Confirmation: Amines Are Like Drugs :P

Had to go out for dinner on Sat night to a wood-fired pizza restaurant. Dinner was delicious, as expected – and the food reactions were awful, as expected. *sigh*. It didn’t help that I made the mistake of eating a GIANT BOWL of rocket salad before realising that oops, yeah, rocket =/= lettuce and while lettuce is pretty fine for me in moderate amounts, rocket is on the DEATH DIE DO NOT EAT list >.< Urgh.

So, two extremely sleepless nights (less than 4 hours each, I think) on Sat and Sun, and then Monday evening I was just hyper as anything, feeling like I’d been drugged 😛

Interestingly, amines seem to amplify the function of my critical brain while diminishing my creative brain; I definitely can’t write while reacting to them. Sat down to try and it was all like, This sucks, This is stupid, That word is horrible, I hate this book, etc. I really just *couldn’t* get into the character’s voice, and this is a character who’s usually dead easy for me to voice. Super mega frustration.

And also interesting, part of the anxiety was amplified. Not the fear-of-the-dark, that’s separate to regular anxiety and seems to be triggered partly by a huge amount of salicylates, and partly by sustained low mood (i.e. feeling flat, tired, or otherwise negative for several days in a row – something that can be triggered by lack of sleep, which is triggered by amines, so the amines can be partly responsible for the fear-of-dark, but not directly, and certainly not after only one meal, even though it was a GIANT amine-heavy dose), but the regular, plain-old variety that’s the precursor to depression: feeling like I suck, second-guessing everything I do and especially say, and running old conversations/highly-negative moments on repeat obsessively.

It wasn’t *bad* this week, only just enough to notice it was happening, so I’m totes fine, but it IS definitely interesting. Because a lot of that kind of thinking is fear-of-judgement based, which is uber-critical brain, right?

ALSO interesting was that I powered through my marking at hitherto-unheard of speeds: I marked an entire class set in a couple of hours on Sat night + Sunday, and then another entire class set just on Monday alone – AND I didn’t even stay up late to do so, I finished it all by 8 o’clock.

You guys. That was weird. 

I am NOT a fast marker. It’s usually laborious and slow and tedious, and getting through two sets in essentially two days? I have NEVER done that before.

And guess what marking involves? Yep. Uber critical-brain oriented.

So it seems like amines basically affect me like a stimulant for my critical brain. For marking, that can be a great thing. For shutting up the critical brain and letting me sleep, write, or not be anxious? Not so great.

And now I want to go to a bunch of research about possible links between depression/anxiety and critical-brain activity.

Related but random other observations:

  • Writers are more neurotic as a group than other creatives. Why? What specifically is it about writing that makes our mental health vulnerable?
  • My critical brain seems to throw tantrums when it thinks I’m ignoring it. If I’ve done a lot of creative work and regular work but no hard-thinking work lately, I’m a LOT more susceptible to anxiety/self-doubt.
  • Could this type of anxiety be critical-brain overload, such as I seem to be getting when eating amines? Could writers combat critical-brain tantrums (anxiety, self-doubt) by letting the critical brain out to play, exercising it by doing, say, some soduko or something hard and thinky??

Where’s a good researcher? I need to pay someone to investigate this for me.

So anyway, to give this some semblance of a conclusion… Amines: Not For Amy! Unless I want to stay up really, really late and get some marking done 😛

In Which Words Occur

Lo and behold, I’ve been eating ‘clean’ for two days, and even though Tuesday I still felt exhausted, I was no longer epically groggy, and actually managed to write about 1200 words before bed. So yeah. Looks like I can either cheat on food (or even not just cheat, but push the boundaries a bit), or I can have words :\

On the one hand, it kind of sucks that writing is the first thing to go. On the other, it’s SUPER nice to actually KNOW what’s going wrong with my body after all these years, and getting a good sleep at night is INCREDIBLE, and now at least I have control over what is happening, which, wow, those of you who have stuff go wrong with your body will know, control is an incredible gift.

Being food intolerant sucks, but of all the things it might have been, at least it’s the one that puts the control firmly back in my court, and I am so, so grateful.

So hopefully tonight, more words! 🙂 How Not To Take Over The World is at about 16k out of about 70k, and as this is a rewrite, I’m hoping to have it done by the end of the year. I probably won’t release it until after Sanctuary 3, though, so you won’t have to wait as long between books 1 and 2… Or then again, I might just release it. /shrug. Freedom is a heady thing, ha 😀

(I realised the other day that if I can manage to release 3 titles per year, as I’ve done this year, it will still take me ~30 years to publish everything I think of as a ‘current work’ >.< And of the three titles this year, none of them were actually written this year, and publishing them ate into my writing time, sooooooo….. *cries* Too many stories, insufficiency of hours! 🙂 )

In Which I Am A Terrible Person, OR Why The Right Book Makes a Difference

(Also: Why I Decided To Publish My Own Books.)

This was supposed to be a lot more coherent that I suspect it’s going to be, because I have a throat cold* and this is the busy point in my two-week timetable and my sanity has pretty much fled, but anyway. I’m doing this blogging thing, yes I am, see me do it.

* Not sinus stuffy, just coughing and hacking and GUNK, ew, glerk.

Confession: I am a terrible person.

I mean, I’m not *actually*, not for the reason I’m talking about today, but it sounds satisfyingly melodramatic to say so, so you know.

Why am I terrible?

I am not working on Sanctuary 3. 

My original deadline was the end of the year for the content-edited book, so I could pull a late Feb/early March release, because that’s what I’ve been telling everyone. Which means I was supposed to start the draft at least 2.5 weeks ago.

Dear readers, This Was Not A Pleasant Experience.

I tried. I really did try.

I spend a week trying to scrape together an outline from the notes I’d made. I skyped the twin, who is Expert at Plotting. I made notes of all the threads I needed to tie up from books 1 and 2 (that’s them in the background of the picture below).

I had an outline – of sorts.

I had an idea – of sorts.

And then the second week, I sat down to force myself to start writing it. You want to be a writer, I reminded myself. That means actually writing. You know. Words. On pages. But it was like the proverbial blood from the proverbial stone, and it was Not Fun.

Look, I have a day job, okay? And two small businesses aside from writing. I don’t NEED writing to earn money for me, I don’t NEED to publish… So if it’s not going to be fun? Ick. Just, ick.

Also, I hadn’t written a novel in over a year, and honestly I haven’t done much writing at all this year so far, it’s mostly been formatting and editing and proofing and so much more formatting. So I was worried that maybe I’d just forgotten how to write easily, that maybe this was a Me Thing.

Then, on a whim, I opened an older novel, one that was supposed to be next in the queue after Sanctuary 3, which I’m basically rewriting from the ground up now that I am a seriously better writer than I was in 2011 (THANK GOODNESS) but which I passionately love and adore and which early readers back in the day did too. Oh, look, you can go read about it here.

So anyway, yeah, I pulled that out to *ahem* look at. And, uh, oops. I’ve written 9k on it in the last 3 days. o.O

I mean, granted, a lot of that is totally blocked out, so the shape of the action is all there for me, and I’m just adding character and voice and setting, but whoa. 9k in 3 days? Ain’t never written that much so quickly, except maybe the week I was finishing up Through Roads Between when I drafted it last year.

So: clearly the problem is not that *I* am broken, but that something with Sanctuary 3 is just not gelling yet. I’ll write it, obviously I will – it’s not a runaway best seller (AH HA HA) but I do have a tiny, encouraging core of fans for the series (*waves*) and I’m not going to leave them/you in the lurch.

Just… not yet.

I could force it, but honestly, this is one of the main reasons I decided in the end to go with indie publishing: complete flexibility. HNOT is *working* right now, by golly is it working, and Sanctuary 3 is *not*. I’d meant to point out a whole bunch of metaphors here for the fact that sometimes, when you’re trying to hard to force something in life to work, it’s a pretty good signal you’re going in the wrong direction – but I’m lacking brain and my throat’s now sore too :\ So instead, Imma wrap this up and find a handy bed to collapse into, because yay + sleep + yay. Then I’ll probably get up and write some more of HNOT, because it’s totally captured my creativity, and I don’t feel like doing much else except writing it.

And I’m going to be grateful for that, and enjoy it, because this? This is what I signed up for.

Bring it on.

 

Link-a-bet Soup

Some great reading I’ve been doing lately that’s really made me think.

Freedom not to choose is a faith worth believing in – discussion of Britain as a state-religion-less society. Not sure I agree 100% (I mean, their anthem is still literally God Save The Queen), but it’s definitely an interesting concept.

Welcome to The Matrix: You Work for FREE & There IS No Payday – For writers, the first in a series of posts about why working for ‘exposure’ is madness, unless you’re in control of said exposure. Some nuggets in here even for people who think they already have a handle on the concept of exposure.

Hundreds of mysterious stone ‘gate’s found in Saudi Arabia’s desert – Google Earth reveals structures some 2000 – 9000 years old, and we basically have no idea at this point what they were used for. IDK about you, but this smacks of plot bunnies to me 😉

Book Review for All The Crooked Saints – I’m hanging out to read this one since Maggie Stiefvater is one of my favourite authors, but I want to wait until I have guaranteed uninterrupted time – which means it might not be for another 5 weeks when school lets out. In the meantime, I’m satiating myself with reviews.

Has the Smart-Phone Destroyed A Generation? – a long read but definitely interesting. A balanced discussion of the psychological effects, both positive and negative, that we are seeing in the rising generations who have been born essentially with a smart screen in their hands.

Pricing Silliness and Learning A Lesson – another one for authors on how pricing seems to be working in 2017, which is quite a bit different to how it worked three years ago. This one has prompted a revamp of Inkprint Press’s pricing policies, which is good for you guys, because many of my paperbacks are now significantly cheaper 😉

What have you been reading lately? Feel free to leave books or articles or anything you recommend in the comments! 🙂

Practising In Public, Or, I Have A Book Coming Out in May :3

Years ago, I read an article that prompted somewhat of an epiphany. This is not, in and of itself, a noteworthy event, as this is something that happens with rather astounding regularity in my life. I guess when you read a lot, and when you read widely, this kind of thing is also just called ‘Learning More Stuff’. Yay learning! Yay stuff!

But anyway, this particular article (which I’m sure I linked to at the time but can’t for the life of me find on the blog at present*) was about a distinguishing factor between writing and a lot of other art-forms: namely that in many art-forms, practising in public is not only permissible, it’s actively encouraged. Painting pictures? You don’t have to be a painterly genius for the school to let you exhibit your work. Learning an instrument? Recitals are generally actively required, whether you sound like you’re strangling a cat with tomato sauce or not. Writing? …Yeah, probably just better put that notebook down and not show anyone your writing until you’re *good*, okay, honey? There’s a lovely sane writer person. *pat pat*.

The article, and subsequently I, took umbrage with this notion. Why NOT practise in public? Look at The Martian, for example. It’s arguable but also pretty intuitively obvious that the book only ever became as great as it did because the author took a risk and practised in public, garnering assistance and feedback along the way that made the book what it was.

Look. I don’t want to get too hung up on this idea; I just wanted to note that you know what, writers? Sometimes it’s okay for us to share stuff with The Reading Public that we know has flaws.*****

Segue. In 2010, I wrote a book. It was a book-of-the-heart, the first book I wrote straight through without blood, sweat or tears, and it was magical, and elating, and glorious. It was a book, actually, for my sister, not because the plot mirrors her life or anything (and even less so now than in that first draft) but because, at the time, it felt important that I could give her the gift of happy escapism for a while–and it dovetailed nicely with a fragment of an idea I’d had rolling around in my head for a while.

Segue. It’s 2017. This book has gone through about 7 drafts, at least 4 of those with relatively major changes, though it’s not like it was ever gutted and torn up for parts like some of my other novels. The resultant story is still largely the same shape as the original, just better. More book shaped, less like a whimsical object from my head.

Segue. It’s still 2017, and I have an emotional collapse on Twitter at a bunch of my writing friends. The Twinny One immediately gets onto Skype; she understands what the problem is in a way that’s hard for me to articulate on Twitter, and also in a way that’s hard to articulate on Twitter, she knows the solution. It’s the goalpost, she says.

See, seven years is Quite A Long Time to work on a book, really. Especially when your goal is to make some kind of living out of this. And over those years, numerous times, people have told me (kindly, for my own sanity’s sake) to put Sanctuary down, to shelve it, to walk away.

I don’t walk away from books. I’m terminally incapable. So being told to abandon this one is heart-wrenching, and I’m scared I’ll never finish it, and I’m scared I’ll be forced by time or people or circumstance to abandon it, and secretly I’m just plain old scared that I’ll never be good enough to edit a book to The End. Editing, y’all, is HARD, HARD WORK. Taking this story, this image, this idea that you have in your head and translating it into something that not only makes sense but is just as compelling for others as it is for you? HARD.

But for the first time, Liana puts it in words that seep into my head. It’s not that I’ve changed as a writer in those seven years, though it’s also that, and I most certainly have, in leaps and glorious bounds (though some days I still stumble and crawl). It’s not, as I heard this to mean, that I could do better, that I could write better than this, that I need to be constantly revisiting Sanctuary to update it with the new skills I’ve learned.

It’s the opposite. It’s not that I’ve changed as a writer so much as that I keep moving the goalpost. Of course the book will never be DONE if I keep applying new criteria to it; no book I ever write will be done if I work like that.

There are still some flaws in this book. I know they’re there, but fixing them would mean gutting the book and starting over, and I don’t have it in me to do that yet. Maybe one day I would, but I’m faced with a choice: I can let the book go, or I can hold onto it for another seven years, picking and prodding and angsting and hoping to someday get it ‘right’. I need to let it go. But letting go doesn’t have to mean shelving it. It can also just mean at last, finally, calling it done.

Practising in public, you see.

So here it is: my glorious piece of imperfection, a tiny part of my soul carved into words and made flesh of its own. I’m calling it done, I’m writing The End, and I’m turning it over to you, my wonderful, wonderful reader. I hope you’ll love it. But if you don’t, that’s okay; I’m practising in public, and I’ve done what I needed to do. Finally, I’m letting this glorious beast go.

A teal book cover with light exploding from the centre of it. Shadowed butterflies fly out and up from the light, and the title, Where Shadows Rise, overlays the image in a serif font with decorative curly elements. It's pretty. Very, very pretty.
Where Shadows Rise
Sanctuary Book 1
Coming May 24, 2017
Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | and more 🙂
(print and ebook)
(yay)
(isn’t the cover *astounding*?)


The fairies have a secret they’re just dying to protect…

Emma knows breaking the rules can get you into trouble; it nearly got her sister killed. That’s why Emma’s stuck in backwater Nowra, Australia, under temporary witness protection with no friends—and no life.

So when Emma has to break the rules to retrieve the runaway family dog, she decides the fairy she sees is clearly a guilt-induced hallucination. Problem is, hallucinations don’t usually send you invites to Fairyland—and shadows don’t usually chase you home.

It would be easy to ignore the invite.
It would be sensible to avoid the shadows.

But when Emma’s only new friend is snatched by the shadows in the middle of the night, Emma knows she has a decision to make: stick to the rules and leave her friend and dog to die, or risk her own life to save them.

CHAPTER ONE

THE DOORBELL RANG. That doesn’t sound exciting in and of itself, but let me assure you: it was the most heart-pounding thing to happen all week. It was my birthday, I was home alone, and because of the stupid witness protection business, I’d been stuck in the house all summer. I hadn’t even been allowed out to see friends, because we’d arrived in town at the end of last year with only three school weeks to go—so I didn’t have any friends.

Well. I had friends, but they were back in Melbourne, and I wasn’t allowed to contact them for fear someone would track down our new location. Lucky me.

Anyway, it was my birthday, I was alone because Mum and Dad had gone to do something regarding birthday surprises and Anna had inexplicably chosen to go with them, and the doorbell had just rung. I stared at the closed door, heart pounding, while our chocolate Labrador, Veve, tried to chew it down. Was I going to open it?

Of course I was going to open it. The chances of it being a mobster were slim to none; for starters, a mobster wouldn’t have rung the bell.

 

A teal book cover with light exploding from the centre of it. Shadowed butterflies fly out and up from the light, and the title, Where Shadows Rise, overlays the image in a serif font with decorative curly elements. It's pretty. Very, very pretty.
Where Shadows Rise
Sanctuary Book 1
Coming May 24, 2017
Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | and more 🙂

 

* Granted it is 10pm on Sunday night and I just spent 10.5 hours of my day marking things and my brain is leaking somehow out my ears and it’s goo, all goo, everything is goooooooo.**

** The number of times I mistyped ‘good’ for ‘goo’ just then is shameful. And probably indicative of my Tired. And possibly indicative of my subconscious’s determination to be optimistic? Sure, let’s run with that.***

*** Better than running with scissors.****

**** Imma get back to the main article in a second, I SWEAR. Any second now. Aaaaaany second…….

***** Of course, just as the right to voice your opinion does not include the right to be taken seriously, so too practising in public does not shield you from having substandard work received as such. I don’t advise this course of action unless you have a thick skin, or aim to develop one.

The Circularity of Time, AKA Thinking You Suck Is Kind Of Integral To Being Creative (Sorry)

So I was going through my inbox the other day, theoretically Doing Important Culling And Filing (but actually we know I was totally just procrastinating–procrastifiling?), and I stumbled on an amusing trend. Liana and I email each other a fair bit (though heaven knows her emails are generally more sensible than mine, she being the kind of soul who actually premeditates these things, me being the kind of soul who fires off seven single sentence emails in an hour) and in cleaning out my inbox (massively overdue since Hospital, Surgery, etc) I realised that approximately once a month, Liana and I have an almost identical conversation. The only thing that tends to change, other than minor details, is the role that each of us plays. Generally speaking, it goes like this:

L (or A, depending on the month): Woe! WOE! I am writing things, and THEY ARE AWFUL!

A (or L, depending on the month): No! NO! You are writing things, and they are AWEFUL!

L (let us assume it is her month for a breakdown): But you don’t UNDERSTAND! I have DEADLINES! And TERROR! And I AM A HACK!

A (because it’s her turn to console): But I DO! You have DEADLINES! And TERROR! And THIS IS ALL TOTALLY NORMAL.

L: Wait, what?

A: Seriously. Do you WANT me to pull out the email conversation we had about this last month? Because my inbox is in a state of epic disarray, meaning I have, like, every email sent to me ever since 2010 stored here, and I totally can if you like.

 

Now, what can we learn from this? Other than the fact that Amy really needs to learn to use the delete key, and both of us could stand to be a fraction less melodramatic about writing at times, and maybe the fact that we ought to just collate the best emails and print them out and leave them where we can see them, and…. *ahem* Look. There’s a Point In Here For All Of Us, okay? And it’s this:

ALL creative work involves risk taking. Being creative is risky; putting that creative work out there for other people to see is even riskier. So you know what? Some degree of angst (*TERROR!*) is normal. It’s okay. It’s actually perfectly fine to be terrified that you’re writing the book wrong, or that people will laugh at your picture, or that maybe people will think a tone-deaf monkey wrote your song. That fear? IT’S OKAY. We live in a culture where it’s trendy to be all, “Fear? I have no fear! I am Fearless McNoFear! Watch now I as I dive from an aeroplane sans parachute off a cliff into a shallow sea of scorpions behind held aloft by snakes NAKED WHILE OTHER PLANES SKYWRITE MY BIGGEST EMBARRASSMENTS ACROSS THE VAST BLUE YONDER FOR ALL TO SEE!” But actually, this is quackery. Fear is normal. Fear, to a certain extent, is healthy. You don’t actually have to purge yourself of all fear in order to survive.

What you DO have to do is learn how fear fits into your creative process. Learn to recognise what this specific fear (as opposed to your fear of spiders, or skydiving, or rabid mouldy cheese) feels like, smells like, sounds like, so that when it inevitably rears its head when you’re creating your next piece of awesome, you can sit back, pat it on the head, and go, “You know what fear? I hear you. What we are doing here is scary. We are making ourselves vulnerable. We might not succeed at what we’re trying to do. It might be hard. It might be exhausting. People might hate it when we’re done. But you know what? I know you. You show up every time, at this stage of the game, and that’s okay. I don’t mind you being here. But you’re not going to stop me from creating something I love. Because I’ve done this before, and I know something you don’t know: finishing my creation makes it all worthwhile in the end.”

Fear is an integral, if uncomfortable, part of the creative process – and that’s okay. So get yourself a good support buddy with whom you can have the same conversation every single month, swapping roles as necessary. Save the good conversations, the hearty and uplifting bits, stick ’em up somewhere you won’t forget them, and have faith: Fear is part of the process, which means it comes, but it also goes.

Go make something awesome. You totally got this.

Go on. I dare you.

Plotting #5: It’s A Wrap

Missed out on Day 1 of Plotting? Catch up here! There’s also Day 2Day 3 and Day 4.

Whoa, day 5 of plotting! So pretty much all I’m going to do today is provide a quick wrap-up, including an overview of the main points discussed in yesterday’s video. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, besides the live demo of actually fixing the plot of HNOT, here are the key ideas we discussed:

1) Amy says ‘really’ too much.

2) Post-it notes are an awesome tool for visualising the plot of your novel all at once. You can use colours to track points of view (POV), subplots, and more.

3) Liana’s Plot Sheet lists: 3 antagonists; 4 plot twists; opening, ending and climax; ticking time bomb; emotional/thematic statement; thematic concepts; colours; dominant imagery and shapes. See below for a template!

4) It’s okay to write your way into the plot in a draft, but make sure you attend to this in edits.

5) This post-it note visualisation is a process you can do either before or after writing your draft – it can be planning or revision depending on your preference.

6) Your starting scene not only sets the tone for your novel, it also sets the ‘rules’ for your series if you’re writing one. If you start with a character scene, you’re establishing the series as character-focused, and readers will expect to stick with your main character/s for the whole series. You *can* deviate from this, but it’s just not what your readers will be expecting. If you start with a more world-focused scene, on the other hand, readers will subconsciously expect a world-focused series, and you can get away with switching main characters more easily, because you can introduce a starting motif that helps the reader settle into the book and makes it feel like ‘home’ (something that seeing the same character in a new situation would usually do).

7) Establish all POV characters early on and make sure they’re proactively doing things and making choices.

8) Antagonist 1 is your lover in an enemies-to-lovers story – twist 1 brings them in to be an ally.

9) Look for weak conflict (too many conversations is a clue), and weak POVs – is the information learned in one character’s scenes repeated when other characters learn it? Is this POV absolutely necessary?

10) Establish the powers/rules/physics of your world, especially if it’s magical, as early on as possible. Readers need to know what’s possible, especially if things are possible in your world that aren’t in real life.

11) Characters need a scene goal, something that is motivating them to act, something that they are trying to achieve – they can’t just be reacting to everything around them (you can write reaction scenes, but keep an eye on what their goal still actually IS, because they HAVE one, even if it’s just, ‘survive’).

12) Villains always feel like they are the hero of the story, and always think they are smart – they do get caught because they make mistakes, but THEY think they are right and smart.

13) To be a hero, you have to have a villain.

14) Everyone in your story wants something. The antagonist is the person standing in the way of that something, whoever that person might be (and it can change from scene to scene).

15) Character motivation is a common missing ingredient in the work of new writers.

16) If you need to write long sentences to explain what’s happening in the scene, you might have too much going on or a lack of clear focus. You should be able to identify a clear protagonist, antagonist (not always a person), conflict and twist or climax in one short sentence. (A made-up example could be, “Mercury fights her way through the demons to get to the Key, only to discover it’s gone.” Mercury is the protag, who obviously wants the Key; the demons are the antags, who probably want her dead; the conflict is in the verb ‘fights’; and the twist/climax is that when Mercury gets there, the Key is gone.)
17) If a character already has or gets a new skill in the book, it must come into play – akin to Chekov’s gun (if you show a gun on the wall, it better go off in the next three chapters, or else don’t show it to begin with). Remember though that ‘coming into play’ can also mean establishing a clear expectation about the character the item/skill belongs to, not just literally using that item (though this is the easier path).

18) Don’t end chapters with going to bed, work, etc – end with a hook a la the Nancy Drew Hardy Boys series, which often ends chapters not with the door opened to reveal a monster, but with the act of the door still opening.

19) Readers love minor characters – give them genuine wants and needs and make them smart and funny.

20) The best POV characters are the ones who know the least and have the most to lose.

21) Sometimes the character who knows the least is the one who thinks they know the most.

22) Throwing in a random POV scene can be jarring, so make sure you set the book up to be ‘that kind’ of book.

23) If ever you get lost and don’t know where you’re going, aim for twists. OR,

24) If you can’t plot a whole story at once, just plot to the first twist. Write that, then figure out what comes next and plot to the next twist. Rinse, repeat, and you’ll end up with a complete story 🙂

25) Don’t be tempted to think that the first time your character wins their goal is the ending of the story. They also have to deal with the fallout of getting what they want, which means the bad guys will be after them, and they will have to dispatch the bad guys one by one from smallest to largest.

26) A strong lead up to the climax is having your MC face down the Big Bad (Antag 3) and fail.

27) You’re perfectly allowed to make answers up on the spot, but just make sure that you do end up with the answers.

28) Liana makes a valid point: knocking people unconscious IRL can actually cause massive trauma to the brain. Use unconsciousness sparingly!

29) Romances work better if your hero rescues your heroine rather than knocking them out 😉 😀

30) Moment of despair is when everything is stripped away from the character and they find out what their core power and motivations are. They realise who they are when everything else is taken away, and that they have the strength to fight on regardless. This is why the moment of despair is so important, because it’s your character’s ultimate commitment to their course of action, right before the climax of the story. It’s essentially the climax of their character arc, which then allows them to achieve the climax to the plot arc.

31) Your first few novels are going to be messy: You’re learning how to write, you’re learning your voice, you’re learning what your style of plotting is. The good news is, editing is a learned skill. You can learn to edit. And don’t forget that content edits and line edits are very different skills.

32) Realistic expectations are just as vital in a writing career as in everything else. You’re on YOUR track to writing, and it will take as long as it takes. Some people might be faster – but some people will also be slower, and you are who you are. The sooner you make peace with that, the less stressful your writing apprenticeship will be. (General figures thrown around are 10 years and/or a million words to reach genuinely publishable quality writing.)

33) To reiterate: post-it notes are an awesome way to make the plot of your novel more comprehensible as a whole. Having it all physically visible in front of you is the best way to test pacing, character balance, subplot balances, and so forth. Try it!

34) When in doubt, kill a fictional character. That’s sound advice for any problem, right there.

And that’s it! Don’t forget to check out the earlier posts if you haven’t already to collect all the resources. Thanks for stopping by – if this was useful to you at all, leave a comment, and send the link to a writing buddy – if you liked it, they probably will too 🙂
Until next time!
<3
A

Plotting #4: Live Replot

Missed out on Day 1 of Plotting? Catch up here! There’s also Day 2 and Day 3.

Today, the climax this has all been building towards. A couple of weeks ago I was super excited to able to visit Liana in Alaska (!!!!), and while I was there, Much Plotting Occurred. We plotted 6 novel/las that week, I think, mostly mine, and plotting so many stories in such a short space of time was *really* beneficial for my plotting skills. As well as the simple repetition of skills, it was also amazing to stick everything up on post-it notes on the wall and conceptualise the whole plot at once. I’ve done this before, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a handy door/wall/vertical space to stick post-it notes on for extended periods of time (since my writing time is extremely sporadic during the school term) and so I’d fallen out of the habit.

Anyway, we were fifteen minutes into replotting How Not To Take Over The World (officially abbreviated to HNOT) when we realised that we were actually covering A LOT of stuff that would be really useful to other writers – so we stopped, set up the computer, and filmed the whole session for you 😀 It’s totally uncut (except the brief pause in the middle where we stopped to get water and snacks) and live and messy and glorious and we’re both in our pyjamas looking TOTALLY UNGLAMOROUS, but if you can deal with that, there is some really useful plotting information here. Plus, weird accents. Yay! 😀

A couple of things to note if you didn’t read the summary yesterday:
1) Read the summary from yesterday. The video will make a lot more sense. HA.
2) The video is filmed in mirror image, so the post-its go right to left (sorry!).
3) We dive right in to talking about The Key. In this story, which you’ll know if you read yesterday’s summary, the Key is a magical artefact, a highly powerful object enabling the wielder to use vast quantities of magical power.
4) At 11 mins 30 sec I mention the Deviran backstory story – you can read The Making Of An Overlord here on the D&G blog.
5) At the end I note that I’m going to do a beat check. All that involves is running through my beat sheet (see Day 2) and making sure that the scenes I have match up to the required beats – though it won’t be a one-to-one correlation because I ended up with 47 scenes and the beat sheet allows for 40. Nonetheless, the novel did have all the necessary beats in about the right places once we were done. Yay! Success!

And if you want to follow along, you can grab the original plot we were working with in yesterday’s post, and you can see the final revised plot here 🙂

Tune in tomorrow for our final plotting recap 🙂

Plotting #2: Beat Sheets

Missed out on Day 1 of Plotting? Catch up here!

Okay, so, yesterday I confessed to you my secret nightmare as a writer: structure. Not because I resent being constrained by arbitrary rules or whatever, but because actually, after reading a crap-tonne of new-writer stories in the last ten years, I have a healthy appreciation for a well-structured story and I’m *just* *not* *GOOD* at it myself. Which, URGH. I’m an English teacher and a writer and I have *experience* with these things and I read a lot and I know what good structure looks like, so why, why, WHY is this whole structure/plotting/pacing thing not more intuitive for me? Seriously?! Gnurgh.

Anyway. The turning point for me was the discovery of beat sheets. Beats are nothing more or less than those points you have to hit in a structure – like, there’s a call to action at the end of act one, a turning point in the middle, a climax at the end – that sort of thing. But those three or five or eight or twelve beats never seemed to be enough for me to keep up the pacing in between times, and not meander around in a way that left the conflict dragging. Oh, the scenes are FUN and PRETTY and SHINY and often also even WITTY, but they still… meander.

And look: I’ve nothing against meandery books. I like lit. fic., or at least as much of it as I do most genres. I appreciate character-driven, wandery sorts of stories. But I also know that you have to be a really good writer to pull them off in a way that makes them accessible for public consumption, and I’m not ashamed to admit that my primary goal here is to write stories that people actually want to *buy*. I write for myself, because if I didn’t I’d get so twisted up in anxiety that I wouldn’t write at all (why hello there, 2012-2013). But I want the end results to be accessible for other people to *enjoy*. There’s that saying, right: I write for myself and revise for my readers. Yup, good idea right there. Except thus far my revisions have always been nightmarish slogs of retrofitting structures and proper character arcs to Really Broken Drafts, and quite frankly, that process sucks. If I can learn to do my structure/pacing/plotting/character arc right the first time, I’ll save hundreds of hours in revision – and once you know the rules, THEN you can choose to break them at will.

Hence, beat sheets.

First came Save The Cat by Blake Snyder, a book on writing screenplays that delves into structure and the different ‘genres’ that movies actually fall into. I highly recommend the book, if only for the reconsideration of how genre applies to stories, and how knowing what genre you’re actually writing can change the way you look at the book – and you’ll be surprised by the genres and their definitions, too, because it’s not about the trappings and cosmetics and setting of the story, but rather the plot/character arc and the beats that the story needs to hit.

Secondly, Jami Gold’s amazing free beat sheets, based on the information in Save The Cat and another book I haven’t read, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. I’d tried to make something like this for myself years ago and failed, so when I found these I was super excited.

And finally, something I wrote up myself based entirely on Jami’s beat sheets just recently – while I was visiting Liana, in fact. I got sick of using the calculator in Jami’s sheets to calculate when things were supposed to happen, and on the basis that I was pretty much aiming for a 40-scene, 80k novel or a 20-scene, 40k novella each time, I wrote up this beat list, which tells me which scene number each thing is supposed to happen in. As you’ll note, nearly every scene has a specific job, and knowing that has made a HUGE difference to my ability to keep the pacing of the story on track.

By way of experiment, I also used the novella sheet to plot out a novella while I was with Liana. It made the whole plotting process just like putting together a jigsaw, and while I’m sure there will still be things to fix and tweak, it’s the first time I’ve delivered Liana a plot and had the tick of approval with only a minor tweak or two. YAY ME I AM LEARNING THINGS WATCH ME LEARN. You can evaluate the success of this process yourself hopefully next year – this novella is one in my Puricorn (Age of Unicorns) universe (see short stories here and here) and I have a cover for it ready to go… I just need to write and edit it >.< 😀

Anyway. I hope that some of these resources are useful for you! Feel free to share some of your favourite plotting resources in return, and tune in tomorrow for an epic case study: How Not To Take Over The World!

Plotting #1: My Biggest Flaw As A Writer

Being an English teacher is good for my writer ego. I used to think that probably I was just *stupid* for all the beginner mistakes I made – but going on seven years of high school* English teaching where students usually have to complete one creative response per semester, I’ve marked over 1100 creative responses that have been predominantly written by ‘new writers’ – and I’ve learned that my mistakes weren’t actually mine after all, they were just ‘new writer’ mistakes. Woohoo. Go me. Etc.

* That’s Years 7 – 12 in Australia. 

However. There’s one issue that really *ought* to be a new writer mistake that I’m really struggling to break myself from in my writing. I know better – by golly I do – and I even know the solution. But I’m only *just* getting to the point after ten years of seriously attempting this writing thing, and about a million words of fiction (whoa, I hit my million some time 6 – 12 months ago, that’s cool! I only *just* figured that out right now, for this post!), where I can remember that this is a problem I need to proactively fix *before* I write my story – because MAN, retrofitting this problem SUCKS.

So what’s the problem, then?

Structure.

(This is the #1 reason you still haven’t seen my novel Sanctuary, despite me talking about it off and on for, you know, my entire previous life >.< The character arc started about a third of the way in, the structure meandered, and OH MY WORD trying to retrofit a proper character arc and structure into the thing is giving me FITS. *FITS*, you guys. **FITS**.)

I remember clearly my university writing professor saying to the whole class of us: “There’s no doubt you can all string a pretty sentence together, but can you tell a *story*?” He was talking about structure, because although we had things to say and could say them in pretty ways, almost the entire class of us – and most of my students – struggle to put things together in a way that builds a correct story AND character arc at the same time.

If my big problem was structure, why am I calling this series ‘Plotting’? Because the two are intrinsically linked; if you know structure, your plot will flow more easily and resonate better as a complete, satisfying thing with readers.

So with that in mind, here are some Structure 101 resources 🙂

This is a powerpoint I walk my students through that goes through the basics of structure and provides a few different options – three act, five act, 8-point and hybrid.

And this is a worksheet on the Hero’s Journey structure with prompt questions for each stage (see also this thread for an excellent discussion on the western-male-centricness of the hero’s journey concept).

Tune in tomorrow for the tool that made structure achievable for me – Plotting #2: Beat Sheets!