Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writing Tips with Author, Sandra Carey Cody

I am thrilled to welcome author Sandra Carey Cody to my blog this week with a fantastic post about plotting one's novel. Sandy is an amazing writer and a wonderful person. I hope you'll enjoy this post and then check out some of her work!

Before we begin, here's a bit about your host:

Sandra Carey Cody was born and grew in Missouri, surrounded by a family who loved stories, whether from a book or told on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon. She attended Washington University in St. Louis, moved on to various cities in different parts of the country, and finally settled in Doylestown, a small town just north of Philadelphia. Wherever she's gone, books have been the bridge to her new community and new friends. 

She’s written six novels - five in the Jennie Connors mystery series and the standalone mystery, Love and Not Destroy. She is also the author of a number of short stories which are not mysteries - unless you consider (as she does) the day-to-day bump and jostle of ordinary life a mysterious thing. If you would like to know more about her work, you can visit her website: http://www.sandracareycody.com or her Amazon author page here

And now, here's Sandy!

 PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL OR STORY

For me, plot’s the … I was about to say the hardest part … but let’s be positive and call it the biggest challenge. What do I do when faced with a challenge? Break it down. Look at the basics. What is a plot? My trusty Webster’s defines it as:

“the plan of action of a play, novel, etc.”

Okay, now that we know what plot is, let’s break it down into manageable bits.

Come Up with a Plan:

It’s the planning that gives me trouble but, if I do a good job on the characters (a subject for another time), it’s a lot easier. I created these people. I know their secrets, what they’re afraid of, what they love and what they hate. So I should know how they will react in any situation, and those reactions are what move the story along. Sounds easy, right? All I have to do is give them something to react to, a problem to solve or a goal to achieve – and a reason to care about the problem or goal. Different characters have different goals - opposing goals. The antagonist (anti-hero) will do everything in his/her power to keep the protagonist (hero) from achieving his/her goal. This is the source of the tension that will drive the plot. When I know what problem the protagonist is facing, I’m ready to begin.

The Beginning - An Inciting Incident 

Something has to happen and it has to be strong enough to compel the protagonist to act. This is your inciting incident.  Place a major roadblock in your protagonist’s path, something that forces him/her to take action or make a choice. This is true not just for mysteries, which I write, but for all fiction. Think of your favorite half dozen stories in any genre. The first chapters may be wildly different, but they’re sure to have one thing in common: something happens or is foreshadowed as about to happen that will change life for the hero. He’s about to embark on a journey that will take him to places he never expected to go, to do things he never suspected he was capable of doing. In short, your protagonist is in trouble - facing a seemingly insurmountable problem. The plot is in motion. Things are starting to happen.

The Middle - Action, Overcoming Obstacles, Consequences, Cause and Effect
The middle is all about the hero’s response to the problem (the inciting action) placed before him in the beginning and the new problems resulting from that response. It’s about choices and the consequences of those choices. It’s about overcoming obstacles. By the middle of the book, the hero’s life is in chaos. Real life may be random, but in fiction, if the reader is to suspend disbelief, he needs to see the cause and effect behind the chaos. Events in the plot may (and at least sometimes should) surprise the reader, but once they occur, they should make sense. This doesn’t mean they are predictable. Your protagonist does something in response to the inciting action, expecting a certain result, but what happens is entirely different from what he intended. Things are worse instead of better. Someone (the antagonist) is doing his/her best to make sure the protagonist fails. So you need to write a series of scenes that show your character’s responses to the problems set in motion by the inciting incident and are linked by cause and effect.  Every time the hero responds to a problem, the anti-hero responds too, creating another problem for the hero to overcome. Forces of good and evil are at war. Your hero has new battles to fight, more obstacles to overcome. The battles become more intense, the stakes higher. Your protagonist has to become stronger, fight harder, to overcome them. These battles and the changes they create in the protagonist make up the middle.

The End - Resolution, Changes 

And, finally, after much travail and turmoil for both you and your hero, you come to the end. How is the problem resolved? How has the struggle changed your hero? Did he achieve his goal? Or come to accept that he could not and learn to live with it?  And, most important, have you been fair to the reader? Have you entertained him and made the time spent with your story worthwhile? That’s our goal as writers – always.

***
Check out some of Sandra's work on her Amazon page!




Thursday, June 25, 2015

Writing Tips by Author, K.A. Libby

This week I welcome author, K.A. Libby for a guest post in my writing tips segment. Here's a bit about Ms. Libby:


“Beware the Sleeping Dog” is Karla Reidinger’s (k.a. libby) first novel. It hibernated as a tiny germ of an idea for years before she actually started writing the manuscript. Much like George Bernard Shaw's quote above she had an idea. She imagined its growing into a novel. She studied her favorite authors and learned how they developed the goals, obstacles and stakes for their characters. She wrote her novel and re-wrote it. And re-wrote it. And re-wrote it one more time. And now it's ready for you to read. She hopes you will enjoy the experience of reading it as much as she has enjoyed the adventure of writing it. She is now working on her second novel in the trilogy.

And now, K.A. Libby:


1.Persevere. Writing a novel is hard. Very, very hard. Period. I’m writing my second novel and I’ve hit a wall. But because I succeeded once, I have confidence that this wall can be breached. I’ll keep picking (or pecking) away until I’m through it and on my way to a good (great?!) finish.

2.     Edit (and be edited). It’s laborious. Necessary. Painful. And all about deleting. Refining. Finessing. Again and again and again and again. Phew.

3.     Recognize your ending point. It’s never an easy decision! Any manuscript can always be made better, but at some point if you want closure, you need to say, “Done.”

4.     Be realistic. No one can possibly compensate me monetarily for my time and effort. My compensation is knowing that I have completed my task and that it is a ‘job well done’. But I joyfully embrace any and all kudos! Thank you to the kind and generous souls who not only bought and read my book but also spoke well of it.

For example, on Amazon.com for “Beware the Sleeping Dog” by K.A. Libby:

By Pauline M. Rowan
Format: Kindle Edition (Verified Purchase)
Good read. I like the fact that it was full of suspense and intrigue, but was not overly violent or gory. Looking forward to reading more books by this author!

And

By C. Becker
Format: Kindle Edition
Really liked the character development as well as the writer's descriptions of scenery, conflicted emotions, and untangling of old business.


5. Remember: many try, but few succeed. Hurrah to all who write, finesse, and publish. Keep up the battle. Word-by-word. Page-by-page. Chapter-by-chapter.

***

Here's a little about K.A.'s novel, Beware the Sleeping Dog:


A journey from guilt to retribution to forgiveness. Professor Mavis Walker has a stalker. Who would target her? And why? Her struggle to discover the answers and end the terror triggers closure of another kind as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Writing Tips, Part 2 by Author, Augustus Cileone: Using Your Experience in Fiction

I'm thrilled to welcome back author, Augustus Cileone to my blog today for his second post in my writing tips series.

In case you forgot, here's a little bit about my guest: 



Augustus Cileone won the Dark Oak Mystery Contest sponsored by Oak Tree Press, for the novel, A Lesson in Murder, about homicides associated with a Philadelphia Quaker school. His second novel, Feast or Famine, a satire, deals with a traumatized man dealing with his Catholic Italian American upbringing in the 1960's and 1970's. His latest novel, Out of the Picture, published by Sage Words Publishing, is a mystery loaded with movie references, and deals with social outsiders. He has been honored for his writing by Annual Art Affair, Hidden River Arts, the annual Writer’s Digest writing competition for two plays, The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, the Montgomery County Community College’s Annual Writers’ Club Poetry and Fiction Contest, Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards, and the Annual StoryPros International Screenplay Contest.  His short stories appear in the anthologies entitled South Philly Fiction and Death Knell V, and in the literary periodical Schuylkill Valley Journal.


And now, Mr. Cileone: 

What Elements are used to Write Fiction

I suppose the ingredients used to cook up works of fiction consist of the author’s interests and experiences, which are then combined with the writer’s observations. Add to this recipe imagination, and you have your story.

In my latest novel, Out of the Picture, I wanted to write a mystery because I have always been interested in trying to solve the puzzle at the heart of the works in this genre. I am also an avid movie fan. I am one of those masochists who watch the whole Oscar broadcast each year. I have enrolled in numerous film studies courses over the years, and write a movie blog which analyzes a film each week. I may not be able to remember what I ate for dinner, but I will recall movie dialogue and film credits with ease.

I also love animals. I have observed over the years how loving and loyal our animal companions can be. The book includes an anti-animal abuse theme. Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye to my beloved feline family member, Jellybean, not too long ago. She does show up in a supporting role in Out of the Picture. (I recently started doing volunteer work at a local animal shelter, Kitty Cottage, and I am donating all of my author royalties from Out of the Picture to the animal shelter.)

Before retiring, I was a medical claims examiner with the Department of Veterans Affairs. I reviewed numerous claims involving post-traumatic stress disorder. The main character, Vince Singleton, in Out of the Picture, suffers from this condition. He was traumatized after witnessing the violent death of his wife. Since he could not prevent the death of his wife, his involvement now in trying to catch a murderer, who has threatened his world, helps him on his way to redemption.

My interests in literature and my experiences with Quaker schools were reflected in my first mystery, A Lesson in Murder. And, my Italian American heritage and the upheaval I observed in the 1960’s and 1970’s are addressed in my second novel, Feast or Famine, which is a comic/dramatic work.

Hopefully readers will find that I have added the right amount of imagination to these interests and experiences to make my writing worthy of literary consumption.

***

Want to check out some of Mr. Cileone's brilliant work? His newest release, OUT OF THE PICTURE was released in February! You can check it out here


From the Amazon page: 



Vince Singleton, a writer, part-time English professor at Philadelphia Sacred Covenant University, and huge movie fan, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He witnessed the accidental shooting of his wife by a policeman during a robbery. Vince, however, suspects that her death was intentional. Now, an old friend of his is found dead amid unusual clues. Vince helps the lieutenant working the case, despite his wariness of policemen. Faculty members associated with animal abuse are murdered and strange items are discovered near the bodies. Vince determines that the clues refer to movies, and, with the help of his daughter, his journalist brother, and a female professor, tries to find the killer before another person is taken … out of the picture.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Writing Tips by Author, Augustus Cileone

I'm thrilled to welcome author, Augustus Cileone to my blog today for my writing tips series. Gus is a member of my local SINC chapter (Sisters in Crime). I can tell you that he is smart, interesting and accomplished. I'm excited to share his writing tips. Gus will be here today talking about building characters and next Thursday, he will return to discuss using your own experiences in fiction writing.

Here's a little bit about my guest: 



Augustus Cileone won the Dark Oak Mystery Contest sponsored by Oak Tree Press, for the novel, A Lesson in Murder, about homicides associated with a Philadelphia Quaker school. His second novel, Feast or Famine, a satire, deals with a traumatized man dealing with his Catholic Italian American upbringing in the 1960's and 1970's. His latest novel, Out of the Picture, published by Sage Words Publishing, is a mystery loaded with movie references, and deals with social outsiders. He has been honored for his writing by Annual Art Affair, Hidden River Arts, the annual Writer’s Digest writing competition for two plays, The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, the Montgomery County Community College’s Annual Writers’ Club Poetry and Fiction Contest, Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards, and the Annual StoryPros International Screenplay Contest.  His short stories appear in the anthologies entitled South Philly Fiction and Death Knell V, and in the literary periodical Schuylkill Valley Journal.


And now, Mr. Cileone: 

Building Characters

I’ve attended a number of workshops on fiction writing, and the successful writers teaching these sessions agreed on many points as to how to create believable and interesting characters. Here are some suggestions:

1. Physical descriptions are important, such as sex, age, vocal quality, and even clothing. But, don’t get bogged down in superfluous lists provided by an omniscient author. Try to provide details through the eyes of other characters. This technique also tells the reader something about the observers.

2. Character traits reflect the basic personality of a person. Many times one predominant mood or temperament adds to believability and distinctiveness. These come off as a person’s attitudes or reactions to surroundings.

3. Motivations are desires. There may be several in the major characters. It is in this area that emotions and objectives come into play. These desires can be subconscious or conscious. Readers like characters that care about something, such as other characters, or a cause.

4. Deliberative thoughts show a character’s reasoning before forming an opinion or plotting a course of action. It is an active process and produces dramatic action.

5. Decisions define characters, are types of action, and are, thus, tied to plot.

6. Back story helps the characters feel real to the writer, and, therefore, also to the reader. Knowing about a character’s parents, religion, place of origin, education, ethnicity (if relevant to the story), helps sculpt the person created, even if all of these facts don’t make it into the final story.

7. Action and humor should flow from the characters, and not be inserted just for thrills or a laugh. They should be consistent with and reveal personality.

8. Stakes must be high. Readers become invested in characters that have a lot on the line. It doesn’t mean that a story has to be a thriller to include this element. For example, a person might be fighting to hold on to his family, or to overcome an addiction.

9. Flaws in a character’s personality make a person more believable. Also, perfect people are boring.

10. Fears are what the characters must overcome to reach goals and lead more satisfying lives. Plots should include characters facing or running away from their fears.

11. Conflicted characters show struggling with what they believe and what they should do. Without conflict, there is no dramatic interest on the part of the reader.

12. Distinguishing characteristics create uniqueness. Supply characters with signature likes, dislikes, actions, or ways of speaking.

13. Change must occur in major characters. Through the events in the plot, they should go through an arc where experiences alter their lives.

***

Want to check out some of Mr. Cileone's brilliant work? His newest release, OUT OF THE PICTURE was released in February! You can check it out here


From the Amazon page: 

Vince Singleton, a writer, part-time English professor at Philadelphia Sacred Covenant University, and huge movie fan, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He witnessed the accidental shooting of his wife by a policeman during a robbery. Vince, however, suspects that her death was intentional. Now, an old friend of his is found dead amid unusual clues. Vince helps the lieutenant working the case, despite his wariness of policemen. Faculty members associated with animal abuse are murdered and strange items are discovered near the bodies. Vince determines that the clues refer to movies, and, with the help of his daughter, his journalist brother, and a female professor, tries to find the killer before another person is taken … out of the picture.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Respecting Your Process

My Daughter's drawing of a "Plantster" - which is what I am: a cross between a Plotter and a Pantster
Get it? Plotter + Panster = Plantser? Pants with a Plant growing out of them. Tee hee

Last year, I posted about this awesome blog post I had discovered by author, Rachel Aaron wherein she proposed a new way to increase word count. You can read the post that I wrote here. (The bit about Aaron is all the way at the bottom, so scroll down.) What I had gotten out of her post was that if you spend a little bit of time before you sit down to write making a very detailed outline, your book might get written faster. Seems like a no-brainer, right? I mean if you show up to every writing session knowing exactly what you're going to write, that should save time, right? Absolutely. I was so excited when I read this blog post. Now, I work full-time so there was no way I ever expected to go from 2,000 words a day to 10,000 (or, er, go from a few words to 2,000 per day) but I really liked the gist of what she was trying to get across--know what you're going to write before you sit down to write it, and your word count will increase. It's efficient. Brilliant. This seemed like it was a fail-safe way to increase word count.

Unless you're me.



Let's be clear: I'm not knocking Aaron's theory because I think she's absolutely right (you'll note that I'm focused mostly on the first prong of her theory which is the "Know What You're Writing Before You Write It" bit) and even though it didn't quite work for me the way I thought it might, I still got a ton out of it. The point of this post is to tell you that I tried something based on her post and it helped me tremendously, just not in the way I thought it would.

So.

As I said in my So Many Things post, I took 2 weeks to plot out the book I was working on at the time, COLD-BLOODED. I made a very extensive, very detailed outline. I was super excited about it. I really felt like it took into account everything that I normally worry about and fret over after the book is already written--mainly huge, gaping plot holes. It also helped me see when and where to reveal certain things. It made every detail of the book so clear that I was able to go through each proposed chapter and try to make sure that with each one, I was revealing something new to the reader. Awesome, awesome stuff. Boy, was I psyched about this outline. I mean it was definitely the best outline I ever made. Ever. I was so excited because I thought: now I'll never have a week go by where I don't write because I have no idea where the next scene of the book starts. I can just use my awesome, handy outline! Right? Right?

Not so much.



The problem for me was that making that outline literally took every ounce of joy out of writing the book. Once I knew, in detail, what was going to happen in every single scene, I had ZERO desire to write those scenes. ZERO. It was a massive, horrendous struggle to keep my ass in a chair long enough to scratch out each and every scene. It was no fun. No fun at all. I lost all desire to write, much to my horror. I mean I wanted to have written the book, I just didn't actually want to write it.

COLD-BLOODED, first draft

This whole experiment taught me something about my own process that I really hadn't taken into account--that writing fiction is fun for me because it is an exploration. I would say that 90 percent of the fun of writing that first draft is not really knowing where the words are going to take me. It's like careening breathless down a winding mountain road at dusk on a rickety bicycle--I kind of know what's going to be around the next bend, but there's always the chance I could run smack into a car or a wild animal, or that my bicycle could crap out on me--then what? The process of figuring it all out almost at the same time as the characters do is what makes it fun for me. I mean obviously, I have some idea of what's going to happen and how things are going to turn out, or I couldn't write the book. But before this beautiful, perfect outline, I had more of a generalized mental outline that only reached 5-6 chapters ahead of where I was at any given place in the story. For example, in the first chapter of the FCF sequel, which I will be getting back to now that COLD-BLOODED is finished, I only knew that there was a car crash and Claire would save several people in the car. (I knew who was in the car and why they crashed as well.) Next, I knew that the police would show up and the investigation would begin. I also had some general ideas as to how all of that would go down, but the details of those scenes, the real nitty-gritty stuff, didn't get developed until I actually sat down and wrote those scenes. And let me tell you--I wrote those scenes in a gasping frenzy of euphoria. YES!



So maybe COLD-BLOODED was just harder to write. Maybe the FCF sequel, OVER THE EDGE, wouldn't be hard to write on an outline. Maybe I just don't like the story or characters in CB as much as I like them in OTE and that's why the outline backfired on me. Could be. I don't really know. What I do know is that I'm not willing to risk stamping the joy out of fiction writing for myself again. So I am going to get back to OVER THE EDGE and finish it, and I am not going to use an outline. Not at first.

Where I actually found the outline to be tremendously helpful to me with COLD-BLOODED was in the second and third draft stages. See, usually I write my first drafts like I'm just vomiting up scenes randomly. There's no discernible order. Then I have to piece them together into chronological order, which is always a tremendous pain in the ass. With my handy outline, it saved me hours, perhaps even days, of work putting the book into chronological order. I mean mostly because I tried writing them in order of the outline. But it was still helpful at the initial revision stage. What Aaron's post taught me about what I had been doing wrong with my outlines in the past was that I need to outline the book as I want it to be, not as I already wrote it. That's been my problem in the past. I'd write the book and then I would do an outline, but it was simply an outline of what I had already written. It had nothing to do with how I wanted the book to actually turn out. Whether I do an outline before I sit down to write or after I've already written, I can see that doing an outline of my ideal version of the book will help me far more than simply listing the imperfect, and sometimes unnecessary, scenes I've already written.



So what I propose to do this time, with OVER THE EDGE, is to write like I always have--like I can only see three feet ahead of me; like I don't know what's around the next twisty turn--and enjoy the ever-loving hell out of the process. Then I am going to do my detailed outline--of how I think the book should be structured for readers to get the most enjoyment out of it. Then I am going to piece together the book by following that outline. Maybe I'll need to write new scenes at that point. Maybe I'll need to tweak or delete the already-existing scenes. I know it's an ass-backwards, absurd way to write, but it works for me. I mean come on, if it's not fun, what's the point of doing it? I'm going to respect my process. I really wish that I could work the other way, but I don't want to go through all those months of not wanting to write again. Months! I will be interested to see if this next book gets written faster without the outline up front. I will let you know. I've still got some work to do on COLD-BLOODED but once that is "in the can", I'll be testing this new theory about my writing process.

How about you guys? What's your process? Have you ever tried something that just didn't work for you?


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Authors United Against Child Slavery

Psst . . . Please check this out. Remember that Finding Claire Fletcher t-shirt fundraiser I did last year? It was for this very same organization: Operation Underground Railroad. Now these two super awesome authors, Laura Johnston and Donna K. Weaver are going all out to mobilize the writing community in order to raise money for O.U.R. Please check it out. By the way, earlier this year, the Elizabeth Smart Foundation merged with O.U.R. Elizabeth Smart has long supported O.U.R. and I hope you will too!

Where authors unite to raise funds for Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), a nonprofit that organizes undercover operations to free many of the 2 million children being trafficked as sex slaves around the world.

Participating authors are donating their books in exchange for donations


  • Donate $20 to receive a free book from a participating author (book prizes selected at random).
  • Donors of $40 or more will receive two free books, a series, or a bundle (selected at random as well). 

Nearly 200 books have been donated by generous authors to help raise funds for this great cause--see the list of participating authors/books below!

Give freedom, get a book





DONATE NOW

Donate directly to O.U.R. through the Authors United Against Child Slavery Campaign


AUTHOR UNITED AGAINST CHILD SLAVERY LINKS
Authors and book bloggers who wish to help, please fill out this online form

OPERATION UNDERGROUND RAILROAD LINKS

Participating Authors/Books