Archive for the ‘Creating Coldcuts’ Category


Write (and Read!) With Pride

   Posted by: Faith

Yesterday, CNN posted an article entitled:

I Write Romance Novels — So What?

I agree with the majority of the article, and was thrilled to see it starting to get some momentum around Facebook and Twitter.

Have someone in your life who teases you for reading or writing romance? Someone who doesn’t realize that it’s just as legitimate as writing literary fiction or children’s books? Forward this article to them.

Go on — click through! No matter what genre you write in, the article has something to say to you.

Read it, and allow yourself that feel-good moment before you sit down to do your daily type-in. :)


Taking Advice

   Posted by: Faith

During the month of February, I took a synopsis class from Camy Tang (which I mentioned in a previous blog post). It was very helpful, and if you haven’t had the opportunity to try writing a synopsis yet — or if you don’t know where to start — she’s going to be running the same class sometime in May and I highly recommend it. You’ll get personal feedback and likely a new perspective on your novel that you can’t get from revisions alone.

I know — it happened to me!

One of the assignments in the workshop was a character synopsis, followed by multiple-page synopsis based on our 5-paragraph synopsis we did earlier in the month (the names for which escape me at the moment). After completing both of these, I submitted them for feedback and felt fairly confident about what areas I’d be told were weak. I thought I knew what needed to be fixed, so when the feedback came… I was a little surprised.

Camy has a gift for telling you what you need to hear, but doing so in a caring way that doesn’t make you feel upset or affronted — unless you allow yourself to react that way. She basically told me that my character’s motivation wasn’t believable, and it needed to tie in more to her external/internal goals.

Naturally, I went through several stages of emotions upon hearing this: confusion (maybe I didn’t explain things well enough in the synopsis?), frustration (is she serious?), contemplation (what would it be like if I *did* change things…) and finally, acceptance. Yes, she was 100% correct: my main character’s motivation was weak, wasn’t true to her personality, and didn’t really make sense in the whole context of things.

Imagine my surprise when I started brainstorming how to fix things, and realized that my story would be so much stronger for it!

However, I also realized that if I’d let my initial reaction control me, I would never have been able to rationally accept someone else’ s viewpoint. I was too close to the story, so I was blinded by what I *thought* needed fixing and unable to see the real issue.

After this experience, it dawned on me that taking criticism is definitely a learned skill. It’s natural to get defensive about our word babies, but sometimes we just need to step back and let someone else take a look and truly listen to what they have to say.

I’m extremely grateful for Camy’s feedback, and although it took me a few days realize that she was right, I now also know how to graciously accept criticism and put the advice into practice.

I know that not all critiques will have useful information, and sometimes the advice someone gives you will be wrong — but you’re doing yourself an incredibly disservice if you don’t at least consider what that person has to say, and do it seriously.

And let me tell you, if you want to figure out the weak spots in your manuscript? A synopsis is definitely the way to do it. When your story is broken down to the bare bones, can it stand on its own?

How are you at taking advice from critique partners and other sources of feedback? Have you ever had a reaction like me, feeling defensive until you realized that the other person was right?


5 Things to Do With a Shiny New Idea

   Posted by: Faith

So you’re working on your latest project, just humming along… until suddenly, out of nowhere, lightning strikes.

It’s a SHINY NEW IDEA. And it’s the BEST IDEA EVER. But you have something you’re working on right now, and you need to get it done… but you don’t want this idea to disappear forever. I’d venture a guess that if it’s an idea you really love, it’ll stay with you even if you try to forget it, but if you don’t want to risk it but want to stay on track with your current project, what are you supposed to do?

First, find a blank piece or paper. Or a fresh page in your idea journal. Or a new, clean document in your Word processor. Grab a pen. And maybe a cookie (I find cookies definitely help with creativity).

Set a timer for 20-30 minutes — you don’t have a lot of time to spend on this, because you’re supposed to be working on your other project!

Now, bring that Shiny New Idea to the forefront of your brain, and start the timer.

5 Things to Write Down So That Shiny New Idea Sticks Around for Later

1. Where does this idea take place, and when?

You probably can envision something about the time or place of this new idea, so jot that down. A quick date or a location will work to bring it back to memory later. If you see something specific in your mind, like a lake or a road leading into a city, write that down. Don’t know what city it is? Then it’s not important right now, because it won’t help you recall the idea later. Write down what you see in your mind, and move on.

2. Who are your characters?

Maybe only one person came to mind. Write down who she is, what she looks like to you right now, and everything that matters about her at this very moment, according to your new idea. Don’t develop new things about her, all you want are the key points that will help you recall this particular figure. If several characters came to mind, write down what you know about them too.

Remember: You don’t want to build them right now, just write down what’s in your idea. You have another project that needs all your focus and attention, and getting caught up in new characters could take you away from the current ones. We’re using key points here.

3. What are the stakes?

This is your conflict. Your idea. The thing that makes the Shiny New Idea wonderful.

If you’re the kind of person who starts with a character and then develops a plot, no problem — here’s where you’d make a quick observation about a conflict that your character could get into. If your New Idea MC is a dragon-hunting feminist priestess from the Order of Voluminous Tomes, she might get into physical conflict (dragons), social conflict (feminism), or religious/political conflict (priestess). You probably have some sort of very basic inkling of conflict for your characters, even if you’re not 100% there yet. That’s okay. That’s why you’re just writing this down now, so you’ll be able to recall and develop things later.

If you’re the kind of person who starts with an idea and develops characters around it, this will be the easiest step for you. Write a very, very basic & bare-bones outline of the idea that came to you. Do it in point form, so you won’t be tempted to sit there and elaborate on things.

4. Pick a genre.

This is quick. Just jot it down, somewhere on your page. If you’re not certain of the genre, pick a few and write them down.

5. Walk away, and allow your brain to get back to the task at hand… your current project.

Once you’ve written the Shiny New Idea down, you should feel a sense of relief. You’ve purged the idea from your head, and your brain no longer has to hold all these details close to the front of your mind out of fear that you’ll forget something. You can focus on your current project without worry.

You’ll probably find that something amazing happens now. Even though you’ve written your S.N.I. down, your Muse still flits back to it now and again, without you even trying to think about it. Your brain takes the idea and lets it heat up — like a slow cooker — making it better and better without even trying. Connections will be made. Conflict details will arise. Characters will start whispering to you about their favorite sweater, or what they always wanted to be when they grew up, or who they have a serious thing for.

And you didn’t even have to try. Write these things down if you want to, as they come to you, but set a timer each time. Stay focused. You don’t want to be the person that flits from idea to idea and never finishes everything! Which, admittedly, I often struggle with as well. (What writer doesn’t, at some point? :) )

Now you’re free to come back to the Shiny New Idea when you’re ready for it. And, for that matter, when your current project’s characters tell you it’s alright!


HTRYN: Back on the Wagon

   Posted by: Faith Tags: , , ,

Some of you may know, I signed up for Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course back in November or December (can’t remember when it went live). I had every intention of revising my 2008 NaNo-Novel for the course, but when I started working on it, I just wasn’t feeling it. Needless to say, I fell behind in the course and felt pretty awful about it…

This week, with my new resolve to revise my 2007 NaNo-Novel, I’m happy to say I’m back on the revision wagon! Yesterday I managed to go through more pages in one sitting than I had in three with the other novel. Mind you, the first pass through for Lesson 1 of the course is essentially identifying problem areas, but my vision is much clearer with this novel than it was for the other one.

Yay for progress!

Have you ever found yourself stuck on a particular project, only to realize that it wasn’t the right thing for you to work on at the time?


The Dread Pirate Synopsis!

   Posted by: Faith Tags: , , ,

This month, I’m taking an online workshop with Camy Tang called ‘You Can Write a Synopsis!’. Now that I’ve decided to go ahead and edit my chick lit/women’s fiction manuscript, I thought it would be a good idea to start really getting serious about things like queries, synopses, and so forth, so when I saw this workshop pop up on the Black Diamond RWA chapter, I scrambled aboard at the last minute.

The first two lessons were tough — really tough — and I suspect I’ll be working on revising and changing what I submitted for quite awhile.

The first assignment was the one-line synopsis. This is what Holly Lisle calls ‘The Sentence’ (and you may have heard me talk about that before), but Camy’s instructions were a little bit different. Still, I did my best to rework the one-line summary of the story. It’s hard! It’s so difficult to put yourself on the outside of the story and pare it down to about 15-18 words.

The second part was the 5-sentence synopsis. While this wasn’t quite as difficult, it was still an enormous challenge to summarize the entire novel in just 5 sentences. You don’t have room for subplots, romantic interests (unless that’s the main point of the novel), or anything beyond the main things that set the character back from accomplishing her goal.

Wow. Talk about some serious big-picture work.

I struggled with this, and I’m really looking forward to hearing Camy’s feedback on the assignments I submitted. She’s going through everyone’s work and commenting, which has been incredibly useful — I’m enjoying reading the work of others and reading her comments, as it’s fantastic to see so many examples of the concept put into action.

Next up… the character summary paragraph. That’s tomorrow’s challenge!

How about you, have you accomplished or attempted the one-line synopsis? How about the 5-sentence elevator pitch? Do you enjoy this part of the process, or are synopses something you dread doing?


After-NaNo Blues

   Posted by: Faith Tags: , ,

Once again, I’ve dropped the ball on posting regularly… but it’s December, so I can blame it on the holidays, right?

Not so much. Rather, I’ve had a few weeks of recovery from NaNoWriMo, which I attribute to my Muse packing her bags and heading out for some place tropical. I wish she’d taken me with her.

This happens every year after NaNo, though this year was worse than most — probably because of how invested in it I was as an ML — and it didn’t help that I hated my novel. I mean hated, with vehemence. Nothing went as planned, the characters were flat and dull, and my Voice sounded like something out of a grade 2 reader from 1932. Seriously. So, it’s no wonder that I didn’t finish the novel within the month as planned, though I did make the 50k. But oh, it hurt.

The novel broke my heart, and sooner or later, I’m going to have to fix it. We’re talking serious re-writing, tearing the story limb from limb, and putting the pieces back together after they’ve been completely and utterly recreated.

I may need to start from scratch. But I believe in my idea, and so I can’t simply throw the manuscript out the window and be done with it. Though… some days I wish I could!

How about you? Have you ever had a novel break your heart? Or started to write something you’d been so incredibly excited about, only to find that it turned into nothing but a pile of meaningless dreck that you’d have to entirely destroy in order to build it back to the way you’d planned?


NaNo: Writing Tools

   Posted by: Faith Tags: , , ,

Today I have a simple question: Have any of you used Liquid Story Binder to write your novels, and what are your thoughts on it?

A few years ago, I stumbled across Writer’s Cafe 2, and really enjoyed the demo… but it’s a very simple program, limited in what it can do. This is both a plus and a minus, depending on how you like to write your novels. I enjoyed the simplicity at the time, but I was writing something that wasn’t very complex… and now that I’m tackling fantasy this year, I need a place to keep a gazillion threads/characters/notes/back stories organized.

So, anyone used LSB and enjoyed it? I’ve heard great things about Scrivener too,  but I’m a PC user (and always will be). Or are there other writing tools out there that you’ve tried and enjoyed even more?


What Box?

   Posted by: Faith Tags: , ,

This past weekend, I attended a conference in Seattle. No, it wasn’t a writing conference… it was a gaming conference. Yes, I’m that geeky. But wait! Don’t run away yet! The conference was started back in 2004 by a couple of guys who wrote a little webcomic known as Penny Arcade. For whatever reason, they gained a following, wanted to give back to their fans, and started a convention “by gamers, for gamers”. It was to be a conference where the media didn’t take front & center (ie. E3), but the people who actually would buy and play the games.

Here we are at year six of the convention; I’ve attended for the past four years. Year one, attendance was something like 2000 people. This year, we’re talking 80,000+ people over the 3 days. And you know what? They’re still writing the little webcomic.

Penny Arcade is a team of two guys: Mike & Jerry, also known as Gabe & Tycho. Gabe does all the artwork, while Tycho does all the writing. Talk about a good deal! Unlike many other comics where one person tries to do both, this is a team where each person does what he does best, to the best of his ability.

Each year, there are two Q&A sessions with Gabe & Tycho, as well as one ‘Creating a PA Strip’ panel, where there’s even more Q&A… and each year, there’s a pattern of sorts that shows up in the questions. Many individuals are attempting to start their own webcomics and are looking for advice or inspiration. Others simply want to know what kinds of tools are used for the writing and drawing. And others, already in a creative field, want to know… how do you keep coming up with ideas, day after day, week after week?

The response is something we novelists would do well to keep in mind. Sure, we may not be writing comic strips, but does that make a comic strip writer any less of a writer than a novelist? Of course not. We both tell stories. We both write beginnings, middles, and ends. Comic writers just have fewer words to tell their stories in. Thus, we would do well not to dismiss this advice from Tycho: “I don’t set limits on my writing.”

Say what? Excuse me? You’re writing a comic, with continuous characters… aren’t there limits at all?

No, he says. When you set out to write with limitations, you place barriers on your creativity that hedge you in. When he wants to take a character in a certain direction, he’ll do it. If he has a great idea that doesn’t fit with something the character has done in the past, he does it anyway. Now, the difference here is that he’s writing a comic where the team has consciously made a decision to reject continuity in the belief that it limits creativity. For a novelist, we need continuity throughout our stories – or else they won’t really go anywhere – but does that mean we can’t take our characters in completely unexpected directions?

Of course not. The next time you’re writing and get stuck, and have no idea what should happen next, remember Tycho’s words. Stop placing barriers and just write something. Maybe later on you’ll realize that isn’t something that can work with your character and story – you are a novelist, after all, and not working in the comic format – but don’t set out to box your writing in. Don’t box your characters in. Human beings aren’t always predictable, so why should your characters be predictable (unless that’s an attribute you’ve written into a specific character)?

Cut that box up and send it out with the recycling. Your characters deserve a little unexpected excitement.

I am perpetually making plans.

  • I have a plan to write X number of words per week.
  • I have a plan to submit X number of articles/queries per month.
  • I have a plan to complete X number of Masters’ courses per year.
  • I have a plan to wake up at this time or that time every day.
  • I have a plan to make this or that a priority, “for real” this time.

Then I scrap all the plans and start again. Whoever said “those who fail to plan, plan to fail”, well… they obviously never met me!

Inevitably, my plans fail over and over again. It’s this bizarre cycle that I can’t seem to break. Every time I make a new set of plans, I feel like I’m getting a fresh start. Another chance to ‘get it right’, and how could it go wrong with such a perfect plan?

I’m still trying to figure that one out. Trying to figure out how to hit that sweet spot where motivation is accessible, and how to cover over that inevitable, often comfortable, pit of despair that we writers fall into.

What about you? Do you make plans & are you able to carry them off consistently? What keeps you on the right track?


Taking Risks

   Posted by: Faith Tags: , ,

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to take more risks with my writing. I feel that I need to branch out, dive deep, and search the inner recesses of my psyche… I want to create stories that have purpose, writing that has meaning, ideas that comb the murky depths and make my readers gasp in horror, awe, delight, and disblief. I want readers to think, “how could she write something like that?” while being compelled to turn the next page.

We’ve all read books like that. Those are the stories that we read and wonder how an author could put those words on the page without crumbling into a million pieces, or without falling prey to the dark void. The plot twists are unimaginable, the villains are truly evil, and the situations, setting, and action are all reflective of a realistic, very human, very harsh, very scrutinous look at the world.

I am a pessimist by nature. For years, I looked out at the world with darkened eyes, seeing little that brought me true joy. This should have enabled me to create those riskier concepts that could have propelled my work forward, but at the time, I wasn’t ready to take my writing seriously. Many changes over the past few years, while not re-wiring my brain to negate the pessimistic outlook, have caused me to look at things differently. It takes work, but I try to see the good in people, places, situations, and circumstances.

Unfortunately, this has affected my creativity. How do I revert to that darker, riskier way of looking at the world? How can I make conflict real, how can I make my villains real, without it? I need to take more risks with my writing, but I don’t know how.

I found an article about risk-taking in writing by Judy Reeve, posted on her website, and I encourage you to head over there and read the whole thing (along with plenty more useful articles on the writing process!). For now, I want to share a few paragraphs that really spoke to what I’m trying to figure out for myself:

“If you’re not willing to take risks, chances are your writing will be bland, shallow and boring. Even to yourself.

So, what does it mean, taking risks in your writing?

This is where you move out of safe, familiar territory, into something that feels a little dangerous. Risk-taking differs from individual to individual, so it’s difficult to say exactly what “taking risks” means. One writer’s risk is another’s walk in the woods. And another writer’s walk in the woods feels damned risky to a third.

Following are some of the ways it might feel when you are taking risks in your writing: Maybe your hands tremble and your handwriting gets a little out of control. Maybe while you’re writing, your breathing becomes shallow. Or you stop breathing completely. Sometimes you can tell when you’re taking risks because this is where the censor will step in: “Hey, you can’t write that.” Or the critic: “That’s certainly not a nice thing to write.” Or the editor: “You might want to be a little less specific there, maybe use words that aren’t quite so… well, graphic.” Hearing these voices can almost guarantee you’re working in risky territory.

You may stop writing what you’re working on, or it may deviate off into some safer territory, meaningless details or worse, generalities. You may feel restless and want something – a cup of coffee, a cigarette (and you don’t even smoke), something to eat, anything to alter the direction of the writing and the way you feel.

Taking risks means telling the truth, whatever your truth is.”

How do you take risks in your daily writing? How do you find the strength to “tell the truth”, and how does it make you feel during the process?