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

Moving On

How did I do last week in the flash fiction contest sponsored on Janet Reid’s blog? It was a great contest with many fascinating, wondrous, amusing combination of stories.

Photo by AAron Lee Kuan Leng

Photo by AAron Lee Kuan Leng

My 100-word flash fiction story? Nary a mention.

So I thought about it and realized I had relied on a tired trope. How embarrassing. You’d think I’d have better sense after seriously working on my craft for the past five to six years.

How is your work in progress going?

I am about ready to have story printed up a second time and read through it as a reader. Then read through it again to take note of what needs changing. I want to check out professional editors.

types of professional editors

You will find this list on several craft of writing blogs but below is, author and blogger, Jami Gold’s definitions:

  • content/developmental editing (fix story and character level-issues)

  • line editing (fix scene and paragraph-level issues)

  • copy editing (fix sentence, word, and grammar-level issues)

If you follow the link, you’ll also notice that Jami created a master list for each of these three areas of edits. Yes, a DIY list!

I have done as much of the first two edit areas as I am capable of, with help from crit partners. Time to move on to the next step!

Writing Projects

How does a week pass so quickly? Between

  • frost warnings and bringing my over-wintering plants into the house for a night,

  • bringing out my fall and winter clothes,

  • calling for a carpenter as my chimney is leaking and my garage door lost a roller off a hinge (yes, first world problems), and

  • the rather horrifying national week of the sexual assault case (I believe her) against the aggressively-behaved Supreme Court nominee,

it’s no wonder the weekend slipped by and no post happened.

I tried to move forward on my story last week but then I took a break.

working a flash fiction contest

On Friday, literary agent Janet Reid (aka The Shark) put up the prompt words and rules for a flash fiction contest.

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As I noodled around with the words, I became inspired! One writer, Steve Forti, always hides the prompt words within his story in such an amazing and natural way. He makes it look so effortless. Not!

The words for this past weekend were: fall, plummet, tip, slant, list.

Trying to become Fortiesque-like, I took on the word plummet and split it in two: plum and met. Numerous words begin with met. One word, metropolis, caught my eye. A plum metropolis? Hm. Then I saw how metropolis ends…with the letters: l, i, s. Which is the beginning of list. Aha! How Forticredible is that? I decided a character would use the phrase, “Plum metropolis that.”

Then I looked at the word tip. The immediate word that came to mind? Tipperary, a county in Ireland. I love writing about other geographical places where I have not lived (hm, I guess that might be part of my brand). So I googled Tipperary and found a travel article in The Telegraph about champion horses in Gold Vale and the city of Fethard.

These five words provided a fun way for me to fall into a story! Will I win any kind of recognition for my fun discoveries? Hopefully! Later today or tomorrow, I will find out.

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. 

 

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. 

1939 calendar.gif

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 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?

New Book

Donna Everhart, author of The Education of Dixie Dupree, has another book coming out this fall, The Road to Bittersweet. And to whet our appetite, the first chapter is printed in Buzz Books 2017 Fall/Winter. Check it out!

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My book? Yesterday Janice Hardy's Fiction University blog had an extremely helpful hint for writers. It addresses a problems which I've struggled with.

I have a completed first draft, finally, of my novel. But my story still has a couple of plot holes even after running it, chapter by chapter, through crit partners.

Janice wrote about the difference between drafting and editing. And that has been part of my issue in filling those holes. I've been in edit/revise mode as I work on my draft. And then when I come upon the spot where the hole is, I forget to shift out of edit/revise into draft as I need to create new material.  

So yesterday, I worked on my manuscript. I tend to write skeletal so I added layers--internal thoughts, seeing the scene from the characters point of view--to a couple of chapters in the middle of my story, the Mirror Moment. And then I had a blank chapter. I knew what needed to go in there but I've been in editing and revising mode and I needed to create fresh material for that hole.  So I dove in! That new chapter needs work (lots of talking heads) but now I have something to work with and shape. 

Excitement!

I am so excited!!  I entered a flash fiction contest and was named as one of the finalists!

 

For sooooo long I have been entering Janet Reid's flash fiction contests and not receiving any type of mention. Nothing I wrote seemed to stand out above the crowd.  Not since 2015! 

Last week, Janet sorted through her 100th Flash Fiction entrees (that word is deliberate as Janet is also Query Shark and she knows how to chomp!) and named her top seven, gave her reasons why she had chosen the entry and then named a winner. I am jealous of the prize the winner received: a map book, Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps.

But, did I mention I'm so happy? 

For this contest, we had to use these words in our 100 word story:  gaze, scapegrace, forti, scram, fin. You can take a look at the winning entries here. There was a total of 84 entries which you can find towards the bottom of the page here. 

My story? Here you go:

Breakfast

He asks about her date. Happily, she chatters. I place the milk pitcher. By him.

“Scapegallows,” he insults. Of course. “He wouldn’t know a fortissimo from a finocchio.” He eats his cornflakes.

Our daughter gazes, blankly.

Angered, I touch her shoulder, “Fatherly humor.”

He rolls his eyes.

Stiff-backed, I sit, “Finish your breakfast, dear. How was the band?”

She shrugs.

Her cannolo remains untouched. Damn him. Patient, I sip my Italian Roast. He stands—slender and handsome as ever—and scrams. I accept his tainted kiss, airbrush-style this morning. He leaves. Scapegoat.

And now? Anticipation! “How was your date?”

If you're as sharp-eyed as some of the Reiders, you'll notice that in my editing and revising, I left out a required word. Rats! But, many of the commenters were gracious, telling me to be gentle with myself (my writerly insecurity came out) and things happen!

I was just so happy to be named a finalist, to hear Janet's take on something I had written. 

 

writing

For an author's blog, I've certainly been derailed as well as allowed my focus to become distracted. But after not working on my story for two months, I've gained distance from it so I'm better equipped to revise and edit. 

And last week, I put in two full days of writing. (Do I hear applause anyone? Thank you, thank you!) reworking a couple of 1939 chapters. My protagonist and her younger brother move--from Königsberg, East Prussia to Oban, Scotland--to live with their grandfather's sister. 

One of the things I was attentive to in this rewrite was dialogue. The native language for Amalie and her brother is German while their Aunt Moira is a Scotswoman. So Amalie and her brother speak a more formal English whereas I try to give Aunt Moira a more rhythmic pattern of speech.

I lived in Scotland for a couple years and still have friends there, so I remember a bit of Scotland's distinctive accents and brogues. Soooo different from Midwest American! Which is why I'm not doing a Glaswegian brogue!

On my first flight overseas. I flew by myself, heading to a programme week at Iona Abbey. I had not slept well on the overnight flight but I made it through emigration, found my luggage, then went outside to get a taxi. As soon as I heard the taxi driver speak, I figured I may as well turn around and head home for all the sense I could make of his words. 

Four years later, I worked with a man who spoke that brogue. I never did catch on to it. (I have a hearing impairment which complicated things.) To make sure I understood him, he would stand in front of me so we faced one another and he spoke directly to me, dropping most of his brogue, then asked to make sure I'd understood him. And we'd laugh!

Today, I focused on composing a query. Again. I probably have about a gazillion query iterations (well, I suppose not quite that many). When I became serious about completing my story (back in, oh about 2013), I studied the query column in Writer's Digest but I learned the most from Query Shark's biting critiques of the queries emailed to her for that purpose. Writing a query works different writing habits. Queries, and synopses, are short, focused, concrete-oriented pieces. And that's a habit I need to develop because I tend to wander around in my writing.   

So I often bounce my writing times between my manuscript, my query, and my synopsis. Together, they're like a Rubik's cube. They each remind me of the different pieces of the story I wish to tell.