Sunday, October 27, 2013

Don't spread yourself too thin

I'll admit, I've had a tough time coming up with what I wanted to write about this month. I usually have a pretty good idea what I'll touch on weeks before it's my turn to post, but no matter how much I've tried to decide on a subject, I've come up with a big ol' blank. And you're about to find out why.

As you may know from previous posts, I gave myself a strict deadline for when I wanted to publish my most recent novel, The Highlander's Curse. I'm one of those crazies who, once I have a goal in mind, I'll do practically anything to achieve it. That piece of my soul that dies along with a failed goal is a lot more than I like to deal with, so I'm pretty adamant about finishing what I started. This brings me to my point (and as you may gave guessed, folks, the subject of this post).

Don't spread yourself too thin.

Having goals is a good thing. A great thing, in fact. But you should be smart about it. If you just started writing a book, and you're planning on it being close to 100K when it's done, don't set your goal to have the sucker finished in one month. Unless you're some kind of rock star who can crank out a crap ton of words every day and you don't need to edit it, then yeah, shoot for it. But I'm warning you, you're going to be in recovery-mode for a heck of a lot longer than you might think. Yes, I wore myself out. I'm currently in that dreaded funk authors call writer's block, only it isn't just affecting my writing. It's affecting everything. I have...mental-function block. I can't write, I don't want to read, heck, most of the time I don't even watch TV, I just stare at the pretty pictures flashing on the screen as my mind wanders over...well, nothing. It just wants rest!

So, what do I suggest?

I knew you'd ask. I'm psychic like that. And before you say "Ah-ha!" because I had enough mental know-how function to write this post, please note that this has taken weeks to formulate. ;)

Okay, on with my advice...

Please, just please, don't push yourself as hard as I did. Don't commit to that end goal without thinking through and planning out your smaller goals. Look at your normal productivity and factor in the fact that you can't (and seriously don't want to) shut out the entire world so you can write your book. Do you write 1,000 words a day? Awesome, your maximum goal for a week should be 7,000 words, and that's if you're planning to spend some time with your novel every single day. More than likely you won't be able to give that much love to your characters story, so give yourself some cushion. Maybe you could write 14,000 words in two weeks, but why not make a more manageable goal of 10,000 words in two weeks. If you surpass that 10,000 or even 14,000 words in that two weeks, then you have my permission to consider yourself a rock star until it's time to kick it in gear for your next goal. Alright, two week goal set? What's your month goal? Or, if you want to make smaller goals, why not set weekly ones? All I'm saying is, come up with your smaller goals and hold yourself to them. If you slack some days, you'll know what you need to make up later to keep yourself on track. And if you keep on track with your smaller goals, then nothing should keep you from reaching that long-term goal and completing your novel.

That was the end of my post, I just thought I'd add my funniest typo for this post: I kept typing "goat" in instead of "goal." If any sneak through, you get the gist.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stand Alone vs. Series

What is better: a stand alone novel or a series?  I used to have a strong opinion about one or the other, but now it doesn't matter.  I'll tell you why.  The reasons we love a book are these: we are drawn to the characters and we like the plot.  Those are the basic reasons anyone enjoys a book.  No one says, "I loved the language, but I didn't care about the characters and the plot was unbelievable and boring.  But the way the author wrote it was worth the read..."  It doesn't matter how you tell your story so much as what you have to tell.

So regardless of whether it is a ten book series or an 80,000 word novel, the most important elements of your story are character development and plot.

I already spoke about character development when I posted about character sketches.  Knowing a character's motive and ultimate goal is the first step to great character development.  You then know how that character is going to react, regardless of the situation that occurs.  It also draws the reader to your character because the character is constant and knowable.  A character sketch will be the single greatest tool for you to develop your characters.

As for the plot, that stems from character development.  Once we understand the motives of all the major characters, even the minor characters, we can see how some characters goals will contradict other characters, which gives us plot elements and twists.  Along with Hannah's last post, there is opportunity to weave strategy and twists into the plot.  There are connections to make between characters, plot points, and action sequences.  And that all comes once you know your character.

So instead of including plot, let's just say that character development is the most important thing you can do to write a great story.

At least that's been my experience.  If you've had a different experience, let me know and tell me how it has worked for you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Layering your story with strategy

Not really having a theme this week has thrown me off a bit... I mean, the possibilities are endless to talk about! Haha well, I have recently been watching a couple tv shows that have just really made me appreciate the talented gift of writers. We really have the ability to transform a simple story into something epic and profound, and give to give it meaning and depth. I have found that the most enticing stories have phenomenal interwoven story lines and plots that have been well thought out and strategized. Homeland or Breaking Bad(these are the shows, by the way), two wonderful examples of plot layering. I realize these are both tv shows and not novels, but I am mostly concerned with the writing and structure of the plot. I don't plan to spoil any of them for those that haven't watched them, but those who have seen them can maybe understand what I mean about the layering. Every plot twist seems to make sense, and even if it is a little out there, you have to make sure your characters motives and goals are intact with the plot twists. They have these imperfect characters and they either grow as the plot thickens, or they deteriorate, but they never stay the same, they are always having to change, and adapt.
Breaking Bad's overarching theme is watching this normal man become an anti-hero. With every twist, and with every turn, we watch him sink lower, and lower, but yet we still cheer him on. The choices he makes are very decided and he knows what he wants as a character, albeit his motives are skewed.
Homeland's intelligent writing and characters are what make this story a success. Again, the characters are deeply flawed and when they make mistakes, they are mistakes that affect not just themselves, but the Nation. Every move is calculated and thought out, and its hard to stay ahead of the bad guys.
I think the things that intrigue me the most about these two story lines, is that it puts into question our humanity. They ask questions, or put the characters through situations that I find myself saying, "How would I respond?" or "What would I do?" They are stories that make you want to evaluate yourself. That is what I consider good writing, when you can tell a story, but also make the reader (or consumer) turn inwardly to connect with the story.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Forget the Happily Ever After!

Sometimes as an author it's easy to get caught up in the "perfect world" story. (Que Duloc song from Shrek). You learn to love your characters, so naturally you want the best for them. You want them to succeed at every turn, have the safest path to their destination, and get the happily ever after ending.

Guess what, that's boring!!! And not just boring, it's typical. Readers don't want to read a story about a typical character going through typical life. They want something exciting, someone different who stands out. So how do you make your story different and exciting?

For a lot of writers the story is already outlined in their minds from start to finish. For others, the story unfolds itself as they write. No matter which type of writer you are, the story is an ever-changing, ever-expanding thing that you get to mold. Your job is to tell it as best you can, which means you have some control over the circumstances, no matter how miniscule.

Use that control to test your characters. Throw things their way and see how they react. Not only will you learn a lot about your characters, but your story will be a lot more exciting. Go through the plot and try to find ways to twist the events. If there's something your character is dreading more than anything, throw it at them. If there is something invincible or unbeatable, throw it at them. Find a different way for your character to beat it or overcome it. Think of the most unimaginable, worst thing that could happen and make it happen. Get the point yet?

An example from my own experience is a scene where my protagonist is racing through a house to beat someone to her room because she's already supposed to be there. I knew my character would beat that person to her room (A good twist would be, what if she didn't? What would she say about it, how would she react?) and when there was a knock on her door we both knew who it was. Or so I thought. I had a moment where I questioned what was really coming next. Is it the person she was knew was coming to look for her, or was it someone else entirely?

I decided to go with the entirely different person, someone she (and I) were not expecting. I had no idea where the story was going and as I wrote I was just as anxious to find out why this new person was there. It turned out to be a very pivotal point in my book and now all the pieces have fallen into place.

Trust your characters, they'll let you know if it's right or not. More often than not, your character's reaction will be in line with the story and help propel it forward.