Jeanne: Six Sigma for Fiction: The Action Workout

Depositphotos_27159627_l-2015This is the last of my posts on adapting manufacturing quality improvement techniques for fiction writing (unless I randomly remember another one at some point and see a connection).

The Action Workout was a group collaboration technique. The way it works is, you get a bunch of people into a room to review a process with an end goal of slimming the process down to its essentials, removing both unnecessary cost and opportunities for mistakes.

How, you ask, can this possibly be adapted for fiction writing? Hang with me and I’ll explain.

In the Action Workout as taught by a couple of women who ran the IT Help Desk at the manufacturer where I worked, the goal was to break the process into each of its discrete steps, identifying the steps that provided something of value to the customer. If a step didn’t add customer value, you looked for ways to remove it.

Let’s use a coffee shop as an example. What are the steps to serving a customer? Continue reading

Jeanne: Six Sigma for Fiction Writing: Fishbone Diagrams

fish diagramIn my day job back in the late 90’s and the 00’s, I worked for a business forms printing company. Like most manufacturers, they were always looking for ways to cut costs and improve quality, so they put a lot of employees through Six Sigma training.

Most of what I learned has absolutely no bearing on writing a novel, but there were a few techniques that I’ve actually found helpful. Today we’re going to talk about Ishikawa (aka “fishbone”) diagrams.

Ishikawa diagrams are a tool for looking at potential causes of a problem. If the head of the fish is a problem, then the bones are all the potential causes for the problem. Although this graphic only shows the main bones, in a true Ishikawa diagram some or all of the main bones feather out to smaller ones that show contributory causes.

In manufacturing, the main bones are the 5 M’s: Man, Machine, Money, Method, Materials but you could change that to resolve a story issue. For example: Continue reading

Jilly: Mind Candy–The Witterlist

Sadly it looks as though things are going to get worse before they get better in the world at large, and chances are many people will be spending more time at home over the coming weeks and months.

If that means you’re likely to spend quality time with Netflix, or if you’re just interested in hearing an intelligent, enthusiastic analysis of what makes a story work (or not), you might enjoy BBC Radio 5 Live’s The Witterlist.

5 Live is primarily a news and sport radio station, but every Friday afternoon movie reviewer Mark Kermode joins host Simon Mayo to discuss the week’s new releases. I rarely go to the cinema and I don’t often stream movies, but I love The Witterlist because Mark Kermode is such fun to listen to. He’s honest without being sarcastic, or jaded, or blasé. He clearly loves not just movies, but story, and the insights he offers make me smile, they make me care, and then they make me think.

Here’s an example from last month: the most recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. I don’t often enjoy movie adaptations of classic books, and Emma is probably my least favorite Austen—the heroine is so entitled she makes me grit my teeth till my jaw hurts—but Mark Kermode makes me want to watch this film. He makes me want to go back and read the book, which I haven’t done in years. Here’s a quote:

Emma the source text is like a Beatles’ song. You can play it in a number of ways. You can play it fast, you can play it slow, you can play it upbeat, you can play it swing, you can pay it skiffle, you can play it rock, but it’s still the same song. You can emphasize different melodies and countermelodies because the thing itself is so sturdily constructed.

The whole Emma review is around nine minutes long. You can find it here.

The Witterlist home page, with a list of reviews and all kinds of other fun, interesting links is here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Stay warm and safe, and here’s hoping things improve soon.

Do you have any mind candy recommendations to keep folks engaged and uplifted while we wrestle with real life? All suggestions gratefully received 🙂 .

Jilly: Sara Whitney’s Tempting Heat

An unexpected upside to becoming a writer is that I find myself reading books written by friends, and friends of friends. I love seeing people I know become debut authors and then go on to build their lists. There’s something thrilling and insider-ish about being part of their adventure.

Here on 8LW we’ve shared the excitement surrounding the publication of Jeanne’s Touched by a Demon books and Nancy’s Harrow’s Finest Five series, and we’ve enjoyed interviews with some of Jeanne’s fellow Golden Heart alumnae. This week was another first for me: the debut of Sara Whitney, one of my Golden Heart classmates.

Tempting Heat is a contemporary second-chance romance novella set in Chicago, with the two main characters stranded in forced proximity during an epic snowstorm. I really like those tropes. Second-chance stories raise the emotional stakes quickly because the characters already have shared baggage for the author to play with, and forced proximity adds extra pressure because the characters literally have nowhere to go—they have to face Whatever Went Wrong first time around.

An unexpected downside to becoming a writer is that I find it hard to lose myself in a book. My inner editor starts offering critique and before I know it I’m assembling a list of things I’d tweak or change or rewrite instead of enjoying the story. So I was ridiculously happy to find myself immersed in Tempting Heat, sharing Finn and Tom’s long-overdue reconciliation-cute.

The story starts when Fiona (Finn) discovers a half-awake, hungover Tom emerging from her flatmate’s bedroom some hours after said flatmate departed to deal with a work emergency involving a weekend-long trip to Las Vegas, and just as a gigantic snowstorm shuts down all transport options. Continue reading

Jilly: Reading Week Lessons Learned

For reasons best left unexplained except to say all’s well that ends well, last week I spent a few days out of action, followed by a few more recuperating on my sofa with a restorative book or ten.

When I’d soothed myself with all my favorite re-reads, I decided to try a highly rated fantasy series. It’s been on my radar for ages but I never bought the books because while I like the premise, the blurb and the reviews, the story is written in first person, present tense, which isn’t my catnip. The POV character (in this case, the heroine) is telling the story, so either she’s using present tense to describe something that happened in the past, which seems affected, or she’s providing a running commentary in the midst of the story action, which suggests she’s not fully engaged in what she’s doing. If the heroine isn’t all-in, why would I be?

No matter. I wasn’t going anywhere, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The writing was good—good enough to get me past the first-person-present-tense obstacle. The characters were engaging, and the world fascinating. The chemistry between the heroine and hero was credible, with plenty of zing. Sadly I stopped after Book One of the trilogy, for two main reasons.

One (the lesser of the two) was that the book didn’t have a self-contained storyline. The characters grew and changed, but the book was a collection of unanswered questions that will no doubt be resolved over the remainder of the trilogy. So there was no moment of thrilling catharsis at the end of the book, just a vague feeling of “to be continued…” .This was a light-bulb moment for me, since the edit report on my first Alexis book (edits still on hold until I finish the prequel story) said I was guilty of this same folly. Aha. Okay. Must cogitate.

The second issue, which really annoyed me, was the author’s persistent use of deus ex machina at critical plot points. (According to Wikipedia: deus ex machina is a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived). The story may be a fantasy, but that does not give the author the right to wave her magic wand every time the plot gets too difficult for the characters to resolve on their own.

Continue reading

Nancy: The Fine Art of Receiving a Critique

Last week, Jeanne discussed critiquing manuscripts for newbie writers, and yesterday Justine talked about revising (and revising, and revising!) the opening chapters of the first book in her historical romance series. With both of these posts on my mind and no less than three (three!) revisions of my own to complete, from minor tweaks in one story to major revisions in another to something in between on the third, today I’m thinking about the best way to bridge the gap between getting back comments from a trusted critiquer and putting a revision plan into action.

We’ve discussed a lot of the steps I’m going to suggest here at 8LW in the past, and much of the way the Ladies approach critique work is based on the guidance Jenny Crusie* gave us while we studied with her in our McDaniel writing program. But with so many of us knee deep (or eyeballs deep) in the critique and revision process, let’s revisit some of the basics, ICYMI (or ICYNAR – in case you need a refresher). Continue reading

Jeanne: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

dunning-kruger--edited

A few weeks ago at church, the minister talked about something called the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.”

This concept, defined by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, describes the cognitive bias of inexperience that causes people who know almost nothing about a topic think they are experts because they don’t know enough to realize the extent of their ignorance.

If you’ve ever critiqued a manuscript for a beginning writer, you know exactly what this is. The newbie will bring you her precious creation and hand it over, dewy-eyed with confidence that the next day (because it’s so good you’ll stay up all night reading it), you’ll call to tell her that she is the next J.K. Rowling/Nora Roberts/E.L. James/Gillian Flynn. Continue reading