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Structuring a story is a challenge that writers meet in one of two ways: either they outline diligently before they write so much as a sentence, OR: they fire up the word maker and see what happens. The former are called plotters. The latter people are called pantsers and I am one of them.
The difference between the groups lies in how comfortable a writer is with chaos. To write is to literally visit a foreign land. Plotters like to have an itinerary. They know where they will be in the morning, where they are eating lunch, etc. Pantsers wake up and walk out the door with nary a thought for the day. Plotters attempt to impose control. Pantsers attempt to maximize experience.
I view writing as a discovery process. It lets me explore the characters, their interactions, the plot and setting. It lets me feel the story. I’m frequently surprised by what occurs, which leads me to more character driven, organic stories. For plotters, the outline process performs the same function. The end result for both groups is a story that is thematically and narratively coherent.
For me a story begins with either a situation or an image. If I see an image then it is usually the climax. Seven men on a sailboat in the Pacific. One of them is trying to sabotage the boat, everyone knows it and everyone is on edge. If I have a situation, it is usually the inciting incident. A dying billionaire wants to read his obituary so he fakes his death.
Why my brain works like this is not something I think about. I believe it is churlish to be picky about how one receives inspiration. One does not find a ten dollar bill on the sidewalk and get upset it was not a twenty. Inspiration is a gift.
Next I figure out the bones of the story, a.k.a. structure. Authors use story structure because it is how people’s brains and hearts respond to narrative.
In the first act, the character sees a flaw in the normal world and ventures into the unknown to fix it. In the second act, the character faces myriad challenges to create a solution to the problem. In the third act, the character braces for a final showdown to win the prize and restore the normal world. This template covers everything from Star Wars to Liar Liar and all points in between.
After being bit by the “I’m going to write a book” bug, I blazed through five months and 113,000 words to create two separate stories. All the time I spent was filled with excitement and enthusiasm, feeling my ‘muse’ on my shoulder cheering me to the finish line.
As it turned out, I realized I was in a race on a very long course, not a drag strip. Completing the first 2 eBooks was just the beginning. As I wrote those stories, each chapter I completed filled my head with new ideas and plot twists for the follow-on story.
After completing the second story to my second trilogy (that’s another by itself) I took the leap and decided to go the self-publish, print-on-demand route by placing my completed work on CreateSpace for all to hold if they so choose.
Unfortunately, while my artist and I struggled with a formatting issue on one of the covers, my ‘muse’ decided to take a nap as it were, without permission. I still had pages of notes and plotlines to work through on my fifth WIP, but my desire and motivation had left on the heels of my ‘muse’.
One thing I do to escape is to listen to music, and this is what I turned to in an attempt to coax my ‘muse’ to return. Thankfully I have an abundance of instrumental music to dive into, and so for several days, actually weeks, I would sit and listen, staring at the proverbial blank page of MS Word in the hopes something would jump out and stick.
My other trick I used in the past, and once again in this case, was rereading my previous work. After writing 3 individuals ‘chapters’, I create a new file allowing me to consolidate what I’ve completed. After this is done, I continue to add my completed pieces until I exceed my word count or page count, whichever comes first.
I’m happy to say, this works for me, but for others, I’m sure they have their own methods, tricks and secrets. In the end, it all comes down to one think, Keep Writing!
By Anthony Harrison
Thank you so much for letting me stop by for a visit on your blog. I love to talk about books and writing.
Writers usually fall into one of two camps, plotters (those who plan, plot, and outline before writing), and pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants). Plotters know the path and the plan to get to the end. Pantsers go where the characters and story takes them.
I am probably a hybrid of the two, though I lean heavily on the plotter side. I plot everywhere. I jot ideas on sticky notes and on scraps of paper. I carry a notebook in my purse for plotting emergencies. I have outlines, character biographies, and color-coded storylines. I keep a chart of all the places and characters. I describe them to the nth degree. This is also helpful if you decide to write a series. That way, my character’s eye color or the color of her kitchen doesn’t change in a later work.
I also use this to take care of my urge to write backstory. I put all the details in this document. Some of the information will never see the light of day, but it keeps me from overloading the story with too much history. Backstory or historical details are better sprinkled in throughout the work.
After my major plotting, I’m ready to start writing. And that’s when the pantser raises its head. I always decide I like a minor character better than another, and sometimes the story takes a tangent. In my first novel, Secret Lives and Private Eyes (May 2016), I planned to keep one character around for the series to create some tension. But as it turned out, I liked another character much better, and his role took on a life of its own. So, without spoiling the surprise, character two is around for book two.
After the plotting and the first draft, which my friend Mary Burton calls the “sloppy copy,” I am ready to revise. This phase takes me the longest. I can write pretty quickly once I get started, but it takes me forever to reorder, change, and revise. And what I think is chapter one during the writing stage, never ends up that way in the final, published version.
I try to write every day, but it doesn’t always happen. I work full-time in IT, and sometimes the only thing I wrote in a week were performance evaluations and budget recommendations. Life gets in the way. I’m much happier when I stopped beating myself up about writing and hitting daily word counts. I write when I can. I binge write. I get up at 5:00 AM and write or do my social media promotion before work. I write at lunch. My coworkers tease me when I write in the cafeteria (but they always want to know who dies in the next book). I write a lot on my days off, weekends, and holidays.
You need to decide what works for you and create your style. It is harder to pick up your writing after you’ve been away for a while, but you need to balance your writing with everything else in your life. The best advice that I’ve received throughout the years is to be persistent and keep writing if you want to be published.
Heather Weidner, a member of SinC – Central Virginia and Guppies, is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. She has a novella included in To Fetch a Thief (November 2018).
Heather lives in Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers, Disney and Riley. She’s been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew.
Some of her life experience comes from being a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, IT manager, and cop’s kid. She blogs at Pens, Paws, and Claws.
Private investigator Delanie Fitzgerald, and her computer hacker partner, Duncan Reynolds, are back for more sleuthing in The Tulip Shirt Murders. When a local music producer hires the duo to find out who is bootlegging his artists’ CDs, Delanie uncovers more than just copyright thieves. And if chasing bootleggers isn’t bad enough, local strip club owner and resident sleaze, Chaz Smith, pops back into Delanie’s life with more requests. The police have their man in a gruesome murder, but the loud-mouthed strip club owner thinks there is more to the open and shut case. Delanie and Duncan link a series of killings with no common threads. And they must put the rest of the missing pieces together before someone else is murdered.
The Tulip Shirt Murders is a fast-paced mystery that appeals to readers who like a strong female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations such as larping and trading elbow jabs with roller derby queens.
Website and Blog: http://www.heatherweidner.com
Pens, Paws, and Claws Blog: http://penspawsandclaws.com/
Amazon Authors: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HOYR0MQ
As a veteran, I learned early in my career that you need to plan to succeed, or you’ll fail from the lack of planning. But I didn’t adhere to this mantra when it came to writing. To me writing starts with an idea, a nugget of inspiration, or a pearl of wisdom. Actually, for me it started with the knowledge my cousin had written a story. It was a cozy murder-mystery set in the California wine country. But alas, he left it, unfinished, never to see the light of day. I mentioned to my wife that writing should end with the story being released to the masses. I decided I would write my own story, which I took on as a form of therapy from my day job, oddly enough, as a technical writer.
With my wife’s encouragement, I dove into the deep end. With a snippet of guidance from an online blurb on ‘writing your first novel,’ I started at the end, the dramatic finish. I soon realized I had no idea how to begin, having just created my ending. So, staring at the blank page of MS Word, I started to type what floated about between my ears. Soon, I realized, I had lost my way. My trouble lay before in not keeping track of characters, locations, scenes, and most importantly, time.
But, each evening, I would sit at my laptop, headphones in place putting a string of words together. After receiving feedback from fellow writers, I realized my passion had become a monster, and I had pantsed my way to nearly 113,000 words. After a moment of soul searching (and a few drams of Scotch), I pared my story in half. With each passing verse from ABBA to ZZ Top, I soon found myself reaching that first chapter I had written, the dramatic finish. After five and a half months, and over seventy-five-thousand words, I was finally able to type ’THE END’ to my first novel “The Irishman’s Deception.” Along the way I also took some of the fallen pieces and created a second novel, “Suspicious by Design.”
Over this time, I learned there is a 3-Part Act, there are emotional needs and inciting events, all parts of the story that should be included. Though I didn’t follow the ‘rules’ which so many others cite in their own terminology, I did learn that even though I enjoy the thrill of spewing forth words unencumbered on my laptop, it pays to have a few cheat sheets.
I now use a single sentence to establish my scenes, a sheet listing my characters and their relationships, and several shelves burdened with references. And thankfully, the ever-present hot key linking me to the internet, which allows me to view a myriad of information that the famous writers of yesteryear could only dream of.
Even though I’ve grown and continue to learn about the craft of writing, for me, the pleasure still remains in the act of writing what I’ve dreamed of, what inspires and intrigues me. And to think, it all started with an idea.
What is your approach to writing? Outline, spontaneous, or both?
I’m a little of both. I’ll jot down random thoughts at first, then piece them together in the order I think works best. Most are just one-liners, that become the basis for full-blown scenes or character POV’s.
Where does your story take place?
I actually have two ebooks out, with first one taking place in Aberdeen Scotland, along with snippets in Glasgow Scotland, Belfast Northern Ireland and Dublin Ireland. The other takes place in Marseille France, with snippets in Algiers, Algeria and Morocco.
Name your biggest struggles writing this book.
Maintaining consistency in time. Sometimes it is between morning, noon and night, while others is something happening on one day and jumping two days later.
What has been helpful to you?
Community and friends, both locally and via the web. HAving someone help me understand the subtle nuances in dialogue, setting and the treaded ‘showing v. telling’ is really helpful.
What have you learned in your writing journey thus far?
Each day brings a new challange; whether it is creating better dialogue, making my character’s more ‘believable’ or simply stringing the sentences together, it’s all a learning process.
Does your book feature a central protagonist?
Yes, Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Conor McDermott is the main character in the story. A former Royal Navy officer, he is assigned a case that began in Portsmouth when a dock worker who was killed is found.
How do you get to know your characters?
Having Conor as a police officer aligns with my grandfather’s brother who was a constable in Edinburgh. I also have two older cousin’s who are members of law enforcement, so Conor is a tribute to them in a small way.
What’s the overarching goal of the hero?
Conor is out to find out how his niece was drugged, which led to her death (she jumped from an apartment rooftop). He also looks to redeem himself as his tendency is to bend certain rules in pursuit of catching criminals.
Whether in comic books or on movie screens, superhero stories are where many people first encounter questions about how they should conduct their lives.
Although these outlandish figures—in their capes, masks, and tights, with their unbelievable origins and preternatural powers—are often dismissed as juvenile amusements, they really are profound metaphors for different approaches to shaping one’s character and facing the challenges of life.
But, given the choice, which superhero should we follow today? Who is most worthy of our admiration? Whose goals are most noble? Whose ethics should we strive to emulate?
To decide, Travis Smith takes ten top superheroes and pits them one against another, chapter by chapter. The hero who better exemplifies how we ought to live advances to the final round. By the end of the book, a single superhero emerges victorious and is crowned most exemplary for our times.
How, then, shall we live?
Using superheroes to bring into focus these timeless themes of the human condition, Smith takes us on an adventure as fantastic as any you’ll find on a splash page or the silver screen—an intellectual adventure filled with surprising insights, unexpected twists and turns, and a daring climax you’ll be thinking about long after it’s over.
This book was exquisitely delicious in every sense of the word. If I could, I’d rate it with 10 stars from start to finish. Impeccable in presentation, brilliant in theme, and praiseworthy in effect. Ten comic book heros, ten ways to save the world, and which one do we need most now? Author Travis Smith analyzes each superhero pitting them metaphorically against one another; extricating their relevant significance to the human condition, society, politics and virtues to emulate. I’d try to say more, but they’d fail to describe the magnificence of this book. Get yourself a copy!
In the darkening days of autumn, in a remote region near the Canadian border, a journalist has been murdered. Anne Marie Johnson was last seen with Reeve Landon, whose chocolate Labrador was part of an article she had been writing about a scientific canine research program. Now Landon is the prime suspect. Intensely private and paranoid, in a panic that he’ll be wrongfully arrested, he ventures deep into in the woods. Even as he evades the detective, Landon secretly feels the whole thing is somehow deserved, a karmic punishment for a horrifying crime he committed as a young boy.
While Montana FBI investigator Ali Paige is not officially assigned to the case, Landon—an ex-boyfriend and the father of her child—needs help. Ali has only one objective for snooping around the edges of an investigation she’s not authorized to pursue: to save her daughter the shame of having a father in jail and the pain of abandonment she endured as a child. As the clock ticks and the noose tightens around Landon’s neck, Ali isn’t sure how far she will go to find out the truth. And what if the truth is not something she wants to know?
A Sharp Solitude is a study of two flawed characters, bonded by a child, trying to make their way in an extraordinary place where escape seems possible. But no one can ever really outrun their demons, even in the vast terrain of Glacier, the ultimate backdrop for a journey of the soul.
BLURB RATING – 9/10
This is a well written blurb that whets your appetite for the story. I love how it begins–“In the darkening days of Autumn, in a remote region near the Canadian border…” I was hooked on the first sentence! You can even say that the first sentence tells a story. You have an interesting setting, a particular season, and dazzling crime to be solved. Boom! Great blurb.
First Chapter Impressions
This is a darling of a first chapter. I love Christine Carbo’s brand of storytelling. Based upon the blurb and the first chapter, this is the story of Reeve Landon and Montana FBI investigator Ali Paige. Told in the first person point of view of Ali Paige you sense that you’re part of the story. Like she’s sitting right next to you–or better yet, taking you alongside her as the story is told.
It begins with a traumatic experience in Reeve’s childhood, and a sneak peak into his characteristics and personality. Shortly thereafter Reeve and Ali’s relationship is brought into the story with breadcrumbs from Ali’s past. Really looking forward to reading this book!
Christine Carbo is the author of The Wild Inside, Mortal Fall, The Weight of Night, and A Sharp Solitude (all from Atria Books/Simon and Schuster) and a recipient of the Womens’ National Book Association Pinckley Prize, the Silver Falchion Award and the High Plains Book Award. After earning a pilot’s license, pursuing various adventures in Norway, and working a brief stint as a flight attendant, she got an MA in English and linguistics and taught college-level courses. She still teaches, in a vastly different realm, as the owner of a Pilates studio. A Florida native, she and her family live in Whitefish, Montana. Find out more at ChristineCarbo.com
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