I love November more than any other month. It’s the one month I get to wildly obsess about writing and be cheered for it. (I love my job!)
If you’ve ever thought of writing a novel, I encourage you to sketch out an idea next year and then take the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2015. You won’t regret it. Because even if you don’t meet the 50,000 words in 30 days goal, you will write much more than you would in a normal month.
Last year I wrote the final book in the Red Plague trilogy–Panacea.
This year I’m writing the final book in the Dark Caster series. (Title to be determined.) The cover below is from the first book in the series.
I work during the day and then am a mom and wife in the evenings. On top of that I write. What I learned right away is that I can’t procrastinate this month. Sometimes I wait to write until the time just “appears.” But that isn’t working right now. Not when I need a solid hour to complete 2000 words (my daily goal). With work, school, theater practice, violin lessons, dinner, etc., etc. I can’t squeeze in the time and go to sleep at a reasonable hour. So, I’m going to have to force myself to get up an hour early starting tomorrow morning, even though I’m not a morning person at all. But if I don’t get my word count in before I go to work I spend the entire day worrying about how to finish everything.
So, think of me bleary-eyed and pounding away on the keyboard tomorrow morning, slurping coffee by the quart as I try to do justice to Derek and Jessa’s story.
Thank goodness there’s December and National Editing Your Manuscript Month (If it doesn’t officially exist, it should!).
My favorite time of the year is upon us. November is National Novel Writing Month, and if you’ve ever had an inkling to write a book, this is your chance. You’ll benefit from tons of support from the online site as well as participants in your community.
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?
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.
A few years ago self-publishing was called “vanity” publishing and was something to be ashamed of. And if you didn’t feel sufficiently ashamed, other writers would help you get there. It meant you’d given up on ever climbing from the slush pile of a big, New York publisher and you just wanted to see your novel in print already, even if you had to pay for the pleasure.
Thank God for Amazon and their Kindle (and Barnes & Noble and their Nook, and Apple and their iBooks) because they not only revolutionized how we buy and read books, but they granted authors power. More power than we’ve ever had in the history of publishing. We don’t need an agent or a big name publisher to get our stories in front of readers. All we need is that special novel we’ve dreamed of printing, some technical savvy, and the desire to have people other than your parents and your spouse read it.
Once I decided to publish my novel, Spell of Summoning, electronically, on my own terms, my muse burst with so many new lovable characters and plot twists in fresh, never-dreamed of stories I couldn’t keep them all straight. I’m more excited by writing now than I have ever been. I’m crazy inspired to write and create and publish, and the best part is I’m in control of my author’s journey, every step.