Loving Index Cards!

Because I can’t obsess over more than one thing at a time, for some months, I completely abandoned my novel in favor of learning more about watercolor painting. I went to Boone, NC in May to take a class with Terry Harrison at Cheap Joe’s, and then in October, I took a class in Virginia Beach with Janet Rogers. I learned about composition and pigments and mixing colors. And from that, I realized that I need to design the novel, not just write it. Some people can just sit down and write a novel without a plan. They’re blessed with an innate sense of story. I’m not; or at least if I am, it’s a muddled, incomplete sense that gets buried in the details.

Now I’ve rediscovered index cards. I love WriteWay Pro, but I’ve found that I really like index cards to start with. Later, I can enter the info into WriteWay and keep everything at my fingertips.

5×8 Cards –Novel Components and Reference Cards – adapted from Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland; Christopher Voegler’s The Writer’s Journey, and Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

Each character has one card

Each setting has one card

The Hook/Opening Line is written out on a card

The Overall Story Question for each of the main characters (all on one card)

Plot Point 1 (end of Act 1) where everything changes and the main characters have to “cross the threshold.” All characters share one card for each of the major plot points following.

The reaction to Plot Point 1 (beginning of Act 2) when the characters actually “cross the threshold”

The MidPoint (middle of Act 2) when the characters learn something major and go from reacting to problems to taking charge of their lives and their battles

Plot Point 3 (end of Act 2) when something big happens to knock the characters back – what’s the worst thing that could happen?

Reaction to Plot Point 3 – usually the lowest point in the character’s arc when they have to pull everything they’ve learned from mentors,allies and enemies together and rally for the last effort

Escalation to the Climax – briefly capture a list of events that need to happen

The Climax

The Resolution

3×5 Cards – the Scenes

I write a one-liner on a 3×5 card for each scene that needs to happen (some of these scenes may have already been written since I already have a draft of the novel). The first word is the POV character’s name. I may write some of these before I start the 5x8s, or I may write some 5x8s, get inspired, and crank out a bunch of 3x5s. It’s pretty fluid.

I throw the 3x5s into a plastic dishwashing pan (88 cents at Big Lots; usually less than $2 everywhere else), and as I come up with other possibilities for scenes and events I write them on more 3×5 cards. Once I’ve addressed all the needed character arc, plot and subplot points, I take the cards out and separate them into threads. Each main character might have several threads, which might be subplots, or changes in attitudes, or learning curves, or changes in a relationship that need to be shown. Then I fit the cards together or modify them so they’ll fit, making sure there is motivation, and story logic, and sensible time handling and all that. If it feels uncomfortable or awkward, it needs to go. Otherwise, it’s like Cinderella’s step-sister trying to fit her foot into the glass slipper. But don’t get me started on shoe size as a marker for meanness. Viva Princess Fiona! (Shrek). Anyway, if it doesn’t fit, I don’t try to make it fit, just like if I’m painting a southeastern swamp-scape, I leave out the grizzly bears.

So that’s what I’m in the middle of now with my Just-after-the-Civil-War novel. I’ve already written one draft, but I’m re-seeing it from scratch. I’ll probably use a lot of what I’ve already done, but I’m trying to keep an open mind, and stay ready to toss anything that doesn’t work. Once I have a good handle on the structure by using the cards, I’ll work on the scenes.

There’s a lot more to the structure of a novel which you can learn about in many, many venues. I recommend the books listed above.

I have another painting class scheduled in April. I hope I have this monster done by then!

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Slowly into the New Year

It’s been cold and dreary – great writing weather, one would think. But, in my case, I have a really hard time concentrating on mental work when it’s like this. I’d rather be lost in a good, absorbing book or film than exerting my brain. Though I kick myself for wasting hours, and sometimes days, that I should be writing, I’ve found redemption in The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo. It’s become one of my all-time favorite writing books. She doesn’t condone laziness, by any means, but she does make the case that sometimes good writing takes time, including down time. This morning, in front of the woodstove, I put that into practice by daydreaming and writing my way through a scene in the novel that was missing. I figured out it was missing by taking my time and daydreaming about the story. Yes, sometimes I daydream myself into a doze and wake up with a sore neck, but most times, I discover a character or a story line or a plot point that I didn’t know before. And that’s exciting. Even when it’s cold and dreary outside.

November is the Busiest Writing Month EVER!

And I’m not even participating in NaNoWriMo!

However, I am fortunate enough to be part of a Fiction Studio at the Muse Writer’s Center in Norfolk which meets twice this month. For each meeting, I’m submitting a piece of my novel and critiquing the impressive writing of three of my studio-mates. At the first November session, I presented “Choreography of Characters,” a little lesson on how to make your characters move logically and resonantly. If that makes sense!

On November 8th, I’m co-presenting “The Anatomy of a Mystery” with friend and fellow writer Jayne Ormerod as part of Suffolk’s very first Suffolk Mystery Author Festival. I’m so excited that my home town is taking this on! Jayne and I have had a blast putting this together.

On November 15th, I’m coordinating a workshop and critique session with some fellow mystery writers who are working on short stories to submit to the second Virginia is For Mysteries anthology. I’m looking forward to hanging out with some very special people!

As a Spalding University MFA grad, I’m participating with two amazing and inspiring fellow graduates in a critique group. We submit once a month, more or less, and their input is invaluable.

In preparation for the second annual Coastal Crime Fest in Va. Beach in March, I’m lining up speakers and organizing the agenda. I like to get things done well in advance.

Oh yeah – during every second of spare time, I’m still slogging through the polishing of After the Fury – my post-Civil War novel manuscript. I haven’t yet heard from the agents who were kind enough to ask for the first 50 pages in September, but the way I see it is that every extra minute I can polish, polish, polish is a good thing, even if they don’t ask for the rest of the novel.

And of course, I’m working full time, taking care of beloved husband and spoiled rotten wiener dogs, and sometimes even doing a load of laundry.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it sure feels like it! I couldn’t be happier! I hope I’m not jinxing myself!

Writing Together

It’s Friday evening on my screened porch and the breezes are doing their onomatopoeic (thank goodness for spell check) thing in the tree leaves and the crickets are singing, and the dog is lapping water from her bowl which is really a Princess House space-shuttle-tile-saucepan thing.

And I’ve just read two pieces by people with whom I’ll be in a Fiction Studio* starting Monday, and I am so inspired. It’s a warm connection, this sharing of writing. Entrusting your hard work to the scrutiny of others, hoping they find the flaws so you can fix them, but also hoping they’ll find something worthy of the comment “Nice!”

I wrote “Nice!” a lot in the margins of these two pieces.

*The Fiction Studio is one of many high quality classes offered by The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Check it out: www.the-muse.org/readings-events.html or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheMuseWritersCenter

The Perfect Pitch!

This weekend is the sixth annual Hampton Roads Writers Conference in Virginia Beach, and I have two agent appointments. In ten minutes, I am supposed to create so much interest in my novel that at least one of them asks me to send her a partial manuscript as a requested submission. How do I do that? There are so many sources of advice – in books, on websites, at conferences like this one – to whom do I listen?

As it turns out, one of the two agents is giving a talk on Thursday night called “How to Nail Your Ten-minute Agent Pitch.” I hadn’t planned on going Thursday night since I live an hour-plus away and the traffic is certain to be horrible, but I can’t resist one more source, especially this one!

Then I will stay up all night re-working my pitch and show up for my appointments looking haggard. Won’t that be impressive? Wish me luck!

Summer’s Winding Down!

And I was going to have the novel completely re-structured, re-written and ready for agents in time for the Hampton Roads Writers Conference September 18-20. I’m still agonizing over the timeline and the structure, which means some scenes will go away and I’ll write some brand new ones. With my penchant for writing action and dialogue and little else the first time around, that’ll mean lots of polishing. And lots of time that doesn’t exist. I am so ready to start on something new! But I won’t. Not until I’ve done all I can with this one.

Finishing the Novel?

It’s August, and I’m scrambling to rewrite my novel, After the Fury. Using a combination of Snowflaking (AdvancedFictionWriting.com) and my favorite writing software (WriteWayPro), I’m re-examining the structure, logic, cause and effect chains and timelines to make sure everything makes sense. I have two agent appointments at the Hampton Roads Writers Conference in September, and I plan (ha ha) to have it completely re-written and highly polished by then. I have learned that I will outline my next novel, at least to some degree. All this backtracking is killing me!