Tag Archives: characters

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.

Continue reading

NaNoWriMo: Theme, Character and Plot Development Preparation

I’m about to confess to a horrible crime (at least in some people’s minds), but first let me say I’m doing a bit of a Dance of Joy because while driving to pick up bird and wildlife food, the theme of my NaNoWriMo project finally came to me today .

Asian Woman Head TiltedFor me, theme is like my destination in a cross-country trip. If I don’t know my theme, I don’t know where I’m going. Now I know some of you are saying, “Carolyn, you ignorant slug! (to paraphrase SNL) You’re climax is where you’re going.”

Sure, my climax is my ultimate destination, but if I don’t know my theme, I don’t know my route. I don’t know How I’m going to get to my climax because I don’t know Why I’m taking this trip. Continue reading

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.

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.

Continue reading

Ordinary People: a writing exercise to capture characterization

Try writing Flash Fiction vignettes from different viewpoints and moments in the character's life

Try writing Flash Fiction vignettes from different viewpoints and moments in the character’s life

Writer and teach Margot Case offered a brilliant workshop at he Richard Hugo House Write-O-Rama workshop entitled Ordinary People. We read excerpts from “Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning” by Donald Bartheleme, Sixty Stories.

I’d tried The Dead Father by Bartheleme, but found it at the wrong time and had never tried Donald Bartheleme again. What a mistake! I’m hot footing it to the book store to find more of his short stories.

Essentially, “Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning” is written as a series of vignettes supposedly from Robert Kennedy’s life by various people’s viewpoints. It’s similar to a collection of Flash Fiction.

Continue reading

Writing Critiques and Reading Like A Writer

The plan was to spend January completing the first draft of a memoir and then going back to work on the NaNoWriMo novel revisions. That was the plan.

I did, however, get to work tangentially on writing. A friend asked me to be a beta reader on the first draft of her first novel. She’s published some short things but this was her first complete, 90K word novel. I was honored.

Unfortunately, it’s in a genre I don’t often read outside of a small, narrow group of authors. So this required some research. I firmly believe that you have review things in context. Each genre or category has certain unique needs beyond the basics of good writing. Seriously, would you complain that “King Lear” didn’t have enough jokes? Or that there wasn’t enough romance in Carrie?

So in the course of a couple of weeks I re-read a half dozen titles that were successful financially and/or I considered some of the best of the genre as well as alternating between skimming and scanning about a dozen that were typical. I even plowed through as much as I could stand of the book that had sent me fleeing the fantasy aisle many years ago. (It didn’t get better with age — its or mine.)

I spent the better part of an hour randomly opening paperbacks from the rack at the grocery store. After the first six, I was about to write to my friend apologizing that I was totally unsuited to critique her book because I simply could not read more than a few paragraphs of the standard titles in her genre, when I picked up one last title, opened it at random — and found a delightful bit of good writing. I’m at the library right now, where I found the first of the author’s titles to check out and try. (Sorry, but unless a title or author is recommended by someone I completely trust or has multiple reviews that make it compelling, I always try new authors via the library first. This way I can keep affording to buy new releases, including hard copies, by the good authors.)

The point of all of this, is that I’ve spent the better part of the two months reading as a writer instead of a reader. When I read like a writer, I focus on things like the structure of the plot, how the characterization is handled, the development of tone and style. There are many times I’ve read something as a reader, completely lost in the story and characters, swept along by the pros; and then, I read the story again, this time as a writer noting how the author managed to capture me.

Some writers can write a plot that’s intrigues so completely, I ignore the less than perfect prose (My “potato chip” reads are mysteries). Others create characters that are such lively, fascinating companions, I myopically overlook plot holes — unless I fall in one. Then there are writers who voices are so witty and charming, I’m completely seduced. Often awaking to find a note on my beside table and my wallet emptied. And finally, there are the writers whose prose is so beautiful and graceful, I feel as if my own efforts resemble the first steps of a gawky teenager amongst the corps de ballet.


Periodically, when I feel I need a refresher course in how to read as a writer, I pull out my copy of Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want To Write Them. While Ms. Prose (Isn’t that a wonderful name for a writer? I wonder if it’s too late to have mine legally changed?) targets the future M.F.A. candidate and completely eschews anything so plebian as “genre” authors, she does teach me how to read, both my own work and others, critically. And by “critically,” I mean objectively with a discerning eye and ear.

Here’s how she opens her book:

Can creative writing be taught?
…I answer by recalling my own valuable experience, not as a teacher but as a student in one of the few fiction workshops I took… Its generous teacher showed me, among other things, how to line edit my work. For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, and, especially, cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical and sharp.

Here’s an example from her chapter on “Narration”:

… this device enabled me to overcome one of the obstacles confronting the novice writer. This hurdle disguises itself as the question of voice and of who is telling the story (should the narrator be first or third person, close or omniscient?) when in fact the truly problematic question is: Who is listening? On what occasion is the story being told, and why? Is the protagonist projecting this heartfelt confession out into the ozone, and, if so, what is the proper tone to assume when the ozone is one’s audience?

I had always assumed that I was alone in having discerned that the identity of the listener was a more vexing problem than the voice of the storyteller until I heard a writer say that what enabled him to write a novel from the point of view of a rather complicated middle-aged woman was by pretending that she was telling her story to close male friend, and that he, the writer, was that friend.

Ms. Prose goes on to examine and dissect successful examples of narration ranging from Wuthering Heights to Anna Karenina, from Philip Carver to Isabel Walker to Mark Twain to Diane Johnson (Le Divorce, a book alas I didn’t finish because I was simply in the wrong mood. My mood is something else I have to keep in mind when critiquing my own or someone else’s work). I got more out of one trip through Reading Like A Writer than I did from an entire semester of writing class. If nothing else, I learned how a master writes a compound, complex sentence.

After a couple of months of reading like a writer, I’m ready to start writing for myself again. I’m encouraged by how badly some published authors write, humbled by how well some do and greatly inspired by the realization that I can improve my own initial drafts by applying some firm, disciplined manuscript critique.

To the keyboards! Tally Ho!

Failing Farther Behind But Getting Ahead

I only got a couple of hundred words today because I’m desperately working on writing some training materials for a presentation on Monday. I’m taking a bit of extra effort on the materials because I hope to recycle them on my web site and with other clients, but it’s proving an enormous time and energy drain. And the irony is that it’s on using WordPress.

I have made a ton of notes for scenes I want to write and I’ve committed to being at the Itty-bitty Buzz coffeehouse from 9 – 11 a.m. on Sunday in case any of the other NaNoWriMo participants in the area want to meet. So I’m planning on making Sunday a NaNoWriMo catch-up marathon day. (Although, I think my husband would appreciate my getting to the litter boxes more often.)

I’m thinking I should have my character want to get back together with her significant other, but I’m not certain I want her to be that weak. On the other hand, I’ve seen far to many people, male and female, be strong in other areas of their life and incredibly stupid in their relationships. And this is definitely a character that craves consistency in her home life. People talk about characters taking over, but this one seems to be waiting to be told what to do.

Well, I’m too tired to write on either the technical material or the novel, so I’m curling up with Ngaio Marsh and tackling the keyboards early tomorrow. Brrr! There’s going to be a hard frost tonight. I’m glad I made up a box in the shed for MaoMao (the neighbor’s cat who sleeps in our shed and begs food from us — and yes, I have sucker written on my forehead).