Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Notes and More Notes

That's what I find littered throughout my computer. Files named "notes" or "notes on new story" or "new story" or "notes on chapter3".

Unfortunately instead of this being helpful when putting my ideas together, I find that sometimes I had no idea what I was thinking about.

For instance. Today I opened a file named "ideas" (sounds promising, doesn't it?) This is what I found.

There’s a secret in the house.

What is it?

An adventure


Right. Um. I think that idea needs a little more fleshing out. Like enough that I can answer the question: what was I thinking about?

And then there was this one under the name "Outline for new story" (everything is called 'new story' until I either have a main character name or a title - which means I have a lot of 'new stories').

This is what I found there:

Chapter 1

Incident at school - afterward Ally meets Stella

What kind of incident at school? Study hall and the kids are all goofing around and talking about the latest whatever – or looking up funny videos on youtube and Ally has her head in a book

To which I say. 1) this isn't an outline, not even by generous standards and 2) who are Ally and Stella and what's so important about the incident at school?

When I come up with a new idea for a story I try to put all the relevant pieces together in one place: the concept, the characters things like that. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes (as you can see above) not so much.

I have one started story I found - about a page and half and I have absolutely no idea where the story was going.

So either I ought to finish more of my stories or I ought to get more organized. How do you keep your ideas organized. Are they all in files labeled "notes" and "new story idea" like mine, or does your method actually make sense?

Kindle Auction

There's a great auction going on to benefit Diabetes' Research over at One of the items being auctioned off is an Amazon Kindle 2.0 donated by

I'm part of the group donating this item, so head on over and put in your bid.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Getting to Know your Characters

The characters are a pretty key part of any story (the other of course being plot, but we'll discuss that another day) and its important to know your characters - especially the main character well.

How do you get to know your characters?

I try to avoid writing an introduction to a character that sounds like an application for a date: curly blonde hair, green eyes, likes long walks by the beach and listening to soft jazz. But yet if that's what the character is like, I need to know it.

So I give my character an out-of-book assignment.

An essay.

"Who am I?"

And make them write it. Okay, yeah, I know I'm doing the writing but I let myself get totally into the characters head and write as if I were them answering the question. More than likely none of the specifics written there will end up in a manuscript - but the important thing is it allows me to really get to know my character.

Here's a sample essay from an as-of-yet unwritten story

Essay assignment – Who am I?

I hate these kind of assignments. They always assume that you know who you are and have something to say about it. Well, I don’t. But, I guess Mr. Blair won’t take that for an answer, so I better get to work. I’ll start with the basics. My name is Amy Patricia McKenzie. I was born 15 years ago on a snowy February day. It has snowed every day on my birthday ever since. My mom says that’s an omen. I’m not sure of what.

My father is Mitch McKenzie he works in an office. I don’t know what he does, nor do I particularly care. He’s always tired at the end of the day, I figure the less said about it the better. My mother is Lottie McKenzie. She teaches Art at St. Stephen’s High School. Good thing I’m not artistic or I’d have to be in her class.

I suppose I can describe myself. I have light brown hair, that sometimes looks blonde by the end of the summer, if I’m outside a lot. I have brown eyes and a couple of freckles on my nose. I’m average height and average weight. This is why I don’t like to write these kind of essays.

Let’s see, I can write about what I enjoy. I don’t enjoy writing essays. At least not this kind. I do enjoy writing poetry. I like to read. I play basketball on the school team – but I’m not very good. I like to listen to music and shop at the mall. I’m a typical teenager. So there.

Oh, and Mr. Blair, I know you know my mother, so you know I’m adopted. Why didn’t I put that first in my essay, you wonder? Because that’s not how I identify myself. I am Amy. Not adopted-Amy.

Now that I got that out of my system I guess I’ll write the real essay.

So, what would your main character say if you gave them this assignment?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Revisions Happen

Members of my critique group were discussing revisions. Sometimes it can be so frustrating to have something that you think is just right being torn apart by well-meaning readers who just don't share the vision you had while writing it.

The things is that I don't think anyone writes a perfect first draft. And sometimes it goes way beyond first draft - to second, third, fourth, fifth drafts. And on and on.

I know it's happened to me. When Mike Kissed Emma is the final product of many many revisions. Four of them in fact after I thought it was ready to submit. Two of those complete revisions were at the suggestion of an agent (who eventually passed) and the last revision was based on suggestions made by my editor at The Wild Rose Press. And of course, it paid off, because a final version will actually be available to purchase as of August 19.

And even though I thought it was perfect each time I finished it, I have to admit that it got better with each revision.

So revisions happen. Don't be afraid of them. Let those revisions move your story toward perfection.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Hero's Journey

When PJ Hoover came to visit yesterday she talked about The Hero's Journey and how she used it in writing her Forgotten World Series, the first book of which is The Emerald Tablet. The evening event had a very attentive audience who asked tons of questions afterwards and eagerly lined up to get their copy of the book signed. My son even got a special repeat performance of the presentation later that evening, because he had to miss the beginning due to baseball practice.

The presentation was fantastic dealing with where she gets her ideas and the importance of mythology in modern life. She gave a quick retelling of Odysseus' journey in order to demonstrate a journey that a hero takes, starting with a call to action and refusing that call, through adventures that change him and finally to the end, where the hero is home again, but changed in some way.

The kids asked interesting and thoughtful questions and everyone had a great time.

But I learned more than the importance of the hero's journey in all this. I learned how important good critique group members are.

PJ and I are members of the same internet-based critique group. We read each others works and critique them. We (and the 6 other members) help brainstorm new ideas or how to make something that isn't working quite right work better.

We've gotten to know each other fairly well this way - but yesterday was the first time we got to meet in person. And she is as delightful as I knew she would be. The visit was over too quickly and will make me wish we could see each other far more often. But it did reinforce how good it is to have someone who can be a go-to person when you have trouble with a work in progress. Writing can be a solitary experience, but it doesn't have to be. And my writing life is much improved by having PJ Hoover and the other members of my critique group in it.

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