Tag Archives: writing prep

What’s Up Wednesday – March 18

It’s been far too long since I’ve done one of these! Now that I’m back on the horse, so to speak, and have pulled my blogging pants back on, I figure now’s a good a time as any to jump back onto the WUW train. So–hello!

WHAT I’M READING

Over the past year, I’ve been reading more than I ever have, and it’s been absolutely fantastic. Since April last year, I’ve read almost 100 books in a wide variety of genres, and it’s so great, if super time consuming. But I figure if I’m going to spend a couple hours a day poking at my crocheting or otherwise wishing I was doing something else, reading and listening to books is a great option.

Currently, I have a few books on my plate. I always end up reading more than one thing at a time, so this is nothing new. On my library Overdrive App, I’m in the middle of ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie, and I might actually break through and finish Veronica Roth’s ALLEGIANT–less than half the book left! I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get through the entire book, but gah, it has. A couple months, not including the time in between check-outs when I’ve had to wait through all the other holds again and again. And I’ve already been spoiled on (as far as I know) the biggest thing in the book, so that doesn’t help matters. I also have TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE (Jenny Han), STRANGER (Rachel Manija Brown), and THE BITTER KINGDOM (Rae Carson) loaded up and ready to go. And then we get to the physical books I have–I recently got A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC (V.E. Schwab, aka Victoria Schwab) and GOING POSTAL (Terry Pratchett–my first of his, though I wish I’d read it before :( ). So, yes. Lots to read, and I’ll likely be repeating myself with most of these books next week.

WHAT I’M WRITING

I’m currently in the middle of a week-long light revision pow wow for draft 4.5 of WELL. (I call it 4.5 now, but just watch it be called draft 5 in the future for ease of reference and also because saying I have 5 drafts instead of 4.5 will make me feel better about myself.) Hoping to wrap this up by Sunday, and then I’ll be diving into planning for Camp NaNoWriMo in April! Yayyyyyyyyy!!!

WHAT WORKS FOR ME

My blog post from a couple days ago details a lot of what’s working for me lately, but here’s the short version: Writing prompts, and using them to exercise my creative muscles. It’s worked wonders! Lately I’ve also been exposing myself to more critique and participating more in the writing community, namely on /r/YAwriters on Reddit, Twitter, and the SCBWI Blueboards. That’s been fun, too!

WHAT ELSE IS NEW

Not much. I started the Couch to 5k running program, and it’s been a strange experience to actually look forward to exercising. Of course, I’m only in the second week–so it could just be that I’m being tricked into the whole thing with easy workouts. ;)

I hope you all have been well! If you want to comment, I would love if you could post a writing prompt for me or others to work with in the future–it’s always fun to have something new come to the table! Maybe I’ll add a new tab to this site featuring some weekly writing prompts to share :)

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Exercise

Last week, I started Couch to 5k. For the first time in a long time, I could tell people that I went running three whole times in one week. Three whole times, for a total of six whole miles. (Well, I walked for a good chunk of them. That’s just how Couch to 5k works.)

It’s a start. The first week of any program is the easiest, but it’s a start. When I did cross country in my senior year of high school six years ago–the only sport I ever did, where I was actually literally the slowest person on the team, if not on all the teams in the entire district–my coach set a goal for me to be able to run 5k in under 30 minutes. Psh, I thought. That’s ten-minute miles! I can do that!

I still can’t.

So I paid for an app with a program I can follow, because on those days I know I’ll want to stop, I’ll think, But… those $2! You could have bought an avocado and didn’t! (Honestly, I probably did buy that avocado.) And so far, even though it’s been a week, and even though I know it’ll get much harder from here, it’s been worth it.

Last week, I also started making myself do daily writing prompts.

For those of you who aren’t my CP or who don’t frequent the various places on the internet where I’ve been posting  lately (*waves at /r/YAwriters, the SCBWI Blueboards, and Twitter*), I’ve spent the last few weeks/months revising the fourth draft of my current huge project, WELL. Now, WELL is my baby. I love, love, love working on WELL and figuring out its problems. I love the characters. I love the world. But… I’m also gearing up to do Camp NaNoWriMo this April. And don’t tell WELL, but… I’m writing something totally new.

I haven’t written a new fantasy world in a couple years. I’ve tried, believe me, but honestly, I didn’t try very hard. I created a world of all-female witches that collapsed after a chapter and a half. I created another world that I’m not going to talk about because I want to go back to it someday. No matter what world I made, or how much I tried to build, I always came back to WELL, and WISPY (same world), and those friends in the good old town of Nowhere.

So when it came to creating a new world, I was kind of lost. I like my fantasy to feel natural; when I write my own work, I can’t bring myself to believe in the colored magic bursting out of  fingers, or the telekinetic powers of an exclusive group of people. It’s why my witch story didn’t pan out. When fantasy is organic, it flows. It’s the magic that comes from fairies that could be hiding in the tree in your yard, or the owl that screams when you talk to the crows too much. It’s Peter’s shadow, who never shows the wrinkles on its physical form, who stays a silhouette so that somehow, some way, even if Peter did grow up, you’d never know it from looking at his shadow’s face. The fantasy that flows–for me–is the fantasy that’s real. With this approach, you might be able to understand why it has been so difficult for me to come up with something for Camp NaNo. How do you come up with a whole magic system that still feels real? But I needed to figure it out. I needed to step out of my comfort zone, out of Nowhere, and into a new set of rules. Most of all, I needed to write.

The idea built slowly. First, I wanted to simply listen to a fantasy audiobook with a notebook in hand, close my eyes, and jot down notes for whatever came to me. Thinking about the idea, though, I realized it didn’t make sense. What kind of world would I make for myself if I was listening to someone else’s? Next, I did the same thing, but without the fantasy audiobook. I sat in bed for fifteen minutes with a blank page in front of me trying to make sense of the ideas I had bouncing around in my head. Nothing went on the paper. (Admittedly, if I’d waited longer, something might have ended up on the page. I prefer efficiency.)

Then, I thought, I should just do a random fantasy writing prompt off Google. I did the search and came away with this prompting first line: “I will make trophies of your spines.”

This was the best thing I’ve done for my creative mind in many, many years.

The greatest thing about writing prompts is that there are no rules. Writing prompts are unrelated to anything else you do, so you have free reign to do anything. You can write a genre you’ve never written before just to see how bad you are at it. You can try to write in the style of your least favorite author, only to be surprised at how much you actually liked what you wrote. You can make your characters–even ones you’ve already created in other work–say or do anything and not have it technically count in your actual WIPs. And when you can do that, you can figure out what’s natural. Even more important, you can figure out what is decidedly not.

That first writing prompt ended up being three short paragraphs about a girl practicing her most villainous line–complete with a cape–only to be laughed into shame by a rival villain-in-training. Since then, I’ve branched out anywhere and everywhere–in one instance, I even revisited my fanfiction days and resurrected my favorite Harry Potter pairing of my own invention: Scorpio Malfoy and Lily Luna Potter, the only Potter kid sorted into Slytherin. True. Love.

In other prompts, I found voices for my Camp NaNo story. I found my new world. What I wrote the night I drafted this post might be my favorite thing I’ve written in months and months and months.

So if you’ve found yourself in a creative slump–and even if you haven’t–I encourage you to try this out. Exercise those creative muscles and get moving (see how I brought around that whole Couch to 5k thing?). Dedicate a notebook or a Word document solely to writing prompts. (I use a moleskine-like notebook so I can guilt myself into wanting to fill it up.) Grab any old random writing prompt and write something, if only for a paragraph. If the writing prompt is too boring, make your story liven it up. If the writing prompt takes itself too seriously, have a character laugh at it. Either way, write. Write like it doesn’t even matter–because it doesn’t, not really. Most of the words you scribble out for these prompts won’t even make it into an actual story. Whatever. It’s all yours. It’s all a product of your creativity. THAT is what matters.

Run like the wind? Well, you can try. But you know what you can do with wind?

Write it. Go.

Freckles

It’s a Tuesday in March, and I haven’t blogged for a while.

I have an idea for a new story that’s been knocking around in my brain for the past couple weeks. Another YA Fantasy, because that’s what I write, and that’s what I love [the most]. It needs more time to percolate, but I really like what I have so far, which is saying a lot considering I’ve been stuck in my Neverland-like world of my other YA Fantasy for a couple years now. I’m not saying my other world has gotten boring–far from it. I love it so much. But I want to write something new. I want to discover something new. I want to go beyond what I already know.

So here’s the new worlds with new beginnings. Here’s to finding new characters and giving them voices. Here’s to setting coming alive and cats’ claws leaving freckles on your shoulders. Here’s to writing stories that will let people know they’re not alone.

Oh, and here’s to revisions, too. I still have to work on those.

Ghost Heart Outlining

Before you get any farther, read THIS. Seriously, read it and be amazed at science and also because otherwise, unless you have previous experience with ghost hearts, what I’m saying will make less sense. It might still make sense, but depending on how successfully I convey what I mean… well…

How about we move on. After you check out the whole ghost heart phenomenon.

As I mentioned in my WUW post a few days ago, my method of outlining isn’t chapter-by-chapter, at least not before I actually start the book. I have to outline my stories completely, from beginning to end, but not on a deep level. In fact, outlining each chapter paralyzes me. It puts me under too much pressure when I barely know what’s happening in the first place. It’s like dropping me on a map and telling me to go when I don’t even know what my final destination is supposed to be. (I am not a fan of driving without directions.)

I, for one, would rather not resort to going in circles before making an informed decision. It’s just not how I roll. Drive. Travel. Whatever.

Instead, I build a ghost heart.

My method could be likened to the snowflake method, but with a lot less pressure to know exactly what’s going to happen. That is, it starts small and builds up and up until I have a one-page synopsis that I pieced together from my previous steps. The benefit for me is that I have a one-page synopsis when I’ve finished (albeit a bad one), and I also have a much better idea of my plot and my characters.

One of the things I find absolutely paralyzing about the beginning of the snowflake method is how much the method demands from the beginning. It’s hard enough to come up with an elevator pitch–that is, one to two sentences detailing your plot, ideal for snagging people’s attention on short notice–after you’ve already written the book. To do so before I’ve even started, before I’ve truly discovered my characters and plot, has never been something that I can accomplish in a way that I find satisfactory. The best way I’ve found to combat this is to *not* put the condense-your-whole-book-in-twenty-words pressure on myself. Instead, I figure out everything about the story instead of the entire story by itself.

My first step is 99% mental, 1% maybe writing things down if I don’t want to forget them. Here, I let myself percolate on plot points I think I know, letting them simmer until I have enough to tease out into an actual story.

Next, I figure out what I’m writing on the more technical level–Do I have a title? What’s my genre? What are my themes? How long might this be? (I usually have a pretty good gauge on how long my first drafts are going to be, so it’s useful for me to think about this because it tells me if I have a viable novel-length story with which to work.)

Then, I move into the specifics that I know. Who’s my protagonist? Antagonist? Secondary characters? Tertiary characters? And then I figure out what kind of people these characters are. What are their motivations? Why should the protagonist have the book told from his/her POV? The antagonist has to have a better reason for being MUAHAHAEVILLL than being mad. So what’s his/her deal? And who are all these other names, and why are they indispensable? Would they have a tendency to slow down the MC, or are they good catalysts to get the MC moving? (Both types are useful and necessary.) Are there too many pushers? Are there too many pullers?

After that, I figure out setting. For the book I’ve been working on outlining, I put a very vague description here and skipped it for a while, filling it in as I figured out more of the plot. Since the story I was outlining is set in a world I’ve worked with before, I didn’t need to put a ton here; however, for books in a totally new world, I’d put a paragraph or two about the magic system, what kind of people live in the world, any aspects of politics that I know, and other elements that tell me what my characters will be dealing with in the environment.

Then it gets fun. (Also more difficult.) Because now I’m at what I call the bare bones. On the surface level, it’s pretty simple because I only have to identify five aspects of my plot: The introduction, Disaster 1, Disaster 2, Disaster 3, and the Denouement. They’re all the parts that move the book from exposition, to Act 2, to Act 3, and to the end. If you’re not mentally in tune with your plot, this part can be really difficult. However, figuring out these plot elements at this point is important to me because it gives me scenes to move toward and away from. Whatever those disasters are, they have to be BIG; otherwise the book lacks a good balance of tension (not the case for every book, of course, but generally). So the only pressure I have is figuring out those BIG parts–which is easier to do than piecing together the lulls, because the disasters are often what gets me excited to write a story in the first place.

Once I get the bare bones, I tease out more of the story with the Save the Cat “beat sheet” by Blake Snyder, recommended to me by my lovely CP, Marika. You’ll be able to find plenty on the beat sheet if you do a quick Google search, but it’s basically a fill in the blank with these criteria:

  • Opening image (The first thing readers see, whether that be emotionally or visually)
  • Theme stated (What’s the theme?)
  • Setup (Backstory–but not too much!)
  • Catalyst (What changes things?)
  • Debate (Character faces a conflict and makes a choice)
  • Break into Act 2 (After the choice is made, there’s a big change)
  • B Story (Subplot)
  • Fun & games (“The promise of the premise,” the fun stuff)
  • Midpoint (Could be a false high or low; stakes are raised; things are not as they seem; the fun is over)
  • Bad guys close in (things getting worse)
  • All is lost (The opposite of the midpoint, but it is another apex, and motivates a change in direction)
  • Black moment (self explanatory)
  • Finale (The climax)
  • Final image (the opposite of the opening image)

Once I have all those pieces, I have all the parts of a synopsis. From there, it just comes down to putting together the different parts in a cohesive way, and I have an outline and synopsis.

And then I’m ready to start drafting.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I made you look at that ghost heart at the beginning. Well, it’s pretty simple, really–while I’m outlining, I’m putting together all of these pieces, all of the parts that get to the heart of the story. With my outline, I’ve constructed the ghost heart of my story. I have the structure, and everything is present to make the story work–all the veins, the motivations, the chambers. I have everything.

Except the blood. The life. Those comes with the actual drafting, and then my heart will be red and pumping.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you used a beat sheet while outlining or during revision? Let me know, and tell me how you liked it!

Be sure to check back on Wednesday for my WUW post–I’ll be talking about LEGEND by Marie Lu!

The Magic of Post-Its

I’ve discovered in the past couple years that I am an outliner. And though I’d like to outline by hand–because writing longhand gives my brain more time to think about the words I’m putting down–I find doing so extremely difficult. This is because, as an outliner and as a writer, I always put down less on paper than I want to, only to add more later. (This is why Revision Mode on Scrivener/Track Changes on Word are the BEST INVENTIONS KNOWN TO MAN.) But I always want to write by hand.

So. My solution?

Post-Its. Also known as Lifesavers. Not the candy.

With Post-Its, I can put the very, very bare outlines of my plot into my notebook, leaving a page of space or so in between each parts, which I usually divide into the standard three acts of storytelling. Then, the Post-Its go to work, and I can add or take them out easily without messy lines crossing out words and words on the lovely pages of my notebook*, and without running out of space in between plot points that need a little more UMPH to them.

Now, you might be saying, “Hey, Kristine. That sounds great. One problem, though… Post-Its are totally temporary. They fall off when you sneeze too hard. Or when you breathe.”

To which I say: Super Sticky*. Lifesavers. Still not the candy.

You can even use different colored Post-Its to indicate different things that you want to plop into your story. Looking through my notebook, I notice that all my “Plot” notes are on green normal-sized Post-Its, while dialogue I want to try and fit in goes on pink. Any questions I have for myself go on yellow, and any extra notes that I think of for any of my notes goes on the mini stickies. Everything’s hunky dory.

So that’s my Post-It schpeal. How do you use sticky notes?

*One of the reasons I find it very difficult to keep up a journal, mostly because I hate when I mess up my handwriting and have to cross things out. And I don’t want to type one. And I don’t want to use white out.

Sometimes I am much too stubborn.

**I swear I’m not getting paid for all of this. Post-Its are just wonderful for my sanity. I have a drawer filled with Post-Its of various colors, and some even with lines. I’m not kidding.