Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Progressing Through an Outline

I've tried different methods of writing my novels. One I just sat down and wrote with no preplanning. Not even the characters. I finished it but what a mess of revisions I had to tackle. It's still not marketable. A couple of novels were planned with very few words in columns under chapter numbers, with characters mapped out, and they went well. The last one I outlined with a lot more detail and found it easier than the others to actually write.

I decided to approach this young adult project a lot differently and do a detailed outline of the complete novel before actually writing the first chapter. It's tedious, to say the least, but it's working better than I imagined.  I type almost as fast as I think so this outline could be finished and ready in a very short time. Since this is a new area for me, I didn't want to rush things. There will be plenty of time to write later. I decided to use a pencil and a legal pad. Doing it the "old fashioned" way is allowing me to dwell in and enjoy the little world I've created. I never believed outlining could do that. (It certainly never did that for me in high school or college research papers!)

I've read an opinion by one writer that doing a detailed outline takes the fun out of writing the actual novel, that there are no surprises around the corner. He may be right. Another writer disagrees and says it doesn't affect that aspect in any way. What it does do, is give you a clear road map to where you want to wind up so you don't waste efforts on going off in the wrong direction. I think it just depends on what works for each writer. I'm only up to chapter eight in the will be a while before I know how it will affect my work.

What are some of your methods? Are you trying different things with different projects to find what works for you?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Step One-Finished!

When working on a novel, I use a three ring binder with character, plot, setting, chapter, etc, tabs. This is my organized hard copy of everything on the computer. I find it easier to flip through the binder, make notes in pencil, when something occurs to me, then change it later on the computer/flash drive.

Step One, for me, is Creating Characters. Setting and place is hazily there somewhere in the back of my mind and doesn't become clear until the plot is being developed.

Just a few minutes ago I put the final touches on my cast of characters for my new WIP and put them in the binder. Then I took each character's picture that I "googled" on the net, labeled them with their names and ages, printed them, and taped them to the white erase board on my wall. In the past I only listed this information in a marker so it would be a quick reference while working.This time I have photos to view. (see the reference to Susan Fields' blog in this post)

To my utter delight, these pictures are my characters. I no longer see them as actors and actresses.

I don't know if I will do this every time I start a new novel, but it sure has made these first tentative steps into a new genre a lot less scary and intimidating.

Tomorrow,  Step Two:  The Plot

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"You Are My Sunshine" Supportive Comments Award

Yay! For blogger awards!

I woke up this morning, put the coffee on, and headed for the computer. We had a wicked storm last night and I'm up early to clean up the yard of twigs, leaves, and small broken branches. I wasn't looking forward to it, after all I just did it last week from another storm. Then I got this sweet surprise and super award from Amy over at her blog The Green Bathtub. Now I don't mind cleaning up a bit!   Thank you, Amy!                 

1. I would like to pass this award onto Andrea Vlahakis over at Up the Attic Stairs. Andrea is always full of good things to say.
2. Next I'm passing this on to Laura Pauling whose blog is informative, funny, and always entertaining.
3. Finally, I would like to give this award to a young blogger, Amanda Krzywonski, My Life as Mandy...with Epilepsy for being an inspiration to all of us. She's a sweetheart!

Monday, May 10, 2010


My latest middle grade mystery is now resting for a few weeks or months before I begin revision. I've finished my contest entry for Pockets, and I've put away my craft supplies. I had a brainstorm for a new project and couldn't wait to get started. The only problem is, no matter how many times I pushed this irritating message aside from my main character, she wouldn't give up.

"I want to be a teenager! Fifteen is okay, but no younger!"

Fifteen? But...but... that's young adult! Oh, gosh, I felt like a newbie all over again. Middle grade characters have dimensions to them but they're not too complex. Middle graders act and react out of the ordinary to make the reader laugh, or cry, or even gasp; but there are limits. I like limits. I also write adult stories. Even my NaNaWriMo was for grown-ups. (the only good thing about it was the plot--it wasn't worth the effort to revise and I trashed it) But young adult demands more, I've heard that adolescents are picky and critical. Was I up to it?

"Okay," I told her, "I'll try, but don't be surprised if I shrink your world back to a twelve year old."


I swiped the dust off my “How to Write” books and flipped to the sections on creating characters. A couple I’ll mention here because after reading them I thought that maybe I can do this.

My refresher research began with Donald Maass’ book, Writing the Breakout Novel. “Conflict,” he writes in the section under inner conflict, “is the first principle of plot construction, and it is the underlying secret of great characters.” He goes on to say that “Fully rounded, three dimensional characters, have many sides, complex motives, and act in ways that surprise us.” After reading all the examples he gave from well known books, thinking about the teenagers next door and down the street, I began to understand what I needed to do if I was going to write for adolescents.

After completing a character map, my protagonist now has inner conflict, conflict in the home, conflict at school, but I also imbued her with inner strength and decisiveness, after all she doesn't give up. She’s not going to just sit there and let things happen to her, but she's no Wonder Woman either.

"I want a boyfriend."

Oh, yeah, the supporting players. I was reminded that the secondary characters should have their own story to tell, with their own likes and dislikes that determine what actions they take or how the protagonist reacts to them. In young adult you can delve into them making the sub-plots more important. My protagonist’s best friend can even disagree with her as well as have a definite opinion about her actions, just like best friends do in real life.

"Not Valerie, we're just like this."

Valerie's going to be fifteen, too.


In middle grade and younger works, parents can appear now and then with a problem or two, but mostly they are out of the picture.  It will be a challenge for me to make them fully fleshed out--warts and all--to create the family dynamics surrounding my protagonist.

 The old adage “You only have one chance to make a first impression” is emphasized in J.V. Jones article, Once Upon a Character, from a Writer’s Digest book, The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing. Once the character is fully created the next thing the writer has to worry about is the first appearance. “The first appearance is crucial…the most important thing is that the reader come away with a strong impression of the character.” This first impression should make the reader want to continue reading to learn more.

I’d never thought of it as a “first impression” but there have been so many times I’ve started a book then put it down, disappointed, because the first impression of a few supposedly important characters were flat, uninteresting, and one dimensional. I didn't care about them or what was going to happen to them.

Finally, I would like to mention a book that is giving me the facts I need to create these complex characters. The book, Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, PHD, is filled with profiles of human behavior and personal traits intended to give writers insight when creating characters. She includes the gamut from personality types, psychological disorders, group influences, creating families, to many more things invaluable to writers. You want to know why a teenager is a cutter, it's in there. She covers everything!

I've never taken this long to create the characters. Usually a short sketch is enough to get started, but I'm actually enjoying this. While I was working on this blog in my draft folder this weekend I found something that will definitely add flavor and fun to my character maps!  Picturing Your Characters, on  Susan Fields' blog, has brought another dimension to character development. Tonight I'll be sifting through various magazines looking for my main characters. Go check out her character list, it'll make you smile.

"Griffin's you think..."

Enough already!

Just had to add a final comment. Susan suggested I google for pics instead of using magazines, I did, and wow! I found perfect candidates, inserted them in word docs, and am now filling out their characteristics under the pics. Thanks for another great tip, Susan.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Primal Scream Blogfest Entry for May 5

This will be my third Blogfest. I'm so glad I found out about them! This one is called Primal Scream. It is being hosted by Raquel Byrnes. Click on over there where you can find the other contestants' links to read and enjoy some great writing.

My entry is from a completed manuscript called The Trouble Next Door. The MC, Kaci, is almost 12. This might be a bit longer than it should be, but I wanted to do the whole capture scene.

Behind me I could hear Sam’s footsteps thudding after me. “Gardiner! Get her!”

I rounded the corner at full speed and plowed into something solid. It knocked me flat on my back.

“What tha’?” Gardiner just stood there holding plants in both arms.

I started yelling as I struggled to get up but Sam came barreling around the corner and immediately jumped on me. He clasped his hand over my mouth and held me on the ground with his knees.

“She’s the one we heard in the house. She’s been spying on us.”

Gardiner dropped the plants and reached down and grabbed my legs. “Hold her head and keep her mouth closed. We’re taking her to the cellar.”

I kicked and squirmed as hard as I could when Sam got off of me. I tried desperately to scream but my sounds were muffled. My parents were on the other side of the wall not four feet from me.

“Here, shove this in her mouth!” Gardiner passed a handkerchief to Sam. He shoved the whole thing in my mouth and clamped his hand over it.

I was gagging from the dry wad in my mouth. Sam had a good grip on my mouth from behind and his other arm was wrapped under my arms. Gardiner grabbed my legs and lifted. I was beginning to choke on my own saliva. It was getting hard to draw in air from my nose. Waves of fear washed over me. The two men carried me into the greenhouse.

“The gag will come out as soon as you settle down!” Gardiner must have heard the choking sounds I was making.

“Hurry, I’m about to drop her!” Sam yelled.

When they reached the cellar door they shoved me inside and I tumbled down the steps. At the bottom I pulled out the wad and gulped air. In seconds they were standing over me.

 “It’s that brat from next door,” said Gardiner. “Kaci, right?”

I nodded—too scared to speak.

“What do you know about what’s going on here?” Gardiner squatted down and grabbed a fistful of my hair, jerking my head back.

“Ow! N-Nothing, I was just checking the house when I heard someone come in. I-I got scared and hid. I didn’t know it was you. Why are you doing this to me?”

“You don’t have a key and no one asked you to check the house,” Gardiner said, letting go of my hair. “How’d you get in?”

“Clara’s my friend; I came in through the kitchen window. I was just trying to help.”

“The kitchen window is locked,” Gardiner argued, standing.

“Not when I looked,” I said, rubbing the back of my head. “Someone left it open.” Maybe I could lie my way out of this. They didn’t look quite as mad any more even though they towered over me.

“I didn’t know this cellar was here…” I said looking around as if I'd never seen it before. Neither one stopped me as I got to my feet. I was sore but nothing was broken. “Are those new kinds of plants that Clara is growing,” I said pointing. “They’re really pretty.”

“Yeah, new kinds of pretty plants.” Sam laughed in a scornful tone.

“Hush!” Gardiner ordered. He was squinting at me like he wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth or not. “Those plants are secret plants that Clara doesn’t want anyone to know about. That’s why they’re down here and we come at night to give them special care.”

“Gee, I’m sorry, Mr. Hamilton, you must have thought I was another thief like that teenager who got caught last night.”

“What teenager?” Gardiner’s jaw tensed.

“What are you talking about?” Sam asked.

“Last night the police caught some kid trying to break into homes to steal money for drugs, they caught him a few houses down,” I told them. If I kept them talking maybe they’d let me go.

“I didn’t hear about it,” Gardiner said.

“Look, I’m really sorry about all this and you don’t have to worry about me. I can keep Clara’s secrets. She’s shown me lots of new plants that she’s created and I have never told anyone about them.” They just had to believe me!

Sam and Gardiner kept looking at me without saying anything. I tried to look at them like a wide eyed toddler. Gardiner gave Sam a shove. “Go on upstairs. Wait for me.” Sam turned without a word and climbed the stairs. I watched him go, panic was rising, and I didn’t want to be alone with Gardiner. Waves of fear coursed through me and my knees felt weak. I fought down the urge to run for it. Gardiner could hurt me and no one would know.

“What are you going to do with me?” I managed to ask in a quivering voice. I felt nauseated and my whole body was beginning to shake.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Gardiner said very slowly. “For now, you’re going to have to stay down here until I decide whether to call the police or not.”


“No buts!” Gardiner suddenly yelled at the top of his voice. His face turned into such a grotesque expression I shrank from him; stepping further back into the shadows until my back hit the concrete wall.

“You had no business around here and now you can just suffer for it, maybe it will make you think twice!” He raised his fist at me then he stormed up the stairs.

The door slammed shut but I was actually glad I was alone in the cellar. Gardiner was yelling and soon I heard the two men dragging heavy objects onto the flat door. Tears welled up in my eyes and I cried. My knees buckled and I fell in a heap. They were piling potted plants on the door! The door would be hidden from people looking for me and it would be too heavy for me to lift. I was trapped!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Tragedy in Wichita Falls

In Wichita Falls, Texas, a young man shot innocent people in Hastings and another place in town, killing one young man. This is a link to a blog about one victim's experience, LeAnn Duran, (who was shot twice) and the faith that brought her through it.

Newspaper link to stories: