header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); Emotional Structure Archives – Kristen Koster

Teaching Moments

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Apr 272012

Teaching Moments: Photo of the sun breaking through the clouds.This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group was asked about teaching moments: “What have you recently learned from a REAL LIFE event/happening that you can apply to your writing/writing career?”

Have you ever felt like the universe is trying to tell you something?

It’s been shouting at me lately.

When the same phrases and themes keep coming at you, eventually one is going to stick. First it was, “If you never ask, the answer will always be ‘no’.” And then there was all the advise on pushing boundaries one step at a time.

Lately it’s been all about soul searching, knowing yourself, digging deeper, how your experiences mold you and using those deep core experiences and decisions to improve your writing. Now, Jodi Henley‘s been talking about core events for a while. I listened. I really did. However, I didn’t have the right mindset at the time to learn as much as I needed. Jo Leigh came to my local RWASD chapter meeting this past month and talked about “Core Decisions” — it wasn’t the most comfortable meeting for an introvert who doesn’t like discussing what makes her tick. But man, did it make the brain work overtime. Lots of ‘Aha!’ moments when thinking about what my stories have been about and why the heroines act and react the way they do.

I’ve recently had a few people look at my work and while they agree that while I can string a sentence together, something’s missing. Now, none of them came out and said this precisely, and I may be putting words in their mouths, but what I feel is missing is the ‘heart’. The emotional side of things. How does it really feel to be in these characters heads and why should we care about them.

I’ve learned a lot about the theory of why Emotional Structure works, why connections are drawn between authors and readers. But most importantly, I’ve learned that I cannot avoid what makes me “me”, not if I want to find my voice and connect with readers to bring my characters truly alive and make their stories matter.

The trick now will be opening up those veins and allowing it to bleed out onto the page. I need to abandon the theory, no I need to TRUST it, and put it into action.

YOUR TURN:What have you learned recently that it suddenly seemed like you were ready to learn?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 162012

Cover image for Dorothea Brande's On Becoming a Writer
This week’s topic for my accountability group in our How I Write Series is “What do you wish you had known before you had even started to write? What would you have told your past self? Would you have discouraged yourself or encouraged? Would you have gone a different route?”

So… this post isn’t so much general advice to newbie writers, but more specifically tailored to what I wish I’d known back in 2007 when I decided I was going to do this writing thing as a creative outlet. I was bored and at loose ends during the summer of 2007. I picked up my husband’s copy of Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande and was blown away.

The book was written in the 1930s, but here she was in my head, speaking directly to ME, telling me I COULD do this! She believed in me. Total and complete unconditional belief.

Ok. That sounds hokey, but it’s exactly how it felt. And, so armed with that boost in confidence and not much else, I set out to write a Regency-set historical romance, just like the ones I’d been devouring at an astonishing rate. In retrospect, probably not the best plan, but not the worst either. If I’d tried something too simple, I would have been bored easily and not stuck with it. Instead, I’m still eager to tell the first two stories I began the right way. And some day, I’ll pull it off! I’m getting closer all the time.


What do I wish I had known before you had even started to write?

How to better tell a story. I’m still working on learning this one, but knowing where to look for guidance would have been a godsend. These books will be some of the most influential to your writing process and understanding of how stories work: Emotional Structure: Creating the Story Beneath the Plot by Peter Dunne, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee and On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels. Go read them now.

Also, listen to Dorothea… write daily. The journaling is a good start, but keep it up and try playing with fiction in there too.

Oh, and going Gluten-Free will help instead of losing so much time to the boy’s almost daily migraines between 5th and 7th grade. Push to find the cause, not just treat symptoms.

What would I have told my past self?

This is harder than it looks. What you read in a published book is NOT a first draft. Don’t give up because the first draft isn’t perfect.

PRACTICE, practice, practice. Practice with ideas, synopses, hooks, blurbs. Oh.. and when you download Scrivener, don’t give up on it. It’s far more powerful than you think it is. It WILL help you see and build the structure you crave.

Would I have discouraged or encouraged myself?

I don’t think there are any valid reasons to discourage myself about writing in general. I definitely needed pushed and bless my DH, he’s encouraged me every step of the way.

Valid discouragement would be to avoid time sucks, avoid long stretches of not writing new words or ideas.

I would encourage putting myself out there sooner and networking earlier. Social media is a force to reckon with, but it’s not the only thing to spend time on.

Would I have gone a different route?

I don’t think I would have done things very differently, just sooner. And more consistently.

Life is going to happen around you. You will hit some serious road bumps, control what you can. Don’t hide from the world, don’t stop writing. Find your escape in the ballrooms, the salons, the characters. Yes, it may be easier to just play facebook games, and you may even convince yourself that you’re “helping your DH”, but you’re wasting valuable time and eneergy. *head smack*

Two other things, you know that Warrior Writer workshop with Bob Mayer?! It didn’t kill you, right? 1) You SHOULD take both days. *head smack* 2) You SHOULD listen to Pam and Margaret and join RWASD right away. *head smack*

YOUR TURN: What career advice would you go back and give yourself when you were just starting out?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group would go back and tell themselves, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Dec 022011

Last week, we talked about How We’d Spend A Day With One of Our Characters, but this week’s entry in our How I Write series, takes a closer look at our planning process. So, since we’re all writers, we’re focusing on plotting, which inevitably leads to the question: Plotter vs Pantser or some weird mix?

Plotting Via Spreadsheets

Hi. My name is Kristen and I’m a spreadsheet addict.

There. I said it. Now, I love me some colored index cards and other office supplies, too. They have their uses, but they also get scattered and lost. I’ve also been known to scribble mind-maps and notes on loose paper, but I do much better if when I’m satisfied with the basics, I transfer everything into Word or Excel. Sometimes both.

I also have a love of puzzles that captured my attention in my college economics courses and led me to double major in it alongside business administration. You probably think I LOVED my accounting classes too, but you’d be wrong. There’s a huge gap between intriguing puzzles and busy work. I see plots more as complex puzzles that I haven’t quite worked out the rules behind.

I’ve looked at many different plotting methods to build my outlines, Snowflake Method, 3-Act Structure, Save The Cat, The Blob, Hero’s Journey, Emotional Structure, Billy Mernit’s 7 Steps of Romantic Comedy. You name it, I’ve probably tried it. Even on the same manuscript.

You see, I also have another problem. I over think things. Yes, I can admit it, but that’s easier than avoiding doing so. I like to look at things from different angles. I want to make sure what I’m building will make sense when it’s complete. I like looking at things through different lenses and not just for photography. This is why I don’t think I could pants a story to save my life. It only takes me so far and I’ve lost sight of where I was going and end up circling in confusion and walk away from it.

With spreadsheets, you can keep all your thoughts and notes in one place. Using different worksheets in the same file or even different columns on the same one, you can apply different lenses (plotting methods) to the same plot outline. Is it effective? I don’t know. I think it works for me in the long run. I think of and see different things as I approach the problem from different angles. Does it help keep me on track and get the project finished? Probably not, but it does help me explore and think about the story and the characters so I know them before I sit down to work.

Linear vs Non-Linear Writing

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on writing or plotting, you know I strongly believe I need a road map to get from the beginning of a story through to “The End”. I may sound like an extreme plotter who plans everything down to the most miniscule detail, but I really do enjoy having my characters surprise me along the way.

I could never write out of order because of that though. Things change wildly enough sometimes without jumbling things out of order and requiring major surgery to stitch everything into place before it can be considered done.

One of the methods I found and liked, but which drives my DH insane when I mention it, is called a Phase Outline. It’s a very detailed outline, where you describe what needs to happen on each page in a line or two. “Why write the story twice,” he asks. It doesn’t feel that way to me. I try to leave it lose enough that the characters can move outside the confines of the box and become who they need to be, but it’s still structured enough that I’m comfortable in knowing where we’re all going, and that we’ll get there on the right page.

Escape From the Box

So, you probably now have an image of me as a control freak. You wouldn’t be wrong.

You might also picture me as indecisive, insecure and unable to commit to a single method and stick with it. I prefer to think of it as thorough, but you might have something there.

So, how do I know when I have a plot that I can work with? Gooooood question. Sometimes it takes working through it and see if the pieces fit together.

Wait?! Didn’t I just say that was the exact opposite of how I saw my self working? Probably, but I’ve found that when my characters surprise me by doing something that’s not planned, it’s better for the story. I know a lot of pantsers say they run everything through in their head several times before committing it to paper. I suspect many hardcore plotters do the same thing, they just commit all their iterations to paper along the way.

As far as knowing when something’s ready to go out into the world? It should resemble the working outline, but doens’t have to exactly. The highlights of the journey must be hit, and I often can’t see that for all the details along the way. Once I have a draft or two on a manuscript, it has to be sent to a couple of readers to see if I managed to get the story in my head onto the page.

I’ve only reached that point with one manuscript and only sent that to one agent because my confidence having done that isn’t as high as I’d like it to be. That’s definitely one of my goals for next year. Deconstructing the puzzle and putting it back together again. Each iteration gets better, but I fear I’ve left a string of characters still trapped in their boxes along the way.

I’m determined not to sit complacently with them though, I will find my way out of this self-made maze.

When I first conceived of this post, I had the idea of a mime trapped in a box, which was really a cell in an excel file. But this morning as I got thinking about taking my laptop with me on a field trip to the car dealership, I was thinking how similar it was to the portable writing desks people carried (lugged?) with them during the Regency Era. So, as a special treat, here’s a photo of one. I think I’ll keep my laptop with Word and Excel for everyday use, but one of these to go with my antique lady’s secretary would be nice too.

A Regency era mahogany and inlaid writing box, circa 1810.

A Regency Tunbridgeware mahogany and inlaid writing box by Dunnett's of London, circa 1810. The cover inset with a painted panel of Venus and Cupid, the border of chequered form, the compartmented interior with green paper lining and label inscribed 'Dunnetts Toy & Tunbridge Ware REPOSITORY No.3 Cheapside, London' 14 in. (36 cm.) wide

YOUR TURN: Are you a macro or micro manager? Do you plan everything down to the most minute details or do you get a vague idea in your head and take off running? Do unfinished projects haunt you? How do you know when your project is complete?

And if you’d like to read about deal with plotting and knowing when a manuscript is ready to go out, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *

Oct 212011

This week my accountability group is blogging about how we flesh out/develop a fiction character for our stories. Last week’s post on our bookshelves and influential authors is also part of our How I Write series.

In order to answer the question about HOW, I think I need to share what character depth & complexity mean to me. I enjoy reading rich characters, ones who feel like real people, albeit a bit larger than life, but real. I think authors can make this happen through a variety of tools available to them. It bothers me when characters are flat or indistinguishable from one another, even and especially secondary characters. I read for the emotional journey and flat characters just don’t cut it for me as a reader, whatever the plot may be.

I was pondering how to pull this post together and find meaningful photos to use for it when I thought about my daughter’s interests in anime and cosplay (costume play or dressing up and getting into the character of your favorite roles). She’s been enthusiastically gathering materials to portray a number of different characters lately. Putting together a Halloween costume or working with big visual symbols of someone else’s character instead of coming up with your own is a bit easier, but you also employ the same essential steps. You start with the basics and then dress it up with all the bells and whistles until you’re happy with it.


Photo of my daughter when she first started putting together a cosplay outfit for this character.

The Basics: What Absolutely Defines Your Character

For me, the basics of any given character are those things that make them uniquely themselves. If you took any of those things away, they wouldn’t be the same person, right? At first, they may feel a bit two-dimensional and you’ll want to build on that, but you need a good base. I don’t tend to go in any particular order once I have the general idea of my character in mind. Go where your interest and whimsy take you.

GMC — I’ve never read Deb Dixon‘s Goals, Motivation, Conflict (GMC), but I’ve heard it recommended enough times that I probably should read it over at some point to get it from the source. But I do try to include some of the concepts when creating and then developing the characters for my stories. Characters have to have WANTS and NEEDS as well as CONFLICTS or at least some OBSTACLES to reach them. Otherwise, it’s not interesting or satisfying and I think these fall under the basics of what you need to write a story. Without them, well, it’s just gonna flop around on the page.

Establishing Connections Michael Hauge recommends using at least 2 of the 5 following ways to establishing rapport between your main character and your audience:

1) likeability — a nice person
2) skill/expertise — they are good at something
3) sympathetic — the victim of some undeserved misfortune
4) funny — not always an appropriate choice, depending on your genre
5) jeopardy — they are in danger of loss of anything of vital importance

These ways are meant to be used at the beginning of your story with your protagonist, but I think they can also be useful to pull readers closer to any character, especially your supporting secondary cast who will have a lot of time on stage.

Strengths/Weaknesses — Knowing your character’s strengths and weaknesses are ways to make sure you’re taking them on a story arc that changes. Not all characters have to, but it’s often more interesting to me if either the hero, the heroine or both of them learn something and grow as people during the course of the story. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses also makes it easier to test your characters and place effective obstacles in their path.

At Least 5 Whys — This tool is most helpful in figuring out motivations for goals and so many other things. Never stop at the first answer you think of. One way to avoid writing clichés is to brainstorm and dig down deeper, don’t settle for the first thing that comes to mind. Let your inner toddler have free reign with this one!

Biggest Fear & how you will make them face it — this one is a bit more tied to plot development, but I think it’s important when you’re fleshing out the character. This may be part and parcel of the next item, but knowing it before you get too far along can be helpful in figuring out ways you can torture your protagonist that will actually move the plot along in ways that should engage your reader in that emotional roller coaster.
Finally, Jodi Henley‘s idea of a Core Event is another concept that I’ve come to view as essential to character development. She explains this much better on her blog and in her workshops, but it is essentially what happened to make this person who they are when you begin their story. It is NOT the inciting incident. It’s most likely backstory that colors their perceptions of the world and the people around them. It is what drives how they make decisions and react under stress.


Another photo of my daughter after she'd put the finer touches on her cosplay outfit for this character.

Bells & Whistles: What touches add depth, complexity & believability?

This is where the fun comes in. Also the depth, the complexity and the versimilitude. Oh, yeah. I used that big word. The sum of all these little details are what make the characters even more unique and memorable. I’m sure we all have friends who have “THAT” laugh. You know the one. Or that aunt or uncle who has always used that same tired greeting that makes you cringe since you were old enough to remember?

Tics, expressions, rituals, habits — These can be nervous or verbal tics. Pick a few from each category and ONLY use them for one character. Give them each their own voice and personality.

Friends, possessions & pets — Who was it who said we are defined by what and whom we surround ourselves? Definitely have friends and acquaintances make observations about your other characters, especially your main characters. Are they showing their true selves to the world or does the reader get a special perspective on them?

Some of these things may seem small and frivolous in comparison to the items you use when building your character’s identity, but little things we can easily picture in our heads are sticky. Think about Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker and his pipe. And no one would ever mistake Wolverine with his claws out for Cyclops. Ok, those are swinging back into the world of comics, anime and cosplay, but it’s an easy visual example.


Character Sheets — You’ve seen the ones: star sign, height, weight, occupation, model of car driven, all full of useless trivia that probably won’t make a difference in how your character will react to the things you need them to. Oh, and I always read them with much amusement considering I write historical fiction. I don’t think I’d find them very useful even if I wrote contemporaries.

Stereotypes/Archetypes — Ok, I TRY not to use stereotypes and I was re-introduced to the notion of using archetypes again this summer, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever dig too deeply in that direction as something to build a foundation on. Some people may find them useful, but I also think the temptation to slide back into stereotype is too strong for me.

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my group develops their characters, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford *
* Emma G. Delaney * Kimberly Farris *

Jan 112010

Writing as Craft IconJust like we need a bit of structure in our lives in order to thrive and stretch our selves to reach our goals, our writing needs a bit of structure to it. This helps keep the story coherent and cohesive and helps it resonate with the reader. I’m sure there are experimental constructions out there where upon first glance it makes no sense at all and as a reader you can’t make heads or tales of it, until you learn the structure and suddenly everything clicks and makes sense.

Now, structure isn’t the same as plot, nor is it the same as a formula.

When people talk about stories, books, tv shows and movies as being formulaic, they don’t necessarily mean their structure is boring and worn out. Usually they mean their plot is tired and so well-worn, there are no surprises for us.

However, people have been telling each other stories for millenia. Some jaded folks claim there are no new stories or ideas. But we’ve seen numerous stories told where the structure is repeated time and time again. Why? Because it works with a wide variety of plots and people are comforted and satisfied by the familiar. Indeed many of the same basic plot lines have been retold with new characters throughout the ages.

The most familiar form is probably the three Act Structure as described by Aristotle in his Poetics. It can be found from ancient Greek plays to numerous books and movies of today.

Aristotlean Play Structure

Structure: Exposition->Rising Action->Climax->Falling Action->Denoument

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising Action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling Action
  5. Denouement/Resolution

This system will look very familiar if you graph it like Gustav Freytag did at the right when he analyzed ancient Greek and Shakespearean dramas.

Many people are interested in how novels and screenplays are organized and each have their own perception of how it works best and why. Some look at it from the angle of characterization and the emotional stories of those characters. Others have likened it to a journey that the character takes and the steps involved to propel the character on his journey and the adventures and trials experienced and his glorious return as a hero. here’s even a twist on this for the heroine’s journey. Yet there are others yet who are more plot-oriented with some delving into what motivates the characters to make the decisions that they do during the course of the plot.

Popular Takes on Structuring A Novel or Screenplay

  • Traditional Three Act or 5-Part Structure
  • Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey
  • Peter Dunne’s Emotional Structure
  • Debra Dixon’s Goal/Motivation/Conflict
  • Michael Hauge’s Six Stages
  • Kara Lennox’s breakdown for a 400-page novel
  • Billy Mernit’s Seven Steps for Romantic Comedies

I’ll be looking closer at these in the coming months, but I don’t think most of them are really completely different structures so much as various lenses with which to analyze a story or alternate sets of questions to ask yourself as you go about building your story.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser will determine your level of comfort and need for outlines, but I’m sure you’ll still find yourself asking these same types of questions that will affect your structure at one point or another, either before your first draft or as you try to assemble a later draft into a coherent story.


Which type of structure comes naturally for you? Have you ever used some other type of structure? Diary, Framed Flashack, Family Saga, or something else?

Apr 082008

Work In Progress

My WIP saw actual progress over the last two days. It’s Spring Break here for the kids and they were already crying they were bored by lunchtime yesterday. Today, I further taxed their powers of self-entertainment by taking them with me to get the tires on the van looked at. The guy told me, “I don’t usually say this to customers, but that’s a really dangerous tire to be driving on. Good thing you came in when you did.” Yeah, duly chastised and a thousand bucks poorer thanks to extended warranties, new shocks & struts and there better be some gold plating under there too! Noted. I’ll be back every 3-5 months to get them rotated and aligned now. Aye-aye.

Anyway, I managed to fill out my outline spreadsheet based on Dunne’s Emotional Structure and Vogler’s take on the Hero’s Journey, as well as a few other things I’ve tossed in by now. I finished Act I and Act II’s outline yesterday and finished up Act III today at the tire place. If they’d had a decent table to work on and I hadn’t had the kids, I might have been REALLY productive during the three hours we were there.

I also worked a bit brainstorming on names for characters and the like that I’ll need before I can really sit down and write this thing, but I’m so close that I’m starting to feel annoyed when I can’t take a chunk of time and devote to it and get it out of my system. This is a good thing. There’s a sense of urgency that I need to work on this and get the story told. I’d missed that feeling lately.

All I have to do now is strap myself into my chair and get writing! I’m sure I’ll become a regular feature in the RD chat room again. (Sorry Bria, no nifty anaolgies today. I’m too braindead from smelling the rubber in the showroom/waiting room and a FOXNEWS overload.)

Mar 062008

Amazing book! Romance Writing How To written by Leigh Michaels

I mentioned in a comment of my previous post on trying to figure out how to structure a new romance story that I’d just purchased two craft books and experienced one of those Aha! moments while reading the first one: On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels.

I shall now go bang my head against my desk.

Ok. Still here? I can’t believe I’ve been sitting here since August and I haven’t read this book yet. To say, “It’s what I’ve been looking for,” is an understatement. Either that, or the time was finally right for me to find it. It’s not a magic formula book by any means, but Chapter Three (Essential Elements) floored me. It wasn’t the following sentence:

A romance novel is the story of a man and a woman who, while they’re solving a problem that threatens to keep them apart, discover that the love they feel for each other is the sort that comes along only once in a lifetime; this discover leads to a permanent commitment and a happy ending.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, p. 39

No, that was familiar enough and I’ve read it enough times in the last eight months or so. No, what floored me was the diagram on the next page, complete with its cute little heart. Lemme see if I can do it any kind of justice.

HERO <cute little heart> HEROINE
Pulled together by a PROBLEM, which is the story’s conflict.
develops, but will the conflict permit it to blossom?
ACTION (the plot) develops and continues.
The conflict is resolved realistically. The HAPPY ENDING leaves the reader satisfied.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, p. 40

You’ll have to imagine some lines on your own. One line connects Hero and Heroine to the heart, from there a single line drops to the problem box, then it splits to the Love story and the Action plot to converge again at the Happy Ending. I don’t feel like I’ve done it any justice at all. However, the important thing is that I felt a shift in my thinking. Then as I read through Chapter Five, which is all about the Conflict in a romance novel, I felt things shift again. Getting them up in trees and throwing rocks at them apparently isn’t enough.

Simply giving your characters a problem doesn’t automatically create conflict. Only when the problem involves both of them and creates tension between them do you have conflict.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, p. 62

The inside of my head must have looked like the bank of paparazzi along the red carpet when a car door opens.

You have to get them up in the SAME tree and it can’t be just any old rocks, they have to be tailor made for them and their internal issues.

No wonder the Snowbound story didn’t really work. It’s also why my masquerade story isn’t quite clicking yet. Barrington cares, but he’s not really affected by her problems. I could go on, but the energy would be better spent fixing the problems.

She goes on to explain about Short Term (External) and Long Term (Internal) Problems that the hero and heroine must face. Pretty standard fare there and made sense as she described how they fit together and gave some strategies for creating them.

Then, I turned the page again and WHAM!

Leigh Michaels deserves a spot on the Jedi Council for her explanation of The Force and how you have to use it in conjunction with the Short Term and Long Term Problems, otherwise your Hero and Heroine, smart and reasonable as you’ve constructed them, will simply walk away. What keeps them together? They have to need each other so badly they don’t want to walk away, one has a good reason for forcing the other into this predicament, or there are outside influences keeping them in close proximity.

I’ve read most of the rest of the book (there’s some awesome stuff in Section Three: Writing Your Book) but I think I need to go reread the first eighty pages again to make sure it’s imprinted on my brain. There are summary questions at the end of each section that are helpful in illustrating the point. It’s not very workbook-like, but if that’s your thing, you can make it so. Or not. Her use of published examples and off-the-cuff throw-away ideas were extremely helpful to me.

So, it’s back to the drawing board for me, but if you’re finding that what you’re writing isn’t living up to what you’re reading, this book may help provide insight on what’s missing and it doesn’t come down on either side of the whole pantser/plotter debate.

Feb 012008

So, I began this writer’s journey in earnest a little over seven months ago. I’m not counting any previous false starts (they never lasted long before) or tangential experiences (we’re talking stringing sentences together, but more interactive and emergent stuff or related non-fiction). What I mean is a serious focus on craft and honest attempts to tell a story from beginning through the middle to the end and come up with something that appeals to others.

DH lends help and support, when I ask. The Divas are simply amazing. Their tolerance for dumb queries and unconditional backing is unbelievable. Jodi manages to ask all the right questions or drop little bombshells of wisdom to make me think about what I’m doing. MamaDivine certainly learned from her! Bria and CC are enthusiastic cheerleaders.

So, what’s my problem?

Why am I still spinning my wheels and going in circles? Is it a lack of “pre-writing” and not knowing my characters enough to deal with their reactions to situations? I suspect the issue remains in my actual plots and structure. The hardest thing for me to do is step back and puzzle out the big picture for my own writing. Gathering the characters I want to throw together and stockpiling rocks to chuck at them seems easier. Often, I can visualize the closing scene/image.

Now, I’m probably whining, but I’m frustrated. I may have made too few attempts to speak with any authority, but I find everything falls apart when I try to go from point A to B and then head for C. My conflicts and dilemmas never seem to be sufficient or the details refuse to come together so things float around in limbo.

Several different approaches caught my eye or were suggested: Snowflake method, Emotional Structure, Hero’s Journey, and even breaking individual scenes down into notes for Meeting, Purpose, Encounter, Final Action, and Sequel/Aftermath. Each one taught me something about this process, but I’m still not satisfied with the results.

Analytical and highly focused on theory are now attached to my name. I think people are using nicer words than “anal” and “perfectionist”. Complements (and thanks to those who have made them!) must compete with the voices in my head, which are louder and more critical. I realized this would be a problem when I started, but it’s just another thing I wanted to learn about and overcome.

The Romance Divas are doing a free read promotion for Valentine’s Day. I’ve tried not to think about it much, but I may try to come up with something in the next two weeks. That’s scary! What am I thinking? Maybe, I should try a new spin on a familiar story so the plot and framework are a given. I don’t know.

We’ll see.


Wow, I think I just realized what the problem is. I’ve been editing. Too much critical thinking and not enough brainstorming and/or just writing. I’ve been skimping on my journal entries lately too. Not a good thing. Need to keep the words flowing, despite my cranky, persnickety, internal editor.

UPDATE: MJ’s written an awesome post on the subject of internal editors. Go read it!

Jan 282008

I’m stuffing the rewrite of Revealed back into a “drawer” again. I want to wait until a couple people have read it and commented more thoroughly on it before tearing it apart again and just sitting here second-guessing myself. I still don’t have a lot of ideas on how I’m going to fix the hero’s arc, but instead of beating my head against that wall, I decided to do something proactive.

I’m going back to the previous WIP where the pesky fellow was only a secondary character. I’ve been taking my spreadsheet that I based on the diagrams in Dunne’s Emotional Structure and Vogler’s Writer’s Journey. I’ve added a lot of notes to it from various other sources as well, and I hope I have something I can work with to guide my thinking into a workable and interesting story.

The main problem is that I have 25k words written in this WIP already. Trying to determine if the already written scenes need to stay or just move is giving me a headache. I suspect I’m also having similar issues with the GMC of the characters not being defined well enough to propel the plot along in a meaningful fashion.

I’ve also been chasing down a lot of rabbit trails lately. I’ve found a lot of interest in the world of screenwriting. Setups and payoffs, ideas about laying out things to fix in the characters life to make the story pay off, and generally more information to take up space in my brain. I hope they’re worth it as I have been trying to think about how these little tidbits relate to the stories I’m trying to tell.

This new/old WIP has an external conflict that the H/h should be working to resolve, but it’s not gelling very well with the emotional story arcs that they also need to follow. His lack of responsibility and her overdeveloped sense of protecting her brother are nice opposites. He’s being forced to be respectable and she only sees the worst in his little vices (which compared to the examples that her father and brother have provided her of wastrels are rather pathetic).

So far, I think I have the opening worked out for both the hero and the heroine and the middle worked out for the hero. Her middle is a bit more muddled in my head. And about all I know of the ending for either of them is that the external threat is defeated and they have their Happily Ever After.

I also need to write up reviews for two books I managed to finish recently. I’ll try to get those done sometime here in the near future.

Nov 072007

Image 11757 from the U of Ky's aggregate.org exhibit at SC'06No, not an obscure reference to Lindenhurst, NY‘s zipcode. Nor is it one to The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco in Project Gutenberg or even the model number of George Foreman’s Chrome Baby Grill on Amazon.co.uk.

11,757 is my total word count on the novel I’m working on for NaNoWriMo.

That’s right — 88 words ahead, baby!

I stopped early toay because I was at a scene change and my head was beginning to hurt.

You see, before I could start writing this morning, I had to work on my notes so I’d know what I was supposed to write about. I didn’t have high hopes for staying on track today because of that. I knew I was staring down into the gullet of the beast — the dreaded second act — the middle.

I think it only took me about an hour to fill in the story notes for the 2nd and 3rd acts. One benefit of having tried to cram this story into 2400 words back in September is that I know how it ends. I suspect this gives me an advantage over nearly every other thing I have begun writing. Not just an outline, but one that I’ve already working through and know that it resonates with the beginning — or at least how it SHOULD resonate with the beginning now.

I still worry about making a muddle of the middle, but I’ve found that the diagrams (mentioned in previous post) I combined from Dunne’s Emotional Structure have been invaluable in terms of dealing with pacing. I know it’s far from perfect, but I don’t feel as if I’m heading out on lengthy exploratory expeditions this time. With page numbers to aim for, I feel more comfortable in writing my scenes and sections. Thank you so much for pointing me this direction, Jodi!

So far, the characters haven’t argued or struck off on their own either. I’m taking this as a good sign — not one that means they’re weak and unfit for heroic roles.

My only real worry is that it will turn out to feel mechanical. I know the page numbers are only guidelines, so I’m trying not to obsess over them, but it feels comfortable and reassuring to hit those strides. I’m trusting you, Mr. Dunne… I know I have to make my own magic. I’m trying.

I also mentioned in the live chat on Romance Divas today that I felt like I sucked at details. MamaDivine wisely told me not to worry about them, they would come with revisions. Unfortunately, it’s not just the small details that seem to elude me. It’s often the keystones. I’ll know that something significant needs to be done or has been done by one of the main characters, but what exactly that might be… I have no clue.

This seems inherently more problemmatic than just what would be served at a typical dinner party during the Regency Era or what dances were fashionable at the time. I don’t know. I’m sticking to generics in the meantime and plowing ahead.

At this rate, I may even get to take a couple of days off, like I’d hoped!

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