I’ve been lucky this year. My NaNoWriMo journey is going smoothly. The first couple days, I have to admit, were tough. It took a while to get a rhythm. I couldn’t squeeze in the time, couldn’t think what to write. The story came only in stuttered bits. But by the third day I had the first half of Beasts of Vegas #3 plotted and had figured out how to write for thirty minutes before work and thirty minutes after. I found my stride.
Now, on day 14 I’m past the 28,ooo word mark! I’m really excited to finish this story and share it with you all soon. Finally, Maksim Volk gets his own story. If you want to see how the Beasts of Vegas begins, click for the print and kindle versions on Amazon.
How is your NaNoWriMo journey going? Let me know how it’s been for you. 🙂 And good luck!
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I look forward to November all year (even though it sort of snuck up on me this year). The leaves begin to change, the weather cools, Thanksgiving arrives, and I get to spend thirty days dreaming of nothing but my paranormal worlds. I never feel more creative than I do in November.
And it’s almost here again!
The one dark cloud over the experience is my little brother’s passing. It was during NaNoWriMo last year, the Monday before Thanksgiving, that I got the call. Will had suffered a brain aneurysm. After twenty-nine days in a coma, he succumbed to his injuries, and passed away right before Christmas.
Naturally, I couldn’t finish the contest last year. I could hardly function while traveling back and forth to the hospital in L.A. And the fact that I’ve lived almost a full year without him is shocking. Ten months without his voice, without a text, without his larger-than-life presence. Somehow, though, time has continued chugging along (me, too) and here we are ready to begin a new NaNoWriMo project.
This year I’ll be writing the third book in my new Beasts of Vegas series. I’m really excited to start work on a novel that’s only a couple ideas and a few characters at this point. Hopefully, by the end of November I’ll be well on my way to a fully realized novel.
If you’ve ever thought of writing a book, join me for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a brisk 50,000 words in 30 days. Even if you don’t make it to the finish line, you’ll never regret putting your ideas on paper.
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I read a historical romance lately that disappointed me and it wasn’t the first time. I call it the 1st 50 pages dilemma. To win contests and catch the attention of literary agents our first 50 pages (or first 3 chapters) better shine. Of course we’re going to polish those pages until every word, every phrase, is perfect.
But what about page 51? Or page 186?
This novel I just started a couple months ago had the most amazing opening I’ve read in a long time. It sparkled. The characters leapt off the page. The dialogue dazzled. I could not get enough. I raved about it to anyone who would listen.
And then around page 50 the writing flatlined. Because the beginning was so, so good I read all the way to page 125, but by that time I was so disheartened I stopped reading. Nothing was happening! Which is unbelievable because the heroine had run away from home and stowed away on a ship destined to run down a notorious pirate. What’s more exciting than that!? But the heroine gets everything she wants. All the crusty sailers have lovely manners. She insults her host, with no repercussions. The mysterious coded message she receives from a pirate is simple enough a child could crack it.
I’m so disappointed I won’t look for any of the author’s other books, let alone finish this one.
And I’ve read too many novels just like it. They start out with a bang, and then they bottom out around chapter 5 and I never finish them.
The lesson I’ve learned is to work that beginning, but don’t set down the red pen after chapter 3. Fine tune every scene with the same enthusiasm and critical eye you give to the opening. Your readers will thank you.
Do you have any bad habits in your writing? I never realized before last year how fixated I am on characters’ eyes. Maybe other writers focus on hands or mouths or costumes, but for me it’s all in the eyes.
My heroes and heroines gaze, look, glance, peer, and stare.
I still haven’t figured out what is so fascinating to my subconscious about a person’s eyes, but I have to be careful not to overdo it and distract readers from the larger story.
What about you? Ever read an author too detailed on a character’s gestures or appearance?
I have a hard time writing back cover copy, but because I’m an indie author I’m responsible for doing it (as well as the cover, the editing, the marketing, etc.). I’m always reading my favorite author’s cover blurbs to get a sense of what works and hopefully some of their genius will soak in through osmosis.
I started reading The Cowboy Takes a Bride and I haven’t gotten very far, but I was so impressed with the back cover blurb and the first chapter that I had to share. Here is her blurb:
Joe Daniels isn’t quite sure how he ended up sleeping
in a horse trough wearing nothing but his Stetson
and cowboy boots. But now he’s wide-awake, and a
citified woman is glaring down at him. His goal? Get
rid of her ASAP. The obstacle? Fighting the attraction
he feels toward the blond-haired filly with the big,
When out-of-work wedding planner Mariah Callahan
learns that her estranged father has left her a rundown
ranch in Jubilee, she has no choice but to accept it. Her
goal? Redeem her career by planning local weddings.
The obstacle? One emotionally wounded, hard-living
cowboy who stirs her guilt, her heartstrings, and her
long-burned cowgirl roots…
Isn’t that lovely? And to make it even better, Lori doesn’t start the story with Joe’s phone call to Mariah (like most writers would). Nope. She starts it with Mariah standing over a sexy, naked cowboy and then Lori sprinkles in the backstory. I love it! The writing is quick-paced and sparkling. I already know it’s going to be a fun read.
Or, How to Fine Tune Scenes During the Revision Stage
There are dozens of types of scene cards and twice as many ways to use them to improve your writing, either in pre-writing or in the editing stage. I took ideas from different sources and designed a scene card that suits my style perfectly. If you’re having trouble visualizing how each individual part of your story works together as a whole, try this.
Each scene gets its own card. Each POV (point of view) character gets his or her own color. Blue for my hero and pink for my heroine (to make it simple). Purple or green for my villain or any secondary character with their own POV. Then, because my novel, Spell of Summoning, is a paranormal romance I also wanted to track how often magic was used or how often a character communicated with a spirit. So I taped a yellow card behind any scene that had magic in it.
Now comes the time consuming part of this exercise. Starting from the beginning of your manuscript, read each scene and note the following details:
The chapter number / the scene number;
The date the scene takes place in the story;
The POV character;
A quick summarizing title for the scene;
The POV character’s goal in the scene;
The POV character’s motivation for that goal in this scene;
The conflict that keeps the POV character from reaching their scene goal;
The main characters’ clothing or hair style in this scene;
Here is an example from Spell of Summoning:
I included notes on costume because I never want to forget my hero wore a charcoal gray suit and black tie in the morning and then pulled off a black suit and red tie at the end of the day. Keeping the information on my scene card makes it easier for me to track costumes through multiple scenes in multiple locations.
The GMC (Goal-Motivation-Conflict) on each card is simplified. In my more elaborate pre-writing notes I have written both external and internal GMC for each character in each scene, but the size of the card does not allow me to express all this. Instead, I jot down easy to remember notes that trigger in my head the more complex workings of my characters. However, even having to fill out a simplified GMC chart for each POV character was extremely rewarding.
For example, I got to one scene around the middle of the book that had no conflict at all. I had written a cute little scene where Rebecca is flinging witty dialogue at her receptionist as she marches through her office. When I tried to write her GMC I had quick answers for her goal and her motivation, but I couldn’t think of a single hint of conflict. To give the scene more punch I re-wrote it, took Rebecca’s employee out of the office, and added an awkward phone call, instead. After the re-write, Rebecca doesn’t get what she wants and a new layer is added to her overall arc.
If I hadn’t practiced this scene card exercise I might not have found that scene and I imagine anyone who read the original would have skimmed quickly over it to get to something more exciting.
Finally, because I’m a visual learner, I made space on my bedroom wall and taped each scene card under its chapter heading to see the whole story. Posting the scenes helped me see which characters were getting too much attention and which weren’t getting enough. Plus, I could see how often my villain popped up with his own POV and whether I was using too much or too little magic.
This is a note-taking and scene tracking system that worked for me, and I will use it again on the sequel, Spell of Binding. If I was very organized I would be able to write out scene cards before I started writing the manuscript and lay out every scene, every chapter, and every act exactly as it needs to be in the finished novel. But I’m not. Maybe that will be my next writing goal.
Or, How I Kicked the Word ‘Was’ Right off the Page
Whether you write in third person past tense (e.g. Maggie stubbed her toe on the lip of a paving stone and belly-flopped onto the grass) or first person narrative (e.g. Drake looks at me like I’m nuts, but I know what I saw) forms of the verb to be screw with our writing. Was, were, been, is, am, are. AKA, my nemeses.
When I’m writing a first draft I type scenes and dialogue as fast as it pours out of me so I can get the framework down, from the first meet to the happily ever after. But that means I lose my critical eye for a few weeks and open the door for all kinds of sloppy, lazy writing to squeeze through. One of the worst–the word was and his brothers, were and been.
Before my first read through I use my find & replace tool to bold all the forms of was. Like this:
Martin was tired.
This is weak and lazy and just plain telling, not showing. Instead, I want to use stronger verbs and better phrasing:
Martin yawned into his fingers. Or,
Martin’s head bobbed, startling him so badly he kicked the side table into Sarah’s shins.
It’s one of the easiest problems to find, but often the hardest to fix. It’s so tempting to write Martin was tired and hurry to the next action scene or romantic turning point. It’s a lot harder to dig in deep and immerse the reader in a complex and engaging world. So, roll up your sleeves and replace those devilish to be verbs with vivid and fast-paced action verbs that keep us all hanging on the edges of our seats.
Or, There is Such a Thing as Being Too Descriptive
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Stephen King
I love adverbs when they add emphasis to a phrase I can’t get another way. For example:
She was alone. Absolutely and completely alone.
The word alone sounds so sad and final at the end of those adverbs, like a death sentence.
I hate adverbs because writers shouldn’t use them. Once in a while, a fun adverb spices up your writing, but more than a handful in your novel and your writing slides into high school English class territory. For example:
Trey quickly ran his fingers through his jet black hair before stomping furiously
through the yellow swinging door into the sparsely furnished living room.
Of course we want to set the scene for our readers, but sometimes we forget how rich our readers’ imaginations are. They don’t need a ton of set-up to create vibrant and fantastic worlds populated by our characters. So, how about:
Trey stomped into the living room, grumbling a string of curse words.
I cut out the unnecessary description, quickened the pace, and I can still see the character perfectly in my mind’s eye, including the furious expression on his face. And, if I want to imagine him finger-combing his hair, it’s up to me.
I love adverbs for their ability to add unique rhythms and emphasis to certain words and phrases. But I hate adverbs because they slow down my writing and encourage readers to skip to “the good parts.” I get rid of them by searching for “ly” and highlighting each adverb in neon blue. (This is time consuming. If you have a simpler method, let me know in the comments.) I read the sentence containing the adverb and decide on a case by case basis if I need it there, or not. For example, I left this one in:
Becca was thinking clearly again. She just couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
Because I like it. And, every once in a while, an adverb is okay.