The Writers Circle: NaNoWriMo Poll 2015

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

It’s a special Thursday edition of The Writers Circle!  Now that we are mid-way through October, we wanted to check in once again to see how many of our community members are joining the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are excitedly anticipating November 1 and the start of NaNoWriMo 2015.  What are your thoughts are about NaNoWriMo this year?

After taking our unscientific poll, leave a comment to discuss NaNoWriMo:  Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? What have you learned or gained from it?  Will you do it again?  If you haven’t done NaNoWriMo, are there reasons you would or would not consider it in the future?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

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The Writers Circle: Gifts for Writers 2014

What’s with all the red?

Today is December 1st–World AIDS Day. The fight against AIDS is very personal to me, and my co-owner/editor has agreed to let me make this change to show support for World AIDS Day.

I lost my father 25 years ago when the disease was a death sentence. Today because of the hard work of hundreds of thousands of people, that’s no longer the case. In a few more years we might even have a cure.

Here are some quick links:
Learn more: http://www.worldaidsday.org/
Learn more: http://www.red.org/en/learn
Do Something: http://www.worldaidsday.org/act-aware.php
Do Something: http://www.red.org/en/act
Donate: https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/natnationalaidstrust
Donate: http://www.red.org/en/act/donate
Buy something (charity gets a cut): http://www.red.org/en/shop/

Thank you for your taking the time to read this. And if you used any of those links to support, or learn more about, a cause that’s important to me, I thank you for that, too.

And now, I’ll turn your attention back to writing and today’s topic of Holiday gifts for writers.

–Dale

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With the holiday season upon us, thoughts turn to gifts for us or for our loved ones. What do you, as a writer, wish someone would give you as a gift this holiday season? What are you planning to give to the writers on your gifting list?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

The Writers Circle: Seasons

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Do you have a favorite time of year to write? Is it easier for you to feel creative at some points during the year than others?  Do you have a favorite time of year in which you set your stories?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

The Writers Circle: NaNoWriMo Poll 2014

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With the calendar saying it has already flipped over to October, thoughts for many thousands of people around the world have also flipped over to National Novel Writing Month.  So given our wide community we’d like to know what your thoughts are about NaNoWriMo this year. 

After taking our unscientific poll, leave a comment to discuss NaNoWriMo:  Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? What have you learned or gained from it?  Will you do it again?  If you haven’t done NaNoWriMo, are there reasons you would or would not consider it in the future?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

Coffee Talk: Let’s Talk about Writing

brainstormingSeveral members of our community wrote in and suggested that we have an occasional post where we simply talk about writing.  New or less-experienced writers often have a lot of questions about crafting stories or editing or publishing and can benefit from hearing from more-experienced writers and their efforts in those areas. Similarly, experienced writers can get stuck in a rut where writing is more of a chore than a joy and they can benefit from new ideas, tools, methods and energy from other writers.

So, let’s take today to just talk about writing.  Do you have trouble with some aspect of writing? Do you struggle with a particular tool you use when writing? Are you lacking a tool for some aspect of it?  Do you have a particular tool or writing process you’ve found to be a tremendous benefit to your writing efforts?

We have a vast community of writers with many levels of expertise and experience, and each of us has something to offer and something to learn.  So, grab a cup of coffee or tea or whatever your beverage of choice is and let’s share some ideas, questions and answers here in the comments.

 

Writing fiction in layers results in more speed and less frustration

By Model Land Company, Everglades Drainage District (Everglades Digital Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Model Land Company, Everglades Drainage District (Everglades Digital Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week it struck me:  I’ve rarely read an article on how to write fiction—more specifically, how to actually put words down on the page!

When I started writing fiction regularly about eight years ago, I read many books and articles to help me create great plot, make dialog realistic, and strike the right balance between “show” versus “tell”.  I thought I was reading books and articles on how to write.  But instead I was actually reading books and articles on how to create great plot, how to make dialog realistic, and how to strike the right balance between show versus tell.

As a novice writer I’d sit at the keyboard for a couple hours and squeeze out two well-polished paragraphs that read as though they came straight from a book on the shelf of my local bookstore.  But the agonizingly slow pace raised self-doubt, and I’d quickly wind up with an unfinished manuscript of a story that I felt wasn’t worth telling.

Today I have a completely different approach to writing fiction compared to the past. Now I write my story in layers, resulting in a speedier process with overall reduced frustration and self-doubt.

Think for a moment about how a house gets built.  Most people don’t wake up with the idea to build a house and immediately run down to the hardware store to make a huge lumber purchase, or worse yet, buy a brushed-nickel faucet for the powder room.  In most cases building a home starts with an idea like desiring a 2-story, 4-bedroom colonial style home, then creating several hastily-drawn sketches, then more formalized measured drawings, then performing the rough framing/plumbing/electrical, then followed by the building shell until finally finishing up with the small details like soft pastel paint colors and finally that brushed-nickel faucet for the powder room.

Writing can be less painful if you write in layers:

Layer 1 – Outline

Start with a high-level outline.  I’m not talking about anything fancy here, so just go ahead and open a word processor and drop some bullet-point sentences on the page.  Re-arrange them.  Delete some.  Add new ones.  Get 10-20 sentences on paper in the right sequence that depicts the story you want to tell.  You can even insert page breaks after each sentence to visually depict the start of a new chapter.

  • Primary Lead attends wedding of his love interest to “speak up or forever hold his peace”

Layer 2 – Fleshing the Story Skeleton

Now go back to your word processor and start building in more bullet points to flesh out the story skeleton.  The objective here is not to write a polished product, but instead you just want words on the page:

  • Primary Lead attends wedding of his love interest to “speak up or forever hold his peace”
    • PL standing on church steps, conflicted whether to go inside
    • PL encounters another friend, Lauren, who challenges him on why he’s there
    • PL reluctantly goes inside, realizing he’s turned into “that guy”
    • PL doesn’t quite know his strategy, but feels this is his last chance for true love
    • Ceremony begins, bride looks beautiful, priest asks the infamous question to guests…

Layer 3 – Rough Carpentry

For me, this stage is where the real work begins.  However the frustration level is usually much lower because I can jump around to different parts of the story on different days, taking a sentence or two and writing a few paragraphs.  Maybe I spend fifteen minutes in one session, or two hours in another session:

Saturday morning arrived and I found myself standing on the steps of St. Bart’s Cathedral.  I was frozen, having now to decide whether this was really a good idea or not.  I felt a warm hand touch me on the shoulder.

“Kevin?” asked Lauren.

“Lauren!  What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to stop you from making a fool of yourself!”

It’s a sloppy mess and it won’t win me any awards, I agree.  But at least now I have something down on paper to react to when I come back to revise in another pass.

Layer 4+ – Revision

I generally find my full-length novel equates to about 20,000 words at this point in time.  What’s that, about 80,000 words shy?  Queue the self-doubt.  But alas, now you can begin seasoning your story and adding bulk.  Writing now gets even easier because you have something to react to:

Saturday morning arrived and I found myself standing on the steps of St. Bart’s Cathedral.  It was nearly six years to the day since I last stepped inside the church for my nephew Evan’s baptism.  But today was much different.  Today I was frozen, having now to decide whether this was really a good idea or not.

I stood on the granite steps for several minutes watching many smiling faces enter the church.  Every time the decorative brass doors opened, I could catch a whiff of the residual incense that burned earlier in the morning for Mr. Covey’s funeral.

I felt a warm hand touch me on the shoulder.  “Kevin?”

I turned to find Lauren with a tear on her cheek, and she immediately embraced me in a loving hug.

“You know, there’s still time to turn back…” she whispered in my ear.  “I’m here to stop you from making a fool of yourself.”

Iterate, iterate, iterate…

I’m skeptical whether there’s value to me in the lather, rinse, repeat directions provided with each bottle of shampoo.  When it comes to writing, however, I’m sold on the iterative approach to building long manuscripts.  For me, it’s invaluable to have something down on the page at each writing session to react to and revise.

Diagnosing Dialogue

Dialogue is difficult to get just right and, like many others, I struggle with it mightily. Even so, I love writing good dialogue. But, if it’s so hard, why do I like it?

  • I love how good dialogue shows us more about a character than the author could ever tell us.
  • I love the energy that comes from tight crisp banter between characters.
  • I love how good dialogue can control the pace of a story.
  • I love the feeling I get when someone tells me that my dialogue sounds real.

But what is good dialogue? What is real dialogue? And how do we write it? Here are a few tips and tricks to get you started.

  1. Record and listen to real conversations among friends. Now compare what you thought was said, to what was actually said. The lesson here is that real dialogue should not be your goal. Real dialogue is terrible–full of pauses, ums, stutters, repetition and bad grammar. What you need to strive for is dialogue that sounds like what you thought you said.
  2. Strip it down. This trick is one of my own inventions. If you have dialogue and it’s just not working, copy/paste it into a new document and spend a few minutes stripping away everything except what the your characters say–kind of like a stage play. When you read the dialogue with all the exposition and attributions stripped away, does it hold up? Does it hold your attention? If not, then it still needs work.
  3. Cut the fancy tags. Attributions are those verbs we add to dialogue. He said…She asked. Many times you don’t need them at all. When used, their purpose is to make it clear to the reader who is speaking. Don’t get cute, and don’t break out the thesaurus. If you find yourself striving for tags like he queried or she opined, you already know your dialogue is weak and you’re looking for a crutch.
  4. Don’t overuse names. People rarely use each other’s names in conversation. If you find yourself starting every other line with someone saying someone else’s name, then you’re characters don’t have strong, original voices. Maybe they both sound like you. Maybe they both sound like each other. Whatever it is, you’re having trouble distinguishing between them. Clear that up and you won’t need to keep repeating names.
  5. Stories are all about conflict, and dialogue should be no different. In many conversations the different players have competing motives. If Sam has a slightly embarrassing secret, Alex can’t just ask her what’s bothering her. She has to tease it out. And Sam has to resist. Try thinking of the conversation like a fencing match. It’s boring if there’s a single lunge and it’s all over. Lunge, parry, riposte, counterparry, lunge, dodge…
  6. Dialogue CANNOT be predictable. Take another look at that real conversation you transcribed and notice how much of a real conversation is predictable. Compare these rather mundane examples:

    “Did you have lunch?”
    “Yes.”
    “What?”
    “Pizza”
    “Was it good?”
    “It was great”

    “Did you have lunch?”
    “Pizza. It was great”

    By eliminating the expected responses, the dialogue gets tighter, crisper, and more compelling

What tips for writing dialogue do you have to share?

The Writers Circle: Gifts for Writers

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With the holiday season upon us, thoughts turn to gifts for us or for our loved ones. What do you, as a writer, wish someone would give you as a gift this holiday season? What are you planning to give to the writers on your gifting list?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

The Writers Circle: Editing

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With NaNoWriMo 2013 coming quickly toward a close, thoughts for many writers will turn from churning out lots of words to editing them. Whether you participated in NaNoWriMo or not, let’s talk about your editing methods. What tools do you use? Do you have a specific strategy or process you use when editing? What works for you? What have you tried and found doesn’t work for you?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

The Writers Circle: Kickstarter

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

An increasing number of authors are turning to Kickstarter to fund their own publishing efforts.  Would you support a Kickstarter book?  What would you expect in return? Would you consider using Kickstarter to fund your own book? What would you consider offering as an incentive to potential supporters?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.