Category Archives: scenes

That Inner Voice

No, I’m not talking about my conscience.  Neither am I talking about that “good” angel that sits on my shoulder and says, “No, don’t eat the potato chips AND the sandwich–too many carbs.”  Those righteous voices never give it up, but that’s probably a good thing.  Okay, it IS a good thing, but every once in a while, they get a little over zealous.  A piece of chocolate?  I mean, come on.  The Thou Shalt Nots are a lot easier to deal with than the “Thou Could Have Done Betters.”  The same thing goes for writing.  The voice I’m talking about is the one that nags us and says “That’s not the perfect word for that sentence” or even worse, “Something’s not quite working here, and you should fix it.”

You know what they say–Everyone’s a critic.  But it’s EASY to find fault.  It’s a lot harder to fix it.  You’d think a Muse might help.  You know, send inspiration to make every scene perfect, every verb strong and active, no word repetition, sizzling similes, magnificent metaphors, and dialogue that rings true.  But not so.  Muses just tease us.  They send us an idea that kicks our imaginations into overdrive and then say “You’re welcome” and pat themselves on the back and leave us to it.  Bringing that idea to life is our job.  And sometimes, it’s a real pain in the you know what.

I can’t dive in and go with the flow when I get an idea.  Been there, tried that, and I run out of steam somewhere and it shows.  Talk about soggy middles.  I need some kind of framework to hang my words on.  But even then, even when I know the story’s going in the right direction, I can still end up with scenes that mock me and refuse to come out the way I envision them in my head.

When I was younger and more carefree, I stuck a few patches on those scenes, blew kisses at them, and hoped for the best.  But do you know what?  When I got my pages back from my beta readers, those were the pages that always swam in red ink.  So now, I listen to the inner voice that says “Nope, not there yet.  Try again.”

I don’t always know how to fix those spots.  But it almost always means I didn’t get something right earlier and I don’t have my dominoes in place for that scene to work.  Now, instead of beating that scene to death with better words, sharper dialogue, I take a step back and look at the scenes that led up to the moment in question.  Because, unfortunately, that inner voice is always right.

I’m a person who deals very well with shades of gray.  Things don’t always have to be black or white, right or wrong for me.  I’m not a perfectionist who will always find fault with myself.  But I distinguish whether a scene is good or just sort of good.  And there are so many talented writers out there, sort of good just isn’t good enough.  So when my inner writer alarm goes off, I mark that scene and come back to it.  And I make myself fix it.  And if I can’t, I give my critique partners the pages and admit that I’m not happy with the way it turned out and hope they can give me ideas to make it work.

I hope your inner voice is steering you in the right direction, and happy writing!

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Words and more words. Are they enough?

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You know how, when you don’t see someone’s kids, it comes as a shock when you hear how old they are?  In your mind, you picture them as four or five and then you find out they’re nine or ten.  At least, that happens to me.  My mind hangs on to the last time I saw them and doesn’t add nearly enough of the years that have passed.  For some reason, it must work the opposite for writing.  Friends always think I should be further along than I am.  Words don’t accumulate as fast as they should.  I plot and I plod.

I admit I’m lucky.  At least my friends ask about my writing.  They encourage it.  They often ask, “How’s the writing going?”  And they always expect me to have made great progress.  I expect it, too, but tortoises don’t impress.

I’m up to 50,000 words in my mystery.  I need at least 20,000 more.  And this is the time–in every manuscript–when I panic.  I look at my last remaining plot points, and I just KNOW that I don’t have enough ideas to meet my word count.  The worry and sense of foreboding almost always makes me go to bed, sure I’m doomed, and wake up the next morning with new ideas for scenes.   It happened three nights ago.  I fell asleep thinking about places to add another twist, a new turn, and woke up with a new character and clue.  (And yes, my husband’s used to my living with characters walking around in my head.  He takes it in stride.)

The new clue made me even happier than usual.  In my plot points–(which I need to give myself enough material to keep a book moving–and see what happened?–I’m still worried I have enough)–I was supposed to kill off Peyton–my cute, young pizza delivery guy.  (Hope you could follow that).  Except, I’ve gotten really attached to him.  I like him way more than I thought I would.  And I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t kill him.  I thought readers might hate me.  I’d hate me.  So, you guessed it, the new character has to die.  Thankfully, we don’t really get to know her, so we aren’t too attached to her, but I needed a nice, sympathic victim.  And yes, I know that if I kill someone we all care about, the murder will have more impact.  But this time, I just couldn’t do it.

Anyway, I’ve added a few scenes to the last fourth of the book, and hopefully, they’ll push me over 70,000 words–the length my editor wants.   If not, I’ll panic again, and I’ll have to come up with more ideas.  But the thing is, this happens to me EVERY book.  You’d think I’d learn, but not so much.  And you know how every kid you have is different?  So what works for one doesn’t work for the next?  Well, so is every book.  One flows, one doesn’t; one loves wordy descriptions, one begs to be tighter, punchier.  Books have their own ideas of what they want.  And just like raising a kid, you as the author might have certain rules, but the books do their best to bend them.

What I have learned, though, is to trust myself and the process.  There’s a certain amount of faith in starting a book, a belief that when you reach a big, giant hole with only blank pages in front of you, you’ll be able to think of something to fill it.  And you will.  Trust yourself.  So, hope you have a good week.  And happy writing!

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A snippet from my latest romance

Thought I’d post a snippet from my second Mill Pond romance.  Might post a few off and on to give you a taste of the novel.  Harmony Meyers’s parents were nothing to brag about and left her in her brother’s care as often as possible. Her brother resented having to babysit her and let her know it.  She has little faith in family and doesn’t connect with too many people.  This scene shows why:

She heard footsteps stop at the kitchen door, and Ian’s voice.  “I’m heading home for the night.  You left your watch in suite three, Brody.  Here.  Catch!”

She caught the movement of Ian’s arm as he tossed the watch, underhanded.  She shut the oven door and straightened in time to see Brody raise his hand to catch it.  His fist stopped inches from her face.  He nodded to Ian as he left, then turned to her and stopped abruptly.

“Harmony?”  His voice was gentle, tentative.  “Are you all right?”

Fear clogged her throat.  She couldn’t answer.  Her heart pounded.  Old instincts.

He reached for her, and she planted her feet in a fighter’s stance.  She pulled her arms up, her hands balled into fists to protect her face.  New instincts.  No one would ever slap her again.

Brody pushed his arms out at his sides, palms forward, in a defenseless pose.  “I won’t hurt you.  I’d never hurt you.”

Harmony took quick breaths, fighting for calm.  Brody wasn’t her brother.  He’d never hit a woman.  She buried her face in her hands, and her shoulders shook.

Strong arms wrapped around her.  She leaned against Brody’s broad chest.  He didn’t say a word, just hugged her to him.  After a while, she moved away from him.  She felt stupid.  Ridiculous.

https://www.amazon.com/Opposites-Distract-Mill-Pond-Judi-ebook/dp/B0174PKHHE/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1468284321&sr=1-3&keywords=judi+lynn

 

 

3 down, more to go?

My three book contract is up with Kensington.  I delivered my last book, and I’m waiting for my editor to read it and send feedback.  I’ve been lucky so far.  No rewrites.  That might not hold with this book.  It has a different rhythm, a different flow.  My protagonist is a female chef with two kids, and I wanted to capture how those two things drove Paula’s life, how she had so little time for anything else–like romance.  But romance finds her anyway.  The thing is, I’ve grown attached to Mill Pond, the people who live there, and I wondered what to do next.

Luckily, my editor wrote that he hopes I have more stories in mind for the series.  I do, but first, my agent has to negotiate a new contract.  I have no idea how much time that will take,  but I had to send a proposal for her to submit, and that managed to be a lot of work.  My wonderful, wonderful editor is easy-going about what I send in, just as long as he can get an idea about what the next book will be like.  I’m the one who fusses about plot points.  I know there are pantsers, who start a story and let their characters lead the charge.  I can’t start a book until I know all of the pulse points along the way.  And yes, it’s come down to pulse points for me.  I’ve gotten more driven about my outlines, not less.

I used to start a book, just knowing the set-up, two turning points, and the end.  If I aimed for those, I knew I was on the right track.  Not anymore.  I’ve reached the point where I want an idea for each chapter in the book.  For Fit To Be Thai’d (my working title–Tyne’s Paula’s assistant chef, who specializes in international cuisine), I have FORTY lengthy plot points.  Why?  Because the longer I work with my characters, the better I know them, and I’d rather do that during plot points than while I’m pounding out pages.  More, for this book, I wanted to focus on tone.  I want the book to have a “light” feel.  I want Tyne to jump off the pages.  Anyway, it took me longer than usual to plot out this book.  I was beginning to think I’d NEVER get it done.  But I’m glad I did all of the grunt work ahead of time, because now, I can’t wait to write it.  And the proposal’s sent.  And now I have to wait until I hear back from my agent and editor–the life of a writer.

And talking about writing, I’m doing my blog early this week, because I’m playing hooky over the weekend.  My daughter’s coming home on Saturday, and we’re taking her son and his significant other to a small Vietnamese restaurant for supper.  Then on Sunday, Holly and I are spending the day cooking for the Oscar Party we share with a few movie buff friends of ours.  I haven’t seen any movies lately, but they know them all, so I’m just focusing on providing the food.  We go all out–salmon in puff pastry, spiced beef on pita triangles, and creamy crab and bacon endive boats, along with boiled shrimp.  Dawn and Holly are chocoholics, so I’m making a flourless, chocolate cake, too.   (Now you know why food creeps into most of my stories.  I love it!  Love to eat, love to cook).  Anyway, I’ll be missing in action this weekend, but hope you have a wonderful time and happy writing!

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CoockingupTrouble

 

Outline to Finished Draft

This post is too long…again.  But it should finish explaining how I turn an outline into a finished draft.  I hope.  If you still have questions, let me know.  But here goes!

When I start a book, I do pretty detailed plot points.  I didn’t always.  I used to stick to the basics of what had to happen to move the story, but now, when I think of a chapter or scene, I scribble down whatever comes to mind, and the more I scribble, the more things I think of.  That way, when I read my notes, I just need to bring them to life.

Every book starts with a hook.  For Wolf’s Bane, I show Reece racing to her mom’s house. Her mom remarried after Reece’s father died and had two children with her new husband. Eugene’s proud that he has a son, but Jenny reminds him of his mother.  He doesn’t like his mother, so whenever he’s had too much to drink, he likes to smack Jenny.  Reece, who teaches martial arts, rushes to prevent that.

However, Wolf’s Bane isn’t a literary novel.  It’s urban fantasy, so Reece’s family isn’t the main plot.  When she jumps out of the car to rescue Jenny, she sees a woman sitting on a porch stoop.  The woman raises her face to the sky and howls before she runs away. Later, after Reece has sent Eugene to the kitchen and gotten her brother and sister to bed, when she starts to her SUV, a werewolf attacks a young man on the street corner.  The man seems doomed until a gargoyle plummets from the sky to rescue him.  He kills the werewolf, and it shifts back to the woman Reece had seen earlier.  Plot point 1.

Now, that’s all plot point 1 is, a summary of what happens in that chapter.  But I’d already decided that I was aiming for 80,000 words for this book.  As it happened, I ended up with 30 plots points, and the novel ended up being 364 pages and almost 91,000 words.  But at the time, when I finished figuring out my 30 plot points, I figured I needed 2,600 words for each plot point, or about 10 -12 pages.  Each point might involve a few different scenes.  For my latest romance, I plotted forty plot points for 70,000 words.  Why?  Because I knew I wanted shorter, punchier scenes and chapters, only about 7 pages each.  How do I make one plot point into 7 to 12 pages?  By bringing the scene to life.

In Wolf’s Bane, I’d already shown that Reece is attached to her step-brother and step-sister.  If they call, she’s there.  Why?  Why does she care?  How much of an age difference is there between them and her?  How does she feel about her mother now?  Why does her mother tolerate Eugene’s drinking?  And how does her mother feel about Reece popping in to protect Joseph and Jenny?  What was Reece’s father like?  And what does Reece do now that he’s gone and she lives on her own?

Plot point 2:  This is still set-up.  Usually, the entire first fourth of my books are set-up.  This scene takes place a month later.  Reece is back at her mom’s house, and when she leaves, the man who was attacked gets off the bus at the corner and starts toward her.  Moon light hits him, and he starts to change.  He attacks Reece, and again, the gargoyle comes.  This time, he saves her, but his wing’s hurt in the battle.  She drives him to her condo, and he notices that she’s been scratched.  The wolf’s paw mark makes a tattoo-like stain close to her heart.  A sign that she’s a witch.

Again, this plot point only summarizes what happens in this scene or chapter.  I have to add details to bring the scene to life.  What did Reece do when she watched the man shift into a werewolf?  How did she feel?  How did she feel when the wolf attacked her?  When the gargoyle came to help her?  Does she believe him when he tells her she’s a witch? How will she cope with that?  What does it mean?  etc.  Question after question to bring the characters and actions to life.  Anyway, that’s what I do–scene after scene.

For me, once I get the plot points, I can concentrate on “seeing” what’s happening, what each character is doing, what the setting looks like.  I can “hear” the characters, listen to the grunts and shuffling of the battles.  That’s how my outline becomes a draft.

Now, a quick note:  I divide my stories into fourths, and that helps me keep my plot points on track.  The hook is extra–something to grab the reader.  So here’s how I start:

  1. Hook:  Reece races to her mother’s house to protect Jenny from Eugene.
  2. Plot Point 1:  Reece sees a werewolf attack a man and a gargoyle save him
  3. Plot Point 3:  The man shifts and attacks Reece. The gargoyle saves her and she learns she’s a witch.

I know I want 80,000 words, and I’ve decided I can reach that with 30 plot points.  That means that I want my first turning point to come at the end of chapter 7 or 8, at the end of the first fourth of the book.  Reece knows she’s a witch, but she has no idea what that means or how to awaken her magic until the end of the book’s set-up (the first 7 or 8 chapters).  Also, a rogue werewolf tries to kill her, so she’s been targeted for some reason and doesn’t know why.  At the first turning point, an owl brings her a moonstone necklace to awaken her magic and she teams up with the gargoyles who protect Bay City to fight the rogues.

The second turning point comes at the middle of the story.  Wedge Durrow and his werewolf pack join Reece and Damian to fight the rogues, and they have an idea who the rogues are.  Hecate, a powerful witch, joins them, too.

The third turning point hits at the three-quarters point of the book, and the fourth quarter of the book leads to the final, big battle and resolution.  It ties up all the subplots, etc.  For plot points and structure, I highly recommend: http://storyfix.com/story-structure-dummies.  The point is, once you have your hook, first plot points, three turning points, and the end of your book, all you have to do is fill in more plot points from A to Z.  And then, all you have to do is bring each of those plot points to life.  Good luck and happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

Plot to Story

I blogged about how I rewrite last week and mentioned that I use plot points to keep  myself on track.  A fellow writer asked how I turn an outline into a finished draft.  I might make a muddle of this, and it might take me longer than usual to describe, but here’s what works for me.

1. My books always start with an idea, something that snags my interest and won’t let go.  For the romance I’m working on now, I wanted a protagonist who makes a habit of falling for the wrong guy, the guy who won’t be good for her.  I wanted her to work with a hot guy who doesn’t rev her hormones at all, and they become friends.  And finally, I wanted her to meet Mr. Right, but not realize it because he’s interested in someone else.

2.  Once I have an idea, I populate it with characters who’ll make it work.  Paula is a widow who lost her husband on tour in the military.  She has two kids.  And she’s a chef.  She moved to Mill Pond for a slower pace, but the resort she cooks for has grown so popular, she’s swamped, so Ian hires Tyne–Mr. Hottie, her assistant chef.  Jason delivers supplies from the area’s regions to her kitchen everyday.  And Chase owns the bar on the edge of town.

3.  Now, I can start writing.  First, there’s the hook–the event that shows the protagonist and draws the reader in.  The first chapter always makes me crazy.  It has to introduce the main character and some important minor characters.  It has to tell us the book’s big problem and the internal struggle the protagonist has to solve.  It has to ground the readers in a setting, to let them see the protagonist’s world and how it affects her.  And if there’s a romance, this is a good time to hint at it.  I rewrite first chapters over and over again.  So, in my romance:

Hook: Paula walks her kids to the school bus and waves them off.

Okay, this isn’t plunging the reader into drama, but it shows the reader what’s important to Paula–juggling a career and being there for her kids, even if it leaves her frazzled and alone after her husband’s death.  To bring the scene to life:  What does Paula look like?  How can I show her when I’m in her POV?  How old are her kids?  Use dialogue to “hear” them, to show what their personalities are like.  Why does she walk them to the bus?  What time of year is it?  What does the setting look like?  How does Paula shift from Mommy to chef every day?

Scene 2:  Paula hurries to Ian’s office (the man who owns the resort) to meet her new assistant chef.  Ian let her help choose him.

To bring the scene to life:  What kind of a boss is Ian?  What’s the resort like?  Describe Tyne.  Why did Paula choose him as her assistant?  Does she have any reservations? What’s he like?  Why did he want this job?  How is he qualified for it?  Let me “hear” the three people and see what they’re like.  Let me hear Paula’s thoughts and feel her emotions.

Okay, you get the idea.  A plot point is just that–an event that happens in the story. When I sit down to write, I have to bring that scene to life.  I usually write the first three chapters in my book before I try to work on any more plot points.  Why?  I need to hear my characters and see how they react to things before they become real to me.  I still don’t know them that well, but I have a feeling for them.  Then I work on character wheels to round out their personalities and histories, their strengths and weaknesses.  Characters need to be consistent.  That’s how we decide how they’ll react to things.  And finally, I start filling in the signposts (plot points) along the way from the beginning of the book to the end.  I always know my book’s ending, or how else can I aim for it?

So,  I know the book’s beginning:  the hook, the big problem, the internal problem, and the inciting incident.  I know the setting.  In the first fourth of the book, the protagonist reacts to the changes around her.  She tries to find her balance and make everything work. I usually introduce at least two subplots that mirror the protagonist’s struggles.  By the end of the first fourth, she comes up with an idea to meet her goal.  That’s a turning point, and that’s the plot point I aim for at the end of the first quarter of my story.  The thing to remember is that the character doesn’t just react to what’s happening to her.  She struggles to survive it, to move forward, and to reach her goal.  Plot points aren’t about what people do TO your protagonist.  They’re about what the protagonist does to reach her goal.  It won’t turn out the way she wants it to until the end of the book, but she doesn’t stop trying, (if you’re writing a happy ending).  At the end of the book, she saves herself. The hero/love interest might stand beside her, but she flexes her new muscles and fights her own battles.

 

This blog is getting long, so I’ll write more about plotting and bringing your plot to life next week.  If you have any specific questions, let me know in the comments.  And if you have something that works for you, please share.  More later…

Writing: serials

If it was good enough for Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, why not me?  Both famous authors wrote stories, piece by piece, for monthly or weekly newspapers during their careers.  Most of Dickens’s novels were written as instalments, and he adjusted them as he went, according to peoples’ reactions to each “shilling.”  Doyle wrote his famous Sherlock Holmes’ stories for The Strand magazine.  Holmes made Doyle famous, but the author grew tired of him.  He wanted to write somthing new, more serious.  So first, he demanded an exorbitant fee for new stories, thinking The Strand would turn him down.  They didn’t.  Then, frustrated, he actually killed Holmes off, plunging him and his arch enemy Moriarty over a waterfall to their deaths.  Public outcry made him change his mind.  In a new Holmes story, Doyle explained that Holmes had other serious enemies, so he faked his death.  An interesting dilemma–a writer trapped by his own creation.  But it still happens today.  Writers can be trapped by best-seller success.  If a character or series sells big numbers, readers and editors want more.

I’ve played with writing one part of a story at a time on my webpage, and I liked it.  I’ve never tried it for anything longer than a short story, but I’m about to change that.  I’m going to try to write a longer Babet and Prosper, one chapter at a time.  People have been writing in installments for a while now on Wattpad.  It’s not new, but this will be new for me.  And I want to approach how I write chapters a little differently.  I think I’ll need more of a hook for the beginning of each chapter, and I want some kind of a cliffhanger or hook at the end of each one.  Now, I generally hate cliffhangers at the end of a novel.  I hate them even more at the end of TV seasons.  If I liked a book or TV show, I don’t need to worry about the protagonist all summer before the fall season starts, or sometimes, for months or a year, before the next novel comes out.  It annoys me.  It feels like a cheap gimmick, so I’m not talking life or death at the end of each of my chapters.  I’m just talking really good hooks that would normally make a reader start the next chapter.

Ending hooks haven’t always been my strong point.  I wish they were.  My writers’ group pays close attention to them, as they should.  The end of a chapter shouldn’t be a resting place where a reader feels a scene’s been completed.  Instead, a scene should introduce a conflict of some kind–big or small, then deal with that conflict, and then end with the hint of new tension ahead, so that instead of closing the book, satisfied for a moment, the reader turns to the next scene or chapter to see what happens.  The trick is to always keep the reader turning those pages.

The other thing I learned when I wrote stories in parts for my webpage was that I really focused on that one, small number of pages, and I was more willing to play with them and try new things.  There can’t be any “down” scenes for a serial.  Readers don’t need a “resting” place when they only get an instalment every other week or so.  I need to keep the story moving to keep them interested.  Scene and sequel should get interesting.

Yikes!  I’m starting to scare myself:)  Too much pressure.  But I’m looking forward to giving this a try.  Wish me luck.  I plan to put up Chapter 2 soon.

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