Thursday, October 24, 2013

Just how rough is a rough draft?

One of the biggest hurdles I have faced in trying to write a novel starts with the first paragraph.  Exactly how "rough" should (can) my rough draft be?

Whether you're a pantser or a planner, it doesn't matter:  all roads converge when we each sit down and begin pounding out our stories.  It's more than just the "inner editor."  It's more than just wanting to replace a word or phrase here and there.  It's the question of doubt that begins to seep in when you look at something you've written -- in draft form -- and realize you aren't quite in your character's head yet, but more like dumping information onto paper (or into computer).

After 20 or so pages of this same slop, maybe you begin to realize that your "chapters" don't look that much different than your outline.  "Wait a minute," you're thinking.  "This is all just information.  No one is going to want to read this.  How come it's not coming out like (insert your favorite book here)?"

Let me stop you right there.

It's okay that you aren't happy with it.  Rough drafts are just that -- they're horrible.  They are a way to clear your head of all that stored up information so that when you go back to edit, you actually have something to edit.

Let me put it another way.  I'm going to grab a book from my bookshelf and completely butcher it for a second.

The first book I came across that wasn't a short story anthology or a small novella happened to be Stephen King's The Wind Through the Keyhole.  Hopefully SK won't mind my un-brilliant rendition of his most recent Dark Tower book.

Let's just start on page one.  The story begins,

       "During the days after they left the Green Palace that wasn't Oz after all--but which was now the tomb of the unpleasant fellow Roland's ka-tet had known as the Tick-Tock Man--the boy Jake began to range farther and farther ahead of Roland, Eddie, and Susannah."

Nice opening line, right?  Now let's imagine for a second this is in draft form.  Maybe if this was your book, you'd have started like this:

Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake left the Green Palace, and Jake began straying farther ahead of the rest of the group.

What the hell is that crap?

Self, meet draft.  Yes, it's crap, but it's okay.  You got your point across.  You know now that everyone left the spot where the Tick-Tock Man was finally killed.  You know they left together.  You know that Jake is starting to get a little more independent.  Maybe you attribute it to his growing up.  Straying away from the group would be typical, adolescent behavior.

King's final product is much more pleasant to read, but it didn't start out that way.

Let's see what the next paragraph says, in King's words.

      "Don't you worry about him?"  Susannah asked Roland.  "Out there on his own?"
      "He's got Oy with him," Eddie said, referring to the billy-bumbler who had adopted Jake as his special friend.  "Mr. Oy gets along with nice folks alright, but he's got a mouthful of sharp teeth for those who aren't so nice.  As that guy Gasher found out to his sorrow."

Okay.  Not too shabby, Mr. King.  But let's imagine how it started for a second.

Susannah is worried that Jake is straying farther ahead.  She asks Roland what he thinks.  Eddie throws in his two cents and reminds Susannah that Oy is with Jake.

Do you see now?  It's okay if you're writing like the above "draft" examples.  The important part is that you're writing.  When your draft is complete, you can go back and doctor it up as much as you'd like.  You can work on a scene at a time.  No one expects your first draft to be pretty.

Didn't include any dialogue?  Don't sweat it - it can be added in as you revise.  Too much backstory before any action?  That's fine - you can take all the time you need to revise the order of the story once it is complete.  Yes, you may find that parts of what began as a structured timeline from point A to point B may have to be rewritten into dialogue.  Chapters and pieces may be shuffled around.  It's okay - this is what is supposed to happen.

Sometimes I think we just need to compare what we're doing to what everyone else is doing, and I don't know a whole lot of writers that are willing to share their drafts.  I've never seen a published novel with its companion draft sitting on the shelf next to it.  As a writer, it can be incredibly humbling to want to do something (write) with all your heart and soul but feel like you stink at it.

Everyone stinks at it.

Language has limitations.  A view of a sunset is always going to be better than a picture of a sunset, which is going to be better than someone describing a sunset.  That's life.  But if, as a writer, you don't even take the time to describe the sunset, there is no sunset, and isn't a description better than nothing at all?

Keep banging out those crappy first drafts.  Promise yourself (and that nagging voice inside your head) that no one but you is ever going to read your drafts, so who cares.  If you think your draft sucks, think how much better it is going to be once you have completed your novel and can actually sit down and revise.

Comments?  Questions?  Breakfast?  Click on the comment box below and drop me a line.  Bonus points if you want to share one of your crappiest draft sentences.   :-O

Edit:  If you're a fan of the Dark Tower books and have not yet picked up The Wind Through the Keyhole, I highly recommend it.  You can purchase a copy via Amazon here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

You owe it to yourself.

Failure is not an option.

You've heard it thousands of times, seen it shouted in a few made-for-tv movies, but you don't really believe it.  You've heard it so many times, in fact, that it probably doesn't mean anything anymore.  But just think about it for a second.

Failure is not an option.

The line is attributed to Gene Krantz, spoken from Mission Control to Apollo 13 astronauts, but it has been confirmed that Krantz never actually uttered the line during that time:  producers for the film came up with it based on interviews with Krantz.  It has become a catch-phrase used in education, NASA, used to describe key points on the public agenda spectrum.  It was the title of a movie in 2003, yet we still don't believe it, because we accept our own failures every day.

How many times have you tried to quit smoking?  It's hard, I know.  The first time you really really try.  You tell your friends you're giving it up.  You try until it hurts.  And for those who succeed, I applaud you, but for those who have failed, that one time turns into 20.  Each "attempt" makes it easier to fail.  Maybe the second time, you only try for 9 hours before deciding, "You know what?  Now isn't a good time.  I'll try again after the holidays."

Despite nifty catch-phrases like "no child left behind," children still fail every day.  And as parents, we tell our kids, "Well, that's alright buddy.  Try better next time."  In order to not make kids feel bad, everyone gets a medal for just showing up to a sporting event.  Because we don't want them to know what it feels like to fail.  And you?  Your friends rally around you every time you attempt to start writing, so they can be there for you when you throw in the towel a month later.

It makes us feel all smiles and rainbows when our friends ask us how our novel is coming along.  We tell them, "Well, something came up.  Now's not a good time.  I'm going to start working on it again when things settle down."

We want friends who say, "Oh, man," in a very sincere voice.  "Well, that's okay.  I'm sure the next time is going to be even better.  There's no sense in trying to do that when you've got this going on."  With a little pat on the head, we can let go our held breath.  Whew.  That was easy.  See?  I didn't fail, I just put it off.

Tell yourself that enough times, and you start to believe it.

Everyone has a story about how many times it took them to quit smoking, to start exercising, to start eating right.  Books have been written about how to follow a budget based on all the failures they endured ahead of time.  I was supposed to meet a man on Saturday morning at 10am - he was going to buy something I had listed on Craigslist.  I drove a half-hour to meet him - he never showed.  Never called.  Never answered my call.  How easy was it for him to tell himself, "Well, I'm a little busy right now.  I've changed my mind.  I'm sure she won't care if I don't show up."

In other words, "I'm just going to sit home and fail."

It has become too easy to fail.  We reward it.  We make excuses for it.  We excuse it in other people.  It is too easy to just not do it.  If you consistently tell yourself, "Now isn't a good time.  I'll write tomorrow/next Tuesday/next month/next NaNoWriMo," you are never ever going to get your novel finished.

Don't make excuses.  Failure is not an option.  If you don't write that book, one of two things is going to happen:  It's either never going to get written, or someone else is going to write something similar that becomes a smashing success.  Either way, you're always going to live in your old "Glory Days," talking about that "great book idea" you had, and how you could have written a best-seller "if only you'd had the time to write."

Well guess what - you did have the time to write.  The bottom line is that you failed yourself, and you failed your idea.  Anyone can come up with an idea for a book - hell, that's the easy part.  It takes courage and commitment to actually write it down.  All 90,000 words.  I read a blog yesterday that summed it up perfectly for me.  Reading this was like someone reaching down into my guts and tying my intestines in a big, pink bow.  Emma Newman wrote a blog titled "When just write is not enough."  I have never read a writing blog that touched me on such a personal level, because I am "that writer."  I have at least four unfinished manuscripts in my desk, cast aside because I couldn't deal with the fact that my clumsy writing wasn't able to reproduce the brilliant, beautiful story floating around in my head.  Instead of just getting the draft on paper and perfecting it later, I gave up.  Why?

Because not doing something is much easier than doing something.  If you don't try, you don't fail in your writing - and in one sense, that's true, but you've got to look at the bigger picture.  If you don't try, you have failed.  Doing nothing is worse than doing something and having that first draft stink.  So what if it stinks?  It's supposed to stink.  But if you don't ever get it on paper, there's nothing to revise!  Your beautiful story/character/plot is going to remain in your head forever, while you continue to lie to yourself to make yourself feel good:  "I had a great idea for a story once - I just never got around to writing it."

Bullshit.  You had a great idea for a story but you never followed through.  There is a huge difference.

Don't fail yourself.  Don't fail your story.  Make failure not an option.  There may not be a next week/next month/next year.

Don't be so touchy-feely with your failure, and quit rewarding yourself for nothing.  Don't give yourself so much credit for simply having an idea.  An idea is not a novel.  There are no awards given for simply having an idea, and if you don't have the courage to at least try to follow through, you're idea is going to remain in limbo until you die.  Or until you forget it.

And really, which is worse?

Write your novel.  Write it this November.  Write it tomorrow.  Don't forgive yourself so easily for giving up, because some day you're going to regret it.  Get back to a time when "failure" was a stranger, rather than the acquaintance lurking next door.  I promise you, we aren't going to regret it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kids, science, and religion. Oh boy.

My 9-year-old came home from school today, sat down at my desk with me, and asked me if I knew who Bill Nye, the Science Guy is.

Of course I do:  I follow him on Twitter.

I said, "Yep, I know who he is.  Why?"

He said, "Well, he's an evolutionist."  He sighed.  The world was just too big for him at that moment.

And then he just sat there.  I said, "Okay, and what does that mean to you?  Tell me what an evolutionist is."

He told me that Bill Nye believes in evolution, and that he must be wrong because Aidan learned in church that we don't come from monkeys:  we come from Adam and Eve.

The silence was palpable.  Or, the night was sultry.  Your pick.

I went on a talking spree that lasted the better of thirty minutes and included a drawing on the white board representing evolution.  I tried to tell him that faith and science don't have to discount or disprove each other.  I explained that there is empirical, scientific evidence that proves that evolution does exist, and that having faith in religion doesn't mean that science is wrong, nor can science take anything away from his religious belief.

I posed the Intelligent Design theory and asked him if, in fact, God could have created two hominid beings that may have eventually evolved into today's Homo sapiens.  He thought about it for a minute and figured, yeah, that might be possible, too.

We talked about some Old Testament stories and how they can be found throughout history, even predating the Bible, and that maybe those stories gave people thousands of years ago some sort of explanation for why things happened (floods, fires, famine, etc.).  He kind of understood, but, man, my heart really hurt at how easily he was able to discredit scientific fact simply because it didn't jive with what he learned in church.

Parents, is this a topic that has come up in your household?  Regardless of your belief system, how do  you handle a child who is starting to become interested in, yet confused by, such charged arguments and debates?  Sweeping it under the rug doesn't work in my book, but I also don't want to steer him or sway him one way or another.

Parenting:  toughest job on the planet.

Cherstin, out.

Edit:  Scholarly people, I'm not 100% that I have all my facts straight here.  This wasn't a "take notes" kind of lecture, but I just wanted the little guy to have some understanding that there isn't necessarily one right or wrong answer to the infinitesimal questions surrounding the universe.  I don't claim to be a theologian or a scientist:  I'm just a mom who likes to blog.  And ice cream.  And yes, I'm using ice cream as a verb.

Amazon, you sneaky bastards.

After a fantabulous sandwich dinner last night (during which my husband declared, "This is the best sandwich I've ever eaten"), my 2.5-year-old wanted to go for a walk.  Or, more specifically, he wanted to "wide bike, mamma."

Generally, this is said with such a speech impediment in the R=W area that I become an absolutely helpless pile of mush and I'm forced to give in to his demands, as was the case last night.

I looked around the patio table at my other two gentlemen, one of which was playing Minecraft, the other playing on his iPhone5, and realized there were no takers.  Thus, Caleb and I headed out with my phone, his juice cup, and his big wheel.

The thing that is great about 2-year-olds is that they have no sense of urgency or time, which is also their most annoying feature, too, so be careful.  (See also, "Ok to Wake!" clock, below.)

We leave the house, the moon is out, the sun has almost dipped below the horizon, and I decide that this would be a great opportunity to finish Aidan's Christmas shopping on my Amazon app, so I whip out my phone and open my cart.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear?  One stinking toy in the cart, whose name cannot be revealed here, went from $37.99 to $51 in the span of two days!  "What the hell," I'm thinking.  "I'm not paying that much for a ___ ____ ___."  But then, panic set in.  If that one increased that much, what about the others?  What if I come back to the cart tomorrow and everything has increased?

Instead of taking a stand and making some philosophical statement to the world, I went ahead and hit the ginormous "place order" button before it was too late.

This will officially be the first time in 9 years that Aidan's Christmas shopping has been done in October, but only because Amazon held my arm behind my back and threatened me.

Speaking of Amazon, and of preschoolers with no sense of time, I broke down and ordered Caleb an "Okay to Wake" clock.  This is not a Christmas present.  As a matter of fact, I paid extra to have this one delivered today.

He is so into reading that he has been waking up in the 5's for the past few days, perfectly content to turn his light on, grab a book, and holler to the rest of the house that it is time to get up because "someone needs to come weed to me!"

I've already told you I'm a sucker for those R=Ws.


Cherstin, out.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities. Or Blogs.

I'm no blog expert, but I know what I like, and I am an expert in what I like.


Unless this is the first time we're picking out a paint color, in which case let's just throw this gallon away right now.

I tend to veer toward blogs about writing (as a craft) as opposed to parenting blogs, even though I am a parent.  Whether it's the fact that my parenting skills are superb and second-to-none, or because I don't want to read about another toddler's grocery store meltdown when I'm already living through my own, I just don't do the whole parenting/mommy blog thing.  My music tastes aren't very innovative and I don't watch much tv, so I don't follow music or entertainment blogs, but one thing I do believe is that there ought to be a variety in a "blog about writing," or "an author's blog," or whatever your niche happens to be.

When I'm kind of pissed off, I blog.  If something gets under my skin, I blog.  If I'm feeling overwhelmingly sentimental to a time when I was young and thought I knew it all, I blog.  But I don't have a separate blog:  it's all here.  You're looking at it right now.

Is it a juvenile and/or unprofessional line of thought that my blog is a representation of me, regardless of how well my next book sells?  I mean, people can Google me and find out my stats and bio.  There are myriad blogs done much more professionally than this who also spit out information about writing, short stories, mathematics as a genre, whatever floats your boat, so why would I limit myself to compete solely with people who have written "how to" manuals on writing, for crying out loud?

Look.  If you are here reading this, you're here.  You're not going to get a lot of hoity-toity practical how to lists, or "Ten Things You Should Know About Florida's Healthcare Laws."  (Yawn.)  What you're going to get is a whole lot of unfiltered me, and if you're okay with that, you're in the right place.

The reason behind this whole "let me think out loud" blog-venture today spawned out of my decision this afternoon to register my own domain name.  Who knew something so simple could become such a complicated thought-process?  I did it with the intention of simply redirecting any traffic to this blog, but then I started wondering if my personal domain name should offer something more--oh, I don't know--professional?  (I'm trying to say that with a straight face.)

But why two blogs?  Is there some secret, alternate me that only a select few people should know of?  If so, why isn't she cleaning the house?  And also if so, why would I need a blog just for those handful(s) of people?  They can just pick up the phone and call.  They can even swing on over, should they be in the neighborhood.  They can even lie and tell me they were in the neighborhood.  Maybe I'd whip up some grilled cheese sandwiches while we sit and discuss what we'd do if we won the lottery, or how that tree would look so much better in the front yard.  We'd probably have a few cigarettes, too.  Maintaining two blogs seems like a lot of work, and what about the imagined dichotomy?  Would it be a faux pas to discuss one in front of the other?


Like the saying goes, "Wherever you are, there you are," so I'm staying.  Professional me, meet real-life slacker me.   Now, go fold laundry or something.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Suggestions?  Nachos?

Til then,

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Please retract those claws, along with your last statement.

Ahhh.  Fall is in the air.

The birds are singing, the Golden Retriever has once again found a loose board in the fence and can be seen running around in the lot next-door, and the trampoline is covered in leaves.

Also, National Novel Writing Month.

I saw a post on G+ the other day--a post whose location is eluding me at the moment--but the spirit of it was something like this:  Writers and authors, please stop criticizing one another.  It is okay to write in a different style/format/point of view than someone else.  It is okay if some people choose to self-publish, and it is okay if others publish traditionally.  Are you forgetting that you all do the same thing, that you are each a slave to your own voice/muse/characters/plot?  Instead of arguing over petty differences, why not congratulate each other on jobs well-done?

(Those aren't the exact words:  not even close, just "close enough.")

People are too critical of one another these days.  (The irony of me being critical to other people's levels of criticism is not lost on me, folks.  Don't worry.  This just needs to be said.)  If someone asks you in broken English to critique their writing, for goodness' sake, don't rip them a new one over a few technical mistakes.  Do you know what the worst writers and the best writers have in common?  They each 1.) feel the same urgent need to write, and 2.) need some type of encouragement before the knife gets stuck in to the hilt.

G+ has a wide variety of communities geared toward writing critiques and evaluations, but too many people are so busy peddling their new book or blog that they don't even try to help the brave soul who just posted his most recent work and is asking for some feedback.  When is the last time you went out on a limb and felt vulnerable?  Yes, you've gained the ability to pump out a blog post in eleven minutes flat and you now have the confidence to post/share it online for the world to see, but have you forgotten the days when you just wanted to hear a few words of encouragement?  When you were on the verge of throwing in the towel?  The weeks when your blog might have seen one hit?  Do you remember what it would have meant to you for one person to simply say, "I love what you've done here!" or, "This is a great opening line!"

Everyone is so busy trying to score their own blog hits or push their own "Download the First Four Pages Free!" websites that no one really pays attention to the guy in the corner who is waiting for someone to give him some kind of a thumbs-up on his short work.

"Yes, but my novel/play/interpretive dance dvd just came out.  You have no idea how busy I have been marketing it.  Did you know I'm doing everything myself?"  Yes.  Yes, I did realize that.  I realized that just about the seventeenth time your link came across my G+ page, thanks for asking.  Everyone wants the other person's time, but no one wants to invest their own.  Everyone wants to be paid for their work to appear in a magazine, but no one wants to buy the magazine subscriptions anymore.  The happy medium here is that you get what you give.

My mantra for the future?  Let me write, let me be successful, but never let me forget where I came from.

It is almost November.  It is time to encourage people to write.  A critique does not have to pick apart every little thing that someone has done differently than what you would have done had that been your story.  Encourage.  Smile.  Have fun.  Help others to have fun.  And when all else fails, remember:  The first draft of anything is shit.  (Or so said Hemingway, or someone walking around in his clothes.)

Interacting with people--with real, live people?  That's marketing.  "Marketing" is not posting link after link to your website/blog/author interview.  That's actually spamming.  Take down your wall.  Help someone who is asking.  Comment.  Give some feedback.  If you are the one with the experience, take the time to talk about it with a group.

A group of real live people.

Writing a blog at 3am and then posting it in every community is one thing, but it's not the only thing.

Nothing excites me more than authors who are busy but continue to make time to be human.  It's sexy, it's invigorating, and it's real.

Thanks for reading.

Cherstin, out.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Put the pen down, stand up slowly, and no one gets hurt."

I'm taking a break from NaNo prep for a few days - I've got to give myself some time to unwind.

Having moved my one-woman party over to G+, I have found myriad creative writing blogs and "how-to" articles in preparation for November, and so it began ... but I started prepping a bit too early this year and found myself frustrated that I couldn't just grab a notebook and start writing already.

I tried working on some short stories, but let's face it - when you've got unwritten characters meandering around in your head, there's not much room for anything else.

For that reason, I was happy that my midterms took place last week - that should explain my disappearance.  Sort of.  Adding to the disappearance was a lengthy argument/debate on Facebook with a stranger regarding the current state of affairs in the United States, a 1.5-hour North Korean documentary I felt powerless to turn off last night, an argument with my husband over our differing methods on parenting, and some holes in the yard from our Golden Retriever that needed tending.  

Add in a few bike rides, a few lost (then found) pairs of sunglasses (my 2.5-year-old son's prized possessions this month), and some pictures I needed to take for my photography midterm, and you've got my weekend in a nutshell.

On another note, I purchased an AlphaSmart Neo this morning from Amazon.  Used.  It doesn't appear they can be purchased new anymore, which is unfortunate when it comes to buying things with a sort of sentimental value.  Am I buying someone's Neo who absolutely positively gave up on a writing career?  Did the last owner jump off a bridge between chapters 4 and 7, leaving behind his unfinished masterpiece and instructions on taking care of his cat?

I may never know.

For that reason, however, I promise you this:  To the previous owner of this Neo I ordered via Amazon, if you happen to be reading this, I won't let you down.  I guess you didn't have too much luck with it, or maybe the whole "typing sans internet" thing just threw you for a loop.  Maybe you were ecstatic when you packed it up in its original container and the mailman came to pick it up, and as the truck drove away, you hollered, "Good riddance!" and finished your novel on your new desktop computer from Sam's Club.  I'm not sure.

But I just want you to know that I'm going to finish this year.  You'll be proud of your old Neo.  I might take it to places it's never seen.  (Has it ever even been to Florida before?)

I think the added pressure might do me good.

What about you, blog reader?  Any new tips or tricks in your arsenal this year?  And how was your weekend, because I forgot to ask.   ;-)

Cherstin, out.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

On Outlining for Plot: My (Sort of) Index Card Method

After spending 40 hours of yesterday's daylight plotting out my novel, getting to know my characters, laying out the setting, and having an otherwise all-around awesome day, I figured I'd add my big list of "what works for me" to the ol' interwebs.

One can never have too much advice, I suppose.

I did a lot of searching, reading, and researching the various methods for organizing a novel, and what I've done here is to take bits and pieces of advice given by other authors, writers, editors, etc. and meld them all in to a process that worked best for me.  This doesn't mean that this is going to be what works for you, but I found this to be the easiest and most comfortable method for working on my novel that didn't end up feeling like "busy work."

If you've made it this far in the process to the point where you're figuring how to organize your plot, you've probably already got some kind of a.) a character, or b.) an idea for your book.  If you don't, don't worry!  We'll figure that out, too.  No matter how simple or vague your idea, this plotting method is going to help lay things out in a way so that other great ideas are going to be fighting tooth and nail to make it onto your big list o' plot.  Keep a pen at the ready, and stay alert.

I began this process with a 2,600-word opening-scene (actually, two opening scenes) draft that I'd started during last year's NaNoWriMo, before I apparently got abducted by aliens or whatever happened that made me throw in the towel just a few days into the month, but you can begin yours however you'd like.  Blank sheet of paper?  No big deal.  Half-finished manuscript?  That works, too.  Whatever you've got, bring it to the table and let's get ready to novel.

Writing it Out.

At this point, don't even worry about using your index cards, unless you're hot and want to splay them open like a fan.  This part of the process is going to go a lot quicker and in a much more orderly fashion if you have everything laid out on one page so you can see where you've come from and where you may be heading.  Those index cards will have their moment of glory, but first, a little work.

Open a Word document (or grab a pen and a blank sheet of paper) and type or write the number one.  It should look like this:  1.  Now write a brief sentence (or two or three) summarizing your first scene.  Hit enter.  Write the number 2.  Write another brief sentence summarizing your second scene.  Hit enter.

The goal here is to shoot for roughly sixty scenes.  (If each scene in your novel averages 1,200 words, you're looking at 72,000 words when all is said and done.  It's still a little on the short side, but it's a great start, and more than what is required to successfully complete NaNoWriMo.  If your scenes are in the 1,500-word range, congratulations - your completed manuscript will weigh in at roughly 90,000 words.  Pretty respectable, chum, so give yourself a pat on the back.)

Think in terms of television, something we are all used to these days.  We like action.  We want the scenes to change.  We want to get lost in camera angles.  If you're striving for a longer work, add more scenes rather than extending the scenes too long, unless your goal/idea/masterpiece/experiment involves a novel that reads more like a series of short stories than chapters.  Anything longer and the story may start to lose its pace.  

(Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  This is your novel, so you write what works for you.)

At this point, some writers suggest splitting the scenes up evenly between characters, so if you're shooting for 60 scenes, give 20 to your main character, 20 to the villain, 10 to side character A, and 10 to side character B.  I don't agree with this method, so I don't follow it.  To me, it seems contrived.  I'd rather let the story flow out on its own without trying to assign characters right now.  Later, if I see that side character B is only featured twice, maybe I'll consider getting rid of him or her, or morphing him or her into side character A, but that's later.

Back in your Word document or handy dandy notebook paper, continue listing scenes you'd like to appear in your work.  It doesn't matter if they stay in order.  If you are struck with a brilliant idea for the end of the story but you're only on number six, go ahead and write it now, giving your future self some sort of clue that it happens later.  Like this:

6.  Later, Stacey is going to find the missing aardvark.  It will have Larry's burrito tied around its tail.  I think she's going to be mad, and might end up shooting him -- Larry, that is.  Or maybe the aardvark.  Or maybe both.

At this point, things don't need to be too detailed.  Of course, if you have an awesome idea that involves details, type them in, too, (or write them in, if you're penciling or penning) so you don't forget them later.  The point is to just keep going to see what you can come up with.  If you like fight scenes, try one out!  Throw it in.  What kinds of situations would you like to see your characters in?  If it resonates with you, you're going to believe it.  If you believe it, and you write it like you believe it, your readers are going to believe it.

Don't be afraid to be mean to your characters.  Throw something on the page and see if it sticks.  Odds are, one small idea will lead to an idea for another scene, and then another, and then another.  Keep going until you reach what you consider the end.

The More You Know:  Character

The more you build your plot, the stronger you're going to get some sense of your characters.  If you add a skinny-dipping scene and your main character is in the back of your mind, screaming, "Yes!  Yes!  Yes!" like a college frat boy, odds are you've just learned something about him.  Jot it down on a character sheet.  I prefer a plain piece of paper (or new Word document) for character.  Nothing fancy, just some ideas.  Other writers/authors suggest doing a "character interview," or filling out a character sheet that involves everything from their favorite television show to when they stopped wetting the bed, but I don't think those are necessary right now.  They may come in handy down the road, however, if you're writing from a certain character's point of view.  Capturing the voice of the character will be easier if you know how well-read they are, for example, or what they do for a living.  Or their political view.  

No one wants to read a novel about Jim, the sheep salesman, who goes around one day, sells a bunch of sheep, and goes home.  Nothing happens that we don't already know based on Jim's job.  In order for the reader to stay interested, we need to see Jim get hit with some sick and twisted shit, and that's the truth.

Jim goes next door to sell a sheep.  His neighbor answers the door wearing nothing but cotton, only I'm talking cotton balls.  And she only uses three of them.  Jim, usually a pretty shy and vanilla guy, has just seen his ultimate fantasy come true.  What does he do?  Run away?  Loosen his tie and head inside?  Call the police and report his neighbor's strange behavior?  You decide.  But whatever it is that Jim does, it better say something about Jim, even if he tries something out of the ordinary.  If Jim would normally be a "turn tail and run" guy but decides, in this situation, to stick it out and see where it goes, we need to know that.  Show us that Jim is nervous, that this is new to him.  Does he start to sweat?  Does he need a glass of water?  Does he ask for one repeatedly, his voice cracking?  You get the picture.

On Jim's character page, write down how doing something "out of the norm" makes him feel.  Strong?  Brave?  Heroic?  Nervous?  Nauseous?  Uncomfortable?  Note it, and move on.


Oh no.  Maybe, like me, you've only made it to 24 scenes and your story just wrapped itself up.  The neat little package is beautiful.  All loose ends have been resolved, someone died, someone lived, and the world is the way it's supposed to be.  You've got a handful of characters, a great story line, some intense high spots/low spots/action scenes, but you've only made it to the number 24.  What now?

Once you feel finished, print.  Hell, even if you only feel 80% finished, print.  This isn't the final draft, for crying out loud.  Make sure your scene pages are double-spaced (at least) with plenty of room in the margins.  Five minutes after you print this, you want to make sure you have plenty of room to write those great ideas that are going to continue rolling in.  That's okay.  Slide them in where you can.  Write on the back.  Make an elaborate asterisk code.  Use stars, exclamation points, whatever you need to do.  Just jot.  When you eventually need to retype, that's fine too, but shoot for just jotting for now.

Now print out (or write out) the character sheets for each of your main characters.  These don't need to be numbered or bulleted, and probably don't even need to be double-spaced:  you can just jot on the bottom of the sheet if additional inspiration strikes, and/or cross out if necessary.

If you find you've only made it to number 24 on your plot/scene page, there are a few options, because I know you love options.  You can add more scenes, add more characters, or try starting the exercise again using a side story.  Don't freak.  This may be something larger than or "outside" your characters.  Government shutdown?  Hostile corporate takeover?   The greenhouse effect?  Either way, shoot for ideas that can work as a side theme or side story.  Maybe it will end up entwined within your main story somehow.  Odds are, if you're still inspired and still coming up with ideas, it will fit.  

If that doesn't seem to work for you, don't sweat it.  If you build it, they will come, or so Kevin Costner said.  Just start with what you've got and go from there.  There are no concrete rules for your novel, so you do what works best for you.

Finally, the index cards.

Your scenes are written.  Your novel is complete.  You've done it.  Everything worked out exactly how you wanted, and they all lived happily ever after, or they didn't.  Once everything is said and done, now it's time to shuffle.

Remember your scene sentence summary - the exercise where you initially only made it to 24?  Think about how it compares with the finished product.  On an index card, write a one sentence summary for each scene that made it into the final cut.  Number them, so you can revert back to their original order if necessary.  Lay them out in that order.

Once you have them laid out, take your hands and mess them all up.  Probably a better idea is to move a few chunks around, a little at a time.  Does a different order change the story?  Is it better to start closer to the action, telling the "beginning parts" as back story?  Experiment.  Get crazy.  What if you start with the last scene?  What if you worked backward?  Sorry, maybe that's a bit too risque, but I think a lot can happen when you change the order around.

Whatever order you decide on and however your novel turns out, keep those index cards.  Once you submit your manuscript to an agent or publisher, they might make a recommendation that has to do with the timeline.  Typically, your story needs to start with a hook - something to keep the reader invested in the story and characters.  If you don't have that within the first few pages, your story may never make it to print.  If you can't keep a slush reader interested, your manuscript gets used for kindling.  If the action takes place when the character turns 25 years of age but you needed to include a story from his childhood because it's pertinent to the plot, for Pete's sake do not start the novel chronologically.

Make sense?  Good.

That's my interpretation of the whole index card thing.  Maybe it's less "index card," more "scene development."  You be the judge.  Just remember, at the end of the day, do what works for you.  If you tried my method and hated it, Google another method, or (probably a better idea) do what comes naturally to you.  There is a story inside you, waiting to be written.  Get it on paper first, and the polishing, cleaning, and organizing can come later.

Happy writing!
Cherstin, out.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Writing inspiration? Muses and other media.

Have you ever taken a creative writing course?

I took two in college:  Creative Writing I and II.  (A+ for originality on the names.)  Sometimes our professor would use a photograph as a writing prompt; other times, a song or music video.

Are there any other forms of creative media you can think of that have inspired something you've written?

I'm including my Top Three below.  Not only are the songs great, the videos periodically inspire me to elaborate, create, or build upon what the artists have already done.

Chevelle, "The Clincher"

Chevelle, "Jars"

Muse, "Knights of Cydonia"

Keep finding that inspiration, and happy writing!

Cherstin, out.

PS:  I dropped this blog from the public radar because my videos are coming up muted.  When I visited YouTube and tried to watch the first video from their site, I also didn't have any sound.  Coincidence, or am I being punished for listening to free music?

You be the judge.    ;-)

I promise to fix the video sound as soon as the reason for malfunction becomes apparent.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Finding time to write.

I recently made the jump to Google+, and I cannot say enough good things about the sense of community over there.  I'm still trying to work out the kinks - i.e., figuring out which of the communities I've joined are actually active, where to go for good advice, etc. - but the sheer fact that I belong to a 5am writers' group has sparked a big change in me.

I'm actually writing again.  Hooray!

Yes, it means I have to set my alarm clock to wake up an hour earlier each day, but considering my husband tends to use the hours after 4am to hone his snoring skills, I realized the 5am time-frame is definitely to my advantage.  I'd much rather be in the office, writing, then laying in bed kicking him in the backs of the legs while hollering at him to roll over and stop snoring.

(That's the edited version, by the way.  In real life, my speech is peppered with a few, choice four-letter words, some of which I have actually made up in the heat of the moment.)

The timing couldn't be better - we're one month out from NaNoWriMo so the idea of altering my schedule in order to write is going to come in quite useful pretty soon.  And who knows?  If I start waking at 5am to write -- like, when that becomes normal -- maybe I can wake up at 4am during November.  There is no telling.


So when do you find time to write?  Do you find you're more productive if you go to great lengths to have a particular time of day set aside to write as opposed to just squeezing it in when you can?  I'd love to hear from you!

Cherstin, out.