What are you crushing on?

What are you crushing on?

I’ve become very fond of a podcast about Young Adult lit called Kidlit Drink Night. They always make me laugh and I end up making lots of notes about books, movies and TV series to look into. They call themselves “Superfriends,” which is sweet. There is a lot of laughing. They share a love of YA Lit, and an often bizarre drink for the night, which is not always met with approval. :-) They end their once-a-month sessions with the question, “What are you crushing on?” I love that.

So: What am I crushing on right now? (Other than the Kidlit Drink Night podcast.)

So: what are you crushing on? 

Bed-bound promo, website craziness, and Scrivener awe

Bed-bound promo, website craziness, and Scrivener awe

I’ve been bed-bound for over a week since a minor knee operation to repair a meniscus issue. I’m not going to whine about it! In fact, I’ve discovered that I’m the perfect candidate for this type of life.

On the bed beside me are:

  • my Mac Air;
  • my Levenger notebook (calendar etc.);
  • a Circa notebook fat with my To Do lists;
  • another notebook (a Semikolon Mucho Spiral Notebook for the stationery curious), where I’m thinking through The Next Novel;
  • a three-ring binder for scene sheets (@ Story Genius), which I’m really using as a support for my mouse pad and mouse);
  • my Kindle;
  • an iPad;
  • and a stack of magazines (The New Yorker, Real Simple, and Bookmarks).

Beside the bed is my walker (required for just a little longer!), a water bottle, clock, and iPhone. Moisturizer, lipstick, post-its, pencil, pen, pills. Snacks, tissue. Basic clutter.

Everything I need, in short, right where I can reach it. The only problem with this rat’s-nest life is that I can’t climb stairs (yet), can’t get up to my office.

But for now, I’m making great use of this time.

Website renovation

With every publication, a writer needs to update his/her website with information about the new book, a new media kit, author events, and a new author portrait throughout.

I didn’t have time to get an author portrait taken this year (I tried a selfie, with poor results), so I’ve used one James Brylowski took of me five years ago.

“Problem is, books are written slowly, and aging happens all of a sudden.” — from a wonderful article: The Agony and the Ecstasy of taking Author Photos.)

Having neglected my website for years, I discovered a number of problems. Fortunately, I was able to find a great website person through Fiverr.com who is helping me. We have quite a bit to do yet.

(Frankly, I don’t know how authors who publish a book a year manage.)

An important part of getting my website more reader-worthy was setting up my Media page. Following the directions of Tim Grahl (see below), I learned to code my Media page so that high-definition images would be automatically downloaded with just a click. I’m fairly stoked that I was able to do this.

Also, on Fiverr.com, I found someone to turn the book cover of The Game of Hope into a 3D image (see above). For $5!

Easy Outreach with Tim Grahl

When it comes to marketing, I’m a fan of Tim Grahl, He’s experienced, down-to-earth and realistic. I’ve taken a few of his online courses, and they’ve always been worthwhile. Right now I’m following a new one he’s testing out, “Easy Outreach.” Basically, it’s about how to get interviewed on podcasts, but the detailed system he outlines would apply to any outreach: to blogs, vlogs, or podcasts, etc.

An important part of the process is to identify suitable podcasts and to study them before making a pitch. (I’ve discovered a number of wonderful podcasts in the process.) I’m kind of excited about putting this into practice. I ordered a USB Yeti mike, and already have one podcast interview scheduled for the fall.

I’m ready! Who knows where this might lead?

Finally learning Scrivener

I’ve promised myself that I would write The Next Novel on Scrivener. I’ve taken stabs at learning it before, but I’ve always ended up confused and frustrated. It’s a complex programme! I was on the verge of giving up when I came upon a Udemy Scrivener 3 course for Mac. It had excellent reviews so I went for it. It’s been fantastic. I have questions almost every day, and the teacher responds to every one. I take it bit by bit, and immediately apply what I’ve learned, so hopefully, it will stick. I’m finally understanding why so many writers love it.

Additionally, I’ve been developing my next novel following the guidelines in Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Puzzling over how to get Cron’s scene card templates into my Scrivener project, I Googled “Story Genius Scrivener” and found a wonderful article by Gwen Hernandez on WriterUnboxed: Using Scrivener with Story Genius. Bingo! She even included a downloadable Scrivener template with scene card templates (and much more).

Watching movies, reading and listening to books and reading magazines …

And then, of course, there have been wonderful movies to watch: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Call Me by Your Name; and, last night, Lady Bird. All were simply great. Of the three, I found Call Me by Your Name the most enchanting, swooningly European.

And then, of course, books, books, books! In addition to books on writing, I’m reading The Burning Girl by Claire Messud and listening, on Audible, to an amazing performance of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

A hard life, eh?

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3 ways to begin to develop the characters in your story

3 ways to begin to develop the characters in your story

I promised in my last post on beginning a novel that I would write about creating characters.

Of course, to begin with, I have characters swarming, ideas both historical and fictional. I’ve already searched photo databanks for images that might fit. (Currently, I like using Unsplash for contemporary photos, largely because they tend to be more natural and have personality.)

These incendiary sparks are key, but at a certain point, I have to become analytical.

The first step: The Writer’s Journey

I begin this process by reviewing Part One of The Writer’s Journey; Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler. (This is a book on writing I highly recommend.)

I list the archetypes that traditionally most good stories need:

  • Mentor
  • Hero/Heroine
  • Threshold Guardian(s)
  • Herald
  • Shapeshifter
  • Ally (or Allies)
  • Trickster
  • Shadow(s)

And then I begin mulling over the characters in My Next Novel (working title, “Raptor Girl”). The roles can be combined into one character (i.e. Shadow and Shapeshifter). I know who my Heroine is, as well as my evil Shadow, and I’m fairly certain that the Mentor is my Heroine’s father. But looking at this list, I realized, Damn, I don’t have a Trickster! And I need one. I need someone to bring humor to this story.

So right now, at this point, I’m still mulling. But that doesn’t stop me from moving onto the next step.

Step two: consulting The Positive Trait Thesaurus, The Negative Trait Thesaurus, and The Emotional Wound Thesaurus

 

I love these thesauruses. There are more, and I’ve used them all at various stages of writing a novel. At this mulling-about-characters stage, they are a great way to brainstorm. It’s also a good way to identify where the confusions lie.

I immediately identified my heroine Molly as alert (she’s a falconer, after all), and I have a fairly good feel for her brothers and her mother, but her father and the villain remain just a little mysterious to me yet. And who the heck is the Trickster?

Is it the “Wild Woman”?

I’ve long been drawn to having a character I think of as “Wild Woman,” inspired by this amazing portrait:

Lucrezia as Poetry" by Salvator Rosa.

This is “Lucrezia as Poetry” by Salvator Rosa. (An amazing portrait, don’t you think?) But where would she fit in? (Speak to me, Lucrezia!) Might she be a Trickster? Quite possibly. She might well also be a Shapeshifter or even a Mentor.

I’m still in the mulling stage, but it’s time to put together files for all of these characters, including their images, their roles in the story, their positive and negative traits, and (most important) emotional wounds.

And then, step three: the fun part

Once all this begins to congeal somewhat, I will assign sun signs (unless, of course, they are already historically known), and give some thought to where they all fall on an Enneagram chart: Perfectionist? Nurturer? Achiever? Romantic? Observer? Skeptic? Adventurer? Leader? Peacemaker?

I used Enneagram for my most recent novel (The Game of Hope) and Caroline Bonaparte, the Villain, was clearly a #8 (the Boss, Leader or Challenger, depending).

I’ve just bought Believable Characters; Creating with Enneagrams by Laurie Schnebly—so I can’t report on it yet—but there are a number of helpful articles on the Net:

Additionally, if you get hooked on all this—warning: it can become a tempting diversion—there is an online 10-week course available:

Final step: integration

The final challenge will be to pull all this information together and begin to form an integrated concept of each character, filling out the details of their lives, their health, their appearance, their eccentricities.

And then, of course, let them loose in your story!

 

 

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The joy of being at the beginning of writing a novel

The joy of being at the beginning of writing a novel

{Portrait of Robert Cheseman (1485-1547) by Hans Holbein the Younger. Might this be a model for my heroine’s father?}

I’m at the beginning of writing my next novel, and it’s a joy. I feel happy as a kid in a sandbox. It’s a slow process of discovery, and I expect it to take all year.

The things about my writing process that never change

This will be my seventh novel (ninth, counting the two thankfully unpublished ones), and there are a few things that always remain the same:

  • I always feel like a novice starting out.
  • I always change my method.
  • I always experiment with process.

Story Genius: a great book on writing

This time I’m following the advice given in 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) by Lisa Cron.

By following, I mean that every time the author writes WHAT TO DO, I do it.

Here’s an early example from page 52:

WHAT TO DO Now, you try it. Write a What If that’s as fully fleshed out as you can make it, but still concise.

Here’s another example from page 118:

WHAT TO DO Now it’s your turn. Your goal is to zero in on three turning point scenes that will yield the most story-specific info, the most potent grist for the mill, so that you can, indeed, begin your novel in medias res.

The point of Story Genius is to identify the moments in your main character’s past life that result in an emotional wound so deep that it will propel her (and us) through the novel. It’s a slow process of discovery, but very worthwhile.

I’m at page 194 now, and at this point I’ve written three pivotal scenes from my main character’s early life, an opening scene and a critical scene at the end of the novel. (Cron makes it clear that all of this will inevitably change.)

Getting into the nitty-gritty

Now the task is to begin to “blueprint” the novel, first by setting up folders for each character, for scenes, for ideas, and for the world the story unfolds in. I plan to do all this in Scrivener, but I’m beginning by exploring my characters in more depth.

This, alone, will take time, but it’s truly a pleasure. In my next blog post, I intend to share the tools I have used in the past to develop character, along with some excellent new tools I have discovered.

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How to begin to write a book

How to begin to write a book

Every stage of writing a book is a challenge—the beginning, the middle, and the end—but I think figuring out how to begin to write a book might be the most difficult.

I’m at the beginning stage of writing my next novel now. I’m going to use Scrivener for this one, and so I have a lot to learn. It’s coming.

I’ve started etching out a plot using plot “beats” I’ve gleaned from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Yet I’ve been floundering. I’m accustomed to writing biographical fiction, with reams of biographies to work from. That has its own challenges, certainly, but for me, the free fall of a novel based on someone about whom there are only a few paragraphs written—and whose existence is debated, at that—is even more challenging.

I’ve discovered a book that is excellent for the pre-plot stage: 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).

I’ve resisted this book because it felt too gimmicky, but it was recommended by writers I respect and admire, and so I’m giving it a try. I’m impressed! It’s helping me to closely define my protagonist before I construct the plot. It doesn’t make it easy (nothing can), but it’s highly worthwhile. If you are at the pre-plot stage—or if you are having difficulty knowing how to begin writing—I recommend you read this book. Better yet, do the exercises.

How do you begin writing a book? What works for you?

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