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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.

Private eye3

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.

 

How to Get the Most Out of Attending a Writers Conference

Before you do anything, take a few minutes to think about what you want to accomplish by attending a writers conference.

  • Do you want to learn more about the business of writing?
  • Are you wanting to become a better writer?
  • Is networking of interest?
  • Are you published and want to promote your work?
  • Do you just want to have some fun?

Any of these are legitimate reasons to think about attending a conference. But as you know if you have done any research, conferences are not cheap. You have your registration fees, travel and hotel expenses, meals, and who can go to a conference without buying some books? So to save yourself from signing up for the wrong conference, you will need to do some research.

Before you do that though, sit down and make some goals for what you want to get out of a conference. What are you looking for? Put it down on paper and be specific. When you get home afterwards what do you want to have achieved?

And then look for a conference that fits your needs. You might start your search online, get recommendations from friends, and if you belong to any national writer’s organizations – check those resources, also magazines like ‘Writer’s Digest’ or ‘Writer’ list information about upcoming workshops and conferences.

If this is your first conference would you feel more comfortable in a smaller more intimate setting or are you ready to jump into one of the mega conferences like RWA’s National or the mystery writer’s Bouchercon.

Just wanted to give you something to think about. I will post later this week about the next step in preparing for a writers conference.

Until then, what do you do specifically to prepare or do you just pack a bag and go? Hopefully I can give you some suggestions that will help make your next conference experience more memorable.

Happy writing,

Virginia

 

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Sometimes thinking up new ideas is like pulling teeth, very painful.

When that happens, I go back to the basics and start brainstorming.

I used to think that brainstorming was something you did before you started writing but the more I write, the more I understand that it is all brainstorming. The story doesn’t come to me full blown. I get a scene in my head and then I think about who might be the person in that scene. I then start developing that character and start making decisions on character goals. What does that character want? What would make that person want that goal and what is keeping that person from achieving it?

After I get a good feel for the character, I start looking at my plot points.

To put all the pieces together, I have to continue brainstorming. I brainstorm scenes to connect the plot points until I have enough for a story. Sometimes I brainstorm with friends but most of the time it is by myself.

Here are some ways to gather ideas:

1. Actual brainstorming: This is where you take a large piece of paper and interconnect circles on paper – start out with the character’s name in the center of the paper. Make other circles around with whatever subject you want to connect to the character like, family, love interest, career, fears. There are no real rules. Do what works for you. Use colored pencils or pens, draw pictures, have fun.

2. Write from prompts. I sometimes do this once I am already writing. I take a prompt and see how I could use it for my story. Again, ‘A Writer’s Book of Days’ is a great resource.

3. Use a book journal. Write down all of your thoughts about your novel. What do you want to have happen? What could happen next. Write down as many ideas as you can and choose the one that might surprise the reader most. Play the what if game.

4. Watch a movie or read a book. Maybe a character will trigger an idea you can use. As an example: Remember that movie -‘The Man Without a Face’ with Mel Gibson? I loved that movie but it didn’t go in the direction I wanted it to. I have always wanted to take that character and make a love story. Kind of a modern Beauty and the Beast.

5. Go for a walk, clean the house, or take a shower. Sometimes doing something mindless invites the creative part of your brain to throw out ideas. Just be ready to catch them.

6. Listen to music. Especially the radio in the car. I came up with the title to one article for my column from listening to the radio. It was back in the ’80’s and I wrote a ‘slice of life’ column in the local newspaper. The song was ‘Going Through the Big D and I don’t mean Dallas.’ My article was  – ‘Going Through the Big D and I Don’t Mean Dallas or Divorce’. I then went into a humorous anecdote about the other Big D – Driver’s license and what happened with my daughter and her test. That piece got the editor’s attention and me a column.

7. Just write. Words will beget more words until everything clicks and your story unfolds on the page. Set a timer.

Once you’ve got enough ideas to fill in the skeleton of your novel, start writing.

Where do you get your ideas? Do you ever get stuck and don’t know what to write next? What do you do?

Next week, I will share some information about writer’s conferences.

Hope your ideas flow like vanilla bean ice cream covered in bubbly hot fudge. 

Virginia

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Write a Novel

 

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Contests – Can They Help Even if You Don’t Win?

Our Iowa Romance Novelist’s group met today. I mentioned in an earlier post that our theme this year is Survivor. This is not exactly like the television show. No one will get kicked off the island but we are attempting to help each other achieve our goals by working as a team.

This month’s program was about contests. We each received the first five pages of a Golden Heart winner’s manuscript. She then gave us the instructions for judging it. There were different points allotted for romance, plot, writing, and character.

As a group, we were all over the board with our answers. It was all subjective. Some looked only at what they could see. Others judged off of where they could see the story going. We were not aware when we started that this was a winning entry. This exercise gave us a feel for how an agent or an editor might review a submission. We all agreed, they would probably make a decision within those first five pages.

Part of the challenge is that we have to submit something to a contest before the next meeting. If we do, we will have a chance to win our entry fee. I am now searching for something I can enter. Since my manuscript is not complete, I am limited to something that doesn’t involve submitting a large portion of my work.

I am now writing my first draft. Keep an eye on my word counter here on my blog and you will be able to see my progress. I am also saving vacation time this year in the hopes that with a completed manuscript I can start attending more writer’s conferences in 2014.

I do continue to read because like Stephen King, I don’t think you can be a serious writer and not read. I usually mix it up with novels and writing how to books.  I finished reading Beautiful Creatures and really enjoyed it. I read Mary Buckam’s Writing Active Setting Book 1 and I purchased Book 2. I think those will really help when I get into the editing stage for adding depth to the story. Because I have a 40 minute commute to work each day I listen to audio books. I finished Evanovich’s Notorious Nineteen and I am currently listening to a Robert B Parker’s Jesse Stone book.

I will let you know next time what contest I enter. Hope you have a great week writing. Now get off the internet and write.

Virginia

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2013 in Write a Novel

 

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Driving at Night

“Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way. – E.L. Doctorow

This is one of my favorite quotes about writing and it feels exactly like what I am doing now. I’ve set a goal for 1000 words a day, five days a week until I complete this manuscript. If this challenge gets easier, I will increase my daily word count.

The past few weeks I have developed a very long synopsis. I think it is six pages long, too long to give to an agent or an editor but that’s okay because I made it for me. I am using it as my outline. I have been developing scenes from it and have started writing.

As I mentioned in my last post, I brought back a couple of characters from an earlier project. Characters that I became very fond of. They have not failed me. I catch myself writing and things pop out of their mouths that I didn’t necessarily expect but again, it’s okay. They are helping me get words on the page.

My current project is a mystery and my protagonist is a sixty-something woman Frieda Kirkpatrick and her side-kick Agnes Hughes. They have been friends since childhood. Just because they are adults does not mean they can’t get into trouble. I am hoping to develop this into a series. I have shared these characters with my writing buddies over the years and have always got a good response.

My last project I started with them was a romantic comedy and it was set in Vegas. Frieda and Agnes like the slots. They had a friend there named Merci Fontaine who was a cross dresser show girl. She seemed so real to my readers, I had people tell me they saw her around town. I hope to have that response with all the characters in this novel. I haven’t given up on the first project with Merci but from the beginning it always felt like a sequel. I have been taking notes to make it a mystery instead of a romantic comedy and it will be my next project.

My desire to write has been huge. My biggest hurdle is coming home at night and having the energy to write. I’ve incorporated a few ideas to keep me motivated. During the day, I work in a cubicle. I decided to make my cubie a motivational collage. I posted motivational guides on the wall next to me. During the day, I glance at the wall and it helps make me want to go home and write. Here is what it looks like.

Motivational Wall

I hope you are meeting your writing goals. Do you have any tricks to keep yourself motivated? I would love to hear them.

Happy Writing,

Virginia

 

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2013 in Write a Novel

 

Stuck But Digging Out

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Again I apologize for the time between posts. I know it isn’t a real excuse but I have been taking classes since before Thanksgiving on the writing craft. I think I have hit a wall where I need to take all the information I absorbed and actually use it for my story.

Luckily I have a strong support group of writer friends who have been taking some of the classes with me. One of the organizations I belong to is Iowa Romance Novelists. It is our local chapter of Romance Writers of America and the source for some of my free classes.

Each year we try to put together programs to help our members at whatever level they are with their writing to move forward and succeed. We do have a handful of published authors including Sparkle Abbey who I have featured here before who write the Pamper Pet Mysteries and Kathy Bacus who writes the Calamity Jane series. This years Theme for IRN is Survivor. In January, our challenge was to write a synopsis. It didn’t have to be ready to submit but a work in progress. Our reward was chocolate. February we had to write down our goals for the year and our reward was a nifty Survivor bracelet.

DesperateHousedogsCover   168339333

All of this activity has prompted me to move forward and I am feeling pretty darn good about meeting my goals this year. My synopsis helped me to determine exactly what my story is about and I have been using that to plot it out with note cards. I am using Scrivener, not actual note cards. I continue this week to fill in the holes.

With all the changes in the publishing world, it could be easy to get discouraged. But instead of looking at the negatives, I’ve decided to look at the positives and embrace the changes. I look at it as more options for everyone.  It is always easier to go with the flow than try to swim upstream against the current. Disliking the direction things are going in will not stop change from happening but it could affect your mood and your writing.

I found myself trying to force a story and I kept getting stuck. No matter how much I wanted it to work, it wouldn’t so I asked myself what would make me excited about this story?. That question led me to bring back a couple characters I worked with on another project and always felt they should be part of a series.  Picture two old ladies wearing polyester slacks and matching sweatshirts with a slot machine embroidered on the front. Those characters are Agnes Hughes and Frieda Kirkpatrick. Both over 65 years old, friends since childhood, like to play slots and bingo and are always getting into trouble. I could have fun spending time with these two. I merged them into the story I have been struggling with and now I have something I can’t wait to write.

 

Our challenge for March is entering a contest. I plan to enter the Montezuma short story contest again this year. Hoping that will count. The reward is a drawing for a paid entry fee.

What have you been doing to keep yourself moving forward? Do you have a support system of other writers? Do you take classes to sharpen your skills? Do you attend writers conferences and support local authors when they come to speak?

My mantra this year is “I will survive.”  Will you?

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2013 in Write a Novel

 

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