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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: 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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Writing a Book Together: Christian McKay Heidicker–Writer Inspiration

Here’s the first writer to respond about that moment when they have a novel idea and how it comes to them.   I quite loved what Christian said:

“Every year I put on a Halloween reading and encourage my writer friends to write truly chilling tales.

“A couple of years ago, I wrote a story that was so disturbing one of the other writers said she couldn’t be part of the show unless I changed it. It was two nights before the performance so I went home, reached deep into my childhood fears, and found The Berenstain Bears.

“I LOVED those books when I was little (Spooky Old Tree and Bears in the Night, specifically) and so decided to write an anthropomorphized fox version.

“I performed the tales two nights later, and my friends said it was the best thing I’d ever written.

“So I said, ‘Hmm.’ And then, ‘Huh.’ And then ‘Wait a minute . . .’ And then I wrote Scary Stories for Young Foxes.

“Of course, I ended up wringing out nearly all of the anthropomorphism in a later draft, but yeah, that’s how it happened. Under severe pressure and because my mom was kind enough to read me everything under the sun when I was little.”

It was that “Wait a minute” moment where Christian saw he had something. There was the thinking. The playing. The writing. And then the aha moment.

cover+final+-+scary+stories+for+young+foxes

Christian is teaching a morning workshop class at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers.

Go here for more information: https://www.wifyr.com/morning-workshops/ (His class is filling quickly, so if you’ve been to WIFYR before, you might want to be with the fella who sold six books, one right after the other.)

Go here to learn more about Christian. http://www.cmheidicker.com

And here’s his blog: http://www.cmheidicker.com/blog/

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A Book Sale and Scott!

My novel, “Never Said” is an ebook on sale for 99¢ on
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Never-Blink-Carol…/dp/B00UR7Z0EM…

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/never-said

Nook: https://m.barnesandnoble.com/…/never-said…/1120620566…

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/never-said/id977241760…

Thank you, Douglas, for tracking all this information down. And for talking to me.

AND NOW, EVERYONE!

((My friend Scott Rhoades has written a guest post for Throwing Up Words. Scott writes all day for a living and then, in the evenings, writes for kids and teens. Monthly, he visits a retirement home and teaches more than a dozen eager writers the rules of the craft.))

OVERCOME THE STARTING BLOCK: MAKE A LIST

It doesn’t matter how many writing projects I’ve had. Whether stories, poems, or at my technical writing job, starting a new project is always the hardest part. I have a method, though, that helps me get over the getting started hump.

I make lists.

Before I start, I usually have a very bare-bones idea of something I want to do. It might be a character or a setting, or the beginnings of a plot. I take that seed of an idea and build on it with a list.

For example, I used to write songs with a friend in England, Francis Greene. One day, I really missed the ocean. Having grown up in California, the coast was always a very important place for me. So I started writing down some images from my cold, rocky Northern California beaches. Things like:

  • The water pulling the sand from under my feet
  • Seagulls
  • A foghorn near a lighthouse
  • Ocean spray
  • The pier
  • A ship on the horizon
  • Shells
  • Starfish
  • Hermit crabs

There were a lot more. Many of the items in my list didn’t make the final cut. This is often the case.

I didn’t list only items. I also thought of things I like to do at the beach:

  • Walk
  • Hunt for shells
  • Bark at the sea lions

Once I had my list, I rearranged the items. This is easy to do on a computer, and sometimes (especially if I’m listing plot points), the list becomes my outline. My favorite way to sort a list while brainstorming is to put each list item on a Post-It and stick them to my white board or wall, where I can move them around, group them, make connections, easily add to them, and whatever else comes to mind.

I’ll often use different colored Post-Its and different colored pens for different things so I can easily look at the board and see groupings. Like, maybe green notes are settings and blue notes are characters, and so on.

Once I start making a list, I have never been blocked. I find that as I write each list item, more thoughts and ideas jump into my head. Almost without effort, my brain builds associations between the things in my list, and story ideas and themes start to form.

My song, because I was missing the beach, took on a melancholy feel, even though that wasn’t the original intention. It became a song about loss and loneliness. Here are the final lyrics. See how many of my list items you can spot.

When You Were Here
(Rhoades/Greene, 1997)

The ocean breeze is blowing, fog is drifting in
It’s cool and damp, there’s no one here
The tide is pulling sand from underneath my feet
The sea lions play beneath the pier
Remember how we used to bark at them?
When you were here

(Chorus)
Like that distant ship out there on the horizon
You sailed far away from me
You swore that it was nothing I had said or done, that
You just needed to be free

Across the rocks, a hermit crab scurries away
I find a starfish in the sand
The wind and sea, my wet hair clinging to my face
I always loved to hold your hand
Remember how we used to hunt for shells?
When you were here

(Chorus)

(Bridge)
I remember when I used to walk alone
But then we met and I walked with you
Loneliness was such a very special place
When we walked alone as two

The lighthouse beam, in vain it tries to pierce the fog
A foghorn warns the ships away
A gull is struggling, tries to fly against the wind
My tears disguised by ocean spray
Remember how we used to chase the waves?
When you were here

(Chorus)

(Bridge)

The ocean breeze is blowing, fog is drifting in
A foghorn warns the ships away
The tide is pulling sand from underneath my feet
My tears disguised by ocean spray
Remember how we used to love this place?
Wish you were here
Wish you were here
Wish you were here

You can listen to it, if you’d like, as performed by The Bicycle Riders (featuring Francis Greene). If you listen carefully, you can hear me being absolutely silent.

Exercise: Think of a place that’s important to your character. In Kidlit, this might be a bedroom or a classroom, for example. List key elements of that place. Include objects, but don’t forget to also include sensory things, such as smells and textures. Once you have your list, sort the items and make associations. Note any ideas that surface as you work with your list. Finally, write a scene in that setting. You don’t have to use every item in your list, but pay attention to how the items you don’t use affect your perception of that place.

Visit Scott here: http://scottrhoades.com/doggerybaw/?p=243

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