Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Happy “last Friday in July” or, as I think of it, Day 132 of Shelter-In-Place.

It’s all how you look at it.

Today marked my first attempt to convert the sourdough starter that I have been carefully tending (Batch #2) into actual bread.

I don’t think I’ll be giving the Boudin Sourdough Bread Company a run for their money any time soon, and I may never clean up all the flour in the kitchen, but it went better than it could have.  At least there were no fire extinguishers involved.  Always a good thing when baking (don’t get me started on the sticky-bun-caramel-sauce-on-the-heating-element incident).

On the plus side, today’s end result looked roughly like a round of sourdough bread and tasted pretty good.  On the not-so-plus side, I practically needed a chainsaw to cut through the crust.  I settled for splitting the loaf in half like a wayward coconut and scooping out the softer insides.  I guess you could say my sourdough bread, like my current novel, remains a work-in-progress.

I’ll give it a few days and then try again.  By then my kitchen scale will have arrived so I’ll have a better chance of putting in the right amount of each ingredient in my batter.  I may have cleaned up all of the flour from the kitchen counters by then too.

In the meantime, I’m going to step away from the kitchen and give today’s writing prompt and random words at shot.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Kay: A Blurb for a Blurb

I got nothin’ this week. I spent a long, difficult Saturday having endless problems uploading a new cover (yay!) and newly formatted interior (double yay!!) for a paperback edition (triple yay!!!) of an old novel to Amazon, which necessitated tweaking my book blurb, among other refreshes. Nine hours later, I had a carpal tunnel flare up. So I’m typing briefly with two fingers. Nothing but good times ahead!

But in an effort to be useful (and mercifully short), I’m adding a link to an article about writing blurbs and teasers. Some of you might find it useful, as I did. (Full disclosure: I’m a columnist on the Writers Fun Zone site.)

Elizabeth: A Bit of Humor

(c) Tom Gauld

I’m on vacation this week, but didn’t want to skip posting completely.  Fortunately, I came across this comic this morning and it made me laugh.  I’m hoping it will do the same for you, since we could surely use some laughter these days.

If you have anything amusing to share, the comment section awaits you.

Happy Wednesday to all!

Jeanne: Writing Wisdom from Lee Martin

9781496202024-Perfect.inddOne of my favorite teachers of the craft of writing is Lee Martin, Pulitzer finalist for The Bright Forever and author of a number of other novels and short story collections.

Lee teaches in the MFA program for creative writing at the Ohio State University. I’m not in that program, but he also occasionally teaches at regional workshops, and I’ve had the good fortune to see him at a couple. At one of them that I attended in the early 2000’s, he read a passage from “The Open Boat,” a short story by Stephen Crane. With his voice and Crane’s words, he recreated the rocking motion of that lifeboat so clearly I wound up feeling a little motion sick. That was an epiphany for me: that the cadence of words (not their meanings but just the sounds of them) can generate sensation.

I just discovered that Lee has a craft book out: Telling Stories, the Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life.  I’m just started working my way through it, but here’s a tiny example of the wonderful stuff you’ll find within its pages. These are the highlights of a deeper discussion on how to intensify the trouble your character encounters.

  1. Increase the pressure from a source outside the realm of the original trouble.
  2. Make the character’s choices lead her into deeper trouble.
  3. Make the character’s troubles worse by having her let people believe something is true when it isn’t.
  4. Have the character create trouble for herself by trying to run away from what she’s done, or us afraid she’ll do.

As I was reading through these suggestions, I realized I tend to rely very heavily on #2. Having the character’s choices lead her into deeper trouble creates a really strong cause-and-effect linkage.

I also use #1. Sources outside the trouble are great for throwing a wrench into the best laid plans, making your character scurry.

I’m not sure I’ve ever used (or even thought about using) #3 and #4.

Numbers 3 and 4 are less confrontational than the first two. Number 3 is less about action than inaction–failing to step in and set the record straight when the opportunity presents itself. And #4 is the opposite of confrontational. These seem like believable actions for a character with a gentle, non-confrontational personality.

Hmm. I’m starting planning work on a series about five siblings who inherit their parent’s tour company and I’ve been thinking about how to differentiate them. Their level of willingness to confront others is a definite category for exploration.

Which of these intensifiers do you use? Which do you enjoy reading?

 

Jilly: Searching for Niol

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging in for the long haul. It would be lovely to think the world was starting to return to normal, but I’m not making any plans that involve spending significant time in the wider world. Fingers crossed for next year.

Luckily I have a new writing project to keep me busy. I just finished up the developmental edits on The Seeds of Exile and sent it off for copy editing. Yay! Now I need to get to work on the next Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Destiny. I have a pretty good idea of the central story (more on that later), but I’ve acquired an important secondary character and right now I know next to nothing about him.

The Seeds of Exile is about the relationship between twenty-six-year-old Daire Edevald, crown prince and ruler of the wealthy city state of Caldermor, and Warrick Edevald, his twenty-one year old brother and heir. As I wrote the novella, I discovered a third brother, eighteen-year-old Niol. He doesn’t appear in the book, but he features strongly in the battle between the brothers and at the end of the novella Daire sends a message to call Niol home.

Salient details about Niol: he was sent away aged eight, to be raised at a friendly court on a remote peninsula four days’ ride away from Caldermor. That was a decade ago and he hasn’t been back since, though he’s always known he might be recalled. His political value is as backup to Warrick, just as Warrick is backup for Daire.

I was talking through my edit report with Karen, my developmental editor. She said “So, Niol. What’s he been doing and what’s he like?” Er. Good question. Better figure that out.

All the Edevald boys have been brought up to do their duty, no matter the personal cost, but they have very different styles and personalities. Daire is showy and theatrical, totally OTT, with a talent for political maneuvring and a big heart. Warrick is scholarly, introverted, idealistic, a touch pedantic. So what is Niol? Physically he’s like his brothers– tall and whippy, with masses of curly hair and a cute smile. As a character he can be almost anything I want him to be except an out-and-out villain.

I’d like him to be very different from the other two sons, and since he was raised in a different country I can easily justify that.

Is he happy or resentful that he was sent away?

How does he feel about the family and/or tutors who were given the responsibility of raising him? Does he feel more loyal to them than to Caldermor?

What’s his personality like? What skills has he learned in the last decade?

How does he feel about being recalled? I think he could have visited over the years but has chosen not to, which suggests to me he doesn’t see Caldermor as his home. He has no reason to feel brotherly love for Daire or Warrick.

I’d like Niol to be fun to write, and to read about. What kind of young man do you think he’d be?

Michaeline: Jokes Saturday

 

Lady in a jester's costume, leading a man in a monk's costume.

“I have a joke about a priest, a rabbi and a minister, but it’s a low bar.” — Image via Wikimedia Commons

Silly season, the time when serious people go on vacation and the media is left to the frivolous folks lower on the ladder, has started early. At least, according to my Twitter timeline, it looks that way. It’s jam-packed with jokes that follow the format of “I have a joke about x, but y.”

So ridiculous. But so viral! It’s been in my brain, and I’ve been obsessed with the jokes all morning. Here are some I came up with:

I have a joke about Skype, but I’d have to phone it in.

I have a joke about plums, but it’s so cold. (But so delicious.) This is just to say hello, William Carlos Williams. 

I have a joke about school openings during a pandemic, but it’s really sick.

I have a joke about sewing homemade masks, but it’s layered.

I have a joke about a pile of laundry, but it’s not clean.

I have a joke about a two-engine plane, but it needs a couple of props. (This one is for my mom. Hi, Mom!)

I have a joke about opening bars during a pandemic, but it’s too soon – and the priest, the rabbi and the atheist are busy doing other things.

I have a joke about the post office, but I’m not sure if I can deliver the punchline.

I have a joke about a tree falling in the forest, but Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Here we are again at the end of another week.  Can you believe it’s almost August?  I can’t.   Although, to be fair, it feels like this year has already been infinitely long.

I’m on day two of a five-day break from work.  It feels a little odd having time off in the midst of a pandemic with unnecessary travel curtailed and so many places still closed, but we were all strongly encouraged to take some time away from work this month, so I’m doing my best.

One of my coworkers packed up the family and headed off to the woods for some socially-distant camping, but I think I’ll pass on that.  Perhaps I’ll take a day-trip to a local (empty) beach with my camera in tow.  So far my time off work has included a lot of reading and a lot of napping, with a trip to the grocery store for some necessities.

Not particularly exciting, but it is nice to have a break from conference calls and Zoom meetings.

I have a list of things I was planning to do during my time off but so far it is looking fairly unlikely that much progress will be made there.  On the plus side, I’ve already done plenty of reading and napping, so I think I’ll consider that a win.

Regardless of whatever else I do or don’t do, I’m definitely going to give today’s writing prompt and random words at shot.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Michille: Preparing to Attend a Writers’ Conference

RWA2020-virtual-logoRWA National Conference is fast approaching. So it’s time to start prepping for it. Of course, getting the conference schedule is a top priority and deciding which sessions to go to, which to avoid. I’m not pitching this year, or I’d be working on that. I suck at elevator pitches and tag/log line type descriptions so creating those is torture. In order to make sure I’m not forgetting anything, I googled to find some internet advise.

PSYCH!!! Continue reading

Elizabeth: Virtual Distraction

I don’t know how things are where you are, but here we are still working remotely, staying close to home, and trying to help flatten the pandemic curve.  For me, that means I’ve been staring at the same walls for quite some time now.

I’m definitely ready for a fun distraction.

Fortunately, I found just the thing in my news feed the other day, thanks to a post by Julia Quinn.  I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Australian Romance Readers Association (I wasn’t), but if you’re not, now may be a good time to remedy that.

On the weekend of August 1-2, they’ll be running a Romantic Rendezvous (Locked Down) event on their YouTube channel.  Here’s the blurb: Continue reading

Jeanne: Back to Basics: Acts and Turning Points

brain vector cartoon

Since throwing away a (really awful) 60,000 word draft of for my current work-in-progress back in mid-April, I’ve been struggling with the updated story line. I’ve got a lot of ideas about what could happen, but I need a framework to ensure that those incidents escalate, and that the external story mirrors the internal character arc so we understand why the character is changing.

This quest led me back to an assignment we completed at McDaniel that was designed for exactly that purpose. Jenny gave us a template that looked at the function of each of the five turning points in a four-act story.

  1. Inciting Incident
    • Introduce main character(s)
    • Get the action rolling
  2. Change of Plans
    • Surprise to protagonist and reader
    • Things are worse than he thought
    • Forces him to change his plans
    • Pushes past an internal limit he’d set for himself
    • Forces him into an action so strong it turns the story around into a new story
  3. Point of No Return
    • Surprises the reader and the protagonist
    • Forces him to change his plans
    • Pushes past an internal limit he set for himself
    • He can no longer return to his stable life, even if he wants to
  4. The Dark Moment
    • The going-to-hell moment in the story when all seems lost and the protagonist is in crisis.
    • Moment when protagonist hits bottom, forcing him to rise again.
    • Reader is on her feet, cheering him on for that last push.
    • Revelation through action so strong it turns the story around and makes it a new story
  5. Climax, aka Obligatory Scene
    • Protagonist and antagonist meet in a final battle for all the marbles
    • Catharsis for reader, release from all the tension
    • Answers all the question, end of the journey
    • Revelation through action so strong it satisfies the reader completely and makes her want to read the story all over again.

My writing method is somewhere between plotting and pantsing. I need to have these five turning points defined or I wander around aimlessly. But once I have them, I’m comfortable winging it.

How much structure do you need before you start writing? Or, as a reader, how important is a well thought-out plot to you?