NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Workshop – You Can Do It!

This article was originally published on October 24, 2008 at Write Anything, but it still applies today.

This is the last day you’ll hear me talk about NaNoWriMo

At least, until the challenge “officially” starts, which is what … just a few short hours away? 😀

NaNoWriMo has got to be one of my all-time favorite writing activities. It’s not just about the writing itself (though that’s very satisfying), but the fact that we all come together and share experiences, advice, motivation and support to get through the challenge. I love NaNoWriMo because I FEEL like a writer.

And I have an excuse to put off chores because I have “to write.” 😉

I think writers either get NaNoWriMo, or they don’t. For some, it’s a waste of time. Why write 50,000 words, and go through all of that stress and trouble just to write trash?

And others appreciate and embrace the challenge of actually being productive – we’re no longer TALKING about writing, we’re DOING it.

I know, for me, NaNoWriMo has been my writing springboard. I’ve gone to college and taken quite a few writing classes. Which were great, and I HIGHLY recommend anyone halfway serious about writing in general to do so, BUT, it can actually be counterproductive because there are so many rules and guidelines you must remember that it can sometimes be overpowering, and even intimidating – so much so, that it can squash your creativity.

I think that’s what happened to me. I had been conditioned into thinking if I didn’t write well, then there was really no reason to write at all. That everything I wrote, needed to be worthy of public consumption.

Hogwash.

If you don’t write, you won’t get better. If you don’t get better, then how can you write anything worth reading?

I began the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2005. My novel was called “No Sleep, No Talk” and yes, it was as bad as the title implies. In fact, it stank – royally. I really didn’t have a concrete plot idea, I just sort of allowed my characters to lead me around. It was like feeling my way in a pitch black room; I had no idea where I was going, or where I had been. But man, I had fun writing it.

I have never once thought it was a waste of time. The experience, the LICENSE to let go and simply write whatever I wanted to was thoroughly liberating. I needed permission to let go of my preconceived ideas about writing and simply write. After crossing that 50,000 word line, I felt free, truly free, to be open and honest with my writing, for the first time in my life. I’ll never forget the experience.

In 2006, I wrote “Reality Check.” I took a news article and built an entire story around it. After crossing that 50,000 word finish line, I realized that the premise, though interesting, was a bit far-fetched. Though I still think the idea is cool, I think it might work better for a short story as opposed to a novel-length work.

In 2007, I wrote a mystery/suspense story entitled “Broken Silence.” In essence, it was centered around a group of people who lived on a cul-de-sac and who found themselves stranded after a nasty ice storm raged through. The story was basically trying to survive the elements, each other and some unknown force that was causing people to just … disappear. I still think the idea is marketable. In fact, I will likely go back to my project and rewrite it because that’s how confident I am about this idea. I based this idea on my own real-life experience. In 2006, we had an ice storm dump five inches of ice on us. Our city shut down. Seventy-five percent of the city lost power and we went into survival mode. My family was without electricity for almost 12 days. It was a test of my character, and the characters of those around me.

In 2008 I wrote a romance story. I’d denied myself the genre I love the most for long enough. It has nothing to do with the sexy parts, though there is that, but I’ve always been fascinated with relationships in general – just WHY do men and women connect, anyway?

My story was based around a NASCAR driver, with two possible love interests to juggle, an old family stigma to overcome, and other jealous, spiteful rivals to dodge. I’s fun, dangerous, exciting and sexy all at once.

I thought I would experiment with my 2009 project and write a series of short stories. I took one character from one short story and wrote the next short story using him/her as the main character. It was really fun, but terribly frustrating. It was more of a stop-and-go sort of pace as opposed to a smooth (?) flow of working on one story. I found it increasingly harder and harder to start over again time and time again so that by the time the end of November rolled around, I could barely make myself care, let alone write anything. I probably won’t try that experiment again any time soon. But don’t hold me to that.

For now though, I’ve talked enough. I’m ready to sit back and listen to what ya’ll have to say about YOUR projects. So, here are some questions for you, please answer them in the comment section, or on your own blogs and post a link, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

1. Do you have an idea for your NaNoWriMo project?

2. What instrument will you be writing your novel on?

3. Where will you likely be writing most of your story?

4. When will you likely write your story?

5. What is your daily word count goal?

6. Have you participated in past NaNoWriMo’s? How many years have you won?

7. What do you think about NaNoWriMo in general? A waste of time? Or beneficial?

Thank you again for indulging me these NaNoWriMo posts. I sincerely hope these past posts have helped you prepare for this challenge, or for your writing in general.

NOW, get organized, get those fingers warmed up and …

GOOD LUCK!!!!

(Stick around. If I have time, I’ll post some videos of me reading excerpts from my project. The keywords being: If I have time. Also, you can keep track of my progress on my NaNoWriMo profile page as well as receive updates about my progress here via word count widgets [in side bar] or funny little cartoons).

Abundant Life

Teaching: God Knows Your Heart

Every Sunday I provide videos and valuable links to the Truth or Tradition teachings. We’ve been following the Truth or Tradition teachings for many years now and they have truly blessed our family. We have found peace and happiness through our beliefs and we walk confidently for God. My hope, by passing on this information to you, is that what you find here, or on the Truth or Tradition website, will guide you to a better, more blessed and abundant life.

If you would like to read my views on religion and how we got started with the ministry, you can read this.

Let’s get started:

Did this video bless you? Please consider donating to the Truth or Tradition ministry.

If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about God’s wonderful message, please visit the Truth or Tradition website. You can also keep track of the ministry through their Facebook page, their YouTube Channel, or follow them on Twitter.

Thanks for reading.

(Comments have been turned off. The information is here to inform and bless you. God granted you the gift of free will – take it or leave it).

More from Write From Karen

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWrimo Workshop – Constructing Scenes

This was originally published on Write Anything, October 23, 2008.

Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!

*taps monitor* Are you awake? Are you daydreaming? I hope you’re daydreaming about your NaNoWriMo project because guess what?

We start in less than 48 hours!!!

No worries, right? *gulp*

If you’re just tuning in (welcome!), we’ve been talking about various aspects of beginning a novel-length story this week. We’ve covered finding ideas, setting, character, point of view, and plot.

Today, we’ll cover constructing scenes – from start to finish – and tomorrow, I turn the floor over to you and you get to share what sort of progress you’ve made thus far and offer any NaNoWriMo advice.

Let’s get started …

Again, I will be referencing Plot & Structure – Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish by James Scott Bell because in my opinion, this is one of the best books about plot on the market. If you haven’t checked it out, seriously, dude, look at it. It’s good.

Most readers judge whether they will A. continue reading the story, or B. like the story within the first ten pages of reading the story.

So tease your readers, make them want to stick around and read the rest of your story with a killer beginning.

THE BEGINNING of your novel actually performs several tasks:

1. Get the reader hooked.

2. Establish a bond between the reader and the Lead character.

3. Present the story world – tell us something about the setting, the time, and the immediate context.

4. Establish the general tone of the novel. Is this to be a sweeping epic, or a zany farce? Action packed or dwelling more on character change? Fast moving or leisurely paced?

5. Compel the reader to move on to the middle. Just why should the reader care to continue?

6. Introduce the opposition. Who or what wants to stop the Lead from obtaining his/her goal/objective?

First impressions are everything when it comes to tempting people to read your novel. Blow your first impression and you’ll have twice the work to get readers’ attention.

Bell suggests the following to grab readers:

Opening Lines:

Start your opening lines with the character’s name (Bell suggests looking at some of Koontz’s work – he’s the master of killer opening lines. I agree). In addition to introducing the reader to your character right off the bat, make something happen to that character, “and not just something ominous or dangerous. An interruption of normal life.”

Give your readers motion, of something that is about to happen or has happened. If you do this, it’s likely your reader will want to stick around to find out what happens next.

Action:

We’ve all heard it – in media res – in the middle of things. Start your story in the middle of some sort of conflict. Using dialogue, as in an interrogation, is a good example of this.

Raw Emotion:

“We bond with the Lead through his deep feeling of a universal emotion.”

Look-Back Hook:

Suggest there is a not-to-be-missed story about to unfold.

Attitude:

A good example of attitude is The Catcher in the Rye. The character’s voice is almost defiant and blase about telling his story.

Prologues:

“The use of prologues is a venerable one, used by all sorts of writers in many different ways. But the most effective prologues do one simple thing – entice the reader to move to chapter one.”

Personally, I’m a huge fan of prologues, both in reading and writing. In fact, I plan on starting my NaNoWrimo project with a prologue. And on a side note: I bought Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight today and though the prologue is short, it’s powerful. Here’s an excerpt from Twilight’s preface:

I knew that if I’d never gone to Forks, I wouldn’t be facing death now. But terrified as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to regret the decision. When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it’s not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.

The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me.

Brilliant. That definitely makes me want to keep reading.

Bell goes on to explain these techniques in detail – it would behoove you to read his suggestions. Again, the beginning? Can gain, or lose, your readers. Hone up on it and be aware that it’s crucial if you want to jerk the reader out of his/her reality and into your story.

All of your hard work will (should) compel the reader to move on to THE MIDDLE.

Bell says, “What you do in Act II, the middle, is write scenes – scenes that stretch the tension, raise the stakes, keep readers worried, and build toward Act III in a way that seems inevitable.”

Bell offers some suggestions on keeping the middle of your story interesting and moving forward.

Death:

What is the Lead’s ultimate obstacle? To stay alive.

And it’s not all about just physical death, the Lead could have an aspect of themselves die on the inside, too. Or even something die in their professional life, like they are denied a promotion, or they are demoted, or they are involved in a scandal that puts the entire company in jeopardy.

The Opposition:

The Opposition (which Bell prefers to call the antagonist because not all antagonists are evil), should be stronger than the Lead. Why? Because if they are easily matched, then why should the reader worry?

And don’t forget to write your opposition with an empathetic view – it just makes for a better character.

Adhesive:

An adhesive is any strong relationship or circumstance that holds people together.

“If the Lead can solve his problem simply by resigning from the action, the reader will wonder why he doesn’t do so. There needs to be a strong reason for the Lead to stick around, to keep the characters together throughout that long middle.”

Here are a few tips on making a strong adhesive:

  • Life and Death – staying alive is essential to one’s well-being.
  • Professional Duty – a cop can’t just walk away from his assigned case.
  • Moral Duty – a mother will fight to the death in order to get her child back.
  • Obsession – when you’re obsessed by something, then you’re just compelled to have it
  • .

Bell says to “ARM yourself for confrontation.”

ARM stands for Action, Reaction, More action. It is the fundamental rhythm of the novel. Think about it. Unless your Lead character is doing something, you have no plot. Plot results from the action of the character to solve the problems in front of him, all with the aim of gaining his desire.

Action requires that the character has decided upon an objective and that he has started toward it. This action must be opposed by something or the scene will be dull. So pick an obstacle, an immediate problem to overcome.

Bell goes on to explain how to stretch the tension, how to raise the stakes, how to energize a lethargic middle, and how to trim an overweight middle. Again, all GREAT tips to help you get past the middle hump.

A weak ENDING can ruin an otherwise wonderful book.

“A great ending does two things above all else: First, it feels perfect for the kind of novel it is appended to. Second, it surprises the reader. It is not so familiar the reader has the feeling he’s seen it somewhere before.”

Why are endings so hard? Because the novelist is like a plate spinner, you know, the guy who spins a dozen plates all at the same time while making sure none of them drop?

“Your plot will have lots of plates spinning by the time you get to the end. You need to get them off safely. You need a little flourish. And you need to do it in a way that is not predictable.”

Maintain the tension in the story until the last possible moment, then give your reader a knockout ending.

But in addition to the knockout scene, you need to give your reader a final scene in which something from the hero’s personal life is resolved.

Choose Your Ending:

1. The Lead gets his objective, a positive ending

2. We don’t know if the Lead will get his desire – an ambiguous ending.

3. The Lead loses his objective, a negative ending.

Don’t forget to tie up any loose information. And only you, the writer, can know if the information is important enough to wrap up. Missing pants are probably not that important. But missing money could be. If the loose information is important enough, you’ll most likely need to write an additional scene. This may entail some extensive rewriting – too bad, do it anyway. The majority of readers do not care for unresolved issues.

If it’s minor information that’s flapping in the wind, it’s probably enough to have a character simply explain it away.

You want to leave your readers with a last page that makes the ending more than satisfying. You want it to be memorable, to stay with readers after the book is closed.

Working to make your last page (memorable) … is worth every ounce of your effort. It’s the last impression, what psychologists call the recency effect. Your audience will judge your book largely by the feeling they have most recently, namely, the end. Leave a lasting impression and you will build a readership.

Whew! That’s it! I hope this week proved insightful for you. I also hope it got you excited about writing your novel for NaNoWriMo. Keep all of these things we’ve talked about this past week in your mind, but the bottom line is TO WRITE your story. Try not to think about it too much. Knowing all of this information is great, but the bottom line is, do what feels right for you and your story.

Next month is all about quantity, not necessarily quality. Get your words down on paper first, then you can go back and polish later.

It’s hard to polish something that isn’t there. 🙂

Thank you for sticking it out with me! If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, look me up! I’ll be giving updates about my writing progress next month, so stick around!

Friday Fun

Aloha Friday: Outlook on Life

Aloha! Kailani is the brain-child behind this fun Friday meme. If you feel inclined to answer my question, please post your answer in the comment section. Sound fun? Of course it does! Want to answer more questions? Hop over to An Island Life and play along!

(Please feel free to answer the question below, even if you’re not playing Aloha Friday!)

My question:

Are you an optimist, a pessimist, or something else?

Friday Fun

Friday Craft: More Fun Halloween Costumes

This post might be a little too late to effect this year’s Halloween, but if you’re stuck for a costume idea maybe these can help. If nothing else, you have some ideas for next year. 😀

Pick of the Litter

The Dog-Lovers in the crowd were looking for a costume truly fit for the leader of the pack. We knew we’d hit the mark with this box full of puppies when five-year-old Bryce’s eyes lit up. “I’m going to take all of my dog buddies with me!” he exclaimed. “And I’ll bark when I walk!” chimed in his classmate, Michaela, age five.

Materials

* White and brown faux fur (sold in packages at discount stores or by the yard at fabric stores)
* Scissors
* White hooded sweatshirt
* Double-sided carpet tape
* Safety pins
* White tights and fiberfill
* Velcro Sticky-Back strips
* Red belt webbing or ribbon, 19 inches long
* Cardboard circle, 2 1/2 inches wide
* Aluminum foil
* Hole punch
* Embroidery or dental floss
* Cardboard box
* Utility knife
* Two 45-inch lengths of rope
* Masking tape
* Newspaper strips
* Pipe cleaners
* Stuffed dogs

Instructions

The Dog Sweatshirt:
Cut a large piece of faux fur for a chest patch and several smaller patches for the arms, back, and hood. Attach them to the sweatshirt with double-sided carpet tape.

For dog ears, cut long rounded fur shapes and safety-pin them to the hood as shown (A).

The Tail:
Cut off one leg from the tights and loosely stuff it with fiberfill. Safety-pin the open end to the back of the sweatshirt. Cut a few more patches of fur and tape them to the tail.

A Dog Collar:

Attach Velcro strips to the ends of the belt webbing or ribbon. For a tag, wrap the cardboard circle in aluminum foil, punch a hole through it, and loop a piece of floss through the hole. Safety-pin the loop to the inside of the collar.

Pick of the Litter:
Select a box that your child will easily fit into and still be able to walk comfortably in. With the utility knife, cut the box where indicated (B).

Poke holes through the box for the rope suspenders and attach the rope, as shown. You may have to adjust the lengths to fit your child. Masking-tape newspaper strips around the top of the box as shown (C).

Finally, use pipe cleaners to attach the stuffed dogs to the box and each other, as needed.


Bag of Gross-eeries

It may be Halloween, but you won’t find a single treat in this giant sack of groceries. Instead, this bag of tricks will fill the bill for kids who love the gross-out factor.

Materials

* Large brown paper leaf bag (sold at many hardware stores)
* Craft knife
* Large piece of corrugated cardboard
* Double-sided foam tape
* 2 yards of 1-1/2-inch-wide black ribbon
* 25- by 17-inch piece of white poster board
* Double-sided clear tape
* Stapler
* Assorted clean, empty food containers, such as cereal boxes, juice jugs, and egg cartons
* Markers and self-adhesive labels (or you can download our printable Gross-eeries labels)
* OPTIONAL
* Rubber rat, cockroaches, and chicken
* Balloons, stocking leg, string, and foam packing peanuts
* Yellow acrylic paint and white glue

Instructions

Cut the bottom off the leaf bag. If there’s lettering on the bag, turn it inside out.

Measure the opening at the bag’s top (the one shown here is 15 by 12 inches) and cut a piece of cardboard that is the same width but 4 inches longer (ours is 15 by 16 inches). Fold up 2-inch flaps in the front and back of the cardboard.

Cut a hole in the middle of the cardboard big enough for your child to fit through. Apply double-sided foam tape to the flap backs and stick the cardboard in place inside the very top of the bag.

Fold the ribbon in half and join the fold with double-sided foam tape to the underside of the cardboard insert near the back of the bag.

Make a milk carton hat by creasing the white poster board as shown and then cutting an opening for your child’s face in the front panel.

Shape the creased poster board into an open carton, sticking the edges together with double-sided clear tape. Then pinch and fold the upper edges, as shown, and staple the carton top closed.

Now fill the top of the bag with Gross-eeries by decorating assorted clean, empty food containers with handprinted or downloadable labels, such as Sour Milk, Surreal Cereal, Rotten Eggs, and Nasty Nibbles. You can download Gross-eerie Labels here.

Tape the items to the inner bag. Once your child has stepped into the finished costume, use the foam tape to secure the loose ends of the ribbon to the inner front of the bag to make shoulder straps.

How To Make Spoiled Goods

Make rotten sausage links by inserting inflated balloons into a long stocking leg and tying knots between the links. You can even tape on foam packing peanut maggots (yuck!).

Cut a hole in the front of a box and add a rubber rat, tape rubber cockroaches to the bag, or stuff a rubber chicken in among the other Gross-eeries.

Create a slimy blob of egg yolk by mixing 1 part yellow acrylic paint with 3 parts white glue. Cover a piece of cardboard with plastic wrap and pour the glue mixture over it. Let the mixture dry for 1 or 2 days, then peel it from the wrap and glue it to the bag.


Come-Clean Washing Machine

Kids can’t resist airing their family’s dirty laundry in a cool appliance that’s loads of fun to wear.

Materials

* Cardboard box (ours was 18 by 18 by 18 inches)
* Packing tape
* Box knife
* 1 roll of white Con-Tact paper
* 9-inch-diameter paper plate
* 2 round, clear plastic plates or container lids (ours are 12 inches in diameter), found at party stores or ask for them at your grocery store’s deli counter
* 12- by 24-inch piece of clear cellophane
* 12- by 24-inch piece of blue cellophane
* Silver foil tape (available at hardware stores)
* Adhesive-backed Velcro
* Hot-glue gun
* 3 plastic bottle caps and 1 plastic lid
* Black permanent marker
* Small, empty detergent box
* 5 safety pins
* Assorted pieces of old clothing

Instructions

Seal one end of the box shut with packing tape. With the box knife (parents only), cut the flaps off the other end. Save 1 flap.

Cover the outside of the box and the reserved flap with white Con-Tact paper.

Trace a paper plate onto the middle of the sealed end of the box and cut out that circle. Sketch and then cut out the arch-shaped armholes.

To make the door, trace one of the plastic plates or lids in the center of the front of the box. Cut a hole 1/2 inch smaller than the diameter of that circle.

Crumple both pieces of cellophane. With the bottoms of the plates facing out, sandwich the cellophane between the plates. Seal the edges of the plates with foil tape.

Attach Velcro to the box on each side of the circle cutout. Put the corresponding pieces on each side of the plates. Stick the door on the washing machine. On the right-hand side of the door, cover any exposed Velcro with foil tape. On the left side, place tape over the Velcro and the door so that it acts as a hinge.

Use the hot-glue gun to attach the flap to the back of the box.

To make a dial and knobs, tape 1 plastic bottle cap to the center of the plastic lid. Cover it and the 2 other caps with foil tape. Draw details on the dial with the marker. Attach the caps and dial to the back flap with the hot-glue gun.

Accessorize! Velcro or tape an empty detergent box to the top of the washing machine. Pin together 5 or so socks to make a sock necklace. Put boxer shorts on your child’s head or pin more socks to a hat. Tuck other laundry into the neck hole.


Cookie Cutie

No cookie-cutter costumes here! Our sweet cookie sheet begins with lightweight foam core and silver poster board. We tied a ribbon wrist loop to the cookie kid’s spatula so she has a hand free for trick-or-treating.

Materials

* Silver poster board (one 22- by 28-inch sheet)
* Double-sided carpet tape (we got ours at a home-improvement store)
* Craft knife
* White foam core board (20 by 30 inches)
* Duct tape
* Brown craft foam (three 12- by 18-inch sheets)
* Red craft foam (one 9- by 12-inch sheet)
* White dimensional paint
* 1 1/2-inch-wide grosgrain ribbon (2 1/2 yards)
* Adhesive-backed Velcro

Instructions

Cookie Cutie – Step 1 THE COOKIE SHEET On the back of the poster board, pencil a line parallel to each edge, then make a cut at each corner. Turn it over and fold along the lines (a yardstick is a handy folding tool). Overlap and stick the corner flaps together with doublesided tape, then trim off the points.

Use a craft knife to trim the foam core board to 27 inches long and round the corners. Attach it to the back of the poster board with double-sided tape.

THE COOKIES Duct-tape the brown craft foam together, long sides adjoining. Draw a large cookie on the taped side, then cut it out. Trace the face opening onto the cookie sheet. Score the line with a craft knife, then go back over it until you’ve made a clean cut through the foam core.

Cut out 4 smaller cookies (we traced a 5 1/2-inch cookie cutter) and 3 red craft foam buttons. Stick the cookies and buttons in place using double-sided tape. Add details with the dimensional paint. Let it dry for at least 4 hours.

THE SHOULDER STRAPS To work on the back of the board without damaging the decorated front, lay it on 2 folded towels. Cut the ribbon into 2 equal lengths. Using duct tape, attach the ribbons
halfway down the foam core.

Stick 3 Velcro strips on the lower corners of the board, then have your child try on the costume.

Cross the straps over her back, then pull them down. When the face opening is at a comfortable level, stick 2 Velcro strips to each strap where they’ll stick to the Velcro on the board. Trim any excess ribbon.

You can find many more Halloween costume ideas at Family Fun.

I’ve also posted more costume ideas here.

random stuff

Society Says You Must be Pretty, I Say You Must be Pretty Awesome

WARNING! There is an F-bomb in this video. I wouldn’t normally post a video with vulgarity, but the profanity is somehow appropriate because the subject matter discussed is equally vulgar and distasteful. My apologizes if this offends you. Please look past the word and pay attention to the message. It’s important.


(by Katie Makkai, a veteran poetry slammer – defining the word “pretty”.)

VideoPlay

Eighteen Years Ago, We Put a Crib Together

I remember this. We were so excited to be putting the nursery together for our first born.

(Forgive my insanely high hair – for some reason, I felt I needed to wear it that high. You wouldn’t believe how much Rave hairspray I went through on a weekly basis. But then again, if you’re a a product of the 80’s, maybe you would).

We still have that crib, it’s up in our attic. Whenever Kevin cleans the attic out, he always suggests we get rid of the crib and I always tell him, in no uncertain terms, that we will NOT be getting rid of that crib – ever. I want to use it for our grandchildren.

Some day. No hurry.

Our firstborn will be 18 in a few short weeks.

I’m not sure how that is possible, considering THIS just happened a few weeks ago.

ADDED: Wait. Kevin just told me that this kind of crib is now illegal because children can get caught between the mattress and the slats.

……………

Maybe we WON’T be using this for our grandchildren. *sad face*

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Workshop – Plot

This post was originally published on Write Anything, October 22, 2008.

Welcome back to Write Anything NaNoWriMo workshop week!

Plot happens. Or in my case, it doesn’t happen enough.

I apologize for the lateness of this post, but plot … *insert heavy sigh here* is indeed my Achilles heel.

I normally have no problem finding ideas, settling on a (vague) character or finding that character’s voice, but plot … I have a problem with.

I think, at heart, I’m a short story writer. I can whip out short stories like nobody’s business, but when it comes to stories longer than 4,000 words? My brain completely locks up. I never know where to go, which way to turn and my stories tend to veer off the main highway and before long, I’m out in the middle of rural imagination land scratching my head and wondering how in the world do I find the road back to my original premise.

So, writing about plot? Is NOT an easy thing for me. However, I’ll try my best to make this post coherent and informative – for both you AND me. (And if you have anything to add, you’re MORE than welcome to do so!)

Plot, in essence, is the board, or frame, for your story puzzle pieces. You take an idea, snap on a few characters, insert them into a POV, border it with conflict and voila! You have a plot for your story.

Oh, if only it were that easy.

I’ll be referencing several areas from James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure because it truly is an invaluable how-to plot resource guide. If you don’t have this book, I recommend buying it – now.

You might be one of those writers who likes to have their story all worked out in your mind before you write your novel. You preplan, plan, revise the plan before writing. Perhaps you have index cards all over your wall or desk as you read this. (Guilty?)

Or, you might be one of those seat-of-the-pants writers who loves to plop down each day at the computer or over a pad of paper and just write, letting your story flow without planning, anxious to see where your story takes you.

Or, you could also be a ‘tweener (*raises hand*) who does a bit of planning but still seeks some surprises and spontaneity.

Which ever method you use, you have to ask yourself one question: Does it connect with readers? After all, that is the purpose behind plot.

Readers are subconsciously asking these questions when they open books:

What’s this story about?
Is anything happening?
Why should I keep reading?
Why should I care?

These are all plot questions, and if you want to make it as a writer of novel-length fiction, you must learn how to answer them.

There are a few basic plot elements, that if understood and applied, will help you come up with a solid plot every time.

Let’s talk about Bell’s LOCK system:

L is for Lead

A strong plot starts with an interesting Lead character. In the best plot, that Lead is compelling, someone we have to watch throughout the course of the novel.

O is for Objective

Objective is the driving force of fiction. It generates forward motion and keeps the Lead from just sitting around. An objective can take either of two forms: to get something, or to get away from something.

C is for Confrontation

Opposition from characters and outside forces brings your story full to life. Readers want to fret about the Lead, keeping an intense emotional involvement (and investment) all the way through the novel.

K is for Knockout

Readers of commercial fiction want to see a knockout at the end. A literary novel can play with a bit more ambiguity. In either case, the ending must have knockout power. A great ending can leave the reader satisfied, even if the rest of the book is somewhat weak. But a weak ending will leave the reader with a feeling of disappointment, even if the book up to that point is strong.

Now that you know the key points, you need to structure your plot. Plot is about elements, those things that go into the mix of making a good story even better. Structure is about timing – where in the mix those elements go. You need a three-act structure: beginning, middle and end.

For a breakdown of these three-act structures, you really must read Plot & Structure, but in essence, “a plot is about a Lead character who has an objective, something crucial to his well-being. The major portion of plot is the confrontation with the opposition, a series of battles over the objective. This is resolved in a knockout ending, an outcome that satisfies the story questions and the readers.”

But how do you come up with a plot that people will want to read about?

Bell suggests you ask yourself a series of questions. Here are a few to consider:

What do you care most about in the world? (If you care, you’ll write with passion. If you write with passion, that passion will transfer to the readers and they will care right along with you).

What is your physical appearance? How do you feel about it? How does it affect you?

What do you fear most?

What secret in your life do you hope is never revealed?

What is your philosophy of life?

“Answering these questions opens up a door into your own soul. From that viewpoint, you can better evaluate plot ideas. Does the story you’re considering hit a nerve inside you? If not, why write it?”

Here are seven of the twenty plots suggested in 20 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias:

1. Quest: as the name implies, quest is the protagonist’s search for a person, place or thing, tangible or intangible. (This will be the crux of my NaNoWriMo story).

2. Wretched Excess: people who push the limits of acceptable behavior, either by choice or by accident. This fascination for people who inhabit the margins of society is what makes this plot so interesting.

3. Sacrifice: your protagonist is sacrificing something from his/her life whether it’s physical or spiritual.

4. Forbidden Love: think Romeo and Juliet here.

5. Transformation: deals with the process of change in the protagonist as she journeys through one of the many stages of life.

6. Underdog: the protagonist is faced with overwhelming odds.

7. Temptation: the story of the frailty of human nature. If to sin is human, it human to give in to temptation.

We’ll cover constructing plots tomorrow, but for now, let’s talk about common plot problems and how to solve them.

Scenes That Fall Flat:

Always make sure scenes have tension in them. Even when characters are calm and relatively quiet, there should be an undercurrent signaling that things are not as calm as they seem.

Every scene should have that moment or exchange that is the hot spot, or the focal point.

Mishandling Flashbacks:

There is an inherent plot problem when you use flashbacks – the forward momentum is stopped for a trip to the past. If not used properly, the reader can get frustrated or impatient. The following are tips when using flashbacks:

1. Necessity – is it absolutely necessary?

2. Function – make sure it works as a scene. Write it as a unit of dramatic action, not as an information dump.

3. Navigation – getting in and out of a flashback can be tricky, so make sure it flows naturally. For example, write in a strong, sensory detail that triggers the flashback.

The Tangent:

The tangent is a side road that was not on your original plot map. It is a suggestion of your writer’s mind. You can ignore the tangent and move on, or you can follow the tangent for a while because it could lead to a better idea. Bell suggests that instead of continuing with your story, open up a new document and follow the tangent. If it fits with the rest of your story, copy and paste it into your story. If it doesn’t, keep it, it may come in handy for future stories.

Resisting the Character for the Sake of the Plot:

Sometimes, your characters will want to take over. Let them. See where they lead you. It could add a whole new element to your story.

Slogging:

The part of your story that slows down and appears sluggish. Here are some suggestions to get past this point:

1. Go back. Is there some place in your earlier pages that seems dull? Or beside the point? Have you lost sight of the Lead’s objective at any point? Keep going back until you find a spot where you felt good about the writing, about beingn on track. Come up with a better scene idea than the one that is already there.

2. Jump Cut. Jump to the next scene, move your characters forward in time, put them in a different location, if you wish. Sometimes jumping ahead can help you connect your story later.

Shut Down:

What if your imagination shuts down? There’s nothing there. Don’t panic – it happens to all of us at one point or another.

Bell suggests:

1. Recharge your battery. Write through it. Give yourself permission to be bad. Write first, polish later. (Hence NaNoWriMo. *smile*)

2. Relive your scenes. Not rewrite. Relive. Have you ever imagined yourself to be the characters? Tried to feel what they are feeling? Then try it. Let the characters improvise. Don’t like what they came up with? Rewind the scene and try it again.

3. Recapture your vision. What does you novel utlimately mean? What is it saying about life beyond the confines of the plot? How does it illuminate your vision of life? Every story has a meaning.

To outline, or not to outline? That truly is every writer’s question. And unfortunately, there is no fast and easy answer. It really all depends on you, the writer. You’ll need to experiment with both methods to find what works for you. Bell’s section on Plotting Systems (Chapter 10) offers some great advice for the NOP’s (the no outline people) and the OP’s (the outline people) complete with step-by-step methods you can try for yourself. But the bottom line is – what works for you? There’s only one way to find out – experiment.

Bell writes, “What makes a plot truly memorable is not all of the action, but what the action does to the character. We respond to the character who changes, who endures the crucible of the story only to emerge a different person at the end.

“So, look to create character change in your novels in a way that deepens the plot and expresses a theme. For when a character learns something or suffers because he changes for the worse, it is an expression by the author about the larger canvas – not merely what happens in the novel, but what happens in life.”

Lastly: Constructing Scenes

Day-By-Day

Roof Over Our Heads, Cap and Gown, Stupid Computer


(photo credit)

The insurance adjuster and the roof guy are here to assess our leaky roof.

Our roof was fine, until this past spring, and suddenly, we started noticing water stains on our ceiling. The fireplace has always leaked. Especially when the weather changes – the water seeps through the rocks, which tells us that we probably have a leak around our fireplace chimney, but the ceiling stains? Those were new.

In case you’re just tuning in, we’ve been pretty busy with home improvement projects: replaced old carpet with hardwood floors, bought new sofas, a new media center, painted the bathroom, (will) paint the foyer, replaced plumbing … when you live in a 40-year old house, there are always maintenance issues.

And at the bottom of the list? A new roof. We had talked about getting someone out here this next spring to take a look. But a roofing company made a cold call on us the other day, inspected it, said it was pretty bad (which what else could they say, they want the business, but the ceiling has been leaking and it’s 18 years old, we figured it was time anyway), and called our insurance company to come take a look.

That insurance guy is here now walking around on our roof. I’m curious to hear what he says about it. Is it as bad as the roof guy said? And more importantly, how much will they pay for a new one?

ADDED: The insurance company is recommending a new roof. Though it’s not as bad as the roof guys made it out to be (which is not surprising), it does have problems and of course, it’s leaking. So … looks like we’ll be getting a new roof in the next few weeks. It’s always something.

*****

We ordered Dude’s cap and gown the other day. I had to measure his height and weigh him in order to get the correct measurements for his gown.

I can’t believe this is happening. Graduation is that milestone, that light at the end of the tunnel you tell your kids they are working toward, the end goal, and here we are, being blinded by that same light because it’s that close.

I opted out of the graduation announcements. They were ugly. (No offense to anyone who orders their announcements through their schools). I will most likely go through Tiny Prints for his announcements. Which means, Kevin and I need to take Dude out to take some pictures so I have some good options when it comes time to order them.

After I placed Dude’s order, Kevin and I got to talking – did we pay for our cap and gown when we were in high school? It seems to me they were borrowed … we used them for the ceremony and then returned them? Does that sound right? I don’t remember paying for our cap and gowns, but then again, I likely wasn’t the one who paid for it, my parents did. I’ll have to ask them because now I’m curious.

*****

Dude’s 18th birthday is coming up soon. I’d like to do something special for him, but I have no clue what that might be. He hasn’t really asked for anything special … maybe I’ll shop some bakers and order a really nice cake this year as opposed to the cookie cake I normally order.

Or maybe I’ll do both. HEY! I’ll order a nice cake and then order Dude his very own cookie cake …

I don’t know. I’ll have to Google some ideas.

*****

The book business is booming. One week, I mailed off close to 30 books!! The boys are being paid for the books they cataloged and if they sell any, then they are responsible for packaging them. If Dude sold more, then Dude drives up to the post office, if Jazz sells more, I take Jazz to the post office.

Orders are slowing down now, but I have about twenty more books to input (Kevin and I bought a bunch from the library book sale) and whenever I add books, that seems to trigger another round of orders, so we’ll see.

We are very grateful to my dad for giving us these books. We’ve made some pretty good money on the venture and though the boys haven’t been paid yet (it’s only a matter of days now, Amazon has started the transfer process, but it usually takes a few days for it credit to our account), I know they really appreciate the opportunity, too. Dude already has plans for some of his money, Jazz hasn’t really said much. Which is weird, because Jazz is usually the kid who can’t stand having money, it burns a hole in his pocket and he can’t wait to spend it.

Maybe he’s outgrowing that impulse. I hope so.

At any rate, the book store has been keeping us really busy.

*****

My main computer has been acting really squirrely, as in, it automatically reboots at random intervals, and now it reboots, but not completely before the system shuts down and starts the process all over again.

I just scanned for viruses today and found a few suspicious-looking things that I was able to clear off my hard drive, but I think I actually messed it up when I reformatted last time. I get a little delete happy and I tend to delete items that are necessary to the operating system. It’s never really acted right since I reformatted last time.

Then again, the power supply has been making some pretty weird noises, so it could be that. (I’ve been having terrible luck with power supplies lately).

So … now what? I will likely try and reformat the stupid thing again (doing it right this time) AND buy a new computer. The one I’m using is about five or six years old, which is ancient in computer world.

Now I get to transfer all of my important files to my laptop so that I can work on client sites. Like I really had time to fool with this right now! Aargh!

Technology is great … when it works, right?

*****

Kevin went to the doctor today. He said it was a bit stupid because they didn’t x-ray his pelvis or do anything other than watch him walk and ask him questions.

I was disappointed. I was hoping we could see how much he had healed in the past months, but no luck.

He’s no longer taking pain medication (actually, he hasn’t taken any pain meds in quite a few months – nothing stronger than an Ibuprofen), and walking a lot better. He still has a problem with his foot drop (he can’t bend his right foot as much as his left foot), which causes him to sort of clip-clop as he walks, but it’s getting better and I’m quite sure he’ll be walking normally again very soon.

In the meantime, the doctors don’t have to see him anymore, that was his last visit.

He was given a clean bill of health, which is pretty amazing considering the man was immobile a mere six months ago.

We have God to thank for his speedy recovery.

*****

Speaking of Kevin’s accident …

Kevin noticed that the woman who hit him and left him for dead? Was charged with a DWI back in August (the accident occurred in April).

We’re not really sure what’s going on, but it sounds like this woman, this dangerous woman who has no business being on the streets and still driving, is out there, free and roaming around.

She had a warrant out for her arrest at one point, but that has since been removed, so we don’t know if this means they have the woman in custody or just what the heck is going on.

Kevin signed some medical release forms so that the prosecutor could have his records on file and use against the woman who hit him, but again, we’re not even sure if she has formally been charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

Kevin has called the prosecutor several times, but they have never returned his calls.

We just want this trouble maker off the streets. She’s obviously a menace and needs to either have her license revoked and/or some jail time.

We just pray she doesn’t kill anyone before that happens.