Monday, November 17, 2014

Puzzling Over Plots, Part 1 of 3: Beginnings

The plot thickens...eventually. Novel writers need an idea to start with first. Let's say that you have your idea--one that inspires you (you better love it or you'll tire of it), has unique elements, and marketability. Now what? Let's think Beginning, Middle, and End-- with today's focus on the beginning.

One good way to put a puzzle together is to start by turning all the pieces topside. For our plot analogy, we need to visualize or imagine the pieces that make up the story. Take a few notes because this is no easy puzzle. Where is the story set? What characters do you know you will need, and what are they like? What theme do you wish to convey?Which event propels your main character into her initial action toward achieving her goal? What are the pieces you know you will need, even if you don't yet know where the pieces will go? Write down everything that comes to mind.

We might sort the puzzle pieces next into colors that go together, or begin the structure by finding the edge pieces. Start sorting out the things you know you want to happen in your story by putting them in the order that makes the most sense for now. A few will be shuffled around later on. For example, if your main character's goal is to have his horse win the championship race, you know that training comes in early. Put as many of the things that you wrote down into an order. This is a loose outline--whether or not you consider yourself an outliner. This planning step will save time later.

Now you want to put a few pieces together on paper. Go ahead and write those scenes that you've been dying to start on, the ones you already visualize strongly. It's like putting one section of the puzzle together. It doesn't matter yet how this section will connect to another. It's stimulating to see something emerge, to show progress. Yes, pieces of the section will still be missing, but you're writing! Remember, this is a rough draft.

For those who like more structure to their outline before writing, there are all kinds of helps beyond the scope of this post. Time spent gaining knowledge will save time in the long run. Other writers have written good stories with strong plots without using any certain story structure formula. You may have taken some classes or read enough stories to recognize some basic steps. Plot beginnings will include something that happens to make your character want something she doesn't have. This is her first goal. Keep this in mind and start writing. If you later decide that the scene where the boy buys the horse is not the best beginning, you can fix or cut that later. You will have both learned backstory that may be worth weaving into the novel, and practiced your writing skills. 

When I wrote Secrets of the King's Daughter, I started with a scene that was vivid in my mind--the scene where King Lamoni's daughter learns she was offered as a wife to "an enemy", Ammon the Nephite. For a long time I thought it was my beginning chapter, but no. New ideas developed and I learned what my plot needed after figuring more things out. I didn't have to toss it, just insert earlier scenes.

In summary, start with the pieces that you imagine and begin writing them down, first as notes and then as scenes. My next post will consider the end of the story. Part three will discuss middles. Until then, happy writing! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ratings and Crossed-the-Line Books

Have you ever gone to a movie and said, "That was a good movie--except for that one part?" Maybe there was too much violence or a sexual scene that went too far. It doesn't even matter what level your standards are; a line was crossed beyond personal comfort. I keep running into this same problem with books.

I used to listen to the radio more, but I've switched to audio books, especially when I'm working in the kitchen. If I come to a scene that crosses my moral standards, I can fast forward or skip ahead. Lots of skipping ahead means replacing it with another book. The problem with relying on library books is that there comes a point when we exhaust the supply of authors we trust, and need to venture into unknown territory. I hate it when they've hooked me into a story, and then they throw in the undesirable stuff. 

How do I rate these books? Sometimes I omit them from my list of read books, ignoring the fact that I read ninety-something percent of it. But that doesn't help anyone else. I advocate reviewing all new (within first year of publication) books. Those reviews are the most helpful to both author and readers. When I do rate a crossed-the-line book, I make sure to put what bothered me into the comments. 

I'm curious to know if you even look at ratings. Do you go by word-of-mouth, favorite authors, or what? The two just mentioned are my preferences, but when I see a list from a reader I trust, I grab it. Back-cover blurbs can also pique interest. Please put your top ways to choose a book in the blog comments.

Best wishes to those participating in National Novel Writing Month! You can do it! I still haven't participated in NaNoWriMo. My editor gave me three weeks to make any corrections/give feedback to her edits, so that's what I've been working on. I'm ahead of schedule and feeling great! Whatever your project, make it a good week!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Revisions/Edits - Your Fifteen Words of Fame

Have you had your fifteen minutes of fame yet? How about your 15 words of fame? Huh? I'll let you in on a little secret: A few of the words in every book come from other people--"Authors" in the form of critiquers, beta readers, and editors. Let me explain.

Two revision opportunities came my way last week, and it set me to thinking about how many printed words of an author are actually theirs. 

First, my critique group decided to take a break from sending one another our weekly ten pages to sending all the revised chapters of one manuscript that we have seen thus far, about 90-100 pages worth. This way we could better understand the upcoming chapters because we know how the plot was fixed, etc. (Some people's manuscripts change more than others.) 

Reading through, I found a phrase, sentence, or idea here and there used from each of us that had critiqued them earlier. At one point I thought, Hey, I'm in her book. Cool. I realized that those who critiqued my pages left their own mark there as well.

Secondly, I got my manuscript back from my editor (hooray!), and looked to see how much I would have to change. Mostly minor things, but I could see a couple places already where it was more than replacing three words with one, or placing the first sentence later in the paragraph. The editor had put in her own choice of words. Another light-bulb moment. Hey, my editor is in my book. Cool? 

Yeah, it's cool. These "suggestions" often work better than the original. Just because we sent off our precious and perfect manuscript to an editor or publisher doesn't mean further edits should feel any different than what early critiquers or beta readers had to say. Really. It's all for the cause of improvement. 

Don't get me wrong. An author is entitled to take the entire credit for his/her book. If there are fifteen words from someone else, who's going to care or know (besides them)? Edits start with the writer's words and ideas anyway. In most cases, the author will have the final say or can see wisdom in the revision. Quality is the goal.

What aha moments have come to you in your writing journey?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Praise to Authors - Whitney Awards

When you read a great book, you probably tell your friends about it, but did you ever think to 'tell' the author? Tell them with an award nomination. What author wouldn't want to be recognized by their readers in this way? It's one of the highest forms of praise. 

About this time of year, the buzz starts over which LDS (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) authors' books you have loved throughout the year. Yes, I am talking about the Whitney Awards and it's time to think of which books you might nominate.
I care because this is the community of authors that I associate with and they put out some great books. I care because I will be eligible next year when my first novel is published. If we take the time to read any fiction over 50,000 words by an LDS author, and loved the book, shouldn't we say so with a nomination? It takes X number of days to finish a great book, but takes about one minute to nominate. Easy-peasy. Just go to for all the info you might want, and click the word nominate. The authors will love you for it.

I'm heading over to my Goodreads 'read' list to see which ones I loved that qualify. Then I'll go do the easy-peasy thing. How about you? Can you spend a minute to praise an author or two?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review and Reading Variety

Product Details
The Great American Family Reunion Cookbook is the perfect title for this new book by Lori Nawyn. Not only is it a cookbook with recipes especially geared toward family gatherings, fifty states are highlighted with recipes and state notes or tips. Food is the focus, of course, but you will also find motivation, ideas for themes and activities, and go-with menus. You'll want to peruse the entire book, drooling at some of the recipe titles and getting non-food ideas. When you're ready to try something out, a nice table of contents will help readers remember and find anything in the book. I recommend it as a gift to yourself or for the head honcho of your next family reunion.

Does 'reading' a cookbook count as reading? You bet it does. Especially ones like the above that include more than recipes. Even comic books count, but let's not get carried away. Variety adds spice to life.

Do your reading habits include different genres of fiction and non-fiction? I hope so. Especially if you're a writer. Writers learn from different authors by focusing on their strengths and weaknesses. One may be good at dialogue, another description or characterization. Reading a variety helps us know what is out there, to view different writing styles and language, and let's us find new things to love or discover why we don't like something. It's all good. Happy reading!