Note to Self:

Don’t go to a Science Fiction WorldCon expecting to learn anything about writing.

Go to a WorldCon to:

  • See and hear and get books signed by your favourite authors
  • Expand your reading horizons by finding new fascinating authors
  • Discover new ideas, exploding your mind with the latest science
  • Explore new ways at looking at your genre, it’s history, diversity and future
  • Buy T-Shirts

That is all. 🙂

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Million Dollar Outline Book Review

I have mixed feelings about this book. It seems to be miss-named to me. A better title might have been Million Dollar Stories, or Emotionally Satisfying Stories.

I was looking for a book on outlining, and this isn’t one really.

It spent 1/3 of it’s pages talking about why readers read and how to capture the readers you want. It touched (very briefly) on characters and setting, and spent a third of the book on some (very interesting) plotting tools. The last third was on plot elements – the inciting incident, beginning, middle, end, etc.

The outlining? That was in the very last section of the book, it was very brief, and he provided no treatments to show what it should look like (although there were descriptive examples).

Also, in tone it swung wildly from very commercial and analytic (which I expected), to extremely personal, emotional insights into the life history of the author (which I didn’t expect, and which at times frankly shocked me). 

The analysis about why people read I found interesting, ditto the plotting tools. It’s a good, brief introduction to writing elements. But it’s not what it says on the tin.

So… No. Not what I wanted, nor thought I’d get from the title and blurb.

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Slow and Steady

I haven’t written anything for a couple of days because I’m so deep into the write-up for CM1. I’ve realised a couple of things though, which improve my understanding of my own process.

Firstly, I discovered that I can’t seem to read fantasy while deep in my own story. I’ve been able to read a mystery, and non-fiction, and I think if I tried my muse wouldn’t object to Sci-Fi, but not fantasy. I have Kate Elliot’s Cold Magic and Cold Fire on my shelf looking at me, and I’ve heard great things about her and that series, and also Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series, and I adore her writing, but I can’t read any of those books!

The second thing I realised is that I have a real mental resistance against working through the draft anything but linearly this time. Once or twice I have tried to skip ahead, and my muse has completely vetoed it. It’s like he/she needs to go through the story one step at a time right now. This isn’t usually the case. I generally get ideas from all over the novel, a bit here, a snippet there and write them all down, no matter where or when… and now she’s put her foot down and said, No! Go from the start to the end, Or Else! Unfortunately, this method is appreciably slower. I’m not sure how much slower, but each time I come to a problem, the muse is making me stop and fix it right there and then, rather than allowing me to take a note of the issue and move forward or skip to another issue. My previous method would allow me to think of a solution to the first issue while working on something else. Admittedly I didn’t always go back and fix that first issue, and sometimes I never did work out a solution… It appears my muse wants the book to be done and dusted this time around. Which is good, and it’s lovely to have a clean manuscript after I’ve poured over it for so long, but… it is definitely slowing me down.

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Evolution of a Scene

As part of the GMC revision of book one, I have to write a few new scenes. After seven years of NaNoWriMo and its wonderful effect of silencing the internal editor, once I have an idea these days, the words flow pretty easily. That’s not to say that the words are brilliant, but they make logical sense and feel like something that mostly completes what I want it to do.

However, what these words often lack, what doesn’t come naturally to me, is momentum. I have things happen to my protagonist rather than have her acting to do things, and my MC therefore comes across as a goal-less wimp, when in reality, she isn’t. I can’t believe what a difference working out the GMC makes to a scene…

To illustrate; I needed a new scene to provide motivation for one that happened later, set up for that scene so to speak. I have a mass poisoning event, which motivates a whole lot of action after it, but the event itself came out of the blue with no rhyme or reason.  I wanted a scene to motivate it, something to show that the masters created the seeds for the rebellion themselves. So I decided to have some slaves demolish a town, one that several of the slaves used to live in.

V1: My first draft, just writing down a scene as it came to me…

MC gets told to supervise slaves in demolishing some buildings, her long legs let her get ahead of the pack and goes looking at the place, and finds it pretty. Tells slaves to start dismantling, finding the destruction sad. She runs into her Flight Captain, they go for a walk and talk, he gets angry at evidence of human sacrifice, but not for the reasons she thinks it’s bad (conflict), she learns some history, and he gets called away. She goes back to supervising, and notices a slave acting oddly, an ‘accident’ happens, and she gets into trouble for not being right on the spot (disaster, but not directed towards anything).

As you can see, I had a very passive protagonist. Everything happened to her.

V2: After some very deep thinking about the Why of the scene…

MC volunteers to supervise the slaves, because she wants to do recon of the surrounding area to assess the potential for escape (motivation & goal). She tells the slaves to start dismantling, knowing that the slaves are going to be unhappy because of it, so it’s also her sympathy which drives her to leave them alone and go exploring on her own. She gets interrupted in the attempt by the Flight Captain (conflict), and is asked to accompany him (she can’t refuse, it would seem strange). She sees the place is beautiful and is angry at the masters (internal conflict). The FC doesn’t notice, but gets angry at evidence of human sacrifice, not for the reasons she thinks it’s bad (more internal conflict), then when she calms him down, casually tells her some history, which reveals a greater danger to her homeland and in so doing ups the stakes of the story (greater motivation for escape). Then she gets called back to the slaves, who have broken into a fight in her absence (external conflict), and gets lampooned for not being there by the masters who broke up the fight. She is escorted back to base (disaster for the goal).

In V1, no goal, no motivation, conflict is undirected and disaster unearned, all we do is set up for the poisoning.

In V2, The goal is clear, the motivation is clear, we have both clear internal and external conflict, the disaster has consequences, AND we set up for the poisoning later on.

I think you can agree that V2 is a much better scene.

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Progress Roadblocks

I’m about 1/2-2/3 of the way through the first GMC revision of book one. The doubt about the percentage is because I have actually reviewed 2/3 of the scenes, but ever since the 50% mark my muse has been dragging his or her feet.  Finally last night I paid attention to the niggle in the back of my head and discovered that I really need to re-view and re-focus the last 13 scenes because they just were not right.  My Muse has been telling me this in myriad ways ever since I left the Volcano, but I was trying to ignore s/he. Never a good idea. Inspiration dries up, concentration goes out the window, and aggravation mounts when I do. I’m learning to listen, but it sometimes takes me a while to hear.

This is the second time I’ve hit the wall this revision.

Road block 1 was when I couldn’t work out how my MC should respond to her young protégé. The issue was understandable and came from my lack of knowledge of my MC’s homeland. That was remedied with some quick and dirty world building.

Road block 2 has been very different. I’ve known for ages that I had a sagging 50-75 per cent bit, and my first stab at it back in August last year was only partially successful, but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

What I had was a whole lot of unrelated happenings. Something would happen and my MC would respond. Not bad writing, and some good conflict bits, but the motivation was / still is missing for pretty much the whole of 20 scenes. There was no answer to ‘Why is this happening?’ except that it made my MC suffer.

The writing was the outcome of my thinking HERE. I couldn’t work out what was missing then, so I tried to provide roadblocks for my MC and frustrate her goals. It did that, but because there was no motivation for these scenes, they didn’t drive the story forward as they should have. I had an inactive protagonist on my hands. And in so doing I provided a roadblock for myself!

This issue, the 50-75% mess, has been the main reason why I’m currently doing the GMC, to get to the route of the motivation behind my scenes, and provide the middle with actual momentum as well as conflict.

So M.Muse and I have had a sit down and a deep think about it. We started last night, and will have to continue for a while, but we’re slowly answering the questions “Why would the MC do this? What purpose does it serve? Can I re-write to have my MC be motivated to achieve things, to provide the story with an engine to keep it moving? And if so, what?

For instance, my MC’s first day in camp. I initially had her just wondering around, having things happen to her. So I need to (I think – I’ve not done it yet) re-write it so that she has a goal to achieve for the day – in this case to try to talk to her protégé – and refocus everything during the day to try to achieve this. She’ll still go through the same steps, but now she’ll have a reason to go through them. And a disaster at the end when the protégé refuses to speak to her.

I got a lot of the motivations last night. Still missing a critical one or two. Then it will be back to the Volcano for me, to re-write forward from there. *sigh*

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January Goals Update

So, in line with the goals I established here, I am going to do a monthly goal-update blog, to keep me honest and on track.

The only goals I’m due to have action on this month are numbers 1, 2, 6 & 7. I’ve allocated Jan thru Mar for CM1 (goal 2), Apr thru Jun for CM2 (goal 3), Jul thru Sep for CM3 (goal 4) and Nov for CM4 (goal 5) so will only have to report on goals 3, 4 and 5 when I get there.

Progress Goal 1: 600 Words / Day, 5 Days / Week, 50 Weeks / Year

Well, this didn’t go so well, which isn’t a great start to the goal achievement schedule. I didn’t manage to write for five days of each week, nor did I manage to write more than 600 words on each of those days. I wrote on 21 days, and managed to top 600 on only 13 of them. But I don’t count it as a total, or even a near failure, perhaps just a misunderstanding of myself and my working habits. I came to the conclusion that I might have to change this goal.

Before I started documenting my word counts, I had no real grasp of my writing habits, still don’t to be honest, but by recording when I write and on what, I have started to become very ‘mindful’ of how I go about it, so the process has already been useful. I also encountered several brain quirks which are also ‘interesting’ and are what might require the change in approach.

The main quirk I found is that I kept coming up against an emotional resistance to writing. It was like my psyche had turned into a five-year-old throwing a, very quiet, passive-aggressive tantrum in the back of my mind, saying stubbornly under her breath “Doan-wanna!” And I just gave in. I’m not entirely sure why, but it was like every time I thought about having to write my quota, my brain would do a slight-of-hand trick on me and focus my thoughts onto something else it really wanted to do an awful lot more, so I didn’t write.

What happened when I did start writing was that I generally wrote a lot more than the goal – 2 or 3 times as much. On the 13 days out of the month I exceeded 600, only on one of those days did I write less than double the quota. When I didn’t commit, on the other 9 writing days, I was just fiddling around, with word counts that were hardly worth recording, but on each of those, I never solidly broke through the 450 word barrier. I discovered that I pretty much have to force myself through the first 500 words but that after that mark it starts to flow really easily.

I have averaged more than 600 words a day since day 10, but an average of 600 is not the same as 600 words written on a given day. In total, I wrote approx. 23,400 words this month, so, again, not a bad output, but at a very inconsistent rate.

So… what to do?

Well, to stop myself from sliding out from under the writing obligation, I’m going to set a minimum 420 words limit for the month of February (which should still get me to 150k for the year), but I’m going to commit to doing it EVERY day. Since I know that when I get going, I have no trouble producing a lot, it’s more of an issue for me to try to develop some consistency, and good regular writing habits, rather than trying to produce high numbers. So yeah, for the month of Feb (possibly longer if it works), this goal is going to be re-phrased to 420 words a day, every day.

Let’s see if my brain can kick its way out of that.

Progress Goal 2: Finish CM1 by 31/03/2014

So far so good towards this goal. I’ve broken it into five steps.

Step 1 was to go through and write an updated outline for the book as it now stands, using the precepts from Rock Your Revision – discovering what the purpose of each scene is and what I wanted to achieve – and writing it into a scene outline chart. The purpose, which I didn’t really understand until I read GMC, can be all sorts of things, but each scene should have at least three reasons for existence. For eg: Advance the plot, build a character, illustrate the world, introduce a character, escalate conflict, illustrate goal or motivation, create sexual tension, reveal a secret, establish or remove trust between characters, speed up the pacing… ad in finitum! I have completed this now.

Step 2a is to establish the External GMC for each and every scene, and if it doesn’t have a GMC, look really hard at whether it needs to in the book. I’m going to follow the strategies in Rock Your Revision to analyse each scene. I’ve already got my major plot points down, and GMC of some of the characters, but I’ll probably have to finish the GMC charts here to.

Step 2b I’m also at the same time doing a sort of Internal Goals check for each of the major themes in the book against each scene – ie, noting down in a ‘Guilt V Self-Respect’ column if that particular element is coming up in a scene, so I know which scenes are emotionally pulling their weight.

I’m hoping to have both these steps finished by the middle of Feb. I’m already 20% of the way through, and have only two scenes that require a major re-write so far, out of 20 – I’m sure I’ll find a lot more as I go along though.

Step 3 is to do a story revision pass – fix the plot holes (hopefully not too many), write any new scenes required, and fix goal continuity / implications, type in all the extra bits, remove the extraneous stuff etc etc etc. Hoping to have that done by end of Feb.

Step 4 is to do a scene revision pass – fix the words, fine tune the setting and dialogue etc, and I’m hoping to have that done by March.

Step 5 is to send off to beta readers for a final look, then to Agents. Eek!

Progress Goal 6: Blog Once a Month

Well, this actually qualifies as a blog post, but I think I’m going to say this doesn’t count, so I have to write another post in addition – and do so every month, as I intend this to be a monthly update post! Did I achieve that? Why, yes I did. I wrote the post on GMC! Well done me!

Progress Goal 7: New Books Read;

Fiction so I read in my own genre and keep abreast of the market, Non-fiction for research and inspiration, and Writing Reference for building my craft.

Month Fiction (Fantasy Pref) Non-Fiction Writing Reference
January Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict, by Debra Dixon

So, Goal 7 was completed for this month too. I’m feeling virtuous. 🙂

So far so good!

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Goal, Motivation, Conflict…

I just finished reading “GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict” by Debra Dixon. It’s been touted as a seminal writing reference work in many of the writers reference books I’ve read, but up until recently, it hadn’t been in publication. I’ve looked for it in the past and bulked at spending the exe amounts people wanted for second-hand copies. Well it’s now available as an ebook through amazon (here). I went looking for it, because yet another writers reference book recommended it.

As I mentioned before, I got two books on plotting just before Christmas. I haven’t even started “Million Dollar Outlines”, because I found so much of interest in “Rock Your Plot” that I went out and bought its companion “Rock Your Revisions” straight away (both by Cathy Yardley), and I’ve been working through those, and GMC ever since. I bought GMC, because GMC is used and recommended in both books.

And boy-oh-boy am I glad I did!

One of The Most Useful books on writing I have EVER read.

Yes, I’m finding RYRx2 very useful (I highly recommend both), but I got even more out of “Rock Your Revision” because I’ve read GMC, and that’s saying a lot.

So, why so ecstatic?

Because it made my MC make sense. As simple, and as difficult as that. I know where my plot for CM1 needs to go, because I know where my MC is going, and, more importantly, why. And RYRevision is providing me with a solid way to fix the book.

I couldn’t be happier if I’d won the lottery.

I won’t go into the details of GMC here. There have been a lot of other posts on it, and you can even find images online of the GMC ‘chart’ which is the main-frame for hanging all of the associated knowledge off.

The GMC catchphrase is: ‘A Character wants a Goal because he is Motivated, but he faces Conflict.’ Plot all of these elements in a simple table, including both external and internal variants, and you have the entire motivating force for your character. Plot all your characters, and you have the entire motivating force for your book.

Seems so damn simple, but is was oh-so-not obvious to me. I’ve been struggling with my story and character goals for … well since the book was first conceived. And I couldn’t find them. And in the less than the three days it too me to read it (while taking copious notes I might add) I’ve done it! I suddenly have a roadmap to follow for the entire book and it’s oh-so-clear!

Pure gold.

Some additional take-aways I learnt from GMC besides the actual GMC

  • Urgency should be the watch word of all goals
  • Each Character has an agenda and their own GMC
  • Each MC has a lesson to learn found in their internal GMC
  • That lesson will drive their climax

Now, go buy the book! Seriously!

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New Years Goals 2014

I’m taking a leaf out of the book of one of Magical Words Bloggers, and creating a set of Goals for 2014, rather than Resolutions, because Resolutions can be failed and forgotten, whereas Goals are works in progress.

So, my Writing Goals for this year:

1) Write 600 New words a day, 5 days a week, for 50 weeks of the year. Doesn’t matter what the writing is – blog, stream of consciousness, story, brain fart – just as long as they’re NEW words.

2) Finish CM1 by 31/03/2014 and SEND IT OUT TO AGENTS

3) Finish Draft 2 of CM2 by 30/06/2014 and Get it into my Critique Group.

4) Finish Draft 1 of CM3 by 30/09/2014.

5) Write Draft 0 of CM4 in November 2014.

6) Blog at least once a month.

They are in order of importance. I’ve already set up a writing tracker for Goal 1, and I’ve already fallen behind, but it’s the thought that counts, and this blog – this post – will also add to the numbers.

I plan on doing the last more often than once a month, hopefully at least once a fortnight, but I may not have that much to say. We’ll see.

Edit to Add: I’m adding one other goal:

7) Read one fiction, one non-fiction and one writing reference book every month. My fiction reading espeically has plummeted in the last five years, but I have no real excuses – I’ve still bought books, I’m just stacking them up, so now it’s time to get through a couple.

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Post-NaNo Storm

So, as always after a NaNoWriMo, my muse is on fire, but my wrists and my brain are fried. I keep getting more ideas – writing for me always generated more writing – but I’m still jet-lagged and flopping around near the edge of exhaustion. Not only that, but I have family coming for xmas too, so I’m going to be swamped soon… and yet, my muse wants to write!!! Grr! Argh!

Well, now that I have initial drafts for CM2 and CM3 officially on paper, I’m beginning to really worry about the structure of the whole arc of the series, how it’s going to end, and what it’s founded on. I have a fair understanding of the arc that my MC is going to take, and I know her goal for both book 2 and book 4. But not for 1, 3 or 5 yet. And If I don’t know how it all begins, how can I be sure the middle is right, let alone the end?

Which means I need to fix CM1 before I can reasonably progress to anything further.

I know there’s something wrong with it. I just can’t get to what. I sort-of, but not really, know the MC’s goal for the book – well, I know her external goal, but the internal one is more slippery than a wet fish at the mo. *sigh*

So, back to my trusty audible for a book or two on outlines and goals, and we’ll see if I can’t fix this sucker. (Audible, because while my reading time is rather limited, my listening time is plentiful – I have a job where repetitive tasks usually rule the day.) I’ve chosen two, not having read either before, “Rock Your Plot” by Cathy Yardley and “Million Dollar Outlines” by David Farland. I’ll let you know how they work out.

There’s something still missing in that second half…

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Editing: “Started to… Began to… Gave a…”

This is something I had no idea was even a problem, until the construction was pointed out to me by one of my critiquers. Basically it’s using a phrase for an action, when a single verb will do. Wordiness is the bug-bear of the newbie writer, and this is one sure-fire way to get rid of a goodly number of useless words.

For instance, I had the line “He gave a half-hearted purr,” in my current MS. The ‘gave a’ in this sentence is unnecessary. I can easily substitute “He purred half-heartedly,” for a stronger sentence (admittedly adding an adverb, but what can you do? I had it in the original!).

The list of culprits include (but are probably not limited to): gave (the, a) / giving (the, a) / started to / starting to / began to / beginning to / and came – at.

So, instead of “She gave a wave,” use “She waved,”

  • She gave him a look / She looked.
  • He started to purr / He purred.
  • She began to leave / She left.
  • They came charging at / They charged

Note to self; try to be aware of using these constructions, and where possible, strengthen by removal!

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