Writing on the Ebb

Spring break has come and gone at my house. My writing routine was interrupted by family and travel. I felt frustrated and, at the same time, relieved. I had reached a point where I was struggling through the first draft of my new novel. I didn’t feel inspired. At the same time, I was waiting for comments to come back on Goddess, Book 2. I tried to enjoy my break from writing, but I was afraid that if I didn’t keep working, my creativity would drift away like the ebbing tide.

spring-break

Now, vacation is over and I’m mostly back to my regular schedule. Yes, it was difficult getting started again. But vacation gave me time to think and feel instead of write. I came up with some new scenes and mulled them over in my mind during break. When I went back to work, I began to write them down. It started out painfully, like getting back to running after a patch of sedentariness. But then my creative muscles began to stretch. I got excited again about the pages I was writing. It felt good to be back in the flow. I learned that ebb and flow are a good thing for a writer.

I need to remember that.

Kelee

Snowflake Pro Outlining Software: A Review

I fully admit that I hate outlining. It rarely feel as satisfying as actually writing the novel I’ve cooked up in my head. Often, I end up with a jumbled mess of scene and chapter breakdowns that don’t serve me well in the first or subsequent drafts.

That’s why I decided to try Snowflake Pro. I was hesitant because I’ve had experience with screenplay outlining software that was either too complex or tried to put my script into a formulaic, three-act box. Thankfully, while author and software developer Randy Ingermanson talks about three acts and other structural tools, he doesn’t push them hard, so I felt comfortable only using what I needed to help me write my outline.

The snowflake method isn’t new. The idea is to start with a simple pattern and make it increasingly elaborate until you end up with a beautifully designed snowflake or, in this case, a novel.

Snowflake Pro retails for $100, but discount codes are easy to find. I paid $50. It’s easy to install. The only issue I had was that it’s not yet compatible with Mac OS Sierra, but a quick email to Snowflake’s support staff told me that all I needed was to download an earlier version of Flash. I did and was quickly up and running.

snowflake-welcome

Snowflake first asks you to choose a number 1 through 6 for how much detail you want in your outline. It didn’t give any direction as to what those levels meant, so I chose 4, which felt about right.

After entering some author information, step 1 asks you to write a one-sentence summary of your story. I think this is a vital step in any story development process, and one that was very familiar to me through my years of writing screenplays.

In subsequent steps, Snowflake has you expand that one sentence, first to a paragraph, then to longer synopses. It alternates this with steps where you develop your characters in more detail. At each step, Ingermanson offers a short audio lecture to guide you. I found these useful to get my bearings. Less useful are the examples offered from other books. There are only five available: Gone With the Wind, Harry Potter, Book 1, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Pride and Prejudice. I would like to see a wider variety of well-known classic and genre novels, and isn’t Pirates a movie, not a novel?

I appreciated the systematic way the software helped me expand my novel. When new ideas or changes popped into my head, it was easy to backtrack and add them in at earlier steps. In fact, Ingermanson encourages this.

Not as useful to me was the step where you add various details to your character profiles: what color are their eyes, what kind of clothes do they wear, what books do they read, etc. I know some writers like to consider these things, but I find it useful only when it comes up in my narrative.

While I loved the step where you make a list of your scenes (Though I know they’re going to change as I write.), it wasn’t useful to think about the typical pages per scene and the ideal pages per chapter. If that’s what your focus is on at this point, you’d better get your head back in your story.

The other step I found kind of strange was the final one, where you take what you’ve outlined and turn it into a proposal, adding marketing details, endorsements, etc. I know it’s useful to consider some of these things before writing a novel, but what are you going to do with a formal proposal? Unless you’re an established writer with an agent and publisher, who’s going to even read it?

I also missed having spell check and drag-and-drop editing. I’m so used to those conveniences in Word and other software that it made Snowflake Pro feel a little underdeveloped.

Overall though, I would highly recommend Snowflake to any writer who wants to improve his or her outlines. While you could create something like this on your own, it’s great to have it in a neat package. In my humble opinion, it was well worth a $50 investment in your writing.

Kelee

 

A Quiet Blog Means Hard Work is Afoot

I haven’t shared much recently because I’ve been so busy with my writing (as well as the rest of my life). While waiting to get comments back from my beta readers on Goddess, Book 2, I’ve been hard at work outlining a new novel. Don’t you love that feeling of possibility when you’re starting a new work? I know I’ll eventually run into roadblocks and frustrations. But right now, the world feels ripe with excitement and inspiration, like starting a new relationship.

I’ve been using Snowflake Pro to outline the new book. I’ll post a review of the software soon. Meanwhile, back to work!

Happy writing and reading!

Kelee

Where Do You Get Your Book Ideas?

I’m sometimes asked where I got the idea for a book. The answer is, my ideas can come from anywhere: an article I read, an overheard conversation, an interesting person I meet on the El. The important thing is that the idea sticks in my gut, not just my head. Ideas that only exist in my head are usually influenced more by marketing than passion.

Some of my best ideas come when I’m about to fall asleep. A story pops into my head and then, every night, my barely awake conscious adds to it. Sometimes the story dies on the vine, sometimes in flourishes. Either way, my muse rocks me to sleep.

After the election in November, I couldn’t sleep. I’d lie awake every night roiling in fear of what the future held. I’ve always enjoyed reading dystopian fiction. Now I was facing dystopian reality. I was exhausted. I had to do something.

I decided to make up a dystopian novel in my head. Thinking about fiction was safer than thinking about reality. I didn’t have any ideas at first, but I trusted my subconscious. It only took a night for a premise, and then a main character to appear. Every night, I developed them. The setting and story grew. I didn’t write my story down. I didn’t want anything concrete to limit my creativity.

It worked. I was able to sleep again. And now, while I’m waiting for my beta readers to ctitique Goddess, Book 2, I’m further developing the story on paper. My plan is to turn it into a YA novel. I know I’ll return to romance (After all, I have Goddess, Book 3 to write.), but I want to run with my muse for awhile and see where she takes me.

Happy writing,

Kelee

 

A New Year’s Resolution for Writers: Chuck Your Computer

Thanksgiving was a delicious, inspiring holiday this year. My family attended a potluck heavily populated with writers and artists. Even more memorable than the vegan stuffing were the evening’s conversation.

At one point, we were discussing our writing regimens. A fellow author at the dinner table just received a rave review of his latest book in the New York Times. (I’ll let him remain anonymous because I haven’t asked permission to share his writing discipline.)

He lives with his husband in a large, rambling old farmhouse in upstate New York. They have three empty bedrooms, any one of which could be turned into an office. Instead, he decided to build his own, Henry David Thoreau-like cottage at the back of their property. It’s far enough away from the house that he can’t pick up the wifi. Not that he could use it. He doesn’t bring his laptop or phone to his writing sanctuary. Instead, he uses composition books and a favorite pen to write the first draft of his books.

According to my dinner companion, he found his writing became more emotional and unfettered when he worked this way. Plus, writing by hand made it difficult to edit what was already on the page, so he just kept moving forward forward. The technique was liberating for him, and he never looked back.

He still uses a computer, but not until the second draft. The process of typing his hand-written draft into his laptop forces him to consider every page, every paragraph, every word. It’s obligatory deep editing.

My New Year’s resolution is to use this technique to write my next novel. I don’t have a shack in the woods, so I hope I’m disciplined enough to stay away from my phone and other distractions while I write. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Kelee

The Importance of Raising the Stakes in Your Story

I’ve been reading a lot of independently published romance lately. I’ve noticed a common problem – not much happens in too many of these novels. That’s not to say nothing happens. Girl meets hot guy, they get together, something keeps them apart, but they end up living happily ever after. The problem is, there’s seldom much at stake for the hero or heroine. If she doesn’t land the guy she may cry a little, but she’ll be fine. Instead of these books keeping me on the edge of my seat, they make me nod off.

Stakes are all about your main character having a goal, and what she has to lose if she doesn’t achieve it. In romance, that goal always includes a guy. (Or sometimes another girl.) If the main character doesn’t have a goal, whether it’s getting laid, getting married, or saving the family farm, the reader has little reason to stick around and see what happens. And if there’s nothing standing in the heroes way, then scenes become about as exciting as figuring out what to make for dinner.

Stakes are relative. Your heroine doesn’t have to save the world from an incoming asteroid to make for dramatic reading. Marty, the classic 1955 film (based on the 1953 teleplay) is a perfect example of this. Marty meets Clara one night at a dance. He likes her. She gives him her number. But when his mother and friends object to her, he decides not to call her.

marty-1955-movie-review-marty-clara-dance-ernest-borgnine-betsy-blair-best-picture-actor

Imagine if Marty was your typical romance hero. He’s good looking, with smoldering eyes, a confident swagger, and an interesting job. If he doesn’t call Clara, it’s no big deal. We know it won’t take long for him to find another girl.

But Marty is the complete opposite. He’s a butcher, not very attractive, and at 34, likely to be a bachelor for the rest of his life. The stakes for Marty are very high. We want to jump out of our seats and thrust the phone in his hand. We want to tell him he’s found a kind, sweet, wonderful girl, and he better not louse things up. It’s a simple story, but it’s great drama. That’s why it won four Academy Awards.

Try this. When you’re rewriting your novel, look at what your hero has at stake. Then sit down and write 25 alternative possibilities for what she might risk if she doesn’t achieve her goal. You might find a gem in there that will elevate your novel from so-so to something readers can’t put down. Don’t be afraid to go all-in. You won’t regret it.

Happy writing,

Kelee

How to Outline Your Book Effectively

First of all, let me make one thing clear: I hate outlining. When I outline, I have a very hard time getting my creative juices flowing. I want to be knocking out pages, writing dialogue, creating colorful descriptions. It’s like cleaning my house before a party when I really want to be drinking wine and laughing with my friends.

Is outlining even necessary? I have a writer friend who doesn’t believe in it. He has a theme in mind, a main character, and a few other elements. Then he just starts writing and sees where it leads. That method seems to work for him. His books are good.

But it doesn’t work for me. While the writing initially feels good, I inevitably run into brick walls where I feel lost without a map. I have no idea which way to go.

So it’s back to the outline for me.

After outlining many screenplays and three books, I’ve come up with a few tips I’d like to share. Hopefully, they’ll help you write a better outline, and in turn, a better book.

  1. Drill down into your story. Start with the big picture. Where does the story start? Where will it end? What are the three or four major turning points? Write those first before you get into the details.
  2. Stay focused on your theme. It should resonate in ever chapter and every scene. If it doesn’t, consider cutting or changing that section.
  3. Break your outline down on paper, on your computer screen, or even on PostIt Notes. I usually break mine down by chapters and scenes. These change over the course of writing. The outline helps me to keep track.
  4. Make sure each section connects with the one before it and after it. Sometimes I write a favorite scene, but when I look at the outline, I realize it interrupts the flow of the story. I either have to cut it or move it elsewhere.
  5. As you write each section, give it some “juice.” Especially when you’re on your second or third draft of your book, add a little dialogue and spruce up the descriptions in your outline. It will help connect you with the magic of your story.
  6. Read over your outline many times. Look for the holes in it. Look for strained connections from one scene to the next. Do important characters disappear for lengthy periods? Does the story get bogged down? This is where number 5 will help.
  7. Have other people read it too.
  8. Whenever you feel stuck in your book, go back and write a new outline.
  9. When you’re finished with your first draft, read it and write yet another outline from it.
  10. When you’ve finished the second and third draft, outline again.
  11. And again, and again. Your book should, must, will evolve as you discover the characters and the story. If you keep re-outlining, you’ll have a better sense of the story arc.

Outlines are the annoying friend you can’t live without. Treat them with kindness and respect and they’ll pay you back many times over.

Happy writing!

Kelee