Jeanne: The Chunky Writing Method

Chunky candy barThis weekend my RWA chapter, Central Ohio Fiction Writers, hosted Allie Pleiter, inventor of the Chunky Writing Method. The Chunky Method is a way of scheduling your writing time to make yourself more productive, based on how you naturally write–in big chunks or small chunks.

The size of your natural chunk can be determined by how many words you can write on a normal day before you run out of energy/creativity. In the absence of writer’s block or incomplete research, which will stop any writer from moving forward, each writer will still hit a point where they just run out of steam.

Big chunk writers, according to Ms. Pleiter, can write thousands of words before that happens. Small chunk writers run dry after only a few hundred words–or even less.

But, she says, don’t despair. By figuring out which kind of writer you are, you can adjust your writing schedule to make the most of the way you write. Continue reading

Nancy: Is That a Book on Your Wall?

There comes a time in every story’s life when, in order to grow up into a book, it will undergo revisions. And just as my writing process has evolved over the years and tends to require variations based on the needs of each book, so too has my revision approach changed over time. One constant, though, is at some point, I need to look at the story differently by literally changing its appearance.

I’ve used the standard tricks over the years. Change the entire manuscript to a different font. Color code each POV or type of scene/action occurring. Print out the document in hard copy. For my current revision  fiasco project, I needed a new trick. Cue the music of worlds colliding as I realized I might have just the right tool sitting in the toolbox I used for my “day job” career.  In that career, I managed projects creating business proposals made up of multiple volumes of information, sometimes with hundreds of pages in each volume. These proposals had strict margin, font, and formatting requirements; included graphics, tables, and charts; and usually had page limitations per volume as well.

Teams would write, revise, and review the documents online, but by the time we got to our first round of document reviews and revisions, it was time to hang that puppy…er, proposal…on the wall. It’s such an industry-standard practice that companies with enough capital (and interest in investing in the department that brings in the business) install rails on the wall that are sized to slide 8.5×11-inch pages in and out of them. And it’s such an important step to get the big-picture visual of the proposal’s progress that if the CEO walks into a war room (the affectionate name for conference rooms where teams work on these projects) and does not see the proposal on the wall, someone in my position could get fired over it.

In other words, multi-billion dollar companies take this tool seriously.

I’m not suggesting there’s a lot of cross-over between what works for such companies and what works for novelists. I’m just willing to look far and wide for ways to get through the #E(*@+%! revision process. It’s that kind of thinking that gets you a wall full of a book manuscript and a spouse sleeping with one open in case you’ve really snapped this time.

I had to move a sofa and take down some family photos, but redecorating was worth the effort!

But what’s really important, other than reassuring your spouse you’ll be fine someday when this revision is completed and you’re able to sleep again, is whether a tool works. And hanging nearly 300 color-coded manuscript pages on my family room wall worked for me. It helped me work through one of my biggest issues with this book. (Imagine a four-act romance story where the couple spend very little time together in act two and NO time together in act three. Yeah, I wrote that story.) I could very quickly see who (POV) and what (non-romance stuff) was happening, identify places to combine or dramatically edit scenes, and introduce new or revised scenes that feature our happy couple together on the page as if they’re, you know, working toward their HEA.

I learned a few other things in posting my pages on the wall as well. For instance, my average scene length is approximately five pages, which translates to 1500 words for me. It’s important that scene lengths vary to keep things interesting, but good to note when and why they do. When I saw the two- or three-page anomalies, I checked to make they were full scenes, self-contained units of conflict with stakes, changes, and realizations for the characters. For those that went longer – and some went twice as long or more – I confirmed the need for such verbosity. You’ll be shocked to know that some scenes went on a wee bit too long.

Max got all choked up at the ending. Or he sneezed on it. One or the other.

Also, in this story, our girl gets a little more POV page time than our guy. It’s not enough to be a problem, but something to revisit post-revision to make sure I haven’t thrown the balance between their POVs out of whack.

And finally, I learned that everyone’s a critic, including Max the cat. After I’d pulled some of the pages off the wall while I worked on certain scenes, Max removed several of the pages he could reach. I’m not sure whether that means he loves them, hates them, or just wants to see if they make fun crinkly noises.

The moral of this story is, don’t be afraid to try to new, different, and frightening (to those who care about you) tools to aid to your writing, revision, or other creative processes. And remember to warn those living with you before you do something drastic like wallpaper a room with your latest masterpiece. And, oh yeah, don’t let those cat critics get you down!

Have you ever hung a book (or chapter or scene) on a wall? What’s the weirdest tool you’ve used on a creative project?

Jilly: Remembrance

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, and Veterans’ Day in the US.

It’s also the centenary of Armistice Day. 100 years ago today, on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918, the armistice was signed between the Allied Forces and Germany at Compiègne in France, formalizing the cessation of hostilities of World War I.

On a personal note, I’ll be taking time to think about William Dalby of Shirebrook in Derbyshire, a man I’d never heard of this time last year. As you can see from the copy of his service record card at the top of this post, he enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters Regiment on January 7, 1915, aged 27 years and 220 days, and was first posted as part of the Expeditionary Force on 23 October 2015.

William went to war and left behind Annie, his common-law-wife, and six children: Eliza, 13; Minnie, 12; Ruth, 10; Albert, 9; Arthur, 5; and Ada, 2. By my reckoning, he first became a father at the age of 13. His oldest child grew up to become my grandmother.

I remember my grandma as plain-speaking, practical, competent, a tough cookie. Maybe even hard, though she was crazy in love with my granddad. She never talked about her family—I never even knew she had siblings—but I believe she was indentured into domestic service as a maid at a very young age. Looking at the six kids Annie Dalby was left to support, I suppose I can guess what happened.

Grandma made it plain she thought my brother and I were soft and spoiled, and with the benefit of hindsight it’s hard to argue. I generally think of myself as a pretty ordinary person, lucky in life but not especially wealthy or privileged. Today I’m feeling very grateful to be standing on the shoulders of people like William and Annie.

Michaeline: Young Romance Conflicts

Issue one from Young Romance, featuring a sister-sister rivalry romance

Image from Wikimedia Commons

I suck at conflict, both in the real world, and trying to foment it in my fictional worlds. What I like is building up a world with all sorts of rules, and finding a character or two to turn loose in it. But the fact of the matter is, if my characters don’t run into conflict pretty darn soon, the whole thing goes ka-flooey. It gets boring for me as a writer.

This coming week, I’m going to be experimenting with some methods to introduce a conflict into my current National Novel Writing Month project, but for now, I’ll explore some more intimate conflicts.

My order from Amazon brought me Young Romance #2, a serial comic from 1947 (you can see the cover of Young Romance #1 over on the right). “Fifty-two pages of real life stories”! And that comes with five comics, one prose story AND the classic Charles Atlas ad about the bully who kicks sand into the face of the skinny weakling, who in seven short frames manages to build his body and become The Hero of the Beach. Let’s take a look at a couple of those conflicts!

“Boy Crazy” pits an orphaned niece against Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Story Time and Sprints

Do you hear that?

It’s the sound of the phone not ringing and no one trying to tell me who or what to vote for; one of the many great things about our current election cycle finally being over.  Well, technically, it’s not completely over, there are still a few races that are too-close-to-call and lots of other drama still going on, but at least the ballot-casting part of the process is done.

The races are all decided here in my area of the country, which is good since the state seems to be on fire again (still?), so people have more immediate things to focus on.   I’m thinking a mass rain-dance might be helpful, or maybe we could tip the country just a bit so the rains from the east coast could drain over here.

The fires are nowhere near me, but the air is very smoky here.   It probably didn’t help that there was a car on fire on the side of the road when I was driving home this evening.  It definitely seems like a good time to stay inside and curl up on the couch with the cat, a cozy blanket, and some coffee and do a little writing.  Since I seem to have written myself into a corner in my current manuscript, I think I’ll try to shake some creativity loose by giving today’s story prompt a try.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Elizabeth: Week 1 NaNoWriMo Humor

So, we’re just about at the end of the first week of this year’s NaNoWriMo writing extravaganza, which means that those who are right on track should have about 11,667 words on the page at this point.

Each of the year’s I’ve participated, I’ve always found the first week to be pretty fun.  The shine hasn’t yet worn off the initial story idea,  words are still flowing pretty consistently, and there’s that feeling of really accomplishment at passing the 10,000 word mark.  It’s the point in the process where I always think, “why don’t I do this every month.”

Then Week 2 comes around, but that’s a topic for another post.

So, how are things going with your writing this week?