writing

Rompecabezas and Writing

It’s been a dreary, grey, and misty Monday here. I did not accomplish the writing I should have. Instead, I worked on a rompecabeza. What a fun word, especially when you can roll your “r”s. My tongue does not have that capacity.

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You’ll notice that I have most of this jigsaw puzzle done and so I’ve organized the puzzle pieces according to shape. I can’t help myself! When the colors get more subtle or more muddy, it’s easier to look for the shape I need rather than the color.

So what do rompecabezas have to do with writing?

Yes, it is a wonderful way to relax and let the subconscious mind work. Much the same as when I’m driving the car on a familiar road. I can disengage from the minute details of my story and think about the larger story.

Piecing Our Story Together

Story comes to each of us differently. My current story started out with four daughters of a widowed father who married a woman with two children of her own. It takes place in the 1970s and was about rebellious teen daughters. Then I added an older aunt who lived with them, a mash-up of Little Women and the Brady Bunch. I never wrote it to the end, though I had an ending in mind.

Instead, I set the story aside for many years but it never left me. In the meantime, I wrote a couple of short stories, romances, and attended a writing workshop. Married life and having children and full-time work and owning a house and living life took over.

Six years ago, I came back to the story although I had lost several chapters in the computer’s netherworld.. After a divorce, obtaining a Master’s degree, traveling around the U.S., grown children, and living in Scotland for awhile, I let the 1970s story become the backworld to my current story. The older aunt became an East Prussian Tante. Then the Tante had a story of her own to tell.

It took two years to finish my first draft. I did a lot of learning about the craft of writing. I found the Query Shark and Fiction University blogs. From there I found other blogs, started taking part in the flash fiction contests on Janet Reid’s blog.

All of these different aspects of writing—the characters, the craft, the contests, the living life—jell around and morph to create a story. Not just one but many. Tante Amalie’s story and Addison’s story and potentially more! But not all in the same book! But someday I will finish this story, just like I will finish the puzzle. It’s just the story is taking a lot longer.

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? 

 

 

a short blog post during NaNo

It's NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I'm not officially signed up to NaNo but I am working on a new project, day by day.

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My novel, in its fourth draft, is still out with a couple (one-and-a-half to be exact) beta readers and I'm giving it a rest as its opening chapter is not working. I need to let it sit and think about it from afar.

My new Work in Progress is non-fiction. My first book, Disturbing Complacency: Preparing for Christmas, is a book of daily devotions for the Christian season of Advent. 

I always thought I should do Lent and Easter next. It makes sense, right? And I have one started, many years ago. But only a couple of devotions, a couple of days are done. I have no enthusiasm for the project yet. 

However, I became really excited with the thought of writing a daily devotional for the month of November (or the month of May for people who live in the Southern Hemisphere). There's just something about the darkness and the short days and the blusteriness of this month, that grabs me.

And...better yet! I have an accountability partner. We facebook message each other at the end of the day with our word counts. What a blessing. 

Are you NaNo-ing? 

Wordsmithery

Wordsmith describes a person who works with words and is a skilled writer. 

I'm not laying claim yet to being a skilled writer but I have been working on words rather than plots or characters or settings.

I've been working with revisions of my first full draft since January.  Until July, the revisions focused on plot holes and whether or not my characters were realistic. And I needed to write a few new scenes.

But a couple weeks ago, I finished with that piece of revision and editing. Now I've moved on to wordsmithery. Why don't I just send it off to my beta readers? Because my story was over 100,000 words. So in the interest of finding all of my extra thats and justs to cut I came across Janice Hardy's column on August 4, 7 Words that often Tell, Not Show. And intrigued, I decided to apply it straight away to my story. 

By the way, I've saved the version of my story before all this wordsmithery stuff I'm doing just in case I edit the life out of it.

What's the difference between tell and show? (Check out Grammar Girl definition here.)

  • to tell is to summarize a scene or an action
  • to show is to let the reader experience the scene or the action through specific details and a specific point-of-view of one of your characters

Which is preferable? Readers like to escape into the specific details of a story but there are times when summarizing or telling works better. It all depends upon the scene or action. Transitions, that have nothing important happening within them can be told. 

With Janice Hardy's Fiction Writer column I've searched my documents for the seven words she listed and determined whether I needed to change my sentences or if they were fine as written. My weakness (besides adverbs and gerunds) are the to (verb). And no, I did not take out all my to (verb)s! Check out Janice's column here as she explains it very well and creates examples. 

One of the interesting side effects of doing a search to determine if I need to change a sentence, is that I am not so caught up in my story (yes, I'm still in love with it). I notice each sentence as a stand alone. And the highlight feature allows me to notice how often I use certain words or phrases within a paragraph or a page. Repetition that may irritate certain readers! 

Happy writing! 

 

Focus. Goal. Plan.

I'm new to my house and for the past couple of summers I've taken pictures of my gardens so I can see the changes and feel like I've accomplished something. 

Year 1: The orange  tiger lilie s after they had bloomed--late summer. A bit weedy. And the harebells were falling into the grass. 

Year 1: The orange tiger lilies after they had bloomed--late summer. A bit weedy. And the harebells were falling into the grass. 

Year 2:  Ahhh! Weed free. And tidy! You can tell it's May. I left the lilies and harebells and added bee balm. 

Year 3:  Red bee balm and purple harebells in July. The harebells are restrained with a wire tomato cage to keep them from getting wild and tipping into the lawn. 

Year 3:  Red bee balm and purple harebells in July. The harebells are restrained with a wire tomato cage to keep them from getting wild and tipping into the lawn. 

I found it so interesting to see the different looking wall behind the flowers. I have not painted it. But it faces the east and I took the bottom picture in the morning.

Did I have a grand plan for this little garden? Outside of tidying it up and figuring out what colors I wanted, I did not have a particular grand plan. But now I see that bumble bees love to crawl inside the harebells and ruby-throated hummingbirds sip at the bee balm.

Having been out of flower gardening for awhile, I had forgotten about these beautiful side effects (and in the case of the bees, the potential hazard!) 

Is this garden done evolving? For the near future, yes. I've other areas of the yard and other gardens to put my primary focus on now and I have added inspiration and impetus! 

An analogy to being storytellers? In writing, our voice, the character point-of-view and the setting color the story. With a specific end in mind, there are small steps, small plans to support the plot movement towards that ending. And being absorbed in the story we wish to tell is just as thrilling as working with a flower garden.

Revising a novel

Ta-da! The first paper copy--368 pages--of my story!

 

After 3-4 years of steady work on it, I finally have a fairly decent draft.

I put it away and let it rest for the month of November and am now reading it as a reader. But one month was not enough to make it completely fresh reading. I remember too much of the story.

However, I do notice that it's still pretty rough reading so there's a good amount of revising and rewriting to do yet. But, hopefully, 2017 is the year it'll be good enough to send out to agents or publishers. After it's been through crit partners and beta readers. And probably an editor too.

Or, am I being too optimistic? 

Three-Quarter Goals

Last week became busy with the joy of co-officiating a wedding for two lovely young women who are a part of our faith community. With family coming from long distances, they had created several events. Thursday evening, we gathered over delicious grilled meat and vegetables to make tortillas and play table games of card, jenga, and jacks and ball. Friday was the rehearsal at the park and more food. And Saturday was the big day. Yesterday, many family members came to church. Worship included a baptism service for one of the adults. 

So this morning, I am catching up on my reading. In the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. Agent Jessica Faust writes,

Now that we are three-quarters of the way through the year it's really time to hunker down and take a close look at those goals. How are you doing in reaching them?

Did you remember the goal(s) you set on January 1st? In past years, I used to look at the beginning of each month as a way to start over again on goals if I had stumbled on any, (who am I kidding?! I stumble often, but I pick myself up and get going again).

This year I wanted to finish a second draft of my story. January through March, I chomped away at specific goals set for each month. It felt great. Then came the saggy middle of my novel along with Easter preparations at church, spring and flower gardens in my new home, summer with yard work and gardening and tasks such as scrubbing gooey adhesive off after wallpaper removal in the kitchen.

My original aim had been to complete the second draft of my book by May 31st so I could print off a copy for myself and a book-loving friend to critique. And now it's September 5. 

Of course, what I'm calling a second draft is cleaned-up first-draft-chapters sent to critique partners and revised after their comments. So the story is coming along very well. I'm on the last chapters of my almost 100,000 word Women's Fiction. The end is in sight and at least the story now has coherence instead of plot holes and melodramatic character reactions in the ending chapters. 

So how are you doing on the goals you have set for yourself this year? Be kind as you evaluate where you're at. Life happens to the best of us. And relationships are more important than rigidly hanging onto the goals we set. Celebrate the goals and partial goals you have accomplished.  

Writer Unboxed

Another writing blog I follow daily is Writer Unboxed.  Their first book is coming out, which has essays from many of the regular columnists and more. Their focus is on the craft of writing. Scroll down the table of contents listed on the August 2, 2016 Writer Unboxed column. There are seven sections to the book: Prepare, Write, Invite, Improve, Rewrite, Persevere, and Release.  

I am excited! To have all of those excellent voices about craft in one place is a huge bonus. The soft-release date is November 1st. 

book recommendation

lisabodenheim@gmail.com

I have not taken a creative writing course or workshop for many years and am thoroughly enjoying Spellbinding Sentences even though I've only just started reading it.

Since I started writing fiction, there's been a huge learning curve. For the past 2-3 years, I satiated my curiosity about structuring story effectively. Not to say I've perfected this on my Work in Progress, but I've gained confidence in being a storyteller as far as characters and setting and conflict and tension. So now it's time to tackle my insecurity about my grasp of the English language.

Baig makes a distinction between content skill and craft skill. One focuses on our imagination, the storytelling itself while the other focuses on words.

Content and craft skills are the yin and the yang of writing: You have to have both.

She compares creative writing with the disciplines required of musical instruments and sports. There's a need to practice and there's a need to have a mentor or coach to help us break complex skills into smaller bits to become better skilled with each piece.

This book contains exercises, the first of which is free writing. Free writing feels very similar to journal writing except the focus is on the words themselves rather than the experiences or thoughts or feelings we may write in a journal. And I did skip ahead to Chapter 8, where she details the definitions of nouns and verbs. Maybe pointing out the obvious to skilled writers and I retained some memory of the basics. But I love the details of the four types of nouns and the four types of verbs. I'm in writerly geek heaven.