Jilly: Five Great Writing Craft Resources

What are your go-to references for improving your chosen skill–creative, mechanical, sporting, whatever’s important to you?

I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t spend any more money on writing craft—no books, workshops, courses or conferences—unless I come across something exceptional. It’s not that my writing is so good I don’t need it, but that I already have a great collection of resources at my fingertips and I’ve only scratched the surface of most of them.

Even if I write for another 20 years (and I intend to), I bet I could find the answers to 99.9% of my craft problems on my current bookshelf or the internet. My challenge is to digest all that great advice, evaluate it, select the bits that I need most in order to power up my strengths, bolster my weaknesses, and widen my skill-set, and apply those lessons until they become second nature.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in this post that I was surprised to discover how much I’ve absorbed about the process of self-publishing. I’ve also learned that some craft resources hit the spot for me, while other famous names slide through my brain and out again, leaving no trace. I had fun choosing my favorite indie publishing resources, so I decided to play the same game with the writing craft references. I found it surprisingly easy to pick the ones I believe will support my writing journey all the way to the pearly gates.

Your mileage may vary (I’d love to know!), but here are my choices: Continue reading

Justine: Fiction Fundamentals, Part 3: Conflict (2nd Installment)

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.09.18 AM

Conflict? Mmm…perhaps. (Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin in “The Princess Bride” (c) 1987 Act III Communications)

Welcome to Part 3 of Fiction Fundamentals. In Part 1, I discussed character goals. In Part 2, I covered a character’s Motivation…the “why” of what they want to do in your story. Last time, in the first of a two-parter, I talked about the Big Enchilada that ties it all together and makes for a good read: Conflict.

This week, I’m delving a bit deeper. I’ll discuss scene- vs. story-level conflict, the difference between conflict and trouble, and those pesky “misunderstandings.”

Scene-Level (or “Mini”) Conflict

Let’s be clear about one thing: conflict must be in each scene in your book. Every. Single. One. However, that doesn’t mean the conflict had to be between your protag and antag relative to their goals, nor does it have to be massive, big-stakes stuff. It can be smaller. Call it mini-conflict, or that which does not directly affect your character’s goals. Said another way:

The conflict in each scene doesn’t have to be directly related to the protag or antag’s stated goal.

Here’s why: Continue reading

Justine: Fiction Fundamentals, Part 3: Conflict (First Installment)

conflict wordWelcome to Part 3 of Fiction Fundamentals. In Part 1, I discussed character goals. Last time, in Part 2, I covered a character’s Motivation…the “why” of what they want to do in your story.

This installment (the first of two) is about the Big Enchilada that ties it all together and makes for a good read: Conflict.

Before getting into the meat of this, let’s set some expectations about conflict:

  1. Conflict is necessary in commercial fiction. Period. No conflict? No story. People don’t want to read about characters who get what they want with no issues or impediments. They want to see characters suffer and earn their rewards.
  2. Conflict is a struggle to reach a goal and should have the reader wondering whether or not the character will achieve it.
  3. Conflict is bad things happening to good and bad
  4. Conflict must be clear, but not overwhelming. It can be too big/too much, drowning your reader in seemingly insurmountable problems.
  5. Conflict doesn’t necessarily have to be one person pitted against another. Sometimes the conflict is circumstances.

Debra Dixon, in “GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict,” makes it very clear:

“If conflict makes you uncomfortable or you have difficulty wrecking the lives of your characters, you need to consider another line of work. In commercial fiction you need strife, tension, dissension, and opposition. If you omit these elements, you won’t be able to sustain the reader’s attention. Even in romance novels – known for their happy endings, sufficient conflict must exist to make the reader doubt the happily-ever-after.”

The net-net? Continue reading

Justine: Fiction Fundamentals, Part 2: Character Motivation

motivationLast time in Part 1 of Fiction Fundamentals I discussed a character’s Goal…the “what” of what they want to do in your story.

This installment is about your character’s motivation: the “why.”

Let’s look back at a few goals from books/movies I discussed last time:

  • She wants to go to the ball (Cinderella)
  • He wants to defeat Voldemort (Harry Potter)
  • She wants to return home (The Wizard of Oz)
  • He wants to return to earth after being stranded on Mars (The Martian)
  • She wants to quit being a prostitute (Pretty Woman)

For each of these, we want to know why. Why does Harry Potter want to defeat Voldemort? Why does Dorothy want to return home? Why does Vivian want to quit being a prostitute?

Their motivation is why. It gives the reader (or viewer) the reason for their goal. It helps us understand the importance and urgency and determination behind the goal. A good way to figure out the motivation is Continue reading

Justine: Fiction Fundamentals Part 1: Goals

Welcome to the first of at least a 10-part series on Fiction Fundamentals (referred to a week ago as Back to Basics, but Elizabeth has already trademarked that!). Over the next several weeks, I and a few guests will be discussing things new writers should consider when writing a novel. While having a great idea is certainly top on the list, there are many other topics writers should work on nailing down to make their novel strong….and salable.

goals arrowThis week’s topic: Goals (not yours…your character’s)

If you’ve attended any writing workshops at all, it’s likely you’ve heard many people talk about your character’s goals. They need to be good. They need to be strong. But how do you know if they are?

Your character’s goal is the very essence of their part of the story. It is why they’re part of it. Each of your major characters (protag, antag, love interest — which may sometimes be one in the same) should have a goal. There are two types of goals to create for your characters: Continue reading

Justine: Conflict. Wait…What?

Trouble is coming. Or is it conflict? Image (c) 1950 Disney Animation Studios.

Trouble is coming. Or is it conflict?
Image (c) 1950 Disney Animation Studios.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last week reading through the second half of Three Proposals (and highlighting á la Margie Lawson’s EDITS). I’m amazed at how crappy it all is. I mean it! I might have done some good, award-winning work on the front end, but the back end is just that…a back end. Mind you, I finished that draft nearly two years ago (??seriously??), but good grief…apparently I hadn’t yet learned the lesson about “sittin’ and thinkin’” or “conversation for conversation’s sake.”

I certainly didn’t know about conflict. Well, maybe in theory, but not in practice. There are several scenes I’ve written where I have to look HARD to find it, and in many instances, it’s not there. What is there is trouble, but that’s not the same thing.

Now, the good thing about that is Continue reading

Justine: Getting Back on the Writing Horse

sagging middle, writing again, eight ladies writing, justine covingtonIn the month of May (and continuing here on into June), I sort of fell off the ‘ol Writing Horse. It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t want to not write. But with kids finishing school, a trip to England, and a serious sagging middle in my book, it didn’t happen.

Okay, the sagging middle was probably the biggest reason for me not writing. I was stuck. My story had gotten boring. And I needed to fix it.

So what IS a sagging middle? Besides the paunch on that hairy guy at the beach. Eew…

The sagging middle is Continue reading