Sunday, May 25, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #10 - Think In 45 Degree Angles

In the last post, Tackling the First Draft, we talked about how putting words on the page is like making clay—creating malleable material that you can later sculpt through revisions. It’s not important in this stage to be good, but you’ll find that the more experience you have writing first drafts, the better quality your clay becomes.
We also talked about picturing the sculpture underneath the clay. Though details and outlines up front are sometimes helpful, it’s not always the case. Story and character arcs are often revealed as you write and it’s your job to pay attention.
Another thing to pay attention to as you’re crafting your first draft is making sure you are creating tension and raising the stakes. You know how I mentioned in the last chapter that you are always asking yourself, what happens next? You don’t want to fall into the trap of this happened and then this happened and this happened.  You can’t just give us a day by day accounting of your characters life. Each event has to happen for a reason.
You also don't want to take us step by step from scene to scene, unless it's necessary to the story. If one scene ends with your main character fighting with her best friend at school, and the next scene has her at home in her room creeping her friend's facebook page you don't have to take us on the bus ride, talk to her little brother, have a snack and go to the bathroom first. Just write a transition sentence, ie: Later in my room...Afterschool, I booted up my old laptop...etc.
You’ll remember the three act structure from tip#2, The Bones It Hangs On. Here is a version of it on a 45 degree angle. 

Each scene, each plot point all way to the climax must raise the stakes for your character.
Picture your character building a snow ball while rolling it up hill. The bigger it gets, the higher the angle the more difficult life becomes for your character until ultimately, he or she gets to toss the thing off the cliff—also known as the climax.
Conflict builds tension, whether it’s inner conflict or external.
The expected thing is not the thing that should happen. To quote literary agent Donald Maass, “Tension on every page.”
Back to our example story of TWILIGHT; you’re hard pressed to find a scene that isn’t wracked with tension. Even just sitting next to a guy in a biology class has tension popping off the page. Bella is in constant threat just hanging out with Edward and his family, and the whole town is threatened (even if they don’t know it) by the arrival of the new clan of vampires. And then these two clans get into it--it’s non stop, climbing tension.
Everything happens for a reason. Each scene is necessary to propel the story forward. Life must get increasingly difficult for your protagonist.
You will probably write scenes in your first draft that don’t raise the stakes and have to be cut later on and that’s all right for now as you write your first draft. Just keep in mind that while you’re writing it, you want to go up hill.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - tip #9 - Tackling Your First Draft

Now that you have the story idea, characters, and you've mapped out the major plot points, it's time to start writing that first draft.
To use CLOCKWISE as an example. The premise is a teen girl who is also a time traveler, a condition she can't control and she simply has to learn how to manage it. Her deep need/want is to be normal, something she'll never be. In order to cope with this affliction she stays under the radar. Doesn't hang with popular people or purposely excel in any area, though she could. This doesn't bother her because I gave her these characteristics: a twiggy, tall body and unruly hair, so she has self-image issues. Being invisible suits her just fine. She has a crush on a hot football player, and without thinking jumps to catch his football while watching a scrimmage. Now she's not invisible. Now she's the star of the moment. It's a bad time to time-travel.
So, take that kind of information and just start writing. Vomit words onto the page. Ideas come as you go. Some of them will be great and some with hit the cutting room floor, but it doesn't matter. Don't worry if it's good, because it's probably not. Being good is not the point of the first draft. The point is making clay. You need raw material to work with, something you can later poke and prod and massage into a masterpiece.
But that's not what you're doing now. With the first draft, you're making clay.
See that big white blank screen? Type something on it. Even if it's these words: I don't know what I'm going to write now, and this is crap, but I will write something, the first words that come to my mind....
Maybe it's just finger exercise, but it's something and eventually you'll write something useful. I promise.
When writing your first draft, try thinking in scenes rather than chapters. I usually ask myself the question, what happens next? Sometimes you have to go and do something physical like shoot hoops or clean your room, and while your body is busy, your mind can unlock the next scene--the setting, the people, the situation, and what your characters are saying. When you see it in your head, go to the computer and write it down.
And repeat.
What I don't do in the first draft is worry too much about  deep character development or minor details I just think, What happens next? I'm making clay.
This process takes several weeks. Even months. (And months)
When I'm done my first draft, when I have a big pile of molding material, I let it sit for a while. Put it in a big plastic bag so it doesn't dry out (figuratively speaking), eat something with chocolate in it. Give my brain a break; because soon, I turn from the clay maker to the sculptor, and for that, I need a whole new tool-box of tools.
What happens if you don't make clay? Or enough clay? You get hung up re-writing the first half (quarter?) of your book over and over again. You hit the wall because the beginning is never good enough and you can't press through to the end-or you've painted yourself into a corner plot wise, because the beginning is nailed down and it forces your book to stay on a certain track when it would be better for the story to take an unplanned turn.
See what I'm saying?


What do I mean by leaving the details until later? For instance, one school of thought (and this is perfectly fine, it's just not my method), is to write a heavy outline beforehand where you as the writer know practically every scene until the end before you start writing. People who take this approach often like to do thorough character sketches pre first draft as well. They'll have a long list of questions for their character like what's their favorite color, season, childhood memory, greatest want/fear/disappointment, etc. Again, if this is your style-go for it!
I'll tell you why it's not for me. In my experience, I can't know the character that well before I start. In fact, I'm only getting to know my characters as I write my first draft. How can I know at the offset what they like to eat for breakfast?
The characters reveal themselves as I write. A lot of the plot will reveal itself as I write the first draft as well.
So, though I don't go into the first draft with all this information on an excel sheet or flow chart, I'm watching for it as I write. I'm paying attention.
Going back to CLOCKWISE as an example. When I started, I thought the brother would play a much larger role than he actually ended up playing (so he's getting more of the stage in the sequel), one of the secondary characters that I thought would be more of a filler, ended up being a key plot point character, and I had the wrong guy in mind for the villain. I didn't know it when I started writing, but the real villain revealed himself as I went, and I had an "Aha" moment which required quite a lot of re-writing but made the book much stronger.
In another story of mine, the boy who made up the love triangle turned out to have much softer edges than I first imagined when I started writing.
What I'm trying to say is, though I'm making clay, I try to envision the sculpture underneath as I make it. It's like watching the image of a Polaroid shot come into focus. It's not instant, like digital images are. It takes time.
Once I'm finished my first draft, I take time to sort out the characters, their motivations, deep felt needs and over all character arc. I look for all my subplots and the arc of my main plot.
But not until I'm done the first draft.
In the next post we'll discuss the importance of tension and raising the stakes.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #8 - Felt Need and Character Arc

I know I said I'd get into tackling the first draft next, but before you can effectively do that, you have to get a sense of who your main character is. Not just what he or she looks like and where they live or what they do, but what's going on inside. This is what I call Felt Need.
What do I mean by felt need?  Some people might call it the character’s motivation, but I think it goes deeper than that. For instance, a character may be motivated to do his father’s bidding because if he doesn’t he’ll get a beating. He obeys to prevent something harsh from happening. He’s motivated to please his father to preserve himself. His felt need goes beyond motivation: his felt need in this situation may be to be accepted by his father. What he really wants is unconditional love. This felt need drives the character not only in how he acts and reacts but in how he feels.
 For instance, in CLOCKWISE, Casey’s felt need is to be normal. She laments because of her inability to control the fact that she's a time traveler and how inconvenient this "gift" is. Once I determined her felt need, I gave her other problems or self-perceptions that fed into that belief system. She's too tall, too skinny, her knees are knobby, her hair is too big and curly. And because of these personal problems, she's also believes she's unworthy of the affections of the "cutest boy in the school".

 Felt need doesn’t eliminate character motivation—it enhances it. Motivation drives a character’s action, felt need drives action and emotion.
Felt needs are pretty basic to humanity and you’ll find that there’s a short list of needs that really drive people.  The need for acceptance, to be normal, to belong, to be loved unconditionally, to prove oneself, the desire for justice, to be safe, or to find something, like a loved one or the truth. 
What would you say Bella Swan’s felt need is in TWILIGHT? To be safe? No, she doesn’t seem to concerned with that. To be loved unconditionally? I think her parents give her that, and so does Edward. I think her felt need is to prove herself. First to prove that she can handle the new changes in her life, her new school, living with her father, and then in the end, to save her mother. What do you think?
Harry Potter’s felt need is not to prove himself. He’s trying to get by without any undue attention. He also found his way to belonging at Hogwarts, so that’s not an issue for him. I’d say his felt need is to be normal, something he’ll never achieve.
Katniss Everveen's felt need in HUNGER GAMES is to provide for and protect her family. She stepped into her father's role after he died and her mother collapsed emotionally. Everything she does (or doesn't do) is a result of this felt need. 
 How about you? Do you know your main character’s felt need?
One you’ve determined your character’s felt need, everything they do or think will be linked to that. And one thing you want to do with your character over the course of a book is create a character arc. Unless you’re writing mystery/thrillers or a genre that is really plot heavy, your characters are going to have to change. This is not only true for your protagonist but often for some of your secondary characters and possibly the antagonist as well.

After I’ve spent time thinking about my story and loosely pinning scenes onto the three act structure,  I try to get a sense just through my imagining, what the main character looks like. I nail down the basics: height, weight, hair. Then I give her (him)a name. This is subject to change as I get to know her and what the story demands. In fact all my first assumptions about my characters are subject to change (and they usually do).

I know a lot of people will do character study lists at this point, including deep emotional questions like what's their biggest fear, what's their favorite food, etc, and it works for them, but for me, I can't do this up front. These kinds of deeper questions are answered in the writing of the story so I like to do those deeper lists on the second draft.

Then I determine the Character Arc. Characters need to change as the story progresses.  My character in CLOCKWISE  can't be the same person by the time the book ends. All of the conflicts and crises she goes through in the story must bring change to her character. This happens gradually over the course of the manuscript. By the end of the book,  Casey sees herself much differently. She will never be normal according to the world’s definition, but by the end of the book she has defined her own normal and accepts it. She's grown into her scrawniness and likes her new curves, she doesn't mind her hair, she's accepted her brand of normal and that she is worthy of the cute boy's affections. I try to nail down the basic character traits and the arc path before I start writing. Sometimes these are revealed as I write. Or at least, become more clear.

Next post I’ll get into the process of writing the first draft.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cover Reveal for OCEANS DEEP - boxed set of romantic, sea-loving YA reads!

The Oceans Deep Box Set Has a Cover!!! 

I'm so excited to be a part of this project! Want to do something to help take care of our oceans?  Read Oceans Deep and support World Oceans Day!


So many talented authors!

Lani Wendt Young - Telesa, Elle Strauss - Seaweed, Kristen Day - Forsaken, Karen Amanda Hooper - Tangled Tides, Amber Garr - Promises & Betrayal, Cheri Lasota - Artemis Rising, Heather Allen - Just Breathe, Nikki Godwin - Chasing Forever Down, Leigh Talbert Moore - Dragonfly & Undertow, Amy Evans - Clicks

Please be sure to add the box set to your TBR list on Goodreads. To learn more about each of the authors, please click on their name on Goodreads, or above. Keep track of the project on our tumblr:

Box Set Square

OCEANS DEEP Twelve Young Adult romance novels that celebrate sun, sea and love to support World Oceans Day 2014. 

As authors, we know while the facts can change people’s minds, fiction can change their hearts.

The proceeds from this box set will benefit World Oceans Day, an organization dedicated to celebrating the ocean and encouraging people to really think about what the oceans mean to them. Comprised of young adult romances in a variety of genres including science fiction, fantasy, contemporary and mythology, the books all have one thing in common: they leave readers more in love with the ocean than they were before.

 Together we can help ocean conservation efforts, one word, one page, one story at a time.  


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #7 - Plot Point Two, The Climax, and The Beat Sheet

To wrap up the writing tips section on structure we will cover plot point two, the climax and most importantly the beat sheet.
Plot point two is very similar to plot point one. It’s a conflicting event in the story that launches the third act. At this point things are not looking very good for our protagonist at all.
In TWILIGHT the second plot point is the phone call with James in Phoenix. She's in a pickle. Lose Edward or lose her mother. When Bella decides to ditch Edward, Alice and Jasper at the airport, it thrusts the story into the third act.
In the first HARRY POTTER, the second plot point encompasses two events. Ron leads the three friends through the chest game, and then Hermione solves the riddle that gives Harry access to the chamber below. Once in the chamber we’re in act three.
In HUNGER GAMES, plot point 2 is Rue's death. Katniss experiences grief for the first time in the games and it's also the first time she kills someone. The reality and severity of her situation underscores her determination to live and to win.
The climax is the do or die scene. Everything comes to a head and it looks very dismal for our main character. We are left wondering if a happy ending is at all possible.
In TWILIGHT the climax is the fight at the dance studio. James attacks Bella and we wonder how she can ever escape his abuse and live. Then the rescuers arrive and there is an exciting fight scene. We still don’t know if the bad guy can be beaten. And then, when he is finally dead, we find that Bella has been bitten. Lots of tension here.
In HARRY POTTER, Harry has entered the chamber and finds Quirrel without his stutter and the head of Voldemort under his turban. Even in this form, Voldemort is a fearful foe and Harry has to use his wits and the stone to fight him off.
In HUNGER GAMES, Katniss and Peeta fight off the final competitor; they are the last 2 standing and the winners -- until rules changed back to only 1 victor. Now they have to make a hard choice. Instead they call the Capitol’s bluff.
One of the best craft books on structure I’ve come across is SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. In it he provides a beat sheet, something they use for planning screenplays, but it’s useful for any type of fiction writing. The beats in the beat sheet will give you an idea of what you need to do to fill in your three acts.
1. Opening Image
2.Theme stated
4. Catalyst (aka Inciting Incident)
5.Debate (your character has to make an important decision)
6. Break into act two (aka Plot Point 1)
7. B story (sub-plots)
8. Fun and Games ( more stuff happens)
9. Midpoint (aka Midpoint Reversal)
10. Bad Guys Close In (doesn’t have to be actual bad guys- situation gets worse)
11. All is lost (protagonist is in a bad way)
12. Dark night of the soul (more anguish)
13. Break into act three (aka Plot Point 2)
14. Finale
15. Final Image (a reverse of the opening image) 
You have to read SAVE THE CAT to get the breakdown from Blake Snyder on all these points, but I think they are pretty self explanatory.  Keep in mind the sheet is just a guide.
Now that you have the main points plotted out for you story its time to fill it in. In the next post we'll begin with Tackling the First Draft.

Monday, May 5, 2014

THIS is Coming! Support World Oceans Day 2014!

Help Save Our Oceans by Reading this amazing Boxed Set - COMING SOON!


Twelve Young Adult romance novels that celebrate sun, sea and love to support World Oceans Day 2014. 

As authors, we know while the facts can change people’s minds, fiction can change their hearts. The proceeds from this box set will benefit World Oceans Day through, the charity organization for this global event dedicated to celebrating the ocean and encouraging people to think about why conservation must be important to them. 

Comprised of twelve full length young adult romance novels in a variety of genres including science fiction, fantasy, contemporary and mythology, the books all have one thing in common: they leave readers more in love with the ocean than they were before.

Together we can help ocean conservation efforts, one word, one page, one story at a time.