All posts by Darcy Pattison

About Darcy Pattison

Author, blogger and writing teacher Darcy Pattison is published in eight languages. Her books includes children's picture books, how-to-write books, teacher resource books, and middle grade novels.

20 Oct

Why I LOVE Cliches and Tropes

I confess: I love a good cliche or trope.

A cliche is a phrase or expression that has been used so often that it is no longer original or interesting.
A trope is a common or overused theme or device, as in the usual horror movie tropes.

I’m in the middle of plotting a massive 3-book story and I need all the help I can get. Here’s the problem: what happens next?

No, let me rephrase: what could possibly happen next?

Sometimes, I just need to know possibilities, or what a story typically does at a particular stage. What are the possibilities? Is this a place for a murder, a confession, a love scene, or a time to gather information?

Literary folk say that there are only a limited number of stories in the world. Depending on who you talk with, there might be just two stories: a character leaves town, or a stranger comes to town. Others say there are up to 32 plots. I’ve written about 29 plot templates before. And it helps immensely to narrow down the choices.

But that’s on the level of an outline. Now that I’m deep into deciding on scenes, my imagination comes up short.

Enter tropes. A trope is a common theme, something that’s been done before. That doesn’t scare me away, because it’s the same as the variety of themes. Every story is a cliche, trope or template in many ways. It’s all in how you TELL that story. The beauty is in the particulars.

Romantic Subplot

Kiss Romantic Trope


My story needs a romantic subplot. I know the basics.
Act 1: Boy Meets Girl/Girl Meets Boy
Act 2: Boy and Girl Fight or are otherwise kept apart.
Act 3: Boy and Girl get together.

But what else? What is possible at each stage?

I turned to TVTROPES.org for help. Their site is a wiki that list all sorts of tropes. The Romantic Arc Tropes list was helpful because it listed typical things that happen at every stage of a romantic relationship.

For example, a story might start with this trope/subtropes:
Love Before First Sight

  • Because Destiny Says So
  • Childhood Marriage Promise
  • Red String of Fate
  • Girl of My Dreams
  • New Old Flame

Each of the tropes listed has its own wiki page, which explains the trope in detail. Particularly valuable are the examples drawn from traditional literature, manga, comic books, fanfics, films, live-action TV, professional wrestling, table top games, theater, video games, webcomics, western animation, real life and more. It’s a treasure trove of examples of the POSSIBILITIES of a particular stage of a relationship.

In fact, I used this romance arc by choosing one trope from each stage of a relationship and slotting that into my story.

Place Holders

Are you afraid that my story will be trite and boring? I’m not. I know that this is a trope and therefore, I must transform it in the storytelling phase of the project. Right now, though, this trope acts as a place holder, something that indicates approximately what will happen in this spot of the story, but not exactly. The nuances that make it fresh await the actual writing.

Using tropes to hold a place with something reasonable makes the plotting easier. I’m loving this help in plotting.

Here are some Arcs to get you started. Be warned: this is a massive wiki and it’s easy to get lost in it. Know what you are looking for and get it/get out.

14 Oct

10 Writer Quotes to Keep you Working on Your Novel

30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video course

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Writing teacher Darcy Pattison teachers an online video course, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel. Each day includes an inspirational quote, and tips and techniques for revising your novel. Here are the 10 of the inspirational quotes.

LEARN MORE: ONLINE VIDEO COURSE.

Or sign up for more information on the availability of this course and other courses.

Pattison
The titles below are the first ten entries of the Table of Contents for the Online Video Class. Sign up now for the Early Bird list. You’ll be notified when the course goes live.

Mims: Online Video Course

Sign up for information on online video courses with Darcy Pattison. Discounts, deadlines, and more.

  1. The Wide, Bright Lands: Theme Affects Setting

    21-Morrell

  2. Raccoons, Owls, and Billy Goats: Theme Affects Characters

    22-singer

  3. Side Trips: Choosing Subplots

    23-morrell

  4. Of Parties, Solos, and Friendships: Knitting Subplots Together

    24-lengle

  5. Feedback: Types of Critiquers

    25-goldberg

  6. Feedback: What You Need from Readers

    26-king

  7. Stay the Course

    27-Parker

  8. Please Yourself First

    28-dillard

  9. The Best Job I Know to Do

    29-allen

  10. Live. Read. Write.

    30-Bratslav

Click Here to See 22 More Quotes for Writers

13 Oct

3 Ways to Know If Your YA Fiction Is Really New Adult Fiction

In the immortal words of Charlotte in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”

I was privileged to have Deborah Halverson edit my Harcourt picture book, Searching for Oliver K. Woodman. When we met at a retreat, it was instant friendship, and anytime we talk, it feels like we’ve been friends forever. That’s why I am so excited about this new book. Well, I’m excited because it’s Deborah’s book, but also because it’s the first book I’ve seen to explain the latest fiction genre, New Adult. In Deborah’s capable hands, the topic comes alive and I’ve already got tons of ideas for stories. Here, she answers a basic question; but if you want more, you’ve got to buy her book!


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Guest post by Deborah Halverson

YA writers often ask me to explain the difference between Young Adult fiction and New Adult fiction when the story’s main character is 18 or 19 years old. Some of those writers are curious about this new fiction category that brushes up against their own, but others are trying to noodle out whether that upper YA story they’re working on is really NA. “Tell me what NA is, Deborah, and then I’ll know what I’ve got.” Happy to help! Here are three ways to determine if you’re writing a story about a young adult or a new adult.

DearEditor.com Deborah Halverson is doing a special giveaway for the blog tour for the kickoff of this book. Enter to win “One Free Full Manuscript Edit!

Pin Down Your Protagonist’s Mind-set

How does your character process the world and her place in it? Teens are typically starting to look outward as they try to find their places in the world and realize that their actions have consequences in the grander scheme of life, and they yearn to live unfettered by the rules, structure, and identities that have defined their lives until now. New adults finally get to live that free life they dreamed of—for better or worse. They move forward with the self-exploration they began in their adolescence, going big on personal exploration and experimentation and expanding their worldview. They get to build identities that reflect who they’ve become rather than who they grew up with, and they get to try things out before settling into a final Life Plan. All of this can be overwhelming even when it goes well—after all, even good change is stressful, and “change” is new adulthood in a nutshell. For some, though, the instability is a total freak-out. The clash of ideal vs. reality can shock their system. They’re gaining experience and wisdom hand over fist, but yikes. Luckily, new adults tend to brim with personal optimism, and their explorations and experimentations—both dangerous and beneficial—are endearingly earnest.

If this sounds like your protagonist and her circle of friends, you might have an NA on your hands. You can use this knowledge to give your story a solidly NA sensibility by exposing your character’s inexperience in her decision-making, by imbuing the narrative with a sense of defiance, by conveying stress, by conveying self-focus (not selfishness), by lacing the exposition with personal optimism, and by showing the character’s awareness of her growing maturity. YA characters who are overly analytical about themselves and others risk sounding too mature, but NA character journeys ooze with self-assessment no matter the individual details of their journeys.

Assess Your Circumstances

New Adult v. Young AdultIn fiction, the plot exists to push the protagonist through some kind of personal growth. Thus, our character’s mind-set and the plot are interdependent. Whether your character is a young adult or new adult, the circumstances of your story—the events, problems, places, and roles—should sync with that character. New adults tackle their problems with their new adult filters in place, whether the story is a contemporary one set in college, or a historical one, or a fantastical one. Self-actualization is an essential growth process whether you’re at a college kegger or battling evil overlords.

Once you’ve pinpointed whether your protagonist’s mindset feels YA or NA, consider if your plot events and the circumstances of your protagonist’s life jive with her concerns, fears, coping skills, maturity, and wisdom level. NA story lines tend to remove structure and accountability, tweak the characters’ stress levels by playing musical careers and homes, make money an issue, force the characters to establish new social circles at play and at work, show characters exhibiting ambivalence to adult responsibilities, show characters divorcing from teenhood, show characters striving to “move on from trauma” rather than to “survive trauma”, deny the characters the “ideal” NA life of carefree self-indulgence, put characters in situations that clash their high expectations for independent life against a harsh reality, and show the process of evaluation, of trial-and-error, of weighing exploration and experimentation against consequences, at least by the end of the story.

Deal with the “Sexed-Up YA” Thing

Romance is part of almost any older YA story, and certainly all NA. As it should be—romance is one of the three main areas of identity exploration after puberty, along with career and worldview (think politics, faith, and personal well-being and outlook). The difference is that teens are very solidly in the “what is love, what does it feel like?” realm, whereas new adults are generally working on who they want to be in a relationship, what they want from their partner, what they want from the relationship in general. That doesn’t mean they’re actively searching for Mr./Mrs. Right—there’s plenty of time for that!—but it does mean they want a satisfying, meaningful relationship. Where is your character on that romance spectrum?

Of course, romance isn’t really what people focus on when comparing YA and NA relationships, is it? Nope: it’s sex. So let’s talk about sex. In its early days, NA was accused of being “sexed-up YA”, but after reviewing numbers 1 and 2 above, you’ll see that the differences between YA and NA are more substantial than simply how explicitly you describe two bodies connecting sans clothing. Ask yourself your goal with the romance, and what level of sexual detail is necessary for that goal. Then consider your audience: NA readers are mostly adults of the same 20- to 44-year-old “crossover reader” demographic that shot YA into the publishing stratosphere. (A Digital Book World study reported 2013’s dominant YA crossover readership as being 20- to 29-year-olds; compare that to the 18- to 25-year-old age range of new adulthood). Those grownups can handle—and often flat-out want—explicit sex scenes. Some teens will read NA, but mostly they’re not into that mind-set yet so the stories don’t resonate with them, making them plenty happy to stick with the many great YA stories out there that reflect their current time in life.

Perhaps you determine that your character’s mind-set and story circumstances are solidly YA but you want/need to include some sex scenes in your story because the theme or plot of the story calls for it. In that case, maybe you have a solid YA that requires a “Mature YA” categorization to let readers know that there’s sexual content between those covers. Those scenes will be tamer than the full-on explicitness of NA—your are writing/positioning this story primarily for and about young readers after all, and there are gatekeepers involved—but the sexual content is there and readers are warned. Weigh your goals with your romance, your story’s scene needs, and your audience’s expectations and sensibilities as you make the NA/YA determination on this aspect of your WIP.

So there you have it. Three ways to know if that story you’re writing is Young Adult fiction or New Adult fiction. Good luck with your WIP, and with all your publishing endeavors.


Authorphoto_Halverson_8x8_small3Deborah Halverson is a veteran editor and the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies. Her latest book, Writing New Adult Fiction, teaches techniques and strategies for crafting the new adult mindset and experience into riveting NA fiction. Deborah was an editor at Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years and is now a freelance editor, the founder of the popular writers’ advice website DearEditor.com, and the author of numerous books for young readers, including the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth with Delacorte/Random House. For more about Deborah, visit DeborahHalverson.com or DearEditor.com.

07 Oct

Subplots Fight Writer’s Block

photo by John GoodridgeSubplots are a connected sequence of events, just like any other plot; the difference is that this is a minor plot with fewer developments. It should affect the main plot in some important way–or else you should delete it–but it doesn’t need the same development of a main plot.

I am still plotting my trilogy, and I’m taking a different strategy this time. I am working on the plot line for the entire trilogy before I start writing. Each book focuses on a different aspect of the overall story problem, so in some respects, each book is a subplot. Yet, overall, the story needs a throughline, or a question that overshadows everything.

In my sff trilogy, the overriding question is will the Risonian planet blow up, killing all Risonians? Or, will they find a new home and refuge?

The subplots will focus on different characters in the story and how they answer different parts of the overall problem. There are three romance subplots, various political subplots, and a couple survival subplots. Characters are motivated by revenge, by a quest of power, or by a sense of desperation.

That’s all good! In a long story–such as a series or even just a trilogy–the story needs to have some depth and breadth, and subplots have the potential to help.

As I say in START YOUR NOVEL, it helps to look over 29 different plot templates and decide on the overall plot for your story. Clearly, my story is about survival, and I can echo that with other smaller stories or subplots of survival. I can also contrast with someone who is out for revenge and cares nothing for survival; revenge at all costs makes for desperate–and potentially compelling–drama. Romance plots: OK, these should be a given in most stories, even if it’s just a love story between a boy and his dog.

What Happens Next?

It often happens that I am trying to work out the main plot but get stumped. What happens next? I’ve no idea.

Then, it’s time to turn to the subplot that has been patiently awaiting notice. What happens next in the subplot? Part of getting stuck is the fear that if I make a major decision about the trajectory of the story, I’m stuck with it. If it’s wrong, it will mean a major revision. Subplots, though, are small and contain fewer scenes. Make a mistake there and it’s much easier to revise later. By focusing on a smaller problem, you put less at risk.

Sometimes I have to go down the list and answer the “What next?” question for each subplot before I get inspiration for a better setting, more compelling emotions, or a larger conflict.

Often, figuring out the next logical step for a minor plot shakes loose a detail that will make everything connect better. Oh! So, she’s the main character’ sister, and that’s why she wants revenge.

The new revelation sends me back to the main plot with a new twist on the action.

When I’m really stuck, I repeat this process with every subplot from action to romance. For example, a romance subplot implies that tension and conflict permeates the man-woman relationship. How does the betrayal, the attraction, the hate, the love, and the self-sacrifice relate to and affect the main plot?

Progress is slow on this huge plot. Thanks to subplots, though, it is progressing! What happens next? My story gets plotted!

29 Sep

Do You Write for the Market? Or Yourself? Or Both?

Do you write for the market? Or do you just write novels, picture books and articles for yourself?

You’ll hear the advice both ways:
Write what you want to write so you can write the truest book you can write.

Write with the market in mind.

It depends on your writing goals.
If your writing is self-expression and you have other means of monetary support, then please yourself!
If your goal is a career as a writer, and becoming a writer who makes a living wage, then the answer is more nuanced. It’s not just write for the market; you must write what you want to write. But you must also find your audience.

Writers who have a long career seldom start off with a bang. (I once went to a conference where every speaker had sold his/her first book to the first editor who saw it. I went home and cried.) Instead, it’s a slow build of an audience who comes to your work one at a time. This means your writing is improving while your audience is growing.

However, this doesn’t give you the pass on considering the market and your audience.

Consider Your Audience

What is your audience reading? What is popular? That’s often the question that writers ask themselves and it’s a valuable one. Knowing the current market is vital. But you must go deeper and ask, “Why is my audience reading this type of book?”

For YA literature, for example, dystopian literature has been wildly popular for the last five years or so. Why? Because in times of upheaval, people reexamine their identity and challenge the very foundations of civilization–which is exactly the task every generation faces as they come to adulthood. Who are they? What will their life be like?

Are dystopian novels dead? This is an interesting take on how the genre is overrun with cliches.

Are dystopian novels dead? Click on the image for an interesting take on how the genre is overrun with cliches from uzerfriendly.com


Perhaps a simplistic reason, but the idea here is to look under the surface of what is popular to find the reason for the popularity. Once you know the deeper reason, then address THAT in your next book. And do it in a new, fresh, exciting way.

When I approach an editor’s revision letter, I do the same thing. I don’t do every thing the editor asks for. Instead, I look for the deeper, perhaps unspoken concerns, and address those. Editors don’t need to be right; they just need to provoke you to move from your stubborn position and do something even more wonderful than they ever imagined. That’s what I’m asking you to do here. Look at trends in the marketplace–and transcend them. Find a way to answer the deeper concerns in a way that only YOU could do.

25 Sep

30 Days to a Stronger Novel: Online Video Course

Online Video Classes by Darcy Pattison

Writing teacher and author Darcy Pattison.

Writing teacher and author Darcy Pattison.

Starting in November, 2014, Darcy Pattison will offer online video writing courses through Udemy.com’s platform. See more about Darcy here, or download her bio here.

  • Writing Teacher, Darcy Pattison will explain writing concepts, tips, strategies. Since 1999, Darcy has taught the Novel Revision Retreat nationwide, and many alumni have seen their first publication as a result.
  • The on-demand format allows you to fit the courses into your busy schedule. You access the videos any time day or night. Start the series anytime you need it. No need to wait for the start of the next month.
  • Group discounts available: your critique group can take the class together. Focus your group’s accountability, discussions, and output for a month.

Mims House Book and Online Course Updates

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Online Video Courses


If this form isn’t working, click here to sign up.

NOVEMBER 1: 30 Days to a STRONGER Novel: $59


30DaysUdemy-960x540-150

INTRODUCTORY PRICING: One of the most popular series on Darcy Pattison’s Fiction Notes blog has been her 30-day series on improving a novel. Now updated, the series offers 30 days of sage advice on strengthening your novel, for less than $2/day.

Each day includes:

  • A quote that inspires
  • Short, practical instruction from Darcy on a specific topic
  • A simple “Walk the Talk” action to take

9781629440408-Perfect.inddOver the course of the month, you’ll receive the entire text of Darcy’s book, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel (November, 2014 release).
We can’t guarantee that you’ll end the month with a publishable novel; but we can guarantee it will be a STRONGER novel.

VIDEO COURSE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Watership Down with Armadillos: Titles
  • Search Me: Subtitles
  • Defeat Interruptions: Chapter Divisions
  • Scarlett or Pansy: The Right Character Name
  • My Wound is Geography: Stronger Settings
  • Horse Manure: Stronger Setting Details
  • Weaklings: Every Character Must Matter
  • Take Your Character’s Pulse
  • Yin-Yang: Connecting Emotional and Narrative Arcs
  • Owls and Foreigners: Unique Character Dialogue
  • Sneaky Shoes: Inner and Outer Character Qualities
  • Friends or Enemies: Consistent Character Relationships
  • Set Up the Ending: Begin at the Beginning
  • Bang, Bang! Ouch! Scene Cuts
  • Go Away! Take a Break
  • Power Abs for Novels
  • White Rocks Lead Me Home: Epiphanies
  • The Final Showdown
  • One Year Later: Tie up Loose Ends
  • Great Deeds: Find Your Theme
  • The Wide, Bright Lands: Theme Affects Setting
  • Raccoons, Owls, and Billy Goats: Theme Affects Characters
  • Side Trips: Choosing Subplots
  • Of Parties, Solos, and Friendships: Knitting Subplots Together
  • Feedback: Types of Critiquers
  • Feedback: What You Need from Readers
  • Stay the Course
  • Please Yourself First
  • The Best Job I Know to Do
  • Live. Read. Write.

EARLY BIRD SIGNUP: Great Extras!

When you sign up for the Early Bird list, you are eligible for some great offers. When the course is live, we’ll send out an email to the EARLY BIRD list.

3 Written Critiques

The first three people to sign up for the course will receive the opportunity to submit ten pages to Darcy for a written critique.

5 Group Coaching Sessions

The first five critique groups who sign up for the course will receive the opportunity for a group Skype call where each person gets to ask Darcy a question about their manuscript.

1 Private Coaching Session:

All names will be entered in a drawing for a 15-minute private coaching session (Skype call) with Darcy to discuss your novel.

EARLY BIRD SIGNUP: Great Discounts!

At $59, the 30 Days to a Stronger Novel online video course is a steal: that’s less than $2/day, less than a cup of coffee for coaching by acclaimed writing teacher Darcy Pattison.
If you sign up for the Early Bird list, though, you’ll receive a special discount:

  • 30% discount on regular price
  • 40% discount for groups of 3 or more – sign up with your critique group for the best pricing!
  • For groups of 25 or more, contact Darcy for discount rates.

To be eligible for Early Bird Extras and Early Bird Discounts,
you MUST be on this Early Bird List

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21 Sep

Don’t Plot Like I Do!

I’m warning you! Don’t plot like I do.

I’ve been working on the plot of a new novel for about six weeks and I’m still stumbling around. I’ll describe the messy process here and hope that you manage to shortcut your own process.

It started last year with an idea and a short story that gave backstory on the longer story. I’ve wanted to write a sf for a while and this idea has been germinating for a long time. Besides the problem of other projects, there’s the question of audience. I had to grapple with taking creative risks.

Take Creative Risks

One creative risk was the type of story I would tell. Would it be a character story or an action/adventure story?

I plotted out something, but my left brain kicked in and compared the plot to the 29 Plot Templates Regardless of which plot structure I looked at, there were so many holes in the story.

I got advice from Optimus Prime. Hey, I take help where I find it and Optimus was obviously handing out advice on plotting.

By now, though, I was getting bogged down. What was the purpose of all this plotting? I had to remind myself that I was telling a story.

The next disappointment was the worry about how slowly the work progressed.

Listen. I know a lot about novel structure, characterization, plotting, setting and many other topics about novels. I teach this stuff. But when I write, I struggle through the writing process. One of my strengths, though, is that I am open to switching strategies. It’s also my weakness, but while I’m in the throes of plotting, I feel like I am jumping from this method, to that paradigm, to yet another novel structure. In reality, I’m just checking out my story from multiple POVs.
Impossible

A Sixth Grade Aside

When my daughter was in sixth grade, she wrote an essay. The teacher asked my daughter to write an evaluation essay about writing the essay. Write down the process you went through to write this essay, the teacher advised.

And I shook my head in despair.

No, there isn’t just ONE path through the writing process. It’s cyclical, curving back on itself to ask you to repeat this task or that task. Or perhaps describing it as a maze is a better metaphor. I follow false trails until they dead end. I get lost in the middle and can’t fight my way out. I start at the beginning one time and the next time, I start at the end. Somehow, though, the writing gets done. There are strategies, ways of approaching a draft, working habits, and so on. But for any given piece of writing, the process will vary and vary widely.

Messy Writing Process

This time, I’m doing well with trying to go from general to specific.

That got me to an eight-page outline. But the 29 Plot Templates revealed major holes. I realized that I needed to concentrate on sub-plots and figure those out before I returned to the main plot. I focused on the villain as the hero of his own story: why did he want revenge? I re-read articles about writing a revenge story and one comment struck me: “Killing him would be too easy.”

Of course! Revenge isn’t just about hurting or killing the person; it’s about making them suffer as the victim has suffered. I asked myself, “What would make my character hurt/suffer the most?” Of course, that is what I MUST make happen. Voila! A new plot twist grabbed me and I was off and running with the complications from that twist.

10 page outline. But still lots of plot holes.

Over the next few days, I’ll be looking at other subplots and milking them for all the conflict that I can. Will there be a romantic subplot? After an initial attraction, there needs to be deep reasons why they must stay apart. What reason is sitting there in my story already, just waiting for me to exploit it? It’s there. I just need an Aha! Moment to recognize it. I’m jumping all around, reading odd articles, re-reading the 10-page outline and looking for the right way to approach this.

I feel like I am being asked to carve a huge statue with a bobby pin.

I have at least three more subplots to work through and slot into the main plot. I’m sure there will still be plot holes then, but I expect there will be fewer.

Should I copy this process the next time I plot? No!
Each time, the writing process creates it’s own maze and demands a different path to story. I’m just trusting that the process will eventually spit out a viable story. I know that I’ll have to decide something about the audience and tone, and spend a while on characters and their back story. I know that some personal issues are likely to complicate the timing of the writing. I know I’ll make multiple starts before I really get going.

Don’t follow my writing process. It’s messy and ugly. Besides—it wouldn’t work for you. You must find your own way through the maze of words to find the story that only you can tell.

16 Sep

Serializing Fiction: Wattpad

I am going to be serializing my novel, VAGABONDS: An American Fantasy, on Wattpad for the next 50 days.

Why Wattpad

Wattpad is a social media platform for readers and writers. Writers post stories and readers comment.
That’s almost enough reason right there to be on Wattpad:it’s a place where readers and writers connect.

The latest statistics say that 16.9 million readers find time to read at least 30 minutes/visit on Wattpad. These are not casual, glance at your website and five seconds later, they click off. When a reader finds a story that interests them, they read. They engage. They comment and vote up. Some call this the “YouTube of Writing.” Popular titles can have over 10M reads and more than 10,000 comments. WOW!

Science fiction, YA, and Fantasy. Over 20 genres are represented on Wattpad, but the most popular categories are science fiction, YA, and fantasy. VAGABONDS definitely fits the popular genre of fantasy, and should have appeal to teen readers. I describe it as a “Watership Down with armadillos.”

The platform provides statistics on how many people read each chapter. In other words, if you have a 50 chapter book and you lose readers after chapter 23–you have valuable feedback on when and where you went askew in your story.

2014 has been a year of experimentation for me. I’ve tried multiple ways to connect my books with the right readers and this seems like a reasonable thing to try. I’ll report in November how the month went. In the meantime–go to Wattpad and read the six chapters. Vote it up!

15 Sep

Short Story Anthology: Fiction River Universe Between

I am excited to report that I have my first science fiction, adult-audience, short story published!

Last year, I attended a retreat in Oregon with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch as the main instructors. They own WMG Publishing, and one on-going project is a monthly short-story anthology. I was invited to submit, it was accepted and is not in a bookstore near you! Fiction River #8: The Universe Between collects original stories by a wide range of authors. My favorite is the first story by Lee Allred, who writes scripts for DC, Marvel, and Image Comics, among other credits. “Slow Answer” is about an alien race who takes over Earth, providing a near utopia for humans; the twist is WHY they’d taken over Earth, and the answer is why you should read this anthology.

My own story, “Are We Alone in the Universe?”, is also a science fiction story about first contact with an alien race. I wrote it as back story for the trilogy that I’m working on right now. The story is about the parents of my main character: how they met, how they fell in love, and the fallout of a forbidden love. I was thrilled when the story was accepted because it’s my first short story ever published, my first adult-audience story ever published, and my first science fiction story ever published. That triple-whammy makes it exciting.

FR8UniverseBetween

The Fiction River Anthology is available as an ebook, paperback, or Audible audiobook.

Support the Fiction River Anthology

Even more exciting today, though, is the Fiction River Kickstarter Project. To keep alive a short story collection publication, WMG Publishing established a Kickstarter, or crowd-funding, project. With 17/30 days left, they have already met their $5000 goal, AND their 10,000 Stretch Goal, and are going for gold.

Like many of the other Fiction River authors, I donated books for the Kickstarter project. I urge you to look over the project and think about contributing; even small contributions of $10 are welcome and helpful. However, if you’re really interested in helping, some of the rewards that involve my books are still available:

  • Pledge $60 or more
    E-UNIVERSE BETWEEN AUTHORS PACKAGE: Receive a one-year electronic subscription to Fiction River, plus an electronic edition of Fiction River: Universe Between. You’ll also get electronic copies of books by some of the contributing authors of Universe Between. You’ll receive The Unjust, Dust, and Hope by Rob Vagle; The Haunted Bones by Phaedra Weldon; Body Check by D.H. Hendrickson; Kell, the Alien (a children’s book) by Darcy Pattison; and Love, Venusian Style by Richard Alan Dickson. Plus, your name printed in the acknowledgements section of each Fiction River volume for a year and on the Fiction River website with a special thank you for your kind support. Limited (1 of 1 remaining)
  • Pledge $125 or more
    PRINT UNIVERSE BETWEEN AUTHORS PACKAGE: Receive a one-year print subscription to Fiction River, plus a print edition of Fiction River: Universe Between. You’ll also receive SIGNED print copies of books by some of the contributing authors to Universe Between. You’ll get Body Check by D.H. Hendrickson; Kell, the Alien (a children’s book) by Darcy Pattison; The Unjust, Dust, and Hope by Rob Vagle; and Love, Venusian Style by Richard Alan Dickson. Plus, your name printed in the acknowledgements section of each Fiction River volume for a year and on the Fiction River website with a special thank you for your kind support. Limited (1 of 1 remaining)
  • Pledge $500 or more
    PAPER BANG FOR YOUR BUCK PACKAGE: All the print volumes of Fiction River from Volume 1 through the end of year three! But wait, there’s more! In addition, you will receive a SIGNED print copy of a book from each of the following authors who have contributed a print book to this Kickstarter: Mary Jo Putney, Marcelle Dube´, JC Andrijeski, Laura Resnick, Annie Reed, Kris Nelscott, Leah Cutter, Dean Wesley Smith, M.L. Buchman, Juliet Nordeen, Michele Lang, Melissa Yi, Ryan M. Williams, Sharon Joss, Brian Herbert and Jan Herbert, Jeffrey A. Ballard, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Darcy Pattison, Lisa Silverthorne, Richard Alan Dickson, Brigid Collins, Karen L. Abrahamson, Thomas K. Carpenter, D.H. Hendrickson, Travis Heermann, Scott William Carter, Stephanie Writt, Joe Cron, Barton Grover Howe, Rebecca S.W. Bates, Richard Bowes, Louise Marley, Brendan DuBois, Ray Vukcevich, Carole Nelson Douglas, Julie Hyzy, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Kara Legend, John Helfers, Kerrie L. Hughes, Rob Vagle, Laura Ware, Patrick O’Sullivan, Dayle A. Dermatis, Kevin J. Anderson and David Farland. Plus, your name printed in the acknowledgements section of each Fiction River volume for a year and on the Fiction River website with a special thank you for your kind support. Limited (1 of 1 remaining)

Don’t think that big donations are the only way to go. Every level of support–even $1–is appreciated, and it’s helpful! Read more about the Fiction River Kickstarter Project.
READ the Fiction River Anthology — including my short story!

10 Sep

General to Specific: From One Sentence to a Plot

So, I have a general outline of my story but the writing still isn’t flowing. I realized that I need to break down major events into smaller sections, so I will know what to write.

I’ve gone through two stages of plotting or outlining, each one getting more specific. Here’s an example:

1. First, I stared with major plot points:
A volcano threatens to blow up, so Jake gets alien Rison technology to make it stop.

2. Second, I start to layout possible scenes.
At one point, he realizes he needs the alien technology, so he makes arrangements to get it. I wrote this: Later, at home, Jake contacts Mom, who gives him a contact on Rison who can ship him some technology and he orders what he needs to counter-attack the technology Cy used. Keeping up his volunteer work, Jake goes kayaking with Bobbie Fleming.

At this level, a scene may be summarized in a single sentence. However, it’s more helpful to break down both sentences further.

3. On the third pass, I’m looking to split up the action into several scenes, or at least flesh out the one scene a bit better.

Later, at home, Jake contacts Mom, who gives him a contact on Rison who can ship him some technology and he orders what he needs to counter-attack the technology Cy used. Conflict with Mom because he really wants to try swim team and she’s distracted b/c negotiations going so badly.
Keeping up his volunteer work, Jake goes kayaking with Bobbie Fleming. Bobbie Fleming, a harbor seal upsets Jake’s kayak. Of course, he has no problem with righting the canoe and getting back in and getting back to shore. But something nags at him, the waters feel more like home than the Gulf waters did. Something about being IN Puget Sound—there was something THERE. He had to find out what?

Plot is a way of examining story to see its underlying structure. Starting with a general idea and subdividing toward a specific plot often gives a writer the direction needed for the story to work.

Plot is a way of examining story to see its underlying structure. Starting with a general idea and subdividing toward a specific plot often gives a writer the direction needed for the story to work.

Snowflakes and Phases

Need a more structured approach to something similar? The Snowflake Method, by Randy Ingermanson is a very structured approach that starts with a single sentence, and then splits that into two sentences, the two into four sentences, etc. until the story takes shape. It’s a structured outlining process with built-in steps for developing characters. Randy has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, and his structured thinking shows in this method, which he’s turned into a software program and various books. If you need a very structured program, you may like the help you’ll get from the Snowflake Method.

Another option for approaching plot in a structured way is Lazette Gifford’s Phases system. You should read her original article about Phases here. She suggests that you write a numbered list of “phases” or short summaries of action. These can be scenes, transitions, thinking about what just happened and so on.

What I like here is the reference to the overall novel. Gifford suggests that you use MSWord’s auto-numbering feature to write phases for your novel.

For example, if you want to write 50,000 words, Gifford, in her free ebook, Nano for the New and Insane, breaks the 50,000 word length into phases:

  • 60 Phases in the outline — 834 words per phase — 2 phase sections per day
  • 120 Phases in the outline — 417 words
    per phase — 4 phase sections per day
  • 150 Phases in the outline — 334 words per
    phase — 5 phase sections per day
  • 300 Phases in the outline — 167 words
    per phase — 10 phase sections per day

In other words, I can start with 60 phases and in that space, I should have a synopsis of the the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Or, if you’d rather, think of it as Acts 1, 2, and 3. Act 1 and 3 get about 15 phases each, which leaves 30 for Act 2.

That is comforting to me. I ONLY have to decide on 15 scenes (or discrete units) for Act 1. Act 1 looms HUGE for me, but 15 scenes sounds easy.

Phases allows me to do an easy, early check on the plot, too. Each phases needs moments of high arousal: excitement, inspiration, awe, anger, humor, action, disgust or outrage. Across the phases, I can easily check on how a subplot fits into the overall structure and how the subplot progresses.

Sixty phases is something that’s easy to see and understand. Once those are set, I may try to increase to 120 words, breaking down the plot into more specific actions.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, this also makes the task of 50,000 words in one day much easier.

Another thing I like about the Phase method is that it’s easy to see progress. I’m all about numbers and keeping score. On 9/5, I started with 23 phases; today, I’m up to 49 phases. My goal is 60 phases by the end of the week. Then I’ll look at it further to see if I want to go for 120 or if the 60 will be good enough to write from.

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