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Archive for the tag “writing”

writer problems

Going over these old stories has taught me a few things:

  • I seriously abuse conjunctions (especially and and but)
  • Run-on sentences were a thing I did… a lot
  • I also used a lot of ellipses
  • I knew fuck-all about using commas

The older the story, the worse the errors. It’s giving me a headache. Thank god for Grammarly to pick up on a lot of the commas I miss even in editing (there are just so many that need to be added in).

2020 Goals

Floral-Happy-New-Year.jpegSo, I decided that this year, I’m going light on goals. I may or may not continue the monthly goals/round-ups–it’ll depend on how things are going later in the year after I’ve had my medical issues treated.

For now, I’m going with an overall theme of 2020.

Each month, my goal is to work on projects at least 20 days out of the month. Writing, editing, finishing, posting–whatever as long as I spread it across 20 days. Even if it’s adding just 10 words to a chapter of Heaven while editing… as long as I do that for 20 days, it counts.

For the year, I want to write/finish/edit/post at least 20 stories.

I think I’m also going to try to add at least 2020 words each to Heaven Can’t Wait and Uncalled For Actionsbecause why not. Ideally, it would be 2020 words per month for Uncalled For, but we’ll start with a yearly goal and go from there.

In other areas of life:

  • Read at least 20 books.
  • Finish at least 20 projects.
  • Lose 20 pounds.
  • Walk 20 minutes a day at least 20 days a month (Pokemon ain’t gonna catch themselves).

Year in Review

Another year ended and another just begun.

I haven’t been active lately. Decided for my mental and physical health, I needed a break from the self-imposed stress relating to writing. That included this blog. So no depressing monthly updates the last few months with nothing to show and all goals failed.

But it’s a new year, so I can at least make a review post of all of my work. That won’t hurt too much. I got some stuff done.

Reading:

Goodreads goal: 52
Total books read: 16
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Total repeat books: 3

Total webcomics caught up on: 6 (okay, that’s a lie–I still need to read December updates on all but one of them)

I didn’t really do much reading outside of the webcomics. Committing to a full-length novel seems beyond me right now. I have several that I started over the year and have never gotten around to finishing, including Pride and Prejudice. I either can’t get my brain to focus and therefore nothing sticks and I have no idea what is going on or I’m too busy doing other stuff. Changing my Goodreads goal to 25 this year because I didn’t even come close last year. Read more…

What to do with words?

I like to think of myself as a writer–a fanfic writer, sure, but still a writer. But I do have other hobbies that take up my time. I tend to rotate through them depending on my mood or resources.

Lately, that’s been crochet (and some knitting) thanks to my first grandchild arriving soon (due June 2).  I have to make all of the cute baby things for him before he gets here.

Besides all of the baby hats, sweaters and blankets I’ve been making, I have year-long projects I work on that have special meaning to me as a writer. It’s the way I combine my two favorite things to do.

You might have seen or heard of those mood scarves or temperature blankets (and the many variations thereof) where each row of color represents your mood or the temperature that day. Well, my mood sucks 365 days of the year so a solid blue scarf would be boring, and the temperature/weather here is pretty steady so I came up with the wordcount blanket using the same concept since I already track my words every day thanks to the Get Your Words Out challenge.

Doing my first wordcount blanket in 2016 was kind of a spur of the moment thing I started at the end of the year. I chose a corner-to-corner pattern because they’re fun and you can see your project growing the first half and then rejoice as it gets smaller and smaller.

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Read more…

4 the words

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I’m back to tell you about this great writing site called 4 the words.

With Camp NaNo upon us, anything that offers motivation and incentives is much needed. 4 the words is that place.

4twlogo-xs4tw (as we call it) is fun because it turns writing into a game. If you’re a fan of Habitica or role-playing games in general, this might be the site for you. See, it’s set up so you have a character–a Dust Warrior–and you must go on quests to fight monsters to advance in the game.

 

How does that relate to writing?

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Wignow

Well, each monster has a word goal and a time goal to beat it. Like the cute Wignow needs 250 words written in 30 minutes to beat it. In return, you get things like leaves and dust which are needed later to craft stuff you might need to battle other monsters or just need to collect for quests.

And there are lots of monsters of all sizes from the tiny Xin at 100 words in 20 minutes to the giant River Goddess at 5000 words in 72 hours. To help you along, you can collect gear for your character to affect three stats. Attack reduces the number of words you need to defeat a monster (1% per stat), Defense gives you more time to complete the batttle (.5% per stat), and Luck… does something–we don’t really know, but in theory it increases the drop rate of items.

4tw_play2There are currently nine zones to explore,  each with their own monsters (although there is some overlap) and quests. Quests are what get you motivated. They’re anything from keep a streak for a certain number of days or to collect certain numbers of items or to fight a certain number of monsters. There are main quests that move you along in the game (opening new zones) and side quests that sometimes offer fun items for your avatar.

There’s also a personal streak calendar that offers gifts for hitting milestones of daily writing which means hitting a 444-word goal on 4tw. And at the end of each year, you get a new set of spiffy angel wings. The site also tracks the number of words you’ve written on the site and the time you’ve spent writing and puts them into shiny graphs.

And if that isn’t enough to pique your interest, there’s a thriving and supportive community on the forums (full disclosure: I’m a moderator there).

If this sounds like the kind of site for you, now is the perfect time to check it out because a special event for Camp NaNoWriMo has just started (if they’ve gotten those pesky bugs worked out yet). Special events are a lot of fun because they offer a break from the main storyline of the game. There are three big events that correspond to NaNoWriMo events–the first of those being April Camp. There are also many mini-events (usually a week long).

The big special events offer a brand new zone with new monsters and quests that are only available during that event. So now’s the time to head over and check out our expedition that has just launched from the Base Camp.

I should mention that 4tw is a pay-to-use site, but you get a 30-day free trial to explore everything. Like I said, now’s a great time to check out the special event for free.

After that, the site is $4/month, which in my opinion, is well worth the cost.

corecrystal_sm-minIf you do decide to sign up (even for the free trial) use this referral code WVBIY23608 that way if you make a payment you get free c-crystals (our form of currency you use to buy subscription time and special clothes for your avatar) and so do I.

I really hope you try us out.

Now I must set off on an expedition to slay a few monsters and find the Guardian of the forest.

A Story Told in Sentences

I have a new project in mind for the year: a story told in sentences.

But aren’t all stories told in sentences? Well, yes, but this time, I’m only writing a few sentences at a time and posting them each day (or week–depends).

After reviewing my wordcounts the last couple months and considering my energy levels, I decided that having a minimum wordcount for each day isn’t currently working for me. It’s not motivating which means I’m not completing it even when it’s only 100 words.

Since that wasn’t working, I wondered if maybe I could change the format–instead of writing 100 words, I’ll write just one sentence. Obviously, writing only one new sentence a day won’t get me far, but what if I write two sentences on the second day and three sentences on the third day. I think you see where this is going.

So my goal for January is to write sentences each day–one more than the last day. I haven’t decided if I want to keep them all in one story or spread them around. And I haven’t decided what I’ll do at the end of the month. Will I restart with one sentence on February 1 or will I do 32 sentences? I guess it’ll depend on how I’m doing at the end of the month.

It seems like a silly distinction–words vs sentences. Several sentences are going to be well over 100 words, but I’m hoping just the change in format will help me stay focused. It gives me a different kind of endgame.

Here’s hoping.

Happy New Year.

Story Engineering: Ideas Vs. Concept

storyengineeringIn the 2nd part of my series on Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, I’m going to discuss “ideas” vs. “concept.” If you’re just turning in, you can find part 1 here, but I’ll give a little refresher for everyone.

Story Engineering is Brooks’ method of planning out a novel. It’s not what to write, but how to gather all of the needed components before writing begins. He breaks this down into “Six Core Competencies”:

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Structure
  • Scene execution
  • and Writing voice

Brooks says, “… the Six Core Competencies is a checklist that must be addressed and completed before a story will work.” I’m going to take his word for it since he’s actually published books.

The House Metaphor

snoopyhouseFor me, the Core Competencies are like building a house. You need a foundation, walls, tools, etc. to design, build, and finish a house. Not having everything will build a house that topples or is never finished. Sounds like most of my novels to date.

The main problem I have with Brooks is that he’s very wordy (that’s saying a lot coming from someone who likes to ramble) and tends to talk in confusing circles. That’s why I’m attempting to break things down and cut out the clutter, so to speak.

I’m going to start with his first Core Competency. It’s good to remember, though, that you can start with any of the first four which he calls “essential elements.” These are the building blocks of the house: the blueprints, the foundation, studs, and walls. You can start a project by gathering these things in any order, but you can’t actually build a house until you have all of them in one place. I like to start with Concept because it’s the “foundation” in my metaphor.

Concept, though, can be confusing. Brooks goes around and around trying to describe it and how it’s different from “ideas” and a “premise.” It doesn’t help that people often use the three terms interchangeably in common vernacular. In the end, he says it doesn’t really matter what you call it, as long as you get that foundation laid.

Ideas vs. Concept

So, what’s the difference?

lightbulb-ideaI look at it this way: Ideas are those little sparks you get in the shower while you rush to get ready for work. You know what I’m talking about. They’re the most basic building blocks of a story with little detail. An idea is that first shovel of dirt moved as the foundation is laid.

I want to write a story about aliens.

That tells you nothing about the story except that it is about aliens. Which may or may not be interesting to read.

Concept takes that up a level. It evolves that simple idea into something usable. It’s kind of like a short summary or logline you might pitch to an agent.

I want to write a story about a teen alien that must stop his mentor/father figure from invading Earth while living secretly among humans during an anthropology school assignment.

That’s a concept. It tells you a little about the character and main conflict. There’s something original and interesting–a twist on the generic alien invasion story.

Premise goes a step further. It tells you what the story is about underneath. Is the story about the struggle of the alien coming to terms with his mentor/father figure betraying him? Does it expose the hypocrisy of humans through the alien’s eyes? Does it highlight the inherent racism and division of human society and how they get past that once aliens attack? Answering those questions would raise the concept to a premise.

This is actually the plot of one of my unwritten novels, although it hasn’t been fully developed. Someday I’ll write it because I really want to read that.

Where do ideas come from?

According to Brooks, ideas can spawn from any of the four essential elements.

  • Character – “I want to write a story about a girl with a famous brother.”
  • Theme – “I want to write a story about the consequences of abandoning your friends.”
  • Structure – “I want to write a story about two kids that survive an accident that kills their friend.”
  • Concept – “I want to write a fanfic about an alternate universe that reverses the roles of the main characters.”

None of these are concepts yet, but they are, coincidentally, the ideas for some of my novels and fanfics.

Boys Like Mine – My 2015 NaNo novel about a girl whose TV star brother has a breakdown and comes to live with her while getting his life together and inadvertently throws hers into chaos with his fame.

“Homecoming” – A 2005 That 70s Show fanfic about Hyde disappearing for twenty years after the season seven finale and the emotional struggle of picking up the pieces of his life and friendships when he finally returns to Point Place.

Whatever It Takes – A novel I wrote in 2013 about two teens thrown together (and eventually falling for each other) in their grief and guilt after they survive a car accident that kills the girl’s sister who was dating the boy at the time.

The Great Ring Series – A Stargate SG-1 fanfic series I wrote in 2011 set in an alternate universe where the Stargate isn’t understood until modern times which results in Sam being promoted to Lt. Colonel and leading SG-1 while Jack is demoted to Major and has to learn to be subordinate to an inexperienced field officer. (There are four stories, but the series is unfinished.)

These descriptions are a lot closer to concepts, although they could be fleshed out more. Hopefully, you get the idea.

Where am I going with this?

My goal is to actually develop an idea through all of the levels of Brooks’ Core Concepts (hopefully before NaNo starts in November). So, I should probably come up with some ideas. I spent a little time brainstorming the other day and hit on these four generic ideas–one for each essential element:

  • a story about two teens that meet in the virtual reality of an online game (concept)
  • a story about a YouTube vlogger (character)
  • a story about mental illness (theme)
  • a story about what happens during a traffic jam caused by the total eclipse (structure)

After consideration, I narrowed the choices down to two–the one about the virtual world and the one about the vlogger. And after a little more brainstorming, I settled on the vlogger story.

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My daughter being creepy AF

I actually got the idea from my eleven-year-old daughter who is obsessed with vlogs, especially the ones that involve entire families. I was sitting there one day, while she rambled on again about this guy she watches, and I was like, “you know, I’m totally going to write a story about a vlogger one of these days.” She got annoyed that I interrupted her. Then I did it again: “I’m going to write a story about a vlogger that decides he doesn’t want to do the vlog anymore but his family won’t let him quit.” Even then, the idea was evolving into a concept.

 

How do you go from idea to concept?

Brooks idea is to list “what if” questions? They will lead one to another if the concept is good. In other words, brainstorming. Sometimes, the questions open the plot up. Other times, they illuminate some hidden, deeper aspect of the story.

What if the vlogger wants to quit because his parents film everything he does?
What if they won’t let him quit because the vlog makes them a lot of money?
What if they are negotiating to turn the show into a reality TV series?
What if the vlogger runs away to avoid being exploited further by his family?

That’s the general idea.

Next week, I’m going to focus on developing this idea into a concept. And hopefully, that will lead to Brooks’ other Core Competencies.

You can join in the fun by brainstorming an idea for each of the “four essential elements.” Pick one then take it a step further by asking “what if” questions to see if there’s the hint of a concept hiding in there somewhere. Let us know what idea you chose and why.

 

More in this series:
[Part 1] An Introduction

Postponed

I meant to post the second part of my Story Engineering series on Friday. I truly did, but my fifteen-year-old son decided to have a severe asthma attack as I was writing it. So inconsiderate.

dramallama

After a call to 911, cleaning his room, and doing laundry all day, I didn’t have the energy to do anything else. I’m still recovering (and still doing laundry–who would have thought five kids could create so much laundry?).

I’m hoping to have the post up by Monday and resume the regular schedule with part 3.

Can it really be considered a schedule if I’ve only made one post?

For the record, my son is fine. It’s the worst attack he’s had since he developed asthma last summer, and all of his inhalers were empty. My husband left work early to take him to urgent care, but in the end, he couldn’t wait that long. I ended up calling 911 because he could barely breathe and was nearly passing out. The EMTs gave him a breathing treatment and his stats returned to close to normal, so my husband took him to the doctor after that.

He came home and slept for a while. Every inch of him was sore, especially his chest, but he was feeling fine by evening. He even helped me cook dinner and was wrestling with his little brother.

Still, couldn’t he have at least waited to nearly die after I was done with my post? Hmm? Teenagers… always thinking of themselves.

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Story Engineering: An Introduction

Teaser-Header-2017

It’s that time of year again. Summer is coming to a close, kids are gearing up to go back to school, and people all over the world are prepping for NaNoWriMo in November. In between the back-to-school shopping and last-minute summer trips, I’m planning story outlines in my head. Or trying to anyway. There are three weeks left before school starts and two and a half months until NaNo. I can do this.

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I have no idea what I want to write in November, but I know I can’t have a repeat of last year. I didn’t pick an idea until October 30 and didn’t have time to prep at all.

patricktearsI gave up after a week despite really loving the premise of the novel. I just didn’t have time to world build. This year, I want to be ready ahead of time. And I want a solid idea that I can grow into an actual publishable book. I thought my 2015 novel would be that, but the more I go over it, the more I realize there are some fatal flaws in the plot.

storyengineeringMy solution is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. I’ve had this book for years and have read it several times, and each time, I put it down more confused than when I started. It’s been a couple of years since I last tried to understand Brooks’ theories, so I pulled it out, hoping for inspiration and direction. Shockingly, it all started to make sense. Once you get past Brooks’ long-winded, round-about way of describing things. I mean, seriously, it took 23 pages before he even got to listing his “core competencies.” Twenty-three pages of him talking circles.

I’ll save you the headache and break it down for you.

Brooks has a method for writing, and since he’s published multiple books and coaches other authors to publication, I’m going to assume he knows what he’s talking about. He calls his method, “The Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing.” And it’s less a method of writing and more a process of story development “that must be addressed and completed before a story will work.” With me so far? Probably not.

What I mean (and what Brooks takes eleventy billion words to say) is that the Six Core Competencies don’t tell you how or what to write but how to gather all of the elements you need to kickstart your writing. It’s a list of things that need to build your novel. And it can work for planners and pantsers once you know what you’re doing. Or so Brooks says.

So what are these mystic Core Competencies?

Here’s one of Brooks’ descriptions:

… The Six Core Competencies are like six categories of aligned pieces of the storytelling puzzle. Within each is a longer list of specific things to consider, and then each of those specific things has its own qualitative criteria and checklists that ensure you’ve considered them properly. There is nothing about storytelling that doesn’t clearly and cleanly fall into one of these six categories.

See what I mean about “wordy?”

Brooks’ book is full of anecdotes and examples from films and novels, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to his metaphors, and he tends to jump from one to the next like a hummingbird on crack. By the end of the first chapter, I wanted to smack his editor upside the head. I’ll give you my short version:

1. CONCEPT. Concept is the development of your idea. You have a basic idea that just suddenly comes to you. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that dream about dragons or that crazy conversation you overheard at the coffee shop or the article in the newspaper that sparks your imagination. But “concept” is more than just that first idea. It’s the development of that idea into something that resembles a story with a protagonist, conflict, and resolution. It’s the foundation of your novel.

2. CHARACTER. This one is kind of obvious. You need good, solid characters or nobody is going to care about what happens to them. Like studs holding up walls, they support the rest of the story and give you something to build on.

3. THEME. Theme is one of the most confusing things he talks about in his book, and one of the things that often eludes me. Theme is what the story is about. Not what happens or who it happens to, but what gives the story meaning. Theme is the walls wrapping around your novel and pulling it all together.

4. STRUCTURE. This is the biggest component of what Brooks calls the “four essential elements.” Basically, it’s the plot. He breaks it down into four parts which correspond with the basic Three Act Structure most people know with Act II separated into two parts. The structure is like the blueprints of your novel telling you where all of those studs characters need to go and how to arrange the rooms scenes.

5. SCENE EXECUTION. Scene execution zooms in on the structure. It’s about how you format a scene. What is happening? Why is it happening? Does it set up the next scene in the sequence? If Structure is the blueprints, then Scene Execution is the layout of furniture in the rooms. (I think my metaphor is running away from me.)

6. WRITING VOICE. For a lot of people, voice is one of the hardest parts of writing to nail down. It’s not just the “voice” of the characters, but the broader sound of the prose. Meaning, the words you choose can dramatically change the feel of a story. There’s a big difference between a mystery novel and a young adult novel. Between J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. Your voice is the personal style you bring to the novel–the way you “decorate” the scenes.

duhI’m sure some people are reading the list and thinking, “well, duh, you need those things.” Like building a house, though, there’s a lot more to it than just listing your characters’ names or picking an idea from thin air. If you’re missing any one of these elements, your house isn’t going to stand up. Or it’s going to be a maze of rooms that all look the same and no one will want to live there. In other words, your story will be boring or confusing or a rambling mess.

Story Engineering is about how to gather all of those little elements and assemble your house novel.

So, my plan is to tackle each competency one by one. There are ten and a half weeks until NaNo starts. Hopefully, by the end, I’ll have a solid outline of the plot and a firm grasp of the characters and goals–to guide my writing. In other words, I’ll have the foundation dug, the studs and walls ready to go up, and a plan for how to put it all together. All that will be needed is the finishing touches. The paint and drapes and kitchen tiles that make a house unique, so to speak.

spongebobdanceThere won’t be a repeat of last year.

So, come back next week when I’ll be discussing ideas–where they come from and how to use them to develop a “concept”–the first essential element of story development.

 

Part 2: Ideas Vs. ConceptPart 2: Ideas Vs. Concept

Tools of the Trade: Aeon Timeline

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One of my all time favorite tools for writing is Aeon Timeline. I first heard about through NaNoWriMo. As soon as I tried it out, I knew I had to have the software. It was exactly what I was looking for to organize events in stories. It would have come in handy in 2008 when I was writing a complicated story told from several points of view in three different locations at the same time. Some of the features of Aeon were things I did on my own to organize scenes in the story. I was hooked as soon as I saw this.

I’m still getting used to the new version, but I’ll muddle through my favorite parts.

aeon1First off there’s the main timeline. The newest version of Aeon allows for nested events and connecting different event that happen consecutively. It’s a nice feature that I’m still getting used to using. With this version you can see the title given to the event, the date/time, and the little bar showing the duration. This gives a nice quick overview of your events. Things can be customized by color so different arcs, acts, or characters can easily be identified in an instant.

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The parent/nesting feature is a nice improvement over the previous version. It allows you to break a sequence down into tiny increments that would get cumbersome on a full timeline. Here, each small even can have it’s own entry but when it’s not important to know the details, the main event can be collapsed, showing the time frame of the entirety of events under it. This has been helpful as I’ve been using the timeline to plot out every episode (so I can make my stories fit within the framework).

Besides the main view of the timeline, each event can be expanded to look at the details.

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Mine shows the details I’ve entered for event #45 in the timeline. There’s the basic info of title, time, and duration that you see on the timeline, but then other info is added. In this case, it’s the characters involved in the scene (and their ages because I like that feature), the location, arc, a photo, and a summary of events. This can be really helpful when you have a lot going on and need to quickly check something out.

aeon7All of this info is entered through the “inspector.” You can control the title, color, characters involved, and a whole slew of other info, much of it customizable by you.

One of my favorite features from the older version is how you were able to see which characters were involved in each event. It was similar to how I plotted that complicated story with each chapter going across a paper and a line extending from each one down through a list of characters. I would put a dot next to each character in the scene and a circle around the dot of the POV character. That’s nearly identical to what Aeon did. I loved it. And then they changed it.

I’m still not sure what I think of the new version, but you still get all of the information.

aeon2In this case things work horizontally instead of vertically. As you can see, each event is listed on the left with a string of characters going off the screen on the right. I like to put my characters in alphabetical order then color code them through the whole spectrum. No real reason other than it looks pretty. It makes it difficult to add new characters into the list. I really love that you are able to see how old the characters are at any given event. That can be really helpful when you’re doing coming of age stories.

aeon6The information on the top of the page isn’t just about characters. In my case, I also have locations marked (also in a rainbow), story arc, and season. That way I can easily keep things sorted.

When I make my TV show timelines, I like to plot out each episode to get a global canon timeline. Then I plot my stories around that. Groups of events can be separated by “arcs” so I can have the canon arc, story #1 arc, story #2 arc, etc. Arcs I don’t need to see can be hidden. I like having the timeline for every story in one place.

There’s a lot more I didn’t even touch on, like the fact that it syncs with Scrivener. I’ve never used the function, but it’s a highlight for many people. And I’m still trying to figure the ins and outs of the new design.

I don’t often buy products I try online. I usually look for freeware that offers similar functions, but with Aeon, it’s well worth the price. And they usually have discounts during November and for NaNo winners.

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