to resume its nap and I retreated to a curio cabinet. Since everything was behind glass, I wouldn’t have to worry about mistaking a live critter for the work of a genius artist.

I was reminded of that experience when I told a writer that her character wouldn’t have reacted the way she wrote the scene. “The good news is I think of him as a real person. So real, that I’m ready to argue with you, his creator, about what he would or would not do,” I said.

We all laughed, but it’s worth remembering that the reader brings as much to our work as we do. The reader wants to see a fully fleshed character, wants to imagine having lunch with our heroine, or going fishing with our hero. If the reader tells you we’ve made the character act in a way she would not, could not, act – listen! Like beauty, reality is in the eye of the beholder.

Just don’t tug on its foot.

 

Characters and Where to Find Them

April 2, 2018

Friends and family do the most interesting things. You want to include their exploits in your novel, but you know they won’t be flattered. I’ve heard a family story of a man who kidnapped his own son and took him to a foreign country, where he abandoned him. There’s another story of a boy who ran away from home after a war and reinvented his entire life. Both of them would make great characters, but how many generations of relatives have to be safely dead before I can write about them?

My grandfather and his sisters, who had wonderful lives and deserve their own books

The standard advice to novelists is to combine the traits and experiences of several real people to make your characters, but I found a new source. I collect obituaries.

Here are real people, described by those who loved them best, or knew them best, or were paid to research them. I can blend their odd facts and thrilling exploits with my characters. I’m not basing my character on any one person, and I’m adding enough from those outside my social network that they really won’t recognize themselves in my heroine, my sidekick, or my villain. Now I can allow my characters to do what the plot demands without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Except for the kidnapping story – that one may need a bit more time before it is ready.