Speaking of Your Characters

Speaking of Your Characters - Tips for Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love

Sometimes, when a story gets stuck, it helps to go back and spend more time with your characters. Their needs and fears drive your story, but if you haven’t investigated what motivates their daily lives, it can be tough concocting realistic conflicts for them to overcome in  your story.

Character Template – Fears, Values

One place to start is with a character sketch. A template for one to start with is here. If you know what your character is afraid of or what your character values most, you have some great starting places for putting your character in tough situations that force him or her to overcome those fears or risk losing what is valued most. The thing that they value doesn’t have to be a concrete object, though it can be. Consider a grandfather ‘s watch, or an old photograph, or a painting. It can also be abstract, such as honesty. If a person values honesty, how will she react when she is lied to. How will she react if she is put in a position where she has to tell a lie? People can be afraid of things like snakes (think Indiana Jones) or confined spaces–and making characters face these can be fun. They might also be afraid of someone finding out something from their past–that they lied, or that they cheated, or hurt someone on purpose. See the paragraph on secrets below.

Lisa Cron – Misunderstandings

I highly recommend Lisa Cron’s book, Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel* {*before you waste three years writing 327 pages that go nowhere}. Aside from having the longest book title I’ve ever come across, the book suggests innovative ways into character upon which you can build a strong story. One tip that Cron suggests is that you create a misunderstanding for your character that influences future decisions. If you character was abandoned by his father as a child, he may grow up feeling he could never be a dad because he was never shown how and secretly wonders if he would run away from the responsibility, too. You can see how this misunderstanding would affect the man’s decisions about relationships and volunteering for the local scout troop. Cron’s book is an easy-to-read guide to building a great story, and full of wonderful tips that are immediately applicable to what you are working on–and no, she doesn’t have a clue who I am or that I am writing this. Her website is here.

Secrets

I like to make sure that my characters have a secret. Ask your characters about the one thing about them that they hope no one will ever discover. It’s often something that they are ashamed of. Make sure that somewhere in your story, they have to deal with this secret. It’s a great source for internal conflict. Perhaps the secret is that your hero was adopted and when he found his birth mother, she was working as a foreman in a factory. He never tells her who he is, and she doesn’t know who adopted him. He was raised by a wealthy family and doesn’t want anyone to know that his real mother is a factory worker. He is a lawyer with a prominent firm. In the story, his girlfriend’s family (also rich) buys the mother’s factory and threatens to close it down. The real mother leads a committee to fight for the factory to stay open, and they hire the law firm where the man works. The man is torn between his two families, between his duty as a lawyer and his obligation to his girlfriend’s parents …. You get the idea.

Secrets, misunderstandings, fears, values–use some of the tips above, and see what you can do to create characters that your readers will love.

If you’re ready to write that book, take advantage of what I’ve learned about writing and publishing by checking out my personalized writing coach options. Arrange for your free 15-minute telephone chat to see if I’m the coach for you. There’s a writer inside all of us, let me help you find yours.

 

 

Accountability Group – Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals

Accountability Group: Meet Your 2017 Writing GoalsIf you need a little accountability to get your writing done this year, I’ve started an accountability group on Facebook. We check in on Mondays to chronicle our progress and get support and encouragement from other members on the same path. No guilt trips allowed. Anything you do toward reaching your goal counts–planning, thinking, research, brainstorming, writing. You don’t have to share word counts, just check in to say you’re doing a little every week toward reaching your goal. It’s a closed group, so just let me know if you want to join. Drop me a line at hwrightwriter at gmail dot com to let me know you’re interested, and then hop over to  https://www.facebook.com/groups/346300629089243/ and request to join. You need to be on Facebook to participate in the group.

Let’s make 2017 the year a creative year to remember!

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If you’re ready to write that book, take advantage of what I’ve learned about writing and publishing by checking out my personalized writing coach options. Arrange for your free 15-minute telephone chat to see if I’m the coach for you. There’s a writer inside all of us, let me help you find yours.

Do the Math and You’ll Write Your Book in 2017

Do the Math and You'll Write Your Book in 2017

A recent webinar by Joanna Penn woke me up to what is really involved in getting a first draft written—and you know what? once you do the math, any excuses you might have had for not getting the work done are officially gone. Here’s how her math goes: 2 months to plan, 7 months to write, 3 months self-editing.

Seven months to write an entire book doesn’t seem a long time, at first, especially when you convince yourself you have no time, or not enough energy, or … whatever your excuse is. Here’s where the math comes in. Let’s say you plan to write an average length book—about 80,000 words. Let’s make it 90,000 and leave you lots to delete during the editing process.

If I’m going to write 90,000 words in 7 months that works out to 3103 words per week (assuming 29 weeks in 7 months.) Now let’s say you write only 4 days a week, that’s 776 words/day. If you type at a speed of 35 words per minute (the top speed I achieved in a typing class with manual typewriters sometime in the mid-60s), then that means that you need to sit in front of the keyboard for 22 minutes a day.

So, working for less than half an hour a day, four days a week, will give you a 90,000-word first draft in seven months. If you wrote every day, you’d only have to work for 13 minutes to write the 443 daily words require to achieve your goal. I spend that much time on Solitaire, so I really have no excuse. Do you? Now?

Now where I see this all falling apart is not having the planning done before I sit down for my 22 minutes a day. If you have to sit down each day and wait for the muse to show up, you’re not going to get the book done. To make this work, you need to spend time up front organizing your ideas, your plot, your characters, before you sit down to type. Now I can assure you from experience, that having a plan does not diminish the creative fun stuff that happens while you are writing. Characters still surprise, those moments of magic when you feel the words just fly from your fingers, they all still happen.

So, if you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to write your book this year, spend some time now doing the planning that will make it possible. Everyone responds to a different planning model. I’ve listed some links below to great articles on planning to get you started. I’ll be checking in next week with some other planning suggestions and to see how you are progressing. Good luck!

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If you’re ready to write that book, take advantage of what I’ve learned about writing and publishing by checking out my personalized writing coach options. Arrange for your free 15-minute telephone chat to see if I’m the coach for you. There’s a writer inside all of us, let me help you find yours.

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LINKS TO ARTICLES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR BOOK

Non-Fiction

10 Steps to Write And Publish Your Non-Fiction Book – Joanna Penn

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/02/20/write-publish-non-fiction/

Using a Mind Map to Plan Your Non-Fiction Book – Roger C. Parker

http://writenonfictionnow.com/using-a-mind-map-to-plan-your-nonfiction-book/

How to Organize Your Non-Fiction Book – Nina Amir

http://www.magnoliamedianetwork.com/organize-your-non-fiction-book/

The Ultimate Ten-Step Guide to Plan and Write Your Book – Ali Luke

http://writetodone.com/write-your-book/

Fiction

The Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel – Randy Ingermanson

http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

Your Novel Blueprint – Karen S. Wiesner

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/your-novel-blueprint

Eight Ways to Outline a Novel – Robbie Blair

https://litreactor.com/columns/8-ways-to-outline-a-novel

Novel in 30 Days Worksheet Index – though these were designed with NaNoWriMo in mind, they are great resources for those of us who will take longer than 30 days to write 50,000 words.

http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/novel-in-30-days-2011

Looking Ahead to 2017 – Step by Step

Looking Ahead to 2017 - Step by StepI know that it may seem early to be thinking about 2017, but soon you will be in the midst of holiday craziness, your company’s year-end rush, or end-of-quarter/semester reports, and suddenly you’ll be saying “Happy New Year” and wondering where your writing is going after January 1st.

Finding out what gets in the way of getting the writing done

I suggest looking back at 2016 first. Did you meet all your writing goals? What legitimately got in the way? What did you let get in the way–too much FreeCell, watching TV while complaining “there’s nothing on”, saying “yes” to too many people with issues or projects that drained your energy or because saying “no” would make you feel guilty? If you are seeing patterns that could be changed to give you more writing time, commit to changing them now. For some inspiration check out this post by Kristi Holl. It’s the first of three posts on setting boundaries that will give you more time to write and more peace with your choices: http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/2013/07/mental-boundaries-whos-in-charge-part-1/

Small Steps

I’ve talked about devising a writing plan, but frankly I’ve failed big time every time I’ve tried. My first challenge is that I have several projects on the go and don’t really know where I am with any of them. Before the end of December I’m going to go back and look at each one of them and map out what needs to be done to complete them. For example, I need to write up plot summaries for four acts of King Lear for a teacher’s guide that I’m writing. Four acts will break down into a certain number of scenes. If I set a goal of three scenes a day, I can see the end of the road, and three scenes a day is doable. Small steps. I have another project–a collection of short romance stories. My gosh, I’ve talked about getting this done for years, but I’ve always looked at is as a group of stories. Better that I tackle one at a time–one draft a week is doable. I need to leave time for freelancing, so I can’t start any other creative projects until King Lear is finished. Then I can add another project to take up the time I used for King Lear.

The carrot of  a shiny new project will provide the needed impetus to get the King Lear project finished in a timely manner. I also have to look at my other commitments for the new year: writing classes that I’m leading at my local library and a speech to a local PROBUS club are both on the calendar for the first three months of 2017. I’ll need to carve out time for those, too. There’s still time left this year to apply “small steps” to your current projects. Give it a try now, and you’ll have the system mastered for your writing projects in 2017.

The Unexpected

Yes, well, stuff happens. And I’m an expert this year, because for me, breast cancer happened. The toughest part has been forgiving myself for not doing as much as I wanted to do. Yes, I had lots of time, but I had a body that was worn out with no stamina, a mind that seemed to lose any ability to focus, and a conflict between me and my medication for which I am finally finding a balanced, middle ground, and yes, I admit, I just didn’t want to face it some days. I did my freelance work, but the creative “me-work” languished on the sidelines. Time was lost, writing wasn’t done–and you know what? What’s done is done. I’m getting my energy and focus back and it’s going to be okay. The writing will get done–and yours will, too. When stuff like this happens, there’s no point in going back and saying “if only”, there’s just looking ahead and saying, “step by step I’ll get there.”

So, step by step, my writing will get done in 2017–and I hope that yours will, too. 

If you’re ready to write that book, take advantage of what I’ve learned about writing and publishing by checking out my personalized writing coach options. Arrange for your free 15-minute telephone chat to see if I’m the coach for you. There’s a writer inside all of us, let me help you find yours.

 

When are you a real writer?

When are you a real writer?I just read the most amazing post by  Kristen Lamb and had to pass it along. She gives your her slant on “what it takes to be a real writer,” and if you’ve ever had doubts about what you’re trying to do, this blog will encourage you to keep going for all the right reasons. It’s a long one, but I encourage you to read to the end. Here’s the link:
https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/what-it-takes-to-be-a-real-writer/#comment-247106

Here’s a glimpse into her message:

Being a professional writer is a shift in mind-set and how we view ourselves. We begin to look at our art as our profession even if that profession is the second job next to the day job.
Screw “Aspiring.” Aspiring is for wimps. Takes guts to be a writer.
I’ve attended conferences where attendees easily forked out a thousand dollars or more to learn business and craft. When I ask who in the room is an aspiring writer? Always hands raised. Trust me, anyone willing to put money on the line? That is a “real” writer. In fact, that is part of being a “professional” writer.
“Aspiring writers” are the people who say things like, “Yeah, my life would make a GREAT story. Hey, maybe you could write it. I give you the idea and you write it and we split 50/50.”
Sure, after I go bathe my pet unicorn.

Kristen Lamb has been encouraging, supporting, and teaching writers for a long time. Hers is a blog worth following.

If you’re ready to write that book, take advantage of what I’ve learned about writing and publishing by checking out my personalized writing coach options. Arrange for your free 15-minute telephone chat to see if I’m the coach for you. There’s a writer inside all of us, let me help you find yours.

 

Accountability Challenge

September has flown by, and though I’ve made some progress, my writing output isn’t where I hoped it would be. If you’re feeling the same, come and join me, starting October 7th, on my Facebook page where I’ll be running a three-week accountability challenge. I’ll be posting every day, and once you’ve reached your writing goal for the day, just type the word “done” into the comments. Having someone waiting for you to get the work done can be a great incentive. I know, because I’ve done this before–and I’ll be waiting.

Here’s the link to my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hwrightwriter/. Take some time to think about your daily writing goals. Maybe you’re getting ready to tackle NaNoWriMo and you need to dedicate time to planning or research, or you just want to write something every day. Whatever your writerly reason, drop by and join in and get the work done.

Happy writing!October Writing Accountability Challenge

 

Yikes! I Need a Writing Plan!

Yikes! I Need a Writing Plan! Check this blog if you need help finding time to write. Great link to a PDF that will clarify your goals and help you meet them.If there’s one thing I’ve learned from experience, it’s that, just because you have more time to write, you don’t necessarily get more writing done. Seriously. It’s challenging to be faced with long stretches of writing time. You’ve waited forever for these precious hours, but they can slip through your fingers in no time. Like I said, I have some experience with this.

I have that opportunity now. I’m not teaching this semester, so I have nothing else to do in my working life, but work and write for myself. Right now, I have a couple of freelance projects and a new coaching client, but there’s still lots of time left over for me to get my other writing done. I have an online course to finish, a Busy Teacher’s Guide to King Lear to finish (and Twelfth Night to start), and another online course to create, and writing workshops to plan (I’m doing two at my local library in October and November), and … well … you get the idea.

Calendar
So, Monday morning, after I’ve submitted part one of a big contract project, I’m going to sit down with my calendar and get my writing life organized. I’m a conscientious to-do list writer, but now, I need to allot certain times to those items, and using a calendar is how I plan to do it. I have a desk calendar with columns for each day, but this time I’m also going to use my online calendar. It sends me notifications of events. Those nudges will help keep me on track.

Downtime
Another thing I’ve learned from experience is to also include downtime on my calendar. This can be reading, knitting, dropping in to visit my mom (she lives in an apartment in our house), watching a YouTube video, checking Facebook. I really need to walk away from the work for several intervals during the day. I know I have my limits, so I might as well accommodate them. Calendar notifications for this kind of time will be very welcome. 🙂

Rewards
I’m definitely in favour of rewards. Coffee with a friend or a trip to Starbucks with just me and my journal are two of my favourite treats. I’m a big fan of old movies–my family not so much–so 90 minutes with Fred and Ginger and my knitting is a wonderful, refreshing break for me, and I will work hard to earn it.

A great resource
As I often do when looking for inspiration, I headed to one of my favourite writing blogs by writer Kristi Holl and was reminded of her great resource: Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time.

Here’s how Kristi describes the information in this PDF:
Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time is short, but it contains solid advice for three of a writer’s biggest problems:
1. following through on our goals

2. organization of our writing space
3. lack of good writing habits
While the e-book is only thirteen pages long, I can guarantee you more success in your writing life if you follow the advice.

And she’s right. She has solid advice for all of those problems. I never think about my writing space, but now she’s made me look at my particular “organizing personality” and some things have to change.  Even though I know a lot of this information already (and likely, so do you), I find it a big help to hear the words from someone else  who’s also been down this road. It’s like taking a friend along on the journey.

What tips do you have for getting the writing done? Have you found some no-fail techniques that work for you? Please share in a comment. I know I’m not the only one looking for new ways to help get the work done.

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If you’re ready to write that book, take advantage of what I’ve learned about writing and publishing by checking out my personalized writing coach options. Arrange for your free 15-minute telephone chat to see if I’m the coach for you. There’s a writer inside all of us, let me help you find yours.

How Do You Fill the Creative Well?

130Living a creative life is wonderful–until it isn’t, when out of the blue, your worst enemy is the blank page or screen. You used to have so many ideas you didn’t know what to do with them all. And now–crickets.

Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) coined the expression “filling the well” when she talked about replenishing the artistic well from which we draw our ideas and creativity. “If we don’t give some attention to upkeep,” wrote Julia, “our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked. Any extended period of piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well.”

My current creative well has been drained by illness–along with my physical reserves, too. I’m now on the road to recovery, but still, ideas and focus are sorely lacking. Knowing that other writers have been here, too, for many reasons, I looked for tips from those who had been in need of a creative boost and found ways to refill the well. Here’s what I found.

Joanna Penn suggests having an “artist’s date”--alone and to try “[a]nything that gives your brain some new stimulation and takes you away from your work in progress and your ‘normal’ life.” Even a simple change in scenery can help me get back to writing again. When I’m stuck, a coffee shop is the best place for me to get unstuck. I also like to change the way I’m writing, using pen and paper instead of my laptop. I haven’t done this for a long time. About time I did.

Laura Gaskill offers 11 Ways to Refill Your Creative Well. I especially like her suggestion for finding out when you work best. Are you a lark or an owl? When’s the best time for  you to be creating? ” … it is extremely helpful to know at what times of day your energy peaks — and when it slumps. If, for instance, your best time is early morning, use the first two hours of your day to work on your most challenging creative work.” I also suggest trying different times to be creative. You might surprise yourself. I used to think that I could only write in the morning. I was wrong. I found out that I did just fine at 7 p.m., too.

Robert Evenhouse at Part-Time Novel offers five more ways to refill the creative well. I particularly liked his idea of organizing “an area of chaos in your home.” While I was ill, the busy areas of the house (kitchen, dining room) became overwhelmed with clutter. During a weekend away, my son did a massive clean-up. I couldn’t believe how amazing it felt to see clean surfaces. I hadn’t realized how much it had been weighing on me and draining my energy–energy I need to get the writing done.

I hope you check out the links above and find the solutions you need. If you have some tips that work for you, please drop a note in the comments. My readers and I would love to hear from you!

If you’re ready to write that book, take advantage of what I’ve learned about writing and publishing by checking out my personalized writing coach options. Arrange for your free 15-minute telephone chat to see if I’m the coach for you. There’s a writer inside all of us, let me help you find yours.

Getting Started: Opening Pages and Opening Lines

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My Favorite Place to Write

You’re all set to get started on your book. You’ve invented your characters and have an idea of how the plot is going to work, and now you are ready to sit down and fill the page. Here are some tips and links to help you write those opening pages.

First a review of some beginning basics:

  • Introduce your main character and conflict early.
  • If you are writing a fantasy or a mystery or a romance, we should know that from the beginning. Think of the opening to the third Indiana Jones movie: a vast opening pan of a barren western landscape that lets the viewer know this is no intimate, domestic drama. Humor when the boy falls off his horse, so the reader knows that the movie isn’t going to take itself too seriously. A hero who says, “It belongs in a museum,” summing up his character and motivation. A fast-paced chase scene so the viewer knows there will be more action to come. And all that in the first 10 minutes of the movie.
  • Make the reader ask questions and want to read more.
  • Don’t have your character wake up. Editors have seen beginning this over and over again.
  • Avoid a long description of the setting.
  • Don’t begin with a long explanation of what the character has been doing up until this point in his or her life. Focus on now.

Check out the links below for lots of great advice for making the most of your critical first pages.

http://review.gawker.com/the-50-best-first-sentences-in-fiction-1665532271
The 50 Best First Sentences in Fiction – Jason Parham

http://www.bryndonovan.com/2016/01/12/what-happens-on-page-one-30-ways-to-start-a-novel/
What Happens on Page One: 30 Ways to Start a Novel – Bryn Donovan
“Even when you have a basic idea of your story, sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin it. I’m going to talk a little more about first scenes than first lines, though I’ll mention some first lines, too.
I think one of the best things you can do with your first five or ten pages is get the readers to care about what happens to your main character (or one of them.)”

https://patverducci.com/how-to-start-your-book-or-movie-with-a-bang/
How to Start Your Book or Movie with a Bang – Pat Verducci
“One of the most common problems with early book and screenplay drafts is that the story takes too long to get started.”

http://www.jenichappelle.com/2014/09/makes-amazing-first-chapter/
What Makes an Amazing First Chapter – Jeni Chappelle
“But the first chapter represents the whole book. And if your first chapter isn’t fantastic, you may not get the chance to prove to a reader that the rest of the book is.
“So, what does make an amazing first chapter?
The first sentence is oh-so-important, but here I’m going to focus on the whole chapter because that first chapter is like a miniature model of the whole book. It tells readers what to expect from the rest of the book and gets them interested enough to find out for themselves.”

If you’re ready to write that book, take advantage of what I’ve learned about writing and publishing by checking out my personalized writing coach options. Arrange for your free 15-minute telephone chat to see if I’m the coach for you. There’s a writer inside all of us, let me help you find yours.

Bucket List Meets Cancer

Bucket List Meets Cancer

When I started this website, I thought that I understood the whole bucket list thing, but a glimpse of my own mortality put it into a new focus.

There’s nothing like a diagnosis of breast cancer to unsettle your priorities and plans for the future. The surgery is over and now we’re waiting for the results of the biopsies on the tumor and the lymph nodes that were removed at the same time. I’m lucky to have a few things in my favor, including early detection via a mammogram and the fact that I’m over 60, but those don’t make all the fear go away, or stop me thinking about what I want from the post-diagnosis part of my life. And hence, thoughts about the bucket list.

And my thoughts about what belongs on a bucket list have changed. At first I thought the list needed to contain some major exciting adventures that I need to do or places that I absolutely had to see–things that I would look back on in my last days and regret not having done. I thought about that a lot, and I realized that the only thing I’m likely to wish for at the end is more time.

So I’ve decided that my bucket list has to be something else. I’ve already done the looking back—the word cancer will do that for you—and have realized that jumping out of an airplane or going to the Antarctic or riding in a hot air balloon wouldn’t have made any difference to how I feel about my life up to this point. As for adventures, I always wanted to go to Africa and I did that 25 years ago. Burning desires beyond all that? None really. Things that I think I would enjoy doing—many! Things that I would enjoy doing and would consider my life incomplete without? None really. (But that seriously doesn’t mean I’m not going to go out and do them. 🙂 There has to be some fun, after all.)

The things that have always made me happy are my family, and my friends, working with writers, and my own writing. So that’s what I’m choosing for my bucket list. Just those four things–because they all make me happy.

And that’s enough.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please drop me a line in the comments below. Thanks!