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Writing a novel in 90 days or less

That is the goal. Actually, I’d like to have the first draft done in ninety days or less. My real goal is to have polished and edited my novel until it’s squeaky clean, waxed and finished so I can bring it to the next writer’s conference in NY.

I’m not sure when the 2012 Writer’s Digest conference is, but that’s my goal. 2011’s was in January, so it’ll probably be around the same time. I guess Christmas is as good a time as any to have this done by. I’ve already outlined my plot via crossbreeding Lazette Gifford’s Phase Outlining and Holly Lisle’s Fast Plotting methods. I really liked both but writing out scenes on the notecards was harder for me than writing out little phrases. I have less (a lot less) phrases than Ms. Gifford has, but I have more phrases than I do scenes and I group them together by scene. This way, the magic of writing isn’t ruined by writing out my scenes and I don’t feel restricted to an outline, but I have certain things that I want to put in and work toward them, letting my imagination just fill in the words between my phrase-scenes, or my scene-phrases.

So I’m curious if anyone reading uses an outline and, if so, why? Or are you the type who can’t stand outlines?

Well, I’m off to write more words! I’ve still got a few pages left to write today and have procrastinated enough here.

-EW

EDIT: I have just gotten an e-mail saying there is a Writer’s Digest Conference in September? Anyone know what information is correct when I could have sworn their website still says January 2011…?

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Conflict and Theme

For me, when I was just looking this stuff up I blinked a few times at the words “Confilct and Theme” and said “Huh? What’s the difference?”

I got the following definitions from Literary Vocabulary.

CONFLICT: The opposition between two characters (such as a protagonist and an antagonist), between two large groups of people, or between the protagonist and a larger problem such as forces of nature, ideas, public mores, and so on. Conflict may also be completely internal, such as the protagonist struggling with his psychological tendencies (drug addiction, self-destructive behavior, and so on); William Faulkner famously claimed that the most important literature deals with the subject of “the human heart in conflict with itself.” Conflict is the engine that drives a plot. Examples of narratives driven mainly by conflicts between the protagonist and nature include Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” (in which the Californian struggles to save himself from freezing to death in Alaska) and Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” (in which shipwrecked men in a lifeboat struggle to stay alive and get to shore). Examples of narratives driven by conflicts between a protagonist and an antagonist include Mallory’s Le Morte D’arthur, in which King Arthur faces off against his evil son Mordred, each representing civilization and barbarism respectively. Examples of narratives driven by internal struggles include Daniel Scott Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon,” in which the hero struggles with the loss of his own intelligence to congenital mental retardation, and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in which the protagonist ends up struggling with his own guilt after committing a murder. In complex works of literature, multiple conflicts may occur at once. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Othello, one level of conflict is the unseen struggle between Othello and the machinations of Iago, who seeks to destroy him. Another level of conflict is Othello’s struggle with his own jealous insecurities and his suspicions that Desdemona is cheating on him.

THEME: A central idea or statement that unifies and controls an entire literary work. The theme can take the form of a brief and meaningful insight or a comprehensive vision of life; it may be a single idea such as “progress” (in many Victorian works), “order and duty” (in many early Roman works), “seize-the-day” (in many late Roman works), or “jealousy” (in Shakespeare’s Othello). The theme may also be a more complicated doctrine, such as Milton’s theme in Paradise Lost, “to justify the ways of God to men,” or “Socialism is the only sane reaction to the labor abuses in Chicago meat-packing plants” (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle). A theme is the author’s way of communicating and sharing ideas, perceptions, and feelings with readers, and it may be directly stated in the book, or it may only be implied.

So what does that mean for your novel? You have to have each of those three components.

If your novel were a car, Conflict would be your engine…so you won’t really get very without that, huh? There are three types of conflict: Internal, Interpersonal and External.

Internal: Shane really wants something, but he’s going to have trouble getting it.
This brings up two questions. What does Shane want (maybe it’s a who)? Why will he have trouble getting it? Maybe he really wants to be a teacher but has been told countless times he’s worthless, doesn’t have patience and must go into the family business of pottery. So Shane’s biggest obstacle to achieving his goal is himself.

Your turn: Write down at least three things your character wants and the reasons s/he stands in their own way of getting them.

Interpersonal: Problems with the people in Shane’s life, the people around him.

His father: Is dead-set on Shane going into the family business and so proud that so far, Shane’s worked there every summer. He’s so happy his son is going to follow in his footsteps in the vast world of pottery in which he has established a name for himself. Or maybe he’s the second or third generation, which puts even more pressure on Shane…

His girlfriend: She wants Shane to have a secure job and knows his family business is stable.

His best friend: Maybe he’s jealous of Shane and tells him things like ‘you’d never have the patience’ or ‘stick with what you’re good at.’ His own dreams of playing video games for a living have long since expired and he dropped out of college after the first year. Maybe he’s working at a local restaurant as a waiter and if Shane becomes a teacher fears they won’t get to spend as much time together.

Maybe his dad will refuse to help him with money for college if Shane really wants to go for a teaching degree. Maybe his girlfriend will bitch and moan, maybe even say she’s pregnant (maybe get pregnant on purpose with him or cheat on him with someone else). And perhaps the best friend will call him to hang out the night before his big interview…

Your turn: Write down at least three people who stand in your character’s way and why.

External: Outside forces.

Maybe Shane can’t get financial aid because his family is well-off? Maybe there is some big tornado or earth-quake or zombie attack. Or maybe Shane is given some bedamned quest by a God to go and save the world!

Your turn: Write at least one major ‘getting hit on the head with a sack full of bricks’ external conflict that changes your character’s entire world!

The literary world is full of potential conflicts. And now, grasshopper, you have conflict.

Okay, themes. Going with the car analogy, maybe Theme is the transmission. Yeah, works for me.

I suggest reading this article by Holly Lisle. Themes are about finding what your book is really about; it’s about looking for answers to unasnwered/unanswerable questions! Like, a clichéd example, what is the meaning of life? (And don’t say 42.)

Alright, go forth and put what you’ve learned to use!

Happy writing,
EW

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Character Creation/Development

You need a character, huh? When creating characters, I’m going to suggest not picking the name first. With names come a lot of pre-existing concepts and ideas of what that person will be like. Every character should be at least mostly thought out if not completely.

So first, you should pick a gender (hopefully this will be easy for you). If age is necessary for the novel, pick that now. if not…then you should eave it until later. If you need to call them something, their temporary name can be Character.

Think about your novel, and the character.*

  • Where does Character live? Has s/he always lived there? If not, where is s/he from?
  • What is Character’s full-time job? Is s/he employed full-time, a student? Whatever it is, does Character like it? Does s/he work two jobs?
  • What activities does Character like to do for fun? Has s/he got any hobbies? Why hasn’t s/he decided that this passion isn’t what s/he wound up doing for a living?
  • Ah, romance. Does Character have a significant other? What about in their past, any heart-breaks or tragic affairs? If not, why not?
  • How about pets? Is the pet special to Characters, or does s/he hate it? Has it ever saved Character’s life?
  • Who are Character’s closest friends? Any old friends that have grown distant? Regrets? How about enemies? Who is Character’s main enemy in the story? You should think about the people that effect Character’s life, and how.
  • How about family? Who raised Character, has s/he got any siblings, cousins, or anyone they consider family?
  • Why does the enemy hate Character?
  • What are Character’s fears?
  • What are Character’s innermost desires?
  • What is the one thing in the world your character would do anything to avoid? Why? What has he already done to avoid this? What do you see him doing in the future to avoid it?
  • How about sacrifice? What is the one thing in the world your character would do anything in the world to have? Why? What has he already done to try to obtain it? What does he hope to try in the future?
  • Name at least five of Character’s biggest flaws/weaknesses.
  • Name at least five of Character’s strengths.
  • Any medical conditions? Any physical or mental disabilities?
  • If you haven’t already, what is Character’s age?
  • Describe what Character looks like. Any distinguishing features? ie: tattoos, piercings, scarring…
  • Finally, you should give Character a proper name. Does s/he even have a middle name?
  • You should now have enough to go on to write a decent biography about Character’s life so far. You should do that, and make sure you write everything you know about Character.

    *I took a lot of questions from Holly Lisle’s website, and added a lot of my own.

    I hope this was a helpful guide (:

    Happy writing!
    EW

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World Building

Don’t be afraid to be god. Technically, even if you have other deities in your novels, you are still a higher god who dictates what they do and how everything works. Everything from where the people go or who they meet along the way, and in some cases even the rules that govern their very existence and bind them to their precious faith or lack their of.

I like The Sims. I get to be God, and I won’t lie: it’s made very good practice for telling my character what to do (and even allowing them to sometimes do what they want to do). Yes, I’m one of those people who usually turn off the Free Will option. Hell, Sims are actually easier to control than my characters, sometimes. But still, there are some things that they just want to do that you can’t control and must give in to them…let them have their way.

I’ve never created a world in The Sims that I created for a novel, or vice versa, but the idea does appeal to me. I will admit to making some of my untried and untested character ideas into Sims to mixed results. In the case of one stubborn vampire, it went very well, but for the most part I’ve personally had minimal success with this. But that doesn’t mean it might not work for you!

However, that is not the sole purpose of this post and I have spent more than enough time talking about The Sims.

When creating a novel, you have to start somewhere. For J.K. Rowling, it was a person. For other authors, like Holly Lisle, they need a map first. If you write in the fantasy genre, and are making your own world from scratch (or perhaps cafeteria style), then you will need a map no matter what, even if it’s only for your own personal use and knowledge. I cannot tell you how much this grueling, fun, tedious process will help you in the long run, at least from my experience.

Before I go into a more in depth how-to about creating your world using maps, I’ll define cafeteria-style as Jaqueline Carey stated in an interview: “Research, research, research! Writing alternate historical fantasy, I’m not held to a standard of unrelenting accuracy, but there is a high standard of plausibility. I may be picking and choosing among different cultures, nations and histories – cafeteria-style world-building, one of my readers dubbed it – but I have to weave all of it together into a plausible whole that aficionados of history will enjoy rather than disparage. On the upside, it means there’s a wealth of great material out there for me to draw on to find the perfect details to bring my world to life.”

In other words, using the world as it is to create a new one.

If you don’t find that idea appealing, then by all means…create something from scratch! I’ve done it several times, although admittedly am still writing away and always, always editing in the hopes one day my novels will get published. (I haven’t tried to query yet, I know the novel isn’t polished enough yet).

Okay, so you want to endeavor in the creation process of a new world. I’m going to tell you the process I found most useful, which I found on Holly Lisle’s website. The quotes I have used in this blog are all from her site, unless otherwise noted like Jaqueline’s above.

Holly suggests using graphing paper and drafting markers; or a pen, and I agree with her, at least for the first few maps. That way you won’t be tempted to edit. If you don’t have graphing paper, plain white paper should suffice.

Before you begin, if you’re wary of your drawing skills, this doesn’t have to be pretty. This map is meant to be a tool for you to use when writing. If you make mistakes, leave them, they will prove useful later. The drawing does not need to be perfect. Actually, no matter how good it is, your publisher will insist on getting a professional illustrator to re-do your map anyway, so don’t worry too much.

So you have your paper and pen (or that’s how I started because I was too lazy/cheap to go out and buy graphing paper and markers lol). You’re going to draw a continent, you may start with the outer shape but I find that restricting, personally.

You may either follow these instructions as you read, or read them all first as Holly suggests and draw them after.

Draw three dots no the page, anywhere. Feel free to space them out. You may want to draw more later, but for now stick with three. “Draw some upside-down V’s in a line (but not necessarily a straight line). These are your mountain range. Name the range. You can have more than one. You can make it thick or thin. If you leave any gaps between the V’s, these can become passes.” The upside down V’s should look like carrots: ^^^

“Draw some snaky lines from the mountain range outward in a couple of directions. Name each snaky line “Something” River. (Do not be a smart-aleck and take this literally).”

Okay, remember those three dots you drew? Well, draw some dotted or dashed lines between them to separate them. Is this continent all one country? Are the lines separating counties, states or countries from each other? Only you can decide that. By the way, those lines can officially be called borders now (: Go back to those dots and name them, they are major cities.

Now for adding the things you’re fond of: maybe a forest or a lake, or maybe a shoreline with some islands a little distance away. Or maybe you want some desert or plains on your continent! Or, perhaps, you want it all. That’s okay, too, just make sure you’re not overcrowding it or putting things next to each other don’t make sense in your world. What does that mean? Well, normally a forest won’t give way to a desert without a reason, but maybe there is a magical reason in your world that this can happen! Remember: you are god, this is your world.

Draw some more dots and name them. More towns and villages, and maybe even draw a square representing ruins from some old civilization that lived hundreds of years before your character was born.

Okay, when your map is to your satisfaction, you should go back to those mistakes.

” Find the places where you wanted to erase. You drew a line someplace where it didn’t belong, (you right-angled off a river, maybe). That’s okay. That right-angled thing was designed by engineers. Really it was. It’s an aqueduct, or a canal, or a wall. You have a road that goes nowhere? That’s cool—somebody made it, and it used to go somewhere, and now all you have to do is figure out who made it, and where it used to go, and why it doesn’t go there anymore. You have a ruin-box in what accidentally became a lake, or an ocean? No problem. Once upon a time that ruin was above ground. Or maybe it wasn’t, and once upon a time there was a civilization that lived under the water.

See what I mean about mistakes? They’re a treasure-trove of story ideas waiting to happen.”

Okay, your continent is done. Now you go to the computer, or grab a sheet of looseleaf and your handy pen once more.

Okay, this next section was all important enough that I’m copying and pasting all of it.

“Answer the following questions, taking as much space as you need for each answer.

Why are the borders there? By this I mean, why do these people have borders in the first place? A border always implies that conditions, people, philosophies, governments, or something else is different on each side.

What goes up and down the rivers? (People, contraband, products?) How does it get there? Who takes it?

How are the people on one side of the border different from the people on the other side? (Religion, government, race, species … go into detail. Really take some time working out what these differences are, and put some effort into figuring out why they were important enough to necessitate the creation of that border.)

What lives in the mountains? (Animals, people, big scary things, all of the above?)

How does the weather endanger the lives of the people who live in your world? (Along with weather—stuff like tornadoes, droughts, hurricanes, snowstorms, avalanches, and so on, you should include things like areas where you’ll have earthquakes and volcanoes. Don’t be afraid to be generous in heaping out troubles. You’ll find plenty of use for them.)

What else endangers the people on your continent? (Plagues, barbarians, people from the other side of the world, monsters from the oceans or beneath the earth … Again, take some time on this. And be generous.)

Do a quick timeline in hundred year increments, for maybe two thousand years. Write down one really big thing that happened in each of those hundred-year periods. It can be geological, political, religious, magical, whatever. But it needs to be big. (Example: Invasion of the Sheromene headhunters into the country of Dormica, and subsequent decimation of the native population and establishment of the Sheromenes in the southern half of that country.)

Write whatever else you can think of right now. See where you’re starting to get the feel for a novel? A big novel? Good. Keep moving back and forth, from your map to your notes. Add stuff to the map as it occurs to you. Add stuff to the notes until something inside your brain goes “ding” and lets you know that you have a book idea that you’re genuinely excited about.

You can follow this same process with a single city. (You should have seen the map I did of Ariss—it was so cool. I started out with a compass, and drew something like ten concentric circles, called them walls, and filled in the spaces between with roads and buildings. And divided the city right in half. The first book I ever sold was born from those circles with the line right down the middle. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.)”

So, let me know if any of this works out for you!

Happy writing,
EW

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Social Media and writing

When I first started out in the writing world, I had no idea WHAT I was doing to be perfectly honest.  All I knew was that I wanted to write a book and be a published author.  I had NO IDEA that there were so many strings attached until I actually sat down and started writing.  I mean, first you have to WRITE the book, then they expect you to get an agent and/or a publisher (whichever comes first), and NOW they expect you to MARKET your own work?  So, what gives?  Isn’t your agent/publisher supposed to do the marketing for you?

Well, that answer my friend, is complicated.  Yes, to a degree your agent/publisher is supposed to HELP you with the marketing, but in retrospect, it’s primarily the AUTHOR’s responsibility to get their name out there themselves.

You mean, I won’t be an overnight success? Oh, honey, it’s time to get off your pandemonium, and come back to earth!  Getting your name out there takes TIME and DEDICATION.  It took me OVER 2 years to write and complete my first novel, and another several months to find my publisher (and not everyone gets that lucky by the way!).  I had SOME idea of what to do, because I went to a book signing by Richelle Mead (a NY Times Best Selling Author of the VA series), and she gave some sound advice…DO YOUR RESEARCH!  She also gave us the link to the Predators and Editors website, which soon there-after became my second best friend.  It’s a website that lists the majority of agents and publishers, and tells you who to look out for and those who will try and scam you.

So, I received an offer from an agent/publisher, what’s next?  The next step is to DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  Don’t rush to sign the contract right away.  Yes, it’s exciting to get that first offer, but make sure you have your parents (if you’re living at home), AND an attorney look over the contract (ESPECIALLY if you don’t have any experience in preparing contracts or law, which about 85% of us don’t).  Once you have had the contract thoroughly inspected, and you feel FULLY confident that said publisher/agent is right for you, then, and ONLY then should you sign. Because honey, once you sign that contract, THERE IS NO TURNING BACK!

So, what’s the big deal about social media?  Who needs it?  Who needs it you ask?  Well, all authors need social media to market their work.  Starting a blog, or podcast is a great idea to start making a name for yourself.  Making a website to show off your work is also another good idea.  At least 99% of authors have their own website; it helps boost traffic, and it helps get your name out there.  Social gatherings are also a great way to market your book.  Whenever I am with my boyfriends friends, he is always finding some way or another to get my work out there, and sometimes, they just bring it up randomly, asking me how my writing is going!  If you’re serious about your work, and you make it known, other people will take you seriously too!

Networking is key!  Make use of places like facebook and twitter!  I can’t tell you how many twitter accounts I have (more than I probably should), and they are all for some aspect of writing in one way or another.  As a writer, Twitter and Facebook will become your best friends.  Since August, I have acquired over 400 friends on facebook in the writing community alone (probably more).  I have over 700 friends on there, and the number keeps growing.  I have over 300 followers on my personal twitter page because I participate in literary discussions and communities that help boost traffic.

Another thing that will help, is if you join sites like shewrites.com or bookblogs.ning.com.  They are big writing communities that will help authors promote their work in safe and friendly and professional environments.

So, you mean I can’t be an insta-star? No, my friend, I am afraid that the answer is no.  Becoming a respected author in the writing community takes time.  You must ALWAYS network and market your work.  If you get stuck, join a writing community or find someone like me who is willing to walk you through the steps of the writing world.  I may have a publisher, but I am still learning the ways of the author myself. I am not claiming to know EVERYTHING, but these are some important tips that I have learned over the last several months, and that I feel are important for young and new writers to learn.

And remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day!  Good writing takes time and practice, and A LOT of research. I am constantly reading books, and browsing websites of the same genre I write in, and I am ALWAYS learning something new!  Just have patience, because if you are a serious writer like I am, then you are in for a long, and bumpy ride!

-Beth

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Starting a Novel

So you’re stuck staring at that blank word document, huh? I hear ya.

As Holly Lisle wrote “You’ve decided you want to write a book. Terrific.”

I’m going to be using her tutorials and advice a lot in the next several posts, and probably after that, too. Her website is full of really good advice and can be found at HollyLisle.com. I’ve done a lot of research on advice (mostly when I was stuck staring at a blank page or document lol) on how to move on, get out of writer’s block or even character development and I’ve found her information very useful. However, I’d like to add some advice of my own in this blog as well as perhaps leave out a thing or two. I still advise you to check out her site, and I’ll be providing extra exercises along with some of the ones she offers.

Alright, back to the purpose of this blog: starting your novel.

My first piece of advice is to write something, anything, even if it doesn’t mean anything to you at the moment. Get writing!

Even if you just copy and paste these following questions and answer one of them, it’s a start!

  1. Do you know your world?
    What kind of world is it? Are you using the modern, current world? Is it historical? Maybe you’re creating your very own world! Are you in some way changing or altering how our world works? Adding magic, vampires, shifters…how does that work? Are there rules?
  2. Do you know your characters? How well?
    Who is your main character?
    Who is the antagonist?
  3. What is your conflict? What is your theme?
  4. What is your plot?
    Refine the answers to the above two questions and solidify it in to a plot.
  5. Whose voice is the story told in, is it first or third POV? Does it switch between them? Does it switch between characters?
    -When asked if there was a preference, Agent Kathleen Ortiz said “Both. But if you write in first POV, then that character better be that much more likable since we’re in their head” in a recent #askagent on Twitter.
  6. What genre are you writing?
  7. How long is this going to be?
    Full novel? Short story or Novella? Is there a word or page goal?
  8. Do you have a deadline?
    Sometimes setting a deadline and some kind of self-imposed penalty (or maybe get someone else to impose one on you) will help you to finish if you struggle with that. You know, no chocolate or -insert favorite food or thing here- until you finish if you don’t finish on time.

This is just a note: Don’t expect anything…just write to enjoy it and don’t worry if it will sell or not. If you worry too much, you won’t enjoy yourself and probably won’t finish…and it probably won’t wind up a very good novel, either, in my opinion. Remember to give yourself wiggle room, allow yourself to make mistakes.
Also, don’t worry about format if you don’t know the proper MS (manuscript) format, just enjoy writing and edit it later. Especially since different agencies and publishers sometimes have different format preferences. If you don’t want to worry about it later, then I’ll be doing a post about format soon. Let me know if you’d like that to be sooner rather than later and if you’ve got anything you’d like me to quote you on, please feel free to email me at: exotericwriter@gmail.com

Happy writing!
EW

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Computer Problems and Not Losing Your Novel

So, my computer had this weird meltdown today. Hours ago, I was playing a game and all of a sudden it just turned itself off. I tried turning it back on, but it just turned back off before the first screen. Weird, huh? It’s happened before but it’s pretty rare. What if I’d been writing? Well, here are some ways to protect your work from total loss on the incident of a computer failure whether it be minor or the blue screen of death.

Back up your work. I know, you probably hear that a lot, but trust me…it’s really good advice. Save it to a CD (rewrite-able) or USB key. However, that’s not always 100% reliable. To guarantee that you don’t lose anything, you should save frequently and e-mail it to yourself. That way if the CD is faulty or gets scratched and the USB key winds up getting messed up from someone else’s computer, you still have a draft you can just download from your e-mail.

Okay, what if you’ve got a bigger problem? What if you don’t have access to a computer now that yours has crashed? Or what if there’s a power failure? Well, if you’ve got access to your e-mail from a phone or device like an iPod, that’s good news for you. There are Microsoft Office apps for those devices. And even if you don’t want to type on that small keyboard, then don’t! Just grab a pen and paper and hand-write if you have to. I know, as both a precaution and preference, some writers like to print out their novels as they go along so they always have a hard copy available to edit and in case the file is corrupted, etc.

No matter what, there are always things you can do if you can’t work on your novel. Again, take a pen and paper and start developing those characters you haven’t gotten to yet…or name some places that will be featured in your story. Of course, sometimes you need to do some more outlining or just re-route the outline you’re currently using.

Happy writing!
EW

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