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TESTIMONIALS

Your feedback is extremely valuable to me and has enriched my story so much – James

It was great using the pictures to create characters – Ashlee

I enjoyed asking my character questions and finding out more about them – Bill

Tuesday Writing Tip – Who Needs Subplots?

Sub plots add interest and depth, but they can’t be allowed to overpower the main story

Spider webI have been working through the maze of my current work in progress, trying to discover the reasons why it almost works, but not quite.

One of the problems I’ve identified is subplot. One of my subplots has grown so big that it’s taking over the story. The other thing I’ve realised is that one of the characters in the subplot (even though he’s dead), doesn’t actually need to be there – he just complicates things – and not in a good way.

When you look at a spider web, you’ll see that there are some threads that seem to hold the whole thing together. They interconnect with and support the more delicate threads – that’s kind of how a subplot works. It has to be strong and relate to other threads, but it’s usually the same size and thickness as the others – at looks like it belongs.

Another thing with my subplot is that I had just used it as a device to explain things about my main characters. It wasn’t actually essential to the story. While it explained a lot about certain characters, it didn’t actually add anything to their story – in fact, it distracts the reader from what the book is really about.

The other thing about this subplot – and one of the reasons why it seemed to take over the story was that it stood out – it didn’t link to other subplots – it didn’t connect to or have a place in the web of my story.

Not only that, but the subplot had a strong theme that was equal in weight to the actual plot – so in fact it wasn’t a subplot, but a plot for another story. My main theme involved drug addiction. My sub plot involved a child being interfered with by a family member – both strong themes – but not ones that really belong in the same book.

So here’s what I’ve learned about sub plots:

  1. A sub plot has to be essential to the story
  2. A sub plot can’t be too overpowering and take over the story
  3. A sub plot should connect with other sub plots
  4. A sub plot shouldn’t be used as a device – it should be essential to your story
  5. Characters in a sub plot should be essential to your story
  6. The sub plot must affect the outcome of your main plot – it must help drive the story
  7. Too many sub plots can confuse the reader and weaken the impact of the main story

Have you ever had a subplot that’s tried to take over your story? What did you do about it? Feel free to share your tips and experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and apologies to any arachnophobics, but I do think stories plots are like a web – don’t you?

Dee

Tuesday Writing Tip – How to Mind Map Your Story

Do you have trouble with story structure…knowing what to include in your story…coming up with ideas?

Before I start my story I usually have an idea of what it’s going to be about…eg with Letters to Leonardo I had an idea for a story about a boy who gets a letter from his ‘dead’ mother.

After I have the concept or basic premise for a story, the next thing I do is brainstorm and mind map it. This helps me work out what happens in the story and when it happens. It also helps me identify themes and story threads that can form the basis of sub plots and be used to add depth and tension to the story.

Here’s a diagram of how I mind-mapped Letters to Leonardo.

HOW TO MIND MAP YOUR STORY

1.            Think of a character. To find out more about them, you can do a character interview (Help on how to do this is available at the character interview recipe) This will also help you develop the back story. You might not end up using the back story, but what has happened to your character in the past will affect how they behave in the future.

2.            Once you know this character, think of a story problem for them. What is something they want or need, but can’t get? What has happened to them to create this immediate need or want? For example, in my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo, Matt gets a letter on his fifteenth birthday from the mother he thought was dead. What is the catalyst – the even that starts your story off.

3.            Write this is a circle in the middle of a large sheet of blank paper or a whiteboard.

4.            Based on the event that started your story, ask yourself a lot of questions:

  • What exactly happened?
  • How did this event happen?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Who did it happen to?
  • Why did it happen?
  • When did it happen to?
  • What if things had happened differently?
  • What will happen next?

(You can see in the diagram where I have asked these questions when mind-mapping Letters to Leonardo.)

5.            Let your mind flow free and offer up different answers to the questions you asked in “4.”

Write down whatever ideas come into your head.

This activity is all about thoughts and inspirations and possible plot points.  (These are the things I have written in green on my mind map).

6.            Select the parts/elements from your mind map that you want to include in your story. These will be the catalysts for the action in your story – the plot points.

I hope you have found this post helpful.

Do you have any tips on brainstorming/mindmapping your story? Please feel free to leave them and your comments.

Happy writing and brainstorming:)

Dee

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – MAKING A SCENE

At the moment, I’m deeply immersed in my YA thriller trilogy, The Chat Room. I have written the first draft of the first book, The Secret Life of Mindy Palmer and a rough outline for Book 2, In Too Deep and Book 3, Beyond Truth.

What I’ve realised recently is that I need to know exactly what’s happening in Books 2 and 3 so that I can drop the appropriate clues and foreshadowing into Book 1. It’s not enough to have a rough outline for each book, I have to know what’s happening in each scene.

A scene is basically a piece of conflict, a snapshot of an event that impacts the character’s life and consequently, their story. It has to either move the character towards their overall goal or demonstrate how that goal has changed.
As the book progresses , the scenes should show increased conflict for the main character – this is what is meant by ‘raising the stakes’.

SORTING THROUGH THE SCENES

So what I’m doing now is going back and doing a scene by scene breakdown for each of the three books and here are the steps I’m following to try and create a trilogy with continuity, rising tension, high stakes and well placed clues.

1.    I have written each scene on a separate system card.

2.    I have written the scenes for each book in a different coloured pen to differentiate them from each other

3.    I have laid all the scenes out on the dining table so that I can follow the progress of each book and monitor tension, slow spots and where I need to put in more clues and foreshadowing, or perhaps another twist or alternative point of view.

4.    I have looked at the scenes in each individual book to make sure they are active, appear in a logical sequence and have rising tension.

5.    I have organised the scene cards in sequence for each book so that I can look at the overall shape of the plot (the plot arc).

MY SCENE CHECKLIST

These are the things I look for in my scenes and they form the basis of the summary I write on each scene card:

  1. My main character’s goal and motivation in the scene
  2. What stands between them and their goals – obstacle/conflict
  3. How will they overcome this obstacle
  4. What changes in this scene for the character?
  5. Why does this scene need to be there?
  6. Deeper layers of meaning – eg character’s emotions and attitude, foreshadowing, clues, themes, subplot

SCENE SUMMARY

Once I have my scene cards worked out and the order of events, I type everything up on a scene summary. This is just an A4 sheeti/sheets where I list the scenes in order.

The scene summary also contains any information I might need to add like secondary character reactions and sub-plots, setting information etc.

The scene summary is more portable than a stack of scene cards or a computer, so it’s something I can take with me and mull over while I’m waiting at the dentist, the school etc – wherever I have time to do some extra thinking, but not necessarily writing.

Scene summaries and scene cards are easy to add to.

If you have Scrivener, you can do this process on the computer, but I must admit, I like to see all the scene cards laid out in front of me and be able to physically move them around.

If you’d like to delve deeper into scenes, you might want to check out this link to a post about Writing the Perfect Scene. Thanks to my good writerly friend, Sheryl Gwyther for sending this great information my way so I can share it here.

Happy reading and writing:)

Dee

P.S. Don’t forget to check back here for Friday Feedback. 

TUESDAY WRITING TIPS – FIXING THE HOLES

The lure of gold can affect our objectivity

Last Wednesday, my goat, Molly got her head stuck in the fence…not once, not twice but three times. It’s not something she normally does, but she was lured by the bright yellow flowers on the other side of the fence.  She had to have them no matter what – her immediate goal got in the way of her common sense.

I sometimes think that this is what happens with writers yearning to get their work published. We are so focussed on the ultimate goal that we can’t be objective about our work – can’t deviate from what we are doing even though there may be a better way.

Molly getting her head stuck in the fence repeatedly also made me think about the fact that making the same mistakes over and over again (and not learning from them) is something that can hold our writing back. So how do we stop ourselves from doing this?

Here’s what I do:

I make a list of all the things I need to watch out for in my next draft.

  1. Are my characters interacting with the setting or have I just put description in?
  2. Have I made my plot too complicated?
  3. Have I developed my characters enough?
  4. Have I given my supporting characters different motives and focus?
  5. Have I used repetitive language?
  6. Has my character grown and changed during the course of the story?

Molly with her rebuilt fence. Unfortunately, fixing holes in manuscripts isn't so easy.

Although I ended up with blisters and was physically tired from fixing Molly’s fence, it didn’t take a great deal of brainpower to solve the problem. All I had to do was attach finer mesh to the existing fence and use fasteners to keep it in place.

FIXING HOLES IN MANUSCRIPTS

As I twisted and attached the wire, I thought about how fixing fences is much easier than fixing holes in manuscripts.

For starters, holes in manuscripts are much harder to identify. Here’s how I identify mine.

1.    Do a scene map identifying

  • Which characters are in each scene
  • The purpose of each scene
  • What my main character’s motivation in each scene is
  • Conflict in each scene
  • Whether the scene moves the story forward in the direction I want it to

2.      Once I have my scene map I compare it to my plot diagram and see where the scenes match up, and if it’s where they should.

3.      I look at turning points, the climax of the story and whether the resolution is strong enough.

4.      I look at whether I have left the appropriate clues for the reader – will they be hooked into the story all the way through?

In much the same way as the fence rebuilding, I hope to identify the holes and fill the gaps.

How do you identify holes in your story? I’d love you to share your techniques and experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy Writing

Dee

P.S. Don’t forget to check back here for Friday Feedback and if you’d like to submit 150 words for feedback, email me Dee*at*DeeScribe*dot*com*dot*au

WRITING IS MORE THAN JUST WORDS

I decided that one of my major goals for this year was to try and learn more about writing – to hone my skills.

Sure, that means practising my writing, but it also involves thinking about the way I write.

After last week’s Friday Feedback on this blog, I was reminded by writer Dimity Powell about the importance of thinking for a writer.

At least 50% of my writing time is not about putting words on a computer or paper, it’s about thinking – thinking about the way I’m writing – thinking about my story.

This involves thinking about all sorts of things like

  • taking the time to get to know my characters
  • working out how to get my characters from one place to another
  • increasing the tension by working out story clues for the reader that my character won’t know about
  • thinking about the shape and pacing of my story and whether I’ve allowed enough beats
  • how to immerse my reader in the setting
  • any logic problems with the plot
  • what’s going to happen next and how is will my main character react
  • what kind of ending am I working towards
  • how is my character thinking and feeling in the scene I am writing
  • what are my character’s motivations in the scene I am writing
  • what is the purpose of the scene I’m writing in the whole scheme of things

And that’s just the thinking time. I also spend hours researching and reading, looking at how other writers write and reading their blogs, and learning new things.

So I guess what I’m saying is don’t berate yourself about lack of words on paper. It’s not a measure of how hard you have worked. Sure it’s something tangible, but if you have spent all day researching and thinking, that’s still working on your story – it’s still an important part of the writing process.

As long as you have allowed yourself to spend time with your characters and their story in your mind, you have still been creating, you have still been working towards that elusive goal; finishing your story.

And to me, thinking time is well worth the effort and can avoid a lot of rewriting in the long run.

I’d love to hear how much time you spend thinking about what you’re writing and whether you have any ways like yoga or listening to music to get your creative juices flowing. Feel free to leave your comments at the end of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

P.S. Don’t forget to check out Friday Feedback where writers can 150 words critiqued.

WHY IT PAYS TO TALK TO YOUR CHARACTERS – Guest Blogger – Aimee Said

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Australian YA author Aimee Said to DeeScribewriting.

Aimee is going to talk about her book, Little Sister and explain why it’s important to talk to your characters and listen to what they have to say.

ABOUT LITTLE SISTER

Allison Miller is counting down the days until her overachieving elder sister, Larissa, finishes Year 12 and leaves their school for good. Then, Al is certain, people will finally see her as more than just “Larrie’s little sister”. But when rumours start circulating about Larrie and her best friend, and Al has to decide whether to support her sister or distance herself to protect her own reputation.

HOW GETTING TO KNOW YOUR MAIN CHARACTER HELPS WITH PLOTTING

When I started writing my second novel, Little Sister, I felt pretty confident. I’d been thinking about the story for six months, I thought I knew my characters well and I had a basic plot outline. It should’ve been a recipe for success but somewhere around the 20,000 word mark – a third of the way into the book – I got stuck.

It wasn’t that I’d run out of ideas, just the opposite: I had loads of options for what could happen to move the characters from Point A to Point B in the plot, but I couldn’t decide which would result in the best story. I thought if I just kept writing the story would sort itself out. But the more I wrote the further I got from my original outline, until I’d bypassed Point B altogether, arrived at an unplanned Point C and was hurtling towards a conclusion that I didn’t know would be an unsatisfying end to the story.

I was now about 45,000 words and six months into writing. I knew something had gone drastically wrong and I knew I had to fix it, even though the idea of wasting all those words and all that time made me feel sick. So I stepped away from my computer and thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it. Weeks later I was still thinking about it when I realised that I’d been so focused on what was going to happen that I’d lost sight of who it was happening to and how they would react (which would drive the next stage of the plot). I needed to get back in touch with my characters – especially my narrator, Al.

So I wrote a letter. Or rather, Al did. I looked back over all the notes I’d made about her: personality traits, likes, dislikes, dreams and fears, until I felt like I’d reconnected with her. Then, channeling my inner Al, I imagined her telling the story of what had happened to her over the past six weeks (the period that the book is set over). The letter took three hours to write and covered 10 pages. At the end of it I had about two paragraphs per day that the book is set over, describing what Al thought were the most significant events. I had my plot – the whole thing. More importantly, it was written in Al’s voice, with her reactions and her leading the action.

I did have to go back and delete about 20,000 words, but after writing that letter I was so in touch with Al and what she’d been through that I actually wanted to start again! Best of all, in telling me her story, Al mentioned a few things that I hadn’t known about her, that became subplots in the book.

It was a hard earned lesson, but what I took away from those torturous few months was that sometimes you have to let your characters lead the story. Trust them, they usually know what they’re doing.

Thanks Aimee for sharing this experience with us. Getting to know your main character is so important isn’t it?

If I’m stuck, I often interview my main character to find out what is going to happen next. I’d love you to share any tips on how you get to know your main characters. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

P.S.

Today, author Janice Hardy has a great post at her blog about how characters fit into your story. Here’s the link: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/01/whats-their-story-discovering-front.html. Just another good reason to talk to your characters:)

 FRIDAY FEEDBACK STARTS THIS WEEK

Also, this Friday, we start our Friday Feedback at this blog. Here’s how it works:

  1. You submit 150 words of a story and you can ask a writing question about your excerpt.
  2. I post my feedback to this blog.
  3. Other people can comment on the feedback as well.

Don’t miss this Friday’s first post offering feedback on Ben Marshall’s new YA adventure.

INSPIRING YOUNG WRITERS

Today I spent time with a group of year 7 students talking about my favourite subject, writing.

They are hard at work writing for the Write across Victoria competition.

I was there to talk about plotting and story and how to UNMASK great characters.

We discussed the fact that every story has to have a strong beginning and hook the readers in and every story starts with something happening for the main character which makes it a day like no other, and changes their life or who they are.

We studied plot arcs and looked at rising tension in stories and the fact that ‘post it’ notes do fall off a page when you hold it up to show the class.

But one of the most important things we discussed was the fact that writers have to ask a lot of questions

  • Who is the story/action happening to?
  • What is happening?
  • Why is it happening?
  • When is it happening?
  • Where is it happening?
  • How is it happening?

We talked about writing and where you get story ideas from and all the fun things about writing. I walked out of their classroom thinking, these are all writers. They have enquiring minds, good ideas and they ask a lot of questions.

I felt truly inspired by them and I hope they gained something from sharing my experiences.

Thanks to M Healy’s class at Braemar College.

Feel free to ask any more questions about writing or your stories in the ‘comments’ section of this post.

Happy writing:-)

Dee

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – HOW TO FIX ISSUES WITH YOUR PLOT

At times, I’ve had manuscripts back from publishers and fellow writers saying things like they liked the characters and the dialogue, but found the story line confusing. Every happened to you?

As writers we are so close to our story that we know exactly what we want to say – the hard part is that sometimes we don’t communicate it. What’s in our mind doesn’t always translate clearly to paper.

WHAT WENT WRONG

When I get the ‘confusing story’ feedback, this is what I do:

1.            If I have the chance to ask the person why the story confused them, then I do (This isn’t always possible with a publisher).

2.            I try to take a step back from my story and work out which bits might be confusing.

3.            I list the themes and issues in my story to help me work out if it’s confusing because there’s just too much happening.

4.            I look at the sequence of the story – too many flash backs or changes in the ‘story time’ can make it confusing.

5.            I look at my characters to see if the confusion is caused by some contradiction in them – perhaps there’s a character (or two) who hasn’t been developed enough.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

1.            GO BACK TO YOUR PLOT

How you do this depends on the way you work, but I’m a writer who likes to know where I’m going before I start writing my story, so I have a diagram of my plot using butcher’s paper and ‘post it’ notes.

This is the first place I go to try and fix plot issues. Having the plot diagram makes it really easy for me to see if there are things happening out of sequence in the story. Maybe the ‘post it’ notes need to be re-ordered to change the sequence of events.

2.            CHAPTER BY CHAPTER

Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy as that. If the plot arc doesn’t reveal the flaws, the next thing I would do is a 25 word summary for each chapter.

If I can’t say what a chapter is about in 25 words or less then the chances are that:

  1. The chapter might be too complex – too much happening
  2. The chapter is in the wrong place in the story
  3. The chapter doesn’t reveal the true voice or motives of my main character
  4. The chapter introduces/mentions too many characters
  5. The chapter doesn’t move the story along
  6. The chapter doesn’t clearly communicate what I want it to
  7. The chapter might not need to be there

If all else fails, pretend you are explaining the plot to someone who hasn’t read your story – it could be your cat, your dog or even your rabbit – it doesn’t have to be someone who will give you feedback.  The whole point of this is to clarify things in your mind. You can do this verbally or in writing.

It could be just that your plot needs simplifying and I find that this is soon revealed when I attempt to tell ‘someone’ what happens in the story.

OTHER PLOT PROBLEMS I HAVE DISCOVERED

Other flaws I have found with my plot are:

  • It doesn’t start at the right place – sometimes I find myself writing myself into the story and I need to start the story further on – after I’ve created the back story that I need as an author but the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know.
  • Somewhere along the way my main character has lost their ‘voice’ so plot events and their reaction don’t quite fit together.
  • The sequence of the story needs to be re-ordered so that the action builds up to a climax.

It can be disheartening to get the ‘too confusing’ feedback, but all it means is that you haven’t communicated your message clearly to the reader. It’s not fatal, and if you try some of the methods I’ve discussed you’ll find that the problem can be fixed.

Happy writing

HOW TO THROW OUT YOUR 65,000 WORD STORY – And Use The BEST BITS To Build a Better One

I’m currently working on my next YA novel, Street Racer.

This novel was one of those ones that just came to me. The main character sat on my shoulder and told me his story – and I knew who he was and what he wanted from life.

The problem was, he told me his story in verse.

This wasn’t actually a problem for me, but it was for my publisher. Apparently, verse novels don’t sell.

More important than the publisher’s comment was the feedback from my teenage son. My eldest reads just about anything, but he told me he wouldn’t read a verse novel and neither would any of the boys he knew.

Street Racer was a book that I WANTED teenage boys especially to read. This story was really important to me so I had to try and rework it in prose.

I’m now on the fifth draft and it’s better – but still not working. In the transition from verse to prose I’ve had to add a lot more detail and here’s what’s happened:

  1. I’ve ended up with character ‘devices’ that don’t ring true.
  2. I’ve ended up with too much plot detail that takes the focus away from my main character.
  3. The setting needs to be more clearly established.
  4. Some of the character reactions aren’t authentic.

All these things were pointed out to me by my editor on the weekend – and she is absolutely right about every single one of them.

I read my latest draft over and over, and had it workshopped by a number of writer friends, but none of us picked these things up. Of course we’re not trained editors, but it made me wonder why.

Another author friend, Sandy Fussell and I were talking about this and I think she’s right. She says that workshoppers and the author can get distracted by beautiful writing…and I think it’s true.

If something sounds good when you read it, it can be hard to recognise the fact that it’s not actually relevant to the story or doesn’t move it along…and shouldn’t be there.

After thinking about what my editor had said and my discussions with Sandy, I realised exactly what the problem was with my story. In the transition from verse to prose, I LOST my character’s voice – and to some extent, my character.

So hard as it is,  this means discarding my 65,000 word current draft and starting again. There are lots of parts I can use. I think the plot is sound and I think that most of the other characters in the story are working well. There are some action scenes that I like that will hopefully just need a ‘tweek’ and I don’t think the dialogue needs a whole lot of work. So these are the good bits that I can use in the next draft.

But for the rest of it, I’m going right back to basics. I’ve started by doing another interview with my main character and trying to find his voice again.

I’ve asked him all sorts of questions about

  • where he lives
  • what his relationships with his family and friends are
  • what makes him happy or sad
  • how he spends a typical day
  • how he sees himself
  • how others see him
  • the best thing that could happen to him would be
  • the worst thing that could happen to him would be
  • his biggest problem
  • how he’s going to solve it
  • things/people/situations that are stopping him from getting what he wants

Fortunately, despite the fact that he’s a teenage boy, he has had plenty to say. He has let me inside his head again… and although he’s not quite sitting on my shoulder yet, he’s getting closer.

I’ve also realised there are too many issues in the current draft so I’m taking out one of the main characters to simplify the plot and strengthen the themes that will stay in the manuscript.

And I’m starting my next draft of Street Racer from a different point – from somewhere further into the action.

Have to go now. Ric is calling me. He’s impatient for me to tell his story – and get it right this time.

Happy writing

Dee:-)