Pick a Flavor: Three Ways to Plot Your Novel

Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng
Just as each of us lean toward a particular flavor of ice cream (or none at all), so it is with plotting our novels. You may just write freely, with no forethought, or develop pages of outlines. Today, we'll look at three ways to plot a novel. You just might hit on the perfect method.

Index Cards. The old standby is still going strong. This is probably the most popular method of plotting. Whether you use colored cards or plain white, they can be shifted around and added to until the plot is just right. I researched a few writers who do a great job of explaining how they plot with index cards.

Author and teacher Holly Lisle takes you step-by-step through Notecarding: Plotting Under Pressure. With her system, you don't even have to have an idea of what's going to happen in your story. Also from Holly Lisle: a Plot Mini-Course sent to you via email.
Author Marilyn Byerly uses index cards and a more character-driven approach to come up with a great plot. Once you know your characters well, inventing conflict for them is easy. Check out Using Index Cards to Plot a Novel.
Writer Phoebe A. Durand posts on A Guide to Creating Changeable Novel Outlines. If you have small children who like to shuffle your cards, or worry the wind will scatter them, don't worry. You can use the virtual index cards in the free trial of Scrivener, a great writing program. 

Sticky Notes. These little squares have a lot going for them. They're bright and colorful, and they won't get mixed up if a draft blows through. Here are a few ways to make use of them.

Author Sara Cypher uses sticky notes to plan around a plot arc and a theme at the same time. Her method is very visual, and I plan to try her How to Plot a Novel soon.
Farrah Rochon, with Novel Spaces, starts with making notes on "what has to happen" and "possible scenes". She then makes a poster with a story arc and uses different colors to keep track of characters. Check out the photos in How I Plot a Novel. 
And Holly Bodger has an ingenious method for keeping track of your main plot and your subplots, so you won't leave any loose threads in Creating a Plot Graph for Your Novel

Virtual Plotting. Besides the virtual index cards in the Scrivener Software, there are several programs that allow writers to visually map all their ideas for plot and character right on the computer. This is perfect for writers without a lot of space to spread out, or who want to carry their ideas along with them.

Author Simon Haynes uses FreeMind software (a free download) to plan his novels. Using screenshots, he takes you through the steps he uses to plot his novel.
John Barnett makes also uses FreeMind software , and has created a YouTube video to take writers step-by-step through his plotting method. 
Or, you can try outlining like author Janet Evanovich, who describes her method as "the easy way".

If you need a few more tips, especially for NaNoWriMo, check out Jennifer Blanchard's Tools to Help You Plot Your NaNoWriMo Novel. Great info.

You might also be interested in free resources from the Plot Whisperer, a free course in 20 Master Plots, or free plot tools from Save the Cat. And a popular method for NaNoWriMo's is Rubik's Cube Plotting in 9 Easy Steps.

So how do you plot your novel? Let us know in the comments.

The Power of Memoir: how it can enrich your novel

Photos by Howard Lau
Last night I had the wonderful experience of watching three of my children perform in the musical, The King and I. My daughter Emily, played the part of Anna Leonowens, an English schoolteacher hired by the king of Siam in the mid-1800s.

In preparation for the role, Emily read Leonowen's book, Memoirs of an English Governess at the Siamese Court (which happens to be free on Kindle). While Leonowens is sometimes criticized for her seemingly patronizing view of a foreign culture, her writings reminded me of how powerful memoir can be.

One of my sons is the guard on the right.
Imagine your memoir was used as the basis of a novel, then a Broadway play, then a film version, a television series, a second movie, and an animated version! Most of these range quite far from Leonowen's actual experience, but her adventures as a lone woman in a foreign country are still the foundation.

What have you experienced that might inspire others? If writers are to "write what they know", we have to examine those moments we've lived that could be enlightening to readers. Even if you don't think you have the kind of life that would make a good memoir, the events of your life can make your fiction deeper and more meaningful. Leonowens herself wrote two novels based on her experiences in Thailand, The Favorite of the Harem, and The Romance of the Harem.

Consider journaling memories from different periods of your life. Even if you don't publish them, the ideas you generate just might find their way into your novels. Here are some resources to get you started:

Emily as Anna with her son, Louis.
My earlier post listing resources for how to write a memoir.

From Oprah's website: how to write your own memoir.

Links to lots of memoir resources from Creative Writing Now.

Is your motivation to get revenge? Read Jane Friedman's advice.

Have you ever used personal experiences to enrich your fiction?

21st Century Inspiration from Donald Maass

As promised here are some highlights of Donald Maass' keynote speech from the 2012 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. This is what agent Weronika Janczuk tweeted after his talk:
Maass gave three predicitons for 21st century fiction:

1. Selling books will be harder, but once you have an audience, selling will be easier. Online sales are harder because you can't see the physical product.

Maass believes there are only two main factors in pre-purchase awareness: in-store displays and word of mouth. You're probably saying, "But what about the internet? Social media?" Maass shared the statistics, and part of the least helpful kinds of marketing included social networks, print newspaper ads, publisher emails, book blogs, reviews, and even bestseller lists.

He said if you walk into a bookstore, just strolling one aisle will expose you to far more books than a chunk of time browsing on Amazon.

2. The whole concept of genre is dying. Ignore genre boundaries. Make your own sub-genre. Don't put yourself in a box. He gave examples of novels that do this already and do it successfully. It makes me realize it's up to writers to find the stories that straddle genres and entice readers.

3. There will be novels that change the world. Maass spoke of his recently adopted son, who is just starting to read. He wondered which books (yet to be written) will affect his son's life. Who will write these books for him?

Maass ended with a fantastic line:
Selling books may be harder, but selling great books has always been easy.

What do you think of Maass' predictions?

Writing Conference Recap

Well. I'm home from the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Four full days of workshops, learning, and volunteering has left me a little on the tired side. But I wanted to give you an idea of how wonderful conferences can be. I'll be writing some future posts about the amazing things I've learned. Here are a few highlights from each day.

Thursday was spent in an eight-hour workshop with agent Donald Maass. He taught from material that will be included in his forthcoming book Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling in Modern Fiction. Each of us wrote as fast as we could, trying to record both his questions to consider for our stories, and making notes for changes to our manuscripts. Suffice it to say, I'll be buying the book.

I ducked out of the end of the workshop to make a trip to the airport, where I picked up agent Amanda Luedecke and Berkeley editor Leis Pederson. I had fun taking them on a quick tour of the beautiful Garden of the Gods, and then to dinner afterwards.

Friday started off bright and early with two amazing workshops by fantasy author Carol Berg, who gave great tips for revising a manuscript. After lunch with Titan editor Steve Saffel, it was on to a workshop where Amanda Luedecke listened to our first pages and offered fantastic feedback. I attended an agent panel consisting of Luedecke, Rachelle Gardner, Paige Wheeler, Taylor Martindale, Evan Gregory, Weronicka Janczuk, and Kristin Nelson. I learned so much from the Q&A. Following that, I volunteered in the Green Room, where faculty take a break between sessions.

Dinner on Friday was really interesting. It was a costume party, and my daughter and I had forgotten to bring our outfits. We'd heard that non-participants might be forced to dress in togas, so Katie bought us each something to wear. For me, she selected a little tutu, which I wore over my clothes. Not too embarrassing, I thought, until I sat down next to Donald Maass! Yes, I ate dinner with him while wearing a tutu. We had a wonderful time, conversing about the sad Pulitzer news, and he was so gracious to offer Katie an opportunity to apply for an internship at his agency.

Saturday was pitch day for me. I was thrilled to have Kristin Nelson's first pitch of the day, partly so she wouldn't be tired, and I wouldn't have to be nervous the whole day. The pitches are on the seventh floor, and (wouldn't you know?) every elevator stopped working at the exact moment I needed to use them. I ran up all seven flights (using up some of my nervous energy in the process) and was still panting when I began my pitch. Somehow, regardless of my likely wild-eyed expression, she said send it.

In other Saturday news, I learned about author branding, how to use screenplay techniques to make fiction better, and how to create memorable heroes, villains, & sidekicks. For lunch, I sat with SmashWords founder Mark Coker. Donald Maass gave the keynote speech, which was so inspiring, I'll have to do a separate post. Then it was off to take Legend author Marie Lu to the airport (and grill her about her experiences as a much-touted debut author). I came back to the hotel to help decorate the ballroom for the dinner that night.

Saturday night was the awards dinner, where I received my certificate for placing in the Pikes Peak Writers Contest. The speaker that night was thriller writer Robert Crais (to whom I had committed a major faux pas, but he was gracious and only ribbed me about it the rest of the weekend). Mystery writer Jeffery Deaver tapped me on the shoulder to ask my daughter and I to solve a friendly argument he was having with someone. When I asked him how the conference was going, he mentioned he'd found a few minutes between sessions to write a few thousand words on his WIP. That's called being a writer.

Sunday came, and though weariness was setting in, I was so glad I didn't sleep in. Agent Weronika Janczuk gave a fantastic workshop on compactness in queries and first chapters. I'm using her tips already. Then I listened to urban fantasy author Karen Duvall speak about creating the best turning points and reversals in your plotting. I skipped the last session to help out in the ballroom again (like Katie and I had been doing before each meal). For the closing lunch, we sat with Carol Berg, who related to us her amazing story of starting writing at age 40 and becoming the prolific author she is. Romance author Susan Wiggs gave the final keynote. I especially loved this quote:

The only guaranteed way to fail is to quit.

Besides all the things you learn, writing conferences are an amazing way to be surrounded by people with the same passion as you, to get to know some of your literary heroes, and make great new friends. Of course, I'm partial to this one (Writer's Digest listed it as on of the top ten in the country), but any conference will do these things for you. Could I meet you there next year?

More on what to bring to a writing conference

Here's a round up of posts on being ready for your next writing conference. I'm a the Pikes Peak Writing Conference right now, so these are the things on my mind! I'll try to take good notes so I can share what I've learned.

Always Prepared: What to bring to a writing conference, Part 1  What I bring.

Always Prepared: What to Bring to a Writing Conference, Part 2 What other writers suggest.

Meeting Virtual Friends for Real The fun of meeting up with your online friends.

When an Agent Asks for Your Manuscript  Stop and think before you send.

Pinkies Up: Writing Conference Etiquette Manners matter.  

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Writing Conference Preparation

Tomorrow's the big day. The first day of the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference. Thankfully, I'm home today, and have a little time to get everything ready. I thought it might be a good idea to record what I do, so I won't forget something next time. And, it might give readers some additional thoughts on being ready for a conference.

Clothing. I live close enough to the conference so I can commute back and forth every day. If I were flying in, of course I'd have to pack ahead of time. But even though I don't have to do that, I'll at least decide what I'm wearing so I won't have to stress over what's ironed or not early in the morning. The biggest things will be comfortable shoes and layered clothing. Hotel conference rooms can range from icy to steamy, and it helps to be prepared.

Most conferences promote attendees wearing "business casual" attire. For the day I pitch to agent Kristin Nelson (Saturday morning), I'll go more for a business outfit. Thursday evening, after I pick up Amanda Luedecke and Leis Pederson at the airport, I'll take them to dinner, but I'll just stick with what I wore to the Donald Maass workshop all day.

Stuff. What I'll leave home: my laptop (it's heavy to lug around, and most conference rooms don't have easily accessible outlets--or they're already in use), and my manuscript (agents an editors do not want a hard copy, and it identifies you as a novice).

What I'll bring: business cards (always stick a few in the pocket of your nametag for easy access), copies of my manuscript's first page (for a workshop), and a master list of where I'm going when. I'm volunteering in a lot of different capacities, so I need to know where to be. I'll also bring printed workshop handouts. The PPW sends them electronically ahead of time to save paper.

Homefront. With a competent husband and four kids aged 15-20, my family will survive without me for the four days of the conference (and my oldest daughter will be there with me). But to help them out, I've planned out some easy meals for them to tackle while I'm gone.

I'll also get my blog post for Friday scheduled, so I'll have one less thing to tackle. And I'll try to spend some time today practicing my pitch so it will roll off my tongue even if I'm nervous.

Volunteer. If you want to get to know people better and support a great cause, offer your services to the conference you plan to attend. No matter if you're a computer geek or a social butterfly, there's a way for you to use your talents.
~I'll be helping in the following areas:
~driving agents, editors, and authors to and from the airport
~decorating tables for the different meals
~setting up the bookstore
~monitoring the "Green Room", where speakers can take a break
~breaking down and cleaning up when everything is done
Sometime soon I'll do a post listing even more ways to help out at a writing conference.

What are some ways you prepare for a conference? I'll have more on this in Friday's post.

Q&A with . . . me!

I've never done one of these Q&A blog themes, but since I'm running around today between errands and doctor appointments, I thought I'd give it a try. I was tagged by the fabulous Evangeline Denmark, whose blog is my go-to resource for a guaranteed laugh. I'm thrilled I'll get to hang out with her at the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference this week!

1. Book or movie and why?

Always a book. I'm usually disappointed with a screen version. As a writer, I know I'd have a hard time leaving out my character's internal dialogue. And I'm a big proponent of stealing movie themes for use in novels.

2. Real book or e-book?

Both. On the road, the Kindle is better to carry and whip out when I have a few minutes. But I miss being able to easily flip back and forth in a novel.

3. Funniest thing you've done in the last 5 years?

Goodness. Probably going backpacking with a group of wild and crazy friends. Though while sitting in a waiting room, I just had the most fascinating conversation with Maxine, an 94-year-young woman born during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. She got the flu at 3 months of age--and survived. She says she's going for 110!

4. How would your best friend describe you?

Always writing. Always thinking about writing. Always talking about writing. (My kids get on my case about this. No matter what they say, I usually respond with something like, "That's a great idea for a story!"

5. Do you put yourself into the books you read/write or the movies you watch?

I put little things in my novels that may not mean much to others, but they make my books feel like my very own time capsule. For example, the donkey in my current historical fantasy brings back memories of trying (and failing, as a city girl) to ride my cousin's donkey bareback.

6. Favorite kind of car and why?

I'm not a huge car fan, so all I need is something to get me there and back.

7. Would your choice of party be a catered meal or barbecue out back?

Barbecue. Definitely. Though growing up in Brooklyn, New York, we didn't have a barbecue or an 'out back'!

8. What's your favorite season and why?

I love the fall. The colorful leaves are the best part. Though the leaves on the East Coast have more variety, the aspen trees here in the Rockies are breathtaking.

9. What specific lesson have you learned - Spiritual, educational, occupational?

It's never too late to embark on a new career. I've only been writing seriously for five years, and I never imagined I'd discover something I love so much at this season of life.

10. Besides writing, what's your favorite thing to do when you get some extra time?

Read. Bake. Hike, and hang out with my family and friends.

11. What's one place you can be found at least one time every week?

My church. The gym. One of my writing critique groups.

So here's a list of the new victims (and writers) to answer 11 Random Questions:

Stacy S. Jensen
Beth Vogt
Kenda Turner
Terri Forehand
Jess at Falling Leaflets
Janette Dolores
Jarm del Boccio
Leah Griffith
S.M. Carriere
Shelley Ring

Agent Friday: Amanda Luedecke

I haven't done an Agent Friday post in a while, mostly because I ran out of blogging agents. I was looking into Amanda Luedecke, a new agent with MacGregor Literary, since she'll be attending the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference next week, and I found she does have quite a few articles online. 

Luedecke represents literary fiction, YA, romance, women’s fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror, steampunk, African American fiction, middle grade fiction, nonfiction, and Christian non-fiction/fiction.

Here's a sampling of some of her posts:

Does an MFA matter?  Should you spend the money and time?

10 marks of a new writer Are you guilty of any of these? 

Social Media
Luedecke's surprising thoughts on authors using Twitter: who's doing well and who's missing the mark. Also check out How to Write a Great Tweet and Why Authors Should Be On Twitter.




And here's an interview on Chiseled in Rock, where Luedecke talks about the trends she's seeing in publishing, and what may be the next big thing.

How important is social media in your writing life?

How to Write Fight Scenes

Let's face it. Conflict abounds in the world. Whether your world is a faraway planet's moon, a medieval dungeon, or the coffee shop around the corner. And many conflicts escalate into fists and weapons. 

But you, the writer, might be the most peace-loving, conflict-avoiding, petal-tossing person around. You've never hefted a sword, pulled a trigger, or gripped a grenade. It's hard to write what you know, when you don't know much.

Last year at a writing conference I took a workshop where the instructor demonstrated a variety of fighting techniques. You might want to join some classes, if hands-on and visual learning is more helpful to you.

For the rest of us, in the interest of writing our fight scenes more realistically, here are some links I've gathered to help your conflict sound more convincing.

Award-winning fantasy author Jill Williamson has written several posts on this.

Writing the action/fight scene: 3 questions to ask yourself

And specific for fantasy writers: The Wizard's Duel: considerations for magical figthing

Writing.com points out the need to watch your sentence length during fight scenes.

Marilynn Byerly posted a comprehensive guide to fight scenes and how to map them out before writing.

To avoid repetition in fight scenes, FictionPress lays out a list of synonyms to use in fight scenes.

And Marg McAllister helps writers answer the question: Do your fight scenes pack a punch?

If you need more visuals, check out this YouTube video from Alan Baxter, a speculative fiction and thriller writer with 25 years experience as a martial arts instructor. A quick search on YouTube will bring up many more videos for all genres of writing.

How do you write fight scenes? Do you act them out yourself? Watch videos? Read written scenes?

How To Keep Track of the Business of Writing

Tax Day is almost here, at least in the U.S., but it has me thinking. The year is not too far gone to keep better track of my business for next year. It doesn't matter that I haven't made much in earnings, deductions count, too. So I decided to uncover the information I need to do it well.

First of all, over at Seekerville, they have a quick ten-question quiz on how you rate at treating your writing like a business. They follow it up with a gathering of links that will help you with tax questions.

Agent Rachelle Gardner wrote a post on Keeping Track of Things. She writes mainly to unpublished authors, and encourages writers to get in the record-keeping habit early on--even when you're not earning anything. Check her comments section for more ideas. Rachelle also shared some good information in The Tax Man Cometh and Writers and Taxes.

Does the thought of creating some kind of filing system have you breaking out in a sweat? Check out my post here, where I share a link to Julie Hood's website. You can download her free 30-page Writer's Planner, with all the printable forms you need.

For a personal financial binder to keep everything in, here's a great article on How To Create a Financial Binder.

Here's Chuch Sambuchino's post on Tax Tips for Writers.

If you're freelancing, or doing research or other tasks by the clock, it may be helpful for you to be able to document the time you've spent. Or maybe you novelists just want to know how long your manuscript is taking you to write. Download the free Klok Program--a personal time-tracking program.

How do you keep track of expenses and income for your writing?

Deadline vs. Freedom: Becoming a writing professional

I'm finishing the last chapters of my novel, and I've given myself a deadline. It's far different from the days when I meandered through the week, writing when and if I felt like it. I was always surprised at how little I accomplished. The idea of actually getting published and then having a deadline for the next book was scary. Scary enough to make me question if I had what it took to be a writer.

I just received my May/June copy of Writer's Digest in the mail. My favorite column is Breaking In, where three debut novelists are interviewed. This month, I was intrigued by what Anne Lyle, author of The Alchemist of Souls said.

When asked what she learned, Lyle says, "The change of gears from working at my own pace--even on a self-imposed deadline--to working to order. I went into this three-book deal with only one book finished, which means I have to be highly disciplined and write whether I feel like it or not." If she could do it again, Lyle would have started seriously writing much sooner.

Great advice. And to keep myself disciplined, I've been reviewing some advice meant to keep my nose to the grindstone. Like these:

Kenda Turner's Aim, Shoot, Bull's-eye

Timothy Hallinan's free Finish Your Novel course

In the same Writer's Digest issue, author Lisa See mentions her mother's practice of writing one thousand words every day before doing anything else (her mom is author Carolyn See, who wrote Making a Literary Life).

So what do you do to make yourself write on a regular basis? Is it a schedule? Having others hold you accountable? Or do you have another secret you're willing to share?

Getting ready to pitch your book? Check this out first.

In my email this morning was a confirmation that in two weeks I'll be pitching my book to agent Kristin Nelson. Besides polishing my manuscript, I'll be practicing my pitch. So I went back to this post on Pitch University for some pointers. Maybe you're preparing to pitch, too. Check out what they have to offer.

I'm surprised I hadn't come across Pitch University in my internet browsing. What a wealth of information! Even if you're not ready to pitch right now, you're probably ready to learn. And the folks at Pitch University have worked incredibly hard to provide you the tools you need.

The amount of articles, videos, and audios is amazing. Start at the home page, and scroll down to New to Pitch U? You'll want to do some browsing on the site to get familiar with all they offer.

Begun by Diane Holmes, Pitch University is a safe and comfortable place for writers--no matter how hesitant or shy--to learn to verbalize their story. Holmes grew up in a family of salesmen, and even majored in marketing, but she confesses, "I suck at pitching." Makes you feel better, huh?

One of the events at Pitch University is a monthly "PitchFest". The organizers host an agent or editor who is currently looking for books. Participants are encouraged to pitch to the professional, via query letter, audio, or video.

Among the many offerings at Pitch University are:

The Pitch U Writers Manifesto (which will ease your mind)

The free Monthly Pitch newsletter (signing up gets you the free bonus "10 Reasons You Suck at Pitching Your Book")

Do you feel comfortable with your pitch? Have you pitched in the past? How did it go?

Got Ten Minutes? Apply for a $1000 Grant

Don't you wish someone would come along, believe in your idea, and write a check to help make it a reality? Well, check out The Awesome Foundation. Every month, the organization gives out one thousand dollar grants, with no strings attached.

I heard about the group through the amazing C. Hope Clark, who regularly blogs and tweets opportunities for writers. Definitely follow her at @hopeclark. If someone gave you $1000, how would it help you further your publishing dreams?

Here's how The Awesome Foundation works: members of The Awesome Foundation form chapters, with each member committing to donate $100 per month toward grants. Depending on its size, clubs might offer one grant a month, or more. Clubs gather to read through the pool of applicants and vote to select the recipient. Some clubs interview applicants, some don't.

The online application will take only about ten minutes. You give a brief description of your project and what you'd use the money for. That's it.

Check out the frequently asked questions if you want to understand more about how it works, or scroll through the Awesome blog to see who chapters have given grants to recently.

Do you think you might apply? What would you do with a thousand dollars for your project?


Related Posts with Thumbnails