Happy Holidays!

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Happy Holidays one and all!

I Decided to take December off from posting to give myself a bit of breathing room on my task list.

I wish each of you the lovely libation of your choice, warm socks, time to focus on your well-being, and the joy of working on all of your writing goals.

Cheers!

Person holding hot chocolate

Happy Holidays!

posted in: Writer's Bag of Tricks | 0

Happy Holidays one and all!

I Decided to take December off from posting to give myself a bit of breathing room on my task list.

I wish each of you the lovely libation of your choice, warm socks, time to focus on your well-being, and the joy of working on all of your writing goals.

Cheers!

Person holding hot chocolate

Let’s All Sing!

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Some of us creative types are emotionally affected by music. Some of us like a particular type of music more than other particular types of music. Some of us like many types of music and our preferences depend on what mood we are in. We can’t help it. We love music. We sing in the car, sometimes not caring if other people see us. Sometimes we sing in the car when we think no one is looking. We sing in the shower. We sing at work. We sing along with YouTube videos, and the TV. We sing regardless of our singing abilities and tone deafness.

Those song lyrics are in our head—sometimes as ear worms—and those songs trigger emotional responses. And as writers, we want to trigger emotional responses in our readers.

What do some writers do?

They start their chapters off with song lyrics to evoke the chapter’s mood. Or, maybe, their character sings the chorus of a fabulous song in a really great scene. Yay!

But…

(Dun, dun, dun)

There’s a problem with using song lyrics in your work of fiction.

Here’s the deal. Song lyrics are other people’s property.

That property is copyrighted.

The music industry doesn’t look kindly on stealing their property.

Some claim that it is “fair use” to use the lyrics in fiction because the fiction author is using only a line or two in their work. But, I disagree. Fair use is for commentary and parody. Fiction isn’t either of those.

There are four criteria for determining fair use, and these criteria are open to interpretation, which the courts must decide, but my opinion is for fiction, don’t risk it.

The four criteria are:

  • the purpose and character of your use (Is it for commercial purposes? Like for fiction? It’s probably not fair use)
  • the nature of the copyrighted work (Is it creative? Say for example, song lyrics? It’s probably not fair use)
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken (which has not been determined but regardless for our purposes it’s probably not fair use), and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market (ie. Will your use of the song lyrics deprive the owner of income? This may depend upon how your book sells, but regardless, for our purposes it’s probably not fair use).

There is an exception. If the song is in the public domain and was published before 1923 then it is fair game.

But if the song was written after 1923 you will need to get permission from the copyright holder to use their work in your work, which is a lot of work. It can be done, but it ain’t easy. It can take a long time. It may cost you money.

If you want to get permissions to use those song lyrics in your work of fiction, then by all means do. You can do it through BMI (link below). But do it now so you have the permissions before you publish. You could save yourself $200 to $150,000 (plus court costs) for each copyright infringement.

Or maybe write your own song lyrics?

https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/four-factors/

https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/introduction/getting-permission/

https://www.bmi.com/

 

Outlining

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It’s been a rough week for me to write regularly. What started out as floor repair is now floormageddon. My house has a Gothic horror show’s worth of dust in every nook and cranny as the contractor chips up concrete and repairs the subfloor. I am looking forward to getting back to my routine…all the routines. And sitting at the computer with a grit-free mouse, which I will never take for granted again.

I’ve been continuing (well…not this week) to work on the outline for my work in progress. I have the general 10 chapter structure (opener, point of no return complication, multiple complication chapters, climax, ending) and am now beginning to sketch out scenes in each of these 10 chapters. **Note that this doesn’t mean that this is a 10-chapter book. This is just the 10 chapters that will force the throughline of the novel and will keep the chapters on track from beginning to end.

Each morning (except this week ) I review the scene I am working on and tweak or edit if needed. I have written a paragraph or two (or five) of what I envision to happen in that scene in previous weeks. The next step is to sketch out all the elements and actions that need to be included in the scene. This outline process goes from broad to more and more specific over time.

This step makes sure that each scene has all the necessary elements to ensure that the scene has a beginning, middle, and end, and provides the reader what they need to be oriented in space and time, while the character and events move the story forward. I include:

Scene #

Setting

Objective

Internal Conflict

External Conflict

Ending

For a more detailed explanation of kinds of scenes and elements of scenes you can search the archives.

Usually, I create and write at least three scenes in each chapter because I want to make sure that the story moves forward, is interesting, has twists and turns, things happen on the page that get my character where they need to go, and ensures there is conflict to hold the reader’s interest.

Scene #

The scene number is self-explanatory. It is a place holder so that I can easily find the location in the manuscript or outline which I need to work on (Chapter 3, scene 2 for example) and also includes the brief description of what happens in the scene. I find that if I number my scenes, but discover I’ve changed something elsewhere that will affect other scenes, I can easily locate and adjust the outline or text as needed. I don’t have to waste time by searching and scrolling pages and pages trying to find that place where that thing happened that one time…

Setting

Scene setting orients the reader in space and time. It doesn’t mean that I have a whole paragraph in the beginning or middle of my scene which tells the reader that the murder happened at 6pm on a Sunday in the Library and the murderer used a candlestick. It means that I describe where and when things happen by writing bits of description throughout the scene. I then can incorporate necessary details that help tell the story visually. If you don’t show the reader when or where your character is, most likely they will be confused about where or when your character is.  Reader confusion is not a good thing.

Objective

The objective simply states what my character wants in this scene. The character always MUST want something, and that objective should be clear to the reader, clear to the character, and clear to YOU THE WRITER. If there is no objective to the scene, no purpose, why is the scene in the manuscript? It is probably best to delete that scene and start over in your outline.

Internal Conflict

Internal conflict describes all the emotional baggage that the character must deal with in this scene and will probably have to resolve by the end of the novel. The internal conflict and overcoming of internal conflict will help you arc your character so that by the end of the novel your character has grown and changed. By sketching out the internal conflict, you can flip through your scenes and see the emotional changes.

External Conflict

External conflict is all the external stumbling blocks and hurdles that your character must jump over to obtain their Objective. If there is no external conflict, then the pages, scene, chapter will be static. Static is boring. Boring is bad. Nothing should ever be too easy for your character. Characters must DO things.

Ending

The ending is the cliff hanger idea that will entice the reader to turn the page. Not every chapter needs a cliff hanger, but every scene needs a beginning, middle, and end.

Doing this sketch helps me to find plot holes and other issues and helps me get a firmer grasp on my story premise and purpose. It also forces me to figure out the conflict issues. I am totally looking forward to getting back on my writing schedule to get these things worked out…floormageddon continues.

The Writer's Bag of Tricks 2018-08-01 11:17:34

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I’ve been continuing to work on my outline of my new book each morning for half an hour and am slowly working through each aspect of my story. I have the story idea in my head clearly, but when it gets to the nuts and bolts out outlining there is some work involved to flesh out the characters, the voice and tone, all of the craft elements, and polishing the overall concept. It’s more difficult than you might think. I know how the story begins. I know the climax. I know the ending. I know what it is I want to say (premise). But what happens in between these chapters and how do these other chapters move the story forward in a way that is logical, full of conflict, and reveals important information to the reader? Hence the outline.

This process of outlining BEFORE I write a single word makes sure I have a viable story concept, that the story will meet genre requirements, ensure that my characters are not flat, and ensure that there is tension on every page without wasting valuable time writing without a plan and by the seat of my pants for days, weeks, or months on chapters and scenes that won’t work in the end and would just get edited out of the story.

Ideally, the plot and structure of the novel will be clearly in place before the creation process begins. Makes sense right? But I still have to know the basic details of every scene beforehand.

I’ve structured my document so I know where the major plot points are but I am still working through what happens in each chapter and how those events move the story forward. If not thought out in advance it is easy for me to lose tension on the pages (no tension equates to boring). If not thought out beforehand I might also make things too easy for my characters. Nothing should be too easy for my characters. Ever. Easy is boring.

To circumnavigate the issue of not enough tension I started adding a brainstorming process to each section/chapter/scene

I type out:

WHAT CAN GO WRONG?

What I mean by that is what can happen in the chapter that the character doesn’t expect, is contrary to their plans, or can become a surprise direction they (and hopefully the reader) didn’t expect. Then I brainstorm with bullet points on all the possible things that can go wrong whether they work for the story concept or not. The goal is just to get as many contrary ideas on the page as possible. Wackadoodle (a technical term) is okay. Logical is okay. I just brainstorm.

Below is an example of the process for a funeral scene for the main character’s family member.

WHAT CAN GO WRONG? (Funeral Scene)

  • Someone at the funeral commits public suicide out of guilt or grief
  • It is discovered that it’s the wrong body in the casket
  • The character breaks out in laughter while giving the eulogy
  • No one comes
  • The pastor gives the wrong eulogy (for the wrong person)
  • The video presentation is for somebody else
  • Someone drops the ashes and they scatter everywhere
  • The pallbearers drop the coffin
  • The characters follow the wrong hearse to the funeral site
  • The deceased’s cell phone goes off (in the casket)
  • Two secret girlfriends of the deceased discover each other and fight over the body
  • The church catches on fire
  • The body animates as a zombie and jumps out of the coffin
  • Etc…

Obviously whether the body is cremated or embalmed will direct some of these actions (which forces me to decide if the body will be creamed or embalmed for the funeral…which triggers the idea that the characters could fight over whether the body should be cremated or embalmed before the funeral…So now I have a note in the outline to sketch the scene about the fight over cremation and embalming, and more work for tomorrow morning.

Of course, not all of these ideas are appropriate for the story, nor will they work for the direction things need to go. Since I am not writing a zombie book, it’s not likely that the body would animate as a zombie. But, my character could visualize this happening. My character could also worry that the church catching on fire, and her dead family member runs out of the burning church at their own funeral, for example. Hmmm. Maybe. It would create tension.

The point of this exercise is that the brainstorming process helps me figure out interesting ideas and directions for my story while I am still in the outlining stage. Most likely I wouldn’t even think of these things if I just wrote without an outline. But then I would have to rewrite and revise and workshop ideas when I got stuck because I didn’t know where the story should go (writer’s block).

If you haven’t outlined before, I recommend you try it. Take your time and really think about the overall arc of the story, the plot points, the voice and tone, mood, all of those things. Think about your premise. Think about the potential conflict and trauma you can put your character through. Don’t make it too easy (for them or you). Think about all the possible things that can go wrong. It’ll be worth your time.

Creating a Regular Writing Schedule and Other Stuff

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It’s been a while since I’ve been on a regular blogging schedule and, quite honestly, I can’t even remember what my last topic was. Much has happened in the last few months I’ve been absent. My elderly folks got in a car accident (they are home now and doing much better) which derailed me for a few weeks, I got vertigo (which is so horrible it both sucks and blows and I am hoping it totally goes away any second now), my book came out (with minimal pomp and circumstance due to the vertigo etc.), and lots of work and time has been given for Colorado Gold (The annual writer’s conference for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers). And I still run the publishing house which is a never-ending round-robin of submissions even with a couple interns and a solid cohort of editors. I’ve needed a nap on most days! But alas, napping is not my forte.

I’ve finally got myself back on a basic writing schedule. Because, you know, I want to write books and stuff. It’s not much of a schedule, about 30 minutes at 6am, but it’s a start and given physical and emotional dealings of late I’ll take what I can get. I’ve blocked out the time on my calendar and for the last many days have been working on a story idea, because even though my inclination is to just write, I know that I will save time and frustration and end up with a better book by going through the outline process, and the character development process (Oh! That’s what the last blog topic was!), doing all the research, figuring out the ending, the theme, the premise, and all the other steps of planning and outlining before I write a word. I wasn’t so thorough with the pre-planning on the last book, and I definitely learned my lesson.

So how do you create a regular writing schedule?

Everyone is different and will have a different process but this is how I do it.

  1. I create a comfortable writing space. I can’t work in clutter. It’s distracting and makes me tense. Consequently, my desk is clean. I have tasks to do (always) but for me, I can put those aside if they are organized. I know those tasks aren’t going anywhere and when I want or need to work on them I can. But for writing, I need a clean space to write. No little pieces of paper or sticky notes, or stacks of bills, or piles of editing. Just desk, mouse, keyboard, screen. And coffee or libation of choice. That’s a given for me. You probably are different. Do what you need to do to create a comfortable writing space. On the toilet? Sure. Whatever works for you. The main point is that I need to get my ass in a chair in order to write.
  2. I block out some time on the calendar. If I don’t block out writing time, it is the easiest thing in the world to push aside when something pressing barges its way into my schedule. Since I am much more creative in the morning than I am at other times of the day, I block out time before work. Right now, 30 minutes is what I can do if I want to get everything else done too without having to get up at 4am. I am getting up around 5:30am which is as early as I want to get up at the moment. But as it becomes more and more a habit again to write each morning, all the morning tasks will start to flow and the schedule may get adjusted. I’ve been in that place before where I am writing consistently and will get in that place again. It’s the creating the habit that is hard for me. I’d rather sleep in. Maybe you are a night owl and you are most creative at 2am. Fine. Have a glass of warm milk and write at 2am. The main point is to get your ass in a chair and write.
  3. I use Scrivener (and no I don’t get any kickbacks for referrals). It is inexpensive at $45 and is very good for outlining and organizing notes, and character bios, photos, research, and writing. It works similarly to Word. It’s sort of like a digital writing binder that is easy to organize and access information. It has some learning curve to it, but if you can stomach the Youtube videos it might help you out too with outlining and such. You can try it for free for a month or so if you want to. (https://www.literatureandlatte.com) If you prefer Word or Pages then use Word or Pages. Or OpenOffice. Or whatever. Just use whatever you use and write regularly.
  4. I work on whatever I feel like working on for that 30 minutes. If I need to develop a character I do that. If that triggers a plot idea, I sketch that in. As ideas come, I adjust the plot line. If I need to brainstorm an idea to see how that feels I do that. And I don’t stress about anything. I just work for 30 minutes on the story and all that goes with it, and then I am done for the day. My deadline is a 30-minute deadline. Maybe you are more comfortable with an hour. Or two (glutton). Or eight (censored). The point is to block out the time and use that time consistently for writing. Books don’t write themselves.
  5. By writing every day for 30 minutes I create a routine that becomes a habit. Over time I can extend my schedule, or word count or whatever I need to do, but right now I just need a routine that I can follow. Maybe this is the lazy writer’s way by writing in 30-minute blocks, but it works for me. When I get to actual writing I figure I can write at least 250 words in 30 minutes. 250 words is a page. If I do that every day for a year I will have a 365-page book. It’s wonky writer’s math but at the moment I’ll take what I can get. I write much faster than that if I know where I am going, hence the need for outlining.

Here’s the most important thing. The muse comes with consistency. When you are in the habit of writing on a regular schedule, your subconscious brain is always working on stuff because it has the expectation that it needs to work on stuff. The routine matters. If you just write when you feel like it you most likely won’t finish anything in a timely fashion. If you don’t feel like writing but you write anyway, you will write a book.

 

A Trick of the Light - Brooks, Susan

Win! Win! Win!

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The giveaway starts tomorrow July 6th and runs until the 31st.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Trick of the Light by Susan  Brooks

A Trick of the Light

by Susan Brooks

Giveaway ends July 31, 2018.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway