Category Archives: Ideas & Plotting

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

Game on! Making writing fun 

It’s NaNoWriMo time.

As I said last month, I’m not really a NaNoWriMo participant. I do watch from the sidelines though. It’s interesting to watch writers push themselves to achieve word count goals. I do believe that the hardest part of writing is finishing a story, and anything that gets people to complete a project is probably a good thing.

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But I do worry about people putting ridiculous amounts of pressure on themselves to complete a project. Creating an artificial pressure-packed environment can make writing a chore, and that can give writers a bad taste in their mouths which can lead to less motivation, not more.

So how do you keep writing fun when the pressure is on?

Honestly, that’s a very hard question to answer. Sometimes writing really can be a chore. And if you’re trying to make a living at it, then it’s a chore that you have to do, just as much as if you were a pastry chef getting up at 4am for the umpteenth time and dragging yourself into work.

Here are a few things that might take the drudgery out of your writing as you try to maintain that 1,500 words per day goal that will get you close to a NaNoWriMo success.

  • Remove a significant character, and replace them with a completely different one. You don’t have to go all George R. R. Martin here, you don’t have to kill them. Maybe they just had to move away. Maybe your protagonist got into an argument with them, and they decided it was time to move on. Whatever the cause, this will force you to think about your characters’ personalities and give you a chance to explore how your protagonist deals with adversity.
  • Introduce some weather into your narrative. I can’t even think of the number of books I’ve read where it apparently never even rains, much less storms. Let nature become an obstacle to your characters’ goals. This is a great opportunity to paint a memorable scene.
  • It is apparently very difficult in a novel to get sick. Nobody ever seems to. I’ve read eight book series and the main characters never even get the sniffles. Your macho he-man hero type may be able to stare down a raging fire-breathing dragon, but how well does he handle a migraine?
  • Throw a party. In real life people go to parties all the time. Unless a party is part of the plot, characters in novels never seem to be invited to do anything. I’m writing this the day after Halloween. Maybe your main characters get invited to a costume party. What would they dress as? What would that reveal about their personalities that might not come out otherwise?

These are all things that can reveal new and interesting things about your character, while giving you something interesting and new to write. That’s when your mind is open to new ideas, and when your story can take interesting twists and turns that you didn’t anticipate. And if you didn’t anticipate them, it’s a good bet that your readers won’t either.

Defense Against the Dark Arts – Writer’s Block Edition

Help! I’m Stuck at 10K Words!

First of all, don’t panic. Ten thousand words is nothing to sneeze at and you’re well on your way towards a complete novel. In fact, congratulations are in order.

Normally when my brain stops sending typing instructions to my fingertips it’s because there is something it’s still working on. Some piece of information is missing like what comes next or what should the main character do now that she’s up to her neck in quicksand.

Here are some techniques I use to get through “writer’s block”:

Time Travel

Pick a different chapter of your novel and start writing. If your protagonist is in quicksand now, you know she’ll get out somehow and get to the town of Quadloon because she has to confront Prince Evilson. Feel free to leave her hanging (don’t worry, she won’t mind) and just jump to where she walks into Quadloon. Continue the story from that point. Eventually your brain will come up with some fantastic bridge between the two points and you can go back and fill that section in.

Dimension Travel

Can’t figure out anything that is supposed to happen to your hapless characters without getting her out of that quicksand? Are you a dedicated pantser and have to let the characters dictate what happens next? That’s certainly one of the perils of not planning anything out at all.

There’s nothing in the rules that says you have to work on one novel at a time. If you had another idea for a novel in your head, go ahead and start writing that one. It would be best if it was a different genre, but work with what your brain hands you. Even if you get stuck at ten thousand words with the second novel, you can start three more and hit your 50K goal. Perfectly legal and valid to do so! The idea is to get you in the habit of writing.

Form Travel

You can always switch out to writing short stories during NaNoWriMo. Indeed, ending up with ten 5K stories should up your odds to getting one or more published after a bit of polish. Even getting half a novel and five or six short stories should add up to your goal.

If you’re a student and you’re going to have a research paper due in December, get to work on it now and kill two birds with one stone. Turn something in early and shock your instructor and have it count for your output. That’s a win-win!

 


 

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.

NaNoWriMo is Here!

Hooray, it’s November! People all around the world will be working on writing a manuscript first draft for NaNoWriMo. Last month the Fictorians featured working on pre-writing, plotting, and other methods of preparing to crank out a novel. Now it’s time to put those ideas into action.

This month we will feature ideas to help you:

  • Avoid or overcome writer’s block.
  • Stay motivated.
  • Hit your goals.
  • Be productive.
  • Avoid burnout.
  • Add in twists to stir up your plot.
  • Find alternate methods to write, such as using dictation software.

I’ve hit the 50K mark every year since 2007. My best year was over 300K words in a month, and last year I hit 50K in three days — this time while using dictation software. Overall, I have over a million words written exclusively during NaNoWriMo.

I always plan out my works in advance, and I set up multiple projects. If I hit a roadblock on one, I can easily switch over to another one until I figure out what the issue is in the first. I’m looking forward to giving updates during NaNoWriMo, and I’m certain you’ll find our upcoming posts timely and useful.

With that said, here are my (admittedly insane) goals for the month of November:

  • Write 500 articles, each of which is around 300 words. That’s 150,000 words, and I will be writing around 17-20 per day. No pre-writing.
  • Write papers for my three graduate classes, plus post on the discussion boards. Not sure what is due during November yet.
  • I will spew out a rough draft for at least one novel @ 50K words, minimum, to keep my NaNo streak going.
  • Whatever short story invites fall from the sky.

Ready, steady…WRITE!


 

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, MWG, 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.