Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Snowflake Method

Snowflake Method
It seems fitting to start talking about this method today during the first week of December. Because snow and such. Even if this has practically nothing to do with it.

So what is the snowflake method? Well even if you have a general idea for your plot, you're going to run into complications at some point that you need to have planned out. You know, before your protagonist's mother turns up live and cooking back home when you told your readers she was dead sixty pages ago. Or more simply, if your protagonists' eyes keep changing color or ages shift without explanation.

Here's how it works. Try writing your book in one sentence, like we practiced with the elevator pitch. Now try extended it into a paragraph. How about book blurb? What would you put on the back of your book cover? And now write an entire PAGE. But we're not done yet. You can apply this to all aspects of your story. Follow this system with your characters and with the beginning, middle and ending. Congratulations. You now have an entire, ridiculously detailed outline. Exactly like a snowflake--it appears to just be a white blur, but when you examine it closely, you see the finer details and how it is unique.

If you want to learn more about the snowflake method, please look at this entry below. It's probably much better than mine.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pitching Your Book

Writing your book is one thing. However, getting it published is quite another. It's all well and good to say that you want to write for the sake of writing--you need to love this career if you want to make any money, however, it is still nice to....actually make money. And if you want your book to be picked up by a publishing company, you're going to have to find a way to make it stand out.

Here are two main pieces of advice.

1) Elevator Pitch.
Imagine you're traveling in the elevator with someone and suddenly the lift freezes and you are both stuck there. Now normally that's horrible, but let's pretend that the one other person you are stuck with just happens to be working for a major editing company. And since they're trapped with you, they HAVE to listen to your idea for your book! There is no escape for them! (laughs manically)

However, because you also want to make sure that your friendly book editor does in fact, become interested in your book and not just feign interest, you want to work on your pitch. Find a way to summarize your story in 30 seconds or less. The first part of these 30 seconds should be based on summarizing the exact plot, and in that short time you need to mention three things--the conflict, your character, and what makes it unique.

Remember these three tips--short, sleek and sexy.

Then the next part of your thirty seconds should be based on emphasizing your tagline. What would that be? Well you know how everyone likes to say, "It's the next Hunger Games!" or "It's Star Wars meets Harry Potter!" As eye roll inducing as these can be, they say a lot about your story and what makes it unique.

After that, the only thing that matters is combining the two and trimming them down. After all, you're going to be trapped in that elevator for likely only a short time, and you want to make sure that you leave the editor with something.

And that's how an elevator pitch works. Now you'll be ready for when you meet with your potential publisher. Even if that exact circumstance will probably never happen. Unless you.....arrange it yourself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


It's that time of year again you guys. The singular month where authors stay up in the wee hours of the night, trying to reach that elusive word count. Where writer's block seems to enjoy toying with us more than any other time, and the cries of despair echo as authors realize they have fallen at least two weeks behind by this point.

But it's not all bad. Don't get me wrong, I love NanoWrimo. It's one of the biggest gatherings of authors online that can be found, each of them encouraging each other, offering advice on plotlines and characters, with plenty of shoulders to cry on. (Believe me you'll need them.) And even though I believe things would have been much better if this event took place in July (seriously who was the idiot who decided to set a challenge to write 50,000 words in the middle of the school year) by November 31, chances are good you could be holding the first draft of your book.

Here are three steps to help you achieve that goal.

1) Love Your Novel: When I say love, I mean LOVE. Like the kind of obsessive love in which you can't focus on class because you are busy daydreaming about your plot and your characters. You are going to be writing 1667 words per day. You need to love your work or it is going to drive you crazy and you will end up hating it.

2) Vague
I made this mistake the first time I tried this November madness. I believed I needed a fully outlined plot so that I would be able to write properly each day.....I didn't feel "ready" to start writing until the third week in November. You don't need a fully outlined plot. You don't need to know much about your characters. Trust me--very few people here do. You just need to love what you have and work to build on it. There are dozens of forums on the Nanowrimo website that can help you generate ideas and discuss issues with your novel with hundreds of people. And besides, even if you do have a whole plot in your head--this is still only a first draft. Don't worry about it being perfect cause it won't.

I cannot stress this out loud. If you are writing a book because you want to write the "next Hunger Games"--take your hands off that keyboard. Don't get me wrong. If you have a really cool idea, for example, for a dystopian or vampire novel...go ahead. Write it. But only if that's the story knocking around in your brain. If all you're trying to do is try and imitate Stephanie Meyer because "that's what people like" you will fail. Readers can tell. And trends don't last forever.

And finally, here's a helpful tip for the writing itself. There is a wonderful program called Scrivener. It is God's gift to authors. Instead of having dozens of documents to keep track of, the program has a folder and sections for your research, the ability to split a chapter into several scenes--even reorganize these scenes if you have inspiration for later moments. I'm really not doing it justice, but it's definitely worth a look, especially since students get a discount and only have to pay 30 bucks.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Writer's Block

Writer's Block

Here's what you need to know about writer's block. It is of the devil. It is a creation of evil designed to make us writers go insane and want to throw our laptops against the wall and vow never to write again.

Now that you know about the perils of the dreaded writer's block, what can you, as a writer, do to combat it? There are several different steps, and every author's weapon is different.

Some writers find making a playlist for their book or their story line helps spark their creative juices. You've got to admit, that a big part of every movie is the soundtrack--it might be background music, but it gets your emotions as the viewers going. Why not have the same thing for your book? If you're stuck on finding the right song that fits your story, may I suggest the band known as Two Steps From Hell--the creator of some of the most epic music you've ever heard of.

If music doesn't aid you, try giving yourself some alone time. I know it's a cliche, but you can have some surprising bursts of inspiration while in the shower--or just quietly walking down the campus paths and just observing the world around you. Or the next time you drive home for the holidays. Spend time thinking about your plot line during that long trip.

It's also important to consider why the writer's block has struck. Sometimes it's just because as writers, we're tired and need a break. Other times it's because something is actually wrong with our book. Maybe it's a plot hole you need to work on. Maybe it's a lagging scene. Maybe it's a character that's turning out to be completely pointless. Don't be afraid to kill that scene--or that character. If it doesn't aid, it hinders.

Don't let the writer's block get you down. Beat it at its roots.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Back Stories

Hi guys. Sorry this post is late but I got sick and then I had two papers to write and when I went to the Writing Center they made so many edits I practically had to rewrite one of them completely. From scratch. And then I went to down my sorrows in chocolate but as I had spent the whole night writing the Creamery was closed...

See all that? That is what we in the writing business refer to as back story. Back story is literally as self-explanatory as it seems--it means describing what happened to your character in the past to shape their state of mind and their actions in the present. What makes them the character you know and love (or hate, villains should have back stories too.)

However there is such a thing as too much back story. You probably weren't interested to hear all the details about my academic woe, but it would have been even worse if I'd added in how I woke up at 6:30, brushed my teeth, ate a bowl of Lucky Charms...those details are even more unnecessary. Follow the sacred law of writing--show don't tell. In Harry Potter, we know that he was sent to live with his horrid aunt and uncle, and little details such as the fact that Harry is super skinny and has to wear his cousin's hand me down clothes are enough proof that he's been neglected during his childhood. We don't need a full out explanation of all the past eleven years of his life. That's just info dumping.

So how do you create a back story? backwards. For example in the recent movie Maleficent the plot is all about Maleficent's back story. Why did she curse baby Princess Aurora? Because Stephen, her lover, betrayed her trust and cut off her wings in order to become King. Here's another important part of back story--don't make it simple. Maleficent doesn't hate Stephen just because he is the human king and humans are awful to fairies. She hates him because he emotionally manipulated and deceived her. Make your back stories complicated. People are complicated. That's just who we are.

However just because your character might have a long and complicated back story, doesn't mean the reader needs to know every detail of it. Think of J.K Rowling's tidbits she posted on the Pottermore website. (And if you don't have a Pottermore account GET ONE NOW.) She has pages of back story on Remus Lupin's tragic and horrible life, but she doesn't include all of his childhood in the books. Why? Because what furthers the plot is his grief over his dead friends and his determination to help protect his best friend's son. That's what matters.

Above all when it comes to back story, listen to your character. This is their story. They know what you want.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Planning Out Your Plot

This week we discussed one of the most important moments of the book--like literally, you can't do without it. Yes I am talking about the plot of your book. Whenever you begin a new book planning out the story line can feel overwhelming. Where on Earth are you supposed to start?

Well you can begin by asking yourself three important questions about your plot; does it have passion, potential, and precision?

Passion: Trust me. You're going to be writing this story for a long time. In fact, you're going to be writing this story in several different variants, constantly changing your characters, your plot, your world. You're going to write the same chapter over and over again, constantly "improving" it. In order to go through this without going absolutely insane, you have to really, really love your story. You have to unless you want to risk smashing your laptop in frustration after the fourth, fifth or sixth rewrite.

Potential: You may think that your book is going to be the biggest deal since Harry Potter; but it's important to remember that most of the stuff that you're getting for your story isn't completely new or groundbreaking. We all draw from sources such as other books or movies for ideas in our story; we have to. It's how we grow and develop as writers. As has been said before, there are no original plots. However it is important to keep track of where exactly you're getting your ideas from, to make sure your story isn't too similar. Split your novel into world building, character development, climax and plot, and write down where you got each of your ideas in each of these areas from. You might surprise yourself, and you might be inspired to come up with even more ideas.

Precision: This has more to do with the structure of the plot itself. How so? Well you want to make sure that you have all the necessary steps in a plot arc--rising action, the climax, falling action, and then denouement. You cannot begin a story at the climax with nothing to set it up, just as you cannot bore the reader by only having rising action with no pinnacle. When you are organizing the main arc of your story, it is also necessary to figure out your key scenes. What are key scenes? The scenes most important in progressing the plot--the ones that lead from the rising action to the climax to the falling action and so on.

However despite all these points, the most important part of a plot is the conflict. You cannot have a plot without it. And there are three major kinds.
                                                                              Man VS Man
                                                                            Man VS Nature
                                                                              Man VS Self
. Examples of Man VS Man often include the main character struggling against a human antagonist--the evil sorcerer or the corrupt government. An example of Man VS Nature can be seen in the book "Hatchet", where the teenage boy struggles to survive on his own in the Canadian wilderness. And Man VS Self is the personal growth of the character as they combat against their inner demons. What do all of these have in common?  All of them have one main element in common--they both represent something major at stake. Something is at risk, and it doesn't necessarily have to be the fate of the entire planet or the extinction of the main character's race. It can be something as simple as the risk of failing school or dealing with family issues. However a good novel will have the stakes at risk continue to increase--sometimes dramatically as the story goes on. Smaller stakes will help us relate to the character in the beginning, but don't make the entire plot about only boyfriend troubles or school issues. We get enough of that in real life.

Here are some links to older posts discussing plot:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Writing Major and Minor Characters

This week we talked about the importance of not only developing your major characters, but making sure that your minor characters are compelling even when they have a minimal role.

How do authors do this well? Well let's take a look at JK Rowling, who has hundreds of minor characters and yet somehow we remember every single one of them. Not only do each of them have a distinct voice and appearance, she also only introduces them as they become necessary to the plot. For example, she doesn't just list of the names of each of the professor's at Hogwarts and expect us to remember them. Rather, we're introduced to Snape and McGonnaGall and Quirrell as Harry progresses through the school year and his classes, and we learn more about their personalities as Harry learns more about them.

However while it is important to at least acknowledge the existence of each of your minor characters, they don't need to be as fleshed out as the main character. We don't need to spend a page talking about characters that have little relevance to the plot. The amount of detail a character gets should reflect on how necessary they are.

Major Characters: When it comes to developing your main character there are two important parts to every single one of them; they all have to want something and they all have to have character flaws. Every character wants something, rather it's to marry the prince, become famous, carry the Ring to Mordor, or defeat the evil wizard. You get the gist. And no one is interested in perfect characters either. Character flaws make it so the reader can relate to your story.

Stereotypes: Avoid these like the plague--well mostly. There are some stereotypes that can be helpful, especially when you're writing from the point of view of the opposite gender. While it's true that guys are less emotional and girls more so (most of the time anyway)--don't make either of these points the defining trait of your character. When writing books with female characters there is a system known as the Beckdale Test: which basically states that does your work contain two or more girls, and do they talk about something other than boys?

Here are some older posts on the site that also talk about character development:

Here are also some good questions for you to ask yourself about your main character. Once you've done that trying having your character "write" a letter to you the way you think they would, and then write one back. It's a great way to get to know their voice.
What/Who/Where is your character's...?
Food Dislikes:
Wants to:
First Kiss: