Top Self-Editing Tips Panel

This post is for all those who attended my self-editing panel at CaperCon this weekend. I promised to post a .pdf of the presentation, so here it is! You can download it from the link below.

(Psst! Even if you weren’t at my panel but would like some self-editing tips, you can download it, too! My aim with this panel was to help writers learn how to find some basic areas for line-edit improvements in their writing.)

In at least one of my panels, I also mentioned the submission planning spreadsheet I made, which is available for download from this site. You can find that post here.

Finally, we talked a little bit about Scrivener, as well. Here’s a post about setting up a submission tracker as a Scrivener project.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the table, bought a book, chatted, and came to my panels this weekend. You helped make it another wonderful convention experience!

 

Friday Desk Report – June 16, 2017

A lovely carpet of creeping phlox

Seems like it was a bit of a slow week around the desk, but of course the intrusion of the warming weather and demands of the outdoors have something to do with that. (Not that I am complaining!) Still, I managed to keep up with most things, started a new novel revision, and spent hours refining the magic system used in that novel draft. It now makes more sense and is on its way to becoming a rational magic system. Still a few things to work out, but it definitely has a good foundation now. It was a pain in the butt interesting to try to reconcile the magic use/character abilities that I’d written into the story into a more coherent framework. I’ll have to make changes and adjustments as I work my way through this revision, but I feel much more confident about a good result now.

In my research into building good magic systems, I also refreshed my memory on Brandon Sanderson’s Three Laws of magic systems, which are very helpful to keep in mind when building one. The first one is at the link, and the others are linked from the bottom of that page.

A gorgeous tall tulip from a “Pretty in Pink” bulb mix from Vesey’s Seeds

I started the week bouncing between projects and finally landed on that revision, but I foresee that pattern continuing over the next little while. There are short stories I want to submit by upcoming deadlines, so although I’m a bit stuck on them right now, I have to keep going back and pecking at them until they agree to cooperate. I love it when I can sit down and write a new story straight through, but alas, that doesn’t happen all that often. It’s more likely to take a lot of digging and mucking about before I reach those two sweet, sweet words: The End.

Family, fire, and cake

Last week was my birthday (which I share with my sister, but no, we’re not twins–she was born five years after me, but on the same date) so we had our traditional outdoor party on the weekend. I made a first attempt at icing flowers made with a Russian ball decorating tip; they turned out all right, but I learned some tricks for making them better the next time. Still delicious!

Still working with my assistant, so despite the yard and garden needs, I think I’ll be able to stay productive in the coming weeks.

 

Eleven Reasons to Love Outlines

This colourful outline brought to you by Scrivener’s binder feature.

I know what you’re thinking, those of you who know me. Why would a non-outliner write a post about loving outlines?

It’s not that I’ve come entirely over to the dark side become an outliner, but I do recognize that sometimes they can be useful, whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool planner or a steadfast pantser. And in fact, this post has been co-written by my sometimes author assistant, Emily, who actually is an outliner and therefore knows more about the whole outlining thing than I do. Here’s what we’ve come up with in our collaboration on the topic.

1. There is No “Right Way” to Outline. Outlines can take on different forms depending on who is making them. Some writers use programs like Scrivener to create digital outlines, others prefer to use note cards or index cards. Any way you want to outline is a good way to outline. You might even find that you don’t have to go the full mile and outline your entire plot, but an outline of your main character’s arc would be helpful, or a timeline of historical events to set up your current world. You’re free to outline whatever will assist you and your writing, and pay no attention to the rest.

2. Outlines Are Inspiring. Whatever method you decide to use for your outline, make it not just helpful to you but visually or aesthetically pleasing. If there’s a color you find particularly inspiring, incorporate that into your outline. If you have images that get the creative juices flowing, represent your characters, or paint the picture of one of your locations, include them in your outline so you are always reminded of them when you return to your outline. Remember that no one else is going to see it; it’s just for you and it should make you excited as well as get you organized. Just don’t get lost in adorning your outline when you should be adorning your plot. Keep it simple and fun!

3. Having a Plan. The beginning of a story can be intimidating to write. So can the middle. And so can the end. Having an outline provides you with an overview of the plot, detailing how things start, how they progress, and how they end so you know where you’re starting and also where you’re going. There is no frightening blank space lying in wait just beyond that exciting first scene. You always have something to fall back on if you forget what you wanted to happen next.

4. Defense Against the Dark Arts…er, Writer’s Block. Every writer faces writer’s block at one time or another. A conversation isn’t working, an explanation requires some research before it can be written, a scene just isn’t interesting enough. An outline provides you with numerous distractions from that one difficult section; you can move onto another scene that you know needs to happen, but with a basic understanding of what needs to come before or after.

5. Structured Spontaneity. Outlines can, at first glance, seem to be an obstacle that will stand in the way of your creativity. If you know everything that’s going to happen in your story, is there really room for discovery or development? Absolutely! Think of your outline as a foundation; your action, characters, and themes all have their own jobs and interactions, and are probably not going to adhere to the outline indefinitely. Your writing will still surprise you, and on that note…

6. Outlines are Not Static. Sometimes characters do things that we don’t expect or a rogue plot point will plummet into the thick of our stories seemingly out of nowhere. This doesn’t mean that your outline becomes worthless. When things need to change, an outline can change with them, and you already have a platform to input new information and step back to see the whole picture in terms of this new development. An outline does not need to be restrictive.

7. Outlining is Pantsing in Disguise. Whether you do it before you write or as you write, you are still creating this storyline, these characters, and these events out of your imagination. Outliners are just pantsers who do more of their imagining prior to the actual act of writing, and write it down so they don’t forget it. So no matter which camp you think you fall into, it’s more a matter of perspective and style than anything else. If you’re a pantser, don’t let the prospect of an outline be scary or off-putting, because it’s not fundamentally much different from the way you usually tackle story construction.

8. Revision Tool There’s no better tool to have by your side when heading into a novel revision than your trusty outline. It gives you a necessary overview of the structure, pace, and logic of your story when you’re trying to ferret out where change is needed. To that end, if you’re not an outliner before you write, create an outline as you go. At the end of every writing session, briefly describe in a sentence or two what just happened. Even if you didn’t start out with an outline, you’ll have one by the time you finish the first draft.

9. Synopsis Tool Likewise, an outline can be an invaluable tool when it comes time to write the Dreaded Synopsis. Particularly if you’ve updated your outline to reflect changes that happened during the actual writing and revision of the novel, or created the outline in tandem with the novel and revisions, you have an accurate but brief reflection of the story from beginning to end, and can set to work polishing it up into a synopsis right away.

10. Aid to Discovery Your outline can reveal things about your novel or story that you may have included subconsciously, like themes and motifs. They’re revealed subtly throughout the story itself, but looking over your outline it may be more obvious that certain elements or objects repeat and resonate throughout the manuscript.

11. Series Tool Maybe you didn’t set out to write a series, but the first book or story has given birth to a followup idea. Your outline can be the first thing in your series bible, and refresh your memory on many elements of the previous story as you set out to write the next installment.

The Alternative Expletive Project

A long, long time ago, over at The Scriptorium, I had a feature page called the Alternative Expletive Project. Here’s how I explained it then:

For many writers, the use of expletives in our fiction writing presents a quandary. Do we go ahead and use one of those infamous “seven words you can’t say on television” (although I think they’ve all been said there by now)? Do we tone down one or more of those words, making the work less likely to offend–but, some would argue, less realistic?

It’s a personal choice that we all must make at some point, when our character smashes a thumb with a hammer, loses everything in the stock market, gets into a huge screaming match or realizes that the spaceship’s life support system has just failed. To swear, or not to swear, that is the question.

For those who’d like to walk the line somewhere between an “R” rating and an unbelievably dull character, The Scriptorium presents the Alternative Expletive Project. Our goal: to offer writers real-life, inoffensive examples of what folks say in times of anger, pain, despair and other emotional extremes.

I asked The Scriptorium’s readers to send me their examples and suggestions, and the response was…edifying, to say the least. So I collated all the responses into one large (partially) alphabetically-sorted list. As responses continued to roll in, I gave up on alphabetizing them. It’s interesting to note that today’s possibly most popular swear-without-really-swearing, “WTF,” did not even make the list at the time.

When The Scriptorium underwent a redesign, that page was overlooked and didn’t make it back onto the new site. So I present the list here, for your browsing and reference pleasure. You never know when it might come in handy–and it’s fun, at any rate. Do you say any of these? Do your characters?

The Alternative Expletive Datalist

Ah, Buddha All-fired Blamed
Blast Blasted Bleeding
Blimey Blinking Bloody Mary
Bloody Blowed Confound it
Confounded Crap Crappola
Crikey Cursed Cussed
Dammit Dang Danged
Darn Dash it Dashed
Dern Dungduggetty Mud Durn
Feck off Fishcakes Frig
Gee C. Cow Gee Gol-danged
Gosh Heck Jehosophat
Jiminy Crickets Motherfather Motherflower
Poop Rats Sugar
Ballspun Road and Crumpets Fiddlesticks Sugar and (bloody) cats
That’s SpongeBob (means “That’s B.S.!”) Bother Botheration
Tidy Bowl Shiver me timbers Dag nabbit
Split me infinitives By carbonate of soda no Fark
Cheese ‘n’ Rice For frog’s snake Fudge
Good Gravy Jeezly Heavenly Day
Good Googa-Mooga Go to Halifax Gol-dashit
Ficky-doo BALLoons BASTion of indecency
Mother flubber Cock-a-doodle-diddle Drat
Shoot Jeepers Flick
Boulder Dash Chickens Fudgesicle
Nuts Sugar Honey Iced Tea Fungus
Jackrabbit Crappers Dadgummit
Pickles FartBurgers Criminy
Sammich Bachkalooey Hajamabajah
Rat Farts Jolly Bad Luck Jolly Rotten Luck
Dorkburger Filth Belcher Dirt Merchant
Chickenplucker Cheezles Flackit
Summon a witch Grudge damn it Faff (off/you/this)
Judas H. Priest Bollards (load of) Bilge
(you) Richard Cranium Baloney Fricking
Jeeze Louise Cheet Beach
Sugar Plum Fairies Flipping Frack
Howling Horse Biscuits Cheesers
Shittles Skittles Shootles
I could spit nickles Fack Ymir’s Bones
Son of a Biscuit Eater

They’re Live!

My two new non-fiction ebooks are live as of yesterday! The Two-Week Short Story is a guide to brainstorming and writing a fast first draft, and the Short Story Workshop for One is a workbook for improving fiction when it’s difficult to get outside feedback or comments. For now they’re exclusive to Amazon, and priced at $2.99 and $1.99 respectively. More details about them, and buying links, are here.

A Reincarnation

For a number of years, I ran a couple of successful email courses through The Scriptorium; one was called “The Two-Week Short Story” and the second was “Short Story Workshop for One.” People seemed to enjoy them and I received a lot of very positive feedback from students. The first was (rather obviously) a guide to coming up with a story idea and writing a quick, complete first draft, all in a two-week period. The Workshop was a method for writers who found it difficult to get feedback or critiques to work on developing the kind of critical eye needed to help them improve their stories on their own. The Short Story Workshop itself grew out of an article I had published in Speculations back in 2001, so it had already lived through one reincarnation. It occurred to me that they’d both probably translate well into short ebooks now, and that I might reach a new group of aspiring writers in that format.

Never one to let a good idea fail to distract me from what I’m really *supposed* to be doing, I set to work and did some revising, tweaking, and re-formatting. Also, cover design, since every good ebook deserves a good e-cover. I’m not quite ready to release the ebooks yet, since they need one more good going-over, but I’m thinking within a week or so they’ll be ready to go. But I can share those covers with you now (they might get a little more tweaking, but I think they’re pretty much done):

I expect to price the ebooks around $1.99, which will be a bargain considering the courses used to sell for $8.00 each! However, I did have the hassle of setting up the email schedule, so compared to that, selling ebooks is easy. I believe I’ll test these in Kindle Select at first, and then move to a broader platform after that, as my marketing experimentation continues.

If you or someone you know is looking for some story inspiration and motivation, or have a story that needs some intensive self-workshopping, I’ll be posting here when they’re released. Maybe you’ll find them useful!

Illustration Friday – Fable

A number of years ago, (*looks back, sees it was 2007, faints*) we did the Illustration Friday challenge for a while. The challenge is a topic (usually just a word) which you then illustrate in whatever medium you’d like. At that time I was doing a lot of colored pencil, so most of my projects were small, AECO size (2.5″ x 3.5″) attempts. Most of them are still online over here. It was a lot of fun, although the results…varied. *Side note: the IF challenges also make good writing prompts!

I’ve been thinking I’d like to get back into the art groove, so I looked up this week’s IF prompt and it was “Fable.” Which, of course, appealed to my writerly side, and I started thinking about how stories come in so many shapes and sizes and often have deep roots from which they grow.  This time I went digital and also indulged in my love of typographical art to come up with the image. I got some help and inspiration from the tutorial here, and then went my own way with it. I really like the result! It took a couple of hours (with various interruptions) but I think it’s good to engage the art brain and let the writing brain rest sometimes. I hope I’ll get back into the habit of Illustration Friday for a while again. I’m also enjoying the art videos posted by Mary Doodles on her YouTube channel, but my watercolor skills are currently non-existent. Maybe someday…

In the meantime, here’s my take on “Fable.”

November 11th Musings

Poppies by Benoit Aubry of Ottawa

This morning I walked “into town” to observe the Remembrance Day ceremony. I do actually live in the town, by the way, but on the outer edge, and going “into town” has always been the family nomenclature. I had planned to walk with some others of my family, but due to this and that I ended up going alone with a new plan to meet them there. It was a sunny morning, and the wind held a jagged edge–but, hey, it’s November in Cape Breton–and altogether lovely for walking.

Since I was alone and hadn’t taken my headphones to listen to music, I set my mind, as I walked, to the problem facing me in my current novel project. Which, coincidentally, had to do with war. The question I have been trying to answer is basically, how can a small group of people stop an interstellar war?

The obvious answer, I suppose, is: they can’t. But this is fiction, and that wasn’t the answer I wanted. I wanted an answer that involved cooperation, and determination, and compassion, and alien races working together. I just couldn’t seem to find the right way to make all those pieces fit together into what also has to be a good story.

So I mulled it over as I walked, and I thought a bit about war, and a bit about my Great Uncle John, who fought in the Second World War and did come home, if a changed man. I thought about the characters in my book, and what’s just happened and is happening in the United States, and about other wars and other places and other stories. And I came back to my characters and all the bits of the novel that have already been set in motion.

And. I think it worked. By the time I met up with my family members, some very important story pieces had fallen into place, and others had revealed how they could work together, and new pieces had appeared, too. I didn’t quite dance in the street since it would have seemed quite disrespectful under the circumstances. But I felt much better than I had about the story in a while.

There isn’t really a moral to this story, but I suppose if there is one for writers, it’s that sometimes you have to give your brain a quiet place to churn, and let it go. Maybe it means a change of scenery or activity, maybe it means a nap or just a break from staring disconsolately at the screen. Maybe it’s not forcing ideas, but nudging your thoughts in a certain direction and letting them run, instead of staring at an outline that isn’t working any more. Maybe it’s a walk on a sunny, windy day, alone with your thoughts and a question to be answered. If you’re stuck, try all of these things, and more, if that’s what it takes. The pieces will fall into place.

NaNoRetro: 2003

My NaNoWriMo Retrospective continues with a look back at 2003. I came, I wrote, I bought the t-shirt. And I wrote “THE END.”

nanoretro2003This was my second year of NaNoWriMo, and the year I wrote the first draft of One’s Aspect to the Sun. I learned a lot about novel-writing that year, including the fact that sometimes characters you intend to kill off in the second chapter just keep hanging around until you realize they’re not ready to die after all. I also found out how fulfilling it is to reach some semblance of an ending and type those two wonderful words.

I wasn’t certain if this was the year I became a Municipal Liaison, but I’ve just gone and checked my email (yes, I’m an email hoarder, I confess), and this was the year I started. So I’m glad to have that figured out, because I’m never sure when filling out the ML form each year. It didn’t occur to me before this to just go and check those old emails, for which I really have no excuse. As I recall, we were a pretty small group that year, and far-flung across the Island, as we still are, although there are definitely more of us participating now. I remember mailing out pins and possibly stickers to a few participants.

Anyway, this is a big year in the retrospective, because the draft I wrote this year became my first published novel (from Tyche Books) in…wait for it…2013. In November, even! Yes, ten whole years after I wrote that first draft. Now, I wasn’t working on it constantly during those ten years (I wrote a lot of other stuff in there, too), but I did write several drafts. I submitted it to the Atlantic Writing Competition (now Nova Writes) and took second place (which one of the organizers assured me meant that the novel was “publishable”), and rewrote it using the feedback I received from the judges. After a couple more rewrites and submissions, it found its home at Tyche. The beautiful cover art is by the talented Ashley Walters. The book was named “Speculative Fiction Book of the Year” by the Book Publishers of Alberta.

Here’s the blurb, which remained pretty much the same from the time I first wrote it in 2003 until the book came out:

When Luta Paixon, captain of the merchant trader Tane Ikai, looked in the mirror, she saw a woman in her thirties–even though she was actually eighty-two. Luta’s only explanation might lie with the mother who had disappeared over sixty years ago. But even if her mother were still alive, it would be no small task to track her down in the vast, wormhole-ridden expanse of Nearspace. With the ruthless PrimeCorp bent on obtaining Luta’s DNA at any cost, her ninety-year-old husband asking for one last favor, and her estranged daughter locking horns with her at every turn, Luta’s search for answers will take her to the farthest reaches of space–and deep inside her own heart.

Looking back at my spreadsheet from this year, I see that I finished November with a word count of 50,715. On the second day, my note says, “A little worried that I don’t know where I’m going,” but by the end of the first week I seem to have settled into a groove and flown straight on till morning. I actually finished on the 27th, averaging 1878 words per day.

Which year will we visit next? Stay tuned!

It’s My 15-Year NaNoVersary!

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_municipalliaison-2-250x250Yes, 2016 marks the 15th year I’m participating in the wonderful creative blast of National Novel Writing Month. I thought it would be fun, as the month progresses, to look back at the things I’ve written, the data I’ve kept, and, even more important, the t-shirts and other nano-merch I’ve acquired over the years. So sit back, pour up a celebratory glass of your favourite liquid for toasting, and enjoy this little trip through time and word counts.

I’m doing this in no particular order, so today I randomly picked 2008 (because that’s the t-shirt I’m wearing today).nanoretro2008This was the 10-year anniversary of NaNoWriMo itself, and the brown baseball-style tee boasts “NaNoWriMo” and a large number “10” on the back. This is one of my all-time fav NaNo t-shirts. That was the year I wrote At the Sign of the Starcase, and yes, that’s STAR CASE, not a typo. This was a middle-grade to young adult story, and I know I wrote it specifically trying to incorporate many of the elements my daughter enjoyed in the books she was reading at the time. Here’s the blurb:

In the five years since Maddie’s father disappeared, she and her family have struggled to go on with some semblance of a normal life. That life is shattered by the arrival of Neb, a vaguely rabbit-like creature who turns up in Maddie’s room one night, pleading for her help in finding a powerful book called the Cyclopedia and telling her that her father is still alive—but trapped in an alternate world. There’s no question that Maddie will try to help Neb and hope that by doing so she’ll be able to rescue her father. But keeping the rest of her family safe grows increasingly difficult once she finds out that there are others from that world who want the Cyclopedia too…and they don’t care what they have to do to get it.

Looking up my tracking spreadsheet from that year, I see that I finished up at 50,699 words. Some selected comments from the daily “notes” section of the spreadsheet: “Still no idea what I’m doing with this story, but at least it’s started,” “I hate that message that says, at this rate, you won’t finish on time,” “bleh,” and on a more positive note, “Woohoo, I’m getting so many great ideas in the last 24 hours!”

Unfortunately, all those great ideas did not lead to a finished first draft of Starcase, and I didn’t get to type “The End,” which is always my ultimate goal during NaNoWriMo. I always get the 50k, but that goal is more elusive. My daughter is no longer a middle grade reader, but I’m sure if I ever finish Starcase she will read it anyway just to be nice.

We launched our first Third Person Press title, Undercurrents, during that November, so I think that contributed to my struggle with this manuscript. However, I still like it and think it has potential, so it remains on my TBF (to-be-finished) list.