Craft of Writing

Bubble Charts

In Paula Munier’s book Plot Perfect: Building Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene, she demonstrates how to use chart bubbles to create a symphony of subplots that build upon the main theme of a story.

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My story, now in draft six, is told from the points-of-view of two women from a diverse family and the violence that happens against a member in their family.

My main theme focuses on communication or the lack of communication. How does conversation work among the family members when they are faced with a crisis, especially when they are shushed, and the family is splintered into different factions about that shushing.

Communication Subplots

What did my bubbles look like with communication at the center? It was a fun task as I thought of the relationships between my various characters:

Unfriendly Cheerful

Defame Certain

Superficial Applaud Inviting

Chatterbox Honest Transparent

Gossip Encouraged Positive

Blunt Soft Direct

COMMUNICATON

Sideways Loud Tactful

Negative Repressed Quiet

Incomprehensible Dishonest Reserved

Tenebrous Critical Thoughtful

Cryptic Cherish

Ominous Cordial

Munier uses Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice as an example with Love at the center of her bubble chart. Munier then writes a summary of each bubble and how it is expressed in the plot and subplots of Austen’s novel.

[Austen’s] work illustrates how subplots and variations on theme can be used to help plot a compelling story.
— Paula Munier

Story Writing

If you are a new-ish writer, do you ever wonder when you will finish the dang book? 

I seriously started writing my women's fiction in December 2012. I had seven chapters from a story began way back in high school.  (Oh oh! Backstory? Let me make it short and, hopefully, interesting.) 

I came up with two new protagonists: a young millennial woman and her great-great Tante, a WWII East Prussian refugee. Both women deal with violence that intrudes into their sheltered lives. 

The Stats!

  • 2012: 7 chapters
  • 2013: 36 new chapters, 5 chapters eliminated, 11 chapters reassigned to a different place in the story or combined
  • 2014: 12 new chapters, 3 eliminated, 8 reassigned or combined
  • 2015: 5 new chapters, 7 eliminated, 6 reassigned or combined
  • 2016: take a break, read as a reader then take notes of changes to make 
  • 2017: 4 new chapters, 0 eliminated, 7 reassigned or combined
  • 2018 thus far: 2 new chapters, 1 eliminated, 3 reassigned or combined

What a goofy process, right? (You can also tell I like excel spread sheets.) I was not a plotter. I was flying by the seat of my pants with this story, learning craft along the way. In my next story, I want to be more plotter-like!     

the Forest or the Trees

By writing as a pantser, I kept refining and defining the story. One of the ways I gained focus was through writing a query letter. I could stand back and look at the whole of the forest rather than the individual trees. Janet Reid's Queryshark was my go-to study blog.  

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I also studied the three-act structure, the important moments in each act, first page critiques, and various crafting issues (point-of-view, show-don't-tell, backstory, tension, pacing) through books and through blogs such as: Writer Unboxed, The Kill Zone, Fiction University, and Helping Writers become Authors.

I've also kept an eye on how many chapters each protagonist has as the main plot focuses on the millennialist. 

Obviously, I do not intend to rely on writing as a regular source of income.  Not with a 5 year writing process in place! Yikes.  

Are you writing a story? What is your writing process? 

 

 

Goal - Motivation - Conflict

Yup. Still gardening. I finally put in my tomatoes and red bell pepper. 

A yellow iris, behind the barely seen pepper plant, tomato in its cage, HUGE rhubarb, and another tomato in its cage. 

A yellow iris, behind the barely seen pepper plant, tomato in its cage, HUGE rhubarb, and another tomato in its cage. 

Gardening yesterday was wonderful!  No bugs!  How did that happen? I wore long sleeves but my legs were exposed. No mosquitoes. No gnats. I stayed out working in the lawn and garden until the sun set. 

But, that's not my topic today.  

Goal - Motivation - Conflict

Some more aha! moments this week. This time from a comment on Kill Zone blog with the mention of Debra Dixon's GMC book. My curiosity piqued, I checked it out on Amazon and read through the available pages. This book is on my TB (to buy) list!   

She focuses on the three main elements of plot and in her pages, she writes that there are many different words for these three:

  1. Goal: desire, want, need, ambition, purpose
  2. Motivation: drive, backstory, impetus, incentive
  3. Conflict: trouble, tension, friction, villain, roadblock, barrier

And she has a GMC chart, which is not in the Amazon read but which can be found online.  The chart involves answering questions about these three elements from the point of view of your main character: What? Why? and Why Not?

Jami Gold also has information on her blog about these plot elements and asked more defining questions. 

  1. Conflict: What forces the main character to become involved?
  2. Motivation: Why do they make that choice?
  3. Goal: What do they hope to accomplish with that choice?

Finding Balance

I also found more helpful information at nerdychickswrite.com in a column by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, an award-winning children's author. She lifts up three more elements to take into consideration as we plot out our stories: obstacles, fears, and rewards. 

She asks these questions to go with these "ingredients" as she relates writing to cooking. 

  1. Goal: What does your character want?
  2. Motivation: Why does he want it?
  3. Stakes: What happens if he doesn't get what he wants?
  4. Obstacles: What stands in his way?
  5. Fears: What does he have to overcome to be able to go after what he wants?
  6. Reward: How does he triumph if he does get what he wants?   

This blogger also talks about how these six elements can be paired and the necessity to balance these pairs. She balances: goals with obstacles, motivations with fears, and stakes with rewards. 

Happy writing!  

PitchFests

Pitch Conference 2018 was my very first, ever, conference for writers. Hosted by the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, it had nineteen literary agents attending as well as publicists, small press editors, published authors, and university faculty, and about 170 attendees.   

The Loft's next big conference will be Nov 1-3, 2019 and it will go by a new name, Wordsmith

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learnIng sessions

Our keynoter for the morning session was Hannah Tinti, author and editor. She called her session Out of the Slush Pile, which focused on the practical aspects of formatting, submission of manuscripts, and how to celebrate rejections (as well as how to get rid of frustration over rejections!) 

For our working box lunch, literary agents Barbara Poelle and Jennifer Carlson gave us hints on how to pitch and answered many questions from the audience. 

An entertaining evenings session of The Fast and the Queryous was held with a panel of literary agents--Janet Reid (of Query Shark fame), Samantha Fingerhut, and Natanya Wheeler, and editors--Cal Morgan and Caroline Bleeke, letting the audience know when they would quit reading a query letter and why. 

Diversity

On Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, we had breakout panel choices that each focused on four areas: craft, equity, career, and publishing.

I attended three equity sessions because my story has racially diverse people in it. The titles of the equity sessions I attended:

  • Finding Allies and Community
  • Who, What, When, & Why: Sensitivity Readers
  • #OwnVoices & Writing Outside Your Own Experience

I shared some of the information about these three sessions with my facebook writer group, which is a safe space and we had a good discussion about some of the issues facing white writers who try to create diverse communities within our stories without negative stereotyping or creating more systemic harm for people of color. 

Speaking about diversity can lead to tension. At Pitchfest the character of Cho Chang from the Harry Potter books was brought up. I mentioned this to my writer group. Three resources were pointed out that speak to these issues: a poem by Rachel Rostad, a rebuttal about her interpretation, and her response to that rebuttal

At one of the sessions, a question was asked about the Sioux name for one of the Midwest Native American tribes. Sioux is a name that means little snakes and it was given by the French traders and the Ojibwe tribe to the Dakota tribe. 

One of the issues I've become aware of in my story, after the Friday night query panel and these sessions, is that I'm in danger of having a white hero trope. Not a good thing. Yet, if I went to the other extreme I would have a passive heroine and that's not good either. So I've had to go back to work on my manuscript and check out those particular layers. 

The Pitches

Concurrent with the breakout sessions, pitches were also happening.

Before the Conference, we had received a form to fill out with our literary agent preferences. The Loft staff then assigned us to an agent and a time. 

When it was time for our pitch we were required to be in the area 10 minutes ahead of time as scheduling was tight, 8 minutes per group. 

I took my query letter in for one agent and for the others, I did my pitch. One agent did give me her card to be in touch if I sort out my white hero/passive protagonist issue!  

Networking with other authors

The best part, of course, was the networking with other authors, practicing our pitches on each other, sharing meals together, and exchanging emails to stay in touch. 

 

White-Outs

In contrast to last week's post about writing a story's Quiet Black Moments, this week I'm experiencing the wind and snow, sometimes snow pellets, in the Midwest's latest spring snowstorm. 

through a window darkly...

through a window darkly...

I am also in the midst of getting ready for my first writer's workshop. I have now received the names of the three literary agents I will be pitching my story to and what time I am expected to be there. Whoo-boy! I am excited. Of course, on the day of I will be on the extreme side of nervous. 

What workshop? The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis as a Pitch Conference 2018

I have finished the fifth draft of my story. Now it needs some fine-combing. And I can focus more on the pitch itself and the query that I want to have along with me. 

My next post will be April 27.   

Quiet Black Moments

Thematically, I should have written about Black Moments last week, during Holy Week, when we used black fabrics on our altars and lecterns and pulpits during the "Good" Friday service when we remembered the death of Jesus through the torture of the crucifixion. 

Instead, here it is Easter season, in the Christian church, when we celebrate with white paraments, spring flowers, and tell stories of Jesus' resurrection in our sanctuaries.

What are Black Moments? For the writer and the reader, it is the moment in the story, at about the 3/4 mark, when all seems lost. The protagonist is clinging onto the edge of the cliff, losing her grip and ready to fall to her death.  The antagonist has trapped the heroine securely within his lair and there is no way out. There is no hope. Our main character gives up. 

Black Moments are Big Moments. Dramatic Moments. Breath-Catching Moments. Also known as Dark Nights.

What if, like me, you're reading or writing more of a character-based story? It's a quieter story rather than a thriller or a horror or an adventure. 

What is the Pride & Prejudice Black Moment? (a spoiler lies ahead)

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When Lizzie finds out her foolish, younger sister has run off with a man, Lizzie's own chance, as well as that of her other three sisters, of securing love and an advantageous marriage are dashed hopelessly to the ground. They will none of them be able to marry to advantage because of this one sister's thoughtless act.

Although I can find the black moments in other writer's stories, trying to craft a good scene that is the black moment within my own story has had its challenges. 

Fortunately, I read Jami Gold's blog this week, Do Black Moments Need to Be Catastrophes?  In this blog, she talks about the quiet black moments. 

If you're interested in story structure in general or how to revise and/or edit your story once you're past the first draft, search through her website. Jami's blog is gold!  

 

History trips me up again!

I'm a writer, working on a novel with two main characters: Addison a millennialist and Amalie from 1939. 

Scotland 1939

A while back in my blog (September 11, 2017) I had written about wanting to place Amalie in a sleepy village in Scotland's highlands and used a place I was familiar with in 2007-2008. I chose Oban.

Hey, calm down. I can hear you Scots people, who know your history, laughing!

Flying Boat Squadron

Yea, Oban? Not so quiet. The Flying Boat Squadron was located there. The SS Breda was bombed by the Nazi's on December 23, 1940. A storm blew up and spread debris from the Breda about and, a few nights later, as one of Scotland's own Sunderlands came in for a routine landing in the dark, it hit a horsebox. Only one of the eleven crew members survived that crash in the freezing weather.

I adapted my story. Moved Amalie to Connel Ferry. Still close by but not, perhaps used as much by billeted aircrew as Oban was. If you know aircrew were billeted in Connel Ferry, please, please let me know!  

My latest problem? On the day Amalie finds out war is declared, I have her hanging laundry on the pulley-system ceiling drying rack. What's the problem, you ask? 

Asking the right question

Hitler shelled Westerplatte on September 1. The U.K. and France gave Hitler an ultimatum. Get out by September 3 or else we are at war. Hitler didn't draw back so war was declared.

I researched to see how people found out about war, from the radio, word of mouth, or some other way? I came across this BBC site and its archived list from people who wrote in their memories of the war. This archived story made my brain fritz when I read how this boy heard the announcement of war. 

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Do you notice what day September 3 falls on? Any other day of the week, my scene could have stayed but it's a Sunday. I'm pretty sure most Scots people in 1939, especially in smaller villages, attended church on Sundays, as had the young boy of the archived notes. 

Rats! 

Editing

On Tuesday, when I found out, I was aggravated.

On Wednesday, I drove to Mom's house to shovel her snow. 

On Thursday I created experimental word documents for three of my 1939 chapters, marked out the different scenes, and listed the events that needed to be swapped in elsewhere and went back to work on them. 

Ah...the life of a writer.

If you know any other questions I should ask or situations to be aware of in 1939 Connel Ferry, Scotland, let me know!

Ta! 

Useful Story Writing Skills

Revising our stories so that a reader will be entranced has several stages. And as I continue to revise my story to make it more enticing for a reader, I am grateful for many writing blogs that help me along the way. 

For crafting a story is like the thrill of discovering the lives of many-faceted villages.

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5 Stages of Writing

It was helpful to read Mary Carroll Moore's blog on the five stages of writing. 

  1. Gathering
  2. Structuring
  3. First Draft
  4. Revision
  5. Submission

I'm still in revision, a stage she calls a huge gateway. She writes, "Most writers aren't trained in revision. They need to hire an editor or a coach. Revision is a LOT more than just refining sentences." 

One of the consistent critiques I have received from my crit partners and beta readers is their desire to get inside the feelings of my protagonists. I'm good at getting the physical choreography and dialogue of a scene down. And many times, I can get good descriptions in of the scene setting. But...feelings?! And to show feelings rather than tell? Well, that's been a toughie. 

But I've discovered a writer tool!

Motivation Reaction Units (MRU)

 I learned about MRUs from Randy Ingermanson, the Snowflake Method writing guy.  He has a blog titled "Writing the Perfect Scene." The MRUs comes from the book by Dwight Swain. 

  • Motivation is external, objective.
  • Reaction is internal, subjective AND composed of FEELINGS, reflex, rational action and speech.  And reactions are to be written in this order.

Sounds very prescriptive, doesn't it? But it was my lightbulb moment and it helps me get more of the story out of my head and onto the pages. 

How?

Applying the MRU

I started with Chapter 1. I saved it as Chapter 1 MRU. Throughout the pages, I separated the Motivations from Reactions.

I typed M in front of the sentence(s) or paragraph(s) that were external, objective. 

I typed R in front of the sentence(s) that were subjective, internal.

Once I completed this for the chapter, I went through and highlighted the Rs in yellow. Because my problem area is getting protagonists feelings on the pages. 

After each R (Reaction), I added specifically what it was.

  • R-Feeling
  • R-Reflex
  • R-Rational Action
  • R-Speech (which included internal speech) 
  • or any of the above combined

I found many times when my protagonist did not express any feelings in many of her  interactions. This method was also helpful for finding chapters where she is quiet and other characters carry the scene. 

Have you found specific crafting-your-story-techniques that have helped you with a troublesome area?  What was the method and how did it help?

Useful Writing Websites

What are some of the writing website you hang around at to learn the craft of creating stories or writing non-fiction?

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Favorite Sites

Here are my favorite sites which I haunt on a daily or almost daily basis:

I am still a newbie at writing fiction and so I look for websites that have practical information and places that have a sense of writing community. Because writing is a lonely business. 

First Page analyses

There are some wonderful first-page analyses happening at Writer Unboxed, Kill Zone, and Fiction University.  Writer Unboxed has started All the King's Editors recently. I really appreciated David Corbett's column just this week. It helps me to look at my own skill in sentence and paragraph formation, to help me figure out focus. 

And isn't that one of a new writer's biggest nemesis?  Bringing the story into focus?  

As I work with my story, now in its 5th draft, I am combing through my words and trying to sort out themes and subtexts through the use of particular words.

Not only do I want to use a character's point-of-view to describe setting but I also want to use words that will set the atmosphere for the reader, when the character might yet be unaware of the danger coming toward her. 

 

What are some of your favorite writing websites?