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Monday, October 31, 2011

October WIPmadness: Week 5 Check-in

Wow, here we are at the end of the month. Tonight some of us light pumpkins and/or fireworks. Some of us frantically add one last piece to the story puzzle that is our NaNoWriMo outline. Some of us prepare to embrace the crazy that is NaNoWriMo. And some of us realize that ... hey, wait! This is WIPmadness! We have the crazy down to an art!

So, how did this month go for everyone? How about this past week? Did you meet your goals? Exceed them, even? Or were you locked in heated battle with that unavoidable nemesis, Real Life?

Whatever you did or did not do, you did what you needed to. And whatever you did, it was enough.

I didn't meet all of my goals. Starting with the writing conference, I ceased to log what I was eating. I'd like to get back to that, but we'll see what happens in the weeks to come. Given that next month is NaNo and the month after that is Winter Festive Season, nothing is guaranteed about my waistline. Well, at least Don Rocko and I held off buying Halloween treats until just last night. And I did make it to sword class, but that's about the extent of my being healthy.

However, I did finish the edits to my WIP. I even sent it to an extra special, very awesome beta reader who was kind enough to get me feedback within a week and a half when I needed it. I had my pitch and my Blue Pencil ready for the SiWC, and I had an amazing time at the conference. I got asked to submit and submit I did. I made my tiger butter (and I swear I'll upload photos and a recipe soon, if not in November then by December for sure!) and shared it with many people. I participated in the VancoWriMo events as planned. And for the most part, I have a good idea of what I'll be writing during November.

So I'm fairly happy with how this month unfolded. How about you?

Thanks, gang, for letting me host this month!

P.S.: This month just happened to have five Mondays, but the Madness is far from over. Don't forget to stop by Lora Rivera's blog tomorrow to check in with goals for November. ^_^

Monday, October 24, 2011

October WIPmadness: Week 4 Check-in

Well, here we are at Week 4. One seven more days left! How has this past week gone for everyone?

*pause for extreme yawn* I maaaay be a wee-bit sleep deprived this morning. But I have good reason!

I had a crazy week leading up to the SiWC. I managed to get the finishing touches done on my Blue Pencil and agent pitch in time. Both went very well. Um, exceptionally well. During my Blue Pencil, where a published author looks at your work, I received great feedback on the urban fantasy piece I've been toying with for the last few months. It was nice to be able to talk not about spelling and grammar, but about word choice and plot issues. This novel isn't one that's set to a schedule. It's a piece I'm working on out of sheer joy and because it's so much fun. It is also definitely not YA, so it's technically not my focus. But as was reaffirmed for me this weekend, you have to write what you love. It's my motto: write the stories you wish to read in the world. And sometimes, I need a break from Janni and her story, which I also love very much but which can be intense, just because it's first-person, present-tense.

As for the agent pitch ... well, it went very well. I don't know how I feel about talking about it too much, because nothing is set in stone and for all I know, nothing will come of it. I have this bad habit of jinxing myself on the Internet. But my focus this week will be sending what I was asked to send, after one final pass.

Beyond that? Oh my gosh did I have so much fun at the conference. I got the chance to meet people I only knew from the Internet, including one of the original WIPmadness hosts, Denise Jaden! There were Twitter friends present as well, a few friends and acquaintances attending, and new folks, too.

Then there were the classes. I lucked out and found all of them quite useful for my needs, including the Master Classes I took with Diana Gabaldon and Donald Maass. I have notes to share! Lots of notes! You'll be seeing those in the weeks to come. I may be busy, what with NaNo coming and everything else, but I will post them.

Okay, enough gushing. I had fun. It was energizing and fantastic and I hope the good things prove to be great. But as with everything, we'll have to see.

How did your week go?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Art of War for Writers (SiWC 2010 Notes)

I didn't get a chance to post more notes before now, but I did have a darn good reason: I finished my rewrites to SIGN OF THE STAR! It is now in the hands of one last (but incredibly awesome) beta reader and then I'm going to start sending it out. And I'm feeling confident about it.

But if I had to choose just one more set of notes to share, it would have to be what I took away from James Scott Bell's class based on his book of the same title: The Art of War for Writers.

* * *

The Art of War for Writers
James Scott Bell

Sun Tsu: Chinese general abt. 2500 yrs ago
As writers, we often overthink things

Elevating everyone where they are to the next step

1. Know the battlefield.
What is the publishing business about?
- Money.
- Not a cynical view because the people in publishing care about writing and good writers, but ultimately it’s a business.
- To get published, you must offer value to the publisher.
- Think of yourself as a person who produces books.
- They’re interested in someone who can produce multiple books.
How to add value to the reader?
- Make them feel satisfied for buying the book.
- Inverse ratio between what’s in the market and what personally pleases
The fact that we are here increases the chances of getting published.

Pyramid (reverse):
People who think they want to write
People who have written a book
People who keep writing, keep trying
People who get published
Wheel of Fortune at the top

2. Career Novelist:
- Desire – really have to want it enough
- Discipline – self employed as a writer
- Knowledge of the craft
- Don’t just start writing, also know that you have to learn craft,
- So how to books help.
- You can learn how to be a writer. And you should.
- You should make it something that you do every day.
- You need to be honest, face your weaknesses
- A willingness to learn
- A buisness attitude – what people are looking for, how to present yourself
- Rhino skin – thick skin – criticism of your work is not criticism of you
- Take the long view: this is a lifelong thing
- Talent (least important) – there are highly talented people who never make it because they don’t keep trying (high expectations of self, fear, etc), but there are people who from hard work and dilligence do make it even though they’re not necessarily very talented
- Write to a quota
- It’s okay if it’s crap/drivel, you can edit it later
- Accept the quota for yourself
- Accept that real life intrudes – better to take one day off and set a weekly quota (take a break)
- Use an excel spreadsheet to keep track
- Only count new words when revising
- Finish the first draft as fast as possible
- Revise the previous day’s work then continue to write.
- Create new words every day
- Day by day dilligence
- “nobody knows anything” – William Goldman – Don’t stress about it or worry about adding value when you add the freshness of your voice
- No one knows anything about e-publishing and the future of that
- Job is to add value to the reader. If the book sucks, the reader will be disappointed
- If you really think you need to e-publish, you need a professionally edited manuscript, someone who really knows how to craft a novel
- Developmental edit (does the story work) plus copy edit
- Readers do reader reviews online
- Need a good cover
- Need a marketing plan
- – Joe Conrad

3. Systematic and never ending improvement model of business.
- Self study: Where can you improve? What are your weaknesses as a writer?
- Even if you only get one thing out of it, a writing book
- Think of all the novels with a great ___ (character, etc) and find out why you like it
- Make a copy of things you like and keep them in a writing notebook
- Keep outside commentary, read it
- Robert Heinlein: 1 you must write, 2 you must finish what you write.
- Don’t get it right, just get it written.
- Tactics to elevate your fiction:
- It’s crucial to bond your readers with the lead character.
- A great novel/plot is how a character deals with death (physical, professional, psychologically)
- E.g. romance writers have to create a psychological death
- The stakes are that high: death being that high enough
- Death to the lead character him/herself
- Can be a ghost from the past
- Make mistakes for your lead character
- Positive lead or hero – someone who represents community values
- Negative lead e.g. Scrooge or Scarlett O’hara – don’t represent the community (Power is important e.g. Hannibal)
- Antihero: has own code, doesn’t want to be concerned with the community but get drawn in, fights impulse from the start
- The community is sometimes us, the readers, not always the
- Grit, wit, and it
- Grit: Stakes aren’t always death: character needs to experience courage, trying to survive –Scarlett has
- Wit – If character can be self-deprecating
- Take a line of dialogue and freshen it up
- It – e.g. Clara Beau during the roaring twenties – Someone that people are drawn to, not because they’re trying hard, but because they are comfortable in their own skin –
- Pet the dog or save the cat – when the character takes care of someone weaker than themselves at the price of their own greater danger (esp. When they’re trying to save themselves)

4. Scene writing
- How can you increase the readability of your fiction – scenes need to be very readable
- Hook, intensity, and prompt
- Hook: Look at openings: Various ways to open a scene, depending on the pace
- Begin at a later point in the scene, with action (description can fit in)
- Intensity: Every scene should have a degree of intensity, or the reader is being let down
- Comes primarily from fear (worry to abject terror)
- Every scene should have a fear factor
- Prompt: What you can do to get the reader to keep reading
- Don’t write a lot of scenes to completion/logical end
- Try to find a good place to start (a line of dialogue may be intriguing)
- A question answered – try to keep it unanswered

5. Opening chapter, opening scenes
- Editors and agents read the first sentence rather than the proposal first because they want to know if you can write
- Avoid opening with the weather and place
- Avoid dreams
- Avoid opening with happy people in happy land
- “A great story is like life with doll parts taken out” Hitchcock
- Opening disturbance: something to disturb the character, something is out of the ordinary, amiss
- Anything that is interrupted
- Aim for a scene that is active – includes dialogue
- Don’t open with a character alone, merely thinking about the strong emotion s/he’s feeling – readers don’t care about them yet
- Show the main character in conflict (dialogue as a possibility is good)
- A good prologue is a full scene with high intensity that has a reason for being there
- Could call it Chapter 1
- Could open it with no heading (just don’t call it prologue)
- Don’t have backstory in the beginning: you can, but you need to marble it in with the action of the story: why the character is in this situation
- Reaers don’t need to know everything about the character

6. Dialogue
- Dialogue is the fastest way to improve a manuscript – gives the editor/agent confidence that you know what you’re doing
- A compression and extension of action
- Every character in every scene should have an agenda
- Dialogue is a weapon – an intense scene, becomes a weapon to fight (e.g. Now Voyager)
- Dialogue is one way you can let it flow
- Try writing the dialogue first, as improv
- Use it as a way to write the scene and figure out what a scene is about

7. Three great scenes and no weak ones.
- What is your weakest scene – least intensity, seems to drag – cut it
- If absolutely must keep, make it better
- Need a great scene to be memorable for the readers

8. To outline or not to outline – Yes, outline.
- But allow the story to breathe on its own. Change the outline.
- Have a log line: one line to summarize the script.
- Write back cover copy.
- Create an opening scene with disturbance
- Come up with twenty possible scenes after that.
- Then you will have a great understanding of what the story’s about.

* * *

Yes, this was an incredible class. Check back tomorrow for one last SiWC 2010 post. I'll be at the hotel, settling in and taking some pre-conference Master Classes!

Monday, October 17, 2011

October WIPmadness: Week 3 Check-in

So, here we are at Week 3. For some of us, that means 15 days until NaNo. For some of us, it's just another two weeks until that magical night, Halloween (or Samhain, if you like).

Me, it means that I've only three more days until my writing conference. The hotel which has some interesting goings-on the day before, when I get there for Master Classes. (Don Rocko is even dropping me off right when things are most interesting, just so he can get to work on time. Uhhh. Well, hopefully it won't be too bad. And nothing like "This one year, I had to wade through protesters and Secret Service agents ..." for anecdotes, right?)

So, how did everyone do this week?

I made my tiger butter. (Pictures probably to follow next week, because I'm a bit pressed for time today.) I also went to the VancoWriMo Meet & Greet, where I officially signed up to be a Miniboss and host write-ins next month.

And most importantly ... I finished the edits to my WIP! *cue fanfare and sparkles and confetti*

I still have to prep for my pitch and my blue pencil sessions, but I *think* I can manage that in the next few days. Tonight is one of our TOEM write-ins, and I'm excited to finally, once again, be thinking of something that is not my WIP. Because beta feedback from one last person aside, it's a WIP no longer.

How's it been giong for everyone else?

I'll be at work today, so I'll be responding on my breaks and after. Hope everyone else has a great week!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

COMOCA: Not Just a Fancy Iced Drink (SiWC 2010 notes)

(Though I'll admit, just saying the title makes me crave a Starbucks Coconut Mocha Frappuchino. Or maybe I might dip into the bag of Coconut M&Ms I had to sneak into the country on my last trip Stateside.)

A week from now, my favoritest writing conference of all begins: the Surrey International Writer's Conference. It was the first one of its kind that I ever attended, and it's local, so I can definitely go every year. Meanwhile, something like ConCarolinas may not always be in the cards (though it is next year!)

I can't wait. I've got the time booked off work, I've got plans to meet friends on both nights, I'm signed up for two master classes, and I am going to have a fantastic time. And the best part is, last year I won the grand prize, so I'm attending the main conference for free!

It pays to fill out your evaluations, folks.

I thought I would share a few sets of notes from last year's SiWC. All of the classes were useful, but some of them really stood out, and the one that keeps coming back to me was the one with the most memorable catch phrase: COMOCA. So, here we go:

Adventure Novels
Author: Chris Humphries

Action is what keeps people reading. We want to engage with characters; we care about what happens to them.
- Write down the character's objectives, make sure they have objectives
- Objectives range from the macro the micro
- Define objectives

Every scene has to carry its weight, earn its right.
- Can’t just have a whole book of relentless action; have to counterpoint it with breaks in their own way.
- Keep the reader reading. If the reader is not desperate for more at the end, you’ve failed.

Simplify everything. Too much compication in creation as it is. What is the objective in this scene? What are the obstacles?
- COMOCA – Character’s Objective Meets Obstacle, Creates Action
- Give yourself permission to be free with your words, ignore the fear / sense of inadequacy; simplifying things takes it apart into smaller steps; you climb a mountain one step at a time; you can only deal with what’s straight in front of you
- Tell yourself “It’s only a first draft”; don’t show your first drafts to anyone; give yourself permission to experiment and it doesn’t matter.
- Voice – tone of book – figure out who you are writing this for? Yourself. The book you write is the book you most want to read. Choose the subject based on your enthusiasms. Be your ideal first reader. Then, your second reader, ideal reader, is the editor.
- Different types of voice – Authorial voice (you intrude), POV (who is telling this story) – competely different book depending on whether it’s written in first person or third person; limited third = no head hopping; distinct personal voice; first person: the way she sees the world will colour the story ; advantages and disadvantages in everything
Balancing act: between writing for yourself and writing for readers What is the effect you want to create on the reader? Scene objective.

Go at it.

In any scene, should do several things at once: 1) entertain (keep the reader reading), 2) advance the plot/develop character, 3) should leave you with some sort of conclusion or precipice –

Put characters through stress. Put them in peril.
Action scenes: opportunity to do something different with character, revealing actions through character, don’t spend so much time in the person’s head; reveal character by what they say and what they do. Dialogue can be an action scene.
You can bring up something new in the characters. Balancing act
An action sequence, action scene, helps reveal a little bit different about the character; look for those opportunities after you’ve done the first draft.

* * *

The class ended with an exercise:
- Fling a character in an uncertain situation.
- Focus on the step-by-step action, who what where when, attitude.
- Step out of that door and be attacked. React to the situation.
- Break it down into three beats: first contact, acknowledgement of peril of situation, resolution (or not)
- Objective as character is stepping out. What are you bringing to that alley
- Obstacles: how character deals with obstacle
- Action: What happens

I really enjoyed that class. And I feel like I learned a valuable lesson about action.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October WIPmadness: Week 2 Check-in

Good morning, WIPmadness peeps! It's Monday again. How did things go this last week?

For me, it was a bit uneven. Part one of that's because that this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, so we had things to do that involved seeing family and eating much turkey and associated dishes. Part two was that a friend was in town visiting family, so we had a poker game on Saturday that went quite late. And part three? I made it back to sword class, yaaay!

But it also meant I didn't have much uninterrupted writing time.

What I did accomplish:
- I picked up the ingredients for tiger butter, which I'll spend a few hours making next weekend.
- I made it to sword class and I kept logging what I ate. Mostly. Last night's turkey dinner ... um, well, it was a holiday, right?
- I crossed off a few more items from the List of 17. I *believe* I'm down to 5 now. And today's a holiday, capped with a write-in. I'll have the opportunity for quite a bit of writing, if I make the time to write. Wish me luck!

This next week I've got to put myself into gear, in preparation for the SiWC. I also really want to cross off those last five things. I sincerely hope I can.

How about you?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Knowing When to Strike

I haven't been as well as I'd have liked this past month. The dirty laundry that has thankfully resolved itself was very stressful and had a negative impact on my energy levels. I had to miss sword class for all of September. Now, however, I'm doing much better and I'm ready to feel strong again.

Tonight was my first sword class back. It was a sweaty affair and I had to remember some basics (and some things my body never forgot), but I came away feeling fantastic. I'll be feeling it tomorrow, of course, but it's the good kind of pain. Not only did I have an intense workout, but during the combat part at the end of the night, when we all donned masks and gorg├ęs and paired off to fight each other, a classmate of mine uttered an absolute gem:

"You've gotta recognize when you've gained the sword and have the advantage, and then you need to strike."

For context: "gaining the sword" is when you have control over your opponent's sword (due to the position of the blades and the strength of said position). Part of the exercise involved constructively criticizing each other's work, and my classmate noticed a key mistake: there were times when I had him dominated, but I didn't strike. This gave him a chance to disengage and gain my sword.

Oh. ... Oh.

I haven't been striking because I haven't had the confidence to strike. I haven't believed that I had the advantage, but I have. All I need is an attitude shift. When the advantage is staring me in the face and I don't grab it, I'm only doing a disservice to myself.

So when I've been successful with many recent writing endeavors and yet continue to hesitate about actually submitting my work, the only one who pays the price is me.

You could say that this post is mostly a reaffirmation of what I was talking about last week, about how I feel I've been dawdling and hesitating about submitting my work because I lack confidence, and how it's not getting me anywhere. But I definitely I needed to hear my classmate's words, because the minute he spoke them, things clicked.

I may not know what will come of things once I send out my WIP (which is now down to seven things I need to fix, and boy am I glad for the coming long weekend), but I'm feeling pretty good about it. I need to put myself out there.

Otherwise, my nasty opponents Fear and Self Doubt will get the chance to disengage and strike.

Monday, October 3, 2011

October WIPmadness: Week 1 Check-in

Hello again, #WIPmadness folks! Two days ago, we all said what we were going to do this month. Each of us is in our own unique space, from having a huge list (um, guilty) to specifically not committing to any goals at all. Now that the weekend's past, how has eveything worked for you?

My weekend was not as productive as I would have liked. Don Rocko and I may be fighting colds and I personally found it hard to get into a creative headspace because I felt fairly foggy for much of Saturday and Sunday. I managed to cross of roughly two items from my Revisions list, when I was hoping for something more like five.

But other useful things happened! Some NaNoWriMo preplanning business came up that could have very fruitful results. I honed and confirmed my suspicions about writing down everything I eat without judging it, and noticed that it helps in the shrinking department. Or has the potential to, at least. Time will tell for sure.

I'm looking forward to being productive today, which is my biweekly Monday off, and the rest of the week. I'm feeling very optimistic about what lies ahead. How about you?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

WIPMadness Badge

October WIPmadness: Statement of Intent

Hello, all you wonderful wacky #WIPmadness folks! Those of you on the Twitter feeds may have noticed that I'm a bit of a night owl, but I won't let that stand in the way of the October check-ins. Thanks to Jaye Robin Brown for hosting September's fantastic round of posts. And now, welcome to my little corner of the blogosphere!

We have an interesting calendar this month. Today is the first of the month, and Monday, our typical check-in day, is just two days from now. So I thought today's post would be a great place for us all to state what we intend to accomplish this month, and how we intend to do it.

Because it never hurts to ask the universe for what we need. But it also never hurts to put a little bit of effort into earning those things we seek, either.

Here's my goals:

1. I will finish the edits to my WIP. I feel like I've been hesitating over sending it out, and letting myself dither over little things. A few nights ago I created a list of 17 things that needed to be fixed before I would be satisfied. Since then, I've crossed off 5 of them. I've been addressing the changes not in a straight line, but in true puzzler fashion, where I jump about and fix things as they strike me, viewing the prose with new eyes as I do so. The puzzle pieces don't follow an order. They come together as I find them.

2. I will get ready for this year's Surrey International Writer's Conference. That means prepping a pitch for an agent appointment, and also three pages of an urban fantasy piece that has nothing to do with my WIP or the contest I entered last month. It also means making at least one batch of tiger butter to share with friends and other folks, 'cuz that's my thing.

3. I will be active and eat reasonably healthy. This past month I was feeling a little bit low-energy, and I didn't make it to sword class. Now I am ready to reclaim my strength. I'm also going to keep paying attention to what I put in my body, because simply noting down everything that goes in the tank is making me more aware of what grade of fuel I'm using, and how much of it I consume. Most importantly, that alone has had a positive effect, without me having to resort to evil four-letter-words that begin with D.

4. I will start planning and preparing for this year's NaNoWriMo. That means having a rough outline. It also means getting ready to actively help out with local events. The Greater Vancouver NaNo community is a vibrant group with fantastic in-person events, and I'm excited about being involved.

So, that's my epic To-Do list for October. How about you? State your intentions here. Then, starting on Monday, we can check in and see how we're all doing!

We can do this. I know we can. That's what this madness we call writing is all about, right?