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!

 

How To Dialogue

Dialogue punctuation is something I really harp on about to my students, because there are a lot of rules in fiction, and you can break every single one of them if you have a good reason – except dialogue. Yeah, okay, I know there are some big-name authors out there who DO break the rules of dialogue punctuation and paragraphing, but essentially, I tell my students, the rules of dialogue punctation and paragraphing are unbreakable, because they exist to make things clear to the reader. You want your ideas to be clear, right? Yes, yes you do. *ahem*.

So anyway, in conversation with the Twinny One, I realised I’d never shared my dialogue videos with you before. So I’ve set up a special new page: you can click here to go to Dialogue 101, where there are three videos that step you through all the finicky ins and outs of how to punctuate and paragraph dialogue correctly, as well as the difference between beats and tags, and how to use them 🙂

This Is Your Official Permission To NOT Write Every Day

I know, I know. A lot of conventional wisdom about writing recommends a daily writing habit—for exactly that reason: if you write every day, it becomes a habit. Habits, in this case, are good. But.

Conventional wisdom is just that: conventional. It’s often the average of all the options, something that most people can aspire to. But it doesn’t take into account your own personality, or your routine, or anything else unique to your individual circumstances.

Since I read Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k back in April, I’ve started tracking my metrics again. I did this for a few years when I first started writing, but then writing became just another way to measure my failure and so, to help dig myself out of the mire of postnatal depression, I quit writing. When I took it up again (initially in 2013 with the proposal for From The Ground Up—non-fiction was an easier ‘in’ for me than fiction with my mental state at the time), I decided not to track my word count or anything like that, because I didn’t want it to become like before: I didn’t want to have statistics I could use to beat myself up.

I neglected two things, though. First of all was that I’ve matured a lot as a human being since 2011: I’ve had two kids, I’ve suffered through and, with the help of a lot of family support and a great psychologist, beaten it, I moved away from my home town for the first time ever (and moved back again 18 months later, ha)—but most of all, I’ve learned to cut myself some slack.

The second thing I learned (or relearned) from Rachel Aaron’s excellent (if short) book: you can’t improve what you’re not tracking. Following the advice in her book, I spent a week tracking my daily circadian rhythm—which it turns out, by the way, is almost exactly wrong for modern day living. My peak awake times are at the 10s and 4s of the clock—fantastic given the baby pretty much only wakes just after 4 during the night if she’s going to, less fantastic when I’m supposed to be going to bed at 10pm. My peak asleep times? The 1s—not too drastic, although I’d like an afternoon nap more often than I get it—and the 7s. Guess what time I have to get up for work? You guessed it: 7, or just before. URGH.

But anyway, writing. The other thing I noticed after tracking my stats again for several weeks was that I actually write better when I don’t write every day. I’m a deadline kinda gal: you know, the one leaves the essay to the day (night) before (of, haha*). So even though my spreadsheet is set up to tell me how many words I need to write each day in order to meet my deadline, it actually works better for me if I let it lapse a little. There’s nothing like two days of zeros to motivate me to spend a good hour writing, even if it’s late and I’m tired, because I’ll do anything to get the numbers back on track. The key, though, I’ve found, is to be ahead to start with: if I let myself fall behind, then missing a day registers in my subconscious as ‘FAILURE, FAILURE, DO NOT RETURN TO THIS PROJECT’ and it’s really hard to find motivation again. If I start off the spreadsheet ahead, though**, then missing a day or two just means I’m less far ahead than I was, so I’m not failing yet—but it’s enough motivation to kick in a really write so I can maintain that lead.

Yeah. I know. Psychological games played with oneself are totally weird. But they work, so don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

So writing daily for me actually doesn’t work so well: it becomes a daily chore, and something to beat myself up over if I don’t make it. If I give myself permission to NOT write every day, though, and combine that with spreadsheet tracking of my word counts and deadline goals, something magical happens: I don’t write every day, but when I do, I pull much better word counts much more easily. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a win/win situation.

So this is your official permission: you don’t HAVE to write every day. Try tracking your metrics, and use that information to tailor your routine to you.

 

* I gave up fighting this in uni, because although I’d try to be diligent and get the essay done early, I’d invariably end up scrapping it the night before and starting over. It got so bad that I was often starting my 2,000-word essay two hours before it was due. I still got distinctions, but I don’t recommend this as a path to stress-free education. Ha.

 

** My current spreadsheet is tracking the word count for On Roads Between, the sequel to Where Shadows Rise (the Sanctuary series). By ‘starting ahead’, I just mean that I waited until I had a few thousand words under my belt before creating the spreadsheet, which meant that even though I only had to be at 565 words on day 1, I already had 8,507 to dump in, putting me about three weeks ahead from the outset. (Of course, I’m only ten days ahead now, but I’m still ahead, so my subconscious registers this as WHEE SUCCESS LET’S DO MORE OF THIS.)

Wish You Could Take Your Novel From Drab To Fab In ONE Editing Pass?

Hi again! Sorry, I’m late posting this because I had the worst trilogy of days EVER at the end of last week and couldn’t get to the computer to let you know, but Holly’s How To Revise Your Novel course is OPEN!! It’s closing on December 15 at 11:59pm US EST, so you have a couple of days to think about it still 🙂 Remember though, if you miss out this time, it won’t be open again until about this time next year (unless there’s enough interest, in which case there /might/ be another intake in about 6 months :)), and if you sign up in this round, you get the spiffy bonuses listed in bold below as a thank you from me 🙂

You guys, the size of this course is EPIC. I was in the very first intake, back in 2009, and I have not regretted it for a moment. I loved How To Think Sideways, but How To Revise Your Novel more than anything else I’ve read on writing before or since changed the way I work for the better. The course is huge and it takes a long time – it’s a 5 or 6 month course, one module a week (I say 5 or 6 because it was supposed originally to be 4, became 5 when I took it with that first intake, and I’m pretty sure Holly has added enough bonuses over the years to make it a 6 month course now) and it is a LOT of work – but it’s the ONLY course I’ve EVER seen that take the whole editing and revision process and breaks it down into small, manageable chunks.

No theory: it’s completely practical and hands-on experience, designed to capture as many problems with your novel as humanly possible in ONE SINGLE EDIT. I know authors that have slaved away writing 7, 12, 22 drafts of their novel; How To Revise Your Novel is specifically designed to help you cut down on the number of drafts you need to take your story from rough draft to finished product. (This is, of course, dependant on you having a clear idea of what you want your finished product to look like – but the course teaches you how to develop that, too ;)).

Look, I love this course. It’s hands-down the best writing resource I’ve ever read/used/taken, and I could rave about it for hours. If you have questions about the content, shoot me an email through the contact form (link in the menu above) or on twitter (@inkylaurens) and I’ll happily rabbit away to you about it 🙂 And even better: Holly offers a no-questions-asked cancellation. When you sign up, you pay each month upfront, but if you cancel at any point during the month, she’ll refund you pro-rata for the lessons you haven’t received yet, and you keep access to the lessons you have received – as well as membership in the forums so you can still hang out with your classmates and build your writerly connections 🙂

Holly’s copy is included below so you can see what she has to say about the course, but before I go I wanted to let you know about some special bonuses you’ll receive from me if you decide to join up through my link. As a thank you, you’ll receive:

  • A free ebook copy of my forthcoming book on worldbuilding, From The Ground Up (Oct 2016);
  • A free ebook copy of Krista Ball’s What Kings Ate And Wizards Drank; 
  • A free critique of your FIRST 20 PAGES once you’ve completed the HTRYN course;
  • A free ebook copy of Holly’s Strange Arrivals, the textbook for the free How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck course (also an excellent course – and free!!); 
  • A free ebook copy of Holly’s How To Write Page-Turning Scenes; and
  • One free book, e or print, of your choice, from Inkprint Press (worldwide postage included). 🙂 🙂 🙂 

So: are you ready to sign up? I really think you’ll love it 🙂 (Also, if you happen to be currently taking, or have graduated from, Holly’s How To Think Sideways, you get a discount on the course – your link is this one, and it will ask you to sign in with your current log-in details.)

Finally, because I believe so strongly in this course, I want you to have the opportunity to buy it even WITHOUT using my links. So, this link here is a non-affiliate link; if you sign up by clicking anywhere on this sentence, I won’t receive a thing (but you also won’t get my bonuses ;)).

 

That’s it from me. Holly’s copy for the course is below. I hope to see you in the classroom!! 🙂

 

 

It’s been a bumpy road getting here, but How To Revise Your Novel has just gone live.

For the next seven days, UNTIL 11:59 PM on TUESDAY, Dec. 15, you can register for the class that has been teaching writers how turn rough, lumpy, awkward, and sometimes just outright BROKEN first drafts into professional-quality fiction since Nov. 23, 2009.

The class started out back in 2009 having two registrations a year. I changed that at some point, but when I did, the vibrancy of the community of writers that developed in the classroom (a sort of war-buddies-who’d-shared-hardships-and-SEEN-things camaraderie) disappeared.

Limited-time registration is back.

Once again, How To Revise Your Novel is only going to be available either one or two times a year.

I promise the course will be available to a new class once a year.

I’ll only make How To Revise Your Novel available a second time in any given year if I have enough students waiting to register to fill a second class.
However…

Once you own How To Revise Your Novel, you can use the classroom and (soon to be added) forum year-round, retake any lessons, go through the initial process and then the streamlined process with every book (or story, screenplay, biography or any other fiction or personal nonfiction you write).

I’ve even had students tell me it helped them with their nonfiction. The class is NOT focused on that, though.

If you do a NaNoWriMo novel a year, then next year you’ll already have the class. And the year after that. And the year after that.

If you write a book every two months, you’ll have everything in the classroom waiting to help you make every one of those books better.

If you write a story a day, what you’ll learn in this class will show you how to make those short stories better, too.

And if you just want to write one or two novels, but you want to make them great?

How To Revise Your Novel will be there for you for them, too.
Being a working writer who creates great stories that readers love isn’t some magical gift of the gods. It is a learned skill. It takes a lot of words, and a lot of work.

But YOU CAN DO IT.

Any writer willing to put in the work can learn the necessary skills, and if you’re willing to apply those skills to every word you write, YOU CAN get good.

Ready to join? 

 

WARNING!

How To Revise Your Novel is not an easy class.

You cannot learn how to revise your work by READING lessons.

THERE IS NO THEORY in How To Revise Your Novel.

Every bit of it is practical, step-by-step instructions.

You have to actually print out your manuscript, print out the worksheets, and DO the work.

And with your first professional-process revision, there is a LOT of work.

Here’s the good news.

The first REAL revision you do will be the MOST PAINFUL, MOST DIFFICULT, MOST AGONIZING and occasionally, the MOST HORRIFYING revision you will ever do.

How is that GOOD news, you’re asking?

Laughing (If somebody told me I was walking into pain, you better believe I’D ask.)

So here’s why it’s good news.

Discovering during your first revision everything you do wrong over and over in your writing teaches you not to make those mistakes anymore. Your writing becomes better when you revise, and your NEXT first-draft manuscript will be better from the beginning.

So your next novel’s revision will be EASIER to do. Usually, it will be a LOT easier.
Trust me, with each new manuscript, you’ll invent brand-new mistakes that you’ll only discover in your next revision.

Ask me how I know… Undecided

But learning to do a real, solid, step-by-step one-time-through revision will make you a better writer, and every book you revise from then on…

…will also make you a better writer.

So, if this sounds like what you’re looking for, go now, and join me and the next class of writers getting ready to get GOOD.

I’m ready to join How To Revise Your Novel now!

#WritingWorkshop Beat Sheets: A Map Through The Doldrums

One of the most commonly asked questions I get in my creative writing classes at school is how to get through middles. People get beginnings and endings intuitively, but the Middle Doldrums is where a lot of new (and not-so-new) writers have trouble. I struggled with middles for years and years, though many novels and short stories; I knew where I wanted to get, but not how to get there. How did authors come up with all the ‘stuff’ to happen in the middle? Where did they get these ideas from?

The cycle of creating a problem, complicating it, and resolving it so as to create a new problem helped somewhat when I learned about that. But it could only take me so far, and often still left me with drafts that had drifted off into tangents in the middle, that lost their way, that wandered and looped and circled but never seemed to progress. I longed for structure, for clarity, but didn’t know where to find it, and good old three-act structure didn’t provide enough support. Sure, there was the hero’s journey, but even that provided only limited assistance.

Enter beat sheets. If you’ve never heard of beat sheets and are someone who struggles to get through the middle of a story, prepare to rejoice. These beat sheets in particular, crafted by Jami Gold, are the becalmed writer’s salvation: enter your intended project word count at the top, and the spreadsheet will calculate for you the word count at which each of the major ‘beats’, or structural points, should occur. I use a combination of plot-oriented and character-oriented beats, pilfered mostly from the romance sheet and the master beat sheet, and this means I have a specific goal that I have to hit almost every other scene. It’s a life-saver, and I’m loving it.

I know that not everyone is into outlining. Some writers prefer to write exploratively, figuring out who their characters are and what their story is as they go. I used to write like this, especially for short stories, but to be honest, I’ve found that I have to revise a WHOLE lot less when I use a beat-style outline, and my short stories are punchier and pithier because they built cogently to a point from the outset. If I wander around trying to figure out what my point is as I go, I end up with a story with multiple ‘points’, and that’s just confusing to try to edit because you have to pick one and try to erase all hints of the others and it’s just a tracking nightmare. So yeah. Beat sheets. I’m a fan, so I thought I’d share in case you found them useful too 🙂

Last Chance For Think Sideways Writing Course Until 2016

Just a quick announcement that in about 30 hours, Holly Lisle’s biggest course, How To Think Sideways, will close registration for the rest of the year. She’s been making noises for a while now about moving her big courses to once-a-year-only registration, and that time is here.

The cons: You only get a limited time each year to sign up. The pros: You get to work through the course material with a live cohort in the really active forums. Don’t underestimate how beneficial this is; having other people working through the course at the same time as you are helps ENORMOUSLY because you have people to bounce ideas off, people to clarify parts of the lessons with, and so forth. Hence why Holly’s moving to the once-a-year sign up.

For those who haven’t heard me ramble on about this amazing course before, How To Think Sideways is Holly’s comprehensive how-to-write-a-novel-and-also-make-writing-your-career course. I was in the very first cohort that went through the course, and at the time the course totally revolutionised how I approached my writing, and by extension, how people in my crit group did. I learned so much as a new writer from that course, and due to Holly’s generous refund policy (cancel any time, only pay for the lessons you’ve received, still maintain life-long membership in the forums), I feel confident recommending it to every writer I meet who has the time, interest and money. Although time isn’t such a big factor: once you’re a member, you’re a member for life, and you have permanent access to all the lessons you’ve received (they come out weekly), so you can revisit them whenever you need.

Not only that, but Holly is literally the most amazing person I know for delivering value for money: she is CONSTANTLY upgrading all her courses, offering bonuses and add-ons that often you don’t even have to pay for. Since I went through in the first cohort, an entire extra month of lessons has been added, all the modules have been revised, the bonus workshop “How Not To Write A Series” has been added, and a complete walk-through of the entire process where Holly live-demonstrates every single lesson as she goes through and writes a novel of her own has been added, approximately tripling the volume of content since I first paid for it. It’s some pretty serious value for money, even though the course itself isn’t exactly pocket change ($497 for 7 months, either upfront or in monthly instalments of $77).

Speaking of bonuses, everyone who signs up this week has a chance to pitch their manuscript to Holly, and she will choose 10 people to receive one-on-one mentoring on any 10-page portion of their manuscript. See the details at the top of the sales page here, just under the video.

If you want to see my commentary on the course when I first bought it, it’s tagged over at my old blog. Note that you’ll have to scroll past three or four posts about signing up before the course moves – that was when Holly moved it from the original software to her new site. You’ll also see mention of a 20% rebate; sadly, I am no longer permitted to offer this, although PLEASE NOTE that YES, the links on this page ARE affiliate links. I get paid if you sign up through my links. However, 1) I would promote this course regardless of affiliate status, because I really believe in Holly’s courses, and 2) to demonstrate this, here’s a non-affiliate link if you’d prefer: NON-AFFILIATE LINK. If you use that one, I’ll not see a cent 😉

If you want to know what’s in the course, the sales page here has detailed info on what every single lesson covers. Scroll about one fifth to one quarter of the way down and look for the heading, “How To Start Writing A Book, And Never Fear The Blank Page Again”.

And yes, because this is a CAREER writer’s course, there are even lessons that tackle query writing, proposals, sample chapters, promoting your work before it’s even published, and a fairly comprehensive module on self-publishing. Man, this course has EVERYTHING. (Or your money back, haha.)

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, you have about 30 hours left to sign up this year – until Thursday March 5 at 11:59pm US Eastern Time, to be precise. (There’s a handy count-down in the header on the sales page ;)) Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the 2016 intake.

Oh, and a tiny bonus as a way for you to try out Holly’s teaching style and see if it works for you: a 3-minute writing workshop :o) Click on the image below.

Free 3-Minute Writing Mistake Fix

 *Notice: page contains affiliate links.*