Fiction Writing

fiction tips & tricks

Book cover for Crimson Son by Russ Linton

5 Things I Learned Self-Publishing

By Russ Linton

Last June I published my first book, Crimson Son. I’ve been living the harrowing life of a self-published author ever since. After banging on the gates for a while, I decided to wander off into the woods and build my own house. During my time in the hinterlands, I’ve managed to learn a few things which I’d like to share. It might save you some trouble if you decide to go this route. Then again, it might all be bullshit. The publishing world is in a massive state of flux and what works now might not work in the morning.

Get Over Yourself

This is the first stumbling block for any self-published author. You can’t be the judge of your prose. You can’t pretend to be the enraptured audience to your subtle plotting or intricate characterizations. You absolutely, positively, need input from outside your own head. (This also excludes your immediate circle of family and friends.)Too many self-publishers skip this step. They’re convinced they’ve got an amazing story nobody has ever heard and that their every last word is manna from the heavens. They don’t need an editor. They don’t need an audience. Their story, their prose, will create its own audience.

Let me enlighten you:

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4 Writing Tips to Boost Your NaNoWriMo and Other Writing Projects

Congratulations, NaNoWriMo participants! You’re halfway to your deadline!

But what if you’re a little behind on your goals? What if it’s even worse — you’re a little behind and starting to dread writing? What if you feel — gasp! — blocked?

Most projects reach a point when the writing, or the writer, seems to  go a bit stale.

1. Party On, Dude!

Writing is essentially a solo art. Even if you are working with someone, at some point it comes down to a person composing the words. This can be especially difficult if you are under the pressure of a deadline and spending all of your spare time alone at your keyboard. Take yourself off to a NaNoWriMo Write-in or writer’s group where you can at least be tapping away in the company of others and at some point socialize when you all take a break.

Don’t have a Write-in scheduled in your area? Organize one! Post a notice on your NaNoWriMo Regional Board with a date, time, & location, or ask if anyone else would like to meet up and work out the details from there. If your not a NaNoWriMo Participant, post some notices at your local library, coffee shop, or other bulletin boards, or use social networking board like Meet-Up or Twitter to spread the word. It only takes one other person for a meet-up. I do recommend that you set up some ground rules starting with a requirement that there’s at least 1-hour of silent writing time before socializing. That way you get some real work done — and have something to talk about!

And don’t forget that there’s no reason you can’t keep meeting as a writing support group after NaNoWriMo ends. There’s always the excuse of a Holiday “Party.”

2. Run Away from Home

If it’s hard to arrange a social gathering, at least change your scenery. Go somewhere different to work — the library, a coffee house (remember J.K. Rowling and The Elephant House?), a cafe (Think of Paris in the 20’s) or even just moving from your office to the back porch.  A new perspective will give you a fresh perspective.

The first two years I did NaNoWriMo I’d make Sundays “Catch-Up Day” and hie myself off to a favorite coffeehouse for at least 3-4 hours of intense effort, trying to make up for lost word count from a hectic week. Sometimes, when I was really far behind, I spend the morning in one coffee house and then move to another and continue to work in the afternoon. Other times I bustle down to the library early to tuck myself into my favorite nook with a garden view. I once discovered that the three other people working there were also doing NaNoWriMo!

The point is to get a change in atmosphere and view. Research shows that a change in the environment often stimulates creative thought. It definitely stimulates new neuron pathways in the brain and often produces boosts in endorphins and dopamine. 

But remember your headphones or ear buds so you don’t get too distracted!

3. Give Yourself a Carrot — and a Stick

Behavioral research has shown that the carrot (a reward) works better for some while a stick (a punishment) works better for others, but the combination seems to work best. So think of a reasonable reward for getting a reasonable and doable writing goal done, like 15-minutes or 200 words, and then a reasonable punishment, such as no sweets for the day, for failing to meet the goal.

Now if you really want to boost the impact, go public! Tell a reliable friend (the one who will remind you of your pledges if you start to cheat), family, or even post it on your social media. By going public with our goals, and the consequences for success or failure, we greatly increase our commitment to them. It’s one of the reasons why Write-ins work — public peer pressure.

Keep the goals, as well as the rewards and punishments, reasonable and attainable. The purpose is to get those fingers on the keyboard, not negative reinforcement for persistent failure to reach outlandish goals. I once promised to watch a certain truly reprehensible “reality” show with a friend if I missed my personal Write-in time. (I loathe “reality” shows!) After one episode I never missed my Write-ins again!

4. Write Whatever the Heck You Want

Sometimes the problem is that we don’t want to write what we’re supposed to be writing. Possibly the scene isn’t working for us or the dialog sounds flat. Forget about it! Write whatever you want — in or about the project, no wasting the writing time tweeting about Benedict Cumberbatch or Jennifer Lawrence, no messaging or checking Facebook.

But if you want to write a dirty limerick about your protagonist instead of that fight scene, go for it! If you really want to write the backstory about the uncle but feel you shouldn’t because someone told you backstory slows down the narrative action, go ahead and write the backstory. It won’t be wasted time. You’ll have a better understanding of the character and who knows, you may be able to work it all in to the novel in revision. Maybe you want to write a series of texts or tweets between two of your characters about a third character? That is perfectly fine!

Take off whatever invisible handcuffs you’ve put on yourself about your project and forget about what you believe you should be writing and write whatever you want in any style or manner you want for at least 15-minutes.

Bonus Tip: Exercise!

Well yes, some physical exercise is good for stimulating the brain, boosting the spirits, and pumping up our confidence, so if you’ve been sitting too long in the same place, I do recommend getting up and doing something physical —  not throwing your laptop in frustration or anything, but positively physical like stretching, walking, cycling, dancing. Dancing freely and with abandon is one of the fastest ways to light up all the joy buttons in the brain, by the way, so don’t hesitate to crank up the volume and tempo and let loose.

But the other thing to try is a quick writing exercise. 

A quick writing exercise, especially when you can’t think what to write, can prime the mental pump. I’ve posted a few quick ones from previous Hugo House Write-o-Ramas here and here and here. Another one I haven’t posted yet based on the Donald Bathelme ‘s story “Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning.”

Spend 15-30 minutes writing brief in which other people tell something they remember or think about your character, or the character tells us something he, she or it thinks. For example, if the subject is the character Sherlock Holmes, you might write:

Mrs. Hudson: “You never know what you might find in his rooms. I once swept a hand — a severed hand! — out from under a chair.  Scared me half out of my wits, I don’t mind saying. Of course, it was scientific research but still, it ain’t easy. It did keep Mrs. O’Reilly’s second oldest boy from being hanged in the end. The research, not the sweeping. So I guess its all right, really. Still.”

John Wright, navvy: He’s the toff who bested Jim Sykes inna fight. Ain’t no one ever done that before. Beat Syke’s hand to a bloody pulp with ‘is own stick until it cracked. Funny bloke. He carried off the stick and the dog what Syke’s ‘ad beaten near death just before the fight. Smart though. Wrapped in both in Syke’s coat so’s not to get any blood on ‘is own. Don’t know why he wanted the stick and the dog, though. They’d both be useless after that.

Some Recommended Books for Writing Exercises:

Little girl writing

6 NaNoWriMo and Novel Project Development Techniques & Tools

Whether you are preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or simply working on your novel, here are 6 techniques — plus resources and tools — to help you reach your goal.

1.  Recommended Books

Since you are working on a book, I figure you also like to read them, so here are some titles I’ve found useful.

2.  My Guide to “Fast Writing”

Elsewhere I’ve created a compilation of the tips and techniques by other successful writers on novel writing preparation based largely on Rachel Aaron’s techniques for achieving 10,000 words per DAY(!). There’s also a handy PDF download to take with you.

3.  Plot Development Worksheets

Novel Storyboard Worksheet : A PDF storyboard for noting events and characters by chapter. 

Traditional Plot Development Storyboard : A PDF  storyboard that breaks down traditional fiction arc into the standard 20-chapters used by mass market paperbacks for decades.

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NaNoWriMo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide

In preparation for NaNoWriMo,

I’ve created a comprehensive guide to novel plot development, character creation and writing preparation — and then I thought I’d share it with everyone else getting ready for NaNoWriMo. After reading Rachel Aaron’s posts on how she achieves 10,000 words per day when writing her novels as well as how she prepares to start a new novel writing project, I started collecting her recommendations and meshing them with other authors such as Holly Lisle, Bob Mayer, and Jim Butcher to create a new Novel Writing Plot Development and Project Worksheet below. I also have some recommended titles for those wanting even more.

Fast Writing Novel Plot Development, Character Creation, and Project Preparation

Sepia close-up of guy with black glasses

The PDF version of the Novel Writing Project Worksheets and Guide is below. Check back for the epub and mobi formats coming soon.

You can download the more stylish version below, but here’s a quick summary of the process. I’ll be breaking it down in more detail with individual posts from time to time, but with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) coming up, I thought I’d better get the short version up for us all. I’ll keep revising and updating as I find more relevant techniques, tips and suggestions. Continue reading

Fiction Writing Plot Development Storyboards

While taking a workshop with author Janice MacDonald on developing a traditional fiction story plot (the kind with a beginning, middle and end), I decided to modify one of the templates that came with my Pages program into a set of worksheets. These worksheets can help you outline your fiction plot and determine the story structure.

Check out More Tips & Tools from Creative Writing classes!

Check out More Tips & Tools from Creative Writing classes!

The first two are blank worksheets. You can copy them, fill them in, cut them up, move things around. Use them as you wish. There’s a place at the top for the name of novel or chapter and for defining the genre and the characters involve or whatever works for you.

You may want to read some of the other posts on various ways to approach plot and motivation. You can then work with the blank storyboards in developing the internal and external events.

DOWNLOAD the Novel Storyboard Worksheet PDF

DOWNLOAD the Chapter Storyboard Worksheet PDF

The third worksheet is my own creation from the various things I’ve learned about the traditional story structure. I want to give a big thanks to Janice MacDonald who clarified a great deal of the standard novel structure with her own plot grid. It’s the basis for my small variations.

DOWNLOAD the Traditional Fiction Writing Plot Development Storyboard PDF

While the storyboard is designed for the typical 20-chapter genre novel, simply expand the number of chapters between the Plot Points and the Crisis to meet your needs. The last page of the storyboard contains with a basic summary of a traditional novel plot structure as well as 10 Question For Developing Your Plot which help you determine the internal motivation and well as the strongest conflicts confronting your primary character or protagonists. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo Prep: Novel Writing Plot Development and Project Worksheet

Howdy! We’ve Updated this Page Recently.

All of this information and worksheets were updated in 2013 and can now be found here and herePlease head to the latest posts for the New and Improved Novel Writing Plot Development Guide and Worksheets. Thank you!

 

NaNoWriMo Prep: Plot Development and Profile Worksheets, Visualizing Collage, and More

guy-w-black-glasses-960While everyone else is carving pumpkins and hunting for a black turtle neck and New Balance sneakers, in between desperately trying to finish my house repairs before freezing temperatures arrive, I’m preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).In the Seattle area, the NaNoWriMo fans filled not one, but two plot development workshops in a few short hours of registration. So I thought I’d put up some NaNoWriMo Preparation Tips and ideas for those of us who didn’t get to attend.

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Type, Text, Fonts, iPhones, Irony and RIP Steve Jobs

As a writer I consider words and reading important. But I was also trained in the visual and graphic arts and have longed been attuned to the type and fonts that create the words and make them legible — or not, that can enhance the meaning of the text — or undermine it, that can influence whether we even read a single word — or all of them. I’ve also been keenly aware for some time that we are moving from text to verbal and visual communication. Oral traditions and pictographs gave way to literacy which will eventually give way to voices (mostly computer generated) and images.

So what does this all have to do with Steve Jobs and the iPhone?

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R.I.P. Mass-Market Fiction Paperback

The New York Times has an interesting article on the decline in sales and marketing of the mass-market paperback. The industry experts in the article attribute the largest cause to the recession and e-readers and the release of hardcover titles as reduced price e-books faster than the release of the paperback. They also implicate the discounting of hardcover titles by chain, and now independent, booksellers.

All of these are certainly contributing factors, not the least of which is the recession and the increasing loss of the middle-class and its discretionary income. Add to this the decline in readership period and its clear that the mass-market paperback is becoming less profitable and therefore less viable.

But I think the article misses two key factors: Continue reading

Blake Snyder Save the Cat! Story Plot Development Storyboards

Blake Snyder's Cat series makes it easy to visualize your plot

Blake Snyder’s Cat series makes it easy to visualize your plot

A friend of mine who writes urban fantasy novels turned me on to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!®  The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need and his technique of developing story plots. I was skeptical at first since I’d gone through a screenwriting phase a few years back and thought I’d pretty much read and discovered everything there was to developing plot as if writing a screenplay, but I picked up some new techniques and ideas from Mr. Snyder. I’ve added a quick summary worksheet below that you can download to get a feel for the technique.

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