Category Archives: Craft & Skills

Writing Stories – One Layer at a Time

Shrek - LayersI love in Shrek when he tells Donkey that ogres are like onions. They have layers. Even though Donkey suggests layered cake would be a better image, the onion analogy really works.

Books can be like ogres, onions, or cake, depending on the day and how your current scene is going. They’ve got lots of layers, and sometimes discovering a new layer can dramatically affect how we approach a work in progress.

Diving deep into a new novel during a focused writing burst like Nano can really help the story come alive in ways impossible to do when we’re outlining or planning or just writing a chapter a week. When we get deep into the zone, we can see things about the story we might have never imagined. We peel back the outer layers of plot, setting, and outer conflict to some of the deeper layers of motivation, inner struggle, and world view of our characters that shape their decisions and how they react to the world.

Those moments of discovery are awesome for both pantsers and plotters, and they’re key to ensuring that a story is deepened as well as broadened. We need to feel the heart of a story and make sure all of those layers align. Until we know those layers and make sure they build upon each other in a solid, optimized way, there’s at least one more draft that still needs to be done.

I’ve learned the hard way that even when I thoroughly outline a story, I don’t really know that story until I’ve worked through all those layers. I might write a huge 200,000 word draft that only touches on the outer layers. It’s not until I begin working edits and diving deeper that the true story emerges. Sometimes that requires some pretty substantial rewrites, but that’s a necessary price to pay for producing a professional quality story. If we quit before that, we’ve cheated the story and ourselves.

Here are a few things to ask yourself about your story to check your progress and make sure you haven’t missed any important layers:

  • Is your plot finished? Do you have a solid arc, including your plot points? Do you know the ending?
  • Is your setting well defined? Are the locations where scenes take place fleshed out with sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch? Is your blocking clear and easy for readers to follow?
  • Is your main protagonist’s challenge clearly defined, with a clear antagonistic force in place, with rising stakes.
  • Do you know what motivates your protagonist? Your antagonist? Other main characters? Why do they see the world the way they do, and are they open to changing that world view, learning, and growing, or are they fixed, closed-minded, and set in their ways?
  • What is your protagonist’s inner struggle?
  • What do other characters struggle with? How do they handle stress? How do they handle change?

If you can answer all of those questions with confidence, you’re well on your way. Keep charging ahead to the end. If you’re not sure, take a few minutes to think about these layers and consider how answering them might add depth and meaning to your story.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinRune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

You’re Halfway There!

It’s the midpoint of NaNoWriMo. How are you doing so far? Are you way ahead of the curve? Have you fallen behind? Fear not, fellow writer, because there is plenty of time to get that 50,000-word first draft completed on time!

Remember to tie your editor muse up and stuff him into a cupboard under the stairs. Let your writing muse work her magic on you. Don’t worry about typos or if you want to change the name of a character from X’lat’on to Nhylat. There’s plenty of time and space after NaNoWriMo is over. Focus on getting words on the virtual page.

Make sure you enjoy yourself. Why not get a giant bucket of cappuccino, or maybe a delicious chai tea? If you work well with caffeine, keep a cup at your elbow filled with your favorite version. Light a nice scented candle. If you’re The Funky Werepig, light up one of your trademark underwear-scented candles. Put a drop of essential oil where you can breath it in.

In the end, no matter how many words you’ve written, you ARE a winner because you’re X number of words closer to your finished manuscript.

Are you stuck? Have a character do something unexpected. Have someone betray the fellowship. Set a python on your annoying cousin Dudley. Do that in real life, it’s fun and you can stream it to YouTube. No, wait, don’t do that in real life, it will take you away from writing.

Have someone important to the quest get lost and write a short separate arc that gives the reader more insight into the character’s character.

Keep at it, because in the end, this is what you may discover on your desk in the not-too-distant future:

 


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

The Secret Lessons of NaNoWriMo

All this month the Fictorians have been talking about one of my favorite times of year: Nanowrimo! As I’ve discussed in the past, Nanowrimo was instrumental in my transitioning from desiring to write to actually producing work I was really happy about. What I’d like to cover in my post this month are the ‘other’ lessons Nanowrimo can teach you.

First, let’s cross off the two well-discussed one’s: ‘writing every day’ and ‘turning off the internal editor.’ Several of the Fictorians have covered these this month and there’s a ton of discussion out there about them, so I won’t belabor the point.

I’ll just add that I agree that you don’t *have* to write everyday to be a writer and that word count goals are at best a double-edge sword. For me, Nanowrimo was huge and I personally try to write every day. What works for you is for you to find, of course.

Beyond these two though, I’d like to introduce what I feel are the secret lessons of Nanowrimo. Four years after my first Nano ‘win’, these are the instructions I learned that first November that still stay with me and keep me productive:

GOALS HAVE VALUE

Moving away from a goal of writing x words in y time, any kind of goal is a fantastic motivator. Over time I’ve come to move away from word count goals and into scene goals. Each day I lay out the scenes I want to accomplish with that day’s work and then I don’t stop until I get them done. Chasing that carrot keeps me going, even through sleepy afternoons and days when the screen wants to stay blank. I need to get that goal, so keys get hit and words start to happen. Without a goal oriented approach, I’m doubtful I would get as much done.

WRITING IS AN ENDLESS EXERCISE

When I completed my first Nanowrimo, I had written 50,000 words. I wasn’t done though, there was much more novel to write. I added another 80,000 words and the story was finally complete. But I wasn’t finished, it was a first draft and a lousy one at that. I revised it several times, but I still wasn’t finished, because I needed to get some beta reads on it. After the beta reads came more revisions, and on and on. In truth, it’s never finished. At some point you decide the project it done, that additional work is not going to push the needle much farther.

Then you start the next one.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE AS A WRITER

Before Nanowrimo I didn’t know how important outlines were to me. I didn’t know if I could write 1,000 words a day, or 2,000 or 5,000. I didn’t know if I could write in public, or if I was a better writer in the morning or the evening. Writing every day really answers all those questions for you. After that first Nano, I knew that outlines would be critical to my success. I knew that on a good day I could write 4,000 words, but that I’m unlikely to be a coffee shop writer.

One of the things I love most about writing is that there is no one way to do it. Each of us can learn from other writers, we can read books about writing, we can attend classes and participate in national writing-based exercises. Yet in the end, we each have to find our own method that is uniquely ours. Nanowrimo is a fantastic opportunity to learn what process works for you and start yourself on the path to being a more productive writer.

See you next month!

Write Like It’s Your Job

For many of us, writing isn’t our primary job. We have day jobs, night jobs, side jobs, odd jobs, freelance jobs, and job jobs. While we’re working toward writing becoming our full-time job, we just do not have the luxury of having it yet. In the meantime, we seize our free hours and moments, developing stories and getting better at our craft.

But this month? No. This month, writing is your job. Priority uno.

The truth about NaNoWriMo is that while 1,667 words a day for a month seems perfectly manageable, it’s realistic that you will not get to write every day. You might miss one day a week, and then you have some extra words to make up. You might miss a few days in two weeks, and your word count will continually snowball from there. It can become overwhelming very quickly.

I’ve only done NaNoWriMo twice, but I have some tips for success so that you won’t feel overwhelmed during November.

  1. 1. Sit down with your loved ones. Tell them you will be writing every day, and it will take at least an hour. That hour is yours. That hour is damn-near holy. Tell them they cannot disturb you during your writing session. Assure them they will survive your absence for that hour.
  2. Write more than 1,667 words per day. When you’re in the zone and you’ve reached your 1,667-word goal, keep going. Go until your brain starts to get tired and fuzzy. Keep going until your alarm goes off or your kid storms in and demands you change his diaper.
  3. Treat yo self on days you’d rather be doing anything but writing. Promise yourself a cookie when you finish your word count. Get a drink at the bar after writing. Ignore the rest of your to-do list and take a magical bubble bath and listen to your favorite podcast.
  4. Go to the library or coffeeshop to write. If you live in the middle of no where, go outside and write. Sometimes, staying in the same place to write can be distracting. Being in our house, apartment, or space can be distracting. There are a hundred other things you could do in your space instead of write. Don’t let yourself become tempted to do something else.
  5. Close all tabs in your internet browser. You can now only use the internet to Google a fact or for research during your writing sessions.
  6. Turn off your phone, or at least silence that mofo.
  7. Commiserate with writing buddies. Don’t have any writing buddies? Sign up on the NaNoWriMo website and find your local chapter. Research a Facebook group or a forum dedicated to NaNoWriMo.
  8. Plan a big reward at the end of November. A small trip, a vacation, a tub of your favorite ice cream, tickets to see your favorite band, a camping trip. Whatever it is, make sure it’s a big deal to you, and make sure you don’t buy your tickets until you have officially written 50,000 words in November.

Got more tips or tricks for staying focused during NaNoWriMo? Write them in the comments below!