Tag Archives: writing tips

Teachings from my Twitter Poll Story

17 Oct

It was noon, the sun was high, and I was standing on my back porch trying to get some fresh air during my lunch break when I heard strange music coming from the woods behind my house. Naturally, my imagination ran off with dreams of fairy parties and otherworldly adventures. It was a brief moment of respite in today’s ever-changing environment. 

Which is probably why I tweeted about it. 

(Okay, so I tweet about everything, but I digress.)

If you follow me on Twitter @AuthorSAT, then you’ve probably seen my Twitter poll story. If not, no worries! Here’s a link to the first part to catch you up. 

What is a Twitter poll story?

Basically, I write a little scene within Twitter’s 280-character limit that also sets up a question for readers to answer via poll. It’s reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories that were really popular in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The biggest difference is that you don’t have to write the endings for the other choices; you only follow the path that the majority wanted to see. It reminds me a lot of RPG (role playing games) I’d play with my friends when I was young, or stories that we would take turns writing. (You email me Chapter One, I’ll then write Chapter Two, etc.)  

Writing those stories with friends used to bring me a lot of joy between classes in school, which is probably another reason I decided to run with this online. (A little bit of nostalgia goes a long way.) What I didn’t expect was to learn more about storytelling, reevaluate a current WIP, and have in-depth discussions with my writer friends—all topics I wanted to share with you all today.

There’s something to be said about being able to summarize your next plot point in 280 characters or less (and 2-4 choices in less than 25).

Every time I sat down to write the next scene, I really had to ask myself what could realistically happen next while also weighing its overall importance. If it was too easy to write, then the scene probably didn’t have enough risk. If it was too difficult, then I was probably getting ahead of myself. It definitely made me think about fluff. This goes for choices, too. 

Once I started expanding the story, I realized I wanted the votes to be as close to 50-50 as possible. Why? Well, mostly because it’s more exciting! The choices a character must make in a book should be difficult. Readers should be able to believe the character would make both choices, and those choices should make it so that they can’t go backwards and redo it. Basically, this is a great way to double check that your characters have agency. (They should be happening to the story; the story shouldn’t be happening to them. Though, it’s totally fine if a few scenes mix it up.) I only used two choices throughout this particular story, but I might try 3 or 4 next time!

In fact, I’m currently using this method to try and smooth out an outline for my new WIP.  

It’s been a lot of fun! And really insightful, too. 

My imagination can often get bigger than the story truly needs, and this has helped me make hard decisions about efficiency. It was also really fun! 

The most unexpected lesson? A story can benefit from playing into the readers’ desires. Not everything has to be shocking or a fresh, new twist. Sometimes, giving in to what the reader wants can be just what a story needs to feel alive again. In regards to poll stories in particular, involving readers can also be exciting. Along the way, I had a few readers comment with advice for the characters, and bringing them into the character’s thoughts made it feel like the readers were inside the story. (If only there was a way to do this with novels! If I ever get a series deal, I’m totally doing a giveaway for a character to be named after a reader. That’s a promise.)  

My Twitter poll story also caught the eye of some writer friends, and I was asked some questions that I thought would be fun to share:

  • How did you plan it? I didn’t! Not at all. I literally posted the first tweet from real life, and then just ran with it. I never wanted to get ahead of myself, because readers genuinely chose paths that I didn’t think they would follow (which was so fun to see)! 
  • What was the hardest part? Keeping my eyes off Twitter! Seriously, I was having so much fun, I just wanted to spend time on Twitter all day. 
  • Any tips for starting my own? Have fun. Make sure you can post around the same time every day, so that readers know when to check in for the next poll. I post on my lunch break M-F, and let each poll run one day. Let readers know when they should expect an update.

I hope you try this exercise with your WIP. If you create an online poll story, be sure to tag me @AuthorSAT! 

I’d love to follow your poll stories, too. (And vote!)

~SAT

Speaking of voting, the election is coming up! PLEASE VOTE.

A Writer’s Freakout Schedule

29 Aug

Between COVID and (insert any number of other awful things happening right now), freakouts are commonplace at the moment. Right? RIGHT???

I don’t know. Maybe you’re not going through it, but I know I’ve certainly had my moments of heightened stress, which is probably why I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the delicate balance of productivity and mindfulness. On one hand, I want to maintain my level of productivity, be successful, follow the dream. On the other, I just want to eat this tub of ice cream and be left alone. So, I guess the solution is to sit here with my ice cream while I write this article. (It’s Cherry Garcia, if you’re wondering.)

Writers are used to wearing a lot of hats. Between day jobs and family, squeezing in time to write is nothing new to the aspiring novelist. Neither is imposter syndrome or writers’ burnout, not to mention writers’ block. But the other day, I finally heard a new one. 

A writers’ freakout schedule.

But first, a little backstory: 

Once a month, I meet up with some fellow writers on ZOOM just to chat about what we’re going through and how we’re handling it. We talk about our projects, but there’s no pressure to exchange pages or anything. If you don’t have something like this in your life, I highly recommend it. I look forward to it every month. 

During one of these monthly calls, I was talking about how bonkers life is at the moment and how to manage all these tectonic plates that are now life, when Jessica Conoley (authorpreneurship coach) mentioned how knowing her “freakout” schedule has helped her manage.

The moment she mentioned it, a lightbulb went off in my head. I had never thought about the concept of a freakout schedule before, but I also recognized how true the sentiment was right away.

Understanding when and how you will react to news, such as a critique or a rejection, can help you stay focused and calm, especially in these strange and twisty times. 

That being said, I wasn’t always aware of my freakout schedule. In fact, I’m pretty sure my roommate had to point it out to me once. (Okay. So, maybe a couple dozen times.) Basically, I used to think I didn’t have a freakout schedule. I would hear criticism or get a rejection and brush it off pretty quickly. Publishing is just business, right? I can adjust and keep trying. And I would. Right away, I would dive into revisions or go about writing life as normal…but two weeks later, the doubt would creep in. Then, the inevitable imposter syndrome. Soon, I’d be asking friends if I was delusional in my capabilities to finish a likeable story. I would threaten to put everything down, eventually declaring, “This is it! I quit!” 

The next day, I’d sit down at my computer, determined to delete it all and never look back…but hey, it couldn’t hurt to read it one last time. Soon, I’d be revising. And reading. And writing like nothing ever happened. 

My freakouts definitely have varying degrees, depending on what caused the situation to spiral. 

A little writers block isn’t going to last as long for me as a brutally honest critique from a trusted colleague. However, for someone else, it might be the complete opposite. Which brings me to my next piece of advice:

Understanding what sets you off—and for how long—is just as important as understanding you’re in a cycle. The cycle will end. 

This is just your freakout schedule.

~SAT

P.S. You may have noticed a new badge on my website. In case you didn’t, I am officially going to co-mentor with Sandra Proudman for Pitch Wars this year. Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer to spend three months revising their manuscript. It ends in February with an Agent Showcase, where agents can read a pitch/first page and can request to read more. Learn more at PitchWars.orgOur wishlist will go up right here on September 12!

What Novelists Can Learn from Webtoons

1 Aug

I won’t lie, 2020 has been the year of the Webtoon for my reading list. There are a couple reasons for this, the main one being access. When COVID first hit and Kansas City closed down, the library shut its doors completely, and that’s where I get 99% of my books. Granted, I managed to smuggle a pretty big TBR pile home beforehand and they have since opened up curbside service. But I also found myself consistently drained of energy by the end of my workday. A whole novel often felt like too much commitment. I just wanted to read something quick and fun, and be able to put it down at the end of the evening without more pending pages or due dates.

And so, Webtoons entered my life. 

A little background: I’ve always loved graphic novels. I grew up on manga, and I had heard of Webtoons from my reader friends who were enjoying them. The selling point for me was the free app. I downloaded it to my phone and started reading immediately. Which brings me to my first, and perhaps biggest, point: 

Episode Release/Payment Model/Community

This is more relevant to indie authors who have more control over their release dates and payment systems, but I find the Webtoon model really fascinating. Basically, you can read 100% for free—if you are patient. On average, a Webtoon releases one episode a week for free. If you want to read ahead of the free release, you’ll have to pay with coins, which you can purchase in the coin store. Sometimes, you get to spin a wheel and earn free coins. I love this setup a lot more than I thought I would. 

I don’t mind getting cut off and having to wait. It not only gives me something to look forward to throughout my week, but it also frees up some space, where I can read 3-4 Webtoons at the same time without feeling like I have to read the whole thing before my library due date comes up. In many ways, it actually keeps me reading, because my phone sends me a notification every week with updates, whereas an eBook or novel just sits on my device or nightstand, and am in charge of remembering it. (I know how that sounds, trust me, but speaking honestly, there’s something inherently satisfying about getting notifications from something you are looking forward to but don’t have to remind yourself of.) It changes the tone of your day. Even better? If I absolutely can’t stand that cliffhanger and I need to keep reading, I have that option. (Which, if you want a lesson in writing cliffhangers, these Webtoon artists are talented.) This sets it apart from platforms like Wattpad, where you either are paying to read or not. 

A last payment feature I loved? Many of the artists provide their Patreon, where you can further support them. With a few clicks, I was able to follow one of my favorite illustrators, look at their other works, support their Patreon, and check out their Instragram, where they post behind-the-scenes pics. EBooks, by in large, haven’t been as user friendly, let alone physical novels. I think we could be better about analyzing our platforms and asking ourselves how they can be more accessible, fun, and energizing. I mean, did I mention that comments are open to the public on every episode? Not only can you read each episode, but you can interact with the community right then and there, rather than having to finish the whole piece to write a review. (It’s similar to Wattpad in that way, but I definitely see more celebrating and fan theories on Webtoon.) In many ways, you feel like you’re sitting around in a big circle of friends while reading the same scene at the same time. And that’s not the only fun aspect that happens on the platform.

Music & Other Extras

Not only are Webtoons often colorful (Hello, Lore Olympus), but they are also filled with unique extras. Imagine reading a fight scene and hearing gunshots as they go off? Well, guess what. Webtoons do this! At least some of them do, and I love, love, love it. Why? Because it made the text so immersive to me. Plus, if I’m not in the mood to hear the sound effects, I can just turn them off. A great Webtoon that does this is the Purple HyacinthOther Webtoons lean more toward mood music, such as SubZero. I won’t lie, I’ve found some awesome writing music through Webtoons. Authors should consider how they can add such elements to their books. Though it would be harder to add many of these elements to a novel, why not provide a playlist on your website? I still remember reading Twilight back in the day and Stephenie Meyer releasing her music inspiration, and I jammed out to Muse for weeks. I wish more authors did this and/or artists from different mediums were open to collaborating. Maybe one day! 

The other part I loved is the fanfic-style mini episodes. When I was a teen, you went to fanfic websites to get fanfic. Or, if you followed the author, sometimes the author would share posts from artists who had drawn fanart. What I find really interesting about Webtoon is that the artist themselves often create fanart for their own work, like drawing their characters in chibi form and showing everyday scenes that wouldn’t fit into the story. It’s super fun! I also love seeing the behind-the-scenes sketches often included during breaks. Siren’s Lament is a great example of chibi artwork mini-sodes. Basically, as the author, ask yourself what behind-the-scenes sneak peeks can you give? Can you create new material that fits in with your overall material? How is it fresh and fun and unique to you? Where can you offer this to your readers? Newsletters is often a go-to for many, which I think is great, but I think we can take it a step further. Why not provide character sketches in the back of books? I always loved how mangas had character breakdowns in the beginning or fun facts at the end. Or—gasp—a book that starts off in graphic novel format, then converts to prose. W.I.T.C.H. did this when I was a kid and I still miss it! I always thought it was so fun, like slipping into a story.  

In the end, when I started analyzing why I was getting so much joy from Webtoons and not the same from novels, I feel like the modern novel—and what it offers as a product—has become really static. It has its classic appeal, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading novels, and I read over 100 novels a year. Nothing will replace the traditional paperback for me. It’s still my #1. But I also believe we have room for improvement, for innovation, for fun. And that includes the novel community as a whole. In many ways, I feel like authors have been shamed when they speak about or celebrate their own work, whereas Webtoons definitely has an air where the creators are their own biggest fan. I mean, how many times have you seen an author tweet about their book release, then apologize for spamming the feeds? Meanwhile, in Webtoon land, artists are drawing fanart for their own work and having a blast. Publishing could use some of that energy. It’s so addictive, because it is welcoming and fun and exciting. Every download is a new experience. Every novel should be, too. 

Next time you’re working on your novel, consider the modern reader. Do they only want your story delivered, or do they want an experience? How can you provide a broader experience to them? How can you push the definition of novel? Of story? 

I know I’ve been looking at writing in whole new ways as of late! I’ve definitely added “have my novel adapted into a Webtoon” to my author dream. 

Have you read any Webtoons? Which ones did you love?

If you are interested in Webtoons, here are some that I’ve read recently and loved:

~SAT

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

Shannon’s Top 5 Scrivener Tips

18 Apr

It’s no secret that I love Scrivener and have since I first bought it back in 2016. In fact, here’s my first ever post about it: Writers, Should You Get Scrivener? Granted, I’ve learned a lot about Scrivener since 2016, and the software has upgraded, which is why I thought an updated post talking about my favorite features might give some insight into those who are curious and/or help out those who have it but feel lost.   

Before I begin, I want to clarify that this isn’t a paid promo. Scrivener has NO CLUE I am writing this. I am just a regular author, who bought and explored the software all on my own, and I’ve used it ever since. These are my favorite features and ones I actually use every day. 

1. Keeping Track of Writing Stats (Including Overused Words)

The other day online, a fellow writer asked me how I kept track of my stats. (For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, I often chat about how many words I write a day, or month, and what that means to me and why.) I’ve always been a numbers person. Spreadsheets are where I LIVE. I tend to use them in retrospect, meaning I like to look back at what I accomplished every month, and seeing all that work helps me stay motivated the next month. (I’m the type to feel like I didn’t do anything if I don’t have something tangible in front of me, and since writing tends to be on a virtual space, my spreadsheets become that tangible thing.) Scrivener actually tracks stats for you. Select Project from the top menu, then Writing History, and it will break down your averages for you, day-by-day, and monthly. In March, I wrote on average 1,193 words a day, but if you look at the breakdown, I have days I never wrote as well as negative days (days where I deleted more than I added). It’s really interesting because you might also notice patterns. Ex. I wrote 3,365 in one day. If you check March 22, you might notice that’s a Sunday. Of course I was more productive. I wasn’t at work. 😛 If you really want to go deep, explore Project->Statistics->Selected Documents->Word Frequency, and it’ll show you your most frequently used words. Might help you find those pesky repeats that you can change or cut.

2. Color Coding revisions

I didn’t want to start with this one, because I’ve been talking about it on the blog a lot. Like, a lot a lot. In fact, I just wrote a blog post—How I Revise My Novels—about this very topic. I use the Revision Mode in Scrivener all the time, even while I’m initially creating, but I mostly use it when I’m revising. To get there, you’re going to want to click, Format->Revision Mode->Select Color. Be warned: Once you’re in that mode, you will have to turn it off to get back to another color. I love this because it helps me keep my revisions straight. But another tool that does that is the snapshot features. 

I’m actually not revising in this scene. I’m using revision mode to organize my thoughts. I love color-coding everything.

3. Snapshots of previous versions 

The Snapshot feature allows you to save various versions of your book. I have screenshot me snapshotting. (I hope that makes sense.) You can find that screenshot below. Basically, after every time I finish writing a chapter (or revising it), I take a snapshot. (Which is the little camera icon on the far right.) I name the file something that makes it clear to me what version it is and hold onto them. This is super helpful while revising, mostly because you can go back if you realize Version 2 was better than Version 3. You can also click the “Compare” button and it will show you the differences. The photo below is showing you my very first draft compared to my most recent draft. As you can see, there were a lot of changes. In fact, you can see from this photo that I’ve been writing this scene since February 2018, I’ve rewritten it four times, and had it beta read. Another huge feature that I use in this part of Scrivener is the Comments button to add comments from betas, but that’s another feature entirely!  

4. Linguistic Focus

Under Edit -> Writing Tools -> Linguistic Focus, you’ll find an array of options: Nouns, adverbs, dialogue, etc. This is one of my favorite tools (and one I think is often overlooked), because it allows you to look at any given file in one way. Looking to cut out those pesky adverbs? Highlight them. Wanting to see how realistic your dialogue feels without the action tags? Make it stand out. In my screenshot on the right, I highlighted my dialogue only. It helps me see the spacing, but also lets me focus on the flow of my characters’ speech. I mostly use this for dialogue, but I’ve definitely used it for other things, too. What’s really neat is how it counts it, too. For instance, I had 93 quotes in this chapter, 944 verbs, 210 adjectives. Granted, it isn’t always perfect, but it definitely speeds up the process of cutting out certain phrases. 

5. Character Name Generator 

Okay, so I admit, I don’t use Scrivener to get my character names. However, I think it’s an awesome tool that is often overlooked, and it’s found in the same place: Edit -> Writing Tools -> Name Generator, and you can select from a variety of choices: names by country origin, first letter, ending letter, alliteration, and more. If you’re curious how I actually name my characters, read my blog post Naming Your Characters. Mostly, I use Babynames.com, yearbooks, and Pinterest boards. The reason I included it in my top five despite not using it is to highlight how neat all the options and tools are, even if I don’t personally use them during my writing journey.

These are just my top five tips, but honestly, I could go on forever. Scrivener has a countless number of tools, like the progress bar and target goals. It can honestly be overwhelming (but in a good way). I admit I don’t use all the tools it offers, but isn’t that the beauty? You can use what you need and want to pursue your art. But first, you have to understand what they offer and why, which is why I want to leave you with one last tip—my #1 tip. 

My #1 tip? Take the time to go through the tutorials when you download it. Without them, I would’ve been lost and confused, either giving up completely or struggling along with very few of the tools Scrivener has to offer. 

Are there tools you love?  

Let me know if I missed your favorites! Maybe there’s a feature I would love but have yet to hear about or use. 

~SAT 

P.S. If you’ve ever wanted to attend any of my events but couldn’t due to distance, now is your time to shine! I’ll be teaching a publishing course virtually on Monday, April 20: Online Publishing Events and Opportunities at 6:30 PM (Central). It’ll be on Zoom, and you can find more details on The Story Center’s Facebook by clicking here. See you then!

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

2020 Author Goals

4 Jan

2019 is over, and honestly it feels like a blur. 

I know this post is going to seem like a hard brag. I promise that isn’t my intention. I accomplished a lot this year, but I can’t say that I allowed much happiness into my life, especially toward the end of 2019. The beginning felt like a lot of highs: New job! An agent! Another birthday! The end felt like a lot of lows: My cat’s health problems. My health problems. Student loan problems. My depression. 

I’m still in a depression fog at the moment. I won’t lie. I had a really difficult time even stringing together this blog post. At the same time, though, that’s why I forced myself to write it. 

We need to take a moment to acknowledge all of our hard work. 

Today, I ask you to join me. 

Grab a pen and paper. Think of everything you did in 2019, and write it down. Leave nothing out. Include all the things, even the little things others might consider insignificant. With every bullet point you add, really think about all the help you received, the support, the encouragement, the opportunities, the sacrifices, the dedication, the passion. Have you thanked these people? Have you thanked yourself for trying? Have you allowed yourself the space to celebrate and be happy? 

In 2019:

  • I was promoted at the library to Story Center Program Manager. Now I’m surrounded by storytellers all day, and I absolutely love it! 
  • I guest spoke at numerous teen writing groups at various libraries, my local chapter of SCBWI, and at Writers United for Johnson County Library
  • I also had my first school visit, ever
  • I was chosen for a mentorship through Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 
  • I got a literary agent! 
  • I also went out on sub with my agent. 

Capture

Photos show my writing retreat, finishing a WIP, releasing a book on Wattpad, my first school visit, and my new job, which included hosting a publishing panel at Johnson County Library and meeting Janet Evanovich!

But that’s not all! I released Took Me Yesterday (book 2 of the Tomo Trilogy) on Wattpad after readers kept asking for it for five years. I attended two conferences, went on a writing retreat, hosted #BeMyLi, was included in YASH twice, and attended my local critique group every month. (Not to mention exchanged pages with online beta reader friends all year long.) And I tracked my progress. 

I began 2019 with 26,996 words in a YA science fiction novel. I was also, 55,623 words into a revision of my historical fantasy. 

I end 2019 not only with a completed version of my YA science fiction novel, but a majorly revised and polished version, too. I’m on sub with a different science fiction novel, and I finished revising my historical fantasy as well. I even started a new project! And I’m brainstorming even more. 

In 2020, I already know that I’m teaching my first writing course. Only in a few days, too. (If you’re in Kansas City, join me for Getting Started on a Writing Project.) I’ll be teaching my first publishing course in April during Publishing Week at the Library. I also have plans to attend the Kansas City Writing Workshop and the LitUP Festival. And I’m sure there’s more to come: more firsts, more rejections, more congratulations, more plot twists, more tears, more laughter. 

I know this because I’ve written articles just like this one for the past four years:

And every year, I read each one in rescinding order. 

This year I didn’t know if I wanted to write this article. I didn’t think I could. But after reading my past posts, I remembered why these have become so important to me. I can look back. I can remember. I can put it all in perspective. 

Right now, my 2020 perspective is hopeful. Grateful. Humble. 

I promise to try my best to be my best self: as a librarian, an author, a cat lady, a friend. 

I promise to continue.

What do you promise? 

~SAT

Finishing My First Pantser Novel

7 Sep

I finished my first panster novel. For those of you who don’t know what a panster is in publishing, it basically means you write with no plan, no outline, nothing. You write by the seat of your pants. Hence, panster.

Typically, I’m an outliner. A pretty detailed one, I might add. There’s something comforting about knowing my characters and their world pretty well before I jump in headfirst. I mean, what happens if I get 30,000 words and freeze? Or decide I hate everything? That hasn’t happened to me in a while, but it happens, which is why I favor spending more time in the heads of my characters/ideas/world before I dedicate a ton of time to a project. But this project was different. This project I never intended to pursue.

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I’m on Instagram! @AuthorSAT

Let me take you back to fall of 2018. (Oh, yes, it’s been one year since I started writing this project.) I was at one of the lowest parts of my writing career. I really felt like giving up. So, while dramatically crying in the shower (because all genius breakthroughs happen in the shower), I told myself it was fine to quit. Fine to write whatever the hell I wanted. Fine to not write at all. By the time I exited, I had decided to write the most ridiculous idea I could think of, and well, this book was born.

Obviously, if you can tell from the backstory, this book was born from a very emotional place, which is one of the reasons I think pansting worked. All I wanted to do was get down my rage, confusion, heartache, frustration, love—damn the timelines. Forget making sense. This wasn’t about sense. It was about nonsense, which is how I felt. And I used those feelings all over ever page of that book.

81,000 words later, and I’ve realized a couple of things.

  1. I had a lot more feelings than I thought—and it was super therapeutic to take a dive deep into them, no holding back. Even the ugly ones. Even the ones I didn’t know I felt. One of the only reasons I feel like I could do this to the extent that I did was because I had written off the idea of pursuing publishing with it. It was just for me. And so I wasn’t writing to satisfy anyone but myself. And guess what? I want to take this mentality with me into all my future projects.
  2. Pansting is a tool. I think it gets a bad rep in the writing world because it seems to be a synonym for those that don’t plan—and publishing does require a lot of planning—but not planning can be a plan in itself. (Crazy, right?) I mean it, though. By not planning, I feel like I have more authentic characters. My plot might need more work than usual. My world building, too. But characters is typically what I struggle with in a first draft, and I didn’t have that issue this time around. I plan on using pansting—even in light instances—to explore characters more.
  3. You never know what you’ll end up pursuing. I sort of already knew this, but this was probably the biggest instance where I seriously never, ever thought I’d share this book, but it’s my next one I’m handing to my agent. Of course, I have a few things to get in line before then. Like, you know, revising. A lot.

I definitely have a lot of revising ahead of me. More than I want to think about at the moment. (I mean, who isn’t burnt out on a piece once they hit THE END? At least, it’s typical behavior from me, which is perfectly fine, because I believe every writer should take a break between revisions. You risk making the same mistakes if you don’t. But I digress.) One tip I suggest: Take notes as you’re writing. I think this is good practice anyway, but it is absolutely necessary when you’re pansting. I already have pages and pages of info I can sort to organize my revision with—and it helps that I already took a significant portion to my writers group. (Typically, I take more polished versions to this group, but again, this book was different. It felt right to take it in early.) Basically, follow your writer’s gut.

My next novel? I’ve already started writing it—and I outlined it. Though I’ll admit my outline is the basics right now, or what I like to call my road map: Where I begin, where I want to end, and a couple of places I want to stop at in between. I’m still world building and getting to know my characters, so I know my plans will inevitably change. I also know I’ll have to return to my panster novel to start editing. But talking about balancing numerous pieces at once is another blog post for another day. (Maybe next month? Stay tuned…)

In the end, I don’t regret pansting my last book. In fact, I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve written. It’s a super wicked world, and I don’t think I could’ve planned such chaos if I had tried. Basically, pansting was right for that novel. It might be right for another novel in the future. It’s most likely not right for the one I currently want to tackle, but who knows? I might change my mind.

Be open to trying different methods of writing.

You might find out it was everything your work needed. 

~SAT

How I Revise My Novels

3 Aug

I talk a lot about writing, creating, marketing, editing, etc. But I haven’t specifically discussed the revision process. But isn’t revising and editing the same thing, you ask. No, not really. Though the lines can definitely blur, revising is a stage that comes before editing. Revising is knowing what to keep in your work, what to cut, and what to adjust; editing is making all of those changes pretty. You’ll do a ton of both during your writing journey, so I wanted to discuss how I revise my novels.

I have three main revision stages:

  1. Major Revision
  2. Beta Reader Revisions
  3. Final Revision

So let’s go through them one by one.

The Major Revision:

After the first draft, I start my “major revision,” which is basically a giant rewrite. I used to be a big believer in outlining, but the more experimental I got with my writing, the more I realized my outline was holding me back. I was always trying to force my characters to do what they needed to do, not what they wanted to do. Nowadays, I still rely on a basic outline, or what I refer to as my road map. (I know where I’m starting, where I’m ending, and a few pit stops in between, but I mostly let the book lead itself.) Granted, this method definitely creates a lot more revising in the end. In fact, there’s enough revising needed that I’ve also stopped going back and revising as I write. If I did that, I’d constantly be going backward. Instead, I jot down notes as I go and let it go until the end. (No point in making sense of it until I have all the puzzle pieces, right?) In my WIP, I have editing notes on almost every chapter; on top of that, I keep two documents: To-Do Editing and World Building Needs. These will anchor me when I’m finished and need to organize my thoughts. At the end, I look at all my notes, probably take even more notes, and revise. A lot.

Beta Reader Revisions:

I tend to send my work to beta readers after I’ve significantly revised. (More on that later.) Right now, I have 2 or 3 different groups of betas I work with. Typically, my in-person writing group here in KC gets my work first. (Enter revision.) After that, I send it to 1-2 trusted online friends. (Enter another revision.) Then—and I don’t always do this as much as I wish—I try to get the opinion of a non-writer. During these various stages, I might send the work back to the same beta numerous times. If that’s the case, I love to work in revision mode on Scrivener. (Or Track Changes in Word.) That way, it color codes what version I’m on, and they don’t have to re-read my whole manuscript.

RevisionMode

I’m actually not revising in this scene. I’m using revision mode to organize my thoughts. I love color-coding everything.

Instead they can read the color-coded parts and give me feedback on those. Though, to be honest, I typically use the revision mode during writing by myself too. (There’s also a handy screenshot button that lets you keep various versions of the same chapter in one place…but I’ll stop advertising for Scrivener now.) The key to working with beta readers is finding ones that are compatible with your work and your style. That doesn’t mean you connect with someone who praises everything you do; rather it means that you have an understanding of their goals and know how to approach each other in a positive, constructive way. If you don’t vibe with someone well, that’s okay. Move on. Find someone who works well with you. Two amazing writers can be in the same room; that doesn’t mean they’d make good beta readers for each other. (Or, as my father says, two great people can be in the same room; doesn’t mean they should be married.) And you want a marriage…er, a long-term partnership.

Final Revision:

Once I get most of my revisions done, I take a HUGE break. And I mean significant time away from the manuscript. This helps clear my mind. Without that, I’ll probably make the same mistakes I’ve been making in the past. You want to come at your project with fresh eyes. Once that happens, I focus on a basic read through, and I make no changes. Instead, I put sticky notes on places I want to make changes with later. (Yes, I tend to print out my manuscript. I know, I know, what a waste of paper. But this goes back to getting fresh eyes on everything. You’ll see things on paper that you can’t see on a computer screen.) Here’s a photo of my manuscript I worked on with my agent.

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If you didn’t catch on, I love office supplies. (Seriously, there’s nothing better than fresh pens and paper and Sticky Notes.) In case you’re curious what you’re looking at:

Blue = grammar

Orange = plot I know I need to fix

Pink = other things I want to consider

Green = current reading place

I actually go back and fix my grammar first. But that’s because I have so little to fix at this point. (I work on my grammar during the beta readers stage.) After that, I’ll tackle the orange and make an outline of each issue. Once I have a list of page numbers, I’ll fix each problem at a time. That way I know what the rhythm is like and I have my obvious problems out of the way by the time I move into pink. “Other things I want to consider” tend to be strange bits of info that caught me off guard during my initial read through. Something I wasn’t expecting but something that I might want to reconsider. The possibilities are truly endless, but this is another reason to come at your work with fresh eyes. You might realize you accidentally left something from version one of your book’s world building in the current script even though it no longer matters (or, worse, isn’t true anymore).

Now these stages aren’t necessarily taken so cleanly. My latest piece for instance? I started taking the very first draft to my writers’ group, no revisions beforehand. Why? It felt right to me, and sometimes (okay, all the time) you gotta go with your gut. In this case, I wanted to revise as I created. I think a part of the reason this happened was because I began this book for fun. I literally never thought I’d pursue it seriously, so I had no plan, no outline, no road map. It’s been really exciting, but also very challenging. Having beta readers help along the way was the right move. My point being, of course, is that just because you find a revising style that works for you doesn’t mean that you won’t adjust your own methods from project to project.

Be honest with yourself while revising. Find others who will also be honest with you. And revise as many times as your writing heart can take it (and then a few times more).

~SAT

P.S. I recently made the leap and decided to pay WordPress for the premium edition, so you shouldn’t have to see any more ads. I hope you enjoy the cleaner look! (The ads were really starting to bug me.) If you see an ad, take a screenshot and send it to shannonathompson@aol.com. Because they def should not be there.

P.S.S. I also decided to shut down my editing services. After six years of editing, I came to love so many of y’all’s work, and I will forever be a fan. (Shout out to C.E. Johnson, Steve Ramirez, Grant Goodman, Rich Leder, Kristin and Ryan King, and so many more.) I didn’t make this decision lightly. Between my new job at the library and my new goals with my writing career, though, I just couldn’t keep up with the quality and demand anymore. I know this is the right move for me (and for my authors), but my little editor’s heart is sad. I’m sending good vibes to all my authors out there. Thank you for trusting me with your words all of these years. ❤ It was an honor.

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