Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Art of Finishing Novel One

One question I would get from my students when I taught creative writing was, “Will you read my book?”

My response was always the same, “Is it finished?”

98% of the time the answer was, “No, but it’s really amazing… etc.”

I won’t read an unfinished book from a first time novelist. Mean? Yes, I know it sounds very mean, but there is a method to this madness, I promise.
There are people who will try and write one novel their entire lives… statistically those people will never finish it. They have their rationalizations of why they will never finish it. Trust me I know them all, it took me ten years to finish my first novel. Here are my favorites; I can’t write the next part without editing what I have already written. It has to be perfect. I have too many novel ideas come to me so I have ten or so novel beginnings, and I try to work on them when the muse tells me too. I don’t have enough life experience/ haven’t suffered enough. I am not intelligent enough to work on it. I must be brilliant. Every word a stroke of genius. Etc.

It wasn’t until I shut all the voices in my head down and joined a writers group that I felt the strong desire to pick one of my many brilliant (sarcasm) beginnings and run it through to the end. Even though I had published some poetry and a few articles, it wasn’t until I ‘finished’ my first draft that I truly felt like a writer.

Why is finishing a first draft a game changer? Trust me, you don’t even know what your book really is unless you finish it. What you thought or had tried to plan sometimes takes a detour to something better. Not to mention that there is a lot to learn about your strengths and weaknesses with your first novel. It’s like walking through a dark and scary cave alone without anyone to hold your hand. You’ve just got to hold your breath, suck it up and do it to see what is on the other side. You come out learning so much about your own writing style, (or lack thereof) and you also get to put The End on your first draft.

Now I have finished more first drafts than I care to stop and count, I have a pretty good handle on what my talents are and what pitfalls I need to watch out for. For instance, I love to write as I go, but I also have learned that I need a general direction and not a full outline. I also have to have my character lead the way, so I need to have my character solid before I start. If I don’t have a solid character, I may as well be writing a Dick and Jane book. You know, See Dick run. See Jane run. Run Dick. Run Jane. Etc.

These are not specific to me, and I have seen people who struggle with the aspects I am confident at and pull out an amazing story.

So tell me… how did writing The End on your first novel make you feel?

If you haven’t finished a project, why do you think that is?

Happy Writing!

By Lillian J. Banks

How Music Can Improve Your Writing Part II- Creating a Playlist to Influence Mood and Tone

By Nichole Roundy Jarnagin

It’s no secret that music can evoke strong feelings. Movie producers use this technique all the time. In battle scenes, notice how the music rises and falls to match the intensity of the fight. Horror flicks are ten times worse than they really are simply because the music crawls up your spine one creepy chord at a time, cueing you that something horrible is about to happen. And the movie Jaws? Two notes, people!

Music can literally get a physical response out of you. Unlike a movie, your book probably won’t come with a soundtrack. Dang. But you can (and should!) use music to create powerful emotions while you write, which will come through on the page. This part of my series focuses on how music can help you do that.

Orion is the 17 year old male siren in my current WIP. He’s bitter and jaded, a loner. To help me get inside his head I have to think like him, feel what he feels, and view the world as he sees it.

So how do I (a middle-aged mother who lives in the Utah “bubble”) channel my inner 17 year old male siren? Easy: The Veer Union, Breaking Benjamin, Anberlin.

The best way I’ve found to “become” my character is to create a playlist of songs that mirror him or his mood in the scene I’m working on. Whether it’s the tune or the lyrics, I find songs that my character can relate to. I listen to the playlist while I write to evoke the thoughts/feelings/mood of my character so what I write feels authentic. It helps me stay inside his head and keeps the voice consistent.

If you find it distracting to write while music is playing, try taking a moment beforehand to meditate and listen to the playlist you’ve created. Really allow yourself to get inside the head (and heart) of your character. Use the music to your advantage— squeeze out every ounce of emotion; resentment, bitterness, loneliness, desperation, etc. When you find yourself lost in those thoughts, start writing.

I like to have a playlist for every major character in my book. Also, I find it helpful to create a playlist for specific scenes—action sequences, battle scenes, romantic interludes, etc. It provides inspiration and keeps me grounded to the scene.

Here’s one of the playlists I use when writing Orion’s POV. Word of caution, while there are no explicit lyrics (I’m pretty sure), this playlist is not for the faint of heart.

How Music Can Improve Your Writing—A Three Part Series

By Nichole Roundy Jarnagin

Part I – Learning From Songwriters and Lyricists.

Have you ever got into your car, turned on the radio, and ended up at your destination but don’t remember how you got there? Sometimes I find myself so caught up in the “story” of a song, it takes me to another place entirely. So how does this pertain to us, as writers?

Songs are amazing if you think about it. The average song is only 2-3 minutes long. Each detail revealed—or NOT revealed—is critical. Not a single word can afford to be wasted. A songwriter does in five stanzas what a novelist does in three hundred pages. When this hit me, I realized I could learn a thing or two about writing by studying song lyrics. Granted, not all songs tell a story, but the ones that do are worth your time and attention.

Here’s a great example. Prince has a song called Raspberry Beret (1985) . . . moment of awkward silence while you laugh and make fun of me. Okay, moving on. Prince has a song called Raspberry Beret that is basically brilliant from a storytelling standpoint. Let me quote the first two stanzas.

“Seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing
But different than the day before
That’s when I saw her, ooh, I saw her
She walked in through the out door, out door

She wore a
Raspberry beret
The kind you find in a second hand store
Raspberry beret
And if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more”

This short segment of lyrics reveals a plethora of information about these two characters. We’re going to focus on the female, dissecting it line by line. Here’s what we learn:

“She walks in through the out door.” This is the kind of girl who defies rules and social expectations. Does she do it for attention or because she’s a rebel? Or maybe she’s lazy and the “out” door was closer. Regardless of her exact motivation, the simple act of her entering through the “out” door is revealing.

“She wore a raspberry beret.” Why would she choose a beret? You wear a baseball cap to keep the sun out of your eyes or to support your favorite sports team. You wear a beanie to stay warm. So why did she choose a beret and a raspberry one at that? What does this say about her? Is she eccentric? Is she attention-seeking? Maybe both. I get the feeling she’s her own person. She knows who she is right down to her toenails and she isn’t afraid to show it.

“The kind you find in a secondhand store.” If I remember correctly — and I do — it wasn’t super cool to thrift shop in the 80s. Maybe the beret was a little shabby looking. Or maybe it was just barely out of style, enough to make it a fashion faux pas. This detail shows us she doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She’s fearless. Rock that D.I. beret, Prince girl!

“And if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more.” This line adds impact to what has already been established. She’s a free-spirited, slightly rebellious but self assured girl who isn’t afraid. She’s exposed, open, yet vulnerable. It leaves us wondering what’s in store for these two.

Listen to the song in its entirety to get to know these two characters better. They are a book in and of themselves.

When dissecting lyrics I try to pay attention to what’s IMPLIED as well as what’s stated. Sometimes you can convey meaning in fewer words by using this method. Here’s an example from a Diamond Rio song called, Two Pump Texaco.

“He was wipin’ motor oil off her dipstick
She was pullin’ on the hair that got caught in her lipstick
And with the smell of her perfume he forgot the smell of gasoline
As he was toppin’ off her tank she said, “How far to Abilene?”

He sees ’em come
He sees ’em go
From the island of his
Two pump Texaco”

Here are some details I see, even though these things are never directly stated:

• It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere (two-pumps as opposed to six)
• The gas attendant is thoughtful—pondering the comings and goings of the people he services (It’s from his POV)
• He’s a dreamer (he lets her perfume distract him as an escape)
• She’s driving a convertible, or at least her window is down (hair caught in lipstick).
• It’s a nice day outside (again, convertible or window down)
• She’s beautiful (wearing lipstick and perfume)
• She’s wealthy (convertible and she’s using full service gas station)
• They’re in Texas (otherwise she would have said “How far to Abilene, Texas” and not just “How far to Abilene?”)
• She has blond hair. Okay, I totally made that one up but you get the idea.

Using only select words, the songwriter has painted a picture in your head, and yet you filled in most of the details yourself. Notice how the songwriter never mentioned one word about the weather and yet we can see as plain as day it’s not raining or snowing or gusting wind. Therefore, we can picture blue, sunny, skies.

As writers we need to pick and choose what to say and what to withhold. I firmly believe what you withhold is as critical as what you reveal. Just know you’re reasons for doing so.

What are some of your favorite lyrics or songwriters? (Sting is my absolute favorite — he’s a great writer.) What songs or songwriters have inspired your writing? How do you personally translate their techniques into your writing?

The next two segments will focus on creating a playlist to inspire mood/tone in your novel and using music to stimulate your own alpha brain waves to be more creative.

Looking Back and Moving Forward – Another New Year for the Writing Snippets Crew

Hello wonderful followers! This post marks the two year anniversary of Writing Snippets. We’ve gone through lots of changes in these two short years, and we’d like to send a hearty THANK YOU to anyone who was along for the whole ride, and an equally hearty THANK YOU to anyone who hopped on board more recently. We love you all!

In the new year, due to time restraints and logistics, we’ll be spending more time blogging and less time podcasting. We hope you’ll enjoy our written words as much as you’ve enjoyed our spoken words.

As this anniversary passes and a new year begins, members of our crew are looking back over what they’ve learned this past year and what lies ahead for them. Here are their thoughts – please share your own in the comments.

Ava Mylne

I think the single thing I have learned this year about writing is that there is no single thing I need to improve on. But my biggest lesson is this: I have more to learn than I have learned in the past, and I know when I have learned everything I think I need to learn right now, that I will have miles more to go. I want to start learning how to logically follow a story, so that I can find plot holes and character inconsistencies — big picture problems — that I haven’t been able to see before.

I think it odd that when we are learning to write, most of us focus first on grammar and punctuation; but grammar and punctuation are the last things to be fixed in a serious edit. If you fixed the grammar first, you would have to fix it again with every subsequent edit. Why torture yourself? I want my stories, my characters, my thoughts, to live and breathe in book form. That means I have to perfect the characters and the story before I perfect the words that create them. It feels backwards somehow.

I can read your thoughts. You’re thinking, “Good luck with that perfection thing.”

Oh, well. I’ll never get there in this life, but think of everything I’ll learn along the way.

Alice Beesley

What I’ve learned in the last year:

Some of the things I’ve learned this year are how to plot a novel. I was more of a pantser to begin with but I’ve found that I end up having to do too many revisions that way and I’m not a super fast writer so it takes too long. I tried several plotting worksheets I found on line and they’ve helped me do loose outlines of my stories. I also started doing character sketches to help me get to know and develop my characters better since that’s one of the things I struggle with and it’s made a difference. For me character development usually comes last after I’ve got my plot and story figured out and have done several revisions. Emotion is another thing I’ve worked hard to portray in my stories this year and I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it and be able to incorporate that more into my stories.

Writing goals for 2013:

Publish a novel and find an agent. I have two novels out with editors who have expressed and interest in them. I’m doing a revision on one of the novels, and I’m going to start querying agents for another one. I’m having a third novel critiqued by our writer’s group and some other writers I trade books with. After that I’ll do more revisions on it, then I’ll query agents with it. I also plan to plot out and write sequels for two of my novels.

Jocelyn Nash Carlin

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned this year is that I don’t function well as a writer unless I have a structure – and after having a baby a year and a half ago, my structure completely fell apart. If I don’t have a fixed writing schedule and goal, the work doesn’t happen. If I don’t have an outline, the work is three times as hard. That novel I wanted to have finalized by Christmas 2011? Still not done. Why? Because I wrote it by the seat of my pants. Every time I go to work on more edits, I curse myself for not outlining beforehand.

I’ve also learned that I enjoy writing short fiction from time to time. I’ve completed several short stories this year, which are making their way through the rounds of submission to various publications and contests. Writing them was a wonderful palette-cleanser from my endless novel edits.

In this new year I’m working with my spouse and children to get back on a fixed writing schedule that works for the whole family, and that the whole family will respect. I plan on trying my hand at more short fiction, redoubling my efforts at submitting regularly, and outlining my next novel before diving in too deep.

My only measure of success will be: Am I happy with what I write? Sometimes, after writing slumps, that’s the goal that matters the most.

Lillian Banks

Lilly decided to share her thoughts in a vlog:

Nichole Jarnagin

In 2012 I learned a valuable lesson — or at least that’s when it finally sank in. The concept is this: From the very first page you set up an expectation for your reader, a promise, and it’s a promise you must keep.

For example, if you’ve written a blossoming romance set in regency England, you can’t introduce aliens in chapter five. Okay, that’s a big jump but you get the point. In the case of my work in progress, I was aiming for a YA paranormal romance but in trying to add depth to my characters, I’d inadvertently written a gritty contemporary. The “issues” my main character struggled with were distracting and prevented the story from moving forward. I’d mislead my readers, switching the focus entirely. Readers couldn’t get past my main character binge drinking and cutting herself to focus on the important parts of the story — the discovery of a gorgeous male siren. Forehead slap. I had taken my story in the wrong direction because I failed to keep the promise I’d made. The good news. Once you’ve grasped this concept and stop fighting against it, it’s much easier to delve into your story and take it where it needs to go.

In light of the New Year my writing goals for 2013 are as follows:

1. Schedule and honor time to write as follows: every other Tuesday and Thursday from 9:00am -noon. Every Friday from 7:00am- 10:00am OR 10:00am-1:00.
2. Edit and polish Allure by March 15th
3. Submit query letter to dream agent C.D. by March 30th
4. Research and compose list of backup dream agents just in case 😉

Now you’ve seen our New Year’s thoughts – don’t forget to share yours in the comments!