Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stuck in Your Story? Try Roadmapping!

In case you missed it, check out my guest post at Fiction University--Marketing Strategy: The Next Book.

Friends, today we have a guest post by author and editor, Laurisa White Reyes. She's here to share tips about roadmapping. Take it away, Laurisa!

By Laurisa White Reyes
A friend of mine has been working on his novel for years but has yet to complete it. “I just get bogged down,” he told me recently. “I don’t know where the story is going.”
Does this sound familiar?
Too many potential writers have partial manuscripts lying around, and I say potential because an unfinished manuscript is nothing more than a good idea—and unless you’re Nora Roberts or Tom Clancy, all a good idea is good for is collecting dust. It will never sell. 
We all have good ideas. The question is how to turn that brilliant concept for the next bestselling novel into a complete manuscript?
Some writers manage to get their novels down by writing as they go, a process called pantsing (referring to writing by the seat of their pants). But this doesn’t work for everyone. If it did, there would be no such thing as writers’ block and no partial manuscripts cluttering our hard drives.
The other popular method of writing is called plotting or roadmapping—planning a story in detail from beginning to end before the actual process of writing begins. I’ve written novels using both methods, and each has positive and not so positive aspects. However, for writers who have hit a brick wall, plotting might be just the ticket to put you back on track.
Writing is like driving a car. If you were to get behind the wheel without knowing where you want to go, you may very well wander aimlessly around town. You could end up on the same roads you drove down before. Without a destination in mind, you might never leave your driveway at all. 
Most of us, however, know before we ever get in the car where we plan to go. We look up the address and get directions. We may print a map, or even check the traffic before we head out. Without proper planning, our journey would waste time and cause frustration.
Writing a novel is no different. Every story is a journey with a specific destination. Writers can avoid common obstacles such as writers’ block and meandering storylines by knowing their destination and planning the route before they start writing.  I call this planning process ROAD MAPPING.
Road Mapping requires patience on the part of the writer. Like the traveler who wouldn’t just jump in his car and take off without knowing where he’s going, so the writer ought not to rush into writing before she’s good and ready. There are four simple steps to Road Mapping. They are: brainstorm, outline, summarize, and chapter breakdown.
When I get a good idea for a novel, I never rush over to the computer and start writing. I may jot down a sentence or two so that I will remember it later, but after that, I let the idea mull around in my brain for awhile. I spend as much time as I need to develop the characters and plot details, often writing my thoughts on sticky notes. I like sticky notes because I can move them around at will, organizing all those seemingly random ideas into a linear storyline across my bedroom wall. This is the time to work out the entire story from beginning to end. Knowing how the story will end is vital. Only once I am certain of my destination will I move on to step number two.
I earned my degree in English eons ago, and I often joke that my diploma has done nothing for me but line the bottom of my hope chest. However, I did glean one very useful skill from all those years of study. I know how to write an outline. In high school and college, I had to write outlines for countless essays. (You probably did, too.) Later, as a newspaper and magazine columnist, I wrote outlines for the articles I published. An outline is perhaps the easiest way to visualize an entire novel from start to finish on a single piece of paper. Just as with any 5 paragraph essay, I break the story down into 5 sections: the hook (how my story begins), 3 plot points (these are the three biggest moments of conflict in a story—much like you’d find in a movie screenplay), and the conclusion (how the story ends—the destination).
Once my outline is finished—what I refer to as a story’s skeleton—I am ready to flesh it out in my synopsis. This is where the actual writing process begins. I describe the characters and storyline using complete sentences and paragraphs and plenty of detail. It is almost like writing a short story version of my novel. This can take anywhere from three to twenty pages, and can be used later when submitting to agents and publishers.
The final step is to breakdown the entire novel into individual chapters or scenes. Each chapter is assigned a number and a title that reflects what occurs in that chapter. The titles are for quick reference while writing and revising the manuscript and are eventually deleted from my completed manuscripts. I include a brief (no more than a paragraph) description of the setting, events and conflict for each chapter.
Once these four steps are complete, I am ready to write my novel. I like to write at least 500 words per day, but I don’t always write scenes in order. By referring to the chapter summaries, I can choose any chapter I like and write that one. I save each chapter as a separate file using the chapter number and title as the file name. (ie. 01-Exile; 02-Found; ect.) Later, if I need to rearrange the chapter order, all I need to do is rename the files.

Getting to the end of a story is not as daunting a task as it may seem. All it takes is a little pre-planning. Know your destination. Take the time to plan your route. Then pull out that incomplete manuscript, blow off the dust, and GET IT DONE.
Great advice, Laurisa! Thanks for sharing your process. I'm a big fan of plotting.

Friends, are you pantsers? Plotters? Do you know your ending before you start writing? Have you ever tried roadmapping?

Wanna win a copy of Contact? Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway!

Laurisa White Reyes is the author of three published novels: The Rock of Ivanore, The Last Enchanter (books 1 & 2 of The Celestine Chronicles) and Contact, a young adult thriller that just came out this week. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Middle Shelf, a digital book review magazine for middle grade readers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Writing lessons learned from HIGH AND DRY

I recently read High and Dry, a noir YA novel by Sarah Skilton. It was a fun, dark, gritty read. Full disclosure: Sarah Skilton is a buddy of mine. But believe me, I'm not saying nice things about the book because Sarah's my friend. I speaketh kind words because they're the truth.

First, a quick look at High and Dry (from Amazon):

Framed for a stranger's near-fatal overdose at a party, blackmailed into finding a mysterious flash drive everyone in school seems anxious to suppress, and pressured by his shady best friend to throw an upcoming match, high school soccer player Charlie Dixon is juggling more than his share of drama. Add in a broken heart and the drinking he's been doing to soothe it, and he's near the breaking point. In this fast-paced, layered mystery, Charlie spends a frantic week trying to clear his name, win back the girl of his dreams, and escape a past friendship that may be responsible for all his current problems. 

Now on to the writing lessons learned. Warning: if you haven't read the book yet, and don't want to know any plot points, read no further!

  • Begin with voice and character: Skilton's novel begins with a great first line. "I wasn't invited, but I showed up to the party anyway so I could talk to Ellie Chen and find out why she dumped me two weeks ago." Already we know the main character has attitude, and that he doesn't mind breaking rules.
  • Create empathy for the anti-hero: Charlie Dixon's internal dialogue makes readers care for him. Yes, he's drinking. Yes, he crashed a party. But we know why--his heart is broken because of a bad break up. Teens (and most adults) can totally relate.
  • Motive for blackmail: Blackmail happens, and in fiction, it has to be totally believable. Why would someone blackmail Charlie Dixon? His mom was tasked with school reform and become Enemy #1 in their small desert town. This may or may not be the real reason why Charlie is blackmailed, but he assumes it has something to do with his current predicament.
  • Fun slang for only this story: Skilton came up with fun terms used by kids at the high school. Cliques within the school were known as Song Birds (girls' choir), Dot Govs (student council), and Beckhams (soccer players), to name a few. Skilton wrote a great post over at Janice Hardy's blog about Slinging Slang: The Case for Made-Up Words.
  • Believable reason to do the wrong thing: Charlie Dixon does many questionable things, but these actions make sense in context. Characters do bad things all the time, and if the reasons are believable, the reader will forgive them--and even root for them.
  • Create a cast of suspects: Sheesh, Skilton's book was packed with suspects. Even walk-on characters had dirt under their nails, which kept things interesting.
Have you read High and Dry yet? What's your opinion on these writing lessons? Have you used any of these tips before? Any you'd like to add?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Inspiration for Writers (and Graduates!)

Last week we learned that our son was Salutatorian of his 8th grade class. Pretty darn cool. We also learned he had to write a speech over the weekend.

He wanted to write his own speech, which I totally respected. I did help with editing, and with finding inspirational quotes for him to work with. As I read these quotes, I realized they not only applied to business folks, graduates, and life, they applied to writers as well.

I hope they inspire you as much as they inspired us!

I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. -- Michael Jordan

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -- Mark Twain

Winning isn't everything, but wanting to win is. -- Vince Lombardi

Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right. -- Henry Ford

Everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of fear. -- George Addair

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma--which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. -- Steve Jobs

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything You gave me. -- Erma Bombeck

Which quotes did my son choose? Um, none of these. He chose the wise words of Spongebob Squarepants and Hannah Montana. After all, he's fourteen.

Have you ever written a graduation speech? Did these quotes spark something within you? Any cool quotes you'd like to share?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Kindness: Pay it Forward #IWSG

Welcome, insecure writers! If you haven't joined this amazing group yet, clicky here and go for it. You won't be sorry.

On Memorial Day weekend, a Vacaville, CA fire crew was buying groceries at the store. Before they were able to pay, they got an emergency call and had to leave. When they returned, a paid receipt was given to them with these words written on it: "Firefighters, thanks for being there for us! Have a good weekend." It was signed by an Air Force wife. The firefighters then used the money they saved and paid it forward. Click here for the whole story.

Cool, right?

My sons' sixth grade teacher read my book and took the time to send an email that brought tears to my eyes. I told him I'd save the email and read it on days when I'm struggling. His kind words meant the world to me.

These acts of kindness remind me that the simplest gestures can often mean the most. We're all capable of giving kindness, and we're thankful to receive it. In a world that sometimes seems off kilter, it's nice to know kindness remains one of the greatest gifts of all.

The writing community overflows with kindness. How can we pay it forward? Here are a few ideas:

Encourage a fellow writer who's feeling discouraged (this group is THE place for that)
Remind a writer to persevere
Offer positive remarks when giving a critique
Remind fellow writers why they started writing--don't lose the joy!
When we hear good news, spread the word and offer praise
At a conference, invite other writers to sit beside you or at your table

Kindness is one of those rare gifts that when you give it away, it seems to find its way back to you.

Have you witnessed random acts of kindness? Do you have other "pay it forward" ideas you'd like to share?