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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What are your writing goals for 2014?

It's the 29th of January.
Have you set any writing goals for 2014?

I'm not big on New Years Resolutions because usually by the time I get to this point in January, I've already lost my drive and my resolutions are falling by the wayside. Only a month in and already I'm feeling defeated, but not this year!

In fact, not for the past couple of years, because instead of setting New Years Resolutions, I spend the time between Christmas and New Years seeking God for vision and guidance for the coming year. Once I have His perspective on the near future, I can set some attainable goals and map out a path to get me there.

One area in which I set goals is with my writing. I understand that it's a gift God has given me - the ability to communicate, encourage and entertain while underscoring God's truths. I know that I want to be a good steward of everything He's given me, so being intentional with my writing honors Him.

Here are some tips on goal setting...

  1. Pray first - it's pointless to set goals without first asking God for His guidance. After all, you don't want to try to go somewhere that God is not leading. Ask him about direction for your writing; fiction, non-fiction, devotionals, short stories, novels, poetry, etc.
  2. Set realistic goals - leaving room for God do do more than you can think or imagine.  We don't want to limit God.
  3. Map out a plan - step-by-step, specific mini goals that will lead you to the completion of your big goal.
  4. Be consistent - work those steps to your goal, press on, steady on the path that leads to success, continuing to pray as you go.
  5. Celebrate - each mini goal reached is cause for celebration, a time of rejoicing with the Lord that He is leading in the direction He wants you to go, to bring Him glory.
 So, how about you?
Have you set any writing goals for 2014?

We'd love to hear about them.
Leave a comment and share your 2014 writing goals.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Part 5 - Endings That Spark Beginnings by CS Lakin

Today's post is the last in a 5 part series of articles by C.S. Lakin, our guest speaker for the upcoming CWOW Annual Writer's Workshop on January 25th, 2014. We hope you enjoy these invaluable tips.  If you want to hear more from C.S. Lakin on building your novels, scene by scene, pop over and register for the workshop and be sure to drop by C.S. Lakin's blog to learn more about this great writer!  

Endings That Spark Beginnings

I covered scene beginnings and middles over the last few weeks, so let’s look at endings. Just like beginnings, endings carry a special burden. The reader must be left with a feeling, like an aftertaste. So you need to stop and think. Just what feeling do you want the reader to have? Shock, sadness, warmth, confusion, curiosity? You want to keep in mind that the basic storytelling structure for a novel is action—reaction—action—reaction. Too many scenes end with a character experiencing something and then . . . it ends. We need to see how the character reacts to what has just happened. You don’t have to do this every time, and in some genres where plot is king (suspense/thrillers), you may often end with the building exploding and you have no idea if your character just died. But as a general rule, you want to be with your character and see their reaction, feeling, or response—even if just told in one line—to what has just happened.

Endings Need to Feel Like Endings

A scene ending needs to feel just like that—an ending. There must be a sense of completion, even if the reader is left hanging. I’m not sure how to explain that, but even if the POV character is left confused in the middle of something, the scene itself has to have a feeling of completeness in that the scene wholly accomplished its objective—leading you from one place to another, from one moment to another. The ending must leave the reader with a sense of anticipation and a desire to read on. Each ending, in essence, should spark a new beginning. That’s accomplished by giving the reader a piece of new plot information, presenting another clue, or revealing something moving or fascinating about the character. Again, moments don’t need to be big. They are powerful and impacting if they contain meaning for your character.

Two Types of Endings

There are basically two types of endings—plot endings and character endings. Plot endings might be cliffhangers or contain a new plot twist or reveal a clue. A character ending is more about insight. The reader now knows something more about your character, or you may have the character thinking about what just happened, or you may have some poignant dialog (even one line) or description (motif or metaphor) that your character ponders. Think about zooming in like a camera to your character’s thoughts and feelings. Or maybe zoom out to show a larger understanding your character now has for her life or her world. Moments of insight make for powerful endings.
This week, take a look at your scene endings and see if they wrap up the scene like the ending of a good book. If they just stop abruptly, think how you can create either a plot revelation or a character insight to end smoothly and leave the reader wanting more.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Part 4 - Muddle the Middle of Your Scenes by CS Lakin

Today's post is Part 4 in a 5 part series of articles by C.S. Lakin, our guest speaker for the upcoming CWOW Annual Writer's Workshop on January 25th, 2014. We hope you enjoy these invaluable tips.  If you want to hear more from C.S. Lakin on building your novels, scene by scene, pop over and register for the workshop and be sure to drop by C.S. Lakin's blog to learn more about this great writer! 

Muddle the Middle of Your Scenes

I went into detail about scene beginnings last week, and I’ll be spending a bit more time on scene structure since it’s so crucial and so often ignored. I talked about how scenes are mini novels and must have a beginning, middle, and end, and how each scene is like a promise to your reader that you are going to deliver something. And what you are going to deliver is revealed in the high moment near the end of the scene.


Just as middle scenes of a novel can slog along and sag, so too middles of a scene can drag or not go anywhere. Knowing your high moment will really help avoid that. One good way to have compelling middles is to work backward from your high moment. If you know, for example, that Mary thinks George has taken her out to dinner to propose, but the high moment reveals he’s breaking up with her, you can picture that instant of her being stunned and think how she is going to feel just before that. You want your character to change in some small way by the end of the scene, and so think how Mary feels ten, twenty, or thirty minutes before this shocking moment. How is she going to be feeling twenty minutes after? So you want to start the scene with her expectations and in the middle of action—either already at the restaurant or pretty close to being there. In your middle, you don’t want to spend a lot of time (or maybe even any time) driving there or getting your character from any one place to another. Don’t drag the middle by stretching time (unless you want to).

Complicate, Exacerbate

Middles of novels are where you up the stakes, complicate and confound your character, make things worse. You might add danger or reveal a surprise twist. A middle is the unveiling of the storyline. So in each scene, as you build to your moment, you want to do the same. Add complications, obstacles, twists. Maybe Mary’s car doesn’t start and she’s late meeting George at the restaurant, which adds to her anxiety. Maybe Mary gets a phone call right before she leaves that complicates the subplot regarding her friend who’s going through a divorce. That can enrich the scene as Mary thinks how lucky she is to have George and how he’s going to propose to her in a few minutes. If you are going to throw a twist into your scene, such as George breaking up with Mary instead of proposing to her, you can use the middle to set up Mary’s expectations of one outcome, only to have a reversal at the high point. Reversals are terrific, and if you put in at least three things leading up to them that indicate the opposite outcome, they will be powerful.

This week, take a look at not just your first scene’s middle but those of random scenes in your novel. Find the high points and see if you have developed the middle so that it is leading to that moment and complicating things. See if you can add in expectations that imply the opposite outcome. If your character expects something bad to happen, have three things in the middle that imply her instincts will prove right. Then when that bad thing doesn’t happen, it will pack a punch.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Part 3 - Don’t Go Nowhere Fast by CS Lakin

Today's post is Part 3 in a 5 part series of articles by C.S. Lakin, our guest speaker for the upcoming CWOW Annual Writer's Workshop on January 25th, 2014. We hope you enjoy these invaluable tips.  If you want to hear more from C.S. Lakin on building your novels, scene by scene, pop over and register for the workshop and be sure to drop by C.S. Lakin's blog to learn more about this great writer!

Part 3 - Don’t Go Nowhere Fast by CS Lakin

Scenes must have a point to them or they shouldn’t be in your novel. I’ll repeat that. Scenes must have a point to them or they shouldn’t be in your novel. I discussed in last week’s post the need to find your “moment” and build to it, and the first scene really needs a kicker of a moment to hook the reader. Too many scenes are poorly structured, but there’s really an easy way to look at them.

Each Scene Is a Mini Novel
There it is—the basic structure. If you think about each scene as a mini novel, you can plan them out accordingly. Each scene, like a novel, needs a beginning, middle, and end. A scene needs to have a point. It needs to build to a high moment, and then resolve in some way (although with a scene, you can leave the reader hanging. Okay, a lot of writers do this at the end of their novels too, to make you run out and buy the next installment, but I find that a bit annoying. I want a novel to end satisfactorily and wrap up the story). What you then have with your novel is a string of mini novels that all work as nice, tidy capsules put together to paint a big picture.

Going Nowhere Fast
Here’s what literary agent Donald Maass says: “You would be surprised in how many middle scenes in how many manuscripts there seems to be no particular reason for a character to go somewhere, see someone, learn something, or avoid something.” (And at his week-long workshop he really grumbled about the plethora of scenes where two people are sitting around drinking tea.) You don’t want this to happen in your novel.

The Burden of the Beginning
Scene beginnings have a tremendous burden. In every opening paragraph of every scene you present to you reader you are making a promise or offering an invitation. You are promising to deliver—to entertain, impart enthralling information, move them emotionally. They have bought (or free-downloaded or borrowed) your book out of the hundreds of thousands of other novels available and are devoting their precious hours to reading your novel, so they are expecting that commitment on their part to pay off. If you open a scene with a promise to deliver and you fail to deliver, they are not going to be happy. Avid fans of a particular author may stick with a boring scene, and maybe read even all the way to the end in hopes the novel will pull through and come out shining. But most readers are not that gracious and forgiving. So you want to make sure that you deliver. Here are a few points about scene beginnings:
  • They don’t have to start at a “beginning,” such as the start of a day (too many characters waking up when the alarm clock goes off). The beginning can and often should be in the middle of something already happening.
  • They need a hook. Not just your opening scene but every scene needs a hook to draw the reader in, chapter after chapter. If you start off with boring narrative, you’re not going to hook them.
  • Each scene launch is a reintroduction. Ask—where did I last leave those characters and what were they doing? You need to make the passing of time clear, and if it’s been a few scenes since we’ve seen those characters, you’ll need a bit of a reminder in the beginning of the scene to connect to that last moment.
  • Just as with the first scene in your novel, you want to get your POV character into the scene ASAP (and in real time). The points that apply to your book’s opening scene mostly apply to every scene.
  • Start an action without explaining anything.
  • Give a nod to setting (a nod, not a treatise).
Next week I’ll go into middles and endings of scenes.

 This week, choose a random scene in your WIP (work in progress) and check to see if you have all you need in your opening paragraphs as noted above. If you are missing some things, put them in. If you need to rework the entire scene so you can have a terrific beginning, then do that. And don’t forget to keep the “moment” in mind so you will build up to it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Part 2 - Creating “Moments” So You Don’t Bore Your Reader by CS Lakin

C.S. Lakin, our guest speaker for the upcoming CWOW Annual Writer's Workshop on January 25th, 2014 has given us permission to repost some articles from her blog. This is part 2 in her 5 post series. Look for new posts on Mondays, Wednesday's and Fridays and be sure to drop by C.S. Lakin's blog for more great writing tips!

Creating “Moments” So You Don’t Bore Your Reader 

We’re looking at scenes right now, and in my last post I talked about creating each scene so that it’s an encapsulated moment for your character that plays out in real time and reveals something significant.
It’s All about the Moment
Actress Rosalind Russell was asked: “What distinguishes a great movie?” She answered, “Moments.” And that’s so true for scenes. We remember great scenes because they contain a great moment in them. Often that moment is not something huge and explosive. On the contrary—the best moments are the very subtle ones in which the character learns or realizes something that may appear small to the outside world but is giant in scope to the character.
No doubt you can think of great movie moments, such as in Casablanca (too many in there to list!) when Ilsa tells Sam to “play it again.” Or when Scout meets Boo in To Kill a Mockingbird. Or in City Slickers when Billy Crystal’s character is holding up his finger to indicate the meaning of life. One of my favorite moments is in Babe, when Farmer Hoggett at the end of the sheep trials looks at Babe and says, “That’ll do, pig.” Of course, these moments have been set up so when they play out they’re powerful, but you want to think how in every scene you must have some moment. This is what you’re building to—either some revelation of plot or of character.

Just Why Is Your Character There?
So maybe you’ve put together this first scene. Just why is your character there? What’s her reason or need to be in that place, that moment? What do you plan to reveal in that scene that is significant and important? These questions are especially important to consider when constructing your first scene because, as you now understand, you have to set up the visible goal and the MDQ for the entire book. So you need to pick a moment that will do this the best way. Too often the first few scenes of a novel aren’t doing this. The protagonist is off doing something, talking to someone, and nothing is really happening—at least nothing significant. There are no high moments and no natural sense of conclusion to those scenes. Writers may feel this is the way to show the “everyman” character in his ordinary world, but as I discussed in early posts, that is just plain boring. In next week’s post I’ll go more into scene structure.

This week, spend some time thinking of a situation that can launch your protagonist headfirst into his story, and focus on the moment that you want to build to. If you already have a first scene written, examine it to see if it’s really working. If you’re not sure, think of three other possible settings and/or situations you can place your character in that might help intensify the moment you need to effectively detonate your novel. Make sure it’s a terrific one, because, as you’ve learned, many agents and editors won’t read past the first few paragraphs.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Defining of a Scene by C.S. Lakin

C.S. Lakin, our guest speaker for the upcoming CWOW Annual Writer's Workshop on January 25th, 2014 has given us permission to repost some articles from her blog. Here is the first in a 5 post series. Look for new posts on Mondays, Wednesday's and Fridays and be sure to drop by C.S. Lakin's blog for more great writing tips!

The Defining of a Scene

While we’re on this multi-monthlong discussion of all the essential elements needed in your first few pages, I want to take a little break to insert some thoughts about scene structure. I can attest that the biggest flaw I see in the manuscripts that I critique and edit is poor scene structure. I don’t think many writers have fully explored the topic to the extent that they plan out a scene with enough understanding and craft tools to be able to really make each scene the most powerful and effective that it can be. Often scenes seem to be thrown together, starting in a place and in a manner that really doesn’t work. And so, since each scene is like a mini novel (or should be), I want to talk a bit about them, and particularly about scene beginnings, since they parallel your novel beginning in many ways.

How Would You Define a Scene?
If someone asked you to define what a scene is, what would you say? If you think about it, it’s not easy to define. We tend to know when a scene works and when it doesn’t. Here are some elements that make up a scene that I’ve found in books on scene writing:
  • The sum of myriad elements that work together [hmm, that’s a bit vague]
  • It starts and ends with a character arriving and leaving [sometimes, but not often]
  • It can be a single location with many people coming and going
  • It gives the sensation that a character is “trapped” in this moment and must go through it
I’m not all that ecstatic about these points. They don’t really tell what a scene is. I mentioned in an earlier post that I like how Jordan Rosenfeld defines a scene in her book Make a Scene: “Scenes are capsules in which compelling characters undertake significant actions in a vivid and memorable way that allows the events to feel as though they are happening in real time.”

What Is Real Time?
Well, it’s not back story. I already gave my lengthy post about leaving back story out of your story, so let’s focus on this concept of “real time.” Too many manuscripts start off with either pages of narrative to set up the book or start with maybe a catchy (or not) first paragraph or two that puts the protagonist right in a scene in real time—meaning they are experiencing something that, for them, is happening right then. Not a memory, not a flashback, not even them thinking about what is happening to them right now. But after these short moments of establishing the character in a “happening” scene, the author lapses into telling the reader important things they should know [read: back story]. Even if you are going to go heavily into your character’s head, you need that character to be doing it “here and now” in some sort of “capsule” (as Rosenfeld says) that is unfolding in the moment. It’s not all that complicated, but writers really need to resist the urge to stop the moment or veer off elsewhere.
Be Here Now
So, if you’ve pulled on your reins and disciplined yourself to construct that opening scene with your protagonist in a moment in real time, you now have the structure to show that character undertaking significant actions in a vivid and memorable way. By now you have your themes and MDQs all worked out, and you’ve figured out how to hint at these, along with showing your character’s glimpse of greatness and core need. You’ve set up their persona that they show to the world, and you’ve hinted at their true essence underneath.
Are you starting to feel a bit overwhelmed? You just might be. Not a whole lot of authors can whip up a first scene intuitively and off the cuff that contains every little element needed. And that’s why first page checklist  is really helpful. Once you rough in that first scene, go through and make sure you’ve got all the bases covered. Which begs the question . . .

Just How Long Should a Scene Be?
I’ve actually read articles and book chapters that suggest certain numbers of pages, and it’s not that formulaic. Genre can be a factor, since a fast-action thriller may have short, terse chapters whereas a thoughtful literary work may have long ones. The real answer, which may not be so helpful, is that a scene should be as long as it needs to be (the same is true for a novel’s length). You determine the length of the scene by writing it and making sure it reaches its objective. And once it’s done that, it should end. And next week I’ll go more into that “objective,” because it is the key point to constructing scenes.
This week, look at some great scenes in your favorite novels. Jot down how the scene opens, how long it is, where it ends, and note if the character is in an encapsulated moment that unfolds in real time and that reveals something significant. Great scenes will do just that. Feel free to share in the comments!