Tag Archives: Ace Jordyn

If it isn’t working …

If it isn’t working, change it.

This axiom can apply to a lot of things in our personal and writing life.

While reflecting on this year, I realized that I made changes in two significant areas of my life. Things weren’t working in a bad, horrible way, but in ways which didn’t allow me to be as productive and healthy as I could be.

On the personal side, we all know that we can’t change anyone else. We can only change ourselves. That’s because the desire to change has to come from within to be realized and to be sustainable. This past year, more than ever before, I had to create boundaries and acknowledge my physical limitations. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and although I have never worn it on my sleeve, I learned that I must own it and not deny how it affects my life.

Publicly admitting that I have CFS feels risky. What if a publisher learns of my illness and isn’t sure I can handle the stress and time commitment of a writing career? Truth is, I know others with this illness and their writing careers are doing well. How do they do it? Time management. Cutting out extraneous activities, and the emotional and physical stressors imposed by other people. They focus by choosing to do what is important (writing) and sticking to it. This also includes self-care.

Mind you, this is what we all need to be doing. The A-type personality of doing all things and being all things to everyone burns most of us out. This is why I’m speaking out. It’s not for fear of a publisher rejecting me but to let other writers know that it’s okay to be who we are (health and other issues) and that we don’t have to live up to the schedules and productivity of superstars who have made it big in the industry. Hey, being on best seller lists, writing all the time, and being appreciated by a large readership is still my goal, but I don’t stress about it anymore. I just work toward it one bit at a time.

So, on the personal side, I became much more accepting of who I am and in applying self-care. The cool thing is, is that by doing this, I’ve become more productive, have grown as a writer, and was a finalist for the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s Aurora Award. How cool is that?

The writing life can be lonely and sometimes it’s good to have another writer or group to discuss story issues. Realizing my need for such a group got me talking about this with other writers. This brought about the second great change in my life – the creation of a developmental writing group.

I still belong to a critique group and a speculative fiction group which has skills sessions and critiques. The camaraderie within these groups is great as is the learning but they weren’t exactly what I wanted at this time. I wanted to learn how to write mysteries and to be in a group that supported story development, not critiquing.

Four of us got together and found a mentor. Once a month, we share what we’ve been working on, and ask for feedback and brainstorming on specific problems. We’ve all become better at outlining and as a result, our stories are much better for it. The wonderful thing about this group is that it is supportive and positive. We each get a half hour to talk about what we want, whether it’s about an outline, story structure, a piece of our writing or whatever questions are running through our heads. The others respond, share their insights and at the end, we check to make sure the person’s concerns were addressed. We leave inspired, energised and most importantly, happy that we’ve had a good place in which to talk about specific writing issues as we develop and plot our stories.

Change comes in many forms, both personal and professional but only after we’ve been honest with ourselves can we create the type of environment and support we need to become more productive and successful.

Outlining in 10 Steps

I’ve always been able to hold the broadest of outlines in my head. I always knew what the story was, who the characters were, what the goal was, what would happen at the climax and how the book would end. I’d also write in-depth character backgrounds and then I’d put the story in their hands and the characters would tell me how to get to the climax and reach the story goal.

This method of sort-of-plotting and writing by the seat of my pants worked well enough writing fantasy stories. But I wondered what I’d do if I had to provide an outline for a novel or a series. I also wanted to write a mystery/crime novel. Mystery conventions include planting solid clues and red herrings, and developing a credible outline of events. Flying by the seat of my pants, wasn’t going to accomplish this. I had to learn how to outline.

After studying and reading about outlining for mysteries, I created a system which works for me no matter what genre I write in. It’s a mash-up of many bits of wisdom and has its own gaps. The first few points can be done in any order.

1) Know the story goal and the consequences of not meeting the story goal. Keep the stakes high. For example, Zex must steal back the magic cooking pot from the ogre because leprechauns are dying because the gold which sustains them.

2) Build the world. The world determines what your character can/can’t do and the rules which must be followed or broken.

3) Understand the genre requirements and the type of story you are telling. Is it a fantasy (elements of magic or the fantastic) which is told using the Hero’s Journey story arc? Is it a rags to riches, folk tale, thriller, revenge, forbidden love, or crime story? In a fantasy, you’ll need to know how the magic system works and the cost of using magic. In a mystery, you need to know the crime scene, the victim, the perpetrator, and those involved with the victim before you can outline.

4) Create character backgrounds because that will inform their motivations and will determine how they act and react.

5) Figure out your theme – you’re writing the story because you have something to say about the human condition. That something is what you are passionate about. Theme can be as simple as good versus evil or as complex as exploring how people deal with death. Once you’ve thought about the previously mentioned items in this list, take a moment to reflect on what the theme or point of your story is about. This is important because it affects how the story is outlined and written.

6) Assign each character a position or stance on the theme. Some will be for it. Some against. All to varying degrees. For example, let’s use the theme of the ends justify the means for our story with Zex the leprechaun. You must decide if he agrees, disagrees, or believes some variation (sometimes it is necessary) of this theme. All characters (or groups) should have differing views on the matter because that is a source for conflict and tension.

7) Note the beginning, the turning point, the climax, and the end of the story. These are the goal posts you are aiming for. If you are using the three, four or five act structures, or a story telling structure such as the Hero’s Journey, note the events which meet the key requirements for that structure. This should include genre story telling requirements.

8) Broadly fill in the gaps. For mystery, I chart everyone’s motivations and their relationships with the victim. I note the crime scene details then I plot the events leading to the crime scene, and where everyone was when the crime happened. I know who the perpetrator is and how that person will be caught. Then I plot the cat-and-mouse game of clues and red herrings. When writing fantasy, I employ a similar method because the protagonist’s journey is about a problem needing to be solved.

9) Fill in the details by creating scenes. If you’re a pantser, please don’t panic, this method I’m about to share still leaves lots of room for the imagination. I use this system to outline a few scenes at a time (not the entire novel). The broader outline (points 7 and 8) keeps me focussed on the theme while this one allows for tension, conflict, and action on the scene level. I call this the “And Then” method and I must credit author Mahrie G. Reid for showing it to me.

And then something happens. And the character feels ….

For example: And then Zex tripped over an invisible rope and fell into a trap. He panics over his silliness for watching the butterfly rather than focussing on the task. And then the ogre hovers on the rim of he pit, telling Zex that he will be cooked in the magic pot for the ogre’s dinner. Zex feels frightened. And then, Zex swallows his fright and forces himself to outsmart the ogre. He feels emboldened.

Or for a romantic fantasy: And then when Josh rips off his shirt, Kimberley sees the slash of the dragon’s claw across his back. At once, Kimberley feels her heart flutter and she feels faint at the sight of blood. And then Kimberley vomits and feels embarrassed.

10) Now, it’s time to write the story. I write the first few scenes, and then I go back and use the “And then…” method to plot out the next few scenes.

As you write the story, the outline will change. How things happen will change. That is normal and shows that the characters, the plot, and the conflicts are dynamic. Using some form of outlining has the benefit of faster writing, less major revision, and it will help you write the dreaded synopsis because the key elements of the story are determined.

 

NaNoWriMo is Key to Success, An Interview with Jayne Barnard

An interview with Jayne Barnard.

Jayne Barnard, a successful and award-winning author, says that participating in NaNoWriMo has been critical to her career. Not only was NaNo’s self imposed discipline important to learn, but it was also instrumental in launching her career. I interviewed Jayne to find out how NaNoWriMo influenced her.

#1 What did you learn by participating in NaNoWriMo?
I learned:
a) to outline (more on this later);
b) to clear my schedule of distractions. Otherwise I’ll quite happily spend all week visiting with people in person or online, reading library books because they have to go back soon, shot-gunning series on Netflix, cleaning closets.
c) that I need to reward myself for meeting my goals. The first time I did NaNo, I didn’t know to set up a personal reward structure. As the story got complicated, it got progressively harder to force myself back to the keyboard. I think I gave up around November 13th that first time.

I’ve learned since that I can lure myself through a lot of work by setting a daily word count and promising myself a couple of episodes of my current favourite show once that word count is saved on the page/screen. At 5,000 and 10,000 and 25,000 words I lined up progressively larger rewards, including going out to a movie and going out for supper (see ‘distractions’). Otherwise, I had to be at home working until I’d met the goal.

#2 NaNo requires working under pressure. Is there a lot of pressure in working with a publishing house?
I’m working for two publishing houses right now: Tyche Books, which publishes The Maddie Hatter Adventures, and Dundurn Press, which will be releasing the first in The Falls Mysteries in July 2018. Between them I have a minimum of two book deadlines per year for three full years, as well as publicity/marketing/teaching obligations. So yes, at this time there’s no shortage of pressure.

It’s not just the workload, but the creative pressure. The leisure to consider fully each individual part of each project is gone, and with it some of the joy of creation. For example, I launched Maddie’s third Adventure – MADDIE HATTER AND THE TIMELY TAFFETA – on October 23rd and was writing a video-trailer concept for The Falls Mysteries 24 hours later. It’s not my preferred way of working – I like to immerse myself in each story-world and really think about/enjoy what I’m creating – but I know it’s only for a finite amount of time, until the last 3.5 books currently contracted are written. After that, the pressure will be considerably less, and I’ll go back to enjoying myself more.

#3 Getting ready for NaNo, were you a pantser or a plotter?
I was a half-pantser. Or rather, a sixth-er. I can write the first 1/6th of any story on enthusiasm alone. That’s about 50 pages into a novel, 25 for a novella, two pages (one scene) for a short story, two paragraphs for a short-short, and about two sentences in flash fiction. If I don’t have (or make) an outline at that point, my enthusiasm will die, and so will my story.

Subsequent years doing NaNo taught me an outlining method that works very well for me now, both in keeping the story going and keeping myself going. I use slips of paper on a cork board for the overall layout – to avoid muddles in the middle – and then write the entire story out in summary, just the plot points and significant bits of character development, to cement it in my head. Often during the process I’ll find spontaneous action sequences and snatches of dialogue popping up, which lend the story life beyond the page before I ever start writing ‘for real’.

Some of those spontaneous flurries from long-ago NaNo have survived years of rewrites, three changes of title, and two layers of the publisher’s in-house editing to appear on the pages of WHEN THE FLOOD FALLS when it comes out next July. Vintage NaNo-ites may recognize a single sentence near the climax that will mark which November saw me writing the bulk of that novel’s first draft.

#4 Do you still participate?
Every month is Nano for me now, or rather every season is. Although my writing goal is only 25,000 keeper words per month, there might be a third again as many written that get cut the day after I wrote them, because I’ve discovered by the writing what the essential ones are. All year round, I’m either writing or rewriting or both. Or outlining. I have to be very disciplined about social life and other distractions, which gets more difficult the more of the year one must do so.

#5 What differences do you see between writing for NaNo and writing for publishers?
Deadlines are real, not arbitrary. Publishing a book is a multi-person, multi-department coordinated effort, with each piece scheduled months or years in advance. Missing a deadline messes up a lot of people’s work life, and costs time and money to reschedule.

Crafting rather than spewing. No throwing in words and sentences just to rack up the count. Every word has to matter to the finished story, so each must be chosen with care. I write slower, but I hope I write better.

Outlines are not an option any longer; it’s simply not efficient to meander through the story and then go back to rewrite a whole lot later. With the complete outline set down before starting Paragraph #1, I can slide in as much flavour and foreshadowing as possible, directly into the opening, instead of laboriously inserting it during rewrites. I’m not a slave to the outline but knowing where I’m going frees up my creative imps to have fun getting us to the next major plot point.

Before you ask, I’m always thinking ahead into the next book or two in a series. This not only helps my character development arcs in the current book, but allows me to plant Easter Eggs along the way, tiny references or actions or gadgets that may be fun in the moment but will gain new significance when a person is re-reading or reading out of order. When the 5th and final Maddie Hatter Adventure comes out, even though each is a fully-contained story in its own right, I want readers to look back and see a complete story that runs through the five books, with consistent character development and individual character arcs and resolutions for more of the players than simply Our Heroine.

#6 What’s next up in your high-pressure publishing schedule?
MADDIE HATTER AND THE SINGAPORE STING releases in June 2018 and WHEN THE FLOOD FALLS releases in July 2018. No pressure, right?

But it’s all fun as you’ll see if you go play in Maddie’s world with her costumed friends and foes at the purely fictional Venetian Carnevale of the year 1900. TIMELY TAFFETA is available in print at Owls Nest Books in Calgary and in print and ebook formats through fine booksellers online.

Although there’s a difference between NaNoWriMo and working with publishers, NaNo is a good way to develop skills to work under pressure and to meet deadlines. As Jayne shared, there are differences in the quality of output required, but as we hone our skills and learn to work under pressure, we will achieve quality along with higher word count. Thanks for sharing your insights, Jayne! Jayne Barnard’s books can be found at Tyche Books, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Kobo.


After 25 years crafting short mystery fiction, Jayne shifted to long-form crime with the Steampunk romp, MADDIE HATTER AND THE DEADLY DIAMOND (Tyche Books 2015), a finalist for the BPAA and the Prix Aurora. This book was followed by MADDIE HATTER AND THE GILDED GAUGE, a golden autumn whirl through Gilded Age New York City, and now MADDIE HATTER AND THE TIMELY TAFFETA, taking on fashion saboteurs during a Venetian Carnevale. Jayne’s contemporary suspense series, The Falls Mysteries, begins in July 2018 with WHEN THE FLOOD FALLS, the 2016 winner of the Dundurn Unhanged Arthurs. Jayne divides her year between the Alberta Rockies and the Vancouver Island shores, and her attention between writing, parasol dueling, and cats. You can visit her at her blog or on Facebook.

An Easy Way to Maximize Your Word Count

Sometimes you just need to get that story written and out of your head. Whether it’s a self-imposed deadline, a commitment to NaNoWriMo, or any other reason, sometimes you simply must get the words down quickly.

By the end of a few days of hard typing, I’m mentally and physically exhausted. As it comes closer to the end of the week or the month, I have less energy with each passing day to meet the target. Word count goals slip and I wonder how I’ll ever survive writing the novel. Plus, sadly, my fingers, and my shoulders, ache from being at the desk for hours.

Then, I discovered the miracle of dictating the novel and one simple trick which made it easier and faster for me to dictate. But first, here are a few things you can do to increase the efficiency with which you dictate:

1) Know where you’re going
If you outline, you’ve got this one cinched. If you’re a pantser, then give each chapter or scene a cursory outline the day before. There is a little articulated reason for doing some sort of outlining the day before – once you’ve written your cursory thoughts down, your subconscious works at the scenario you’ve suggested and plays with it. You’ll either stick to your original or you’ll change it, but either way, you’ll have written a better story. We need that time to process ideas. I don’t know who to credit with the thought that we should not use the first idea that comes to mind – come up with a list of possibilities and the further you go on the list, the less trite it will be.

2) Don’t over-do it!
If you’re new to dictating or if you haven’t done it for a while, don’t over-do it when you start. Speaking for long periods of time takes practice and vocal cords need to be trained for the marathon. Now, I can dictate 3,000 words an hour or more if I’m on a roll. In two or three hours I can dictate what used to take a full exhausting day writing. Now, I have time to do the other things which are important, like cooking a nice dinner or day dreaming how much more trouble I can get my protagonist into!

3) Figure out where you dictate the best
You don’t have to sit at your desk or take your laptop with you to write your story. Go for a walk, sit on the deck, climb a mountain, be at the kid’s soccer game, or go for a drive (but please don’t be a distracted driver) – whatever the activity, you can dictate your story on the move and away from the office. There’s a lot of great software out there to transcribe your words into a document. Dictating on the move increases productivity, and may turn out to be your preferred method to ‘write’ because the distractions of ringing phones, family, friends, housework or yard work are suddenly non-existent. Any ativity which increases word count is good!

I’m not usually good at walking and ‘writing’, but I have written a short story this way. One day, I went for walk in a wilderness park, saw a log and got an idea for a story about a unicorn society fighting trolls (I have no explanation on how this works, but the squirrels on the treadmill of my imagination make a lot of weird things happen!). I sat on that log, talked the story through out loud, transcribed it when I got home and then I had a rough outline of a short story to work on. Otherwise, the story details would have gotten lost on the walk home.

My preferred method of dictating is to know where I want to go with the story, sit back in a comfortable recliner in my office, make sure the door is closed and then I talk it through.

4) Minimise frustration
Frustration with dictating comes in a few forms but they’re easy to overcome. For example, if you’ve got some really cool names and words you’ve invented, the dictation software can mess them up every time. The solution? Use simple place names that the software understands. Late on you can use hte ‘find and replace’ command to correct the names. Some software will let you add the words to its dictionary, but the trick is that you’ll have to say those words in exactly the same way each time and that may not work so well if you’re suffering with a cold or are tired.

The other trick to minimising frustration is to recognize that what you are dictating is the first draft and it will need revisions later. That’s an advantage I discovered. I like to write as cleanly as I can, and I edit as I write. Sometimes this doesn’t work because clean sentences don’t mean a clean or non-repetitive concept. Now, I dictate to get the scene, chapter or idea written and then I revise later. Oddly enough, dictating has actually allowed me to write better scenes. I think that’s because I’m focussing on moving the story forward and the slowness of typing not keeping up with a thought and the distractions of a misspelled word (dictating software is not dyslexic like my fingers) don’t throw me off.

But the biggest trick I learned to minimise frustration is to dictate with my eyes closed! Once I discovered this trick, the words and ideas really began to flow!

Sounds weird, but it works. I’ll give the scene notes a look over and then I imagine that scene. When I write, I see movies in my head all the time. Now, I close my eyes, and I tell not only what my protagonist sees, but it’s like I’m right there, experiencing it with him or her. I miss fewer details because I see, hear, smell, and feel more.

Closing my eyes and dictating works exceptionally well when I’m doing character backgrounds and interviews. The reactions, the insights, the immediacy of the ‘conversations’ feel more authentic because I’m not needing my brain to translate images, feelings, and ideas through the physical and mechanical process of typing. One less barrier makes the writing process quicker, easier, less exhausting and feeling more authentic.

Maximise your word count by dictating the novel. Let software do the typing, while you sit back, close your eyes and speak the movie you see before you.