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Category Archives: Writing

Story structure and that pesky middle part…

Writing novels means that the writer must continually work on becoming better at his or her craft. I am constantly striving to improve, and in doing so I joined RWA and attend monthly meetings at Cleveland’s NEORWA (North Eastern Ohio RWA) chapter, have started the Three Rivers Romance Writers group, have attended numerous conferences and workshops, and have taken online classes.

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That pesky middle part

 

During this time, my writing has evolved, as it should. (If not… boy, have I been wasting my time!) Do I look back at some of my earlier work and cringe? Perhaps. I can promise that some of it will never see the light of day… at least not in its current form.

I find that when I work improving my writing, I tend to focus on specific parts of the writing craft, but these pieces are beginning to merge into something cohesive. I have worked on “show don’t tell,” GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict), characterization, and story structure. I work to use strong verbs rather than weak ones. I try to eliminate words such as “got,” “saw,” and “walked” and replace them with clearer and more descriptive ones such as “bought,” “identified,” and  “strode.” and I try to make sure that my reader finds some way to personally connect with my hero and heroine.

This ongoing process has invaded my enjoyment of books as a reader. Now, if I come across something particularly well written, I have to pause and examine it. Conversely, I also frequently “edit” books in my head as I read them. I think that this is partly why I read so many audio books these days. It forces me to stop editing as I read!

Lately I have been working on the idea of story structure as it pertains to character development.  We know stories must have an arc… a beginning, middle and end. There must be a big climax toward the end (at about the 90% mark in the book) and that everything prior to that point must lead up to the climax and build toward it.

Interestingly enough, the things I listed are expectations that most of us, as readers, have for the novels we read. We might not even be consciously aware that we expect it. Story structure is an old concept that can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. The Greek plays used this structure two thousand years ago. If you do an internet search on the Three Act Structure (or Four Act Structure … which is almost identical), you’ll find a great deal of information out there.

Basically, a novel must have 1) the initial setup, 2) the hero’s response (which includes something at the mid-point that changes the hero’s perception of what is happening, 3) the attack (where the hero shifts from responding to the entire situation to attacking it directly), and 4) the Resolution.

Acts 1 and 3 are small compared to what is going on in the middle

Acts 1 and 3 are small compared to what is going on in the middle

These parts aren’t equal in size. The set up usually takes place fairly quickly and establishes the time, place and main characters. The resolution is fairly brief as well and should wrap up any remaining loose ends.

The meat of the story is in the middle. (Sorry for the sandwich metaphor… I’m getting hungry.)

The middle is where our hero develops as a character and goes through some sort of transformation.  It is essential that our hero evolves throughout he course of the story and thereby EARNS his/her goal. If he or she doesn’t learn something important about him/herself, then we, as readers, feel cheated. Of course, there is the anti-hero, who doesn’t evolve, but then that character must be doomed to fail and our story becomes a tragedy.

In our society, we see examples of this expectation being played out around us all the time. The person who puts in extra hours at work or who comes up with the next great idea is supposed to be rewarded through success. The student who works hard on a project and pays attention to the details is supposed to receive an A. The person who rescues the injured dog could well be rewarded with the loving companionship of a pet (or the thanks of a grateful owner).

Of course, sometimes life isn’t fair. Perhaps someone steals credit for another person’s ideas at work. Or maybe a teacher gives a lower grade because part of the assignment wasn’t done properly, and what if that poor rescued pup pees all over the house and chews the furniture? But, THOSE THINGS MAKE GREAT STORIES TOO! In fact, those stories are even more interesting! That’s because our hero must overcome those obstacles and learn something in the process.

The hero’s basic character flaw must be revealed, and we, as readers, must be able to see that the flaw is keeping him or her from achieving that main goal. Once our hero also recognized this flaw, then he or she needs to decide whether or not to do something about it. All of that happens in the middle of the story.

So, work on the middle. Keep it strong and interesting. And make sure your character learns some fundamental truth along the way.

Three Rivers Romance Writers

Writer Wordart

Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

THE STORY BEHIND IT ALL

Almost ever month over the past three years, my friend, Sheila Larkin, and I have been making the trek from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to attend NEORWA’s RWA chapter meetings.

I know the two hour drive might sound a little extreme, but it’s well worth the trip because NEORWA always has a guest speaker who makes some sort of presentation on an aspect of the writing process. I’ve learned a great deal over the years and my writing is better because of it.

However, as time (and miles) went by, both Sheila and I wondered why there wasn’t a similar group in Pittsburgh. “It’s a big city… it has lots of writers… but where is the group offering monthly presentations on writing?” As we searched for an answer to this question, we spoke with some of the other writers we know who live in the area, and discovered that many of them were also interested in attending that type of meeting.

So, we decided to do something about it.

THE NEWS

Sheila and I are proud to announce that we are starting the Three Rivers Romance Writers… <fanfare…applause…squeals of joy>.

Our first meeting will be on Saturday, January 19, 2013, at 10:00 am the Sewickley Public Library at 500 Thorn Street, Sewickley, PA 15143 at 10:00 AM. Although the group is focused on the romance genre, all fiction writers will find benefits in attending the monthly meetings. We plan to have monthly speakers on various aspects of writing, from developing the writer’s craft to issues regarding publishing.

We are thrilled to be able to say that New York Times beat selling author, Madeline Hunter will be our very first speaker. She was the keynote speaker at the RWA National conference in New York City in 2011, and she lives in the Pittsburgh area. (See, I SAID we had the writers here!)

Future meetings will take place at 10:00 AM on the fourth Saturday of each month. The March meeting will also be held at the Sewickley library, however the February meeting will be held at our alternate location at the Bridgeville Library at 505 McMillen Street Bridgeville, PA 15017 on February 23.

We have a Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/ThreeRiversRomanceWriters . If you “like” us there, you will be able to see announcements of upcoming meetings, speakers, and (eventually) events.

We are currently developing a website, and once it is up and running it will be at http://www.threeriversromancewriters.com. Bonnie Forsythe has very generously created a temporary one for us at http://threeriversromancewriters.wordpress.com/

We have a number of requests out to local authors, and we are in the process of finalizing arrangements to have them speak to our group. We hope to have some announcements within the next few days, so remember to check our website and Facebook page.

FUTURE PLANS

Currently, RWA has a moratorium on accepting new chapters, so ours is not an official RWA chapter. However, our goal is to pursue membership with them as soon as they open things back up again. RWA is a fabulous organization that supports authors throughout their careers, and we believe that being under their umbrella will be to the advantage of all of the members of the Three Rivers Romance Writers. Any novelist can become a member of RWA, but only romance writers have voting privileges. In order for our group to become a chapter of RWA, we must also  conform to these rules.

Please come!  We look forward to having many writers attend our first meeting (along with the subsequent ones). Please come lend your voice to this group so that we can understand what you want in a writer’s group. He hope to build a strong, active organization, and we need your help to do so!

Beep, beep. The sound of me blowing my own horn

NaNoWriMo_1After so much hard work and frustration, I’m finally beginning to see some forward momentum in this whole writing thing.

I have an agent, and I’m so excited to be partners with her. I am now represented by Cherry Weiner of the Cherry Weiner Literary Agency. I met her at the Writers for New Orleans conference. We hit it off, and when I and the opportunity to pitch to her, she requested my manuscript.

I sent it off to her with great trepidation and high hopes. She received it, but let me know that she was making her way through the stack of manuscripts and that it would take some time before she reached mine.

In the meantime, I received some wonderful news. I finaled in three contests: “Where the Magic Begins,” “Launching a Star,” and “Put Your Heart in a Book.” I actually entered one each month over the summer while I continued working on my manuscripts, but as it turned out, the finalists for all three contests were all announced around the same time.

At the end of October, I received an email from Cherry asking me to call her. My heart was pounding. Did it mean what I hoped it meant?

I contacted her, and she very quickly offered to represent me as my agent. I was absolutely thrilled. I’ve been floating a few feet off the earth ever since then. I was thinking that my family would need to tether me down, but then NaNoWriMo hit and it brought me rushing back to reality. For those of you who do not know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month. It’s been a challenging goal to meet. I did well the first week, but life has been getting in the way lately and I’m not achieving my daily word count.

But I digress. On to my newest big news…

I received a really wonderful email this morning. My manuscript received first place in the “Where the Magic Begins” contest!

Yes, that squeal of delight you heard this morning at around 7:30 AM was me reading that I had won.

I know that I’ll be knocked on my big ole’ butt pretty soon when something really bad happens, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying these moments of success.

So, in the words of Jonathan Coulton, I feel fantastic !!!           Jonathan Coulton

“Keep your head down and just WRITE”… or “How to empty your water pitcher”

Grapes through a water pitcher

Image by quinn.anya via Flickr

I’ve been following that first bit of advice for the past four weeks. It’s been working, up to a point, but I must admit that all work and no play makes Jane a dull… and resentful… girl. Sheridan’s not immune either. Hence, the second quote.

I recently pitched the first novel I had ever written. To my amazement, I not only had a request for 100 pages from an editor, but also a request for a full from an agent.

Sounds great, right? It IS great. No question there.

The problem is that, as I said, it’s the FIRST novel I ever wrote. It’s been sitting in my computer for well over a year, and during that time, I’ve been focusing on developing my craft. The craft of writing.

I’ve attended conferences, listened to lectures, and taken classes. I’ve studied deep point-of-viewcharacterization, the hero and heroine archetypes, creating hooks, writing strong opening chapters, the hero’s journey, and the use of dialogue tags. In doing all of this, I’ve developed confidence and my voice has become stronger. Going through this process has made my writing better than it was when I wrote my first full-length manuscript, and that’s the crux of my problem.

Now, as I review my work and prepare to send it in, I see many things I want to improve. There are parts of my manuscript I love, and parts that make me cringe… I mean, what was I thinking? I want to send in the BEST that I can currently produce, so it needs to be polished.

I’ve been editing furiously, and my critique partners, a beautiful, amazing, talented group of women, have been supporting me. But even with all of the support I’ve been getting, I was beginning to burn out. I kept pouring water out of my water pitcher of creativity and inspiration, but I wasn’t taking time to refill it.

Then came last night’s game of laser tag at Laser Storm. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I finally did something to refill my pitcher. I could feel my creativity and energy flowing back into me.

After all, summer only comes once a year, and kids grow up fast, right? I can’t just sit and write. I also need to go EXPERIENCE some things.

Although it might take a me couple extra days to finish, at least my family and I will be sane at the end of my rewrite.

What’s in a blank space? Lots of trees

[Tree in a rural area] (LOC)

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

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Adding some pizzazz and creating a reservior of future posts

Copyright Infringement

Image by Raymond Larose via Flickr

Pizzazz.

Bling. Something to draw the eye.  It’s always nice to add something visually stimulating to your blog.

You can upload your own photos, or you can find free images to use.  WordPress partnered with Zemanta, a company which provides images that are free of copyright infringement. Once you turn on Zemanta in your WordPress settings, a widget appears on the right side of your screen while you are writing your post and it offers you suggested images based on the words you type. The lovely image of the sunset is one provided by Zemanta and is based on the phrase “copyright infringement.”

New content

An important part of developing and maintaining your blog will be including new content. If you want people to keep coming back, there needs to be something new for them to read. You might want to spend a day writing a few potential future posts to use to fill in later down the road in case you don’t have something fresh on you mind that you want to post.

A really nice thing about using WordPress is that it has the “QuickPress” area where you can write your posts and save them as a drafts for future publishing. Again I can’t thank my daughter enough for pointing me toward this great website.

First steps in choosing to write a blog

April 25, 2011

I have to admit, my first blog isn’t what I had in mind, but the idea came to me while setting up my brand new webpage.

Before I decided to even write a blog, I did a bit of research first. First, I needed a real REASON for starting a blog, and the most pressing one is to get a web presence so that when people look for me, they can find me. Easy enough. Decision made.

Second, I needed to start my blog on a good foundation. I know there are a lot of places to host websites, so I decided to ask an expert for advice.

Luckily, I’m related to one. My lovely and talented step-daughter, Kelani Nichole, is a web expert and directed me to WordPress. I’m so glad I asked her! Everything I need is here on this site and I’m able to customize my site easily.  Even though I have a computer background, I have never done any web design, and WordPress is guiding me through the process.

So far today, I have registered my domain name, selected a “theme” for my site, and I have registered it with Google, Yahoo!, and Bing so that (hopefully) people will be able to find me when they look for me!

And now we reach this moment… where I’m adding my very first post.

My current goal for this blog is to communicate what I learn regarding the writing craft. I plan to post interesting and essential tidbits regarding writing that (I hope) other writers will find useful.