Jilly: Time Lock

time-lockDo you set yourself long-term goals? Do they inspire you?

In my personal and professional life, I’ve always been a pantser rather than a planner. I have a set of psychometric evaluation reports written about me more than 25 years ago that resulted in my setting a personal mission statement: to enjoy life and seek challenges. If I could track down the coach that helped me write that statement, I’d shake her hand. It’s as valid now as it was in 1990.

I don’t think I’ve ever set myself a concrete, specific long-term goal. I do think I’ve been good at recognizing—and grabbing—special opportunities when they’ve crossed my path. Continue reading

Nancy: WU UnConference Lesson 2: The Decoder Ring

Portals of the Past, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

Portals of the Past, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

Last week, when sharing some of the great wisdom imparted to me during the early November Writers Unboxed UnConference, I discussed the importance of theme as the heart of your book. This week, I’m going to discuss another essential element of your story: the decoder ring. Heart and a decoder ring. Makes sense, right? Er, perhaps I need to elaborate.

As Lisa Cron said many times during her workshops at the UnConference, when it comes to the story you are writing – the story your main character is telling – the character’s past is the decoder ring to the story. Quoting William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” OK, he wasn’t talking about your story or mine, in that case, but the famous line has been applied to the craft of writing by many writing teachers.

So how does this idea of the character’s past being part of the present-day story jibe with the admonition to stay in the now and not bog down your book with the dreaded backstory? Paraphrasing Lisa Cron, it’s not backstory that’s the problem; it’s poor usage of backstory. In fact, she argues, we not only want the pertinent parts of your characters’ backstories, we need them to understand who the characters are and why they react and behave the way they do. But how do you include backstory without throwing the reader (or the contest judge, in Jilly’s case) out of the story? Continue reading

Nancy: WU UnConference Lesson 1: Theme

There's an important theme in Law and Order SVU season 12, episode 3. Can you spot it?

There’s an important theme in Law and Order SVU season 12, episode 3. Can you spot it?

Okay, admit it. Your eyes rolled back in your head when you saw the word ‘theme’ in this post’s title, didn’t they? If so, it’s not surprising. Many writers, genre writers in particular – of which many of us here are – are often taught to disregard theme, at least in the early drafts. We’re told a story’s theme will emerge as we revise and dig deeper on later drafts, if indeed it need ever emerge. Who really needs theme anyway, other than your boring high school English teacher? After all, who wants a heavy-handed moral lesson or the author’s worldview shoved down her throat when she’s just trying to immerse herself in good fiction?

According to Lisa Cron, probably everyone.

As Cron discusses in Wired for Story, Story Genius, and workshops (for those of us lucky enough to attend one!), our brains are hardwired for story because story helps us decipher the world around us, and to discover ‘what would happen if’ without physically putting ourselves in harm’s way. In that way, stories are tied to our very survival as a species (sounds pretty cool to be a writer nerd now, doesn’t it?). Other cool things that happen to our brains on fiction are an increased capacity for empathy (through bonding with a protagonist and walking several miles in her shoes) and a willingness to challenge our own world views. And all that cool stuff happens because somewhere under all the scenes and character arcs and plot points and cause and effect trajectory, a story has a specific way of looking at the world, a message, a theme.

Instead of thinking about theme as some sort of moral imperative or high-brow statement to be made at the expense of good story, what if we think about theme as the beating heart of our story? Sound more appealing now? Continue reading

Jilly: Find Your Tribe

Who’s on your team?

About a year ago I had a discussion with a very kind US-based agent about how to find the best home for my UK-set contemporary romance. Among other things we talked about my writing process and my long-term goals. Several of her questions began: “Do you know anyone who…?” or “Do any of your writing friends…?” I managed to scrape up the occasional “yes,” but mostly the answer was “no.” After a while she said, “I see. You haven’t found your tribe yet.”

She was right.

Some of the other 8 Ladies have been at this writing gig much longer than I have, and their networks are much wider, deeper and stronger than mine, Continue reading

Michille: Planning for NaNo

nanoWith NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I am trying to plan out the rest of my story so I have lots of writing fodder to meet the 1,667 words-per-day goal. Just looking at that number doesn’t seem that hard to do, but I’ve done NaNo a couple times, and it is tough. I made the goal once, but only got to 35,000 the other time. Both times, I was starting from scratch. This time I have 40,000 and just want to finish the darned book. Continue reading

Michaeline: Plans of mice and men and subconscious entities

A blue-and-white picture of a big iceberg that looks like a castle.

Short fiction is to icebergs as subtext is to ????. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I thought it would be funny as hell if for this week’s post I put up that picture of an iceberg, write the single sentence, “I’ve been experimenting with the short form these days,” and leave it up to you guys to make up the rest of the post. But alas, conscience doth make cowards of us all.

Fortunately, the girls in my basement rescued me with a new theme for this week’s post. Continue reading

Michille: My Turn to Plan

Callahan Family Cover 1Like the other 8Ladies, I have big plans for this fall which I hope will set me up to submit to the Golden Heart contest. I have two completed manuscripts and two partials in a four-book series. The first two, which are the completed, were written before I took the McD craft classes. The third is a partial and written during the classes and the fourth is a partial and is my MLA project. Without digging too deeply, I think the two partials are a result of craft paralysis. I can still get some great stuff on the page, but when it’s time to go back and flesh out and edit, I get bogged down in craft and don’t get any further. Continue reading