Tuesday, August 21, 2012

For Writers: Beginning, Middle and End

I'm still working my way through the self-study course and I needed to make some notes. This is part of the problem I've been having. I'm forcing too much story into one book, I think, and couldn't figure out where I was going wrong. I think I had too many plot points I wanted to include. There were too many things weaving around one another for it to be a linear storyline that made sense. Therefore, I've taken a few notes for posterity.


Present the setting, time and immediate context at the beginning of the story. Establish the tone the reader will rely upon. Compel the reader to move to the middle. Introduce the opposition. This should be done with a subtle notice in the beginning and move on from there. You should introduce your first door of no return here.

Readers are introduced to the hero's world. A disturbance interrupts this hero's world. The hero may ignore the call. The hero crosses into a dark world. If the hero could quite easily walk away from the conflict and go back to his normal way of life, you haven't crossed the first threshold into the second Act. Some big thing has to happen to push them through so they can't return. This should happen in the first quarter of the novel.


This is a series of battles between the hero and opposition. Subplots bloom here as well as the deeper meanings of the book. Deepen character relationships. Keep the reader interested. Set up the final battle that will wrap up the end. Toward the end of this phase is the second door of no return. The meat and potatoes of the novel happens here. This is where the hero makes his or her discoveries that will lead him toward the end and the final conflict. A mentor appears to teach the hero. Various encounters occur. The hero has a dark moment within himself he must overcome in order to continue. A talisman aids in battle. Door of no Return #2 should happen with a quarter of the novel left to go, toward the end of the middle. The hero has no choice but to go through to the knockout ending.


Tie up all loose ends. Give a feeling of something beyond the pages. What does it all mean?

The final battle is fought. The hero returns to his life or what's left of it.

Since I don't want to make a mess in my booklet so I can use this again later, I'll put my responses here. I picked up a writing self-study course and I am working my way through to try and take the huge plot arc and break it down by character into books. I thought perhaps someone might want to read my work as I go along.


My lead is a half demon, half human. His internal conflict is providing for himself, realizing he is a good person despite the hand he's been dealt and coming to terms with being a demon. His external conflict comes from the police tracking him not only for being a prostitute but for a string of murders in his neighborhood. A set of demon hunters come into the area searching for the demon causing the murders. How the internal and external conflicts work together or illuminate one another is he feels responsible to protect the girls he works with but can't seem to do so without triggering the demon. The demon kills and that draws unwanted attention. ((This may very well be where I need the most work because I'm pulling teeth trying to come up with something that makes sense here.)) His objective is to get into a ritzy brothel instead of working on the street and protect the girls he cares about. His confrontation comes when the demon hunters corner him and he can't get away. It is either kill or be killed and he can't seem to kill the guy he's fallen for. The tone of the book should be gritty yet upbeat apocalyptic. The ending will be a knockout when the demon hunters realize Baby is the demon and they have to kill him so he doesn't kill others.


Now for one to two paragraphs describing how my novel fits the LOCK system. Lead, Objective, Conflict, Knock-out.

I really think the middle of the novel is where I'm having my trouble. Hopefully this course will help me write things out. Baby is a character that has been with me for such a long time. He sort of slunk out of the shadows one afternoon and sat quietly watching everyone and taking them all in before he emerged as a first form character. I had no idea who he was or what he wanted or even anything about him. At the point Baby was born, I was originally writing Maki with another character named Ferdinand and before him, I'd written him with Saint Clair, a character I've almost entirely written out of the Chronicles. Ferdinand ended up leaving Maki for one of his students and the pair of them ran off to New Orleans to rebuild, leaving Maki to piece together a broken heart and go back to what he does best: studying and hunting.

I've always had trouble, as far as this story goes, in breaking it down into bite-sized chunks. I'm trying to tell THE WHOLE THING all at once instead of breaking it up onto books. If I tried to write the entire chronicles as one book, they'd never be able to bind it and people wouldn't read it. I'd be publishing a gay War and Peace. No one would make it through save the resolute because it would be too much, too dense and freaking BORING.

I think for this book, the main conflicts are going to be Baby against himself dealing with his past and his mother and all the crap that happened with her. I think the external conflicts are going to be the police and the demon hunting crew that comes in. He always has to avoid cops being a hooker, but adding the stress of a demon hunter he ends up falling for is going to be the kick in the pants. Baby doesn't WANT to be committed. He honestly ENJOYS being a hooker. SO it's going to be a big mess he has to sort out and it's not going to sort itself into one neat book. I want things like that to carry over into future books, but his main conflict in this book should probably be just coming to grips with the fact that he is a demon and it is NOT separate from himself. He's also got to come to grips with the fact he is in love with Maki and Maki IS right for him. Hell, there might even be conflicts with an age difference depending on what happens. Baby originally met  Maki when he was fifteen. Maki would NOT WOULD NOT do anything  sexual  with anyone considered a minor because he wouldn't want to risk legal action. So... problems.

And there I go again, trying to make things more complicated than they have to be. I think I need to move a little further into the study course.

For Writers: The Dreaded Outline

I am not an outliner. I never have been. I most likely never WILL be. I enjoy the ways the story takes me, the art of crafting it and the surprise of writing it was my characters take me along their story. This, however, is not how you sell books, by all accounts. Unless you're naturally good at your characters sticking to what's important, you have to have some idea where the story is supposed to go.

Several years ago, someone sent me an email telling me he could make me a writer, all I had to do was sign up for his classes and he'd take me from a wannabe writer into someone published and profitable and beloved by all. I could have been J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyers before they were them by his accounts. He'd helped hundreds of writers become kings of writing by his program.

I declined his offer and told him thanks but no thanks. Being maybe 25, I was probably a smartass about it. He took it upon himself to instant message me and ask me about my writing and my writing habits. Being 25 and know there was no way I was going to make writing a full-time gig, I answered off the cuff. I wasn't interested in his program, I wasn't going to pay him to tell me how to write and I honestly wasn't sure why he was still talking to me. The thing I remember  most out of his comments and questions was when he asked me how often I wrote. I answered honestly, "I just write when inspiration strikes". I did. And had inspiration strike me all the time. It wasn't like  I considered myself anywhere near publishable work and I honestly wasn't ready.

His next comment not only pissed me off, but it turned me off writing for a good long while. Every single time I see someone make a comment about how they were "talking to a girl who said they only write when inspired", hackles instantly raise. He told me that unless I took my writing seriously and buckled down and started treating it like a job, I would never once be published. He continued with some scathing remarks about how I shouldn't call myself a writer when all I did was dabble and gave me a tongue in cheek wish for good luck with my dribbling in the future. I know I've seen this person write for various functions and I know he's done a pep talk for NaNoWriMo. I deleted it the minute I read his "talked with a young woman" line.

Since then I have deliberately shied away from any kind of structure to my writing because he basically told me I HAD TO. I shied away from deadlines and writing goals because if I was having a good day, I could crank out 5k. If I wasn't I managed a couple of hundred. In the long run, I felt good if I'd written 10k in a week because my life wasn't structured, I wasn't grasping for time and I had the energy and creativity necessary to actually write. While his system was probably good for him, it would have crushed my creativity and spirit, much like his assumption that inspired writing wasn't real writing or whatever it was he believed.

With this beast of a plot I've been nursing for the last ten years or better, I need outlines. I need a vague direction and something outlining the major plot points that need to happen. I need to know all the major events and I need to keep a timeline so when I get to book 6 or 123 or what have you, I'm not leaving plot inconsistencies. I need to have some kind of a wire frame that I can start to mold clay around. I refuse to force my characters into a cookie cutter, but at the same time, I have to have points to drive my car to, otherwise I'm just wasting gas.

Therefore, this next section has been helpful to me and I'm going to share a few things that I think will help and rebut a point he makes for those of us who are perfectionists.

Through National Novel Writer's month, I have learned the beauty of daily writing quotas. Setting a goal for yourself is a plus. Setting an attainable goal is a double plus. For me, however, I will wrack myself with guilt if I don't get those words done. When I fall behind on them, I have this rolling rock that smashes my flowers and tramples my grass and then as it gets bigger and bigger, I just give up writing altogether. I give up on the project and walk away.

This is why I didn't finish my first NaNo.

I've learned the beauty of goals, but I have had to really teach myself that falling behind on my goals is okay. If there's no pressure, I will still get it done, but I don't have this insurmountable mountain building over my head. Write every day, fine. Yay. But I do it in my time, on my schedule and NOT first thing in the morning. Oh my GOD I am a ZOMBIE when I wake up for the first hour or two of my day. That includes while I'm at work. My brain doesn't come online until the evening and the best time for me to write is after work before I cook dinner. That's my sweet spot. That's when I write. If I make 1600 words, YAY! If not, oh well. If I don't write at all, it's because that day has been crap. I pick back up the next day like nothing ever happened. I'm okay with this. No one is dogging me.

The second bit of advice comes in re-reading what you've written the day before. Yes, and no. I'm definitely one of those people who reads the last bit of what I wrote if I had to end in the middle of a scene, but if I go back and start reading everything I've written from the day before, I end up editing and making small changes and tweaks and wanting to re-write things and then, before I know it, I've wasted all the time I have for writing by being obsessive over having things right. That's another thing I have to work on, not being ridiculous about perfection until editing, but I really think it can hamper my progress, especially if I'm on a deadline. On the other hand, it would stop me from having my main character take off his shoes twice in a scene.

The last bit of advice he gives is you should record your plot journey with dates and times and plot points so you can keep track of the linear flow. If you're plotting a monstrosity like I am, you'll need this to keep your story straight. He actually suggests a huge piece of butcher paper and sticky notes that roll up into a poster roll. I am in LOVE with this idea. Postits aren't permanent, I can use my erasable pens and highlighters and super sticky sticky notes, tape it to the wall to work and then roll it up and put it away when not using it. BRILLIANT! I can divide the entire butcher paper in the three acts in the structure, have different colored notes for all the main characters and what their points will be in the scenes and make sure I've got my Opening, Beginning Disturbance, 1st Door, 2nd Door and Ending... everything else is just gravy!

But, since I'm not a complete planner, there is a lot that I can see that will need work, especially given the middle of Baby's story is what I really want to tell and what I have the least amount of information for. For those of us who are hybrids, he recommends beginning with the LOCK system and writing the back cover copy for your book. From there, you can generate more ideas as they story develops. He recommends asking yourself these questions before progressing forward:
  • What is my character's emotional state and the end of the scene?
  • How will he react in the next scene?
  • What is the next action my character needs to take?
  • What strong scene up ahead needs transitional scenes before it?
  • Do I need to add any new characters?
  • Has a character in the scene I've just written suggest other plot developments?
I'm not sure how many of those questions I would be using, but it at least gives me hope that I don't have to plan everything and I can just set the framework and let my imagination soar when inspiration strikes.

Never really gets easier

Story time since it's on my mind and I wanted to share and ask a little extra patience.  May 20th. Mary and I are at a local garden shop...