Tag Archives: writers on writing

Starting a Novel: Tips, Tricks, & A Little Chaos

11 Jul

I recently finished a major revision on a manuscript. Typically that calls for a well-deserved break, to which I shake my fists at, because I am a write-aholic, and I love nothing more than to immediately jump into my next, shiny, new project. That’s right. 

I already started another novel. 

Why did I already start another book? Well, for one, I’ve been working on the aforementioned revision for six months. It’s been a bit, and I’ve been dying to oil my creative gears and discover something new, whether that be a fresh, exciting world or a character that shocks me. I also know that a writer should never put their writing dreams into one book. If my revision doesn’t work out, well, I need something else, don’t I? Might as well get on that. 

So how does someone start a novel?

Quick answer: It’s different for every writer and often every project. Some of my projects are more outlined than others. Some come to me in a blink; others fight me the whole way. But there are ways you can enhance your chances for success. 

Here are those tips: 

  1. Set Yourself Up Before You Begin

On any given day, I’m working on about three novels. One that I’m revising, one that I’m writing, and one that I’m outlining. Because my recent revision was more of a rewrite, it had been taking up both my revising and writing focus—so, when I turned that in, I had space available for one of the novels I’ve been outlining. (I currently have three strong contenders.) These three ideas have been rattling around in my brain for a while. (One I recently came up with only a few weeks ago; another is based on an idea I actually started drafting when I was 14. That’s right, the idea is 15 years old! But now I’m giving away my age. Always keep your notes.)

By having notes ahead of time, you won’t feel burdened by the blank page, because, well, you aren’t starting on a blank page. You’re starting with bursts of character, fun dialogue snippets, exciting scenes, and more.

2. Research, Research, Research

Research comes into the writing process at different stages for everyone. For example, when I write my fantasy novels, research might not come into play until the later drafting stages. I typically write the book, realize the type of research it needs, then do that. My science fiction novels are the complete opposite. I need to know how certain technologies work long before I start writing, or I’m going to have a mess on my hands. Same thing with the historical novel I wrote. Research happened before writing. Significant research. Knowing what sort of project you are writing and how research will affect the project is important. If you aren’t sure, go ahead and jot down a couple topics you know are in your story but you don’t know that much about. Next time you’re having a writer’s block day, guess what? You now have something to do. Better to research earlier on and prevent a blundering plot hole than to write an entire book and realize the premise is flawed. Amiright?

3. Start Writing that FIRST Draft 

Write however you want to. Write messy. Write in order. Just write. Right now, I’ve been writing in one of those three fun ideas I’ve had laying around, and I’m still at the stage where I’m writing snippets all over the place. I wrote Chapter One – Six, and then I went back and added a short prologue, flipped three chapters, and started outlining the rest. I have one document titled ORGANIZEDwhich includes notes I can put in order by scene, and one called UNORGANIZED, which is my chaos document. I have no idea where these snippets will go or even if I’ll use them, but I love them and hope to use them as the book shapes up. 

A sneak peek behind the curtains

Basically, my Scrivener project looks like a mess right now, but I’ve been here a dozen times before. I trust that it will come together as it should. I trust the process. I trust me. If you don’t trust yourself to write or finish, then you’re still at the stage of your writing career where you’re figuring out what your process is and how to go about it, and that’s totally valid. Try different times of the day. Experiment with new writing methods. Are you used to plotting? Go ahead and be a pantser for the afternoon. Play with a new genre you’ve never tried before. Explore, and eventually you’ll find an adventure worth pursuing. If you’re struggling with meeting your goals, try NaNoWriMo, setting goals, or using tools like PaceMaker Planner

At the end of the day, you’re at the start line, not the finish line, so treat it as such. You shouldn’t be comparing your new words to someone’s edited words. Remember: This is your first draft. You can be as messy as you need to be in order to figure out what your book is about—as long as you plan on revising later. And guess what? No matter how perfect you think your first draft is, you will have to revise, so embrace the moment. 

Start writing your novel today.  

~SAT

P.S. For more tips and tricks on starting a novel, I will be teaching a FREE virtual class on Monday, July 27 at 6:30 PM (CST). More information: Starting a Writing Project. It is taught through ZOOM. Go ahead and register, and I will see you there! 

One Writer’s Staycation & How You Can Recharge At Home

20 Jun

I recently took a week-long staycation, which consisted of me laying around my house doing absolutely nothing productive. I won’t lie, it was bliss. 

Usually, I like to talk about writing and publishing here on the blog, but I realized one vital truth while I was out: Breaks are a part of writing. If you don’t take breaks—if you don’t live—you’ll eventually suffer from burnout. To be honest, I’ve been suffering from burnout. (I should take my own advice from 2016: How to Avoid Writer Burnout.) This was my first week-long vacation in three years. Maybe more. I honestly can’t remember. Between moving and changing jobs three times, I found it incredibly difficult to justify a break. Now I realize I didn’t need justification. Working hard means getting breaks. (Granted, it’s easy to say this in retrospect. In reality, I honestly couldn’t afford to take much of a break until now, but that’s another discussion for a different day.) 

In the end, breaks are important. They can also be inspirational! In fact, I was inspired to be a little nicer to myself by writing this blog post instead of the more detailed one I had planned. (Considering how long I was gone, I’m a bit swamped with catching up with work and revisions at the moment.)  

For fun, I thought I’d share my staycation ideas with you, especially since these ideas are social distance friendly, on the cheaper end, and might just help you have a day to unwind. 

First and foremost, I promised myself two things when I went on my staycation:

  • No “serious” writing: What do I mean by serious? I mean anything that you plan on pursuing seriously. For me, that meant NOT working on my revisions. It’s not much of a vacation if I replace it with my other career, right? I actually made this mistake once during my last trip. I flew the whole way to Charleston just to pull out my laptop and work on a R&R for an agent that ended up quitting before I finished the rewrite. Biggest vacation regret ever. 
  • Staying offline as much as possible: As a writer and program manager who manages social media, I spend an ungodly amount of time staring at screens, let alone being online. I promised myself I’d log off as much as I could. And I did! TBH, it was my favorite part. I think this is a good idea for many of us. The internet is an awesome place, but it can also be very distracting. In fact, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve logged on for “just five minutes” only to realize a half-hour has passed. For this reason, I recently took Facebook and Twitter off my phone, and it’s been a godsend. 

So, what did I do during my staycation? 

  • Baking Day: I love baking. It keeps me off my phone and computer, and I get to have a delicious treat after. Recently, I haven’t been baking as often, but this past week, I baked my first Japanese roll cake. (Strawberries and cream!) I definitely recommend choosing something you’ve always wanted to try but have never felt energized enough to pursue. It was so satisfying! 
  • Spa Day: I had a spa day with cucumber/lemon water, face masks, Epsom salt, etc. 
  • TBR catch-up: Here’s the thing, I have A LOT of books I want to catch up on. But reading many of those novels felt a lot like industry research to me, even if they are books I personally want to read. So I set out to catch up on my Webtoons. If you haven’t given Webtoons a chance, I highly recommend them. I caught up on Siren’s Lament, SubZero, In the Bleak Midwinter, and Midnight Poppy Land. The artwork is beautiful, and so are the stories. 
  • Fondue Night: Who needs a fancy restaurant when you can recreate one at home? I made fondue and chocolate dip, picked up all my favorites, and had a blast. 
  • High Tea: Before everything shutdown, I went to high tea at a local historic house that happens to also post their recipes online. Check it out. You can have high tea at home! 
  • Movie Night: I’ve fallen behind on many of the films I’ve wanted to see the last few years, so I set aside some time to watch Get Out and Knives Out, and they were both amazing! 

Basically, there’s lot of fun activities you can do at home, and you don’t even need to take significant time off to do so or spend lots of money. Most of these could be done on the weekend. I’m definitely going to partake again! And hopefully, I’ll have less burnout this year, more laughter and fun, and my work-writing-life balance will be—well—more balanced. 

How do you recharge?

~SAT

P.S. When I made it back to work this month, I was awarded Mid-Continent Public Library’s Maggie Jackson Community Spirit Award, which is given to a library employee who dedicates extra time and energy to their community. I was totally blown away. Working at The Story Center over this past year has been a dream come true, and I can’t wait to see where the next year takes our community. Keep sharing your stories, everyone! The world needs them.

How Virtual Write-Ins Help Me During COVID-19 Lockdown

2 May

It goes without saying that life is strange right now—and stressful. As someone who has moved every few years my entire life, I adapt to change pretty quickly, and yet these amount of sudden changes (and the constant drone of breaking news) has created an environment requiring constant reevaluation. 

I’m exhausted, y’all. And I’m sure many of you are, too. 

For me, Kansas City went on a stay a home order back in March. That’s when I began working from home, readjusting my schedule, and trying to figure out how in the hell I was going to continue with “normal” life, even though “normal” had been redefined. 

During the first week, I did okay. Dare I say, too okay. 

I got up at the same time, wrote during my “lunch break” like I would normally do at work, and went about life as if it were normal. But life isn’t normal. Working from home is different than working in an office, not that I haven’t experienced that before. I used to be a full-time freelance editor who worked from home. But that was when I was an independent contractor. This situation isn’t that. The main difference? Everyone else in my life is adjusting, too. We aren’t alone, but at the same time, we are having to help each other and cope with one another’s stress levels, which were all heightened simultaneously. 

Before I knew it, goals I was on top of at the start of this year slid off the radar. Between work and home life and the stress of the world, I had to put my writing on the backburner. This included not only working on my own projects but also “attending” my usual writing groups, even though we converted to the virtual world. I normally have time and energy to devote to others’ work, but I simply didn’t have much leftover energy at all, and it felt wrong to attend if I couldn’t offer the basics. That being said, I didn’t want to disconnect completely. Doing that can cause even more depression and anxiety. So, I reevaluated. 

If I didn’t have the time and energy to devote to my writers’ groups, what could I handle? What did I want? More importantly, what did I need?

I definitely wanted more time to write, especially after finding myself unable to write as much during my lunch breaks (or even on my weekends, due to a lack of energy). I also wanted to stay connected to my writing friends. Luckily for me, a few writer friends reached out to me, asking if I wanted to come to their virtual write-ins. No critiques, no editing, no expectations; just a bunch of writers writing about anything. If you can make it, great. If not, we’ll see you next time.

This is what I had been looking for. 

This is my setup! My desk is really short, so I stack my computer on top of three books to get eye-level during video conferences, then put it back down when I’m writing. ^_^

At a virtual-write in, it’s just you and a bunch of other writers sitting down at their computers to write. We’re not reading what the other is writing; we don’t even necessarily talk about what the other is doing. We just show up and write. It’s such a simple concept, and yet it feels so huge and wonderful right now. It helps me feel connected and focused, and knowing that I have one coming up helps me look forward to something on my calendar. It reminds me that even if I don’t get anything done on my lunch break, I have an hour set aside here and there to get something done, and I’ll have fun while doing it. 

This past month was my WORST writing month this year by far, but I think we can all be kinder to ourselves right now. One of the ways I’ve learned to be kinder to myself is by communicating my limitations to my friends and creating new spaces to explore my current energy levels, and I highly encourage you all to try the same thing. It may not be a write-in. It might be a brainstorming session or a critique group or a million other things. But write-ins have helped me tremendously.  

How to create a write-in:

  1. Send out a call – let others know that you’re trying to organize a virtual write-in via email or social media. If you have a time/date picked out, let everyone know. (Don’t forget the timezone!) 
  2. Use Zoom – send out the log-in information the day before via email (or try another platform, dependent on what everyone has access to). I recommend Zoom because it’s free for forty minutes, and that might be a good time limit to try something new. I’ve attended ones that are thirty minutes and ones that are two-ish hours. For me, 1-1 ½ hours works best, with a little extra time to chat. 
  3. Now write! – It can be easy to get lost in conversation (and some of that is a good thing)! But if you’re there to get words on paper and you find yourself getting distracted by convo, set timers to chat and timers to write. Having a host who is in charge of these aspects helps, too. 

I hope this stirs up new and fun ideas for your writing life! 

It sure has helped me. Whether or not they continue when the world opens back up, I don’t know—I hope so!—but I’ll never forget those that reached out and made me feel more connected in a lockdown than I could’ve ever imagined. 

What are ways you’ve tackled your writing during this time? 

~SAT

Tracking Character Motivations with a Free Spreadsheet

1 Feb

It’s no secret that I’m currently revising a manuscript. I’ve been talking about revising a lot lately and giving glimpses into what my revision process looks like. I’m currently on my third draft of a multi-POV sci-fi novel, and I am still smoothing out my character motivations. (What can I say? It can be tricky! Especially when you change something in chapter 3 and it causes a domino effect for the next thirty chapters.) In fact, character motivations can get trickier the more you revise. Why? Because you have to remember the exact decision each character made and why in this particular version. Obviously, you might see where lines start to blur. No one expects you to remember every little detail of every manuscript you’ve ever written, but readers do expect consistent, believable characters. And it’s your job as the writer to deliver.

One way I track the motivations of my characters is an Excel spreadsheet. 

If you follow me elsewhere, you might have seen me upload the photo of my Excel spreadsheet, which actually led me to today’s topic. I received a lot of messages asking for more information and tips on motivations, so I thought I would dive deep into this topic today. 

Motivations are important. So. Incredibly. Important. Without motivation, characters will come across as bland and unbelievable, which, quite frankly, makes them hard to follow or care about. There’s a lot to consider when choosing any particular character’s motivation. (Did I mention that ALL of your characters need a driving force? It isn’t just your protagonist, though your protagonist’s will probably matter the most since they are, well, you know, the protagonist.) Mostly, I find there’s a misconception that the bigger the motivation, the more important the story will feel to the reader. But it’s really the opposite. The more personal the motivation, the better. Why? Because the reader is more likely to empathize with personal stakes rather than worldly stakes. Which one do you care about more: A main character who must save the world or a main character who must save their little sister while the world is ending?

Typically, readers are drawn to characters who have personal stakes driving their motivation, even if the overall arc is huge (like saving the world). A great example is Katniss Everdeen. While she is the heroine at the center of a dystopian novel – and saving her country could’ve been the driving force – her true motivation was keeping her little sister safe. Without having a sister to save, Katniss wouldn’t have volunteered. (We know this as fact, because she had been in many lotteries before, and hadn’t volunteered before her sister was chosen.) Without a sister, Katniss wouldn’t be Katniss. Which is why what happens to her sister is so devastating. This sister-led motivation also creates a solid foundation for the reader to see why saving the “world” matters so much. (Why save a world if you don’t care about anyone in it?) Personal motivation will resonant more; therefore, allowing worldly stakes to have a solid platform. So let’s talk about those stakes. 

Your characters’ motivations should be challenged at all times. This is mostly referred to as “raising the stakes”. 

Ex. What does Katniss have to sacrifice in order to save her sister? What does saving her sister do to others around her? How does that affect Katniss’s future decisions? When does it change her decisions and motivation?

In addition to paying attention to your characters’ motivations (and upping those stakes), it’s important that your characters (especially your protagonist), change. At the end of the book, your characters should not be the same people we met on the first page. If they are the exact same person with the same feelings and motivations, then what actually happened in 300 pages? 

By creating a spreadsheet, you are forcing yourself to answer hard questions: “Did my character change in this scene? Did those changes push them forward or hold them back? Did it affect the story at all?” Spoiler alert: you should be answering YES to each of these questions, from chapter one allllll the way to the end.  

Typically, when I start writing a novel, I know where I’m going to begin and end. It rarely changes for me. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever started a book when I didn’t know the ending (or have a really close idea to what my ending would be). Why? Because the beginning tells me who the character started as, whereas the ending tells me where the character ends. The middle is going to be my character arc (herein referred to as the “rainbow”). If I don’t know where that rainbow is going, I will struggle to form all those colors that makes the story colorful, let alone form an ending that’s a believable treasure chest of gold. 

The spreadsheet helps me most out in the middle. I’ve found the middle is a place where a lot of writers struggle. In fact, the place I always get stuck at is about 65%. And when I get stuck, I love to work backward. This is where my motivational spreadsheet becomes super helpful. I can see where I want my characters end and compare it to where I got stuck. Then, I can ask myself, “What has to happen to these characters to get them here?” Once I start brainstorming, I can fill those motivations in. 

A spreadsheet is additionally helpful if you have multiple POVs or characters (ex. if you are struggling to track minor characters or the villain’s motivations), especially if Character A and B know something that Character C has yet to learn. In the end, I track the following: Chapter number/title, Chapter Summary, Character A, Character B, etc. (Typically listed in the order of importance.) I put the POV note in the chapter number. I also sum up what Character C is thinking/doing even if they don’t physically appear in a particular scene. That way, I am forcing each character to have their own presence, even in the “white noise” of their nonexistence in a scene. 

I highly encourage you to try this out if you are struggling with motivation, pushing stakes, and/or filling in that ugly middle. I gravitated toward this method because I’m an INTJ. I thrive with tasks dependent on logic. (Which is also why writing can be so hard sometimes.) Characters, as we all know, aren’t always logical, and yet they need to make logical sense to the reader. This single truth can feel like a huge contradiction to fledgling writers, when it isn’t. Not really. In reality, readers need to understand your character, even in your character’s most illogical moments. They need to believe that your characters illogical moments made sense to your character. Ex. Let’s say Character A loves Character B, and Character B has been kidnapped. Character A has a chance to save them, but only a 2% chance. And if they took that 2% chance, there’s a 98% chance they’ll both die. And yet, there’s no other chances coming their way. Logically, Character A should probably save themselves and hope for another chance. But we’re reading about heros! Character A is going to take that 2% chance, with all odds against them. Your reader should get that. They should feel how emotions have driven their decision-making. 

That’s what a spreadsheet is for. It’s forcing you, the writer, to give us those reasons, and making sure you’ve made those reasons clear in your story. 

Download your free Excel spreadsheet here. 

How do you track your character motivations? 

Also, what else do you want help with? I love to hear from you! In fact, it helps me help you more when I hear from you. I heard a lot from a lot of you all in my latest newsletter. (Whaaaaat? Shannon, you have a newsletter? I do! It releases once a quarter, and I always include more writing tips, sneak peeks at my work, and an exclusive surprise giveaway. Subscribe here.

My blog posts happen the first Saturday of every month, so check back in on Saturday, March 7. 

~SAT

Trying to Write as a Pantser

16 Jan

I’m a pantser for the first time.

What’s a pantser? Someone who writes a book with no plan, as opposed to a plotter, who, you know, plots.

Normally, I plot like crazy. I have plots for my plots. (Also known as subplots.) And though I almost always deviate from my original plans, I always have a plan. But lately, I was feeling a little bogged down by all that planning. I yearned for adventure. For mystery. For absolute chaos. Like a road trip with no destination ahead. Just me and the road and whatever will happen.

So, I decided my first book of 2017 would be written in perfect pantser style, full speed ahead.

I’m not going to lie, I thought I would crash and burn. In fact, I expected to. But that wasn’t the case. Let me explain the differences by comparing my normal plotter ways and my current pantser adventure.

The Idea

Plotter: Disclaimer: Almost all of my books start off as a dream, and this one was no different. After I have a dream I think might be worthy of a book, I sit on the floor with a million notebooks and just write down scenes and ideas that come to me. Throughout the next few weeks (or even months), I expand on the characters and world until they blend together and I have a solid plot, character list, and timeline. Sometimes, I even write an entire screenplay, dialogue and all, before I actually write Chapter One.

Pantser: I had a dream, cracked my knuckles, and sat down at my computer.

plotter

Beginning to Write

Plotter: I start in Chapter One after reading Chapter One’s notes thoroughly, and then I repeat with Chapter Two and Chapter Three and so on.

Pantser: Literally, the day I had the dream, I sat down at my computer and wrote down what I saw. I didn’t even know the general theme or my protagonist’s name, or even if she was the protagonist. But she quickly fleshed out into the full-fledged botanist she is today. The world she was in quickly followed. Fun fact: the dream I had wasn’t Chapter One, which is where I usually start. Instead, it turned out to be a mixture of Chapter Two and Chapter Four. (For now.) panster

The Rest of the Adventure

Plotter: I always know where I’m going and what will probably happen. Even if something changes, it doesn’t affect the story too much. I can still stay on course. (Basically, my GPS will reroute me no matter where I go.)

Pantser: I can’t stay on course, because there is no course. Even more confusing, there is no world to navigate anyway. This current project of mine is a YA sci-fi, but I’m letting my world build itself. That is honestly the strangest part for me. Normally, I have an entire system of rules and ideas to constrain my characters to, but not this time. This time, I’m letting the book let me know what it needs to do before I figure out where the boundaries go. We’re very much off-roading in unknown terrain, but I haven’t popped a tire yet. And if I do, I can create a spare out of thin air…because you know, no rules. I’ll make laws up later. And while this might sound reckless, I’ve been keeping a list of boundaries that come up in the text as I go, and it seems as solid as anything else I could’ve created by plotting.

In the end, being a pantser or a plotter doesn’t feel that much different, but this risk helped me fall back in love with the thrill of writing. I’m writing around the same pace as usual, but I do feel like I’m enjoying it more. I already know I’m going to have to rewrite a ton, but I do that when I plot, too, so that doesn’t feel like a huge loss to me. In fact, if I were being honest—if this works out—I kind of like this pantser thing. It feels more vulnerable (and more likely for things to go terribly, horribly wrong), but that vulnerability makes it feel more authentic, too. Like the characters are definitely more in charge.

Recently, for instance, I realized my villain is probably not who I thought it was going to be. And I’m still unsure about where the next chapters are going, but I definitely know the ending. (Or I think I do. Ha.) And I’m kind of enjoying my hesitation and fear and absolute joy when it works out.

Perhaps, this pantser mode worked for this particular book and wouldn’t for others, but I’m glad I decided to try it out. I’m having a lot fun, and I believe the project is forming together beautifully. If I had to guess, I would say a writer could do either one and be successful with it. And it definitely can’t hurt to try. In fact, it helped me.

Now to go write a scene I know nothing about.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Weaknesses in Writing

26 Dec

Writers always have room for improvement. Even if you’re a New York Times Best Seller, you are growing every single day, and knowing what aspects to work on can definitely help your career.

How do you know what to concentrate on?

Be honest with yourself.

Most writers know what their weaknesses are. Maybe it’s those pesky fighting scenes (or kissing scenes). Maybe creating villains is really difficult for you, or world-building takes wayyyyyy too long (like five years too long).

We probably know where we need extra help, because it takes us more time than usual to overcome that particular obstacle…and that’s okay!

Understanding your weaknesses as a writer will help you overcome them and learn from them. So, here are some tips to figure them out, work with them, and beat them.

1. Make Lists!

While you’re writing, you’ll come across those tricky areas and struggle. Take note of where and how and why you struggle during particular times. Also take note of how you figured out the issues eventually. By forcing yourself to step away and reevaluate it, you’ll see more patterns, and you’ll be able to research or study that particular area until you no longer struggle as much. Want an example? I LOVE my side characters, sometimes a little too much, and while I can explore side characters, I often let them overshadow my main characters during the first draft. In the current book I’m working on, I have a note to tone down those subplots. That way, I don’t get out of control again. (And if I do, I have notes on how to fix it when I’m editing.)

Another list I love to keep outlines my crutch words. This includes words I use WAY too often and words I often misspell or just need to look out for in general. Crutch is actually one of my misspellings. I always use clutch instead. Why? I have no idea, but I know that I need to search for clutch and crutch every time I’m editing. I also search for all those pesky, repetitive expressions like smile, nod, frown, smirk, laugh, etc. There’s nothing better than finding out you used the word smile six times on one page and deleting them ALL before anyone else reads your Crest commercial…er, I mean, book.

writerweaknesses2. Read, Research, Practice!

If you’re anything like me, you might struggle with romantic scenes. (Seriously, I feel like a Peeping Tom every time I write a romantic scene. It really ruins everything for me, which is probably why most of my novels have very little romance in them. But moving on…) I know this about myself. I know to take my time on these scenes, and I realize I’ll edit them a hundred times over. But one thing that I find that fixes my issues more than anything else is reading. By reading, I will see how authors evoke emotions I struggle to explain. Whenever I come across a romantic scene in a book I’m reading, I definitely pay more attention than usual. I might even take notes on how and why it was a successful scene, so that I can consider how to utilize those tools in the future. This is where research and practice comes into play. Once you start realizing what works for you and others, you can try out your new skills on short stories or individual scenes. By writing and rewriting those areas you struggle in, you will start to feel more confident and comfortable over time. (Plus, we could always use another excuse to read.)

3. Remember One Thing!

Weaknesses do not make you a bad writer. Everyone has them. Yes, even J.K. Rowling. Maybe you have a bad habit of dream sequences or too many flashbacks or your villain falls flat every time. That’s okay! As long as you understand that these are issues, you can fix them. Look at it this way, isn’t it better to know about them, and be honest about them, than be oblivious or ignore the issue at hand? Writing is a journey. Some scenes will work perfectly; others might need more work. Take your time. Embrace the challenges, and prove to yourself that you can overcome them.

~SAT

Writing is Misery

10 Oct

Announcements:

The last poem of the second voting section has been added to my interactive poetry series on Wattpad. Remember to vote, share, or comment for your chance to be mentioned on my YouTube channel, Coffee and Cats. The poem is titled – To the Anti-American Teacher…We Knew You Were Pro-World – and here are the opening lines:

A clause in your contract slated your signature for patriotism.

You never signed, they never checked, but you took down your flag

after that.

Writing is Misery

Warning: I will curse in the first three sentences of this post. Not including these two or the next one. You have been warned.

Recently, I spoke with a writer I deeply respect, and one of things I said was something along the lines of “I am enjoying every minute of my writing.” To which he replied, “If you’re enjoying every minute, you’re not a writer.”

This has been one of those bitch-slapping moments of my half-assed career. I say half-assed with deep respect. I don’t mean it as a bad thing. Truly. I mean it as a reflection of how the general public sees my writing career, and I promise, there is no ill-will toward anyone who sees it that way.

Even though I don’t agree with the general public, I get it. I do. Oh, trust me. I really do. I am a writer, a lover of words, and although every part of me is tempted to agree with this author (who I respect so much I will take this moment to remind everyone how much I respect him) I – alas – cannot agree, even though I have contemplated the words for weeks. However, I will say this. He is right about one thing. I am miserable. But he is wrong about one, pesky detail. I love my misery.

You see, to me, there is no greater delight than exploring the deepest, darkest corners of life through writing, and when I explore, I often find myself in the hollowed out pit of a character’s soul – one that has been etched out through tragedy and despair and loneliness. So much loneliness. And it is in those struggled souls that I find my love for them, my appreciation for their fight, my determination to set their story free – and I write it out.

"I am going to help you write a new book." (Please. Oh, please, readers. Get this joke.)

“I am going to help you write a new book.” (Please. Oh, please, readers. Get this joke.)

This is the moment I lose myself, where my identity no longer matters, where I become another person. This is when my character takes over my existence, and perhaps, because of this takeover, I find myself saying that I am not miserable at all, because I cannot feel misery if I do not exist. Only my characters can.

Because of this peculiar way my brain works, only my character explores this thing called misery. In The Timely Death Trilogy, Eric has to face his fate, his ex-girlfriend’s murder, and his mother’s suicide – not to mention all of the other drama that happens in just the first book alone – but Jessica has to find herself in a world that didn’t allow her to have an identity, and that is really, really difficult for her. In Take Me Tomorrow – oh, Take Me Tomorrow – Sophia has to face the truth about all of her loved ones, but she also has to learn the truth about herself, and I can relate way too well to this instance because I, too, have to learn the truth about myself, and I do that through – you guessed it – writing as my characters.

It is in my characters’ misery that I find my own fight.

Sophia reminds me of how I had to see the truth about my own mother and the addiction that killed her. Jessica showed me how I can find myself no matter how many times I move or lose someone, even if it takes a very long time. Eric proved that tragedy is not an excuse, but that it can still hurt a lot and often and that is okay. And all of my other characters add to those lessons every day, and for that reason alone, I could never be alone.

I never could be miserable.

Yes, life is hard. Following a dream is even harder. But – I believe – even if I fail, I have already succeeded. I have found what I love, and there is no failure in that. Misery does not exist in the hollow depths of passion, because passion is not hollow. It is full of excitement, and love, and perseverance, and cheesy paragraphs just like this one that simply exist in hopes of encouraging someone else to continue on with their miserable head held high…showing off a big grin to prove it.

~SAT

The Beginning of my Writing Process

26 Jun

First, thank you so much for all of your fantastic birthday wishes! I can honestly say that my 23rd birthday was the best birthday I’ve had. It was a perfect day. (I mean, I had mousse cake AND coffee. What isn’t perfect about that?) My Amazon rankings even went up! So thank you for your support, encouragement, and friendship. A little smile can brighten a day, but kind words can brighten the darkest life. Your words illuminate my existence.

Cue the dramatic piano piece. (Or trumpets. I think trumpets might work for this.)

So a few things happened the past few days!

Steampunk Sparrow’s Book Blog reviewed Minutes Before Sunset. You can read it by clicking here, and you can check out the award-winning, paranormal romance on Amazon by clicking here. (But it looks like so many of you checked it out on Monday! In fact, AEC broke their record for their best day of sales on my birthday.)

Other than that, I heard from my formatter at AEC Stellar’s Publishing, Inc. the other day. She hopes to have everything done by next week, so it looks like Take Me Tomorrow is still releasing this July. Yip-eee!

That’s why I’m writing this today: below you’ll find an accurate description of the BEGINNING of my writing process. My entire writing process is rather complicated, but I can cover the beginning because I kept a lot of the original notes (something I don’t normally do.) Call me superstitious, but keeping notes once a book has changed feels like something that holds me back from allowing the novel to grow into something new. So I hope you have fun! (You might even see some sneak peeks.)

First Step: The Spark of Inspiration

This is VERY unusual for me. Most of my novels, including The Timely Death Trilogy and November Snow, are based off of dreams, but Take Me Tomorrow was inspired by a conversation my father and I had in a Starbucks one afternoon. I was 19, visiting home from college, and talking at a hundred miles per hour. (Now – that is usual.) We were talking about drugs (legal and illegal) when we debated about futuristic drugs. What would they be like? What could they do? And that conversation was the spark of Take Me Tomorrow – a story that is grounded in the future where a clairvoyant drug has been released and outlawed. (I’ll explain why my father and I were talking about drugs in step four)

Second Step: That Spark Turns into a Flame:

As an avid reader and writer, I spend enormous amounts of time in bookstores. In fact, I began spending so much time in my local Barnes & Noble that most of the workers joked about paying me because they saw me helping customers so often. One night, while brousing the bookshelves, I found this postcard. (I apologize about the quality, but the postcard is four years old, and it’s taped inside the notebook I share below.)

postcard

I was attached. It felt like mine before I ever even touched it. And it felt like Take Me Tomorrow. Here’s the funny part. At no point in the book will you see these characters or this scene. I can’t tell you if it actually even exists, but I can tell you that it resonated with me in a way that even I cannot explain. I bought that postcard and I found my notebook.

Third Step: Feeding that Little Flame:

tmtnotenookTo the right, you’ll see the real notebook I used to write ALL of my original Take Me Tomorrow notes in. You should know that I have to have specific notebooks for each novel. I can’t write about four different novels in one notebook. Again, call me paranoid, but I feel like it disrupts the energy of creativity if I’m writing in Take Me Tomorrow, flip one page, and I’m in another book all together.

Fourth Step: My Flame Becomes a Giant Fire

I have a confession about my first three steps. I go through them all of the time, dozens of times, and I normally stop right there. Why? Because I find out that I’ve been fanning the flame instead of allowing my passion to keep it running. But Take Me Tomorrow is obviously one of the exceptions. It made it to step four because I am passionate about the story and the topic. Why? This is the dark side of the flame. I am VERY passionate about drug use. I want to clarify that I am not talking about me taking drugs – illegal or legal. I am just talking about understanding drugs. This has to do with my past.

My mother was a drug addict. She died from an overdose when I was eleven years old. One day, I will share more about this. But ever since I was old enough to understand, I spent days researching drugs – especially LEGAL drugs – and how they affect people. Much of this research will be in Take Me Tomorrow, and that research is the gas on the flame. To me, finding passion in the story and in the research is vital to writing my novels. I can admit that I want to share so much about my past in regards to understanding drug use, especially how my mother became an addict in the first place, but it might take me a while before I open up about it on here. It’s a very personal topic to me. But that’s also why Take Me Tomorrow is so important to me.

Fifth Step: Taming the Growing Fire

This is the last step in the beginning of my writing process. Once I have enough research on the topics I want to write about and symbolize, I begin growing the story with characters, worlds, graphs, and more. These maps, graphs, and notes include character profiles, height graphs, a calendar, moving maps, scene maps, past timelines, family trees, and more. Just so you can laugh with me, I added one of my beautiful maps below. (What can I say? All of my artistic abilities reside in my writing. I cannot draw.) This map is taken directly from Chapter Five and Chapter Six. And you can read a sneak peek right below that: (the entire novel is told by Sophia Gray.)

breakin

“You coming with or not?” he asked.

Miles shook his head. “There’s a cop right there,” he said. “It’s too risky, even for me.”

Broden checked his arm’s splint. “Wait in the car, then,” he ordered blankly as if he had expected Miles’ reaction. “Run if anything happens.”

Miles didn’t budge. “You’re going by yourself?”

Broden shrugged. “I didn’t come this far to leave Noah standing there, now, did I?”

“I’ll go,” I volunteered before the boys could argue. Both of them gaped at me, and I repeated myself. “I drove you two here. I think I have the right to go to − wherever you’re going.”

“Sophia,” Miles sighed. “You don’t want to.”

Broden lifted his hand to Miles, “She can come if she wants.”

“What if you guys get caught?”

“Then, we’re all in trouble,” he pointed out, “whether she’s waiting in the car or not.”

Miles mumbled curses to himself. “I can’t believe this.”

“Believe it,” I stated, marching over and pulling the black beanie off his head. “Now, give me your jacket.”

I hope you enjoyed this! Please add Take Me Tomorrow to your Goodreads shelf, email me at shannonathompson@aol.com if you want to review it, and I will share your review right here on ShannonAThompson.com!

As always, with all my love, I hope I can inspire and help you in your writing journey by sharing my personal journey with you. Please share your writing process below! Is it different in the beginning than in the end? Do you make maps first or during the writing? Do you make character profiles?

~SAT

Writing Tips: Introducing Your Characters

20 Jun

Special thanks to The Leisure Zone for reviewing Minutes Before Sunset: “A great read. I absolutely enjoyed reading it and it does take your imagination for a ride…This is a great leading book. I cannot wait to read the following books.” Click here to read the full review or click here to check out Minutes Before Sunset on Amazon, only $3.89.

Also, you might have noticed that my progress bar is updated on the right side of my website! I try to update it every two weeks, but I am really looking forward to the release of Take Me Tomorrow and Death Before Daylight.

People are obsessed with firsts: a baby’s first smile, winning first place in a race, your first love, getting arrested for the first time. (Okay. So maybe not that last one.) But we do like firsts, and I think it brings up a topic writers don’t normally talk about or even consider.

What are your characters’ firsts?

No. I’m not talking about their first steps when they were a baby. I’m talking about the first time they appear in the story, the first time they talked, the first time they laughed, the first time they really opened up and showed some depth to their created soul.

So I’m going to share some of my characters’ firsts as examples while I explain how important their first line can be. This might seem like a stretch for many but consider the popular phrase, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” But I really like the quote below, because I believe it applies to how your readers can perceive your characters’ first impressions as well:

quote-a-stunning-first-impression-was-not-the-same-thing-as-love-at-first-sight-but-surely-it-was-an-lois-mcmaster-bujold-214751

Characters are just like people except that we can decide exactly what that first impression will be. Maybe their first impression will be great and readers will consider loving them. Maybe everyone will hate them. You can do both, and that’s the beauty of it. You can even get really complicated and strive to have the reader love them while the characters hate them. But enough of my rambling. Below I’ll explain some first impression parts to consider with examples from Minutes Before Sunset.

First appearance:

This is important for the obvious, main reason: a first impression is largely based on how someone appears, how they act, how they think or talk. This “first appearance” can be an appearance a reader sees first or an appearance the other characters see first. Consider both of those moments carefully because you can set up how a reader might judge a character for a long time. For me – as a reader – I have become very confused when a character is introduced in a very violent or angry way when they suddenly become very nice seconds later. It’s like whiplash. Scenes like that make more sense to me when I already know the character. (I’m not saying it cannot be done. What I am saying is to approach first appearances with care.) Below are examples of characters appearing to the reader first.

In Minutes Before Sunset, Camille appears in the very first chapter. Although Eric is six, she is already his guard (and she is only nine!) We see her as soon as Eric’s father leaves him alone – and, unlike Eric’s father – Camille asks Eric is if he alright. This sets up their relationship as a caring one, but it also shows the responsibility Camille has to take care of the male protagonist. Fun fact: we don’t see Camille’s human appearance until page 21. I could go on and on about how their different identities appear at separated times, but she appeared as a guard first because that part of her life is more important to the story, to Eric, and to her.

First spoken line:

What a character says can define them just as much as what a character does. I find first lines to be good indicators on what we can expect from a character: are they funny? Angry? Bitter? Responsible? Yes, of course their personalities develop far beyond their first lines, but first lines normally happen at the same time as first appearances, which are usually important scenes, so first lines – by default – reveal extra insight, like if a character speaks with an accent or not. Moments like these then become defining factors. But I would say that you don’t have to take this literally. The first line doesn’t necessarily mean the exact first line. It can mean the first conversation they have.

For this example, I wanted to share a few first spoken lines:

Since I explained the first scene in Minutes Before Sunset, let’s look at Camille’s first line: “Eric.” Yep. That’s her first word. In contrast, Eric – as Shoman – first appears in chapter two, and his first line as a shade is “Camille.” One another’s names are the first things they say because it focuses on the depth of their relationship while insinuating how close they are on a regular basis. But if we wanted to look at Eric’s VERY first line – again, this line is spoken when he is six years old in chapter one – he simply says, “I’m fine.” It’s important to note that Eric is lying here, and lying later becomes a defining factor of Eric’s personality. On a lighter note, when we see Crystal – a side character – for the first time, she says, “Don’t answer that.” to Jessica after Robb begins flirting with her. Crystal’s first line not only shows how she can take the initiative, but it also shows her comfort with interrupting Robb, insinuating that their friends (or at least that they know one another.)

First time they interact with another character:

This can get tricky, because stories have dozens of characters and each one of them is going to interact for the first time eventually and – most of the time – it’s only the “first time” for the reader. Most of the time, characters have a past, so they aren’t speaking for the first time, but that’s also the point – the “first” conversation can show whether or not characters have a past as well as other things, such as a social ranking difference (sir, ma’am, etc.) and/or if their past is a good one. Are they friends? Are they enemies? Are they competitors? Do they talk or is this a rare instance? Considering these questions can help shape how one character approaches another one while also hinting to the reader about how they always interact – before and during the story.

In Minutes Before Sunset, we get to see two, very different types of first interactions. Since Jessica is new to Hayworth, the reader gets to be introduced to everyone just like Jessica does, but Eric isn’t new. Through his eyes, we see interactions that have history – a very dark history – and we see repercussions of that in his various interactions. For instance, let’s focus on the human identities in Minutes Before Sunset. Jessica first talks to Eric on page 36. They’ve been assigned as homeroom partners, and Jessica is trying to be amicable but Eric – obviously – does not have the same intentions. (Scene told from Eric’s perspective.)

“Hi,” she said, turning briefly toward me to smile. “I’m Jess.”

She laid out her hand for a handshake, and I pushed my chair against the wall. “I heard your name when Ms. Hinkel assigned you,” I said, opening the chemistry book left on my desk from the previous period. I was not interested in small talk.

Now – moving onto another scene to use as a comparison. Crystal – a girl who has gone to school with Eric since childhood – doesn’t speak to Eric until page 127, and the only reason they do speak is because Crystal is sitting in his seat. (If you haven’t read the books, spoiler alert: Crystal and Eric used to be friends until freshman year in high school until Abby – Eric’s previous girlfriend – died. Eric stopped speaking to everyone. Crystal and Robb take this very personally.) But here is the scene so you can see: (scene told from Jessica’s perspective)

“Hey.”

We both jumped, and our conversation halted as we turned around. In front of us, Eric stood inches away, and the teacher hovered behind him, crossing her arms.

“Er—Eric,” I managed, and Crystal stared.

“Hey, Jessica,” he said, turning his gaze to my friend. “Crystal.”

“Welborn.” She returned the acknowledgement with a cold tone. “Hey.”

His smirk faltered, and his lips thinned. “I hate to interrupt,” he said, swinging his hand over his shoulder to point at our teacher. “but I probably need my seat.”

Both of these “firsts” show Eric’s history as well as his emotional state, but the moments also reveal character traits of Jessica and Crystal. While Jessica wants to be nice at first, Eric isn’t interested, and the tension between Crystal and Eric is still present, despite the two years that have passed since Abby’s sudden death. However, this would be a good time to say that “first” interactions are just as important as how the characters continue to act and grow. Later in the story, all of these characters’ relationships shift dramatically.

So I hope you have a few places to start in regards to your characters’ firsts. You might even crack open a favorite book you’ve read just to see what those characters’ firsts were. They might surprise you. I know I had a few that shocked me.

Happy writing and reading!

~SAT

Writing Tips: Play Character Games

9 Dec

So this isn’t my usual kind of advice, but I shared it on my Author Facebook Page, and I thought it would be a fun idea to put on here.

As a writer, I sometimes have days where I am simply burnt out on writing. Because of this, I’ve had to find fun ways to spark the imagination again, and my main way is by playing games. Yes, it might seem childish. Yes, I’ve known fellow writers that said, “No way this is for me.” But most of those same people who tried it out, ended up letting me know how much they enjoyed it – they also said it helped them discover more about their characters. So I’m going to share a few examples and why it helped. Hopefully, you might check it out yourself 😀

Here are things you can learn and/or get inspiration from taking a moment to play a fun game:

1. Basic and detailed descriptions, including common facial expressions.

Jonathon with Rinmaru

Jonathon with Rinmaru

On Rinmaru Games, specifically the Manga Creators, you aren’t limited to changing their clothes and their hair color. You can often move limbs, facial expressions, backgrounds, and more. To the right, you should see my example of Jonathon in The Timely Death Trilogy. In this case, this game allowed me to manipulate his eyes, so that each eye had a different color. He is blind in one eye, which you can see through his glasses. This was the main reason I chose this game for him, but it’s also a little sneak peek into Seconds Before Sunrise – and a little to do with writing and technology, which I wrote about before. In SBS, you will see Jonathon with his phone. The question is: what will be on it?

2. Interaction with other characters

This is probably my favorite part of Rinmaru. There are plenty of games to chose from that have more than one character – sometimes, three or more – that are interacting with one another. If you’re familiar with The Timely Death Trilogy, then you can probably guess that the photo below is of Crystal Hutchins and Jessica Taylor at lunch – often seen during the school scenes. Granted, the school doesn’t look like Hayworth High, and Crystal is more of a burger and fries chick than a bento box girl, but – hey, that is exactly what I’m talking about. When you’re playing it, you might hear your character say, “I wouldn’t eat that. I don’t even know what that is.” while another character might be more adventurous and ask to try it.

Crystal and Jessica

Crystal and Jessica

3. Their style, hair, and wardrobe 

Camille

Camille

Okay. So I know I’ve been talking up Rinmaru, but this is when I generally go to eLouai’s Candybar Doll Maker 3. I’ve shared this game before. It’s an endless stream of characters, hairstyles, clothes, pets, and all kinds of things.  It’s especially good for fantasy and science-fiction, because it has things like wings and fangs. For instance, my example to the right is Camille from The Timely Death Trilogy. This game allowed me to get the completely black eyes that I needed for her half-breed, “Light” appearance. Think of this game like figuring out what they would wear and wouldn’t wear – what colors they enjoy wearing – what they wish they were confident enough to wear – what clothes remind them of, like other characters or their childhoods.

So I hope you try it out and find out something new about your story while also having fun. On my Facebook Author Page, Ky Grabowski tried it out and said, “Love this! Thanks for sharing. It was fun to create my own characters using this. It makes them more real I also like this because you’re not choosing a real life person to portray them. It allows imagination.”

Have fun! 

~SAT

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