Setting Goals

I’ve just made a pact with three other members of my critique group to set writing goals every week. We’re all either starting novels or are partway through first drafts. I’m just starting a new novel. It’s actually going to be the first of a trilogy. I never thought I’d write a trilogy but I have so much story this time I can’t do it any other way. I’ve made a lot of notes for all three books and  have outlined all the major plot points, but now I need to go back and flesh out the in between scenes for the first novel. I started writing the first chapter because the dialogue was so strong in my mind that I had to get it down. Next week I want to go over my notes and make sure I’ve stacked my scenes the best way and that there is a strong progression in the story with an escalation of tension. I also feel like I’m missing some scenes in the beginning so I need to pay attention to my instinct and think about that. It’s good to take time to just think about your story. Usually writer’s block happens because you haven’t thought about your story enough. Or at least that’s the case if you’re an outliner. If you’re a pantser, then you’re writing by the seat of your pants and planning isn’t necessarily part of your process. I need to know where I’m going before I write a scene. Next week my goal will include more thinking time and less writing time. Once I’ve worked everything out in...

The Next Big Thing

Snake Talker Today I’m hosting the Next Big Thing blog campaign. The Next Big Thing is an international campaign that began in Australia. Authors and illustrators of books for kids and young adults talk about their recently published books and/or those that are due to be released. Each author who has been nominated turns around and nominates a couple of other authors. We all answer the same questions about our work. It’s really just a great big game of “Tag, you’re it.” Today is my turn to answer The Next Big Thing’s standard questions about my book, Snake Talker, and I’m tagging two of my favorite fellow kids’ book authors, Ann Koffsky and Sean McCollum, to go next. What is the working title of your next book? The one I’m currently working on is still in my head and not yet on paper so I’m going to talk about a book that is already out. Snake Talker came out over a year ago. Where did the idea come from for the book? I actually got two ideas for books at the same time. I decided to write this one first because I knew more about the story. I don’t remember exactly where the idea came from. Like so many story ideas they seem to be made up of bits and pieces of things that interest me. They merge in my subconscious and suddenly the idea is there. What genre does your book fall under? YA science fiction. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? You’ve got me on that one....

Premature Story Ejaculation Treatment

You’ve got a great idea for a story and you can’t wait to start writing. I’m here to caution you against spewing out your story too soon. You need to indulge in plenty of foreplay before you’re ready. Okay, enough sexual innuendo. The truth is that no matter how tempting it is to start your first draft, you need to wait until you’re ready. A story needs to mature before you start writing it. Or, at least for me it does. I’m an outliner. I can’t speak for pantsers—people who sit down and write without knowing where their story is going. I need to know. It helps me build layers of depth in the first draft. If you start writing too soon you will quickly run into a wall. You won’t know where to go next. Your characters will thrash around wasting a lot a time until you figure out the next move. When this happens you end up with passive characters—the story happens to them instead of the characters driving the story. When you take time to think about your story you’ll be able to see how the pieces fit together, how you can strengthen themes, add motivation, create nuances. You can add the subtleties up front that often don’t develop until a third or fourth draft. It saves time and you’ll have a stronger story to work with. But this blog is supposed to be about treatment, so the next time you have a great story idea I want you to open a new document and write down your ideas. And then walk away from it. Keep...

Character Debt

Economic times aren’t bad enough, now we owe our characters a debt? Yes, but we don’t owe them money. We owe them our time and our effort to make them real. I can hear someone yell “Time is money.” I see it more as an investment. We invest in our characters to make them dimensional so our readers fall in love with our story. That pays off in compound interest. Okay, that exhausts my financial vocabulary. To be blunt, writers have to make their characters come alive. That doesn’t happen by filling out character charts on what’s in their closet or hanging on their walls. That only comes when you ask yourself what would this person kill or die for? What matters to your character? What type of person are they that they want or need this thing that matters more than life or death to them?  That takes some thought. You’re searching for their soul—what makes them tick—and that doesn’t come from making snap decisions about their likes and dislikes. You must move beyond the superficial if you want to create outstanding characters. Easily said, but how do you go about doing it? First off, don’t worry about their physical characteristics. You don’t need to go into detail about the color of their hair and eyes, body build, clothes they’re wearing, etc., unless their physical appearance is part of your plot. Josie shops at Goodwill. She’s into retro and doesn’t care what the cool girls at school say. Her choice of clothes, then, is a statement about her personality. Generally, though, physical details are quickly forgotten by the...

The “Oh My God I Can’t Believe It!” Moment

The Sweet Spot. That moment in the book where readers universally proclaim, preferably out loud, that they never saw that coming. It’s what writers strive for in books, in movies, and in TV. I experienced one last night during “Once Upon A Time.” I totally did not see it coming when the blue fairy turned out to be Cora in disguise. It gave me such a thrill when I realized the writers had fooled me. Yet, at the same time it made so much sense. Of course the blue fairy would never offer dark magic to Snow, even to save her mother’s life. Magic has a price and to save her mother she would have to take another’s life. Snow loves her mother but she is good at heart and even for her mother she can’t take an innocent life. So how do you do it? How do you lead your readers/audience to think one way and then blindside them with something completely different? At the same time, that “something completely different” must seem more logical and right than the thing they were expecting. Such moments don’t just happen during the process of writing. They have to be planned for; engineered from the beginning. One way to approach it would be to think of the one thing no one would expect to happen, and then work backwards from that. You have to create the motivation and a believable foundation for it to work otherwise it will seem contrived. It’s the type of moment that people will go back and examine the story to see if it holds up. If...

Compelling Description—beyond the cliché

When I write my first draft I’m usually focused on getting the story down. Description, which is my least favorite part of story writing, is simple, fast, and dirty. A lot of clichés slip in because I don’t want to take the time to craft a perfect sentence. It would slow or stop the flow of words to edit a sentence or paragraph and that’s not my goal. I want to get the first draft down so that I can see the story as a whole. Then I go back and clean up the mess, remove the turds, polish the sentences, and strengthen the story. My favorite part of writing is dialogue. I love the interplay between characters. When I write a new scene I always put in all the dialogue first, then I go back and add some action. Last I’ll sketch in some quick description, usually just enough to set the scene. It’s only when I’m in the editing phase that I will take the time to flesh out the description. I don’t know why it’s so torturous for me to write description. It’s like eating lima beans. It’s tasteless and a chore and even though I know it’s good for me, I have to hold my nose while I do it. I know that sounds really odd. Description should be rich. It should bring a scene and characters alive. It should be full of sound and smell and color and texture. The only reason I’ve been able to figure out why it’s so hard for me is that as an artist I’m a visual person. I see...