Writing the books of our hearts: Midweek ROW80 check-in

cropped-1163480_43811009_loveandcoffee.jpgAs writers, we’re often told to write the book of our hearts, which is great advice, especially for the fledgling writer. If our work taps into what we’re passionate about—for me, myth and magic are two such passions—it’s easier to make the pages of our stories sing. If the writer loves the subject matter, hopefully the reader will too.

I recently realized the kind of stories that I want to write, and why I’ve struggled with some of my projects in the past. As a reader, I gravitate toward simple, character-driven stories—tightly written tales with a strong voice and characters I love to follow. I love edgy urban fantasy, but I also like a quiet, passionate romance too. And for a while, I was trying to focus on edgier works, action-packed urban fantasy with lots of fight scenes. I’ve come to realize that while I can write fight scenes, that’s not where my passion lies. Some of my stories will certainly feature such scenes—when writing paranormal stories, there tends to be a brawl or two, or even an epic battle. And it’s true that writing those scenes can be challenging and fun.

But my passion is in those quiet moments, those simple stories that showcase the change of the characters, allowing themselves to be vulnerable, opening their hearts, learning from their mistakes, healing the wounds of the past. Even in my edgier stories, those issues will still take center stage. And recognizing that has made me a better writer. After all, anything we learn about ourselves as writers helps our writing.

ROW80 check-in…

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Finished!
  • Write a first draft of another novella Finished!
  • Start a second novelette. Wrote 3,949 words. Finished at 12K.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Reading a fifth book, “Manuscript Makeover” by Elizabeth Lyon.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. On track to meet this goal.
  • Blog two times per week. On track to meet this goal, though I missed the last Sunday check-in.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

What about you? What stories makes your heart sing? What passions make frequent appearances in your work?

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Sprinkling in Details in Our Writing: How much to share—and when

by Myndi Shafer, WANA Commons

by Myndi Shafer, WANA Commons

Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever received didn’t come out of a creative writing workshop. No, I learned it at the copy desk of my college newspaper, where I spent each Saturday hunched over pages with a colored pen, making news article polished and shiny and ready for the world. (UPDATE: I’m not bashing workshops here. The creative writing workshops I took as an undergrad and grad student have helped me immensely as a writer.)

We were reading over an article that featured a lot of background information. My college journalism professor—who also spent each Saturday hunched over those pages—told us not to give the background upfront. “Sprinkle it in,” he said.

When writing a first draft, we’re often tempted to put all the details in the first few chapters. This is well-intentioned—we want to ground the reader. But too much detail all at once is overwhelming. In later drafts, we can pare down large sections of exposition. And that’s where sprinkling comes in. What do we sprinkle? A few items immediately spring to mind:

Character backstory

We don’t need to know a character’s tragic past in the first chapter—often times, referencing that tragedy briefly will intrigue readers and keep them reading. There might be a Big Reveal, when a crucial memory/incident is shared, but most character details can be sprinkled.

World-building

This is especially true for those of us who write fantasy or science fiction—we need to share how magic or technology works, the rules of our world, geography, history, cultural details, etc. But readers don’t need to know all the ins and outs of our world—the size of the capital city, how a piece of technology works, the political structure of the society, or the rules of magic—all up front. We can share details as they’re needed to ground the reader, but in general, the less exposition in the first few chapters, the better.

Setting

We should carefully pick and choose details of the setting to share. The layout of a room might be important, for example, but the details of each oil painting on the walls can probably wait. We can avoid a lot of references to weather unless they’re clearly necessary. As with world-building details, readers need to feel grounded—they need sensory detail to draw them into the world we’ve created on the page—but the setting shouldn’t overwhelm the action. A few well-chosen details can go a long way, especially if they evoke one or more of the five senses.

Description

Each detail should do more than one thing. For example, if we describe a character’s outfit, does her wardrobe reveal something about her character—her socioeconomic status, her personality, her career, how she sees herself, etc.? If we describe a character’s facial features, what do those features say about his personality or how he’s reacting to the events of the plot?

The key is never to overwhelm the reader with details. Instead, like my journalism professor said, we sprinkle those details throughout, interspersed with action and dialogue to create a page-turner.

Lastly, a midweek ROW80 check-in…

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Finished.
  • Write a first draft of a novella novelette. Finished—“Called by Magic,” 13K.
  • Start work on another novelette. Wrote 2,590 words. I had some problems with the second chapter, so I spent yesterday working those out before adding any new material.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Reading a fifth book, “Manuscript Makeover” by Elizabeth Lyon.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. On track to meet this goal.
  • Blog two times per week. On track.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop.

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5 inspirational writing quotes

I thought I’d kick off a new week—or end an old one—with a list of some of my favorite writing quotes. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section. (Quote images made at Quozio.)

The-artist-deals-with Ursula Le Guin quote

Its-like-driving-a-car E.L. Doctorow

 

Love-Fall-in-love-and Ray Bradbury

Dont-tell-me-the-moon-is Anton Chekhov

 

 

Writing-practice-brings Natalie Goldberg

Sunday ROW80 check-in:

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Finished!
  • Write a first draft of another novella Currently titled “Called by Magic.” Finished! Did a read-through this week and made some minor changes—tying up loose ends/answering unanswered questions, fixing typos, smoothing out awkward phrasing, etc.
  • Start a third project. Started a second novelette. Wrote 3,318 words. Created a plot outline and did index cards, so this story is mostly mapped out.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. On book five, “Manuscript Makeover” by Elizabeth Lyon.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Met for Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, not for Wednesday or Friday.
  • Blog two times per week. Blogged Sunday, not Wednesday.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Met for three of four days. Skipped Wednesday.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What are some of your favorite writing quotes?

A productive week: Sunday ROW80 check-in

ROW80LogocopyGood news: I’ve met all of my writing goals for Round 3 of A Round of Words in 80 Days. This means, of course, that I have to decide which projects I want to focus on for the remainder of this round. I have a list of possibilities, but I haven’t narrowed it down yet. I’m going to show up at the page Monday and see where I end up.

It was a productive week: I proofread and did some light editing to a short story and sent it to my critiques partners, finished a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic”, and did some character background work for my novelette “Called by Magic.”

I also discovered a website full of great resources: Udemy. If you’re looking to build your personal brand, revamp your resume, publish an e-book, or, well, anything else you can think of, this site is a great place to start. Some of the courses are free and some are a little pricey. Check it out if you’re looking for ways to gain new knowledge on a variety of subjects.

Sunday check-in…

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Finished! I finished the second draft on Wednesday. I’m going to let it sit for a month or two, do a read-through, make corrections, and then send it to my critique partners.
  • Write a first draft of another novella novelette. Finished!
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Currently reading a fifth book, “Manuscript Makeover” by Elizabeth Lyon.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Met for all days except Monday.
  • Blog two times per week. Target met.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Target met.

What about you? How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along?

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When writing is like wrestling an alligator: A midweek ROW80 check-in

Last week, revising my story felt like wrestling an alligator. There were a few moments where I just sat there trying not to pull my hair out. I had one chapter left to revise, near the end of the story, only something wasn’t right. It was one of those scenes where earlier pieces come together, only the pieces weren’t fitting properly.

So I hit the pause button and created a chapter-by-chapter outline of what happens in the story, complete with scene locations and timestamps. I found a couple things: One, the timestamps in the middle of the story were out of order. Two, the reason that later chapter didn’t work was because of the setup in the middle. So I decided that, before I called the second draft done, more work was in order. I spent Saturday afternoon staring at the outline, formulating a plan. I know the story will be stronger for it.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re almost finished with a draft only to realize that the story needs yet more attention. Now that I have a solution, I’m happy to be implementing it. But for a while, when I knew what was wrong but not how to fix it, yes, writing this story felt a lot like wrestling an alligator…

Which leads to a midweek ROW80 check-in…

ROW80LogocopyWriting:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Revised/rewrote two scenes. Every chapter has been revised, but I made some changes to the middle of the story that have a ripple effect, so I’m trying to smooth things out. Also dealing with smaller, nitty-gritty issues, like making sure the timeline of the story is clear.
  • Write a first draft of another novella novelette. Finished at 13K!
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Goal met!

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Met for Tuesday and Wednesday, not for Monday.
  • Blog two times per week. On track to meet this goal.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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Revising a manuscript: How do you know when a draft is finished?

How do you know when a draft of a story is done? For me, a first draft is finished when I’ve written it from beginning to end—it might be rough, but the story is on the page.

But subsequent drafts are harder to judge. In my view, the second draft is finished when all the major issues that you know of are resolved. Any research that needs to be done is completed. All plot holes (that you’re aware of ) are filled in. You’ve integrated your critique partners’ or beta readers’ comments into the story.

10969657603_bbbcbc3421_z notebook by Shan Jeniah Burton WANA Commons

photo by Shan Jeniah Burton, WANA Commons

Third drafts and beyond follow the same pattern. We share the story with our critique partners or beta readers and read through the manuscript again. Any problems or concerns that are noted are addressed. Language is polished. Typos are fixed. With every draft, the story is more polished, closer to being ready for the wide world to see. Eventually, the language shines. All aspects of story, from structure to character arc to description, have been addressed. It might take some of us three drafts. It might take others eight.

I’ve been working on second draft of a novella for the past couple months. Some of these criteria have been met. Most of my CPs’ comments have been addressed. But there are still some problems with the middle of the story that need to be dealt with. This past week, I felt like I was playing Jenga. I would change something in one chapter only to realize that that changed the course of events in several more chapters. These seemed like small changes, but they had a ripple effect.

I know the story will be stronger when all is said and done. This week I’ll pull or rework scenes from the middle of the story. Sooner or later, this story will shine.

Sunday ROW80 check-in:

Writing:

  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Wrote 4,859 words, including a rough synopsis. Three chapters revised/rewritten. I’ve decided to make some changes to the middle of the story, so I’m not as close to finished as I thought—but the story is improving.
  • Write a first draft of a novella novelette. Finished!
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Four of four books read. Finished “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue” by James Scott Bell.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Target met.
  • Blog two times per week. Target met.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Target met.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along? How do you decide when you’ve finished a draft of a story?

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