Thursday, September 22, 2016

Some progress!

You may have noticed that I cut back on blogging and tweeting a bit in recent months. That's because I was working hard to finish a draft of Saturnine that I could show beta readers. I had a draft years ago, but that version was not ready to publish and needed a lot of changes.

So last November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I completely re-wrote the book. By the month's end, I had 50,000 words, but it was still a rough draft.

Since last autumn, I've been writing and rewriting, and last weekend I finally opened the door to let a few readers critique it. One full write-up of the novel is on my desk, and I'm starting to plow through the editing stage. At this point I have no idea what any release date will be, but I will keep everyone posted. So that means I'll try to be on social media a little more.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Four Ways to Create Suspense

You don't need to be writing a thriller to need a way to keep readers engrossed in the story. These techniques can help you plot your novel, and move your characters (and readers) to The End.

1. A gun on the mantle

Just about every writer has heard of Chekhov's gun: the idea that, if you introduce a gun in Act 1, it must go off in Act 3. Writers are often taught this so they don't leave any loose threads at the end of the story, and so that actions have time to build up so the resolution does not seem implausible or coincidental.

But foreshadowing is great technique to build suspense. You don't need to include a literal weapon to create tension: just a hint at a serious conflict that will affect your main character. For example, in A Doll's House, the "gun on the mantle" is a secret a character is keeping from her husband - one with psychologically explosive repercussions. The audience knows from discussions that the secret going to come out, and they keep following along with the main character until the truth is discovered. When it does, the character must act - and how she responds to the crisis defines the play.

2. Ticking clock

There's an old cliche of a character trying to deactivate an explosive device set to go off in 60 seconds. However, a ticking clock in fiction could be anything: a deadline for ransom, a deal that needs to close to save a business or career, or a character who must declare his love before his ex-girlfriend's plane takes off (or before she marries someone else, etc.).

When it comes to characters' personal ticking clocks, I often think of The Little Mermaid: the main character has until "the sun sets on the third day" to make her crush fall in love with her, or she becomes the sea witch's prisoner. Those stakes make most thrillers look tame. But to create suspense, main character just need to resolve a goal within a short period of time, and not take a backpacking trip through Europe while thinking over their life - while readers' interest wanes.

This can also combine with #1 - "I need to act BEFORE such-and-such happens." And you can also...

3. Make it personal

This can be anything as serious as a kidnapped family member, to a character's personal convictions being challenged. The hero may be righting a wrong, or a villain may have her own reasons for seeking revenge. If the audience understands the character's motivation, they'll follow along. If not, they'll wonder why the character is giving so much for so little in return.

4. Kill your darlings

This is put to great effect in Game of Thrones. With multiple characters, each with enemies and a potential to win or lose, it keeps audiences on the edge of their seats wondering who will be next.

Another famous example is Psycho, in which the main character is killed off early in the movie. Audiences were shocked by the move. It doesn't have to be that drastic, but killing off a character early sends the message to readers that anything can happen.

Realistically, if you have a main character narrating the story, readers know that he or she will likely survive to the end. But maybe another beloved major character is put in danger, and their future called into question. If readers care enough, they'll keep turning pages to find out what happens.

Twitter: @lauraebradford

Monday, May 30, 2016

Writing challenges and time management

Photo from Unsplash.
I'm still editing my NaNoWriMo draft, six months from the day I finished my word count. I had to cut or rewrite lot of scenes because they were repetitive or just plain irrelevant. Fortunately, though, I saved the original draft in case I want to go back and use certain scenes again (which has happened several times). Writing 50,000 words in a month kick-started a lot of great scenes, and really got me thinking about the book.

Writing challenges like NaNoWriMo are excellent because they force new writers to focus on finishing a draft. As the old saying goes, you can't edit a blank page. The problem is that November can be a tough month for students, and planning Thanksgiving can take time away from writing for a lot of Americans. I don't think I'll be able to participate again this year, let alone finish. Fortunately, there are other options available all year round.

NaNoWriMo is probably the most famous writing challenge, but there is also A Round of Words in 80 Days, which is a lot more customizable. It has a community-based approach, like NaNo, but you don't have to write an entire book.

If you already have the community part locked down, there's also the Pomodoro Technique, a time management plan. Admittedly I haven't tried in a long time, but a lot of people use it to write quickly and efficiently. (I hear it also works for studying.) And a lot of writers swear by Write or Die,

The main goal, though, is to have a routine and stick to it. You can't reliably compare your word count against anyone else's - it's a little more complicated than that. Novelists have to balance plot, characters, dialogue, and description. They have to write draft after draft. Writing challenges certainly help, but you'll know when you're done. However you get there is your choice.

Related posts:
The power of identity
Five things I learned from NaNoWriMo

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

The power of identity

It's been awhile since I last updated, but I'm still writing (and editing my project that has been years in the making). I've been trying to "check in" to Twitter when I write, so you may be able to catch me on there sometimes.

I've noticed that when other writers are between release dates, they post updates about their kids or their dogs. I have neither, but I do have cats!

As time goes on, I realize more and more that it's hard to keep up the identity of a writer. When I get my city's census form back, or file my taxes, and my occupation isn't listed as "writer," it's a little jarring. But I am! a small voice inside me cries. I'm a writer.

Every time I get a royalty check, as small as it is, I think, Wow. That was from my writing.

But do I talk about it every day? No. I'm sure many people I know don't even realize that I write. I wonder if sometimes I should have been a little more persistent about being a writer from the get-go, and not make a "backup plan" - another career that has the potential to take over your whole life.

However, I'm still writing, and really hopeful to have another release later this year.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Five Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

1. Start with an outline

I used to be a writer who never outlines. That makes it very hard to finish a time-limited exercise like NaNo. While a ton of scenes still seem to come out of nowhere when I write, it was extremely helpful to me to have "beats" of the story to aim for. On days when I didn't have any ideas, I looked at scenes I hadn't written yet, and tackled them.

2. I wanted to quit so many times

I was under par just about every single day until the end. When I reached 25,000 words, I realized that all that work I did, I was going to have to do over again. But I kept going. By making a daily habit of it, I made it less of a chore and just a part of my routine. And this was actually the first year, out of many, that I completed the goal. 

3. It takes a village 

Seeing everyone's tweets and posts on various websites was incredibly helpful, encouraging, and at times just the reminder I needed to keep writing. In the future, I want to plug in with a writing group. 

4. It's just a draft

With a writing exercise like NaNo, writing an entire novel in a month, you have to forgive yourself for a lot of dead ends. I told myself that something ought to be salvageable. On Dec 1, it's better to stare at 50,000 words (even if only some are usable) than a single blank page.

5. Back it up

One copy on your hard drive is not enough. Look into cloud storage, have a back-up drive, e-mail the story to yourself as you go, print it - whatever you do, make sure it's secure. My cats jumped on my keyboard a lot, and my computer isn't as young as it used to be. Don't let one glitch wipe out all of your hard work.

Questions? Thoughts? Leave them in the comments or tweet me @lauraebradford. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

New words throughout the years

So the Oxford English Dictionary added some new words recently. I don't think I've heard of cakeage (I know it as the bland, descriptive "cake cutting fee"), but I use hangry and fast-casual all the time - probably even in the same conversation. I've heard many of the other words or phrases numerous times, without ever stopping to think if they were "official" words yet.

It's interesting to see how language evolves over time. The year 2012 gave us such gems as earworm, a music favorite of mine - and how did we ever converse without referring to our bucket lists or game changers? That year had a lot of negative words about the economy, so I'm glad that now things are (a little) better and we can focus on the important things in life - food.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Could you write for 1,000 days in a row?

I just finished reading the post 1,000 Posts in 1,000 Days. My initial reaction? Amazement. I don't think I could keep a habit like that going for nearly 3 years. Even after 30 days, I tend to fall off the wagon.

But writer Bradley Charbonneau's post is extremely motivating.  "One day at a time," he wrote. "Through sick days, bad WiFi, low batteries, a creative mind full of zero original ideas, I made it through."

It reminds me of the "No Zero Days" system. It works for fitness, for language learning, and especially works for the creative arts. The idea is to just keep moving - that if you stop once, you're more likely to stay stopped. An object in motion and all of that.

Some writers don't abide by that at all. Some take weekends off, others walk away from the page when they're stuck and seek inspiration elsewhere.

But part of me wants to write every day. I get a great idea, jot it down, but then someone asks me something and I'm right back in the real world. Just now, I had to walk away from this post for a few minutes to get something, then one of the cats meowed and wanted to be petted, and I saw that the shrubs outside were getting tall and needed to be trimmed.

But I came back to this post. The cat is happy enough sitting beside me, and it's almost dark - the shrubs can wait until tomorrow (when it's cooler out, anyway). I'm not sure I could write 1,000 posts in 1,000 days, but maybe I can write a few more.