Author Archives: CLW

Writing a Book Together: What I’m Figuring out about My First Chapter

Working on this opening chapter–yes, that’s all I’ve written since I started this blog of writing together–has been interesting. School started, which has slowed me down considerably. Plus there’s been illness and visitors and trips for others which left me caring for all the farm animals (ha!) and visiting and two other novels to be rewritten. All of that has taken away from the hour a day I wish to give to this newest book.

Also, at the end of the chapter, a character (love interest, I know that) I wasn’t expecting showed up and knocked me over sideways. And that meant I’ve had to start thinking all over again. And I have been since he arrived.

But back to this beginning.

I have several friends who completely rewrite their openings over and over and over. And what I’ve found myself doing in my chapter one is getting to know my main character. Just like my pals, only in a different way. I’ve read and reread these paragraphs adding a sentence here and there. Taking out words. Pondering. Staring off over the top of my computer. Wondering about this girl’s mom and dad, her sisters, her love life, her shyness, her job cleaning doctor’s offices, and some secret that I’m unsure of that’s waiting at home.

Each read-through means shifting sentences, adding sense of place, figuring out this girl’s sense of humor and how she fits in her family. Though I’m not sure what it is she wants (to have her dad trust her more could be one thing, but is it the main thing?), I do know this is a romance so maybe she’s looking for love in all the wrong places.

Probably not.

Anyway.

Each time I look at the words or add to or take away from this opening, I see my main character a little more clearly. And once I more fully understand her, I can follow her for 40,000 + words. I think I’m ready, as far as this start goes. But now that guy? Come on!

At the opening of chapter two I’ve left my girl walking up the long driveway to her home in Florida. After wisdom tooth surgery for one of my daughters today, I might have time to see what’s behind those doors.

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Writing a Book together: Questions, Questions, Questions

What does this new main character of mine want?

If I add another character will that complicate things in a good or bad way?

What is my emotional connection to this book?

Am I following the original feeling of the novel? (Meaning, I want to write a romance. Is that where I’m still headed?)

How can I make this story original?

Is the voice fresh?

Do I love the characters I’m developing?

Will anyone care?

Will I care the whole novel through?

What is the most important thing I think will happen?

How is tension?

Is my main character real?

Are these first pages strong or do they need to be cut.

Have I started in the right place?

Am I already backstory?

HINT: Give yourself ten minutes each morning to think about things that COULD happen in your novel. Even crazy stuff: main character boards a pirate ship. Allowing yourself to dream past exactly what’s on the page can help you move out of where you are and into new and exciting waters. No pirate pun intended!

 

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Writing a Book Together: Character Moves Plot

When I started this novel with you (I sorta have ideas for it but I’m not quite sure yet how the story is going to unwind) I thought I had a perfect couple of first lines. They were funny and said a lot about the star of the show.

There was the plastic fern and a girl who’s shy and the fact that she cleans doctor’s offices with her dad’s cleaning company. A girl and a guy and a dad who’s watching over his kid. Almost immediately the story changed itself with the addition of a character. Another fella. (Hello! says Dad.) The tension rose with the addition and I saw huge possibilities with it. My excitement rose. I could already see conflicts for my main character.

Many years ago, someone, I can’t remember who, taught me this: Character moves plot. The decisions your character makes, and her choices when something is presented to her, point the direction to the climax of the novel. Character driven novels that follow this simple idea can have both plot and those ‘real people’ that make this type of book so appealing.

Adding a stumbling block (dad) and an extra character (new fella) can shake things up. Allowing complications within the main character and all around her, give her the opportunity to make choices as to what might happen in her book life.

Perhaps you have an idea where you want your novel to go. Perhaps you have a few incidents already in your head that you’re excited to write. Don’t force them into the story. Let the story come about naturally as your character makes decisions on which way she should go.

 

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Writing a Book Together: Staying on Course

This is the third time I’ve tried to post this blog entry. For some reason yesterday, every blog post got lost.

Today is a simple post. I’m interested in how many pages you’re feeling you can write each day (now that a few days of writing together have passed).

I’ve joined the JanNoWriMo that Bruce Luck set up for an easier month of writing plus I’m supposed to make an accounting of my writing in another WIFYR group. But life has a way of creeping in. In my case, right now, it’s the needs of others. But I’ve heard these excuses, and maybe used one or two:

“I don’t have enough time.” “I’m waiting for the right moment.” “It’s too hard.” “I have to work.” “Some day . . .”

When I was just beginning to write, I worked at an ice cream production plant in Florida. I packed ice cream for hours every single day. There was lots of time to think through writing troubles. But when the urge to write came, there wasn’t time or a place or even the material to do anything. I finally solved this by writing in the 30 second intervals of free time I had when working with another ice cream packer. (Man, I was NOT good at that job. I was so uncoordinated. Come to think of it, I still am).  I wrote entire sections of my stories on ice cream sandwich boxes. Those stories wound up in my first book, Kelly and Me.

My sweet friend Laura Torres taught herself to write in 15 minute increments. She sold millions of her crafts books (see Friendship Bracelets).

So what are your goals? How many words do you plan to write each day? How much do you plan to rewrite? And the better question is this: How do you plan to accomplish that goal?

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Writing a Book Together: Why that First Line is Sooo Important

How is your ‘An opening sentence to a new novel every day‘ challenge going? Are you finding this a great warm up exercise? Are you coming up with new ways to start old books? Coming up with new ideas for new books? I love this exercise. It stretches the imagination and allows you to think outside whatever story you may be working on, but not so much that you get distracted. (You should have five or six new starts.)

Back in the olden days, the WAY olden days, if I started reading a book, I’d finish it. Things have changed. I’m growing old faster than before, I have far less patience and I figure if a first line doesn’t matter enough for a writer to try  to make it sing, maybe that’s how the writer feels with all her lines. I might be missing out on a few good books, but I’m finding lots more that rock.

(Three older novels with great openings, off the top of my head: Think Jandy Nelson’s first line in The Sky is Everywhere, Louise’s Plummer’s first line in A Dance for Three [everyone MUST find and read this book] and we can’t forget M.T. Anderson’s novel Feed.)

A great opening line can do so much . . . and it should. It can establish voice. Genre. Grab the reader by the throat and not let go. Hint at a problem. Establish mood. All those things at once.

The opening line is a welcome mat to the reader. An invitation.  A promise.

(This reminds me of when I was writing my first murder mystery and I realized fifty pages in I didn’t have a body. Not anywhere.  Hahahah! Back, back, back it up! I went back and added a dead person on page one.)

Once, on a panel, an author suggested the opening line didn’t matter then admitted her novel didn’t get good until page 35 or 40. Richard Peck might have asked, “Are you sure you’re starting in the right place?”

Don’t hope your reader will skim till things get better, or will feel obligated to read just because. Write, rewrite and rerewrite until your opening sings and your reader cannot, must not, put your book down.

PS I have about 1000 words on my newest romance. This morning I realized I needed to set the story in a new place. Being in a hospital ward has changed things up just a little. We’ll see what happens.

Where are you in your new book?

 

 

 

 

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Writing a Book Together: An Opening Line Every Day of January and February

So what’s happened since last week? Have you gotten a first line? Found a way to start this new adventure? Has anyone stepped out of the dark, taken your hand and led you toward a novel that feels to have lots of promise?

I have an exercise I’ve shared here about opening lines. It’s one I do every few months. For thirty days, every day, I write a first line to a new novel. Every time I start  I think, “This time it will be easy.” And every time I find out an opening line is hard.

Why? The more days I play with openings, the harder they become. I realize I need to think more about characters–where they are in their lives, their situations, who they are. I worry over what would be the best line for that person I’m writing this book about.

These are not throw-away words. They need to mean something to me.

At the beginning of last year I played this game with myself and came up with more than a month’s worth of first lines, including this one: “When Momma finally died, me and my sisters weren’t surprised.” This line came several days into the exercise, but as I kept writing , day after day, it called to me. I listened.

Last November or so I finished the book about three sisters who lose their mother on page two of the novel. It’s now on submission. Here’s a bit of the synopsis:

“Momma is dying and Mister Paisley wants the land Iris, Ella, and Rory have grown up on.

It’s 1960-something and death isn’t the only thing complicating life for the Flynn girls. Daddy is gone and has been since before Rory’s birth. There are unwanted evening guests who creep around the house, angels who tap at the windows, and the meadow is dangerous to all, including the girls, after dark.”

Here’s a first line Ann Dee came up with when we were teaching a workshop class together:

“My dad ate an airplane one bite at a time.” We’re almost done with the novel. Don’t ask us what we’re doing. We have no idea.

Here’s what I do know about first lines–they have to have enough promise, intrigue, worry, feeling and wonder that you, the writer, can keep going.

So let’s do this together. For the rest of January and all of February come up with a line for a new novel every single day. I write my lines in pencil on a large blank calendar. For me, it’s an easy way to see my progress. HINT: I find I actually end up with more than one sentence. So write small if you choose to do the challenge this way. ANOTHER HINT: If you find you have an emotional connection to your line, this may be the book you want to follow.

PS My daughter just gave me my first line for my novel. It’s from her own life and she texted me this earlier: He wants me to dust the plants. All the plastic plants.

I think I now have a story.

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Writing a Book Together: Ann Dee Ellis and Her Inspiration

Last week we talked about how you have that moment, that idea, that one second when you know you can proceed with writing a novel. I asked Ann Dee to tell us a little of what she does. She’s talked about it before, but since we are looking at this a tiny bit more closely, here’s what she says:

“It takes me forever to figure out what to write next. I just write first chapter after first chapter until one of them feels like I know the MC and I want to follow her/him.”

I asked, “Is it like constructing the main character, or is it more like finding her?”

“Finding her. That’s why I wrote so many first chapters.”

everything-is-fine.jpg

I have several friends who write like Ann Dee does. She doesn’t mind throwing away words. I’m like, Wait. We wrote that. And she’s like, Pfft. There are more words where that came from. And I’m like, But I like my words.

But she gets how to write clean, startling prose for kids.

Everything is Fine is one the must read books in my class this semester. I love this novel. No words are wasted. Nothing is lost. It’s clean, to the point. I think Ann Dee is one of the best middle grade writers in the US of A. Really.

Here’s this about her: http://anndeeellis.com/

And here’s this: http://anndeeellis.com/category/8mm/

So what are you discovering about how you begin a novel? Have you figured anything out about your process? Is it hard? Easy? Is it different than the last time you tried to write a book? the same? Scarier? Easier?

PS Don’t forget the January 11 kickoff at the Provo library. Go here  for more information!

https://goo.gl/forms/NgPm8PuwnAZrfk1P2

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