National November Writing Month… I’ve wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo for several years now, but I’m usually in the middle of a writing project when it starts. If you write year round, it can be trickier to plan a novel and start it on November 1. This year, however, I got an idea on Oct 30, and decided to jump in.
I’m still amazed that I did, but I finished on November 28 with 50,000 words.
What was the biggest thing I learned? It takes passion and excitement about your story to write that much in that short of a time. Because I’m also a freelancer, I had other writing and editing projects too. So my actual word count was around 80,000 for the month.
The second lesson was to use my creative time–I often worked on my novel at nine at night, when I have a really creative hour or two.
As far as my novel writing method, I’m not sure I’d recommend it to other authors, and especially not newer authors. But here goes:
I get an idea out of the blue (which actually means different things in my life suddenly mixing together) and once I see the story line, I start writing. With this story, and some before it, I busted out 10,000 words in the first day in my giddiness over the idea.
So at that point, I usually pause and realize I need some structure. I start putting in headers before my scenes (marked with Header 2 in Word) and open the Navigation Map, which displays an outline to the left of the text. I’ll start jotting down scene ideas too, right in the manuscript, so I have something to jump into when I sit down to write. I like keeping it all together in one file.
I write in a mostly linear way, but if I don’t feel too motivated on a section, I’ll jump to a different part. Then later, when I feel more focused, I go back and figure out why I wasn’t excited about that problem scene–because when it’s working, I love to write.
I haven’t always used this fly-through-the-novel method. When I began writing in grade school, I would create an outline and type it up on my electric typewriter. Then I’d write chapter by chapter, and if I changed the story, I retyped the outline.
Later on, I went through a phase in my twenties where I’d plan my novel, write it, and then go through a long revising stage where I’d rearrange the story and add quite a bit. A few times I even changed entire novels from third to first person and then back to third.
I think it’s all that writing that got me to my present method. But even though I jump right into it, I do have the story and characters clearly in my head. I even start by writing the book blurb. And on that note, here’s the blurb for my NaNoWriMo novel, Covetous:
Two couples are found murdered in their beds. The only link comes from their phone records, leading Detective Hounder to Lucy Marshal.
Lucy and her live-in boyfriend might be next on the hit list. She doesn’t know who she can turn to. If Luke knew the truth about Lucy, he would have more motive than anyone, but does he know? Her best friend Emma is someone connected to this mess—and hiding now. Her other close friend James was still in love with one of the victims…and involved with Lucy without knowing her connection.
She wants to hold onto everyone but can’t control the web she’s weaved around herself. Lucy can’t trust anyone anymore, not herself, and not the stranger leaving messages for her.
You may have noticed… it’s not like my previous novels. This is more of domestic thriller. (Murder mystery psychological thriller–is that a genre?) I’m currently polishing the story, and adding to it because 50k is a pretty short novel, and then I plan to submit to agents.
Will I try to write another novel in a month? We’ll see; maybe if I get another awesome story idea… like the sequel for this one.
My newest writing guide is out! This project began when I wrote a blog post about how to write a novel–or, at least I write writing a post, but I quickly just how much I had to say on the topic. It turned into a 100 page guide on the entire process. Take a look at the table of contents below!
(More info on all my books for authors under Authorpreneur Press)
The “Quick Start Guide” to outlining and writing your novel!
Helpful exercises with each step.
Tips for beginnings and more advanced writers.
Have you ever wondered how to write a novel? Have you started and got frustrated? Or have you written a few novels but still want to streamline your process and learn more about structure, plot, characters, setting, and putting it all together? Do you struggle with outlining? 10 Easy Steps to Write Your Novel covers developing ideas, conflict, characters, setting, big plot points, outlining, the writing process, writing scenes, and editing and revising.
Table of Contents:
- Step 1: Develop your Idea
- What about a title?
- Developing “Sparks”
- Questions to Consider
- A Solid Foundation
- Developing Your Idea Exercises
- Step 2: Develop Your Conflict
- Conflict Exercises
- Step 3: Add Your Characters
- Play Around with Character
- Character Exercises
- Define Your Characters
- More Character Exercises
- Step 4: Define Your Setting
- Using Setting to Shape Story
- Setting Exercises
- Step 5: Outline your Big Plot Points
- My Novel Structure
- Expanding the 7 Plot Points
- Step 6: Plan Act I to the Door of No Return
- What about Prologues?
- That Opening Line
- Genre Beginnings
- “The Beginning” Exercises
- The Door of No Return
- Step 7: Plan Act II to the Midpoint
- Act II Exercise
- Low and High Points
- Step 8: Act III: Plan the Middle to the End
- Taking Action
- Dark Moment
- Ending Exercises
- The Last Line
- Step 9: Writing
- Writing Scenes
- Should you write every day?
- Should you set a daily word count goal?
- Should you write in order?
- Should you edit and revise during the first draft?
- Staying in the flow
- Keeping up your momentum
- Celebrate your progress
- Step 10: Re-writing & Editing
- When should you share your work?
- Critique Groups?
- Start with the big issues
- Checking Smaller Elements
- Should you have a theme?
- When is your novel finished?
So whenever I’m working on a novel, the characters basically hang out in my head. I see them going about their day and think about how they think, talk, feel and dream. I’ll get scene ideas throughout the day or even think about how they’d react to what’s going on in my life. That has taken on a life of its own as I work on In My Dreams… I’m starting to feel like Avery in the first book! The reason is both Marcus and Avery feel so real to me. I can see the way Marcus’s eyes light up and how his face changes when he laughs good and hard, and I hear his comments. I’ll be picturing something for the story and hear him say, “That girly? Really? Dude, you’re turning me into a girl.” Or, “You think I’d hold back like that? When did my mouth get so PG?”
And I imagine Avery going through my crap with me – I’m pouring a lot of my emotions into her right now. My life took some crazy turns and I’m starting over in many ways, and she’s like a friend going through the same thing. When my emotions try to eat me alive, she’s there feeling it too. She’s gotta figure out who she is even while she cares about other people so much; it’s hard to see where the lines are. She’s surprised sometimes as she thinks, “Holy shit, I can do this.” But it’s still hard for her to own that.
So this is going to be one interesting sequel – I want it to be as raw and intense as the first one, or maybe even more so. There’s a crazy wild amount of possibilities too, now that Marcus is back in his body and they both have to figure out their relationship and their separate lives again. Of course they don’t want to be separate. Can you imagine having someone in your heart and mind 24-7 and then you can’t hear them anymore? It’s like falling off a cliff in the dark. That twirling free fall is a good metaphor for the emotions pouring out of them and into the story.
And this story isn’t about just them. We have all these other threads to pick up with Kristina, Kyle, Nash and Jazz. And some weird things happened when those guys started talking, and now some of them have their own chapters and are feeling certain things for each other… Yeah, a big hint there, but I don’t want to give away too much just yet!
I haven’t wrote flash fiction in forever. The urge hit tonight, and I decided to play around with words and also write something without real dialogue.
When bullets fly
She didn’t see the bullet coming, but even if she had she wouldn’t have moved out of the way. She’d been waiting on that bullet for years.
As she went out to the car that morning, the lightning in the steel sky might have appeared as a sign to the superstitious, which she was. But she felt a strange lift in her chest and smiled. It wasn’t a happy or good smile. More like grinning as you go down in flames. You know that saying that lightning only strikes once? That’s only partly true. It strikes once with the really good stuff, but it hits the shit out of you with the bad.
As she watched the electricity branch across the sky at the stop of 23rd and Polk, a Chevy truck slammed into her rear bumper. After the jolt, she pushed open her door and rose shakily from the driver’s seat to address the other driver…a six foot five construction worker with a buzz cut who reeked of cigarette smoke. Of course he didn’t have insurance or the patience to stay and discuss it.
So maybe the lightning was a sign? Maybe she needed to go home and go back to bed. Some days just aren’t made for getting ahead.
But she didn’t.
She instead went to work to be greeted by the boss by the front door. Oddly, he wore a tie, and escorted her to his office to let her go.
Home and bed would have been the right course of action after that, except that the door was open at Johnnie’s Bar. Johnnie himself was inside finishing a meeting when she walked in. Normally they’d smile at each other. Today he took a look at her and poured a shot of bourbon. Luckily she downed it before the two men walked in shouting. And maybe more luckily, she downed Johnnie’s just as the bullets flew.
It was the strangest sensation past her ear. The spot of heat. The rush of wind. The following caress. And then the sound. The other sounds were far away, down a canyon as she stood still, glass in hand, turned toward the door and staring blankly. Both men wore black leather jackets. One tall, skinny and bald. The other shorter, round and lost in a hairy goatee. Silence rang loudly. Questions floated in the smoke. Mainly, why didn’t she move? They glanced at each other and backed up out the door. Seconds later, Johnnie peeked up from behind the bar. Jesus. What was she doing standing there? Was she hit?
When she finally did turn toward him, the light from the still open door illuminated a puff of hair floating like dust.
Johnnie kept those strands for good luck. She’s not sure if she’d call it luck, but she learned you can’t back down when the bullets fly.
They both noticed a woman with long, dark hair and an inviting smile, so they sat at the bar, four stools away from her. She glanced over at their entrance before turning back to her conversation with her friends. Sentence told Story, “Watch this. I’m going to wiggle my perfect construction at her. She won’t be able to resist!”
Story watched as Sentence tried to catch the woman’s eye. The woman and her friends gave Sentence a few polite glances, but they weren’t interested.
When Story had enough, he announced, “My turn!” He walked around Sentence to sit closer to the woman and gave her a nod and a wink. The woman immediately moved down the bar three seats to talk to Story.
“Your characters are amazing! How did you come up with this idea, anyway?” She leaned closer and tilted her head back to tease him with a half smile. “And the twist at the end! I didn’t see that coming, but then it made perfect sense. Please tell me there’s a sequel. Does Jake ever win Kathryn over, and does his father ever forgive him? Is there another mystery to solve?”
Story motioned for another round of drinks and murmured, “I’ll tell you everything if you have a few hours…”
Sentence sulked in his seat. What had he done wrong?
“Sentence” missed the simple fact that readers don’t go into bookstores and online retailers to buy groups of sentences. There aren’t any reviews that read, “This book is full of perfect sentences! Check out the metaphor on page 82. The sentences were so wonderful that I forgot about the story and highlighted the commas and semicolons. This author knows how to vary sentence length! Wonderful!”
Readers often say a novel is well written, and they might mention the imagery or fresh use of language, but that alone won’t win readers. Personally, I don’t want to throw a reader out of the story with a impressive sentence. I want the plot and characters to pull the reader in so she’ll keep reading past her bedtime. Of course, I don’t want poor writing to distract the reader either, but I know the point of the novel is the story.
As an artist, do you want others to see the picture you’re painting or the brushstrokes?
Do you need to write well on a sentence level to write good stories? Yes, of course! But are the sentences more important than the story you’re telling? Not in my opinion. Aren’t authors selling stories, not sentences?
Writing well is very important. I don’t mean to argue that point, but it really bugs me when I hear someone put down a mega bestselling author for their writing. It’s usually on a sentence level: “Look at all the clichés, passive voice, and simple sentences! A fifth grader could write better.” It could be true–the given book might very well be full of sentences that could be written better. Maybe their modifiers don’t line up. Maybe they like using clichés as shortcuts in certain places. Maybe they choose choppy or run on sentences over proper grammar to show the character’s thoughts and emotions. But, if the writing really is that poor, then the author must be doing something else right. And that “something else” really sells copies. Millions of readers are buying those books. Despite what people say, you can’t sell a book month after month on marketing alone. If it’s not a good story, people complain. They won’t tell other people about the book.
Readers want an experience away from their life. They want to get sucked into a great story that makes them forget everything else for a few hours. They want to connect with the character and see the world differently. They want to experience a great story. They want to feel.
So, yes, please learn to write sentences well and play with language. Study English, spelling, and grammar. Create fresh images and strive to be original. Learn how to write well so readers can understand what you’re saying. And if you want to sell that writing, remember your job is to tell a damn good story.
So, on the writing front, I edited several novels over the last few months for other authors. It’s been a hugely fun process, and I got to work in romance, fantasy, historical, and crime fiction. I’ve been editing for ten years, and the last few years I’ve seen a dramatic increase in quality in terms of writing and the stories I’m seeing. I think it’s due to the Indie movement and all the content so readily available. There’s books, articles, blogs and Facebook groups that help writers learn about writing and the publishing process. So, it’s lots of fun all around!
And yes, I’m working on my own novels too. I’m working to finish the 4th novella in the Stranger series. It’ll be the final one and complete the story, although it opens the door for a new series if I want to continue it. Here’s the cover for the 4th book:
(I don’t want to give the story away yet, especially if people didn’t read the first three.)
I’ll publish this one and then a full novel version with all four novellas.
I also started another story inspired by a video on Facebook. You might have seen the clip of a girl at a cam when the kiss cam zooms in on her and her boyfriend. The guy ignore the kiss cam but a mascot runs over and carries her off. I love that video! And I wanted to start a story with that, so I did. It might be a novella – I’m not sure at this point. I’m just having fun with it and writing away. Here’s the cover. What do you think???
This story is lighthearted and fun with a big dose of humor.
The Trail Blazer’s mascot sweeps Abby off her feet, literally, but she doesn’t get his name. Luckily he happens to know she writes the “Honest Abby” column in a local paper. The mascot is a fun loving, hot guy, but he also has a sick father and a load of responsibilities that lead to a little complication.
I began writing a post today about life and book updates, and quickly realized I needed two posts instead of one long, monster sized one. Life has been a little busy for me lately. We’ve had gorgeous spring-like weather through February and March so I’ve been outside as much as possible hiking, mountain biking, running, and enjoying the sunshine and flowers. It seems to be coming to an end right now as we’re headed into spring break. 😦 I guess I shouldn’t complain about a week of sleeping in, though!
We also have baby bunnies at my house. That happened by accident, actually. A strong wind knocked a giant oak over six weeks ago, which landed on our bunny hutch and crushed it. The bunnies made it out just fine… So fine in fact that they weren’t too shaken up to procreate. Now we have two new moms and seven babies that are twelve days old. Here’s a few pics of my precious little babies:
My little gray and white otter mom had two babies, one just like her and another that’s a black otter: black on top and white on bottom – that’s the one in a pic by itself. This one looks just like his dad so I’m calling him Mr. Fluffy Jr for now. (And I’m assuming he’s a boy just because…)
My little black bunny had five babies. Three are all black like her, one is all gray, and one is gold. Everyone is in love with the little gold baby! My kids are coming up with fun and crazy names for the babies. It’s almost a game because we’ve come up with so many possible names for each baby.
We’ve also been mushroom hunting out in the mountains for yellow foot and a fun mushroom called hedgehogs, which have soft spikes on the underside. They grow together and make a super delicious soup with a delicate flavor. I might actually like their soup better than chanterelle. Here’s a mushroom we found that’s not edible, but it was pretty so I wanted a pic:
I swear I see a dozen or more types of mushrooms each time I’m in the woods. A few are edible, but there’s some crazy looking or pretty ones too, and I like taking pictures of those. This one is a prettiest pale, peachy yellow. Too bad it didn’t show up in the pic better.
So, happy spring! And happy spring break if you’re in school or have kids.
And I’m off to write my post about writing…
Why start from scratch and reinvent storytelling? Instead, use a 7 point plot outline developed from wildly successful novels.
“Blockbuster Books, Broken Down” is a workbook style guide that reveals the structure and elements in huge bestsellers of the last fifteen years, many of which became movies. By breaking down these books, we can see how successful authors are breaking out by satisfying readers’ needs.
Part 1 deconstructs today’s bestsellers and offers insights and keys to blockbusters and the Blockbuster Novel Map.
Part 2 guides you in creating a breakout idea and developing that into a solid plot with a novel map. Build from the ground up with 7 points to ensure your plot will connect with readers.
Buy the workbook and you can get the Kindle book free through Kindle Matchbook.
Covers these books and more:
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Twilight and The Host by Stephenie Myer
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Maze Runner by James Dashner
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Notebook and Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Part 1: Deconstructing Bestsellers
Does Genre Matter?
Hook, High Concept, & HUGE Stakes
What’s Different About Today’s Blockbusters
The Blockbuster Novel Map
The 7 Point Outline with 3 Act Structure
The Key to Blockbusters
Part 2: Building Your Bestseller
First, Know Thyself
Your Big Idea
The Breakout Idea Checklist
From Idea to Plot
Which Came First: plot or character?
Writing Your Novel
Ways to Improve Your Writing
Make Any Story BIGGER
Writer’s Block: specific cases and how to fix them
Your Novel Map
Novel Map Worksheet
From Novel Map to Outline
Your Setting/ World
Your Setting Notes
*This is a hands-on fiction workshop packed with insights, exercises, and worksheets to quickly teach you breakout plotting and novel development.
Amazon – Kindle ebook and print workbook available
So, it was another crazy year in publishing.Trade book prices came down, overall book quality (Indie and trade) went up in my opinion due to increased competition, and the number of books on the market skyrocketed. Of course, that’s been a trend over the last few years. Kindle Unlimited rolled out in the US and then in countries all over the world, drastically cutting book sales for many authors. I think a few have profited, but I’ve seen a majority of authors saying their sales (including borrows) and income doing a nosedive.Yeah, publishing continues to change, and the playing field has leveled out once again, where Indies no longer have an advantage with lower prices and faster releases.
All of the above is good for readers. I’ll admit I’m happy I can get books from my favorite authors for lower prices. And, the truth is, being an author isn’t like other jobs. You don’t put in the time and schooling and then know you have a career path with steadily increasing pay. Being an artist of any kind has challenges. Authors are creatives and business people, and our books have to compete with Facebook, TV, free content, and all the other books out there. In essence, if you’re going to be an author, you have to do it because you love it.
What about me? I’ve been writing away as usual. I released three full novels in 2014:
Costa Rica, In A Field of Oranges, and It’s All In My Head
And I recently released the first novella in a new romantic thriller series, Stranger in my Bed. This first novella doesn’t have so much of the romantic element in it–I’d even call it a psychological thriller.
2014 was a really great writing year for me. I pushed myself to offer something really different with each book. I took It’s All In My Head to a week long, intensive writing workshop, and it eventually became my longest work to date, and my first novel in 1st person. I just LOVE that story and the characters. Some books are harder to write, and that one had challenges, but I still smile when I think about the writing process, and remember it like a life-changing vacation.
I took the lessons learned while writing that novel and started my new series. There’s a lot of mystery in Stranger in my Bed. It’s great fun to write! I also wanted to try a different format, so I’m using a TV episode format, where I’m going to release novellas hopefully once every month. The entire story is much bigger than my usual novel length, too, so this format works well. I really like having smaller conflicts in each novella that will also build the overall problem. In the end, I’ll probably release a box set of the entire story.
I’m also finishing a nonfiction project–my first book about novel writing. I’ve held off on offering writing advice because there’s an abundance of that there. But I haven’t seen one that covered my content. I took my notes on bestsellers and looked at lists of books that were turned into movies, and something jumped out at me. It was one of those amazing moments when a light bulb turned on and I literally stood up in amazement. This happens when I see something about my writing or writing in general, but I’ve never felt my new insight was a really new insight for writers in general. This time I thought, wow, I need to share this! So I am.
The guide is actually about plotting, creating a blockbuster plot, and making any story bigger. I break down the plot of mega bestsellers to form a simple novel map that anyone can use to plan their novel with critical points that set stories apart.
Blockbuster Books, Broken Down is up for pre-order in Kindle and will release on January 30, 2015. There’s a workbook for the print version, and I hope to release that in January.
Well, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and New Year– I’m celebrating Christmas vacation with two weeks of sleeping in!