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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Writing a Book Together: Before the Beginning

This year I thought it might be interesting to write a book from scratch with you. From start to finish. Together.

Can we do that? I think we should try.

At this point, I don’t have anything to work on. There are only thoughts. No real facts or characters or ideas. No first lines. No plot points. No anything. I’m starting off fresh with you.

But in this moment I have learned something. Just now. Here it is:

  1. Sometimes, in order to come up with an idea, I have to write. Sit down and write.

Maybe it’s practice or muscle memory or training, but I can feel I am already headed in the right direction. I’m thinking.

Here’s what I’m thinking–I have an editor who’s interested in a romance from me. Could that be the novel I work on?

I’ve wondered for a long time if I might write a sequel to The Chosen One. That wouldn’t be fun, but it would be possible.

I could try my hand at fantasy. Hahahahahah! Okay. We all know that isn’t possible!

Here’s how I will decide: At the beginning of a novel, when I know absolutely nothing about it, I sit at my computer and stare off into the distance. This is when I’m hoping a character will introduce herself to me with a first line. So that’s what I plan on doing today. I’ll open a blank page on the computer and sit there.

Staring off into space is work! Daydreaming is something you can put on your novel writing resume!

Later today, I’ll sit around awhile and see who asks to be let in. See what she has to say. Maybe this book, whatever it’s going to be called, will come to me a little differently. If so, I’ll let you know.

How do you find that seed that grows into a novel? Are you inspired by history? People? Emotions? A first line? Something that happened to you? Something someone said? A creature? A bad dream? A kiss?

Let’s meet again tomorrow and see what we’ve come up with. I know for sure we’ll all do this writing experiment differently. Whatever I do is right for me and that’s mostly what I’ll talk about. But I’ll also see what published people are saying about their books and their writing. I’ll try to learn more about this crazy part of writing I’m calling Before the Beginning.

 

 

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Rocking a New Year

2019, the year to publish!

It was a crazy hard year and I see that expressed because I haven’t posted since August. The blog is sort of limping along. Actually, it’s dead. But I hope to pump new life into it.

I love a New Year but this one has dawned darker than I expected and with left-over 2018 heartbreak. Still, it’s here and I must embrace it. So let’s think UPCOMING EVENTS and QUESTIONS to start off the Year and head toward publication.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself AND then ask your characters:

What do you hope happens this year?

How will you make those hopes happen?

What matters most to you?

How will you keep that most important thing safe?

Care to share your goals?

Remember, Rick Walton said, “Make goals you can control.”

I think of Rick a lot and even talk to him. I’m sure he’s still making achievable goals on The Other Side and I know he’s loving others without question.

MY BIG GOAL: I’m going to walk through the creation of a new novel, here, with you all.

EVENTS

  1. WIFYR / SCBWI January Kickoff–Jan 11, 2019. Bullock Room, Provo Library. 6:30-8:30. Potluck! And new or gently Used books for The Ella Hughes Foundation. https://goo.gl/forms/NgPm8PuwnAZrfk1P2
  2. March 6 and 7 or 8 or 9 AGENT/EDITOR Retreat. Emily Feinberg from Roaring Brook  and Karyn Fischer from Book Stop Literary are visiting UT and you can sign up to have you manuscript reviewed with one of them. https://goo.gl/forms/0TJhBpSbu6MgWlpz2
  3. June 10-14, 2019  It’s the 20th year for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers! Registration opened today and I know at least one class has only one spot left. (www.wifyr.com) So come on down! We still have room for you and fabulous, amazing faculty.

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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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Character is Where It’s At!

I once did an event with an author many years ago. A student asked about plot and I said, “Your character makes decisions and choices. And those choices move the plot forward.”

“Not always,” my co-teacher said. “Not in a plot driven novel.”

I had read this person’s work and while I found it okay, I wasn’t grabbed by the characters. They weren’t interesting. They were flat and, even in exciting moments, I could close the novel because I just didn’t care.

Like in real life, I want to know the people of books so if they fail or lose something or go through a hard event, I am rooting for them. If they get that kiss or lose that boy or find their mother or lose the kingdom, I want to laugh or weep for them.

Knowing your characters helps you be able to write a well-rounded character. Even if all the details don’t show up on the page.

Here are a few things to ponder.

  • Why is this the right character for this novel?
  • Make your antagonist the lead of the book. What happens to the story?
  • How are your main character and the antagonist the same?
  • What are the most important things (people) to your main character?
  • To the antagonist?
  • Morally, how is your main character different than other people in the novel?
  • How are they the same?
  • Every character should have a truth. What are the truths of your characters?
  • Every character should have a want. What are the wants of the characters in your book?
  • How is your character’s wants pro or con to her moral fiber?
  • Finding out you are more like your mother than you had hoped may be a negative for you. Who is your character similar to? How does this help or hinder who she is?
  • If you have to write a song for your character, using the tune to Imagine Dragon’s THUNDER, what would the words be?
  • Everyone has secrets. I have secrets no one knows unless they were somehow involved in specific incidents in my life. What are your MC’s secrets? How does this motivate her? Change her? Influence her decision making?
  • Your character has to leave, now. What does she take with her?
  • Zombies are coming. Your character cannot get her invalid father out of the house and must run for her life. What does she tell him before she closes the door?
  • What minor details (favorite color, favorite treat, favorite shirt etc) does your character show in your book already?
  • If your character had ten adjectives to describe herself what would she say?
  • What would you say?

Answer these questions–and make up your own and share them–for all the major players in your writing. And if you like these kinds of questions, let me know and I’ll come up with a few more.

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Exercising Your Character

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.” Abigail Van Buren

  1. How does your main character treat others?
  2. Choosing three other characters in your book, decide how they really are, by the way they treat people they know.
  3. By the way they treat strangers.
  4. How does your MC feel about animals? Why?

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters” Albert Einstein

  1. Does your character lie? Why or why not?
  2. What would happen if she did lie? How would the story be more compelling?
  3. What is the worst thing your character could do? Why is this the worst?
  4. Write a scene where your character lies, and is caught, by someone who is important to her.
  5. Do only the *bad* people lie in your book?

 

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Jesus

  1. I think another way of saying this is, Actions speak louder than words. How does your character show her love? Her commitment? Her anger?
  2. Write a scene where your character harms someone by her actions.
  3. Our bad characters cannot be purely evil. How is your antagonist good?

 

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

  1. Your MC ends up with information she shouldn’t have. What does she do with it?
  2. All characters must have weaknesses. What are your character’s weaknesses?
  3. There should be a point, in every character’s growth, when they realize they have all the power, or none of it. What happens to your character when they hit this place in the book?
  4. If you MC realizes she is more like the bad guy than she thought, well, that can be very interesting. Write a scene where your MC comes up against the darker part of herself.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Vehicle of Character

I love a good character. Who doesn’t?

Guardians of the Galaxy. The guy Chris Pratt plays. Hilarious. He makes me laugh. A little off balance in the way he attacks trouble–more human than Star Lord. I go along for the ride. Plus, he’s cute.

Worf in Star Trek. He was one tough cookie. And that voice! Saw Worf without his makeup and realized I was in love with the Klingon, not the human who played him.

Heath Ledger’s Joker. So crazy. So strange. So weird. Not a thing like me. I’m interested.

How do you make YOUR character interesting? How do you choose who will be the lead in your novel? Could any character you’ve written be the lead in any novel you’ve written?

  1. Who are five of your favorite movie characters? List why you like them.
  2. Who are five of your favorite book characters? List why you like them.
  3. How do you discover a new character?
  4. How much of you is in your MC?
  5. What are your character’s weaknesses?

It’s hard to read a novel with an unlikable character. How do you make that character worth following?

  1. Humor. Make her funny. Write a scene where we get to know your main character as she gets out of an awkward situation.
  2. Make her want something that’s important. Write a scene where the character’s desire is revealed.
  3. Make your character relatable. “I get that!” “How do you know how I feel?” “I’ve been there.” When we connect with a main character, we’re interested in sticking around. Write a list of 50 things about your main character. Now do that for each of your other major players. Think outside the box. Think backstory. Think, “Who is she, really?

Let your character want something.

  1. What does your character want?
  2. How do you establish this at the beginning of the book?
  3. How do you keep your character from getting what she wants?
  4. Is her desire reasonable?
  5. Will she fail? Why or why not?

Let your character love.

  1. If your character cares and we see it, we can feel the emotion of the book. So, who does she love?
  2. Who will she lose?
  3. Who does she hate?
  4. Who could she live without?
  5. How does that antagonist fit in the story?

 

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