Three Dirty Birds and Connecting the Dots

threedirtybirds-400|Master List|

Today the Dirty Birds are getting into Key Story Factors in chapter five of KM Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Mapping Your Way to Success.

Zoe: There was one thing I got something out of in this chapter: her examples of character motives. I always struggle with what characters want, and from her example, I saw that it doesn’t have to be One Big Want, but everyone has all these little wants, and it’s easy to tie them to their motive—you just use either the word “because” or “so.” So I might try that.

Kate: I’ve never had trouble with motives, generally. I know what they want, there’s generally one big one, and a bunch of small ones that loosely influence the big one.

Zoe: I suffer from character motivation anxiety. On an intuitive level, I know their motives and what they want, but all these writing books have made me chew my nails over it.

Ana: We should start offering therapy for writers damaged by writing books.

Kate: Lol. That’s a good idea. The Substitherapist.

Ana: We will cure you of any plot phobia.

Kate: Cheaply! Because we know most writers are broke.

Zoe: Cheeply too! Cheep cheep!

Kate: Groaner…

I did think her little section (what was it, a page long?) about letting your protagonist get close to what they want, then taking it away again, over and over, had some merit. Though it felt like a reworded Try-Fail Cycle is what she was trying to get at, I think I liked the way she put it better.

Ana: I feel like there was some solid stuff here, but I guess I’ve just read about it all too often to be intrigued by it.

Kate: I’m always looking for clarification on stuff, so I have better ways to explain things when doing critiques.

Zoe: I think Ana pinpointed why I skimmed this chapter.

Kate: A lot of these books say the same things. Most of what I’m looking for in reading them is for a) the best way to say it/explain it or b) that one little nugget of gold that everyone else missed. There seems to be one thing in each book that I look at and go, “Oooooooh!” But most of it is the same old, same old.
Ana: That’s often how I feel too. At the beginning, reading these writing books was all new and exciting and now it’s just… you read a whole book for that one piece of advice that’s still useful to you, or that makes you look at something in a different way. I guess it’s the same for any discipline really. At the start you learn much faster and with less effort than later.

Zoe: Yes, I’m definitely experiencing (vastly) diminishing returns.

Kate: Yes. Though it’s interesting to me, on a sort of sociological level, to evaluate the belief systems these authors have. Like, Weiland seems to think that a lot of new authors have no conflict in their books, and I’m not sure I agree with that. Sure, it might not be well done conflict, but I’d like to know what she’s reading that she’s seeing so many characters wandering blindly through the plot and setting.

Ana: I don’t know. I’ve been made to read a lot of early drafts (which were considered done by their creators) that were so lacking in tension or conflict that going through them was a real chore..

Zoe: My second-ever novel (when I was a teenager) had no conflict. It was my Anne Rice novel (not that Anne Rice doesn’t have conflict, but that wasn’t what I was pulling from my reading of her stuff—it wasn’t what drew me to her books; I just wanted to write about sexy mysterious tragic people). My first novel had conflict—it was my Stephen King book.

Ana: Things just sort of happened in my early stories. Or they didn’t.

Kate: I think I copied basic plotlines from books I’d read. Walter Farley was my mentor, sort of. Lots of horse stories–but hey, I was a preteen. Let’s not talk about the crap I wrote as a teenager. But I remember writing one about a boy who made friends with a mustang and they went on to save someone or something–probably a small child, because that was the trope of the era. And he had to do that to prove to his parents that they needed to keep the horse, after the horse had done something bad after being unfairly provoked. Sound familiar? Like, every horse-related book for pre-teens ever?

Zoe: 😀 That’s how we all start. (Well, not necessarily with horses. I guess we’re glad you didn’t grow up to be Dick Francis?)

Kate: No, I went through an André Norton phase after that. Knocked the ponies right on their butts.

Ana: As a teenager I mostly wrote fanfiction about guys I liked in TV series, anime, video games whatever falling madly in love with each other. With a ton of angst. All the angst.

Kate: My daughter is writing Harry Potter fanfic now. Snape, Tom Riddle, Draco Malfoy (I think she has a thing for bad boys). I’ve been restraining myself from encouraging her to slash stuff.

Ana: (I went through a Tom Riddle / Harry Potter phase. No, I have no shame.)

Zoe: I did that too (but with musicians and actors), and that wasn’t stuff I showed my mom. (Because sex, lots of sex, and lots of guys beating each other up as a lead-in to sex. She’d have carted me off to a psychiatrist.) (I don’t even know who Tom Riddle is. :()

Kate: Zoe has homework now this week. She must read the entire Harry Potter series.

Zoe: Yeah…I’ll put that somewhere on my todo list. (I don’t have anything against Harry Potter; I just missed the zeitgeist. I tried to read it to my son when he was little, and after a chapter he said, “Don’t. It’s scary,” and I never got back to it. (He has since read all the books though.))

Kate: I’m picturing Zoe with a Dilbert tie saying, “Yes, I’ll add that to the bottom of my list and let it fail with your name on it.”

Zoe: Ha, yes. That.

Kate: Haha, just leafed through the chapter again and came across the reference to writers as sadists. There’s my morning chuckle.

Ana: It’s true. I love torturing my characters. I’m probably going to enjoy writing a ‘list  of the ten worst things that could happen to your character.’

Zoe: I’m going to have a hard time stopping at ten.

Kate: Zoe’s dream job. “How can I make it worse, my pretties?” *cackles*

Zoe: Mr. Rider read the latest book yesterday, and he was very disturbed. “This came out of your head?” I think he’s sleeping with one eye open.

Kate: I love your husband. He’s a brave, brave man.

Zoe: He really is. There was a terrible thing involving delicate man parts in this one, and he’s not in a corner crying, so he’s stronger than I thought.

Kate: He needs to get a sign for your office done up: “My character is happy and we can’t have that. What should I break?”

Zoe: 😀 The great thing about characters is that behind the scenes, they are so on board with it. “Yeah, yeah, do that—that’ll be awesome.”

Kate: You have weird characters. Mine always look at me in dismay and say, “Don’t you think I’m already frustrated enough?” and I reply, “You ain’t seen frustrated.”  Then I give them an episode of coitus interruptus. It’s like the biggest game of keep-away ever.

Ana: Hah, I think my characters are masochists, too. They talk to me more when I make them suffer. Sometimes I get a bit carried away. Like, I get so excited I got them between a rock and hard place that I do a little happy dance (in my head, I’m lazy) before I remember I have no idea how to get them out of there.

Kate; Knowing your characters, they like being between a rock and a hard place.

Ana: But they’ll pretend that they don’t.

Zoe: So, speaking of characters…chapter six is about characters.

Kate: Nice segue.

Zoe: I’m the segue queen this morning.

Three Dirty Birds and K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel 2

threedirtybirds-400|Master List|

And we’re back with Chapter Two of K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel.

Zoe: I found this chapter…odd. It covers types of outlines (but only a select few random types of outlines) and tools you can use for outlining (again, a very select few: longhand, yWriter, and calendars). I know she said either in this chapter or chapter one that she was going to talk about what she uses for her process, but…would it not have made sense to expand a little bit?

Ana: I guess you’re right about that. Among others, I was missing mentions of any of the ‘tools’ I use. (Scrivener, Scapple… that time line thingy I keep hearing about…Aeon? I know some writers use EverNote and tools like it.)

Zoe: I’ve been using Evernote a lot, in large part because it syncs across my devices. Yay for convenience. (And of course also the ever-trusty Post-It notes.)

Kate: I still like my white boards. Something about the fact that it’s meant to be erased makes it easier when I need to work something out in a way that’s less permanent than pen on paper (even on the computer, it feels permanent. Weird.)  I did like that she mentioned personalizing your style of outlining, and offering wildly varying examples. Though it seemed odd after all the rah rah-ing about detailed outlines in Chapter 1.

Zoe: I did like the methods she offered for outlining—mind maps, and using pictures, and all of that—it just felt like…she was missing stuff. I mean, I’mn not thinking of specific stuff or an exhaustive list, but it seemed like she picked some playful examples and didn’t use anything that, um…actually gave you an outline of some sort?

Kate: I think she was trying to give us a starting point? There’s so much stuff out there, though…

Zoe: Yeah, I’m just going to go with “This chapter could have been better thought out.”

Ana: I thought using the pictures thing might help me put more descriptions into my stories. Since I’m not naturally a visual person.

Zoe: I liked the “write the perfect review for your book” suggestion. Thinking about what you’d want a reviewer to say at the end of it all seems like a good way to coalesce what you want to accomplish with the story.

Kate: That’s interesting, because that didn’t work for me at all. (I think it’s the Calvinist upbringing.) But that just sent my brain spinning and I noped right out at that point.

Zoe: See, I pictured it as less of a “reader review” and more of a critical review (critical as in analytical, not “pointing out the bad things.”) And that intrigued me.

Kate: I pictured an analytical review, too, but it still wigged me out. Again, Calvinist.

Zoe: 😀 See, this is why she needed more suggestions. There were only three! And one wigs Kate out, and one exhausts me (the pictures one).

Ana: Did everyone of us at least get one thing out of it? I got the pictures, though not for the reasons she suggested.

Zoe: I’m going to try the mind maps for the upcoming book. And in longhand! (But there’s no way I’m writing any actual outlines in longhand. I’ll never be able to read it.)

Ana: I’m already doing long-hand mind maps.

Zoe: Showoff.

Kate: I really didn’t take much from this chapter. I think my brainstorming on paper and whiteboard might just be my ‘outlining’ technique. I tried yWriter years ago and didn’t care for it, and I already use some form of the calendaring thing.

Zoe: yWriter was too form-y/worksheet-y for me.

Kate: I like how Scrivener has the chapter you’re writing, and the little box on the right that you can stick notes in, and you can see the whole structure on the left. I’m going to get myself a 40 inch tv for a monitor and then all I’ll be able to see is my story.

Ana: And this chapter ends with a lovely interview!

Kate; Oh, he annoyed me.

Ana: Me too. All that talk about settling on what works rather than what works best if you’re not outlining. Also that there are no pitfalls to outlining (maybe), other than ~convincing~ yourself you can’t do it. Like, if it doesn’t work for you, you’re just being a child about it.

Kate: Outlining is more efficient. Pantsers don’t have any of the fundamental skills, and even if they do, they still have to make one stand out so they stand out. It takes longer when pantsing. (Excuse me while I find one of this guy’s books to burn in effigy.) Oh, and you have to be a genius to pants out a decent story the first time, because rewrite and drafts are bad.

Ana: I don’t take offense to being called a genius. 😉

Kate: You’re only a genius if it flows from your fingers, perfect in all its parts, the first time. Because the implication is that outliners don’t have to do revision or editing. Seriously. (Face, meet desk.)

Three Dirty Birds and the Revision Checklist Pt 2

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Three Dirty Birds chirping about the second part of James Scott Bell’s Revision Checklist. Today we’re talking about Endings, Scenes, Exposition, Voice, Style, and Point of View.

Kate: Phew! That’s a lot!

Ana: ~takes a nap in preparation~

Zoe: And so we begin with the end. Tying up loose threads, creating resonance, and manipulating readers into feeling what you want them to feel. Maybe “manipulating” is too strong a word. 🙂

Ana: Sometimes it feels like that though, doesn’t it?

Kate: I think that’s part of the job, though, isn’t it? You’re choosing words and plot events to evoke specific emotional responses on the part of the reader. To create that sense of resonance, like the story has come full circle. I’m setting that up in the WIP right now. (Well, one of the four stories I’m playing in, anyway.)

Ana: I think I’ll spend the next few days writing several versions of my last page. It has to be just right!

Kate: I’m looking at twist endings, though I’m not sure that the twist I’m considering will be appreciated by the readers.

Zoe: I’m nervous about the ending on the current WIP because at the moment, I feel like I need two epilogues. Who does that? *sigh*

Ana: Lol. It could be revolutionary!

Kate: Redshirts has three. I think you’re safe.

Zoe: Oh good!

Kate: His sections on Scenes made me cringe, if only because it looks like so much work. And we all know how little cats like work…

Zoe: Yes, the part about determining which your ten weakest scenes are, throwing the weakest out, and then going through the remaining nine scenes twice…and then do the rest of your scenes too! I needed a nap.

Ana: Ah yeah, I immediately thought… oh well maybe I’ll do a couple problematic scenes. I’ll probably end up doing one. (Maybe more if I’m like really impressed with the result)

Kate: Yeah. I mean, I have two novel-length works that need some attention–they’re just sitting around waiting for my revision-brain to come back online. The thought of combing through them and rating each scene…*sniffs sadly*

Zoe: I was happy to have permission to stretch the tension. I could stretch tension all day long. I will be looking into the cores of my scenes, and how I can heat them up a bit more.

Kate: I get the sense that he really likes Koontz.

Zoe: I haven’t read Koontz in years, but I remember reading The Voice of the Night (published at the time under his Brian Coffey pen name), and being absolutely riveted. Koontz can do tension.

Ana: Heh. I tried him once, didn’t like it, and haven’t picked up a book by him since.

Zoe: Yeah, I haven’t been able to get into him for a while. But during that one perfect point in my life, I got some white knuckles reading his stuff. (Oh, and the one where he absolutely made me fall in love with/feel complete sympathy for the bad creature.)

Ana: I don’t even remember which book I tried… I left it in Japan.

Kate: If I’ve read any, I don’t remember it. I probably have, though–I’ll try anything once.

Zoe: So, exposition. I was just rereading the section. He says, “Now, put the chunks [of exposition] you have left in dialogue or character thoughts. Even better, put the chunks in confrontational dialogue or make them highly tense thoughts,” and I thought, “I should do that.” And so I thought about the info I needed to convey in the WIP. And then I went, “Oh, I did that. Never mind!”

Ana: He’s mentioned it before. And so did Story Trumps Structure.

Zoe: Yeah, but I didn’t have this WIP, written to the point it’s at, then. Geez. 😉

Kate: I thought his key questions for that were really good.

Ana: I’ll keep those in mind for my next wip. So far I haven’t written stories that required a lot of exposition, so I can’t remember struggling with it. It could also be that I’m too lazy a writer to write infodumps. I tend to under-explain rather than over-explain. My editor just asked me if I’m sure we can assume all readers will know how earthquakes and tsunamis are interrelated…

Kate: If they’ve been through junior high, I would think they’d have some idea. I’ll have info-dumpy sections, but generally they get cleaned up because they’re more like note-taking for me. If I miss any, my beta readers will catch them and make me feel bad. 😛

Zoe: In Voice, Style, and Point of View, Bell asks if your POV is consistent in every scene, if you slip into describing something the POV character can’t see or feel. I won’t say I don’t slip POV in the current WIP, but I will say if the POV character seems to know too much, there’s a reason and hopefully I can set it up well enough at the end so it makes sense. (And hopefully readers will stick with it that long. I don’t really get obnoxious with it. It’s very tiny things. Rule-breaking though; it makes me panic.)

Ana: ~flicks Zoe off her perch to make her calm down~

Kate: The best books break rules, but they do it smart. *dusts Zoe off*

Zoe: Mostly this section should have been called Point of View. There isn’t much style-wise.

Ana: It was rather thin.

Kate; I thought the bit about getting into the character’s attitude by exploring his emotional response to something was pretty nifty, though. I might try doing that a little more consciously.  Boy, there’s so much to keep in mind when you’re writing!

Ana: Good thing you can do multiple editing passes. So is anyone going to write an essay about their theme?

Kate: I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader…