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Category Archives: Developing a Story

Creating Characters

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I have been working on a new project for a while. Not getting as far as I had hoped. It takes me forever to get into my story. This project, I have been working on the plot and characters at the same time. Most of my stories start with an idea and then I try to find characters who might fit the situation.  I am neither a plotter or a pantzer, I am somewhere in between. (A pantzer is someone who doesn’t plan their novel, they sit down in front of a computer and write.) I am not a pantzer because I get too distracted with too many choices. I try to make as many choices about the story up front.

I chose this photo because it describes how I feel about my characters at this point. You can see the face but it is still part of the background. I need to pull them out of the background to make them living, breathing characters; well as living and breathing as you can in a novel.

I have been filling out forms and answering questions about my characters and they are beginning to feel more real. I write a little and build my characters a little at a time.  On the other hand, while I develop characters, I also start developing the plot. Once I know my characters better and I know what they want and need and their motivation, then my story starts unfolding.

Some of my friends say that their characters talk to them. I really wish it was that easy. When they say their characters won’t leave them alone and keep them awake at night,  I so want to tell them that there are drugs for that, but I don’t.

I am aware that I make my characters speak and they will not say or do anything that I don’t want them to say or do. There is a point though part way through the book where I write a scene and it feels wrong. Something isn’t right. Most of the time when that happens it is because I tried to force my character to do something to fit the plot. I hate when that happens. Usually in the books I read it happens at the end. It feels like the author got tired of the story or they had to have a certain word count and instead of editing the third act, they stick in a – the end- too soon. But that’s a later blog post about revision.

I still struggle to find my method of writing. Each project is a little different. I’ve never found  ‘the formula’. Maybe that is why I love to hear other writer’s talk about their process. Do you have a certain process you follow with each book? Would you like to share your process here? If you are a published author, would you like an interview on my blog where you could tell us about your latest book and a little bit about your writing process? If so, comment to let me know.

Though I read daily, I haven’t completed anything since our last post. So many books, so little time. I always have a few books that I have read a little but not completed. I usually go back to the one that pulls me back and the others wait until I am done.  I do read to improve my own writing. Some of my writer friends say they no longer enjoy reading because they read as a writer. I am not there yet. I still enjoy escaping into a good book.

How is your writing going? Do you have questions about the process or trying to work through something with your current project? Feel free to comment and if I don’t know the answer, I am pretty sure I know someone who does.

I mentioned last time about a bullet journal. My next post will be about getting organized and I will share the planner that I am using.

Hope you have a great week writing and reading.

Virginia

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Writing, Reading, and Work

writer writing

Post Killer Nashville Conference: I left the conference bursting with writing motivation. Couldn’t wait to get started with my new project and then life slams a pie in my face. We had 5 hours of overtime last week. We have 10 hours of overtime this week. I work four ten hour days to have a three day weekend every week. I do this to allow me time to write. Today it didn’t happen.

Since I can work from home sometimes, I decided it was bad enough I had to work on my day off and there was no way I was going into the office to do it, so I got up at 5:30 and was sitting in front of the computer at 6:15 in my pajamas. I thought I would work until 12:15 and then only have to work one extra hour a day to finish my overtime before the weekend. Then I got to thinking that next weekend is a holiday weekend and I really didn’t want to work late on Friday, so I decided to work an extra hour. Well per company guidelines, if you work longer than 6 hours, you have to take a lunch. I ran down to the kitchen to see what I could fix fast. Looked like I was down to peanut butter and jelly but the bread was a little iffy, even if I toasted it. So I ran back upstairs, pulled off my pajama bottoms, put on the shorts I’d worn the day before, a bra, and my pajama top – no need to put on clean clothes to run to the fast food drive through and besides I couldn’t fit in a shower and lunch too. Ran a brush through my hair and took off for the drive thru. Hurried home, ate my lunch at my desk while I continued working.

But then, I got stuck on a piece of work that took me 15 minutes into the next hour. I figured I might as well work another hour and then only have 2 hours left to finish before Friday. So my plan to be done by 12:15 PM stretched out to 2:45 PM. When I was done working for the day I hurried up and showered and dressed. This is why I could not work from home every day. I felt like a sloth.

I really wanted to start either working on my new project or edit a little of my manuscript I finished before my trip to Nashville but I couldn’t with a good conscience sit down to write until I made a trip to the grocery store. I then remembered that I would be working late a couple nights this week and for my husband’s sake decided to make him a nice dinner tonight because who knew what the rest of the week would hold. 11 hour days do sometimes wear me out.  I hurried to the store, came home, stuck a ham in the oven, and then turned on Netflix. I know, I could have sat down and started working on my book but I really needed a little break.

By the time I finished watching my show, it was time to finish fixing dinner. We ate and then I did the dishes and then I remembered I wanted to get my weekly blog post out so here I am. It is now going on 9:00 PM and I have no energy left to write. But I will. Since I only have two eleven hour days and two ten hour days this week, I am sure I will get something done. If not, I have saved my weekend. Since it is a holiday weekend, I am fairly sure I will have all three days free, rarely does the company allow us to work overtime on a holiday because it is time and a half. My only fear is that we will have ten hours of overtime again next week and I will then lose one of the following weekend days to overtime but I won’t know until Thursday. I will think positive thoughts that somehow the overtime will vanish and I can reclaim my days off.

In the meantime, I have been developing my new project a little. Writing notes down about the characters and plot ideas. Here are the things I know. I want to develop a mystery series. I want my protagonist to be a female private eye. I haven’t decided on her name yet but here is the background so far. Her mother died when she was a child. Her father raised her alone. He was a cop, so she followed in his footsteps. He died while on duty and she questions his death. She questioned the wrong person and lost her job so now she is a private investigator. This idea didn’t come from a headline in the paper or a television story, it was just an idea that I’ve been mulling around for a while.

My first story will be about a missing teenage girl. There will be a continuing thread about her investigating her father’s death. I plan to use the title – Finding Faith. The missing teen is named Faith and I hope to use it for both her name and my protagonist finding faith in herself, somehow. It is a working title. Publishers don’t often use the working title but for now, I like it.

Here is one of my research books I will be using, one of many. Robert Randisi edited this book and I think he also founded The Private Eye Writers of America. I sat with him and his wife at the Saturday night awards dinner at Killer Nashville. He is a very prolific writer. He has written a book a month since the 1980’s. To be honest, he looked really tired that night. Even if I could, I don’t think I would want to push myself that hard but if it’s working for him, I can’t knock it.

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And here is what I am currently reading. Some how I do find time to read. I think it’s essential to any writer to read. While work and everyday life seem to suck the energy from me, reading helps motivate me and Julia Keller is one of my favorites. I think this is her fourth. It is set in West Virginia, her protagonist is a prosecutor who isn’t trying to convict someone, she’s trying to convict the right someone so she conducts her own investigations while going to trial. I don’t know that much about the law and whether every thing is correct but I do know her books are a pleasure to read.

Last RAgged Breath

If you write, how do you begin a project? Do you start with the plot or the characters? Feel free to share your methods. I am truly interested in the craft of writing. I think it is amazing that someone can come up with a story out of no where and everyone seems to have their own system.  I think it can take a writer a long time to find what works. I also think it changes. Each project is a little different and what worked for one book may not work for the next.

Well it’s bedtime and tomorrow I have to do it all over again.

Until next time, keep writing and reading.

 

Writing with a Few of My Friends

Winter snow 2015

“Molly the pit bull used to sit in the chair just behind me while I worked at my desk. She never commented on the writing, but since she loved everything I did, her presence did give me a sense of (unearned) security about it.” Billy Mernit

As you can see from my photo looking out my office, I am spending the day inside. It has been snowing since yesterday evening. Last I heard we were supposed to get 10 inches. I think we’ve passed that prediction. I have been having a very enjoyable day at home, catching up with laundry, reading, and writing.

I belong to a closed on-line community – The Perley Station Writer’s Colony. I have only actually met the one person who started this group. The rest I have come to know, a wee bit, online. We are there to share ideas and motivation and several times a year we do something that we call Writer’s Camp. We started the first one for this year today. It runs for the entire month. We set our own personal goals. They can be whatever we feel we need. We don’t judge, we just support. I am getting back into the habit of writing and it feels good. When I am not writing, I feel off. Unless you write, you probably wouldn’t understand. But I feel like I am again in a good place and writing is an important part of my life.

I easily write short stuff, stories, articles, columns but when it comes to a large project, I get overwhelmed and abandon them. This is the year that I plan to stop that bad habit. This year I want to complete at least one project but would like to complete more. That will entail more frequent writing so my goal this month is to write every day. I am using a book – 90 Days to your Novel. It has a daily chapter of advice and exercises. It starts out with 28 days of questions to answer regarding your story. You do it by free-writing for five minutes with each question. He suggests you write for two hours a day by doing the daily assignment as well as additional questions that can be found at the back of the book. I am committing to doing the daily assignments. That takes me at least an hour. I do feel that the questions are helping me with the story. They guide me so that I dig into what the story and characters are really about. On day 29 I will actually start outlining.

I have tried Nanowrimo over the years and have completed a 50,000 word projects but when I got done with it I always felt like it was just 50,000 words – never something that could ever be a story.. I am willing to take longer to develop a story that really has some feet on it. And I think by starting out this month writing every day will help me to develop that habit.

The writer’s in this group are at all levels. Some are published, some are not. Even though we haven’t met, they feel like friends. So like the quote above, they give me a sense of security. We don’t judge but we are there for each other to answer questions and to cheer each other on. I do have the feeling they could be like a pit bull from the quote above, grasping and never letting go until you do reach your goals. I am so grateful that Theresa invited me to be a part of this group. I feel as though I belong and that is a good thing. So this month, I will continue to press ahead and even when February is done, I will keep moving forward one day at a time until I get to the end of those 90 days. When I reach that goal with a completed project, I know my writer friends will be there to help me celebrate.

What else have I been up to?

Well did I say I’d been reading? I finished a friend’s book this week. “Yip/Tuck”. A cozy mystery by my friends Sparkle Abbey. I have known them for many years. We belong to a couple local writer’s groups and I am very proud of their success. In the last few years they’ve published through Belle Bridge Books six novels and they have a contract for two more. I would love to have something like that to show for my effort. Because I’ve watched their success, I know it’s possible, so I keep writing…

Do you have something you do to keep moving forward with your writing projects? Do you have someone to support you and make you feel like it’s all worthwhile? I feel like this is my year to shine. I know it will take a lot of work and I feel like I’m ready. Is this your year? How are you going to make it happen?

Until next time,

Virginia

 

 

 

 

Time to Get to Know the Bad Guy

I would like to say I got more done with my story this week but it wouldn’t be honest. I am still working out the kinks of my characters. Protagonist is shaping up well but I think that is because the idea started out with her. I have a skeletal plot and know that because this is a mystery there has to be at least one murder but I don’t have a good grasp of my villain.

This weekend, I am working on the villain. I have ideas for how the victims will die but I need to know the killer a little better. Who he/she is and why he/she would want to kill a bunch of little old ladies. So to work on this, I pulled out another reference book
to help, ‘Bullies, Bastards and Bitchesby Jessica Morrell.

I think the hardest part about the villain is that you have to be able to create someone the reader will fear and hate but they still have to have some quality that  is unexpected and makes them if not likeable, at least human.  Just as the good guy has
to have some flaw, there has to be something good about the bad guy. If the protagonist is perfect and the antagonist is totally evil, the reader knows exactly what to expect, there are no surprises, and the story becomes predictable. So that is my assignment for this weekend.

Today is also the first day of my vacation and I do plan to put in many hours of writing.  I also need to have a little fun, as well. A cookout this evening with family and I’m meeting with my critique group tomorrow about 45 minutes away. None of our group lives in the same town. Because we are scattered within the central part of the state, we picked a city in the middle and try to meet there twice a month. We usually do lunch and then head to a local bookstore for a nice chat and critique, depending on what each member needs.

As far as reading this week, I am working on ‘Witches on the Road Tonight’, by Sheri Holman. It is for pleasure but also for a little research on how this author writes about witches in the Appalachia’s. I am about half way through and it is an enjoyable read. I
will plan to review it later.

Hope you too have a great week – reading and or writing.

Virginia

 

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Write A Novel with Me – Innocent Suspects Update

Write a Novel with Me – Update

 I am posting so that you know I am still here.  I have been struggling with balancing work and writing, again.  I have to confess that I have also been struggling with this step – developing the innocent suspects. 

 I have decided that maybe I chose my villain a little prematurely.  And because, though I want to share the experience of writing this novel, I may not want to share all of the details because when this master of the mystery genre is completed, I want all of my followers to run to the bookstore and buy it.

 I am still in the middle of this step but I do want to share what I have been doing.  I have also been reading a few how to write books, like Phyllis A. Whitney’s ‘Guide to Fiction Writing’ as well as ‘Bang the Keys’ by Jill Dearman.  One thing I have decided to do is use a book journal.  I am writing down all of my ideas as I go so that I don’t lose them.  That was an idea I picked up from ‘Guide to Fiction’.  I don’t normally journal but I rather liked this idea.

 As far as the innocent suspects, my character Ben, the English professor is now one of those suspects instead of my villain.  I think I’ve come up with a much more interesting villain.  Someone the reader can really fear.  I’ve also discovered that for me to continue developing characters, I had to develop more of my story and that is what has been taking me so long.  It feels like a puzzle that is missing a few pieces and it is driving me crazy.  So I had to step back for a day or two to let it all settle.  While I wasn’t obsessing about it, an exceptional idea came to me.

 Because this is a mystery, that part I can’t share but I can share the process I used to come up with it. I needed a villain who had a grudge against my protagonist, so I devised different scenarios.  Maybe the protagonist was involved with a group of friends who accidentally killed someone after drinking, maybe when the protagonist was a teenager, she was babysitting a child who was kidnapped and later murdered, or at least a bloody garment was found indicating a murder.  Maybe the protagonist was kidnapped along with another child, she escaped but the other child was murdered.  Those are a few ideas that I came up with while I played the what if game.

 Feel free to share some of your ideas with me but don’t tell me what you actually chose to use for your story because I want to be surprised when I read your published story too.

 I plan to post again, this weekend after I have more thoroughly developed the other innocent suspects.  Just know that one of those suspects is the real murderer. 

 I do look forward to hearing from you.  Let me know what is working for you and maybe what isn’t, maybe I can make some suggestions to help you. 

 In the meantime, keep writing.

 Virginia

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2009 in Developing a Story, Write a Novel

 

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Write a Novel Step 5 Victims and Villain

Since my last post, I have been trying to decide who my villain was so that I could develop him/her.  It has been difficult because I had no clue as to his/her identity.  All I knew was what I wanted my villain to do. So in the process I lost a victim and gained a villain.  In my last post, I had a professor who I intended to be my second victim.  He had so many traits that I liked, I couldn’t just kill him off, and so he has become my villain.  I guess I wanted to spend more time with him.

 

In this whole process, I have also decided to change his last name.  After working with him, he felt more like a Schroeder than a Hollingsworth.  I also changed the one victim’s name from Morton to Chambers.  Don’t know why, just felt compelled to change them.

 

I had originally cast the victim – Bradley as someone who was in advertising.  He is now a lawyer.

 

The villain is Ben Schroeder, an English teacher at a community college who likes to cross-dress.  He is 38 years old, 5’10” and weighs a slight 160.  He appears effeminate which helps because it enables him to appear as a woman better.  He is an only-child who witnessed his mother and aunt as they killed his father.  Their story was that he left them when Ben was very young. Ben was so young that he isn’t sure about what he saw.  He thinks of it as a bad dream.  His mother and aunt instilled in him that women were better than men and that is why he feels need to dress like a woman, even though it is secretly. His biggest fear is that the college will find out his secret and he could lose his job.  He is jealous of authors who have succeeded where he has failed.  He knows Rachel from when she was in college. He saw her talent and envied her abilities.  He tried to become close to her but she wasn’t interested. He still holds a grudge against her for that and now that she has become a published author and he has failed, his jealousy is even fiercer.

Bradley, who is Rachel’s fiancé is a cheater, always has been, always will be.  Ben has been following Rachel’s career ever since she shunned him while she was in college.  Haven’t worked out all of the details as to his rage but he is so jealous of Rachel, he not only wants her career, he wants her life.  He finds out about her engagement and decides to meet her fiancé.  One night while out drinking, he meets Ben in his female persona and picks him up. Bradley passes out before anything goes too far. In Ben’s sick twisted mind, he decides that if he can’t have Bradley, than Rachel can’t either and he plans to kill him and starts his path to destroy Rachel.

 

I have definitely developed more of my story while creating my characters. 

Nothing is set in stone at this time, so don’t be surprised if things change along the way.

Over the next few days, I will be developing more of my characters, specifically the innocent suspects. 

 

I am enjoying the experience, so far.  Though it is fun, it is work.  Hopefully I can keep piecing the puzzle together in a logical and entertaining way. 

 

How is your story going?  Are you creating well-rounded characters or do they feel flat?  If so, I would suggest getting deeper into their goals and motivations.

 

Until next time,

 

Virginia

 
 

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Want to Write A Novel – Secondary Characters

If you have been following my blog, you know that the past few days, I’ve been working on secondary characters, specifically victims, because I am writing a mystery.

 The how-to book I am using, suggested that my story have three crimes with three victims, haven’t quite got there yet.  I have two crimes and two victims.

 The first victim came to me when I started developing my original idea.  That victim is my protagonist’s, (sleuth’s) fiancé Brad.  Because these characters don’t have a huge part in the story, I’m not spending as much time developing them that I will on the protagonist (sleuth), antagonist (villain) and some other secondary characters that support the story with possible sub-plots.

 Bradley Morton is 45 years old, 6’ tall, dark hair with distinguished gray temples; he is smart but somewhat smarmy. The protagonist’s friends have thought this every since they first met him.  He cheats on Rachel.  The villain will use him as a pawn to get back at Rachel. Since it will help the story if the victims have secrets, his secrets are that he cheats and gambles and Rachel doesn’t know about it. 

 The second crime is the murder of one of Rachel’s college professors.  He is Benjamin Hollingsworth.  He is 46 years old. (For some reason my protagonist is attracted to older men.) Benjamin is 5’10” tall slender with an almost feminine structure and features.  He likes to dress as a woman and that is his main secret.  He also flirts with the coeds, not necessarily, because he is interested in them but because he likes to check out their beauty secrets.

 Some of his other secrets that may come into the story, or may not are: He resents students who have succeeded where he failed with his writing.  He drinks a lot. He does have a completed manuscript that has made the rounds to lots of publishers.

 As for the crimes themselves, they will both be murders that happen in the bedroom.  The first is Bradley, the fiancé and as I explained before, he will die while with another woman but Rachel will make it look like she was the person he was with, at the time.  It saves her pride until the police discover that he was poisoned.

 Ben’s death will be similar.  Rachel will have had some contact with Ben after Bradley’s death.  He will die while with someone else, but what connects the crime to Rachel is that, that someone will plant a personal item of Rachel’s at the scene.

 I may need to create another crime but for now, I think I will leave it with these two and go on.

 I hope you are having as much fun developing your story and characters as I am.  If you want to give me suggestions or any comments about what we are doing, please do so.  I hope you will continue following my adventure and I really hope you are writing along with me. 

I will be developing a separate page on my blog with the each step we take while writing this novel.  If you are joining me now and want to catch up, that is where you should go.

 Our next step is creating the antagonist (villain). 

 Until next time,

 Virginia

 

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