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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.


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



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.


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.


Story Engineering: An Introduction


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.


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


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.


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.


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.

Tools of the Trade: Liquid Story Binder


Earlier I talked about Scrivener–probably the most popular software for writers. At least all of the ones I know. It’s a great program that I really like, but it always seemed to be missing something for me. I was constantly scrolling up and down the sidebar to switch between files. My laptop screen is small, so splitting the editor to show two different files doesn’t help. I liked the idea of the cork board, though.

I’m always on the lookout for other programs that might be helpful. Years ago, I tried out something called Liquid Story Binder but never could fully grasp all of the options or how they were supposed to be used.

Earlier this year, I decided to try it again. There was a little trial and error, but the whole thing finally clicked. It’s now my go-to program for planning, organizing, and first drafts.

LSB (not to be confused with LSD) is a pretty simple program. There are no fancy bells and whistles. There are a lot of individual windows, though, and they can all store information in different ways.



This is my basic set up. I not only use LSB to write and organize stories and novels, I use it to organize all of my writing. This particular “library” is called, “My Writing.” It links to everything I’ve written. You start out with “planners” that can be used in all sorts of ways. The basic way is to organize chapters in a book. Each line would represent a chapter and double clicking it would open the chapter file. I use it more as a database. I have one that lists each of the fandoms I’m in (in the above photo with the rainbow sections). Each one of those links to another planner that lists all of the stories I have started for that fandom. To the right is a snapshot of The 100 stories I have. I get a glimpse of my file name or title of the story, which draft it’s in, and the prompt I used. There’s an area to the side for notes where I list draft word counts and edits I’ve made. Later I put in the summary I use on A03.


There are other file types that can be associated with each item in a planner. I like to use the journals to keep track of notes I make in my online writing journal. It’s easier to find stuff than in one long note file (which is also an option). And I like to use the “builder” to keep track of what I write each day since I count all of my daily words. The builder is usually used to write separate scenes for a chapter that can then be compiled into a chapter file.

My daily way corresponds to my writing journal on 4thewords.com.

The journal is my other favorite file type. It’s simple but works for me.


After I do my daily journal on 4TW, I copy/past it into the LSB journal. Some days, I make a note in the title area to remind me of any important brainstorming I might have done. I’ve taken to having journals for individual projects as well to keep track of brainstorming/notes I’ve entered into the main journal. It works great for larger projects.

lsb4That’s the thing I like best about the program–every file can have numerous other types of files associated with it. And it all works together like a database to keep track of everything. And you can pretty much find any kind of file type you might need. Some work better than others, though. The mind map file type doesn’t work well in this setting (there are better ones online). But there is storyboarding, sequencing, compare/contrast, dossiers, photo galleries, and outlining. I have another library that is about 4thewords. I use it to keep track of the different zones and monsters. Above is a list of monsters and the things they drop using the sequence file type.

There are a lot of things I really like about this software, but there are caveats that some people might not be able to get past. For one, the software is no longer supported or updated. What you see is what you get with no help if something goes wrong. Two, it cost money. Supposedly. There is a free 30 (non-consecutive) day trial. After you’re supposed to pay. Except my free trial has yet to end even after three months. Not sure if the author just stopped caring or what, but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. The third problem is despite all of the options and flexibility, it really is a simple program. There are no fancy fonts, changing font color doesn’t always work, it doesn’t want to import italics/bold/underline most of the time, and moving things between file types can be a pain.

The biggest problem, though, is that scroll doesn’t work. Except in the editor pane in the chapters, builder, journal, and notes. I almost stopped using the program because I couldn’t scroll through my long list of stories, but I persisted. It’s annoying, but I’m willing to overlook it for all of the positive things it does for me–namely organizing all of my writing into one program instead of spread between multiple file folders using LibreOffice Writer, LibreOffice Calc (4 different database files), and Scrivener. I don’t have to scroll up and down to look between the chapter I’m working on and notes I made in another file like in Scrivener. The separate windows in LSB can be staggered so you can just click between them–which is a favorite feature for me.

All-in-all, I’ve found it to work really well for keeping track of everything for me and getting first drafts down. For shorter stories, I also edit in it, but when it comes to novels, I’ll transfer to Scrivener and/or Word for final edits and formatting (since that is limited in LSB). As the trial is free, it’s worth a try. But don’t give up when you get overwhelmed by the sheer number of file types there are. It took me a while to figure out how best to use each one, which isn’t always the way they were probably intended.

Stay tuned for another Tools of the Trade about some other less used, but no less important tools I use.

Tools of the Trade: Scrivener

scriv8If you’re around the NaNoWriMo community enough, you’ll know about Scrivener. It’s a writing program that many WriMos swear by. Plus the creators at Literature and Latte give a discount to anyone that participates in NaNo or Camp NaNo. And if you win, you get 50% off the software.

scriv7What makes Scrivener so special? Well for me, it’s the way you can organize your novel. Right off the bat, the software gives you pre-formatted options for all sorts of projects including novels (with or without parts), screenplays, and nonfiction. You can also just start with a blank project.

If you do start with a template, you get everything you need to write your novel and polish it up to send to editors.

scriv3The way that Scrivener handles organization is what usually draws people in. You can divide your novel/story/screenplay however you like. By default, the novel template breaks things down by chapters and scenes. But you can change it to what works best for you. As you can see in my example, each scene is titled and in a folder for a chapter. The symbols next to them can be customized from a list of premade icons, or you can upload your own (I haven’t tried that yet).

scriv1There are other ways to organize your files. My favorite is the cork board because it’s a cork board! Each scene marked on the side is a card that can be moved around like stickies on a wall. The cards can be adjusted to different sizes so you can fit all the info you need.

Another way to look at things is the outliner. scriv4

It gives you an overview of each scene. You can include different columns of information. My example has the synopsis, draft status, and word count. You can move things around just like with the cork board to organize your novel.

scriv2A really helpful tool is the Inspector. It gives you an overview of each scene. The synopsis and scene title go on top (although you can change that to be a photo). You can also add labels to your scenes. These are set up to be “scene,” “chapter,” and other basic labels. Those can be changed. I like to divide mine by POV or plot points. The status can be changed. By default, you have “to do,” “first draft,” “second draft,” etc.  There’s space to leave notes which comes in handy when it’s time to do revisions. There’s also an option to create tags for easy searching.scriv5

Also helpful are the statistics the software gathers. They give you an overview of your entire project and the approximate page count if you were to publish based on typical word counts per page.



For NaNo, one of the most helpful tools is “project targets.” It lets you set the number of words you want for the entire project and for each session. It’ll let you know if you hit your goal for the day, and it’s fun to watch the little bar turn green the closer you get to your goal.

Scrivener is great because it covers all of the basics you need to organize your works. It’s available for both Windows and Mac, although the Mac version offers more features (I have the Windows version). It’s definitely to go-to writing software for most of my writing friends and what I use most often for organizing and writing novels.

There’s a free thirty day trial which is worth checking out, although if you wait until NaNo, they usually give you a little extra time to explore it, and you also get those awesome discounts.

Tools of the Trade: White Noise

If you’re like me, you probably get distracted easily. So anything that helps me concentrate on my writing is a treasure. Last time I talked about 4thewords.com–a writing game that allows you to fight monsters with your words. My productivity has probably quadrupled since I started using the site. I’m on a 104 day streak!

Today, I’m going to offer up another tool that helps me. And that’s white noise. My hearing is… let’s just say it doesn’t like me much. When I need to hear–as in talking to someone or watching TV–I have a lot of trouble. Voices and sounds jumble together, making it frustrating to carry on a conversation. I’ve had to put the closed captioning on the TV or I miss a lot of the dialogue. But when I need the quiet, my ears seem to pick up every noise. And that’s a distraction. I run a fan 24/7 to help drown out the noise of five kids in the house, but that isn’t always enough.

Last week, I discovered white noise websites. Specifically, ones that make rain sounds. I had no idea what I was missing in my life. Rain is a white noise just like the fan. The only difference is the pitch changes some, and it sounds more natural. Add some thunder in, and I’m back in the Midwest in the midst of a storm.

I miss thunderstorms.

I highly suggest checking out one of the many sites out there.

The one I’m using right this second is noisli.com. It has several different sound options besides rain, such as streams, waves, and even a coffee house. You can mix and match the different sounds and adjust their volumes. So if you want to be in the middle of a thunderstorm, you can. If you want to be in the forest, listening to a babbling brook, you can. You can listen to a gentle rain at the coffee shop. Or sit around a campfire. Just find the right combination that works for you.

There are others.

mynoise.net has a slider system, like an equalizer on a stereo, that allows you to adjust each frequency of the rain and thunder. It also has presets for different settings like rain on a tent or distant thunder.

rain.today is another site I use. It lets you choose a few different rain/thunder options to adjust the sound. There are also white noise options like a television or other static.

rainymood.com has a simple on/off setting, but there are apps for Android and Apple.

ambient-mixer.com has nature sounds in a lot of settings. Like a tropical rain forest or a forest at night. That’s just in the nature section. There are other collections that can put you in the mood to write any setting. Their fantasy settings are especially popular.

There are a lot of other white noise and rain maker sites out there. rain.today lists several at the bottom of the page to look into.

I highly recommend one of these, or if you’re the kind of person that only seems to focus in a busy coffee shop, there are tons of those kind of sites out there as well. I’m sure you can find just the right combination of white noise to blot out the real world and let you concentrate on what is important: torturing your characters writing.

This Is the Best Day Ever!


Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s been a good day.

First, I had an all-time record number of words. 16,236 words to be exact. Of course, I haven’t slept in almost 36 hours. But 16k!

Second, 100 day streak! Yeah, baby.

Third, I finally got my dream minivan!



I’ve wanted a Town & Country for years. I figured some day I’d settle for a late model Dodge Grand Caravan which is the “poor” man’s version of the T&C. Well, after the truck broke down, my husband had no choice but to buy a new vehicle to get everyone home.

They told me they were getting me a “Susan,” which is what we named the rental we got years ago. I was excited, although anxious about new car payments after just buying a house. But what are ya going to do?

They finally get home, and I’m shocked to not just see my Town & Country, but the thing is flippin’ fully loaded. DVD player, Sirius (which isn’t hooked up), leather seats, imitation wood trim, all sorts of fancy buttons and dials.

Now I really, really don’t want to know what he paid for this or how we’re going to afford the monthly bills. Yikes.

I’m not sure what year the T&C is, but it is, by far, the nicest, most expensive vehicle I’ve ever owned. I get to drive it tomorrow. Squee! The kids want to call it “Destiny,” since it was apparently our destiny to break down there and buy her. I’m secretly going to call her “Felicity.”

Oh, and fourth, my family finally made it home from their adventure. Three days late. But that’s not important because minivan!

I’m kidding. I missed them, and was getting worried. I just didn’t miss the noise and mess. They’ve been home four and a half hours, and already I’m exhausted.

Tools of the Trade: 4thewords.com

As an author, I’m always looking for things–programs, websites, apps–that make writing easier or more enjoyable.

4twlogo-xsI discovered 4thewords.com in October 2015. It was listed as a sponsor for NaNoWriMo. I checked it out and was intrigued, although, I promptly forgot about it. It wasn’t until March 2016 that I truly saw the genius of the site. I wrote 125,000 words that month.

There are a lot of sites out there that offer a place to write and store your words. They might even give you incentives like monthly challenges or have pretty graphs (750words.com is one of them). So what makes 4thewords special?

4tw_playIt’s all in the packaging. And this site is wrapped up in a role-playing game complete with avatars, monsters to fight, and quests to finish. If you like RPGs, I probably have your attention now. For those that don’t get the appeal, you should still check out the site because the graphics are adorable and the quests are amazing motivation.

See, your writing isn’t just words on the screen. It is a weapon to be wielded against a menagerie of monsters. You start in Luciola Forest and have to complete quests to get out. Quests are completed by fighting certain monsters that drop items.


Wignow of Mama Tree

The monsters are beaten by writing a certain number of words within a time limit. Like a Wignow needs 250 words in 30 minutes to beat him. A Rudakai needs 1,700 words, but you have 340 minutes (around 5.5 hours). The harder the monster, the better the drops.


Rudakai of Luciola Forest





Eventually you fight your way out of Luciola Forest to move on to Mama Tree. And there actually is a storyline to follow. Something about dust infecting the forest, and I honestly wasn’t paying attention because I wanted to get to the next quest. But there is a story.

Along the way, you collect armor and weapons that affect your three stats. The higher your Attack stat, the fewer words you actually need to type to win. The higher your Defense stat, the more time you get to finish the battle. And the higher your Luck stat, the more items the monster drops.

There’s a lot more going on with stores, banks, crafting, and locksmiths. There’s also leaderboards and a great forum with a lot of fun, supportive player-writers (and I’m not saying that because I’m a moderator).


Untu pirate

Right now we have a Camp NaNoWriMo event going on–an Untu hunt. There’s a special zone with monsters that only come out during NaNo. They have their own quests that earn you special prizes.

All of this may sound ridiculous to some of you, but I am here to tell you that it works. The graphics are adorable and suck you right in. The word count goals for each monster make it feel as if you accomplished something concrete when you defeat a monster. The quests keep you wanting to fight more. And more battles means more words.

For me, the leaderboards have been a huge source of motivation. Staying on the “battle” board for most wins, keeps me fighting one more monster. And keeping my streak going, has me coming back every day. Just this year, I’ve written 125k words and haven’t missed a single day.


Core Crystal

The only caveat is that the site cost money. You get a 30 day free trial, and then you have to pay $4/month. Honestly, the site is well worth the money. And if you won NaNoWriMo in November, there’s a code in your winner’s goodies to get a 60% discount.

If you do decide to sign up, use this referral code: WVBIY23608. When you eventually buy your first month subscription (because you will want to), you’ll get an extra 20 Core Crystals which are used to pay for subscriptions and a few in-game items. A month’s subscription is 44 Core Crystals which cost $4 (US). Oh, and I’ll get some Core Crystals as well (which I appreciate).

At the least, it’s worth checking out with your free trial. Battle a few monsters, finish a few quests, and visit the forums where I’ll be hanging out. I’m justanotherjen there.


I hope to see you soon. And happy hunting.

Camp NaNo April – Day 1 recap

Camp-2017-Participant-Profile-PhotoThe other day I talked a little about Camp NaNoWriMo and why you should just do it. Today, I’m going to talk a little about my own Camp project.

Last year sometime, I signed up to do a challenge at fanfic50 on LiveJournal. The challenge works like this: I choose a fandom and pairing (if I want) and a list of prompts. Then I write. Pretty simple.

Yeah, well I haven’t been doing it. I’ve been writing, but not the prompts. So Camp NaNo is going to change that. My goal is to take a different prompt from the list (chosen randomly) each day and start a story, writing at least 1,000 words. Easy-peasy.

Now–if I remember–I’ll come back each day and give a little update about which prompt I’m working on and what evil things I’m doing to the characters.

And day one truly was evil.

My fandom is The 100 (TV), and my pairing is Bellamy/Clarke (and I will die before I use Bellarke to describe them… *shudder*).

So here goes.

Day 1: survive

Oh, I should probably put a trigger warning in here for mentions of torture and violence.

In the “survive” story, poor, poor Bellamy has been abducted by a rogue Grounder clan. Their commander is a sadistic bastard who enjoys inflicting pain on people.

Bellamy’s not sure how long’s he’s been held captive. He’s not sure he even cares any more. And he’s not sure if he’s seeing things or not when someone shoots an arrow through the commander’s head in the dead of night.

He’s pretty sure he is hallucinating when Murphy breaks him out of his cage. Finn, Monroe, and Miller are there, too. And a big, hulking guy in a skull mask that sends chills down Bellamy’s spine. The hallucinations don’t give him much of a choice other than to go with him.

Despite his very severe injuries, the group manages to get Bellamy back to the “Art Supply Store,” as Clarke has taken to calling the bunker she discovered with Finn. Bellamy is barely conscious–broken and battered nearly beyond recognition.

Bellamy questions his sanity when he finally focuses on Clarke. And he knows this is definitely a dream when she starts to run her fingers through his hair. The Grounders probably drugged him. It wouldn’t be the first time. But he’s too tired to care, and Clarke’s gentle touch calms his frayed nerves.

He’s in an out of consciousness for a while. Vivid flashbacks haunt his sleep. Each time, he wakes unsure what is real, and Clarke has to go through the process of reassuring him.

“You’re safe,” she whispers over and over.

Reality starts to sink in. This isn’t a hallucination. Clarke is really here. He really is safe. He doesn’t even care if Clarke sees him cry. But reality is harsh. Clarke insists she catalog his injuries and since he won’t tell her what the Grounders did to him, she has to investigate on her own. Much to his dismay.

She starts at his feet and works up his body, mentally charting his wounds. Her fingers elicit unwelcome reactions that Clarke is sure to notice eventually. He kind of wishes he could go back to the other kind of torture.

She comments on his sliced up feet. On the bruises that mar every inch of skin. On the broken ribs and burn marks. On the flesh rubbed raw around his wrists and ankles. And his missing fingernails.

When she finally reaches his face, there are tears in her eyes. This is why he didn’t want her to know. She runs a finger along the puffy, raised skin on his cheek where the Grounders branded him their bitch. She lifts his hair and takes in the missing ear. He closes his eyes because he can’t stand the pain in hers.

There isn’t a single part of his body that doesn’t hurt. Except maybe his hair when Clarke slips her fingers through it.

The End.

Okay, not really. That’s a taste of the story. In case you’re wondering, it diverges from canon around season 1, episode 7 (Contents Under Pressure). The delinquents are never able to contact the Ark, and they’re left to fend for themselves on Earth. This takes place months after they land.

My goal was at least 1,000 words and the start of a story. I ended up with over 2k by the end of the 1st. And added another 6k between midnight and 5am on the 2nd.

Tune in tomorrow to see what Clarke and Bellamy will get into next (hint: it will have nothing to do with this story, although if I do write more of this story, I might have to come post an update on my evilness *insert villainous laugh here*).

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